(Bloomberg) -- Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers that the Biden administration’s proposed international aid spending in Ukraine and elsewhere is critical to strengthening Washington’s leadership abroad and advancing American security interests. Congressional Republicans said US assistance could be better used for domestic priorities.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testified at a US House hearing Wednesday that China appears to be helping Russia evade sanctions but there’s no evidence it is supplying weapons. The US, a State Department official said, is weighing how it might support a special tribunal considering war crimes against Russia.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he wants Chinese President Xi Jinping to visit and is still waiting to talk to him. Xi traveled to Moscow this month. 

Key Developments

  • House Republicans Question US Spending on Ukraine Assistance
  • Yellen Says International Aid Programs Crucial to US Leadership
  • Ukraine Gets $1.25B in Grants From US for Social Spending
  • Putin’s War Is Intensifying Labor Shortages in Russia’s Economy
  • Cargill and Viterra Are Exiting Russian Grain Export Market
  • Turkey Set to Approve Finland’s NATO Membership on Thursday
  • Ukraine Sees Wind Energy Replacing Coal Faster Than Planned

(All times CET)

Republicans Question US Spending on Ukraine Assistance (9:15 p.m.)

Some congressional Republicans said billions of dollars in US assistance for Ukraine risks being misspent and could be better used for domestic priorities.

While backing US support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russian invaders, Representative Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized western European nations in a hearing Wednesday for not supplying as much assistance as the US.

Representative Nathaniel Moran, a Texas Republican, reiterated past GOP arguments that the US was protecting Ukraine while failing to secure the border with Mexico.

Representative Rich McCormick, a Georgia Republican, raised concerns about American economic assistance to Ukraine — particularly pension support for officials. “I just don’t think that’s going to be popular. I don’t think it’s going to be sustainable.’

US Weighs Financial, Legal Support for Russia War Crimes Tribunal (8:06 p.m.)

The US may provide financial and other support for a special tribunal for alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine, a senior State Department official told reporters on Wednesday.

The US is considering whether to send lawyers from the departments of Justice and Defense and even whether to declassify intelligence that implicates suspects, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Representatives from several nations studying how to try Russian officials over the conflict could use an upcoming meeting in May to make a decision on the tribunal and decide its format, the official said.

China Said to Be Helping Russia Evade Sanctions (7:55 p.m.)

China is likely helping Russia evade sanctions imposed over its invasion of Ukraine and wants to keep the US and its allies occupied so they don’t focus on the Indo-Pacific region, Austin told a US House hearing on Wednesday.

President Xi Jinping doesn’t want to see Russia fail “in a catastrophic way,” but the US has no evidence China is providing Russia with weapons, Austin told the House Armed Services Committee.

IAEA Drops Push for Security Zone at Nuclear Plant (7:19 p.m.)

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi told reporters that he’s focused on improving physical security around the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

“There is a significant increase in the number of troops in the region and there is open talk about offensives and counter offensives,” Grossi said in video taped remarks made Wednesday at the plant.

The agency had earlier proposed that a security zone be erected around the reactors but Ukraine said Russian troops would have to first withdraw from the plant.

Grossi said he was instead working with Ukraine and Russian officials to focus “more on the protection itself and the things that should be avoided to protect the plant, rather than the territorial aspects, which pose certain problems.”  

Ukraine’s US Ambassador to Throw Ceremonial Opening Day Pitch (7:05 p.m.)

Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day of the Washington Nationals baseball team.

“We deeply admire Ambassador Markarova’s leadership and courage, and the strength of all Ukrainian people, during this most difficult time,” Mark Lerner, principal owner of the team, said in a statement. 

The game is scheduled to begin at 1:05 p.m. Thursday.

US Urges EU to Sanction Chinese Satellite Firm Over Russia Aid (6 p.m.)

The US is urging the European Union and other allies to sanction a Chinese satellite company for allegedly supporting Russia’s military operations in Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter.

Spacety China was hit with US sanctions in January over claims it provided satellite images of locations in Ukraine that enabled the combat operations of Wagner Group mercenaries, led by a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The imagery was sent to Russian technology firm Terra Tech before being transferred to the mercenary group, according to the US filing. 

While the EU has aligned in coordination many of its Russia-related sanctions with the US, two months later it has yet to sanction the Chinese satellite firm.

Read more: US Urges EU to Sanction Chinese Satellite Firm Over Russia Aid

Glencore-Backed Viterra Plans to Exit Russian Grain Trade (4 p.m.)

Major crops trader Viterra is planning to exit the Russian market, according to people familiar with the matter.

Russia is the world’s biggest wheat exporter, and Viterra’s exit adds to uncertainty over the future of Black Sea crop shipments. Wheat prices rose on the news. Russia said on Wednesday that top agricultural commodities trader Cargill Inc. will stop exporting its grain. 

Read more: Russia Says Crop Titan Cargill Will Stop Exporting Its Grain 

Germany to Raise Military Support for Ukraine by €12 Billion (2 p.m.)

The German government plans to increase its financial support for Kyiv by as much as €12 billion ($13 billion) to help arm Ukraine in its fight against Russia, people familiar with the matter said.

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius will get the green light from parliament’s budget committee on Wednesday to more than double the pot for this year to €5.4 billion, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential information.

A further €8.8 billion will be made available if needed in coming years, they said, for an overall increase of €12 billion to €14.2 billion.

EU Aims to Boost Russia Sanctions Enforcement (1:20 p.m.)

The European Union is planning to launch a project with nine member states to identify gaps in the sanctions regime against Russia and to improve coordination between national authorities when enforcing penalties, EU officials said.

The partnership between the European Commission and the national governments, which are currently responsible for the implementation of sanctions, could be a precursor to a new EU body to coordinate sanctions oversight, the officials added.

Yellen Says Aid Crucial to US Leadership (12:45 a.m.)

Yellen said the Biden administration’s proposed spending on international aid and investment programs, exemplified by assistance for Ukraine, will advance US security interests.

“There is perhaps no place where our impact is felt more acutely than in Kyiv,” Yellen said according to prepared remarks she’s due to deliver Wednesday to a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. “In my trip to Ukraine last month, I heard personally about how our coalition’s work has enabled Ukraine to defend itself against a brutal and illegal assault by Russia,” she said.

Russian Hackers Target Slovakia, Report Says (12:30 p.m.)

The Anonymous RU hacker group temporarily disabled the websites of the Slovak central bank, parliament, justice ministry and two local lenders on Tuesday, according to a report in newspaper Dennik N.

The hackers wrote on their Telegram account that the action was a warning to Slovakia for supporting the government in Kyiv and supplying Ukraine’s armed forces with MIG-29 fighter jets. Slovakia approved sending 13 MiG-29s to Ukraine this month in an effort to bolster the country’s defense.

Russia Says Cargill Will Stop Exporting Its Grain (12:15 p.m.)

Russia said top agricultural commodities trader Cargill Inc. will stop exporting its grain, the strongest move yet by a major Western crop merchant to pull back from the country.

As the biggest wheat exporter, Russian shipments are vital to global crop trade and food supplies. A bumper harvest there last year helped wheat futures drop more than 40% from a record reached just after the invasion of Ukraine. While Cargill is a big exporter of Russian wheat, the government said the firm’s decision shouldn’t affect overall shipments out of the country.

IAEA Officials Head to Zaporizhzhia (11:30 a.m.)

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are expected to cross the battle line separating Ukrainian and Russian forces Wednesday, with Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi leading a mission to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The facility, Europe’s biggest atomic-power generator, was taken by Russia in the first week of the war and frequent shelling of electric cables needed to keep the plant’s six reactors safe has fueled fears about a nuclear accident. The IAEA has repeatedly called on Russia and Ukraine to erect a security zone around the reactors, while Ukraine has said that without a complete withdrawal of Russian troops, the IAEA’s proposal is “doomed to fail.”

Sweden Summons Russian Ambassador (11 a.m.)

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom summoned Russia’s ambassador in Stockholm after a posting on the embassy’s website said Sweden would be a “legitimate target” if it joins NATO, calling it “an obvious attempt at influence.”

The ambassador, Viktor Tatarintsev, stated in the posting Tuesday that “new members of the hostile bloc will be a legitimate target for Russia’s retaliatory measures, including military ones.”

(See RSAN on the Bloomberg Terminal for the Russian Sanctions Dashboard.)

--With assistance from Jonathan Tirone.

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