France, partners to propose measures to boost security of Ukraine’s nuclear energy sites

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that France and its partners will propose in the coming hours a set of concrete measures to boost the safety and security of Ukraine’s five main nuclear energy sites, based on International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) criteria.

Macron said in a statement he had spoken with the IAEA director on Friday and supported the organisation’s efforts to monitor Ukraine’s nuclear installations.

Macron said he strongly condemned Russian forces’ attack on Ukraine’s civil nuclear installations and called on Russia to immediately stop its military action so that Ukrainian authorities can take full control of the country’s nuclear installations.

The United States and its allies heavily criticized Russia on Friday at the United Nations over its shelling and seizure overnight of Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine, Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, and some demanded that Moscow not let such an attack happen again.

(Reporting by Michel Rose; Writing by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Sandra Maler; Editing by Chris Reese and Sandra Maler)

Ukraine and Russia: What you need to know right now

(Reuters) – Russian forces seized Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine in heavy fighting but a huge blaze on the site was put out. Russian forces also bombarded Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and surrounded several other cities.

* No damage to reactors

The Zaporozhzhia nuclear plant was undamaged by what U.N. nuclear chief Rafael Grossi said he believed was a Russian projectile. Moscow blamed Ukrainian saboteurs for the attack.

* Ukraine says Russians driven from port city

Ukrainians have driven invading Russian forces out of Mykolayiv but fighting continues on the city outskirts, the governor of the Black Sea port said.

* City of Mariupol has no water, heating

The eastern Black Sea port of Mariupol is without water and heating and food is scarce, its mayor Vadym Boychenko said, appealing for military help. “We are simply being destroyed.”

* Civilian casualties mounting

At least 331 civilians are confirmed killed and 675 injured in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, but the real toll is likely much higher, the U.N. human rights office said.

* No to no-fly zones over Ukraine

NATO allies rejected Ukraine’s demand for no-fly zones, saying that would lead to an even more brutal war, but EU countries said they were weighing more sanctions on Russia.

* Scholz to Putin: Stop the war now

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to halt military operations in Ukraine immediately during a phone call. Putin said Ukraine must meet Russia’s demands, Interfax news agency reported.

* Russia targets foreign news websites

Russia’s communications watchdog restricted access to several foreign news organisations’ websites including the BBC for spreading “false information”.

*INSIGHT-Russians, Ukrainians seek asylum at US-Mexico border

A growing number of Russians and Ukrainians are traveling to Mexico, buying throwaway cars and driving across the border into the United States to seek asylum.

* SANCTIONS

Microsoft Corp is suspending new sales of its products and services in Ukraine, it said. French luxury group Hermes said it would temporarily shut its stores in Russia. Danish brewer Carlsberg said it would halt new investments in Russia and suspend beer exports.

* QUOTES

Kremlin calls for Russian national unity

“Now is not the time to divide, now is the time for all to unite, be together, and unite of course around our president,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Putin foe urges worldwide protests

“Show the world that Russians don’t want war. Come out in the squares of Berlin, New York, Amsterdam or Melbourne, wherever you are. Now we are all responsible for Russia’s future,” jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said in a post.

*MARKETS: Investors run for cover

Stocks sank to one-year lows in Europe and bonds, commodities and crude rallied as investors ran for cover in the face of escalating war. The rouble slipped back towards record lows.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

U.S., allies slam Russia at U.N. over its seizure of Ukraine nuclear plant

By Humeyra Pamuk and Doina Chiacu

(Reuters) -The United States and its allies heavily criticized Russia on Friday at the United Nations over its shelling and seizure overnight in Ukraine of Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant, and some demanded that Moscow not let such an attack happen again.

Many of the Security Council’s 15 envoys expressed “grave concern” and shock, warning against the possibility of a repeat of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster – a nuclear accident in Ukraine when it was part of then Soviet Union considered to be the worst in history.

They said the attack was against international humanitarian law and urged Moscow to refrain from any military operations targeting the nuclear facilities and allow Ukrainian personnel to be allowed onto the plant to carry out their work.

“The world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe last night,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, told an emergency meeting of the Security Council, convened following the seizure of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine by Russian troops.

“Russia’s attack last night put Europe’s largest nuclear power plant at grave risk. It was incredibly reckless and dangerous. And it threatened the safety of civilians across Russia, Ukraine and Europe,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

As shells hit the area early on Friday, a blaze broke out in a training building – triggering a spasm of alarm around the world before the fire was extinguished and officials said the facility was safe.

Ukraine ambassador to the U.N. Sergiy Kyslytsya called for all Russian forces to be withdrawn from the plant and a no-fly zone over the country to protect the civilian population from air attacks.

Officials remained worried about the precarious circumstances, with Ukrainian staff operating under Russian control in battlefield conditions beyond the reach of administrators.

“France strongly condemns this attack on the integrity of a nuclear structure, which we need to guarantee,” Nicolas de Riviere said in his speech. “The results of the aggression of Russia against Ukraine are possibly devastating for human health and the environment,” he added.

United Kingdom ambassador to the United Nations Barbara Woodward said: “It must not happen again. Even in the midst of an illegal invasion of Ukraine, Russia must keep fighting away from and protect the safety and security of nuclear sites.”

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Raphael Grossi described the situation as “normal operations, but in fact there is nothing normal about this.”

Thousands of people are believed to have been killed or wounded and more than 1 million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russian began its invasion on Feb. 24. Western nations retaliated with sanctions that have plunged Russia into economic isolation.

Russia’s envoy to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia dismissed Western uproar over the nuclear power plant and called Friday’s Security Council meeting another attempt by Ukrainian authorities to create “artificial hysteria”.

“At present, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and adjacent territory are being guarded by Russian troops,” he said.

Separately, France and Mexico are working on a resolution to the U.N. Security Council next week that will address the humanitarian impact of Russia’s invasion, diplomats said.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Doina Chiacu in WashingtonEditing by Grant McCool)

Shell buys cargo of Russian crude loading mid-March from Trafigura

By Julia Payne

LONDON (Reuters) – Shell bought a cargo of Russian crude oil from Swiss trader Trafigura in S&P Global Platts window loading from Baltic ports at a record low of dated Brent minus $28.50 a barrel, traders said on Friday.

The cargo is due to load March 14-18 and is the first Russian crude deal in weeks to be seen in the window and the first since trade of Russian crude since the invasion of Ukraine began last week. Trafigura offered the cargo twice this week starting at a discount of minus $18.60 a barrel.

Russian exporters have faced severe problems with credit lines, shipping and insurance in recent days, resulting in Russian sell tender delays and cancellations.

“We currently purchase it and other Russian products for some refineries and chemical plants to ensure that we continue the production of essential fuels and products that people and businesses rely on every day,” a spokesman for Shell said.

“We will further reduce our use of Russian oil as alternative crudes become available to buy … in the current, tight market there is a relative lack of alternatives.”

Shell said on Monday it will exit all its Russian operations, including a major liquefied natural gas plant, in line with moves by other major Western energy companies following the invasion.

Trafigura, which holds a passive stake in a major upstream project in Russia, said it was reviewing operations and froze further investment.

(Reporting by Julia Payne in London; Editing by Louise Heavens and Matthew Lewis)

Russia faces lasting consequences from Ukraine war, World Bank chief says

By David Lawder and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Russia’s war in Ukraine has “horrified” the World Bank’s shareholders and will have lasting consequences for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s standing on the global stage, the global lender’s president said on Friday.

World Bank President David Malpass told Fox Business Network that China’s reaction to the war and the Western sanctions imposed on Moscow would be influential in determining how Russia’s future trade relationships develop.

“There’s a global outpouring in favor of Ukraine, and that will have lasting consequences, whatever the outcome of the war,” Malpass said, citing what he called “a very clear focus on Putin being the source of the problem.”

He listed previous Russian invasions, including of Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Georgia in 2008 and the annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014, but said the current war was far broader.

“This is an order of magnitude worse in terms of the decimation and the deaths that are occurring, so I think there will be lasting consequences,” he said.

SPEEDING FUNDS TO UKRAINE

Malpass said he would speak with Ukrainian President Vododymyr Zelenskiy later on Friday and planned to submit to the World Bank’s board on Friday a loan package for Ukraine that has been expanded with country contributions and has been coordinated with “people that are in bunkers in Ukraine.”

Reuters reported on Thursday that the package had grown to 460 million euros ($503 million). Malpass said the goal was to get the money to Ukraine as early as next week.

Malpass, a former U.S. Treasury official, said the financing for Ukraine would be “for payment of the ongoing – call it war effort – the ongoing development effort and the medicine efforts that they need to do as a government.”

Russia’s global financial isolation intensified on Friday as the London Stock Exchange suspended trading in its last Russian securities and as Europe, the United States and othe countries continued to roll out financial sanctions on Russia.

Malpass said the raft of sanctions were having a significant impact on Russia’s interactions with financial markets, while raising questions about its dependence on China and delivering a huge supply shock to world energy and food markets.

China, a major shareholder in the World Bank, had to be “horrified at where this is developing,” Malpass said, adding, “That’ll be an important issue in how world trade develops. They buy oil from Russia when the sanctions are in place, but can the companies really remain part of the world system when they’re so engaged with Russia? We’ll have to see how that evolves.”

(Reporting by David Lawder and Andrea ShalalEditing by Paul Simao)

Besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol appeals for help

LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) – The Ukrainian city of Mariupol has no water, heat or electricity and is running out of food, its mayor said on Friday, as forces battling a Russian onslaught warned they needed reinforcements to help avoid losing control of the strategic port city.

Mayor Vadym Boychenko appealed for military assistance and for a humanitarian corridor to be created to evacuate some of the city’s 400,000 residents after five days of bombardment by encircling Russian troops.

“We are simply being destroyed,” he said in a televised appeal, describing indiscriminate shelling of residential areas and hospitals.

“They want to wipe Mariupol and Mariupol residents off the face of the earth,” he said in a shaky video feed that cut in and out.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists. It denies targeting civilians.

Ukrainian troops are holding the line against the attempted Russian advance on Mariupol, but need significant back-up, said a deputy commander of the Azov military unit, part of Ukraine’s National Guard.

“This is the last city that prevents the creation of a land corridor from Russia to Crimea,” he said in a post on Azov’s official Telegram page, identifying himself by his call sign Kalyna. “Mariupol cannot be lost.”

On Thursday, Russia and Ukraine agreed on the need for humanitarian corridors to help civilians escape the fighting, the first apparent breakthrough in talks. But little progress appears to have been made since then on its implementation.

Some Mariupol residents have fled to the city centre to escape the heaviest shelling on the outskirts, said 30-year-old entrepreneur Ivan Yermolayev, who has been sheltering in the small basement of his house in the city and queuing up for water at a local well.

“They’re with their children in the centre and hearing the war getting closer,” he told Reuters by online message. “There’s crying, fear, uncertainty, panic.”

(Reporting ny Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk and Alessandra Prentice, Writing by Alessandra Prentice, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Ukraine’s U.N. ambassador to Russia: stop gaslighting on power plant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations accused Russia on Friday of lying about its takeover of the country’s biggest nuclear power plant and warned that thousands of people living nearby would be endangered if operations there are disturbed.

“Thousands of people, including civilians, who are currently unable to evacuate the area near the plant due to ongoing shelling and fighting, would be affected,” Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu)

Factbox-Commodity supplies at risk after Russia invades Ukraine

LONDON (Reuters) – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of new Western sanctions against Russia have fuelled fears about supplies of key commodities produced and exported by Russian companies.

See for a Factbox on commodity price gains since the close on Feb. 23, the day before the invasion started.

Following are some details about Russia’s major commodity exports.

CRUDE OIL

Russia is the world’s third largest oil producer after the United States and Saudi Arabia with output of 11 million barrels per day (bpd).

It rivals Saudi Arabia for the title of the world’s largest oil exporter with around 7 million bpd of crude and oil products exported abroad, of which Asia takes around a half while Europe, the United States and the rest of the world take the rest.

GAS

Russia is the world’s second largest gas producer after the United States and the largest exporter, with flows going predominantly to Europe and covering 40% of the continent’s gas needs.

COAL

Russia is the world’s sixth largest coal producer with output of 400 million tonnes of coal, amounting to more than 5% of global production.

It is the world’s third largest exporter, shipping more than half its output overseas, with China being the main destination.

ALUMINIUM

Most Russian metal producers have so far escaped sanctions imposed by the West since Moscow annexed the Crimea in 2014.

One exception is the world’s largest aluminium producer outside China, Rusal, under sanctions imposed by the United States between April 2018 and early 2019.

Rusal produced 3.8 million tonnes of aluminium in 2021, about 6% of the estimated world production.

Europe, Asia and North America are Rusal’s main markets. Miner and commodity trader Glencore has a long-term deal running until 2025 to buy primary aluminium from Rusal.

COBALT

Data from U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows Russia produced 7,600 tonnes of cobalt last year, more than 4% of the global total.

Russia was the second largest producer, far behind the Democratic Republic of Congo which produced 120,000 tonnes.

Nornickel is the largest producer in Russia, selling 5,000 tonnes in 2021. Nornickel sells most of its output to Europe.

COPPER

Russia produced 920,000 tonnes of refined copper last year, about 3.5% of the world total, according to USGS, out of which Nornickel produced 406,841 tonnes.

Asia and Europe are the main export markets.

NICKEL

Nornickel is the world’s top producer of refined nickel. It produced 193,006 tonnes in 2021 or about 7% of global mine production estimated at 2.7 million tonnes. It sells to global industrial consumers under long-term contracts.

PALLADIUM AND PLATINUM

Nornickel is also the world’s largest producer of palladium and a major producer of platinum.

It produced 2.6 million troy ounces of palladium last year or 40% of global mine production and 641,000 ounces of platinum or about 10% of total mine production.

GOLD

Russia is the world’s third largest producer of gold after Australia and China and accounts for about 10% of global mine production, which according to the World Gold Council totalled 3,500 tonnes last year.

Russian gold is produced by companies that include Polyus and Polymetal. Russian miners mainly sell their gold to the country’s commercial banks which then export it.

TITANIUM

Russia’s VSMPO-Avisma supplies titanium to Boeing and Airbus.

Data from USGS shows Russia produced 27,000 tonnes of titanium sponge and Ukraine 5,400 tonnes last year, 15% of the global total at 210,000 tonnes.

STEEL

Russia produced 76 million tonnes of steel or nearly 4% of the global total, according to the World Steel Association.

Severstal, NLMK, Evraz, MMK and Mechel are Russia’s main producers. They export about half of their production, mainly to Europe.

DIAMONDS

State-controlled Alrosa, the world’s largest producer of rough diamonds, produced 32.4 million carats in 2021, about 30% of the global total. It exports mostly to Belgium, India and the United Arab Emirates.

FERTILISERS

Russia is a major producer of potash, phosphate and nitrogen containing fertilisers – key crop and soil nutrients. It produces more than 50 million tonnes a year of the fertilisers, 13% of the global total.

Phosagro, Uralchem, Uralkali, Acron and Eurochem are the biggest players.

They export to Asia and Brazil.

GRAINS/OILSEEDS

Russia and Ukraine are both major wheat suppliers, accounting for a combined 29% of global exports, the bulk of which go through ports in the Black Sea.

The movement of vessels on the smaller Azov Sea has already been suspended and if shipments are disrupted from the Black Sea it will leave major importers, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, scrambling to find alternative supplies.

Ukraine is one of the world’s top four corn (maize) exporters along with the United States, Argentina and Brazil.

The two countries also account for about 80% of global exports of sunflower oil.

(Reporting by Pratima Desai, Moscow newsroom, Nigel Hunt and Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Susan Fenton)

Factbox-Commodity prices fly as sanctions disrupt Russian exports

LONDON (Reuters) – Prices of raw materials such as oil, wheat, aluminium and nickel have soared to multi-year highs since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 and Western sanctions disrupt air and sea shipments of commodities produced and exported by Russia.

See for a Factbox on Russia production and exports of key raw materials.

Following are details of price gains since the close on Feb. 23.

ENERGY

Brent crude hit $119.84 a barrel on Thursday, a gain of nearly 24% since Feb. 23 and the highest since May 2012 and West Texas Intermediate rose to $116.57 a barrel on Thursday, up more than 26% and the highest since September 2008.

Dutch gas prices hit a record 208 euros a tonne on Friday, up from 84.25 euros a tonne at the close on Feb. 23, while British gas touched an all-time high of 490 pence a therm on Friday, up from 200 pence a therm.

Newcastle coal jumped to a record $440 a tonne on Thursday, climbing 85% since the Feb. 23 close.

GRAINS

Wheat prices touched a 14-year peak of $12.09 a bushel on Friday, a gain of nearly 37% since Feb. 23, corn reached $7.82-3/4 a bushel on Friday, the highest since Sept 2012 and a rise of 15% since Feb. 23.

METALS

Aluminium prices hit a record $3,867 a tonne on Friday, a 17% rise since Feb. 23, nickel touched a near 14-year peak of $30,295 a tonne, climbing 24% since Feb. 23.

Copper reached $10,694 a tonne, close to the record high of $10,747.50 seen in May 2021.

Palladium rose to 10-month high at $2,970.5 an ounce for a 20% gain since Feb. 23.

(Reporting by Pratima Desai; editing by Susan Fenton)

Sept. 11 victims seek seizure of Iran oil from U.S.-owned tanker

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks asked a U.S. judge to order the seizure of Iranian crude oil from a tanker owned by an American private equity firm, to help satisfy a $3.61 billion judgment against Iran over the attacks.

The request came in filings on Thursday with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Dozens of attack victims and their families said the Suez Rajan, owned by Los Angeles-based Oaktree Capital Management and idling in Southeast Asia, appeared to be carrying up to 1 million barrels of Iranian oil, violating U.S. sanctions.

They said the oil should be sold to help cover their February 2018 judgment against Iran over that country’s providing material support to al-Qaeda related to the attacks. Iran has long denied such claims.

Oaktree has about $166 billion of assets under management.

Its London-based Fleetscape unit, which provides lease financing for the Suez Rajan, in a statement on Friday said it was committed to honoring U.S. sanctions, took accusations of violations seriously, and was cooperating with U.S. authorities.

The request came after the nonprofit United Against Nuclear Iran, which uses satellite images to track tanker movement, wrote Oaktree on Feb. 15 that the Suez Rajan appeared to have taken on the oil from another tanker.

Even if the oil were seized, sales proceeds at current prices would cover only about 3% of the $3.61 billion judgment.

Victims said about $3.44 billion is outstanding, with the National Iranian Oil Co and National Iranian Tanker Corp, both under U.S. sanctions, among the entities responsible to pay it.

Judgments against accused state sponsors of terrorism are often impossible to enforce.

Fleetscape said the Suez Rajan was operated by Athens-based Empire Navigation, that it had no role operating Empire’s fleet, and that both were in “regular contact” with U.S. authorities.

Empire did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Nearly 3,000 people died on Sept. 11, 2001, when planes were flown into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon in northern Virginia, and a Pennsylvania field.

The cases are Hoglan et al v Oaktree Capital Management LP et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-07550; and In re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001 in the same court, No. 03-md-01570.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in London; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bernard Orr)

IEA oil stock release following Russia invasion tops 60 million barrels

By Noah Browning

LONDON (Reuters) -Member states of the International Energy Agency have finalised their contributions to a 60 million barrel oil release announced this week to buoy prices sent soaring by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the IEA said on Friday.

From a total release of 61.7 million barrels, the United States will provide 30 million barrels followed by Japan with 7.5 million, South Korea with 4.4 million and Germany with 3.2 million.

The move aimed to compensate for supply disruptions as sanctions on parts of the Russian economy have caused many buyers to shun Russian oil.

Jittery markets were unconvinced by the news and instead jumped following the announcement on Tuesday and peaked Thursday near $120 a barrel. [O/R]

“In the last few days since the decision, each IEA member country has been considering how much it could contribute to the announced response plan, given its domestic circumstances,” the Paris-based agency said in a statement.

“The commitments submitted by members actually surpassed 60 million barrels, demonstrating great solidarity.”

The IEA represents 31 mostly industrialised nations but not Russia and has said it is open to further releases of oil from storage as needed.

Country Volume (in barrels)

Australia 1.692 million

Austria 387,000

Belgium 258,000

Estonia 36,000

Finland 377,000

France 1.5 million

Germany 3.215 million

Greece 303,000

Hungary 266,000

Ireland 222,000

Italy 2.041 million

Japan 7.5 million

Korea 4.42 million

Lithuania 115,000

Luxembourg 109,000

Netherlands 823,000

New Zealand 384,000

Norway 409,000

Poland 1.052 million

Spain 2 million

Sweden 551,000

Switzerland 350,000

Turkey 1.5 million

United States 30 million

Total IEA 61.71 million

(Reporting by Noah Browning; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Stellantis weighs producing ethanol hybrid vehicle in Brazil

By Alberto Alerigi Jr.

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Stellantis is considering the production and sale of a hybrid vehicle powered by electricity and ethanol in Brazil by 2025, and plans to launch a new brand in the country this year, the company’s chief operating officer for South America said on Friday.

Antonio Filosa said the company plans to launch 16 new models and seven electric and hybrid models in the region by 2025, in a plan that aims to boost French brands Peugeot and Citroen without losing sight of Fiat and Jeep’s market leadership.

“Around 2025, if everything goes right, we could start proposing this type of technology,” Filosa said when questioned about a potential launch in 2026. He added, however, that the company still does not have a definitive timeframe.

“Ethanol is very relevant in Brazil and less so in other Latin American countries, but it is starting to gain relevance in other countries such as India,” said the executive, underlining that the development of the ethanol hybrid would first focus on the Brazilian market.

Filosa also said Stellantis is preparing the launch of a new brand in the region – the group currently works with seven brands in South America – but did not confirm which one.

“You will know later this year. It starts with an ‘A’, but it is not Alfa Romeo,” the executive said. In Stellantis’ brand portfolio, the only other brand that has the initial letter “A” is Italy’s Abarth.

(Reporting by Alberto Alerigi Jr.; Writing by Peter Frontini; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. envoy to U.N. says world narrowly averted nuclear catastrophe in Russian assault

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The world narrowly averted a nuclear catastrophe overnight when a fire broke out during a Russian seizure of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations said on Friday, and demanded assurances from Moscow that such an assault will not happen again.

Speaking at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the attack reflected a “dangerous new escalation” in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and warned that “imminent danger” persisted, citing Russian troops whom she said were 20 miles (32 km) from Ukraine’s second largest nuclear facility.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Doina Chiacu; editing by Grant McCool)

Commodity funds in demand as investors seek refuge from soaring inflation

By Patturaja Murugaboopathy

(Reuters) – Global commodity funds are attracting huge inflows this year as investors seek to cash in on the rally in metals, gas and grains after an escalation in the conflict between major commodity producers Russia and Ukraine.

According to Refinitiv Lipper, commodity funds drew a net inflow of $7.9 billion in February, the biggest since August 2020. In January, they received $5.3 billion.

Graphic: Commodity funds receive massive inflows this year: https://graphics.reuters.com/GLOBAL-MARKETS/klpykbmdypg/chart.png

On the other hand, global bond funds experienced a net outflow of $84.2 billion last month, while inflows into equity funds dropped 67% over the previous month to $27.7 billion.

As higher inflation hits bonds and equities, investors are favouring commodity funds as the underlying assets often act as a hedge against rising price pressures.

“Investors seeking a bull market are finding one in commodities…prices have been trending higher, fuelled in part by supply chain disruptions as well as fundamental production issues which are contributing to supply/demand imbalances,” said Jake Hanley, senior portfolio strategist at Teucrium Trading LLC.

Energy funds have risen 24.7% this year, while precious metals and agriculture funds climbed 12.6% and 9.8% respectively.

Graphic: Performance of commodity funds this year: https://graphics.reuters.com/GLOBAL-MARKETS/znvnenjxkpl/chart.png

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week, Dutch gas prices have more than doubled, Newcastle coal has surged by 85% and Brent crude oil has climbed by a fifth.

LME aluminium touched a record peak this week and nickel hit its highest in 11 years. Chicago wheat futures hit a 14-year high..

Russia accounts for about 6% of the world’s aluminium and about 7% of global nickel mine supplies.

Teucrium’s Hanley said agricultural commodities may continue to attract flows, given the high rate of food inflation.

Lipper data showed SPDR Gold Shares led inflows with a net $3.2 billion in the first two months of this year, while Invesco Optimum Yield Diversified Commodity Strategy No K-1 ETF and Fidelity SAI Inflation-Focused Fund attracted $1.8 billion and $1.1 billion respectively.

Graphic: Top inflows into commodity mutual funds and ETFs this year: https://graphics.reuters.com/GLOBAL-MARKETS/jnvwebljjvw/chart.png

“Commodity funds should continue to appeal to investors seeking a hedge against inflation and exposure to a global consumption rebound.” said Rich Pontillo, an analyst at Nasdaq IR Intelligence.

“More so especially when compared to fixed income, which could decline in value in a rising rate environment, and equities that will carry greater discounted cost of capital as rates rise.”

(Reporting By Patturaja Murugaboopathy; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

Russia supply angst fuels hefty weekly gains for Oil, gas and metals

By Naveen Thukral and Pratima Desai

SINGAPORE/LONDON (Reuters) – Commodity markets were on track on Friday for their biggest weekly gains in years as the shuttering of Ukrainian ports and sanctions against Russia sent energy, crop and metal buyers scrambling for replacement supplies.

Russia is one of the world’s biggest exporters of key raw materials, from gas and crude oil to aluminium and wheat and palladium. The possible exclusion of supplies from the country due to sanctions has sent traders and importers into a frenzy.

“We are seeing the commodity ‘melt-up’ continue with no sign of a let-up,” ED&F Man Capital Markets’ Edward Meir said.

“More precisely, there is a massive repricing going on which will presumably stop when most, if not all, of Russia’s contribution to the global supply/demand commodity chain is ‘scrubbed’ off the numbers and discounted by the markets.”

Graphic: Global commodities markets ‘melt up’ after Russia invades Ukraine & gets hit with sanctions: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/klpykbmqypg/CommodsWrapMar42022.png

The Chicago Board of Trade’s (CBOT) most-active wheat contract has climbed 40% this week, the biggest weekly gain on record, while corn is up 17% and soybeans have added nearly 6%.

Oil prices are set to post their strongest weekly gain since the middle of 2020, with WTI up nearly 20% and Brent up 14% after hitting their highest levels in a decade this week. [O/R]

“Russian energy exports are, at present, exempted from global sanctions, but exports are nevertheless disrupted,” analysts at UBS said.

“This is the result of self-sanctioning by Russian crude buyers in fear of future sanctions and/or for reputation reasons. With limited Russian storage capacity, these disruptions will likely, with a delay, also trigger production shut ins (cuts).”

Aluminium hit a record high of $3,850 a tonne, up nearly 13% and heading for its largest weekly gain ever. [MET/L]

Nickel climbed to an 11-year high of $29,000 a tonne and is on track for a gain of more than 16% this week which would be the largest since 2008.

“Russia is a sizeable producer of metals like palladium, aluminium, and nickel…sanctions packages currently being announced have yet to target the producers in Russia,” said ING analyst Wenyu Yao.

“Nevertheless, sanctions on Russia’s access to SWIFT and certain Russian banks have caused great confusion among market participants about trading metals with the country.”

Palladium is up 22% so far this week, while gold was supported by investors worried about inflation and geopolitical and economic uncertainty, looking for a safe place to park their assets.

Dutch and British gas prices have more than doubled this week and are trading close to record highs on uncertainty about Russian gas supplies to Europe.

Benchmark iron ore futures in China clocked their biggest weekly gain in more than two years at nearly 20% and Newcastle coal futures are on course for a weekly gain of more than 67%, the largest since contract launch.

(Reporting by Naveen Thukral; addingional reporting by Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle, Kirsten Donovan)

U.N. political chief says attacks on nuclear power plants contrary to international law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Military operations around nuclear sites and other critical civilian infrastructure are “unacceptable” and “highly irresponsible”, U.N. political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council the United Nations on Friday.

“Attacks on nuclear power facilities are contrary to international humanitarian law….Every effort should be taken to avoid a catastrophic nuclear incident,” Di Carlo told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council after Russian forces in Ukraine attacked and seized Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Factbox-Ukraine has one of Europe’s largest nuclear power sectors

(Reuters) -Russian troops on Friday seized Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe. Ukraine is heavily dependent on nuclear energy and has 15 operative nuclear reactors that generate roughly 54% of the country’s electricity needs.

The World Nuclear Association, an international body that represents the industry, gave the following information about the country’s nuclear power sector https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-t-z/ukraine.aspx.

WHAT SORT OF NUCLEAR PLANTS DOES UKRAINE OPERATE?

Ukraine’s reactors are located in four separate plants. All 15 are water-water energy reactors (VVER), which means they are water cooled and water moderated. They were originally developed in the Soviet Union. Twelve of the reactors came on line in the 1980s, one in 1995 and two in 2004.

The plants generated some 13,107 gigawatt electrical (GWe) in 2020, the third largest amount of nuclear generated power in Europe after Russia (27,653 GWe) and France (61,370 GWe).

They are all operated by a state company — Energoatom.

WHERE ARE THE PLANTS?

Four reactors are clustered in the Rivne plant, in northwest Ukraine near the Belarus border, and two are in the Khmelnitski plant, some 180 km (110 miles) southeast of the Rivne site. Three reactors are in the South Ukraine plant, some 170 km to the north of the port city of Odessa. The remaining six reactors operate in the giant Zaporizhzhia plant.

ARE THEY THREATENED BY THE FIGHTING?

Russian forces seized the Zaporizhzhia plant overnight. A volley of shells set off a huge blaze at a training centre in the plant. This was extinguished on Friday. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the plant was undamaged and that only one reactor was working, at around 60% of capacity.

An Energoatom official said Russian troops were near the town of Voznesensk, about 30 km south of the South Ukraine plant. He said that a bridge entering the town had been blown up, slowing their advance.

The Rivne and Khmelnitski plants do not appear to be under any immediate threat.

WHAT ABOUT CHERNOBYL?

The now defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant sits some 108 km (67 miles) north of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. One of its four reactors exploded in 1986, spewing clouds of radiation across Europe. The site is still radioactive and a huge protective dome covers the destroyed reactor. The area was seized by Russian forces on Feb. 24.

ARE UKRAINE’S EXISTING PLANTS LIKE CHERNOBYL?

No. Ukraine’s current reactors are much safer than the “first generation” Chernobyl reactors, which had a deeply flawed cooling system and did not have a containment building to protect the nuclear core.

By contrast, the essential reactor components at the Zaporizhzhia plant are housed inside a steel-reinforced concrete containment building designed to withstand aircraft crashes or explosions, said Mark Wenman, reader in nuclear materials at Imperial College London.

“The reactor core is itself further housed in a sealed steel pressure vessel with 20 cm thick walls,” he told Reuters.

Energoatom has also spent millions of dollars in recent years to implement safety modernisations at all plants.

SO THE PLANTS ARE SAFE, DESPITE THE WAR?

While the plants themselves are robust, the IAEA has warned that staff stressed by the fighting could unwittingly make mistakes. That means the wellbeing of nuclear workers was “a humanitarian issue, but not only, it’s also a technical issue,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told reporters on Friday.

Staff operating nuclear power plants typically work in shifts but the IAEA has said staff at Chernobyl have not been able to rotate their shifts since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and on Friday the IAEA expressed concern about the wellbeing of staff at Zaporizhzhia.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer and Susanna Twidale; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Susan Fenton)

Russia-owned SCF oil tankers rerouting from Canada, returning to Russia

By Marianna Parraga and Laura Sanicola

HOUSTON/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two oil tankers owned and managed by Sovcomflot, the Russian maritime and freight shipping company blacklisted by the United States last week, are rerouting from their Canadian destinations, while a third is returning to Russia after discharging, according to tracking data and marine sources.

The two tankers are the first Russian-owned oil vessels to change course after Canada this week ratcheted up pressure on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine by shutting ports to Russian-owned ships and barring them from Canadian waters.

The Liberia-flagged oil tanker SCF Neva changed course from Canada on Thursday and is now headed to the Bahamas, in the Caribbean, vessel data show.

The vessel was carrying bunker fuel for Canada’s Irving Oil, the company said on Friday. It loaded in mid-February in Colombia, and made a stop at a storage terminal in St. Eustatius in the Caribbean, according to Refinitiv Eikon tanker tracking data.

Irving Oil, which owns the 320,000-barrel-per-day Saint John refinery, confirmed the SCF Neva had been scheduled to arrive at its New Brunswick facility.

“The vessel was not carrying product from Russia, but due to the vessel’s Russian affiliation, it was diverted by our supplier,” said company spokeswoman Katherine d’Entremont.

Irving’s operations and supplies to customers remained normal, she added.

A second vessel, the SCF Ussuri, a refined products tanker chartered by Suncor Energy, slowed down on Thursday and is currently near the Gulf of St. Lawrence after suspending its original route to Montreal, Canada, according to vessel data and sources.

The vessel loaded at New York on Feb. 24 and had been due to arrive in Montreal on March 1. As the SCF Ussuri loaded in the U.S. East Coast, it cannot return to the United States without violating the Jones Act, which prevents non-U.S. ships moving goods between U.S. ports.

“It’s incredibly confusing for where these ships go, whether they will be received or not and if ports will accept them,” said Dan Yergin, vice chairman of energy research and consultancy HIS Markit.

The Biden administration is considering following Canada in barring Russian ships from U.S. ports, a government official said on Wednesday.

A third Sovcomflot tanker that was also near a North American terminal, the SCF Yenisei, changed its destination on Thursday to return to Russia’s Vanino port after discharging refined product earlier this month at the port of Anacortes, on the U.S. West Coast, according to Eikon data.

As countries impose formal and informal restrictions on Russian vessels, many might be also rerouted to Asia, Yergin added.

Russian-flagged ships represent a very small percentage of U.S. traffic, but barring Russian cargo from the United States would have a dramatically larger impact. It was not clear if the administration is seriously considering that more drastic step.

(Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Houston and Laura Sanicola in Washington; Additional reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary; Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Lisa Shumaker, Richard Pullin and Marguerita Choy)

Swiss to waive anti-trust rules for gas companies seeking new supplies

ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland will waive anti-trust rules to allow gas companies to coordinate to find new supply and storage capacity to help the country cope with uncertainties caused by Russian hostilities in Ukraine, the government said on Friday.

Gas prices have hit record highs in Europe on fears of supply disruption from Russia, which supplies about 40% of Europe’s gas.

“The war shows how reliant Europe is on Russian gas,” Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told a news conference, saying Switzerland was too reliant on energy imports. “We therefore must strengthen our own energy production.”

Gas accounts for some 15% of Switzerland’s energy use, Sommaruga said, roughly half of which is from Russia.

“As the corresponding procurements can only be made jointly by the gas companies due to their size, agreements are necessary within the industry… (so) the Federal Council decided that the industry can already make the procurements jointly without having to fear anti-trust consequences at a later date,” the government said.

It also said its energy supply was secure for this winter but faced “residual risk” in the event of further major unplanned power plant outages, a prolonged cold spell, or should the supply of Russian gas to Europe stop.

It is working to secure supplies for the 2022/23 winter and tasked the Swiss gas industry with procuring new sources of gas and terminal capacities, as well as storage capacities abroad.

Switzerland doesn’t have an underground gas storage facility, but one of its four regional gas companies, Gaznat, owns a stake in France’s Etrez site.

The regional natural gas supply companies — Gaznat S.A., Erdgas Zentralschweiz AG, Gasverbund Mittelland AG and Erdgas Ostschweiz AG — transport natural gas to local suppliers and direct customers in their respective regions.

Switzerland is planning new hydropower reserves and back-up power plants after officials warned the country would be without power for nearly two days in a worst-case scenario.

The government plans to bolster its power network as it moves to more renewable and hydropower while phasing out nuclear energy.

(Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi. Editing by Jane Merriman)