Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 114: European Commission backs Ukraine’s EU candidacy status

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Biden says he is unaware of whereabouts of Americans missing in Ukraine

President Joe Biden stated he has been briefed about a trio of US nationals missing in Ukraine but is unaware of their whereabouts.

In remarks issued to reporters, he also reiterated that “Americans should not be going to Ukraine.”

Washington announced on Thursday it was aware of reports that a third US citizen was missing after travelling to Ukraine and that it had not yet asked Moscow about two other nationals reportedly captured after going to the country to fight against Russia’s forces.

Johnson: Britain to help Ukraine free up grain for export

In joint news conference with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Britain will give Kyiv the “strategic endurance” to prevail in Russia’s war on Ukraine, and it will continue to intensify sanctions against Russia.

He also pledged to help Ukraine free up grain for export via the Black Sea, which he said was being “held hostage” by Vladimir Putin.

“We’re going to work together to liberate the the grain, which is being held hostage right now by Putin, depriving people around the world and the food that they need,” Johnson added.

The United Kingdom has offered Ukrainian military forces to take part in a “major training program” that would “fundamentally change the equation of the war,” Downing Street announced Friday in a statement amid Johnson’s visit to Kyiv.

“As Ukrainian soldiers fire UK missiles in defense of your nation’s sovereignty, they do so also in defense of the very freedoms we take for granted. That is why I have offered President Zelensky a major new military training program that could change the equation of this war – harnessing that most powerful of forces, the Ukrainian determination to win,” Johnson is quoted as saying in the statement.

“Two months on from my last visit, the Ukrainian grit, determination and resilience is stronger than ever, and I know that unbreakable resolve will long outlive the vain ambitions of President Putin,” he added.

According to Downing Street, the program has the potential to train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days, with each soldier spending three weeks on the training course outside of Ukraine, learning battle winning skills for the front line, as well as basic medical training, cyber-security and counter explosive tactics.

Ukraine has yet to accept the offer.

Zelensky says Russia overwhelmingly striking civilians

Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, has said the “overwhelming majority” of Russian missile strikes are targeted against civilians and civilian infrastructure. Russia has been attacking residential buildings, schools, hospitals, transport and enterprises, he added.

Speaking at a news conference with Boris Johnson, following the UK prime minister’s surprise visit to Kyiv, Zelensky stated the “paramount” task for the west is to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian rockets.

The two leaders also discussed how to “step up” sanctions against Russia, Zelenskyy said, adding, “We can make sanctions very, very tangible in order to make sure that Russia feels the consequences of his or its terrorist acts against Ukraine and international stability.”

Putin says “we have nothing against” Ukraine joining EU

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Russia has “nothing against” Ukraine joining the European Union.

“The EU is not a military-political bloc, unlike NATO, therefore we have always said and I have always said that our position here is consistent, understandable, we have nothing against it,” Putin stated during a panel discussion following his speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

“It is the sovereign decision of any country to join or not to join economic associations, and it is up to this economic association to accept new states as its members or not. As far as it is expedient for the EU, let the EU countries themselves decide. Whether it will be for the benefit or to the detriment of Ukraine is also their business,” Putin continued.

“This is the business of Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian current leadership, but the structure of the Ukrainian economy is such that it will require very large subsidies. Well, if you do not protect the internal market, Ukraine will turn into such a semi-colony, in my opinion. But, at the same time, it will receive quite significant support for current expenses. It is unlikely that this will lead to the restoration of the lost aircraft industry, shipbuilding and the electronics industry,” he added.

The restoration of Russia’s relations with Ukraine is “inevitable,” Putin stated.

“We proceed from the fact that sooner or later the situation will normalize, and we are interested in prosperity for all our neighbors, then it is inevitable,” Putin said commenting on Ukraine’s possible accession to the European Union.

“I want this to be clear, restoration of relations is inevitable,” he stressed.

Johnson makes second surprise visit to Kyiv to meet with Zelensky

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Friday to visit President Volodymyr Zelensky for a second time, according to Ukraine’s Presidency.

Video from the Presidency showed Zelensky warmly greeting Johnson before both men stepped inside a presidential building for a meeting.

The two leaders were shown sitting at a table discussing Ukraine’s need for heavy weapons to counter Russia’s continuing aggression.

Zelensky said on Telegram: “Many days of this war have proved that Great Britain’s support for Ukraine is firm and resolute. Glad to see our country’s great friend Boris Johnson in Kyiv again.”

Johnson posted a picture of him and Zelensky in the Ukrainian capital on Friday on his official Twitter account.

Putin says Moscow has weathered Western sanctions

President Vladimir Putin says that Russia’s economy has weathered a “blitzkrieg” of Western sanctions imposed in response to Moscow’s invasion.

Delivering a combative speech at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, the Russian president stated gloomy forecasts for his country’s economy had not been fulfilled.

He also delivered a lengthy denunciation of the United States and its allies, accusing Washington of treating other countries as “colonies” and warning “nothing will be as it used to be in global politics” anymore.

Putin said that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are not responsible for the global food crisis and accused the US of driving up food prices.

“Famine in the poorest countries will be on the conscience of the US administration and the Eurocrats,” he added.

Putin stated Russia is ready to export more grain to balance the world food markets. Russia’s focus will be on supplying food to those countries that are at risk of facing famine, he said.

Russia accuses EU of ‘manipulating’ Ukraine over membership

Russia’s foreign ministry has accused Brussels of “manipulating” Ukraine after the European Commission recommended the country be granted candidate status for joining the 27-nation bloc.

“We see how for many years the Western community has been manipulating the idea of some kind of involvement of Ukraine in their integration structures,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

Ukraine, however, is getting “worse and worse,” she added.

Zakharova stated Ukraine was “not getting a bright future, for some reason, despite the promises becoming more and more sweet and alluring”.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has also said the European Commission’s decision to recommend Ukraine become an EU candidate state “requires our increased attention.”

“It still remains a different plane, although it requires our increased attention,” stated Peskov during a daily call with reporters.

“We all know about the intensification in Europe and discussions about strengthening the defense component of the EU,” he continued, adding, “Therefore, there are different transformations that we observe.

CERN to halt cooperation with Russia, Belarus over Ukraine war

The European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN) says its decision-making body intends to terminate cooperation agreements with Russia and Belarus after they expire in 2024 over the situation in Ukraine.

The organisation said in a statement that its council had declared during a meeting on Thursday that the situation “will continue to be monitored carefully” and that it “stands ready to take any further decision in the light of developments” in the war-torn country.

Ukraine receives first funds through IMF account

Ukraine’s prime minister says his country has received a loan of one billion Canadian dollars ($770m) on concessional terms, its first funds through an “administered account” set up by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“Grateful to…(Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland) for support & comprehensive assistance to Ukraine in the fight against the aggressor,” Denys Shmygal tweeted, referring to Russia.

The IMF set up the administered account in April to provide donors with a secure way to channel financial assistance to Ukraine in the form of grants and loans

Zelensky says EU membership path will “bring our victory closer”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Friday that the European Commission’s recommendation that Ukraine be given “candidate status” to the EU would bring his country closer to victory in fighting off Russia’s invasion.

“I commend the positive EU Commission Conclusion on [Ukraine]’s candidate status,” he said on Twitter.

“It’s the 1st step on the EU membership path that’ll certainly bring our Victory closer,” he added.

“Grateful to the European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen & each EC [European Commission] member for a historic decision,” he added.

“I expect the positive result from EUCO [European Council] next week,” he continued.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal also stated he is “grateful” for the decision.

“Grateful to the European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen for this decision!” he said via Twitter.

“It will accelerate the process of full [Ukrainian] integration into the [European] internal market and effectively accompany the recovery of #Ukraine by EU standards,” he added.

Kremlin says “massive” cyberattacks have delayed Putin’s speech

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) on Friday has been postponed by an hour due to a “massive DDoS [distributed denial-of-service] attacks” on the SPIEF systems, the Kremlin said Friday.

The speech was supposed to start at 7 a.m. ET.

“Unfortunately, today, due to massive DDoS attacks on the forum’s system, the base of accreditation and admission were disabled,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists on an impromptu conference call.

Peskov added that technical specialists are working to fix the system but it will take some time.

“We need 30-40 minutes to restore data base,” he said.

“In view of this, President [Putin] has decided to postpone his speech for an hour. It will take place not at 2 p.m, but at 3 p.m [local],” he continued.

Ukraine says it will make EU “safer, stronger and more prosperous”

Ukraine’s foreign minister has told CNN that he welcomes the European Commission recommending his country for candidate status in the European Union.

“This well-deserved move will not only motivate Ukraine to further advance its transformations, but also make the EU safer, stronger and more prosperous,” Dmytro Kuleba said on Friday.

“We believe it is high time to anchor Ukraine in the European family of nations, whose values we are now defending at the battleground of the Russian aggression,” he added.

He stated that his country was “confident that it deserves an individual merit-based approach when it comes to its EU integration path.”

Andriy Yermak, Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said on Telegram that Ukraine’s task now was “to do everything as quickly as possible.”

“We’re working,” he noted, adding, “Ukraine will be in the EU.”

“We do not know anything about it”: Kremlin spokesperson says about missing US fighters

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told CNN on Friday that he does not know anything about two American fighters who went missing north of Kharkiv, Ukraine.

“No, we do not know anything about it,” Peskov said during a media call.

The two Americans fighting alongside Ukrainian forces have been missing for nearly a week, and there are fears that they may have been captured by Russian forces, according to their families and a fellow fighter.

The men are Alexander John-Robert Drueke, age 39, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Andy Tai Ngoc Huynh, age 27, from Hartselle, Alabama.

On Thursday, a photo emerged on the Telegram channel of a Russian blogger which appeared to show the two Americans in the back of a military truck, apparently confirming they had been captured by Russian forces.

The photo shows the two men looking up at the camera with hands behind their backs as if bound.

On Thursday the US State Department announced there is potential evidence that Alexander Drueke has been captured, but it cannot verify the photo at this time, his mother, Bunny Drueke, told CNN.

The undated photo was posted on Telegram on Thursday by a Russian blogger, The V — whose full name is Timofey Vasilyev, from Moscow.

Russia says closely following Ukraine’s efforts to become EU member

The Kremlin has also responded to the recommendation by the European Union’s executive commission that Ukraine and Moldova be designated candidates for membership of the bloc.

During his regular briefing with reporters, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia was closely following Ukraine’s efforts to become an EU member.

Peskov stated the issue “requires our heightened attention, because we are all aware of the intensification of discussions in Europe on the subject of strengthening the defence component of the EU”.

He added there are various transformations that we are observing in the most careful way.

Peskov told reporters that the goal of Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine continued to be to “save and secure” the population of the eastern Donbas region from what he called “barbaric attacks” by Kyiv’s forces.

Russia is in contact with Turkey regarding the export of grain from Ukraine but there are a lot of uncertainties from the Ukrainian side, Peskov said.

Ukraine’s DM claims NATO allies consider the country a “de-facto” member

Ukraine’s defense minister on Friday morning said NATO allies told him at a summit in Brussels that his country was considered a “de facto” member of the alliance.

“It is important to point out that this was the first time such a meeting was held with four non-Alliance states present: Ukraine, Georgia, Sweden, and Finland,” Oleksiy Reznikov said on Facebook.

“Soon, the matter of Sweden’s and Finland’s membership in NATO will be considered,” he noted.

“Given the occasion, I had the opportunity to discuss ‘NATO de-facto’ with our partners,” he added, stating, “I am glad that my colleagues have confirmed that Ukraine de-facto is already a member of this family.”

Reznikov provided no specifics about who may have characterized Ukraine in that manner. Aspiration to NATO membership is enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution, but the country is not a member of the alliance.

On Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was asked at a press conference whether the huge levels of military support for Ukraine meant that now was the “right time” to discuss the country’s future membership in the military alliance.

“Our focus now is on support to Ukraine to provide military support, lethal, non-lethal support, from Allies and from NATO, and also on capacity building and this helped to modernize​ more for the longer term, the defense and security institutions of Ukraine,” Stoltenberg stated.

Russia: Nearly 2,000 foreign fighters killed in Ukraine

Russia on Friday claimed that close to 2,000 foreign mercenaries have been killed in Ukraine since the start of Moscow’s military intervention in the pro-Western country.

Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement that 6,956 “mercenaries and weapons specialists” from 64 countries had arrived in Ukraine since the start of the conflict and that “1,956 have already been destroyed”.

Another 1,779 have left Ukraine, the statement added.

It said that Poland was the “absolute leader” among European countries for the number of fighters that were sent to Ukraine, followed by Romania and Britain.

It also singled out “mercenaries” from Canada, the United States and the Caucasus nation of Georgia.

The ministry added the number of foreign fighters is decreasing and many are leaving Ukraine “against the backdrop of the growing number of military failures of the Kyiv regime and massive daily losses in manpower and equipment”.

Russia has ‘strategically lost’ war in Ukraine: UK defence chief

Russia has “strategically lost” the war in Ukraine and is now a “more diminished power” both diplomatically and economically than several months ago, the UK’s armed forces chief has said.

In an interview published on Friday, Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin said Vladimir Putin had lost 25 per cent of Russia’s land power to reap only “tiny” gains.

He added while Russia may achieve “tactical successes” in the coming weeks, the idea the war had been a success was “nonsense”.

“President Putin has used about 25 per cent of his army’s power to gain a tiny amount of territory and 50,000 people either dead or injured,” Admiral Radakin stated.

Admiral Radakin said Russia could never occupy all of Ukraine as it was suffering heavy losses, running low on advanced missiles and faced the scorn of a strengthening NATO.

“This is a dreadful mistake by Russia. Russia will never take control of Ukraine,” he continued, adding, “Russia has vulnerabilities because it’s running out of people, it’s running out of high-tech missiles.

“This is going to be a long fight. And we’re supporting Ukraine. Ukraine has shown how courageous it really is,” he noted.

Data suggests 15,000 millionaires trying to leave Russia

Thousands of millionaires are trying to leave Russia, data suggests according to Britain’s defence ministry.

A continued exodus of its business and oligarch community will likely exacerbate the war’s long-term damage to its economy, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.

“Migration applications suggest that 15,000 Russian millionaires are likely already attempting to leave,” the MoD added.

On the war front, Russia is likely trying to regain momentum in attempts to surround the Sievierodonetsk pocket from the south, it said.

Ukrainian officials have sated their troops were holding out against massive Russian bombardment in the eastern city, and described new progress in a counteroffensive in the south.

Ukraine’s bid to join EU gets major boost as executive backs candidacy

Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union received a major boost on Friday morning, after the bloc’s executive said it believed the country should be formally considered for candidate status in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

Speaking in Brussels, the European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen stated the Commission recommends “that Ukraine is given candidate status. This is of course on the understanding that the country will carry out a number of further reforms.”

“In the view of the Commission, Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the country’s aspiration and determination to live up to European standards,” she added.

Leaders of the 27 EU member states will now meet for a summit next week to discuss the Commission’s opinion. Even if the member states agree that Ukraine should be a candidate nation — which is far from certain — the process to join the EU is complicated and takes, on average, just under five years to complete, according to the think tank, UK in a Changing Europe.

Conditions in Mariupol now “medieval”: Ukrainian city official

Conditions in Russian-occupied Mariupol are now “medieval,” an advisor to the city’s Ukrainian mayor said Friday.

“Mariupol is now in the medieval,” Petro Andriushchenko told national television, adding, “Water supply is only available in 2-3% of the city’s households. People wash their clothes in puddles on the streets.”

“The risk of disease spreading is rising day by day. There is information that people come to doctors with symptoms similar to dysentery or cholera,” he stated.

The World Health Organization last month announced that it too was concerned about the risk of cholera in Mariupol, calling the hygienic situation there “a huge hazard.”

Andriushchenko is not in the city but has been a reliable conduit for information from Mariupol.

He said that Russia was in the process of building a “military camp” at the city.

“Departure from Mariupol is possible only to Russia,” Andriushchenko continued, adding, “We advise people to leave, but on their own and not in official columns, and then go towards the Baltic countries or Georgia. We advise people to drive non-stop and cross the border ASAP.”

Crossing from Russian-occupied Mariupol to Ukrainian-held territory, he noted, was impossible.

On May 20, the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol — the final stand and a powerful symbol of Ukrainian resistance in an otherwise Russian-occupied city — fell to Russian troops after nearly three months of brutal fighting.

At least 1,348 civilians were killed during the battle of Mariupol, including 70 children, a top United Nations official said Thursday.

“The actual death toll of hostilities on civilians is likely thousands higher,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated.

France ‘no longer receiving any Russian gas via pipelines’

France has not received any natural gas from Russia via pipeline since June 15, network operator GRTgaz says, after Russian energy giant Gazprom warned this week it would sharply cut deliveries to Europe.

Gazprom announced the supply reductions via the Nord Stream pipeline are the result of repair work, but EU officials believe Moscow is punishing allies of Ukraine.

France gets around 17 percent of its gas from Russia through network connections with Germany, which relies heavily on Russian supplies and has criticised Gazprom’s move as “political”. Supplies had already been reduced by 60 percent since the beginning of this year, sending prices soaring.

But GRTgaz said there was no risk to French supplies currently, with reserves at 56 percent capacity compared with 50 percent in June normally.

Slovak gas importer sees Russian deliveries cut by half

Slovakia’s gas importer SPP was informed by Russia that its deliveries of gas would be reduced by half, its chief executive was quoted as saying.

“Cutting the deliveries by a half does not hurt us at the moment. We are working with a realistic risk that they will be cut completely,” SPP boss Richard Prokypcak was cited as saying by Slovak news website Dennik N.

SPP was not immediately available for comment.

Macron: If you “crush Russia,” Ukraine will never have peace

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that Ukraine would never have peace if the ultimate aim of the conflict in the country is to “crush Russia.”

Macron stated he had heard some say that “the goal of this war is to crush Russia. And that’s where I say you’re wrong. If you do that, you’ll never get a negotiated peace.”

The president was speaking in an interview with CNN affiliate BFMTV on Friday on board a train leaving Ukraine following meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other European leaders in Kyiv on Thursday.

He added that crushing Russia is not Zelenksy’s goal either.

“President Zelensky defends his land. And we want to help him do so,” Macron said, adding that “commentators or certain leaders shouldn’t push beyond even what the Ukrainians intend.”

“And so it has been the role of France to put a limit to this question,” he said, adding, “we have sometimes won the war and lost the peace.”

Macron affirmed France’s support for Ukraine and countered charges that his previous comments about not wishing to “humiliate Russia” had hampered relations with Ukraine’s president.

“We are doing everything so that Ukraine wins this war,” he said.

He also defended France’s efforts to broker discussions between Moscow and Kyiv.

“The role of the France is to have possible links for discussion with Russia,” he added, conceding that currently, “there’s no availability on the Russian or Ukrainian side for real discussions” following the discovery of war crimes in Bucha.

“We have never negotiated on the part of the Ukrainians. Never,” he continued.

Russia says reports it is taking stolen Ukraine grain to Syria are fake

Moscow’s representative to Syria has labelled as “fake” reports that Russian-flagged ships had been seen taking Ukraine’s grain to ports in Syria, state news agency RIA reports.

Reuters had earlier reported on satellite images from Maxar Technologies showing that Russia had been transporting Ukraine’s grain, harvested last season, to Syria over the last couple of months.

“This is more fake, unconfirmed and unrealistic information,” RIA quotes Alexander Lavrentyev as saying.

“The main reserves are located in the Nikolaev [Mykolaiv] and the Odesa regions. Russian ships do not have access to these ports, because they are under the control of Ukraine,” Lavrentyev added.

Ukraine: Evacuation from Severodonetsk chemical plant ‘impossible’

The governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region announced evacuation of 568 civilians sheltering in bunkers under the Azot chemical plant in the embattled city of Severodonetsk is currently impossible due to shelling and heavy fighting.

In a post on Telegram messenger, he stated there were 38 children taking shelter in the bunkers at the chemical plant.

Ukraine war accelerating Russia’s authoritarianism trajectory: UK

The war in Ukraine has accelerated Russia’s long-term internal trajectory towards authoritarianism, the UK’s defence ministry has announced.

“In recent weeks, the Duma has started the process to introduce a 20-year sentence for Russians who fight against the Russian Federation,” the ministry said in its intelligence briefing on Twitter.

Although speaking out against the invasion is being criminalised and despite the majority of Russians saying they support what Moscow calls its “special military operation”, many Russians are passively and actively showing opposition, the UK added.

“Migration applications suggest that 15,000 Russian millionaires (in US dollars) are likely already attempting to leave the country,” it said, adding that were this exodus to continue, it would exacerbate the war’s damage to Russia’s economy.

Moscow: NATO to engage all resources to prevent success of Russian operation in Ukraine

NATO countries will obviously try to engage all their resources to prevent the success of the Russian special military operation in Ukraine, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

“The Kiev regime is being continuously pumped with increasingly lethal weapons, in particular rocket-launching artillery, which will inevitably increase the number of casualties. The appearance of such pieces of armaments in the conflict zone has already led to an increase in the destruction of civilian infrastructure in the LPR and DPR,” the diplomat stressed.

“But this does not bother anyone in the West, this is ‘collateral damage’ for them,” she pointed out. “The main thing is not to let Russia successfully complete the special operation in Ukraine. Obviously, all resources available in NATO and its member countries will be used to achieve this goal,” Zakharova added.

Kremlin: Finland, Sweden’s possible NATO membership unlikely to enhance security in Europe

A possible accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO would not provide for the enhancement of security in Europe, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with CNN.

“We are sure that the membership of Finland and Sweden in NATO, it won’t bring any additional benefits to the security of the European continent. On the opposite, it will bring additional tension,” CNN quoted Peskov as saying in English.

The Finnish and Swedish ambassadors to NATO handed their countries’ applications for NATO membership to the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on May 18. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on the same day that Ankara would not support the nations’ admission to NATO until they determined their attitude towards terrorist organizations, in particular, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Speaking at the summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Moscow on May 16, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated Moscow would retaliate to the expansion of NATO’s military infrastructures into Finland and Sweden. At the same time, the Russian leader remarked that Finland and Sweden’ NATO membership did not pose an immediate threat to Russia, because Moscow had no problems in relations with those countries.

FM: Russia did not invade Ukraine, special operation was only way out

Russia did not invade Ukraine, it declared a special military operation at the point when there was absolutely no other solution, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with BBC.

“We declared a special military operation because we had absolutely no other way of explaining to the West that dragging Ukraine into NATO was a criminal act,” the top diplomat stated.

Lavrov recalled statements from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, “who said back in September 2021 (did you tell your viewers about it?) that if someone feels Russian in Ukraine, let them go to Russia”.

“When a CNN correspondent told him that Azov Regiment had been put on the list of extremist, terrorist organizations in some Western countries, in the US and Japan, Zelensky shrugged his shoulders and said that they had many such battalions and regiments, and they are what they are,” Lavrov went on to say.

Russia “had no other way out” and Moscow explained it repeatedly, the top diplomat stressed.

“Now, the Ukrainian regime is attacking civilians, the cities with our Western weapons, they way they were doing it in 2014, when coupists came to power, when they bombed the center of Lugansk from planes, when they burned 50 people in Odessa. Does anyone remember this now?” Lavrov asked.

“We didn’t attack anyone. Russians were attacked in Ukraine,” he stressed.

Russia is not hindering food exports from Ukraine: Envoy

Russia is not hindering food exports from Ukraine, while authorities in Kiev are blocking cargo vessels from leaving their ports in the Black Sea, Russia’s US Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said.

“Russia is not trying to impede Ukrainian food exports. We understand very well the importance of resuming supplies to the countries in need. But the departure of merchant vessels from the Black Sea ports is hampered by the Kiev authorities’ actions,” Antonov stated in his article published by The National Interest magazine.

The ambassador noted that it was a decision of authorities from Kiev “to install around 420 mines” adding that “due to their outdated construction, their anchors often fall off, which only increases their danger.”

According to him, Russia resorts to all necessary measures to restore the maritime navigation.

“Russia is taking measures to support civilian shipping. The port of Mariupol has been cleaned up and has resumed its operations,” Antonov continued, adding, “Since March, the Russian Navy has been organizing daily humanitarian corridors from the territorial waters of Ukraine to the Bosporus Strait. The detailed coordinates have been made public.”

The Russian diplomat also expressed gratitude to Turkey for its assistance in providing safety for the maritime navigation.

“We are grateful to our Turkish partners for their attention to the issue of restoring food deliveries across the Black Sea and for the readiness demonstrated by Ankara to search for solutions,” he noted.

“Success can only be achieved provided that Ukrainian authorities agree to cooperate on the matter constructively. They should start by removing the mines they set,” Antonov added.

The ambassador also said that the port of Odessa was not the only one that can serve for the transportation of cargoes from Ukraine.

“In addition to Odessa, we see several more ways to organize the delivery of Ukrainian products abroad,” Antonov said, adding, “For example, by using the infrastructure on the Azov Sea. We are ready to facilitate the smooth export of grain from the ports under our control.”

“There are also opportunities to use transport corridors through Poland, Romania, and Belarus. The only thing that the latter—and by far the easiest in terms of practical implementation – option requires is a sanctions lift on Belarusian fertilizers,” he continued.

Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow guaranteed the unobstructed passage of vessels containing Ukrainian grain if Kiev clears mines from its ports and can guarantee the exports through the ports controlled by Russia, such as Berdyansk and Mariupol.

According to the Russian leader, Ukraine may also export grain by land with Belarus being the most logical route yet in order to do so, Western sanctions imposed on that East European country must be lifted. The Russian president also reiterated that problems on the global food market started as early as February 2020. He dismissed statements that Russia was allegedly blocking grain in Ukrainian ports as mere bluffing.

Beijing stands firm against fueling tensions in Ukraine: China’s Embassy in US

China rejects all measures aimed at fueling tensions regarding the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in the United States, told TASS.

“What China provides to Ukraine are much-needed humanitarian supplies such as food, baby formula, sleeping bags, quilts and damp-proof mats,” he said, adding, “In contrast, what the US provides to Ukraine are lethal weapons.”

“China supports all efforts that are conducive to easing the situation and political settlement. And China opposes actions like fanning the flame or adding fuel to the fire that may escalate the situation and are counterproductive to political resolution,” the diplomat continued.

According to Liu Pengyu, Beijing stands for the promotion of negotiations and holds a constructive stance regarding a peaceful settlement of the Ukrainian conflict.

“There are complex historical merits on the Ukraine issue,” he said, adding, “China has been independently making its decisions and expounding on its positions with an objective and just attitude based on the merits of the matter itself.”

“China is not a party directly related to the issue, but it has been committed to promoting peace talks and playing a constructive role in pursuing peaceful settlement of the crisis,” according to the diplomat.

“Our just position and constructive efforts, witnessed by all, have received the understanding and support of the international community, especially the vast developing world,” Liu Pengyu stated.

Biden questioned US hawks over Ukraine: Report

US President Joe Biden reportedly told senior defense and diplomatic officials in his administration to tone down their rhetoric after they pledged to help Ukraine win the conflict with Russia, NBC News reported.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken apparently made statements that Biden didn’t like during their joint visit to Poland in April, the report noted. Both stated the US goal was to help Ukraine win a war against Russia rather than simply defend itself.

Biden held a conference call with both at the time to express concern that they were setting unrealistic expectations about the scope of US support and risked dragging the country into a direct conflict with Russia, according to NBC News. The report was based on interviews with seven current US officials and other sources, who were not named.

“Biden was not happy when Blinken and Austin talked about winning in Ukraine,” the outlet cites a source as saying.

“He was not happy with the rhetoric.” While they both claimed that their remarks “had been misconstrued,” the report added.

Biden did not admonish them after the explanations, sources who witnessed the call said. Despite concerns that the situation in Ukraine would turn into a protracted conflict, the president adopted the goal of a strategic victory over Russia as policy.

During a press conference after Blinken and Austin made a surprise visit to Kiev in April, the Pentagon chief said, “The first step in winning is believing that you can win,” and both the U.S. and the Ukrainians “believe that we — they — can win, if they have the right equipment, the right support”…

“And we’re going to do everything we can and continue to do everything we can,” he added.

Biden previously made some statements on Ukraine that his own staff later walked back. During a speech in Poland in late March, he noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” after launching the Ukraine campaign. The White House downplayed the remark as an emotional outburst rather than confirmation that the US sought to topple the Russian government.

According to NBC News, US officials are increasingly concerned about the uncompromising stance of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has refused to negotiate peace with Russia and declared a military victory as the only acceptable option. People in Washington believe it may be unsustainable, the outlet reported. But the Biden administration declined to pressure Kiev to make concessions, even as its European allies are advocating talks.

Russia’s Ukraine invasion shows aggression against all of Europe: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Russia’s invasion amounted to aggression against all of Europe and that the more weapons Ukraine receives from the West, the faster it will be able to liberate its occupied land.

“Every day of delay or postponed decisions is an opportunity for the Russian military to kill Ukrainians or destroy our cities,” he stated.

“There is a direct correlation: the more powerful weapons we receive, the faster we can liberate our people, our land,” he added.

“Russia wants to demonstrate that united Europe is unable to be effective and that European values do not work for protecting freedom. We can and we should break this scenario and prove them that Europe will continue to be free, democratic and … united,” he said.

Zelensky added the best way to demonstrate “our common and strong position” is by supporting Ukrainian integration into the European Union, adding that Ukraine’s status as candidate for EU membership “can amplify freedom in Europe historically and become one of the key European decisions of the first third of the 21st century.”

Zelensky noted Ukraine is ready to work to become a full EU member.

“We understand that that the path to the European Union is really a path and it is not one step. But this path must begin, and we are ready to work so that our state is transformed into a full member of the European Union, and Ukrainians have already earned the right to embark on this path,” he said.

The Ukrainian president has called on EU leaders to give his country fast-track membership to the bloc through a shortened procedure to counter Russian aggression.

Zelensky stated the total number of Russian missiles used against the civilian population in Ukraine has “already reached 3,000 this month,” adding that the sooner Ukraine receives more powerful weapons from the West, the faster it will be able to end the Russian attacks.

“Each batch of such supplies equals rescued Ukrainians. And every day of delaying or postponing decisions is a chance for the Russian military to kill Ukrainians or a chance to destroy our cities. There is a direct connection: The more powerful weapons we get, the faster we can liberate our people and liberate our land,” Zelensky continued.

US has not asked Russia about two missing Americans

The United States has said it has not asked Russia about two US citizens reported missing after travelling to Ukraine to fight against Russian forces and said there are reports of a third missing American.

“As of today, we have not raised this yet with the Russian Federation … (We) haven’t seen anything from the Russians indicating that two such individuals are in their custody,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, describing reports about the two men as unconfirmed.

Alexander Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Huynh, 27, of Hartselle, Alabama, went to Ukraine as volunteer fighters against Russian forces, have been missing for a week, and are feared captured, family members have announced.

The US State Department has also announced it knows of reports of a third American who traveled to Ukraine to fight against Russia who has been identified “in recent weeks” as missing, but was unable to give further details.

Russian economy ‘won’t be as it was’: Central Bank head

The head of the Russian Central Bank has warned that the country’s economy faces pressure from abroad that could persist indefinitely, dampening hopes that conditions could return to what they were before Russia sent troops into Ukraine.

“It seems to me that it’s obvious to everyone that it won’t be as it was before,” Elvira Nabiullina said at a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an annual showpiece gathering aimed at investors.

“External conditions have changed for a long time indeed, if not forever,” she added.

Russia’s Minister of Economic Development, Maxim Reshetnikov, told the same session that the prognosis is for Russia’s gross domestic product to fall by 7.8 percent this year, but “in the last month, there’s been a wave of improving assessments and prognoses”.

Ukraine says Russian peace talks proposals are an attempt to deceive world

Ukrainian peace talks negotiator dismissed Russia’s latest comments about being ready to resume negotiations as “an attempt to deceive the world.”

Mykhailo Podolyak said in an online post on Thursday that Russia wanted to give the impression of being ready to talk while planning to stab Ukraine in the back.

Kyiv would definitely return to the negotiations but only at the right time, he added.

Europe energy security at no immediate risk: EC

Europe’s energy security is not at immediate risk as a result of Russia reducing gas supplies to more European countries on Thursday, a European Commission spokesperson has said.

“Based on our exchange with the national authorities this morning via the Gas Coordination Group, there is no indication of an immediate security of supply risk,” the spokesperson stated, adding that Brussels and countries’ national authorities were monitoring the situation closely.

UK sanctions Russia’s minister responsible for forced ‘transfer and adoption’ of Ukraine’s children

The United Kingdom’s new round of sanctions on Russian officials includes Moscow’s Children’s Rights Commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for her role in the “forced transfer and adoption of Ukrainian children”, a statement from the foreign ministry says.

The statement describes Russia’s treatment of children in Ukraine as “barbaric” and says that “Lvova-Belova has been accused of enabling 2,000 vulnerable children being violently taken from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.”

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in mid-May that more than 190,000 children had arrived in Russia from Ukraine’s Donbas region, including about 1,200 coming from orphanages in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.

Ukraine has accused Russia of forcibly and illegally deporting more than 200,000 children – some with families, others who had lost their parents in the war and others from orphanages.

Russian ships taking Ukraine’s grain to Syria: Satellite image company

Russian-flagged ships have been carrying Ukraine’s grain that was harvested last season and transported to Syria over the last couple of months, US satellite imagery company Maxar Technologies has claimed.

‘Gross violations’ took place in Mariupol: UN

The intensity and extent of the death and destruction in Mariupol suggested that “serious violations” of international humanitarian law and “gross violations” of international human rights law occurred during the battle for the Ukrainian city, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has announced.

Michelle Bachelet made the observation as she presented her agency’s report into the situation in Mariupol before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

She stated that the “tragedy of Mariupol” was far from over and explained that the full picture of the devastation was not yet clear.

At least 1,348 people have been killed in Mariupol since the beginning of the war, making it the “deadliest place in Ukraine”, Bachelet has said, adding the death toll is likely “thousands higher”.

UN’s top human rights official also noted that nine out of 10 residential buildings and six out of 10 private houses have been damaged or destroyed, citing the attack on the theatre in March as an emblematic example.

Bachelet raised concern over the “filtration” process in the city where arbitrary determinations, intimidation and humiliation, which may amount to ill-treatment, have been reported.

The Ukrainian coordinator of the humanitarian corridor effort, Tetiana Lomakina, stated her hometown “is purposefully turned into a ghetto for the Ukrainians where the genocide takes place at an accelerated pace”. She said the civilian death toll is at 22,000 and that “47,000 have been forcefully transferred to Russia or other occupied territories.”

Russia must prevent execution: EU court

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on Thursday told Russia to prevent the execution of a Moroccan man sentenced to death in a pro-Moscow separatist region of Ukraine for fighting on behalf of Ukrainian forces.

Brahim Saadoun, a Moroccan citizen born in 2000, was sentenced to death along with two British men by the unrecognised Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), following his surrender to Russian forces in the conflict sparked by Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour.

Russia “should ensure that the death penalty imposed on the applicant was not carried out,” the court said its emergency ruling following a petition filed this month by a representative of Saadoun.

US: Silos on Ukraine border would keep grain out of Russian control

Temporary silos on Ukraine’s border would be intended to prevent Russia from stealing Ukrainian grain and make sure the country’s winter harvest is not lost due to a lack of storage, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has noted.

However, during a visit to the United Nations, Vilsack stressed that reviving shipments from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports was the most effective and efficient way to export grain and urged Russia to take UN-led talks on the issue “seriously”.

“We know of circumstances and situations where that has occurred – Russians having taken grain from Ukrainian farmers. So to the extent that we can get it out of the country, that is a plus that reduces the risk of loss,” Vilsack told reporters.

Zelensky hologram appeals for tech firm help

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky referenced World War II and the movie Star Wars as he sought aid from big tech firms, appearing as a hologram at a conference in Paris.

He told a crowd of hundreds at the VivaTech trade show that Ukraine was offering technology firms a unique chance to rebuild the country as a fully digital democracy.

He asked for help on the terms of lend-lease – the way in which the United States helped the Allies during World War II, whereby aid was offered without payment but on the understanding that hardware would be returned.

“It’s unusual for presidents or heads of government to use a hologram to address people, but this is not the only aspect of Star Wars that we are putting into practice,” he said.

“We will defeat the empire, too,” he added, likening Russian troops to the villains in the Star Wars franchise.

Zelensky has described the visit to Kyiv by the leaders of Germany, France and Italy (Chancellor Olaf Scholz, President Emmanuel Macron, Prime Minister Mario Draghi) — all criticised in the past by Kyiv for support viewed as too cautious — as “historic” and said “big steps” were made during their meeting.

“Today is a truly historic day. Ukraine has felt the support of four powerful European states. And in particular support for our movement towards the European Union. Italy, Romania, France and Germany are with us,” he said, during his evening address.

“All four leaders … support Ukraine’s candidacy. Of course, all relevant procedures must be followed, all EU member states must join. But at our meeting today a big step was made,” Zelensky added.

The leaders, who were joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, toured Irpin, a town northeast of the capital devastated soon after the invasion began on February 24, where withdrawing Russian forces left behind bodies littering the streets.

Macron asked French manufacturer to increase howitzer production: Report

President Emmanuel Macron has asked French arms manufacturer Nexter to increase the production of Caesar howitzers as he promised to send six more of the weapon systems to the Ukrainian army, a source close to France’s defence ministry said, the Reuters news agency reports.

Macron, ahead of his visit to Kyiv on Thursday, urged Nexter “to review its organisation to be able to work in a ‘wartime’ mode to be able to produce Ceasars much more quickly for the French army”, the source told Reuters.

Macron on Thursday pledged to send six more Ceasar howitzers out of French army stocks to Ukraine, adding to the 12 previously delivered. The French army in total holds less than 80 such artillery weapon systems.

Macron has decried the war crimes committed in Ukraine and promised to hold accountable the perpetrators.

“The whole world has witnessed the war crimes committed on Ukraine’s soil,” Macron said in a tweet.

“We will remain mobilised to ensure the perpetrators of those crimes are held accountable and punished in line with international law. Our experts are on the front line to gather the evidence,” he added.

European leaders back Ukraine’s EU bid

The leaders of France, Germany and Italy back “immediate” European Union candidate status for Ukraine amid their ongoing visit to Kyiv.

“All four of us support the status of immediate candidate for accession,” French President Macron told a joint news conference with his EU colleagues.

Moreover, he stated Ukraine must “resist and win” the war and has announced that France will donate six additional long-range artillery systems.

Leading EU official calls bloc’s expansion a ‘top priority’

European Council President Charles Michel in a visit to North Macedonia has said EU membership for the landlocked Balkan country and neighbouring Albania has become a “top priority” in light of the war in Ukraine.

“The war in Ukraine opened a new chapter in European history and put EU enlargement at the forefront,” Michel stated at the joint news conference with North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski in the lakeside resort of Ohrid.

EU “cannot delay” Ukraine membership process: Italian PM

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi reaffirmed his support for Ukraine’s hopes of joining the European Union and said the EU “cannot delay this process.”

He is in Kyiv on an official visit along with other European leaders.

“I want to say today that the most important message of our visit is that Italy wants Ukraine in the European Union and wants Ukraine to have candidate status and will support this position in the next European Council,” Draghi stated during a joint press conference Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his fellow European leaders French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

“The Ukrainian people defend every day the values of democracy and freedom that are the basis of the European project, of our project. We cannot delay this process,” Draghi added.

Zelensky understood the path from candidate to member of the EU was “a path, not a point,” the Italian prime minister also said, adding that “profound reforms” in the Ukrainian society had to be seen.

Draghi also warned that the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine “must not turn into a world catastrophe” and asked to “unlock the millions of tons of grain that are blocked in the Black Sea ports” through safe corridors.

“The only way forward is with a United Nations resolution, which regulates the creation of corridors in the Black Sea. Russia has so far rejected it,” Draghi continued.

Kyiv mayor tells German chancellor Ukraine “needs help today”

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the Ukrainian capital on Thursday.

Klitschko stated they discussed Ukraine’s urgent need for “weapons, economic, and financial assistance,” and called on Europe to impose “stronger and more effective sanctions against the Russian aggressor.”

“It is important that world leaders visit Ukraine and see the consequences of Russia’s barbaric actions, which are destroying our cities and brutally killing peaceful Ukrainians,” said Klitschko in a post on his Telegram.

He warned that appeasing Russian aggression “will only whet his appetite, and the war will spread to EU countries.”

Klitschko emphasized Ukraine’s need for immediate assistance to defeat Russia’s invasion.

“That is why Ukraine, which has taken on the blow of imperial evil and is heroically defending itself, needs help today and now!” he added.

Granting Ukraine EU candidate status would build and uphold European values: Romanian president

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis invited the European Union to grant Ukraine candidacy status, stressing “there is no time for hesitancy” while speaking alongside his Ukrainian, French, German and Italian counterparts during a historic visit to Kyiv on Thursday.

“We are at a turning point in European history,” he said.

“Extraordinary times call for an extraordinary strategic and visionary response. Granting EU candidate status to Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia at the European Council next week, is key in building a strong and lasting shield around all values,” he added.

“It is about our capacity to project security and stability in our neighborhood. There is no time left for hesitancy. Our partners need for us to step up our long-time support to help them build resilience and cope with a wide array of overlapping challenges, either conventional or hybrid,” he stated.

Speaking alongside him, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi also pledged their support for granting Ukraine candidate status to join the EU.

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