Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 147: Russia says its ‘objectives’ in Ukraine widened beyond Donbas

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:

Russia’s expanded goals in Ukraine reflect what US has warned about: Washington

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price has said that Russia’s expanded military focus in Ukraine to annex parts of the country beyond the eastern Donbas region is what the Biden administration has warned about.

“This war is nothing more than a war of territorial conquest,” Price stated at a briefing in reaction to comments issued by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Ukrainian drone struck nuclear plant but caused no damage: Russian official

The Russian-installed administration in the partially occupied Ukrainian region of Zaporizhia has said that Ukraine had conducted a drone attack on a nuclear power station there, but the reactor was undamaged.

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russian-installed administration, wrote on Telegram that three Ukrainian “kamikaze drones” had struck the plant. Rogov told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti that the plant’s reactor section was not damaged.

Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom, whose employees still run the plant despite the area being under Russian control, issued a statement later accusing Russian forces of demanding access to the machine halls of three reactors at the plant in order to store tanks and equipment there.

Energoatom added, without providing evidence, that Russian troops were doing so for fear of “presents” from Ukraine’s armed forces, an apparent reference to targeted attacks. The company did not comment on the alleged drone impact.

Top US general says Russia is failing in Ukraine

Top US general Mark Milley has stressed that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is failing, despite some recent advances in the east of the country.

“While the Russians have achieved some incremental tactical success in the Donbas over the last several weeks and actually months, they have failed to achieve their strategic and operational objectives,” Milley told reporters.

“A capable and defiant people of Ukraine, their capital still stands, their army still fights and their people are more determined now than ever to preserve their democracy,” he continued.

He added that the war continues to be a “battle of attrition” carried out largely through long-range fire.

Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region has not yet been lost to the Russians, the top US general said.

“No, it’s not lost yet,” Milley stated in a news briefing when asked by a reporter if the region was lost.

Moscow’s military “tasks” in Ukraine now go beyond the eastern Donbas region, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said.

Ukraine seeks debt freeze as war ravages economy

Ukraine has asked its international creditors, including Western powers and the world’s largest investment firms, to freeze its debt payments for two years so it can focus its dwindling financial resources on repelling Russia.

Facing an estimated 35 percent to 45 percent crash in GDP this year, Ukraine’s finance ministry said it was hoping to finalise the deferral on its roughly $20bn of debt by August 9.

“The disruption to fiscal cash flows and increased demands on government resources caused by the war has created unprecedented liquidity pressures and debt servicing difficulties,” the finance ministry said.

US to send more HIMARS to Ukraine: Pentagon chief

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has announced that the United States is set to send four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to Ukraine in the next military aid package, to be announced later this week.

Austin told reporters at the Pentagon that the package will also include additional rockets for the HIMARS and two ground-based air defence systems known as NASAMS.

“The Ukrainians have made excellent use of the HIMARS, and you can see the impact on the battlefield,” he said.

Austin reaffirmed Washington’s commitment “to support Ukraine self-defence for the long haul” as the war drags on.

Ukrainian first lady to US Congress: ‘Stop this terror’

Ukraine’s first lady made an emotional pitch to US legislators for more weapons to fight Russian invaders, saying she spoke for millions of parents fearing for their children.

“We want every father and every mother to be able to tell their child: ‘Go to sleep peacefully, there will be no more air strikes, no more missile strikes.’ Is this too much to wish for?” Olena Zelenska stated.

Zelenska acknowledged it was unusual for a first lady to seek weapons but said it was vital.

Ukraine needs air-defence systems “in order for rockets not to kill children in their strollers,” she continued, adding, “Help us to stop this terror against Ukrainians.”

Erdogan says he wants Ukraine grain exports deal in writing this week

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said he wants a possible deal on resuming Ukrainian grain exports from the Black Sea under a United Nations-led plan to be put in writing this week, according to a statement shared by his office.

“An agreement emerged from the talks in Istanbul last week on the general outline of the process under the UN plan. Now, we want to tie this agreement to a written document,” Erdogan was quoted by his office as telling reporters on a return flight from Tehran, where he met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

On Monday, Ankara announced a meeting between Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN over the issue would “probably” be held this week.

EU diplomats reach deal on new Russia sanctions

European Union diplomats have agreed on a new round of sanctions against Moscow, including a ban on importing gold from Russia and freezing the assets of the country’s top lender SberBank.

The sanctions include blacklisting more individuals and entities held responsible for the war, according to the Czech Republic, which currently holds the European Council’s rotating presidency.

The measures are due to take effect on Thursday and mark the seventh round of penalties imposed on Russia by the bloc since it launched its invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Ukraine urges more sanctions, arms, to counter wider Russian campaign

Ukraine has urged its allies to impose more sanctions on Russia and speed up arms deliveries to Kyiv after Moscow said the aims of its self-described “special military operation” had expanded.

“By confessing dreams to grab more Ukrainian land, Russian Foreign Minister [Sergey Lavrov] proves that Russia rejects diplomacy and focuses on war and terror,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, tweeted.

“Russians want blood, not talks. I call on all partners to step up sanctions pressure on Russia and speed up arms deliveries to Ukraine,” he added.

More than 9.5 million border crossings from Ukraine since invasion: UN agency

The number of border crossings from Ukraine has surpassed 9.5 million for the first time since Russia invaded the country, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says.

A total of 9,547,969 border crossings from Ukraine have been recorded since February 24, the agency’s latest tally showed.

Erdogan reiterates threat to block Sweden, Finland’s NATO bids

Turkey’s president has repeated a threat to block Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bids if the two did not uphold promises made to Ankara.

Speaking to reporters on a flight from Tehran, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said almost all Nordic countries, including Norway, had become “nests of terror”, adding NATO allies Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy and the UK were also allowing groups Turkey considers to be “terrorist organisations” to roam free, according to a statement shared by his office.

Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but were faced with opposition from Turkey, which accused them of supporting groups it deems to be “terrorists”.

The three countries signed an accord at the NATO summit in Madrid last month to lift Ankara’s veto in exchange for pledges on “counterterrorism” and arms exports.

West came to global preeminence through robbery of other peoples, has no model of future: Putin

The West owes its global preeminence in large part to its historic plunder of other peoples around the world, and has no model of development to offer others, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.

“The model of the total dominance of the so-called ‘golden billion’ is unjust. Why should this ‘golden billion’ among the planet’s population dominate others, impose its own rules of conduct?” Putin asked, speaking at a forum in Moscow on Wednesday.

“Based on the illusion of ‘exclusivity,’ this model divides people into first and second class status, and is therefore racist and neo-colonial in its essence. And the globalist, supposedly liberal ideology which underlies it is increasingly acquiring the features of totalitarianism, holding back creative pursuit, free historical creation,” Putin added.

Characterizing the existing unipolar world order as a hindrance to global development, Putin stressed that the current model of development has been presented by countries which gained their dominant positions through the wholesale robbery of others.

“Of course, this ‘golden billion’ did not become ‘golden’ by accident. It has achieved a lot. But it did not only take up its positions thanks to the realization of some ideas, but to a large extent due to the robbery of other peoples – both in Asia and Africa. That’s what happened,” he stated.

The West, Putin suggested, has no model of the future to offer the planet, and its elites are fearful that other world centers may present their own options for development.

“No matter how much Western and so-called supranational elites strive to preserve the existing order of things, a new era is coming, a new stage in world history. And only truly sovereign states can ensure high dynamics for growth and become an example for others,” Putin continued.

Russia’s ‘objectives’ in Ukraine have widened beyond Donbas: FM

Russia’s foreign minister has stated the “geographical objectives” of Moscow’s self-described “special military operation” in Ukraine are no longer limited to the eastern Donbas region but include a number of other territories.

State news agency RIA Novosti quoted Lavrov as saying that Russia was also now focused on the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia, in southern Ukraine, as well as a “number of other territories”.

He added Russia’s “objectives” will expand further if Kyiv’s Western allies supply Ukraine with long-range weapons.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, President Vladimir Putin denied any intention of occupying Ukrainian territories, noting his aim was to demilitarise and “denazify” the country – a statement dismissed by Kyiv and the West as a pretext for a war of expansion.

After being beaten back in an initial attempt to take the capital, Kyiv, Russia’s defence ministry announced on March 25 that the first phase of the “special operation” was complete and that Moscow would move to focus on “achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas”.

Nearly four months later, its forces have seized Luhansk, one of the two regions that make up the Donbas, but remain far from capturing all of the other, Donetsk.

Lavrov also stated it makes no sense to resume peace talks with Kyiv at the moment as Moscow presses ahead with its offensive in Ukraine.

State news agency RIA Novosti quoted Lavrov as saying that earlier discussions with Ukrainian officials had proved that Kyiv had no “desire to discuss anything in earnest”.

Face-to-face talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators held in Turkey in late March failed to produce any breakthrough on ending the war. Discussions between Moscow and Kyiv largely ground to a halt soon afterward, Lavrov added.

Ukraine’s new US rockets have “significantly slowed” Russian assault: DM

Ukraine’s new US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) have “significantly slowed” Russia’s advance in the country, according to a Ukrainian government minister.

“These systems allowed us to destroy approximately 30 command stations and ammunition storages, when we started using only eight HIMARS systems,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said.

“This has significantly slowed down the Russia advance and dramatically decreased the intensity of their artillery shelling,” Reznikov stated in a video address to US thinktank the Atlantic Council.

However, Ukrainian forces need more Western long-range precision artillery and rocket systems to hold Russia back and launch a counteroffensive, Reznikov added.

“We are grateful to our partners for HIMARS and… M270,” he noted, referring to the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) that the UK has committed to providing Ukraine.

“To effectively hold back the enemy, we need at least 50 such systems, given that our frontline is almost 2,500 kilometres (1,553 miles),” he continued, adding, “For an effective counteroffensive we would need at least a 100, I think. That could become a game changer on the battle field in that case.”

Over the past few weeks, Ukraine has been using the HIMARS and other Western-made weaponry to target Russian ammunition depots in Moscow-controlled territory. Rockets launched from HIMARS damaged a key bridge crossing the Dnieper river in the Kherson region Wednesday, TASS reported.

Reznikov called for Ukraine’s allies to test more of their equipment in the country.

“Ukraine is now essentially a testing ground,” he said.

“Many weapons are now getting tested in the field in the real conditions of the battle against the Russian army…We are interested in testing modern systems in the fight against the enemy, and we are inviting arms manufacturers to test their new products here,” he added.

“I think for our partners in Poland, in the United States, France or Germany, it’s a good chance to test their equipment. Or our Turkey partners,” he said, adding, “Give us the tools, we will finish the job.”

US and UK want ‘real war’ between Russia and EU: Moscow

The US and UK want to escalate the Russia-Ukraine conflict into a larger confrontation between Moscow and members of the European Union, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday in an interview with RT and Sputnik.

“Our US and British colleagues… with the support from the Germans, Poles, and the Baltic states, very much want to make this war a real war, pitting Russia against European countries,” Lavrov stated.

The Western governments are “literally holding Ukraine back from any constructive steps” towards a peace settlement, Lavrov argued.

They are not only “flooding” the country with weapons, but “forcing” Ukraine to use them more brazenly, he added.

Russia launched its military operation in the neighboring country in late February. Many countries, including NATO members, imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow and have been supplying Kiev with heavy weapons. The latest deliveries include US-made M142 HIMARS multiple rocket launchers and M777 howitzers.

Lavrov claimed that the US and Britain are “benefiting” from the conflict between Russia and the EU because the economies of the bloc’s members are bearing the brunt of the sanctions. He noted that the US has been acting “irresponsibly” by stoking tensions with Russia.

“I think they still haven’t realized that they’re playing very dangerous games. But many in Europe are beginning to understand that,” he stated.

US President Joe Biden said last week that Russia must suffer “a strategic failure” in Ukraine and vowed more support for Kiev.

There can be no winner in a nuclear conflict, Lavrov stated.

When asked about the possibility of the conflict in Ukraine provoking a nuclear war between Russia and the West due to the ongoing attempts by the US and its allies to escalate the situation, Lavrov reminded that “we [Moscow] initiated a lot of statements of the five UN Security Council permanent members that there could be no victor in the nuclear war, it could never be started.”

“This is our stance. And we are going to stand firmly on this stance,” he insisted.

The Russian FM also reiterated that Russia has its own “doctrine that clearly stipulates what could be the case when we would be forced to use nuclear weapons.”

This doctrine only allows the use of nuclear arms if such weapons, or other types of weapons of mass destruction, are used to target Russia, or if the country is faced with an existential threat from conventional arms.

Lavrov also slammed the US administration for trying to spin the Ukrainian conflict, insisting that “they’re acting, well, irresponsibly, I would say. And the plans they make, they are building they really have some risks.”

EU chief says Russia ‘using energy as a weapon’

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned a complete halt of Russian gas flows to Europe is a “likely scenario” as she urged member states to reduce their usage of the energy source over the coming winter months.

“Russia is blackmailing us. Russia is using energy as a weapon. And therefore, in any event, whether it’s a partial, major cut-off of Russian gas or a total cut-off of Russian gas, Europe needs to be ready,” von der Leyen told a news conference in Brussels.

“We have to be proactive. We have to prepare for a potential full disruption of Russian gas. And this is a likely scenario. That’s what we’ve seen in the past,” she added.

“Assuming there is a full disruption of Russian gas, we need to save gas, to fill our gas storage faster, and to do so we have to reduce our gas consumption,” she stated.

EU seeks to cut gas use amid fears over supplies from Russia

The European Union’s executive arm has proposed that member states cut their gas use by 15 percent until March, warning them that without deep cuts now they could struggle for fuel during winter if Russia cuts off supply.

Europe is racing to fill its gas storage ahead of winter and build a buffer in case Moscow further restricts supplies in retaliation for European support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

A dozen EU countries are already facing reduced Russian deliveries, and EU officials say a full Russian gas halt is likely.

The voluntary target set by the European Commission urges member states to cut their usage by 15 percent from August to March, compared with their average consumption in the same period during 2016-2021. The Commission could make the target mandatory if it declares there is a substantial risk of severe gas shortages in the EU.

The proposal needs approval from a reinforced majority of EU countries. Diplomats from EU states are set to discuss it on Friday, with the aim of approving it at a meeting of EU countries’ energy ministers on July 26.

Russian defence chief inspects troops in Ukraine, orders forces to down drones

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has inspected troops fighting in Ukraine, according to his ministry.

The ministry shared footage of Shoigu meeting with military commanders and said he had received details concerning the current situation on the front line from the head of the Zapad military group, Andrei Sychevy.

The ministry also added Shoigu had given orders to commanders telling them to destroy Ukrainian drones operating near Russia’s borders and do more to prevent Ukrainian forces from shelling areas they had lost control of.

Russian official accuses Ukrainian forces of attacking border crossing

The governor of Russia’s western Kursk region, which borders Ukraine, claims Ukrainian forces shelled a border crossing in the area.

Roman Starovoit said in a Telegram post that border guards had suppressed the attack with “return fire”.

He added there were no casualties in the shelling but said three settlements had been left without electricity because of damage inflicted on power lines.

There was no immediate comment from Kyiv on Starovoit’s allegations. Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify his report.

Russia’s central bank proposes limiting access to foreign stocks

The deputy chairman of Russia’s central bank says it has proposed limiting access to foreign stocks for retail investors who have not passed a qualification test.

Philip Gabunia also stated more than five million people in Russia have assets on their accounts frozen as a result of sweeping Western sanctions designed to punish Russia for what it terms its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces shell strategic bridge to Russian-occupied Kherson

A bridge to the largely Russian-occupied Kherson region in southern Ukraine has been shelled by Ukrainian forces for two days in a row, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Eight or nine rockets hit the Antonovskiy bridge, which crosses the Dnieper River, on Wednesday, TASS reported, citing Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the region’s Russian-backed administration.

Stremousov told TASS the bridge was “very badly damaged” in the shelling, but said there is no danger of it collapsing.

On Tuesday, photos and videos shared on social media already showed damage to the bridge.

According to the UK Ministry of Defence, the bridge is a “key vulnerability for Russian forces,” as it is one of only two crossing points over the Dnieper River, which Russia can use to supply or withdraw their forces “in the territory it has occupied west of the river.”

“This area includes the city of Kherson, which is politically and symbolically important for Russia. The lower reaches of the Dnieper present a natural barrier, with the waterway typically around 1000m wide. Control of Dnieper crossings is likely to become a key factor in the outcome of fighting in the region,” the UK ministry added.

Bracing for Russian gas cuts, EU to ask countries to cut demand

The European Union will set out emergency plans to reduce gas demand within months, warning countries that without deep cuts now they could struggle for fuel during winter if Russia cuts off deliveries, according to a draft of the EU plan seen by Reuters.

EU officials stated the target would be for a 10-15 percent cut in gas use. The proposal, which could change before it is published, proposes a voluntary target for countries to cut their gas demand over the next eight months.

It could be made legally binding in a supply emergency, despite resistance from countries including Poland who feel their contingency plans do not need intervention from Brussels.

Syria breaks ties with Ukraine

Syria has announced it is severing ties with Ukraine in support of its close ally Russia, saying the move was a response to a similar move by Kyiv.

“The Syrian Arab Republic has decided to break diplomatic relations with Ukraine in conformity with the principle of reciprocity and in response to the decision of the Ukrainian government,” a foreign ministry official, who was not identified, told the state news agency SANA.

Ukraine already announced it was severing ties late last month after Syria recognised the Russian-backed breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s Donbas offensive makes ‘minimal gains’: UK

Russia’s offensive in Ukraine’s Donbas region continues to make minimal gains as Ukrainian forces hold the line, the British military intelligence has said.

The Antonovskiy Bridge over the Dnieper River, one of two road crossing points over which Russian troops can supply or withdraw forces in the territory, is likely still usable.

“It is highly likely that the bridge remains usable – but it is a key vulnerability for Russian Forces,” it added in a regular bulletin.

The authorities in the Russian-occupied Kherson region reported the bridge had been hit on July 19.

Ukraine intends to postpone debt payments for 24 months

Ukraine intends to postpone repayment of its Eurobonds and payments of interest on them for 24 months from August 1, according to a government resolution.

The government instructed the finance ministry to hold negotiations with creditors on deferring payments by August 15 and promised additional interest on postponed payments.

It also plans to postpone payment on the GDP-linked warrants to August 2024 from May 2023, it said.

Nationalist calls for Russia to define Ukraine ‘operation’ a war reach ‘crescendo’: ISW

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) says nationalist and pro-war voices calling for what Moscow calls a “special operation” in Ukraine to be redesignated a war have reached a “crescendo”.

The US-based think tank added nationalist pro-military bloggers want the Kremlin to expand its war aims, and mobilise the state fully for war.

Albania, North Macedonia finally start EU membership talks

Albania and North Macedonia began membership talks with the European Union on Tuesday, overcoming a series of obstacles thrown up by EU governments despite an original promise to begin negotiations in mid-2018.

The start of formal negotiations to allow the two Balkan countries to eventually join the world’s largest trading bloc is a breakthrough but has revealed the EU’s lack of appetite for further enlargement, particularly in northern Europe.

Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania and North Macedonia have all been promised a place in the EU, once they fulfil tough economic, political, military, social and legal reforms.

While that guarantee has now been reinstated, Bulgaria blocked any further progress until North Macedonia, which had already changed its name to satisfy Greece, agreed to amend the constitution to recognise a Bulgarian minority.

Portugal’s Sines port ready to transfer LNG to rest of Europe

Portugal’s Sines port is ready to start onward shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG), which arrives in large tankers and will be transferred to smaller vessels to head to other European states, a government spokesperson has noted.

He stated a government feasibility study concluded that “with the existing infrastructure and simultaneous operations, Sines could transfer to central and northern Europe up to 10 billion cubic metres (353 billion cu ft) of LNG annually” within six to 12 months.

That amount, double Portugal’s own natural gas consumption, could increase in the longer term if required, he added.

“Some countries have expressed interest in evaluating this possibility, and technical contacts are taking place,” he said of the plans to ship LNG on to other European states, like Germany and Poland, although he did not elaborate about those contacts.

Russia planning annexation attempts in Ukraine: US

The White House announced it has intelligence showing Russia plans to further annex parts of Ukraine, repeating a playbook it used in the 2014 annexation of Crimea to seize more territory.

John Kirby, the communications coordinator at the National Security Council, said the steps Russia is planning could include “sham” referenda, installing illegitimate proxy officials, establishing the ruble as the official currency and forcing Ukrainian citizens to apply for Russian citizenship.

Kirby added the US would punish Russia for attempts to further annex Ukrainian territory and said the White House would unveil additional security assistance to Ukraine later this week.

He cited US intelligence that had been downgraded and approved for public release to make the claims about Russia’s plans.

“Russia is beginning to roll out a version of what you could call an annexation playbook, very similar to the one we saw in 2014,” Kirby told reporters at the White House.

He said the potential referenda could take place soon.

“The Kremlin has not disclosed the timeline for the referenda, but Russian proxies in these territories claim they will take place later this year, possibly in conjunction with Russia’s September regional elections,” he continued.

He added the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, along with the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, were the likely targets of Russia’s annexation plans.

War in Ukraine could cause human trafficking to get worse in coming year: Washington

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Russia’s war in Ukraine could cause human trafficking to get worse in the coming year by forcing people from their homes and exacerbating food insecurity around the globe.

In the introduction for the 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) released Tuesday, Blinken noted the annual report was being “released in the midst of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”

“We are deeply concerned about the risks of human trafficking faced by individuals internally displaced by the war, as well as those fleeing Ukraine, an estimated 90% of whom are women and children. The food insecurity and other broader effects of Russia’s war exacerbate trafficking risks around the globe,” he wrote in the report.

The report covers the period of April 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022 — meaning it only encompassed the first month of the war in Ukraine. However, the report noted that the Russian government’s “full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 created significant vulnerabilities to trafficking for the millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine.”

Russia was placed in the tier 3 category of the 2021 report – along with 21 other countries – for failing to meet the minimum standards to combat human trafficking and “not making significant efforts to do so.”

It was also identified as one of 12 governments that have “governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces, or government-supported armed groups that recruit or use child soldiers” and one of 11 countries where the governments themselves were involved in trafficking.

Zelensky says wife’s US Congress address to yield ‘meaningful results’

Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska is in Washington, DC, and Volodymyr Zelensky has said his wife’s scheduled address to the US Congress on Wednesday should yield “meaningful results”, saying he hopes it will influence US decision-makers.

Zelenska’s tasks include increasing United States support for Ukraine, obtaining additional support to “protect people from Russian terror” and boosting humanitarian assistance, Zelensky stated in his late-night video address.

US legislators will host Zelenska at 11am local time (15:00 GMT), US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office confirmed on Monday.

Putin’s visit to Iran shows he is ‘increasingly isolated’: White House

US National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby has said that President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Iran demonstrates that he is isolated on the world stage.

“It shows the degree to which Mr Putin and Russia are increasingly isolated,” he told reporters at the White House, noting, “Now, they have to turn to Iran for help.”

He added that the trip also shows that Russia’s “industrial base is having a hard time keeping up with his unprovoked war in Ukraine”.

US officials have claimed that Russia – faced with sanctions on microelectronic chips that are vital for its defence industry – is seeking military drones from Iran, which is also under heavy US-led sanctions.

Kirby stated by requesting armed drones from Iran, Putin is signalling that he is not serious about finding a negotiated settlement to the war in Ukraine.

We don’t see Ukrainian desire to stick to preliminary peace deal: Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow did not see any desire from Ukraine to fulfil the terms of what he described as a preliminary peace deal agreed to in March.

Putin, speaking to reporters in televised comments after a visit to Iran, stated Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were offering to mediate between Russia and Ukraine.

Asked about a possible meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky, Putin noted Kyiv had not stuck to the terms of a preliminary peace deal he said had been “practically achieved” in March.

“The final result of course … depends on the willingness of the contracting parties to implement the agreements that were reached. Today we see the powers in Kyiv have no such desire,” he added.

Negotiations took place in March, with both sides making proposals but without a breakthrough. At the time, Zelensky stated only a concrete result from the talks could be trusted.

Putin warns EU gas supplies could keep dwindling

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said it is the West’s own fault the flow of Russian natural gas to European Union customers has dwindled and warned that it could continue ebbing.

Speaking to Russian reporters in Tehran, Putin stated the amount of gas pumped through the Nord Stream pipeline to Germany will fall further from 60 million to 30 million cubic meters a day, or about one-fifth of its capacity, if a turbine is not quickly replaced.

The Russian leader also warned the West that its plan to cap the prices of Russian oil as part of its sanctions over Ukraine will destabilise the global oil market and make prices soar.

“We are hearing some crazy ideas about restricting the volumes of Russian oil and capping the Russian oil price,” he continued, adding, “The result will be the same — a rise in prices. Prices will skyrocket.”

Turkey, Russia ‘satisfied’ by recent Istanbul meeting on grain exports: Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow and Turkey were “satisfied” by their meeting in Istanbul last week where the sides discussed grain exports via the Black Sea.

Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations are expected to sign a deal later this week aimed at resuming the shipping of grain from Ukraine across the Black Sea.

Putin and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a meeting in Iran earlier on Tuesday when Putin stated that not all the issues had been resolved yet on the topic, “but the fact that there is movement is already good.”

Zelensky fires another top official

President Volodymyr Zelensky says he has dismissed a deputy head of the domestic security service (SBU) and appointed several new regional heads for the unit, two days after he suspended the domestic security chief and prosecutor general for failing to root out Russian spies.

“The renewal of the vertical power of the state is in progress. Today I appointed new heads of regional offices of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Zakarpattia, Poltava, Sumy, Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv regions. I also dismissed one of the deputy heads of the Security Service of Ukraine,” Zelensky stated in his nightly address.

He also announced the appointment of a new Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine: Oksana Zholnovych.

“I expect her to be more active in explaining to people all the nuances of state social policy — specific people’s rights, payment mechanisms and other opportunities provided by the state. It is also necessary to speed up the modernisation of the regulatory framework for social policy, and the role of the minister in this should be significant,” he added.

Ukraine’s first lady visits White House

US President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden have welcomed the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, to the White House for a visit in advance of her address to Congress on Wednesday.

In May, Jill Biden had previously made a surprise visit to Ukraine, visiting her counterpart and a school that was sheltering displaced Ukrainians.

“When I came back, one of the things that I said was, you cannot go into a warzone and come back and not feel the sorrow and the pain of the people,” Jill Biden said at the beginning of her meeting with Zelenska.

She added she had spoken to her team about helping address mental health issues for mothers and children who have suffered atrocities.

Russia making further advances in Donbas: Ukraine

Russian forces have made further gains in terrain in the fighting around the Donbas in eastern Ukraine, according to Ukrainian sources.

“The enemy has carried out an assault in the Pokrovskoe area, achieving partial success, and is entrenching itself on the southern edge of the locality,” the Ukrainian general staff announced in its situation report.

Pokrovskoe is a settlement 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) east of the important transport hub of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. The line Siversk-Soledar-Bakhmut is considered Ukraine’s next line of defence in front of the major cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

France sends more Caesar canons to Ukraine

Another six French-made Caesar artillery guns that President Emmanuel Macron promised to Ukraine in June are “on their way” to the war-torn country, France’s foreign minister has said.

“Twelve of the guns, prized for their accuracy and mobility, have already been delivered to Ukraine and “the six others are on their way,” Catherine Colonna told a Senate commission.

“At the national level, France is fully committed even though we communicate less than others what we are doing,” Colonna continued, adding, “We made the decision to not communicate all of our military contribution.”

EU moves to unblock Russian bank funds to boost food trade

The EU is preparing to carve out exceptions in its sanctions against Moscow that would unblock assets at Russian banks linked to trade in food and fertiliser according to a document, the AFP news agency has reported.

Member countries “want to make it abundantly clear that there is nothing in the sanctions that is slowing the transport of grain out of Russia or Ukraine”, an EU diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The EU’s proposal is part of the bloc’s latest sanction update that is being negotiated by member states. It will require unanimous approval to enter into force.

Ukraine signs pact with US-aligned energy watchdog

Ukraine has joined the US-aligned International Energy Agency as an association country, the watchdog announced, binding Kyiv closer to the mostly Western countries which oppose Russia’s invasion.

The Paris-based IEA consists of 31 big energy-consuming member countries, but not Russia, and has a second tier of 11 so-called “association states” such as China, India and Indonesia.

“In these particularly challenging times following Russia’s unprovoked invasion, we are further strengthening the relationship to support Ukraine’s significant reconstruction needs and help it build a new energy future,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol stated at a signing ceremony in Warsaw.

Turkey’s Baykar drone company ‘will never’ supply Russia: CEO

The CEO of Turkey’s Baykar, which makes the drones being widely used by Ukraine against Russian forces, has ruled out supplying the Bayraktar TB2 to Moscow.

In an interview with CNN, Haluk Bayraktar noted Ukraine is “under very heavy aggression and disproportionate attacks”.

When pressed by CNN presenter Julia Chatterley, who repeatedly asked, “Would you supply Russia?”, Bayraktar responded, “We have not delivered or supplied them with anything, [and] we will as well never do such a thing because we support Ukraine, support its sovereignty, its resistance for its independence.”

Russian gas embargo can cause recessions in central Europe: IMF

A Russian natural gas embargo would cause deep recessions in Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Italy unless countries can cooperate more to share alternative supplies, the International Monetary Fund has said.

IMF researchers in a blog posting predicted that some countries could face shortages of as much as 40 percent of their normal gas consumption in the event of a total cut-off of Russian gas.

Hungary would suffer the most economically from such an embargo, with a reduction of more than 6 percent in gross domestic product, while Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Italy could see GDP shrink by 5 percent if alternate gas supplies, including liquefied natural gas, is impeded from flowing freely to where it is needed.

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