Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 189: Russia halts gas deliveries to Europe

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:

IAEA’s visit to nuclear site to last a few days: Mission chief

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s chief Rafael Grossi says the UN nuclear watchdog’s mission to the Zaporizhzhia plant will last a few days, but could be extended.

“The mission will take a few days. And if we are able to establish a permanent presence or a continued presence, better said, then it’s going to be prolonged, but this first segment, so to speak, is going to take a few days,” Grossi told reporters at a hotel in Zaporizhzhia.

The team’s work on the site, Grossi added, will include a physical inspection of the place, the functioning of the safety system and interviews with the nuclear plant’s staff.


EU foreign ministers agree on suspending Russian visa facilitation deal

EU top diplomats have agreed to suspend a 2007 visa facilitation agreement for Russian citizens, a decision that comes after some Eastern and Nordic member states had pushed for an outright travel ban.

“We have seen a substantial increase of border crossings from Russia into neighboring states. This is becoming a security risk,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on social media.

“We therefore agree today with EU Foreign Ministers on Full Suspension on the EU-Russia visa facilitation agreement,” he added.

The suspension of the agreement means that Russians will face longer and more costly procedures to get a visa to enter the European bloc, Borrell continued.

Diplomats stated the EU ministers could not agree immediately on a blanket ban of travel visas for Russians as member states were split on the issue.


Russia bans entry to 55 Canadian military and political officials

Some 55 military and political officials from Canada have been banned from entering Russia, the Russian foreign ministry has said.

The tit-for-tat move came in response to sanctions from Canada against Russian nationals, it added.


Sweden sends Ukraine artillery rounds in new aid package

Sweden has provided Ukraine with a new defence aid package containing artillery rounds, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov says.

“Great news from Sweden: 7th military package with artillery ammo will strengthen #UAarmy,” Reznikov wrote on Twitter, thanking Sweden’s foreign and defence ministers. “Together we will restore peace and security in Europe,” he added.


Russia cannot meet gas supply obligations due to sanctions: Kremlin

Russia remains committed to its gas supply obligations but is unable to fulfil them due to Western nations’ economic sanctions, the Interfax news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

“It was their own sanctions that brought the Europeans to this situation,” Peskov added.


Russia welcomes idea of permanent IAEA presence at Zaporizhzhia plant

Russia welcomes the idea that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts could stay at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on a permanent basis, Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s representative to the international organisation in Vienna, has said.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi stated the agency hoped to set up a permanent mission at the plant.

UN nuclear inspectors set off for the plant earlier on Wednesday and according to Russian media are expected to arrive on Thursday morning.


Ukraine southern offensive has ‘successes’ in Kherson region: Local official

Ukrainian forces have had “successes” in three areas of the Russian-occupied region of Kherson, a Ukrainian regional official said, two days after Kyiv announced the start of a southern counteroffensive to retake territory.

Yuriy Sobolevskyi, the deputy head of Kherson’s regional council, told Ukraine’s national news broadcaster that Ukrainian troops had had successes in the Kherson, Berislav and Kakhovka districts, but declined to give details.


Kyiv accuses Moscow of shelling town by nuclear plant

Ukraine has accused Russian forces of firing on a town by the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors were en route to inspect the facility.

“The Russian army is shelling Enerhodar,” said Yevhen Yevtushenko, head of Nikopol district military administration, which is located on the northern bank of the Dnieper river opposite Enerhodar town where the nuclear plant is located.

“These provocations are dangerous,” Yevtushenko added.


Germany ramps up military exports, mainly to arm Ukraine

German exports of military equipment have surged this year as Berlin supplies arms to Ukraine to help it defend itself against Russia’s attack, the economy ministry announced.

By August 24, the value of authorised military exports totalled just under 5.1 billion euros ($5.11bn), up from some 2.9 billion euros at the same time last year, the ministry noted.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised on Monday that Germany would keep up its support for Ukraine “for as long as it takes”.


Report: Macron secretly asks Iran to mediate in Ukraine crisis

An official with Iran’s presidential office has broken the news on the request by the French leader for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to mediate in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Mohammad Jamshidi, also said on Twitter that Tehran is sending “a peace initiative along with an important message” to Moscow.

The message is slated to be conveyed by Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, who is now visiting Moscow.


Iran, Russia FMs meet; Ukraine high on agenda

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has held talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.

He said he is conveying an “idea” tabled by some European officials about Ukraine.


Ukraine urges EU to ban Russian tourists

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has called on the European Union to ban Russian tourists, describing the measure as appropriate since a majority of Russians supported the country’s “genocidal war of aggression” against Kyiv.

“A visa ban for Russian tourists and some other categories will be an appropriate response to Russia’s genocidal war of aggression in the heart of Europe supported by an overwhelming majority of Russian citizens,” Kuleba said in a statement emailed to Reuters.

“The time for half measures is gone,” he continued, adding, “Only a tough and consistent policy can produce results.”


Top diplomat says EU must not appear fragmented over Russian visa ban

The European Union must not appear to be at discord over eastern European demands for a visa ban on Russian tourists, the bloc’s top diplomat warned, urging member states to find common ground.

“We will have to reach an agreement and a political decision,” Josep Borrell told reporters as he arrived for a second day of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Prague.

“I will be working for unity…We cannot afford to appear disunited in such an important thing, which is the people-to-people relations, between the Russian society and the European people,” he continued.


Germany better prepared for Nord Stream 1 outage now: Regulator chief

Germany is now better prepared for outages of gas pipeline Nord Stream 1 as its gas storage is nearly 85 percent filled, Klaus Mueller, president of Germany’s network regulator, said on Twitter.

“We can take gas from the storage in the winter, we are saving gas (and need to keep doing so!), the LNG terminals are coming, and thanks to Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway (and soon France), gas is flowing,” Mueller added.


France says it is prepared for Gazprom’s ‘pretext’ to switch off gas

Gazprom is using a mere excuse to switch off natural gas deliveries to its French contractor, the energy minister in Paris said, but added that the country had anticipated the loss of supply.

“As we anticipated, Russia is using gas as a weapon of war and is using Engie’s way of applying the contracts as a pretext to further reduce French supplies,” Agnes Pannier-Runacher announced in a statement.

The comments came hours after Russia’s Gazprom announced that from Thursday it would fully suspend gas deliveries to Engie, a French utility, citing a dispute over payments. The move will deepen concerns about Europe’s winter energy supply.


IAEA mission to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to arrive Thursday

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are expected to arrive at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Thursday morning, the TASS news agency reported, citing Russian-installed authorities in the region.

The inspection will take one or two days and six to eight IAEA experts are expected to stay at the plant following the visit, according to the Russian-installed officials in Energodar, the town where the plant is based.


Russia halts gas supplies via Nord Stream 1

Russia halted gas supplies via a major pipeline to Europe on Wednesday, intensifying an economic battle between Moscow and Brussels.

The outage for maintenance on Nord Stream 1 means that no gas will flow to Germany between 1am GMT on August 31 and 1am GMT on September 3, according to Russian state energy giant Gazprom.

Data from entry points linking Nord Stream 1 to the German gas network via the Baltic Sea confirmed flows fell to zero early on Wednesday.


UN atomic watchdog en route to besieged Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

An inspection team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is en route to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, the UN atomic watchdog’s director said on Wednesday.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi arrived in Kyiv late on Monday, along with a team of 13, to visit the besieged Zaporizhzhia plant.

“We are now finally moving after six months of … efforts. The IAEA is moving into the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” Grossi told reporters in Kyiv on Wednesday morning before departing.

Relentless fighting near the plant has raised fears of a nuclear disaster, with the power station again targeted at the weekend by fresh shelling.

It remains unclear when the IAEA team will reach the nuclear plant and when the inspection will be conducted.

The United States has called for a complete shutdown of the plant and for a demilitarised zone to be established around it.

A Russian-appointed Zaporizhzhia government official was quoted by the Interfax news agency on Wednesday as saying that two of the plant’s six reactors were running.

Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of the Russian-installed administration, noted the IAEA inspectors “must see the work of the station in one day”.


As Ukrainian offensive gets underway, Zelensky says Russians have two options: Run away or surrender

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has spoken of the military’s efforts to take the battle to Russian forces and says the occupiers “can do only two things: run away or surrender.”

In his daily video message, Zelensky said the armed forces and security services were doing “everything possible and impossible so that every Russian serviceman will necessarily feel the Ukrainian response to this terrible terror that Russia has brought to our land.”

He was speaking as a Ukrainian offensive in the south got underway. Few details have emerged about its goals and timeline, nor about Ukrainian advances in the Kherson region.

Zelensky promised that “Throughout the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine, from Crimea to the Kharkiv region, the Russian army does not have and will not have a single safe base, a single quiet place. Our defenders will destroy all warehouses, headquarters of the occupiers, and their equipment, no matter where they are located.”

“This is Ukrainian land, and the occupiers can do only two things: run away or surrender. We leave them no other options,” he added.

Zelensky also addressed the people of Crimea, noting, “Please stay as far as possible from Russian military facilities. Do not be near Russian bases and military airfields, report to the special services of Ukraine all the information you know about the occupiers so that the liberation of Crimea can happen faster.”


EU member states agree on working towards a new military assistance mission for Ukraine: Top EU diplomat

All European Union member states agree on launching the “work necessary to define the parameters for a new military assistance mission for Ukraine,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

There are “many training initiatives on the way” for the Ukrainian military, he stated after a meeting of EU defense ministers in Prague.

The top EU diplomat also added that the Ukrainian defense minister had shown the EU a list of short-, medium- and long-term training activities that country’s military needs.

“We need to ensure the coherence of this effort,” he said, adding, “It’s clear that we need to be quick and ambitious, demonstrate added value, flexibility, once again based on the needs of Ukrainian armed forces.”


Zelensky meets US senators in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met US Senators Rob Portman and Amy Klobuchar in Kyiv on Tuesday.

Zelensky said he believed the sanctions policy to be working, “but it has not yet worked to the full”, adding that “it has a snowball effect and then will influence and hit the economy of the Russian Federation, a terrorist state.”

At the end of the meeting, the Ukrainian leader awarded the senators with Distinguished Service medals.


Gazprom to halt gas supplies to French utility company

Russia’s Gazprom has said it would fully suspend gas deliveries to major European utility Engie from Thursday in a dispute over contracts, a move which will deepen concerns about Europe’s winter energy supply.

Europe is already on notice that Gazprom will shut off the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to Germany from August 31 to September 2 for maintenance, and there is some concern that Moscow, which has cut the pipeline’s supply to just 20 percent of capacity, may step up pressure by delaying the restart.

In a statement, Gazprom announced Engie had not paid in full for July deliveries of gas.

“In this regard, Gazprom Export notified Engie of the complete suspension of gas supplies starting from September 1, 2022, until the moment it receives full payment for the gas it has supplied,” it added.


US concerned about Indian involvement in Russia military exercises: White House

The United States is concerned about India’s plans to participate in joint military exercises with Russia, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has said.

Last month, Moscow announced plans to hold “Vostok” (East) exercises from August 30 to September 5, even as it wages a costly war in Ukraine. The military exercises are expected to include China, India, Belarus, Mongolia, Tajikistan and other countries, China’s defence ministry has announced.

Asked about India’s participation, Jean-Pierre told reporters as President Joe Biden flew to Pennsylvania that the US was concerned about any country participating in military exercises with Russia while it is at war with Ukraine.


France looking to build pipeline from Spain to Central Europe

France wants to look into building a pipeline from the Iberian Peninsula to the south of France in a bid to open up new energy sources in the absence of natural gas from Russia.

“Spain and Germany are two close partners of France; if they make a proposal, we will examine it,” French economy minister Bruno Le Maire stated in Paris.

So far, France, which relies heavily on nuclear power, has been cautious about reviving the MidCat natural gas pipeline, which was shut down in 2017 as it was unprofitable. The MidCat pipeline is to run from Barcelona across the Pyrenees to a connecting point with the French grid in Barbairan in southern France.


Russia making ‘significant’ efforts to reinforce troops on Dnieper River: UK

The United Kingdom’s defence ministry has announced in a memo that since the start of August, Russia had made “significant efforts” to reinforce troops on the western bank of the Dnieper River which splits Kherson city.

But “most of the units around Kherson are likely under-manned and are reliant upon fragile supply lines by ferry and pontoon bridges across the Dnipro [Dnieper],” it said.

It was “not yet possible to confirm the extent of Ukrainian advances,” it added.


Germany braced for gas cuts: Chancellor

Government measures to ensure gas supplies during the winter have prepared Germany to deal with further curbs in Russian deliveries, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said, a day before Moscow is due to cut off gas delivery for three days.

Germany has set about weaning itself off Russian gas since the invasion of Ukraine, bringing mothballed coal power plants back online, launching a drive to save power and filling gas storage facilities ahead of the end of the year.

The government says it has made faster progress replenishing gas stocks than expected and should meet an October target early.

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