Thursday, June 20, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 512: EU warns Russia pulling out of grain deal will create ‘huge food crisis’

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine in February 2022 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:

Little to no harvest in Kherson due to lack of water: Russia

Ukraine’s Kherson region will have little or no harvest due to a water shortage in the North Crimean and Kakhovka canals, Russian-installed governor Vladimir Saldo said.

The Kakhovka dam, a dam on the Dnipro River that separates Russian and Ukrainian forces in southern Ukraine, was breached in June and led to widespread flooding and mass displacement.

EU proposal to use frozen Russian assets to be published in September

A European Commission proposal to use frozen public Russian assets to help Ukraine will not be published until September, a spokesman said.

The EU is focused on finding a legal way to use the tax on the interest made by these assets for Ukraine, but the bloc is being careful to make sure the method holds up in court in the event of any lawsuits.

The spokesman added that the EU was working on an agreement with the Group of Seven (G7) countries on how to move forward, and a statement was expected this month. G7 countries and the EU have frozen more than 300 billion euros ($335.55bn) combined.

“Discussions between member states have been going well. The last meeting of the council working party on this matter was on July 12, and the next one will take place in September,” the spokesman told reporters.

Russia imposes restrictions on British diplomats

Russia imposes restrictions on British diplomats, requiring them to now give at least five fay notice of any plans to travel beyond a 120km (75-mile) radius due to London’s “hostile actions”.

The UK’s chargé d’affaires in Russia were summoned to the foreign ministry in Moscow for supporting the “terrorist actions” of Ukraine and for blocking Russian diplomacy in the UK.

“The British side was also informed of the decision to introduce a notification procedure for the movement of employees of British diplomatic missions on the territory of our country as a response to London’s hostile actions,” the ministry said.

The restrictions will put British diplomats under the most challenging constraints since Soviet times when foreign travel was limited and closely controlled by the KGB security service.

US imposes new Russian sanctions

The United States is imposing new Russia sanctions targeting 18 individuals and dozens of organisations aimed at blocking Moscow’s access to products that support its war, the US Department of the Treasury said.

According to a statement, the sanctions are designed to “reduce Russia’s revenue from the metals and mining sector, undermine its future energy capabilities and degrade Russia’s access to the international financial system”.

“Today’s actions represent another step in our efforts to constrain Russia’s military capabilities, its access to battlefield supplies, and its economic bottom line,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said in the statement.

Ukraine to receive $1.5bn loan from World Bank

Ukraine will receive a $1.5bn loan from the World Bank guaranteed by the government of Japan, Prime Minister Shmyhal stated.

On Telegram, Shmyhal said the funds would strengthen social protection, assist people affected by the war and rebuild the economy.

He added that the World Bank and its partners have already mobilised $34bn to help Ukraine, of which more than $22bn has already been received.

Ukraine to consider Black Sea ships as carriers of military cargo

Ukraine’s defence ministry says it would consider all ships travelling to Russian and Ukrainian Black Sea ports as potential carriers of military cargo, a day after Russia said the same.

“Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence warns that from 00:00 on July 21, 2023 (21:00 GMT on Thursday), all vessels heading in Black Sea waters in the direction of the Russian Federation’s seaports and Ukrainian seaports on Ukrainian territory temporarily occupied by Russia may be considered by Ukraine as carrying military cargo with all the relevant risks,” the ministry said.

On Wednesday, the Russian defence ministry announced all ships travelling through the Black Sea towards Ukraine would be considered to be potentially carrying military cargo on behalf of Kyiv and said, “The flag countries of such ships will be considered parties to the Ukrainian conflict.”

EU renews sanctions over Russia’s war in Ukraine

The European Council will extend sanctions over Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, through the beginning of next year, it said Thursday.

The measures were first introduced in 2014 “in response to Russia’s actions destabilizing the situation in Ukraine, were significantly expanded since February 2022, in response to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified military aggression against Ukraine,” the EU Council said in a press release.

The sanctions currently include restrictions on trade, finance, technology and dual-use goods, industry, transport and luxury goods.

“They also cover: a ban on the import or transfer of seaborne crude oil and certain petroleum products from Russia to the EU, a de-SWIFTing of several Russian banks, and the suspension of the broadcasting activities and licenses of several Kremlin-backed disinformation outlets. Additionally, specific measures were introduced to strengthen the ability of the EU to counter sanctions circumvention,” the council added.

Ukraine pleads for better air defenses for southern regions amid Odesa bombardment

Ukraine’s Air Force has asked for better air defense systems for its southern regions, after reportedly destroying just five of 19 Russian cruise missiles fired at the country overnight.

“What could be shot down is being shot down,” Yurii Ihnat, spokesman for the Air Force Command of Urkaine’s Armed Forces said on national television.

“Of course, we would like to shoot down more,” he added.

Russia’s third consecutive night of attacks on Odesa has left one person dead. At least 19 were also injured by an overnight Russian attack on Mykolaiv.

Ihnat said that it is “no possibility” to shoot down Russia’s Oniks and Kh-22 missiles with Ukraine’s current air defense systems because of how fast they fly.

“We need means, we need to reinforce the southern regions, our port cities, with means, in particular, against ballistic missiles,” he said, adding, “Systems such as Patriot or SAMP-T could provide protection for this region.”

The Oniks missile, he stated, “is designed to destroy watercraft, ships. It flies at a speed of more than 3,000 km per hour… When entering the target, the missile can fly at an altitude of 10-15 meters above the water to destroy the ship, which makes it difficult to detect and, accordingly, shoot down by the air defense means.”

Russia says it continued ‘retaliatory strikes’ on Ukraine

Russia’s Defence Ministry says it continued “retaliatory strikes” on Ukraine days after Moscow quit the Black Sea grain deal.

Moscow had promised pay back for an attack on the Kerch Bridge in Crimea on Monday.

The defence ministry announced it had “continued to deliver retaliatory strikes with high-precision sea and air-based weapons at workshops and storage sites for unmanned boats in the regions of Odesa and Chornomorsk”.

“In the area of ​​the city of Mykolaiv, fuel infrastructure facilities and ammunition depots of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were destroyed,” it added.

Ukraine calls to restore grain deal

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called for the restoration of the Black Sea grain initiative to help global food insecurity.

During a two-day trip to Islamabad, Kuleba’s Pakistani counterpart, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, endorsed his comments, adding that he was planning to take the issue up with the secretary general of the United Nations.

“We had to find the way to export our grain to the global market,” said Kuleba, adding, “land corridors cannot export the full amount of cereals available for export, this is the issue, which means prices will go up because of shortages of delivery.”

EU ministers meet to discuss $22bn in support for Kyiv

European Union foreign ministers have met to discuss support for Ukraine, including a plan to spend up to 20 billion euros ($22.4 bn) on weapons, ammunition and other military aid over four years.

“We’ll discuss how to continue supporting Ukraine in the long run,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on arrival at the meeting in Brussels.

“I presented a plan in order to ensure financial support for Ukraine in the next years, which will amount to quite an important amount of money. I hope the ministers will support it,” he told reporters.

The move would be part of an international drive to give Ukraine long-term security assurances, as announced by members of the Group of Seven (G7) on the sidelines of last week’s NATO summit.

At least one person killed in Odesa

At least one person has been killed and 27 injured in Russia’s latest attack on Odesa and Mykolaiv, Ukrainian officials said.

Regional authorities said that one person was also killed in Russian shelling in Kharkiv.

Ukraine’s military added that Russian forces launched 19 missiles and 19 drones overnight and that five missiles and 13 of the drones had been shot down.

Regional governor Vitaliy Kim stated that 19 people were wounded in the city of Mykolaiv, and several residential buildings were damaged.

In Odesa, the regional governor Oleh Kiper noted a security guard was killed, and at least eight others were hurt.

‘Russian terrorists’ continue to destroy lives: Zelensky

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky commented on Thursday’s attacks in Odesa and Mykolaiv and said the “Russian terrorists” continue to destroy lives.

On Twitter, he wrote, “The evil state has no missiles that are more powerful than our will to save lives, support each other and win.”

“I thank everyone who defends our cities, our people, our sky! I am grateful to all our warriors, rescuers, doctors, local authorities, volunteers… to everyone involved in eliminating the consequences of Russian terror!” the president added.

“A barbarian attitude”: EU says Russian attack on Odesa causing “destruction of grain storage”

Russian attacks in the Ukraine’s southern port city of Odesa are causing large scale destruction of grain storage, the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, has warned.

Speaking to reporters ahead of an EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday, Borrell described the attacks as “a barbarian attitude, which will be taken into consideration by the council today.”

“Not only they withdraw from the grain agreement in order to export grain from Ukraine, but they are burning the grain,” Borrell continued, adding, “What we already know is that this is going to create a big, a huge food crisis in the world.”

Borrell also told reporters that he had presented a plan “to ensure the financial support for Ukraine in the next years, which will amount to quite an important amount on money,” which he said he hoped ministers will support.

Russia said Monday it was suspending its participation in a crucial deal that allowed the export of Ukrainian grain, which raises fears yet again over over global food supplies.

Under the deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, ships were allowed by Russia to leave several Ukrainian ports in and around Odesa and travel through an agreed corridor to Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait to reach global markets.

But with Odesa under attack by Russia for three consecutive days, grain exports are expected to stall.

Ukrainian official calls for stronger Russian sanctions

The head of the Ukrainian president’s office, Andriy Yermak, calls for stronger Russian sanctions to drastically affect its economy.

On Twitter, he wrote: “We must unite against Russian evil. Russia’s economy should suffer a devastating sanctions blow, the military-industrial complex should be limited in its ability to produce weapons, and Ukraine should receive more weapons for defense of the sky and offensive actions.”

Administrative building, warehouses damaged in Odesa attack: Ukrainian military spokesperson

Russia’s attack on the southern port city of Odesa on Thursday damaged an administrative building and warehouses in the region, with a Ukrainian military spokesperson saying at least 20 missiles and drones targeted the city.

At least four people were injured in the blast at the administrative building in Odesa city center, said Natalia Humeniuk, head of the Joint Press Centre of the Defense Forces of Southern Ukraine.

“For the third night in a row, Russians have been attacking Odesa and Mykolaiv regions. These attacks are aimed in particular with the focus on port infrastructure,” Humeniuk told parliamentary TV channel Rada.

“The hits in the (Odesa) region are related to logistics facilities — warehouses. There is no information about the casualties there yet,” Humeniuk added.

Humeniuk claimed a submarine in the Black Sea, aircraft and Kh-22 missiles were involved in the attack. She said the total number of missiles and drones aimed at targets in southern Ukraine overnight was well over 20, but that final results are still being summarized.

Russia out to ‘destroy’ global food supply chains: Ukrainian official

Head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office has described the latest strikes as “Russian terror” and asserted they were meant to disrupt food supplies in the global south.

“Russian terror is perpetrated against peaceful people and infrastructure facilities … aiming to destroy the food supply chain to the countries of the Global South,” Andriy Yermak posted on Twitter.

In a separate but related tweet minutes later, he said Russia’s economy should suffer a “devastating sanctions blow” and that Ukraine should “receive more weapons for defense of the sky and offensive actions”.

Ukrainian drone attack on Crimea kills a teenager: Russian-backed leader

The Russian-backed leader of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, claimed on Thursday that a Ukrainian drone hit an area in the occupied Crimea and killed a teenage girl.

Four administrative buildings were damaged in one of the settlements in the northwest of Crimea as a result of a drone strike from Ukraine, Aksyonov said in a post on Telegram.

“Unfortunately, there were casualties – a teenage girl died,” Aksyonov added.

At least 18 injured in Russian attack on Mykolaiv: Ukrainian military official

Russia struck the city center of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine on Thursday, according to Vitaliy Kim, the head of the Mykolaiv regional military administration.

At least 18 people were wounded, Kim said in the latest update on Telegram.

“A parking garage and a 3-story apartment building are on fire. The fire brigade is on its way,” Kim wrote on Telegram.

Among the injured people are five children, including a baby less than a year old, and 3-year-old child.

Kim reported fatalities but did not specify how many. He also did not provide more details on the nature of the attack.

At least 2 people injured after Russia targets Odesa for a 3rd night in a row: Ukraine authorities

Russia attacked the southern port city of Odesa for the third night in a row, according to Ukrainian authorities.

At least two people were injured in the attacks, the head of the region’s military administration Oleh Kiper said in a post on Telegram.

At least eight Russian Tu-22M3 aircraft were “flying in the direction of the Black Sea,” the Ukrainian air force announced early Thursday.

“There is a threat of cruise missile launches. Don’t ignore the air alert!” it said on Telegram on Thursday.

The air force warned that Russian supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles “were launched in the direction of the Odesa region.”

Russian attacks over the previous two nights damaged the port infrastructure in the city, officials announced.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Wednesday the attacks were the largest since the war began, and he accused Russia of trying to weaponize hunger and destabilize the global food market.

The president linked the strikes with Russia’s decision to pull out Monday of the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allowed Ukraine to export its grain via the contested body of water.

Russia could target civilian ships in Black Sea and blame Ukraine: White House

Russia could target civilian ships in the Black Sea and blame Ukraine following the Kremlin’s decision to leave the Black Sea Grain Initiative, according to a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

Russia has laid additional sea mines in the approach to Ukrainian ports, spokesperson Adam Hodge said in a statement Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, Russia’s Defense Ministry said any ship sailing toward a Ukrainian port would be considered as potentially carrying military cargo.

“We believe that this is a coordinated effort to justify any attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea and lay blame on Ukraine for these attacks,” Hodge added.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered one year ago by Turkey and the United Nations, which allowed for the export of Ukrainian grain, expired Monday at midnight. The agreement guaranteed safe passage for ships carrying Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea to Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait.

In the days since the grain deal expired, Russia has targeted the port city of Odesa with missiles and drones, destroying agricultural infrastructure and 60,000 tons of grain, Hodge said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated the attacks on Odesa were the largest since the war began, and he accused Russia of trying to weaponize hunger and destabilize the global food market.

It would be “very hard at this point” to get Russia back to grain deal: Negotiator

Russia has taken “fairly dramatic actions” since pulling out of the Black Sea grain deal and it would be “very hard at this point to get Russia back,” according to David Harland, executive director of the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue.

“It’s going to be very hard to get back Russia in the agreements. They’ve gone very far now,” Harland, who helped broker the deal, told CNN.

Earlier Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the “continuation of the grain deal in the form in which existed has lost all meaning.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense also announced all ships sailing in the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports will be considered potential carriers of military cargo, starting Thursday.

“I am not at all optimistic. Having been involved in this from the very beginning, I think this is the worst moment,” Harland added.

When asked about what options still remain on the table, and remarks by Ukrainian officials about the possibility to continue shipments through the Black Sea, Harland stated it won’t be possible without Russia’s consent.

“Russia has to agree because Russia controls militarily the whole northern part of the Black Sea,” he continued, adding, “So I think it has to involve Russia but at this point Russia is not cooperating, and in my view if there is going to be a new deal, Russia has done so much now to speak out against the agreement and to deny it, that any new deal will have to be of a different nature.”

There may be a chance that Russia agrees to “humanitarian shipments” only, if pressured by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and leaders of countries facing huge food supply shortages, like nations in Africa, Harland said. But he added he doubts the initial deal can be revived.

“I doubt we are going to get back there. I think next time there will be a big deal, it will probably be in the context of the deal that ends the war,” he noted.

Pentagon: US will provide more air defense systems and attack drones in $1.3 billion Ukraine aid package

The US has committed to providing Ukraine with more air defense systems and attack drones in a $1.3 billion aid package announced Wednesday, according to the Department of Defense.

The package includes four more National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS), which are medium-range air defense batteries that have already helped Ukraine withstand ongoing Russian barrages of missiles and drones. It is the same system used to protect Washington, DC, and the area around the nation’s capital.

The latest commitment will give Ukraine a total of 12 NASAMS from the United States. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said last November that the NASAMS had a 100% success rate in intercepting Russian attacks.

The latest package falls under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which is part of the long-term US commitment to provide aid to Ukraine. Unlike drawdown packages, which are pulled directly from Defense Department stocks and can be sent in relatively quickly, USAI packages are contracted with industry, a process which can take months or more.

On Tuesday, following an international meeting of countries providing aid to Ukraine, Austin said, “Make no mistake: We are determined to support Ukraine’s fight for freedom for as long as it takes.”

The package also includes Phoenix Ghost and Switchblade attack drones, as well as counter-drone equipment.

The sizable Ukraine aid package comes during Ukraine’s ongoing counter-offensive, which has faced stiff Russian resistance and widespread minefields, which have slowed its progress.

The US is also expected to announce a separate aid package of about $400 million that will include more ammunition for the NASAMS, according to two US officials, as well as ammo for Patriot missile defense systems and HIMARS rocket launchers.

The package will also contain more artillery ammunition, which officials have warned is in short supply, especially with the possibility of a prolonged Ukrainian counteroffensive that will drain current stockpiles.

In addition, the package includes anti-tank and anti-armor weapons such as Javelins and TOW missiles, the officials said.

The officials cautioned the package has not been finalized yet and could still change. It could be announced as early as this week, one of the officials stated.

Notably, the package is not expected to include more of the controversial cluster munitions, the officials said, which the US provided for the first time in the previous drawdown package announced earlier this month.

The Joe Biden administration decided to provide cluster munitions, known officially as dual-purpose improves cluster munitions, in part to meet the Ukrainian need for more artillery ammunition as the US and other countries ramp up their ammo production.

Putin accuses West of arrogance for refusing to comply with Russian demands on grain deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the West’s failure to comply with Moscow’s demands to extend the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain initiative “arrogance and impudence,” and says his country would consider returning if conditions are met.

“Just outright arrogance and impudence. Promises and empty chatter. And they only compromised themselves with this,” Putin said during a remote meeting with the members of the government broadcast on Wednesday.

“The authority was undermined, among other things, of the leadership of the UN secretariat, which actually acted as a guarantor of the grain deal,” he added.

Moscow had shown “miracles of endurance and tolerance,” by continuously extending the deal in the past, the Russian president said.

“The West has done everything to derail the grain deal, they have not spared their efforts,” he continued, adding Russia was obstructed from donating fertilizers to the poorest countries.

Putin also said Moscow would consider the possibility of returning to the deal if all the principles in it, without exception, are taken into account and implemented.

“The continuation of the grain deal in the form in which it existed has lost all meaning. That is why we objected to the further extension of this so-called deal,” he stressed, adding, “All obstacles must be removed for Russian banks, financial institutions that aid the supply of food and fertilizers. This includes their immediate connection to the SWIFT international banking settlement system.”

“We don’t need promises and ideas in this regard. We need the fulfillment of these conditions,” he continued.

Russia will consider vessels bound for Ukraine as carriers of military cargo after pulling out of gain deal

The Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday that all ships sailing in the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports will be considered as potential carriers of military cargo, starting on Thursday.

The defense ministry’s announcement comes as the Russian Foreign Ministry said that, in withdrawing from the Black Sean Grain Initiative, its government was removing guarantees for safe navigation in the Black Sea.

“In connection with the termination of the Black Sea Initiative and the curtailment of the maritime humanitarian corridor, from 00:00 Moscow time on July 20, 2023, all ships en route to Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea will be considered as potential carriers of military cargo,” said the statement published by the ministry.

According to the ministry, the countries whose national flags fly on the vessels will be considered involved in the Ukrainian conflict on the side of Kyiv.

“A number of sea areas in the northwestern and southeastern parts of the international waters of the Black Sea have been declared temporarily dangerous for navigation,” the ministry added.

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