Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 561

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:

Ukraine’s new defence chief will make soldiers and trust the key priorities: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that new Defense Minister Rustem Umerov must build trust in military procurement and decision-making.

Introducing Umerov at an event in Kyiv, Zelensky said: “We need more trust. Trust in the decisions that are made, trust in the procurement that is carried out, trust in the supplies that are planned and carried out, and trust in communication between the units and the parts of the Ukrainian defense system they need.”

Zelensky added: “The Ukrainian soldier is the key priority of the defense forces. If changes in the defense forces are needed for the benefit and strength of the soldier, then such changes must be immediate. This applies to everything from bureaucratic procedures that take up time and energy of soldiers to the provision of our soldiers.”

The president stated that he wants the new minister to simplify the bureaucracy and focus on the welfare of soldiers.

“Everything that can be digitized should be digitized. Every bureaucratic procedure that can be canceled should be canceled. Every item that can save the lives and health of soldiers must be found and supplied to the Ukrainian army. We need a new philosophy of attitude towards Ukrainian soldiers: people are not expendable,” he continued.

Zelensky tapped Umerov, a Crimean Tatar, to become his next defense minister, replacing Oleksii Reznikov.

Umerov’s appointment was approved by the Ukrainian parliament on Wednesday. He has an extensive background in business.

The change in leadership comes at a critical time for Ukraine’s counteroffensive, as Ukraine’s relationships with allies and donors enter a new phase.

Kyiv is trying to accelerate the training and deployment of F-16 combat planes and acquire a host of other equipment and weapons from its western allies to help push forward its counteroffensive.

Ukraine begins exporting grain via Croatian seaports

A senior Ukrainian official says Kyiv has started exporting grain via Croatian seaports as the country looks to other export routes while its Black Sea ports are blocked.

“Ukrainian grain has already been exported through Croatian ports. We are grateful for this possibility. Although it is a niche trade route, it is already popular,” First Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko said in a written statement.

“We are ready to develop it by expanding the capabilities of the transport corridor,” she continued, adding, “We believe that this logistics route will play an important role in bilateral trade between our countries even after the war.”

Svyrydenko did not say how much Ukrainian grain had already been shipped via the new route.

Since Russia quit the grain deal in July, Kyiv has increasingly used its Danube River ports to export grain.

Russia has, however, been attacking Ukrainian port infrastructure on the Danube.

Kremlin condemns US decision to supply uranium munitions

The Kremlin announced the US must answer for the “very sad consequences” of its decision to provide depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said NATO’s heavy use in Yugoslavia in 1999 had caused a jump in cancer cases and other diseases.

“These consequences are also felt by subsequent generations of those who somehow came into contact or were in areas where these weapons were used,” he told reporters, adding the same would now happen in Ukraine.

On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced an assistance package for Ukraine, including armour-piercing depleted uranium ammunition for Abrams tanks.

Britain has already sent similar shells.

However, depleted uranium munitions are fiercely debated and highly controversial.

The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons says ingesting or inhaling even depleted uranium dust can cause cancers and congenital disabilities.

Russia “has lost” and is now “a diminished power” after not achieving its goals: Western officials

Western officials believe Russia has already lost the war because it failed in its primary aim of subjugating Ukraine, arguing that Ukraine’s battlefield progress is not a measure of its overall success.

Speaking in a briefing on Thursday, the officials conceded that Ukraine’s progress had been incremental and slower than anticipated two months ago, due to Russia’s well-prepared defenses, but said that Moscow had already lost regardless of battles over territory.

“This could be a very long struggle over territory, but in terms of the war and what Russia was looking to achieve, Russia has lost and Russia is a diminished power and is on a diminishing trajectory,” one official said.

“This notion that somehow Russia can win even if it retains the territory that it’s got, and that is victory, is insane when Russia has strengthened NATO, has grown it with the likes of Finland and Sweden, has put Ukraine on a path to joining NATO, and has put Ukraine on a path to potentially joining the EU,” the official added.

“I think if you’re Vladimir Putin, you’re basically gambling that Donald Trump wins the next election and that is quite a long phase. It’s a long way away. In the meantime, the Yevgeny Prigozhin mutiny wouldn’t have happened if the war was going well in Ukraine,” another official stated.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky insisted Saturday that Kyiv’s counteroffensive is moving forward, after troops made some headway in its campaign to recapture territory seized by Russia.

Moscow slams US plan to give $5.4m in frozen assets to Kyiv

The Kremlin has slammed a US decision to give Ukraine $5.4m in confiscated Russian assets to support veteran reintegration and rehabilitation.

“We consider all cases related to the seizure and other withholding of any funds related to state property or private property of the Russian Federation to be illegal,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

He added that “one way or another, they will lead to legal proceedings”.

US claims that depleted uranium shells non-radioactive are ‘nonsense’: Russia

The White House’s claims that depleted uranium ammunition is not radioactive are nonsense, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, US National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby stated that depleted uranium rounds were neither radioactive nor carcinogenic.

“What is it: lies or silliness? [Scientists] have mentioned it multiple times and there are stand-alone articles saying that depleted uranium is toxic and dangerous for humans when it is in the form of radioactive dust, and the effect of radionuclide contamination of soils has also been brought up,” Zakharova wrote on Telegram.

The rate of cancer diagnoses increases in places where depleted uranium ammunition was used, she recalled. This was experienced by Italian soldiers who took part in the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, Zakharova added.

“Out of 7500 people exposed to toxic substances and radiation, 372 people died, which is a mortality rate of 5% or a fatal outcome for every 20th person. Moreover, they died of agonizing cancer complications, such as kidney dysfunction, lung cancer, bone cancer, esophageal cancer, degenerative skin diseases, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia,” the spokeswoman continued.

On Wednesday, the US Defense Department announced a new $175 million military aid package for Ukraine that includes depleted uranium munitions for Abrams tanks, as well as air defense equipment and 155mm artillery shells.

US to send more cluster munitions to Ukraine in near future

The United States is going to send another batch of cluster munitions to Ukraine in the near future to support Kiev’s counteroffensive attempt, unnamed US officials have claimed on Thursday.

Three US officials stated that the administration of President Joe Biden is planning to supply Ukraine with more cluster bombs, two months after the first package of the munitions was sent to Kiev.

Washington does not specify how many cluster munitions were included in the first batch out of the hundreds of thousands that the Pentagon has at its disposal, according to the report.

US officials said that Ukrainian forces fire about 8,000 artillery rounds per day, including hundreds of cluster shells. Kiev’s requests for ammunition are expected to rise as many units now increasingly rely on heavy artillery to prepare for infantry advances rather than NATO-style combined arms combat, which is difficult for the Ukrainian army to master.

In July, the Biden administration sent its first military assistance package to Ukraine that included cluster munitions in a move widely criticized by human rights activists and opposed by some US lawmakers.

Ukraine is “gradually gaining ground” in counteroffensive: NATO chief

Ukraine is “slowly gaining ground” in its counteroffensive despite difficult fighting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated Thursday.

Speaking to members of the European Parliament, Stoltenberg said support from NATO allies helped to launch the Ukrainian counteroffensive which is now beginning to bear fruit.

“The Ukrainians are gradually gaining ground,” he continued, adding, “This is heavy fighting, difficult fighting but they have been able to breach the defensive lines of the Russian forces. And they are moving forward.””

His remarks come after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sent out a strong message last week regarding Ukraine’s progress, tweeting: “No matter what anyone says, we are advancing, and that is the most important thing. We are on the move.”

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials are cautiously optimistic that the second line of Russian defensive fortifications on the southern front may be easier to penetrate than the first.

Geolocated video in recent days indicates Ukrainian units have made limited progress beyond the village of Robotyne, as they seek to expand the territory in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region they reclaimed in August.

NATO expects members to increase defense spending by over 8% this year

NATO expects its member states to increase their defense spending by more than 8% this year, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

“And this year, we expect NATO allies to increase defense spending by more than 8% in new terms,” Stoltenberg stated at a meeting of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee and security and defense subcommittee.

Stoltenberg added that Ukrainian crisis has made cooperation between NATO and the European Union even more important.

Russia claims US supply of depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine is a “criminal act”

Russia’s deputy foreign minister on Thursday accused the United States of committing “a criminal act” following Washington’s pledge to supply depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine for the first time, Russian state media reported.

The ammunition is part of $1 billion in new US support for Ukraine announced Wednesday. The munitions, which can be fired from the US-made Abrams tanks that are expected to arrive in Ukraine this fall, are mildly radioactive because they are made from dense metal — a byproduct from fuel production for nuclear power plants.

Speaking after a seminar on nuclear non-proliferation Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov claimed the US’ move was “a reflection of Washington’s outrageous disregard for the environmental consequences of using these kind of munitions in a war zone,” state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported.

“It is clear that they do not care who will breathe it in, where it will be settled, as well as what consequences it will lead to for those who are fighting now and what will happen to the generations that will live on this land,” Ryabkov added.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, depleted uranium is used in ammunition designed to pierce armor plating because it becomes sharper on impact with a target. It is “considerably less radioactive than natural uranium,” according to the UN nuclear watchdog.

In March, the United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry accused Russia of spreading disinformation after President Vladimir Putin warned London against providing Ukraine with ammunition containing depleted uranium.

“It is a standard component and has nothing to do with nuclear weapons or capabilities. Russia knows this, but is deliberately trying to disinform,” a British defense ministry spokesperson said at the time.

“Independent research by scientists from groups such as the Royal Society has assessed that any impact to personal health and the environment from the use of depleted uranium munitions is likely to be low,” the spokesperson added.

Russia intercepts drones over Rostov and Moscow

Russian air defenses intercepted drones over the southern city of Rostov-on-Don and the capital Moscow, officials stated on Thursday.

In a Telegram post, Rostov Gov. Vasily Golubev said one person was injured and several cars were damaged after one drone fell in the city center and another fell on its western outskirts.

Separately, Russian air defenses intercepted a drone attack near Moscow, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said in a Telegram post.

“Tonight, in the Ramensky urban district, air defense forces thwarted a drone attack on Moscow. There is no damage or casualties at the site of the fall of the wreckage. Emergency services are on site,” Sobyanin added.

Reports of Ukrainian drone attacks on Russian territory have become an almost daily occurrence in recent weeks as Kyiv ramps up its apparent efforts to wear down Russian domestic support for the war.

UN opposes US sending uranium rounds to Ukraine

The UN condemned the use of depleted uranium ammunition on Wednesday, after the US government said it would send Ukraine a number of such rounds for M1 Abrams tanks as part of a $175-million military aid package.

“We are against the use of depleted uranium ammunition anywhere in the world,” Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told TASS.

Haq’s comments came after the Pentagon revealed that an unspecified number of 120mm DU rounds will be sent to Ukraine as part of the newest package of military assistance. The anti-tank rounds are intended for use by the 30-odd M1 Abrams tanks promised to Kiev by the White House in January. The first batch of tanks are supposed to be delivered later this month.

Washington is following in London’s footsteps in providing the controversial munitions to Kiev. The UK sent a number of DU rounds to Ukraine earlier this year, intended for use with its Challenger 2 tanks.

The US and its allies have sent over $100 billion worth of weapons, ammunition and military equipment to Ukraine over the past 18 months, while insisting that this does not make them a party to the conflict. These deliveries have included cluster munitions banned by most NATO members. Ukraine reportedly has to account for their use directly to the Pentagon. Russia has documented multiple instances in which such ordnance was used against civilian targets.

Russia blasts ‘inhumanity’ of US sending depleted uranium shells to Ukraine

Russia has denounced Washington’s plan to provide the Ukrainian military with ammunition containing depleted uranium as part of a new $1bn assistance package to Kyiv, describing the decision to provide the controversial arms as inhuman.

The Pentagon announced on Wednesday that depleted uranium ammunition for US-made Abrams tanks would be part of a new military package worth up to $175m, out of more than $1bn in civilian and defence support that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

“The administration’s decision to supply weapons with depleted uranium is an indicator of inhumanity,” Russia’s embassy in Washington said on the Telegram messaging app following the announcement.

“Clearly, with its idea of inflicting a ‘strategic defeat’, Washington is prepared to fight not only to the last Ukrainian but also to do away with entire generations,” the embassy noted.

“The US is deliberately transferring weapons with indiscriminate effects,” the embassy added.

“It is fully aware of the consequences: explosions of such munitions result in the formation of a moving radioactive cloud. Small particles of uranium settle in the respiratory tract, lungs, esophagus, accumulate in kidneys and liver, cause cancer and lead to the inhibition of the whole organism’s functions.”

EU ban on Russian gas ‘unlikely’: Brussels

Belgian Energy Minister Tinne Van der Straeten has urged the EU to curb imports of Russian gas and wean itself off fossil fuels by 2027, after it was revealed that her country was one of the top importers of Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG).

In her interview with the Financial Times on Wednesday, Van der Straeten stated that she was “not happy” with the fact the Russian gas was still flowing into the EU through Belgium, but noted that only 2.8% of those imports were going to Belgian consumers, while the rest was in transit to other countries.

She also admitted that while Belgium supports the imposition of sanctions on Russian fuel, it is “unlikely” to happen, as the move would require the unanimous support of all EU members.

“The most effective thing that we can do . . . is to wean ourselves off fossil fuels in general and make sure . . . that we can control energy ourselves,” she told the outlet.

Pentagon expects Ukraine to be ‘responsible’ with depleted uranium

The US is confident that the Ukrainian military will use depleted uranium (DU) ammunition responsibly, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said on Wednesday.

“I’m not going to get ahead of any announcements that the Pentagon hasn’t made yet today, but what I will say is these rounds are standard use in the tanks that not only the US uses, but that we will be providing the Ukrainians,” Singh stated.

“And if they are included in the packages that are coming forward today or in the coming weeks, we have absolute confidence that the Ukrainians will use them responsibly,” she added.

Russian defense ministry proposes law allowing military registration for prisoners

The Russian defense ministry proposed amending regulations to allow military registration for prisoners, state news agency TASS reported.

“The Russian Ministry of Defense has proposed amending the regulations of military registration, in order to make those serving sentences get on military registration in correctional institutions,” TASS said, adding that “the draft amendment is published on the federal portal of the projects of normative legal acts.”

The current law says that “the citizens serving a sentence of imprisonment are not subject to military registration.”

It is proposed to introduce the concept of “special military registration” for conscripts and those liable for military service who are currently serving sentences, according to TASS.

“Special military registration is carried out by correctional institutions, correctional centers of the penitentiary system […] and military commissariats at the location of institutions of the penitentiary system in accordance with the legislation of the Russian Federation and this regulation,” the draft amendment added.

According to the draft, “installment and removal from special military registration are carried out without appearing at the military commissariats, the corresponding lists of prisoners are provided by correctional institutions as prisoners are received, transferred or released,” according to TASS.

Russian prisoners have already been used by Moscow in the war in Ukraine.

For months, Russia had been using the private mercenary company Wagner to bolster its frontline presence with prisoners – a scheme at first denied and secretive, but then openly promoted by the late Wagner’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

In addition, several prisoners told CNN earlier this year that they were directly employed by the defense ministry. And, more recently, other convicts detailed the brutality of the frontlines.

Ukraine’s FM calls US military aid “most profitable investment into world’s security”

Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called US military aid “the most profitable investment into world’s security” during a joint news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Kyiv on Wednesday.

“Military aid that is given to Ukraine as well as financial aid is not a charity donation, I would like to underline this, it is the most profitable investment of the US into the European security and the security of the whole world,” Kuleba said.

Kuleba emphasized that the United States “continues to be a leading Ukrainian ally in repelling the Russian aggression.”

Kuleba noted that Blinken has given “a high estimate to the actions of Ukrainian soldiers.”

“It was an objective estimate, that takes into consideration a tough reality of the battlefield and these heroic actions that the soldiers are bringing forth,” Kuleba continued, adding that Ukraine has no intention of asking American soldiers to join its forces in the fight on Ukrainian territory.

Kuleba stated that both parties discussed integrating Ukraine’s defense industry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), increasing Ukraine’s air defense and providing Ukraine with long-range Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missiles, the latter topic remaining an ongoing conversation.

The leaders also discussed the grain deal, agreeing that the Danube grain corridor, which is adjacent to the territory of Romania, is the “most promising option at the moment” to be used for grain exports.

Kuleba noted that the rules to end the war “should be designated not by the third party that is an aggressor, but the country that has been invaded” and said that “some bilateral steps to make this approach work” were agreed on during the parties’ earlier conversation on Wednesday.

Kuleba said he and Blinken had “an open, sincere and friendly conversation” and reiterated that the US support for Ukraine is long-standing.

“Anyone in the world who has doubted that Ukraine and the US will stand shoulder to shoulder until the end of this war have received a powerful signal today that they are wrong. We are moving forward together because we understand this war is not just about the future of Ukraine, but the future of the world,” he added.

The leaders also ate at a McDonald’s in Kyiv, which had recently reopened.

“The return of McDonald’s to Ukraine has become a symbol that it is possible to build great business in Ukraine and be with the people during hard and important time in their life,” Kuleba continued.

US and Ukraine share belief counteroffensive is making progress: Blinken

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US has “no illusions” that the path forward in Ukraine will be easy, but doubled down on continued US support and pointed to the progress that Ukraine has made so far during his press conference in Kyiv on Wednesday.

He noted that in the year since he was last in Ukraine, Kyiv’s forces have ” taken back more than 50% of the territory that Russia has seized from it since February of 2022.”

Blinken stated that Volodymyr Zelensky’s assessment of the ongoing counteroffensive, after having recently visited the frontlines, matches the US assessment: “real progress in recent weeks.”

Blinken’s positive tone comes after US officials have previously said that the counteroffensive was not moving as quickly as they would have liked.

Blinken also added that the US will be transferring seized Russian assets to Ukraine for the first time. He did not say how much those assets amounted to, or precisely when the transfer would happen.

“Those who have enabled Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression should pay for it,” Blinken continued.

US secretary of state announces $1 billion in new aid for Ukraine to boost counteroffensive

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $1 billion in new US support for Ukraine, including military, humanitarian and budgetary assistance.

“In the ongoing counteroffensive, progress has accelerated in the past few weeks. This new assistance will help sustain it and build further momentum,” Blinken said at a news conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba while visiting Kyiv on Wednesday.

The package includes replenishing Ukrainians with weaponry that the US has given to the country in the past including air defense system components, Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems for HIMARS, munitions, ammunition, and communications systems, according to a State Department fact sheet. These weapons will come from Pentagon stocks.

The new military assistance package also includes depleted uranium munitions for the first time. The munitions are mildly radioactive because they are made from dense metal, a byproduct from fuel production for nuclear power plants. They can be fired from the US-made Abrams tanks that are expected to arrive in Ukraine this fall.

And in terms of long-term military support the new package commits $100 million in military support, through the foreign military financing program, the department said. This comes as conversations between the US and Ukraine over long-term support continue.

“I met today with President (Volodymyr) Zelensky I discussed longer-term sustainable security arrangements, which will provide ongoing security assistance and modern military equipment across land, air, sea and cyberspace, as well as training and intelligence share. The State Department is leading these discussions, which will continue in the months ahead,” Blinken said.

More than one-fifth of the new support announced on Wednesday, totaling more than $200 million, will go toward support for transparency and reform, bolstering efforts on anti-corruption, rule of law and the justice sector, the department said. This support notably comes following the resignation of the Ukrainian defense minister earlier this week in the wake of a number of corruption scandals in the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.

The US will also use this bucket of funding for transparency-related efforts to direct funding towards Ukraine’s capacity to both investigate and prosecute war crimes, invest in reconstruction efforts and strengthen the country’s financial management practices.

The humanitarian assistance portion of this new assistance totaling $206 million will go towards critical support including food, water, and shelter to those in Ukraine and those forced to flee to neighboring countries. There will also be more than $90 million in humanitarian assistance specifically for demining, the department announced.

New Ukrainian DM pledges to take back all of Ukraine from Russian control

In remarks as Ukraine’s new defense minister, Rustem Umerov vowed to wrest back control of “every centimeter” of Ukrainian land from Russia and bring home all those in captivity.

He said he will “do everything possible and impossible for the victory of Ukraine — when we liberate every centimeter of our country and every one of our people,” speaking shortly after the Ukrainian parliament approved his appointment.

“We will definitely return everyone who, unfortunately, are temporarily in captivity. All of them — children, prisoners of war, political prisoners, civilians,” Umerov added.

Umerov has been prominently involved with the return of prisoners of war.

“Forty-two million Ukrainians stand behind every soldier. Behind every soldier is a ministry that will do everything to protect and provide for all our people. Our people, their lives and dignity are our priority and highest value,” he continued.

Some background: Umerov replaces Oleksii Reznikov, whose long tenure – he had been in the post since before the full-scale war started – had been damaged by contract scandals involving the defense ministry.

Reznikov submitted his resignation on Monday after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy cited the need for “new approaches,” with the conflict entering a critical phase.

Zelensky warns of ‘difficult winter’ ahead

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that trying winter was approaching during a meeting in Kyiv with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“A difficult winter is ahead. But we’re happy that we’re not alone through this winter. We will do it together with our partners,” Zelensky told Blinken.

The president also thanked the United States for its help with Ukraine’s energy sector.

US delegation to meet chief ICC prosecutor about Putin war crimes

On Thursday, a US congressional delegation will meet with the top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to discuss allegations of war crimes against President Vladimir Putin.

Led by Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, will talk with ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan.

McCaul noted, “30,000 children have been taken away from their families and indoctrinated in Russia.”

Washington was looking at how it could “help The Hague gather more and collect more evidence and intelligence to prove the case against Putin”, he said.

The US is not a member of the ICC court, along with major powers including China and Russia.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March after accusing him of illegally deporting hundreds of Ukrainian children, which Russia has repeatedly denied.

Germany to boost ammunition purchases in 2024

Germany plans to significantly boost purchases of ammunition in 2024, Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said, as Berlin moves to replenish stocks depleted by donations to Ukraine.

“We aim to more than triple our spending on ammunition purchases in 2024,” he told lawmakers in a speech to parliament without going into detail.

With the conflict in Ukraine becoming a war of attrition, with both sides firing thousands of artillery shells every day, it has meant that stocks have been exhausted across the West.

At the same time, NATO allies are also trying to fill their own armies’ inventories.

In February, the military alliance said it would increase targets for stockpiling ammunition as Kyiv burns through shells much faster than Western countries can produce them.

France calls for EU to escalate information war against Russia

The US should “help” nations that are applying to join the EU to counter a “Russian influence strategy” that casts doubt on the merits of membership, France’s Europe Minister Laurence Boone has urged.

Speaking to Politico about the EU’s discussions on a proposed rapid expansion, the minister claimed that, within states that are seeking accession, there’s “a lot of disinformation and interference” when it comes to how to qualify. Some European officials have insisted that new members must be accepted based on merit, Wednesday’s article also noted.

Russia was seeking to “weaken the European Union” by discouraging its expansion, Boone claimed. Brussels should help in tackling the skeptical voices “as much as possible, while respecting their sovereignty.”

Zelensky issues ultimatum to EU over grain ban

Kiev will go to an international arbitration court if the EU decides to prolong its ban on Ukrainian grain beyond September 15, Ukraine’s President Vladimir Zelensky has warned.

The curbs on deliveries of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed, and sunflower seeds to Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia, which had been introduced in May, are set to expire next week. But the five EU members are now pushing for the ban to be extended at least until the end of the year, citing the need to protect their agricultural industries.

“Ukraine is strongly against any further restrictions on the export of our grain,” Zelensky pointed out in an address published on his website on Wednesday.

“We calmly watch as our grain becomes a source of good income for various European countries that process our agricultural products and make money on logistics,” he said.

“But how can we not-calmly accept the violation of the promises given to us, the violation of the Association Agreement, the violation of free market conditions,” he added, directly addressing the European Commission.

During the conflict with Russia, Ukraine is “fighting for life and for our common European values” on land, at sea, in the air, and in cyberspace, the president claimed.

“But if we have to fight for Ukraine and the foundations of our common Europe in arbitration, we will fight. We don’t want to, but we will fight in arbitration. If we need to fight on the platforms of international organizations, we will fight there as well,” he warned.

However, Zelensky expressed hope that Ukraine and Brussels will avoid a legal battle and that “unity will win. That truth will win.”

He also addressed the leaders of Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia, arguing that “any restrictions against Ukrainian exports now are a scaling-up of the destruction” caused by the fighting between Kiev and Moscow.

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