Thursday, May 23, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 103: Russia says ban on foreign minister’s plane ‘hostile action’

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:

Ukraine Ministry of Defense: Russian missile and air attacks increase on several fronts

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense says that Russian forces have launched missiles and air strikes against a number of targets across Ukraine, as they try to break down Ukrainian defenses and hit key infrastructure.

Colonel Oleksandr Motuzyanyk, the Defense Ministry spokesperson, stated Russia was carrying out “intense fire and assault operations along the entire line of combat confrontation in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”

Seven aircraft had launched guided missiles from above the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, while coastal missile systems in Crimea were also active.

On the ground, Motuzyanyk noted the Russians had made some advances, including north of Sloviansk, where they were advancing in the Sviatohirsk area toward the Siverskiy Donets River. He said the Russians were carrying out “engineering reconnaissance of the area, preparing for the possible forcing of a water barrier.” But in other districts on this front they had been repulsed, he added.

Sloviansk is a key target of the Russian operation, and Russian forces have been edging closer to the city in recent weeks.

Further east in Severodonetsk, Motuzyanyk said Ukrainian units were holding back “the offensive of the Russian aggressor, who seeks to surround our troops in the area of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, as well as to block the main logistics routes…..Units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are fighting hard against the occupiers in the eastern and central parts of the city. The enemy spares neither people nor equipment. With the support of artillery, the enemy conducts assault operations to achieve its goal of taking control of the city.”

The Russians are also continuing efforts to break through Ukrainian lines defending the route between Lysychansk and Bakhmut, but had been repulsed, Motuzyanyk added.

Further south, an attempt to break through towards the border of Donetsk region had been thwarted. Ukrainian forces had “inflicted heavy losses and forced several enemy sabotage groups to retreat” as they tried to reach the settlements of Rivnopol and Novosilka, close to the regional border with Zaporizhzhia.

In the northern region of Kharkiv, Motuzyanyk said that enemy fire continued against settlements to the north and east of the capital city in an effort to prevent Ukrainian forces reaching the border with Russia.

In the south, the Russians appear to be trying to win back ground that had been lost to a Ukrainian offensive over the last week. Motuzyanyk added that Ukrainian troops were holding off a Russian counter-attack near the settlements of Lozove and Bila Krynytsia. In the same region, Russian troops were firing on Ukrainian positions along the entire line of contact between Mykolaiv and Kherson, he continued.

Ukrainian Navy says Russian ships withdrew from coastal waters in Black Sea

The Ukrainian Navy says ships of the Russian Black Sea fleet have withdrawn to more than 100 kilometers (about 65 miles) from Ukrainian shores as a result of its attacks with missiles and drones.

In an operational update Monday, the Navy said that in an effort to regain control of north-western parts of the Black Sea, the Russians had deployed coastal missile systems in the Crimea and Kherson regions.

It added that the threat of missile strikes from the sea remains. “Since the beginning of the invasion, enemy ships and submarines have launched more than 300 cruise missiles on Ukrainian territory. Currently, the intensity of strikes with Caliber cruise missiles has decreased, while the enemy began to hit ground targets with anti-ship missiles….Probably, this indicates that Russia has used a significant amount of modern missile weapons and is forced to use out-dated types of missiles.”

The Navy said that approximately 30 Russian ships and submarines continued the blockade of civilian shipping. “Currently, there are up to 12 large landing ships in the Black Sea, but more than a third of them are under repair,” the Navy said.

“We deprived the Russian Black Sea Fleet of complete control over the north-western part of the Black Sea, which has become a “grey zone,” it added.

At the same time, the enemy has adopted our tactics and is trying to regain control of the northwestern part of the Black Sea through coastal missile systems and air-based cruise missiles,” the navy statement said. But it added there was still the risk of the Russians’ landing tactical troops and sabotage and reconnaissance groups on the Odesa coast, especially in favorable weather conditions in summer.

UN envoy on sexual violence in Ukraine says she thinks situation “is turning into a human trafficking crisis”

UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence Pramila Patten said Monday that she believes the humanitarian situation in Ukraine is “turning into a human trafficking crisis.”

Women and children fleeing the conflict are being targeted for trafficking and exploitation – in some cases facing further exposure to rape and other risks while seeking refuge,” Patten told the UN Security Council in New York City on Monday.

She stated addressing the issue will require “a coherent and coordinated response at the level of European institutions” and “a concerted, integrated and holistic cross-border response humanitarian partners, law enforcement agencies, border forces, immigration officials and political leaders.”

The UN special representative added that she visited reception centers at Ukrainian borders in Poland and Moldova. While there has been an outpouring of financial and moral support for Ukrainians from neighboring countries, there have also been a number of “credible anecdotal accounts from humanitarian staff” regarding suspected attempts of human trafficking, Patten continued. She called the protection challenges related to the displacement of Ukrainians “unprecedented.”

“The lack of consistent vetting of accommodation offers and transportation arrangements is a serious concern, as well as the limited capacity of protection services to address the velocity and volume of displacement. There are also concerns regarding the multiplicity of volunteers, with limited vetting, and little or no training or experience,” Patten stated.

Per Patten, the “credible anecdotal accounts from humanitarian staff” at a reception center for Ukrainian refugees in Przemysl, Poland, regarding suspected, attempts at human trafficking include:

  • A male volunteer made contact with a 19-year-old woman, whom he later woke up in the sleeping hall at 2 am local time, offering a ride to France. Another volunteer became suspicious of the male volunteer roaming the sleeping quarters in the early morning hours, and intervened.
  • Another male wearing a volunteer vest and standing with a sign at the train station hall, was seen offering free transport from Poland to Germany. Other volunteers became suspicious and informed local law enforcement when they noticed that the man was selecting only young women for transportation in his minivan.

“The prevalence of sexual violence in conflicts throughout history teaches us that reinforcing prevention, protection, and service-delivery is critical from the onset of any armed conflict,” Patten said, adding, “To address this challenge, it is crucial to ensure that the level of political focus as well as the allocation of resources for a comprehensive response, is commensurate with the scale and complexity of the problem.”

Mariupol shut down over possible cholera outbreak

The Russian occupation’s administration in Mariupol has shut down the southern port city for quarantine over a possible cholera outbreak, Ukrainian authorities say.

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, stated on Ukrainian television that the city is bracing itself for an epidemic as dead bodies and litter are piling up in the city on the Azov Sea.

Ukraine’s health ministry warned that mass burials and poor access to clean water were creating a risk of cholera, according to a report by The Kyiv Independent.

Latin America, Caribbean 2022 poverty seen higher as Ukraine war bites: UN study

A United Nations commission has increased its projection for poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean for 2022, citing economic disruptions caused by the conflict in Ukraine.

Extreme poverty is projected to reach 14.5 percent this year, 0.7 percentage point more than in 2021, according to a study published by the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Higher fuel prices and fertiliser and wheat supply problems provoked by the war in Ukraine have fanned inflation while intensifying hunger, casting doubts about the region’s growth prospects, the UN agency added.

It also warned of a significant jump in the number of people in the region deemed food insecure.

Ukraine recovers bodies from Mariupol steelworks: Report

Russia has reportedly begun turning over the bodies of Ukrainian fighters killed at the Azovstal steelworks, the fortress-like plant in the destroyed southeastern port city of Mariupol where the Ukrainians’ last-ditch stand became a symbol of resistance against Moscow’s invasion.

Dozens of fighters’ bodies recovered from the bombed-out plant’s now Russian-occupied ruins have been transferred to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, where DNA testing is under way to identify the remains, Maksym Zhorin, a military commander and former leader of the Azov Regiment, told The Associated Press news agency.

The Azov Regiment was among the Ukrainian units that defended the factory for nearly three months before surrendering.

It isn’t clear how many bodies might still remain at the plant, which was relentlessly pounded by surrounding Russian forces from the air and sea before being captured.

Italy summons Russian ambassador over media coverage criticism

Italy has summoned Russia’s ambassador to protest against Moscow’s criticism of Italian media outlets’ coverage of the war.

The Italian foreign ministry said in a statement it “rejected insinuations concerning the alleged involvement of our country’s media in an anti-Russian campaign”.

It added that it “firmly rejected accusations of amorality” levelled at certain unnamed Italian officials and journalists by the Russian foreign ministry.

The Russian embassy in Rome posted a statement on Facebook saying Ambassador Sergey Razov had repudiated the criticism during his meeting with the secretary-general of Italy’s foreign ministry.

“He pointed out that the propaganda line that is dominating in the Italian media can hardly be qualified otherwise than as hostile,” the statement read.

Moscow denies accusations at UN of sexual crimes by Russian forces in Ukraine

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia on Monday denied accusations that Russian forces have carried out sexual crimes in Ukraine, citing a lack of evidence and saying sexual crimes have been carried out by Ukrainian forces instead.

“I would once again like to categorically refute any accusations against Russian service personnel of sexual violence. We roundly condemn this lie,” Nebenzia said during a UN Security Council meeting.

Nebenzia invited United Nations colleagues to be cautious about the allegations given the lack of an “evidentiary basis” to confirm them.

The actions of Russian forces are subject to strict rules, especially rules regarding the treatment of civilians, he added.

Nebenzia listed a number of incidents with evidentiary support in which Ukrainian forces were accused of committing crimes against civilians during the conflict, as well as expressed concern about the exploitation of Ukrainian refugees in Europe.

Nebenzia has left the Security Council hall after a series of baseless accusations against the Russian Federation by the head of the European Council.

US envoy: Total rupture in relations with Russia is impossible

A complete breakdown of ties between Moscow and Washington is impossible, US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan has told TASS news agency, noting that the two countries are tied to the United Nations Security Council and will never be able to avoid each other.

In an interview published on Monday, the US envoy said contact between the two countries needs to be maintained, and stressed the importance of keeping embassies operational.

“We should have embassies in Moscow and Washington, and not just the Permanent Mission of Russia to the UN. I just think that we will never really be able to rupture relations, because we are united as permanent members of the UN Security Council. And since we are united this way, we need to continue to interact with each other, despite the existing differences. We see each other every day, talk and communicate in New York. This is the absolute minimum,” Sullivan told TASS.

The envoy acknowledged that ties between Moscow and Washington are at an all-time low, making any productive cooperation unlikely.

He added there is a chance the two countries could decide to shut down their respective embassies and freeze relations, but that he hopes these are rhetorical threats.

“I hesitate to make a prediction that Russia and the US are never going to have a more productive relationship. What I can’t say is how long it is going to take. In the current atmosphere, it is not happening,” he stated.

Noting the thawing of relations between Moscow and Washington in 1989, Sullivan expressed hope that there will one day be a “greater reconciliation” between the two powers.

“I don’t know when this will happen, if I were to bet I would say that perhaps not in my lifetime. But I hope that there will be an opportunity for a more complete reconciliation and certainly a more complete rapprochement between our peoples and our countries,” the diplomat said.

The ambassador also expressed his disappointment that the two counties are only able to communicate on a limited number of issues, leaving problems that existed long before Russia’s attack on Ukraine unaddressed.

“There are so many issues that our countries, as permanent members of the UNSC, could talk to each other about, but we do not, and this is a tragedy,” he added.

The ambassador noted, however, that there are “extremely serious principles” at stake, and recalled President Joe Biden outlining the position of the United States, stating that there will be “no interactions with Russia in the usual mode.”

Ukraine has ‘a chance’ to hold off Russia’s Severodonetsk advance: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that Russian forces have the numerical advantage in the battle for Severodonetsk, but that Kyiv’s troops have “a chance” of fighting back and holding off Moscow’s press for control of the city.

Speaking to reporters at a news briefing in Kyiv, Zelensky stated that the situation would become very difficult for Ukraine if Russia breaks through in the eastern region of Donbas.

“Ukraine is holding the situation in the Severodonetsk direction. There’s more of them, they are more powerful but we have a chance to hold the advance,” he added.

The mayor of Severodonetsk has also said Ukraine has concentrated enough forces there to repel Russian attacks, adding neither side is preparing to withdraw amid intense street fighting.

“[We] have focused enough forces and resources there to beat back attacks on the city,” Oleksandr Stryuk told Ukrainian television.

In separate comments, defence ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told a briefing that Russia was not sparing troops or equipment in its push to capture Severodonetsk, the largest remaining Ukrainian-controlled city in Luhansk.

Ukrainian official says dozens of reporters killed amid Russia’s invasion

At least 32 journalists have been killed in Ukraine amid Russia’s offensive, the country’s culture and information policy minister says.

Noting the toll as Ukraine marked its annual Journalists’ Day, Oleksandr Tkachenko hailed all reporters still working in the war-ravaged country as “heroes”.

“Eternal memory to our fighters of information front. All journalists today who work 24/7 are heroes. Our information front is strong thanks to all of you,” he tweeted.

Russia says it will push Ukrainian forces back to protect its border from Western weapons

Russian Foreign Minister said on Monday that it would push Ukrainian forces further back from Russia’s border, in response to Western deliveries of long-range weapons to Kyiv.

“The longer the range of the systems that will be delivered, the further we will move back the Nazis from that line from which threats to Russian-speakers and the Russian Federation may come,” Sergei Lavrov told a news conference.

Western countries are making it clear that they have no qualms about using any means to continue pressuring Moscow, Lavrov added.

“The West is making it clear that it has no qualms about using any improper methods to maintain pressure. We have repeatedly seen such hypocrisy before, including during the 1999 tragic bombing of Yugoslavia by those who thought that they had won the Cold War and gained the right to build the world on their own patterns. This mentality was reflected in the incident that we are discussing (a decision by some NATO countries to close their airspace to the aircraft that would have carried Lavrov to Serbia),” the Russian top diplomat noted.

“If the Russian foreign minister’s visit to Serbia is viewed as almost a universal threat, then things in the West are really bad,” Lavrov continued.

Russian authorities are not planning any face-to-face contacts with their colleagues from NATO countries in the near future, he said.

“I cannot guess about other routes, about other EU and NATO countries – we have no plans for communication at the moment. I have no invitations from other countries, from those that are NATO members, at the moment. I am not expecting anyone in Moscow, either,” he added.

UN watchdog warns of “clear and present risk” at nuclear power plant in Russian-controlled Ukraine

There is a “clear and present risk to the safety, security and safeguards” at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is currently controlled by Russia, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog said Monday.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), stated that “at least five of the seven indispensable pillars of nuclear safety and security have been compromised at the site.”

In remarks to the IAEA’s Board of Governors, Grossi reiterated that he was “working actively to agree, organize and head an IAEA-led International Mission” to the facility, in order to “carry out essential nuclear safety, security and safeguards work at the site.”

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been under Russian control since early March. Grossi visited the now-defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant north of Kyiv, which was briefly occupied by Russian forces, at the end of April.

“Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia NPP site remains under the control of the Russian forces there. I have repeatedly expressed my grave concern at the extremely stressful and challenging working conditions under which Ukrainian management and staff are operating the plant,” Grossi added.

“The situation at Zaporizhzhia NPP has not only raised serious and pressing humanitarian concerns but is also a clear and present risk to the safety, security and safeguards at the nuclear power plant,” he continued.

“There are indications from Ukraine regarding their concern about interruptions in the supply chain of spare parts to Zaporizhzhia NPP. This means now at least five of the seven indispensable pillars of nuclear safety and security have been compromised at the site. The Ukrainian regulator has informed us that they have ‘lost control over’ the facility’s nuclear material that is subject to the Safeguards Agreement between Ukraine and the IAEA,” he added.

He concluded by saying that “the urgent need for us to be there is clear to all.”

Europe to suffer from fuel shortages after sanctioning Russian oil: Medvedev

Deputy chairman of the Security Council and former president Dmitry Medvedev lambasted European politicians on Monday, saying that the restrictions put on Russian oil by the EU will backfire against the bloc.

“It is impossible for them to immediately drop our oil. Their own citizens and businesses will put them up against the wall. Therefore, they decided to stretch the plan for several months in order to find alternative sources of supply. Now Europeans will have to scour the world in search the products of the same quality,” Medvedev said.

“Moreover, they will face a shortage of certain types of fuel, such as diesel, which is necessary for trucks and agricultural equipment,” he added.

He noted that the Europeans will now have to invent some “shady schemes” to buy Russian oil, bypassing their own sanctions.

UK to supply Ukraine with MLRSs despite Putin’s warning

The United Kingdom will provide Ukraine with US-made long-range M270 multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) despite Moscow’s warning to third states against any such supplies, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Monday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stated Sunday that Moscow will reconsider its refraining from striking “those objects that have not been hit yet” if Ukraine receives long-range missiles from abroad capable of reaching Russian territory.

“The UK will give multiple-launch rocket systems to Ukraine to help the country defend itself against Russian aggression,” the UK defence ministry announced.

MLRS can strike targets up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) away with precision guided rockets, according to the statement.

“As Russia’s tactics change, so must our support to Ukraine,” Wallace was quoted as saying in the statement.

The UK defence ministry added that the delivery of MLRSs to Ukraine was coordinated with the United States.

Lavrov says countries blocking his flight to Serbia deprive Belgrade of its sovereignty

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during an online press conference on Monday that the Balkan countries trying to hamper his trip to Serbia were depriving the country of its sovereignty.

“A sovereign state has been deprived of its right to pursue foreign policy. Serbia’s international activities in the Russian direction have been blocked,” Lavrov noted, calling the decision to ban his flight “unprecedented”.

The minister stated that the Western countries are afraid of the truth, so such moves have become normal for the EU and NATO.

Lavrov added, that Moscow expects even more attacks, lambasting the NATO mentality, noting that the bloc resorts to the lowest means to put additional pressure on Russia.

“Such hypocrisy has already been shown to us many times, including the tragic bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 by those who believed in their victory in the Cold War and in their right to reshape the world solely according to their will,” he said.

He stated that North Macedonia and Montenegro had been turned into NATO minions, but stressed that retaliatory steps by Moscow won’t be aggravating relations between Russians and the peoples of those nations.

“If the visit of the Russian Foreign Minister is perceived in the West as almost a global-scale threat, then, apparently, things are quite bad,” he added.

The minister also praised the stance of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who has refused to engage in anti-Russian activities, despite pressure from the EU. At the same time, Lavrov invited his Serbian counterpart Nikola Selakovic to visit Moscow in the near future.

Russia says airspace bans on foreign minister’s plane a ‘hostile action’

Moscow has denounced airspace closures by three eastern European countries which prevented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov from travelling to Serbia as a “hostile action.”

Countries surrounding Serbia – Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro – closed their airspace to an official plane that would have carried Moscow’s top diplomat to Belgrade on Monday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters such actions could cause problems with the timetabling of high-level diplomatic meetings. But they would not prevent Moscow from maintaining contacts with friendly countries, he added.

Explosions heard in southern Ukraine city of Mykolaiv: Mayor

Explosions have been heard in Ukraine’s southern Black Sea port city of Mykolaiv, its mayor Oleksandr Senkevych announced.

There was no further information immediately available.

German spies believe Russia could soon seize Donbass

Russian troops could soon wrest the remainder of the Donbass region from Ukraine’s forces, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, has warned, according to a report by Der Spiegel magazine.

The Berlin-based outlet cited recent classified BND briefings as saying that the agency “fears that Ukrainian resistance could even be broken in the next four to five weeks.”

“BND analysts have noted that while the Russians are moving much more slowly than they did at the beginning of the war, they are able to conquer small bits of territory each day,” Der Spiegel adds.

“The BND thinks it possible that Putin’s troops could bring all of the Donbas under their control by August,” it noted.

The report further stated that it makes “a huge difference” to the situation on the battlefield when heavier German weapons are delivered.

The Russian forces have been steadily making gains in the Donbass, closing on the town of Severodonetsk and pushing Ukrainian troops westward.

Ukraine claims Russia lost more than 31,000 soldiers

Ukraine’s military claimed the Russian army has lost 31,250 personnel since the beginning of its invasion on February 24.

The general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces also announced Russia lost 1,386 tanks, 3,400 armoured personnel vehicles, 690 artillery systems, 209 multiple-launch rocket systems, 551 cruise missiles, 96 air defence systems, 211 aircraft, 176 helicopters, and 13 ships and boats.

Ukraine says its position has ‘worsened a little’ in Severodonetsk

The position of Ukrainian forces fighting in Severodonetsk has “worsened a little”, the governor of the Luhansk region has confirmed.

“Our defenders managed to undertake a counter-attack for a certain time; they liberated almost half of the city. But now the situation has worsened a little for us again,” Serhiy Haidai told national television.

Governor says Russia’s Kursk region shelled

The governor of Russia’s Kursk region, which borders Ukraine, says the village of Tetkino was shelled on Monday morning.

“There were no wounded or dead. The main blow was inflicted on the local bridge, there is damage,” Roman Starovoit said on Telegram.

“The nearest two-story residential building with eight apartments and outbuildings nearby badly damaged. The roof of the house was slashed, the windows were completely broken. The car burned down. There is damage on the territory of the sugar factory,” he added.

The governors of several of Russia’s border regions have multiple times accused Ukraine of firing on their settlements.

Russia’s Snake Island defences contribute to Ukraine’s ports blockade: UK

Russia has moved several air defence systems to Snake Island in the Black Sea, an activity which contributes to Moscow’s blockade of the Ukrainian coast and hinders grain exports, the UK’s defence ministry has announced.

“Following the loss of the cruiser Moskva in April, Russian forces have likely moved multiple air defence assets to Snake Island in the western Black Sea including SA-15 and SA-22 systems,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence briefing.

These weapons are likely intended to provide air defence for Russians ships operating around the island, the ministry said, adding Russia’s activity “contributes to its blockade of the Ukrainian coast and hinders the resumption of maritime trade, including exports of Ukrainian grain”.

The ministry also added that heavy fighting was continuing in Severodonetsk and that Russian forces continued to push towards the city of Slovyansk “as part of their attempted encirclement of Ukrainian forces”.

EU building new ‘iron curtain’ around Russia: Moscow

Russia has no plans of creating an “Iron Curtain,” this is something being done by the European Union, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated.

“Rest assured, there will be no Iron Curtain, at least from our side, it’s the European Union that is surrounding Russia with a curtain. Your mistake lies in that you are too selfish, you think that you are in the center of the world,” Zakharova said in a Sunday interview on the Italian La7 TV channel.

She emphasized that Europe has “no moral right” to dictate and teach other nations anything.

In March, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that Moscow was not afraid of any new “Iron Curtain” that the West was pushing for and that Russia was going to develop and thrive nonetheless.

EU: Russia ‘directly responsible’ for any grain shortages

Due to its war against Ukraine, Russia is “directly responsible” for shortages in the international trade in grains, the European Union’s foreign policy chief said.

“Russia’s ongoing blockade of Ukraine’s ports is preventing the export of tons of grain, like corn and wheat, currently trapped in Ukraine, one of the main world producers,” Josep Borrell stated on Twitter.

Borrell pointed out that EU sanctions target Russia’s capacity to continue the war and do not target wheat, adding agriculture products and their transport are “explicitly excluded” from sanctions.

“Russia is directly responsible for any shortages in international trade in grains, and instead of ending its aggression, is actively seeking to transfer responsibility on international sanctions. This is disinformation,” he added.

Borrell went on to say that the bloc will continue to show solidarity with countries in addressing the war’s consequences.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “needs to end his war against Ukraine. Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be restored,” he said, adding this is in the interest of the whole world.

Report: US not to agree to Ukraine grain deal that might bring Russia sanctions relief

The US would not agree to a deal on Ukrainian grain exports envisaging sanctions relief for Russia, Politico reported.

“The United Nations is trying to broker a deal with Russia to allow Ukraine to restart grain exports via the Black Sea.”

A US official said “the US wouldn’t agree to a deal that lifted any economic pressure on the Kremlin.”

According to Politico, US officials and global businesses are “closely watching Russia’s talks with the UN, as well as separate negotiations with Turkey, about allowing safe passage for Ukrainian grain to world markets.”

Washington is waiting to see “whether Russia drops its calls for sanction relief.” The Joe Biden administration is also planning to continue sending weapons to Kiev in a hope that this would enable Ukrainian grain passage.

UN officials have informed the US about discussions on how to solve the food crisis held in Moscow by UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Martin Griffiths, the report added.

Report: US will allow two companies to ship Venezuelan oil to Europe

Italian oil company Eni SpA and Spain’s Repsol SA could begin shipping Venezuelan oil to Europe as soon as next month to make up for Russian crude, five people familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency, resuming oil-for-debt swaps halted two years ago when Washington stepped up sanctions on Venezuela.

The volume of oil Eni and Repsol are expected to receive is not large, one of the people said, and any impact on global oil prices will be modest. But Washington’s greenlight to resume Venezuela’s long-frozen oil flows to Europe could provide a symbolic boost for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The US State Department gave the nod to the two companies to resume shipments in a letter, the people added.

President Joe Biden’s administration hopes the Venezuelan crude can help Europe cut dependence on Russia and re-direct some of Venezuela’s cargoes from China. Coaxing Maduro into restarting political talks with Venezuela’s opposition is another aim, two of the people told Reuters.

The two European energy companies, which have joint ventures with Venezuelan state-run oil company PDVSA, can count the crude cargoes toward unpaid debts and late dividends, the people stated.

A key condition, one of the people said, was that the oil received “has to go to Europe. It cannot be resold elsewhere.”

Washington believes PDVSA will not benefit financially from these cash-free transactions, unlike Venezuela’s current oil sales to China, that person added. China has not signed onto Western sanctions on Russia, and has continued to buy Russian oil and gas despite US appeals.

The authorizations came last month, but details and resale restrictions have not been reported previously.

Most Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of Russia-Ukraine situation: Poll

Most Americans disapprove of President Joe Biden’s handling of the situation with Russia and Ukraine and his economic recovery policies, the latest Ipsos and ABC News poll showed.

According to the poll published on Sunday, 46% of the respondents said they approved of the way Biden was handling the situation with Russia and Ukraine, while 52% disapproved.

The poll also found that only 37% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the economic recovery, while even fewer respondents approve of his handling of inflation and gas prices – 28% and 27% respectively.

21% said inflation would be the most important issue in their vote for the Congress in November, followed by the economy (19%), gun violence (17%), and abortion laws (12%).

UK to send Ukraine M270 rocket launchers

The UK has announced it will supply Ukraine with multiple-launch rocket systems that can attack targets up to 80km (50 miles) away, in a move coordinated with the US.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said UK support for Ukraine would change as Russia’s tactics evolved, explaining the gift of the M270 multiple-launch systems, which are similar to the systems the US is sending, the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).

“These highly capable multiple-launch rocket systems will enable our Ukrainian friends to better protect themselves against the brutal use of long-range artillery, which [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s forces have used indiscriminately to flatten cities,” Wallace added in a statement.

The UK announced Ukrainian troops would be trained on how to use the new launchers in Britain, after it previously announced it would train Ukrainian personnel to use armoured vehicles.

Russian general killed in Ukraine

A Russian general was killed in eastern Ukraine, a Russian state media journalist said on Sunday, adding to the string of high-ranking military casualties sustained by Moscow.

The report, published on the Telegram messaging app by state television reporter Alexander Sladkov, did not say precisely when and where Major General Roman Kutuzov was killed.

There was no immediate comment from the Russian defence ministry.

Russia already classifies military deaths as state secrets even in times of peace and has not updated its official casualty figures in Ukraine since March 25, when it claimed that 1,351 Russian soldiers had been killed since the start of its military campaign on February 24.

Report: Russia looking to Africa to sell stolen Ukrainian grain

The US in mid-May sent an alert to 14 countries, mostly in Africa, that Russian cargo vessels were leaving ports near Ukraine laden with what a state department cable described as “stolen Ukrainian grain”, the New York Times has reported.

Russia has been seeking buyers among African countries for the grain stolen in Ukraine, the NYT report added.

Ukraine says Russia has stolen up to 500,000 tonnes of wheat worth $100m since Moscow invaded in February. Most of the grain has been taken to ports in Russia-controlled Crimea, then transferred to ships, including some under Western sanctions, Ukrainian officials say.

On Friday, Vladimir Putin met with the head of the African Union, President Macky Sall of Senegal, who attempted to find a solution to the grain problem and called on the West to lift sanctions. African countries are acutely affected by the grain shortage crisis driven in large part by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports, which has sent prices of grains, cooking oils, fuel and fertiliser soaring.

Closed airspace forces cancellation of Russian FM’s visit to Serbia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Serbia has been cancelled after countries around Serbia closed their airspace to his aircraft, according to a senior foreign ministry source quoted by the Interfax news agency.

The source confirmed a Serbian media report that said Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro had closed their airspace to the plane that would have carried Moscow’s top diplomat to Belgrade on Monday.

“Our diplomacy has yet to master teleportation,” the source stated.

There was no immediate comment from the Russian foreign ministry.

Zelensky visits front-line troops

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has visited front-line troops in the southeastern region of Zaporizhia, according to his office, a week after a similar trip to the northeastern Kharkiv region.

“I want to thank you for your great work, for your service, for protecting all of us, our state,” the statement quoted Zelensky as saying, adding that he held a minute of silence for fallen troops.

Zelenskyy’s office later added the president also visited a medical facility in the region and spoke with people forced to leave their homes, including from Mariupol, which is now in Russian hands after being under siege for weeks.

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