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Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

May 17, 2023 #Latest, #news, #Russia, #Ukraine, #war

Last ship to leave Ukraine as fate of Black Sea grain deal in Russia’s hands

An aerial view of a dry cargo ship transporting grain from Ukraine under the U.N,-brokered Black Sea deal.

Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The last ship is due to leave a port in Ukraine on Wednesday under a deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine grain, said a U.N. spokesperson, a day before Russia could quit the pact over obstacles to its grain and fertilizer exports.

The United Nations and Turkey brokered the Black Sea deal for an initial 120 days in July last year to help tackle a global food crisis that has been aggravated by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, one of the world’s leading grain exporters.

Moscow agreed to extend the Black Sea pact for a further 120 days in November, but then in March it agreed to a 60 day extension – until May 18 – unless a list of demands regarding its own agricultural exports was met.

To convince Russia in July to allow Black Sea grain exports, the United Nations agreed at the same time to help Moscow with its own agricultural shipments for three years.

“There are still a lot of open questions regarding our part of the deal. Now a decision will have to be taken,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday, according to Russian media.

Senior officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the U.N. met in Istanbul last week to discuss the Black Sea pact. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday: “Contacts are going on at different levels. We’re obviously in a delicate stage.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last week he thought the deal could be extended for at least two more months.

While Russian exports of food and fertilizer are not subject to Western sanctions imposed following the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance have amounted to a barrier to shipments.

The United States has rejected Russia’s complaints. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said last week: “It is exporting grain and fertilizer at the same levels, if not higher, than before the full scale invasion.”

— Reuters

Russia doubles down on efforts to capture Bakhmut

A Ukrainian soldier checks his sniper rifle at a training camp in Donetsk, Ukraine, on May 11, 2023. The country’s most intense clashes continue in Donetsk.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukraine’s armed forces said Wednesday that Russian forces continue to concentrate their main military efforts on capturing Bakhmut and nearby areas around Lyman, Avdiivka and Marinka.

In an operational update on Facebook, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces sectors said there had been 55 combat engagements recorded in those areas in the past 24 hours.

“Bakhmut and Marinka remain at the epicenter of hostilities,” the update noted.

Ukraine appeared to be regaining the upper hand in Bakhmut in recent days, with reports that its forces pushed back their Russian opponents by several kilometers in parts of the town in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Tuesday the Wagner Group mercenary forces fighting in the town “continue to make gradual progress in clearing Ukrainian positions” in the town center, although it noted that over the previous four days, Ukrainian forces had made tactical progress stabilizing the flanks of Bakhmut to their advantage.

“As well as progress to the south of town, Ukrainian assaults have forced back the Russian frontline to the north-west of the town. This has likely enabled Ukrainian forces to re-establish more secure use of the key 0506 supply road,” the ministry said in an intelligence update on Twitter.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine’s nuclear agency says employees at Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia power plant face ‘ridiculous restrictions’

This photo taken on Sept. 11, 2022, shows a security person standing in front of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Enerhodar, Zaporizhzhia, amid the Ukraine war.

Stringer | Afp | Getty Images

Ukrainian state nuclear agency Energoatom said on its official Telegram channel Tuesday that employees at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, or ZNPP, are facing “ridiculous restrictions.”

“The rules for working and staying at the facility are becoming more and more strict for employees almost every day,” the agency wrote on Telegram.

Energoatom said that the movements of the 2,500 employees that currently work at the nuclear facility are extremely limited.

“While at work, workers are now only allowed to look straight ahead. Because turning your head, and even just looking to the side, is strictly prohibited,” Energoatom wrote.

Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, was seized by Russian troops in the days following the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

— Amanda Macias

Black Sea grain deal that reopened crucial Ukrainian ports set to expire this week

Farmer Artur Tabor shows wheat at his farm in Buczyna, Poland on April 25, 2023. Polish farmers protest as some Ukrainian grain and other products stay in the country during transport abroad. Ukrainian grain is cheaper than local, which has a strong impact on prices on the market. 

Jakub Porzycki | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Russia has yet to decide if it will extend the terms of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal that launched a humanitarian sea corridor for agricultural exports.

The deal is slated to expire on May 18.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “there are still a lot of open questions” when asked about a potential extension of the agreement.

“When the appropriate decision is made, we will inform you, this is the only thing I can say so far,” Peskov told reporters during a daily press briefing.

Read the full story here.

— Amanda Macias

Kremlin weighing Black Sea Grain Initiative extension

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov at a news conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin after a meeting of the State Council on youth policy in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 22, 2022.

Valeriy Sharifulin | Sputnik | Reuters

The Kremlin said that it has not yet decided to extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which is set to expire on May 18.

“When the appropriate decision is made, we will inform you, this is the only thing I can say so far,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“In general, the contacts continue. Basically, they’re very concentrated now. You know that there are still a lot of open questions that relate to our part of the deal. We now have to make a decision,” he added.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative eased Russia’s naval blockade and saw the reopening of three key Ukrainian ports.

Since then, more than 900 ships carrying nearly 30 million metric tons of agricultural products have departed from Ukraine’s war-weary ports.

Moscow previously said that the deal is one-sided and that it is not inclined to extend the current agreement.

— Amanda Macias

State Department aware of reports that U.S. citizen died in Bakhmut

A Ukrainian armored vehicle drives on a muddy road near Bakhmut in the Donbas region, on March 9, 2023. 

Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

The State Department said it was aware of reports that a U.S. citizen died in Bakhmut and is seeking additional information, a spokesperson confirmed to NBC News.

Wagner group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin appeared in a video Tuesday standing alongside a body he claimed was an American.

The spokesperson added that the State Department’s ability to verify reports of deaths of U.S. citizens in Ukraine is extremely limited given the ongoing conflict. Since the war began last February, at least 10 U.S. citizens have been killed assisting Ukrainian forces.

“We offer our condolences to the families of all whose lives have been lost as a result of Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine,” the State Department spokesperson said in a statement to NBC News.

“We reiterate our message that U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russia’s security officials and that U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options,” the spokesperson added.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine hints update on fighter jets will come soon

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hinted Tuesday that the government would soon issue an update regarding the provision of modern fighter jets for Ukraine.

“Stay tuned for news — there will be even more soon, specifically regarding aircraft,” Kuleba said on Facebook, in comments translated by news agency Ukrinform.

“Currently, intensive diplomacy is taking place at all levels, bringing us closer to effectively closing the Ukrainian airspace, significantly strengthening our Air Forces, and acquiring fundamentally new capabilities,” Kuleba stated.

An F-16 rises from low altitude in Canada in this file photo.

Steve Russell | Toronto Star | Getty Images

Kyiv has been asking its Western allies for fighter jets, with a specific desire for the U.S.’ F-16s, for months but so far its international partners have been reluctant to donate fighter jets, citing logistical challenges and concerns it could antagonize Russia.

Kuleba said that he already has a rough understanding of the timeframe but did not disclose this.

Ukraine’s President Volodymy Zelenskyy has visited Italy, Germany, France, and the U.K. in the last few days, looking to build a “jets coalition.” The U.K. said it would help train Ukrainian pilots in the summer and would try to help Ukraine in such a coalition, but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said Monday that Britain has no plans to send fighter jets to Ukraine.

In any case, the spokesman said, the Ukrainian military indicated it would prefer to use F-16 fighter jets “and you will know the RAF don’t use those,” he said.

— Holly Ellyatt

European leaders meet in Iceland to reaffirm values as Ukraine war rages on

Reykjavík, Iceland

Getty Images

European leaders are meeting in Iceland on Tuesday for a two-day summit meant to show their support for Ukraine but also send a powerful message on core democratic values many feel are under threat.

In only the fourth summit of the Council of Europe (CoE) since it was founded after World War Two, the 46 members of the leading human rights body, which is entirely separate from the European Union, will gather to discuss emerging threats as the war in Ukraine rages on.

“The Council of Europe is often underestimated in its importance,” Frank Schwabe, a German lawmaker who was closely involved in the planning of the summit told Reuters.

The CoE’s democratic values are upheld by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, where citizens can take governments to court in case of human rights violations.

Russia’s membership was suspended the day after it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow then left the watchdog hours before a vote to expel it.

According to a draft of the final declaration seen by Reuters, the leaders will approve a new Register of Damages, a mechanism to record and document evidence and claims of damage, loss or injury incurred as a result of the Russian invasion.

“The summit will also be about saying what happens if you don’t respect the rules,” Schwabe said. “The threat of expulsion is already a sharp sword. Even Russia didn’t want to leave the Council of Europe, Turkey doesn’t want to leave either.”

Turkey, which is in the middle of a presidential election fought by President Tayyip Erdogan, faces removal from the CoE after it failed to implement a 2019 court ruling to release jailed businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala.

The CoE’s Committee of Ministers has launched infringement proceedings against Ankara that have so far stressed dialogue but could eventually see Turkey’s removal or its membership suspended, experts say.

European leaders such as Germany’s Olaf Scholz, Britain’s Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron will attend the summit in Reykjavik, while Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy will address his counterparts via videolink.

Icelandic organisers said the meeting will be an opportunity to support Ukraine through “concrete measures” as well as to boost initiatives to address emerging threats to democracy, including from climate change and artificial intelligence.

— Reuters

Ukraine attacked from three directions with various missiles, drones

Ukraine was attacked from the north, south and east overnight with 18 air, sea, and land-based missiles of various types, as well as attack drones, according to the leader of Ukraine’s armed forces.

Six Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” aeroballistic missiles were launched from six MiG-31K aircraft, nine Kalibr cruise missiles were launched from ships in the Black Sea, and three ballistic missiles were used to attack Ukraine, the head of Ukraine’s armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhny, said on Telegram Tuesday morning.

He said all 18 missiles were destroyed by Ukraine’s air defenses and air force. In addition, Russia attacked Ukraine with Iranian-made Shahed-136/131 drones, he said. CNBC was unable to verify the information in the post.

Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko holds the remains of a Kh-47M2 Kinzhal missile at an exhibition showing the remains of missiles and drones that Russia used to attack Kyiv, on May 12, 2023, in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Oleksii Samsonov | Getty Images

Officials in Kyiv described a massive attack on the capital overnight, saying the eighth attack on Kyiv since the start of May was “exceptional” in terms of the density of missiles used to attack it.

Preliminary information suggests at least three civilians were injured in the strikes, with falling debris from destroyed missiles and drones falling on cars and buildings in several districts in the city.

— Holly Ellyatt

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage:


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