UN Chief ‘Warmly Welcomes’ Departure Of First Ukraine Grain Ship

In this file photo taken on February 28, 2022, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks on the Russia-Ukraine conflict at the General Assembly emergency special session in New York City. Kena Betancur / AFP
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks on the Russia-Ukraine conflict at the General Assembly emergency special session in New York City. Kena Betancur / AFP

 

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres “warmly welcomes” the departure Monday of a first ship carrying Ukrainian grain under a plan to lift Russia’s naval blockade, a spokesperson said.

“The Secretary-General hopes that this will be the first of many commercial ships moving in accordance with the initiative signed, and that this will bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security, especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts,” the UN said in a statement.

AFP

First Grain Shipment Leaves Ukraine As Southern City Pounded

The Sierra Leone-flagged dry cargo ship Razoni, carrying a cargo of 26,000 tonnes of corn, departed from the Black Sea port of Odesa, amid Russia’s military invasion launched on Ukraine.

 

The first shipment of Ukrainian grain left the port of Odessa on Monday morning, Turkey announced, as Kyiv said the “brutal” shelling by Moscow of the southern city Mykolaiv had killed an agriculture tycoon.

The blockage of deliveries from warring Russia and Ukraine — two of the world’s biggest grain exporters — has contributed to soaring food prices, hitting the world’s poorest nations especially hard.

Last month both sides signed a landmark deal with Turkey and the United Nations aimed at relieving the global food crisis.

“The ship Razoni has left the port of Odessa bound for Tripoli in Lebanon,” the Turkish ministry said in a statement.

“It is expected in Istanbul on August 2. It will then continue its journey after it has been inspected in Istanbul,” the statement added.

Other convoys would follow, respecting the maritime corridor and the agreed formalities, it said.

The Joint Coordination Centre, the organisation overseeing the grain exports, said the Razoni is carrying “over 26,000 metric tonnes” of maize.

 Tycoon killed

While the much-needed grain exports will be welcomed, the war in Ukraine rages on.

AFP journalists witnessed intense Russian bombardment of the eastern town of Bakhmut after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for civilians to leave the frontline Donetsk region bearing the brunt of the Kremlin’s offensive.

Authorities in Mykolaiv said Sunday that widespread Russian bombardments overnight killed at least two civilians.

“Today, one of the most brutal shellings of Mykolaiv and the region over the entire period of the full-scale war took place. Dozens of missiles and rockets,” Zelensky said in an address.

“I want to thank every resident of Mykolaiv for their indomitability.”

Ukrainian agricultural magnate Oleksiy Vadatursky, 74, and his wife Raisa were killed when a missile struck their house, authorities said.

Vadatursky owned major grain exporter Nibulon and was previously decorated with the prestigious “Hero of Ukraine” award.

Zelensky offered condolences and paid tribute to Vadatursky in his Sunday address.

Mykolaiv — which has been attacked frequently — is the closest Ukrainian city to the southern front where Kyiv’s forces are looking to launch a major counter-offensive to recapture territory lost after Russia’s February invasion.

 Drone attack

Russian authorities in the Crimean Black Sea peninsula — seized by Moscow from Ukraine in 2014 — said a small explosive device from a commercial drone, likely launched nearby, hit the navy command in Sevastopol.

The local mayor blamed “Ukrainian nationalists” for the attack that forced the cancellation of festivities marking Russia’s annual holiday celebrating the navy.

But Ukraine’s navy accused Russia of staging the attacks as a pretext to cancel the festivities.

The claim and counterclaim came as the dispute over which side struck a jail holding Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kremlin-controlled Olenivka rumbled on.

Russia’s defence ministry said Sunday it had invited the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations to visit the site “in the interests of an objective investigation”.

But the ICRC said Sunday it had yet to receive approval to enter the site.

Russia’s military said 50 Ukrainian servicemen died, including troops who had surrendered after weeks of resisting the bombardment of the Azovstal steelworks in the port city of Mariupol.

Ukraine says Russia was behind the attack, with Zelensky accusing Moscow of the “deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war”.

 Intense bombardments

AFP journalists on Sunday saw one wounded man collected by an ambulance after a ferocious bombardment of the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.

Zelensky warned on the weekend that thousands of people, including children, were still in Donetsk’s battleground areas.

He urged people to leave the besieged region, echoing calls from the authorities in recent weeks to evacuate.

“Leave, we will help,” Zelensky said. “At this stage of the war, terror is the main weapon of Russia.”

Official Ukrainian estimates put the number of civilians still living in the unoccupied area of Donetsk at between 200,000 and 220,000.

A mandatory evacuation notice posted Saturday evening said the coming winter made it a matter of urgency, particularly for the more than 50,000 children.

Kateryna Novakivska, a deputy commander of a Ukrainian unit, said she was fighting so her comrades could be reunited with their families.

“The morale of our servicemen is at a high level now, but everyone wants to visit their homes, see their relatives and loved ones,” she said.

AFP

US, NATO ‘Main Threats’ To National Security – Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a BRICS Plus session involving the leaders of several invited states during the 14th BRICS summit - in virtual format via a video call at the Novo-Ogarevo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia on June 24, 2022. Mikhail Metzel / Sputnik / AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a BRICS Plus session via a video call at the Novo-Ogarevo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia on June 24, 2022. Mikhail Metzel / Sputnik / AFP

 

The United States’ quest to dominate the oceans and NATO’s expansion are the biggest threats facing Russia, according to a new Russian naval doctrine signed by President Vladimir Putin on Sunday.

The 55-page document said the “main challenges and threats” to national security and development were Washington’s “strategic objective to dominate the world’s oceans” and NATO military infrastructure moving towards Russia’s borders.

READ ALSO: Ukraine War: First Grain Cargo Could Leave Port On Monday, Says Turkey

“Russia’s independent internal and external policy faces counter-measures from the United States and its allies, who aim to preserve their dominance in the world, including its oceans,” said the doctrine, signed on Russian Navy Day.

Moscow views the Western military alliance — the Soviet Union’s enemy during the Cold War — as an existential threat, using Ukraine’s membership hopes to justify its offensive on February 24.

The doctrine said Moscow will seek to strengthen its leading position in exploring the Arctic and its mineral resources and maintain “strategic stability” thereby bolstering the potential of the northern and Pacific fleets.

It also mentioned Russia’s desire to develop a “safe and competitive” sea route from Europe to Asia, known as the Northeast Passage, via the country’s Arctic coastline and ensure it worked throughout the year.

“Today’s Russia cannot exist without a strong fleet… and will defend its interests in the world’s oceans firmly and with a resolution,” the doctrine added.

Ukraine War: First Grain Cargo Could Leave Port On Monday, Says Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech after cabinet meeting at Presidential Complex in Ankara on November 3, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech after cabinet meeting at Presidential Complex in Ankara on November 3, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

A spokesman for the Turkish presidency said there was a “high probability” that a first ship carrying Ukrainian grain could leave Ukraine’s port of Odessa on Monday.

That is despite Russian missiles hitting the city in the wake of the July 22 agreement on shipping grain between Russia, Turkey, the UN and Ukraine.

“There is a strong possibility that a first ship could leave tomorrow morning if everything is sorted out by this evening,” Ibrahim Kalin said in an interview with Kanal 7 television Sunday.

But Kalin said there were still “one or two subjects to be settled in the negotiations with the Russians”.

READ ALSO: US, NATO ‘Main Threats’ To National Security – Russia

“Preparations have reached a point to allow the ships to leave the port of Odessa. The ships have been loaded, they are ready to leave, but we need good logistical coordination,” he said.

The resumption of exports was also discussed in talks between the Turkish and Ukrainian defence ministers, Ankara said Sunday.

“It is planned to begin transport as soon as possible,” the Turkish ministry said in a statement.

The Joint Coordination Centre, charged with controlling Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea, was officially inaugurated Wednesday in Istanbul in line with the deal.

The deal to lift the blockade — the first significant text involving both sides since the conflict began — is aimed at easing a global food crisis that has seen prices soar in some of the world’s poorest countries.

The coordination centre is responsible for registering and tracking merchant ships taking part in the convoys, monitoring them via the web and satellite, and inspecting the ships as they are loaded at Ukrainian ports and when they arrive at Turkish ports.

bg/gw/imm

Ukraine Denies Carrying Out Drone Attack On Russian Fleet HQ

A Ukrainian soldier launches a drone near Kharkiv on July 23, 2022 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK / AFP)

 

Russia said an attack from a drone on Sunday wounded six personnel at the headquarters of its Black Sea fleet in annexed Crimea, as authorities in Ukraine’s southern city of Mykolaiv reported it had suffered its “strongest” shelling of the war.

AFP journalists witnessed an intense bombardment of the eastern town of Bakhmut after President Volodymyr Zelensky called in a late-night address for civilians to leave the front line Donetsk region bearing the brunt of the Kremlin’s offensive.

Russian authorities in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea — seized by Moscow from Ukraine in 2014 — said a small explosive device from a commercial drone likely launched nearby hit the navy command in the city of Sevastopol.

The local mayor blamed “Ukrainian nationalists” for the attack that forced the cancellation in the city of festivities marking Russia’s annual holiday celebrating the navy.

But a spokesman for Ukraine’s Odessa region military administration denied Kyiv — whose nearest positions are some 200 kilometers (125 miles) away — was responsible and called the incident “a sheer provocation”.

“Our liberation of Crimea from the occupiers will be carried out in another way and much more effectively,” spokesman Sergiy Bratchuk wrote on Telegram.

Authorities in Ukraine’s southern city of Mykolaiv said Sunday that widespread Russian bombardments overnight had left at least two civilians dead, as Moscow continued to pummel the sprawling front line.

“Mykolaiv was subjected to mass shelling today. Probably the strongest so far,” the city’s mayor Oleksandr Senkevych wrote on Telegram.

“Powerful explosions were heard after one in the morning and around five in the morning.”

Mykolaiv — which has been attacked frequently — is the closest Ukrainian city to the southern front where Kyiv’s forces are looking to launch a major counter-offensive to recapture territory lost after Russia’s February invasion.

Zelensky urges Donetsk evacuation

Strikes also pounded the northeastern regions of Kharkiv and Sumy, near the front line with the Russian forces.

“Today a whole succession of explosions took place… a few buildings are reportedly damaged,” Igor Terekhov the mayor of Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv said.

Sumy regional chief Dmytro Zhyvytsky said that some 50 strikes on Saturday evening had left one person dead and two wounded.

The governor of the Donetsk region, where Moscow is focusing the brunt of its attacks, said three civilians were killed and eight wounded in shelling Saturday.

AFP journalists on Sunday saw one wounded man collected by an ambulance after a ferocious bombardment of the town of Bakhmut.

In an overnight address, Zelensky warned that thousands of people, including children, were still in the battleground areas of the Donetsk region.

“There’s already a governmental decision about obligatory evacuation from Donetsk,” Zelensky said, underscoring authorities’ calls to leave the besieged region in recent weeks.

“Leave, we will help,” Zelensky said. “At this stage of the war, terror is the main weapon of Russia.”

Official Ukrainian estimates put the number of civilians still living in the unoccupied area of Donetsk at between 200,000 and 220,000.

A mandatory evacuation notice posted Saturday evening said the coming winter made it a matter of urgency, particularly for the more than 50,000 children still in the region.

“They need to be evacuated, you cannot put them in mortal danger in the winter without heating, light, without the ability to keep them warm,” Kyiv’s Ministry of Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories said in a statement.

Zelensky, in his address, also once more pressed the international community, especially the United States, to have Russia officially declared a “state sponsor of terrorism”.

 Deadly jail strike

The call came a day after a jail holding Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kremlin-controlled Olenivka was bombed, leaving scores dead, with Kyiv and Moscow trading blame.

Russia’s defence ministry said Sunday it had invited the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations to visit the site “in the interests of an objective investigation”.

There was no confirmation from the two international bodies.

The ICRC said Saturday that a request to send a team to the site had not been granted, and Ukraine said it was encouraging international experts to go to Olenivka.

Russian military accused Kyiv of striking the Olenivka prison with US-supplied long-range missiles in an “egregious provocation” designed to stop soldiers from surrendering.

It said Saturday that the dead included Ukrainian forces who had surrendered after weeks of fighting off Russia’s brutal bombardment of the sprawling Azovstal steelworks in the port city of Mariupol.

The defence ministry said 50 Ukrainian prisoners were killed and 73 were taken to hospital with serious injuries.

Ukraine accuses Russia of responsibility, with Zelensky accusing the Moscow of the “deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war”.

He has stepped up calls for the international community, especially the United States, to have Russia officially declared a “state sponsor of terrorism”.

AFP

Russia Cuts Gas To Latvia As Ukraine Ask Red Cross, UN To Access Its Captured Soldiers

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

 

Russian energy giant Gazprom on Saturday suspended gas supplies to Latvia, as Ukraine announced it had asked the Red Cross and UN to gain access to its soldiers being held by Russian forces.

The call came a day after a jail holding Ukrainian prisoners of war in Kremlin-controlled Olenivka was bombed leaving scores dead.

Ukrainian human rights official Dmytro Lubinetsk said on national television he had asked the Red Cross and the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission to go to Olenivka.

The ICRC has made a request but has not yet obtained authorisation from the Russians, he said.

READ ALSO: Ukraine Sees Wartime Marriage Rush

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday the agreement for the Azovstal fighters to surrender, brokered by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross, included safety guarantees.

He called on the two organisations to intervene as guarantors.

Conexus Baltic Grid meanwhile confirmed to Latvia’s LETA news agency that Gazprom had informed it of the suspension of deliveries, but said other suppliers were continuing them.

“Today, Gazprom suspended its gas supplies to Latvia… due to violations of the conditions” of purchase, the company said on Telegram.

“Latvia was not counting on natural gas flows from Russia,” Economy Minister Ilze Indriksone told LETA.

Gazprom drastically cut gas deliveries to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline on Wednesday to about 20 percent of its capacity. It had reduced gas flows to Europe twice in June.

The Russian state-run company had earlier announced it would choke supply to 33 million cubic metres a day — half the amount it has been delivering since service resumed last week after 10 days of maintenance work.

European Union states have accused Russia of squeezing supplies in retaliation for Western sanctions over Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

Gazprom cited the halted operation of one of the last two operating turbines for the pipeline due to the “technical condition of the engine”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has blamed EU sanctions for the limited supply.

The European Union this week agreed a plan to reduce gas consumption in solidarity with Germany, where the Nord Stream pipeline runs to, warning of Russian “blackmail”.

‘Egregious provocation’

Russian strikes continued to rain down on Ukrainian towns and cities on Saturday.

They came a day after Russia’s defence ministry accused Kyiv of striking a prison in Russian-held territory with US-supplied long-range missiles, in an “egregious provocation” designed to stop captured soldiers from surrendering.

It said Saturday that the dead included Ukrainian forces who had surrendered after weeks of fighting off Russia’s brutal bombardment of the sprawling Azovstal steelworks in the port city of Mariupol.

The defence ministry said 50 Ukrainian prisoners were killed and 73 were taken to hospital with serious injuries.

“All political, legal and moral responsibility for this bloody massacre of Ukrainians lies with Zelensky personally, his criminal regime and Washington which backs them,” it said.

Zelensky laid the blame squarely on Russia.

“This was a deliberate Russian war crime, a deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war,” he said. “Over 50 are dead.”

Zelensky also urged the international community, especially the United States, to have Russia officially declared a “state sponsor of terrorism”.

Members of the Azov regiment were among those who surrendered at Azovstal.

Azov regiment commander Mykyta Nadtochiy said he considered the attack on the jail in Kremlin-controlled Olenivka to have been “an act of public execution”.

Ukrainian authorities said Russian bombardments targeting the south and east of the country had left one dead in southern Mykolaiv and one dead in eastern Bakhmut.

The death toll from a strike on a Mykolaiv bus stop on Friday climbed to seven after two men died in hospital, he added.

In the eastern city of Kharkiv, three Russian S-300 missiles struck a school, mayor Igor Terekhov said on Telegram, adding that the main building was destroyed.

A Ukrainian spokesman said his country’s forces had set fire to grain fields around Mariupol.

“The Mariupol resistance forces set fire to the fields with grain so that it would not be stolen by the occupiers,” Sergiy Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odessa regional military administration said.

“The fire can probably spread to the Russian military base… There are Russian fortifications, ammunition warehouses and minefields disposed сlose to the area of the fire.”

Grain exports to restart

Zelensky on Friday visited a port in southern Ukraine to oversee a ship being loaded with grain for export under a UN-backed plan aimed at getting millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain stranded by Russia’s naval blockade to world markets.

Ukraine’s presidency said exports could start in the “coming days”.

In a separate development, S&P Global Ratings on Friday cut Ukraine’s long-term debt grade by three notches, saying a recently announced plan to defer payments means a default is “a virtual certainty”.

A group of Western countries last week gave their green light to Kyiv’s request to postpone interest payments on its debt and called on other creditors to do the same.

 

AFP

Bombshells And Wedding Bells: Ukraine Sees Wartime Marriage Rush

A Ukraine soldier inspects the rubble of a destroyed apartment building in Kyiv on March 15, 2022.
FADEL SENNA / AFP

 

 

She should have awoken to the sound of popping champagne corks on her wedding day, but Tetyana was instead startled out of bed by Russian rocket fire near her home in central Ukraine.

“At first I thought it was thunder. But the sky was clear, and I realised that it was shelling,” the 31-year-old designer told AFP, recalling how she raced to the corridor outside her room in case of a direct hit.

Shocked at the destruction wreaked by the pre-dawn explosions but determined to go ahead with their nuptials, Tetyana and her fiance Taras exchanged their vows on schedule, six hours later.

“Initially I thought we should cancel the wedding, but my fiance told me we should go ahead…. The war doesn’t have any right to ruin our plans,” said Tetyana, who asked for the couple to be allowed to use assumed names.

“And we have the right to create our family and live our lives to the fullest.”

The couple, who married in June in the industrial hub of Kremenchuk, 250 kilometres (155 miles) southeast of Kyiv, are part of a massive surge in weddings brought on by the war with Russia.

Her neighbour since the age of six, Taras proposed to Tetyana last year and they had originally envisaged a spring wedding.

“In May we realised that the war might last quite a long time. We decided not to postpone life until later because, as this war has shown us, later might never happen,” Tetyana told AFP.

In the Poltava region where Tetyana and Taras tied the knot, there were 1,600 weddings in the first six weeks after Moscow’s February 24 invasion — compared with 1,300 for the whole of 2020.

– ‘The war goes on’ –
In the capital the uptick is even more pronounced, with 9,120 marriages registered in five months, a more than eight-fold increase on the 1,110 ceremonies that took place during the same period in 2021.

A sunny recent Saturday in Kyiv saw more than 40 newlyweds embark on their lives together in one downtown register office.

“Getting married during the war is the bravest and hardest step you can take, because you never know what will happen next,” said Vitaliy, 25, who was about to marry 22-year-old Anastasiya in full military uniform before heading to war.

“I could leave for the front at any moment.”

In Ukraine, would-be spouses have been taking advantage of a simplification in the red tape around marriage that allows them to wed on the spot, rather than having to register first and come back after a long wait.

Vitaliy and Anastasiya, who did not give their surnames, have had vague notions of making their commitment official for three years — but only signed up the day before the happy occasion.

“The war goes on. It’s better to do it now,” the groom told AFP.

Vitaliy Charnykh has been conducting back-to-back ceremonies at the administrative building since early March, and sees his role as his own special contribution to the war effort.

“As a civil servant, I believe I can help my country by supporting Ukrainians emotionally,” the 21-year-old told AFP.

– ‘Defiant message’ –
Unsure of what the future might bring and suddenly forced to focus on the things that matter, young lovers have historically proven unable to resist the urge to formalise blossoming romance in wartime.

At the height of World War II in 1942, the United States saw 1.8 million weddings in 12 months — an 83 percent increase from a decade earlier.

Charnykh said he had seen a particular upsurge in soldiers getting married.

“In such tough times, people don’t really know what will happen tomorrow, so they are eager to marry as soon as possible,” he said.

Daria Steniukova, a 31-year-old yoga teacher from Vinnytsia, 200 kilometres southwest of the capital, had been planning her wedding to 30-year-old Vitalii Zavalniuk for weeks but disaster struck with just one day to go.

A Russian cruise missile devastated the city centre two weeks ago, killing 26 people, damaging the register office and destroying her apartment.

“We were shocked but determined to go through with it. It was out of the question to give up. My house was ruined, but not our life,” she said.

They were forced to postpone the celebration with friends and family — no one in Vinnytsia was in the mood for partying — but they set their hearts on swapping vows that day in an alternative venue.

“None of the administrative centres had a single free slot. But we decided to go to one even though we were told that we had no chance,” Steniukova told AFP.

“We were ready to wait the whole day but then we got a result: we were married within three minutes of arriving.”

Topping an already astonishing wedding, they marked their union in an unusual but striking way — opting for a photo shoot in Steniukova’s bombed flat.

“It was a defiant message to the whole world — stressing how strong Ukrainians are. We are ready to get married even with rockets flying over our heads.”

Ukraine Eyes First Grain Exports ‘This Week’

A farmer stands as he collects wheat near Mykolaiv, on July 21, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by BULENT KILIC / AFP)

 

Ukraine said Monday it expects to export its first grain shipments under a UN-backed deal to lift Russia’s blockade “this week”, days after missile strikes by the Kremlin threw the accord into doubt.

But while grain shipments seemed ready to resume for the first time since the Kremlin’s invasion five months ago, Russia’s natural gas giant Gazprom added to the geopolitical tensions by warning it would drastically cut deliveries to Europe again.

Kyiv and Moscow on Friday agreed a landmark plan to release millions of tonnes of wheat and other grain trapped in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports in a move hailed as a major step to averting a global food crisis.

Less than 24 hours later Moscow struck the port in Odessa — one of three exit hubs designated in the agreement — sparking fury in Kyiv and heightening fears the Kremlin would not go through with the deal.

But despite the weekend attack, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said Kyiv expected to see the agreement begin “working in the coming days”.

“We are preparing for everything to start this week,” said Kubrakov, who led Ukraine’s delegation at last week’s grain talks in Istanbul.

Ukrainian officials said the port of Chornomorsk in southwestern Ukraine would be the first to be opened and insisted on the importance of security following the strike on nearby Odessa.

Kubrakov said de-mining will take place “exclusively” in the shipping lanes required for grain exports, while Ukrainian ships will accompany the departing convoys that will transport not only grain but also fertiliser.

After speaking to Kubrakov by phone, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar welcomed Ukraine’s resolve to resume the shipments.

“It is important that the first ship starts sailing as soon as possible,” Akar said in a statement.

Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of agricultural products, but Moscow’s invasion has severely disrupted Ukrainian wheat exports as the fighting damaged harvests and left ports blocked and mined.

Russia’s naval blockade helped send global prices soaring and sparked fears of famine as it left up to 25 million tonnes of wheat and other grains stranded in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has estimated the value of grain stocks to be exported under the deal at around $10 billion.

– Kremlin’s shifting narrative –

The Kremlin insisted Monday that its strikes on Odessa “should not affect” the Turkish-brokered push to send the grain to world markets.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow’s cruise missiles hit “exclusively” military infrastructure and were “not connected with the agreement on the export of grain.”

Turkey, which helped broker the accord, said after the attack that it had received assurances from Moscow that Russian forces were not responsible.

Moscow then admitted that it had carried out the strikes, but claimed to have targeted a Ukrainian military vessel and arms delivered by Washington.

Russia has looked to shift the blame for the food crisis onto Western sanctions and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was visiting Africa on a tour aimed at bolstering Moscow’s ties in the face of growing isolation.

Lavrov, who is visiting Uganda, Ethiopia and Congo-Brazzaville, told his Egyptian counterpart on his first stop that Russia would meet grain orders.

Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak slammed the visit as a cynical ploy by Moscow after it had fuelled the food crisis.

“You arranged the artificial hunger and then come to cheer people up,” he said on Twitter, assuring that Ukrainian grain will reach its destinations.

“Whether Moscow wants or not, Ukrainian grain will reach the world.”

– Gazprom gas cut –

The deal for grain exports has done little to ease the geopolitical tensions between the West and Moscow over the invasion.

Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, unexpectedly announced it was cutting daily deliveries of gas to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline to 33 million cubic metres a day — about 20 percent of the pipeline’s capacity — from Wednesday.

The company said it was halting the operation of one of the last two operating turbines due to the “technical condition of the engine”.

The government of Germany, which receives the gas directly by the undersea energy link, said there was “no technical reason” for Gazprom’s announcement.

Russia’s forces continue to press on with their grinding push across Ukraine’s southeast, where Kyiv’s forces are being boosted by fresh Western military aid shipments.

The Ukrainian presidency said Monday that a Russian strike trapped seven people under the rubble of a collapsed cultural centre in the northeastern Kharkiv region. Three were pulled out alive and the rescue operation was ongoing.

It said shelling continued across the entire front line and at least one person was killed in the town of Soledar.

In the south — where Kyiv has vowed a major counter-offensive to retake the strategic Kherson region — officials said Ukrainian forces stopped a Russian push in several villages.

Ukraine’s bid to oust the Kremlin’s forces has been bolstered by longer range Western weapons that have allowed Kyiv to target Russian supply lines deeper in occupied areas.

Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Ukraine had received the first of an expected 15 Gepard anti-aircraft systems and tens of thousands of shells from Germany in the latest foreign arms to arrive.

AFP

Odessa Strikes Hit Western Arms, Insists Russia

(Photo by Igor TKACHEV / AFP)

 

Russia said its missile barrage on a Ukrainian port central to a landmark grain export deal had destroyed Western-supplied weapons after the attack sparked an outcry from Ukraine’s allies.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was embarking on a tour of several countries in Africa and on his first stop in Egypt Sunday sought to reassure Cairo that Russian grain supplies would continue.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced Saturday’s strike on the Odessa port as “Russian barbarism” and said it amounted to desperation after the warring sides struck a deal to release exports from the facility.

“Even the occupiers admit that we will win. We hear it in their conversations –- all the time, in what they tell their loved ones when they contact them,” he said Sunday in his nightly address.

Turkey helped broker the accord and said immediately after the double cruise missile hits that it had received assurances from Moscow that Russian forces were not responsible.

But Russia’s defence ministry rolled back on the denial Sunday, saying the strikes had destroyed a Ukrainian military vessel and arms delivered by Washington.

“High-precision, long-range missiles launched from the sea destroyed a docked Ukrainian warship and a stockpile of anti-ship missiles delivered by the United States to the Kyiv regime,” it said.

“A Ukrainian army repair and upgrade plant has also been put out of order.”

The strikes have cast a shadow over the milestone accord — that was hammered out over months of negotiations and signed in Istanbul — to relieve a global food crisis.

‘Order of peace’

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, who presided over the signing ceremony Friday, “unequivocally” condemned the attack. The United States meanwhile said it “casts serious doubt” over Russia’s commitment to the deal.

Western nations repeated their condemnation of Russia’s military assault on Ukraine after the strikes.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the invasion a war against the unity of Europe.

“We must not let ourselves be divided, we must not let the great work of a united Europe that we have begun so promisingly be destroyed,” he said in a speech Sunday.

Cereal prices in Africa — the world’s poorest continent where food supplies are critically tight — surged because of an exports slump.

Lavrov, who will visit Uganda, Ethiopia and Congo-Brazzaville on the tour, told his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry that Russia would meet grain orders.

“We confirmed the commitment of Russian exporters of cereal products to meet their orders in full,” he said in a press conference.

Zelensky said the strikes on Odessa showed Moscow could not be trusted to keep its promises.

Under the deal brokered by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Guterres, Odessa is one of three designated export hubs.

Ukrainian officials said grain was being stored in the port at the time of the strike, but food stocks did not appear to have been hit.

There was no response from Moscow until Sunday, but Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said before that Russia had denied carrying out the attack.

Kherson ‘liberated’ by September

Huge quantities of wheat and other grain have been blocked in Ukrainian ports by Russian warships and the mines Kyiv laid to avert a feared amphibious assault.

Zelensky has said around 20 million tonnes of produce from last year’s harvest and the current crop would be exported under the agreement, estimating the value of Ukraine’s grain stocks at around $10 billion.

Diplomats expect grain to only start fully flowing by mid-August.

The agreement in Istanbul has brought little reprieve on the battlefield where Russian forces were carrying out bombardments across the sprawling front line over the weekend, Ukraine’s presidency said Sunday.

It said among attacks in the industrial east and south, four Russian cruise missiles Saturday had hit residential areas in the southern city of Mykolaiv, injuring five people, including a teenager.

In a devastated village near Ukraine’s southern front line Stanislav, a 49-year-old who joined Ukraine’s armed forces after Russia’s invasion said many people were afraid.

“But what can we do, we need to defend our homeland, because if I don’t do it then my children will be forced to do it,” he said.

An official in the nearby Kherson region in the south said a Ukrainian counter-offensive for the territory Russia captured early in the invasion would be over by September.

“We can say that a turning point has occurred on the battlefield. We are switching from defensive to counteroffensive actions,” Sergiy Khlan, an aide to the head of the Kherson region, said in an interview with Ukrainian television.

-AFP

Kherson To Be Liberated From Russia By September – Ukraine


SERGEY BOBOK / AFP

 

A Ukrainian official said Sunday that the country’s southern region of Kherson, which fell to Russian troops early in their February invasion, would be recaptured by Kyiv’s forces by September.

“We can say that the Kherson region will definitely be liberated by September, and all the occupiers’ plans will fail,” Sergiy Khlan, an aide to the head of Kherson region, said in an interview with Ukrainian television.

The Ukrainian army, emboldened by deliveries of Western-supplied long-range artillery has been clawing back territory in the southern Kherson region in recent weeks.

“We can say that a turning point has occurred on the battlefield. We see that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are prevailing in their most recent military operations,” Khlan said.

“We see that our armed forces are advancing openly. We can say that we are switching from defensive to counteroffensive actions,” he added.

He said that Ukrainian strikes on two key bridges in the region, as well as attacks on Russian arms depots and command posts were part of preparatory work for a ground offensive.

“Now the key issue is getting more precision artillery strikes on the frontline to knock out the orcs (Russians) from their current positions.”

He added that Russian forces had not repaired the damaged Antonivka bridge and were experiencing difficulties as a result of moving heavy weapons toward Kherson city.

Russian forces seized the region’s main city, also called Kherson, on March 3. It was the first major city to fall following the start of Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine in late February.

The region, important for Ukrainian agriculture, lies next to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

-AFP

African Union Hails Landmark Russia-Ukraine Grain Deal

United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (L) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) sit at the start of the signature ceremony of an initiative on the safe transportation of grain and foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports, in Istanbul, on July 22, 2022. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP)

 

 

The African Union on Saturday hailed a landmark deal between Ukraine and Russia that will allow Kyiv to resume exports of grain through the Black Sea and relieve a global food crisis.

Ukraine’s farms are a major source of grain for the world market, in particular in the Middle East and Africa, where food supplies are critically tight.

Cereal prices in the world’s poorest continent have surged because of the slump in exports, sharpening the impact of conflict and climate change and sparking fears of social unrest.

“The Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat welcomes the signing by Russia and Ukraine of agreements,” a statement said, praising Senegalese leader and AU chair Macky Sall “for having called for the urgent need for the resumption of cereals from Ukraine and Russia to global markets as made to President Vladimir Putin during a joint AU mission to Sochi” in early June.

READ ALSO: Russia, Ukraine Seal Landmark Grain Deal To Ease Shortages

Ukraine and Russia and two of the world’s largest grain producers.

But Ukrainian mines laid across the Black Sea to avert an amphibious assault, as well as Russian warships, have blocked exports from Ukraine, leaving up to 25 million tonnes of wheat and other grain in danger of rotting in ports and silos.

Sall thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who oversaw the signing ceremony in Istanbul on Friday, as well as presidents Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.

“This was the objective of the mission I led in Sochi on June 3,” Sall tweeted.

The International Rescue Committee, which helps people affected by humanitarian crises, also welcomed the accord, saying countries in East Africa relied “on Russia and Ukraine for over 90 percent of their wheat imports”.

“The lifting of these blockades will go some way in easing the extreme hunger that over 18 million people in East Africa are facing, with three million already facing catastrophic hunger conditions,” Shashwat Saraf, IRC’s East Africa emergency director, said.

AFP

Russia, Ukraine Seal Landmark Grain Deal To Ease Shortages

United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attend the signing ceremony for the deal. Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP

 

 

Ukraine and Russia on Friday signed a landmark deal aimed at relieving a global food crisis caused by blocked Black Sea grain deliveries, ending months of negotiations and sending wheat prices tumbling to levels last seen before Moscow’s invasion.

The first major deal between the warring parties since the February invasion of Ukraine should help ease the “acute hunger” that the United Nations says faces an additional 47 million people because of the war.

The hostility between Moscow and Kyiv spilled over into the signing ceremony — delayed briefly by disputes about the display of flags around the table and Ukraine’s refusal to put its name on the same document as the Russians.

The two sides eventually inked separate but identical agreements in the presence of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Istanbul’s lavish Dolmabahce Palace.

“Today, there is a beacon on the Black Sea — a beacon of hope, a beacon of possibility, a beacon of relief,” Guterres said moments before the signing.

Erdogan — a key player in the negotiations who has good relations with both Moscow and Kyiv — said the deal would “hopefully revive the path to peace”.

But Ukraine entered the ceremony by bluntly warning that it would conduct “an immediate military response” should Russia violate the agreement and attack its ships or stage an incursion around its ports.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky later said the responsibility for enforcing the deal would fall to the UN, which along with Turkey is a co-guarantor of the agreement.

20 million tonnes of wheat

The agreement includes points on running Ukrainian grain ships along safe corridors that avoid known mines in the Black Sea.

Huge quantities of wheat and other grain have been blocked in Ukrainian ports by Russian warships and landmines Kyiv has laid to avert a feared amphibious assault.

Zelensky said that around 20 million tonnes of produce from last year’s harvest and the current crop would be exported under the agreement, estimating the value of Ukraine’s grain stocks at around $10 billion.

Following the deal, wheat prices tumbled to levels last seen before Russia’s invasion — even as some analysts expressed skepticism about the accord.

In Chicago, the price of wheat for delivery in September dropped 5.9 percent to $7.59 per bushel, equivalent to about 27 kilograms. Prices in Europe fell by a similar amount.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told Kremlin state media after attending the signing ceremony that he expected the deal to start working “in the next few days”.

He pointed out that Russia had managed to secure a separate pledge from Washington and Brussels to lift all restrictions on its own grain and other agricultural exports.

The United States, Britain and the European Union hailed the Istanbul agreement while urging Moscow to abide by its rules.

The African Union also lauded the deal, and reiterated a call for “an immediate ceasefire” on Saturday.

Guarded hope

Diplomats expect grain to only start fully flowing by mid-August.

The four sides must first set up a joint command and control centre in Istanbul that monitors the ships’ passage and addresses disputes.

They have yet to finalise how the ships will be checked for weapons before returning empty to Ukrainian ports.

Ukrainian farmers who have been watching their silos fill up with grain that they cannot sell met the Istanbul deal with guarded hope.

“It gives some hope but you can’t believe what the Russians say,” said farmer Mykola Zaverukha.

His silos were already filled with 13,000 tonnes of grain and in danger of overflowing because this year’s harvest was beginning to come in.

“Russia is unreliable, they have shown themselves to be year after year,” he told AFP in the southern Mykolaiv region.

Global alarm about that grain has been accompanied by European fears that Russia is starting to use its stranglehold on energy exports as a geopolitical weapon in its standoff with the West.

The grain deal was signed one day after Russia’s restart of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline eased concerns in Europe of a permanent shut-off after a 10-day maintenance suspension.

Analysts say that the partial resumption of gas supplies was insufficient to ward off energy shortages in Europe this winter.

More US military aid

The ornate halls of Istanbul’s Dolmabahce Palace felt far removed from east Ukraine’s Donbas war zone on another day of relentless shelling across the front.

Russia is trying to fight deeper into the war zone’s Donetsk region after securing full control of neighbouring Lugansk.

On Friday, the United States signed off on another $270 million in military aid to Ukraine, including rocket systems, artillery ammunition, and armoured command posts.

Russian missile strikes on railway infrastructure and a military airfield in the central area of Kirovograd on Saturday killed at least three people and wounded nine, regional governor Andriy Raikovych said.

The Ukrainian presidency said five people were killed and 10 wounded in Russian attacks around Donetsk a day earlier.

In the Donetsk village of Chasiv Yar — hit by a strike on July 10 that killed more than 45 people — 64-year-old Lyudmila was gathering apricots near the wreckage.

“There is nothing anymore. The officials have left. We have to fend for ourselves to stay alive,” she said, giving only her first name.

AFP