Sun, 29 Jan 2023

Ukraine said on Monday that Russia was preparing for a fresh wave of missile attacks on its energy grid that have plunged swathes of the country into the cold and dark. The warning came as Ukrainian forces repelled Russian attacks in the Donetsk region, including in the areas of the cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, the General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces said. Follow our live blog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

9:37pm: Russians shell Kherson region 258 times in a week, Zelensky says

Russian forces shelled 30 settlements in Ukraine's southern Kherson region 258 times in the past week, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday.

Russian forces retreated from the west bank of the Dnipro River earlier this month, but have been shelling towns and villages, including the city of Kherson, from new vantage points on the opposite bank.

9:19pm: EU fails to agree on Russian oil price cap, say diplomats

European Union governments failed to agree on Monday on a price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil, as Poland insisted that the cap had to be set lower than proposed by the G7 to cut Moscow's ability to finance its invasion of Ukraine, diplomats said.

No new date for talks has been set yet, diplomats said, even though the price cap mechanism is to enter into force on Dec. 5. If there was no agreement on the G7 price cap idea by next Monday, the EU would implement harsher measures agreed at the end of May - a ban on all Russian crude oil imports from Dec. 5 and on petroleum products from Feb. 5, Polish diplomats said.

6:20pm: Workers who won't sign Russian contracts banned from nuclear plant, Ukraine says

Ukraine's military said on Monday Moscow had banned Ukrainian technicians who have refused to sign contracts with Russia's atomic energy firm from entering the vast Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that Russian forces seized in March.

The largest nuclear power plant in Europe, which is in Ukraine's partially-occupied southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia, has been operated by Ukrainian technicians throughout the war despite being under Russian control.

"According to available information, starting today, the occupiers have forbidden entry to the territory of the Zaporizhzhia NPP to ... workers who refused to sign contracts with Rosatom," Ukraine's General Staff said in its daily war update.

5:37pm: Ukraine First Lady demands global response to sexual assault in war

Ukraine First Lady Olena Zelenska on Monday demanded a "global response" to the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, saying Kyiv prosecutors are investigating more than 100 possible crimes by Russian soldiers.

Speaking at the "Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative" conference in London, Zelenska said the investigations were "just a small" fraction of the true number of such crimes being committed in the Ukraine conflict.

"The opportunities for the occupiers widened to humiliating Ukrainians and unfortunately, sexual violence and sexual crimes are within their arsenal," she said.

5:16pm: Ukraine resumes emergency blackouts in setback after Russian strikes

Ukraine said on Monday it had been forced to impose regular emergency blackouts in areas across the country after a setback in its race to repair energy infrastructure hit by Russian missile strikes.

Power units at several power stations had to conduct emergency shutdowns and demand for electricity has been rising as snowy winter weather has set in the capital and elsewhere, national grid operator Ukrenergo said in a statement.

4:40pm: Ukraine tests electricity imports from Romania

Ukrainian state energy trading company EKU conducted a test import of one megawatt of power from Romania on Sunday, it announced on Monday.

Ukraine has faced a significant electricity deficit since Russia stepped up missile strikes on Ukrainian energy infrastructure in October, causing blackouts in many areas.

"The import of electricity can become an additional tool for stabilising the energy system of Ukraine," EKU wrote in a statement on its website.

4:27pm: Romanian president urges NATO to push on with plan to reinforce eastern flank

The decision to boost NATO troops and military equipment on the alliance's eastern flank taken at the Madrid summit needs to come into force as soon as possible, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on Monday.

Speaking at a joint news conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in the capital Bucharest ahead of a two-day NATO foreign ministers' meeting, Iohannis also said the wider Black Sea region needed support.

4:24pm: Putin trying to use winter as war weapon against Ukraine, NATO's Stoltenberg says

Russia will likely continue attacking Ukraine's power grid, its gas infrastructure and basic services for the people, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday.

"Doing that when we enter winter demonstrates that President (Vladimir) Putin is now trying to use ... the winter as a weapon of war against Ukraine," he told reporters at a news conference in Bucharest ahead of a two-day NATO foreign ministers' meeting.

4:05pm: Nobel Peace laureate calls for weapons to free Ukraine

In an unusual move for a Nobel Peace laureate, the head of one of this year's prizewinning organisations on Monday called for weapons to help Ukraine defend itself and stop the atrocities.

"When somebody asks me how to stop these long-lasting crimes in occupied territories, I can only answer: 'Provide Ukraine with weapons to liberate these territories'," Ukrainian Oleksandra Matviichuk, a human rights lawyer who heads the Kyiv-based Center for Civil Liberties, told AFP in Stockholm.

The Center for Civil Liberties was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Belarusian human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski and the Russian human rights organisation Memorial for their "outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power".

2:59pm: EU seeks to punish individuals who violate Russian sanctions

The European Union on Monday gave itself legal authority to take action against anyone who helps Russia avoid its sanctions, the EU presidency said Monday.

According to a statement, member states unanimously agreed that violating restrictive measures against Russia be considered an "EU crime" across the bloc.

This would make it easier to add individuals and entities from countries outside the EU to sanctions lists set up to punish existing actions such as Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

2:28pm: Russia postpones nuclear meeting with US

Russia has unilaterally postponed nuclear disarmament talks with US officials in Cairo planned for this week, Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported on Monday, citing the US Embassy.

Officials from the two countries were set to meet in the Egyptian capital from November 29 to December 6 to discuss resuming inspections under the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty.

2:09pm: War demand drives Russian manufacturing sector

Russia's drive to equip freshly mobilised troops and increase spending on its military campaign in Ukraine is helping the country's industrial sector weather the economic storm better than expected.

Russian industrial output fell just 2.6% on an annual basis in October, according to the Rosstat federal statistics service, an improvement from a 3.1% decline registered in September and ahead of forecasts for a 3.8% fall.

The improvement came despite Russia calling up more than 300,000 reservists - mostly working-age men - for the fight in Ukraine, and businesses reporting labour shortages and heightened economic uncertainty.

2:06pm: Ukraine warns of fresh Russian missile strikes on energy grid

Ukraine said on Monday that Russia was preparing for a fresh wave of missile attacks on its energy grid that have plunged swathes of the country into the cold and dark.

A Ukraine military spokesman said a Russian warship capable of firing cruise missiles had recently deployed to the Black Sea with Kalibr-type missiles on board.

"This indicates that preparations were under way," said spokeswoman Natalia Gumeniuk.

"It's quite likely that the beginning of the week will be marked by such an attack," she added.

1:59pm: Ukraine war increases chemical weapons threat, toxic arms watchdog says

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has increased the threat from weapons of mass destruction including chemical munitions, the head of the world's toxic arms watchdog said on Monday.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine, its chief Fernando Arias told the regulator's annual meeting.

"The situation in Ukraine has again increased the real threat posed by weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons," Arias told the meeting in The Hague.

1:48pm: Turkey says it will discuss NATO bids with Swedish, Finnish FMs in Bucharest

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday that he would meet with his Swedish and Finnish counterparts to discuss their bid to join NATO on the margins of the alliance's meeting in Bucharest on Tuesday.

"We will come together with Swedish and Finnish foreign ministers tomorrow in Bucharest under a trilateral format," Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by the private NTV broadcaster.

Ankara has accused the two Nordic nations of providing a safe haven for outlawed Kurdish militants it deems "terrorists" and held back on ratifying their NATO membership despite an agreement in June.

1:44pm: Russia summons Norwegian ambassador over arrest of Russian nationals

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Monday that it had summoned the Norwegian ambassador over what it said was the politically-motivated arrest of Russian citizens for reportedly using drones illegally.

"It was noted that the sentences against the Russians were politically motivated and had nothing to do with the principles of fair and impartial justice," the ministry said in a statement.

Several Russian citizens have reportedly been arrested by Norwegian authorities for flying drones near the Arctic border between the two countries or taking photos of classified facilities, as Norway boosts security following suspected sabotage on the Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea.

1:14pm: Russian energy giant Gazprom says no further gas cuts to Moldova

Russian energy giant Gazprom announced Monday that it will not further reduce natural gas to Moldova as it had threatened to do after claiming that bills went unpaid and that flows crossing through Ukraine were not making it to Moldova.

Gazprom tweeted that Moldovagaz has "eliminated the violation of payment" for November supplies and that "funds for the gas deposited on the territory of Ukraine, intended for consumers in Moldova, have been received".

Last week, Moldova and Ukraine hit back at Gazprom's claim that Russian gas moving through the last pipeline to Western Europe was being stored in Ukraine, saying all supplies that Russia sends through the war-torn country get "fully transferred" to Moldova.

1:06pm: Kazakhstan wants to handle more Iran-Russia cargo, deputy PM says

Kazakhstan wants to handle greater volumes of cargo moving between Russia and Iran, a senior Kazakh official said on Monday, an increasingly important trade route as Russia's isolation over its invasion of Ukraine grows.

Iran, also targeted by Western sanctions over its nuclear programme, has become a key ally for Russia, providing it both with much-needed goods such as military drones, and with access to Gulf ports from which Russian goods can reach Asia.

Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic, has distanced itself from Moscow politically, but Russia remains its biggest trading partner and Deputy Prime Minister Serik Zhumangarin said Astana was keen to boost its transit role in the so-called North-South corridor between Russia and Iran.

10:51am: Kremlin denies reports that Russian forces planning to leave Zaporizhzhia plant

The Kremlin's spokesman on Monday denied reports that Russian forces were planning to leave the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine, telling reporters they should not look for signs where there were none.

10:43am: Ukraine has repelled Russian attacks in Donetsk, military authority says

Ukrainian forces have repelled Russian attacks in several areas, including Bakhmut and Avdiivka in the Donetsk region, over the past 24 hours, the General Staff of Ukraine's armed forces said in its daily update on Monday.

The General Staff added that Ukrainian forces on Saturday had destroyed six units of military equipment of various types and that about 30 servicemen had been injured in the area of the occupied Enerhodar city, where many of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant's workers live.

9:50am: Kyiv mayor says residents should expect power cuts to continue into spring

Ukraine's capital Kyiv has reverted to a schedule of rolling blackouts that stick approximately to a planned schedule, FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reports, and city authorities have promised that no one will lack power for more than five consecutive hours. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said residents should expect power cuts to continue into spring amid ongoing Russian attacks on Ukraine's grid.

9:43am: Kremlin says it welcomes Vatican offer to mediate but Ukraine's stance prevents it

The Kremlin said on Monday that it welcomed a Vatican offer to provide a negotiating platform to resolve the Ukraine conflict, but that Kyiv's position made this impossible.

Pope Francis reiterated 10 days ago that the Vatican was ready to do anything possible to mediate and put an end to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, in an interview with the Italian daily La Stampa.

7:50am: Russia and US have 'channels' for managing nuclear arms risk, US diplomat says

Russia and the United States have ways to manage nuclear risks at the level of intelligence agencies, the charge d'affaires of the US embassy in Moscow, Elizabeth Rood, told Russia's state news agency, adding that for now there are no meetings scheduled.

Earlier this month, CIA director William Burns met Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russian foreign intelligence, and warned him about the consequences of any Russian use of nuclear weapons in its war in Ukraine, the White House said. Russia has said the issues discussed were "sensitive" and declined to comment on them.

Officials from the two countries were set to meet in the Egyptian capital of Cairo from November 29 to December 6 to discuss resuming inspections under the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, but Moscow has played down the prospect of a quick breakthrough.

6:56am: US and Russia discussing release of basketball star Griner, Russian media reports

The US and Russia are discussing the release of basketball star Brittney Griner and ex-marine Paul Whelan through special channels, the RIA Novosti news agency reported on Monday, citing a top US diplomat.

Elizabeth Rood, charge d'affaires of the US embassy in Moscow, was quoted as saying that the United States had submitted a serious proposal for consideration but it had not received a "serious response" back from Russia.

Russia and the US have been discussing a deal that could see Griner, who is facing nine years in jail in Russia on drug charges, return to the United States in exchange for convicted Russian weapons trafficker Viktor Bout.

12:43am: Ukraine warns of more Russian attacks as fighting rages in Donetsk

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia would surely launch new missile attacks on his country and warned defence forces and citizens to prepare to withstand another week of strain on the power grid as snow fell in Kyiv.

City authorities said workers were close to completing restoration of power, water and heat after days of Russian attacks, but high demand meant some blackouts had been imposed.

"We understand that the terrorists are planning new strikes. We know this for a fact," Zelensky said in his nightly video address late on Sunday. "And as long as they have missiles, they, unfortunately, will not calm down."

The General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said on Sunday that Russian troops had shelled a dozen villages in the eastern region of Donetsk, including the main targets of Bakhmut and Avdiivka.

11:55pm, November 27: UK Prime Minister Sunak vows to maintain military aid to Ukraine

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak plans to promise on Monday to maintain or increase military aid to Ukraine next year, and to confront international competitors "not with grand rhetoric but with robust pragmatism".

British government support for Ukraine has remained unchanged, despite turmoil in recent months as Boris Johnson was succeeded as prime minister by Liz Truss and then Sunak.

Earlier this month, Sunak visited Kyiv to offer further support to Ukraine in its fight against Russian forces.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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