Wed, 22 Mar 2023

Russia consented on Monday to prolong an ongoing Black Sea grain deal for 60 days following its second-term expiration date on March 18. The original deal was brokered by the UN and Turkey in July 2022 to ensure safe transportation of grain and other food products to prevent a food crisis amid the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Follow our live blog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

This live page is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

9:15pm: Ukraine's future lies in the outcome of battles in the east, Zelensky says

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday that Ukraine's future depended on the outcome of battles in key points in the east of the country.

"It is very tough in the east - very painful. We have to destroy the enemy's military power. And we shall destroy it," Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

"Bilohorivka and Marinka, Avdiivka and Bakhmut, Vuhledar and Kamyanka - and other places where the kind of future we are to have is being decided. Where the future of all Ukrainians is being fought for."

8:01pm: Biden adminstration allows Ukrainians who fled war stay in US longer

The Biden administration is allowing thousands of Ukrainians who fled their homeland when Russia invaded a year ago to stay in the United States longer, the administration said Monday. The decision provides relief to Ukrainians whose one-year authorisation to remain in the US was set to expire soon.

The Homeland Security Department said the extension is for certain Ukrainian nationals and their immediate family members who were let into the US before the Uniting for Ukraine program started.

Ukrainians who came in under the Uniting for Ukraine program generally got two years of humanitarian "parole" in the US whereas those who arrived before them generally got permission to stay only for one year.

Thousands of Ukrainians came to the US last year fleeing the war.

7:15pm: Russia's 60-day grain deal extension 'contradicts' agreement, says Kyiv

Ukraine's infrastructure minister said Monday that Russia's decision to extend the grain deal for 60 days went against the agreement, but did not reject Moscow's proposal.

"(The grain) agreement involves at least 120 days of extension, therefore Russia's position to extend the deal only for 60 days contradicts the document signed by Turkey and the UN," Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Twitter, adding: "We're waiting for the official position of the UN and Turkey as the guarantors of the initiative."

6:20pm: British warship escorts Russian frigate in waters off UK

Britain's Royal Navy said on Monday that it was escorting a Russian frigate and tanker in waters close to the UK having shadowed the vessels through the Channel on Sunday morning.

"The Royal Navy routinely responds to escort warships in our territorial waters and the adjacent sea areas to ensure compliance with maritime law and to deter malign activity," the Royal Navy said in a statement.

"Escorting the Russian task group alongside allied partners demonstrates the commitment of the Royal Navy and the NATO alliance to maintaining maritime security which is crucial to our national interests," it said.

5:50pm: Ukrainian soldiers complete Spain training on Leopard tanks

Dozens of Ukrainian soldiers on Monday wrapped up a four-week training in Spain on how to operate the Leopard 2A4 battle tank, of which Madrid is set to deliver six mothballed units to Kyiv this spring.

A total of 40 tank crew members and 15 mechanical specialists underwent training on their use at a military base in the northeastern city of Zaragoza, Spain's armed forces said in a statement.

"It has been intense," Spanish trainer Captain Contreras - who identified himself only by his rank and surname - told reporters, who were allowed access to the drills for the fist time.

Contreras said the Ukrainians would be returning home "with a very acceptable knowledge" of the Leopards.

5:33pm: Russia approves 60-day extension of Black Sea grain deal

Russia has agreed to renew the Ukraine grain export deal but only for another 60 days, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin announced following talks with the United Nations on Monday.

"The Russian side... does not object to another extension of the 'Black Sea Initiative' after its second term expiration on March 18, but only for 60 days," he said in a statement issued by the Russian mission in Geneva following the negotiations at the UN's Palais des Nations.

5:20pm: UK warns against deepening China-Russia relationship

Britain cast China as representing an "epoch-defining challenge" to the world order, in an update to its foreign policy framework published on Monday which declared that the UK's security hinged on the outcome of the Ukraine war.

In the refresh of Britain's blueprint for security and international policy, the government warned of China's deepening partnership with Russia, and Moscow's growing cooperation with Iran following the invasion of Ukraine.

Only first released two years ago, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Britain's Integrated Review (IR) had been updated to take account of events, with the hardening of language and positioning towards Beijing and Moscow.

But the decision to still not describe China as a threat was likely to disappoint many in Sunak's governing Conservative Party, who also believe his vow to spend an extra Pound 5 billion ($6 billion) on defence is insufficient to support Ukraine without leaving Britain vulnerable.

5:15pm: Italy blames Russia's Wagner for increase in migrants, part of 'hybrid warfare'

The Italian government on Monday said Russian mercenary group Wagner was behind a surge in migrant boats trying to cross the central Mediterranean as part of Moscow's strategy to retaliate against countries supporting Ukraine.

"I think it is now safe to say that the exponential increase in the migratory phenomenon departing from African shores is also, to a not insignificant extent, part of a clear strategy of hybrid warfare that the Wagner division is implementing, using its considerable weight in some African countries," Defence Minister Guido Crosetto said in a statement.

Some 20,000 people have reached Italy so far this year, compared to 6,100 in the same period of 2022, interior ministry figures show, and the migration issue is piling pressure on the rightist government.

3:35pm: China-Russia relationship key to global stability, says Russian defence minister

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Monday that relations between Russia and China were the main factor supporting global stability in the world today, the TASS news agency reported.

Sergei Shoigu said bilateral relations between Moscow and Beijing had reached an unprecedented high.

3:28pm: ICC looks to arrest Russians over alleged abduction of Ukrainian children

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is expected to seek arrest warrants against Russian individuals in relation to the conflict in Ukraine "in the short term", a source with knowledge of the matter said on Monday.

The prosecutor of the ICC is expected to ask a pre-trial judge to approve issuing warrants against several Russians for the abduction of children from Ukraine to Russia and the targeting of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, said the source, who commented on condition of anonymity.

3:19pm: Russia tries Kremlin critic Kara-Murza in latest case against opposition voices

Russia on Monday began the closed-door trial of opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, who faces up to two decades in prison on treason charges for comments critical of Russian authorities.

An AFP journalist reported from a Moscow court that Kara-Murza's trial began. This is the latest in a string of cases against opposition voices in Russia in a crackdown that has intensified since President Vladimir Putin deployed troops in Ukraine last year.

12:53pm: China's Xi to speak with Ukraine's Zelensky, WSJ reports

Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.

The newspaper, citing people familiar with the matter, said the call was likely to take place after Xi's visit to Moscow next week to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

12:27pm: Russian lawmaker introduces bill pushing back conscription age

A senior Russian lawmaker on Monday introduced a bill to parliament to raise the age of conscription to 21-30 years from the current 18-27 years by 2026.

11:29pm: Negotiations under way on Black Sea grain deal extension in Geneva

Negotiations began on Monday between UN officials and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin aimed at discussing an extension to a deal allowing the export of grains from Ukraine, Russia's diplomatic mission in Geneva said.

The initiative, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last July, is up for renewal on March 18.

UN trade official Rebeca Grynspan and aid chief Martin Griffiths arrived at the UN European headquarters in Geneva on Monday morning, without making a comment.

8:40am: Ukrainian forces in 'fierce battles' with Wagner units for Bakhmut's centre, military says

Fierce fighting was raging for control of the centre of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, the longest-running and bloodiest battle of the war, both sides said on Monday.

"Wagner assault units are advancing from several directions, trying to break through our troops' defensive positions and move to the centre of the city. In fierce battles, our defenders are inflicting significant losses on the enemy," the Ukrainian military said in a morning briefing, referring to the Russian mercenary group that has claimed to be leading Moscow's offensive.

Wagner meanwhile said: "the enemy is battling for every metre, the closer we are to the city centre, the harder the battles".

7:00am: HRW sounds alarm on children 'illegally taken' from orphanages in Ukraine

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has had "devastating" consequences for children in residential institutions, with thousands transferred to occupied territories or to Russia, Human Rights Watch said Monday.

In a report released Monday, the watchdog also said the war highlighted the urgent need for reform in Ukraine, which had over 105,000 children in institutions before the invasion, the largest number in Europe after Russia.

"This brutal war has starkly shown the need to end the perils faced by children who were institutionalised," said Bill Van Esveld, associate children's rights director at the New York-based organisation.

"Returning children who were illegally taken by Russian forces should be an international priority," he added.

At least several thousand children have been transferred to Russia or occupied territories, the report said.

It added that 100 institutions that had housed over 32,000 children before 2022 are now in territories under Russian occupation.

12:02am: Arms transfers to Europe almost doubled in 2022, says report

Arms imports into Europe almost doubled in 2022, driven by massive shipments to Ukraine, which has become the world's third-largest destination, researchers said Monday.

With a 93 percent jump from the year before, imports also increased due to accelerating military spending by European states including Poland and Norway, and they are expected to accelerate further, according to the report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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