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9:09pm: Slovakia bans Ukrainian grain imports through 2023
Slovakia on Friday imposed a ban on grain from Ukraine after the European Commission decided not to extend import restrictions.
Speaking of four commodities including wheat, the government said in a statement that it had “decided to ban their import at the national level until the end of the year”.
5:51pm: US aims to make 100,000 155mm artillery shells per month in 2025, Pentagon official says
The US plans to increase monthly production of 155 millimeter artillery shells over the coming years to 100,000 in 2025, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer said on Friday.
“We’re going to be at 100,000 per month in 2025. We were at 14,000 per month 6 or 8 months ago, we are now at 28,000 a month today,” Bill LaPlante, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer said at a conference on Friday.
Demand for 155mm artillery rounds has soared in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. But allies’ supplies for their own defense have been run down as they have rushed shells to Kyiv, which fires thousands of rounds per day.
5:16pm: US envoy to Moscow visits jailed reporter Gershkovich
The US ambassador to Moscow has visited Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being held in pre-trial detention on charges of espionage, state news agency TASS reported on Friday.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said earlier that Moscow had approved a US consular request to visit Gershkovich, who denies the spy charges.
4:37pm: Ukraine plans to boost defence spending in 2024 draft budget
Ukraine’s government approved a draft budget for next year on Friday, planning for higher defence spending and counting on continued Western financial support to cover the expected deficit.
The draft 2024 budget puts the deficit at 1.548 trillion hryvnias ($42 billion), about 20.4 percent of gross domestic product.
More than half of all planned Ukrainian budget spending next year, or 1.7 trillion hryvnias, is planned for the defence sector to fund the war effort against Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion in February 2022.
“The key focus of this draft is defence and security of our country,” Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “This amount (defence spending) is 113 billion hryvnias more than this year. There will be even more weapons and equipment. More drones, ammunition, missiles.”
4:22pm: UNESCO places heritage sites in Kyiv and Lviv on ‘in danger’ list
The UN’s cultural organisation on Friday placed World Heritage Sites in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Lviv on its “in danger” list, saying they are at risk from the war sparked by Russia’s invasion of the country.
Under the 1972 UNESCO convention, ratified by both Ukraine and Russia, signatories undertake to “assist in the protection of the listed sites” and are “obliged to refrain from taking any deliberate measures” which might damage World Heritage sites.
Neither site has been directly targeted since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, and Lviv has largely been spared from the fighting. But Russia has unleashed waves of strikes on Kyiv and other cities, hitting residential areas and critical infrastructure with Iranian-made attack drones.
Inclusion on the List of World Heritage in Danger is meant to rally urgent international support for conservation efforts. The list includes more than 50 sites around the world.
3:43pm: Russia will not boycott 2024 Paris Olympics, Olympic Committee says
Russia’s Olympic Committee has said Moscow would not be boycotting the 2024 Olympics in Paris, and that every Russian athlete was free to choose whether or not to take part under a neutral banner.
“Boycotting the Games leads to nowhere,” Russian Olympic Committee President Stanislav Pozdnyakov said in a briefing Thursday.
Athletes from Russia and Belarus have faced sanctions from a multitude of sports since Russia launched its assault on Ukraine in February of 2022.
Despite the ongoing conflict, the International Olympic Committee has recommended allowing athletes from Russia and Moscow’s ally Belarus to compete as individual neutrals in international competitions.
3:26pm: Romania’s plan to boost Ukraine grain transport achievable, transport minister says
Romania’s plan to double Ukrainian grain transit capacity through its Constanta port to 4 million tonnes in the coming months remains achievable, the country’s Transport Minister Sorin Grindeanu said on Friday.
Grindeanu was meeting with officials from Ukraine, Moldova, the European Commission and the United States as the parties seek to help Ukraine, a top global grain exporter, keep up exports after Russia refused to extend a safe passage corridor.
2:42pm: Finland bans Russian-registered vehicles
Finland on Friday joined the three Baltic countries in banning vehicles with Russian license plates from entering their territory, a joint move in line with a recent interpretation of the European Union’s sanctions against Moscow over its war on Ukraine.
The Nordic EU member’s Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen said the ban would stop private cars from entering Finland as of Friday midnight, Finnish broadcaster YLE said.
Earlier this week, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania imposed the measure. Estonia said the decision followed “the additional interpretation of the sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation published by the European Commission” on September 8.
As for the exclave of Kaliningrad, which is surrounded by Lithuania, Russian citizens will be able to continue transiting through the southernmost Baltic state by train.
Under the EU’s decision, motor vehicles registered in the Russian Federation are no longer allowed to enter the territory of the 27-member bloc, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Baltic states are among the most vocal European critics of Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
1:51pm: UK officially proscribes Russia’s Wagner as terrorist organisation
Britain on Friday officially proscribed the Russian mercenary Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation, after announcing the move last week, which will make it illegal to be a member or to support it.
1:50pm: Putin meets the leader of Belarus, who suggests joining Russia’s move to boost ties with North Korea
Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted a meeting Friday with his Belarusian ally, who suggested that Minsk could could join Moscow’s efforts to revive an old alliance with Pyongyang after this week’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko made the proposal as he met with Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where the Russian leader said he would brief him about the talks with Kim on Wednesday at the Vostochny spaceport in Russia’s Far East.
“I would like to inform you about the discussion on the situation in the region, which was quite important, and also to touch on the most acute issue, the situation in Ukraine,” Putin said at the start of the meeting.
Lukashenko responded by saying that “we could think about three-way cooperation”, adding that “I think a bit of work could be found for Belarus to do there as well.”
1:37pm: Russia’s defence ministry said two Ukrainian naval drones destroyed in Black Sea, reports TASS
Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Friday that its forces had destroyed two Ukrainian naval drones in the southwest part of Black Sea, state news agency TASS reported.
Earlier the ministry said a Russian warship had destroyed a naval drone, apparently in a separate incident.
1:18pm: Ukraine’s Zelensky to visit US Congress next week, says Punchbowl News
Volodymyr Zelensky will visit the US Congress next week, according to media reports, after a US official earlier said the Ukrainian president was expected to meet with US President Biden on Thursday.
Punchbowl News on Friday said Zelensky’s visit with Congress was tentatively scheduled for Thursday. The Washington Post also reported Zelensky was set to travel to the US Congress on Thursday, while the Wall Street Journal said he would meet with US lawmakers.
Representatives for Zelensky and congressional leaders could not be immediately reached for comment on the reports.
1:13pm: Russia says it has approved US request to visit jailed reporter Gershkovich, says RIA
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Friday that Moscow has approved a US consular request to visit Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being held in pre-trial detention on charges of espionage, state news agency RIA reported.
Gershkovich was arrested on March 29 in the city of Yekaterinburg. He, the Wall Street Journal and the United States all deny that he is a spy.
12:07pm: Romanian Black Sea port shipped 9.2 million tons of Ukrainian grain between January and August
Ukraine shipped 9.2 million metric tons of grains through the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta in the first eight months of the year, the port authority told Reuters, with the pace slowing as Russian attacks on its Danube river ports intensified.
Constanta Port data showed that 8.1 million tons of Ukrainian grain left port in the first seven months. Romania has said it aims to double the monthly transit capacity of Ukrainian grain to 4 million tons in the coming months.
Overall, the port shipped 22.2 million tons of grains in the first eight months, the authority said, and is poised to exceed its annual record of about 25 million tons.
12:05pm: Kremlin says ‘no agreements’ signed during Kim visit
The Kremlin on Friday said no agreements have been signed during North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s ongoing visit to Russia.
“No agreements were signed and there was no plan to sign any,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, amid concern in Washington that the two countries could be preparing an arms deal.
Kim began his visit to Russia on Tuesday.
11:07am: Russian soldier gets 13 years in penal colony for desertion
Russia on Friday sentenced a soldier to 13 years in a “maximum security” penal colony for deserting his unit to avoid fighting in Ukraine.
Moscow has handed severe punishments for desertion during mobilisation – which triggered a wave of emigration last year – and to soldiers who refused to go into battle.
A military tribunal in the fareastern island of Sakhalin said the soldier, Maxim Kochetkov, deserted his unit “to avoid being sent to the special military operation” in Ukraine.
He was arrested in July on the island of Sakhalin by police.
10:31am: G7 to announce Russian diamonds ban in 2-3 weeks, says Belgian official
A Belgian government official said on Friday it expects the Group of Seven countries to announced an indirect ban on Russian diamonds in the next 2-3 weeks.
The ban would come into effect in January.
9:31am: Russia has ‘neutralised’ hundreds of foreign intelligence agents, says security official
A top Russian security official said in an article published on Friday that Moscow had “neutralised” hundreds of foreign spies in recent years.
Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, wrote in Russia’s foreign intelligence agency’s house magazine:
“In recent years, hundreds of employees of foreign intelligence services, as well as other persons involved in organising intelligence and subversive activities against our country and our strategic partners, have been identified and neutralised.”
8:28am: Gazprom to send 42.4 mcm of gas to Europe via Ukraine on Friday
Russia’s Gazprom said it would supply 42.4 million cubic metres of gas to Europe via Ukraine on Friday, a volume in line with recent days.
8:28am: Poland calls for extension to embargo on Ukrainian grain
A temporary EU ban on Ukrainian grain imports, introduced after Poland and four other eastern EU countries complained about cheap Ukrainian produce flooding the market, is set to expire on September 15. Warsaw now not only wants to extend the ban but expand it and include honey too.
“The Polish government would say that they are doing it because they absolutely need to in order to protect the interests of farmers who are faced with Ukrainian agricultural imports,” said Gulliver Cragg, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Ukraine.
“The Ukrainians are saying this is just pre-election populism in Poland; there is an election just a month from now in which the rural vote will be crucial.”
The issue has “really driven a wedge” between Poland and Ukraine, according to Cragg.
7:28am: Ukraine troops capture eastern village of Andriivka, military says
As part of a multi-pronged counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces have recaptured a village in the country’s east after intense battles with Russian troops, the country’s military said Friday.
The village of Andriivka – about 10 kilometers (6 miles) south of the Russia-occupied town of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region – is the latest gain for Kyiv in a counteroffensive that has seen slow but steady gains by Ukrainian forces.
The announcement of reclaiming Andriivka came early Friday from the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces.
2:45am: Zelensky is expected to visit Washington as Congress is debating $24 billion in aid for Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected at the White House and on Capitol Hill next week as he visits the US during the United Nations General Assembly.
Zelensky’s trip comes as Congress is debating President Joe Biden’s request to provide as much as $24 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine as it fights the Russian invasion.
An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive visit, said Zelensky will meet with Biden at the White House next Thursday. The trip to the Capitol was confirmed by two congressional aides granted anonymity to discuss the plans.
2:05am: Cuba issues conflicting statements on use of its citizens in Ukraine war
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Thursday his country rejects the participation of its citizens as mercenaries in war, contradicting a statement by Cuba’s ambassador in Moscow hours earlier saying his government did not oppose the legal participation of its citizens in Russia´s war in Ukraine.
The apparently conflicting statements follow Cuban state-run and foreign media reports suggesting that young Cuban men have enlisted in the Kremlin´s military in recent months as mercenaries and victims in alleged human trafficking schemes.
“The unequivocal and unswerving position of the Cuban government, in accordance with its national legislation, is contrary to the participation of Cuban citizens in conflicts of any sort and against mercenarism and trafficking in persons,” Rodriguez said on social media.
Last week Cuban authorities said they had arrested 17 people on charges related to a ring of human traffickers that allegedly had lured young Cuban men to serve in the Russian military amid the Ukraine conflict.
1:40am: Ukrainian forces press on in east, inflict casualties in south
Ukraine on Thursday pressed on with a gruelling campaign to regain ground near the shattered Russian-held city of Bakhmut and inflicted heavy casualties on Russian forces on the southern front, senior military officials said.
The Ukrainian accounts outlined fierce fighting in many parts of the eastern front, but no new breakthroughs in the three-month old counter offensive.
Ukrainian advances have been much slower than gains they recorded last year in recovering territory in the northeast, as they proceed methodically in the face of deep Russian entrenchments.
President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials have dismissed Western critics who say the three-month offensive is too slow and hampered by strategic errors, like placing troops in the wrong places.
Key developments from Thursday, September 14:
Ukraine’s prosecutor general said Thursday the International Criminal Court (ICC) had opened a field office in Kyiv, as part of efforts to hold Russian forces accountable for potential war crimes.
Ukraine said Thursday its forces had retaken a village near the war-battered city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, several months into its grinding counteroffensive against entrenched Russian positions.
Russia on Thursday said it was expelling two US embassy staff for allegedly “liaising” with Robert Shonov, a former US consulate worker accused by Moscow of spying.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that any decision by European states to extend import restrictions on Ukrainian food from September 15 would be illegal and harm common economic interests.
Read yesterday’s blog to see how the day’s events unfolded.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)