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UKRAINE WRAP | Putin and Erdogan agree to boost cooperation, some rouble payments for gas

05 August 2022 - 06:59 By TimesLIVE
The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni that left the port of Odesa with the first grain shipment for export since the start of the Ukraine war is seen moored in Turkish waters on August 3 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey. The Razoni is the first ship to export Ukrainian grain since the start of the war and a safe passage deal was signed between Ukraine and Russia on July 22 2022. The ship is bound for Tripoli, Lebanon carrying 26,000 tons of corn.
The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni that left the port of Odesa with the first grain shipment for export since the start of the Ukraine war is seen moored in Turkish waters on August 3 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey. The Razoni is the first ship to export Ukrainian grain since the start of the war and a safe passage deal was signed between Ukraine and Russia on July 22 2022. The ship is bound for Tripoli, Lebanon carrying 26,000 tons of corn.
Image: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

August 05 2022 - 20:18

Putin and Erdogan agree to boost cooperation, some rouble payments for gas

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan agreed on Friday to boost cooperation in the transport, agriculture, finance and construction industries, they said in a joint statement after a four-hour meeting.

Turkey mediated a deal signed by Ukraine, Russia and the United Nations in Istanbul last month under which grain exports from Ukraine's Black Sea ports resumed after months of being blocked.

In the statement, Putin and Erdogan stressed the need for "the full implementation of the Istanbul agreement, including the unimpeded export of Russia's grain, fertiliser and raw materials for their production.

"The two leaders also agreed to switch part of the payments for Russian gas to roubles, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak told reporters after the talks.

The two also "reaffirmed their determination to act in coordination and solidarity in the fight against all terrorist organizations" in Syria.

Ankara has carried out multiple operations in northern Syria since 2016, seizing hundreds of kilometres of land and targeting the Kurdish YPG militia, despite opposition from Moscow. 


August 05 2022 - 18:45

Ukraine could start exports of new wheat crop via ports in September - official

 Ukraine could start exporting wheat from this year's harvest from its sea ports in September under a landmark deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations, Ukraine's first deputy minister of agriculture said on Friday.

Ukraine hopes in several months to increase shipments of grain through the route to between 3 million and 3.5 million tonnes per month from 1 million tonnes expected in August, the official, Taras Vysotskiy, said. Such volumes will allow Ukraine to receive enough funds so it does not have to reduce its sowing plans, the official said. 


August 05 2022 - 16:09

Ukraine blasts watchdog claim that its army endangers civilians

Ukraine condemned a report from Amnesty International that accused Kyiv’s forces of endangering civilians by operating in residential areas as they fight to repel Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine’s military has taken some positions and operated weapons in areas inhabited by civilians, including hospitals and schools, Amnesty said in a statement, citing witness interviews. Such tactics turn civilians into targets of Russian strikes, even if it doesn’t justify indiscriminate Russian attacks, Amnesty said.

Ukrainian officials said the report undermined Amnesty’s credibility, with defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov saying it was indirectly equating Russian aggression with Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself. Foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said the report distorted reality. The report “unfortunately tries to amnesty the terrorist state and shift the responsibility from the aggressor to the victim,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late Thursday in a statement.

Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops of committing war crimes including rapes and executions in territories that they occupy, as well as intentionally targeting schools, hospitals and other civilian sites with attacks. Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have been killed, with many more forcibly deported to Russia. Millions of people have also been displaced within Ukraine, and millions more have fled to the safety of the EU.

“Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law,” Amnesty International secretary-general Agnes Callamard said in the report.

The US and UK ambassadors to Ukraine underscored that Russia was at fault for launching the war and endangering civilians.Russia’s embassy in Britain argued that the report validated its findings. Russia has repeatedly said that attacks that have killed civilians — including against sites such as theatres and schools marked with signs saying “CHILDREN” — are aimed at legitimate military targets, which Ukraine rejects.

It’s not the first time Amnesty has drawn criticism in the region. Last year it revoked “prisoner of conscience” status of the jailed Russian government critic Alexei Navalny due to his more than a decade-old statements which the organisations saw as “discriminatory”. Facing a backlash from Navalny supporters, the organisation later backtracked.


August 05 2022 - 16:07

Hungary eases logging in protected forests to tackle gas crunch

Hungary waived environmental regulations protecting native forests from logging, showing the increasingly extreme steps the government is willing to take to prepare for next winter’s energy shortages.

The rise in energy prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have forced the government to partly scrap one of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s signature policies, the generous subsidies on household consumption. Hungary risks having shortages despite Orban’s maintaining the closest links to Russian President Vladimir Putin among European Union members.

An emergency government decree published late Thursday eases the way for the clearcutting of native tree speciesm — which include oak and beech — in protected forests, while also relaxing other restrictions on loggers. The government has also instructed schools to check if they can switch to wood from gas for their heating.

The retail price of firewood climbed 18% in June compared to a year ago, according to the Hungarian statistics office. It’s expected to rise further into the fall as households look for alternatives to expensive gas heating. The government banned exports of firewood last week to help maintain supply.

The latest relaxation of environmental rules will make Hungary more vulnerable to the effects of climate change without giving even a short-term boost to energy security, the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement.


August 05 2022 - 16:05

Erdogan says Turkey-Russia delegation meetings fruitful

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he would discuss developments in Syria with Russian leader Vladimir Putin during his visit to Russia on Friday.

Sitting opposite Putin ahead of their talks in the Black Sea city of Sochi, Erdogan said earlier meetings between Turkish and Russian delegations on politics, economic and trade issues had been fruitful. Their meeting, less than three weeks since they held talks in Tehran, comes after Turkey helped broker a deal to resume Ukraine's Black Sea grain exports which were blocked by Russia's invasion.

"Our meeting will be completed and open a very different page in Turkey-Russia relations," Erdogan said in comments broadcast on Turkish television. He did not mention Ukraine. But he said he believed their talks on Syria "will bring further relief to the region".

Erdogan has threatened to order new military operations in Syria to extend 30km deep "safe zones" on the border. Turkey backs fighters in Syria who have fought against President Bashar al-Assad, who is in turn supported by Russia. Ankara's operations in northern Syria have largely targeted a Kurdish militia which it views as a terrorist group.

Earlier, Erdogan's communications director Fahrettin Altun said the international community could not end the war in Ukraine by ignoring Moscow. 


August 05 2022 - 16:03

Russia bans Western investors from selling stakes in banks, key assets

Russia has banned investors from so-called unfriendly countries from selling shares in key energy projects and banks until the end of the year, stepping up pressure in the sanctions stand-off with the West.

Western countries and allies, including Japan, have piled financial restrictions on Russia since it sent troops into Ukraine in late February. Moscow retaliated with obstacles for Western businesses and their allies leaving Russia, and in some cases seized their assets.

The decree, signed by President Vladimir Putin and published on Friday, immediately bans investors from countries which supported sanctions on Russia from selling their assets in production sharing agreements (PSA), banks, strategic entities, companies producing energy equipment, as well as in other projects, from oil and gas production to coal and nickel.

Putin could issue a special waiver in certain cases for the deals to go ahead, the decree said, and the government and the central bank should prepare a list of banks for the Kremlin's approval. The decree mentioned no investors by name.

The ban covers almost all big financial and energy projects where foreign investors still have stakes, including the Sakhalin-1 oil and gas project.

On Thursday, Russian state oil champion Rosneft blamed ExxonMobil for falling output at the Sakhalin-1 group of fields, after the US energy major said it was in the process of transferring its 30% stake "to another party."

Separately, a government decree signed on August 2 gave foreign investors at the Sakhalin-2 liquefied natural gas (LNG) project — Royal Dutch Shell and Japanese trading houses Mitsui & Co and Mitsubishi Corp — a month to claim their stakes in a new entity which will replace the existing project. The new decree does not cover the Sakhalin-2 project, it said.

Shell was looking for options to withdraw from the project while Japan's government reiterated its wish for the Japanese companies to maintain their stakes there. Italy's UniCredit and Intesa, US group Citi and Austria's Raiffeisen continue to search for options to exit Russia, while others such as Societe Generale and HSBC have found a way out.


August 05 2022 - 14:32

Pope meets Russian Orthodox No 2 ahead of meeting with Patriarch

Pope Francis met Bishop Anthony, the second most powerful leader of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), on Friday ahead of an expected summit next month with its Patriarch Kirill, who supports the war in Ukraine. It was their first meeting since Anthony's predecessor, Hilarion, was ousted in June in an abrupt decision indicating discord at the top of the Moscow Patriarchate over the conflict.

The Vatican listed Anthony on the pope's official appointments but gave no details of what was discussed in the private audience. The pope will attend a congress of religious leaders in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan on September 13-15, where he has said he hoped to meet with Kirill.

Bulat Sarsenbayev, head of the Kazakh organisation hosting the congress, told the Astana Times that Kirill has confirmed his presence there.

A close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kirill has given enthusiastic backing to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which the patriarch views as a bulwark against a West he considers decadent. Kirill's stance has caused a rift with the Vatican and unleashed an internal rebellion that has led to the severing of ties by some local Orthodox Churches with the ROC.

Francis, who has called the conflict a "cruel and senseless war of aggression", had planned to meet Kirill on June 14 in Jerusalem but cancelled on the advice of Vatican diplomats. They have met once, in Cuba in 2016 — the first meeting between a pope and a leader of the ROC since the Great Schism of 1054.

In an interview with Reuters last month, Francis said he wanted to visit the Kyiv after his return from Canada on July 30, but also wanted to go to Moscow, preferably first, to promote peace.


August 05 2022 - 13:38

War in Ukraine can't be ended by ignoring Russia: Erdogan aide

A top aide to Turkey's president said on Friday the international community cannot end the war in Ukraine by ignoring Moscow, as Tayyip Erdogan headed to Russia to meet his counterpart Vladimir Putin. The meeting, less than three weeks since they held talks in Tehran, comes after Turkey helped broker a deal to resume Ukraine's Black Sea grain exports which were blocked by Russia's invasion.

Turkish presidential communications director Fahrettin Altun said the agreement attested to the success of Nato member Turkey's efforts and the direct diplomacy between the two leaders, while criticising the role played by other countries.

"The truth is that some of our friends do not want the war to end. They are shedding crocodile tears," Altun told Reuters, saying some were actively trying to undermine Turkey's efforts without specifying who. "The international community cannot end the war in Ukraine by ignoring Russia. Diplomacy and peace must prevail."

Erdogan was scheduled to meet Putin on Friday afternoon before a meeting between delegations of the two countries.

Turkey has relatively good relations with both Ukraine and Russia. But while it has criticised the invasion and provided Ukraine with arms, it has broken with Western allies by not imposing sanctions on Russia.

"We are looking to harness Turkey's relationships with Russia and Ukraine to work toward a mutually acceptable solution," Altun said.

While there is close cooperation with Russia on energy supplies, there has also been military competition between them in Syria, Libya and Azerbaijan. Friday's talks between Erdogan and Putin were also likely to deal with Turkey's threat to launch new military operations in Syria to extend 30km deep "safe zones" on the border. 


August 05 2022 - 13:37

Ukrainian frontline city imposes weekend curfew to root out collaborators

Ukraine's southern frontline city of Mykolaiv will impose an unusually long curfew from late Friday to early Monday morning as authorities try to catch people collaborating with Russia, the region's governor said. Mykolaiv, which has been shelled throughout Russia's invasion, lies close to Russian-occupied parts of the strategically important region of Kherson where Ukraine plans to conduct a counteroffensive.

Vitaliy Kim, governor of the Mykoliav region, told residents the curfew running from 11pm Friday to 5am. Monday did not mean the city was under threat or facing a looming attack.

"There's no sign of an encirclement. The city will be closed for the weekend. Please be understanding. We are also working on collaborators. Districts will undergo checks," Kim said on Telegram.


August 05 2022 - 13:36

Russia says it destroyed two US-made howitzers in Ukraine - media

Russia's defence ministry said on Friday that it destroyed two US-made M777 howitzers in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, Russian news agencies reported. Reuters has been unable to independently verify battlefield accounts from either side. – Reuters

August 05 2022 - 11:13

Russian-backed separatists say they have taken Pisky village in east Ukraine - TASS

Russian and pro-Russian forces have taken full control of Pisky, a village on the outskirts of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, TASS news agency cited separatist forces as saying on Friday.

They also said that fighting was taking place in the city of Bakhmut, north of Donetsk.

The Ukrainian military said on Thursday Russian forces had mounted at least two assaults on Pisky but had been repelled.Moscow is seeking to control the largely Russian-speaking Donbas, comprised of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces, where pro-Moscow separatists have seized territory. 


August 05 2022 - 10:33

The US-led drive to isolate Russia and China is falling short

When Group of Seven leaders gathered in the Bavarian Alps in June, they pledged to stand with Ukraine for the long haul.

Their Group of 20 counterparts are proving less supportive. 

Comprising nations that account for some 85% of global economic output, the G-20 is supposed to be more reflective of the world. Yet only half its number has joined the international sanctions imposed on fellow member Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. 

August 05 2022 - 09:44

Russia says it is ready to discuss prisoner swap with US

Russia said on Friday it was ready to discuss prisoner swaps with the US through an existing diplomatic channel, a day a Russian court sentenced basketball star Brittney Griner to nine years in prison for a drugs offence. Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden had previously agreed on a diplomatic channel that should be used to discuss such matters.

"We are ready to discuss this topic, but within the framework of the channel that was agreed upon by presidents Putin and Biden," Lavrov said during a visit to Cambodia. "If the Americans decide to once again resort to public diplomacy..., that is their business and I would even say that it is their problem."

The Kremlin had previously warned the US against turning to "megaphone diplomacy" in the case of Griner, saying it could only derail efforts to secure a potential swap.

Griner's sentence — which Biden called "unacceptable" — could pave the way for a prisoner swap that would include the 31-year-old athlete and a prolific Russian arms dealer serving a 25-year prison term in the United States.

The US has already made what secretary of state Antony Blinken called a "substantial offer" to secure the release of Americans detained in Russia, including Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan. White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said after Griner's sentencing that the US had made Russia a serious proposal. "We urge them to accept it," he said. "They should have accepted it weeks ago when we first made it." Kirby did not provide further detail on the US proposal. Washington has offered to exchange Russian arms trafficker Bout for Griner and Whelan, sources familiar with the situation have told Reuters. Russia had tried to add convicted murderer Vadim Krasikov, imprisoned in Germany, to the proposed swap, a source familiar with the proceedings also told Reuters.

Griner, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) star, was arrested on Feb. 17 at Moscow's Sheremetyevo with vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. The US argued she was wrongly detained and being used as a political bargaining chip by Moscow. Russian officials dismissed the US claims, saying Griner had broken Russian law and should be judged accordingly.

Griner, who had been prescribed medical cannabis in the US to relieve pain from chronic injuries, said she had made an honest mistake by inadvertently packing her vape cartridges as she rushed to make her flight. She pled guilty to the changes against her but insisted that she did not intend to break Russian law.Cannabis is illegal in Russia for both medicinal and recreational purposes. 


August 05 2022 - 06:44

Three grain ships set to leave Ukraine; Nato chief says Russia must not win

Three ships carrying a total of 58,041 tonnes of corn have been authorised to leave Ukrainian ports on Friday as part of a deal to unblock grain exports, as a Russian offensive forced Ukraine to cede territory in the east.

The first vessel carrying Ukrainian grain allowed to leave port since the start of the war set sail from Odesa on Monday bound for Lebanon, under a safe passage deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations.

The Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul, which groups Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel, said two ships would leave from Chornomorsk and one from Odesa on Friday. "The three outbound vessels are estimated to depart in the morning from their respective ports," it said.

From Chornomorsk, the Polarnet would leave for Karasu in Turkey with 12,000 tonnes of corn and the Rojen would take 13,041 tonnes of corn to Teesport in Britain.

From Odesa, the Navistar would take 33,000 tonnes of corn to Ringaskiddy in Ireland.

The Turkish bulk carrier Osprey S, flying the flag of Liberia, was expected to arrive in Ukraine's Chornomorsk port on Friday, the regional administration of Odesa said. It would be the first ship to arrive at a Ukrainian port during the war. As of Thursday afternoon, Osprey S was anchored in the Sea of Marmara, about 1km off Istanbul's Asian coast, along with other ships waiting to cross the Bosphorus in to the Black Sea, according to a Reuters journalist.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on February 24, sparking the biggest conflict in Europe since World War 2 and causing a global energy and food crisis. Ukraine and Russia produce about one third of global wheat and Russia is Europe's main energy supplier.

Ukraine has called for the grain deal to be extended to include other products, such as metals, the Financial Times reported. "This agreement is about logistics, about the movement of vessels through the Black Sea," Ukraine's deputy economy minister Taras Kachka told the newspaper. "What's the difference between grain and iron ore?"


August 05 2022 - 06:44

Ukraine calls for Black Sea grain deal to extend to other products - FT

Ukraine has called for the deal that relaxes Russia's blockade of its Black Sea grain exports to be extended to include other products, such as metals, the Financial Times reported on Friday."

This agreement is about logistics, about the movement of vessels through the Black Sea," Ukraine's deputy economy minister Taras Kachka told FT. "What's the difference between grain and iron ore?"



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