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Russia's President Vladimir Putin says his country will continue its yearlong "special military operation" in Ukraine, and he accused the US-led NATO alliance of fanning the flames.

Russia-Ukraine conflict would have cost world economy $1.6 trillion in 2022, according to a study published by the German Economic Institute.

09:42 2023-09-08
US to arm Ukraine with depleted uranium tank shells
By AI HEPING in New York
US Marines prepare their M1 Abrams tank to take part in an exercise to capture an airfield as part of the Trident Juncture 2018, a NATO-led military exercise, on Nov 1, 2018 near the town of Oppdal, Norway. [Photo/Agencies]

Russia on Thursday called the US decision to send to Ukraine armor-piercing shells containing depleted uranium for US-made Abrams tanks "a criminal act".

"This is not just an escalatory step, but it is a reflection of Washington's outrageous disregard for the environmental consequences of using this kind of ammunition in a combat zone. This is, in fact, a criminal act, I cannot give any other assessment," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, according to state news agency Tass.

After the Pentagon announced Wednesday that for the first time the US will send the armor-piercing ammunition containing depleted uranium, the Russian embassy in Washington denounced the decision as "an indicator of inhumanity".

"The US is deliberately transferring weapons with indiscriminate effects," the embassy said. "It is fully aware of the consequences: explosions of such munitions result in the formation of a moving radioactive cloud. Small particles of uranium settle in the respiratory tract, lungs, esophagus, accumulate in kidneys and liver, cause cancer and lead to the inhibition of the whole organism's functions."

US officials say the munitions are common and don't present a radioactive threat. The use of depleted uranium shells isn't banned under international law. But their use has been fiercely debated, with opponents such as the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons saying there are dangerous health risks from ingesting or inhaling depleted uranium dust, including cancers and birth defects.

The United Nations Environment Program said in a report last year that the metal's chemical toxicity presents the greatest potential danger, and "it can cause skin irritation, kidney failure and increase the risks of cancer".

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday that the ammunition isn't radioactive and "not anywhere close to going into" the sphere of nuclear weaponry.

"This is a commonplace type of munition that is used particularly for its armor-piercing capabilities," he said

The Pentagon announcement said that an unspecified number of depleted-uranium tank rounds are part of a new military aid package for Ukraine worth up to $175 million. It is part of more than $1 billion in civilian and defense support that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on Wednesday.

The 120 mm rounds will be used to arm the 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks that the US plans to deliver to Ukraine this fall. The armor-piercing rounds were developed by the US during the Cold War to destroy Soviet tanks, including the T-72 tanks that Ukraine now faces in its counteroffensive.

Russia also reacted angrily when the UK announced in March it was sending depleted uranium shells to Ukraine for its Challenger 2 tanks.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin described the weapons as having a "nuclear component", the UK Ministry of Defense said it had used depleted uranium in its armor-piercing shells for decades and accused Moscow of deliberately spreading misinformation.

The move to send the depleted-uranium weapons comes following the White House's decision to send Ukraine cluster munitions, which are banned by more than 100 countries because of their devastating effects, sometimes years later, on children and other civilians who mistakenly disturb and detonate unexploded rounds.

The New York Times reported Thursday that three American officials, who were not named, said that the Biden administration is planning to send more cluster munitions and soon because they were key to helping Ukrainian troops gain momentum.

In March, the Pentagon said it wouldn't be sending any depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine. But last week Reuters reported that the US had decided to send the munitions. A Department of Defense

official told the Politico website that the US decided to send the weapons because they were thought to be the best way of arming Abrams tanks in Ukraine.

The reversal comes after months of debate over the armor-piercing rounds at the White House, where some officials expressed concern that sending the rounds might open Washington to criticism that it was providing a weapon that may carry health and environmental risks, The Wall Street Journal reported in January.

US officials cite studies by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, showing "the existence of depleted uranium residues dispersed in the environment does not pose a radiological hazard to the population of the affected regions".

09:31 2023-08-25
US to host Ukrainian pilots for training on F-16s in September: Pentagon

WASHINGTON -- The United States will begin training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets in September at US Air Force bases in two southern states, the Department of Defense announced Thursday.

The training, which will include "several pilots and dozens of maintainers," will start in September with English-language classes to be offered at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder told a press briefing.

After the trainees grasp the necessary language skills, they will then be trained on how to actually fly the F-16, and this process will begin in October at Morris Air National Guard Base in Arizona, Ryder said.

The training in the United States "will be the fundamental fighter pilot training," he said, adding that the exact curriculum for the Ukrainian pilots will depend on their levels of experience, of which an assessment is also part of the training program.

On the duration of the training, Ryder said it typically takes eight months for a new F-16 pilot with not a lot of training on the US side to complete the process, and "within the five-month range" for an experienced pilot receiving "upgrade training."

Currently, European countries are leading the effort to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s and other advanced fighters made by Western countries, with Demark and the Netherlands now prepared to undertake the task. The US government previously said it would do its part to provide training on US soil if and when Europe reached the full capacity.

Without giving a specific timeline of F-16 deliveries, Ryder said it could be months ahead, adding that European countries are looking to provide the aircraft "and the United States will support that effort through the third-party transfer process."

09:39 2023-08-21
Ukraine to get Dutch, Danish F-16 jets
By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels
A Danish F-16A fighter jet is pictured in the hangar at Skrydstrup Air Base in the town of Vojens, northern Denmark, on August 20, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

The Netherlands and Denmark welcomed the US approval for them to deliver F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine but the training of pilots and delivery of the planes are unlikely to be completed until next year.

The two European countries, both members of NATO, confirmed on Friday that they received the US green light after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent letters to his counterparts in the two capitals assuring them of the approval.

Blinken expressed that the approval would allow Ukraine to take "full advantage of its new capabilities as soon as the first set of pilots completes their training".

Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren welcomed the US decision "to clear the way for delivery of F-16 jets to Ukraine", which she said would allow the international coalition "to follow through on the training of Ukrainian pilots".

A coalition of 11 countries agreed at the NATO summit in July to train Ukrainians to fly F-16 jets, which will start this month in Denmark and then in Romania after a training center is built. But the Netherlands Times reported on Friday that the first Ukrainian pilots will probably complete their training in the summer of next year and Ukraine is unlikely to receive any F-16s until next year.

"We welcome Washington's decision to pave the way for sending#F16 Fighter Jets to Ukraine ….Now we will further discuss the subject with our European partners," Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Friday.

"The government has said several times that a donation is a natural next step after training. We are discussing it with close allies, and I expect we will soon be able to be more concrete about that," Danish Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen told Ritzau news agency on Friday.

Ukraine has been seeking F-16 jets for months to help it counter Russian air superiority in the conflict that began in February last year.

US President Joe Biden, worried about a major escalation with Russia, had ruled out sending F-16 jets to Ukraine in late January. However, he changed his stance in May, agreeing to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 planes.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko earlier warned Western nations of "enormous risks "if Ukraine is provided with F-16 jets.

"It involves enormous risks for themselves. In any case, this will be taken into account in all our plans, and we have all the necessary means to achieve the set goals," TASS news agency quoted him as saying.

Agencies contributed to this story.

21:58 2023-08-19
At least 7 killed, dozens injured in missile attack on Ukraine's Chernihiv

KYIV -- At least seven people were killed and 90 others injured Saturday when a missile fired by Russia hit the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, the country's Ministry of Internal Affairs said.

Ten police officers and 12 children were among those injured in the attack, the ministry said in a Telegram post.

According to a statement on the ministry's website, the missile hit a theater in the central square of the city.

Ukraine's UNIAN news agency reported that the theater had hosted a drone exhibition at the time of the attack.

10:56 2023-08-18
Belarus not to join Russia-Ukraine conflict unless attacked: Lukashenko
In this photograph taken and released by Belarusian presidential press service on August 17, 2023, Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko (L) speaks with Ukrainian journalist Diana Panchenko (R) during an interview in Minsk. [AFP PHOTO / HO/ Belarusian presidential press service]

MINSK -- Belarus will not participate in the armed hostilities in Ukraine unless Ukrainians cross the state border, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Thursday.

"If Ukrainians do not cross our border, we will never participate in this war, in this full-scale war, but we will always help Russia," Lukashenko told the media in an interview.

The Belarusian president also denied reports that Moscow allegedly persuades Minsk to participate in its special military operation in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Lukashenko said that the conflict in Ukraine could have been avoided, and it is still possible to end it.

Any peace negotiation should be proceeded without pre-conditions, he added.

21:58 2023-08-12
Russia says it intercepted missiles at Crimean Bridge

MOSCOW/KYIV -- Two Ukrainian missiles attempting to attack the Crimean Bridge have been shot down by the air defense system in the Kerch Strait, Russia's Defense Ministry said on Saturday.

Ukraine on Saturday launched two S-200 missiles to strike the Crimean Bridge, but they "were detected in a timely manner and were intercepted in the air by Russian air defense systems," Russia's Tass news agency reported, citing the country's defense ministry.

The failed attack caused no damage or casualties, said the ministry.

However, the Ukrainian government-run Ukrinform news agency said that two explosions were heard on Saturday near the bridge, citing Ukraine's Center of national resistance.

The 19-km Crimean Bridge that links Crimea to Russia consists of two parallel routes for automobiles and trains over the Kerch Strait.

10:28 2023-08-11
Biden asks for $20b more in Ukraine aid
By HENG WEILI in New York
This photo taken on Dec 8, 2022 shows the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, the United States. [Photo/Xinhua]

The United States' flow of military and economic aid to Ukraine will rise by more than $20 billion if Congress approves a request that the White House made on Thursday.

The $20.3 billion — part of a larger $40 billion request — includes $13 billion in military aid for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia and $7.3 billion in economic and humanitarian assistance. It also includes $3.3 billion for infrastructure projects in regional countries impacted by the war.

Since the start of the conflict in February 2022, Congress has authorized $113 billion in overall funding related to Ukraine. If the new package is approved, that total will reach about $137 billion.

The wider bill also includes money to counter China's Belt and Road initiative; about $12 billion for natural disaster recovery in the US; and billions of dollars more to protect the US southern border, along with funds to stem drug trafficking.

The White House reportedly was expected to include aid to Taiwan to the bill, but that was not included.

The $40 billion in funding will be in the form of an "emergency" supplemental package, a type of spending not limited by the debt-ceiling deal reached between the White House and House Republicans in June.

Shalanda Young, director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, in a letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, urged swift action on the US "commitment to the Ukrainian peoples' defense of their homeland and to democracy around the world".

"We don't know how much longer this war is going to go on, or how much more assistance we might need to support Ukraine. We won't be bashful about going back to Congress beyond the first quarter of next year if we feel like we need to do that," a senior administration official told CNN.

The Biden administration's request came after a poll from CNN found that 55 percent of Americans are against more spending on the conflict in Ukraine. Also in the CNN poll, 51 percent said the US already has done enough to help the Eastern European nation, which is not a member of NATO.

Partisan cracks are emerging over the continuing funding to Ukraine, with support dropping among Republicans. The aid request sets up a potential battle with Republicans in Congress, some of whom have been skeptical over providing Ukraine any more money.

McCarthy has said he doesn't support a "blank check" for Ukraine. After the debt-ceiling deal passed, he said he wasn't prepared to support additional funding for Ukraine, arguing that it would be a violation of the deal.

"Working [on] a supplemental right now is only blowing up the agreement. That's all about spending more money," McCarthy said. "So, no, I do not support a supplemental."

Seventy House Republicans voted in July on an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to strip Ukraine of all America military aid. The measure failed, but revealed substantial opposition.

"This should be a non-starter for the @HouseGOP. It's time to stand up for Americans and against the uniparty," Representative Chip Roy of Texas, a member of the House Freedom Caucus that has often clashed with McCarthy, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Thursday.

There is a difference of opinion between House and Senate leadership on Ukraine funding.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell both support continuing aid to Ukraine.

McConnell, speaking Wednesday in Louisville, Kentucky, said: "People think, increasingly it appears, that we shouldn't be doing this. Well, let me start by saying we haven't lost a single American in this war.

"Most of the money that we spend related to Ukraine is actually spent in the US, replenishing weapons, more modern weapons. So it's actually employing people here and improving our own military for what may lie ahead."

Mick Wallace, a member of the European Parliament from Ireland, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, in response Thursday to McConnell's comments: "A lot of Politicians and Mainstream Media are happy to continue supporting and fueling the #US #NATO Proxy War in Ukraine - these are not the people dying in this stupid War. How much do these people really care about the Working Class Ukrainians who are dying..?

Canadian journalist Aaron Mate wrote on X: "Biden admin encouraged Ukraine to integrate into NATO & assault Donbas. It refused to seriously address Russia's Dec. 2021 proposals. After the invasion, it blocked a peace deal. It then pushed Ukraine into a counteroffensive it knew had no chance. Then it told Ukraine it won't join NATO anyway. Now it wants another $20.6 billion to prolong the war it provoked."

Warren Davidson, a former Army Ranger, wrote on X: "Again, without a defined mission how can we ever say 'mission accomplished'? We can't keep sending aid without clear rationale for its intended purpose. And no, 'as long as it takes' is NOT a sufficient answer."

Agencies contributed to this story.

09:23 2023-08-08
Meeting sends positive signal amid conflict
By JAN YUMUL in Hong Kong

Saudi Arabia security talks to help solve Russia-Ukraine crisis lauded

Representatives from China, the US, and Saudi Arabia take part in talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, over the weekend, in an effort to find a solution to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. SAUDI PRESS AGENCY/REUTERS

The meeting of several national security advisers hosted by Saudi Arabia in Jeddah over the weekend to explore pathways to end the Russia-Ukraine conflict sends a signal that the world is witnessing a multipolar order characterized by more flexibility, analysts said.

"Saudi Arabia wants to play a mediator role in this conflict. This role has been in line with Saudi foreign policy," Mehmet Rakipoglu, a Turkiye-based Gulf analyst and coordinator of academic studies at Dimensions for Strategic Studies, a think tank based in London, told China Daily.

Rasha Al Joundy, a senior researcher at the Dubai Public Policy Research Center, told China Daily that the meeting's context in general indicates that almost all parties "are tired from this conflict and having harsh political bills domestically".

The two-day talks on the Russia-Ukraine conflict — chaired by Saudi Minister of State and National Security Adviser Musaad bin Mohammed Al-Aiban — were attended by security advisers and representatives from over 40 countries and international organizations, including China and the United Nations.

They called for continuing international efforts to build a common ground for peace. The participants also welcomed the importance of benefiting from different views and suggestions.

Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs Li Hui attended the meeting.

Before the meeting, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that China stands ready to work with the international community to continue to play a constructive role in seeking a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.

"China contributes to global efforts in terms of mediation. The presence of China into this meeting proves that Riyadh-Beijing ties are based on mutual trust," said Rakipoglu.

The presence of China gave the meeting an important weight and gave the moderate states a powerful position on the table, which would help to convince Russia, as well as Ukraine, to accept a peaceful deal, said Al Joundy.

'Productive consultations'

Andriy Yermak, chief of staff of Ukraine's presidential office, said in a statement that the meeting's participants had conducted "very productive consultations on the key principles on which a just and lasting peace should be built", Xinhua News Agency reported.

The dialogue did not include a representative from Russia. "The absence of Russia is not intended in a negative way. On the contrary, I think Saudi Arabia is betting on its good relations with both parties to push for peace, and it wants to set the international political scene before suggesting any meeting between Russia and other players hostile to Russia," said Al Joundy.

"What is clear is that after the Ukraine crisis, the world (would be) witnessing a multipolar world order characterized by more flexibility and political freedom. Similarly, power in this order is more fluid and it is an opportunity for regional powers such as Saudi Arabia to play their part in the new order," Mohammad Salami, an associate researcher at the International Institute for Global Strategic Analysis in Islamabad told China Daily.

He said Saudi Arabia was pursuing two economic and political targets at the same time. On the economic aspect, the new order "helps Riyadh pursue its Vision 2030" by relying on more countries "that are characterized by being non-Western and Eastern".

10:26 2023-08-07
Moscow slams Kyiv attack on civilian ship

Russia vows response as Saudi summit to find peace settlement to conflict starts

MOSCOW/KYIV — Moscow strongly condemns Kyiv's "terrorist attack" on a Russian civilian ship in the Kerch Strait, Russia said on Saturday, as a summit on finding a peaceful settlement to the conflict kicked off in Saudi Arabia.

A Ukrainian drone attacked a Russian oil tanker in the Kerch Strait, causing damage to the engine room of the tanker, but no casualties, the Maritime Rescue and Coordination Center of Novorossiysk said on Saturday.

The attack "not only threatened the safety of the crew, but also posed the threat of a large-scale environmental catastrophe," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.

The Kyiv administration "facing no condemnation from Western countries and international organizations, is busy applying new terrorist methods, this time in the waters of the Black Sea", she added.

"Such barbaric actions cannot be justified and they will not remain without response, while their authors and perpetrators will inevitably be punished," she said.

The Black Sea is becoming an increasingly important battleground in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, observers say.

Last month, the Black Sea grain deal collapsed after Russia's withdrawal. Ukrainian authorities have been exploring alternative trade routes for grain export, such as establishing a new "grain corridor "through the territorial waters of Romania, Turkiye and Bulgaria. Other options for companies seeking to bring Ukrainian grain to the global market are exports via rail, road and the ports of the Danube River.

Ukraine on Friday struck the Olenegorsky Gornyak vessel at the Novorossiysk base, a Ukrainian security source told Agence France-Presse, "to show that Ukraine can attack any Russian warship in that zone".

Russia said it had repelled the attempted attack.

In other developments, Russia's Defense Ministry said Saturday it captured a settlement in Ukraine's easternmost Lugansk region. "In the area of Kupiansk … the settlement of Novoselivske was liberated," the ministry wrote on Telegram.

Meanwhile, a meeting on the Ukraine crisis began on Saturday in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah.

A source from the Ukrainian delegation told Al Arabiya News that during the meeting, the 10-point peace plan proposed by Ukraine was backed by several countries.

The meeting, attended by security advisers and representatives from some 40 countries, aims to work out a solution that will achieve permanent peace and reduce the humanitarian repercussions of the Ukraine crisis, according to Al Ekhbariya News.

Through the meeting, the Saudi government looks forward to reinforcing dialogue and cooperation at the international level.

Solution sought

It also aims to ensure a solution to the crisis through political and diplomatic means and in a way that strengthens international peace and security.

Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs Li Hui attended the meeting at the invitation of Saudi Arabia.

It comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday promised a fresh round of institutional "cleaning".

"Next week will be a continuation of our work on cleaning state institutions of those who tried to drag from the past all those old habits, old schemes that weakened Ukraine for a very long time, for decades," he said in his nightly address.

Zelensky gave no details about who might be a target. He has recently expressed indignation at corruption uncovered during an audit of Ukraine's military recruitment centers, but is anxious to root out graft in general as he presses to join NATO and the European Union.

On Saturday he vowed "no more old formats" in Ukraine. "Whoever a person is, a military commissar, a deputy, or an official, everyone must work only for the interests of the state," he said.

Agencies - Xinhua

21:54 2023-08-04
China to send delegation to the meeting in Jeddah on Ukraine

BEIJING -- Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin announced on Friday that at the invitation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs Li Hui will travel to Jeddah to attend the meeting on the Ukraine issue.

Wang said China stands ready to work with the international community to continue to play a constructive role in seeking a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.

14:00 2023-08-01
Russia says Moscow attacked by Ukrainian drones

MOSCOW - Ukraine launched an attack on Moscow and the Moscow region with three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), with two of them shot down and the third having crashed after being jammed by electronic warfare, said Russian authorities on Tuesday.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the attempt was foiled by air defense systems that destroyed two Ukrainian UAVs over the Odintsovo and Naro-Fominsky districts of the Moscow region.

One more drone, affected by electronic warfare, had lost control and crashed into the non-residential Moscow-City building complex, said the ministry.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin confirmed on his Telegram channel that several drones had been shot down by air defense systems while attempting to fly into Moscow.

Emergency services were working at the scene, he added.

Emergency services confirmed that Vnukovo airport, previously closed due to the attack, has now resumed normal operations.

16:03 2023-07-30
Russia says 3 Ukrainian drones attacked Moscow

MOSCOW -- Ukraine attempted to launch an attack on targets in Moscow with three drones but failed to achieve its goal, said the Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday.

According to the ministry, Kyiv launched three unmanned aerial vehicles at Moscow early morning on Sunday. One was shot down by air defense forces over the Odintsovo district in the Moscow region, while the other two were jammed by electronic warfare systems and crashed onto a complex of non-residential buildings in Moscow.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said on his Telegram channel that the Ukrainian drones caused minor damage to the facades of two office towers in Moscow.

The Russian state-owned TASS news agency reported that the attack injured a security guard and caused the temporary suspension of flights at Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport.

07:18 2023-07-24
Crimea bridge traffic halted after attack
By REN QI in Moscow

Russian and Belarusian leaders meet as Ukraine accused of firing cluster bombs

A drone attack on an ammunition depot in Crimea prompted authorities to evacuate an area within a radius of 5 kilometers and briefly suspend road traffic on the bridge linking the peninsula to Russia on Saturday, a day after Russian officials accused Ukraine of firing cluster munitions at a village near the border.

Ukraine said its army had destroyed an oil depot and Russian army warehouses in central Crimea.

The attack caused an ammunition depot to explode, said Governor Sergey Aksyonov, adding that there was no reported damage or casualties.

In a video shown by state media, a thick cloud of gray smoke could be seen at the site. Aksyonov ordered people living within 5 kilometers of the zone to be evacuated.

"To minimize risks, it was also decided to halt rail traffic on Crimean railways," Aksyonov said.

The brief halt to traffic on the Crimea bridge, about 180 km to the east of the drone attack, came five days after explosions there killed two people and damaged a section of roadway, the second major attack on the bridge since the start of the special military operation.

"The goal is to return Crimea," Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said, according to a transcript published by his office on Saturday of a speech addressing the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on Friday.

Kyiv considers the Crimea bridge, opened by Russia's President Vladimir Putin in 2018, as an "enemy object" and says it wants it to be "neutralized".

Russia said on Sunday it hit all intended targets in Ukraine's port city Odesa, claiming the sites were being used to prepare "terrorist acts" against Russia.

"At night the armed forces of the Russian Federation carried out a strike … on facilities where terrorist acts against the Russian Federation using unmanned boats were prepared," the Russian army said.

The historic Transfiguration Cathedral, a landmark Orthodox cathedral in the city, was damaged, media reported.

Zelensky promised to strike back.

It came as Putin met Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday, for the first time since the latter helped broker a deal to end a mutiny by Wagner fighters last month.

'Strategic partnership'

Lukashenko paid a working visit to Russia and will talk to Putin about further development of the countries' "strategic partnership", the Kremlin said.

A video posted on Sunday by Lukashenko's press service showed the two leaders arriving at Saint Petersburg's Konstantinovsky palace together before scheduled talks.

The governor of Russia's Belgorod region Vyacheslav Gladkov has said Ukraine fired cluster munitions at a village near the Ukrainian border on Friday, but that there were no casualties or damage.

"In Belgorod district, 21 artillery shells and three cluster munitions from a multiple-launch rocket system were fired at the village of Zhuravlevka," Gladkov said on Saturday.

Ukraine received cluster bombs from the US this month, but it has said it will use them only to dislodge concentrations of enemy soldiers.

Belgorod, bordering Ukraine, has been repeatedly targeted by what Russia says is indiscriminate shelling by Ukraine's armed forces.

It was the first time Russia had reported the weapons being used on its territory. Putin has said Moscow has enough cluster munitions to respond if Ukraine uses the weapons.

Ukraine does not claim responsibility for attacks inside Russian territory and denied it was involved in the cross-border raids.

Russia also alleged that Kyiv had used cluster munitions on settlements in the Zaporizhzhia region and that they had killed one of its journalists and injured three.

Russia's Defense Ministry said a reporter, Rostislav Zhuravlev, "died from his wounds that resulted from the cluster munitions exploding "during the evacuation.

"Other reporters' conditions are medium, stable," the ministry said.

The death of a Russian journalist in Ukraine was "a heinous, premeditated crime" committed by Western powers and Kyiv, Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Saturday, and it said there would be a "response "against those responsible.

Agencies contributed to this story.

09:53 2023-07-21
Russia warns against any ships traveling to Ukraine
By REN QI in Moscow

Russia warned that any ships traveling to Ukraine's Black Sea ports from Thursday will be seen as possibly carrying military cargoes after Ukraine said it was setting up a temporary shipping route to try and continue its grain exports.

The moves by both countries on Wednesday came just days after Russia quit a grain deal — brokered by the United Nations and Turkiye — that allowed the safe passage of Black Sea exports of Ukrainian grain for the past year.

Ukraine claimed it wanted to try and continue its Black Sea grain shipments and told the UN shipping agency International Maritime Organization that it had "decided to establish on a temporary basis a recommended maritime route".

But Russia's Defense Ministry then said it would deem all ships traveling to Ukraine to be potentially carrying military cargo and "the flag countries of such ships will be considered parties to the Ukrainian conflict".

The Defense Ministry did not say what actions it might take but announced in a statement on Telegram that the move would start at midnight Moscow time.

Russia also declared the southeastern and northwestern parts of the Black Sea's international waters to be temporarily unsafe for navigation, the ministry said, without giving details about parts of the sea that would be affected.

"It underscores that we're trying to work and continue to work in what is effectively a war zone," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Wednesday when asked about the Russian warning.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin met Turkish Ambassador to Russia Mehmet Samsar on Wednesday and explained why the grain deal was terminated.

The Russian side once again stressed that the lack of progress in the implementation of the Russia-UN memorandum was one of the key reasons behind the principled decision to terminate the Black Sea Initiative on exporting Ukrainian food after its expiration on July 17, the Russian foreign ministry said.

During a meeting with government officials on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia is ready to return to the grain deal immediately if all previously agreed-upon conditions for its participation in the initiative are met and the arrangement's "original humanitarian essence" is restored.

Essence 'twisted'

Putin said Western countries entirely twisted the essence of the grain deal, resulting in profits for European companies and losses for Russian businesses.

"The grain deal turned into direct losses and losses for Russian agricultural producers, for enterprises producing fertilizers," Putin said. "Because of a 30-40 percent discount on Russian grain on global markets, the losses of Russian farmers amounted to $1.2 billion."

On Thursday, Chinese Foreign spokeswoman Mao Ning said in a daily briefing: "We hope that parties concerned will properly resolve international food security issues through dialogue and consultation."

China's position on the Ukraine crisis is consistent and clear-cut and "we will continue to play a constructive role in facilitating the political settlement of the crisis", Mao said.

Separately, a video released on Wednesday appears to show Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin for the first time, since he led an attempted mutiny last month. He was seen telling his troops they would spend some time in Belarus training its military before going to Africa.

10:06 2023-07-19
Russia strikes key Ukraine ports after 'terrorist attack' on Crimea bridge
By REN QI in Moscow
Passengers walk out of a train that arrived on the Crimea bridge connecting the Russian mainland with the peninsula across the Kerch Strait, in Crimea, on Monday. REUTERS

Russia's Defense Ministry said on Tuesday it had hit military targets in two Ukrainian port cities overnight as "a mass revenge strike" following a "terrorist attack" on a key Crimea bridge.

The ministry said it had struck Odesa, where the Ukrainian navy has its headquarters, and Mykolaiv, near Ukraine's Black Sea coast.

"At night, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation delivered a group retaliation strike with high-precision sea-based weapons at facilities where terrorist acts against Russia had been prepared using unmanned boats," it said in a statement.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a televised meeting that the Defense Ministry was "preparing relevant proposals "and Russia will "of course" respond to the "terrorist attack" against Crimea's Kerch Bridge.

He called on the authorities, including the Federal Security Service, to investigate the incident and asked for measures to secure the "strategically important transport facility" from future strikes.

Putin also claimed there was no military significance to hitting the bridge because it "has long not been used for military transport". It is also a "brutal" crime since innocent civilians have been killed, he said.

The incident happened as Moscow announced the termination of the Black Sea grain deal. However, the Kremlin said the decision was unrelated to the bridge incident.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres signaled that Russia's withdrawal meant the related pact to assist Russia's grain and fertilizer exports was also terminated.

Profound impact

Shashwat Saraf, emergency director in East Africa for the International Rescue Committee, said the impact would be profound in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, which have been facing the Horn of Africa's worst drought in decades.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a briefing on Tuesday that Moscow rejected a United States' criticism of its withdrawal from a grain deal backed by Turkiye and the UN. Russia would continue supplying grain to poor countries, he said.

He added that the grain deal zone "is used by the Kyiv regime for combat purposes".

Also on Tuesday, Russia's Defense Ministry said on Telegram that a total of 28 Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles targeting Crimea were intercepted by air defenses, but there were no casualties or damage from what it described as a "terrorist attack".

Russia has been accusing Ukrainian forces of striking its supply lines, while Kyiv said Russia had amassed "over 100,000 troops and more than 900 tanks" in northeastern Ukraine's Kupiansk city.

Agencies contributed to this story.

10:35 2023-07-18
Envoy: 'Rational voices' seeking Ukraine peace deal grow louder
By MINLU ZHANG at the United Nations

A Chinese envoy to the United Nations on Monday said that the crisis in Ukraine stems from an "outbreak of security conflicts in Europe" and proves that pursuing absolute security, provoking confrontation and expanding military blocs "brings only turmoil and unrest to Europe and the world".

"The evolving situation on the battlefield demonstrates that military means cannot resolve the Ukrainian crisis," Geng Shuang, China's deputy permanent representative to the UN said at a Security Council meeting on the Ukraine crisis on Monday.

Geng said the continuation of the armed conflict will bring only more suffering to civilians and may even lead to unpredictable and irreparable scenarios. No matter how long the crisis lasts, it will eventually be resolved through political means, he emphasized.

The envoy pointed out that "rational voices" supporting the resumption of peace talks have become stronger and stronger. Developing countries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America all have put forward peace initiatives. They all reflect a strong will to resolve the crisis politically, said Geng.

He called on both parties to the conflict to meet each other halfway and explore solutions that accommodate each other's concerns, conform to regional realities and help bridge differences.

Geng also called for controlling the spillover effects of the crisis. It has made global food, energy and financial security more vulnerable, and developing countries will face more difficulties in achieving sustainable development goals, he said.

"Relevant countries should immediately stop imposing excessive unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction, ensure the safety and smoothness of global industrial and supply chains, increase support and assistance to developing countries, and do more things that are conducive to world economic growth.

"China appreciates the important role of the Black Sea grain transport package agreement in stabilizing the global grain market and hopes that relevant parties can properly resolve the issue of Black Sea grain transport through dialogue and consultation," said Geng.

On Monday, Russia accused Ukraine of carrying out an attack on the bridge linking the Russian mainland and Crimea, alleging involvement from the UK and the US.

On the same day, Russia suspended participation in the Black Sea grain deal just as it was set to expire.

"Unfortunately, the part of these Black Sea agreements that concerns Russia has not been implemented so far, so its effect is terminated," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. Russia had been complaining that its demands to improve its own grain and fertilizer exports have not been met, Xinhua News reported.

"As soon as the Russian part is fulfilled, the Russian side will immediately return to the implementation of that deal," Peskov said.

While the grain initiative is out, the controversial weapons banned in more than 100 countries are now in Ukraine, which last week said it has already received cluster munitions from the US.

"The irresponsible transfer of cluster bombs can easily lead to humanitarian problems. Humanitarian concerns and legitimate military security needs should be addressed in a balanced manner, and an attitude of prudence and restraint should be exercised in the transfer of cluster bombs," Geng said.

Geng also said that nuclear safety and security needed to be ensured. "We once again call on both parties to the conflict to exercise maximum rational restraint, abide by nuclear safety conventions and other international laws, and resolutely avoid man-made nuclear accidents," he said.

10:02 2023-07-13
Russia warns tit-for-tat action over cluster bombs to Ukraine

MOSCOW/VILNIUS, Lithuania — Russia has warned it would be forced to use "similar" weapons if the United States supplied cluster bombs to Ukraine, as the West pledged long-term security commitments for Ukraine on Wednesday.

It came before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was scheduled to hold symbolic talks with NATO's 31 leaders at their summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, a day after blasting them for not moving faster to bring Kyiv into the fold.

While some Eastern European nations have pushed for an explicit timetable to allow Kyiv to join the bloc, the US and Germany are reluctant to go beyond an earlier vow that it will become a member one day.

US President Joe Biden, who met Zelensky at the summit on Wednesday, has said there is no agreement to offer Kyiv membership because this move could drag NATO directly into the conflict.

Instead, the Vilnius gathering was expected to produce more commitments on arms shipments and a reaffirmation that Ukraine's eventual place is within the alliance once the conflict is won, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Kremlin said on Tuesday it would closely follow any decisions taken at the two-day summit and respond with unspecified measures to protect its own security.

Biden had previously mooted a model for Ukraine similar to one under which Washington has committed to giving Israel $3.8 billion in military aid per year over a decade.

Commenting on NATO summit, Dmitry Medvedev, deputy secretary of Russia's Security Council, warned on Tuesday the increase in military assistance to Ukraine by NATO brings World War III closer.

He also mentioned there were reports of Ukraine already using the "inhuman weapon" of cluster bombs.

The US announced last week it would supply Ukraine with cluster munitions — explosive weapons that release large numbers of smaller bomblets over a wide area. They are banned by more than 120 countries, including many NATO members.

Ironic remark

Ironically, former White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Feb 28 last year that if the reports of illegal cluster bombs used by Russians were true, it would potentially be a war crime.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with an Indonesian newspaper published on Wednesday that the armed confrontation in Ukraine will continue until the West gives up plans to dominate and defeat Moscow.

The goal of the "US-led collective West" is to strengthen its global hegemony, Lavrov told Kompas.

Lavrov was due to attend the foreign ministers' meetings of the East Asia Summit and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum on Friday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The pair last met briefly in March at a G20 meeting in India.

In another development, Geng Shuang, China's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, on Tuesday reiterated the call for an objective, impartial and professional investigation into the explosion of the Nord Stream pipelines in September last year.

On Sept 26, a series of explosions occurred on the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipelines. In the days following, Denmark, Sweden and Germany initiated their own investigations into the incidents. As of now, no investigation has reached a conclusive outcome.

"The longer the delay, the harder it is to collect evidence and find out the truth, the more doubts and speculations there are from the outside world, and the lower the credibility of the investigation results," Geng told a Security Council meeting.

Minlu Zhang at the United Nations contributed to this story.

Agencies - Xinhua - China Daily

17:28 2023-07-04
Russia denounces terrorism as five Ukrainian drones attack Moscow

MOSCOW - Five Ukrainian drones were shot down over the New Moscow region in Russia on Tuesday morning with no casualties reported, causing disruptions at the Vnukovo airport for almost three hours.

According to RIA Novosti, the Russian Defense Ministry said that the drones were targeting objects in the Moscow region and the New Moscow region, and that four of them were destroyed by air defense and one by electronic warfare.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said that the attack was another attempt by Kyiv to destabilize Russia and undermine its sovereignty and security.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova denounced the attack as an act of terrorism.

09:31 2023-06-28
Hungary blocks military package from EU to Kyiv
By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels

The Hungarian government has maintained its stance in preventing the European Union from approving a package of 500 million euros ($546 million) in military aid for Ukraine until Kyiv removes its largest bank from a list of international sponsors of war.

The monthlong veto was reaffirmed on Monday during an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the media after the meeting that the adoption of the eighth support package for Ukraine is still not solved.

"I will engage personally with everybody in order to try to solve it as soon as possible because this support package to Ukraine remains vital," he said.

Hungary has blocked the latest package of military aid to Ukraine by accusing Kyiv of listing OTP Bank, Hungary's largest commercial bank, as "international sponsors of war". Hungarian officials insisted the bank's designation is "unacceptable" and Ukraine must remove it from the list before it approves the aid.

The release of the financial aid package to Ukraine, under the so-called European Peace Facility, requires unanimous agreement by all 27 EU member states.

The European Peace Facility is an off-budget instrument established by the EU in 2021 to enhance its ability to act as a global security provider.

Hungarian Minister of State for International Communication and Relations Zoltan Kovacs reiterated Hungary's stance on Monday.

"FM Peter Szijjarto stated that approval would only be granted once Ukraine removes OTP Bank, which is not in violation of international laws, from the list of international sponsors of war," he said in a tweet.

He added that Szijjarto has "urged his EU counterparts to exert pressure on Ukraine, highlighting that Ukraine could easily resolve the situation by removing OTP Bank (from the list) if they so desired".

According to Kovacs, Hungary also opposes the diversion of European Peace Facility funds, originally intended to support stability globally, toward partial financing of arms deliveries to Ukraine, emphasizing the importance of maintaining stability in regions like the Western Balkans and Africa to prevent security threat and migration waves.

Hungary blocked the eighth aid package delivery to Ukraine since mid-May when Ukraine's National Agency on Corruption Prevention, or NACP, added OTP Bank to the list of "international sponsors of war" due to its continued business presence in Russia.

The Ukrainian agency temporarily suspended five Greek shipping companies from the list last week in order for Greece to approve the 11th round of EU sanctions against Russia. But OTP Bank is still on the list.

While the delivery of the eighth aid package to Ukraine is still blocked, EU foreign ministers on Monday agreed to boost their joint military aid fund for Ukraine by 3.5 billion euros ($3.8 billion).

"We will continue to double down on our military support on both equipment & training. For as long as it takes," Borrell said in a tweet on Monday.

10:50 2023-06-20
Russia reports fierce fighting in front line
By REN QI in Moscow

African leaders' peace proposal fails to spark enthusiasm from both sides

Russia reported fierce fighting on Sunday on three sections of the front line in Ukraine, a day after Russia hosted an African peace mission that failed to spark enthusiasm from either Moscow or Kyiv.

The most intense fighting centered on Zaporizhzhia, around the city of Bakhmut and further west in eastern Donetsk, according to a British intelligence assessment on Sunday.

A Russian-installed official said Ukraine had recaptured Piatykhatky, a village in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, and its forces were entrenched there while coming under fire from Russian artillery.

"The enemy's 'wavelike' offensives yielded results, despite enormous losses," said Vladimir Rogov, chairman of the We are Together with Russia movement.

Russia's Defense Ministry made no mention of Piatykhatky in its update, in which it said its forces had repelled Ukrainian attacks in three sections of the 1,000-kilometer front line. A separate statement from Russia's Vostok group of forces said Ukraine had failed to take the settlement.

The Ukrainian military said on Sunday that Russia carried out 43 airstrikes, four missile attacks, and 51 rocket launches.

According to its statement, Russia continues to concentrate its efforts on offensive operations in Ukraine's industrial east, focusing attacks around Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marinka, and Lyman in Donetsk.

The latest statement by the Russian Defense Ministry said more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops were killed in the past 24 hours.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday praised his forces for their "very effective" efforts in repelling enemy assaults near Avdiivka.

'Time has come'

He also described the southern front as "the most brutal" and expressed gratitude to troops fighting there.

The fire exchanges happened a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks in St. Petersburg with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who presented Putin with a 10-point peace initiative from seven African countries and told him the time had come for Russia and Ukraine to start negotiations to end the conflict.

"The proposal presented by African leaders on a mission to Ukraine and Russia has created a foundation for future engagements that will contribute to a road to peace and resolution to the devastating conflict," the South African president's office said on Sunday.

Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying Putin had shown interest in the plan but it would be "difficult to realize".

Peskov said the dialogue with the Africans will continue, including at the Russia-Africa summit to be held in a month in St. Petersburg.

In Kyiv the previous day, Zelensky had told the visiting African delegation that allowing negotiations now would just "freeze the war".

In latest developments on the Kakhovka dam, the collapse of the Moscow-controlled dam on June 6 unleashed floodwaters across parts of the Kherson region. The death toll from the floods has risen to 35, a local official said on Sunday.

The United Nations on Sunday said Moscow had declined its offers of help in flooded areas.

The Kremlin said on Monday that Russia's decision was motivated by security concerns and other nuances. "There are a lot of issues there," Peskov told reporters.

In another development, Russia's FSB security service said on Monday it had thwarted a series of Ukrainian "sabotage and terrorist plots" targeting Russian-backed officials on Russian-controlled territory.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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