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Live blog: Putin visits Crimea on anniversary of annexation from Ukraine

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Crimea on a visit to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine, Russian state media reported.

State TV showed a brief clip of a casually dressed Putin walking with a group of officials, and promised further details shortly.

Russia seized Crimea in 2014, eight years before launching its attacks on Ukraine. 

Ukraine says it will fight to expel Russia from Crimea and all other territory that Russia has occupied in the year-long war.

This comes as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the United Nations announced that a deal allowing the export of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports that was due to expire has been renewed.

For more updates👇 

1617 GMT — Russia says agreed to 60-day extension of Ukraine grain deal

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said that Moscow agreed to a 60-day extension of the deal that allowed exports of Ukrainian grain to resume following Russia’s military campaign.

“We are seeing reports from parties to the ‘grain deal’ that the deal has been extended for 120 days,” Zakharkova said in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency. 

“We have repeatedly stated… that the Russian side has notified all parties to the deal that it is extending the deal for 60 days”.

1357 GMT — Black sea grain deal extended

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced the extension of a deal that has allowed exports of Ukrainian grain to resume, but it was unclear if it had been prolonged for 60 or 120 days.

“The deal for the grain corridor was due to expire today. As a result of our talks with the two sides, we have secured an extension to this deal,” Erdogan said in a speech in the western city of Canakkale on Saturday.

Erdogan but did not disclose how long the extension period was for, and there have been conflicting reports from Kiev and Moscow about the length of the extension.

READ MORE: Türkiye’s Erdogan announces extension of Ukraine grain deal

1205 GMT — Russia’s private Wagner army wants to recruit 30,000 fighters by mid-May

Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has plans to recruit approximately 30,000 new fighters by the middle of May, its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said.

He said in an audio message on Telegram that Wagner recruitment centres, which he said last week had opened in 42 Russian cities, were hiring on average 500-800 people a day.

Prigozhin’s men have sustained heavy losses while leading Russian efforts to capture the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which has held out since last summer in the longest and bloodiest battle of the year-long war.

In January, the United States assessed that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 40,000 convicts Prigozhin had recruited from Russian prisons with a promise of a free pardon if they survived six months.

1013 GMT — Top Ukraine, US defence officials discussed military aid in call

Three senior US security officials have held a video call with a group of their Ukrainian counterparts to discuss military aid to Kiev, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff has said.

“We discussed the further provision of necessary assistance to our country, in particular vehicles, weapons and ammunition,” Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram.

The meeting took place as Kiev seeks to gather sufficient supplies of arms from its Western backers, of which the US has been the most significant, to mount a counter-offensive and try to take back territory captured by Moscow last year.

“We briefed our allies in detail about the current situation at the front, combat operations in the most difficult areas, as well as the urgent needs of the Ukrainian army,” Yermak said.

0958 GMT — Russian attacks continue in wake of Putin arrest warrant

Widespread Russian attacks have continued in Ukraine following the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Putin and Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.

Ukraine was attacked by 16 Russian drones on Friday night, the Ukrainian Air Force said. Writing on Telegram, the air force command said that 11 out of 16 drones were shot down “in the central, western and eastern regions.” Among the areas targeted were the capital Kiev, and the western Lviv province.

The Ukrainian military additionally said Russian forces over the previous 24 hours launched 34 airstrikes, one missile strike and 57 rounds of anti-aircraft fire.

According to the Ukrainian statement, Russia is continuing to concentrate its efforts on offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing attacks on Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Marinka and Shakhtarsk in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province

0831 GMT — Ukraine proposes indefinite extension to grain deal

Ukraine has voiced support for extending the Black Sea grain corridor initiative, brokered by Türkiye and the UN in Istanbul last July to resume grain exports from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports, for at least 120 more days after an initial 120-day extension in November.

Speaking at a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York, Kiev’s envoy to the council Sergiy Kyslytsya also underlined that ideally, the landmark deal would be extended indefinitely to continue grain exports.

“The Black Sea Grain Initiative should be extended after it expires on March 18 for at least 120 days, as provided, or for an unlimited period,” said Kyslytsya, suggesting that it should also be expanded to cover Ukrainian ports in the Mykolaiv region as well.

0430 GMT — Türkiye hopeful of extension to grain deal

Türkiye is hoping that the grain export deal between Kiev and Moscow, key to alleviating a global food crisis, can be extended for another 120 days.

The current deal expires before 2100GMT — just before midnight on Saturday, Istanbul time.

“The deadline is approaching,” Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said. “We are in touch with both Ukraine and Russia about extending the agreement under its original terms.”

2330 GMT — Biden says Putin committed ‘war crimes’

US President Joe Biden has said that Putin has committed “war crimes” and the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to issue an arrest warrant for him was justified.

The move “makes a very strong point,” the US president told reporters at the White House, while noting that the United States is not a member of the ICC.

2330 GMT
— US, Ukraine officials discuss ‘repelling aggression’ of Russia

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and US general Mark Milley have spoken of their “unwavering support” for Ukraine during a call with their Ukrainian counterparts, the White House said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy joined the end of the call, the readout said.

“He shared with all the attendees his thoughts on the liberation of Ukrainian lands from the Russian occupiers,” said Ukraine presidency’s statement.

Representatives of Ukraine informed the allies in detail about the current situation at the front, combat operations in the most difficult directions, as well as the urgent needs of the Ukrainian army, the statement said.

“The parties discussed the continuation of the provision of necessary assistance to Ukraine, in particular equipment, weapons and ammunition,” it added.

2200 GMT — IMF approves rule change that would allow Ukraine loan plan

The International Monetary Fund has said its executive board approved rule changes that would allow the IMF to approve new loan programs for countries that face “exceptionally high uncertainty” — a move that is expected to pave the way for a new Ukraine loan programme.

The Fund said the changes to its financing assurances policy would apply to countries experiencing “exogenous shocks that are beyond the control of country authorities and the reach of their economic policies.” 

2100 GMT — US accuses Russia of committing ‘war crimes’ in Ukraine

There is no doubt Russia is committing “war crimes” in Ukraine, a US State Department spokesperson said after the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Putin.

“There is no doubt that Russia is committing war crimes and atrocities (in) Ukraine, and we have been clear that those responsible must be held accountable,” the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

“This was a decision the ICC prosecutor reached independently based on the facts before him.”

Washington has separately concluded that Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine and supports accountability for perpetrators of war crimes, the spokesperson added.

The United States is not a member of the ICC.

2000 GMT — US resumes drone flights over Black Sea after Russia intercept

The United States has resumed surveillance drone flights over the Black Sea region following a Russian fighter jet intercept on Tuesday that led to the downing of a US surveillance drone, two US officials said.

An RQ-4 Global Hawk flew a mission to the region, the officials said, with one adding that it was the first such drone flight since the Tuesday incident. Pentagon officials have repeatedly stressed this week the incident would not stop Washington from flying such missions.

Still, the downing of a US MQ-9 drone on Tuesday was the first direct US-Russian incident since the Ukraine war began, worsening already tense relations between Washington and Moscow as both countries publicly traded blame.

Russia has denied US accusations that its two Su-24 fighter jets acted recklessly around the unmanned US aircraft, and instead has blamed “sharp maneuvering” by the drone for the crash.

For our live updates from Friday (March 17), click here.

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