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Live blog: Several civilians killed in Ukraine shelling attacks – Russia

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Authorities in Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine have said a total of seven civilians were killed in two separate Ukrainian artillery strikes, according to Russian news agencies.

Four civilians died in Donetsk when shells hit a car park and another six people were injured, TASS said.

RIA later said three people died in blasts at a bus stop in Lysychansk, some 120 km to the northeast of Donetsk.

Reports have not been independently verified. Ukrainian defence officials did not immediately respond to a media request for comment.

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1816 GMT Foiled bid by Ukraine ‘saboteurs’ to enter Russia – Moscow

Russia has said its security forces had foiled an attempt by a group of Ukrainian “saboteurs” to enter Russia via the southern Bryansk region that borders Ukraine.

The announcement came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned saboteurs were acting inside Russia.

“Today, the border department of the FSB (security service) of the Bryansk region thwarted an attempt by a Ukrainian saboteur group of 20 people that tried to cross into the Russian Federation near the village of Sluchovsk,” regional governor Alexander Bogomaz said on Telegram.

“The sabotage group was dispersed and, having suffered losses, withdrew to the territory of Ukraine,” said Russia’s defence ministry.

In a video posted online, the Russian Volunteer Corps, a far-right group of Russian nationalists fighting on Ukraine’s side, appeared to claim the incursion. It showed some of its members talking to locals and firing weapons. The video has not been independently verified.

1754 GMT Russia’s Lavrov arrives in Türkiye

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has arrived in Türkiye, a Turkish official has said, for talks that include the future of a key deal that allows grain exports from Ukrainian ports through a safe corridor in the Black Sea.

Lavrov met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu during a fast-breaking dinner in the capital Ankara.

He is due to address a joint news conference with Cavusoglu and meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

NATO member Türkiye, which has good ties with its two Black Sea neighbours, is pushing Russia and Ukraine to resume peace talks, hoping to build on past diplomatic endeavours last year.

1635 GMT EU’s Ukraine ammunition plan held up by eligibility wrangle

A European Union plan to send 1 million artillery shells to Ukraine is being held up as member states argue over how far spending for the plan will stay within the EU, diplomats and officials have said.

EU foreign ministers approved the groundbreaking package on March 20. The most immediate part of the plan earmarked $1.09 billion (1 billion euros) to refund EU countries for sending urgently needed artillery shells from stockpiles to Ukraine.

The legislation for that element has now been finalised and is expected to take effect in the coming days, diplomats and officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

But a second element – a landmark EU move into joint munitions procurement, worth another 1 billion euros – has been held up by disagreements over which countries’ companies are eligible for contracts, they said.

1602 GMT Ukraine sends conflicting signals on Crimea talks idea

A top Ukrainian official has ruled out talks with Moscow about territory until it withdraws all troops, pushing back on a colleague who had touted the idea of negotiations to resolve the Russian occupation of the Crimean peninsula.

Andriy Sybiha, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office, told the Financial Times on Wednesday that Kiev would be willing to discuss the future of Crimea with Moscow if Ukraine’s counter-offensive reaches the peninsula.

Russia occupied Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, long before it launched its full-scale offensive in February 2022. 

Ukraine, which has vowed to recapture all lost land, plans to launch a counter-offensive in the coming weeks or months to try to wrest back territory in the east and south.

1548 GMT Russia’s Wagner chief says cemetery for fighters ‘growing’

The head of the Russian mercenary outfit Wagner has said his forces continue to suffer losses, as a published video showed him visiting a cemetery where the group’s fighters are buried.

Wagner forces have been spearheading offensives in eastern Ukraine, including on the city of Bakhmut, which has become the longest and bloodiest battle of Russia’s military campaign. Both sides have suffered heavy losses around Bakhmut.

A video distributed by his press service showed Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin standing in front of dozens of graves with wooden crosses and wreaths.

He admitted that the cemetery is “growing”.

1519 GMT Belarusian president says NATO building up forces 

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said NATO is building up its forces and means along the member countries’ borders with Moscow and Minsk.

“NATO forces and assets are being built up near the borders of Belarus and the Russian Federation. They are especially concerned about the Kaliningrad region,” Lukashenko said alongside his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Russia and Belarus in Moscow.

Lukashenko claimed that NATO’s military build-up along the border came after the West’s “failed attempt” of an economic blockade on Russia and Belarus.

1408 GMT  Ukraine says coveted F-16s ‘four or five times’ better than its Soviet jets

A top Ukrainian air commander has said Ukraine was in dire need of F-16 fighter jets, which he described as “four or five times” more effective than the Soviet-era planes currently used by Ukraine.

Serhiy Holubtsov, one of the most senior commanders in the Air Force, said that while donations of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets by allies were an “important step,” the planes did not fully meet Ukraine’s battlefield requirements.

NATO members Poland and Slovakia recently began to hand over MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, as Kiev prepares for a much-vaunted counter-offensive to retake territory occupied by Russia.

But Holubtsov said that while Soviet-era warplanes were better than nothing, they would not be able to fully counteract Russia’s vast air force.

1404 GMT — Ukraine could export a further 15.6M tonnes of grain this season

Ukraine may export a further 15.6 million tonnes of grain in the April to June quarter, which would unexpectedly lift this season’s exports to nearly 53 million tonnes, the AgroPortal agency has quoted the first deputy farm minister as saying.

Ukraine’s 2022 grain harvest fell sharply to around 53 million tonnes due to Russia’s military campaign in the country, from a record 86 million tonnes in 2021.

Millions of tonnes of grain from last year’s harvest remained in Ukraine’s silos after its major Black Sea ports were closed in the second half of the 2021/22 season.

After an almost six-month blockade, a deal between Moscow and Kiev, brokered by the United Nations and Türkiye, unblocked three of the ports at the end of July.

Taras Vysotskiy said that in the remaining months of the season, volumes could include 10 million tonnes of grain exported via the Black Sea grain export corridor and 5.6 million via alternative routes.

1355 GMT — Ukraine, Poland to produce Soviet-era tank shells together

Ukraine’s state arms producer has said it would launch joint production of 125-mm rounds for Soviet-era tanks with Polish arms producer Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa (PGZ).

Ukroboronprom said Poland would become the second NATO member state to help Ukraine produce ammunition as the country battles Russian troops that launched a full-scale offensive more than 13 months ago.

“In line with the agreement, new production lines to produce large numbers of ammunition for 125-mm tank guns are planned,” the company said in a statement.

The agreement was signed during President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Poland on Wednesday.

1340 GMT Xi calls for resuming Ukraine peace talks as soon as possible

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has called for peace talks over Ukraine after French President Emmanuel Macron appealed to him to “bring Russia to its senses,” but Xi gave no indication Beijing would use its leverage as Vladimir Putin’s diplomatic partner to press for a settlement.

Xi gave no sign China, which declared it had a “no limits friendship” with Moscow before last year’s offensive, had changed its stance since calling for peace talks in February.

“Peace talks should resume as soon as possible,” Xi said. He called on other governments to avoid doing anything that might “make the crisis deteriorate or even get out of control.”

However, Kremlin has said it saw no “prospect” for China to mediate the Ukraine conflict and that it had “no other way” than to press on with its offensive.

1338 GMT Greece to send more arms to Ukraine, but sets limits

Greece has pledged military assistance to Ukraine for “as long as it takes” but officials cautioned that the country needs to keep much of its Russian-made weaponry for its own defensive needs.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov visited Athens Thursday as part of regular meetings with officials from NATO countries.

He was promised more artillery and small arms ammunition shipments, access to Greek hospitals for wounded military personnel and additional Soviet-era BMP infantry fighting vehicles.

Greece “will provide every support to Ukraine at this very important, crucial stage of the war,” Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said during a joint appearance with Reznikov. 

1229 GMT Kremlin sees no prospect of Chinese mediation on Ukraine

The Kremlin has said it saw no “prospect” for China to mediate the Ukraine conflict and that it had “no other way” than to press on with its offensive.

The comments came as Macron was in Beijing to try to dissuade China from supporting Moscow’s campaign.

“Undoubtedly, China has a very effective and commanding potential for mediation,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

“But the situation with Ukraine is complex, so far there are no prospects for a political settlement,” he said.

1212 GMT Lithuanian lawmakers adopt motion on need to invite Ukraine to join NATO

Lithuania’s parliament has adopted a resolution underlining the need to invite Ukraine to join NATO.

The resolution passed unanimously with the votes of 129 lawmakers present in the chamber, according to a statement by the legislature, also known as Seimas.

It also outlined Lithuania’s five objectives in hosting the upcoming NATO heads of state summit scheduled for July 11-12 in the capital Vilnius.

The resolution called for Lithuania to “fully support Ukraine with practical measures, including NATO’s political support, recognising that it is necessary to invite Ukraine to become a NATO member state at the NATO summit to be held in Vilnius.”

1044 GMT Sweden says ‘unclear’ who sabotaged Nord Stream pipelines

A Swedish prosecutor leading a probe into the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines carrying gas from Russia to Germany has said it was “still unclear” who was responsible for the incident.

Four large gas leaks were discovered on Nord Stream’s two pipelines off the Danish island of Bornholm at the end of September, with seismic institutes recording two underwater explosions just prior to that.

The pipelines had been at the centre of geopolitical tensions as Russia cut gas supplies to Europe in suspected retaliation to Western sanctions over Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

Washington and Moscow have both denied involvement and each has blamed the other, but public prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist said in a statement it was “still unclear” who was behind the sabotage.

“Our primary assumption is that a state is behind it,” the prosecutor explained. Traces of explosive have already been found,” Ljungqvist told AFP news agency.

0952 GMT — Xi says China, France urge int’l community to avoid escalation of Ukraine crisis

China and France urge the international community to avoid an escalation of the Ukraine crisis, Chinese President Xi Jinping has said.

Europe is an independent pole in a multi-polar world and China supports its strategic autonomy, Xi said in a joint media conference with visiting French President Emmanuel Macron.

Earlier, Macron urged Xi to reason with Russia and help bring an end to the war in Ukraine as the two held the first of a series of high-level meetings in Beijing.

“The Russian aggression in Ukraine has dealt a blow to (international) stability,” Macron told Xi. “I know I can count on you to bring back Russia to reason and everyone back to the negotiating table.”

READ MORE: France’s Macron meets China’s Xi as EU leaders begin Beijing talks

0855 GMT — Russian girl taken from father over Ukraine sketch given to estranged mother

A Russian child who was taken away from her father last month after she drew a picture in support of Ukraine at school has been handed by authorities to her estranged mother.

In early March Russian authorities separated 13-year-old Maria Moskalyova from her single father Alexei Moskalyov, and placed her in a rehabilitation centre in her small town of Yefremov, south of Moscow.

Her father last week made the shock move of fleeing house arrest while a Russian court found him guilty of “discrediting” the Russian army and given a two-year prison sentence. Authorities detained him in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

Ahead of the trial, Russia’s children’s rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova — wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for her role in “deporting” Ukrainian children — announced Maria had been given to her mother.

0744 GMT — Russia claims NATO, concept of security are ‘incompatible things’

Marking this week’s 74th anniversary of NATO on a negative note, Russia has claimed that the military alliance is “incompatible” with international security.

“Everything is being done to make the world even more dangerous, in order to prevent the existence of alternative centres of power that can undermine the hegemony of the West,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed in a commentary published by the ministry.

“In general, it can be stated with confidence that security and NATO are incompatible things.”

0339 GMT — Canada’s Trudeau speaks to Biden, calls on Russia to release WSJ reporter

US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada has called for the immediate release of a Wall Street Journal reporter arrested in Russia on spying charges.

Russia’s Federal Security Service said reporter Evan Gershkovich, a US citizen, was arrested last week because he was “suspected of spying in the interests of the American government”.

The Wall Street Journal denied Gershkovich was spying. The White House has called the espionage charge, which carries a prison term of up to 20 years, “ridiculous”.

“The prime minister and the president spoke about Russia’s illegal detention of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich and called for his immediate release,” Trudeau’s office said in a statement following a telephone call between the leaders.

2200 GMT — Tough situation for Ukrainians in Bakhmut 

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy has said Ukrainian troops are facing a difficult situation in the battle for Bakhmut and the military would take “corresponding” decisions to protect them if they risked being encircled by Russian forces.

“We are in Bakhmut and the enemy does not control it,” Zelenskyy said, refuting claims by Russian forces that they had captured the city, in ruins after months of attritional warfare and bombardment.

“For me, the most important is not to lose our soldiers and of course if there is a moment of even hotter events and the danger we could lose our personnel because of encirclement – of course the corresponding correct decisions will be taken by generals there,” Zelenskyy said, apparently referring to withdrawal.

The battle for Bakhmut, one of the last urban centres yet to fall to Russia in eastern Donetsk province, has proven one of the bloodiest of Russia’s offensive, now in its 14th month.

For our live updates from Wednesday (April 5), click here.

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