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Live blog: Russia reports large blast in Belgorod near Ukraine border

Thursday, April 20, 2023

A large blast has rocked a street in the Russian city of Belgorod, which lies just across the border from Ukraine, but there were no initial reports of injuries, local authorities said.

Belgorod region governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, announcing a state of emergency, said on Telegram that there was a crater measuring 20 metres across on one of the main streets in the city. He did not say what the cause was.

Video footage from the site showed piles of concrete on the street, several damaged cars and a building wit h broken windows. One shot showed what appeared to be car upside down on the roof of a store.

Russia later said a fighter aircraft lost ammunition over the city of Belgorod.

“An abnormal descent of aviation ammunition has occurred,” the Defence Ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies, adding that the incident took place at 22:15 local time.

Belgorod is one of several southern Russian regions where targets such as fuel and ammunition stores have been rocked by explosions since the start of what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. 

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1800 GMT Kiev terminates land lease deal with Russian Embassy

Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko has said the city had terminated the Russian Embassy’s deal to lease land in the capital and wanted the property to be returned to the Ukrainian state.

“Today, Kiev city council terminated the land lease agreement with the embassy of the aggressor-state – Russia,” Klitschko wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

“It also appealed to the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine regarding the return of the property of the ‘diplomatic establishment’ of the Russian barbarians to the Ukrainian state,” he said.

In response, Russia’s RIA news agency cited a Moscow source as saying that if Ukraine did nationalise the embassy building, Kiev would automatically lose ownership rights to its diplomatic missions in Russia.

Ukraine broke off relations with Russia after the February 2022 invasion. There are no Russian diplomats in the embassy building, which lies to the west of the city centre.

1921 GMT —  Macron, Biden agree to ‘continuing to engage’ China on Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Joe Biden “agreed on the importance of continuing to engage” China so that Beijing contributes “in the medium term to the end of the conflict” in Ukraine, the French presidency has said.

Macron also expressed his goal during a phone call to his US counterpart of seeing European countries continuing to “re-arm themselves in order to take on their responsibilities in sharing the burden of transatlantic security,” the statement said.

1729 GMT — Almost nothing done to address grain deal concerns: Lavrov

Almost nothing has been done to address Russia’s concerns over the Black Sea grain deal, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said about the pact that enabled Ukraine to resume grain exports.

Russia has repeatedly said it will not renew the deal beyond May 18 unless the West agrees to lift a host of restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance which it says are hindering its own agricul tural exports.

“Here, practically nothing has been done,” Lavrov told reporters in Havana during an official visit. Footage of the news conference was broadcast by the Russian foreign ministry.

1130 GMT — NATO chief says Ukraine has ‘rightful place’ in alliance

On his first visit to Kiev since Russia’s attack just over a year ago, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has declared that Ukraine deserves to join the military alliance and pledged continuing support for the country.

Stoltenberg said the alliance’s priority was to ensure Ukraine “prevails” in the war against Russia, and that a membership plan for Kiev will be discussed at a summit in July.

“Let me be clear, Ukraine’s rightful place is in the Euro-Atlantic family,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference in Kiev. “Ukraine’s rightful place is in NATO.”

1219 GMT —  Zelenskyy presses NATO on membership, long-range weapons

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has pressed NATO to invite Ukraine to join the military alliance and send more fighter jets and long-range weapons during a visit to Kiev by the NATO Secretary General.

Zelenskyy said a NATO summit in July “could become historic” if Ukraine received a formal invitation to join, referring to the NATO summit in Vilnius this summer.

He also asked for NATO’s help to “overcome the reluctance” of some member states in providing long-range rockets, modern fighter jets and armoured vehicles.

1040 GMT —  NATO chief visits Ukraine for first time since war broke out

NATO chief Stoltenberg has visited Ukraine for the first time since Russia’s military operation more than a year ago, a highly symbolic trip that underscores the alliance’s commitment to help ing Kiev defend itself.

The visit, just two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin himself went to Ukraine, holds important symbolism, but its exact purpose was not immediately clear.

NATO has no official presence in Ukraine, but Stoltenberg has been the strong voice of the alliance throughout the war. He has been instrumental in garnering and coordinating support — including weapons, ammunition and training for Ukraine’s embattled troops — from the 31 countries that make up the organisation.

0943 GMT — Danes, Dutch to donate Leopard tanks to Ukraine 

Denmark and the Netherlands have announced that they plan to provide Ukraine with at least 14 refurbished German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks, to be supplied from early 2024.

Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen called it “a significant donation” which came on top of a contribution by Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, announced in February, to supply at least 100 Leopard 1 A5 tanks.

In a joint statement, the Danish and Dutch defense ministers said the estimated cost of 165 million euros “to jointly acquire, refurbish and donate” will be equally divided between the two NATO members.

“In this way, we will jointly take part in the ‘Leopard 2 coalition’, supported by many partners and allies,” they said.

Acting Danish Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen stressed that the tanks were not Danish but are “bought in collaboration with the Netherlands.”

0526 GMT —  Seoul says military aid for Ukraine ‘depends on Russia’

South Korea’s decision on whether to send military aid to Kiev depends on Russia’s actions, Seoul’s presidential office said Thursday, adding that a possible large-scale civilian attack could tip the balance.

Seoul has a long-standing policy against providing weapons to countries in active conflict, which it has repeatedly said makes it difficult to supply arms directly to Ukraine.

South Korea has supported the US-led sanctions on Moscow and has sent humanitarian aid to Kiev, while signing major arms deals — including for tanks and howitzers — with Poland.

On Thursday, President Yoon Suk-yeol’s office said “South Korea could not just idly stand by and watch should there be killings that the international community takes seriously”.

“What happens next depends on Russia,” a presidential official told reporters on the condition of anonymity.

0451 GMT — Zelenskyy to address Mexico Congress

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is due to address Mexico’s Congress by video, according to two people familiar with the matter, as he seeks support in his country’s ongoing conflict with Russia.

The speech was due to take place around midday on Thursday, the sources said.

Zelenskyy’s address to the lower house of Congress came at the invitation of a congressional friendship group between Mexico and Ukraine, according to the sources. 

The German president and the US ambassador to Mexico have been among diplomatic allies that have sought to persuade the Mexican government to side with Ukraine against Russia.

Mexico’s government has said it wants to remain neutral in the conflict, and some supporters of Ukraine have criticised the country’s leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for taking issue with European arms shipments to Kiev.

0130 GMT — Russia, Nicaragua downplay US sanctions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega have played down the impact of US sanctions on officials of their two nations.

During a four-hour stopover in Managua, Lavrov met with Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, who is also vice president.

“Today, the United States sanctioned three judges because they have applied justice against terrorists. We already have hundreds of fellow state officials sanctioned, but we are no longer afraid of that,” Ortega said in a dialogue with Lavrov broadcast on state TV.

Lavrov pointed out that people “who are under sanctions in Russia say that it is a recognition of their progress in the protection of Russia’s rights.”

“Westerners, under the auspices of such countries as the United States, try to unite as exclusive countries, try to proliferate their hegemony in conflicts such as, for example, in Ukraine,” Lavrov said, according to an official translation.

“We, with our Nicaraguan supporters, are going to fight against such tendencies and prevent such acts.”

0045 GMT — Two charged in $150M scheme with sanctioned Ukrainian oligarch

A US businessman and a Belarus national have been arrested in Florida and charged with violating US sanctions in a scheme that involved purchasing over $150 million in steelmaking materials from an exiled Ukrainian oligarch accused of funding Russian-backed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine.

John Unsalan, 41, of Orlando, was arrested last Friday, and Belarus national Sergey Karpushkin, 46, on Tuesday, according to court records.

“The arrest of John Can Unsalan should serve as a warning to those who seek to do business with sanctioned individuals or entities that endanger the security of the United States and our allies,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

“The Justice Department is relentlessly pursuing those who seek to evade sanctions imposed against the Russian regime and whose crimes enable the regime to continue its unjust, illegal war in Ukraine,” Garland said.

2347 GMT — Everything is being done to defend against Russia: Zelenskyy

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has commended the country’s border guards after a visit to Volyn, near borders with Poland and Belarus.

“Together with all our defence and security forces, border guards are fighting on the front line, particularly in the most difficult areas. Bakhmut, Donetsk region in general … True heroes who successfully completed hundreds and hundreds of combat missions,” Zelenskyy said.

The Ukrainian leader said everything is being done to defend against Russian strikes.

“At the state level, everything is being done to increase the ability to defend against Russian strikes. Air defence systems and other weapons to protect the sky are already here in Ukraine, they are really powerful. But they should be — and, I am sure, will be — even more powerful.”

For our live updates from Wednesday (April 19), click here.

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