Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

Russia’s FSB says 7 Ukrainian agents arrested in Crimea

Taxis move past the headquarters of Russia’s Federal Security Services (FSB) in central Moscow on May 12, 2022.

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Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Wednesday it had arrested seven people connected with Ukrainian intelligence and accused them of planning “a series of high-profile sabotage and terrorist acts” in Russian-annexed Crimea.

In a statement, the FSB said the group had planned attacks against Russian-installed officials including local governor Sergei Aksyonov. It said it had seized explosives identical to those used to attack railways in the peninsula in February.

In a statement, Aksyonov said the same group was behind both alleged incidents. He said, without providing evidence, that there was no doubt that the Ukrainian government was behind them.

Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and used it as one of the launchpads for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Separately on Wednesday, Russian emergency services blamed a large fire at a fuel depot on the Taman peninsula, which adjoins Crimea across the Kerch strait, on a drone falling on the facility.

— Reuters

Russian forces could be shifting focus away from Ukraine’s power network

Russian forces could be shifting their attacks away from Ukraine’s energy network, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Wednesday.

Remarking on recent air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) attacks carried out by Russia on April 28 and May 1, the ministry noted that the observed types of facilities damaged by the Russian strikes indicated “a possible shift away from targeting Ukraine’s electrical power network” and instead a focus on the country’s military, industrial and logistical infrastructure.

A firefighter on a ladder extinguishes a fire at a residential building on April 28, 2023, in Uman, Ukraine.

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The strikes were the first such strikes for 50 days, with the last prior strikes occurring on March 9.

“The latest strikes were conducted by Russian Long Range Aviation strategic bombers, both Tu-95 and Tu-160 aircraft, likely using Kh-101 and Kh-555 ALCMs,” the ministry said.

“Both strikes used smaller numbers of missiles than seen in previous attacks, which is likely due to Russian attempts to rebuild its ALCM stockpiles,” it added.

— Holly Ellyatt

Meeting on grain export deal arranged for May 5, minister says

The Black Sea grain deal, which has enabled millions of tons of Ukrainian agri-food products to leave the country via several ports, expires on May 18. Russia has said there are no guarantees it will agree to extend the deal.

Diego Cuppolo | Nurphoto | Getty Images

The deputy defense ministers of Russia, Ukraine and Turkey are due to meet in Istanbul on May 5 to discuss the extension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, according to Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.

“It is planned that the deputy ministers of defense of Turkey, Ukraine and Russia will meet in Istanbul on Friday, May 5,” Akar said, according to Turkish news agency Anadolu.

As it stands, the grain deal, which has enabled millions of tons of Ukrainian agri-food products to leave the country via several ports, expires on May 18. Russia has said there are no guarantees it will agree to extend the deal.

Akar said Turkey hoped the grain deal would continue without any disruption.

“This agreement is very important for the countries in need as well as for regional peace and stability. In this context, we can say that the parties look forward to the extension of the [deal]. Our wish is to extend this initiative without any problems,” he said, according to a Google translation of the comments.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine’s capital Kyiv targeted by Russian drones overnight

kyiv skyline

Chris Mcgrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Kyiv was targeted by Russian forces again last night, marking the third time in six days that the capital has been targeted.

An air raid alert went off in the capital and a number of regions overnight Wednesday because of a Russian drone attack, according to Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration.

Posting on Telegram, Popko said Kyiv was being attacked with Iranian “Shahed” drones, a weapon that has become a staple for Russian forces in the war.

“The capital of Ukraine suffered another air attack from the enemy. The third time in the past 6 days! This time Kyiv was attacked by drones only,” Popko said on Telegram.

“The tactics of the enemy remain usual and unchanged – with the onset of darkness, the terrorist country launched its barrage of ammunition from various directions,” Popko said.

According to preliminary information, the drones were shot down in the airspace above the capital with no reports of injuries or damage.

Ukraine’s Air Force Command said on Facebook that its defense forces had destroyed 21 of 26 Russian Shahed-136/131 type one-way attack drones overnight. The drones had been launched from both the north, from the Bryansk region in Russia and to the north of Ukraine, and the south, from the eastern coast of the Sea of Azov.

— Holly Ellyatt

No ships leave Ukrainian ports as expiry of Black Sea Grain Initiative looms

A photograph taken on October 31, 2022 shows cargo ships loaded with grain in the anchorage area of the southern entrance to the Bosphorus in Istanbul.

Ozan Kose | Afp | Getty Images

No ships carrying agricultural products left Ukrainian ports under the Black Sea Grain Initiative as the deal faces expiry. Ukraine’s Navy has previously said Russia suspends vessels from moving to and from Ukraine’s ports.

Three ships carrying 119,925 metric tons of agricultural products left Ukraine’s ports of Chornomorsk and Odesa on Monday. The ships are destined for China, Morroco and The Netherlands.

Under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a humanitarian sea corridor, more than 900 ships carrying nearly 29 million metric tons of agricultural products have departed from Ukraine’s war-weary ports. Russia has previously said that it would not recognize an extension of the deal, which could expire in mid-May.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine and allies working to block Russian efforts to circumvent sanctions, Zelenskyy says

On Sunday, Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel that “it is very important that Russia receives ever stronger signals that the world will not forgive any of Russia’s acts of terror. And that as many global players as possible are absolutely principled in upholding the sanctions regime against Russia.”

Andriy Zhyhaylo | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that his country, along with its allies, is preparing “a large sanctions package” in a nightly address.

“We are closely monitoring how the terrorist state is trying to circumvent sanctions, recording each such direction, and working together with our partners to block it,” Zelenskyy said referencing Russia.

“We are preparing a large sanctions package. The decision will be made soon,” he said, without adding additional details.

Since Russia’s invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbor, Washington and allied countries have imposed rounds of coordinated sanctions vaulting Russia past Iran and North Korea as the world’s most-sanctioned country.

— Amanda Macias

China needs to be more ‘tough-minded’ on Russia, says U.S. ambassador

The U.S. ambassador to China Nicholas Burns attends the 10th World Peace Forum on July 4, 2022 in Beijing, China. The 10th World Peace Forum opened in Beijing on Sunday.

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U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said on Tuesday that China needs to push Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

Burns, speaking by video link with the Stimson Center think tank in Washington, D.C., added that a recent phone call from China’s Xi Jinping to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was “a good first step,” but he doesn’t know if China has offered to be a meditator between the two countries.

“China has a very close relationship with Russia, a supportive relationship with Russia,” he noted. “Certainly, we’d like to see China be much more tough-minded in its advice to the Russians, and we’d like to see action to end the war as quickly as possible in terms, of course, that the Ukrainian government can accept.”

He also said that the U.S. has been warning China not to provide lethal military assistance to Russia, and officials have seen no evidence that the Chinese are doing so.

— Michele Luhn

Kremlin rejects U.S.’ Russian casualty claims

Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov.

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The Kremlin rebuffed U.S. intelligence suggesting Russia had suffered around 100,000 casualties in the past five months of fighting in Ukraine, mostly in the east of the country.

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday that the data was “taken from nowhere.”

“Washington simply does not have the possibility to name any correct figures, they do not have such data. And that is how it should be treated. You should rely only on the data published by the Ministry of Defense of Russia,” he said.

Peskov’s comments come after White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters Sunday that U.S. intelligence estimated that Russia had seen 100,000 casualties in recent months and that the figure included 20,000 dead, half of them from the Wagner mercenary group.

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin warned he could be arrested if he attends BRICS summit

South African authorities warned that they would be compelled to detain the president after a warrant for his arrest issued in March by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin was warned he could be arrested if he attends a BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) summit in South Africa in August.

Authorities in the country warned that they would be compelled to detain the president after a warrant for his arrest issued in March by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper, citing sources in the country’s government, said that a special government commission established by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to look into the international arrest warrant concluded that the country would have no choice but to arrest Putin if he traveled to South Africa for the summit.

“We have no option not to arrest Putin,” a government official told The Sunday Times. “If he comes here, we will be forced to detain him.”

Putin was expected to travel to the summit, although the Kremlin had not confirmed his attendance, to meet with the leaders of BRICs.

The newspaper reported that officials were trying to find a way around the diplomatic dilemma, with Putin’s “virtual” attendance via videolink being mooted as a possible workaround.

The paper’s sources said that “the only option we have is for [Putin] to participate in the summit via Teams or Zoom from Moscow.”

— Holly Ellyatt

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