Tue, 26 Sep 2023

Ukraine has recaptured the eastern village of Andriivka near the Russian-occupied city of Bakhmut, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on Thursday. The news came after Russian President Vladimir Putin accepted an invitation to visit North Korea, Pyongyang state media reported, as he and Kim Jong Un toasted "cooperation and friendship" during a meeting in Russia. Follow our live blog for all the latest developments on the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

3:15pm: Ukraine says it recaptured village near Bakhmut

Ukraine said Thursday its forces had retaken a village near the war-battered city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, several months into its grinding counteroffensive against entrenched Russian positions.

"We are moving forward in the Bakhmut sector. On the northern flank, the enemy is trying to recapture lost ground. On the southern flank, we are making progress. And we have good news there - Andriivka is ours. We are consolidating our positions," Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar, announced on social media.

3:11pm: Ukrainian pilots test Swedish Gripen jets, says Swedish government

Ukrainian pilots have completed a first training with Sweden's Gripen fighter jets, the Scandinavian country said Thursday, although it has not yet confirmed whether Stockholm will donate any of the jets to Kyiv.

Sweden said in May that it would invite Ukrainian pilots and ground crew to undergo preliminary training on the jets made by defence group Saab.

"The orientation training has been completed and according to the report I received from the defence forces, the training went well," Swedish Defence Minister Pal Jonson said in remarks emailed to AFP.

3:04pm: Putin, Kim gifted each other 'rifles', says Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gifted each other rifles, the Kremlin said Thursday, after the two held a high-profile summit in Russia's Far East.

Putin has sought to strengthen alliances with other hardline leaders ostracised by the West, and met with Kim amid speculation they would agree on an arms deal.

Putin "gave (Kim) a rifle from our production of the highest quality. In turn, he also received a North Korean-made rifle," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

3:02pm: Russia expels two US diplomats for links to 'spy'

Russia on Thursday said it was expelling two US embassy staff for allegedly "liaising" with Robert Shonov, a former US consulate worker accused by Moscow of spying.

Shonov, who worked for the US consulate in Vladivostok, was charged with allegedly passing information about the conflict in Ukraine to American diplomats, a claim the US has rejected.

Russia's foreign ministry said the two US diplomats - Jeff Sillin and David Bernstein - conducted "illegal activities by liaising with a Russian citizen, (Robert) Shonov".

2:52pm: Ukraine says extension of food trade restrictions from September 15 would be illegal

Ukraine's foreign ministry said on Thursday that any decision by European states to extend import restrictions on Ukrainian food from September 15 would be illegal and harm common economic interests.

Restrictions imposed by the European Union in May allowed Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia to ban domestic sales of Ukrainian wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seeds, while permitting transit of such cargoes for export elsewhere.

The restrictions, designed to ease excess supply, are due to expire on Friday.

2:37pm: Summit between Kim and Putin to last a few more days, says Kremlin

Whatever practical cooperation emerges from this week's summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, their deepening relationship is aimed at sending their rivals a warning, analysts said.

Calling each other "comrade", the men toasted their friendship on Wednesday after Putin showed Kim around Russia's most modern space launch facility and they held talks alongside their defence ministers.

As Putin and Kim send rivals a stark warning amid what is being described as a defiant summit, FRANCE 24's Jean-Emile Jammine is joined by Siemon Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms Transfers Programme.

2:14pm: Kremlin calls businessmen who criticise Russia to get sanctions relief 'traitors'

The Kremlin on Thursday said that Russian businessmen who voiced anti-Russian views in an effort to get personal Western sanctions on them lifted were traitors ready to sell out their country.

The European Union has just removed three Russian business leaders from its sanctions list - which it introduced to punish Moscow for its war in Ukraine - the EU's Official Journal showed on Thursday. Personal sanctions for many others were extended however.

1:38pm: Russia says it destroyed uncrewed Ukrainian boat in Black Sea

Russia's defence ministry said on Thursday it had detected and destroyed an uncrewed Ukrainian boat in the Black Sea, at a time when Ukrainian forces appear to be launching more regular attacks on Russian ships.

A Ukrainian missile attack on the Sevastopol Shipyard in Russian-annexed Crimea earlier this week inflicted heavy damage to a large Russian landing ship and submarine, commercial satellite imagery showed.

12:53am: EU removes three Russian business leaders from sanctions list

The European Union has removed three Russian business leaders from its sanctions targeting Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, the EU's Official Journal showed on Thursday.

The deletion confirmed an earlier Reuters report.

The EU removed Grigory Berezkin, billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov, and Alexander Shulgin, former head of Russian e-commerce firm Ozon.

"Whether this decision can be seen as a sign of a shift from total sanctions policy to a more discretionary one or whether that would be 'wishful thinking' is difficult to say at this stage," said the team of lawyers representing Berezkin and Shulgin.

12:34pm: Zelensky thanks Bulgaria for not extending restrictions on Ukraine food exports

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that he was grateful to Bulgaria for not extending restrictions on Ukrainian grain exports from September 15.

"I thank (Prime Minister) Nikolai Denkov and his team, as well as Bulgarian parliamentarians who supported this move. Bulgaria sets an example of true solidarity," Zelensky said on the X social media platform.

11:58am: More than 20,000 Jewish people arrive in Ukraine for annual pilgrimage

More than 20,000 Jewish pilgrims have arrived in Uman, Ukraine, ahead of Rosh Hashanah, authorities said, despite warnings from Kyiv not to travel for the religious holiday due to the Russian invasion.

Thousands of Orthodox Jews come to Uman from Israel and other parts of the world every year to celebrate the holiday in the central Ukrainian city, one of the birthplaces of the Hasidic movement.

Celebrations were to take place amid tightened security due to the war.

"As of the morning of September 14, around 22,000 Hasidic pilgrims have already arrived in Uman, mostly from Israel, the United States and a number of European countries," Cherkasy region head Igor Taburets said.

"Around 1,000 law enforcement officers will ensure security during the celebrations. We prepared an additional 24 shelters. In particular, (we) installed concrete mobile shelters," he said.

Since Russia's fully fledged invasion of Ukraine last year, Kyiv has urged pilgrims not to travel to Uman, which has been targeted by lethal air strikes.

10:04am: Ukrainian shelling kills one, damages power supply lines in Russia's Kursk region

Ukrainian shelling killed one man and damaged power supply lines in Russia's Kursk region, Governor Roman Starovoit said in a post on Telegram on Thursday.

Starovoit said the man had been killed after shelling in the town of Tetkino on the Russia-Ukraine border and that 10 shells had been recorded as striking the village of Gordeevka. No casualties were recorded there, Starovoit said.

FRANCE 24 could not immediately verify the details in his statement.

9:55am: Ukraine destroys Russian air defence system near Crimea's Yevpatoriya, says intelligence source

Ukraine destroyed a Russian air defence system near the town of Yevpatoriya in annexed Crimea in an overnight drone and missile attack conducted by the Security Service of Ukraine and navy on Thursday, a Ukrainian intelligence source told Reuters.

Russia said its air defences had shot down 11 attack drones overnight over Crimea, which Russia seized and annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

9:23am: Belarus' Lukashenko to meet Putin for talks in Russia on Friday

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is travelling to Russia for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday, Belarusian state news agency Belta reported on Thursday.

The main topics will be the "international agenda and regional issues", Belta said.

8:22am: Russia claims Ukrainian drones destroyed in Crimea, Black Sea

Russia said Thursday it had destroyed nearly two dozen Ukrainian drones trying to hit Moscow-annexed Crimea and patrol ships in the Black Sea.

Crimea has been targeted by Ukraine throughout Russia's offensive but attacks there have recently intensified as Kyiv vows to take the Black Sea peninsula back.

"At about 5am (02:00 GMT), the Ukrainian armed forces attempted to attack the Black Sea Fleet patrol ship Sergey Kotov in the Black Sea with five unmanned sea boats," Russia's defence ministry said on Telegram.

"While repelling the attack, five unmanned enemy boats were destroyed by fire from the ship's standard weapons."

Moscow previously reported attempted attacks on the Sergey Kotov in July and August.

At about 5:30am (02:30 GMT) on Thursday, "air defence systems on duty destroyed 11 unmanned aerial vehicles" over the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, the ministry said.

It did not say whether either attack caused any casualties or damage.

8:09am: Ukraine says it downed 17 drones in overnight attack

Ukraine said on Thursday it had downed 17 out of 22 Russian drones attacking its territory overnight in the country's south, centre and north.

"On the night of September 14, 2023, from 9pm to 2:30am, the Russian invaders attacked Ukraine with several groups of Shahed-136/131 type (drones) from three directions," Ukraine's air force said in a post on Telegram.

Having initially sought to pummel Ukrainian targets with missiles, Russia has this year increasingly turned to the Shahed, a cheap Iranian kamikaze drone which is more expendable and can confuse air defences with its smaller size and low speed.

8:04am: Ukraine says Russian shelling in Kherson killed one child

Ukraine said on Thursday that a child was killed by Russian artillery shelling in the Kherson region, in the southern part of the country.

Ukraine's Prosecutor General's office said a six-year-old boy was killed and four other people, including his 13-year-old brother, were wounded by Russian shelling in the village of Novodmytrivka in the Kherson region.

"Enemy shells hit a private house and its territory," it said in a statement on Telegram.

3:30am: South Korea expresses concern over N.Korea-Russia military cooperation

South Korea's unification minister in charge of relations with the North has expressed concern over military cooperation between North Korea and Russia, Yonhap news agency reported on Thursday.

Kim Young-ho's remarks came a day after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with President Vladimir Putin in Russia's Far East and discussed military matters, the war in Ukraine and possible Russian help for the North's satellite programme.

2:45am: Kim invites Putin to North Korea as he continues Russia visit

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to his country during their talks in Russia, state media reported on Thursday, with Kim expected to continue his trip with visits to military production facilities.

Putin accepted the invitation, state news agency KCNA said, without mentioning when any visit might take place.

Kim told Putin the meeting in Russia's Far East brought bilateral ties to a new level, and expressed his willingness to foster stable, future-oriented relations for the next 100 years, KCNA said.

The invitation from Kim for Putin to visit the North came at the end of a reception hosted by the Kremlin chief after they toured the Vostochny Cosmodrome space center and held talks on bilateral ties and boosting cooperation, KCNA said.

"At the end of the reception, Kim Jong Un courteously invited Putin to visit the DPRK at a convenient time," KCNA said, referring to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's formal name.

"Putin accepted the invitation with pleasure and reaffirmed his will to invariably carry forward the history and tradition of the Russia-DPRK friendship," it said.

2:30am: Ukrainian drones downed in Russia's Bryansk, Belgorod regions, says Russian media

Russian anti-aircraft units downed Ukrainian drones overnight in two regions of southern Russia, Bryansk and Belgorod, the Russian military and news agencies reported on Thursday.

Russian news agencies, quoting local officials and the Defence Ministry, said five drones had been downed over Bryansk region and one over Belgorod region. No casualties or damage were reported. Both regions border Ukraine.

1:50am: US ambassador visits American imprisoned for espionage

Russia met Wednesday with imprisoned American Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence on an espionage conviction that both Washington and Whelan dispute.

Ambassador Lynne Tracy traveled to the prison colony about 350 kilometers (220 miles) east of Moscow where Whelan is held, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

"We believe Paul continues to show tremendous courage in the face of his wrongful detention. Ambassador Tracy reiterated to him that President Biden and Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken are committed to bringing him home," he said.

The 53-year-old Whelan, a corporate security director and former Marine, was detained in Moscow in 2018 and convicted in 2020.

Another American jailed in Russia is Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested March 29 and accused of trying to obtain classified information.

Gershkovich is the first US correspondent since the Cold War to be detained in Russia on spying charges, which his family and the newspaper vehemently deny.

Key developments from Wednesday, September 13:

The Wall Street Journal's parent company on Tuesday requested that a UN panel of experts declare its correspondent Evan Gershkovich, who is in Russian jail, as being "arbitrarily detained".

Russia has significantly raised its inflation forecast for the next two years and expects a much weaker rouble rate against the US dollar, according to macroeconomic forecasts prepared by the economy ministry, as the costs of fighting the war in Ukraine mount.

A Ukrainian military spy agency official said on Wednesday that an overnight attack on the Crimean port of Sevastopol, home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet, had struck a large Russian landing ship and a submarine.

Ukraine's military said its forces had struck naval targets and port infrastructure on Wednesday in the bay of the Crimean port of Sevastopol, home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday that Ukraine has made "great strides" in its quest for EU membership, as Kyiv presses to open accession talks this year.

Read yesterday's blog to see how the day's events unfolded.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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