US, Russia top diplomats hold first talks since Ukraine conflict

President Zelenskyy visits one of Ukraine’s main Black Sea ports to oversee grain being loaded for export as deadly strikes on a prison spark a blame game on the 156th day of fighting.

Russia's foreign ministry, in a statement on the call, said that relations between the two nations
Russia’s foreign ministry, in a statement on the call, said that relations between the two nations “are in strong need of normalisation.”

Friday, July 29, 2022

US, Russia top diplomats hold first talks since Ukraine conflict

The top diplomats of the United States and Russia spoke for the first time since the Ukraine conflict, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken describing a “frank” exchange as he pushed to free two Americans.

Blinken initiated the call with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whom he had shunned as early as a few weeks ago, as he pressed Russia to accept an offer to free prisoners.

Lavrov told Blinken that Washington was not living up to promises regarding the exemption from sanctions for the supply of food from Russia, Moscow said.

A Russian foreign ministry read-out of the call also cited Lavrov as telling Blinken that Russia would achieve all the goals of its “special military operation” in Ukraine and said western arms supplies would only drag out the conflict.

US sanctions two Russians for malign influence operations 

The US Treasury Department said it had imposed sanctions on two individuals and four entities that support the Kremlin’s global malign influence and election interference operations. 

“The individuals and entities designated today played various roles in Russia’s attempts to manipulate and destabilise the United States and its allies and partners, including Ukraine,” the Treasury said in a statement, naming the individuals as Russian citizens Aleksandr Viktorovich Ionov and Natalya Valeryevna Burlinova. 

Ukraine opens investigation into attack that killed Ukrainian prisoners of war

The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office opened a pre-trial investigation into an attack that killed about 40 Ukrainian prisoners of war.

It said “the occupying state struck the territory of correctional colony No. 120” in an attack in which 130 people were also injured.

Each side accused the other of carrying out the attack in territory held by Russian-backed separatists. 

Zelenskyy says Ukraine ready to ship grain, awaits signal to start

Ukraine’s president visited a Black Sea port to show his country is ready to start exporting grain under a Türkiye-brokered deal aimed at easing global food shortages, and said Kiev was awaiting the signal for the first shipment.

“We are ready to export Ukrainian grain. We are waiting for signals from our partners about the start of transportation,” Zelenskyy said on the Telegram messaging app after visiting the port of Chornomorsk near the southern city of Odessa. 

Zelenskyy visits Ukraine port to oversee first grain export 

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has visited a port in southern Ukraine to oversee grain being loaded for export onto a ship, the presidency has said, following a Türkiye-brokered deal with Russia.

“The first vessel, the first ship is being loaded since the beginning of the war. This is a Turkish vessel,” Zelenskyy said, according to a statement from the presidency. Video footage from the Chornomorsk port released by the presidency showed him in front of a ship called Polarnet.

The statement said exports could start in “the coming days” under the plan aimed at getting millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain stranded by Russia’s naval blockade to world markets.

Macron, bin Salman to work to ‘ease effects’ of Ukraine conflict

French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have agreed to work “to ease the effects” of the conflict in Ukraine during talks in Paris.

The French presidency said in a statement that the leaders highlighted “the need to bring an end to this conflict and intensify their cooperation to ease the effects in Europe, the Middle East and the wider world”.

The statement made no explicit reference to oil or gas, but said Macron had “underlined the importance of continuing the ongoing coordination with Saudi Arabia with regards to the diversification of energy supplies for European countries.”

Lavrov: Moscow will propose time for Blinken call on prisoners

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Moscow would soon propose a time for a call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which Blinken has said he wants to discuss an exchange of prisoners held in Russian and US jails.

Blinken said on Wednesday that Washington had made a “substantial offer” to obtain the release of US basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, both detained in Russia.

A source said that Washington was willing to exchange convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, jailed in the United States, as part of such a deal.

READ MORE: Who is Viktor Bout? Blinken’s latest bargaining chip with Russia

Kremlin: Russia is in solidarity with Beijing over Taiwan

Russia is in solidarity with Chinese President Xi Jinping over China’s sovereignty on the issue of Taiwan, the Kremlin has said.

“No country should call it into question,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday.

Russia supports Beijing’s “One China” policy on the issue of Taiwan, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier, after Xi warned US President Joe Biden not to “play with fire” over the island. 

Germany to send Ukraine 16 bridge-layer tanks

Germany’s defence minister has decided to deliver 16 BIBER bridge-layer tanks to Ukrainian forces, the ministry said.

“The BIBER will enable Ukrainian troops to cross waters or obstacles in combat,” the ministry said in a statement. “The delivery of the first six systems will take place this year, starting in autumn. Ten more systems will follow next year.”

Ukrainian court lowers Russian soldier’s sentence

An appeals court in Kiev has reduced to 15 years the life sentence of a Russian soldier convicted in the first “war crimes” trial since Russia began its military intervention in Ukraine.

Critics said the sentencing of Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old contract soldier who pleaded guilty to killing a civilian and was convicted in May, was unduly harsh, given that he confessed to the crime, said he was following orders and expressed remorse.

His defence lawyer, Viktor Ovsyannikov, had appealed to the court to reduce the sentence to 10 years. He said it was highly likely Shishimarin would be returned to Russia in a prisoner exchange.

North Macedonia donates tanks to Ukraine 

North Macedonia has plans to donate an unspecified number of Soviet-era tanks to Ukraine as it seeks to modernise its own military to meet NATO standards, its defence ministry said.

In a statement, the ministry said Ukraine will receive tanks belonging to the western Balkan country’s tank battalion which is in the process of being upgraded.

Deadly shelling on prison sparks blame game

At least 40 Ukrainian prisoners captured during the fighting for Mariupol have been killed by Ukrainian shelling, Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have said. Kiev has in turned blamed Russia for the deadly attack.

Daniil Bezsonov, a spokesperson for the separatists in the Donetsk region, said that at least 40 Ukrainian prisoners were killed and 130 were injured on Friday when Ukrainian shelling hit a prison in the town of Olenivka. There was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian authorities to the report.

The Russian army accused Kiev’s forces of striking the jail with US-made HIMARS rocket systems. “Forty Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed and 75 wounded,” the defence ministry said in a statement, adding that eight employees of the detention centre were also injured.

UK: Russia is failing in many areas of Ukraine conflict

Britain’s defence minister Ben Wallace has said that Russia is failing in “many areas” in its conflict in Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin might seek to change strategy again.

“The Russians are failing at the moment on the ground in many areas…Putin’s plan A, B, and C has failed and he may look to plan D,” Wallace told Sky News television.

Russian strikes kill several at bus stop in south Ukraine

Russian strikes on the heavily bombed Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv near the country’s southern frontline killed four people and wounded seven more on Friday, the regional governor said.

“Today, they shot at another area near a public transport stop. According to the latest information, four people are dead and seven are injured,” Vitaliy Kim said in a statement on social media.

Russia’s Lavrov says Moscow will propose time for call with Blinken

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Moscow will soon propose a date for a call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Blinken said on Wednesday he planned to hold a conversation with Lavrov to discuss an exchange of prisoners held in Russian and US jails.

Ukraine steps up its offensive in south, Russia bombs Kiev

Ukraine increased its counter-attacks against Russian forces in the south while Moscow bombed Kiev’s outskirts for the first time in weeks as Europe’s biggest conflict since World War Two dragged on with no end in sight.

Air raid sirens blared as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed parliament alongside visiting Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, as Ukraine marked its Day of Ukrainian Statehood with a public holiday for the first time on Thursday.

The attack shattered the sense of normalcy that has returned to life in Kiev since Russian forces abandoned attempts to capture the city in the first weeks of the conflict, in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance.

“This was Russia offering greetings on Ukraine’s Day of State Sovereignty”

Governor Vyacheslav Chausov

For live updates from Thursday (July 28), click here

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