Fri, 22 Sep 2023

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday said Warsaw would deliver an initial batch of four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, in what would be the first such shipment by a NATO member. Ukraine has repeatedly asked its Western allies to send warplanes - although seeking primarily modern US-made F-16s - but so far no Western countries had committed to give jets to Kyiv. Read our live blog to see how all the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

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9:11pm: UN backs Turkey, Ukraine in call for 120-day grain deal rollover

The United Nations backed Turkey and Ukraine on Thursday by calling for a 120-day rollover of an agreement allowing the safe export of grain from several Ukrainian Black Sea ports after Russia said it would only extend the pact for 60 days.

The pact is due to expire on Saturday. It was brokered with Russia and Ukraine by the United Nations and Turkey in July - and renewed in November - to combat a global food crisis that was fueled in part by Russia's Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of neighbouring Ukraine and blockade of its Black Sea grain exports.

"For us, the text in the agreement is clear and it calls for a 120-day rollover," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Reuters when asked about remarks by Turkey.

8:05pm: German Chancellor Scholz sees prolonged war in Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz does not expect the war in Ukraine to end soon, he told business daily Handelsblatt on Thursday, confirming Berlin would support Kyiv as long as it is necessary with money and arms.

"We should be prepared for a prolonged war, even if an early end would be desirable," Scholz was quoted as saying, adding that it remained absolutely vital that China not supply Russia with weapons.

8:02pm: Russia likely trying to recover US drone debris in Black Sea, Pentagon says

The United States has indications that Russia is likely trying to recover debris from the US drone downed after a Russian intercept over the Black Sea on Tuesday, the Pentagon said on Thursday, even as it played down Moscow's prospects for success.

"We do have indications that Russia is likely making an effort to try to recover MQ-9 debris ... however, we assess it's very unlikely that they would be able to recover anything useful," said Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesperson.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Russian ships had been seen near the area where the drone had crashed, though they did not appear to have recovered any parts of the drone yet. It was not clear if they were still in the area.

7:57pm: US was informed Poland would provide fighter jets to Ukraine, White House says

The US was informed of Poland's decision to provide Ukraine with fighter jets, the White House said on Thursday.

"We continue to closely coordinate with our allies and partners, including Poland, as we provide assistance to Ukraine," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

7:49pm: UN-backed inquiry accuses Russia of war crimes in Ukraine

Russian attacks against civilians in Ukraine, including systematic torture and killing in occupied regions, amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, according to a report from a UN-backed inquiry released Thursday.

The sweeping human rights report, released a year to the day after a Russian air strike on a theater in Mariupol killed hundreds sheltering inside, marked a highly unusual condemnation of a member of the UN Security Council.

Among potential crimes against humanity, the report cited repeated attacks targeting Ukrainian infrastructure since the fall that left hundreds of thousands without heat and electricity during the coldest months, as well as the "systematic and widespread" use of torture across multiple regions under Russian occupation.

7:44pm: US has resources needed to support Ukraine this fiscal year, White House says

The White House said on Thursday it believes the United States has sufficient resources to support Ukraine through the end of this fiscal year.

7:38pm: Polish MiGs to Ukraine 'does not change' US opposition to sending jets, White House says

Poland's move to become the first country to send MiG-29 warplanes to Ukraine does not alter the US decision against sending its own fighter aircraft to Kyiv, the White House said Thursday.

"It doesn't change our calculus with regards to F16s," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters, referring to the US-built fighter jet. Poland's move "does not affect, does not change" that.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking to reporters on a visit to Niger, alluded to the heavy costs of US fighter jets.

"I think it's a mistake to get focused on any particular weapons system at any given time," Blinken said.

He said it was important "not only making sure that the Ukrainians have the right weapons system but that they can use it".

"So depending on the system, that might require significant training" or maintenance, Blinken said.

7:13pm: Russia OKs alternative civil service for mobilised believer

A court in Russia on Thursday affirmed the right of a man mobilised to fight in Ukraine to perform an alternative form of civil service due to his stated religious beliefs, setting a precedent that could persuade more reluctant draftees to try to get out of military service.

The Leningrad Regional Court upheld a ruling of a lower court that deemed the drafting of Pavel Mushumansky unlawful and said he was entitled to fulfill his duty in another way, Mushumansky's lawyer, Alexander Peredruk, said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a call-up of army reservists in September. Although officials said 300,000 men were drafted as planned, the mobilisation also spurred resistance. Tens of thousands of men fled the country, and some of those who stayed ignored their summons.

6:29pm: White House says Xi-Zelensky talks would be a 'good thing'

The White House said Thursday that talks between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Chinese leader Xi Jinping would be a "good thing", but warned Beijing against taking a "one-sided" view of the conflict.

"We think it would be a very good thing if the two of them talk," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters when asked about a Wall Street Journal report that the Ukrainian leader is set to talk with Xi for the first time since Chinese-ally Russia invaded.

"We support and have supported" contact, Kirby said. But he cautioned against a Chinese push for a ceasefire in Ukraine, saying it would simply help Russian aggression.

There has been no confirmation of a call to Zelensky by Xi. However, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba talked by phone Thursday.

6:23pm: Poland to be first NATO member to send fighter jets to Ukraine

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday said Warsaw would deliver an initial batch of four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, in what would be the first such shipment by a NATO member.

Ukraine has repeatedly asked its Western allies to send warplanes - although seeking primarily modern US-made F-16s - but so far no Western countries had committed to give jets to Kyiv.

"In the coming days we will first transfer, if I remember correctly, four fully operational planes to Ukraine," Duda told reporters of the Soviet-designed jets.

Sending any fighter jets would mark a crucial development in the conflict and would boost Kyiv's defence against Russian missile strikes and drone attacks.

1:25pm: Poland to send Ukraine 4 MiG-29 jets in coming days, president says

Poland will send Ukraine four MiG-29 fighter jets in the coming days, the president said on Thursday.

"Firstly, literally within the next few days, we will hand over, as far as I remember, four aircraft to Ukraine in full working order," Andrzej Duda told a news conference. "The rest are being prepared, serviced."

1:15pm: Russia is facing 'sanctions war', Putin says

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia was facing a "sanctions war" in his first major address to the country's business elite since the day he ordered tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine last year.

Putin said Russia was swiftly reorienting its economy towards countries that had not hit Russia with sanctions, and thanked business leaders for working to help the Russian state.

11:17am: Pentagon releases video of Black Sea drone incident

The Pentagon on Thursday released a video that shows a Russian military jet coming very close to a US military drone, dumping fuel near it and a damaged propeller in the aftermath of the intercept.

The 42-second video shows a Russian Su-27 approaching the back of the MQ-9 drone and beginning to release fuel as it passes. Dumping the fuel appeared to be aimed at blinding its optical instruments and driving it out of the area, the Pentagon said.

On a second approach, either the same jet or another Russian fighter struck the drone's propeller, damaging one blade.

The US military said it ditched the MQ-9 Reaper in the sea after what it described as the Russian fighter making an unsafe intercept of the unmanned aerial vehicle.

The de-classified video was edited by the US military for length but shows events in a sequential order, the Pentagon said.

Russia has denied US accusations that its jets acted recklessly in the incident on Tuesday over the Black Sea.

Pentagon releases video of collision between Russian jet and a US drone over the Black Sea

10:50am: Best way to protect Moldova from attack is to protect Ukraine, UK foreign minister says

British foreign minister James Cleverly said on Thursday that the best way to protect Moldova from attack by Russia was to protect Ukraine.

Asked by reporters whether Britain planned on sending military support to Moldova, Cleverly said: "We strongly believe that one of the best ways of protecting Moldova from physical attack is helping the Ukrainians defend themselves against Russia."

9:43am: No signs Ukraine is withdrawing troops from Bakhmut, Russian-installed official says

The situation for Russian forces trying to capture the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is "difficult", because there are no signs Kyiv is ready to order a withdrawal of its troops, the Russian-installed leader of Ukraine's Donetsk region said on Thursday.

Russian forces led by the private Wagner militia have been trying to encircle and capture the eastern Ukrainian city for months in what has turned into one of the bloodiest battles of the year-long war.

Russia, which refers to the city by its Soviet-era name of Artyomovsk, says capturing the city will allow it to launch more offensives deeper into Ukrainian territory which it says it is fighting to "liberate".

Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin has said his forces are in control of practically half the city and only one exit road remains available to Ukrainian forces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly said he will not withdraw his forces from Bakhmut, even as Kyiv and Western officials have downplayed the strategic significance of the city, which has been decimated by months of artillery shelling and urban combat.

9:33am: Important to ensure rapid munition supplies for Ukraine, Scholz says

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday warned that it was crucial to provide Ukraine as soon as possible with fresh munitions to resist Russia's invasion.

"It is very important that we quickly supply Ukraine with the necessary munitions," Scholz told Germany's lower house of parliament, promising action at an EU summit next week.

9:27am: Poland dismantles Russian spy ring

Polish counterintelligence has dismantled a Russian spy ring, Poland's defence minister said Thursday.

"The whole network has been dismantled," Mariusz Blaszczak told Polish public radio PR1. "It was an espionage group, a group of people who were collecting information for those who attacked Ukraine."

Private Polish radio station RMF, citing unnamed sources, said Wednesday that the ABW, Poland's counter-espionage service, had arrested six foreigners working for the Russian secret service and allegedly preparing for sabotage in Poland.

The suspects were reportedly arrested after the discovery of hidden cameras, which were placed on important railway routes and junctions, recording and transmitting data on traffic.

According to RMF, "dozens of devices" of this type were installed, mainly on sections of railways leading to the country's southeast, including near an airport that is one of the main transfer points for Ukraine-bound Western weapons and ammunition.

Authorities are now on high alert and the security of railroads and strategic infrastructure has been reinforced, according to RMF.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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