Wed, 29 Nov 2023

President Volodymyr Zelensky worked to shore up US support for Ukraine on a whirlwind visit to Washington on Thursday, meeting with President Biden after delivering an upbeat message on the war's progress while facing new questions about the flow of American dollars that for 19 months has helped keep his troops in the fight against Russian forces. Click on the player below to watch Biden welcome him to the White House.

8:12pm: Zelensky says Ukraine counts on 'constant support' from US against Russia

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday Ukraine was hoping for continued backing from the United States, in a visit to Washington.

"To win, we must stand together. And win together. We count on you, on your constant support," Zelensky said, according to a statement on the Ukrainian presidency's website released after a meeting with top US officials.

7:41pm: Biden to announce air defence, no ATACMS missiles yet for Ukraine, White House says

US President Joe Biden will announce new air defence weapons for Ukraine during a visit by President Volodymyr Zelensky Thursday but will not give Kyiv long-range ATACMS missiles yet, the White House said.

"President Biden will announce a new package of military assistance today including significant air defence capabilities to help Ukraine," National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told a briefing.

7:26pm: Polish president says PM was misinterpreted on Ukraine arms

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Friday claimed that the prime minister's comments on no longer arming Ukraine had been taken the wrong way.

Mateusz Morawiecki's "words were interpreted in the worst way possible... In my opinion, the prime minister meant that we won't be transferring to Ukraine the new weaponry that we're currently buying as we modernise the Polish army," Duda told polish news channel TVN24.

6:04pm: Bulgaria expels head of Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia

Bulgaria expelled the head of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia and two Belarusian priests for allegedly acting in Moscow's geopolitical interests, authorities said Thursday.

The National Security Agency accused the three clerics of implementing Moscow's "hybrid strategy to purposefully influence the socio-political processes in Bulgaria in favour of Russian geopolitical interests".

The agency, which only identified the men by their initials and nationalities, banned them from entering the country for five years.

The Russian embassy in Sofia said in a Facebook post that one of the men was the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church in Sofia, Archimandrite Vassian.

3:03pm: Zelensky arrives in US Congress to face Republican skeptics on Ukraine aid

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived Thursday morning at the US Congress, where he is set to meet with Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate who have voiced scepticism over further aid to his country.

Zelensky's meetings will also include Democrats, though it's an increasingly outspoken wing of the Republican party, especially in the House of Representatives, that is wary of spending more funds for the war effort against Russia.

2:52pm: First Ukraine grain ship since Russian blockade reaches Istanbul

The first grain ship to sail from Ukraine since Russia reimposed its Black Sea blockade in July reached Istanbul on Thursday, marine traffic monitors said.

Ukrainian officials said the Palau-flagged Resilient Africa vessel was carrying 3,000 tonnes of wheat when it left Ukraine's Chornomorsk port on Tuesday.

1:15pm: Zelensky arrives in Washington, says air defence aid 'top issue'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday arrived in Washington to hold talks on securing more US weapons, saying "air defence" is Kyiv's priority, as Moscow hit Ukraine with another barrage of missiles.

"Today there are important negotiations in Washington. Air defence for Ukraine is among the top issues," Zelensky said on Telegram as he arrived from New York. "More air defence, more support for Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines."

1:02pm: Ukraine says hit military airfield on annexed Crimean peninsula

Ukraine on Thursday said it had struck a military airfield on the Russia-annexed Crimean peninsula, the latest claimed attack on the Black Sea territory Kyiv has vowed to recapture.

"On the night of September 21, the Defense Forces of Ukraine launched a combined attack on a military airfield of the occupiers near the city of Saky in the temporarily occupied Crimea," the army's communication department said in a statement on social media.

11:45am: Slovakia, Ukraine agree grain trade system to replace ban, says Slovak ministry

Slovakia and Ukraine's farm ministers have agreed to establish a licensing system for trading in grains, allowing a ban on imports of four Ukrainian commodities to Slovakia to be lifted once the system is set up, the Slovak Agriculture Ministry said on Thursday.

Slovakia, Poland and Hungary announced national restrictions on Ukrainian grain imports last week after the European Commission decided not to extend its ban on imports into five EU eastern European member states.

The row escalated as Ukraine, which has used land routes to the west to make up for lost export possibilities by sea amid Russia's invasion, filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over the bans.

"(Ministers) agreed on creating a grain trade system based on issuing and controlling licences," the Slovak ministry said in an email. "Until this system is up and running and fully tested, the ban on imports of four commodities from Ukraine remains in place."

Ukraine also agreed to halt the complaint at the WTO, the Slovak ministry said.

11:32am: Poland says it will only provide Kyiv with previously agreed weapons

Poland will complete arms deliveries previously agreed with Kyiv, Warsaw said Thursday, a day after Polish leaders announced an end to arms supplies amid a grain row with Ukraine.

"Poland will only carry out previously agreed deliveries of ammunition and armaments. Including those resulting from contracts signed with Ukraine," government spokesman Piotr Muller told the PAP agency.

11:30am: Ukraine, Poland to hold talks on grain dispute 'in coming days' says Kyiv

Kyiv said Thursday it would hold talks with Warsaw in the coming days over an escalating dispute on Ukrainian grain exports, as the neighbours reiterated their "close" ties.

"The next negotiations will take place in the coming days, during which the issues prepared by both sides will be discussed," Kyiv's agriculture ministry said in a statement, announcing a call between the Polish and Ukrainian agriculture ministers.

9:24am: Ukraine warns of difficult months ahead after 'massive' Russian barrage

Ukraine warned Thursday of difficult months ahead after a "massive" Russian overnight missile attack that left people dead and wounded across the country.

"Tonight, Russia launched a massive attack on Ukraine," Oleksiy Kuleba, the deputy head of the presidential office said. "Difficult months are ahead: Russia will attack energy and critically important facilities," he added, as fears rise over energy security ahead of a second winter of war.

9:07am: Poland not supplying Kyiv arms now, 'will see' about future, says minister

Poland is not currently supplying arms to Ukraine and "will see" about future deliveries, the state assets minister said on Thursday, after the prime minister said Warsaw was no longer supplying weapons.

"At the moment it is as the prime minister said, in the future we will see," Jacek Sasin told private broadcaster radio Plus when asked about Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieci's comments.

7:48am: Kyiv accuses Poland of 'populism' over decision to stop arming Ukraine

Poland's decision to stop sending arms to Ukraine amid a dispute over grain exports marks a change in attitude towards Kyiv that is likely driven by internal politics, FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reported from Ukraine. Poland is holding a general election on October 15.

"The ruling party is in trouble due to a corruption scandal and it's losing votes to the far right, which has a much more anti-Ukrainian stance ... Kyiv is accusing Poland of populism, basically pandering to the far right, with this anti-Ukrainian rhetoric," Cragg said.

7:11am: Belgium considering supplying F-16s to Ukraine, PM says

Belgium is considering whether to supply its F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said.

Belgium is replacing its F-16s with F-35 fighter jets and its defence ministry had said earlier the F-16s were too old for Ukraine to use in battle, though De Croo said they might still be of use, for example in training pilots.

"I have asked Defence to see what use our F-16s could have in Ukraine," De Croo told Belgian broadcaster VRT on Wednesday, speaking on the sidelines of the U.N. general meeting in New York. "We need to consider all options."

7:04am: Two killed in Russian shelling of Ukraine's Kherson governor says

Two people were killed in Ukraine's Kherson region in Russian shelling, the regional governor said Thursday, during overnight attacks on several Ukrainian cities.

"The Russian army shelled the residential quarters of Kherson ... as of this hour, we know of two dead civilians. Their identities are currently being established," Kherson regional governor Oleksandr Prokudin said on the messaging platform Telegram.

6:12am: Zelensky returns to Washington to face growing dissent among Republicans to US spending for Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky returns to Washington on Thursday for a whirlwind one-day visit, this time to face the Republicans now questioning the flow of American dollars that for 19 months has kept his troops in the fight against Russian forces.

Zelensky will meet with President Joe Biden at the White House, speak with US military leaders at the Pentagon and stop at Capitol Hill to talk privately with Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate as the world is watching Western support for Kyiv.

It is Zelensky's second visit to Washington since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and comes as Biden's request to Congress for an additional $24 billion for Ukraine's military and humanitarian needs is hanging in the balance.

Since the start of the war, most members of Congress supported approving four rounds of aid to Ukraine, totalling about $113 billion, viewing defence of the country and its democracy as an imperative, especially when it comes to containing Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some of that money went toward replenishing US military equipment sent to the front lines.

6:08am: Russia says NATO drills are 'aggressive', risky, state media reports

Russia's foreign ministry said on Thursday NATO drills near Russian borders were of an increasingly provocative and aggressive nature and increased risk of incidents, Russia's RIA news agency reported.

The ministry was referring to the Steadfast Defender exercise planned next year in Europe.

5:31am: Blasts heard in Kyiv, other parts of Ukraine

Blasts could be heard in Kyiv after an air raid alert on Thursday morning, witnesses said, as authorities sent rescue teams to at least two locations in the Ukrainian capital.

Air defences are at work and rescuers are on their way to possible blast sites in the city's eastern and southern districts, city Mayor Vitali Klitschko wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Missile debris fell in central Kyiv and non-residential buildings were damaged in the east, causing a fire, he said, with some people seeking medical help.

Officials and local media also reported blasts in Ukraine's Kharkiv, Khmelnytskiy, Rivne, Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk regions.

4:53am: Germany to host Ukraine reconstruction talks next year

Germany will host an international conference on the reconstruction of Ukraine next year, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said following a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky in New York.

The June 11, 2024 talks will take place in Berlin, added the chancellery in a statement.

London hosted the last such conference, which brought together leaders and representatives of more than 60 countries and financial institutions in June to release funds for the country to rebuild after the Russian invasion.

The aim of the conference is to help Ukraine keep its economy afloat and, in the longer term, to rebuild its infrastructure.

3:40am: Beijing, Moscow must deepen cooperation, says China foreign minister

Beijing's top diplomat told President Vladimir Putin that China and Russia must work to strengthen cooperation in the face of a "complex international situation", Chinese state media reported Thursday.

Speaking at a meeting with Putin in Saint Petersburg at which the Russian leader accepted an invitation to visit China next month, Wang Yi said the "world is rapidly moving toward multipolarity".

"Both sides need to strengthen their multilateral strategic cooperation, protect their legitimate rights and interests, and make new efforts to promote the international order toward fairness and justice," Wang said, according to an English readout by Beijing's Xinhua news agency.

Putin, in response, told Wang "our positions coincide regarding the emergence of a multipolar world", according to a readout from the Kremlin.

2:17am: Russia says 19 Ukrainian drones destroyed over Crimea, Black Sea

Russia said Thursday it had destroyed 19 Ukrainian drones overnight above the Moscow-annexed Crimean peninsula and the surrounding Black Sea.

Moscow's defence ministry said on the messaging platform Telegram that a Ukrainian attempted attack with aircraft-type unmanned aerial vehicles had been "thwarted".

It said three other UAV drones had also been downed elsewhere in separate attacks.

"Air defence systems destroyed 19 Ukrainian UAVs over the Black Sea and the territory of the Republic of Crimea, and one each over the territories of Kursk, Belgorod and Oryol regions," the ministry said.

The Belgorod and Kursk regions border eastern Ukraine, while Oryol is closer to the capital.

12:16am: France regrets Polish decision to ban Ukraine grain imports

French Foreign Minister Catherina Colonna said Wednesday that Poland's decision to ban Ukrainian grain imports was unjustified, amid rising tensions between the two eastern European countries over the dispute.

"These tensions are regrettable," Colonna told AFP in an interview on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Citing an EU study, Colonna said that Ukrainian grain imports would not disrupt the market or cripple European farmers. "There is no market upheaval and there are perhaps internal political considerations on the part of some of our partners which, unfortunately, pushes them to have this position that nothing justifies."

12:04am: Poland says it will no longer arm Ukraine

Poland will no longer arm Ukraine to focus on its own defence, the Polish prime minister said on Wednesday, a few hours after Warsaw summoned Kyiv's ambassador amid a row over grain exports.

"We are no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine, because we are now arming Poland with more modern weapons," Mateusz Morawiecki said, in response to a question from a reporter on whether Warsaw would continue to support Kyiv despite the grain exports disagreement.

Poland has been one of Ukraine's staunchest supporters after Russia invaded in February 2022 and is one of Kyiv's main weapons suppliers. It also hosts some one million Ukrainian refugees, who have benefited from various kinds of state aid.

Tensions between Warsaw and Kyiv, sparked by Poland's ban on Ukrainian grain imports to protect the interests of its farmers, have intensified in recent days.

Key developments from Wednesday, September 20:

US President Joe Biden plans to announce a significant military aid package for Ukraine on Thursday to coincide with a visit to Washington by President Volodymyr Zelensky, a US official said on Wednesday on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the UN Security Council that Russia's invasion of his country was "criminal" and said that Moscow should be stripped of its veto power on the powerful UN body.

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

(France 24 with AFP, AP, and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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