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Latest news on Russia and the war in Ukraine

Bulgaria to temporarily ban agri-food imports from Ukraine

Bulgaria’s caretaker government said on Wednesday that it will adopt a decision to temporarily ban the imports of agricultural foods from Ukraine, excluding goods in transit.

The decision is being taken in response to serious difficulties arising for local agricultural producers as a result of the so-called solidarity corridors launched by the EU in aid of Ukraine’s economy following the Russian invasion, the government said in a statement.

Over the past year, Bulgaria has seen large volumes of grain and foods remain in the country, upsetting local production and supply chains, caretaker prime minister Galab Donev said, as quoted in the statement.

“If this trend persists, or grows stronger after the introduction of similar bans by other countries, there may be extremely serious consequences for Bulgarian businesses,” he added.

Farmers are seen harvesting wheat in Druzhkivka, Ukraine on 7 August, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Earlier this week Slovakia became the third country after Poland and Hungary to ban grain and food import from Ukraine to protect local farmers. On Tuesday, Romania’s Social Democrat Party (PSD), a member of the governing coalition, too said it will ask the cabinet to suspend imports of agri-food products from Ukraine.

In March, the European Commission proposed total financial aid of 26.8 million euro ($29.4 million) to farmers in Bulgaria and Romania, in response to concerns about the negative effect on local markets stemming from high-volume imports of cheaper cereals and oilseeds from Ukraine.

— Reuters

Southern Ukraine pummelled by Russian forces after Putin visit

The southern Ukrainian regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia were pummelled by Russian missiles on Tuesday, the same day the Kremlin announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin had visited Russian troops in Kherson.

The Zaporizhzhia Regional Military Administration Head Yurii Malashko said on Telegram Wednesday that the region, which is partially occupied by Russian forces, had been attacked nearly 100 times over the past day, causing damage to civil infrastructure.

“The communities situated at the contact line have faced four air strikes, one unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attack, three multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) attacks and 93 artillery strikes,” Malashko said, noting that over two dozen towns and villages had been attacked. 

Civilians collect surviving goods in a market after the shelling on April 18, 2023 in Kherson, Ukraine. One person died, nine others were injured of varying degrees of severity.

Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Another Ukrainian official said the Russian army fired 79 times at the Kherson region over the past day, launching 350 shells from heavy artillery and unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. The city of Kherson had been shelled 12 times, the head of the Kherson regional military administration, Oleksandr Prokudin, said on Telegram.

“The Russian military targeted the residential quarters of the populated areas of the region; hit the territory of the market and the building of the educational institution in Kherson,” Prokudin said, with the attacks leaving one person dead and injuring 10 others.

CNBC was unable to immediately verify the details within the reports. On Tuesday, the Kremlin announced that President Putin had visited Russian military headquarters in occupied Kherson. It did not say when the visit had taken place, however.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine says Black Sea grain deal ship inspections are resuming

Inspections of ships are resuming under a U.N.-brokered agreement on the safe export of grain from Ukrainian Black Sea ports, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Wednesday.

He wrote on Facebook that “ship inspections are being resumed, despite the RF’s (Russian Federation’s) attempts to disrupt the agreement.”

The Russian news agency RIA said inspections had already resumed after two days of talks, citing the U.N. coordinator’s press office.

A team inspects the produce in the ship carrying wheat from Ukraine to Afghanistan after inspection in the open sea around Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul, Turkiye on January 24, 2023.

TUR Ministry of National Defence | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Kubrakov is in Turkey to discuss the status of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was agreed by Russia and Ukraine last July to help alleviate a global food crisis.

Moscow says it agreed to extend the deal only until May 18. Kyiv and the United Nations say the deal has another 60 days to run after then, and is seeking an agreement to ensure it continues. Kyiv says Russian inspectors stopped letting through vessels supposed to ship grain from Ukraine.

Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky said on Wednesday Moscow was increasing difficulties for Ukraine at a time when three eastern European countries have banned imports of Ukrainian grain and food products.

“Obviously, the Russians could not fail to take advantage of these nuances on the western (Ukrainian) border,” Solsky told reporters.

RIA quoted the Russian foreign ministry as on Wednesday as saying Ukraine and the United Nations were causing difficulties with the ship inspections.

Ukraine and Poland reached an agreement on Tuesday to unblock transit of Ukrainian grain from Friday, but the import bans remain in place in Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

— Reuters

Russia’s disinformation campaign involves ‘narrative laundering,’ UK says

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russia’s pervasive “disinformation campaign” since the start of its invasion of Ukraine has been to promote unverified information as fact at a mainstream level.

The Russian state has systematically used information operations as a major element of its strategy in the war, the ministry noted in its intelligence update on Twitter Wednesday, noting that it has “cultivated multiple channels and proxies to spread disinformation: the intentional creation and sharing of false or manipulated information.”

Peter Cade | Iconica | Getty Images

One component of Russia’s disinformation is “narrative laundering,” the U.K. said, noting that this occurs when “Russia promotes information from proxies, or unverified social media sources, which then permeates to more mainstream or state-run media.”

That has the aim of clouding the source of the information, it said, “making it easier for the Russian state to distance itself from the message. It then promotes misleading fragments of the narrative, while masking its vested interest.”

Russian state actors current priorities almost certainly include discrediting the government in Ukraine and reducing international support for the country, the ministry noted.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine’s cheap exports prompt a rift among its European allies

A farmer and member of the AgroUnia union inspects unsold corn grain stores on a farm in Sedziejowo, Poland, on Monday, April 17, 2023. 

Bartek Sadowski | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Western nations have sought to help Ukraine maintain its vital exports of grain and agricultural products since the war with Russia began, but troubles have been brewing in eastern Europe where a glut of Ukraine’s abundant and cheaper produce is seen to be damaging the interests of domestic suppliers.

Following a tide of rising anger from their own producers, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia in recent days have introduced temporary bans on Ukrainian grain imports and other agricultural products, saying these have created unfair competition and trading conditions for local farmers.

Read more on the tensions here: Ukraine’s cheap grain is causing an awkward rift with its European neighbors and allies

— Holly Ellyatt

U.S. can ‘cheat’ at any moment, Russian foreign minister claims

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that “the United States can cheat at any moment,” claiming Russia had experienced this when the Western military alliance NATO expanded eastward.

“I want to emphasize that everyone knows very well that the United States can cheat at any moment, and much more often they cheat than they keep their own promises, their own proposals,” Lavrov said as he addressed a press conference following talks with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Gil Pinto.

Lavrov claimed this deception was seen when former Soviet and Russian Federation Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin “were assured that NATO would not expand,” he added.

Russia has long complained that it was deceived by Western nations at the end of the Cold War and into the 1990s into believing that NATO would not expand eastward toward its territory.

Analysts say, however, that the USSR was never offered any formal guarantee on limits to NATO expansion and that the “betrayal narrative” is designed to provoke anti-Western sentiment.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) leaves Miraflores Palace after meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (right) in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 18, 2023.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Lavrov’s latest comments, reported by state news agency Tass and news outlet RIA Novosti, and translated by Google, come as he carries out a tour of Latin American countries this week, a trip seen as a way for Russia to cement its alliances with countries in the region.

Lavrov characterized Russia as the “world champion” in terms of the number of sanctions imposed by the West, and said Moscow would share its experience of avoiding their impact with Venezuela, a country that has been under Western sanctions for several years for a variety of reasons.

“I am convinced that our experience will also be useful to our Venezuelan friends, because we are now world champions in terms of the number of sanctions and we are accumulating experience quickly. So we will share it with our Venezuelan colleagues,” Lavrov said.

— Holly Ellyatt

G-7 condemns Russia’s threat to station nuclear weapons in Belarus, communique says

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi speaks during the Presidency’s press conference at the G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Karuizawa, Japan on April 18, 2023.

Eugene Hoshiko | Pool | AFP | Getty Images

The G-7 reemphasized the bloc’s support for Ukraine and criticized Russia’s threat to deploy nuclear weapons in Belarus, it said in a communique on Tuesday.

Any use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by Russia in Ukraine would face “severe consequences,” the ministers said following their meeting in Karuizawa, Japan.

The G-7 also denounced Russia’s “seizure and militarization” of Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant as a threat to nuclear security. Russia’s repeated shelling of the plant last year raised concerns from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog about the risk of a major nuclear disaster.

The G-7 added it will continue to intensify sanctions against Russia and take action against third parties who assist Russian war efforts in Ukraine.

— Audrey Wan

Finland completes first joint naval exercise as a NATO member

NATO held its first-ever joint exercise with Finland since the nation joined the military alliance earlier this month. German and Portuguese ships participated alongside the Finnish navy in the exercise in the Gulf of Finland.

Finland submitted a bid to join the world’s most powerful military alliance on the heels of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

— Amanda Macias

Zelenskyy meets with troops on the frontlines in Donetsk

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday visited front-line positions of the country’s military in the city of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region, one of the hot spots of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

Ukrainian Presidency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited service members on the front lines in the country’s Donetsk region.

“It is a pleasure for me to see you, shake your strong hands and know that you hold the future of Ukraine in your hands. I am proud to have this meeting. I am proud that there are such strong people in Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said, according to a readout provided by the Ukrainian government.

“Things happen thanks to you. Take care. Our future depends on you,” he added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday visited front-line positions of the country’s military in the city of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region, one of the hot spots of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

Ukrainian Presidency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday visited front-line positions of the country’s military in the city of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region, one of the hot spots of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

Ukrainian Presidency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday visited front-line positions of the country’s military in the city of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region, one of the hot spots of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

Ukrainian Presidency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

While in Donetsk, Zelenskyy also met with wounded troops in a local hospital dedicated to treating service members with combat-related injuries.

“Thank you for your service. I wish you a speedy recovery. All the best to you,” Zelenskyy said, according to a readout of his visit. He also presented some troops with service medals.

— Amanda Macias

Ukrainian defense minister shows off French fighting vehicles ready for use on the battlefield

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov shared a video of the French-made AMX-10 armored fighting vehicles, slated to make their combat debut with Ukraine’s marines.

“We took it for a spin together with our warriors, and we agreed to call the AMX-10 the ‘sniper rifle on the fast wheels,'” Reznikov said in a tweet.

“Thank you to my colleague Sebastien Lecornu and to [President] Emmanuel Macron with whom I had a chance to meet and to discuss our priorities and needs. And of course, thank you to all people of France for your strong support,” he added.

— Amanda Macias

Ukraine denies reports that Russia has restarted ship inspections for grain exports

Ukraine is rejecting reports that Russian inspectors have restarted inspections of export ships under the Black Sea grain deal.

“Nothing has been resolved. There are no inspections,” Reuters quoted an unnamed Ukrainian official as saying.

Earlier on Tuesday, Russian state news agency RIA cited a Russian foreign ministry official saying that Russian inspections of grain ships leaving Ukraine had restarted.

A deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukrainian grain was renewed in mid-March for at least 60 days — just half of the intended period — after Russia warned that any further extension beyond mid-May would depend on the removal of some Western sanctions.

Ukraine, an agricultural powerhouse, was one of the world’s top exporters of grain and other produce like corn and sunflower oil before Russia’s invasion. A Russian naval blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports caused a spike in prices of those goods worldwide and stoked fears of food crises in parts of the developing world.

— Natasha Turak

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