Ukraine war: Wheat export ships leave ports, Kyiv in POWs appeal, EU mulls Russia visa ban
1. First wheat export under UN deal as two more ships leave Ukraine
Two more ships left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Friday, including one laden with the first Ukrainian wheat to be exported under a UN-brokered deal, Turkey’s defence ministry said.
A total 14 ships have now departed from Ukraine over the past two weeks, following the deal with Russia to allow a resumption of grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, after they were stalled for five months due to the war.
The Belize-flagged Sormovsky left Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port on Friday, the Turkish ministry said, carrying 3,050 tonnes of wheat to Turkey’s northwestern Tekirdag province.
It was the first shipment of wheat from Ukraine, which, along with Russia, accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports before February 24, when Moscow launched its full invasion of its neighbour.
Ukraine has some 20 million tonnes of grain left over from last year’s crop, while this year’s wheat harvest is also estimated at 20 million tonnes.
The Marshall Island-flagged Star Laura also departed from the port of Pivdennyi, bound for Iran with 60,000 tonnes of corn aboard, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, another ship docked in a Ukrainian Black Sea port on Friday to begin loading up with wheat for hungry people in Ethiopia, in the first food delivery to Africa under the UN-brokered plan.
So far most of the cargoes under the deal have carried grain for animal feed or for fuel, heading to Turkey or Western Europe.
The MV Brave Commander, which left Istanbul on Wednesday, arrived late on Friday in Yuzhne, east of Odesa on the Black Sea, to pick up the grain purchased by the World Food Programme (WFP).
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the ship named Brave Commander will carry its wheat to the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, where it will be unloaded and sent on to Ethiopia.
“This is the first delivery of humanitarian food aid under the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri told a news briefing earlier in Geneva. The WFP hopes there will be regular humanitarian shipments thereafter.
Announcing the shipment, European Council President Charles Michel said “cooperation of all involved actors is key” to alleviating food shortages and hunger around the world.
Ethiopia, along with neighbouring Somalia and Kenya, is facing the worst drought in four decades in the Horn of Africa.
2. Russian oil flows to Czech Republic ‘to resume on Friday night’
Russian oil flows to the Czech Republic will resume through the Druzhba pipeline after more than a week on Friday evening, Slovak pipeline operator Transpetrol said, as transit fee payments were unblocked.
Supplies via the Druzhba pipeline had been suspended to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia since August 4, because Western sanctions prevented paying transit fees to Ukrainian transit company Ukrtransnafta, Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft said on Tuesday.
A European bank has agreed to process the payment for the transit of Russian oil through Ukraine, removing the cause of the stoppage.
“Tonight (Friday) at 2000 GMT (2200 CET), oil flow to the Czech Republic will be resumed,” a spokesperson for Transpetrol said.
Czech Industry Minister Jozef Sikela also said that the oil will start flowing again. The Czech Republic covers roughly half of its oil consumption from Russia.
“We have found a way to unblock the transit fee payment for oil deliveries and its shipment through the Druzhba will resume soon,” Sikela said on Twitter.
“The disruption did not affect the functioning of Czech refineries or the fuel market,” he added.
Flows to Hungary and Slovakia were restarted on Wednesday after Hungary’s refiner MOL and its Slovak unit Slovnaft found a workaround by paying the fee to Ukrtransnafta themselves.
Central European countries are partially dependent on Russian oil and largely dependent on Russian gas, and have secured exemptions from the European Union’s incoming ban on imports of Russian oil until they adjust their shipping routes and refineries so that they can take other oil.
3. Ukraine appeals to UN and Red Cross over POWs
Ukraine’s security agencies issued a joint statement on Friday calling for the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to send representatives to locations where Russia is holding Ukrainian prisoners-of-war (POWs).
The request follows earlier allegations by Kyiv that Moscow’s forces have tortured and executed prisoners, including by staging an explosion in a Ukrainian POW camp in Olenivka. Moscow claims Ukraine shelled the facility, killing over 50 POWs.
Ukraine’s General Staff on Friday reported widespread shelling and air attacks by Russian forces on scores of towns and military bases, especially in the east where Russia is trying to expand territory held on behalf of separatist proxies.
Ukrainian authorities said eleven rockets hit the area around the town of Kramatorsk overnight Thursday into Friday, damaging buildings but causing no civilian casualties.
The authorities also said Kurakhove, north of Donetsk, was also hit by rockets overnight. Two civilians were killed and a few residential houses damaged.
Pavlo Kyrylenko, governor of the eastern Donetsk region, said on Telegram seven civilians had been killed and 14 wounded in the past 24 hours.
Three civilians, including a boy, were wounded in overnight shelling of Marhanets, a town opposite the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, said in the latest in a string of similar reports.
4. Russia’s Black Sea aviation fleet degraded by Crimea blasts, says UK
Blasts this week at the Russian-operated Saky military airfield in western Crimea led to the loss of eight Russian combat jets, degrading its navy’s Black Sea aviation fleet, Britain said on Friday.
While the damaged jets are only a fraction of the overall aviation fleet, Britain said Black Sea capability would be affected, since Saky is used as a primary operational base.
The base airfield probably remained operational, but its dispersal area had suffered serious damage, Britain’s defence ministry added in a regular intelligence bulletin on Twitter.
The explosions on Tuesday, which Russia has said killed one and injured five, will prompt its military to revise the threat perception in the region, the ministry added.
Kyiv declined to say whether it had been behind the blasts. But the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers cited unidentified officials as saying Ukrainian forces were responsible.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told officials to stop talking to reporters about Kyiv’s military tactics against Russia, saying such remarks were “frankly irresponsible”.
The fewer details you divulge about our defence plans, the better it will be for the implementation of those defence plans,” Zelenskiy said in an evening address on Thursday.
5. EU ‘to discuss visa ban for all Russians’
A visa ban on all Russians to punish Moscow for the war in Ukraine will be discussed by the European Union at the end of August, according to Czech diplomatic chief Jan Lipavsky, whose country holds the EU Council presidency.
The measure, demanded by the Ukrainian authorities, divides the EU. The EU sanctions must be adopted unanimously by the 27 Member States.
“A total ban on Russian visas by all EU member states could be another very effective sanction against Russia,” Lipavsky argued. The minister will sound out his counterparts at an informal meeting in late August in Prague.
“In this period of Russian aggression, which the Kremlin is stepping up, there can be no question of tourism as usual for Russian citizens,” he argued.
However, the Czech minister must convince the head of European diplomacy, Spain’s Josep Borrell, who chairs the foreign and defence ministers’ council. Sanctions proposals are one of his prerogatives.
“We cannot currently ban entry to people with visas from another Schengen country. We are looking for options,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas recently stressed, supporting a general ban.
Finland is also arguing for a European decision, as the country’s legislation does not allow for a total visa ban based on nationality. As an important transit country for Russians, it wants to reduce tourist visas, Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said in early August.
But the Commission is not hiding its reservations about a measure that would penalise all Russian nationals and insists on the need to protect dissidents, journalists and families.
“Member States have a wide margin for issuing short-stay visas and they examine applications on a case-by-case basis on their merits,” said a spokeswoman.
“Russians overwhelmingly support the war, cheer missile strikes on Ukrainian cities and murder of Ukrainians. Let Russian tourists enjoy Russia then,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a Twitter post.
The Czech Republic stopped issuing visas to Russians on 25 February, the day after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The EU has adopted six sets of sanctions against Moscow, including a halt to its coal and oil purchases.
It has also put more than 1,000 Russians, including President Vladimir Putin and many oligarchs, on its blacklist of banned persons and restricted short-stay visas for officials linked to the regime since late February.