Ukraine updates: NATO to boost Black Sea surveillance

11 months ago 13
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

Here's an overview of some of the main stories concerning Russia's invasion of Ukraine on July 26, 2023. 

  • NATO has announced plans to step up surveillance of the Black Sea at a summit in Brussels
  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Black Sea port security, and therefore Ukraine's grain exports, would be a key topic
  • Russia pulled out of a UN- and Turkish-brokered deal on allowing grain exports passage through the Black Sea last week

All this and more below... 

Skip next section NATO to boost surveillance in the Black Sea

30 minutes ago30 minutes ago

NATO to boost surveillance in the Black Sea

NATO announced Wednesday that it would expand surveillance of the Black Sea region.

The move followed Moscow's decision to back out of a deal that allowed the safe passage of ships carrying Ukrainian grain exports.

"Allies and Ukraine strongly condemned Russia's decision to withdraw from the Black Sea grain deal and its deliberate attempts to stop Ukraine's agricultural exports on which hundreds of millions of people worldwide depend," NATO said in a statement following a meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Council in Brussels.

The council was set up earlier this month to coordinate cooperation between the Western military alliance and Kyiv.

"NATO and Allies are stepping up surveillance and reconnaissance in the Black Sea region, including with maritime patrol aircraft and drones," the statement went on to say.

The agreement ensuring the safe export of grain through the Black Sea expired on July 17 after Russia decided not to extend its participation.

Moscow has said it would consider rejoining the deal if demands to improve exports of its own grain and fertilizer were met.

Grain exports: What is Ukraine's plan B? next section Ukraine starts to remove hammer and sickle from landmark

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Ukraine starts to remove hammer and sickle from landmark

Ukrainian workers have started to demolish the Soviet hammer and sickle emblem on Kyiv's monumental Motherland Monument, the country's Culture Ministry reports.

The symbol, which was the state emblem of the Soviet Union, is to be replaced with the Ukrainian trident.

The Motherland Monument is Europe's tallest statue at 62 meters (just over 200 feet), standing 16 meters higher than New York's Statue of Liberty.

The ministry published a video of the preparatory work before the removal of the emblem, which measures 13 by 8 meters, from the statue's shied.

Workers prepare to dismantle the State Emblem of the Soviet Union from the shieldWorkers prepare to dismantle the Soviet Union's state emblem and replace it with the coat of arms of UkraineImage: Kirill Chubotin/Ukrinform/abaca/picture alliance

Commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany, the monument was inaugurated in 1981 along with a museum complex. next section Ukraine's SBU claims last year's Crimea bridge blast

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Ukraine's SBU claims last year's Crimea bridge blast

Ukraine's domestic intelligence agency has claimed responsibility for a sabotage operation that severely damaged the Russian-made Kerch Bridge last October.

It's the first time that the agency has said it was behind the attack on the bridge, which links occupied Crimea with Russia.

The head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) made the comment as he presented a commemorative postage stamp marking wartime special forces operations.

"There were many different operations, special operations. We'll be able to speak about some of them publicly and aloud after the victory, we will not talk at all about others," Malyuk said, before alluding to an image of the Kerch Bridge on fire.

"It is one of our actions, namely the destruction of the Crimean bridge on October 8 last year," Malyuk said.

Black smoke billows from a fire on the Kerch bridge that links Crimea to Russia, after a truck explodedRussian officials said the explosion in October was caused by a truck that blew up while crossing the bridge, killing three peopleImage: AFP/Getty Images

Although the bridge was also struck in an attack this month, Malyuk made no mention of who was behind that incident.

The 19-kilometer (12-mile) Crimean Bridge over the Kerch Strait has served as a crucial supply route for Russian forces. next section Russia launches missiles strikes on three Ukrainian regions

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Russia launches missiles strikes on three Ukrainian regions

Russia has launched missile attacks on several Ukrainian regions, the country's air force spokesman said, after air raid sirens were sounded across the country. 

The Kyiv, Khmelnytskiy, and Kyrovohrad regions were all targeted.

"We have registered high-speed targets, probably also ballistic missiles, the enemy is using different weapon types," the spokesman, Yuriy Ihnat, said. next section China's Wang Yi in Turkey, as both seek mediating roles

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China's Wang Yi in Turkey, as both seek mediating roles

China's new and old Foreign Minister Wang Yi, reinstated to his previous position on Tuesday on an interim basisafter the mysterious removal of his successor, was visiting Turkey on Wednesday. 

Reuters news agency cited sources at Turkey's Foreign Ministry as saying that the pair had discussed issues including the war in Ukraine. 

Hakan Fidan and Wang met in the capital, Ankara. 

Both Turkey and China have put themselves forward as potential mediators in matters pertaining to Ukraine. 

NATO member Turkey, with its control over the entry and exit to the Black Sea, brokered in collaboration with the UN the grain export accord between Russia and Ukraine that collapsed last week. 

China, meanwhile, has been arguing that it would be a suitable and neutral mediator in the conflict in recent months, claims met with some skepticism but not outright rejection in Kyiv. next section EU to ban exports of battlefield equipment to Belarus

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EU to ban exports of battlefield equipment to Belarus

The European Union has agreed to ban exports of battlefield equipment and aviation parts to Belarus over its involvement in Russia's war in Ukraine.

Spain, which holds the rotating European Council's presidency, said the new sanctions were a response to "the situation in Belarus and the involvement of Belarus in the Russian aggression against Ukraine."

Lithuania's ambassador to the EU, Arnoldas Pranckevicius, said the embargo covered "dual use battlefield and aviation goods" and a list of sanctioned individuals. 

The decision is yet to be finalized and goes into effect after all member states approve it.

Putin warns Poland against Belarus 'aggression' next section Russian court jails man who blew up tracks to Ukraine

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Russian court jails man who blew up tracks to Ukraine

A Moscow military court has sentenced a dual Russian-Ukrainian citizen to 22 years in jail for blowing up rail track in Russia's Bryansk region last year, the TASS news agency reports. 

The agency said the operation was carried out at the behest of Kyiv.

It said Sergei Belavin had confessed to his crimes and that he had been convicted of terrorism and other charges.

State prosecutors said Belavin was working for Ukrainian military intelligence and entered Russia last year to place an explosive device on a stretch of railway near Russia's border with Ukraine and Belarus.

Russia blames Ukraine for deadly attack on Kerch Bridge

Investigators said he had detonated the device on July 9 last year, damaging a passing freight train and the track below.

Although no one was injured, service on the line was disrupted for 10 hours.

There was no immediate reaction to the verdict from Ukraine. next section Moldova cutting number of Russian diplomats

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Moldova cutting number of Russian diplomats

Moldova's Foreign Minister says his government will reduce the number of diplomats Russia can post in Chisinau. 

This follows media reports about possible espionage equipment installed on the embassy's roof, which the minister alluded to. 

"We agreed on the need to limit the number of accredited diplomats from Russia, so that there are fewer people trying to destabilize the Republic of Moldova," Foreign Minister Nicu Popescu said at a cabinet meeting. 

He said the Russian embassy had already been informed of the decision. 

"For many years we have been the object of hostile Russian action and policies. Many of them were made through the embassy," he said.

Popescu did not go into details on how many Russian employees might be asked to leave or when.

Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a weekly briefing that Chisinau's decision would "not go unanswered." 

Various countries have sent home Russians working on diplomatic visas since the invasion of Ukraine, often accusing them of espionage activities. Russia typically responds by taking similar steps for foreign diplomats in Moscow. 

Moldova borders Ukraine and Romania. Part of the territory internationally recognized as Moldova, Transnistria in the east on the border to Ukraine, is an unrecognized breakaway state which several western countries consider to be under effective Russian occupation, although Moscow would dispute this. 

Chisinau has often warned during the conflict in Ukraine that it's concerned that it is also in Moscow's cross hairs as Russia's military seeks to advance closer to its borders.

Is Moldova Putin's next target? next section UK warns of potential Black Sea blockade

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UK warns of potential Black Sea blockade

The UK's Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence update on Wednesday that Russia's Black Sea fleet was positioning itself for a potential blockade of Ukrainian ports. 

It said the Sergei Kotov corvette was already patrolling the route between the Bosphorus and the Ukrainian port city of Odesa.

It deployed there following Russia's withdrawal from the grain deal.

"There is a realistic possibility that it will form part of a task group to intercept commercial vessels Russia believes are heading to Ukraine," the ministry said. 

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly had also said on Tuesday that "the UK believes that Russia may escalate its campaign to destroy Ukraine's food exports by targeting civilian ships in the Black Sea." 

The British ministry has been publishing daily updates online with intelligence it deems suitable for publication since the outbreak of the war, although Moscow accuses London of doing this for propaganda purposes. next section Zelenskyy calls Black Sea security 'the key to peace'

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Zelenskyy calls Black Sea security 'the key to peace'

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for Wednesday's meeting between Ukrainian and NATO ambassadors in Brussels to focus on the security of Ukrainian ports and grain exports. 

"The world knows that the security of our Black Sea ports is the key to peace and stability in the global food market," Zelenskyy said. 

He tried to stress the importance of Ukrainian shipments, a major agricultural exporter in peace time, for global food prices. 

"Now is the time when it is important to reap the harvest of determination, security determination, so that no one will have to end up as a harvester of chaos later on, neither in the countries of Africa or anywhere on other continents," he said in his video address on Tuesday night. 

Russia last week halted participation in a deal brokered by the UN and Turkey that had allowed Ukraine to sell some 33 million tons of grain and food despite the ongoing conflict.

Could pressure from Beijing save the Black Sea grain deal?

The rolling accord had been renewed, if acrimoniously, several times previously. 

But Moscow said last week that it would start viewing all boats docking at Ukrainian ports as potentially carrying military cargo, implying it would not guarantee any safe passage. 

Tensions have been rising in the Black Sea in the subsequent days. On Wednesday, Russia reported that one of its patrol ships had repelled an attempted attack from two unmanned boats in the southwestern part of the Black Sea.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that the Sergei Kotov patrol vessel fired on and destroyed both vehicles before they could get close. The claim could not be immediately verified. next section What is the Ukraine-NATO Council?

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What is the Ukraine-NATO Council?

The Ukraine-NATO Council was formally established earlier this month at NATO's leaders' summit in Vilnius. Its inaugural session was part of that summit, on July 12, with Zelenskyy also in attendance. 

A general view of the NATO-Ukraine Council during the second day session of NATO Heads of State and Government Summit at the Lithuanian Exhibition and Congress Centre (LITEXPO) in Vilnius, Lithuania on July 12, 2023.The inaugural NATO-Ukraine Council meeting in Vilnius brought together NATO heads of state and government and Zelenskyy himselfImage: Aytac Unal/AA/picture alliance

According to NATO, the council "is the joint body where Allies and Ukraine sit as equal participants to advance political dialogue, engagement, cooperation and Ukraine’s aspirations for membership in NATO." 

The new body replaces and upgrades the Ukraine-NATO Commission, which had been responsible for coordination between the alliance and Kyiv since 1997. 

NATO says that the "change from Commission to Council in 2023 demonstrates the strengthening of political ties and Ukraine’s increasing integration with NATO." 

That's because now the talks are framed as Kyiv sitting alongside all NATO member states as an equal participant, in the Commission format it was classified as NATO allies meeting a partner. 

msh/wd (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)
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