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Ukraine looks to choke off Russian forces in occupied Kherson; IAEA begins risky nuclear

Kuleba urges European Union to ban Russian tourists

A sign hangs above a passport control at the quiet and nearly empty Imatra border crossing between Finland and Russia on May 24, 2022 near Imatra, Finland.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | Getty Images

The European Union should ban Russian tourists, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, urging a step the bloc’s foreign ministers gathered in Prague are unlikely to take due to deep divisions on the matter.

Kuleba also proposed a program in which Russian soldiers who surrendered would be rewarded with “a new life”, though he did not say where.

Eastern and Nordic countries strongly back a tourism ban, while Germany and France have warned their peers it would be counter-productive, saying ordinary Russians should still be allowed access to the West.

— Reuters

IAEA wants to establish ‘permanent presence’ at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

The monitoring team from the International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N. watchdog, has arrived in Zaporizhzhia with the head of the delegation telling NBC News that the agency would like to establish a permanent presence at the Russian-occupied nuclear power plant.

A team from IAEA arrived in the south of Ukraine around midday local time and are due to travel directly to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. They will inspect the facility over several days to assess the security and safety of the plant, which both Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of shelling.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shakes hands with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, who is to head a planned mission to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kyiv, Ukraine August 30, 2022.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | via Reuters

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi told NBC’s Joshua Lederman that the mission will take a few days and that, in the longer term, the IAEA is also hoping to establish a “permanent presence” at the plant.

When asked whether he’s confident the mission can be carried out safely, Grossi said “of course,” despite fears that Russia could carry out what Ukraine has said could be a “provocation” during the visit. Russia has denied this and in turn, accused Ukraine of planning an attack during the visit.

Asked whether he believes Russia will allow the IAEA inspectors to see what’s really going on at the plant, Grossi said that the team was very experienced and made up of “the best and the brightest” in nuclear safety and security. “We will have a pretty good idea of what’s going on,” he says.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine counteroffensive has had ‘successes’ in some areas of the Kherson region, official says

Ukrainian forces have had “successes” in three areas of the Russian-occupied region of Kherson, a Ukrainian regional official said on Wednesday, according to comments reported by Reuters.

Yuriy Sobolevskyi, the deputy head of Kherson’s regional council, told Ukraine’s national news broadcaster that Ukrainian troops had enjoyed successes in the Kherson, Beryslav, and Kakhovka districts, but declined to give details.

“Now is the time to support our armed forces … Now is not the time to talk about the specific successes of our lads,” he said, echoing the Ukrainian military’s insistence on a near-total information blackout about the offensive. Kyiv announced the start of a southern counter-offensive to retake territory two days ago.

Ukrainian artillerymen in the military assembly center check the weapons and special equipment to make them ready before they go to their duties at the frontline in Kherson, Ukraine on July 15, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Sobolevskyi urged Ukrainians to support their armed forces with “everything they could” as the offensive was using up a vast quantity of resources.

“Right now, drones and ammunition are being used there like expendable material,” he said.

— Reuters

‘We are going into a war zone’: IAEA chief says as mission to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant begins

As a delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency set off from Kyiv to southern Ukraine to inspect the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the leader of the team of international experts on the mission said they had a “very important task” to perform.

“These operations are very complex operations. We are going to a war zone, we’re going to occupied territory and this requires the explicit guarantees not only from the Russian Federation, but also from the Republic of Ukraine. And we have been able to secure that,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi told reporters as the delegation prepared to depart from Kyiv this morning, Reuters reported.

“We have a very important task there to perform — to assess the real situation there, to help stabilize the situation as much as we can.”

Personnel from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations prepare to depart for Zaporizhzhia from a hotel in Kyiv, Ukraine on Aug. 31, 2022.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

He said the team would be spending a few days in Zaporizhzhia, an area of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian troops, and would be reporting back after the mission.

Russia took control of the nuclear power plant — Europe’s largest of its kind — near the start of the invasion and concerns have grown over a possible nuclear disaster given shelling near the complex.

Ukraine accused Russia of shelling the travel corridor that the IAEA team would take to reach the power plant and said it Moscow was planning “provocations” during the visit. Russia has in turn accused Ukraine of planning a similar action, an accusation rebuffed by Kyiv.

Ukraine has called for the full demilitarization of the plant and withdrawal of all Russian military personnel. Having met Grossi yesterday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said “only demilitarization of the ZNPP and returning to Ukraine full control over it will eliminate any risks.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia’s Gazprom rallies by over 20% after bumper profit and dividend announcement

Russia’s Gazprom saw its shares surge on Wednesday after reporting bumper first-half profits and announcing a new dividend to shareholders.

Stoyan Vassev | Press service of Gazprom Neft | via Reuters

Russian gas giant Gazprom posted a record first-half profit and promised new dividends to shareholders, sending its shares soaring more than 27% in early trade in Moscow on Wednesday.

The majority state-owned energy company said its board had proposed a dividend of 51.03 Russian rubles ($0.85) per ordinary share for the first half of 2022. In its first-half earnings report on Tuesday, Gazprom announced a record 2.5 trillion ruble ($41.75 billion) net profit.

The leap in the group’s share price took Russia’s dollar-denominated RTS index 3.6% higher and the ruble-denominated MOEX Russia Index 4.7% higher by late morning in Moscow.

Gazprom’s earnings boost comes amid volatile relations with its customers in Europe. The EU is frantically trying to reduce its reliance on Russian gas following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while still being largely dependent on such supplies to the bloc.

Gazprom, meanwhile, has greatly reduced gas flows to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline citing maintenance issues and international sanctions, leading European officials to accuse Russia of using gas supplies as a way to “blackmail” it.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline has been shut down Wednesday with the outage due to last several days; Gazprom again said this was due to a compressor unit requiring maintenance.

— Elliot Smith

EU split on restricting travel rules for Russians

The EU’s foreign policy chief on Wednesday urged bickering nations to settle their differences on restricting travel for Russian citizens, and said Europe must remain united in its defiance of Moscow six months after the invasion of Ukraine.

Josep Borrell made his warning as foreign ministers of the European Union gathered in Prague for a second day of talks, where they were expected to agree in principle on suspending a visa facilitation agreement with Moscow.

That step would make Russians wait longer, and pay more, for visas for travel to EU countries.

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell speaks during a press conference following the informal EU Foreign Ministers meeting on September 20, 2021 in New York City.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

But the 27 member states were stubbornly divided on whether they should go further and impose a blanket tourism ban, despite repeated call from Ukraine to make ordinary Russians pay for the invasion.

Some EU states have already restricted entry for Russians. Eastern and Nordic countries are pushing for an outright ban, while Germany and France have warned their peers it would be counter-productive.

“We will have to reach an agreement and a political decision,” the EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters as he arrived at the Prague meeting.

— Reuters

Nord Stream 1 gas supplies to Europe halted again for more ‘maintenance’

Russia has drastically reduced natural gas supplies to Europe in recent weeks, with flows via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline currently operating at just 20% of agreed upon volume.

Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Russian gas giant Gazprom halted supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in a planned “maintenance outage” expected to last until Sept. 3.

Russian gas supplies to Europe have been unpredictable and volatile this summer with Gazprom reducing flows along the pipeline, which stretches from Russia to Germany, both in June and then July.

Gazprom has said the reduction in gas flows is due to maintenance issues and has blamed international sanctions for delays in replacing a key turbine at the Portovaya compressor station, the initial compressor station of the gas pipeline.

International analysts say Russia is using gas supplies as a way to pressure Europe, which is seeking to curb its use of Russian gas due to the war in Ukraine, and as a way to get sanctions relief.

Gazprom said in a statement in mid-August that during the current outage, the only gas compressor unit that is in operation will be switched off “for a preventive maintenance period” and that if no malfunctions are found, “gas transmission will be resumed at the rate of 33 million cubic meters per day.” That’s only around 20% of the pipeline’s full capacity.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine has pushed the front line back ‘some distance in places,’ UK says

Pro-Ukraine volunteers from Chechnya train near Kyiv. The Zelenskyy government has displayed growing confidence in recent weeks, increasingly taking the initiative in a conflict that the Kremlin itself has admitted is stalled.

Genya Savilov | Afp | Getty Images

Ukrainian armored forces have continued to assault Russia’s southern forces on several axes across the south of Ukraine since Monday, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Wednesday.

“Ukrainian formations have pushed the front line back some distance in places, exploiting relatively thinly held Russian defences,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that “Russia will likely now attempt to plug the gaps in its line using pre-designated mobile reserve units.”

Russia continues to try to generate new reinforcements for its forces in Ukraine, the ministry said in its intelligence report, and could be resorting to using poorly trained troops.

“Volunteer battalions of the new 3rd Army Corps had departed their home base near Moscow by 24 August, highly likely for onward deployment to Ukraine. The operational effectiveness of these units is not known. The 3rd Army Corps is highly likely short of personnel and these troops have had limited training.”

— Holly Ellyatt

IAEA convoy leaves Kyiv on risky Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant visit

A Russian serviceman patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in Energodar on May 1, 2022. Europe’s largest nuclear power station has become a fighting ground for the conflict, with both sides blaming each other for attacks on and around the complex.

Andrey Borodulin | Afp | Getty Images

An International Atomic Energy Agency convoy was seen leaving Kyiv for the Zaporizhzhia
nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday morning, a witness told Reuters.

Europe’s largest nuclear power station has become a fighting ground for the conflict, with both sides blaming each other for attacks on and around the complex. Fighting around the facility has sparked fears over the heightened risk of a nuclear disaster. Russian forces remain in control of the plant.

On Monday, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi will lead a team of 14 inspectors to the nuclear plant.

The mission’s aim, the agency has said, is to “help ensure nuclear safety and security at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya NPP and undertake vital safeguards activities.”

In the lead-up to the visit, both Ukraine and Russia repeatedly accused each other of shelling the plant. Ukraine says Russia has turned the plant into an ammo and equipment depot. Yesterday, Ukraine accused Russia of shelling the designated travel corridor that the IAEA team would use to reach it.

Russia did not respond to that accusation, and claimed Ukraine had again shelled the plant. It said radiation levels were at a normal level on Tuesday.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Tuesday that Ukraine would do what it can to keep the IAEA mission safe.

“Theirs is an important mission and we do all we can for it to be safe and fully operational,” he said, adding that Russia had not stopped its “provocations” on areas where the IAEA mission would have to visit.

“I have hope the IAEA mission will be able to start its activities. The situation at the ZNPP and in Enerhodar and surrounding areas remain extremely dangerous. The occupiers don’t leave the station, continue their shelling, and don’t remove their weapons and ammunition from the station. They are intimidating our service personnel. The risk of a nuclear catastrophe is by no means getting lesser by the hour.”

— Natalie Tham and Holly Ellyatt

Ukrainian forces strike bridges leading to Kherson as counteroffensive gathers pace

Ukrainian forces in the south of the country say they have struck key bridges in the Kherson region as their counteroffensive to retake the Russian-occupied city gathers pace.

In an update on Facebook, Ukraine’s Operational Command “South” said that missile and artillery units had carried out four strikes on Russian control and command points as well as four “logistical arteries” into Kherson — the Kakhovsky, Darivsky, and two Antonivsky bridges — with the damage inflicted on the bridges restricting the Russians’ use of them as supply routes for their forces in the city.

Ukraine’s military also said that its forces had killed almost 160 Russian troops in the region and destroyed 60 pieces of enemy equipment overnight.

“In our operating area, the environment is steadily complex but controlled. The destruction of hostile logistic paths, reserves and control points continues,” the operational update from the unit said. It added that Russia’s occupying force was “mostly demoralized, but continues to resist.”

Ukraine had flagged earlier this summer that it planned a counteroffensive to retake lost territory in southern Ukraine but some officials have become more tight-lipped about the offensive since it began earlier this week, wary of giving away tactical information or of building expectations of a quick victory in Kherson.

Nataliya Humenyuk, the head of the United Coordinating Center of Security and Defense Forces of the South of Ukraine, said during a press conference on Monday that “the most important thing to know at the moment is that any military operation requires conditions of silence, and the fact that any news from the front causes such a stir is actually very wrong.”

“In the conditions of a hybrid war, in the conditions of an information war, one must realize that any actions, even if they are very inspiring, must be carried out and have a logical conclusion, and only then will they be effective.”

While the counteroffensive had “inspired everyone,” she said, “you need to be patient and understand the rules and sequence of actions of military units.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia has turned Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant into a military base, Ukraine says

A Russian serviceman stands guard the territory outside the second reactor of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar on May 1, 2022.

Andrey Borodulin | AFP | Getty Images

Oleksandr Starukh, the head of Zaporizhzhia’s regional military administration, told reporters that Russia has turned the nuclear power plant into a military base and has begun storing heavy equipment there.

“It is worth noting that even in such difficult conditions, Ukrainian personnel continue to work there and make maximum efforts to ensure nuclear and radiation safety,” Starukh said, according to an NBC News translation.

“I emphasize that the only way is complete demilitarization. The occupiers must leave the station and take away all equipment and weapons. The security of almost the entire world depends on this,” he added.

— Amanda Macias

Mikhail Gorbachev dies at 91

Mikhail Gorbachev, who as the last leader of the Soviet Union waged a losing battle to salvage a crumbling empire but produced extraordinary reforms that led to the end of the Cold War, has died. He was 91.

The Central Clinical Hospital said in a statement that Gorbachev died after a long illness. No other details were given.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that Russian President Vladimir Putin offered deep condolences over Gorbachev’s death and would send an official telegram to Gorbachev’s family in the morning.

Though in power less than seven years, Gorbachev unleashed a breathtaking series of changes. But they quickly overtook him and resulted in the collapse of the authoritarian Soviet state, the freeing of Eastern European nations from Russian domination and the end of decades of East-West nuclear confrontation.

His decline was humiliating. His power hopelessly sapped by an attempted coup against him in August 1991, he spent his last months in office watching republic after republic declare independence until he resigned on Dec. 25, 1991. The Soviet Union wrote itself into oblivion a day later.

— Associated Press

Ukraine may face its coldest winter in decades, state gas company says

Ukrainian police officers document the destruction at one of Europe’s largest clothing market “Barabashovo” (more than 75 hectares) in Kharkiv on May 16, 2022, which was destroed as aresult of shelling, amid Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Sergey Bobok | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine may see its coldest winter season in decades, warned the head of Naftogaz, the country’s national gas company.

Naftogaz chief Yuriy Vitrenko said most of the country is grappling with damaged infrastructure due to Russian shelling and won’t be able to properly heat their living quarters.

He also said that Ukrainians should begin stocking up on warm clothing and blankets. Average winter temperatures in Ukraine can fall below 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

— Amanda Macias

U.S. will ‘stand with Ukraine for as long as that takes,’ State Department says

Ukrainian soldiers move U.S.-made missiles on Feb. 13, 2022. The U.S. could announce new military aid for Ukraine as early as this week, a defense official and an administration official said.

Sergei Supinsky | Afp | Getty Images

A State Department official downplayed concerns that the U.S. has low stockpiles of weapons, reiterating the importance of providing additional security assistance packages for Ukraine.

“Our belief is, is that we will do everything we can to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself, can defend its territorial sovereignty and territorial…

Read More:Ukraine looks to choke off Russian forces in occupied Kherson; IAEA begins risky nuclear