Conditions at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant ‘out of control’; Zelensky seeks direct talks with China’s Xi

Conditions at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant ‘out of control’; Zelensky seeks direct talks with China’s Xi
A picture taken during a visit to Mariupol organized by the Russian military shows Russian servicemen on guard at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Enerhodar, southeastern Ukraine, 01 May 2022 (reissued 04 August 2022). Europe's biggest nuclear plant Zaporizhzhia situated near the frontline, needs an inspection and repairs, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said on 1 August 2022. On 24 February Russian troops entered Ukrainian territory in what the Russian president declared a 'special military operation', resulting in fighting and destruction in the country, a huge flow of refugees, and multiple sanctions against Russia. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergei Ilnitsky)

Shelling by Russian forces reportedly killed civilians in the eastern region of Donetsk as the Kremlin pressed ahead with its campaign, while a US think tank said Moscow was holding a Ukrainian nuclear plant to play off Western fears of an atomic disaster. 

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Wednesday that conditions at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine are “out of control”. Meanwhile, president Volodymyr Zelensky urged China’s Xi Jinping to agree to direct talks, saying Beijing hadn’t replied to such requests since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. 

A vessel was heading for Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port to load grain for export, the first incoming ship there since the start of Russia’s invasion. 

Key developments

On the ground

Russian troops shelled Toretsk, a small Ukrainian-held city in Donetsk, on Thursday morning killing eight people and wounding four, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram. Russians fired at a bus stop, church and apartment blocks, he wrote. Ukraine’s northern city of Kharkiv, the southern port of Mykolaiv, and Nikopol in the Dnipropetrovsk region were shelled overnight, local authorities said. Russian forces conducted a limited ground attack northwest of Slovyansk and continued efforts to advance on Bakhmut from the northeast, east, and southeast. Russian forces were forming a strike group to prevent Ukrainian counteroffensives in the northern part of the Kherson region.  

Russian court sentences US basketball star to nine years on drug charges 

A Moscow court convicted US basketball star Brittney Griner on drug charges and sentenced her to nine years in prison, raising the stakes in deadlocked talks between Russia and the US on a possible prisoner exchange involving the basketball star.

“The court found the defendant guilty,” Judge Anna Sotnikov said, according to the Interfax news service. Prosecutors sought a 9½-year term, close to the maximum.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist and WNBA player Brittney Griner (C) is escorted to hear the court’s verdict in Khimki City court in Khimki outside Moscow, Russia, 4 August 2022. The Khimki City Court has sentenced Griner to nine years in prison after finding her guilty on charges of drug smuggling. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Maxim Shipenkov)

War to further widen global current-account balances, IMF says  

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and lingering impacts of the pandemic will widen global current-account balances for a third year in 2022, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Current accounts — the broadest measure of a country’s trade in goods and services, expressed as either a deficit or surplus — had been narrowing for several years until Covid-19 upended patterns of demand and trade. The widening continued last year as economic recovery raised commodity prices, a trend that is being exacerbated this year by the war’s impact on energy and food costs. 

Germany pushes back on accusations it’s holding up EU aid  

Germany refuted accusations that it’s blocking progress on an EU aid package for Ukraine worth around €8-billion. A German finance ministry official, who declined to be identified in line with protocol, said the country has already contributed €1-billion worth of grants to secure liquidity for the Ukrainian state budget and will help more going forward.

Germany has called for part of the emergency package to come in the form of grants rather than loans. EU allies have said Berlin’s demands have held up the package. 

Ukraine says first grain ship heading to Chornomorsk port 

A Turkish vessel is heading for Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Chornomorsk to load grain, and would be the first to arrive since Russia’s invasion in February, said Serhiy Bratchuk, spokesman for the head of the Odesa regional military administration.  

The Osprey S is sailing under the flag of Liberia and left a Turkish port on July 31, he said on a video call. “Ports are functioning, and ready to work with maximum intensity,” he said.  

Putin, Erdoğan to discuss trade, energy in Sochi  

President Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will meet in the Russian Black Sea port city of Sochi on Friday, a rare foray outside Moscow for Russia’s leader since the start of the war in Ukraine.

The pair plan to discuss expanding trade and economic relations and joint strategic energy projects as well as “views on international issues,” the Kremlin said in an emailed statement. 

The Kremlin earlier said the talks in the Black Sea resort would be “a good opportunity to synchronise watches on the subject of the effectiveness” of the safe-transit agreement brokered by Turkey for exporting Ukrainian grain.  

Lebanon allows grain ship to depart after it clears legal probe  

Lebanon said it had allowed a ship accused of carrying stolen grain to leave its port in Tripoli after it concluded an investigation. The Syrian-registered Laodicea “is outside Lebanese territorial waters”, Lebanon’s transport minister Ali Hamie wrote on Twitter, posting an image of the ship’s movements.

The ship was seized last week after Ukraine’s embassy said the cargo originated from Russian-occupied areas of southeastern Ukraine and was loaded at Feodosia in the Russian-occupied peninsula of Crimea. Ukraine says Russia is stealing grain but the Kremlin denies that.

Lebanon to free ship accused of carrying stolen Ukrainian grain

Belarus to take part in drills in Russia’s Far East: Tass 

Belarusian troops will take part in military drills in Russia’s Far East from August 30 – September 5, the Belarusian defence ministry said, according to Tass. Some 250 personnel from the Russian ally are expected to participate. 

The Vostok drills will bring together Russia’s Airborne Force, long-range and military transport aircraft, and military contingents of other countries, Tass reported. It’s unclear which countries beyond Belarus will participate.

Russia has repeatedly launched missiles from Belarusian territory in its invasion of Ukraine, but Belarusian forces have so far not been involved in ground operations. 

Russia leveraging its position at Zaporizhzhia, think tank says  

Russian forces are using the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Enerhodar to play on Western fears of a nuclear disaster in Ukraine, probably in an effort to degrade Western will to support a Ukrainian counteroffensive, according to the Institute for the Study of War. 

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said on Wednesday that the plant, occupied by Russian forces since early in Moscow’s invasion, is “completely out of control” and that “every principle of nuclear safety has been violated”. 

Russian forces based around the plant have attacked Ukrainian positions in recent weeks, putting Ukraine in a bind, the US-based think tank said. By returning fire, Ukraine would risk international condemnation and a nuclear incident. By not doing so, Kremlin forces can continue to target Ukrainian positions from an effective “safe zone”.   

Russian gas flows expected to be stable on Thursday  

Russian natural gas supplies to Europe via the key Nord Stream pipeline are expected to remain near 20% of the link’s capacity on Thursday. Flows via Ukraine are also expected to be stable, grid data show.

Zelensky wants direct talks with China’s Xi 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Chinese leader Xi Jinping to hold direct talks, noting Beijing hasn’t replied to such requests since Russia invaded his country in February. 

The last time the pair spoke was one year ago, Zelensky told the South China Morning Post in an interview published on Thursday. Since Russia’s invasion on February 24, he said the Ukrainian side had “asked officially for a conversation” with Xi but hadn’t received a response. Such a dialogue, he added, “would be helpful”.

“China, as a big and powerful country, could come down and sort of put the Russian Federation in a certain place,” Zelensky told the Post

Wheat prices have reversed 2022 gains 

Chicago wheat fell for a fourth straight trading session on Wednesday, giving up its 2022 gains as easing supply concerns — including the resumption of exports from Ukraine, however tentative — sent prices lower. 

Optimism about improved global trade flows and forecasts calling for rain in key US growing areas weighed on futures. Benchmark wheat is more than 40% below an all-time high reached in March following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The cargo ship Razoni reached Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait on Tuesday, the first trade vessel using a safe corridor in the Black Sea to transport grain from Ukraine. More ships are ready to depart, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.  

Getting grain out of Ukraine is a minefield: James Stavridis

US Senate ratifies Finland, Sweden Nato bids 

The US Senate ratified adding Sweden and Finland to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a move intended to bolster the military alliance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The vote was 95-1, far exceeding the two-thirds majority required for the approval of treaties. If the ascension wins approval from all current members of the alliance, Finland will join Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland as Nato countries that share a land border with Russia. 

Russia embarking on new propaganda wave, Zelensky says  

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of generating a fresh round of propaganda as it begins to realise the legal consequences of its invasion. He discounted remarks by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that the Kremlin is open to talks to end the war. 

“If Russia really wants to end up the war, it would not withdraw its reserves to the south of Ukraine and would not produce mass graves of murdered innocent people on Ukrainian territory,” Zelensky said in a Wednesday evening address. 

“It is disgusting when former leaders of powerful European states with European values work for Russia, which is fighting against those values,” Zelensky said.

Relatives of the Azovstal defenders together with others attend a rally in memory of those who were killed in the blast at Olenivka detention center, calling the international organisations to save Azovstal defenders who were captured by Russian forces, in Kyiv, Ukraine, 4 August 2022.  (Photo: EPA-EFE / Roman Pilipey

US official expects Russia to falsify evidence at Olenivka 

The US expects Russian officials to falsify evidence from last month’s deadly attack on the Olenivka prison in anticipation of journalists and investigators visiting the site, a US official said. 

Moscow would go as far as making it appear that Ukraine had targeted the facility with Himars artillery systems provided by the West, the official said, without saying how the assessment had been reached. 

More than 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war, some from the Azov battalion, were killed in the attack on the prison in occupied Donetsk. Moscow has said the deadly attack on the correctional facility was conducted by Kyiv with US-supplied weapons. Ukrainian military intelligence has said that the Wagner Group, a private Russian mercenary company, deliberately set fire to the complex. DM


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