Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said an agreement by EU foreign ministers to suspend a visa-facilitation agreement for Russian tourists would “significantly reduce” the number of entry visas issued to Russian nationals.
Elsewhere, United Nations monitors aimed to visit the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Thursday to help evaluate the safety of one of the most watched flashpoints of the war. It’s the first inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since the facility was seized by Russian troops soon after they invaded in February.
- EU members back tougher visa rules for Russian tourists
- Why Ukraine’s big nuclear plant raises worries again: QuickTake
- Europe braces for rationing risks in Russian gas showdown
- IAEA team leaves Kyiv to inspect nuclear plant in war zone
- Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet leader who ended Cold War, dies at 91
- Putin, who mourned USSR loss, offers Gorbachev faint praise
- Ukraine counterattacks in south, leaves world guessing on scale
On the ground
As Ukrainian forces push forward with a counteroffensive in the south, the situation in the Russian-occupied region of Kherson remains difficult because of heavy fighting, regional authorities said on their website. The Ukrainian military’s southern command said Kyiv forces continued to destroy Russian logistics and command points, as well as munitions depots, in the region as Russian forces shelled military and civilian objects along the front line. According to the UK’s latest intelligence update, Ukrainian forces have pushed the front line back some distance in places, exploiting relatively thinly held Russian defences.
Inspectors poised to enter nuclear plant, Ukraine says
International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are poised to enter the grounds of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Ukraine’s president, said on Ukrainian television.
“They will now be discussing their mandate with the Russian side,” he said.
Ukraine expects a precise report from the inspectors on what is going on with the plant’s reactors and whether the remaining Ukrainian staff are sufficient to operate it safely, Podolyak said. He said the staff members are effectively Russian hostages, putting them under great psychological pressure.
US dedicated to helping ease European energy shortage
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters the US is “going to keep looking for ways to increase gas stockpiles in Europe or to bolster other sources of energy where it’s possible”.
Kirby said Group of Seven finance ministers would discuss a plan that would cap the price of Russia’s oil at a meeting on Friday. He again accused Putin of “weaponising energy”.
Russia visa restrictions to address ‘security risk’
An increasing number of border crossings from Russia since mid-July “has become a security risk”, Borrell told reporters after the meeting in Prague. Many Russians were travelling to the EU for shopping “as if no war was raging in Ukraine”, he said, adding that member states “considered it cannot be business as usual”.
The Baltic countries and Poland threatened unilateral action if the EU failed to agree to ban Russian tourists, but other envoys including from Germany and France pushed for more caution.
Hungary agrees with Gazprom on boost to gas supplies
Hungary has sealed an agreement with Russia’s Gazprom to slightly boost natural gas supplies for September and October, easing the country’s energy-security concerns for winter, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said.
Hungary has secured from Gazprom a daily maximum of 5.8 million cubic metres of gas through the end of October, in addition to volumes set in its long-term contract, Szijjarto said in a briefing broadcast on Facebook on Wednesday.
IAEA mission makes progress to nuclear plant
The IAEA delegation, which departed Kyiv just before sunrise in a convoy of white trucks marked with the organisation’s logo, arrived at the city of Zaporizhzhia — still a drive of more than 100km from the plant — at about 3pm local time.
The convoy still had to cross into Russian-held territory, as IAEA Director-General Mariano Grossi, who is leading the mission, told reporters the team had security guarantees and aims to reach the plant on Thursday.
This visit “is not something that is going to be risk-free but it’s something we have to do”, Grossi said earlier on Wednesday. The agency’s team will stay at the nuclear plant for at least a few days, long enough to give inspectors “a pretty good idea of what’s going on”, the Argentina diplomat said, adding that he’s working to establish a permanent presence at the plant following the current visit.
Gazprom’s daily gas output rises for first time since January
Gazprom’s daily natural gas production rose in August for the first time in seven months, rebounding from a multi-year low in July.
Russia’s biggest producer of the fuel pumped 829 million cubic metres a day this month, up 7.1% from July, according to Bloomberg calculations based on preliminary data announced on Wednesday by Chief Executive Officer Alexey Miller. Output so far this year reached 288.1 billion cubic metres, he said in an address published on the company’s Telegram channel.
European gas prices slump as rising stocks counter risks
European natural gas erased earlier gains, with traders weighing risks to Russian supplies against the continent’s drastic efforts to curb the energy crisis.
Benchmark Dutch futures for October declined by as much as 9.6%, with the market volatile amid thin trading and much uncertainty.
Ukraine seeks to sanction Russian Patriarch Kirill for 10 years
The Ukrainian government called for imposing sanctions for 10 years on Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church and other top Russian church officials. Kirill “justified the Russian invasion in Ukraine”, the Cabinet said in a resolution that proposes a complete ban for all activities and involvement of Kirill and his subordinates in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church gained independence from the Russian church in 2019, but some believers had deserted the Moscow-led organisation before that, especially after the annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the war in Donbas by Russia in 2014. After the invasion began, some local governments in Ukraine banned churches subordinated to the Russian Patriarchate, but the pro-Russian church still plays a significant role and has many parishes and monasteries.
Russian crude shipments to Asia decline
Russia’s seaborne crude shipments to Asia have fallen by more than 500,000 barrels a day in the past three months, with flows to the region hitting their lowest levels since late March.
Shipments to Asia, where India stepped in to provide a market for crude shunned by European buyers after the invasion of Ukraine, have drifted lower since June. The region, which also includes Russia’s single biggest customer, China, is now the destination for about half of Russia’s seaborne crude exports, down from about 60% in April. Prior to the invasion, Asia received about a third of the shipments.
Germany ‘probing alleged spying for Russia’
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency is investigating whether two senior officials working on energy policy at the economy ministry were spying for Russia, Die Zeit newspaper reported, without identifying the source of its information.
While officials at the agency, which is responsible for counter-espionage, uncovered some suspect details which pointed to “an emotional attachment to Russia”, they have yet to find hard evidence of spying, the paper said. The economy ministry and the domestic intelligence agency declined to comment, it added.
Estonia urges tougher sanctions on Russia
“We need to immediately ramp up the price of aggression to Putin’s regime,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting with EU counterparts in Prague. He called for trade sanctions including on energy, more limits on individuals and entities, and a full shutdown of electronic banking.
Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra told reporters that his government remains “open to sanctions as long as we can do this together”. He added: “We have seen that this is something we managed to do very well, particularly in the first half of the war.”
Taiwan stocks up on weapons helping Ukraine
Taiwan is stockpiling US-made weaponry that Ukraine has used to hold off Russia’s military, including Javelin anti-tank missiles and Himars long-range artillery, a sign Taipei is applying lessons from the conflict to deter China from following through on threats to take the island by force if necessary.
US and Nato officials have credited Javelins and other anti-armour systems as key to staving off a quick Russian victory in the early days of the war. Ukrainian forces have used the Himars artillery to hit Russian supply lines and ammunition stores behind the front with increasing effectiveness.
France says it can get through winter
France said the nation’s gas storage will be full in about two weeks, enabling the country to ride out the winter even as Russia squeezes deliveries of the fuel. Europe’s energy crisis escalated when Gazprom said on Tuesday it would halt supplies to French utility Engie because of a disagreement over payments.
“As we had expected, Russia is using gas as a weapon of war,” French Energy Transition Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said in a statement.
Germany warns against unilateralism on energy
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called for solidarity between EU countries as they come under pressure on energy issues.
Baerbock told reporters at a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Prague that “especially now with the energy question, it’s more important than ever” for countries to coordinate a response. “Some countries have made it clear that they’re not sure whether they can continue to export energy to other EU countries,” she added.