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UKRAINE UPDATE: 14 SEPTEMBER 2023

Danube ports survive drone strikes; Kim and Putin meet at Russian space centre for possible arms deal

Danube ports survive drone strikes; Kim and Putin meet at Russian space centre for possible arms deal
Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visit the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur region of Russia on 13 September 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Mikhail Metzel / Sputnik / Kremlin Pool)

Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said two Danube ports continued to operate after Russian drone attacks, while the nation’s military intelligence service said a Russian assault ship and a submarine had been damaged in an attack carried out on a shipyard in annexed Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held their first summit in four years, meeting at a space centre in the Amur region. Putin said North Korea was interested in Russian space rockets and his country would potentially be willing to help it build satellites, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news service.

In the European Union, Russian billionaire Victor Rashnikov, who made his fortune as the owner of Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel, lost a court fight against his inclusion on the bloc’s sanctions list. Dozens of wealthy Russian business bosses and family members have taken to Luxembourg-based courts in a bid to break free of penalties imposed after the invasion of Ukraine.

Latest developments

Russia says Ukraine hit Crimean shipyard in missile strike

Ukraine hit a shipyard in Crimea in a missile attack overnight, damaging two navy vessels and wounding at least 24 people, while Russia again targeted Ukrainian port facilities on the Danube River with drones.

The missile strike sparked a fire at a “non-civilian facility” in the South Bay area of the Sevastopol Shipyard, Russia-installed Governor Mikhail Razvozhaev said on his Telegram channel early on Wednesday.

The ships will be repaired and returned to service, Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Telegram, without giving a time frame. Seven of 10 cruise missiles launched by Ukraine were shot down, the ministry said.

Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, regularly comes under attack by drones or missiles. The bridge linking mainland Russia and the peninsula was partially damaged in July, and a fuel depot in Sevastopol caught fire in a drone strike in April.

Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov said a large assault ship and a submarine were hit at the shipyard, Interfax Ukraine reported. Air Force commander Mykola Oleshchuk praised Ukrainian pilots for carrying out “wonderful combat work”, according to a Telegram post on Wednesday.

Ten Ukrainian Su-24M bomber jets fired as many Storm Shadow cruise missiles on Sevastopol, wrote pro-Russian military blogger Rybar, whose Telegram channel has nearly 1.2 million subscribers, without saying where he got the information. He named the Minsk assault ship and the Rostov-on-Don submarine as the two hit in the strike.

Ukraine’s Izmail region was hit again overnight with a series of Russian drone strikes, Odesa Governor Oleh Kiper said on his Telegram channel. Port infrastructure and other facilities were damaged and a truck parking area caught fire.

Six people were injured in the port town of Reni, with two in a serious condition, and one man received medical assistance in Izmail, Kiper said.

Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the two ports were working despite the attacks. The facilities, along with others on the Danube River, have become increasingly vital to Ukraine’s crop shipments since Russia’s withdrawal from a deal to allow grain exports via larger Black Sea ports.

Kim, Putin meet at Russian space centre for possible arms deal

Kim and Putin met for their first summit in four years, which the US said could focus on weapons deals that help the Kremlin’s assault on Ukraine.

Putin and Kim held talks on Wednesday at the Vostochny Cosmodrome space centre in the Amur region. They shared a handshake when Kim stepped out of his limousine and then toured the space centre, visiting exhibitions on Angara rockets — a family of launch vehicles.

The visit to the facility underscored some of the items that may be on Kim’s wish list in exchange for supplying munitions to Russia. Pyongyang has failed twice this year to deploy a spy satellite and may be seeking assistance from Moscow in putting one into orbit. Kim could also be seeking technology that would help his regime’s nuclear warheads survive the heat from reentry to the atmosphere.

Putin said North Korea was interested in Russian space rockets, and his country would potentially be willing to help it build satellites, according to RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned newswire.

When asked before the summit whether he and Kim would discuss military-technical cooperation, Putin replied: “We will talk about all issues, without hurry. There is time,” RIA reported. Interfax said Russia and North Korea agreed to cooperate in sectors including the military.

North Korea has backed Moscow during its invasion of Ukraine and Kim used the meeting to offer his personal support to Putin.  

Kim may be looking for food aid and technology to support his plans to deploy a nuclear-powered submarine as well as help with his space programme. Spy satellites could help Kim keep track of US forces in the region and better refine his targeting of potential strike sites, experts have said.

North Korea has some of the world’s largest supplies of munitions that are interoperable with Soviet-era systems, which Russia needs as it burns through its stocks of artillery shells. The US has said any supplies would not alter the course of the war and has told Pyongyang it would pay a price for any arms transfers.

North Korea has been busy churning out short-range ballistic missiles similar to some of the rockets Russia has used on Ukraine and which now appear to be in short supply. A transfer would mark a major elevation in cooperation, and the rockets would probably be sold at a high mark-up by Kim.

The summit between the two leaders who have faced international isolation and sanctions marks the first time Kim has left the Korean Peninsula since 2019, when he held his only other summit with Putin in Vladivostok.

Putin treated Kim to a gourmet lunch that included duck salad and dumplings made with Kamchatka crab. The leaders also had a choice of sturgeon with mushrooms and potatoes or an entrecote of marbled beef with grilled vegetables.

Russian steel tycoon Rashnikov loses fight over EU sanctions

Russian steel billionaire Victor Rashnikov lost a European Union court fight against his inclusion on the bloc’s sanctions list following the invasion of Ukraine.

The EU’s General Court in Luxembourg, the bloc’s second-highest tribunal, dismissed his appeal on Wednesday. The full ruling wasn’t immediately made available by the court.

Dozens of wealthy Russian business bosses, including the likes of Roman Abramovich, and family members have taken to the bloc’s Luxembourg-based courts in an attempt to break free from the sanctions and regain control of their assets, mansions and superyachts.

Rashnikov (74) is one of the oldest Russian billionaires, having made his fortune as the owner of Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel, known as MMK, among the nation’s biggest steelmakers.

The EU has sanctioned close to 1,800 people and entities since Russia’s attacks on Ukraine, starting with the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and followed by the invasion of its neighbour in February last year.

EU faces tough choices on expansion as Russia threat looms

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was expected on Wednesday to underscore just how fundamentally Russia’s war in Ukraine had altered the European Union when she delivered her state of the union address.

Von der Leyen told EU ambassadors earlier this month that the bloc needed to expand its borders to acknowledge the new geopolitical realities, according to people familiar with talks. She said Ukraine and Moldova would need to be granted accession to prevent them from coming under the influence of countries that don’t share the bloc’s values.

Those two nations as well as others that have applied to join the EU — including five of the Western Balkan countries that are candidates — need to accelerate reforms to align with the bloc’s rules to take advantage of the political support that exists to add new members, said the people who asked not to be identified because the discussion was private.

For the 65-year-old bloc, the debate means drilling down to its core identity, as member states confront fears about a yearslong war in Ukraine and competing with China and the US economically and technologically, even as many start to fret about Donald Trump’s possible comeback.

The commission, the EU’s executive arm, is expected to announce in October whether it will recommend launching formal negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova to become EU members.

In the coming months, the 27 member states will wrestle with some other big questions, including whether they should work more closely on defence and military issues, how to finance their common goals and whether they should become more agile in their decision-making process, EU officials and diplomats said.

Some countries fear that absorbing war-battered Ukraine would spread limited EU resources too thinly, with European competitiveness already lagging behind the US and China. The bloc would also have to accommodate certain applicants, where concerns about corruption and political inclinations persist.

North Korea fires two missiles as Kim awaits Putin talks

North Korea fired two suspected short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday in a launch that came ahead of an expected summit between Kim and Putin.

The missiles were fired from an area near Pyongyang’s main international airport toward waters off North Korea’s east coast, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a text message to reporters. Japan’s public broadcaster NHK said there was no indication that any projectile fell within the country’s exclusive economic zone, citing an unidentified defence ministry official.

Before the latest launch, Pyongyang had fired 26 ballistic missiles and two space rockets so far this year. They included four intercontinental ballistic missiles that could hit the US mainland. Kim’s regime launched more than 70 ballistic missiles last year, a record for the state. DM

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