Five grain ships head for Black Sea ports; US aid for Kyiv hits a hurdle after Senate omits funding

Five grain ships head for Black Sea ports; US aid for Kyiv hits a hurdle after Senate omits funding
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (centre) attends a ceremony in Kyiv on 1 October 2023 to honour the memory of Ukrainian soldiers who gave their lives defending their country. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Presidential Press Service Handout)

Ukraine said five ships were heading to its Black Sea ports for loading, while three others had sailed with cargoes, as Kyiv seeks to overcome Russia’s blockade of its commodity exports that started two months ago when Moscow pulled out of a key grain deal.

US legislators omitted further aid to Ukraine in a measure passed on Saturday in a successful last-ditch effort to avoid a federal government shutdown, signalling that US support for funding Kyiv’s fight against the Russian invasion is getting harder.

In Slovakia, Robert Fico, a former prime minister who’s called for an end to military funding for Ukraine and derided EU sanctions against Russia, won Saturday’s election in a potential blow to Western unity.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was in Kyiv on Sunday for a meeting with Rustem Umerov, Ukraine’s recently appointed defence minister, after spending Saturday in Odesa.

Explosions were heard around the southern Russian city of Sochi and flights disrupted in the area, according to media reports, after a possible drone strike. Russia launched about 30 Shahed drones at Ukraine overnight, with 16 intercepted, Kyiv’s air force said. Kremlin drones struck industrial facilities, including grain storage, in Uman in the central Cherkasy region. Civilian infrastructure was also hit in Kryvyi Rih.

Latest developments

Ukraine ready to load five grain ships despite Russian threats 

Ukraine said five ships were heading to its Black Sea ports for loading, while three others had recently left with cargoes, as Kyiv seeks to overcome a Russian blockade of its commodity exports.

The five vessels — Olga, Ida, Danny Boy, Forza Doria and New Legacy — will be loaded with 120,000 tonnes of grain for Africa and Europe at the ports of greater Odesa, which include Chornomosk and Pivdennyi, Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Facebook. The ships were in the temporary corridor set up by the Ukrainian Navy, heading towards the ports, according to ship tracking data.

Ukraine is trying to forge a new safe corridor for its exports, despite Russian threats to attack vessels after Moscow exited a United Nations and Turkey-brokered grain deal in the summer. Alternative trade routes via ports on the Danube River have been attacked by Kremlin drones.

Pro-Russia Fico wins election in Slovakia in blow to Ukraine

A former prime minister who derided the European Union’s sanctions against Russia and pledged to end military aid to Ukraine won Slovakia’s election, delivering a fresh blow to Western unity.

Robert Fico is on track to return to the eastern EU nation’s premiership after Saturday’s vote, adding to the tide of nationalist and populist forces in Europe. The parties have gained traction by tapping into voters’ frustration over the lingering impact of Covid pandemic, the region’s cost-of-living crisis, and fatigue over the war in Ukraine.

President Zuzana Caputova on Monday will appoint Fico to form a government, the presidential palace said in an emailed statement, a move that will kick off coalition negotiations.

Fico’s win threatens to increase divisions between allies regarding assistance to Kyiv as Ukraine looks to turn back Russia’s invasion, now into its 20th month.

“Slovakia has bigger problems than Ukraine,” Fico told reporters in Bratislava on Sunday, even as he moderated his tone on the nation’s foreign policy, saying he has no intention of shifting it away from the EU and Nato.

Mikulas Hanes, head of research at pollster NMS Slovakia, said that Fico was likely to forge an alliance with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, delaying or mitigating EU policy if not outright blocking it.

“Robert Fico is a complication for the EU — they won’t have it easy with him,” Hanes said.

Fico’s Smer party secured 22.9% of the vote, well ahead of main rival Progressive Slovakia, which had 18%, according to the Statistics Office. The next EU test will be in Poland on 15 October when the nationalist Law & Justice party seeks a third term.

The dominant political figure in the eastern European nation of 5.4 million since the fall of communism, 59-year-old Fico made his pitch with a pledge to boost social spending and challenge EU policy on issues ranging from migration to security to climate.

He resigned in 2018 after a burst of public outrage following the killing of an investigative reporter who probed corruption in Slovakia. The Smer leader served for a decade over three terms after being first elected in 2006.

Ukraine aid falls by wayside as Congress passes spending Bill

Legislators omitted further aid to Ukraine in a measure passed on Saturday to avoid a federal government shutdown, signalling that US support for funding its fight against the Russian invasion is getting harder.

House GOP leaders scuttled the $6-billion aid for Kyiv in a Bill that passed both chambers hours before a midnight deadline. The decision — at least for now —  dealt a blow to President Volodymyr Zelensky, who last week met President Joe Biden and legislators in Washington to personally plead for new weapons systems, including F-16 fighter jets and longer-range ATACMS missiles.

The Biden administration and legislators from both parties sought to reassure Ukraine that US military aid won’t stop and that assistance may be supplied in a separate Bill down the road.

Biden said in a statement on Saturday that the “overwhelming majority of Congress have been steadfast in their support for Ukraine” and that he expected Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to help secure additional funding.

“We cannot under any circumstances allow American support for Ukraine to be interrupted,” Biden said. “I fully expect the Speaker will keep his commitment to the people of Ukraine and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine at this critical moment.”

Minutes after the Senate passed the short-term spending Bill, Democratic leaders in the House demanded McCarthy allow a vote on US support for Ukraine when the House returns next week. McCarthy had indicated he would try to tie the aid to US border policy changes that Democrats oppose.

Continued backing from the US and its allies is vital for Zelensky as his forces struggle to advance against Russian troops still occupying about 17% of his territory, fuelling doubts about his ability to oust them completely.

Hungary says Ukrainian move on OTP Bank doesn’t go far enough 

Hungary said Ukraine’s temporary suspension of Budapest’s OTP Bank from its list of “international sponsors of war” in an effort to unlock European Union military aid doesn’t materially change the situation.

The Ukrainian National Agency on Corruption Prevention also temporarily suspended five Greek shipping companies from its list, according to a statement on its website.

The moves followed “negotiations between the agency’s representatives and representatives of companies and governments in these countries” to terminate cooperation with Russia, the Kyiv-based agency said.

“The agency hopes that this decision will lead to Hungary’s unblocking of €500-million of vital EU military aid” and eliminate the possibility of Greece blocking a future EU sanctions package aimed at Russia.

The effort isn’t a “material change,” and Hungary won’t contribute to further EU funding for arms transfers to Ukraine as long as OTP, the nation’s largest lender, isn’t permanently struck from the list, Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mate Paczolay was quoted as saying by state news service MTI.

Read more: Orban says Ukraine can’t win war as he justifies veto on aid

The Ukrainian agency created the “sponsors of war” list after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 as a way to put pressure on companies that continue to operate in Russia. One of the list’s “levers” is cooperation with the World-Check database, which is used by banks and insurance companies to assess risk. Chinese companies currently dominate, followed by the US; the companies named include Xiaomi, Mondelez International, Unilever, PepsiCo and Raiffeisen Bank International.

The agency added OTP bank to the list in May, spurring a strong response from Hungary, which immediately said it would block the EU’s military aid.

OTP maintains business in Russia and Ukraine but it has said that a presidential decree is preventing it from selling its Russian unit. It has rejected claims of supporting Russia’s war and has publicly backed Ukraine.

Putin says waging war in Ukraine defends Russian sovereignty 

Russia is defending its “sovereignty” and “spiritual values” by waging war in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said in a video address posted on the Kremlin website.

The speech came a year after Putin signed documents to illegally annex four Ukrainian regions in Europe’s biggest land grab since World War 2.

“We are defending Russia itself, are fighting together for the Motherland, for our sovereignty, spiritual values and unity, for victory,” he said of the invasion Kremlin forces launched in February 2022.

Putin said Russia has to implement a “large-scale programme” to revive and develop the annexed regions and vowed to achieve its goal. Kremlin forces control only parts of the four regions, whose combined area is roughly the size of Bulgaria.

The speech sought to demonstrate that Putin has solidified his territorial claims even as Kyiv’s four-month-old counteroffensive, backed by billions of dollars in weapons from the US and other allies, makes halting progress in the country’s east and south. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.8% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.2% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.2% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.2%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options