Ukraine live briefing: More strikes hit Odessa; U.S. imposes sanctions on Russian, Kyrgyz companies

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Russia attacked the port city of Mykolaiv on July 20, leaving two people dead and 19 wounded, including five children, the regional administration said. (Video: Reuters)

The United States slapped sanctions Thursday on Russian technology supply and development companies, as well as Kyrgyz companies that the U.S. accused of acting as intermediaries to allow Russia to import electronic equipment, bypassing Western sanctions. A Washington Post investigation published Tuesday revealed that Kyrgyz firms were profiting from soaring sales of sanctioned Chinese and European goods they transported to Russia.

Missile strikes pummeled Ukraine’s Black Sea port region of Odessa for the third night in a row, while an attack on the nearby port city of Mykolaiv left two people dead and 19 wounded, including five children, Ukrainian officials said early Thursday. Ukraine said it would view Russian vessels in parts of the Black Sea as potentially carrying military cargo, in retaliation for Moscow announcing the same and pulling out of a U.N.-brokered grain deal this week. The tensions around maritime activity have sent wheat futures soaring in recent days.

In the southeast, Ukraine has started using controversial U.S.-made cluster munitions, hoping to break up fortified Russian positions that have slowed its offensive, according to Ukrainian officials familiar with the matter, The Washington Post’s John Hudson and Isabelle Khurshudyan report. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that Ukraine was using the cluster munitions “quite effectively” and that they are making “an impact on Russia’s defensive formations and Russia’s defensive maneuvering.”

The United States’ decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine is controversial because unexploded bomblets leave citizens at risk even decades later. (Video: Jason Aldag/The Washington Post, Photo: Júlia Ledur, Brian Monroe/The Washington Post)

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

The latest attack on Odessa sparked a fire in the city and killed one person, regional governor Oleh Kiper said Thursday. The barrage comes after Russia’s pullout from a U.N.-brokered deal that had allowed the flow of Ukrainian grain exports to the world, and after Moscow vowed to retaliate against Kyiv’s strike on the Crimean Bridge earlier this week. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Telegram on Thursday the attacks in Odessa and Mykolaiv showed “Russian terrorists continue their attempts to destroy the life of our country.” Russia “should suffer a devastating sanctions blow” in response, Andriy Yermak, the head of Zelensky’s office, said in a Telegram post.

Ships headed to Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea could be considered potential carriers of military cargo as of Thursday, the Russian Defense Ministry said. “The flag countries of ships sailing to the Ukrainian ports of the Black Sea will be considered involved in the conflict” on the side of Kyiv, it said.

In response, Ukraine’s military said that beginning Friday, all vessels in the Black Sea heading toward Russia’s ports and Ukrainian ports occupied by Russian forces may be considered as carrying military cargo. The military also declared maritime navigation in northeastern parts of the Black Sea and the Kerch-Yenikale strait, connecting the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea along Crimea, to be “prohibited as dangerous” starting Thursday. Ukraine accused the Kremlin of turning “the Black Sea into a danger zone,” adding: “The responsibility for all risks lies entirely with the Russian leadership.”

The White House warned that Russia’s military has laid sea mines around Ukrainian ports and is preparing for possible attacks on civilian shipping vessels in the Black Sea. NSC spokesman Kirby on Thursday added that the United States was releasing this information strategically to avoid false flag operations by Russia.

The European Union’s top diplomat accused Russia of deepening a global food supply crisis after the Kremlin withdrew from the grain deal. “This is going to create a big and huge food crisis in the world,” Josep Borrell told reporters Thursday. Wheat prices rose early Thursday for the third consecutive day, CNBC reported, though they remained below peak levels reached in May 2022, in the early months of the Ukraine war.

United Nations Secretary General António Guterres condemned Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian port facilities and Black Sea ports, adding that the attacks violate Russia’s memorandum of understanding with the United Nations that says the nation “will facilitate the unimpeded export of food, sunflower oil and fertilizers from Ukrainian controlled Black Sea ports,” according to a statement from his spokesman.

Germany is working with allies to make sure Ukrainian grain is not left to rot in silos after the suspension of the export deal, and will work to get the grain out by rail, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Thursday on the sidelines of a European Union foreign ministers meeting. Egypt, one of the world’s top wheat importers, criticized Russia’s exit from the deal and pledged to continue importing Ukrainian grain. “We are not pleased with the Russian withdrawal from the U.N. grain-export deal,” Egyptian Supply Minister Ali El-Mosilhy told Bloomberg.

Ukraine’s use of cluster weapons follows President Biden’s move to provide the delivery of the widely banned munitions, a decision criticized by human rights groups, European allies and some Democrats. Ukrainian officials have long said cluster munitions would compensate for their disadvantage in artillery, weaponry and troop numbers, The Post reports. Still, the munitions, which explode in the air, releasing smaller bomblets, are outlawed in more than 120 countries. Children are particularly vulnerable, as the submunitions can fail to explode until they’re picked up.

A drone attack in Crimea killed a teenage girl, Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-backed head of occupied Crimea — which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014 — said on Telegram early Thursday.

A building of the Chinese consulate was damaged during the Russian attack on Odessa, the regional governor said. The damage appeared to be minor — Kiper shared a picture on Telegram of a building with a broken window.

Wagner Group head Yevgeniy Prigozhin appeared to confirm that he was in Belarus in a new video, posted on Telegram and verified by The Post. It appears to be the first footage of him since his group’s short-lived mutiny in Russia last month. He vowed that his fighters would continue operating, but not in Ukraine, saying they would keep working in Africa and would train the Belarusian army.

Britain is imposing sanctions on 13 individuals and businesses linked to Wagner in Mali, Sudan and the Central African Republic, the Foreign Office announced Thursday.

South Africa announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be attending the August BRICS summit — composed of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — by “mutual agreement.” This resolves a diplomatic quandary for South Africa, which, as a member of the International Criminal Court, would have an obligation to arrest Putin upon his arrival in the country.

Ukraine’s new Bradley Fighting Vehicles face damage and quick repairs: In the early stages of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, about a dozen newly provided Bradleys — an American armor-killing vehicle that also carries soldiers into battle — have been destroyed, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Alex Horton and Kamila Hrabchuk report.

Many have been repaired and sent back to the battlefield.

“Even amid the early damage, Ukrainian troops have experienced the benefits of the new equipment. In the biggest plus, soldiers said, the Bradley protects everyone inside,” they write.

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