Ukraine live briefing: Putin seeks to boost relations with African leaders, promises grain


Ukrainian troops fire toward Russian troops in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region on Sunday. (Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is seeking to boost ties with African leaders at a St. Petersburg summit, told his visitors that Russia could replace Ukrainian grain, “both on a commercial basis and free of charge to the most needy countries in Africa.”

The pledge comes as the Kremlin’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal this month continues to block the flow of Ukrainian grain exports to the world, raising fears for food supplies to vulnerable countries, including in Africa.

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

Putin promised free grain to six African nations in the coming months. It was not clear when or how the deliveries would be made to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Central African Republic, Eritrea and Somalia — where millions of people face severe hunger. U.N. officials have denounced the Kremlin for nixing an agreement that had helped alleviate the global food crisis.

The African Union’s chairman called on Moscow to “facilitate the access of both Ukrainian and Russian food.” In a speech at the summit in St. Petersburg, Azali Assoumani said African nations were ready to work “on all fronts” with Moscow, which he described as a “special partner,” and said a resolution with Ukraine would help save people suffering from the food crisis.

Ukrainian officials say the military launched a new push against Russian lines, achieving some gains in the south, The Washington Post reported. A U.S. official said the purpose of Ukraine moving additional forces to the Zaporizhzhia region was unclear, adding that it could be the result of fresh troops probing Russian lines or replacing fatigued units.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the city of Dnipro as Kyiv pushed ahead with its counteroffensive farther south. He said he met with military commanders Thursday to discuss updates from the front lines, supplies of munitions to troops and reinforcing air defenses.

Russia’s defense minister handed a letter from President Vladimir Putin to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, North Korean state media reported. The Russian minister is on a visit to Pyongyang, which is marking the 70th anniversary of the armistice of the Korean War.

Odessa’s governor said Russian forces hit port infrastructure in the Black Sea region in an overnight missile attack. The strike killed a security guard and damaged equipment at a cargo terminal, Oleh Kiper said Thursday. Ukrainian officials have accused Russian forces of striking ports and destroying vessels since withdrawing from the grain deal.

The goal of Ukraine’s latest military push is to reach the Sea of Azov. Though Ukrainian forces remain far from the sea, that would allow Ukraine to sever Russia’s land bridge to annexed Crimea, a key conduit for moving Russian forces and equipment into Ukraine, The Post reported.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive is not a stalemate but is not progressing as quickly as hoped, according to U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who said “the Ukrainians are moving” and were “not just frozen.”

The White House is exploring “less efficient” land routes to export grain from Ukraine. The United States expects Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports to last “for some time,” Kirby said Wednesday, adding that truck or rail alternatives were not as efficient. Washington is in talks with European and Ukrainian partners to find overland routes, he added.

The United States will cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s investigation into war crimes in Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday in New Zealand. Washington is not party to the statute that set up the ICC. “We support the ICC’s investigation,” Blinken told reporters. The Pentagon has been cautious about such cooperation, fearing it might set a precedent that exposes U.S. personnel to investigations for actions elsewhere.

Swedish officials accused the Kremlin of backing a disinformation campaign against Stockholm. Russian-backed actors are “amplifying incorrect statements such as that the Swedish state is behind the desecration of holy scriptures,” a Swedish minister said, according to Reuters. Copies of the Quran have been burned at demonstrations in the country, triggering outrage among Muslim communities. Sweden has maintained that it does not support burning the holy book, but that it cannot block such acts during protests because of free-speech laws. The Russian Embassy in Stockholm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Putin courts Africa at summit, but many African leaders stay away: Putin is hosting African leaders in St. Petersburg in a gathering designed to portray Moscow as a great power with many global friends, Robyn Dixon and Katharine Houreld report.

But only 16 heads of state will attend, fewer than the 43 who came to the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019, in “a sign of dismay in African nations about a war that has raised food and fuel prices, hurting vulnerable populations,” they write.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov blamed the West for the reduced number, claiming there had been “brazen interference” from the United States, France and others to dissuade them from attending.

Michael Birnbaum in Wellington, New Zealand, contributed to this report.


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