Ukraine war: 'Massive' Crimea drone attack, Russia suspends grain export deal, clocks controversy

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By Euronews  with Reuters, AP, AFP
Russian soldiers guard the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea, Sunday, July 31, 2022, following an explosion that injured six people.
Russian soldiers guard the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea, Sunday, July 31, 2022, following an explosion that injured six people.   -   Copyright  AP Photo

1. Russia suspends grain export deal over Crimea drone attack

Russia has said it is suspending its participation in the agreement to ensure the continuation of Ukrainian grain exports — vital for food supplies to poor countries — linking the decision to a drone attack on Russian ships in occupied Crimea on Saturday morning.

The defence ministry announced the move, and it was also reported by the state news agency TASS.

"Taking into account the terrorist act carried out by the Kyiv regime with the participation of British experts against ships of the Black Sea fleet and civilian vessels involved in the security of grain corridors, Russia suspends its participation in the implementation of the agreement on exports of agricultural products from Ukrainian ports," the Russian defence ministry announced on Telegram.

The move comes a day after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Russia and Ukraine to renew the deal that has seen more than nine million tons of grain exported from Ukraine and brought down global food prices.

Earlier on Saturday, the Russian military blamed Ukraine and Britain for what it called a massive drone attack on its Black Sea fleet in Russian-annexed Crimea. Moscow said "minor damage" was caused to one ship, and the vessels were involved in protecting convoys exporting Ukrainian grain.

The Ukrainian president's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, accused Russia of "blackmail" and "invented terror attacks" on its own territory — an apparent response to Russian accusations that Ukraine was behind the blasts.

An adviser to Ukraine's interior ministry, Anton Gerashchenko, claimed in his Telegram channel that "careless handling of explosives" in occupied Crimea led to explosions aboard four warships belonging to Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

The conflicting claims from Ukraine and Moscow could not immediately be reconciled.

Moscow points finger at London

Regarding the UK, the Russian defence ministry also blamed "British specialists based in Ochakov, Mykolaiv region" for preparing a "terrorist act" and training Ukrainian military personnel. It also said British navy personnel blew up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last month, without providing any evidence.

Britain's defence ministry said the Russian claims were false and designed to distract from Russian military failures in Ukraine.

"To detract from their disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defence is resorting to peddling false claims of an epic scale," it said on Twitter.

"This invented story, says more about arguments going on inside the Russian government than it does about the West."

'Most massive' drone attack so far

The Russian-installed governor of the city of Sevastopol described a drone attack early on Saturday on Russian Black Sea fleet installations as the most "massive" of the conflict in Ukraine.

"The most massive attack by drones and remotely piloted surface vehicles on the waters of the Bay of Sevastopol in the history of the conflict took place last night," Mikhail Razvojaev was quoted as saying by the TASS agency.

Earlier, Razvojaev said the Russian navy had repelled a drone attack, saying no facilities had been hit and the situation was under control. All the drones involved in the attack had been "shot down", Razvojaev added on Telegram.

The port of Sevastopol was "temporarily" closed to ships and ferries after the attack, the city's authorities said.

On Thursday, Razvojaev said the Balaklava thermal power plant had been targeted by a drone attack.

In April, the flagship of Russia's Black Sea Fleet — the Moskva — was sunk by Ukrainian forces in a major blow to Moscow. Earlier this month, an explosion struck Russia's bridge to Crimea, a symbol of Moscow's annexation. 

Russian claims of a new drone attack in Sevastopol come as Ukrainian forces have launched a counter-offensive to regain ground in the south of the country.

Both sides have exchanged rocket, mortar and artillery fire from trench lines north of the Russian-held city of Kherson, where one of the war's most consequential battles is looming.

The Russian defence ministry said its forces had repelled attempted Ukrainian advances in the east and had destroyed a Ukrainian military factory near the town of Pavlograd.

Russia, which launched an offensive in Ukraine on 24 February, annexed Ukraine's southern Crimean peninsula in 2014.

2. Russia says US lowering 'nuclear threshold' with newer bombs in Europe

Russia said on Saturday that the accelerated deployment of modernised US B61 tactical nuclear weapons at NATO bases in Europe would lower the "nuclear threshold" and that Moscow would take the move into account in its military planning.

The United States told a closed NATO meeting this month that it would accelerate the deployment of modernised weapons arriving at European bases several months earlier than planned, according to Politico.

Its report said that an upgraded version of the B61, the B61-12, would be delivered in December.

"We cannot ignore the plans to modernize nuclear weapons, those free-fall bombs that are in Europe," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told state RIA news agency.

"The United States is modernising them, increasing their accuracy and reducing the power of the nuclear charge, that is, they turn these weapons into 'battlefield weapons', thereby reducing the nuclear threshold."

The 12-ft B61-12 gravity bomb carries a lower yield nuclear warhead than many earlier versions but is more accurate and can penetrate below ground, according to research by the Federation of American Scientists published in 2016.

A Pentagon spokesman quoted by Politico said nuclear details would not be discussed but that the modernisation of B61 weapons had been underway for years.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has triggered the gravest confrontation between Moscow and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when the two Cold War superpowers came closest to nuclear war.

3. EU has 'frozen €17 billion in assets' of Russian oligarchs and elites

Some €17 billion in assets of Russian oligarchs and entities have been frozen in the European Union across seven member states following sanctions against Russia in response to the war in Ukraine, according to Brussels.

"So far, the assets of 90 people have been frozen, amounting to more than €17 billion in seven member states, including €2.2 billion in Germany," EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders told German media group Funke, including the daily Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.

At the beginning of July, Reynders put a figure of some €13.8 billion, mainly in five countries, on the freezing in the EU of assets held by oligarchs or members of the Russian elite sanctioned by the EU27.

"If it is criminal money confiscated by the EU, it can be transferred to a compensation fund for Ukraine," the commissioner also said in the interview published on Saturday.

Ukrainian officials are calling for these frozen assets to be used to rebuild their country after the war. "However, this amount is far from sufficient to finance reconstruction," Reynders warned.

Western sanctions have also led to "the freezing of €300 billion" of Russian Central Bank foreign exchange reserves around the world, a sum that could be used as "collateral", the commissioner said.

"Ukraine also wants to use this money for reconstruction. From my point of view, it is at least possible to keep these €300 billion as a guarantee until Russia voluntarily participates in the reconstruction of Ukraine," Didier Reynders stressed.

In total, and since the 2014 invasion of Crimea, 1,236 individuals — including Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but also members of the Duma and oligarchs such as Roman Abramovich, Mikhail Fridman or Petr Aven — and 115 entities are subject to asset freezes and bans from entering the EU.

4. Zelenskyy doubts Russian mobilisation drive is really over

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has expressed doubt over Russia's declaration that its partial mobilisation was over, saying the poor performance of pro-Moscow forces meant more men could be needed.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu earlier said the call-up of 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine was complete.

"We have reports the enemy has completed its mobilisation, as if there is no longer a need to send new waves of Russian citizens to the front. We feel very differently on the front lines," Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Friday.

"Even though Russia is trying to increase the pressure on our positions by using conscripts, they are so poorly prepared and equipped, so brutally used by their command, that it allows us to presume that very soon Russia may need a new wave of people to send to the war."

Shoigu told Putin at a televised meeting in the Kremlin that the president's order to mobilise 300,000 people had been carried out, with 82,000 already sent to the combat zone while the rest were training.

The mobilisation Putin ordered last month after his forces suffered major battlefield setbacks was the first time most Russians faced a direct personal impact from the war. It prompted tens of thousands of men to flee the country and gave rise to the first sustained public protests against the war.

5. Four million affected by power blackouts, Zelenskyy says

Ukraine announced on Friday "unprecedented" power cuts affecting a total of four million people, especially in the Kyiv region, as Ukrainian energy facilities have been heavily damaged by numerous Russian strikes in recent weeks.

"In many cities and districts of our country, power cuts have been introduced to stabilise the situation," President Zelenskyy said in his daily address. Ukrainian operator DTEK warned that the coming days would bring "more severe and longer cuts".

In the Kyiv region, as winter looms, the latest damage to utilities will mean outages of four or more hours a day, according to Ukrenergo, the state operator of Ukraine’s high-voltage transmission lines.

Kyiv regional governor Oleksiy Kuleba warned “more severe and longer shutdowns will be applied in the coming days". City mayor Vitali Klitschko said the power grid was operating in “emergency mode,” adding that he hoped Ukrenergo would find ways to address the shortage “in two to three weeks”.

In the Kharkiv region, home to Ukraine's second-largest city of the same name, governor Oleg Syniehubov said daily one-hour power outages would begin on Monday.

Officials across Ukraine have urged people to conserve by reducing electricity consumption during peak hours and avoiding the use of high-voltage appliances.

AFP visited a Ukrainian power plant on Thursday, where repair work was underway following a Russian attack.

"We don't know how long it will take," said one employee, adding that the plant had been targeted twice by missiles and a third time by an Iranian-made suicide drone.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on Tehran to stop arms deliveries to Russia during a phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian.

“I demanded that Iran immediately stop supplying Russia with weapons that are used to kill civilians and destroy critical infrastructure in Ukraine,” Kuleba tweeted on Friday.

Iran has denied supplying Russia with explosive drones and other weapons used in the invasion of Ukraine.

AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko.
Ukraine's Iranian community members attend a protest against Russian and Iranian regimes in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Oct. 28, 2022.AP Photo/Andrew Kravchenko.

6. Stick to Moscow time and don't put clocks back, urge pro-Russian officials

Kremlin-appointed officials in an occupied region of southern Ukraine have urged residents not to switch to daylight saving time along with Kyiv and the rest of the country.

“In the Zaporizhzhia region, the old time remains. The clocks will not go back in 2022,” the administration on Friday said in a post on its official Telegram channel.

The Russian-installed mayor of Enerhodar, where the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power plant is located, called on residents to ignore the time switch in a separate video message posted on Telegram.

“We live in the Russian Federation, and our city lives by Moscow time,” Alexander Volga said in the video.

The Zaporizhzhia region is one of four Ukrainian provinces that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last month and subsequently put under Russian martial law. Kremlin-backed officials in occupied areas have sought to replace the Ukrainian currency with Russia’s ruble, and to align local laws with Russian legislation.

Russia switched to permanent winter time in 2014. The move came after nationwide surveys found that Russians largely disapproved of an earlier government decision to put clocks on year-round summer time, and struggled to adjust to long hours of darkness in the mornings.