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Ukraine war: Sanctions talks, no speedy EU entry for Kyiv, grain deal tensions

Fireworks explodes over the historic building of the Moscow State University in Russia, Tuesday, May 9, 2023 during Victory Day.
Fireworks explodes over the historic building of the Moscow State University in Russia, Tuesday, May 9, 2023 during Victory Day. Copyright Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Alexander Zemlianichenko/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews with AFP/AP
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These are the latest developments from the Ukraine war.

EU begins sanctions talks

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The European Union will discuss slapping Russia with new sanctions over the Ukraine war on Wednesday, potentially targetting Chinese and Iranian firms and curbing exports to third countries busting existing trade restrictions.

Talks among EU envoys start at 8:00 local time and are set to be heated, according to one diplomat. 

Russia hawks believe the proposals do not go far enough, but others don't want to scupper their international and trading ties.

These flashpoints could frustrate the deal and delay it, several diplomats said.

All 27 EU countries must agree for new sanctions to take effect in what would be the bloc's 11th round of punitive measures since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Moscow urged to renew grain agreement

London and Washington jointly called for the extension of the Ukrainian grain deal on Tuesday, denouncing what they called Russia's weaponisation of food.

Last July, Ukraine and Russia signed an agreement to allow grain exports across the Black Sea, where they had been blockaded. 

That lack of supply fuelled skyrocketing food prices, pushing some parts of the world to the brink of famine. 

"In recent days, Russia has again blocked the entry of ships into Ukrainian ports to load grain, a cynical act which has the direct result of reducing the quantity of food on world markets," said the US's top diplomat Antony Blinken at a press conference. 

This is stopping it from "reaching those in need in Africa, the Middle East and around the world."

"The world shouldn't have to remind Russia every two or three weeks not to use people's hunger as a weapon in its war against Ukraine," he added.  

The so-called Black Sea Agreement, brokered by the UN and Turkey, was initially set to last 120 days. However, it was later renewed, helping to ease the looming global food crisis. 

It expires on May 18 and Russia has not agreed to a third renewal.

No speedy EU entry for Ukraine

Ukraine appears no closer to becoming an EU member, following a high-level meeting between the pair on Europe Day, a celebration of “peace and unity” in the region. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the EU's executive branch, made a special trip to Kyiv on Tuesday to deliver warm words about the bloc and Ukraine's common destiny.

“Ukraine has been fighting for the ideals of Europe that we celebrate today to create lasting unity and peace,” she said, meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

After more than a year of war, Ukraine sees EU membership as an essential part of its future in the West. However, Ukraine's entry remains far off, amid concerns it does not meet the bloc's criteria. 

“A lot of progress has been made, but work has to continue,” von der Leyen said, with evident frustrations on the Ukrainian side. 

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Next month, it will be one year since the EU nations made Ukraine a candidate for membership.

Russia could step up chemical attacks in Ukraine

 An expert has warned Russia could use “horrific” chemical weapons in Ukraine, urging the international community to condemn their use.

The Kremlin says it does not have any intention to use such weapons.

On Sunday, Russia was accused of using phosphorus on the besieged city of Bakhmut, with Ukraine releasing footage purporting to show it raining down on its military positions.

While phosphorus is not classified as a chemical weapon in international law, its use against civilian areas is considered a war crime under the Geneva Convention because of its "indiscriminate" and "traumatic effects".

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Despite being an “absolutely horrific weapon”, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert, says from a military perspective it can be “incredibly successful” on the battlefield, pointing to its use by Syrian government forces, working alongside Moscow, against rebels.

“What the Russians and the Syrians found is that you can fight conventionally in towns and cities, but you only get so far," de Bretton-Gordon told Euronews. "Once you reduce them to rubble, it's very difficult to dislodge your enemies. People can hide. But if you chuck in phosphorus it burns them out."

“That’s what we are seeing in Bakhmut,” he added.

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