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Ukraine war: Moscow 'targets' Black Sea ship, Poland Ukrainian grain ban, Baltics buys air defences

FILE - Bulk grain cargo ship TQ Samsun is anchored in the Black Sea near the entrance of the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, July 17, 2023.
FILE - Bulk grain cargo ship TQ Samsun is anchored in the Black Sea near the entrance of the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, July 17, 2023. Copyright Sercan Ozkurnazli/AP
Copyright Sercan Ozkurnazli/AP
By Euronews with AFP/AP
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All the latest developments from the war in Ukraine.

Baltic states acquire billion dollar air defence system

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Estonia and Latvia on Monday struck a joint deal to purchase a German-made medium-range air defence system. 

The two Baltic states also signed a letter of intent to participate in Germany's European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI), launched last year after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"This is by far the biggest defence investment in Estonia's history. It's something we don't see every day," Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur told reporters.

"Russia's barbaric war in Ukraine has shown that air defence is essential to protect the armed forces and critical infrastructure from aerial attack." 

The IRIS-T SLM medium-range air defence system that was sold for one billion dollars is developed by the German arms company Diehl Defence. 

At a signing ceremony in Rothenbach, southern Germany, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said he "appreciated" that Estonia and Latvia had joined the ESSI. 

19 European countries, including Germany, the UK, Belgium, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands and Sweden, have come together to develop a ground-based air defence system under the ESSI project.

The Sky Shield would involve joint purchases of short, medium and long range systems, including US Patriots and the US-Israeli Arrow 3 missiles.

France, Italy and Poland have not signed up to the project, with Paris arguing instead for an air defence system using European equipment.

Moscow tried to destroy a cargo ship in the Black Sea – London

The UK on Monday accused Russian forces of attempting to destroy a Liberian-flagged civilian cargo ship in the port of Odessa, southwest Ukraine, with several missile attacks on 24  August. 

The attempt was foiled by Kyiv, however. 

The Kalibr-type missiles, fired from a Russian warship at sea, “were successfully shot down by Ukrainian forces,” the British Foreign Office wrote in a statement.

"Despite its failure, this attack is a clear demonstration of Russia's repeated attempts to strangle the Ukrainian economy and of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's disregard for the lives of civilians and the interests of countries in Africa, Asia and in the Middle East," it added.

"These attacks show just how desperate [Vladimir Putin] is," UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was quoted as saying in the statement.

Russia announced in July it was withdrawing from a landmark deal that lifted a blockade on Ukrainian grain exports over the Black Sea. 

Moscow wants Western sanctions on its own exports of agricultural products and fertilisers lifted before it can re-join the deal. 

Brokered in 2020 by the UN and Turkey, the Black Sea grain agreement is vital for global food supplies, with Moscow promising in September to deliver free grain to six African states.

According to London, Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure and Ukrainian ports have destroyed "280,000 tonnes" of grain since July, "more than what Russia promised to give to African countries."

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Since this summer, the number of attacks in the Black Sea has increased on both sides. Russia in particular has intensified bombing of Ukraine's grain exporting infrastructure.

Poland demands extension on Ukrainian grain embargo

Poland's prime minister says his government wants to continue an EU-sanctioned embargo on Ukrainian grain imports because it would hurt Polish farmers.

"Poland will not allow Ukraine grain to flood us," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, Tuesday.

"Regardless of the decisions of the clerks in Brussels, we will not open up our borders," he said in the midst of intensive campaigning for parliamentary elections, due on 15 October.

Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, in agreement with the European Union, imposed an embargo on Ukrainian farm produce to prevent a glut in their home markets that would hurt local farmers. 

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Only transit of sealed goods is allowed in an effort to help Ukraine send its produce overseas as Russia blocks its usual export routes. 

The embargo was due to expire on 15 September. Speaking to farmers in Kosow Lacki, in Poland's farming east region, Morawiecki said that he has requested that the European Commission, the EU's executive, extend the current ban on the entry of Ukraine corn, wheat, sunflower and rapeseed.

If Brussels declines to do so, he said, “we will do it ourselves because we cannot allow for a deregulation of the market”.

Putin meets Kim Jong-un in Russia's far east

Kim Jong-un rolled into Russia on an armoured train Tuesday to see President Vladimir Putin, a rare meeting between isolated leaders driven together by their need for support in escalating standoffs with the West.

The North Korean dictator is expected to seek economic aid and military technology for his impoverished country, offering in exchange munitions for Russia's draining war effort in Ukraine.

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This meeting is a chance for the North Korean leader to get around crippling UN sanctions and years of diplomatic isolation. For Putin, it's an opportunity to refill ammunition stores that the war has drained.

North Korea may have tens of millions of aging artillery shells and rockets based on Soviet designs that could give a huge boost to the Russian army in Ukraine, analysts say.

Any arms deal with North Korea would violate the sanctions, which Russia supported in the past.

Kim is apparently being accompanied by Jo Chun-ryong, a ruling party official in charge of munitions policies who joined the leader on recent tours of factories producing artillery shells and missiles, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu will be part of the Russian delegation.

Lim Soo-suk, South Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said Seoul was maintaining communication with Moscow while closely monitoring Kim's visit.

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"No UN member state should violate Security Council sanctions against North Korea by engaging in an illegal trade of arms, and must certainly not engage in military cooperation with North Korea that undermines the peace and stability of the international community," Lim said during a briefing.

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