The EU on Thursday agreed a fresh round of sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine, after complaints from hawkish eastern European leaders that some countries were trying to water them down. Diplomats said a compromise deal – thought to include targeting some 200 individuals – was reached on the sidelines of a leaders summit in Brussels and that the sanctions would be formally confirmed on Friday. Follow our live blog all for the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).
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12:14am: World Bank launches 2 billion package to support Ukraine’s private sector
The latest package by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the bank’s development arm focused on private-sector development in emerging markets, adds to its ongoing support of Ukraine.
The group has been working to help Ukraine maintain trade flows, while retaining access to essential resources like food and fuel, it said.
Moscow’s invasion has damaged Ukraine’s infrastructure and disrupted the private sector, which previously contributed up to 70 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, the IFC said in a statement.
9:30pm: EU agrees fresh sanctions on Russia over Ukraine war, diplomats say
The EU on Thursday agreed a fresh round of sanctions on Russia over the war in Ukraine, after complaints from hawkish eastern European leaders that some countries were trying to water them down.
Diplomats said a compromise deal – thought to include targeting some 200 individuals – was reached on the sidelines of a leaders summit in Brussels and that the sanctions would be formally confirmed on Friday.
6:21pm: Poland drops veto to EU summit deal, clears way for Ukraine funding package
Poland withdrew its objections to a minimum corporate tax at an EU summit on Thursday, unblocking a whole package of linked agreements that includes 18 billion euros ($19.16 billion) in financing for Ukraine in 2023, diplomats said.
Leaders had been held up on several fronts at the Brussels summit, at the end of a tumultuous year which saw the EU close ranks to support Ukraine after Russia’s invasion but also often struggle to agree how much pressure to put on Moscow.
Diplomats said Poland had blindsided EU peers who had not expected its objection to a carefully negotiated package, but Warsaw’s veto had now been dropped. “There is a deal,” one said.
5:05pm: Fighting rages in Bakhmut, remaining residents under heavy shelling
Ukrainians leaving the eastern city of Bakhmut this week described almost constant Russian shelling that forced residents to shelter in basements and sleep in the bitter cold, while there are reports of intense battles taking place in recent days and street fighting in the east of the city. FRANCE 24’s James Andre has the latest.
4:29pm: US sanctions Russian oligarch Potanin
The US imposed sanctions on one of Russia’s richest men, Vladimir Potanin, and Russian commercial bank Rosbank, according to the Treasury Department website.
Rosbank was purchased earlier this year by Interros, an investment holding company Potanin controls.
3:25pm: Vatican confirms apology to Moscow over pope comments
The Vatican confirmed Thursday that it had apologised to Russia after Pope Francis made comments singling out the allegedly cruel role of Russian ethnic minorities in the Ukraine conflict.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni was asked about Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova saying on Thursday that the Vatican had apologised following the pope’s comments. “I can now confirm there were diplomatic contacts to that effect,” he said.
Pope Francis had said in an interview in November that some of the “cruellest” actors among Russia’s ranks in Ukraine “are not of the Russian tradition”, but minorities like “the Chechens, the Buryati and so on”.
This drew indignation from Russia, with Zakharova describing the comments as “beyond Russophobia”, and “perversion”.
3:21pm: Russian artist on trial for Ukraine price tag protest
The trial of a Russian artist, who faces a decade in jail for switching supermarket price labels with messages protesting Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine, opened on Thursday.
Alexandra Skochilenko was detained in April on charges of spreading “fake information” about Russian armed forces under legislation introduced after President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24. The 32-year-old smiled as she was brought to a Saint Petersburg court handcuffed and dressed in a multi-coloured T-shirt with a heart emblem, video released by her supporters on social media showed.
Skochilenko on March 11 replaced supermarket stickers with short phrases about the conflict, in particular detailing the bloody battle for the Black Sea port city of Mariupol.
2:36pm: 14 million tonnes of grain exported from Ukraine, UN says
More than 14 million tonnes of grain have been exported from Ukraine under the Black Sea deal with Russia and eased global food prices, the United Nations said Thursday.
Rebeca Grynspan, head of the UN’s trade and development agency UNCTAD which helped broker the Black Sea Grain Initiative, said it had reduced world food prices for seven straight months.
“We have surpassed 14 million tonnes of food that has come out through the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” Grynspan told reporters at the UN in Geneva. “The volumes that we are talking about are very significant for the market.”
2:32pm: Poland stalls EU Ukraine aid and corporate tax plan ‘megadeal’
Resistance from Poland is holding up efforts to ratify an EU deal on a minimum corporate tax and to send €18 billion of aid to Ukraine, diplomats said Thursday.
The 27 member states struck a complex agreement on Monday that gave the greenlight to both the aid and a minimum 15 percent global corporate tax rate.
The so-called “megadeal”, which included a compromise with Hungary freeing up some frozen EU funds, had been expected to be formally approved on Wednesday evening.
But repeated deadlines to ratify the package slipped by after Warsaw raised objections to the tax push.
2:28pm: Ukraine grain deal unlikely to include new ports in near term, UN aid chief says
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said on Thursday it was unlikely the Black Sea grain deal would be expanded in the near term to include more Ukrainian ports or reduce inspection times.
Kyiv has called for an expansion of the deal with Moscow which was mediated by the United Nations and Turkey and allows Ukraine, a major global grain exporter, to ship food products from three of its Black Sea ports despite Russia’s invasion.
“I don’t see that happening in the next, near term,” the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator told Reuters in an interview in the Ukrainian capital.
2:14pm: Russia warns of ‘consequences’ if US missiles sent to Ukraine
Russia’s foreign ministry warned Thursday that if the US confirms reports that it plans to deliver sophisticated air defence missiles to Ukraine, it would be “another provocative move by the US” that could prompt a response from Moscow.
Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in a weekly briefing Thursday that “the US has effectively become a party” to the war in Ukraine, following reports that it will provide Kyiv with Patriot surface-to-air missiles, the most advanced the West has yet provided to help Ukraine’s military repel Russian aerial attacks.
Zakharova added that growing amounts of US military assistance, including the transfer of such sophisticated weapons, “would mean even broader involvement of military personnel in the hostilities and could entail possible consequences”. She did not specify what the consequences might be.
US officials said Tuesday that Washington was poised to approve sending a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine, finally agreeing to an urgent request from Ukrainian leaders desperate for more robust weapons to shoot down incoming Russian missiles that have crippled much of the country’s vital infrastructure. An official announcement is expected soon.
2:02pm: Putin says Russia will fight sanctions with change in trade, energy flows
President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia would expand trade cooperation with new partners, including by switching gas flows to eastern neighbours, in order to combat Western sanctions.
Putin said in a televised speech that Russia would develop its economic relations with partners in Asia, Africa and Latin America to thwart Western efforts to isolate it economically.
“We will remove restrictions in logistics and finance. Let me remind you that by introducing sanctions, Western countries were trying to push Russia to the periphery of world development. But we will never take the route of self-isolation,” he said. “On the contrary, we are broadening, and will broaden, cooperation with all who have an interest in that.”
2pm: UN hopeful for breakthrough on Russian fertilizer exports
A senior UN official on Thursday voiced optimism that there would be a breakthrough in negotiations to ease exports of Russian fertilizers to avoid food shortages next year.
Russia has complained its concerns about fertilizer exports had not been addressed when a deal for extending a Black Sea grain export agreement was agreed in November.
Low Russian fertilizer exports remained a “major concern” to avoid food shortages next year, said the secretary general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, Rebeca Grynspan, a key UN negotiator. “I am cautiously optimistic that we can have important progress soon,” she told reporters in Geneva. “We will spare no effort in trying to make this happen as we really think it is essential for avoiding a food security crisis in the world.”
1:45pm: Russia attacks infrastructure in Kharkiv
Russian forces attacked critical infrastructure in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Thursday, causing several explosions, the city’s mayor said.
“Explosions in Kharkiv. The enemy is targeting infrastructure facilities. I am asking everyone to exercise utmost caution and stay in shelters if possible,” Mayor Ihor Terekhov wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
1:24pm: EU Parliament recognises Holodomor as genocide
The European Parliament on Thursday approved a resolution declaring the 1930s starvation of millions in Ukraine under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin a “genocide”.
The text said the EU legislature “recognises the Holodomor, the artificial famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine caused by a deliberate policy of the Soviet regime, as a genocide against the Ukrainian people”. The step comes days after Ukraine marked 90 years since the famine and as Russian forces wage a devastating war against the country. Kyiv has urged the international community to officially declare the starvation a “genocide” as Ukraine confronts Moscow’s modern-day aggression.
The vote by the European Parliament is likely to draw ire from Russia, where officials have increasingly sought to rehabilitate Stalin’s image under President Vladimir Putin.
12:33pm: EU countries have another go at Russia sanctions
European Union countries will make another push to agree on a ninth package of sanctions against Moscow on Thursday after Poland and Lithuania blocked a deal over concerns it might benefit Russian oligarchs in the fertilizer business.
The two countries rejected the package saying it would offer Russian oligarchs loopholes to evade EU sanctions, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters in Vilnius.
Fresh sanctions on Moscow have been held up by disagreement over whether the EU should make it easier for Russian fertilizer exports to pass through European ports, even when the producers are owned by blacklisted oligarchs.
12:27pm: Russian shelling cuts electricity in recaptured Kherson, says governor
Russian shelling in Kherson on Thursday left the southern Ukrainian city without electricity, the regional governor said, after attacks on the recaptured urban hub left at least two dead.
“Kherson is completely without power due to enemy shelling. Heavy shelling of a critical infrastructure facility in the city’s port area is ongoing. At the first opportunity, electricity service workers will begin to restore power,” Yaroslav Yanushevych said on social media.
11:44am: UN rights chief details hundreds of summary killings in Ukraine
In just the first weeks of Russia’s war in Ukraine, hundreds of civilians were summarily killed, the UN rights chief said Thursday, decrying likely war crimes.
Speaking before the United Nations Human Rights Council, Volker Turk said his office had documented the summary executions and direct killings of 441 civilians across three regions of Ukraine from the time Russia’s full-scale invasion began on February 24 until April 6.
Presenting a report by his office, Turk said the direct killings of 341 men, 72 women, 20 boys and eight girls had been documented in 102 villages and towns across the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions during that time-frame.
“The actual figures are likely to be considerably higher as we are working to corroborate an additional 198 alleged killings in these regions,” he told the council.
“There are strong indications that the summary executions documented in the report may constitute the war crime of wilful killing.”
11:05am: Ukrainian general dismisses possibility of New Year ceasefire
A Ukrainian general on Thursday dismissed the possibility of a ceasefire being agreed with Russia over the festive New Year period.
The Kremlin has said there will be no Christmas ceasefire in the nearly l0-month-old war in Ukraine.
Asked about the possibility of a New Year ceasefire, Ukrainian Brigadier General Oleksiy Gromov told a news briefing: “There will be a total ceasefire only when not a single occupier remains on our land.”
10:51am: Ukrainian military says Russia seeks long confrontation in Ukraine
Russia is seeking to turn the war in Ukraine into a long military confrontation and is training new divisions on the territory of neighbouring Belarus, a senior Ukrainian military officer said on Thursday.
But Brigadier General Oleksiy Gromov told a news briefing that the likelihood of a military operation being launched from Belarusian territory remained low.
10:38am: Kremlin says no decision yet on repair of Nord Stream gas pipelines
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that no decision had been made yet on whether to go ahead with a repair of the undersea Nord Stream gas pipelines that were damaged by explosions in September.
Peskov also told reporters there was no decision on whether to start gas exports via the intact part of the Nord Stream 2 line.
He said Russia was not aware of the results of investigations into the pipeline blasts by Sweden and Denmark. Moscow, without providing evidence, has blamed the explosions on Western sabotage.
10:23am: Russian shelling kills two in city of Kherson, Kyiv says
Russian shelling killed two people on Thursday in the centre of the recently liberated city of Kherson in southern Ukraine, a senior Ukrainian official said.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said on the Telegram messaging app that the two were killed about 100 metres from the regional administration building, which was hit in shelling on Wednesday.
10:22am: ‘I want to live, not just survive’: Residents flee war-torn Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine
As Russian forces push to capture Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, residents of the city are facing near constant shelling. Forced to find refuge in basements and sleep in the bitter cold, many are taking the difficult decision to leave.
FRANCE 24 met with Angelina and Maxim, a young Ukrainian couple whose flat was blown up earlier this week. Watch the full report here:
10:20am: Putin to outline Russia’s response to oil price cap this week, Kremlin says
The Kremlin said on Thursday that President Vladimir Putin planned to sign a decree this week outlining Russia’s response to the West’s price cap on Russian oil exports.
10:17am: UN rights chief warns of ‘serious deterioration’ in Ukraine if strikes continue
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said on Thursday that further strikes on Ukraine’s infrastructure could lead to a serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation and spark further displacement.
In a speech to the Human Rights Council following a trip to Ukraine, Turk said that Russian strikes were exposing millions of people to “extreme hardship”.
“Additional strikes could lead to a further serious deterioration in the humanitarian situation and spark more displacement,” he said.
9:58am: Linking Ukraine aid to corporate tax is blackmail, says Polish PM
Linking the issue of aid for Ukraine to the minimum corporate tax for large companies is a form of blackmail, the Polish prime minister said at an EU summit on Thursday.
“Combining aid for Ukraine with such distant topics which have nothing to do with aid like corporate tax is unnecessary, it is a mistake and an attempt at blackmail,” Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters at the summit in Brussels.
9:10am: Russia says all Western weapons in Ukraine are legitimate targets
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that all weapons supplied to Ukraine by the West are legitimate targets for Russia, and that they would be either destroyed or seized.
9:09am: Poland holds up EU deal on minimum corporate tax, aid for Ukraine
Poland was on Thursday holding up the European Union‘s formal adoption of a minimum corporate tax for large companies and, by extension, blocking an entire package of other deals, including financing for Ukraine in 2023, diplomats said.
The minimum tax, along with €18 billion for Ukraine next year, the approval of Hungary’s recovery plan and the suspension of some EU budget funds for Budapest were all part of a complex deal reached by EU governments on Monday night.
The pact was to be signed off in what is called a “written procedure” by Wednesday, but Poland has twice demanded an extension of the deadline for this, the latest of which is now 12pm (1100 GMT) on Thursday.
FRANCE 24 correspondent Dave Keating, who is currently at the ongoing EU summit, explains:
8:00am: Ukrainian forces shell Russian-controlled Donetsk, officials there say
Ukrainian forces shelled the Russian-controlled eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk overnight in some of the biggest attacks for years, Russian-installed officials in the annexed areas said on Thursday.
“At exactly 7.00 o’clock this morning they subjected the centre of Donetsk to the most massive attack since 2014,” Alexei Kulemzin, the Russian-backed mayor of the city, said on Telegram.
“Forty rockets from BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers were fired at civilians in our city,” Kulemzin said. He cast the attack as a war crime.
7:38am: Attacks damage buildings in Kyiv, US to send Patriot missiles to Ukraine
Residents of Kyiv on Wednesday woke up to air raid sirens after another barrage of Russian attacks, including from Iranian-supplied drones. Four residential buildings suffered “minor damage” in Kyiv but there were no casualties, authorities said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video statement that “terrorists” fired 13 Iranian-made drones and that all were intercepted.
As inhabitants remained on high alert amid sub-zero temperatures, the US is finalising plans to send a Patriot missile defence system to Kyiv to help defend its skies.
FRANCE 24 journalist Camille Knight brings us this report on yesterday’s strike:
6:00am: EU leaders head for tussle over rescue plans for industries
European Union leaders will tussle on Thursday over how to prop up their countries’ industries, which have been hit by soaring energy prices since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and now face the threat of subsidy-fuelled US competition.
Poorer EU countries want a coordinated response to the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – $430 billion worth of tax breaks for green energy – because they lack the deep pockets of richer member states like Germany to underpin their industries.
The tug-of-war among 27 leaders in Brussels will be inconclusive, diplomats said.
12:27am: Russians tortured Kherson youngsters in ‘children’s cell’, says Ukraine human rights official
Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights, said the cell was in one of four torture centres operated by Russian troops in Kherson – a city in southern Ukraine abandoned by pro-Moscow forces last month.
Russia denies targeting civilians in the war and rejects allegations it has mistreated civilians.
12:16am: US planning to send smart-bomb kits to Ukraine, says Washington Post
The United States is planning to send electronic equipment that converts unguided aerial munitions into smart bombs, allowing a high degree of accurate targeting, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday, citing US officials familiar with the matter.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)