Thu, 08 Jun 2023

The US embassy in Kyiv reopened on Wednesday after a three-month closure due to Russia's February 24 invasion of Ukraine. Follow FRANCE 24's liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

7:36pm: France's Societe Generale completes sale of Russian subsidiary

French bank Societe Generale said Wednesday it had completed the sale of its Russian subsidiary Rosbank to an investment firm founded by an oligarch close to the Kremlin.

Societe Generale said the sale of Rosbank and its Russian insurance subsidiaries to Interros Capital, an investment firm founded by one of Russia's richest oligarchs, Vladimir Potanin, would cause it a net loss of 3.2 billion euros ($3.4 billion), slightly more than it forecast when it announced the deal last month.

7:19pm: US reopens embassy in Kyiv after three-month closure

The US embassy in Kyiv reopened on Wednesday after a three-month closure due to Russia's February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

"We are officially reopening operations," spokesperson Daniel Langenkamp told Reuters shortly before the US flag was raised above the embassy. He said a small number of diplomats would return initially to staff the mission.

Consular operations will not resume immediately and a no travel advisory from the State Department remains in place across Ukraine, Langenkamp said.

6:53pm: 'No to war', Russian dissident director Serebrennikov tells Cannes film festival

Celebrated Russian film director Kirill Serebrennikov came out against the war in Ukraine on Wednesday, telling the Cannes Film Festival that culture had a role in ending the conflict.

"No to war," he said after his latest movie premiered at the festival. "I am totally convinced that culture and people of culture can help ensure that this war ends." He added: "We need to tell ourselves that it will end one day and we will be able to live in peace."

Serebrennikov, 52, missed last year's Cannes festival because of a travel ban after being found guilty in 2020 of embezzling funds at Moscow's Gogol Centre theatre.

He was only allowed to leave Russia six weeks ago, and now lives in Berlin. His film "Tchaikovsky's Wife" is among 21 entries in the Cannes festival's main competition vying for the Palme d'Or, and received a standing ovation at its official premiere at the festival.

6:26pm: EU floats idea of massive aid to rebuild Ukraine

Top EU officials on Wednesday urged member states to be ambitious in helping Ukraine rebuild after the war, including through possible joint borrowing to cover the massive costs.

With the war still raging, the extent of Ukraine's reconstruction needs is not known, but the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, believes the damage already done is already in the hundreds of billions of euros (dollars).

To help pay for this, officials are floating a repeat of the EU's post-pandemic recovery fund, the 800 billion euros ($840 billion) in fiscal stimulus that is being financed by common debt among the EU's 27 member states.

The fund, officially known as Next Generation EU, overcame deep reticence by so-called "frugal" member states such as the Netherlands and Denmark to come into being.

6:08pm: Biden says 'strongly' supports Finland, Sweden NATO bid

President Joe Biden expressed strong backing Wednesday for the bid by Finland and Sweden to join NATO in the face of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and offered US support in the event of "aggression" during the application process.

"The United States will work with Finland and Sweden to remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security, and to deter and confront aggression or the threat of aggression" while their bid is considered, Biden said in a statement. "I warmly welcome and strongly support the historic applications," he said.

5:47pm: Czech Republic to get German tanks in exchange for Ukraine aid

The Czech Republic will receive 15 Leopard 2 A4 tanks from Germany in exchange for military equipment it sent Ukraine, its defence ministry said on Wednesday.

Prague will also start talks on the purchase of another 50 Leopard 2 A7+ tanks, ministry spokesman Jakub Fajnor said in a statement.

"The German side appreciates the extent to which the Czech Republic has helped Ukraine with gifts of military equipment", he added. Germany will provide the 15 tanks -- most of them combat vehicles, but also including one salvage tank -- for free and is due to send them over this year, along with spare parts and ammunition.

5:41pm: EU works on 'European Geopolitical Community'

The EU said Wednesday it would work to create a "European Geopolitical Community" that would be a sort of waiting room with privileges for neighbouring countries hoping to join the bloc.

European Council chief Charles Michel pledged to put the project on track around the middle of the year, fleshing out an idea put forward by French President Emmanuel Macron to MEPs last week.

"I will propose that a conference be held around or after the summer" that would bring together EU leaders and partner countries "to discuss the concrete options," Michel told the bloc's advisory European Economic and Social Committee. "The aim is to forge convergence and deepen operational cooperation to address common challenges, peace, stability and security on our continent," he said.

5:30pm: Finland, Sweden officially hand in applications to join NATO

Finland and Sweden on Wednesday handed in their bids to join NATO, after Russia's invasion of Ukraine up-ended decades of military non-alignment.

The applications were warmly received by most allies. But Turkey raised objections, and ambassadors meeting in Brussels failed to reach consensus on starting formal membership negotiations.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had promised the process would be "swift and smooth", but Turkey will have to be mollified before the ratification can take place.

"The applications you have made today are an historic step. Allies will now consider the next steps on your path to NATO," Stoltenberg said, after receiving the bids from the Finnish and Swedish ambassadors.

5:21pm: Russia says will finance reconstruction of 'freed' territories

Russia will finance the reconstruction of territories in Ukraine that it has taken control of and will repair roads that link those areas with Russia, RIA quoted Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin as saying on Wednesday. Khusnullin said Russia had "freed" the territories.

He also said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe by capacity, will supply energy to Russia and to Ukraine if the latter pays for it, RIA reported. Russian troops seized the Zaporizhzhia plant from Ukraine.

5:07pm: Ukrainian flag on summit of Everest

On the roof of the world, Antonina Samoilova held up a blue and yellow panel emblazoned "Stand With Ukraine" while her father and brother were serving in the army defending their country against Russia's invasion.

The 33-year-old had tears in her eyes as she unfurled the Ukrainian flag on the summit of Mount Everest last week, she said on Wednesday after returning to Kathmandu. The world's attention was turning away from her country's plight following Russia's invasion, she worried.

"It is a pity... it's not good for us Ukrainians because we need more help, we need all the world to help us," she told AFP. "It's not yet over in Ukraine.

"I knew already before the expedition that I am the only Ukrainian on Everest this year. That made me push myself to go to the summit because I knew if it's not me, then who?" she said.

4:47pm: Human Rights Watch documents further 'apparent war crimes' by Russia in Ukraine

A leading human rights watchdog said on Wednesday it had documented further cases of "apparent war crimes" by Russian troops in two regions in Ukraine.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report that Russian forces controlling much of the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions from late February through March had subjected civilians to summary executions, torture and other grave abuses.

The report pointed to what HRW said were 22 apparent summary executions, nine other unlawful killings, six possible enforced disappearances and seven cases of torture. Twenty-one civilians told HRW about unlawful confinement in inhuman and degrading conditions, it said. HRW called for the alleged abuses to be "impartially investigated and appropriately prosecuted".

4:30pm: Finland and Sweden to buy firearms, anti-tank weapons together

Finland and Sweden will buy portable firearms and anti-tank weapons together, Finland's defence ministry said on Wednesday, as the two Nordic country's handed in their applications to join the Western military alliance NATO.

The two countries will step up their cooperation in defence procurement by Finland joining an agreement to acquire anti-tank weapons from Swedish weapons maker Saab Dynamics, a subsidiary of Saab, the ministry said.

Finland's defence minister Antti Kaikkonen also authorised preparations for a joint purchase of small fire arms including assault rifles, shotguns and arms for personal protection, the ministry said.

4:17pm: Russia closes Moscow bureau of Canadian broadcaster CBC

Russia's foreign ministry said on Wednesday it was closing the Moscow bureau of Canada's CBC and withdrawing visas and accreditation from the public broadcaster's journalists after Ottawa banned Russian state TV station Russia Today.

"With regret we continue to notice open attacks on the Russian media from the countries of the so-called collective West who call themselves civilised," Maria Zakharova, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, told reporters.

"A decision has been taken to make retaliatory, I underscore retaliatory, measures in relation to the actions of Canada: the closure of the Moscow bureau of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, including the annulation of the accreditations and visas of their journalists."

3:21pm: Russian soldier accused of 'shooting unarmed villager' in Kyiv war crimes trial

"After the prosecution had read out their account of what happened -- it was on 28th of February in Sumy region in northern Ukraine when Vadim Shishimarin is accused of killing an unarmed villager as he was in a stolen car with four other Russian soldiers trying to get away from the Ukrainian forces who were chasing him," FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reported from Kyiv. "Vadim Shishimarin immediately pleaded guilty and said that he accepted full responsibility for what happened. But the trial is not over -- the next session will be tomorrow."

3:20pm: EU details plans to reduce reliance on Russian fossil fuels

"These are the legislative proposals that will deliver on the headline target that the [EU] Commission announced in March, that they want to reduce the amount of Russian energy imported into the EU, the amount of Russian gas imported into the EU by two-thirds," FRANCE 24's Dave Keating reported from Brussels. "As the member states continue to argue over the possibility of having an embargo on oil, this is a more long-term plan [...] to reduce the EU's use of fossil fuels in general."

3:10pm: Russia uses new generation of laser weapons in Ukraine

Russia on Wednesday said it was using a new generation of powerful laser weapons in Ukraine to burn up drones, deploying some of Moscow's secret weapons to counter a flood of Western arms supplied to its former Soviet neighbour.

President Vladimir Putin in 2018 unveiled an array of new weapons including a new intercontinental ballistic missile, underwater nuclear drones, a supersonic weapon and a new laser weapon. Little is known about the specifics of the new laser weapons. Putin mentioned one called Peresvet, named after a medieval Orthodox warrior monk Alexander Peresvet who perished in mortal combat.

3:08pm: Sanctions on Russia have had 'enormous impact', Yellen says

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Wednesday that Western sanctions against Russia have already had an enormous impact.

"Russia is experiencing recession, high inflation, acute challenges in their financial system, and (an) inability to procure the material and products they need to support their war or their economy," Yellen told reporters ahead of a meeting of G7 finance ministers in Bonn, Germany.

2:53pm: Russian soldier pleads guilty at first war crimes trial in Kyiv

A 21-year-old Russian soldier facing the first war crimes trial since Moscow invaded Ukraine pleaded guilty Wednesday to killing an unarmed civilian.

Sgt. Vadim Shishimarin could get life in prison for shooting a a 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window in the northeastern Sumy region on Feb. 28, four days into the invasion.

Shishimarin, a captured member of a Russian tank unit, was prosecuted under a section of the Ukrainian criminal code that addresses the laws and customs of war.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova previously said her office was readying war crimes cases against 41 Russian soldiers for offenses that included bombing civilian infrastructure, killing civilians, rape and looting.

2:34pm: Germany received over 200 asylum applications from Russians in April

Germany has registered a slight increase in the number of Russian nationals applying for asylum since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, an Interior Ministry spokesperson said on Wednesday.

In April, the second full month of the war, 222 people from Russia applied for asylum in Germany, the spokesperson said at a regular government news conference in Berlin.

1:40pm: Russia expels 27 Spanish diplomats

Twenty-seven Spanish diplomats must leave Russia within a week, Russia's Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday. Spain said in April it would expel some 25 Russian diplomats and embassy staff from Madrid, joining other European Union countries that have ordered Russian officials to leave.

1:08pm: EU plans 300-billion-euro investment to quit Russian fossil fuels

The European Union intends to mobilise up to 300 billion euros of investments by 2030 to end its reliance on Russian oil and gas, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

The investments will include 10 billion euros for gas infrastructure, 2 billion euros for oil, with the rest for clean energy, von der Leyen told reporters, adding that Brussels was also proposing higher legally-binding EU targets for renewable energy and energy savings by 2030.

"RePowerEU will help us to save more energy to accelerate the phasing out of fossil fuel and, most importantly, to kickstart investments on a new scale," she said. "So I would say this will be the speed-charging of our European Green Deal."

1:01pm: Russia to expel 24 Italian diplomats and Italy declares the move a 'hostile act'

According to Russian news agency RIA, the Federation will expel 24 Italian diplomats in a retaliatory move. This comes as the latest act in a series of tit-for-tat responses to European countries that have ordered Russian staff out.

Italian PM Mario Draghi called the move a "hostile act", warning that diplomatic channels with Moscow must not be interrupted.

12:51pm: German and Italian governments approve of Finnish, Swedish NATO request

The German cabinet has approved Finland and Sweden's request to join the NATO defence alliance, German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said on Twitter. Meanwhile, the Italian PM affirmed his support for Finland's and Sweden's application to join NATO and said that his government is willing to speed up any internal procedures for the two countries to join the alliance as soon as possible.

12:18pm: Erdogan says NATO should understand Turkey's security sensitivities

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he expected Turkey's NATO allies to understand its sensitivities on security, having surprised the allies last week by saying he would not view Sweden and Finland's applications to join the bloc positively.

In a speech to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party, he reiterated that Swedish and Finnish delegations should not bother coming to Turkey, adding that Sweden should not expect Turkey to approve its NATO bid without returning "terrorists".

12:17pm: Russia expels 34 French diplomats in retaliatory move

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it was expelling 34 French diplomats in a retaliatory move. France in April kicked out 35 Russians with diplomatic status as part of a broader wave of expulsions that saw more than 300 Russians sent home from European capitals.

Later that month France's foreign ministry declared six Russian agents posing as diplomats as "persona non grata" after an investigation by the domestic intelligence services concluded they were working against French national interests.

France condemned Russia's decision to expel diplomats and staff from the French Embassy in Moscow, according to the French Foreign Affairs Ministry.

11:45am: Russia says there is no movement in peace talks with Ukraine

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that there was no movement in peace talks with Ukraine, and that Kyiv was showing a total unwillingness to continue them. "Negotiations are not progressing and we note the complete unwillingness of Ukrainian negotiators to continue this process", Peskov said.

On Tuesday Interfax news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko as saying that Russia and Ukraine were not holding talks "in any form", and that Kyiv had "practically withdrawn from the negotiation process"

10:10am: Russia to service foreign debt in roubles if other options blocked, says finance minister

Russia will service its external debt obligations in roubles if the United States blocks other options, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told a forum on Wednesday. Siluanov said Russia will not call itself in default as it has money to pay its debts. Washington is considering blocking Russia's ability to pay its US bondholders by allowing a key waiver to expire next week, a US administration official said on Tuesday, which could put Moscow closer to default.

9:49am: Russia says 959 fighters surrendered since Monday at Mariupol's Azovstal steelworks

Russia's defence ministry said that 694 Ukrainian fighters holed up in Mariupol's Azovstal steelworks had surrendered over the last 24 hours, RIA news agency reported on Wednesday. Since Monday, 959 militants from Azovstal have surrendered, 80 of whom were wounded, RIA reported, citing the ministry.

Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin said that a court would decide the fate of the Ukrainian fighters who had surrendered, a local media outlet reported.

9:33am: UK says Russian 'disorganisation' is hampering its operations in Ukraine

In its latest intelligence report, the British Ministry of Defence says Russia has a "significant mobilisation problem" in the war. According to a ministry statement, Russia is using auxiliary personnel, which has contributed to a "disorganisation" of its command.

"These include Chechen forces, probably consisting of several thousand fighters mainly concentrated in Mariupol and Luhansk. These forces are probably made up of individual volunteers and national guard units, which are usually dedicated to providing security for the head of the Chechen republic, Ramzan Kadyrov," the UK statement said.

8:28am: UK looking at how Russian assets can fund rebuilding of Ukraine

Britain and fellow G7 nations are looking at how Russian assets can be used to fund the rebuilding of Ukraine, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Wednesday.

"We need a new Marshall Plan to rebuild Ukraine and in fact, we've just been discussing this at the G7 meeting that I had with my colleagues from around the world. We are looking at what we can do to use Russian assets to help pay for this," she told Times Radio.

8:09am: Finland, Sweden submit applications to join NATO

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join the NATO alliance on Wednesday at allied headquarters, setting in motion an accession process that is expected to take only a few weeks. Ratification of all 30 allied parliaments could take up to a year, diplomats say.

7:02am: First war crimes trial to be held in Kyiv

The first war crimes trial of a Russian soldier since the invasion began is set to get under way in Kyiv on Wednesday. Russian forces have been accused of committing a multitude of war crimes since the invasion began, and the case of 21-year-old Vadim Shishimarin will be the first attempt to prosecute the alleged abuses. Shishimarin, a soldier from Irkutsk in Siberia, is accused of shooting an unarmed civilian and is faced with a life sentence if found guilty.

Prosecutors said Shishimarin was commanding a unit in a tank division when his convoy came under attack. He and four other soldiers stole a car and were travelling through the Sumy region when they encountered a 62-year-old man on a bicycle. Ordered by one of his companions to kill the cyclist, Shishimarin fired a Kalashnikov assault rifle from the window of the vehicle and "the man died instantly, a few dozen metres from his home", the statement said.

The trial, expected to be followed by several others, will test the Ukrainian justice system at a time when international institutions are also conducting their own investigations into alleged war crimes. The International Criminal Court said Tuesday it was deploying its largest-ever field team to Ukraine, with 42 investigators, forensic experts and support staff being sent into the field to gather evidence of alleged atrocities. The US State Department also announced it was creating a special unit to research, document and publicise Russian war crimes. The Conflict Observatory will "capture, analyse, and make widely available evidence of Russia-perpetrated war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine," the department said Tuesday.

5:39am: Russian gymnast banned for a year for pro-war symbol

A Russian gymnast who sported an insignia linked to his country's invasion of Ukraine on a medal podium has been banned for one year, a disciplinary panel said.

Ivan Kuliak's singlet had the letter 'Z' prominently placed as he stood next to Ukraine's Kovtun Illia, the gold medallist at a World Cup event in Doha in March.

The 'Z' has been seen daubed on Russian tanks and vehicles in Ukraine and has come to symbolise support for the invasion.

A disciplinary commission of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) found that Kuliak violated rules of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), the sport's ruling body.

"Mr Kuliak is not allowed to participate in any FIG-sanctioned event or competition organised by an affiliated FIG member federation for one year as of the date of this decision," GEF said.

Kuliak must also return his bronze medal and prize money of 500 Swiss francs ($500). He has 21 days to appeal against the punishment.

It had already been decided that all Russian and Belarusian gymnasts would be banned from future competitions.

2:30am: Russia says hundreds of Ukrainians surrender at Azovstal, Kyiv urges swap

Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers who held off Russian fighters at the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol have surrendered, Moscow said Tuesday, as Kyiv called for an immediate prisoner swap.

The strategic port city fell to Russian forces last month, but a relentless Ukrainian military unit held out in the maze of tunnels under the plant, hailed as heroes and celebrated for stalling Moscow's invasion.

On Tuesday, 265 of them were taken into Russian captivity, including 51 who were heavily wounded, the Russian defence ministry said.

The ministry, which published images showing soldiers on stretchers, said the injured were transported to a hospital in the eastern Donetsk region controlled by pro-Kremlin rebels.

The defence ministry in Kyiv said it was hoping for an "exchange procedure... to repatriate these Ukrainian heroes as quickly as possible".

The government would do "everything necessary" to rescue the undisclosed number of personnel still holed up in the Soviet-era bunkers, the ministry said, but admitted there was no military option available.

The fate of the captured Ukrainians was unclear Tuesday, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refusing to say whether they would be treated as criminals or prisoners of war.

8:04pm: Ukrainian President Zelensky addresses Cannes Film Festival

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky made a surprise video address at the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday.

"Hundreds of people are dying every day. They won't get up again after the clapping at the end," he told the audience, which had reacted with surprise when the pre-recorded message was introduced.

"Will cinema keep quiet, or will it speak up? If there is a dictator, if there is a war for freedom, once again, everything depends on our unity. Can cinema stay outside of this unity?" Zelensky added.

Zelensky referred to the power of cinema during World War II, including the 1940 Charlie Chaplin film "The Great Dictator", which mocked Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

"Chaplin's dictator did not destroy the real dictator, but thanks to cinema, thanks to this film, cinema did not stay quiet," Zelensky said.

"We need a new Chaplin to prove today that cinema is not mute. Will cinema keep quiet, or will it speak up? Can cinema stay outside of this?"

His speech received a standing ovation from the crowd in the southern French resort town's Palais des Festivals.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

Originally published on France24

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