Fri, 29 Sep 2023

Ukrainian forces have regained complete control of the village of Bilohorivka in the eastern Luhansk region and are now preparing to retake the whole province, according to Luhansk's Ukrainian governor Serhiy Gaidi. Ukraine's rapid counter-attack in the east means that Crimea - annexed by Russia in 2014 - is now the only Ukrainian region fully controlled by Russia. Follow FRANCE 24's live blog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

11:56am: 'Clash of civilisations'

The UN General Assembly is "coming at a very grim moment when the world seems more polarised, more divided than at any time since the Cold War," said FRANCE 24 International Affairs Commentator Douglas Herbert. "Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine [...] has led to a spike in food and energy prices, food insecurity across massive chunks of the globe; [...] you have a global economy in distress, not just here in Europe and the US but just about everywhere."

We are seeing a return to the old paradigm of great power alliances competing for hegemony, Herbert continued: "China, Russia versus US, Europe - this formation of new blocs, East versus West; this Cold-War-ish feeling again," he put. "There's a real sense of clashes of civilisations, clashes of ideologies, going into this General Assembly."

11:28am: Russia's ex-president says Donbas vote would allow 'all possible force'

Russia's former president said Tuesday that if Ukraine's breakaway regions vote to join Russia, it would allow Moscow to utilise its full military capability in the Donbas region.

Dmitry Medvedev said that ballots in the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk republics to integrate into Russia would help protect residents of the east Ukraine region by expanding Moscow's military mandate.

"Encroachment into Russian territory is a crime and if it is committed, that allows you to use all possible force in self-defence," Medvedev, the deputy chairman of Russia's security council said on social media. He added that the votes would correct "historical justice" and be irreversible.

"That is why these referendums are so feared in Kyiv and in the West. That is why they need to be carried out," Medvedev continued.

11:05am: 'Sanctions work', says Russia's ex-deputy finance minister

Russia's economy was on track to expand by 5%-6% in 2022 had Western sanctions not derailed growth for years and ushered in a period of technological stagnation, Russian economy veteran Oleg Vyugin told Reuters.

Vyugin said there had been no catastrophe, with the sweeping sanctions imposed against Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine being only 30%-40% effective as Russia has found ways to overcome restrictions, but he warned of serious problems should Russia's soaring export revenues fall.

"If there were no sanctions, the Russian economy could have grown 6% this year," Vyugin, who served as deputy finance minister and deputy central bank governor during his career before he retired from a Moscow Exchange post this year, told Reuters in an interview.

"In January-February one could see a very strong takeoff coming. It turns out that there is a negative effect. Instead of 5% growth, we got a fall of 4%, so sanctions work."

10:49am: Germany to focus at UN on countries hardest hit by Ukraine war fallout

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock vowed to support countries hardest hit by the fallout from Russia's invasion of Ukraine as she headed to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

"The brutality of Russia's war of aggression and its threat to the peace order in Europe have not blinded us to the fact that its dramatic effects are also clearly being felt in many other regions of the world," Baerbock said. "We are not only responsible for Europe, but together for the whole world," she said.

The leaders should take the opportunity to "focus on the issues and concerns of our partners in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Arab world", Baerbock said.

The focus will also be on "how the horrific crimes committed in the name of Russia in Ukraine can be dealt with and prosecuted", she added.

10:28am: Russia, Ukraine agree to swap 200 prisoners, Erdogan says

Russia and Ukraine have agreed to swap 200 prisoners in one of the largest exchanges of the seven-month war, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told US television.

Erdogan made the announcement after talks last week with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a regional summit in Uzbekistan.

Erdogan did not provide full details about the swap, calling the people being exchanged "hostages" and not saying how many there were from each side.

"Two hundred hostages will be exchanged upon agreement between the parties. I think a significant step will be taken forward," Erdogan told PBS television late Monday.

NATO member Turkey has tried to stay neutral in the conflict, supplying combat drones to Kyiv and shying away from Western-led sanctions against Moscow.

Erdogan added that he gets the "impression" Putin is willing to end the war.

9:37am: Ukraine to call for 'war crimes accountability' at UN

"The world's facing interconnected crises and arguably the global outlook has never been worse, at least not in the history of the United Nations," FRANCE 24's Jessica Le Masurier reports as world leaders gather for the General Assembly in New York.

"They're going to focus on Ukraine and on food," Le Masurier continued. "Ukraine's [Volodomyr] Zelensky will be giving a virtual speech from Ukraine; he's been given permission to do that. He'll be speaking on Wednesday. Ukraine's first lady, prime minister and foreign minister are expected to attend here.

"They will call for war crimes accountability; and there's a high-level Security Council meeting on Thursday. Russia will be represented by longtime Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who we will expect will get a frosty reception from Western powers."

9:35am: 'Russia can longer claim to be fully in control of Luhansk region'

"Ukrainian forces have actually already been fighting a counter-offensive in the northern part of Donetsk region, which is technically the Donbas," FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reported from Derhachi in eastern Ukraine's Kharkiv region.

But the "area they're fighting in isn't actually the Donbas because it's not the mining basin. It's the forests around Lyman, a very important target for Ukrainian forces at the moment is the town of Lyman in the north of Donetsk region. As far as I know, they haven't taken it yet", Cragg continued.

"But they have apparently taken the village of Bilohorivka, which is in the Luhansk region. [...] That is a very significant symbolic victory for them because [...] Russia can longer claim to be fully in control of Luhansk region - which means that the only Ukrainian region of which Russia is in full control now is Crimea."

9:28am: Russia considers $50 billion increase in oil, gas taxes amid budget gap

Russia is considering raising taxes on the oil and gas sector to the tune of 3 trillion roubles ($50 billion) in 2023-2025 in order to plug the budget gap, newspaper Kommersant said on Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the discussions. The finance ministry declined to comment.

The ministry expects a budget deficit of 1.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) this year and 1.1% of GDP in 2023 amid spending for what Moscow calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine and sweeping Western sanctions.

The government wants, in particular, to raise the export duty on gas to up to 50%, start levying a duty on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and raise domestic gas prices so that companies pay more in minerals extraction tax, the paper said.

9:04am: Medvedev says Moscow-backed separatists must hold referendums to join Russia

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday it is "essential" that Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine carry out referendums that would see their regions join Russia.

In a post on social media, Medvedev said making the Moscow-backed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics officially part of Russia was a vital step in protecting their interests and could further justify Russia's use of military force to protect them.

8:05am: Hungary says EU should not consider new sanctions against Russia

Hungary's foreign minister said on Tuesday the European Union should not consider new sanctions against Russia as that would only deepen the energy supply crisis and hurt Europe.

"The EU should ... stop mentioning an 8th package of sanctions, should stop flagging measures that would only further deepen the energy supply crisis," Peter Szijjarto said in his statement.

6:56am: Russia's Black Sea fleet relocating some submarines away from Crimea, UK says

Russia's Black Sea fleet has relocated some of its submarines from port of Sevastopol in Crimea to Novorossiysk in Krasnodor Krai in southern Russia, the British Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday.

The relocation is likely due to the recent change in the local security threat level in the face of increased Ukrainian long-range strike capability, the ministry said in its daily intelligence update on Twitter.

"In the last two months, the fleet headquarters and its main naval aviation airfield have been attacked," the ministry added.

05:15am: Ukrainian soldiers cheer swift advance into Donbas

"We were ready to fight. But for them to just abandon the whole front line ... We really weren't expecting that," said one Ukrainian soldier.

Among the items the Russian soldiers left behind were weapons, ammunition, pictures of Lenin and Playboy pinups, as FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg and Gwendoline Debono report from Izium in the video below.

September 20, 12:18am: Ukraine troops press counter-offensive deeper into Donbas

Ukraine said its troops have marched farther east into territory recently abandoned by Russia, paving the way for a potential assault on Moscow's occupation forces in the Donbas region as Kyiv seeks more Western arms.

In a sign of nervousness from a Moscow-backed administration in Donbas about the success of Ukraine's recent offensive, its leader called for urgent referendums on the region becoming part of Russia.

"The occupiers are clearly in a panic," Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a televised address late on Monday, adding that he was now focused on "speed" in liberated areas.

"The speed at which our troops are moving. The speed in restoring normal life," Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian leader also hinted he would use a video address to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday to call on countries to accelerate weapons and aid deliveries.

"We are doing everything to ensure Ukraine's needs are met at all levels - defence, financial, economic, diplomatic," Zelensky said.

Serhiy Gaidai, Ukrainian governor of Luhansk, a province in the Donbas now under control of Russian troops, said Ukraine's armed forces had regained complete control of the Luhansk village of Bilohorivka and were preparing to fight to retake the entire province.

"There will be fighting for every centimetre," Gaidai wrote on Telegram. "The enemy is preparing their defence. So we will not simply march in."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

Originally published on France24

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