A Turkish vessel on Wednesday became the first foreign vessel to leave the Russian-occupied port of the battered city of Mariupol, after Ankara said it had carried out a round of "constructive" grain talks with Moscow. Read about the day’s events as they unfolded on our liveblog. All times Paris time (GMT+2).
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5:21am: Russia seeks new fuel markets in Africa, Middle East as Europe turns away
Russia is increasing gasoline and naphtha supplies to Africa and the Middle East as it struggles to sell fuel in Europe, while Asia is already taking bigger volumes of Russian crude, Refinitiv Eikon data showed and sources told Reuters.
The development is likely to increase competition for Asian customers between Russia and other big fuel exporters – Saudi Arabia and the United States – which are the top three suppliers to Asia.
The European Union has slowly reduced imports of Russian crude and fuel since March and agreed a full embargo that will take effect by the end of the year.
Asian buyers have stepped in to rapidly increase purchases of Russian crude, even though Asia is not a natural market for Russian fuel because Asia refines more oil than it needs and is a net fuel exporter.
That makes finding new outlets such as Africa and the Middle East paramount for Russia to protect its global market share and avert a deeper decline in oil exports and output.
“Africa and the Middle East seem to be main options for Russian oil product suppliers, so we expect more shipments there in the second half of the year as EU embargo gets closer,” a trader involved in Russian oil product trading told Reuters.
3:18am: Rights groups call on Biden to negotiate for WNBA star Griner’s release
A coalition of human rights groups on Wednesday called on US President Joe Biden to “make a deal” to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner who has been detained in Russia for months.
Griner was taken into custody at a Moscow airport on February 17 when a search of her luggage allegedly revealed multiple cannabis oil vape cartridges. She could face up to 10 years in prison.
Last week her pre-trial detention was extended to July 2.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke via telephone on Wednesday evening with Cherelle Griner, the wife of the two-time Olympic champion, a senior State Department official said, without giving details on the content of the call.
1:52am: Russian strikes hit school, grain facilities in Mykolaiv
The Russian defence ministry claimed responsibility in a briefing Wednesday for a missile strike it said killed a number of Ukrainian troops in the southern city of Mykolaiv.
Ukrainian officials said seven Russian missiles had struck the port city, killing at least one person and causing several major fires. Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych told Ukrainian television that the strike hit two firms and a school, sparking a blaze that authorities could not put out.
The operators of two grain storage facilities, global grain traders Bunge and Viterra, confirmed that their facilities had been hit.
June 23, 12:11am: G7 summit to announce measures increasing ‘pressure on Russia’, US official says
Leaders at the upcoming G7 summit in Germany will announce new measures aimed at pressuring Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, a senior US official said Wednesday.
“We will roll out a concrete set of proposals to increase pressure on Russia,” the official said. US President Joe Biden flies Saturday to join the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan at the summit in Bavaria.
The club of wealthy democracies is at the heart of a fierce economic and diplomatic campaign to punish Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February and continues to wage battles across the pro-Western country’s eastern region, as well as occupying swaths of the south.
After attending the G7 summit from Sunday to Tuesday, Biden will fly to Madrid for a summit of the NATO military alliance next week.
6:57pm: Ukraine TV centre in Donetsk badly damaged by shelling
The Petrovskiy television centre in the Ukrainian separatist-held city of Donetsk has been badly damaged by shelling and broadcasting has been interrupted, the Russian state news agency TASS cited the local Donetsk news agency as saying on Wednesday.
The broadcast tower is still standing but part of its equipment has been damaged, while some equipment has been moved out, according to the Donetsk news agency.
5:05pm: Microsoft says Russian hackers stepping up espionage of Ukraine allies
Russian government hackers recently carried out multiple cyber espionage operations targeting countries allied with Ukraine since its February invasion, Microsoft said in a report on Wednesday, illustrating the scale of Moscow’s ongoing hacking activities.
“The cyber aspects of the current war extend far beyond Ukraine and reflect the unique nature of cyberspace,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in the report.
Researchers had already traced a series of destructive cyberattacks on Ukrainian entities to Russian state-backed hacking groups since the conflict began. They have now found that 128 organisations in 42 countries outside Ukraine were also targeted by the same groups in stealthy, espionage-focused hacks, according to the report. Many of the efforts have been aimed at the United States, but several member countries of the military alliance NATO have been hit too.
4:58pm: Germany wants to discuss ‘Marshall plan’ for Ukraine
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wants to discuss the outlines of a “Marshall plan for Ukraine” with the leaders of the Group of Seven countries at next week’s summit in Germany.
Scholz told German lawmakers that billions of dollars will be needed to finance the rebuilding of war-ravaged Ukraine, but noted it can only work if European nations, other major donor countries and international organizations work together.
“Ukraine today needs a Marshall plan for its rebuilding,” he said — referring to the US-sponsored plan that helped revive European economies after WWII. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been invited to discuss the matter with the G-7 leaders by video link on Monday.
4:37pm: Google faces new fine in Russia for failing to delete ‘misleading information’
Alphabet’s Google faces another fine on its turnover in Russia for an alleged repeated failure to delete prohibited content, the state communications regulator said on Wednesday, including what the watchdog terms “misleading information” on YouTube about events in Ukraine.
Russia has issued multiple fines to foreign technology companies in recent years over a range of infringements, in what critics say is Moscow’s attempt to exert greater control over the internet.
4:07pm: Putin signs decree on external debt service as possible default looms
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree establishing temporary procedures to fulfil foreign debt obligations, the Interfax news agency reported, as investors keep a close eye on a potential default.
The agency said Putin had ordered the government to choose banks within 10 days to handle payments on Eurobonds under a new scheme.
Russia’s failure to service its foreign debt due to Western sanctions is taking it closer to its first default on international bonds since the Bolshevik revolution more than a century ago.
2:37pm: Moscow accuses Berlin of ‘Russophobic hysteria’
Russia on Wednesday issued a statement accusing Germany of anti-Russian sentiment.
“Russophobic hysteria is systematically fuelled by almost daily public attacks against our country by members of the German government,” Russia’s foreign ministry said.
The statement, in which Moscow also said Berlin has “been undermining the process of historical reconciliation between Russians and Germans”, comes on the anniversary of the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany's troops in 1941.
1:45pm: Turkish cargo ship leaves Ukraine’s Mariupol
A Turkish cargo ship has left Ukraine’s Russian-occupied port of Mariupol after a round of “constructive” grain talks with Moscow, Turkey’s defence ministry said Wednesday, without specifying if it was carrying wheat.
“Just a few hours after the end of the long meeting, the Turkish dry cargo ship, which had been waiting for days, left the Ukrainian port.”
The statement added that the Azov Concord became the first foreign ship to leave the port in Mariupol – a city devastated by a weeks-long siege Ukrainian officials estimate claimed 20,000 lives – since Russia’s invasion in February.
11:55am: Drone strike suspected in Russian oil refinery fire
A drone strike may have caused a fire that broke out at the Novoshakhtinsk oil refinery in Russia's southern Rostov region that borders Ukraine, the region's governor has said.
"According to one version, the fire was caused by a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) attack on technical installations of the plant," Vasily Golubev said on Telegram, adding that drone fragments were found at the site. He did not specify where the drones may have originated.
The fire has been put out and all plant personnel have been evacuated with no casualties, Golubev added.
Moscow has repeatedly accused Kyiv of launching attacks near the joint border since the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The fire at the refinery comes days after Moscow accused Ukraine of firing at Black Sea drilling rigs off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea.
11:35am: Fifteen killed as Russia rains rockets on Kharkiv
Two days of Russian strikes on Ukraine's second largest city and surrounding areas have killed at least 15 people, Ukrainian officials have said.
Kyiv described the rocket attacks as a bid to force it to pull resources from the main battlefield to protect civilians.
The Russian strikes on Kharkiv, throughout Tuesday and continuing on Wednesday morning, were the worst for weeks in the area where normal life had been returning since Ukraine pushed Russian forces back in a major counteroffensive last month.
“It was shelling by Russian troops. It was probably multiple rocket launchers. And it's the missile impact, it's all the missile impact," Kharkiv prosecutor Mikhailo Martosh told Reuters.
10:05am: Luhansk governor calls Severodonetsk battle 'hell'
Russian forces are using all their firepower in the battle for Severodonetsk, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai has said, describing the situation in Ukraine's eastern industrial city as "hell".
"For four months all our positions have been under fire from everything – and I just want to emphasise this – from all the weapons that the Russian army has," Gaidai said in a statement on social media.
"It's just hell out there," he added, referring to Severodonetsk, which has been heavily shelled for weeks by Russian forces. "Our boys are holding their positions and will continue to hold on as long as necessary," he said.
Gaidai said Russian forces were "trying to encircle" the nearby city of Lysychansk, separated from Severodonetsk by the river Donets, but that Ukrainian forces were still in control.
8:55am: Ukrainian journalist and soldier were 'coldly executed', Reporters Without Borders says
A Ukrainian photojournalist and a soldier who was accompanying him when they were killed in the first weeks of Russia’s invasion were “coldly executed” as they were searching Russian-occupied woodlands for the photographer’s missing image-taking drone, Reporters Without Borders has said, citing its findings from an investigation into their deaths.
The press freedom group said it went back to the spot where the bodies of Maks Levin and serviceman Oleksiy Chernyshov were found on April 1 in woods north of the capital, Kyiv. The group said it counted 14 bullet holes in the burned hulk of their car still at the scene.
The group said disused Russian positions, one of them still booby-trapped, were found close by. Also found were the remains of food rations, cigarette packets and other litter seemingly left by Russian soldiers. Some of Levin and Chernyshov’s belongings, including the soldier’s ID papers and parts of his bulletproof vest and the photographer’s helmet, were also recovered, Reporters Without Borders said.
A Ukrainian team with metal detectors also uncovered a bullet buried in the soil where Levin’s body had lain, it said. The group said that finding suggests “he was probably killed with one, perhaps two bullets fired at close range when he was already on the ground".
6:50am: Russian forces pound strategic Donbas city
Ukrainian forces defending Lysychansk are facing "massive" artillery attacks in the battleground eastern city, Kyiv has warned, as Russian troops continue their advance throughout the Donbas region.
Moscow's troops have been pummelling eastern Ukraine for weeks and are slowly advancing, despite fierce resistance from the outgunned Ukrainian military.
With President Vladimir Putin's forces tightening their grip on nearby Severodonetsk in the Donbas, its twin city of Lysychansk is now coming under heavier bombardment.
"The Russian army is massively shelling Lysychansk," Serhiy Gaidai, governor of the Luhansk region, which includes both cities, wrote on Telegram. "They are just destroying everything there ... They destroyed buildings and unfortunately there are casualties."
3:20am: The Chechens fighting on Ukraine's side
Although militia under Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov are operating in Ukraine in support of the Russian invasion, hundreds of other Chechens have joined the fight on the side of Ukraine, risking not only their lives but the prospect of torture and imprisonment if they are captured, according to the fighters. FRANCE 24's Sam Ball has the story.
2:05am: Zelensky says Luhansk region is the 'toughest spot'
Ukrainian and Russian forces remained entrenched in eastern Ukrainian battlegrounds going into Wednesday, a day of commemoration in both countries to mark the anniversary of Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.
Fighting in the months-long war has favoured Russia in recent weeks because of its huge edge in artillery firepower, a fact Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged in a late Tuesday night address.
"Thanks to tactical manoeuvres the Ukrainian army is strengthening its defences in the Luhansk region," he said. "That is really the toughest spot. The occupiers are also pressing strongly in the direction of Donetsk."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)