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Ukraine war: The latest developments you need to know Thursday

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Ukraine nuclear plant is `'out of control' - UN nuclear chief

The UN nuclear chief warned Tuesday that Ukraine's Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant - the largest in Europe - “is completely out of control”.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), issued an urgent plea to Russia and Ukraine to allow experts to visit the sprawling complex to help stabilise things and avert a nuclear accident as soon as possible.

Grossi said in an interview that the situation at the plant was becoming more perilous every day.

“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated,” he said. “What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous.”

The Zaporizhzhya plant, located in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, was captured by Russian troops in March, soon after their invasion of Ukraine.

Grossi cited many violations of the plant’s safety. Its physical integrity hasn’t been respected, he said, citing shelling at the beginning of the war and continuing claims from Ukraine and Russia about the other side attacking Zaporizhzhya.

Supply chain problems for equipment and spare parts mean the IAEA is "not sure the plant is getting all it needs," according to Grossi.

He said his organisation needs to perform critical inspections to ensure nuclear material is being safeguarded.

“You have a catalogue of things that should never be happening in any nuclear facility,” Grossi said. “This is why I have been insisting from day one that we have to be able to go there to perform this safety and security evaluation, to do the repairs and to assist as we already did in Chernobyl.”

The Russian capture of Zaporizhzhya renewed fears that the largest of Ukraine’s 15 nuclear reactors could be damaged, setting off another emergency like the 1986 Chernobyl accident.

First Ukraine grain shipment cleared for delivery to Lebanon

The first shipment of grain exported from Ukraine was inspected by Russian and Ukrainian officials in Turkey on Wednesday, as part of a deal between Kyiv and Moscow to stem the global food crisis.

The Razoni, which is loaded with 26,000 tonnes of maize, anchored off the northern shore of Istanbul in the Black Sea on Tuesday, having left the Ukrianian port of Odesa the day before.

This is the first shipment of grain to leave Ukraine since the start of the war in February and is now on the way to Lebanon.

Michael Shtekel/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
The bulk carrier Razoni starts its way from the port in Odesa, Ukraine, Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. - Michael Shtekel/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Some cereals have already left Ukraine since the start of the invasion, but none from areas occupied by the Russians, such as those on the Sea of Azov.

"Our goal now is regularity. [This] is a necessary principle for the consumers of our agricultural production", said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday evening, criticising Russia for "caus[ing] the food crisis in order to use cereals, corn and oil as weapons."

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres "warmly" welcomed Razoni's departure, expressing the hope that the resumption of Ukrainian exports would "bring much-needed stability and security" to world food supplies.

Russia has previously denied that it is using food as a political weapon, and has instead blamed sanctions for the global price rises.

"Let's hope that the agreements will be implemented by all parties and that the mechanisms will work effectively," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

US Senate votes to admitting Sweden and Finland to NATO

US Senators delivered overwhelming bipartisan approval to NATO membership for Finland and Sweden Wednesday, calling expansion of the Western defensive bloc a “slam-dunk” for American national security and a day of reckoning for Russian President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine.

Wednesday’s 95-1 vote for the candidacy of two Western European nations that, until Russia’s war against Ukraine, had avoided formally joining NATO. However both Sweden and Finland had worked closely on operational and training missions with the alliance over the last 25 years, and Wednesday's vote was a crucial  step toward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its mutual defense pact.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invited ambassadors of the two nations to the chamber gallery to witness the vote.

President Joe Biden, who has been the principal player rallying global economic and material support for Ukraine, has sought quick entry for the two northern European nations.

Approval from all member nations - currently, 30 - is required. The candidacies of the two countries have won ratification from more than half of the NATO member nations in the roughly three months since the two applied.

It’s a purposely rapid pace meant to send a message to Russia over its six-month-old war against Ukraine’s West-looking government.

Lawmakers in Italy and France both voted to ratify Finnish and Sweden membership of NATO on Wednesday.

Putin's rumoured girlfriend slapped with US sanctions

A woman named in news reports as Vladimir Putin’s longtime romantic partner has been hit with the latest round of US sanctions targetting Russian elites.

On Tuesday, the US Treasury said the government had frozen the visa of Alina Kabaeva, once an Olympic gymnast, and imposed other restrictions on her property.

Kabaeva also heads a Russian national media company that promotes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Kremlin critics and imprisoned Russian rights campaigner Alexey Navalny have called for sanctions against Kabaeva, who was sanctioned by the UK in May.

They say her news outlet has pioneered the Russian media's portrayal of Western commentary on the invasion as disinformation.

ITAR-TASS/AP
Thursday, Nov. 4, 2004 file photo President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks with gymnast Alina Kabaeva at a Kremlin banquet in Moscow, Russia. - ITAR-TASS/AP

The EU imposed travel and asset restrictions on Kabaeva in June.

Also named in the latest raft of US sanctions is Andrey Grigoryevich Guryev, an oligarch who owns the Witanhurst estate, a 25-bedroom mansion -- the second-largest estate in London after the Queen's official residence Buckingham Palace.

His $120 million yacht, the Alfa Nero, was also identified as blocked property. His son Andrey Andreevich Guryev and his son's Russian investment firm Dzhi AI Invest OOO were also sanctioned.

“What we’ve seen is that the US government has identified that a lot of oligarchs are using family as a way to evade sanctions," said Christian Contardo, a former Treasury attorney.

“Some of the oligarchs will transfer ownership to their wives and children,” he added.

Steel plant defenders branded terrorists by Russia

Russia branded Ukraine’s Azov Regiment as a terrorist organization Tuesday, a move that could lead to terror charges against some of the captured fighters who held out in Mariupol's shattered steel plant.

Russia and its separatist allies in eastern Ukraine are holding an estimated 1,000 Azov soldiers prisoner, since many of them surrendered to Russian forces at the steelworks in mid-May.

Authorities in Russia have opened criminal cases against them, claiming they killed civilians. However, extra terrorism charges could mean fewer rights and longer prison sentences, with Russian state media reporting that terrorist group members can get up to 10 years imprisonment.

In a statement, the Azov Regiment dismissed the ruling, accusing the Kremlin of “looking for new excuses and explanations for its war crimes.” It urged the US and other countries to label Russia a terrorist state.

The Azov soldiers played a key part in the defence of Mariupol, holding out against relentless Russian bombardment for weeks at the southern port city's sprawling steel mill.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has hailed the soldiers as heroes, while Moscow has repeatedly portrayed the Azov Regiment as a Nazi group and accused it of atrocities.

These claims are largely unsubstantiated by Russia.

The Azov regiment has a checkered past. It grew out of a group called the Azov Battalion, formed in 2014 as one of many volunteer brigades created to fight Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Its initial fighters were drawn from the far-right.

While its current members reject accusations of extremism, the Kremlin has seized on the regiment’s right-wing origins to cast Russia’s invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine. Russian state media has repeatedly shown what it claimed to be Nazi insignias, literature and tattoos associated with the regiment.

Russia accuses US of direct involvement in Ukraine war

Russia accused the United States of being directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine, claiming that US spies were approving and coordinating Ukrainian missile strikes on Russian forces.

Russia's defence ministry, headed by a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, said Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine's deputy head of military intelligence, had admitted to the Telegraph newspaper that Washington coordinates HIMARS missile strikes.

"All this undeniably proves that Washington, contrary to White House and Pentagon claims, is directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine," the defence ministry said.

US President Joe Biden has said he wants Ukraine to defeat Russia and has supplied billions of dollars of arms to Kyiv but US.officials do not want a direct confrontation between US and Russian soldiers.

Russia said the Biden administration was responsible for missile attacks on civilian targets in areas controlled by Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine.

"It is the Biden administration that is directly responsible for all Kyiv-approved rocket attacks on residential areas and civilian infrastructure in populated areas of Donbas and other regions, which have resulted in mass deaths of civilians," the defence ministry said.

Washington said on Monday it would send $550-million (€535m) worth of aid in new weapons to Ukrainian forces fighting the Russian invasion, including ammunition for HIMARS rocket launchers.

'Left behind': How war is hitting the disabled in Ukraine

Some of Ukraine’s most vulnerable have been caught up in a savage conflict far beyond their control.

Before the Russian invasion, there were around 2.7 million people with some form of physical or intellectual disability in Ukraine, according to Inclusion Europe, an EU disability organisation.

It says that even before the war, many were "experiencing prolonged stigma, isolation and barriers to accessing community support".

Human Rights Watch says disabled people often need special accessibility cars or ambulances, and have been struggling to find safety.

There is concern for the fate of the tens of thousands of disabled people living in residential institutions, such as orphanages or care homes.

Read the full story here.

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