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In Kyiv, South African President Calls on Russia and Ukraine to ‘de-escalate’ Conflict

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday called on both Ukraine and Russia to de-escalate their conflict in order to “settle” the war in Ukraine. Ramaphosa is one of a group of African leaders that arrived in the Ukrainian capital earlier on Friday as air raid sirens sounded and explosions were reported in the city. Read our live blog to see how all the day’s events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

10:26pm: Every recaptured metre of land of utmost importance, says Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that every metre of Ukrainian territory recaptured from Russian occupying forces was “of the utmost importance” in Ukraine’s current counteroffensive against Russian forces.

“Our movement forward is the most critical thing,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address after meeting top military commanders.

“Every soldier, every new step we take, every metre of Ukrainian land freed from the enemy is of utmost importance.”

9:27pm: Zelensky urges African leaders to press Putin on release of political prisoners

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to a group of African leaders to ask his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to free political prisoners from Crimea and beyond – saying it would be an “important step” in their trip to the Russian city of St. Petersburg on Saturday.

Seven African leaders – presidents of ComorosSenegalSouth Africa and Zambia, as well as Egypt’s prime minister and top envoys from the Republic of Congo and Uganda – visited Ukraine on Friday as part of a self-styled “peace mission” to both Ukraine and Russia to try to help end their nearly 16-month-old war. 

The tenor of the press conference soured when Comoros President Azali Assoumani floated the idea of a “road map” to peace, prompting questions from Zelensky, who sought a clarification and insisted he didn’t want “any surprises” from their visit with Putin. 

Zelensky then urged them to help free political prisoners from Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. 

“Would you please ask Russia to liberate the political prisoners?” Zelensky said. “Maybe this will be an important result of your mission, of your ‘road map’.”

8:46pm: Putin proclaims end of ‘ugly neo-colonialism’

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday proclaimed the end of “neo-colonialism” in international politics and praised Russia’s economic strategy following its ruptured ties with the West.

The Russian leader addressed an annual economic forum in Saint Petersburg that is a shadow of its former self since Putin sent troops to Ukraine in February 2022 and the West pummelled Russia with unprecedented sanctions.

“The ugly neo-colonial system of international relations has ceased to exist, while the multi-polar global order is strengthening,” Putin said. “This is inevitable.”

Putin has repeatedly denounced the dominance of the United States in international politics and sought to present Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine as a battle against the decadent West.

7:47pm: Unclear if reservoir water from breached dam can still be pumped to Zaporizhzhia, UN says

It is unclear whether water from the huge reservoir of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine that burst last week can still be pumped to the nearby Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) for cooling, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Friday.

The reservoir was a main source of water for cooling the six reactors and spent fuel ponds at Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant.

“There are … indications that some water resources from the reservoir itself currently remain available in areas near the ZNPP,” the IAEA said in a statement.”But it is unclear if the level is high enough to pump it up for use at the plant. The pumps were last in operation about a week ago.”

The plant can fall back on other sources including a large cooling pond and onsite wells, “but … it is not yet known whether these wells can reliably provide all the required water,” the IAEA said.

“New pumps that can potentially continue to access water at lower reservoir levels may also be installed,” it added.

7:23pm: Zelensky says he wants to hold Ukraine-Africa summit, questions African delegation’s decision to hold talks with Putin

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a visit of African leaders to Kyiv on Friday that he wanted to hold a Ukraine-Africa summit, and for Kyiv to step up its relations with the continent.

Kyiv has been courting the Global South and trying to challenge Russia’s influence in the region. Russia, which launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, plans to hold its second Russia-Africa summit this summer.

Zelensky also questioned why the visiting delegation of African leaders planned to travel to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin after a Russian missile strike overshadowed their visit to Kyiv.

“…This is their decision, how logical it is, I don’t really understand,” he told reporters at a joint news conference with the African leaders.

6:41am: Zelensky invites African leaders to take part in a global peace summit

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday he had invited African leaders to take part in a global peace summit and rejected the idea of peace talks with Moscow now, which he said would simply freeze the war in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian President was speaking at a joint news conference with visiting African leaders who arrived in the Ukrainian capital on Friday morning.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the conference that African countries are prepared to participate further in a peace pact in Ukraine.

Zambia‘s President Hakainde Hichilema added that it was important for the continent of Africa to contribute to peace in Ukraine.

A pact for peace in Ukraine needs to go via the United Nations charter, said Comoros‘ President Azali Assoumani.

6:33pm: Blinken says there are no indications that Russia preparing to use nuclear weapons

There are no indications that Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons and the United States sees no reason to adjust its own nuclear posture, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Friday.

His comments came after Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia could “theoretically” use nuclear weapons if there was a threat to its territorial integrity or existence, but that it did not need to.

6:20pm: In Kyiv, South Africa president urges Russia and Ukraine to de-escalate

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday called on Ukraine and Russia to de-escalate their conflict, as he arrived in the war-torn country on a mission to broker peace.

“This war must be settled and there should be peace through negotiations,” he told reporters after talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“We argue that there must be de-escalation on both sides.”

6:01pm: US releases further $205 million in Ukraine aid

The United States on Friday announced a further $205 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine to help the country with shortages of food, drinking water and other needs as its fights against Russia’s invasion.

The aid, which will be distributed via partner NGOs in the region, was also aimed at helping victims of the conflict maintain contact with family members who have been separated, top US diplomat Antony Blinken said in a statement.

“We continue to call for an immediate end to Russia’s war of aggression and for Russia to facilitate unhindered access to providers of humanitarian assistance in Ukraine and safe passage for those who seek to move to safer areas,” Blinken said.

5:24pm: NATO to tighten Ukraine ties, but no membership invite at summit

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Friday the alliance will tighten political ties with Ukraine at a summit next month, but there will be no talk of a membership invite for Kyiv.

“We’re not going to discuss an invitation at the Vilnius Summit, but how we can move Ukraine closer to NATO,” Stoltenberg said.

“I’m confident that we will find a good solution and consensus.

3:52pm: NATO chief ‘welcomes’ African leaders’ peace mission

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Friday welcomed a peace mission by African leaders to Ukraine, but warned only a “just” solution that treats Russia as the aggressor would work.

“I welcome the fact that African leaders have visited Kyiv and I think it is important to know that there are different efforts to find a solution,” Stoltenberg said.

The head of Western military alliance added, “We have one aggressor that’s President (Vladimir) Putin and Moscow and the Russian forces and then you have a victim of aggression, which is Ukraine

“Any efforts to find a peaceful solution have to take that as a starting point as the whole reason why we are in the situation we are today,” he said.

3:36pm: Putin says Ukraine offensive stands ‘no chance’

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Ukraine would soon run out of its own military equipment, making it totally reliant on hardware supplied by the West.

Putin told an economic forum in St Petersburg that Ukraine had failed to make progress in its counter-offensive and said its army stood “no chance” against Russia’s.

2:14pm: Kremlin aide says Russia unlikely to quit grain deal before July 17 renewal date

Top Kremlin foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov said on Friday that Russia was unlikely to quit the Black Sea grain deal before it comes up for renewal on July 17, state media reported.

Russian officials have said, however, they see no grounds to extend it beyond that.

Asked on Friday about the possibility of extending the deal, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “How can you extend something that doesn’t work?”, Interfax reported.

He said, however, that Russia would continue to deliver grain to developing countries even if the deal was not renewed, RIA news agency said.

1:00pm: ‘Highly likely’ Russia behind Ukraine dam collapse, international experts say

It is “highly likely” that the collapse of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine was caused by explosives planted by Russians, a team of legal experts assisting Ukraine’s prosecutors in their investigation said in preliminary findings released on Friday.

Experts with the international human rights law firm Global Rights Compliance, which is implementing Western-back efforts to support accountability for atrocities in Ukraine, visited the Kherson region from June 10-11 with Ukraine’s prosecutor general and a team from the International Criminal Court.

“The evidence and analysis of the information available – which includes seismic sensors and discussions with top demolition experts – indicates that there is a high probability the destruction was caused by pre-emplaced explosives positioned at critical points within the dam’s structure,” a summary of preliminary findings from the law firm’s team seen by Reuters said.

Senior lawyer Yousuf Syed Khan at Global Rights Compliance, who participated in the field mission to Kherson, said the finding that the dam was blown up with pre-emplaced explosives by the Russian side “is an 80 percent and above determination”.

12:47pm: UAE president Sheikh Mohammed tells Putin he wishes to strengthen ties

The president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has not joined Western sanctions against Moscow, told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday that his nation wished to strengthen ties.

“I am pleased to be here today with you, your Excellency, and we wish to build on this relationship and we put our trust in you to do so,” Sheikh Mohammed told Putin on the sidelines of a forum in St. Petersburg on Friday.

Putin had earlier thanked the president for his efforts on freeing prisoners of war in Ukraine.

12:46pm: Russia mulls raising one-off payment for exiting foreign firms

Russia is considering increasing a one-off payment that foreign companies leaving the country must make to the state budget, the RIA news agency quoted Finance Minister Anton Siluanov as saying on Friday.

Last December, the government demanded that companies leaving Russia sell their operations for at least half price and it claimed 10 percent of the sale for the federal budget, in what the US Treasury described as an “exit tax”.

12:43pm: Britain commits £60 million to NATO Ukraine fund

The United Kingdom will commit £60 million (€70 million) to NATO’s Ukraine fund, the government said on Friday, bringing the UK’s contribution to the fund to over 80 million pounds since February last year.

“This new contribution … is part of our ongoing commitment to provide Ukraine with the equipment and training it needs,” British Defence Minister Ben Wallace said in a statement.

11:41am: Ukraine Air Force says it has downed 12 missiles over Kyiv

The Ukrainian Air Force said it destroyed six Kinzhals, six Kalibr cruise missiles and two reconnaissance drones over Kyiv Friday. The chief of the Kyiv military administration Sergiy Popko said all were intercepted.

11:07am: Twin explosions rock Kyiv

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko reported an explosion in the city Friday after air raid sirens sounded and air defences were activated.

Klitschko wrote on social media that there was an explosion in the central Podil district. “Missiles are still flying towards Kyiv,” he said.

A Reuters correspondent reported seeing the smoke trail of two missiles in the air. It was not clear if those missiles were fired by Russia or by Ukrainian air defences. A Reuters witness in central Kyiv also reported hearing two explosions.

Ukraine says the strikes on Kyiv are “a message” to the visiting African delegation.

10:23am: Air raid alert issued in Kyiv

An air raid alert was issued in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and the Kyiv region on Friday.

Kyiv authorities issued the alert after the Ukrainian air force said several Russian Kalibr missiles had been launched from the Black Sea and were “heading north” towards Kyiv

09:51am: Russian Defence Ministry says Ukraine forces are suffering heavy losses

Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Friday that Ukrainian forces had continued to suffer heavy losses on the south Donetsk and Donetsk fronts, where Ukraine’s counteroffensive has been focused, state news agency RIA reported.

FRANCE 24 was unable to verify these reports on the ground.

9:41am: German Defence Minister says NATO may remove some hurdles from Ukraine’s path to membership

NATO allies may be ready to remove some hurdles from Ukraine’s path to the military alliance, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said on Friday.

“There are increasing signs that everyone will be able to agree on this,” Pistorius told reporters in Brussels when asked about reports that the US is open to permitting Kyiv to forgo a formal candidacy process required of some other nations in the past.

“I would be open for this,” he added.

9:18am: Russian shelling kills married couple in Kherson region

A married couple were killed by Russian shelling of the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson overnight, the regional governor said on Friday.

Governor Oleksandr Prokudin said Russian forces had shelled the Novoberyslav settlement on the right bank of the Dnipro River from a Russian-occupied position on the opposite side of the river.

“A couple died as a result of a hit on one of the houses. The woman died on the spot. Doctors tried to save the man, but he died of his wounds on the way to hospital,” Prokudin said on the Telegram messaging app.

8:40am: African peace mission unlikely to get Russia, Ukraine to sit down for peace talks

The African leaders meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky on Friday – including South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, Senegal’s Macky Sall, Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema, and Comoros’s Azali Assoumani— are a “mixed bag in terms of relations with Russia”, FRANCE 24’s Ukraine correspondent Gulliver Cragg reported from Kyiv.

“South Africa certainly has a history of close relations with Russia and has been accused recently of supplying weapons to Russia,” he said, noting that although Ramaphosa has said he is investigating the allegations, South Africa’s official stance is that it does not supply weapons to Russia.

Zambia, on the other hand, voted in favour of a resolution last year to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine “along with about half of the countries in Africa”, while many others abstained.

“The overall sense is that African countries really want to be seen as neutral,” said Cragg.

“It’s more likely that they’ll make some progress on getting some better conditions for the export of grain to the African continent than on actually getting Russia and Ukraine to sit down to peace talks which is their stated top objective.”

8:07am: African leaders head to Ukraine for ill-starred peace mission

African leaders arrived in Ukraine on Friday in a self-professed bid to broker peace between Kyiv and Moscow.

Four presidents – from South Africa, Senegal, Zambia and Comoros – and three representatives will hold talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv before heading to Saint Petersburg on Saturday to meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. African countries have been divided over their response to the war, with some siding with Ukraine, while others have remained neutral or gravitated towards Moscow.

The high-profile diplomatic team hopes to bring to the table the voice of a continent that has been badly hit by rising grain prices and the wider impact on global trade since Russia invaded Ukraine last year. But the African mission’s chances to secure a proper peace look incredibly thin, with both Kyiv and Moscow convinced they can win on the battlefield, analysts say.

10:25pm: IAEA spokesman says gunfire briefly halted convoy, but no immediate danger

A spokesman for the UN’s nuclear watchdog said on Thursday that gunfire briefly halted a convoy heading back to Ukrainian-held territory after a visit to the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, but the delegation was in no immediate danger.

“Convoy was stopped and gunfire was distinctly heard for a few minutes but the convoy was not in immediate danger. The agency doesn’t have any other information about the incident,” a spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency told Reuters.

Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the head of the Rosenergoatom company, was earlier cited by Tass news agency as accusing Ukraine of opening fire at the convoy, headed by IAEA General Director Rafael Mariano Grossi.

That report said no one was hurt and that the convoy had returned safely to the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia.

The delegation had been visiting the Zaporizhzhia station, where Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of repeated shelling since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year that could compromise nuclear safety.

9:52pm: Lack of water one of multiple safety concerns at Zaporizhzhia power plant

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said on Thursday that “measures are being taken” to ensure security at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia power plant following a large-scale dam breach nearby, but lack of access to water is not the only safety concern at the nuclear station.

In addition to fears of the plant being hit by a stray rocket, “it’s occupied by Russian forces, and the Ukrainians routinely accuse Russians of placing military equipment right inside the reactor buildings”, says FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg, reporting from Ukraine.

9:26pm: US criticises Russia in annual human trafficking report

The US sharpened its criticism of Russia’s record on human trafficking on Thursday, citing Moscow’s treatment of conscripts and Ukrainian children, in an annual report on countries that Washington says are failing to protect victims.

The State Department’s 2023 Trafficking in Persons report kept Russia on a list of “state sponsors” of human trafficking and ranked Russia among the world’s worst at addressing the problem.

A section on Russia included more criticism than last year of Moscow’s detention of people in Ukraine. The report also cited the “forcible transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia” which is also the subject of an International Criminal Court prosecution against Russian officials including President Vladimir Putin.

“There were also reports of Russian officials forcing, deceiving, or coercing foreign national adults to fight in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” it added.

Source: France24