High-level Russia-Turkey talks focus on new possible grain deal

Talks are taking place between Russia and Turkey’s foreign ministers on Thursday regarding the possible revival of the defunct grain export deal between Russia and Ukraine.

Russia pulled out of a previous grain deal, known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative, in July, saying its own exports of grain and fertilizer had been impeded by sanctions and restrictions.

The deal had enabled millions of tons of Ukrainian grain to safely leave three of the country’s ports, alleviating global food shortages.

Under a new possible agreement, Russia would send a million tons of grain to Turkey at a discounted price, with financial support from Qatar. From Turkey, the agricultural goods would be processed and then sent to the countries most in need, Russia’s foreign ministry said yesterday ahead of the talks, Reuters reported.

The Black Sea grain deal, which has enabled millions of tons of Ukrainian agri-food products to leave the country via several ports, expires on May 18. Russia has said there are no guarantees it will agree to extend the deal.

Diego Cuppolo | Nurphoto | Getty Images

As Russia and Turkey’s foreign ministers held talks on Thursday, the Kremlin’s press secretary said he couldn’t predict how productive the discussions on the grain deal would be.

“There are no concrete results of these talks. More top-level discussions are expected but [the] probable results are unclear. Russia is a responsible supplier and will continue discussions. We are ready to resume the grain deal the moment the obligations towards us are fulfilled,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday, according to comments translated by NBC.

The Thursday discussions come ahead of a potential meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart next week. Two unnamed Turkish sources told Reuters the gathering will take place on Sept. 4.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine’s Kuleba tells critics of counter-offensive to ‘shut up’

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hit out on Thursday at critics of Kyiv’s tactics in its counter-offensive against Russia’s invasion, saying they were spitting in the faces of Ukrainian soldiers and should “shut up.”

“Criticising the slow pace of (the) counter-offensive equals … spitting into the face of (the) Ukrainian soldier who sacrifices his life every day, moving forward and liberating one kilometre of Ukrainian soil after another,” Kuleba told reporters at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Toledo, Spain.

Ukrainian soldiers are seen near a BM-21 after loading grad shells to it, as Ukrainian Army conduct operation to target trenches of Russian forces through the Donetsk Oblast amid Russia and Ukraine war, in the direction of Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on August 07, 2023.

Diego Herrera Carcedo | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The New York Times last week quoted U.S. and other Western officials as saying that the offensive had made limited progress because Ukraine had too many troops in the wrong places.

“I would recommend all critics to shut up, come to Ukraine and try to liberate one square centimeter by themselves,” Kuleba said, standing alongside Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares.

— Reuters

Belarus rebuffs European ‘hysteria’ over Wagner mercenaries

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko talks during the 2nd Eurasian Economic Forum, on May 24, 2023 in Moscow, Russia.

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Belarus rejected what it described as European “hysteria” over the presence of Wagner Group mercenaries on its territory.

Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko described calls by Poland and Baltic countries for the Wagner Group to withdraw from Belarus as “unreasonable and stupid.”

“They got to the point that they are already demanding their immediate withdrawal from Belarus. At the same time, they themselves are increasing military budgets, pulling large military formations to our borders,” Lukashenko said, according to comments reported by state news agency BelTA and translated by NBC News.

“These are unreasonable and stupid demands, not even requests and proposals, but demands,” the president said.

The Wagner Group was effectively exiled to Russia’s ally Belarus following a failed mutiny against the Russian state in June. Earlier this week, Poland and the Baltic states, which neighbor Belarus, called for Wagner to withdraw, seeing their presence as a threat.

— Holly Ellyatt

Grant Shapps replaces Ben Wallace as UK defense minister

Grant Shapps, the U.K.’s new defense minister.

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The British government named ex-energy secretary Grant Shapps as the country’s new defence minister on Thursday, replacing Ben Wallace who said he wanted to step down after four years in the role and would quit as a lawmaker at the next national election.

Wallace, who had been touted as a potential successor to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, had taken a leading role in shaping Britain’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year.

Under him, Britain provided 2.3 billion pounds ($2.9 billion) of military aid to Kyiv in 2022 and became the first country to start supplying Ukraine with long-range cruise missiles in May this year to help end Europe’s biggest land war since World War Two.

Wallace remained in post last year when Britain went through one of the most turbulent times in its political history, with the departure of two prime ministers over scandal and economic turmoil.

The defense role will be Shapps’ fifth government job over the last year, after serving in four different ministries – transport, interior affairs, business and then at energy and net zero. His appointment is unlikely to change Britain’s support for Ukraine against Russia.

— Reuters

Russia sees another barrage of drone attacks

A submarine and warships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet lie at anchor in the port city of Sevastopol in 2019.

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Regional official Sergei Aksyonov said air defense forces had shot down a cruise missile in the eastern part of Crimea, which Russia has occupied since 2014.

In the Bryansk region of Russia that borders northern Ukraine, two unmanned aerial vehicles were shot down, the region’s Governor Alexander Bogomaz said on Telegram.

CNBC was unable to immediately verify the information.

— Holly Ellyatt

Hopes rise that Turkey will persuade Russia to revive grain deal

Hopes are rising that Turkey will persuade Russia to revive the Black Sea Grain Initiative with Ukraine, enabling the resumption of exports of millions of tons of grains, foodstuffs and fertilizer from some of Ukraine’s ports.

Russia pulled out of the U.N.-brokered deal in July, saying its own exports of grain and fertilizer had been impeded by sanctions and restrictions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan will discuss the possibility of launching a new Black Sea grain deal when they meet Thursday and Friday in Moscow.

Under a plan proposed by Moscow, Russia would send a million metric tons of discounted grain to Turkey, where it would then be processed and sent to countries most in need, the Foreign Ministry said, according to Reuters.

“We consider this project as the optimal working alternative to the Black Sea deal,” it said, referring to the U.N.-backed deal that Russia exited in July.

— Karen Gilchrist, Holly Ellyatt

Russia says drone attacks ‘will not go unpunished’

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it will respond to a series of drone attacks on six Russian regions overnight. Russia alleged that Ukraine was behind the attacks targeting northwest and central Russia, including the Moscow region.

Briefing journalists on Wednesday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said the drone attacks on territory that was so far from Ukraine would not have been possible without information from Western satellites.

“The actions of the Ukrainian regime will not go unpunished,” Zakharova said, according to comments published by state news agency Tass.

“The actions of the Ukrainian regime will not go unpunished,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, according to comments published by state news agency Tass.

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“Russian law enforcement agencies are investigating and carefully documenting all facts of shelling of Russian regions by Ukrainian militants, as well as their other criminal activities,” she said.

Russia has not presented evidence that Ukraine was behind the attempted drone attacks and Kyiv has not commented.

— Holly Ellyatt

At the grave of Russia’s Prigozhin, followers hail a warrior

A woman crosses herself as she visits the grave of Wagner private mercenary group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who was killed in a private jet crash in the Tver region last week, at the Porokhovskoye cemetery in Saint Petersburg on August 30, 2023.

Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

Followers of mutinous Russian mercenary Yevgeny Prigozhin laid flowers, messages and poetry at his grave on Wednesday, hailing him as a fearless warrior after he was killed along with his inner circle in a yet-to-be-explained plane crash.

Prigozhin was buried at the Porokhovskoye cemetery in his home town of St Petersburg on Tuesday away from the glare of the media whom he had courted so ardently in life after leading his fighters on a dash towards Moscow before turning back.

A man wearing the shirt of his Wagner mercenaries and a cap bearing the Russian flag was among those paying respects at the grave, where red roses and carnations graced a wooden Orthodox cross lablled “Prigozhin, Yevgeny Viktorovich 1961 – 2023.” One tribute beside flowers read: “To be a warrior is to live forever.”

The private jet on which Prigozhin was travelling to St Petersburg from Moscow crashed north of Moscow with the loss of all 10 people on board on Aug. 23, including Prigozhin, top Wagner commanders, his bodyguards and a crew of three.

It is still unclear what caused the plane to crash but villagers near the scene told Reuters they heard a bang and then saw the jet plummet to the ground.

The Kremlin has rejected as an “absolute lie” the suggestion by some Western politicians and commentators – for which they have not provided evidence – that Putin ordered Prigozhin to be killed in revenge.

— Reuters

Kremlin does not rule out possibility that Prigozhin’s death was premeditated

The Kremlin said Wednesday it did not rule out that the death of mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was premeditated.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s press secretary, said Russia’s Investigative Committee would look into the causes of the plane crash last week that killed Prigozhin, the head of the mercenary private military company the Wagner Group, but ruled out outside involvement in the inquiry.

“It is obvious that different versions are being considered, including the version – you know what we are talking about – let’s say, a deliberate atrocity,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to comments translated by Reuters.

“Let’s wait for the results of our Russian investigation,” he added.

A member of private mercenary group Wagner pays tribute to Yevgeny Prigozhin and Dmitry Utkin following their apparent deaths in a plane crash on Aug. 23, 2023.

Vladimir Nikolayev | Afp | Getty Images

Peskov’s comment is the first time Moscow has acknowledged that Prigozhin’s death may not have been an accident. Prigozhin was a close ally of President Putin before he led a short-lived mutiny in June against the state that put him on a collision path with the president.

Last week, the private, Brazilian-made Embraer jet in which Prigozhin and his closest associates were traveling in, crashed north of Moscow, killing all 10 people on board.

Brazil’s aircraft investigation authority told Reuters that it will not probe the crash of the jet under international rules “at the moment.” Asked about this, Peskov said Russia’s Investigative Committee had already begun its inquiry and that “in this case there can be no talk of any international aspect.”

The Kremlin has rejected what it sees as Western “speculation” that Putin ordered Prigozhin to be killed in revenge for the uprising, describing it as an “absolute lie.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Moscow accuses Kyiv of launching multiple drone attacks against Russia

Russian officials accused Ukraine of launching several drone attacks against six regions in central and northwestern Russia overnight Wednesday.

One alleged attack had caused a fire at an airfield in Pskov in the northwest of the country, setting two Ilyushin Il-76 military transport aircraft on fire and damaging several other aircraft, Russian news agency Tass reported.

The governor of the Pskov region, Mikhail Vedernikov, said on his Telegram channel that the scale of the destruction is being assessed and flights from Pskov’s airport were canceled Wednesday.

An Ilyushin Il-76 Strategic airlifter performs during the 76th anniversary of Victory Day in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on May 9, 2021.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Russian Defense Ministry also reported attempted drone attacks in the Bryansk, Kaluga and Oryol regions southwest of Moscow as well as the Ryazan area to the southeast. It said a drone had also been intercepted near the capital, prompting the authorities to close airports in the city.

“Today, at about 03:30 Moscow time, an attempt by the Kiev regime to carry out a terrorist attack by an aircraft-type UAV against objects on the territory of the Russian Federation was thwarted,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement reported by Russian news agency Tass.

“The unmanned aerial vehicle was intercepted and crashed over the territory of the Ruzsky district of the Moscow region,” the ministry added.

Moscow’s Domodedovo, Vnukovo and Sheremetyevo airports temporarily stopped all flights but have since reopened.

Ukraine has not said it was involved in the drone attacks and has typically remained tight-lipped about attacks against the Russian territory itself. Ukrainian officials said Russia had launched a massive, combined strike on the capital Kyiv overnight using attack drones and missiles.

Holly Ellyatt

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