Blinken set to announce $1 billion in US aid during surprise visit to Ukraine

Blinken set to announce $1 billion in US aid during surprise visit to Ukraine

A Russian strike that hit a market in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kostiantynivka in the Donetsk region on Wednesday killed at least 16 people, said President Volodymyr Zelensky. The attack came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv in a show of US support for Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces. Read our liveblog for the latest updates on the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

3:30pm: Ukrainian Catholic bishops rebuke Pope Francis on Russia comments

Ukraine's Eastern Rite Catholic bishops bluntly told Pope Francis at a meeting on Wednesday that some of his comments about Russia had caused great pain and were being used by Moscow to justify a "a murderous ideology".

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In a statement that was remarkable for its candour, they said their two-hour session with the pope at the Vatican was a "frank conversation".

At the heart of the dispute are unscripted remarks the pope made to young Russian Catholics in a video conference on August 25. He spoke of past tsars, Peter I and Catherine II, who expanded Russian territory, and told his listeners they were the heirs of the "great Russian empire".

The comments caused an uproar in Ukraine because Russian President Vladimir Putin has invoked the legacies of the two Russian monarchs in justifying his invasion. 

3:06pm: Romania's defence minister says Russian drone parts fell on Romanian territory

Romania’s defense minister said Wednesday that pieces apparently of a drone from Russia’s recent attacks on Ukraine’s port on the Danube River have been found on his country's territory. Romania is a NATO member.

Defence Minister Angel Tilvar told local news channel Antena 3 CNN that parts of what was most likely a drone were discovered in the eastern Tulcea county, an area of the Danube that forms a natural border between Romania and war-torn Ukraine.

“I confirm that in this area, pieces that may be of a drone were found,” he said, adding that the pieces did not pose a threat. 

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Tilvar’s comments come after Romania’s Ministry of National Defense “categorically denied” claims made on Monday by the spokesperson of Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oleg Nikolenko, who said that Shahed drones launched by Russia on Sunday night fell and exploded on Romanian territory.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis also denied those claims on Tuesday, saying that the attacks were “verified 800 meters (yards) from our border, so very, very close.”

3:02pm: Russian attack on Kostyantynivka hit market, pharmacy, says Zelensky

More details coming in about the Russian attack on Kostyantynivka in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region.

The Russian shelling hit a market, shops and a pharmacy, killing civilians, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a post on X, previously known as Twitter.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Igor Klymenko said in a post on social media that the strike had left 28 people injured. 

Kostyantynivka is a frontline town of an estimated 70,000 people. It has been the epicentre of fighting since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

2:45pm: At least 16 killed in Russian attack in eastern Ukraine, says Zelensky

At least 16 people were killed on Wednesday in a Russian attack on the city of Kostiantynivka in eastern Ukraine, said President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The casualty figures may rise, Zelensky added.

Condemning the attack, Zelensky said: "This Russian evil must be defeated as soon as possible."

2:15pm: Kyiv's new defence minister vows to retake 'every centimetre' of Ukraine

Ukraine's newly appointed Defence Minister Rustem Umerov vowed on Wednesday to recapture all territory under Russian military control, in his first comments in the new role.

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 "I will do everything possible and impossible for the victory of Ukraine – when we liberate every centimetre of our country and every one of our people," he said in a post on social media.

12:33pm: Lawmaker says Ukrainian parliament has approved Rustem Umerov as defence minister

Ukraine's parliament on Wednesday approved President Volodymyr Zelensky's nomination of Rustem Umerov as Kyiv's new defence minister after the resignation of Oleksiy Reznikov.

"Parliament approved Rustem Umerov as the Defence Minister of Ukraine," senior lawmaker Yaroslav Zheleznyak said on social media.

He posted a photograph of the voting board, showing 338 out of 360 lawmakers voted in favour of Umerov's nomination.

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Zelensky nominated the 41-year-old Umerov, who is a Crimean Tatar, for the role calling for "new approaches" in Ukraine's defence ministry.

A former businessman, Umerov has taken part in prisoner exchange negotiations and grain deal talks. He is known to have good contacts with Turkey, speaking fluent Turkish and some Arabic, as well as English.

12:14pm: Russia’s central bank says it will increase support for the rouble

Russia's central bank announced Wednesday it plans to sharply step up support for the rouble, which has weakened considerably after 18 months of Western sanctions following Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

The Bank of Russia said that between September 14 and 22 it would sell 21.4 billion roubles ($218.5 million) of foreign currency on the market each day, about 10 times the current volume it is selling on a daily basis.

The central bank tied the move to an upcoming payment of foreign currency bonds issued by the government, known as eurobonds.

"Holders of eurobonds will be paid by the finance ministry in roubles in accordance with the established procedure, and therefore a portion of these bondholders may create additional demand for foreign currency," the Bank of Russia said.

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Moscow instituted the payment of these bonds in roubles instead of the foreign currency they are formally denominated in following the imposition of Western sanctions.

11:53am: Kremlin says US plans to support Ukraine’s war effort to 'the last Ukrainian’

The Kremlin, asked about US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Kyiv on Wednesday, said it was clear that Washington planned to keep funding Ukraine's war effort "until the last Ukrainian".

"We have heard repeated statements that they (the Americans) intend to continue to help Kyiv for as long as it takes," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

"In other words, they are going to continue to support Ukraine in a state of war and to wage this war to the last Ukrainian, sparing no money for this. That's how we perceive it, we know it. It's not going to affect the course of the special military operation."

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Russia has used the term “special military operation” to denote its war in Ukraine since its forces invaded the country in February 2022.

11:40am: Blinken visit comes as some in Ukraine criticise West for quantity and pace of arms supplies

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is making a surprise visit to Ukraine amid signs of reduced public support in the US for its financial and military assistance to Kyiv. Blinken's visit comes as some in Ukraine are criticising Western countries for the quantity and pace of arms supplies. FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reports from Kyiv.

11:02am: Danish PM addresses Ukraine’s parliament following pledge to supply F-16s to Kyiv

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen addressed the Ukrainian parliament on Wednesday on a visit to Kyiv after pledging to supply Ukraine with 19 F-16 fighter jets.

"Thank you for the F-16s," lawmaker Yaroslav Zheleznyak wrote on social media after the prime minister announced the donation last month.

10:38am: Blinken arrives in Kyiv, set to announce $1 billion more in US assistance for Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv on an unannounced visit Wednesday, where he was due to announce more than 1 billion dollars in fresh aid to Ukraine.

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Blinken's visit – his fourth during Moscow's invasion – comes as Kyiv has touted some successes this week in its counteroffensive to push back Russian forces.

"We expect the secretary to be able to announce more than a billion dollars in new US funding for Ukraine during the course of this visit," a senior US State Department official said en route to Kyiv.

The State Department said Blinken had arrived in the Ukrainian capital and was greeted by US ambassador Bridget Brink.

The visit also comes at a time of change for Kyiv's military establishment, days after President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed now-former defence minister Oleksiy Reznikov – who served throughout the Russian invasion – after allegations of graft in defence ministry contracts.

Zelensky has vowed to keep up with Western requirements to wipe out corruption as troops fight on.

The official said it was a "good time" for Blinken to come, several months into Kyiv's counteroffensive, and before a second winter during the full-scale war, with energy security fears rising again.

9:31am: Ukraine’s GDP has grown by 2.2 percent so far in 2023, says economy ministry

Ukraine's gross domestic product grew by 2.2 percent year-on-year in the first seven months of 2023, the economy ministry said on Wednesday.

The ministry said in a statement the economy had started to recover after an extremely difficult 2022, when Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

9:02am: Moscow-appointed official says Russian army ‘tactically abandoned’ Ukraine’s Robotyne

A Russian-appointed official has acknowledged that Moscow's forces have abandoned the Ukrainian village of Robotyne, more than a week after Kyiv announced its recapture.

Yevgeny Balitsky, the top Moscow-installed official in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, said in a television interview that the Russian army had withdrawn for what he called tactical reasons.

"The Russian army abandoned – tactically abandoned – this settlement because staying on a bare surface when there is no way to completely dig in ... doesn't generally make sense... Therefore the Russian army moved off into the hills," news outlet RBC quoted him as saying.

Russia has not previously acknowledged the loss of Robotyne, whose recapture was announced by Ukraine on August 28. In its daily update on Tuesday, the Russian defence ministry said its forces had repelled two Ukrainian attacks near Robotyne.

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More than 18 months after Russia's invasion, Ukraine says it is gaining ground and has broken through Russia's first line of fortifications in several places on the front line, despite repeated statements from Moscow that Kyiv's three-month-old counteroffensive has been a failure.

8:49am: UK says it will declare Russia's Wagner Group a terrorist organisation

The Russian mercenary Wagner Group is set to be proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the UK government, the interior ministry said on Wednesday.

A draft order due to laid before parliament will allow Wagner's assets to be categorised as terrorist property and seized, the ministry said in a statement.

It will be illegal to be a member or support the organisation, punishable by up to 14 years in jail.

Britain's Interior Minister Suella Braverman described the Wagner Group as "violent and destructive", adding it "acted as a military tool of Vladimir Putin's Russia overseas".

Across Ukraine, the Middle East and Africa, Wagner has been involved in looting, torture and "barbarous murders", the statement said, calling it a threat to global security.

"They are terrorists, plain and simple – and this proscription order makes that clear in UK law," she said.

The order is expected to come into force on September 13, after which it would be a criminal offence to belong to or promote the group, arrange or address its meetings and carry its logo in public.

7:31am: Russian forces not ‘abandoning’ plans in Donetsk, Luhansk regions, Ukrainian commander says

The situation along the eastern front line remains difficult and the main task for Ukraine’s troops is to ensure reliable defence and prevent the loss of strongholds, Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine's ground forces, said on Wednesday.

"The enemy does not abandon his plans to reach the borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions," the ground forces cited Syrskyi as saying on the Telegram messaging app.

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"Our main task is to ensure reliable defence, to prevent the loss of our strongholds and positions in the Kupiansk and Lymansk directions, as well as to successfully move forward and reach the designated lines in the Bakhmut direction."

6:45am: Russian drone attacks on Odesa region port district in Odesa kill one and damage infrastructure, governor says

One person was killed in Russian drone attacks on a port district in Ukraine's southwestern Odesa region early Wednesday, regional Governor Oleg Kiper said.

The night-time attacks lasted three hours and targeted the Izmail district, Kiper said on Telegram.

The Danube river port of Izmail, which borders NATO member Romania, has become a main export route for Ukrainian products following Russia's withdrawal from a UN-brokered grain deal in July.

"Unfortunately, one person died," said Kiper, adding that it was an agricultural worker who was seriously injured and died in hospital.

"Destruction and fires were recorded in several settlements," he added, saying that port and agricultural infrastructure had been damaged, including administrative buildings.

Following the collapse of the deal allowing grain shipments from Black Sea ports, Russia has ramped up attacks on Ukraine's southern Odesa and Mykolaiv regions, home to ports and infrastructure vital for agriculture exports.

6:03am: Ukrainian air defences thwart Russian missile attack on Kyiv, official says

Russia launched a missile attack on Kyiv early on Wednesday, with the country's air defence systems shooting down all missiles before they reached their targets, the capital's military administration said on the Telegram messaging app.

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Witnesses heard several blasts which sounded like air defence systems being deployed at around 5:50am (0250 GMT) when air raid alerts were issued for all of Ukraine before being called off about an hour later.

"Another missile attack by the enemy on a peaceful city with the aim of killing the civilian population and destroying the infrastructure," Serhiy Popko, head of Kyiv's military administration, said on the Telegram messaging app.

He added that according to preliminary information, there was no destruction in Kyiv and no casualties.

The scale of the attack, which Popko said involved missiles of different types, was not immediately known.

Key developments from Tuesday, September 5:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to troops leading a counteroffensive towards the eastern war-battered town of Bakhmut, Kyiv said Tuesday.

The Kremlin declined to confirm a potential upcoming summit between President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which US officials have said they expected.

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The number of people killed or wounded by cluster munitions increased eightfold last year to more than 1,000, mostly due to their use in the Ukraine war, particularly by Russia, a report by the Cluster Munitions Coalition campaign group showed. Of the 1,172 victims last year, more than 300 died in Ukraine, the report said.



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