Sun, 26 Jun 2022

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said "some progress" was made during talks Monday with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is holding up Brussels' plans for an embargo on Russian oil, but said more needed to be done to get Hungary on board with EU plans. Follow FRANCE 24's live blog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

9:43pm: EU chief von der Leyen meets Hungary's Orban

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen met on Monday with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is holding up Brussels' plans for an embargo on Russian oil.

Landlocked Hungary relies on Russian oil from a single pipeline and Orban has warned he cannot approve the European Commission's proposed sixth package of EU sanctions against Moscow. Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Facebook that the country cannot accept the proposed new round of EU sanctions on Russia until its concerns are addressed.

Von der Leyen called the meeting "helpful". "This evening's discussion with PM Viktor Orban was helpful to clarify issues related to sanctions and energy security," she tweeted.

"We made progress, but further work is needed," she added, pledging to organise a video conference call "with regional players to strengthen regional cooperation on oil infrastructure".

Orban's spokesman Zoltan Kovacs, citing Szijjarto, said the sanctions package would be like an "atomic bomb" for Hungary's economy.

"Hungary will not vote for the EU Commission's initiative on sanctions against Russia because it poses a problem for Hungary and does not contain a proposal for a solution," he tweeted.

"The proposal is like an atomic bomb for the Hungary economy and would destroy our stable energy supply."

European diplomats in Brussels are locked in negotiations on the next series of sanctions designed to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

The proposed package would see most EU members halting oil imports from Russia by the end of the year.

Technical talks continue, and negotiators insist there is united EU support behind the need for tougher sanctions, but Hungary and its neighbours say they need more support to ensure alternative sources of fuel.

9:31pm: Ukrainians being taken 'against their will' into Russia says Pentagon

The Pentagon has seen indications that Ukrainians caught up in Russia's invasion are being forcibly removed from their homeland and sent to Russia, a senior US defense official said Monday.

"I can't speak to how many camps or what they look like," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters. "But we do have indications that Ukrainians are being taken against their will into Russia."

5:30pm: Russia continues its offensive in eastern Donbas region

The Kremlin has focused on Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbas, where Moscow-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since 2014.

"Main supply routes and roads in the region are becoming impracticable because the Russian forces are advancing slowly in these areas," says FRANCE 24's senior reporter Catherine Norris Trent. "But it is a long and slow war of attrition," she says.

4:59pm: UN Human Rights Council to hold session on Ukraine

The UN Human Rights Council announced it will convene a special session on Thursday to address alleged Russian human rights violations during its war in Ukraine.

More than 50 countries on Monday backed a request from Kyiv and demanded an extraordinary meeting of the UN's top rights body to examine "the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression".

Yevheniia Filipenko, Ukraine's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said it would send a strong signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin about Moscow's international isolation.

"Together, we are sending another strong message to Putin and his clique of war criminals: you are isolated as never before," she said in a video message on Twitter.

"We want to see the UN take practical steps to address Russia's violation of human rights in Ukraine and the war crimes which it commits daily against our people.

"This includes an investigation by the Commission of Inquiry into Russia's crimes committed in Bucha and other liberated areas.

"This is also an opportunity for the international community to focus on the situation in Mariupol, as well as forced transfers of our population, and other violations and abuses against innocent Ukrainian civilians.

"We will not rest until we ensure that those who commit these crimes are held to account."

The meeting will convene at 0800 GMT and be webcast live in the six official UN languages.

4:52pm: US treasury issues fresh Russia-related sanctions

The US treasury issued new sanctions on individuals, including senior executives of Russia's largest bank Sberbank, according to a May 8 press release published on its website.

2:32pm: EU's Michel forced to take cover during strike on surprise Odesa trip

European Council President Charles Michel, who made a surprise visit to Odesa on Monday, was forced to break off a meeting and take cover when missiles again struck the southern Ukrainian port city, an EU official said.

The strike took place as he held talks with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal. "During the meeting with the PM, the participants needed to interrupt the meeting to take shelter as missiles struck again the region of Odesa," the official said.

The EU chief said people in Ukraine are being "tortured, raped and executed in cold blood" adding that Ukrainians are "resisting with courage".

Michel said Russia would fail to undermine Ukraine's "freedom". "The Kremlin wants to execute your spirit of freedom and democracy," Michel said in a video on Twitter.

"I am totally convinced they will never succeed," he added, promising that the EU will help Ukraine "build a modern, democratic country".

President Volodymyr Zelensky, who joined the talks by video conference, thanked Michel for visiting Ukraine on Victory Day, the anniversary of Europe's defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.

1:30pm: Russian ambassador to Poland covered with red paint

The Russian ambassador to Poland was covered with red paint by pro-Ukrainian protesters as he attempted to lay flowers at the cemetery of Soviet soldiers, says the Washington Post's Mary Ilyushina.

12:10pm: Putin's low-key, 'wait-and-see' speech

In his Victory Day speech, the Russian president "chose expressly not to mention any victory", notes FRANCE 24's Daniel Hawkins reporting from Moscow.

He added: "This speech is a wait-and-see from Vladimir Putin regarding three things: what's going to happen on the military front, what's going to happen with peace talks, and with regard to economic sanctions effects."

11:35am: Ukrainian refugees brave threat of war to return home

A growing number of Ukrainian refugees have decided to return to their country as the war focuses on the eastern Donbas region, Reuters reports.

More than 5.5 million Ukrainians have fled to neighbouring Poland, Moldova, Romania and beyond since Russia invaded on February 24, according to the United Nations, which has called it Europe's fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War Two.

But Ukrainian officials said last month more than 1 million citizens had returned to the country since the start of the invasion.

Statistics from Ukraine's State Border Guard Service show there have been days when more Ukrainians returned than left.

On April 22, for example, more than 30,000 people left the country via Ukraine's western borders with the European Union and Moldova, while 35,000 Ukrainians entered.

11:15am: 'Reality on the ground couldn't be more different'

Putin's comparison between the Soviet-era fight against fascism and Russia's current invasion of Ukraine jars dramatically with the reality on the ground, where Russian forces stand accused of committing atrocities against civilians as they struggle to overcome Ukraine's dogged defence, says FRANCE 24's Nadia Massih, reporting from Kyiv.

10:55am: Ukraine war 'dishonours' Russian army, says UK defence chief

Putin and his generals are mirroring the fascism Russia once fought against and dishonouring its military past, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said.

"Through the invasion of Ukraine, Putin and his inner circle of generals are now mirroring the fascism and tyranny of 77 years ago, repeating the errors of the last century's totalitarian regime," Wallace said.

Britain has been one of the most vocal supporters of Ukrainian efforts to resist Russia's invasion.

Referring to Russian generals, Wallace said: "For them and for Putin there can be no victory day, only dishonour and surely defeat in Ukraine."

10:45am: Putin blames 'menacing' West for war in Ukraine

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is "precisely the reason why" countries like Finland and Sweden now want to join NATO, says FRANCE 24's international affairs editor Douglas Herbert, noting that the alliance's expansion "plays into [Putin's] narrative of a menacing West that wants to humiliate Russia".

10:15am: REPLAY - Putin's full Victory Day address

Putin claimed Russian forces in Ukraine were defending the Motherland from an "absolutely unacceptable threat" as he addressed troops in Moscow's Red Square.

9:55am: Ukraine won't allow Russia to 'appropriate' World War II victory, says Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has released a video statement saying Ukraine will not allow Russia to appropriate victory in World War II.

"Today we celebrate Victory Day over Nazism. We are proud of our ancestors who together with other nations in the anti-Hitler coalition defeated Nazism. And we will not allow anyone to annex this victory. We will not allow it to be appropriated," the Ukrainian leader said.

Zelensky listed several Ukrainian towns and cities currently under control of invading Russian forces, saying that Ukrainians during World War II had ousted Nazi Germany's forces from these regions.

"The names of these cities inspire us today. They give us faith that we will drive the occupiers from our land," Zelensky said in the video address, listing Mariupol, Kherson, and the Crimean peninsula by name.

"We won then. We will win now," the Ukrainian president added.

9:40am: 'Every soldier's death is painful for us', says Putin

Putin says Russian troops and volunteers deployed in Ukraine's Donbas are fighting for their Motherland.

"You are fighting for your Motherland, its future," he says in his Victory Day speech in Moscow.

"The death of every soldier and officer is painful for us," he says. "The state will do everything to take care of these families."

He finishes his speech with a rallying cry to the assembled soldiers: "For Russia, For Victory, Hurrah!"

9:30am: NATO 'an obvious threat' to Russia, says Putin

Putin claims the Wests was preparing a punitive operation in Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, where Russia's military operations are now focused.

He says Russia "urged Europe to find a fair compromise, but they didn't want to hear us".

"In Kyiv they were saying they might get nuclear weapons and NATO started exploring the lands close to us and that became an obvious threat to our country and to our borders," Putin adds. "Everything was telling us that there is a need to fight."

9:20am: Russian forces defending 'Motherland' in Ukraine, says Putin

The Russian president has begun his speech by telling Russian troops they are defending their country in Ukraine.

The West was "preparing for the invasion of our land, including Crimea," he says.

9:10am: Victory Day parade gets underway in Moscow

The Victory Day parade has begun in Moscow's Red Square.

Soldiers in full dress uniform are carrying Russian and Soviet flags past veterans and dignitaries including President Vladimir Putin, who is about to address the crowd.

Click on the player above to watch Putin's address live.

9:05am: 'Opposing views of history' come to fore as Moscow celebrates Victory Day

Victory Day has become "like a religion today", says Oleg Kobtzeff, professor of international politics at the American University of Paris.

"What's wiped out from memory is that among the 20 million killed [during World War II], it's pretty much Belarussian and Ukrainian civilians that paid a high price," he says.

8:45am: What to look out for at this year's Victory Day parade

The annual show in Red Square commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany has become so ritualized that one year's parade is barely distinguishable from others. But this year's observance of Russia's most important patriotic holiday carries exceptional weight.

As Russian troops fight gruelling battles in Ukraine and unleash torrents of missiles and bombs, both Russian and foreign observers will watch it for signs of what could come next in the conflict.

Daniel Hawkins has the latest from Moscow.

8:35am: 'We will win,' says Ukraine's Zelensky

Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky has issued a statement moments before Russia marks its Victory Day anniversary in Moscow. He says his country is fighting for a new victory, this time over Russian invaders.

"On the Day of Victory over Nazism, we are fighting for a new victory. The road to it is difficult, but we have no doubt that we will win," he said in a written address.

Zelensky said Ukrainians were a free people who had fought to defend their land many times in history and had their "own path".

"Today we are waging war on this path and we will not give anyone a single piece of our land (...) and we will not give anyone a single piece of our history," he said.

"We are proud of our ancestors who, together with other nations in the anti-Hitler coalition, defeated Nazism. And we will not allow anyone to annex this victory, we will not allow it to be appropriated."

7:50am: What are Putin's options?

The annual military parade in Moscow's Red Square marks the country's victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. It's a chance to remember the sacrifices of World War Two, when an estimated 27 million Soviet citizens died, by far the greatest loss of any country.

Under Vladimir Putin, Victory Day has also become a show of strength of troops and military hardware. But after months of war against its neighbour Ukraine, Russia is devoid of any real form of military victory that it can celebrate.

Frank Ledwige, a former military intelligence officer, looks at the various options on Putin's table as he prepares to mark the anniversary.

7:30am: Russia has 'nothing to celebrate', says Washington

Eleven weeks into a devastating and costly war in Ukraine, Russia's Vladimir Putin has nothing to offer his people as he prepares to celebrate the country's national Victory Day parade, says the US ambassador to the United Nations.

"They have nothing to celebrate," Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador, said of the Russians, speaking on CNN.

"They have not succeeded in defeating the Ukrainians. They have not succeeded in dividing the world or dividing NATO. And they have only succeeded in isolating themselves internationally and becoming a pariah state around the globe."

7:20am: 'Kramatorsk will survive': FRANCE 24 reports from frontline city

The city of Kramatorsk became the capital of Ukraine's Donetsk province after separatists took control of Donetsk itself during the 2014 war. Now close to the front lines, it has suffered regular attacks including a deadly missile strike on its train station - pushing many people to flee. However, a significant number of residents have stayed behind, determined to stick it out. Our correspondents Luke Shrago and Tarek Kai sent this report.

6:50am: EU should seize Russian reserves to rebuild Ukraine, says foreign policy chief

The European Union should consider seizing frozen Russian foreign exchange reserves to help pay for the cost of rebuilding Ukraine after the war, its foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, has said in an interview with the Financial Times.

The EU and its western allies have put curbs on the Russian central bank's international reserves since the country began its invasion of Ukraine.

Borrell told the newspaper it would be logical for the EU to do what the US did with Afghan central bank assets after the Taliban took over there.

"We have the money in our pockets, and someone has to explain to me why it is good for the Afghan money and not good for the Russian money," Borrell said.

Washington froze the Afghan funds after the military takeover by the Taliban and plans to use some to help the Afghan people while holding the rest to possibly satisfy terrorism-related lawsuits against the Islamist militants.

5:05am: Russia readies Victory Day parade as fight for east Ukraine rages

Russia will celebrate its 1945 victory over Nazi Germany Monday with a show of military might as its army battles Kyiv's forces in the east of Ukraine, where 60 people were killed in an air strike on a school sheltering civilians.

President Vladimir Putin is set to flaunt Russia's power in celebration of Victory Day, in an event that has taken on great prominence as he seeks to justify a war that has gone on far longer -- and at far higher cost -- than expected.

But as huge missiles are towed through Moscow's Red Square and a planned flyover will feature fighter jets showing support for the war, Ukraine will be desperately battling to stop a hoped-for military breakthrough.

And civilians continue to bear the brunt of the bloodshed, with President Volodymyr Zelensky confirming that 60 were killed in a Russian air strike on a school in the eastern village of Bilogorivka -- one of the highest one-day tolls since Moscow's forces invaded on February 24.

11:40pm: UK slaps fresh sanctions on Russia, Belarus

The UK on Sunday said it was slapping fresh sanctions on Russia and Belarus over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, including import tariffs on precious metals and export bans.

The import tariffs, including on platinum and palladium, target trade worth Pound 1.4 billion ($1.7 billion or 1.6 billion euros), while export bans worth Pound 250 million target Russia's manufacturing and heavy industry, said a statement from the Department for International Trade.

"This far-reaching package of sanctions will inflict further damage on the Russian war machine," said Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

"It is part of a wider coordinated effort by the many countries around the world who are horrified by Russia's conduct and determined to bring to bear our economic might to persuade (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to change course."

The UK's new sanctions bring the total value of products subjected to full or partial import and export sanctions to more than Pound 4 billion.

11:30pm: Russia has 'forgotten' all that mattered to WWII victors, says Zelensky

Russia has forgotten everything that mattered to the victors of World War II, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said Sunday, a day before Moscow commemorates the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany.

Denouncing Russia's heavy shelling in the east of the country including one strike on a school that he says killed 60 people, he added: "Russia has forgotten everything that was important to the victors of World War II."

While normal people associated the anniversary with peace and the slogan "Never again!", Russia was continuing its attacks, said Zelensky in his nightly address.

Russia will on Monday mark the 77th anniversary since victory in what Russia calls the Great Patriotic War.

10:16pm: Evacuees from Azovstal plant reach Zaporizhzhia

A convoy of buses carrying evacuees from southeastern Ukraine, including some 40 civilians who had been holed up in the Azovstal steel plant in besieged Mariupol, arrived on Sunday in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, a UN official said.

Osnat Lubrani, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, said eight buses had arrived in the city. About 40 of the 174 evacuees on board had been rescued from the steel plant. Lubrani said in a statement that the evacuations brought to more than 600 the number of people evacuated from the area in the past 10 days.

"Our work, however, is not yet done," she said in the statement. "The UN is aware that scores of people who wanted to join the evacuation convoys over the last days were unable to do so. We will continue our engagement with both parties to the conflict to make sure that those who want to leave have the guarantees to do so safely and in the direction of their choice."

8:21pm: 'Putin is responsible for heinous war crimes', says Canadian PM Justin Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday that Russian leader Vladimir Putin was responsible for "war crimes," during a visit to Ukraine where he met with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"It is clear that Vladimir Putin is responsible for heinous war crimes," Trudeau said at a news conference with the Ukrainian leader, adding that "there must be accountability" and that he had "witnessed first-hand the brutality of Russia's illegal war".

6:58 pm Putin's actions in Ukraine 'bring shame on Russia': G7

Russian President Vladimir Putin's "unprovoked war of aggression" in Ukraine has brought "shame on Russia and the historic sacrifices of its people," the G7 group of wealthy nations said Sunday in a statement.

"Russia has violated the international rules-based order, particularly the UN Charter, conceived after the Second World War to spare successive generations from the scourge of war," said the statement, made as the G7 met by videoconference and commemorated the end of World War II in Europe.

"We remain united in our resolve that President Putin must not win his war against Ukraine," it said.

6:27pm: US sanctions target Russian media

The United States will sanction three major Russian television stations, and deny all Russian companies access to consulting and accounting services offered by US firms, according to a statement released Sunday by the White House.

The moves against Joint Stock Company Channel One Russia, Television Station Russia-1, and Joint Stock Company NTV Broadcasting Company prohibit any US company from financing them through advertising or selling them equipment.

6:13pm: G7 countries commit to stop importing Russian oil

The entire G7 club of rich nations is "committed to phasing out or banning the import of Russian oil," the White House said Sunday, escalating pressure on Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine.

"This will hit hard at the main artery of Putin's economy and deny him the revenue he needs to fund his war," the Biden administration said in a statement, without specifying exactly what commitments the G7 members -- France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Japan, Britain and the US -- have made.

The United States, which was not a major consumer of Russian hydrocarbons, has already banned their import.

4:34pm: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau visits Ukrainian town of Irpin

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made on Sunday an unannounced visit to the Ukrainian town of Irpin, which had been temporary held by Russian troops, the town's mayor said on Telegram.

"I've just had an honor to meet with the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, who came to Irpin to see with his own eyes all the horror which Russian occupiers have caused to our town," Oleksandr Markushyn said on his Telegram channel.

4:15pm: US first lady makes unannounced visit to Ukraine

US first lady Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to western Ukraine on Sunday, holding a surprise Mother's Day meeting with the nation's first lady, Olena Zelenska, as Russia presses its punishing war in the eastern regions.

Biden traveled under the cloak of secrecy, becoming the latest high-profile American to enter Ukraine during its 10-week-old conflict with Russia. "I wanted to come on Mother's Day," Biden told Zelenska. "I thought it was important to show the Ukrainian people that this war has to stop and this war has been brutal and that the people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine."

The first lady traveled by vehicle to the town of Uzhhorod, about a 10-minute drive from a Slovakian village that borders Ukraine. She spent about two hours in Ukraine.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

Originally published on France24

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