Timing is everything. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is in Africa this week, which follows straight on the heels of the agreement signed to end the blockade in the Black Sea that had been preventing much needed grain exports to the continent.
The momentary good will brought by Friday’s agreement between Moscow and Kyiv was shattered over the weekend by Russia’s attack of the Ukrainian port city of Odessa (see item below), which is crucial to reopening exports.
To add to the mixed messaging, both in public and behind closed doors, Lavrov is making an extra effort to show Russian commitment to Africa, aiming to reinforce alliances with nations on the continent to counter the Western unity in favor of Ukraine.
Lavrov landed early Monday in the Republic of Congo after having visited Egypt, and meeting with top officials including Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri and Arab League secretary general Ahmed Aboulgheit.
Egypt is the world’s biggest importer of wheat, relying greatly on Ukraine and Russia for supplies. When the war began on February 24, Russia’s Black Sea fleet blocked the export of tons of grain, resulting in global commodity prices to rise, and sparking fears of a widespread hunger crisis. Many of the worst-affected countries are in Africa.
Lavrov’s tour, which also includes stops in Uganda and Ethiopia, is aimed essentially at rallying African countries to Russia’s side. Most African countries have not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine as they seek to maintain balance in their relationships with Moscow and Western capitals.
“To this day, we are not lecturing them, unlike the Americans who go around Africa telling everyone ‘do not talk with the Chinese or the Russians,'" Lavrov told state media in an interview before he started his tour. "All they care about is their selfish interests, even when they trade with you.”
Odessa Attack: Russia “Flouting Spirit” Of Russia-Ukraine Grain Agreement
Aftermath of Russian missile strikes on Odessa port
After agreeing Friday on a grain export deal, Russian missiles struck the port city of Odessa in the south of Ukraine. The Black Sea port was explicitly mentioned in the grain export deal signed in Turkey on Friday, as it was supposed to reopen to resume grain exports. The attack cast doubt on the future of that agreement.
Russia initially denied involvement in the strikes. But 12 hours later, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed the Russian strikes, saying they had destroyed "military infrastructure" with "high precision" missiles.
According to Serhii Bratchuk, a spokesman for the Odessa military administration, two missiles hit the infrastructure of the port, and two were shot down by Ukraine’s air defense. This was Russia's President Vladimir Putin "spitting in the face" of the UN and Turkey, said Bratchuk, German daily Die Welt reported.
The grain agreement is meant to spare billions of people from hunger. A catastrophic food crisis could follow if grain shipments – around 20 million metric tons of which are currently held up in Ukraine – are not able to reach the market.
French daily Le Mondewrote that, although Russia has not technically violated the agreement, “they are clearly flouting its spirit.” Meanwhile, the US is working with Ukraine on a “Plan B” to get grain exports safely out of the country, US Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Samantha Power said Sunday.
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The Ukrainian Hryvnia Currency To Be Withdrawn From Circulation In Kherson
Ukrainian hryvnia banknotes
Rubles will be introduced in the Ukrainian city and region of Kherson, and the Ukrainian hryvnia currency will be banned, reports the Russian edition of TASS, citing the head of the occupied Ukrainian region of Kherson, Kirill Stremousov. Parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions of Ukraine have been under occupation for two months now.
The Ukrainian edition of Economic Pravda writes that the establishment of a "ruble zone" is a standard stage of Russia's occupation of foreign territories, including similar actions during the war in Georgia. In Ukraine, the Russians put the ruble into circulation almost immediately after the so-called "referendum" in Crimea in the occupied areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Ukrainian War Prisoners In Russia To Be Judged By Syria, Iran, and Bolivia
Russia has proposed that a military tribunal for the Ukrainian POWs be created, but not under the aegis of the United Nations, as it represents the hostile West, but rather in cooperation with the countries that have declared their "independent position": Syria, Iran, and Bolivia.
Moscow-based Kommersant daily reports that the Chairman of the Investigative Committee stated that these countries "demonstrate an independent position on the Ukrainian issue, based on the norms of international law." According to official data, more than 1,300 criminal cases were initiated against Ukrainian war prisoners, while Russia has charged 92 members of Ukraine's military high command with crimes against humanity.
Ukrainian Forces: We Will Recapture Kherson By September
Ukrainian military officials have declared a “turning point” in the battle to retake the southern region of Kherson, currently occupied by Russian forces. Sergiy Khlan, an aide to the administrative head of the Kherson region, said in an interview with Ukrainian television on Sunday: “We can say that a turning point has occurred on the battlefield. We are switching from defensive to counter offensive actions.”
He added that “the Kherson region will definitely be liberated by September.”
The Ukrainian forces hope to execute this military plan with the help of Western-supplied long-range artillery. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy declared a successful counteroffensive during his national address on Saturday, saying Ukrainian forces were moving “step by step” into the city.
The Kherson region was occupied by the Russian army on March 3, and was the first major Ukrainian city to be captured. However, an increase in strikes in recent days against key Russian weapons stores around the southern city has allowed the Ukrainian military to gain advantages in the region.
Moscow Turns To Tehran For Drones
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei receiving Russian President Vladimir Putin in the presence of his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi (right) in Tehran
Ukraine has scored significant military victories thanks to it Turkish-made Bayraktar drones. In response, Russia has reportedly started importing armed drones from Iran.
There are two key reasons why Russia is now apparently buying from Iran: its own drones cannot keep up. And Iran's drones are technically less sophisticated than those of Western competitors. But they do the job – and are quicker and cheaper to make. Even Iran's nemesis Israel recognizes the powerful potential of Tehran's drone army.
Read the full Die Welt story in English at worldcrunch.com
Eurovision Set In UK Next Year Instead Of Ukraine
\u201cThe United Kingdom will host #Eurovision 2023! \ud83c\uddec\ud83c\udde7\ud83c\uddec\ud83c\udde7\ud83c\uddec\ud83c\udde7\n\n\u27a1\ufe0f Everything you need to know here: https://t.co/qQVS3gierN\u201d— Eurovision Song Contest (@Eurovision Song Contest) 1658746821
Though the reigning Eurovision Song Contest champion is Ukrainian group Kalush, it will take place in the UK next year.
In normal times, the winning nation hosts the contest the following year. But due to the ongoing war, it will be hosted in 2023 by the UK, which came in second place this year. It is not yet known which city will host, but Glasgow and Manchester have so far expressed an interest.