The Nord Stream 1 pipeline halted its gas flow into Europe Wednesday morning. Russian state energy giant Gazprom said this was part of a scheduled stoppage announced last week, and is expected to last through September 2. Still, the cut raises renewed concern over the power Russia wields with its energy supplies ahead of the winter months, as the West looks to maintain its united support of Ukraine.
Nord Stream 1 is the largest pipeline bringing Russian natural gas into Europe via Germany. And it is not the first time it has been put on hold, with gas flow stopped for 10 days in July due to “annual maintenance.”
But as French daily Le Monde reports, this latest halt raises the spectre that Russia is now deliberately cutting off the gas to Europe as retaliation for the sanctions imposed by the West over the war in Ukraine.
In recent months, the gas flow had been reduced to 40% of expected levels. When the flow was restored back in July, it only operated at 20% of capacity. Germany insists on the fact that it is not in the interest of Russia to stop the gas deliveries altogether. This would also be a loss for the Russian economy.
But Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia would meet its obligations and denied any claims from Berlin that stopping the gas flow is politically motivated. Since invading Ukraine, Russia has cut off gas supply to Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Poland completely, and reduced flows via other pipelines.
Russia Claims Kherson Counteroffensive Is Failing, As Kyiv Presses On
Ukrainian soldier located near Kherson
After the Ukrainian army launched a major counteroffensive in the Russian-occupied region of Kherson, Russia’s defense ministry claimed that Kyiv’s gambit in the south of the country had failed. It also stated that the Russian forces had shot down three Ukrainian helicopters, and that Ukraine’s forces had suffered other heavy losses in equipment and men.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych countered that Kyiv’s forces are shelling ferries used by Russia to supply its forces on the west bank of the Dnieper River.
In his daily video message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the armed forces were doing "everything possible and impossible so that every Russian serviceman will necessarily feel the Ukrainian response to this terrible terror that Russia has brought to our land."
He also addressed the people of Crimea saying, "Please stay as far as possible from Russian military facilities. Do not be near Russian bases and military airfields, report to the special services of Ukraine all the information you know about the occupiers so that the liberation of Crimea can happen faster.”
IAEA Team Travels To Nuclear Plant Amid Shelling
IAEA team meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky
A team of United Nations nuclear inspectors has left Kyiv to travel to the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine. "After six months of efforts, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is moving into the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant," said Rafael Grossi, director general of the organization.
Ukraine has accused Russian forces of shelling a corridor near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant right that the IAEA inspectors need to pass by in order to get to the facility. “The Russian army is shelling Enerhodar,” according to Yevhen Yevtushenko, head of Nikopol district military administration. The town is located close to the nuclear plant.
Recent weeks of shelling around the area has sparked fears over a nuclear accident. "We are going to a warzone, to occupied territory. This requires explicit guarantees not only from the Russian Federation but also from the Republic of Ukraine. And we have been able to secure that," he added.
Meanwhile, Russia welcomes the idea that IAEA experts could stay at the nuclear plant on a permanent basis. Grossi previously said the agency hoped to set up a permanent mission at the plant.
U.S. Says Russia Plans To Hold Sham Referenda In Ukraine
The U.S. believes that Russia is planning to hold "sham referenda" in Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republic "in the coming weeks." According to U.S State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel, the preparations of the referenda are being led by Sergey Kiriyenko, Putin's domestic policy chief and responsible for overseeing Russian-held territories.
Russia will falsify the results of the referenda to annex several territories, Patel said at a briefing Tuesday, warning that it is "critical" to counter Kremlin propaganda in Ukraine ahead of the vote.
Hailed In West, Gorbachev Called “Traitor” And “Clown” By Chinese
Tributes have been pouring in for Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader who passed away on Monday from a long illness, at age 91. Praises and condolences mostly focused on Gorbachev’s role in bringing an end to the Cold War, with U.S. President Biden crediting him for ushering in “a safer world and greater freedom for millions of people,” while general secretary of the United Nations, António Guterres called him a “committed multilateralist, and tireless advocate for peace.”
But the view from China was quite different. A commentary from China’s state media, The Global Times, criticized the West’s “deliberate glorification” of Gorbachev, highlighting Gorbachev’s stance on Crimea and Ukraine, likening the latter to Putin’s “concern on Russia’s security” and “disappointment towards the West.”
Another article from The Global Times’ English page, painted Gorbachev as a “tragic figure” who was “naïve and immature,” and qualifying the fall of the Soviet Union as a “lesson for China.” Chinese internet users were not kind either, with comments labeling Gorbachev as a “villain,” a “traitor of his own country” and a “clown who brought ruin upon himself.” In Beijing’s official statement, the Foreign Ministry of China only noted that Gorbachev had made “active contributions toward the normalization of Sino-Soviet relations.”
European Union Members Split Over Russian Visa Ban
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky and Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu in Prague
The question of travel restrictions for Russian citizens has deeply divided European Union foreign ministers at their meeting in Czech Republic, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky pushed to suspend a 2007 deal easing visa applications for Russian tourists, saying: “There is no place for tourism.”
Some of his counterparts in the Baltic and Nordic countries were even more uncompromising, asking for an outright visa ban in the Schengen area. France, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg and Hungary opposed this suggestion, with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna urging her colleagues to distinguish between Russian warmongers and ordinary citizens. Luxembourg’s Jean Asselborn said, “We must not have a new Iron Curtain in Europe.”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was less categorical, backing Lipavsky’s suggestion to end the visa facilitation agreement to try to reach a solution that would satisfy all parties. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the visa ban “anti-Russian agenda” and that if enforced, it would “not go unanswered.”
Bodies Of Victims Of Mariupol Theater Bombing Are Covered In Concrete
Destroyed theatre of Mariupol
Following recent reports that Russian occupation forces in Mariupol were actively reconstructing the city’s Drama Theater, to destroy evidence of the deadly bombing there in March, Ukrainian authorities said Wednesday there is evidence the corpses of the victims had been left in the basement of the building and covered with concrete.
The Strategic Communications Department of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported that local construction teams working on the theater renovation were ordered not to remove the corpses, but to hide them in concrete.
One of the workers complained about delays in the delivery of chlorine, which would cover up the smell of the corpses: "Where there are large accumulations of corpses, there you need chlorine and only then concrete, if you just pour concrete on the corpses - the stench somehow penetrates even through a thick layer of concrete."
On March 16, the Russian army dropped a powerful bomb on the Mariupol Drama Theater, where over 600 people had taken refuge during the siege of the port city, killing anywhere from dozens to hundreds of civilians.
UNESCO Backs “Urgent” Addition Of Odessa To World Heritage List
Attacks on Odessa port in July
UNESCO has announced its support for Ukraine’s proposal to include the historic port city of Odessa to both its both World Heritage List and the list of heritage sites in danger.
As The Odessa Journal reports, adding the city and its monuments to the UNESCO list aims to raise awareness about the need to protect Odessa’s culturally significant landmarks, and provide funding to repair the damage inflicted by Russian attacks in recent months.
On Tuesday, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay met with Ukraine’s Minister of Culture and Information Oleksandr Tkachenko in Paris to discuss the inclusion process. According to a statement released after meeting, UNESCO experts are already in Odessa to give technical assistance to help “urgently” add Odessa to the endangered list.
The city, which blossomed after empress Catherine the Great decreed in the late 18th century that it would be Russia's modern “gateway to the Black Sea,” was hit by strikes targeting grain shipments in July. Experts now fear Odessa may soon face Russian shelling as part of efforts to block access to the sea.