Sat, 04 Feb 2023

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to end the war in Ukraine, including troop withdrawals, Berlin said following a telephone call between the two leaders. Earlier on Friday Russia rejected US President Joe Biden's terms for talks between Russia and the US. Read FRANCE 24's liveblog below to see how the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).

9:56pm: 'A lot of tension' around Ukrainian embassy in Madrid

"The Ukrainian embassy [in Madrid] had to be cordoned off, and essentially bomb disposal experts went in [...] but they found that the package didn't have any explosive material inside; they talk about traces of blood, and the Ukrainian embassy and foreign ministry is talking about animal eyes," FRANCE 24's Sarah Morris reported from Madrid. "This is the latest of a series of bloody packages sent to other embassies in Europe. They have also been received in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Italy, Australia, even some of the consulates, including in the Czech Republic.

"The embassy in Madrid has [...] already had an investigation opened after two days a package that did contain explosive material arrived at the embassy. The ambassador was suspicious; it was taken outside by the commandant, who opened it; he heard a click, threw away at that parcel, and it did explode, slightly injuring him. So there's a lot of tension, of course, around that embassy."

9:56pm: 'Various materials denying the existence of Ukraine as a state'

"It's been several weeks now that the Ukrainian secret services have been raiding various sites of the Moscow Patriarchate's churches in Ukraine," FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reported from Kyiv. "You must realise that this is still, I think, the biggest of the branches of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine; those that belong to the Moscow Patriarchate. Only about 1,500 of them crossed over to the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine that was created in 2019," Cragg went on.

"The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate is a very big church and controls a great many sites in Ukraine. It has [...] [denied] connections with Russia and to say that it is of course supporting the Ukrainian side in this war. But what the investigators have found at the various sites that they've searched recently would tend to contradict that, because they say they have found various materials denying the existence of Ukraine as a state."

9:40pm: US 'disappointed' that Russia scrapped arms talks

The US said Friday it was disappointed that Russia had postponed talks on nuclear arms control, voicing willingness to sit down despite high tensions over the Ukraine war.

Russia and the US were set to meet from November 29 in Cairo on New START, the last major disarmament treaty between the world's two largest nuclear powers, in what would have marked rare contact since the February invasion of Ukraine.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Russia "abruptly and unilaterally" postponed the week-long meeting and that any suggestion the United States was to blame was "entirely false." He said the US side had been preparing "in a constructive manner" to address mutual concerns in the talks. "We do remain ready to meet with Russia in the New START Treaty implementation body," Price told reporters.

8:33pm: Biden has 'no intentions' to meet Putin now

The White House poured cold water Friday on President Joe Biden's conditional offer to sit down with President Vladimir Putin, saying he has "no intentions" at present of holding a meeting.

"He's got no intentions to talk to Mr Putin right now. And as he also said, Putin has shown absolutely no inclination to be interested in dialogue of any kind. In fact, quite the contrary," White House National Security Advisor John Kirby told reporters.

Biden said Thursday during a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron that he would be willing to talk with Putin about resolving Russia's Ukraine invasion if the Kremlin leader "is looking for a way to end the war."

7:04pm: EU reaches deal for $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian oil

The European Union reached a deal Friday for a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian oil, a key step as Western sanctions aim to reorder the global oil market to prevent price spikes and starve President Vladimir Putin of funding for his war in Ukraine.

After a last-minute flurry of negotiations, the EU presidency, held by the Czech Republic, tweeted that "ambassadors have just reached an agreement on price cap for Russian seaborne #oil." The decision must still be officially approved with a written procedure but is expected to go through.

Europe needed to set the discounted price that other nations will pay by Monday, when an EU embargo on Russian oil shipped by sea and a ban on insurance for those supplies take effect. The price cap, which was led by the Group of Seven wealthy democracies and still needs their approval, aims to prevent a sudden loss of Russian oil to the world that could lead to a new surge in energy prices and further fuel inflation.

5:14pm: OSCE questions its future amid Russian obstruction

The outgoing chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Friday called its future into question following a lack of consensus between Russia and other members states.

Founded at the height of the Cold War to foster relations between the Western and Eastern blocks, the OSCE has been caught in an impasse over the Ukraine war that has limited its ability to function.

"This has been the most difficult year in the history of the organisation," Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau told reporters at its annual ministerial conference.

"We have to look for the solutions that will make it possible to keep the organisation going," said Rau, whose country currently holds the body's rotating chairmanship.

4:54pm: Russian-installed authorities announce 'evacuation' from east bank of Ukraine's Dnipro

Russian-installed authorities in Ukraine's southern Kherson region on Friday said they would start evacuating people with reduced mobility from the occupied town of Kakhovka, part of a wider relocation of civilians on the Dnipro river's east bank.

Russia last month abandoned the west bank - including the city of Kherson - in one of its biggest retreats of the war. That pullout means the vast Dnipro now forms the front line of the war in the south of the country, with both sides exchanging heavy fire from positions on opposite banks.

The Russian-imposed administration in Kakhovka said bedridden or handicapped people would be taken to the Henichesk district to the southeast. "Take care of yourself and those close to you!" it said in a Telegram post, encouraging people to register for the evacuation. Authorities have set up a hotline to help those leaving.

3:23pm: Putin says strikes on Ukraine infrastructure 'inevitable'

President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia's strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure were "inevitable" as the Kremlin rejected US President Joe Biden's terms for talks and warned the assault would continue.

Speaking with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for the first time since mid-September, Putin slammed what he called the West's "destructive" policies in Ukraine and said Russian strikes were a response to "provocative" attacks from Kyiv.

Moscow "had long refrained from precision missile strikes against certain targets on the territory of Ukraine", Putin told Scholz, according to a Kremlin readout of the phone talks.

"But now such measures have become a forced and inevitable response to Kyiv's provocative attacks on Russia's civilian infrastructure," the Kremlin said, referring in particular to the October attack on a bridge linking Moscow-annexed Crimea to the Russian mainland.

2:50pm: Ukraine bans religious organisations with links to Russia

Ukraine on Friday banned the activities of religious organisations "affiliated with centers of influence" in Russia and said it would examine the links between the Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox churches.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree enacting a National Security and Defense Council decision to impose personal sanctions against representatives of religious organisations associated with Russia, which invaded Ukraine more than nine months ago.

Zelensky's decree additionally provided for examining the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, one of two Orthodox bodies in Ukraine following a schism that in 2019 resulted in the establishment of one with independence from the Russian church.

Ukrainian officials suspect the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is promoting pro-Russian views and that some priests may be actively collaborating with Russia. Moscow Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, has justified Russia's war in Ukraine as part of a "metaphysical struggle" to prevent a liberal ideological encroachment from the West.

2:45pm: Ukraine says animals' eyes sent to some of its embassies

Ukrainian embassies and consulates in six European countries have received packages containing animals' eyes in recent days, a Ukrainian official said Friday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko wrote on Facebook that the "bloody parcels" were received by the Ukrainian embassies in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia and Italy, as well as by consulates in Naples, Italy; Krakow, Poland and the Czech city of Brno. He said that "we are studying the meaning of this message."

Nikolenko said the parcels arrived after a package containing an explosive device sent to the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid ignited upon opening on Wednesday and injured an employee. That was one of multiple explosive parcels found in Spain this week.

2:35pm: Police cordon off Ukrainian embassy in Madrid

Spanish police have cordoned off the area surrounding the Ukrainian embassy in Madrid, two days after a letter bomb detonated and injured an embassy staff member, state broadcaster TVE reported on Friday.

2:10pm: EU plans to fine companies for breaking sanctions against Russia

The European Commission issued a proposal on Friday to fine companies at least 5 percent of their worldwide turnover if they break EU sanctions against Russia.

The proposal, which needs approval from the European Parliament and the EU's 27 member states, also said that individuals breaking EU sanctions would face potential jail terms of at least five years.

Breaking sanctions on Russia is already a criminal offence in some EU countries, but in others it is treated as an administrative offence and penalties vary across the bloc.

"Too many gaps still remain between member states when it comes to the punishment of violation of EU sanctions," Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said in a statement, adding that the proposed rules would bring clarity.

2:09pm: Russia says it is 'outraged' by France backing war crimes tribunal

Russia's foreign ministry said on Friday that it was "outraged" by a statement from the French foreign ministry regarding plans to create a tribunal on possible crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine.

European Commision President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday that the EU would try to set up a specialised court, backed by the UN, to investigate and prosecute possible war crimes committed by Russia during its invasion.

1:51pm: Ukrainian authorities suspect orthodox priests of acting as 'agents of Russian influence'

In the past 10 days, a series of raids on Orthodox churches and monasteries in Ukraine "revealed that some priests had on them various pro-Russian materials including books denying the existence of Ukraine as a state", says FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg, reporting from Kyiv.

"[Russian authorities] believe that some of these churches are agents of Russian influence in Ukraine and therefore in the current context that they need to be clamped down upon," Cragg said.

12:58pm: Ukrainian embassies receive 'bloody packages' containing animal eyes

Several Ukrainian embassies abroad have received "bloody packages" containing animal eyes, the foreign ministry said on Friday, after a series of letter bombs were sent to addresses in Spain including Ukraine's embassy in Madrid.

The packages, soaked in a liquid with a distinctive colour and smell, were sent to embassies in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia and Italy, to general consulates in Naples and Krakow, and the consulate in Brno, spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said.

"We are studying the meaning of this message," Nikolenko wrote in a statement on Facebook, adding that Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has ordered all the embassies and consulate concerned to be placed under heightened security.

Nikolenko said the entrance to the flat of the ambassador to the Vatican had been vandalised. An embassy source in Rome said human faeces were left in front of the door.

Nikolenko also said that the embassy in Kazakhstan had received a bomb threat, which was subsequently not confirmed.

The embassy in the United States received a letter containing an article that was critical about Ukraine, he said.

The letter, like most of the others, originated from one European country, he said, without giving details.

12:45pm: Scholz urges Putin to withdraw troops for 'diplomatic' end to war

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday pressed Russia's President Vladimir Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to end his war in Ukraine, including by pulling out Russian troops, Berlin said following a telephone call between the two leaders.

"The chancellor urged the Russian president to come as quickly as possible to a diplomatic solution including the withdrawal of Russian troops," according to the German leader's spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.

11:26am: EU price cap will not affect oil production, Russia says

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said on Friday that the European Union's proposed price cap on Russian oil will not affect production in December, Interfax news agency reported.

He was quoted as saying that Russia believes its oil will be in demand, although there is a lot of uncertainty.

European Union governments have tentatively agreed to cap the price of seaborne Russian oil at $60 a barrel, with an adjustment mechanism to keep the cap at 5% below the market price, according to diplomats and a document seen by Reuters.

10:46am: Russia rejects Biden's terms for Ukraine talks

The Kremlin on Friday rejected US President Joe Biden's terms for Ukraine talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, saying Moscow's offensive will continue.

"What did President Biden say in fact? He said that negotiations are possible only after Putin leaves Ukraine," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding Moscow was "certainly" not ready to accept the conditions.

"The special military operation is continuing," Peskov said, using the Kremlin term for the assault on Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday he had no immediate plans to contact Putin but was prepared to speak with the Russian president if he showed an interest in ending the war in Ukraine. Biden said he would only do that in consultation with NATO allies.

>> Biden, Macron vow unity on Ukraine, promise to hold Russia accountable

10:38am: Three killed in Russian attack in Kherson, govenor says

Three people were killed and seven wounded in Russian shelling of the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson over the past 24 hours, the regional governor said on Friday.

Governor Yaroslav Yanushevych wrote on the Telegram messaging app that Russian troops had bombarded the city of Kherson and other parts of the region 42 times in the same period.

The city of Kherson was liberated by Ukrainian forces in mid-November after months of Russian occupation, but has been under fire since then from Russian troops who retreated to the opposite side of the River Dnipro.

5:06am: Europe 'not strong enough' to stand up to Russia alone, says Finnish PM

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin on Friday offered a "brutally honest" assessment of Europe's capabilities in the wake of Russia's war on Ukraine, stating bluntly that "we're not strong enough" to stand up to Moscow alone.

Visiting Australia, the leader of the pending NATO member said Vladimir Putin's invasion and occupation of neighbouring Ukraine had exposed both European weaknesses and strategic blunders in dealing with Russia.

"I must be very honest, brutally honest with you, Europe isn't strong enough right now. We would be in trouble without the United States," she told Sydney's Lowy Institute think tank.

Marin insisted Ukraine must be given "whatever it takes" to win the war, adding that the United States had been pivotal in supplying Kyiv with the weapons, finance and humanitarian aid necessary to blunt Russia's advance.

"We have to make sure that we are also building those capabilities when it comes to European defence, the European defence industry, and making sure that we could cope in different kinds of situations," she said.

12:40am: Ukraine to investigate Moscow-linked church, Zelensky says

Ukraine's top security officials have ordered an investigation into the activities of a branch of the Orthodox Church linked historically to Moscow, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday.

Zelensky said the probe would look into whether the Moscow branch of the church was entitled to operate at one of Ukraine's most hallowed sites - the Pechersk Lavra complex in Kyiv.

The Orthodox Church in Russia has lavishly backed the Kremlin's nine-month-old invasion of Ukraine.

"We have to create conditions so that no actors dependent on the aggressor state (Russia) can manipulate Ukrainians and weaken Ukraine from within," Zelensky said in a video address.

In Ukraine, the Moscow-linked church formally severed ties with the Russian Orthodox Church last May, but is still mistrusted by many Ukrainians and accused of secret co-operation with Russia.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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