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A new round of talks between Turkey, Russia and Ukraine on the export of Ukrainian grain are set to take place in Turkey on Friday, according to a top Ukrainian official.
"Following negotiations, a document can be signed, that will contain the obligations of the parties regarding the safe operation of the export routes in the Black Sea," Oleg Nikolenko, the spokesperson for Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Thursday evening.
Nikolenko stressed that the Ukrainian delegation "will support only those decisions that will guarantee the security of the southern regions of Ukraine, the strong positions of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Black Sea, and the safe export of Ukrainian agricultural products to the world markets."
Turkish, Ukrainian and Russian officials last held talks with the support of the United Nations on the issue of grain exports over a week ago on July 13.
Speaking at the time, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that although the meetings had proven that Russia and Ukraine can talk, there is still "a long way to go" to broker peace between the two countries.
On Thursday, Deputy Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, Farhan Haq said the UN is trying to reach an “agreement that would allow for Ukrainian and Russian food and fertilizer to reach global markets.”
Although no deal has been formalized, Haq told a briefing that the UN is "hopeful" and will wait to "see what happens" when talks pick up again Friday.
The United States welcomes the "agreement in principle" brokered by the UN and Turkey between Russia and Ukraine to allow the safe transport of Ukrainian grain from blocked ports, but is focused on "holding Russia accountable for implementing this agreement and for enabling Ukrainian grain to get to world markets," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Thursday.
"It has been far too long that Russia has enacted this blockade," Price said at a State Department briefing.
European officials familiar with the discussions expressed optimism about the agreement, but cited concerns about its implementation. The officials said that Russia is unlikely to follow through on the agreement without any issues.
Price noted "this is very early going" when asked about details of the "agreement in principle."
"Reports have just emerged, but I can say that throughout these discussions we have supported the UN Secretary-General, we have supported our Turkish allies, we of course supported our Ukrainian partners in their efforts in this as well," he said.
"We've been briefed by the UN at various stages. Our experts have compared notes and shared notes with their experts. The same goes with our Turkish allies and our Ukrainian partners," Price added.
Western officials have accused Moscow of "weaponizing" food supplies, and as leaders and experts warned of a catastrophic food crisis as millions of tons of Ukrainian grain are unable to reach the global market due to the war.
A US official said last month that they had intelligence that the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy "is under orders to effectively blockade the Ukrainian ports of Odesa and Ochakiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his national security team believes "we have a significant potential for the advance of our forces on the front and for the infliction of significant new losses on the occupiers."
Zelensky was speaking in his daily video message after meeting with intelligence chiefs, the armed forces commander, and the Interior and Defense Ministers.
"We defined tasks in some tactical areas to strengthen our positions. And we also thoroughly worked out the issue of providing the troops with the modern weapons — the intensity of attacks on the enemy still needs to be increased," Zelensky said.
He said that his chief of staff Andriy Yermak and armed forces commander Gen. Valery Zaluzhny had another conversation with the US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley.
"And tomorrow we also expect news for our state from Turkey regarding the unblocking of our ports," Zelensky said.
Listing places struck by Russian artillery and rocket forces Thursday, Zelensky said each strike "is an argument for Ukraine to receive more HIMARS and other modern and effective weapons."
He also welcomed a proposed resolution in the US Senate that would recognize Russia's actions against Ukraine as genocide.
The Ukrainian military has reported another day of heavy artillery and rocket fire by Russian forces in both Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, accompanied by air strikes. But it says the Russians have failed to gain ground in either region, nor in the south.
In Kharkiv, "the enemy unsuccessfully tried to advance in the direction of Velyki Prohody - Pitomnyk with assault actions," the military's general staff said. The area is about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) north of Kharkiv.
In one of the most intense current battles in Donbas, the General Staff said that another attempt to break through Ukrainian lines along the Luhansk-Donetsk border had failed. "Ukrainian soldiers repulsed the offensive in the direction of the Lysychansk refinery - Ivano-Daryivka. The enemy suffered losses and retreated," it said.
In the Sloviansk direction, Russia launched artillery fire in areas to the north of the city, The General Staff said.
"The Russians have been constantly shelling the city for 20 days now. As a result of today's shelling, two people were injured," The mayor of Sloviansk, Vadym Liakh, told Ukrainian television. "There has been no water supply in the city for two months, and 15% of residents do not have electricity due to shelling."
"22,000 people remain in the city. If the shelling increases, more people will want to evacuate," Liakh added.
The area around the town of Bakhmut was also shelled again Thursday, and there were also air strikes, the General Staff said.
In the south, the Russians had tried to launch an assault along the border of Mykolaiv and Kherson regions, it said, but had been repelled. This area, around Andriivka, has seen an increase in combat in recent days but no shift in current positions.
The chief of Britain’s foreign intelligence service believes that Russia has lost its ability to spy in Europe “by half,” following the expulsion of more than 400 Russian intelligence officers from cities across Europe and the arrest of several deep-cover spies posing as civilians.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, European countries have expelled “north of 400 Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover” across the bloc, Richard Moore, the head of MI6, the UK's foreign intelligence service, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto at the Aspen Security Forum.
“And we reckon, in the UK, that has probably reduced their ability to do their business to spy for Russia in Europe by half,” Moore said.
A number of “illegals,” or Russian spies operating under deep cover and masquerading as ordinary civilians, have also been exposed and arrested in recent months, he added.
Asked whether the war in Ukraine has made Russia a “target-rich environment” for the UK and its allies to recruit potential assets, Moore would only say that “it is our hope” that Russians in the intelligence and diplomatic services will “reflect on what they are witnessing in Ukraine” and decide to “strike back against the system” as many did during the Prague Spring in 1968.
“Our door is always open,” he said.
The European Union further tightened sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine by adopting additional measures on Thursday, the European Council announced in a press release.
The new measures, which the EU refers to as a “maintenance and alignment” package, are a broadening of previous measures and now include Russian gold exports. The package also extends the list of individuals and entities that would be subject to potential asset freezes.
"We are effectively banning Russia’s most significant export after energy – Russian gold. We are also extending the exemption of transactions for agricultural products and transfer of oil to third countries. Because the EU is doing its part to ensure we can overcome the looming global food crisis. It is up to Russia, to stop bombing Ukraine’s fields and silos, and stop blocking Black Sea ports," said EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.
Thursday's package introduces a new prohibition "to purchase, import, or transfer, directly or indirectly, gold, if it originates in Russia and it has been exported from Russia into the EU or to any third country after," the press release stated. The prohibition also covers jewelry.
The package extends the list of controlled items, "which may contribute to Russia’s military and technological enhancement or the development of its defense and security sector," it added.
However, the EU is extending the exemption from prohibition to engage in transactions with state-owned entities the transactions for agricultural products and the transport of oil to third countries "with a view to avoid any potential negative consequences for food and energy security around the world," the release noted.
This step is aimed at avoiding food crisis stemming from the war.
Similarly, third countries and their nationals operating outside of the EU won't be prohibited from purchasing pharmaceutical or medical products from Russia.
The Ukrainian military says Russia has used up to 60% of its pre-war stocks of high-precision weaponry and that Western sanctions have made it harder for Moscow to replenish its stocks.
“[Ukrainian] military intelligence is tracking the condition and numbers of the weaponry that Russia using. As for the high-precision weaponry — that it is what Russians are saying, Iskander, Kalibr system, the cruise missiles Kh-101, Kh-555 — we asses that 55-60% of the pre-war stores have been used up,” a representative of the Defense Intelligence of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Vadym Skibytsky, said during a press conference on Thursday.
“Therefore, we have not seen them use [those] missiles for quite a long time,” he added.
Russia has been using repurposed anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles to target Ukrainian forces in recent weeks, according to Kyiv.
Ukrainian military intelligence says Western sanctions have made it harder for Russia to replenish stocks of the parts of its more advanced equipment.
“Many components were manufactured abroad. But the restrictions introduced due to international sanctions do not enable [Russia] to openly get the components,” Skibytsky explained. “But as for the old, Soviet Union weaponry […] these are quite huge stores and it’s difficult to assess them.”
Russian bombardment killed three people and injured 23 in Kharkiv on Thursday, according to the regional prosecutor's office.
Russia attacked a public transport stop near the market in the Kyivskyi district of Kharkiv with Uragan rocket launchers on July 21 at 9:30 a.m. local time, the prosecutor’s office posted on Telegram.
The Russian military also shelled the Saltivskyi district of Kharkiv, hitting a residential building and injuring three civilians, the office added, saying it launched a criminal investigation into these attacks.
"The Russian enemy attacks streets of the city, trade pavilions, and residential infrastructure only," said Oleh Synehubov, head of Kharkiv region military administration.
There was also heavy shelling of the town of Chuhuiv overnight, according to the regional military administration. Chuhuiv lies to the west of important Russian supply lines for its offensive in the eastern city of Donetsk.
The administration said the water treatment plant was damaged.
Synehubov said despite relentless shelling in the Kharkiv region, "since May, the enemy has not taken new territory — not a single meter."
"Our forces are holding their positions and trying to move forward. But the enemy focused its attention precisely on the defense of its own positions. It is not leaving Kharkiv region voluntarily," Synehubov added.
The shelling follows a series of Russian bombardments on the northeastern city this week.
A 13-year-old boy was among three victims of a Russian attack in the Saltivskyi district of Kharkiv on Wednesday.
At the time, Synehubov advised people in Kharkiv — Ukraine's second-largest city before the start of Russia's invasion — not to go outside unless necessary.
CNN's Olga Voitovych contributed reporting to this post.