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Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will “pay attention” to the US State Department's request to speak with Secretary of State Antony Blinken when “time permits," Maria Zakharova, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, said according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
Zakharova added, “Now he has a busy schedule with international contacts: the SCO Ministerial Council in Tashkent, bilateral meetings.”
The United Nations had been hoping for the first ship to leave Ukraine’s Odesa port with grain bound for global markets on Thursday, but procedural details for safe passage are still being worked out, the organization's chief aid coordinator said Thursday.
Martin Griffiths, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, helped broker a deal between Kyiv and Moscow — signed in Istanbul — to facilitate vital grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports to avoid a global hunger crisis.
“Getting the procedures is an essential precondition to safe movements of ships. So it's no surprise that we haven't seen a ship move yet," he told reporters in New York on Thursday.
“We had been hoping to see that happen, even today or tomorrow. But we can only see that happen safely," he said.
He noted that the parties need to get the exact location of safe passage corridors “absolutely nailed down,” adding “I think we'll see this very quickly.”
“It has to do with what are the exact coordinates of the channels,” he continued. “There's a general reference in the agreement. We need exact coordinates of the channels.”
Even still, Griffiths hailed the agreement, which swiftly saw the opening of a Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, as “the most rapid stand up of an operation that I can think of” in his experience at the UN.
Russia’s attack on Odesa on Saturday, the day after the deal was signed, was “a reminder that we had no time to waste,” he added.
Also delaying the exports is the commercial side of the operation, as there is “a lot of detail that's necessary to share” with shipping and insurance companies, he continued.
“This is as much about price as it is about availability of food [...] if ships move without the right procedures to approving those movements, then they are at risk. And the commercial sector would be right not to wish to move," Griffiths said.
“My information on the commercial viability of it from colleagues in Istanbul is consistently that there is an appetite for this and there is at a reasonable price," he continued.
The US State Department said that Russia yesterday “acknowledged” the request from the United States for a call between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the two countries have been going “back and forth” on the request.
“Foreign Minister Lavrov is in the midst of travel so I don’t have any update to provide in terms of when they may be able to connect,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price. “But we continue to discuss that in the appropriate channels.”
Price reiterated that Blinken planned to use the call to follow up on the “substantial proposal” to free Americans detained in Russia, Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, which CNN first reported is a proposed prisoner swap for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Price on Thursday suggested that Moscow has not meaningfully engaged on the proposal.
"The fact that, now several weeks later, we are where we are, I think you can read into that as being a reflection of the fact that this has not moved to the extent we would like," Price said.
Price noted that the deal has been conveyed to Russia "repeatedly" and "directly" over the course of several weeks, and he reiterated that Blinken intended to raise it in an expected call with Lavrov.
CNN reported earlier Thursday that Biden administration officials are frustrated that Moscow has yet to respond in a meaningful way to the proposal. Officials told CNN that they felt Moscow would jump at the offer, but it is now almost August and they have not received a substantive response.
Asked if the Russians had presented any counter-proposals and whether the US was prepared to add more to the deal on the table, Price said he would not "negotiate in public."
The spokesperson said the "one single overriding interest" is the release of Griner and Whelan, noting they "are going to be careful in everything we do, and everything we say not to run afoul of that overriding priority, not to do anything, not to say anything that might set back that ultimate goal."
The Ukrainian Embassy in Lebanon has called on authorities to clarify the conditions under which a Syrian ship — which Ukraine claims is carrying stolen barley — was allowed to dock in Tripoli.
The Syrian vessel, the Laodicea, belongs to state shipping company SYRIAMAR and was photographed passing through the Bosphorus strait into the Mediterranean on July 23.
Both the company and the vessel were sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2015.
In a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday, Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Ostash “drew the attention of the President of the Republic to the fact that a Syrian ship entered the sea port of Tripoli on July 27, 2022 carrying barley exported from the occupied territories in the port of Fyudosia,” the embassy said in a readout posted on Facebook on Thursday.
“He also expressed his hope that measures will be taken to clarify the conditions of this ship's docking in Lebanese territorial waters,” the embassy added. “It has also been confirmed that this incident can damage bilateral relationships.”
The Laodicea was photographed transitioning through the Bosphorus on July 23.
Some background: Ukraine has repeatedly said that Russia has taken grain from the country to ports around the Middle East. In May, satellite images appeared to show two Russia-flagged bulk carrier ships docking and loading up with what was believed to be stolen Ukrainian grain in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
Last week, Ukraine and Russia agreed a deal to allow the resumption of grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports. Ministers from both countries signed the agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in Istanbul.
The German city of Hanover has banned hot water in public buildings and has introduced measures to reduce heating amid the gas crisis, according to the Hanover mayor's office.
"Every kilowatt-hour saved saves the gas storage tanks," said the mayor's office in a news release on Wednesday.
It's the first city in Germany to switch to cold showers in public buildings, making hot water unavailable for hand-washing and other uses in government facilities, gyms, and swimming pools.
The city will also reduce heating in public buildings, as well as switch off façade lighting and fountains.
"The goal is to reduce our energy consumption by 15%," said Mayor Belit Onay. "This is a response to the looming gas shortage, which is a big challenge for municipalities — especially for a big city like Hanover."
"The situation is unpredictable, as just the last few days have shown," he added. "Nevertheless, the state capital is trying to prepare as best it can."
Across the European Union, member states are scrambling to save gas and store it for winter, and on Tuesday, energy ministers agreed in principle to cut gas use by 15% from August to March.
Russia’s media watchdog, Roskomnadzor, filed a lawsuit this week seeking to revoke the registration license of independent investigative news outlet Novaya Gazeta, according to court records.
“Most likely, we will have our license revoked for the website and for the printed version," a spokesperson for Novaya Gazeta, Nadezhda Prusenkova, told CNN on Thursday. "But we'll figure something out."
“There are two lawsuits from Roskonadzor, one for the website and another for the print edition,” said Prusenkova, adding that a court hearing regarding the website’s license has been scheduled for Sept. 15.
According to Novaya Gazeta, the legal action is based on two warnings received on March 24 and March 28, due to the absence of “foreign agents” disclaimer markings on two news materials on the Novaya Gazeta website.
Novaya Gazeta is one of the few remaining independent Russian-language news outlets covering Russia. The outlet has been declared a “foreign agent" by the Russian government, meaning that it is required to preface every publication, including social media posts, with a disclaimer.
The Ukrainian military has conceded that Russian forces have been able to make small gains near the Donetsk towns of Soledar and Vershyna in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has been making a push in that area of the Donbas for the past several weeks but with limited gains.
According to Thursday evening’s update from Ukraine’s General Staff, other attempts by Russian forces to “carry out assaults in the direction of the settlements of Yakovlivka, Bakhmut and Semyhiria failed.”
“The enemy units retreated here with losses,” it said.
The Ukrainian military continued to report intense long-range attacks with artillery, missiles and air strikes across most of the frontline.
The Russian government has opened delegations of its interior ministry in Russian-controlled territories in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported on Thursday.
According to the report, the delegations arrived in the occupied territory to “organize the work of the temporary departments of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia and provide practical assistance to local law enforcement authority.”
The agency also reported that territorial internal affairs bodies of those specific regions were being created.
Some context: Ukrainian troops claim to have won back some territory in the southern flank of the war. But there are growing signs that the Russians are reinforcing their military presence in Kherson, determined to hold it as a vital part of the land bridge to Crimea – and as the peninsula’s main source of water.
In the past two weeks, large convoys have traveled west from Mariupol through Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhia region and on to Kherson.
Ukrainian officials estimate that nearly half the population of Kherson has left the region for Ukrainian-held territory. They accuse the Russians of preventing more people from leaving cities like Melitopol, so that they can be exploited as “human shields” in the event of a Ukrainian offensive.
CNN's Tim Lister contributed reporting to this post.