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Ukraine began a new initiative set to reinforce its ties with Eastern European and Baltic countries, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Monday in his nightly address.
“A new diplomatic and security format, ‘Kyiv Initiative.’ was founded today. Ukraine's European neighbors are already participating in its work. These are Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Baltic states. We will gradually involve other countries. In the 'Kyiv Initiative' format, the work takes place at the level of foreign policy advisors of heads of state,” Zelensky said.
The Ukrainian president described the initiative as “a very promising line of our work in the Euro-Atlantic direction.”
He also called on European countries to add an eighth sanctions package against Russia, saying “the longer the interval between sanctions packages, the greater Russia's audacity.”
In his address, Zelensky also announced that search operations have ended following a Russian attack against a residential building in Kharkiv last week.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price did not offer a US assessment of who was behind the car bombing that killed the daughter of a Putin ally, saying Monday that he didn’t have anything to share beyond Ukraine’s denial of involvement in the attack.
Speaking at a State Department briefing, Price said they “unequivocally condemn the targeting of civilians.”
Asked by CNN whether the State Department rejects Moscow’s accusation that Kyiv was behind the attack that killed Darya Dugina, Price said he has “no doubt that the Russians will investigate this” and he also has “no doubt that the Russians will put forward certain conclusions.”
“All I can say from here is that Ukraine has denied any involvement,” he said, adding, “for our part, we condemn the intentional targeting of civilians anywhere.”
Discussions are ongoing to try to secure the release of Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan from Russia, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.
“This is something we continue to work with the utmost urgency,” Price said at a State Department briefing.
He declined to offer specifics on the discussions beyond reiterating that the US continues to push the Russians to respond to the “substantial proposal” put forward by the US to free the two Americans, who have been classified as wrongfully detained.
The US has offered to swap convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout as part of that deal.
A State Department official said in early August that “there was a channel that was established between the two presidents in June of 2021 in Geneva and that is where we're pursuing these discussions.”
Moscow has also confirmed that discussions on the matter are taking place in that channel.
Russia's efforts to weaponize energy policy have backfired as Canada agreed to deliver a key gas turbine set for use in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that supplies natural gas to Germany, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday.
"This was an important decision because it exposed (Russian President) Putin's strategy, which is aimed at dividing allies, which is aimed at affecting support for Ukraine, and if we stick together, then we can exclude exactly that,“ German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said during a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday.
“Russia is no longer a reliable business partner,“ Scholz said. “It has reduced gas supplies all over Europe, always citing technical reasons that never existed. And that's why it's important that we don't fall into Putin's trap and stick together and stand together," he added.
Europe and Germany will continue to be reliant for the coming year or two on Russian imports, specifically on gas, Trudeau said. The Canadian Prime Minister rejected Russia's efforts to blame Canada. “What we have done by returning that turbine is remove the excuse that Russia had to blame anyone else for their decision to weaponize energy policy,“ the Canadian Prime Minister made clear.
“What Russia's goal is, is not to just create division amongst countries that are steadfast in their support for Ukraine, but undermine public support for the strong stands that our countries have taken in support of Ukraine. And in that we chose to take the difficult decision in returning those turbines because we do not want division in our steadfast support for Ukraine or a lack of the political support in our democracies for doing the right things,“ Trudeau said.
Some more context: The turbine is in Germany waiting to be deployed, according to Scholz. Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom had substantially reduced gas deliveries to Germany in July saying that a faulty gas turbine needed maintenance. In spite having resumed gas deliveries at 20 percent of maximum capacity, Gazprom has announced further maintenance at the end of August leading to another suspension of gas deliveries.
Germany is trying to fill its storage facilities as far as possible with austerity measures in preparation for the coming winter.
Trudeau said that Ukraine was not only “fighting for itself,“ but were also “fighting for the rest of us, for the values that underpin democracies.“
“And that's why we are unequivocal that Putin must not win. We will continue to be there, to stand up for our democracies,“ Trudeau promised, even if it was “causing hardship around the world, hardship for us.“ But Putin had to be held accountable for this hardship because it was caused by Vladimir Putin himself, Trudeau said.
Russian ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov came to the State Department on Thursday so the United States "could warn Russia against any escalation of its war on Ukraine," a department spokesperson said Monday.
This included calling on Russia to "cease all military operations at or near Ukraine’s nuclear facilities and to return full control of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant to Ukraine," the official added.
The spokesperson did not offer additional details on the discussions, including with whom Antonov met at the department.
In an interview with a Russian media outlet the day prior to the meeting, Antonov said he would raise “fully-fledged and full-scale participation of the Russian delegation in the [UN] General Assembly work in New York in September.”
The United Nations has a fact finding team ready to investigate the Ukraine prison attack in Olenivka — but for now — it’s going nowhere.
Despite Russia and Ukraine requesting an independent probe, the UN believes the situation around the prison is not safe for access without proper assurances.
The UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced other members of the team Monday.
Joining a veteran retired police Lieutenant-General from Brazil is a diplomat from Iceland and a police official from Niger.
The panel would establish facts and report back to the UN Secretary-General.
Some background: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at the end of July the attack on the prison in separatist-held eastern Ukraine, which resulted in the deaths of at least 50 prisoners, was "a deliberate war crime by the Russians." Russia, meanwhile, blamed Ukraine for the attack.
Olenivka is in the part of the Donetsk region which has been held by pro-Russian forces for eight years.
The facility has been used to house many of the Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol several months ago. CNN could not independently verify the allegations of either side.
The Russian State Duma Speaker, Vyacheslav Volodin, called for a special session on Thursday to address the situation around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in eastern Ukraine.
"The meeting will be held on Thursday, Aug. 25, at 15:00 [3:00 p.m. local time]. The main issue is a statement in connection with the threat arising from the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant by the Kyiv regime," the State Duma press service told Russian state-run news agency, RIA Novosti.
According to RIA Novosti, Volodin said that before the end of the week the proposal regarding the nuclear plant will be discussed with the heads of the factions, with the final decision made on Monday.
Kyiv and Moscow have made a barrage of accusations against each other about security and military action at and around the plant, the largest nuclear complex in Europe. But the lack of independent access to the plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since March, makes it impossible to verify what is happening there.
Recent satellite images from Maxar Technologies of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant show no signs of "systemic shelling," despite claims by Russian president Vladimir Putin that the Ukrainian military was conducting repeated military strikes at the plant.
The United States does not support a blanket visa ban for Russian citizens, a State Department spokesperson said Monday.
“The US wouldn’t want to close off pathways to refuge and safety for Russia’s dissidents or others who are vulnerable to human rights abuses. We’ve also been clear that it is important to draw a line between the actions of the Russian government and its policies in Ukraine, and the people of Russia,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
The spokesperson added that the US has “worked with Allies and partners to impose costs, including visa restrictions for Kremlin officials and their enablers.”
“Since Feb. 24, 2022, the United States has taken steps to impose visa restrictions on nearly 5,000 individuals in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” they said. “We will continue to identify those involved in Russia’s invasion and will promote accountability for their conduct. We are looking at all tools to hold the Kremlin to account.”
Some context: Josep Borrell, the European Union's top diplomat, on Monday also came out against a blanket visa ban, saying that "to forbid the entrance to all Russians is not a good idea."
Ukrainian officials have called on nations to stop allowing entrance for Russian citizens, with President Volodymyr Zelensky telling the Washington Post in early August, "the most important sanctions are to close the borders — because the Russians are taking away someone else’s land.”
Several countries, including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, have backed a tourist visa ban for Russians.