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Top US general says Ukraine’s counteroffensive is 'far from a failure'

Ukrainian servicemen ride in a tank near a front line, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Donetsk region, Ukraine July 18, 2023. © Reuters

Ukraine’s counteroffensive is "far from a failure" but the fight ahead will be "long" and "bloody", the top US General Mark Milley said on Tuesday. Milley's comments came after Russia attacked the Ukrainian port cities of Odesa and Mykolaiv in a “mass revenge strike” for an attack on the Crimean Bridge, Russia’s defence ministry said. Follow our blog to see how the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

This live blog is no longer being updated. For more of our coverage on the war in Ukraine, please click here.

02:30am: Biden, Vatican envoy discuss Ukraine war

US President Joe Biden and a Vatican envoy discussed the Russian invasion of Ukraine and deportation of Ukrainian children Tuesday, the White House said.

Biden and Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi discussed the papacy's efforts to provide "humanitarian aid to address the widespread suffering caused by Russia’s continuing aggression in Ukraine, as well as the Vatican’s advocacy for the return of forcibly deported Ukrainian children," a White House statement said.

Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian Episcopal Conference, came to the White House at the request of Pope Francis, the Biden administration said.

Biden, only the second Roman Catholic to become US president, also delivered "his wishes for Pope Francis's continued ministry and global leadership and welcomed the recent nomination of a US archbishop as cardinal," the White House said.

01:40am: Russia strikes Ukraine's Odesa port for second night 

Russia launched air attacks on Odesa for a second night in row but the key port will not be intimidated and will continue its work to export grains,Ukrainian officials said early on Wednesday.

The Odesa region's governor, Oleh Kiper, said on social media that air defence systems were engaged in repelling the Russian air attack and urged residents of the region to stay in shelters.

The attacks on Odesa, one of Ukraine's main ports for exporting grain, followed a pledge of retaliation by Russia after a blast on a bridge linking Russia to the Crimean Peninsula on Monday that Moscow blamed on Ukraine.

Shortly after the bridge was hit on Monday, Moscow withdrew from the year-old grain agreement, a move the United Nations said risked creating hunger around the world.

12:17am: Ukraine's FM says need to find alternative to Black Sea grain deal

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said an alternative to the Black Sea grain deal had to be found and "there are very active discussions now."

The European Union said on Tuesday it is seeking to transport more Ukrainian grains via road and rail. While appreciative of EU efforts, Kuleba said Ukrainian exports through Europe would not be able to "compensate for the absence of deliveries from Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea."

Kuleba said the focus on reviving Black Sea shipments was either to continue within the existing framework or create a new model, but added: "The problem, of course, is what is going to happen if Russia decides to attack a vessel carrying grain."

"We have to take risks and we have to demonstrate that we can carry on without Russia," he told reporters on Tuesday during a visit to the United Nations.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday in his nightly video address that without Ukraine's exports "the deficit on the global market will, unfortunately, be quite tangible."

"And not only for the poorest countries. Different countries will feel it - from Libya and Egypt to Bangladesh and China," he said. "We are working with our partners to prevent this."

9:52pm: Russia and Ukraine report contrasting developments on northeastern front

Russia and Ukraine presented vastly different accounts of fighting in northeastern Ukraine on Tuesday, with Moscow reporting advances by its troops and Kyiv saying it had seized the initiative in the region. Both sides reported no letup in the fighting.

Ukraine has reported a measure of progress in a counteroffensive launched early last month in the east and in capturing villages in the south, while Moscow says it has contained any move forward by Kyiv’s forces.

7:11pm: African Union expresses 'regret' over Russia's grain deal exit

The African Union expressed "regret" on Tuesday over Russia's decision to suspend a deal allowing safe passage for grain cargo ships from Ukrainian Black Sea ports.

"I regret the suspension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative for which the African Union had been an early advocate," AU Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat said on his official Twitter account.

7:07pm: Top US general says Ukraine counteroffensive is 'far from a failure'

Ukraine’s counteroffensive is far from a failure but the fight ahead will be long and bloody, the top US general General Mark Milley said on Tuesday.

“It is far from a failure... I think that it’s way too early to make that kind of call,” Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

“I think there’s a lot of fighting left to go and I’ll stay with what we said before: This is going to be long. It’s going be hard. It’s going to be bloody.”

5:32pm: Russia suspended movement of cargo vessels through Kerch Strait on July 16

The movement of cargo vessels through the Kerch Strait has been suspended by Russian authorities since July 16 following drone attacks on the Crimean port of Sevastopol, two industry sources told Reuters.

“Navigation is already idle for the third day. They stopped it on July 16, around 5 pm local time, when there was a (drone) attack on Sevastopol,” said one source, who declined to be named.

Security in the area also worsened on Monday following an overnight attack on the Crimean Bridge spanning the Kerch Strait, which connects the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea.

4:44pm: Canada condemns Russia's withdrawal from Black Sea grain initiative

Russia’s decision to pull out from a UN-backed Black Sea grain export deal was condemned by Canada on Tuesday.

“This is a grave escalation of the weaponisation of hunger by the Russian Federation, which previously obstructed the operations of the  Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI),” the Canadian government said in a statement.

“Canada calls on the Russian Federation to immediately renew its participation in the agreement to avoid any further shocks to global food systems already strained by its war of aggression against Ukraine."

4:28pm: South African President Ramaphosa says arresting Putin tantamount to 'declaration of war'

Arresting Vladimir Putin would amount to a declaration of war on Russia, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote in court papers released on Tuesday as the country wrangles over hosting the Russian leader.

Putin has been invited to a BRICS summit in Johannesburg next month but is the target of an International Criminal Court arrest warrant – a provision that Pretoria as an ICC member would be expected to implement were he to attend.

South Africa's diplomatic dilemma is playing out in court, where the leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is trying to force the government's hand and ensure the Kremlin leader is held and handed over to the ICC if he steps foot in the country. 

But in a responding affidavit, Ramaphosa described the DA's application as "irresponsible" and said national security was at stake.

"Russia has made it clear that arresting its sitting President would be a declaration of war," he said.

4:02pm: Macron says Putin made 'huge mistake' in ditching grain deal

France's President Emmanuel Macron warned Russia on Tuesday that Vladimir Putin had made a terrible mistake in pulling out of a deal to protect Black Sea grain exports.

After a summit between European, Latin American and Caribbean leaders, Macron said countries reliant on Ukrainian and Russian grain would see that Russia is not to be trusted. 

"He decided to weaponise food, and I think this is a huge mistake," Macron.

3:39pm: Russia raises eligibility for military conscription by at least five years

Russia’s parliament on Tuesday extended the maximum age at which men can be mobilised to serve in the army by at least five years – in the case of the highest-ranking officers, up to the age of 70.

It is already raising the upper age limit for men to be called up for compulsory military service to 30 from 27, and has made it much harder for young men to avoid the draft by dodging recruiters handing out call-up papers.

Last September, Russia announced its first mobilisation since World War Two, calling up more than 300,000 former soldiers in an often-chaotic emergency draft to support its war in Ukraine, a campaign that has been much longer and more attritional than Moscow had expected and shows no sign of ending.

2:00pm: Britain announces extra €2.9 billion for army 'stockpiles and munitions'

Britain's Ministry of Defence Ben Wallace said on Tuesday it plans to invest £2.5 billion (€2.9 billion) in the army's stockpiles and munitions "to improve fighting readiness", as it "takes learnings from the war in Ukraine". 

"We must adapt and modernise to meet the threats we face, taking in the lessons from President Putin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine," Wallace said in a statement.

1:41pm: Russia and Turkey discuss grain exports after Black Sea deal ends

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan discussed ways of exporting Russian grain via routes "that would not be susceptible to Kyiv and the West's sabotage", Russia's foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

The Black Sea grain export deal brokered a year ago by Turkey and the UN was one of the only diplomatic successes of the war, lifting a de facto Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports and heading off a global food emergency.

12:57pm: Russia says has advanced 1.5km in northeast Ukraine

The Russian military said Tuesday it had advanced on a limited section of the front in Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region, near the city of Kupyansk, after "successful offensive operations". 

"On the Kupyansk front, units from the Western group of troops continue successful offensive operations," the defence ministry said in a statement, adding that: "The total advance was up to two kilometres along the front and up to one and a half kilometres in depth."

The ministry did not say over what period the gains were made.

11:55am: Kremlin warns of 'risks' over exports after grain deal exit

The Kremlin on Tuesday issued a veiled warning over the future of grain exports from Ukraine following Moscow's exit from a landmark deal allowing passage for cargo ships from three Ukraine ports.

"Without appropriate security guarantees, certain risks arise here. If (a future agreement) is formalised without Russia, then these risks should be taken into account," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. 

11:46am: Destroyed Odesa sites used to plan Crimea bridge attack, says Russia

Russia's defence ministry said it carried out overnight strikes on the Ukrainian port cities of Odesa and Mykolaiv in what it called "a mass revenge strike" for Monday's attack on the Kerch Bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia, which it blamed on Kyiv.

The strikes hit all targets in Odesa and Mykolayiv, the ministry said in a statement.

The Russian defence ministry also said the Odesa port was used in the planning of the Kerch Bridge attack.

"At night, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation delivered a group retaliation strike with high-precision sea-based weapons at facilities where terrorist acts against Russia had been prepared using unmanned boats," said the statement.

11:20am: Russia is using grain as ammunition, says Polish minister

Russia is using grain as ammunition, said Poland's Agriculture Minister Robert Telus, responding to the collapse of the year-old UN-brokered deal that allowed Ukraine export grain through the Black Sea.

Telus urged EU to help improve grain logistics as more Ukraine grain will start flowing through borders after the harvest.

10:05am: Ukraine reports 'complicated' situation in fighting in east, some success in south

Kyiv reported a "complicated" situation in fighting in eastern Ukraine and success in parts of the south on Tuesday as it pressed on with its counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces.

"The situation is complicated but under control (in the east)," General Oleksander Syrskyi, commander of Ukrainian ground forces, said on the Telegram messaging app.

He said Russia had concentrated forces in the direction of Kupiansk in the northeastern region of Kharkiv, but that Ukrainian troops were holding them back.

Since Kyiv launched its counteroffensive in early June, aided by weapons supplied by its Western allies, it has taken back more than 210 square kilometres (81 square miles) of land, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on Monday.

But Russia still holds vast swathes of territory following its full-scale invasion in February 2022, and Ukrainian troops have encountered heavily defended positions and minefields.

10:04am: Russian rouble hits near 16-month low vs euro, recovers vs dollar

The Russian rouble slipped to a near 16-month low against the euro on Tuesday, but firmed marginally against the dollar, clawing back some ground after losing around 1% in the previous session, under pressure after an attack on the Crimean Bridge.

At 07:48 GMT, the rouble was 0.3% stronger against the dollar at 90.74, but had lost 0.1% to trade at 102.22 versus the euro, earlier touching 102.6075, its weakest point since March 28, 2022. It had firmed 0.3% against the yuan to 12.64.

The Russian currency has been gradually weakening all year as exports fall and imports recover, but pressure intensified sharply after an abortive armed mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group in late June.

8:35am: ‘So many tears’: Deported Ukrainian children return home from Russia

At an art workshop in Ukraine, a group of children are busy drawing with their crayons. Tatiana and her grandson are participating in an art therapy workshop run by an NGO.

The Ukrainian grandmother was reunited with her grandson five months after he was taken away to RussiaShe travelled all the way to Moscow to rescue him. “They have caused us so many tears and so much pain,” says the elderly Ukrainian woman as tears stream down her face.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is investigating allegations of Russian officials deporting and illegally enabling the adoption of Ukrainian children.

Ukrainian officials and NGOs have documented several cases of the deportation of Ukrainian children. For the fortunate children who have made it back to their home country, it’s a slow recovery process from the trauma they have endured – as Tatiana attests as she watches her grandson hard at work on his painting.

Here's a FRANCE 24 report from Ukraine.

A Ukrainian boy attends an art therapy workshop run by an NGO for children returned from Russia. © FRANCE 24 screengrab


8:08am: Odesa port facilites damaged by Russian strike, says Ukraine

A Russian overnight strike damaged port infrastructure facilities in Ukraine's Odesa, Kyiv's military said on Tuesday, hours after Moscow refused to extend a deal to allow grain export from the region.

"The debris of the downed missiles and the blast wave from the downing damaged the port infrastructure facilities," Ukraine's Operational Command South said in a statement.

8:00am: 'Consequences for the economy' as Ukraine grain deal expires

Hours after Moscow refused to extend a deal to allow Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea, FRANCE 24's Emmanuel Chaze, reporting from Kyiv, said there would be "consequences for the economy". 

Click on the video below to watch her full report. 

7:48am: Russia foils Ukrainian drone raid on Crimea, say officials

Russia repelled a Ukrainian drone attack on Crimea in the early hours of Tuesday, the Russian defence ministry said, a day after an attack on the Crimean bridge which damaged it and disrupted car traffic.

Seventeen drones sent by Ukraine's forces overnight were "destroyed" and another 11 were "suppressed" by electronic means, Russia's defence ministry said in a statement.

It said there were no casualties or damage. 

Crimea's Russian-installed governor Sergei Aksyonov said on Telegram that 28 drones had been downed or destroyed during the night. 

"There are no victims," he said.

Drone attacks in Crimea have increased in recent weeks as Ukraine wages a counter-offensive against Russian forces.

7:01am: Ukrainian drone raid on Crimea foiled, says Russia

Russian air defences and electronic countermeasure systems downed 28 Ukrainian drones over Crimea in the early hours of Tuesday, the RIA news agency cited the Russian defence ministry as saying.

The drone attacks caused no casualties or damages, the ministry said. The raid followed an attack by Ukrainian sea drones on the Crimea bridge on Monday which damaged it and disrupted car traffic.

5:15am: Crimea bridge partially open to traffic, Russian official

Partial road traffic opened on one lane of the Crimean Bridge late on Monday, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said on his Telegram channel.

"Motor transport on the Crimean Bridge has been restored in reverse mode on the most outer right lane," Khusnullin wrote on Monday.

However, ferry operations were suspended early on Tuesday, due to bad weather, Russian agencies reported, citing the Moscow-backed emergency situations ministry of Crimea

3:54am: Russia launches new air attacks, Ukrainian Air Force

Russia launched overnight air attacks on Ukraine's south and east using drones and possibly ballistic missiles, Ukraine's Air Force and officials said early on Tuesday.

A fire broke out at one of the "facilities" in the port of Mykolaiv late on Monday, the city mayor said. The port city provides Ukraine with access to the Black Sea.

"It's quite serious," Mayor Oleksandr Senkevich said on the Telegram messaging app of the fire, adding that more detail will come in the morning.

The southern port of Odesa and the Mykolaiv, Donetsk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and Dnipropetrovsk regions were under threat of Russian drone attacks, the Air Force said on the Telegram messaging app.

Key developments from Monday, July 17:

Russia pulled out of the Black Sea grain initiative, a key wartime deal that allowed grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where hunger is a growing threat and high food prices have pushed more people into poverty. The decision triggered condemnation from around the world, including by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres who said Monday that Russia's decision to exit the Ukraine grain deal will "strike a blow to people in need everywhere". Russia said it would consider rejoining the grain export deal if it saw "concrete results", but that so far its demands had not been met.

Earlier Monday, an attack on a bridge connecting Russia and Crimea left two people dead and damaged parts of the bridge. Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Ukraine of carrying out an attack on the bridge connecting Russia and Crimea, with the involvement of Britain and the United States. Zakharova did not provide evidence to support the assertions. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin said his defence ministry was preparing for a response to the overnight attack.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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