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EU countries to discuss new Russia sanctions

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s president, right, and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, depart a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, May 9, 2023.

Andrew Kravchenko | Bloomberg | Getty Images

European Union states started discussions on new sanctions that would crack down on the circumvention of Russian trade curbs, but a quick deal was not expected, according to several diplomats that spoke to Reuters.

The proposed sanctions would target Chinese and Iranian firms and allow export curbs on other countries for breaking existing trade restrictions, Reuters reported.

The new sanctions would highlight that oil tankers are not allowed to offload in the high seas or arrive in ports with their GPS trackers off, an attempt to push back against Group of Seven nations’ Russian oil reading restrictions, according to Reuters’ sources.

The EU also would stop transit via Russia of more of its exports, including advanced tech products and aircraft parts, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in the Reuters report.

“If we see that goods are going from the European Union to third countries and then end up in Russia, we could propose to the member states to sanction those goods’ export. This tool will be a last resort and it will be used cautiously,” she said.

— Melodie Warner

Poland summons Russian ambassador over fighter jet incident

Poland summoned Russia’s ambassador on Wednesday over an incident involving a Russian fighter jet and Polish border guard aircraft over the Black Sea early in May, a spokesperson for the Polish foreign ministry said.

The near-miss incident put NATO’s air policing units in a higher state of readiness and worsened already-hostile relations between Russia and Poland, which has been a strong supporter of Ukraine as it battles a Russian invasion.

The incident on May 5 occurred when a Polish border guard aircraft, on patrol for the European Union’s border agency Frontex, narrowly avoided a collision with a Russian fighter jet over the Black Sea, Romania and Poland have said.

“We strongly condemn the provocative and aggressive behaviour of the Russian side, which is a serious international incident,” ministry spokesperson Lukasz Jasina wrote on Twitter.

The Russian embassy in Warsaw was not immediately available for comment.

The Russian ambassador was summoned to Poland’s foreign ministry earlier this month over a statement made by the former ombudsman for Russian children calling for the murder of the Polish ambassador.

— Reuters

Russia lifts visa restrictions on Georgians

The old city in Tbilisi, Georgia

Getty Images | Kaveh Kazemi

Russia is to lift visa and travel restrictions on Georgian citizens that have been in place for a number of years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Wednesday easing travel restrictions meaning that, from May 15, citizens of Georgia will be able to visit Russia for up to 90 days without a visa, as long as they’re not in the country for work.

Putin also lifted a ban on Russian airlines carrying out direct flights between the countries, as well as a ban on the sale of tours to Georgia, that had been in force since 2019.

Russia’s visa regime for Georgia was introduced in 2000, saying this was due to the risk of terrorism, claiming that thousands of refugees and fighters had fled from Chechnya to Georgia.

Then in 2008, diplomatic relations between the two countries were severed by Tbilisi following Russia’s recognition of the pro-Russian breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Still, Georgia lifted visa restrictions on Russian citizens in 2012, allowing them to stay in the country for up to 90 days with then-President Mikheil Saakashvili seeing the move as a way to improve relations between the countries.

Russia’s relationship with Georgia has become more nuanced in recent years. Georgia’s ruling Georgian Dream party has been accused of pro-Kremlin sympathies and has been keen to appear neutral when it comes to the war between Russia and Ukraine.

But Georgia’s President Salome Zourabichvili said on Wednesday that Russia’s restoration of visa-free travel and the lifting of a ban on direct flights was “unacceptable” as long as Moscow continued its invasion of Ukraine.

Georgia’s population is seen as generally pro-European and pro-Ukrainian, with large protests seen in March when the government tried to pass a draft law regulating “foreign agents.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Russia’s Transneft says Druzhba pipeline ‘attacked’ near Ukraine border

PERN said pumping on the damaged Druzhba line, which delivers oil to Germany, was immediately switched off and the scene had been secured.

Omar Marques | Getty Images news | Getty Images

Russia’s oil pipeline operator Transneft said on Wednesday that a filling point on the Europe-bound Druzhba pipeline in a Russian region bordering Ukraine had been attacked, the TASS news agency reported, citing the company.

Transneft said nobody was injured in the incident, which it branded a “terrorist attack”, TASS reported.

“Yes, indeed, early this morning there was an attempt to commit a terrorist act against the Druzhba oil pipeline system at the Bryansk filling station,” Transneft’s spokesman told TASS.

“As a result, no one was hurt. The competent authorities are investigating the circumstances of the incident.”

Early on Wednesday, Baza, a Telegram channel with links to Russia’s law enforcement agencies, reported that three empty oil reservoirs at the Druzhba pipeline’s filling station came under attack.

It said there were no leaks following the attacks.

Russian oil supplies via the Soviet-built pipeline have not been sanctioned, however, European countries are scaling back usage of the route amid wider sanctions against Moscow.

Druzhba pipeline was attacked several times after the start of what Kremlin casts as a special military operation in Ukraine last February.

Oil supply to parts of Eastern and Central Europe via a section of the pipeline had been temporarily suspended in November after a rocket hit a power station close to the Belarus border which provides electricity for a pump station.

The pipeline also came under attacks in the Bryansk region in March.

— Reuters

Russia reportedly plans to evacuate more Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant workers

Members of a delegation of the International Atomic Energy Agency visit the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on March 29, 2023.

Andrey Borodulin | Afp | Getty Images

Russian forces plan to “evacuate” more than 3,000 workers from the town of Enerhodar that serves the nearby Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ukraine’s state nuclear power company said Wednesday.

The move proved Russia’s “inability to ensure the operation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as there is now a catastrophic lack of skilled personnel,” Energoatom said.

The company said Russia planned to evacuate just over 3,000 people, including 2,700 who had signed contracts with the Russian-installed company in de facto control of the plant, Rosatom.

Energoatom said that information from Ukraine’s armed forces suggested “some families of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power professionals have already been taken from Enerhodar to the Rostov region of the Russian Federation.”

Energoatom said that it was “taking all possible measures to form the necessary number of professionals capable of ensuring the safe operation of the plant.”

Such a team will be formed on a rotating basis from ZNPP employees who are currently in the territory controlled by Ukraine, as well as specialists from other nuclear plants, it said.

Concerns over ZNPP’s fate have been rife since Russian forces started evacuating areas near the plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power station. The plant has often found itself at the center of fighting, with both Ukrainian and Russian forces accusing each other of shelling near it, creating the potential for a nuclear disaster.

Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said last week that following reports of Russian evacuations, “the general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous.”

“I’m extremely concerned about the very real nuclear safety and security risks facing the plant. We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment. This major nuclear facility must be protected.”

Energoatom has repeatedly called for the de-occupation of the ZNPP. It did so again today, and urged “the expulsion of the Russians from Enerhodar and the transfer of control over the power plant to its legitimate Ukrainian operator, Energoatom,” saying this was “the only way to end the Russian mess at the ZNPP and guarantee its future safety.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Two Ukrainian drones attempted to strike military facility, governor claims

Two Ukrainian drones attempted to attack a military facility in the Voronezh region in southwestern Russia, its Governor Alexander Gusev said Wednesday.

“Today, early in the morning, at a Voronezh military facility, an attempted attack by two enemy UAVs was intercepted. As a result of response actions, one of them deviated from its course and fell while another one was eliminated by fire,” Gusev said on Telegram, in comments translated by Russian news agency Tass.

Guzev said additional security measures would be implemented in the Voronezh region.

“Interaction with law enforcement and the military command continues … I am personally monitoring the situation,” Gusev added. CNBC was unable to verify the claims in the post and Ukraine has not commented on the claims.

Russia has recently experienced a series of alleged attacks on home soil. It accused Ukraine and the U.S. of trying to strike the Kremlin with drones last week (both vehemently denied the accusations) and has experienced several apparent drone attacks on an oil refinery in the Krasnodar region, near the Kerch Strait and bridge to Russian-occupied Crimea.

— Holly Ellyatt

Victory Day parade highlighted the Kremlin’s challenges, UK says

Female police cadets march on Dvortsovaya Square during the Victory Day military parade in central St Petersburg.

Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

The make-up of Russia’s annual Victory Day Parade in Red Square highlighted the material and strategic communications challenges the military is facing 15 months into the war in Ukraine, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Wednesday.

“Over 8,000 personnel reportedly took part in the parade, but the majority were auxiliary, paramilitary forces, and cadets from military training establishments,” the ministry said on Twitter, adding that “the only personnel from deployable formations of regular forces were contingents of Railway Troops and military police.”

The sole tank on parade — a vintage T-34 from a ceremonial unit — could also have been deliberate, the U.K. noted.

“Despite heavy losses in Ukraine, Russia could have fielded more armoured vehicles. The authorities likely refrained from doing so because they want to avoid domestic criticism about prioritising parades over combat operations.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Wagner Group could soon be designated a ‘terrorist organization’ in Europe

The entrance of the “PMC Wagner Centre,” associated with Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin, during the official opening of the office block on National Unity Day, in St. Petersburg, on Nov. 4, 2022.

Olga Maltseva | AFP | Getty Images

The U.K. is reportedly considering whether to designate the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary force fighting in Ukraine (as well as being involved in other conflicts in Africa) as a “terrorist organization,” with France calling on the EU to recognize the group as such.

The U.K. is reportedly set to classify the Wagner Group in this category, according to a report in The Times newspaper. The move would see sanctions imposed on the group that has been fighting in Ukraine, particularly around the town of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region.

The Home Office has been building a case for two months and proscription is “imminent” within weeks, according to a government source cited by the newspaper.

On Tuesday, the French Parliament called on the EU to formally label Wagner as a terrorist group, which would mean the EU could freeze assets belonging to the group and its members and ban EU citizens from having dealings with it.

— Holly Ellyatt

Putin’s ‘one-tank’ parade prompts questions over Russia’s invasion

A Soviet T-34 tank, the only tank on display in Russia’s Victory Day parade on May 9, 2023, rolls through Red Square.

Contributor | Getty Images news | Getty Images

Russia’s scaled-down Victory Day military parade on Tuesday showed not only Russia’s insecurities over possible Ukrainian attacks (security concerns were the ostensible reason for scaled-back events on May 9) but also showed military desperation.

The fact that only one Stalin-era tank was on display in the annual military parade through Red Square was particularly eye-catching, analysts noted.

“It would be hard to image a more fitting symbol of Russia’s declining military fortunes than the sight of a solitary Stalin-era tank trundling across Red Square during the country’s traditional Victory Day celebrations on May 9,” Peter Dickinson, editor of the UkraineAlert journal at the Atlantic Council, commented Tuesday.

“For the past two decades, Vladimir Putin has used Victory Day to showcase modern Russia’s resurgence as a military superpower, with dozens of the very latest tanks typically taking part in each annual parade. This year, however, the only tank on display was a T-34 model dating back to World War II,” he said, noting that the “embarrassing absence of tanks at this year’s Victory Day parade has been widely interpreted as further evidence of Russia’s catastrophic losses in Ukraine.”

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War also noted Tuesday that the Victory Day events showcased “no modern tanks, which Russia badly needs in Ukraine” and that it “demonstrated the further degradation of the Russian military, despite the Kremlin’s attempts in previous weeks to downplay Victory Day by downsizing parades and outright canceling events.”

 Ukrainians themselves were quick to comment on the smaller Victory Day parade.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s official Twitter account quipped that “modern Russian military equipment can be found much more easily at Ukrainian military trophies exhibitions than at the Victory Parade in Moscow.”

 — Holly Ellyatt

Zelenskyy thanks Biden for latest security assistance package

Ukrainian soldiers are seen at their artillery position on Donetsk frontline as the Russia-Ukraine war continues in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on April 24, 2023. 

Diego Herrera Carcedo | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky thanked President Joe Biden for the latest security assistance package worth $1.2 billion.

“There is another good news from partners. From what can be said publicly, there is a new defense package from the United States,” Zelenskyy said on his official Telegram channel.

“Artillery, protection against missiles and terrorist drones, other things to strengthen our defenders. Thank you to president Biden, bipartisan Congress, and every American family for your continued support and for the American strength that keeps us strong,” he added.

The new weapons package brings U.S. total commitment to more than $36.9 billion since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked invasion last February.

— Amanda Macias

AFP journalist Arman Soldin killed by rocket fire in eastern Ukraine

(FILES) AFP journalist Arman Soldin, walks in a trench as he is covering the war in Ukraine on March 18, 2023. Arman was killed by a rocket strike as he reported with AFP colleagues from Ukrainian positions in Chasiv Yar on May 9, 2023. 

Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

Agence France-Presse video photographer Arman Soldin has died in Ukraine, the French news wire service said on Twitter.

Soldin, who was AFP’s Ukraine video coordinator, was killed by rocket fire near the outskirts of Bakhmut, according to the news agency.

“We are devastated to learn of the death of AFP video journalist Arman Soldin in eastern Ukraine today,” the French wire service wrote on Twitter. “All of our thoughts go out to his family and loved ones.”

(FILES) AFP journalist Arman Soldin, walks in a village after a shelling on March 3, 2022 in Ukraine. 

Aris Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

— CNBC’s Amanda Macias and Ari Messinis | AFP | Getty Images

Russia launched at least 20 missiles against Ukrainian cities, Ukraine’s military says

Mayor of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, examines high-rise residential building damaged by remains of a shot down Russian drone in Kyiv on May 8, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Genya Savilov | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine’s military said Russian forces launched 20 missiles against the cities of Kramatorsk and Kostyantynivka in the Donetsk region. More than half of the missiles used were air-launched cruise missiles.

Ukrainian generals also said in their evening update that fierce battles continue in the Ukrainian cities of Bakhmut and Maryinka.

— Amanda Macias

UK has trained more than 50,000 Ukrainian troops, Ukrainian prime minister says

A Ukrainian soldier is seen with flags of Ukraine and the United Kingdom during their final training, on March 24, 2023 in South West, England. 

Finnbarr Webster | Getty Images

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal thanked the United Kingdom for training Ukrainian troops as Kyiv continues to fight off Moscow’s invasion.

“More than 50,000 were trained here in Great Britain and we continue this mission together and I’m sure it will be our mutual victory in the future,” Shmyhal said in an interview with Sky news.

“I am sure that the most important Victory Day for Ukraine will be victory day in this terrible Russian full-scale aggression against Ukraine,” he added, referencing May 9 celebrations.

— Amanda Macias

Russia’s Victory Day in pictures

Veterans watch the Victory Day military parade on Dvortsovaya Square in central Saint Petersburg on May 9, 2023.

Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

Russia has been celebrating Victory Day today, with military parades and events around the country, albeit on a smaller-scale than in previous years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed the crowds in Red Square in Moscow, claiming that a “real war” was being waged against Russia and that the country had to fight for its future.

Russia launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine 15 months ago but has portrayed its so-called “special military operation” there as a necessity, claiming baselessly that it faced an existential threat from Ukraine and the West.

Here’s more: Russia’s Victory Day in pictures: Putin watches on during scaled-back parade

‘Real war is being waged against our Motherland,’ Putin says at Victory Day parade

Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a 10-minute speech at the 2023 Victory Day parade in which he said Russia wanted a peaceful future but that “Western elites” were “sowing hatred and Russophobia.”

Gavriil Grigorov | Afp | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a speech as Moscow’s annual Victory Day parade got underway in Moscow that “real war is being waged against our Motherland.”

More than 10,000 people and 125 units of weapons and military equipment are set to be involved in the procession through Red Square in the Russian capital on Tuesday. The event commemorates the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

The Russian president gave a 10-minute speech in which he said Russia wanted a peaceful future but that “Western elites” were “sowing hatred and Russophobia” and that Ukrainians had become “hostages to a state coup” and the ambitions of the West.

He said the West had forgotten the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany and that Russia was currently fighting for its own survival.

“Today, civilization is again at a decisive turning point. A real war has been unleashed against our homeland. We have repulsed international terrorism, we will protect the inhabitants of Donbas, we will ensure our security,” Putin said, according to comments translated by Reuters.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, accompanied by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov, arrives for the Victory Day military parade at Red Square in central Moscow on May 9, 2023.

Gavriil Grigorov | Afp | Getty Images

Putin and other heads of state from former Soviet states, as well as top military personnel and war veterans, are attending the event today.

— Holly Ellyatt

What’s happening — and isn’t — at this year’s Victory Day in Moscow

Russian soldiers march during a rehearsal of the Victory Day military parade in Moscow, Russia, on May 7, 2023.

Xinhua news Agency | Xinhua news Agency | Getty Images

Despite being one of the most important dates in Russia’s calendar, Victory Day in Russia has not been what it was for a number of years now.

The Covid-19 pandemic and now the ongoing war with Ukraine have sorely affected annual commemorations of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.

This year, Russia’s growing domestic insecurities as a result of the war — and an uptick on attacks on its own soil — is also marring the commemorative event, with at least six regions (including Crimea) and 21 cities canceling their Victory Day parades, Britain’s Ministry of Defense noted last Friday.

Russian Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launchers parade through Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 9, 2022.

Alexander Nemenov | Afp | Getty Images

Moscow’s Victory Day celebration is likely to be held on a much smaller scale this year and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reception following the parade will not go ahead. The reception was last held in 2019, the U.K. noted.

The traditional “March of the Immortal Regiment,” in which family members display photographs of dead veterans of World War II, has also been canceled. That follows the recent cancellation of the Russian-hosted International Army Games, the U.K. noted.

The timing of a recent alleged drone strike on the Kremlin a few days before Victory Day showed, the ministry said, “Russia’s increasing vulnerability to such attacks and has almost certainly raised the threat perception of the Russian leadership over the Victory Day events.”

“The potential for protests and discontent over the Ukraine war are also likely to have influenced the calculus of the Russian leadership.”

The Kremlin said all possible security measures were in place ahead of this year’s Victory Day and that Putin will watch the parade on Red Square along with the leaders of other former Soviet republics that now form part of a bloc known as the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The heads of state will then lay flowers and have an informal breakfast together, Peskov said. The parade is due to start at 10a.m. Moscow time. Putin is due to give a speech at the event and is also expected to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

— Holly Ellyatt

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here:

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