Putin says 'an agreement will have to be reached' for Ukraine conflict to end
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that ultimately an agreement would need to be struck to end fighting in Ukraine, nearly ten months after the Kremlin launched its "special military operation" there. French energy group TotalEnergies said earlier that it was withdrawing its representatives from the board of Russian gas giant Novatek and taking a $3.7 billion hit in the wake of sanctions against Moscow. Read our live blog to see how all the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+1).
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9:15pm: Belarus to allow transit of Ukraine grain for export from Lithuania, says UN
Belarus told the UN on Friday that it would accept, without preconditions, the transit of Ukrainian grains through its territory for export from Lithuanian ports, a UN spokesman said.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres met with Belarus Deputy Foreign Minister Yury Ambrazevich in New York on Friday, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement after the meeting.
Ambrazevich also "reiterated the requests from his government to be able export its own fertiliser products, which are currently subject to sanctions," Dujarric said.
7:15pm: Ukraine says situation in key areas of Donbas front remains very difficult
The situation in key areas of the Donbas front in eastern Ukraine remains very difficult, but Kyiv's forces are repelling Russian attacks and inflicting significant losses, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday.
In an evening video address, Zelensky also said Russian forces had destroyed the town of Bakhmut, one of the epicentres of recent fighting.
6:21pm: Bulgarian parliament approves military aid to Ukraine
Bulgarian lawmakers on Friday approved the country’s first military assistance package to Ukraine involving a classified list of weapons prepared by the government.
The National Assembly voted 148-46 with one abstention in favor of the weapons to Kyiv following months of political squabbling on the issue in the Balkan NATO member state.
Bulgaria previously agreed to repair Ukrainian military equipment at its factories but refused to send weapons directly due to opposition from President Rumen Radev and the country’s Moscow-friendly political parties.
Along with Hungary, Bulgaria was the only European Union member country to initially refuse to give Ukraine weapons following Russia’s invasion.
6:12pm: $275 million package on its way to boost Ukraine air defenses from drones, says White House
The US is sending a $275 million aid package to Ukraine to help boost its air defenses against drones, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Friday.
Kirby told reporters that Washington was deeply concerned about the "deepening and burgeoning defense partnership" between Iran and Russia, and the US would be using its tools to disrupt that relationship, including on drones.
He said the US government would also be calling on partner countries to discuss and address the Russia-Iran partnership.
5:37pm: NATO chief fears Ukraine war could become a wider conflict
The head of NATO expressed worry that the fighting in Ukraine could spin out of control and become a war between Russia and NATO in an interview with Norwegian broadcaster NRK released Friday .
“If things go wrong, they can go horribly wrong,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
“It is a terrible war in Ukraine. It is also a war that can become a full-fledged war that spreads into a major war between NATO and Russia,” he said. “We are working on that every day to avoid that.”
Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway, said in the interview that “there is no doubt that a full-fledged war is a possibility,” adding that it was important to avoid a conflict "that involves more countries in Europe and becomes a full-fledged war in Europe.”
5:27pm: Russia is expanding its nuclear arsenal, US Defense Secretary says
Russia is expanding and modernising its nuclear arsenal, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Friday, at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly suggested he could use nuclear weapons to protect Russia.
"And as the Kremlin continues its cruel and unprovoked war of choice against Ukraine, the whole world has seen Putin engage in deeply irresponsible nuclear saber-rattling," Austin said at a ceremony for the incoming commander of US Strategic Command, which oversees the United States' nuclear arsenal.
5:02pm: Russia attempting to obtain more weapons from Iran, says British UN ambassador
Russia is attempting to obtain more weapons from Iran, including hundreds of ballistic missiles, and offering Tehran an unprecedented level of military and technical support in return, Britain's UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward said on Friday.
4:31pm: Ukrainian Nobel Prize winner says Putin must face tribunal
A representative of one of the organisations sharing this year's Nobel Peace Prize said Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin should face an international tribunal for the fighting in Ukraine.
Oleksandra Matviychuk of Ukraine's Center for Civil Liberties told a news conference in Oslo, Norway, that such a tribunal should be established to hold Putin, as well as Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko “and other war criminals,” accountable. Matviychuk called the conflict in Ukraine “genocidal” and said that “if Ukraine stops resistance, there will be no more us.”
In October, the Ukrainian group was named a co-winner of the 2022 peace price along with Russian human rights group Memorial and Ales Bialiatski, head of the Belarusian rights group Viasna. The triple peace prize was seen as a strong rebuke to Putin, not only for Russia's actions in Ukraine but for the Kremlin's crackdown on domestic opposition and its close ties with the authoritarian Lukashenko, who brutally suppressed protests in 2020 that erupted after a presidential election widely regarded as manipulated. Russia's Supreme Court shut down Memorial, one of Russia’s oldest and most prominent human rights organisations, in December 2021.
4:23pm: A centre in Zaporizhzhia for displaced persons lacks supplies
The Ukrainian city of Enerhodar has been at the centre of international attention since Russian troops occupied its nuclear power station in March, shortly after the war began on February 24. Ukraine has since accused Russia of launching strikes towards the nearby Ukrainian towns of Zaporizhzhia and Nikopol from this sensitive area. The Russian occupation and fears of nuclear disaster have forced thousands of people to flee the city. Many of them have sought refuge at a centre for displaced persons in Zaporizhzhia.
FRANCE 24’s special correspondents Robert Parsons, Pauline Godart and Raid Abu Zaideh went to this centre to meet with some of the people staying there.
3:41pm: 'An agreement will have to be reached' to end Ukraine conflict, says Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that ultimately an agreement would need to be struck to end fighting in Ukraine, nearly ten months after the Kremlin launched its "special military operation" there.
"Trust, of course, is almost at zero... but ultimately, in the end, an agreement will have to be reached. I have said many times that we are ready for these agreements, and we are open" to them, Putin said during a summit of regional leaders in the capital of Kyrgyzstan.
3:09pm: Germany to send Skynex air defence systems to Ukraine
Germany is to send two additional air defence systems to Ukraine of the type Skynex by Rheinmetall, the Handelsblatt daily reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources in Berlin.
The systems are to be delivered in early 2024, the report said.
2:49pm: Putin threatens production cuts over oil price cap
President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Russia could reduce oil production in response to a $60 price cap on its oil exports agreed by Western nations over Moscow's Ukraine offensive.
"We will consider a possible reduction in production if necessary," Putin told reporters at a press conference in Kyrgyzstan's capital Bishkek following a regional summit, calling the price cap a "stupid decision" that is "harmful to global energy markets".
2:45pm: Putin says Russia has no need for new round of mobilisation
Russian President Vladimir Putin said there was no need to call up additional troops to fight in Ukraine, as there were 150,000 recently conscripted fighters who had not yet been sent to the frontlines.
Moscow called up more than 300,000 reservists in a mobilisation drive in September and October, and Putin said on Wednesday that around half had been deployed to Ukraine.
Although Putin has repeatedly said mobilisation is over, the Kremlin has refused to rescind an official decree ordering the call-ups, stoking fears that a second wave could be announced.
1:35pm: Brittney Griner arrives home after Russia prisoner swap
American basketball star Brittney Griner has arrived in the United States after she was released from a Russian prison in exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as the "Merchant of Death".
Griner, 32, who was arrested in Russia in February on drug charges, was seen by an AFP reporter walking across a runway after her plane landed in San Antonio, Texas.
She was expected to be transferred to a nearby military facility for medical checks, US media reported.
12:47pm: Russia and United States will keep discussing prisoner swaps, says deputy foreign minister
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Friday that Russia and the United States will continue to talk about possible prisoner swaps directly, without intermediaries, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.
On Thursday, the United States freed Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for American basketball player Brittney Griner, who had been jailed in Russia.
US President Joe Biden said Washington remains committed to also securing the return of imprisoned former marine Paul Whelan from Russia.
12:10am: Putin critic found guilty of 'fake information' about Russian army
Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin has been found guilty of spreading "fake information" about the army, Russian news agencies report, with sentencing due later in the day.
Prosecutors are seeking a nine-year sentence for Yashin, a Moscow district councillor.
Yashin was tried over a YouTube video released in April in which he discussed evidence uncovered by Western journalists of Russian war crimes in Bucha, near Kyiv, and cast doubt on the official Moscow version that such reports had been fabricated.
In his final statement to the court this week, Yashin appealed directly to President Vladimir Putin, describing him as "the person responsible for this slaughter" and asking him to "stop this madness".
11:45am: Ukrainians seek aid, shelter in shadow of Russia-occupied nuclear plant
The Ukrainian city of Enerhodar has been at the centre of international attention since Russian troops occupied its nuclear power station in March – soon after the start of the war. Ukraine has since accused Russia of using the territory of the station to fire at the nearby Ukranian towns of Zaporizhzhia and Nikopol.
The harsh terms of the Russian occupation and fear of nuclear disaster have forced thousands of people to flee the city. Many of them have sought refuge in Zaporizhzhia, where FRANCE 24 reporters Robert Parsons, Pauline Godart and Raid Abu Zaideh have been to a centre for internal displaced persons to discover how they are coping.
10:15am: TotalEnergies quits Russian gas firm's board, taking $3.7 billion hit
French oil and gas giant TotalEnergies says it is withdrawing its two members from Novatek's board and will take a $3.7 billion hit in its fourth-quarter accounts for the write-down of its stake in the Russian company.
Unlike London-based rivals BP and Shell, TotalEnergies has held on to several investments in Russia after the country invaded Ukraine, and faced criticism for doing so.
Among its Russian investments are a 19.4% stake in gas producer Novatek and minority holdings in liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG.
"In view of the European sanctions in force since the beginning of the war, the two directors representing TotalEnergies on the board of directors of Novatek are led to abstain from voting in meetings of the board of directors of this company, in particular on financial matters," a statement from the company said.
"Under these circumstances, the board of directors of TotalEnergies has decided to withdraw the representatives of the company from the board of PAO Novatek with immediate effect."
9:40am: Griner-Bout swap not a sign of improving relations, Kremlin says
The deal to swap Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for US basketball star Brittney Griner should not be seen as a step towards improving bilateral relations between Moscow and Washington, the Kremlin has warned.
"The talks were exclusively on the topic of the exchange. It's probably wrong to draw any hypothetical conclusions that this may be a step towards overcoming the crisis in bilateral relations," the TASS news agency has quoted the Kremlin's press office as saying.
"Bilateral relations remain in a sorry state," the Russian presidency added.
9:30am: Putin says West's desire for global dominance stokes conflicts
Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed the West's desire to maintain its dominance on the world stage for increasing the risks of conflict.
"The potential for conflict in the world is growing and this is a direct consequence of the attempts by Western elites to preserve their political, financial, military and ideological dominance by any means," Putin said in a video message to a summit of defence ministers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
"They deliberately multiply chaos and aggravate the international situation," Putin said.
The Russian leader has repeatedly cast the war in Ukraine as a conflict between Russia and the West, criticising those who have provided military and financial backing to Ukraine.
8:45am: US sports world overjoyed at Brittney Griner's release
Brittney Griner's former coaches and teammates as well as a host of elite athletes have celebrated the US basketball star's release from a Russian prison after 10 months of captivity. FRANCE 24's Washington correspondent Kethevane Gorjestani has the details.
6:50am: US to send Ukraine anti-drone, air defence aid worth $275 million
The United States is preparing to send Ukraine a 275-million-dollar (€260 million) military aid package offering new capabilities to defeat drones and strengthen air defences, according to a document seen by Reuters and people familiar with the package.
The Pentagon is also expected to include rockets for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers made by Lockheed Martin Corp LMT.N, 155mm ammunition, Humvee military vehicles and generators, according to the people and the document.
A National Security Council spokesperson declined to comment on the aid package. The contents and size of aid packages can shift until they are signed by the president.
The $275 million will be covered by Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) which allows the United States to transfer defence articles and services from stocks quickly without congressional approval in response to an emergency.
4:35am: Brittney Griner heads home after prisoner swap
American basketball star Brittney Griner was headed back to the United States on Thursday after being released from a Russian prison in exchange for an arms dealer known as the "Merchant of Death".
Griner, 32, who was arrested in Russia in February on drug charges, and Viktor Bout, 55, who was serving a 25-year sentence in a US prison, were exchanged at an airport in Abu Dhabi.
In footage released by Russian state media, Griner, shorn of her distinctive dreadlocks, and a relaxed and animated Bout could be seen crossing paths on the airport tarmac and heading towards the planes that would take them home.
President Joe Biden announced Griner's release in an address to the nation at the White House. "She is safe. She is on a plane. She is on her way home," he said.
The president said he had spoken to her and she was in "good spirits" after suffering "needless trauma".
10:35pm: Russia ‘deploying rocket launchers near Ukraine nuclear reactor’
Russian forces have installed multiple rocket launchers at Ukraine's shut-down Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, according to Ukrainian officials.
Ukraine's nuclear company Energoatom said in a statement that Russian forces occupying the plant have placed several Grad multiple rocket launchers near one of its six nuclear reactors, which are all shut down. It said the offensive systems are located at new “protective structures” the Russians secretly built, "violating all conditions for nuclear and radiation safety”.
The claim could not be independently verified.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)
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