Bombing of Ukrainian nuclear power plant continues as new accusations arise
Kyiv and Moscow again accused each other of firing on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on Sunday.
Ukraine’s Energoatom nuclear agency claimed there had been “further provocations” over the weekend, with suspected Russian shells hitting the plant at 3-5 second intervals.
Russian-backed authorities in occupied areas around Zaporizhzhia claimed Ukrainian forces were behind the bombardment, which damaged a pump and caused a fire in the factory.
Euronews cannot independently verify these claims.
Russia seized the factory – which is the largest in Europe – at the start of the war and has since been accused by Ukraine of using it as a military base.
It has been bombed several times in recent weeks, raising fears of a nuclear disaster and prompting the UN to convene an urgent meeting last week.
In his daily address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denounced what he called “Russian blackmail” over the nuclear power plant.
“The occupiers are trying to intimidate people in an extremely cynical way by using the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant,” he said, saying Russian forces were bombarding Ukrainian-held towns from the site.
Zelenskyy warned that Russia’s occupation of the site increased the “nuclear threat to Europe”. He called for new sanctions and said those responsible for the “blackmail” should “be tried by an international court”.
The Ukrainian authorities, supported by their Western allies, are calling for the demilitarization of the area and the withdrawal of Russian troops who have occupied the site since March.
Hungary increases imports of Russian gas
Hungary announced on Saturday that it was importing more Russian gas than expected under trade deals, following a visit by its top diplomat to Moscow in July.
Russian energy giant Gazprom delivered “higher volumes [of gas] than those mentioned in the contract” to Hungary, according to the country’s foreign ministry.
Senior official Tamas Menczer said this was due to trade talks between Budapest and Moscow, which had “made it possible to reach an agreement”.
“It is the duty of the Hungarian government to ensure a safe gas supply for the country, and we are up to it,” he wrote on Facebook.
A further 2.6 million cubic meters of Russian gas will be imported into Hungary in August via the Turkstream pipeline, Menczer added, saying negotiations were underway regarding September deliveries.
A cubic meter of gas provides about the same amount of energy as a liter of diesel.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto paid a surprise visit to Moscow last month to discuss increased supplies of Russian gas, on top of the 4.5 billion he received annually before the invasion.
“In light of what we know about the current state of the European market, it is clear that acquiring such a large volume is impossible without Russian sources,” Menczer said.
Hungary, like many other European countries, is heavily dependent on Russian energy, with around 80% of its gas coming from Russia.
Budapest has strongly opposed any potential EU sanctions on Russian gas, although it did not vote against Brussels’ punitive plans.
Finns bombard Russian tourists with Ukrainian anthem
Finland is playing the Ukrainian national anthem at hotspots across the country for Russian tourists, in a bid to show solidarity with Ukraine.
At the Imatrankoski rapids, a popular attraction in eastern Finland, the Ukrainian national anthem sounds every day as a century-old dam opens in front of hundreds of spectators, including many Russians.
The music of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius was traditionally played alone during the show, but since July it has been preceded by the Ukrainian anthem in protest against the Russian invasion.
“It’s bad for Russians who love Finland,” said Mark Kosykh, a 44-year-old Russian tourist who came to see the rapids with his family.
“But we understand the Finnish government,” he added, stressing that not all of his compatriots support the war.
“Not all Russians are for Putin. The government and everyone should understand that,” he said.
The Ukrainian national anthem is also played nightly from Lappeenranta Town Hall, which overlooks a shopping center popular with Russian tourists.
“The objective is to express strong support for Ukraine and to condemn the war of aggression,” Mayor Kimmo Jarva told AFP.
Many Russians travel to Lappeenranta to buy clothes and cosmetics, and Russian license plates abound throughout the town.
Since the start of the conflict, the Finns have increasingly taken a dim view of these tourists.
58% of Finns are in favor of limiting tourist visas for Russian citizens, according to a poll published last week by public television Yle.
“In my opinion, their number should be very strongly restricted,” said Antero Ahtiainen, 57, a resident of Lappeenranta. “I don’t see any other way to make Russian politicians think.”
UN grain ships ready for Africa
Other ships are to leave from Ukrainian Black Sea ports loaded with vital supplies for Africa.
A United Nations-chartered ship, the MV Brave Commander, will leave Ukraine for the African continent in the coming days after finishing loading more than 23,000 tonnes of much-needed wheat.
The shipment was funded by donations from the United Nations World Food Program, the United States Agency for International Development and several private donors.
A total of 16 ships have now left Ukraine following the internationally negotiated deal with Russia to allow a resumption of grain exports from the country’s Black Sea ports.
Ukrainian wheat and corn have been languishing in silos since Ukrainian ships were blocked by Russia at the start of the war.
The deal was struck last month amid fears that the loss of grain supplies from Ukraine could lead to severe food shortages and even outbreaks of famine in parts of the world.
The ship will be the first shipment of humanitarian food aid to Africa since the invasion began five months ago.
Ukraine has about 20 million tonnes of grain remaining from last year’s harvest, while this year’s wheat harvest is also estimated at 20 million tonnes.
So far, most of the shipments covered by the deal have carried grain for animal feed or fuel.
As part of the UN agreement, all ships are inspected in Istanbul by the Joint Coordination Center, where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel work.
Macron approves Finland and Sweden’s NATO candidacies
French President Emmanuel Macron signed Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership protocols on Saturday.
“This sovereign choice of Finland and Sweden, two European partners, will strengthen their security in the face of the current threat in their immediate vicinity”, declared the Elysée.
“[This] will make a significant contribution, given the capabilities of these two partners, to the collective posture and to our European security,” he added.
Sweden and Finland began trying to join the Western alliance after Russia invaded Ukraine, with both applying to join this year.
Finland’s and Sweden’s membership in NATO must be ratified by all members of the bloc. To date, more than 20 of the 30 countries that make up the alliance have done so.
“Twenty allies” have “already ratified the protocols”, had indicated, during the adoption by the French Parliament, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna.
Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO on May 18, but Turkey immediately blocked the membership process.
Ankara has demanded that these countries declare Kurdish organizations terrorists, extradite those they accuse of terrorism or having taken part in a coup attempt in 2016, and lift bans on the supply of arms to Turkey.
The Foreign Ministers of Turkey, Sweden and Finland have signed a memorandum removing the obstacles to the two countries joining NATO.
However, Ankara later said it was not final and the Turkish parliament might not approve it if Stockholm and Helsinki failed to comply with its demands.