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Latest in Ukraine: Russian Tanker Hit in Drone Attack Near Crimea Bridge

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Latest developments:

  • Saturday intelligence update on Ukraine from the Britain’s Ministry of Defense says strike on 113-meter-long Russian landing ship, the Olenegorsky Gornyak, was the largest naval vessel damaged since sinking of the Moskva in April of last year.
  • Poland has detained another person suspected of being a member of a Russian spy network, bringing the total number of people detained as part of an investigation to 16, Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said Friday.
  • The direct channel between the Russian Agricultural Bank and J.P. Morgan, as part of the U.N.-brokered Black Sea grain deal, was closed on August 2, RIA news agency said Friday, citing Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
  • U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie met Friday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv and toured ravaged villages. He said seeing the “cruelty” and “inhumanity” of war impressed upon him the need for continuing U.S. support of Ukraine against Russia.

Russian maritime officials confirmed Saturday that a Ukrainian sea drone attack has damaged a sanctioned Russian tanker near a strategic bridge that links Crimea with Russia’s mainland, suspending traffic and ferry transport services.

According to Russian media reports, the tanker was approaching the Kerch Strait that links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, when it was hit by Ukrainian drones.

“The SIG tanker … received a hole in the engine room near the waterline on the starboard side, preliminarily as a result of a sea drone attack,” Russia’s Federal Marine and River Transport agency said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.

The chemical tanker was sanctioned by the United States in 2019 for helping provide jet fuel to Russian forces in Syria.

News of the attack follows another that seriously damaged a Russian warship at a Black Sea naval base.

Ukrainian forces have said they are breaking through the Russian southern front line of defense, moving to the “intermediate one,” Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar reported Friday.

According to Maliar, Ukraine is prioritizing its counteroffensive operations in the country’s south, while for Russia, the focus is the east.

Most Russian resources are currently concentrated near Kupiansk, Kharkiv oblast, as Moscow seeks to retake the territories liberated by Ukrainian forces last fall, Maliar said. “It is important for them both from a moral and a military point of view.”

Jeddah summit

Chinese Special Envoy for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui will participate in the Saudi Arabia- initiated Jeddah talks on the peaceful settlement in Ukraine, China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said Friday.

“China is willing to work with the international community to continue to play a constructive role in promoting a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine,” Wang Wenbin, ministry spokesperson, said in a statement.

Ukraine and Western diplomats hope the meeting this weekend in the port city of Jeddah will be an opportunity for officials to agree on key principles to inform any peace agreement that would end Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

About 40 countries are set to be represented at the session, but the biggest diplomatic prize would be an endorsement from China, which has kept close economic and diplomatic ties with Russia — and so far, has rejected international calls to condemn the invasion.

China was invited to a previous round of talks in Copenhagen in late June but did not attend.

Ukraine and its allies are optimistic the Jeddah summit will help ramp up global support for a peace plan in Ukraine.

In his nightly video address Friday, Zelenskyy expressed hope the discussions in Jeddah would lay the groundwork for an upcoming “peace summit” with leaders from around the world this fall. The aim is to endorse the principles based on Zelenskyy’s 10-point formula for a peace settlement.

“It is very important that the world sees: a fair and honest end to Russian aggression will benefit everyone in the world. Everyone!” said Zelenskyy. “Liberating Ukrainian land from the occupiers means restoring full respect for international law and the U.N. Charter. Eliminating all threats created by Russia to Ukrainian and global security means returning peace to international relations and stability to global life. I am grateful to everyone who supports the peace formula and has already joined the joint efforts for the full implementation of the formula,” he added.

The main discussions at the Jeddah summit will take place Saturday and Sunday.

Russia says it will not be involved in this weekend’s talks or the summit planned for the fall.

Beyond its Western backers, Ukraine hopes to garner diplomatic support from more Global South countries, including Brazil, India, South Africa and Turkey.

Part of Ukraine’s strategy to gain support from such countries will reportedly be to emphasize how food prices have risen after Russia quit the U.N.-brokered Black Sea grain deal last month and began attacking Ukrainian port facilities.

That facet of the conflict has been a top priority for U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who pressed all countries Thursday at the United Nations to tell Moscow to stop using the Black Sea as blackmail after Russia killed the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Russian warships

During the night of Aug. 3-4, a Russian warship was seriously damaged in a Ukrainian naval drone attack on Russia’s Black Sea navy base at Novorossiysk.

A Ukrainian intelligence source said the Olenegorsky Gornyak, a Russian navy landing ship with about 100 Russian servicemen on board, had been hit by a sea drone carrying 450 kilograms of TNT.

“As a result of the attack, the Olenegorsky Gornyak received a serious breach and currently cannot conduct its combat missions,” a source told Reuters, adding that the operation had been carried out by Ukraine’s Security Service and the navy. “All the Russian statements about a ‘repelled attack’ are fake,” the source said.

Video footage verified by Reuters shows the Olenegorsky Gornyak being towed to shore by a tug, listing heavily to its left side.

Earlier, Russia’s Defense Ministry said two Ukrainian sea drones had been repelled in the waters outside the base and that the drones had been destroyed. It made no mention of any damage in its short statement.

The port, which handles 2% of the world’s oil supply and exports grain, temporarily interrupted maritime traffic before resuming normal operations, according to the Caspian Pipeline Consortium which operates an oil terminal there.

It is the first time a Russian commercial port has been targeted in the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Navalny sentencing

In an interview Friday with VOA, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed strong discontent with the announcement by a Russia court Friday of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny’s additional 19-year prison term on extremism charges.

“Sad but not surprised,” the U.S. ambassador said. “It is clear that the Russian government, that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, that this authoritarian government will use any means to restrict the voices of the opposition, restrict the voices of criticism. Navalny represents that. He is being held in an unacceptable way. He should not have been in this court system, and we condemn the actions of the Russian government as it relates to him,” she said.

VOA U.N Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this story. Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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