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Ukraine latest: Russian-held regions in Luhansk, Donetsk plan votes to join Russia

The Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24 continues, with casualties rising on both sides.

Ukrainian forces are mounting a strong counteroffensive against Russian troops, reclaiming territory lost when Moscow launched its invasion back in February.

Ukraine has managed to withstand the Russian onslaught with the help of Western military aid, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy regularly calls on the world to do more. Governments around the globe have imposed heavy sanctions against Moscow but have stopped short of direct intervention for fear of sparking a wider conflict.

Meanwhile, rising geopolitical risk and volatile energy and financial markets are rocking Asia.

For all our coverage, visit our Ukraine war page.

Read our in-depth coverage:

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Note: Nikkei Asia decided on March 5 to temporarily suspend its reporting from Russia until further information becomes available regarding the scope of the revised criminal code. Entries include material from wire services and other sources.

Here are the latest developments:

Tuesday, Sept. 20 (Tokyo time)

9:35 p.m. Two Russian-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine — the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic and the neighboring Donetsk People’s Republic — plan to hold referendums Sept. 23-27 on joining Russia.

Russian-installed officials in the southern Kherson region, where Moscow’s forces control around 95% of the territory, say they also will hold a referendum.

Dmitry Medvedev, a former Russian president who serves on the country’s Security Council, suggested before the announcements that the outcome of such votes would give Moscow carte blanche to defend what it would regard as legally its own territory.

6:30 p.m. Ukraine is now deploying captured Russian tanks to solidify its gains in the northeast amid an ongoing counteroffensive, a Washington-based think tank says, as Kyiv vows to push further into territories occupied by Moscow. The Institute for the Study of War, citing a Russian claim, said that Ukraine had been using Russian T-72 tanks that had been left behind as it tries to push into the Russian-occupied region of Luhansk.

Ukrainian servicemen stand on a destroyed Russian tank in a retaken area in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Sept. 17, 2022. A think tank says that in the latest push by Ukrainian forces, Russian troops are being forced to abandon high-quality equipment in their haste to retreat.

  © AP

“The initial panic of the counteroffensive led Russian troops to abandon higher-quality equipment in working order, rather than the more damaged equipment left behind by Russian forces retreating from Kyiv in April, further indicating the severity of the Russian rout,” the institute said.

3:30 p.m. British Prime Minister Liz Truss says the U.K. next year will meet or exceed the 2.3 billion pound ($2.63 billion) military aid spent on Ukraine in 2022. The U.K.’s military support to Ukraine is likely to include equipment such as the Multiple Launch Rocket System, Truss’ office said in a statement.

Then-U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at a news conference in Kyiv on February 17, 2022.

  © Reuters

2:30 p.m. China’s coal imports from Russia rose in August to reach their highest level in at least five years, as power utilities in the world’s biggest coal consumer sought overseas supplies to meet soaring demand, a consequence of extremely hot weather. Arrivals of Russian coal last month reached 8.54 million tonnes, up from the previous peak of 7.42 million tonnes in July and 57% higher than in the same period last year, data from General Administration of Customs shows. The monthly figure was the highest since comparable statistics began in 2017.

10:00 a.m. Taiwan is “proud” of its efforts to help Ukraine in the country’s struggle to defend itself, and those efforts must continue, President Tsai Ing-wen told a conference taking place in New York. Ukraine’s plight has won broad sympathy in Taiwan, where many see parallels between Ukraine’s situation and the threat Taipei’s government says it faces from China, which views the island as its own territory. Taiwan has donated more than $30 million for humanitarian relief, mostly raised from the public, and joined in Western-led sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

Wagner Group, a private military contractor based in Russia, is trying to recruit fighters among Russian felons, according to a U.S. Defense Department official, but is having difficulty. 

  © Reuters

4:51 a.m. The Wagner Group, a Russian private military company, is trying to recruit over 1,500 convicted felons to take part in Russia’s war in Ukraine, but many are refusing to join, a senior U.S. defense official says. “Our information indicates that Wagner has been suffering high losses in Ukraine, especially and unsurprisingly among young and inexperienced fighters,” the U.S. official told reporters, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

12:40 a.m. Germany says it will supply four more self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine along with ammunition.

Germany has faced calls to send more tanks to Ukraine. The announcement of the additional howitzer supplies says Germany faces its “own challenging materiel situation.”

12:30 a.m. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has summoned Canada’s ambassador in Moscow to protest an alleged attack on the Russian Embassy in Ottawa.

Moscow says that an unidentified person who threw a Molotov cocktail on the grounds of the Embassy and that “aggressive demonstrators” blocked the service entry, according to a statement from the ministry.

Monday, Sept. 19

8:45 p.m. Four of the five European Union countries bordering Russia begin turning away Russian tourists, saying they should not travel while their country is at war with Ukraine. Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania imposed new restrictions as Finland remained open, though Helsinki slashed the number of consular appointments available to Russian travelers seeking visas.

Monday’s entry ban targets tourists and excludes Russian dissidents seeking refuge in the EU along with lorry drivers, refugees and permanent residents of EU countries as well as those visiting family members.

3:50 p.m. Russian troops have struck the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant in the southern Mykolaiv region, but its reactors have not been damaged and are working normally, Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom said on Monday, according to Reuters. A blast took place 300 meters from the reactors and damaged power plant buildings, Energoatom said in a statement. The attack also damaged a nearby hydroelectric power plant and transmission lines.

Saturday, Sept. 17

3:40 a.m. Russian President Vladimir Putin says 25% of Russian gas supplies to Turkey will be paid for in rubles.

“Our agreement on deliveries of Russian natural gas to Turkey should come into effect in the near future, with 25% of payment for these deliveries in Russian rubles,” Putin said, speaking during a meeting with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Uzbekistan.

2:29 a.m. The top U.S. general says war crimes in Ukraine cannot be hidden, reports Reuters, as Kyiv leveled fresh accusations against Russia following the discovery of a mass burial site in northeastern territory recaptured from Russian forces.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says he would reserve judgment as media reports emerged indicating that at the site in Izium, some bodies were found with hands tied behind their backs.

“In terms of the totality of the scale [of potential war crimes], I don’t know. But I would tell you that the world will discover that. War crimes cannot be hidden, especially things like mass graves,” Milley told reporters traveling with him after arriving in Estonia for a NATO gathering.

Women stand near a residential building destroyed by a military strike in the town of Izium recently liberated by the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

  © Reuters

1:09 a.m. The U.N. General Assembly will let Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy give a video address during its so-called high-level week this month.

The resolution passes by a 101-7 vote, with 19 abstentions.

Friday, Sept. 16

11:30 p.m. Germany has “known for a long time that Russia is no longer a reliable energy supplier,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz says after his government takes control of three refineries in the country owned by Russian oil company Rosneft. “That’s why it’s important to do everything we can now to safeguard Germany’s energy supply.”

The move, an escalation of energy tensions between Moscow and the West, comes ahead of a European Union-wide ban on imports of Russian crude oil next January.

9:30 p.m. Russia’s projected economic contraction this year may be closer to the 4% end of the central bank’s 4% to 6% forecast, the bank says.

Gross domestic product for the second quarter and high-frequency economic indicators “point to stronger dynamics of business activity than the Bank of Russia expected in July,” the statement says.

The statement comes after policymakers cut the central bank’s key interest rate by 0.50 percentage point to 7.5%.

1:50 a.m. Ukrainian authorities found a mass grave containing 440 bodies, including shelling and air-strike victims, in the northeastern town of Izium, officials say. Thousands of Russian troops fled Izium last weekend after occupying the city and using it as a logistics hub in the Kharkiv region.

“Mass graves are being discovered in Izium after liberation from the” Russians, with the largest burial site holding 440 unmarked graves, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry tweeted.

8:40 a.m. U.S. President Joe Biden announces a new $600 million arms package to help the Ukrainian military battle Russia, according to a White House memo sent to the State Department. Biden authorized the assistance using his Presidential Drawdown Authority, which allows the president to authorize the transfer of excess weapons from U.S. stocks. The memo does not detail how the money would be used, but several sources told Reuters it was expected the package would contain munitions, including more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). The package would include ammunition for howitzers, according to two sources who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to talk publicly.

3:42 a.m. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors passes a resolution demanding that Russia end its occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, reports Reuters.

The resolution is the second on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine passed by the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s board. The first in March preceded Russian forces taking control of Zaporizhzhia, Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant.

1:10 a.m. If the U.S. supplies longer-range missiles to Ukraine, “it will cross a red line and become a direct party to the conflict,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova tells a news briefing.

“Under such a scenario, we will be forced to respond appropriately,” TASS quotes Zakharova as saying.

“Possible supplies of missiles to the Kiev regime are identical to a situation in which European countries might host US-made ground-launched missiles, previously banned under the treaty on intermediate and shorter-range missiles, capable of hitting targets on Russian territory,” she adds.

Ruble bank notes: Targets of new U.S. sanctions include the head of the operator of Russian payment card network. (Moscow News Agency handout via Reuters)

1:00 a.m. Russia could supply gas to Pakistan by pipeline, President Vladimir Putin tells Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, saying part of the necessary infrastructure was already in place.

TASS reports the Russian leader’s comments, which took place on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan.

12:30 a.m. The Biden administration seeks to further cut off Russia’s financial system from the rest of the world with a new round of sanctions.

Among the 22 people designated as targets by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control are Vladimir Valerievich Komlev, CEO of NSPK, which operates Russia’s Mir payment card network.

“Russia created its own state-run card payment system in 2014 out of fear of U.S. and European sanctions,” the Treasury Department says in a news release. “In his role, Komlev has promoted the Mir network in other countries, which ultimately could assist Russia in circumventing international sanctions.”

Also targeted are executives in charge of Russia’s central securities depository and the Moscow stock exchange’s clearing service provider.

Beyond financial industry figures, Ramzan Kadyrov, the warlord head of Russia’s Republic of Chechnya, was redesignated for sanctions for his involvement in the Russian government. The OFAC also acted against several of Kadyrov’s wives and children.

Britain’s Defense Ministry says Ukrainian forces are solidifying their control of newly liberated areas of Kharkiv Oblast in northeastern Ukraine.

  © Reuters

Thursday, Sept. 15

11:15 p.m. Russian President Vladimir Putin tells Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that he appreciates Beijing’s “balanced position” on Ukraine in their first meeting since Moscow’s invasion.

For his part, the Russian president says Moscow backs Beijing’s “One China” principle, opposes “provocations” by the U.S. in the Taiwan Strait, and said he values China’s “balanced position” on Ukraine, according to a Kremlin readout.

Putin also says he understood that China has “questions and concerns” about the conflict, and that he would explain Moscow’s position.

The two leaders met on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan. The Chinese leader is on his first known foreign trip since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world in early 2020. Read more

5:30 p.m. Top Russian oil producer Rosneft posts a 13% rise in half-year net profit on Thursday to 432 billion rubles ($7.22 billion) which it says was helped by tight cost controls. Russian oil firms have faced Western sanctions over Ukraine which have impeded their global trade and complicated financing. “Rosneft was under an unprecedented pressure of adverse external factors and unlawful sanctions,” Chief Executive Igor Sechin says in a statement.

4:10 p.m. Saudi Arabia has emerged as the second-biggest oil supplier to India after a three-month gap, overtaking Russia by a thin margin, while Iraq retained the top spot in August, data from industry and trade sources show. India, the world’s third-biggest oil importer and consumer, shipped in 863,950 barrels per day of crude from Saudi Arabia, up 4.8% from the previous month, while purchases from Russia fell 2.4% to 855,950 bpd, the data showed.

2:30 p.m. Britain’s Defense Ministry says Ukrainian forces continue to consolidate their control of newly liberated areas of Kharkiv Oblast. Russian forces have largely withdrawn from the area west of the Oskil River, the ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on Twitter. High-value equipment abandoned by retreating Russian forces include capabilities essential to enable Russia’s artillery-centric style of warfare, the tweet added.

2:08 p.m. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday for the first time since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, as regional leaders gather in Uzbekistan for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. Xi arrived in the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand on Wednesday night, after a visit to Kazakhstan. The Chinese leader is on his first known foreign trip since the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world in early 2020. All eyes are on his likely meeting with Putin. A Russian press handout said it would happen in the early afternoon local time, according to Reuters.

10:00 a.m. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s car collided with another vehicle early Thursday after a battlefield visit, but he was not seriously injured, his spokesman says. Zelenskyy was returning to Kyiv from the Kharkiv region, where he visited troops in the recaptured city of Izium. A passenger vehicle collided with the president’s motorcade in the Ukrainian capital, spokesman Sergii Nikiforov said in a Facebook post. The driver of the other vehicle received first aid from Zelenskyy’s medical team and was taken away by ambulance.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy poses for a photo with soldiers after attending a national flag-raising ceremony in Izium, Ukraine on Sept. 14.

  © AP

3:45 a.m. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says he told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call that it was essential to eliminate all obstacles to shipping Russian fertilizer and food through the Black Sea.

Talks are underway on restarting Russian exports of ammonia, a vital input for the fertilizer industry, according to Guterres.

A Kremlin news release says Putin and Guterres also discussed the International Atomic Energy Agency mission to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Putin “gave a positive assessment of the constructive cooperation with the Agency and spoke about the measures taken by Russia to ensure the reliable security and physical protection,” the Kremlin says.

Wednesday, Sept. 14

11:30 p.m. India soon will start trading with Russia in rupees, Reuters quotes the president of the Federation of Indian Export Organizations as saying. Top lender State Bank of India has reportedly agreed to facilitate the new mechanism.

For Russia, which has sought to decrease its reliance on dollars, buying and selling goods in rupees is seen as a way of cushioning the blow of Western financial sanctions.

India’s exports to Russia have fallen owing to the impact of the sanctions, while its imports of Russian oil have risen.

The Reserve Bank of India in July introduced a mechanism to settle international trade in rupees “in order to promote growth of global trade with emphasis on exports from India and to support the increasing interest of global trading community” in the Indian currency.

9:40 p.m. Chinese President Xi Jinping has been quoted as making a strong statement in support of Kazakhstan — one that seems likely to resonate in the context of neighboring Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“No matter how the international situation changes, we will continue to resolutely support Kazakhstan in protecting its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, firmly support your ongoing reforms to ensure stability and development, and categorically oppose the interference of any forces in the internal affairs of your country,” Xi said during a visit to the Central Asian nation, according to Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s website. Read more

3:00 a.m. Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses Ukraine of “blatant violations of international humanitarian law” in his call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Referring to Russia’s “special military operation” — Moscow denies that it has invaded Ukraine — Putin says Ukrainian forces deliberately killed civilians and destroyed infrastructure with shelling in the Donbas region, according to a Kremlin readout of the phone call.

The talks also cover energy, a pressing concern for Germany, Europe’s largest economy. European officials have accused Russia of energy blackmail over repeated halts to natural gas supplies.

Putin “stressed that Russia has been and remains a reliable supplier of energy resources, fulfilling all its contractual obligations, and interruptions, for example, in the operation of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, are caused by anti-Russian sanctions that prevent its maintenance,” according to the Kremlin news release.

1:30 a.m. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urges Russian leader Vladimir Putin to embrace a cease-fire in Ukraine as part of a diplomatic solution as soon as possible, warning the president in a phone call not to grab more land.

Scholz “emphasized that any further Russian annexation steps would not go unanswered and would under no circumstances be recognized,” according to a readout attributed to his spokesperson. The phone call lasted 90 minutes, the German side says. A statement from the Kremlin was not immediately available.

Regarding the embattled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Scholz called for avoiding any escalation and for the measures recommended in an International Atomic Energy Agency report to be implemented immediately.

1:05 a.m. Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping will discuss Ukraine and Taiwan at a meeting in Uzbekistan on Thursday, a Kremlin aide is reported as saying.

12:40 a.m. More Russian companies are issuing bonds in the Chinese currency as yuan-denominated trade with China grows in the shadow of Western sanctions imposed on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

The list includes state-owned oil group Rosneft and Polyus, the country’s top gold miner. With Russian President Vladimir Putin expected to meet Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at a regional summit this week, closer financial cooperation may be on the agenda for their talks, including the possibility of Moscow issuing yuan-denominated government bonds. Read more

For earlier updates, click here.

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Ukraine latest: Russian-held regions in Luhansk, Donetsk plan votes to join Russia


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