Ukraine live briefing: Rescue workers deployed to Crimea after alleged drone attack; Christie visits Kyiv

Video released by the Ukrainian Military showed a Ukrainian surface drone approaching a Russian warship in a naval base near Novorossiysk, Russia, on Aug. 4. (Video: Ukrainian Military via Storyful)

Rescue workers from the Russian city of Novorossiysk were dispatched to Crimea in response to reports of a drone attack in the Kerch Bay, Russia’s state-run news agency Tass reported Friday. In response to rumors circulating on the chat platform Telegram, officials in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, said loud noises heard in the area by locals were not due to attacks on the Kerch bridge — a marquee infrastructure for Russian President Vladimir Putin that connects Crimea to mainland Russia. Still, officials shut down traffic on the bridge, citing fears of an attack.

Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie visited Kyiv Friday, meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky. The former New Jersey governor also visited Moshchun and Bucha, which were ravaged by Russian forces in 2022.

Earlier Friday, Russia’s Defense Ministry accused Ukraine of using two sea drones to attack a naval base near Novorossiysk. The port city, across from Crimea, is a major hub for Russian exports. A Ukrainian government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said the “special operation” was conducted by Ukraine’s navy and security service and damaged a large Russian warship, the Olenegorsky Miner. Russia, for its part, said it detected and destroyed the unmanned boats and denied that it caused any damage.

Here’s the latest on the war and its impact across the globe.

The surface drones were loaded with 450 kilos of explosives and targeted the Olenegorsky Miner, which was carrying 100 Russian crew members, the Ukrainian government official told The Post on Friday. The official said the strike caused a “serious hole,” rendering the Russian ship “unable to perform its combat tasks,” and released a video that showed a surface-level vessel traveling toward the ship at speed before cutting out, apparently on impact. The Washington Post could not independently verify the claims. Ukrainian officials had considered attacking the city before but held off at Washington’s request, The Post previously reported.

Russian officials said the attack did not cause any damage — but Russian military bloggers were skeptical, as footage appearing to show the warship damaged circulated on social media. Andrey Kravchenko, the head of Novorossiysk’s city administration, said Russian forces “instantly reacted and helped to avoid the consequences of the attack.” But a prominent pro-Russian military blogger known as Rybar wrote that it was “curious” that the naval drones had approached the ship “unhindered.” He said that “the crew probably did not expect the attack.” Another prominent military blogger, who uses the handle Zapiski Veterana, wrote that footage of damage to the ship made him question Russia’s public denials and would lead people not to trust official sources.

Christie’s visit underscored the sharp GOP divisions over U.S. financial support for Ukraine. The former New Jersey governor billed the visit as a fact-finding mission to assess the effectiveness of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, though he remained within the relatively safe confines of the Kyiv region. Unlike other GOP front-runners, including former president Donald Trump, Christie has voiced full-throated support for Ukraine as a democratic ally.

Officials from about 40 countries are expected to attend Ukraine peace talks this weekend in Jeddah, a port city in Saudi Arabia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he hopes the talks will lead to a summit this autumn to endorse principles based on his 10-point formula for a peace settlement. Russia will not be represented at the event; however, officials from China have said they will attend.

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was convicted of extremism charges and sentenced to 19 years in a special regime colony following closed prison court proceedings on Friday. This latest imprisonment is on top of existing sentences of more than 11 years in all, widely viewed as retribution for Navalny’s political investigations and activism. In a statement released before the verdict, Navalny called on Russians to oppose the Kremlin. “There is no shame in choosing the safest way to oppose. There is shame in doing nothing,” Navalny said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited troops in the field, according to a statement Friday from Russia’s Defense Ministry. Shoigu visited the “Central Military Unit” in an undisclosed location “in the zone of the special military operation” and was briefed by the group’s commander and officers at the outpost, the statement said. It added that he thanked troops for “conducting successful offensive operations” near Lyman in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has launched a total of 1,961 Iranian-made Shahed drones at Ukraine, Zelensky said in his nightly address. While a “significant number” have been shot down, not all of them have been stopped, he said. Ukraine is working to boost its air defense systems, he added.

The United States became the first country to start negotiating a bilateral agreement with Ukraine on security guarantees, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, said in a statement. The State Department confirmed that American and Ukrainian officials met Thursday to begin talks on long-term security commitments. The talks between Washington and Kyiv could create “a successful model for other partners” and reinforce Ukraine’s progress toward membership in groups such as the European Union and NATO, Yermak said.

Russian soprano Anna Netrebko sued the Metropolitan Opera and its general manager on Friday, alleging that the institution’s decision to drop her after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused “severe mental anguish and emotional distress,” as well as losses of up to $360,000 relating to missed performances and rehearsals. In 2022, the Opera demanded that Netrebko repudiate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In her suit, Netrebko claims that she “and her family and friends in Russia have suffered the risk of harm, retaliation, and retribution by the Russian government” due to her efforts to distance herself from the Russian government.

Niger’s detained president warned that Africa’s Sahel region could “fall to Russian influence” via the Wagner Group. President Mohamed Bazoum, in an opinion piece published in The Washington Post on Friday, said the recent coup in his country could be an “open invitation” to the Russian mercenary group. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later Friday that Moscow was monitoring the situation there “very closely” and is “in favor of a swift return to constitutional order” in the West African nation.

The European Union has extended the scope of its sanctions against Belarus. The new measures arise “from Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, and in response to Belarus’s involvement in the aggression,” the European Commission said in a statement. It banned the export of sensitive technology that could increase Belarusian military capabilities, as well as ammunition, firearms and technology related to the aviation and space industries.

Russian Defense Minister Shoigu spoke with North Korean officials about increasing munitions sales to Moscow when he was in Pyongyang last week, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, according to the Associated Press. “This is yet another example of how desperate [Russian President Vladimir Putin] has become because his war machine is being affected by the sanctions and the export controls,” Kirby said.

Russia plans to increase its defense budget to more than $100 billion, a third of all public expenditure, according to documents seen by Reuters. That figure is nearly double Russia’s original military budget for 2023, the news agency reports, and comes as sanctions and export conditions on Russia added to a budget deficit of $28 billion in the first half of 2023.

Ukraine’s offensive inches forward in search of a breakthrough: Kyiv continued a major push to reclaim its territory with a fresh injection of Western-trained and -equipped troops, but there is no sign yet of a major breakthrough, John Hudson and Anastacia Galouchka report.

Russia’s phalanx of trenches, tripwires and mines remains ahead of Ukrainian forces and their objective to drive south and sever Russia’s land bridge to Crimea, a key military supply route.

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1: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/08/04/russia-ukraine-war-news/

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