SVE NEWS & France 24 Sharing Series — EU tightens travel rules for Russians, falls short of visa ban


European Union foreign ministers agreed on Wednesday to fully suspend a visa facilitation agreement with Russia, making it harder for Russian citizens to enter the EU but falling short of an outright visa ban. The move comes as a team of IAEA nuclear inspectors arrived in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia ahead of a long-anticipated visit to a nearby Russian-held nuclear power plant. Follow FRANCE 24’s liveblog for all the latest developments. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

10:25pm: Russian military facing ‘severe manpower shortages’

The US has determined that Russia is suffering “severe manpower shortages” in Ukraine and has become more desperate in its efforts to find new troops to send to the front lines, according to a new American intelligence finding disclosed on Wednesday.

Russia is looking to address the shortage of troops in part by compelling soldiers wounded earlier in the war to return to combat, recruiting personnel from private security companies and even recruiting from prisons, according to a US official who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity.

The official added that the intelligence community has determined that one step that Russia’s defence ministry is expected to take soon is recruiting convicted criminals to enlist “in exchange for pardons and financial compensation”.

The US government highlighted its finding as Russia’s Vladimir Putin last week ordered the Russian military to increase the number of troops by 137,000 to a total of 1.15 million – a figure several analysts have described as unattainable.

>> Read more: Is Putin raising a Potemkin army to boost troop numbers?

7:35pm: Energy exports cushion the blow for sanctions-hit Russian economy

Russia’s export-dependent economy is slipping into recession, hit by sweeping Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine. But the depth of contraction has so far been not as big as initially thought.

The Russian economy shrank 0.4 percent in the first six months of 2022 compared with a year ago, according to data from the federal statistics service Rosstat. But capital investment, one of the main economic growth drivers, rose 7.8 percent.

In 2022, the economy will shrink by less than 3 percent, a top government official said this week. His call contrasts with the earlier assumption from the economy ministry that had warned of a drop of more than 12 percent – which would have been the biggest fall in economic output since the mid-1990s crisis following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Higher prices for oil and gas exports have helped cushion the impact of Western sanctions, preventing an economic meltdown. In the second quarter alone, capital investment rose by 4.1 percent year-on-year after a 12.8 percent increase in the first quarter, Rosstat data showed, with mining and manufacturing sectors accounting for the bulk of the increase in the first half of the year.

5:50pm: IAEA wants ‘permanent presence’ at Ukraine nuclear site

UN nuclear inspectors will have access to the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia plant in southern Ukraine on Thursday and will try to establish “a permanent presence” there, the IAEA chief Rafael Grossi has said.

“We are preparing for the real work which begins tomorrow,” Grossi told reporters after arriving in the Ukrainian-held city of Zaporizhzhia, where the IAEA team are expected to spend the night before heading to the plant.

Russian-installed officials in the area near the power station suggested the visit might last only one day, while IAEA and Ukrainian officials suggested it would last longer.

“The mission will take a few days. If we are able to establish a permanent presence, or a continued presence, then it’s going to be prolonged. But this first segment is going to take a few days,” Grossi said.

4:45pm: Baltic countries mull further travel restrictions for Russians

The foreign ministers of Estonia and Latvia have said they may push ahead with further visa restrictions following the EU’s decision not to implement an outright ban on visas for Russian travellers.

“We need to immediately ramp up the price to Putin’s regime,” Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu told reporters. “The loss of time is paid by the blood of Ukrainians.”

Uniform rules are supposed to apply across the 26 countries that make up Europe’s passport free travel area, but Reinsalu said that “it’s our national competence, under the principle of national security, to decide the issues of entry to our soil”.

“I really believe that this is a security issue,” added Latvian Foreign Minister Edgar Rinkevics. “It has nothing to do with a kind of collective punishment. I think it’s just sending a very clear message to Russian citizens that Ukrainians are dying.”

Finland, which shares the EU’s longest border with Russia, will slash the number of visas being delivered to Russian citizens to 10 percent of normal, starting on Thursday.

3:50pm: EU ministers agree to suspend visa deal with Russia

European Union foreign ministers have agreed to fully suspend a visa facilitation agreement with Russia, making it harder and more costly for Russian citizens to enter the EU, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said.

“This will significantly reduce the number of new visas issued by the EU member states. It’s going to be more difficult, it’s going to take longer,” Borrell told a news conference at the end of two days of wrangling on the issue in Prague.

Diplomats said the EU ministers could not agree immediately on a blanket ban of travel visas for Russians as member states were split on the issue.

Borrell said there had been a substantial increase in border crossings from Russia into neighbouring states since mid-July, pointing to a “security risk for these neighbouring states”.

2:54pm: Grossi says IAEA aiming to ‘prevent a nuclear accident’ at Russia-held Ukraine plant

UN inspectors en route to a Russian-held power plant on the frontline of fighting in southern Ukraine are aiming to prevent “a nuclear accident”, the IAEA chief said on Wednesday.

“My mission is… to prevent a nuclear accident and preserve the largest nuclear power plant in Europe,” said Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency whose 14-strong team arrived in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia around 1100 GMT.

2:43pm: Ukraine’s energy minister says IAEA mission a step towards ‘deoccupying’ nuclear plant

The IAEA mission to the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine is a step towards “deoccupying and demilitarising” the site, Ukraine’s energy minister told Reuters in a interview on Wednesday.

Speaking in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, only 55 km (34 miles) away from the plant, German Galuschenko also said it was crucial for the mission, headed by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi, to be allowed to speak to staff at the site.

“It is important from our view… that the mission can speak to the staff, and get the real information, not Russian information, on what is inside,” Galuschenko said.

Ukrainian staff are continuing to operate the plant under the supervision of the occupying Russian forces.

1:16pm: IAEA team reaches Zaporizhzhia city

A team of IAEA nuclear inspectors have arrived in the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia ahead of a visit to a Russian-held nuclear power plant on the frontline, according to to a FRANCE 24 team on the ground.

“The IAEA mission has passed the entrance to the city of Zaporizhzhia,” said FRANCE 24’s James André, reporting from the city, which is around 60 located roughly 60 kilometres away from Enerhodar, where the nuclear plant is located.

The 14-strong team led by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) left Kyiv during the morning.

12:06pm: Kyiv accuses Russia of shelling town by nuclear plant

Ukraine has accused Russian forces of firing on a town by the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.

“The Russian army is shelling Enerhodar,” said Evhen Yevtushenko, head of Nikopol district military administration, which is located on the northern bank of the Dnipro River opposite Energodar town. “These provocations are dangerous.”

One of the shells hit the building where Enerhodar’s city council is located, Mayor Dmytro Orlov wrote on Telegram, posting pictures of the damaged high-rise with a hole blown from the side and debris littering the ground.

11:43am: IAEA mission has several objectives at Zaporizhzhia plant

Reporting from Zaporizhzhia city, located roughly 60 kilometres away from the nuclear plant, FRANCE 24’s James André says there are still no details available on how the IAEA mission will be organised.

But the team has several objectives, explained André, including inspecting the structural integrity of the plant, verifying that the emergency nuclear safety mechanisms are functioning, and checking how the Ukrainian engineers still working at the plant are being treated by the Russians.

One of the other objectives is to “create a permanent mission at the Zaporizhzhia power plant though the Russians have not agreed to that principle,” said André.

Security is tight around the plant, André added, noting that the FRANCE 24 team were denied access to Nikopol, a city just across the Dnipro River from the plant.

10:10am: IAEA mission to Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant set to arrive Thursday morning: Russia

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors are expected to arrive at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on Thursday morning, the TASS news agency has reported, citing Russian-installed authorities in the region.

The inspection will take one or two days and six to eight IAEA experts are expected to stay at the plant following the visit, according to the Russian-installed officials in Enerhodar, the town where the plant is based.

Russian and Ukrainian forces have accused each other of shelling the plant, actions that have raised concerns about a possible nuclear disaster.

9:57am: Kremlin highlights ‘signals’, but no progress, on New START Treaty talks

There are “signals” on a possible resumption of talks to extend the New START Treaty to control US and Russian nuclear arms, the Interfax news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Wednesday

However, there is no significant progress yet, Peskov added

9:28am: Russia says Germany is trying to destroy bilateral energy ties

Russia said on Wednesday the German government was doing everything it could to destroy its energy relations with Moscow, hours after state-controlled Gazprom halted gas supplies to Europe via the crucial Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

In a briefing in Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said it was Germany, not the Kremlin, that was trying to completely rupture energy ties between the two countries.

Gazprom halted gas supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline for a maintenance outage which Gazprom says will run until 0100 GMT on Sept. 3.

8:56am: France not worried about gas supplies this winter: energy regulator chief 

French energy regulator head Emmanuelle Wargon has said France will have sufficient gas supplies to get through the coming winter but added that due to nuclear reactor outages it may have to import electricity at times.

“We are not too worried about our capacity to get sufficient gas, we are confident that we can get through this winter without Russian gas,” she said on LCI television.

She added that France will see its gas storage facilities filled to 100% by the end of September or early October.

Her reaction came after Russia’s Gazprom stopped the flow of natural gas through a major pipeline from Russia to Europe early Wednesday, a temporary move to it announced in advance.

8:08am: Ukrainian formations pushed back frontline in some places: UK

Ukrainian armoured forces have assaulted Russia’s southern grouping of forces on several axes across the south of the country since Monday, said the British defence ministry.

Ukrainian formations have pushed the Russian forces frontline back some distance in places, exploiting relatively thinly held Russian defences, the ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin.

5:15am: IAEA convoy sets off towards Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

An International Atomic Energy Agency car convoy set off from Kyiv towards the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine on Wednesday morning, a Reuters witness reported from the scene.

It was unclear when the IAEA mission planned to reach Europe’s biggest nuclear plant which is now controlled by Russian forces and has become one of the focal points in the Ukrainian conflict, with Moscow and Kyiv accusing each other of undermining its safety.

4:30am: Russia halts gas flows via Nord Stream 1: German entry point data

Russia halted gas supplies via a major pipeline to Europe on Wednesday, intensifying an economic battle between Moscow and Brussels and raising the prospects of recession and energy rationing in some of the region’s richest countries.

Flows fell to zero on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany via the Baltic Sea, according to flow data from entry points linking Nord Stream 1 to the German gas network, for maintenance due to last until the early hours of Saturday.

1:05am: Heavy fighting rages in Ukraine’s Russian-occupied south

Ukraine claimed to have destroyed bridges and ammunition depots and pounded command posts in a surge of fighting in the Russian-occupied south, fueling speculation Tuesday that its long-awaited counteroffensive to try to turn the tide of war is underway. Russia said it inflicted heavy casualties in return.

The clashes took place in Ukraine‘s Kherson region, where Moscow’s forces rolled up major gains early in the war.

While independent verification of battlefield action has been difficult, Britain’s Defense Ministry said in an intelligence report that several Ukrainian brigades had stepped up their artillery fire in front-line sectors across southern Ukraine.

Ukrainian authorities kept the world guessing about their intentions, sidestepping talk of a major counteroffensive over the past couple of days.

The port city of Kherson, with a prewar population of about 300,000, is an important economic hub close to the Black Sea and the first major city to fall to the Russians in the war that began six months ago.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)


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Sources from: France 24

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