Ukraine and Russia traded drone attacks as a row over grain exports soured ties between Kyiv and close ally Poland, and Russian president Vladimir Putin said he would visit China next month and praised its “synchronised” relations with Moscow.
Ukrainian air defences shot down 17 of 24 drones fired by Russia early on Wednesday, but a major oil refinery in the central city of Kremenchuk was damaged and set ablaze, bringing a temporary halt to operations.
Meanwhile, Russian officials in occupied Crimea said Ukrainian attack drones had been shot down over the Black Sea peninsula that the Kremlin annexed in 2014, and claimed black smoke pouring into the sky near a military base was merely a result of “burning grass”.
“The planned work of the Ukrainian security and defence forces continues, of course, on the military facilities of the occupiers ... including in Ukrainian Crimea,” said Andriy Yusov, spokesman for Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency.
GUR also claimed that saboteurs had planted explosives on military aircraft at the Chkalovsky airfield outside Moscow, damaging two planes and a helicopter, amid a series of drone and missiles strikes and other attacks deep inside Russia and occupied territory.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy hopes to secure more military aid when he meets US president Joe Biden in Washington this week, with long-range ATACMS missiles at the top of his wishlist, as Kyiv’s forces target Russian arms and fuel depots and command posts far behind the front line.
Ukraine also needs more air defence systems and ammunition, ahead of what it expects to be another autumn and winter of Russian missile and drone strikes on its energy grid.
“There is an urgent need for air defence, not only new systems, but also ammunition, maintenance, spare parts ... We see that air defence is saving lives every day in Ukraine and we need to sustain the air defence systems of Ukraine,” said Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg.
“What we need to continue to do is to support Ukrainians and then they have to make the decisions on the ground,” he added. “War of attrition becomes a war of logistics.”
Relations between Kyiv and Warsaw continued to deteriorate after Ukraine announced plans to file a complaint with the World Trade Organisation over Poland’s decision, along with Hungary and Slovakia, to ban imports of some Ukrainian farm products.
Brussels lifted a ban last week on Ukrainian grain imports to several neighbouring EU states, but Poland, Slovakia and Hungary then imposed their own restrictions in what they called a move to protect domestic farmers from a collapse in prices for their own harvest.
Comparing Ukraine to a “drowning man”, Polish president Andrzej Duda said his nation “must act to protect ourselves from a drowning man causing us harm.”
Meanwhile, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his government may ban more Ukrainian imports if Kyiv chose to “escalate the conflict this way”, and the foreign ministry in Warsaw summoned Ukraine’s ambassador to register a “vigorous protest”.
In St Petersburg, Mr Putin told China’s top diplomat Wang Yi that he would accept an invitation to visit his country next month, and said its vast “Belt and Road” infrastructure campaign “integrates our ideas of creating a big Eurasian space” and exemplified “quite synchronised” co-operation between Moscow and Beijing.
Romania was investigating whether an explosion that struck a cargo ship sailing through its waters towards Ukraine was caused by a sea mine. All 12 crew members were evacuated unhurt from the Togo-flagged vessel early on Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, Ukraine’s first lady urged world leaders on Tuesday to help return Ukrainian children forcibly taken to Russia, where she said they are being indoctrinated and deprived of their national identity.
Speaking on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Olena Zelenska said that more than 19,000 Ukrainian children have been transferred by force or deported to Russia or occupied territories.
So far, only 386 have been brought back. In Russia, “they were told that their parents don’t need them, that their country doesn’t need them, that nobody is waiting for them,” Ms Zelenska said.
“The abducted children were told that they are no longer Ukrainian children, that they are Russian children.”
Meanwhile, US businessman and philanthropist Howard Buffett said on Wednesday western public interest in the war in Ukraine could wane in the coming year, and that he may step up his own support for Ukraine to set an example.
Mr Buffett, whose foundation has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion and who is the son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, cited the US presidential campaign as one of the possible reasons why public interest could flag.
“I do have concern about whether people can maintain the level of interest ... Particularly, in the US one of the drawbacks will be the political campaign that we’re going into,” he told Reuters in an interview in Kyiv.
The US holds a presidential election in November 2024 and several Republican candidate hopefuls have questioned the vast military and financial aid supplied to Kyiv, calling into question Washington’s future stance.
Mr Buffett said the idea that Ukraine “fatigue” could set in among the public in the West showed that Kyiv’s allies should double down on their support. – Additional reporting Reuters