Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with Vladimir Putin, Sochi, Russia, September 4, 2023
Map: Institute for Study of War
UPDATE 1600 GMT:
Russian State bank VEB portrays a bleak present and future for Russia’s natural gas exports.
The bank says exports to the EU may fall to 21 billion cubic meters this year, a drop of almost 2/3 from 2022 and a reduction of almost 85% from 2021.
The assessment is in line with calculations by Reuters that exports to Europe by Russian State company Gazprom stand at around 17.7 bcm so far in 2023.
While Russia has tried to diversify deliveries to other parts of the world, VEB says this cannot cover the loss of European markets. Exports are expected to fall this year to 100 bcm from 131 bcm in 2022.
Gas exports to Europe are forecast to fall to 15 bcm in 2026, with infrastructure constraints limiting supplies to Asia.
UPDATE 1254 GMT:
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has given a downbeat assessment of his Monday meeting with Vladimir Putin.
Erdoğan told Turkish journalists as he returned from Sochi in Russia that there are “no prospects for achieving peace on the horizon”.
We have worked hard to prevent further bloodshed. Instead of exacerbating the problem and adding fuel to the fire, we tried to ensure that both sides met on common ground. Unfortunately, the war, which has been going on for a year and a half, is still ongoing.
We hope that this war, which has damaged our two neighbors and our region, will end in a just and lasting peace based on international law.
Speaking about Putin’s withdrawal from the July 2022 Black Sea deal, lifting Russia’s blockade on three Ukrainian ports, Erdoğan noted that UN Secretary General António Guterres has proposed a mediation mechanism for Russia’s return, with arrangements for Moscow’s banks disconnected from the SWIFT global transactions system. He said the UN is also working to eliminate obstacles in insuring Russian ships.
The President said he would continue discussions with Guterres during the UN General Assembly in New York later this month.
UPDATE 1203 GMT:
A Russian proxy official in eastern Ukraine has been seriously injured in an assassination attempt.
Yury Afanasyevsky, former head of the customs office in the “Luhansk People’s Republic”, and his son suffered “multiple” shrapnel wounds in a bombing at their home in the Russian-occupied region.
The LPR branch of Russia’s Investigative Committee said a woman had been detained and confessed to handing a “cellphone with an explosive device” to Afanasyevsky on Sunday. The phone detonated when it was switched on.
UPDATE 1033 GMT:
The annual report of the Cluster Munition Coalition has blamed Russia for the large majority of the 916 casualties in 2022 in Ukraine.
The CMC said the Russians have “extensively” used stocks of old cluster munitions and newly developed ones. Of the killed and injured, 855 were civilians.
The group said Ukrainian forces had used the munitions “to a lesser extent”. Mary Wareham, the arms advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, explained:
The vast majority of the cluster munition rocket missile and artillery attacks in Ukraine…have been conducted by Russian forces.
That is I think the major reason for the uptick in civilian casualties.
Of the 916 casualties, 890 — 294 deaths and 596 injuries — occurred during attacks. The other 26 were from remnants of munitions that subsequently detonated.
In July, the US agreed to send cluster munitions to Ukraine’s armed forces. Kyiv made five pledges, including no use on civilians, no use in urban areas, and full monitoring and records so munitions could later be cleared.
Wareham said she hoped signatories to the 2008 convention pledging no use of cluster munitions “stay strong” and “do not weaken their position on the treaty as a result of the US decision”.
UPDATE 1017 GMT:
The Moscow Times notes a major setback for Vladimir Putin in Monday’s talks in Sochi, Russia with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Putin had hoped for confirmation of a gas hub in Turkey, replaced the Nord Stream pipelines that were damaged in an explosion in September 2022. But he did not get a green light from Erdoğan to proceed.
The Kremlin proposed the gas hub last autumn. Turkey did not commit to the project and froze negotiations in March.
Putin said on Monday that Russian State company Gazprom gave the Turkish side a draft road map. He effectively admitted a lack of progress, with the establishment of a working group, coordination of the legal framework, trading schemes, and transfer of gas to consumers all still “on the agenda”.
On his return to Turkey, Erdoğan avoided any mention of disagreement over specific provisions, speaking in general terms:
We have already said that we will make our county an energy hub. We are working on the infrastructure for this. We will turn our county into an important natural gas center thanks to our investments in the recent years.
Putin also rebuffed Erdoğan’s attempt to mediate a political resolution of the Russian invasion.
[Ukraine] sent the previous agreements reached in Istanbul to the scrapheap. We hear about some new initiatives, but this is not something that has ever been discussed with us. Therefore, we do not perceive anything new.
UPDATE 0725 GMT:
Cuba’s Foreign Ministry says authorities have uncovered a human trafficking ring coercing Cuban citizens to fight for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.
The Ministry of the Interior…is working on the neutralization and dismantling of a human trafficking network that operates from Russia to incorporate Cuban citizens living there, and even some from Cuba, into the military forces participating in war operations in Ukraine.
“Cuba has a clear and historical position against mercenarism,” the Ministry said in its statement.
Russia did not comment on the Cuban claims.
UPDATE 0716 GMT:
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy spent Monday on both the eastern and southern frontlines of the counter-offensive against Russia, filming his nightly address to the nation from a Ukrainian military position.
Today, I spent the day with our warriors, our great combat brigades in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions.
I am proud of them and thank them all for their service.
It is crucial to support our warriors and talk directly. What they have told me will be on the Staff’s agenda. pic.twitter.com/tBi6TmSmd0
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) September 4, 2023
UPDATE 0710 GMT:
Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin says a Ukrainian drone attack has damaged a consumer services facility in the Istra district, about 65 km (40 miles) northwest of the Russian capital.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed at least three drones were downed early Tuesday, two over the Kaluga and Tver regions and one over the Istra district.
Sobyanin said debris in the Tver region fell in the Zavidovo village, the site of an official residence of Vladimir Putin.
The Defense Ministry also claimed the destruction of an “aeroplane-style drone” over Russian-occupied Crimea.
UPDATE 0700 GMT:
A US official claims North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will meet Vladimir Putin in the port city of Vladivostok in eastern Russia this month.
The official said talks will cover the provision of weapons by Pyongyang to Moscow.
US military intelligence believes Kim, who rarely leaves the North Korean capital, will travel by armored train.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov replied to a question from reporters that “no, we cannot” confirm the story. He added, “We have nothing to say on this.”
The Eastern Economic Forum is scheduled for September 10-13 at the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok. The American sources said Kim plans to visit Pier 33, viewing warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet.
American officials said Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s visit to North Korea in July was in pursuit of weapons for Moscow’s troubled invasion of Ukraine.
National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said Monday, “We have information that Kim Jong-un expects these discussions to continue, to include leader-level diplomatic engagement in Russia.”
She said the US is urging North Korea “to cease its arms negotiations with Russia and abide by the public commitments that Pyongyang has made to not provide or sell arms to Russia”.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Trying both to maintain his blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and to break his international isolation, Vladimir Putin posed with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Sochi in southern Russia on Monday.
The event was a minor political victory for Putin after a series of setbacks on the Ukraine battlefield, inside Russia, and on the global front this summer.
Three days before Putin ripped up the July 2022 Black Sea deal —– brokered by Turkey and the UN — Erdoğan said that Putin would extend the agreement allowing shipping of grain, foodstuffs, and other essential items from three Ukrainian ports. His office added that Putin would soon visit Ankara.
The Russian leader showed up his Turkish counterpart with the renewed blockade, as the Kremlin pointedly said no trip was scheduled.
Six weeks later, Putin adjusted his tactics. A high-profile Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg — designed to show Moscow’s “generosity” in providing grain and other financial benefits for the continent’s countries — backfired on the Kremlin. Only 17 of 54 African leaders attended, and some who came called on Moscow to rejoin the deal.
So the Kremlin agreed to a meeting, albeit with the Turkish President coming to him, where Putin could portray Russia as the victim of the West while making no commitment over the Black Sea ports and grain.
Striking a Pose
At a joint press conference, Putin maintained Russia’s demand that international sanctions be lifted — on the pretext that Moscow’s grain and fertilizer exports are being hindered — before any easing of the blockade.
We will be ready to consider the possibility of reviving the grain deal and I told Mr President about this again today — we will do this as soon as all the agreements on lifting restrictions on the export of Russian agricultural products are fully implemented.
Playing defense, he maintained that there had been no crisis in global grain markets because of Russia’s withdrawal, saying that prices were falling and there were no food shortages.
Using the trip to maintain his profile as an important international broker — and to distract from Turkey’s economic difficulties — Erdoğan gave Putin a verbal present.
Ukraine needs to especially soften its approaches in order for it to be possible for joint steps to be taken with Russia.
But beyond that gift, Erdoğan restated the fundamental dilemma for Putin: at some point, Moscow has to rejoin the deal or face isolation amid Ukraine’s counter-offensive.
The most important step everyone is looking at in Turkey-Russia relations today is the grain corridor.
I believe the message at the news conference will be a very important step, especially for underdeveloped countries in Africa.
Given that there was no “very important step” on Monday, what is Putin’s next maneuver?
Hours before he saw Erdoğan, Putin offered a possible answer: for the second night in a war, Russia launched a mass drone attack on Ukraine’s Danube River ports.
Several buildings, including warehouses, were struck. Agricultural machinery and industrial equipment were damaged, and fires were set in civilian houses by falling debris.
The consequences of the drone attack in the #Odesa region
"In two territorial communities, warehouse and production buildings, equipment of agricultural and industrial enterprises were damaged. There were no reports of casualties," the operational command of the Armed Forces of… pic.twitter.com/LxvR5AOnzL
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) September 4, 2023