Ukraine on Thursday warned of a “growing” threat of a new Russian offensive from Belarus, after Minsk and Moscow last week announced a joint force “to defend” Belarusian borders. Washington, meanwhile, said it believes Iranian military personnel “were on the ground in Crimea” to help Russia operate the Tehran-provided “kamikaze” drones that killed several civilians in Ukraine earlier this week. Read our live blog to see how all the day’s events unfolded. All times are in Paris time (GMT+2).
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9:11pm: Iranian military were on the ground in Crimea to help Russia pilot drones, US says
The United States has determined that Iranian military personnel “were on the ground in Crimea and assisted Russia” in operating the Tehran-provided drones to conduct strikes across Ukraine, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday.
6:09pm: Russia raids wealth fund to cover budget deficit
Russia on Thursday raided its main sovereign wealth fund to the tune of $16.2 billion to cover its budget deficit as its military offensive in Ukraine weighs on public finances.
The finance ministry said the government had approved taking the funds from the National Wealth Fund “to finance budgetary expenses” and “ensure the budget’s equilibrium”. It added the funds would be used primarily to “settle public debt and provide loans to regions”, as well as pay social benefits to Russian citizens.
A government forecast published last month put the budget deficit this year at 0.9 percent of GDP.
Russia’s National Wealth Fund stood at $188 billion in October 2022, according to finance ministry data.
5:56pm: Ukraine warns of growing threat from Belarus
Ukraine on Thursday warned of a “growing” threat of a new Russian offensive from Belarus, after Minsk and Moscow last week announced a joint force to defend Belarusian borders.
Ukraine said that Russian aviation units were now deploying in bases in Belarus on the border with Ukraine.
Russia used Belarus as a staging point for its assault on northern Ukraine towards the capital Kyiv which was repelled in March. Oleksiy Gromov, deputy chief of the Ukrainian General Staff, said that any new offensive could aim more towards western Ukraine “to cut the main logistical arteries for the supply of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine”.
Belarus has insisted that its aims with its new joint force with Russia, which will involve up to 9,000 Russian soldiers and around 170 tanks being sent to Belarus, are only defensive.
5:36pm: Putin visits military draft training centre
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday visited a training centre for mobilised Russians for the first time since announcing a partial military call-up on September 21.
Russian state television showed Putin visiting a shooting centre in the Ryazan region, southeast of Moscow, wearing a black suit, shooting a gun and hugging military men.
4:52pm: Unclear whether evacuation in Kherson voluntary or ‘forced deportations’
In the video below, FRANCE 24’s Ukraine correspondent Gulliver Cragg reports on the circumstances of the Russian evacuation of Kherson, which began on Wednesday. “It remains unclear how many of these evacuations are being carried out on a voluntary basis and how many are in fact compulsory deportations.”
3:51pm: Iran denies plan to send missiles to Russia for Ukraine war
Iran’s top diplomat denied Thursday that Tehran planned to send missiles to Russia for use in the Ukraine war, an allegation made in several media reports.
“During a telephone conversation with (EU foreign policy chief) Josep Borrell, I told him that our politics… is that we are opposed to the war and its escalation in Ukraine,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Twitter.
“The allegation of sending Iranian missiles to Russia for use against Ukraine is without foundation,” he wrote, adding: “We have cooperation in defence matters with Russia, but it is certainly not our politics to send arms and drones against Ukraine.”
3:37pm: Russia seeks to regain ground, hits Ukraine’s infrastructure
Russian troops fought Thursday to regain lost ground in areas of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin has illegally annexed while Moscow tried to pound the invaded country into submission with more missile and drone attacks on critical infrastructure.
Russian forces attacked Ukrainian positions near Bilohorivka, a village in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine. In the neighbouring Donetsk region, fighting raged near the city of Bakhmut. Kremlin-backed separatists have controlled parts of both regions for 8½ years.
3:33pm: Spain, France and Portugal agree on gas pipeline link
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Spain, France and Portugal had agreed Thursday to build an energy pipeline linking the Iberian peninsula to the rest of Europe, reviving a project long-resisted by Paris.
The new project, which Sanchez dubbed a Green Energy Corridor, would replace an earlier plan dubbed MidCat that emerged a decade ago but was dropped in 2019 over regulatory and funding issues.
But, with Russia withholding gas deliveries to most of Europe in reaction to sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, there has been a resurgence of interest in a link to bring in much-needed supplies from Spain to the rest of the continent.
With energy prices soaring, Madrid pushed hard for the revival of the project, with the full backing of Berlin, which has seen Russian gas deliveries via a key pipeline shut off for the indefinite future.
3:07pm: Ukraine welcomes ‘prompt action’ from EU on Iran sanctions
Ukraine on Thursday welcomed EU sanctions against three generals and one arms firm supplying Iranian drones to Russia that Kyiv says have been used for strikes on Ukraine.
“I welcome the EU’s prompt action following my appeal on Monday to impose sanctions on Iran for helping Russia kill Ukrainians and damage our energy infrastructure,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.
I welcome the EU’s prompt action following my appeal on Monday to impose sanctions on Iran for helping Russia kill Ukrainians and damage our energy infrastructure. In three days, the EU agreed on a set of restrictions which will take effect as soon as today.
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) October 20, 2022
1:17pm: Russians withdrew $7.5 billion amid September exodus
Russians withdrew 458 billion roubles ($7.5 billion) in cash from banks in September, with the bulk of the outflow recorded in the second half of the month when increased numbers of people were leaving the country, the central bank said on Thursday.
On September 21, President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s first wartime mobilisation since World War Two as he sought to call up 300,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of people left Russia after the Kremlin announced what it called a “partial mobilisation”.
“People … tend to withdraw cash funds in a situation of stress or uncertainty, as it was, for example, at the beginning of the year, but then they usually return the money to the banks,” the central bank’s report said.
1:09pm: Russian aircraft fired missile near British plane over Black Sea, says UK minister
A Russian aircraft on Septembre 29 released a missile near a British aircraft patrolling international airspace over the Black Sea, defence minister Ben Wallace said on Thursday.
Wallace told parliament Britain had suspended patrols following the incident and expressed their concerns to Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. Russia said it was a technical malfunction and Wallace said Britain has now resumed patrols with fighter aircraft escorts.
12:46pm: Britain to make sanctions announcement over Iranian drones
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will make an announcement shortly about taking action using Britain’s autonomous sanctions regime concerning Iranian drones, a foreign office spokesperson said on Thursday.
11:52am: Russia says US ‘blackmail’ over fertiliser exports threatens global food security
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that Moscow was ready to boost exports of food and fertilisers to help avert a global food crisis, but was being blocked from doing so by the United States.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Washington was “blackmailing” and “persecuting” those that try to trade with Russia and was therefore compromising global food security. The US has not directly targeted Russian agricultural exports, but sanctions on Russia’s shipping, insurance, logistics and payments infrastructure are thwarting Russia’s ability to export crucial fertilisers and chemicals, Moscow says.
11:36am: Russian air force patrols ally Belarus’ borders
Russia’s air force held scheduled patrol flights at the borders of its ally Belarus on Thursday, Minsk said, as concerns remain that it could take a more active role in the Ukraine war.
Russia has deployed an enhanced task force of 9,000 troops and hundreds of pieces of military hardware to its neighbour after President Alexander Lukashenko said last week Belarus was at threat of attack from Ukraine.
“Right now, the Russian aviation component of the regional troop grouping is carrying out a scheduled patrol of the air borders of the Union State,” Belarus’ defence ministry said in a statement. The “Union State” is the name of a borderless customs-free zone between Russia and Belarus.
11:38am: Russia says it continued to hit Ukrainian energy and military sites over last 24 hours
Russia’s defence ministry said on Thursday its forces continued to hit military and energy targets in Ukraine over the last 24 hours.
It also said Russian forces had repelled a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the southern Kherson region, from whichlocal Russian-installed officials are currently evacuating tens of thousands of residents.
11:18am: EU agrees on new Iran sanctions over drone deliveries to Russia
European Union members have agreed on new measures against Iran over its supply of drones to Russia, the Czech presidency of the EU said on Thursday.
“EU ambassadors agreed on measures against entities supplying Iranian drones that hit Ukraine,” the Czech EU presidency said in a tweet. “EU states decided to freeze the assets of three individuals and one entity responsible for drone deliveries (and) is also prepared to extend sanctions to four more Iranian entities that already featured in a previous sanctions list.”
EU states decided to freeze the assets of 3 individuals and 1 entity responsible for drone deliveries; the EU is also prepared to extend #sanctions to 4 more Iranian entities that already featured in a previous sanctions list. #EU2022CZ
— EU2022_CZ (@EU2022_CZ) October 20, 2022
11:07am: Russia says EU ‘party to conflict’ in Ukraine
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that European Union weapons supplies to Kyiv made the bloc party to the conflict in Ukraine and that countries pumping Ukraine with weapons were “sponsors of terrorism”.
In a briefing in Moscow, spokeswoman Maria Zakharova repeated Moscow’s aggressive criticism of the West for shipping billions of dollars worth of advanced arms to Ukraine to help Kyiv defend itself against Russia’s eight-month military campaign.
9:35am: Regional governor: Ukraine’s Burshtyn power plant seriously damaged
A Russian air strike that hit a major thermal power station in the city of Burshtyn in western Ukraine on Wednesday has caused “quite serious” damage, the region’s governor said on Thursday.
“Unfortunately there is destruction, and it is quite serious,” Svitlana Onyshchuk, Ivano-Frankivsk’s governor, said on Ukrainian television.
9:28am: Germany’s Scholz: ‘Scorched earth’ tactics won’t help Putin win the war
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was using energy and hunger as weapons but has failed to break the West’s unity and will not achieve his war aims through ‘scorched earth’ tactics.
“They only bolster the resolve and perseverance of Ukraine and its allies,” Scholz told the Bundestag lower house of parliament. “In the end, Russia’s bomb and missile terror is an act of desperation — just like the mobilisation of Russian men for the war.”
Scholz said Germany had freed itself from dependence on Russian gas but was working to bring energy prices down, including by securing new gas delivery contracts from other countries.
He also said that Ukraine’s financial needs have been covered to the end of the year, thanks to contributions from the EU and the G7 club of industrialised nations.
“The good news is: the financial needs of Kyiv are practically covered to year’s end — the EU and the G7 are playing a decisive role,” Scholz told parliament while warning that Ukraine will need much more in the coming years for reconstruction.
Germany holds the rotating presidency of the G7 and will be hosting a reconstruction conference for Ukraine on Tuesday.
9:00am: ‘If people are very frugal … then perhaps the power will not actually be cut off’
FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reports from Kyiv on power outages and forced Russian evacuations in Kherson.
5:00am: Ukraine restricts electricity use after Russian strikes
Ukraine has urged residents to drastically restrict their electricity consumption starting Thursday to cope with the destruction of power stations by the Russian army as winter approaches.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said after a meeting with energy companies that they were preparing “for all possible scenarios with a view to winter”, as Kyiv accused Moscow of orchestrating a “mass deportation” of civilians from the occupied region of Kherson.
Russian President Vladimir Putin imposed martial law on Wednesday in four areas recently annexed by the Kremlin, with his forces raining down munitions across Ukraine, including on Kyiv and the country’s west, which had previously been spared the brunt of the onslaught.
3:05am: US and allies discuss Iranian drone transfers to Russia at UN
The United States, Britain and France raised the issue of Iran’s alleged transfer of drones to Russia at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
“We expressed our grave concerns about Russia’s acquisition of these UAVs from Iran,” Price said in a statement. “We now have abundant evidence that these UAVs are being used to strike Ukrainian civilians and critical civilian infrastructure.”
“We will not hesitate to use our sanctions and other appropriate tools on all involved in these transfers,” Price said.
1:00am: Russia to reassess working with UN chief if he inspects drones in Ukraine
Russia will reassess its cooperation with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his staff if Guterres sends experts to Ukraine to inspect downed drones that Western powers say were made in Iran, Russia’s deputy UN envoy said on Wednesday.
Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy did not elaborate on what cooperation could be affected. Polyanskiy also told reporters he was not optimistic about the renewal of a UN-brokered deal that resumed Ukraine’s Black Sea exports of grain and fertiliser.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)