Explosions reported in Kyiv while African leaders visiting on peace mission

Suspilne, Ukraine’s state broadcaster, reports that its correspondents have heard explosions in Kyiv. The local authority has said that air defence is in operation. The attack comes shortly after South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa arrived in the capital as part of a peace delegation which is also expected to visit Moscow. An air alert is in place across much of Ukraine with reports of Kalibr cruise missiles being fired from the Black Sea.

More details soon …

Key events

Summary of the day so far…

Vladimir Putin has said Ukraine’s counteroffensive would fail as Kyiv’s troops sought to advance in several directions, including the southeastern region of Zaporizhzhia.

“I think that Ukraine’s armed forces stand no chance here, as well as in other directions – I have no doubt about that,” the Russian president told an annual economic forum in Saint Petersburg on Friday.

Putin went on to claim Ukraine’s armed forces were suffering “heavy losses”, saying “they are using the so-called strategic reserves”. These claims could not be immediately independently verified.

Vladimir Putin says Nato could be pulled further into Ukraine war

Vladimir Putin said on Friday there was a “serious danger” that the Nato military alliance could be pulled further into the Ukraine war.

The Russian president also said that nuclear weapons would only possibly be used in case of a threat to the existence of the “Russian state”, adding “we have more such weapons than the western countries”.

Speaking at Russia’s flagship St Petersburg International Economic Forum, he said Russia’s military could destroy parts of central Kyiv but had chosen not to for various reasons, which he did not specify.

Nato has launched a new centre for protecting undersea pipelines and cables following the still-unsolved attack on the Nord Stream pipelines, AP reports.

“The threat is developing,” Lt. Gen. Hans-Werner Wiermann, who heads a special unit focused on the challenge, said after Nato defence ministers gave the greenlight for the new centre, located in Northwood, northwest London.

He told reporters at Nato headquarters in Brussels on Friday:

Russian ships have actively mapped our critical undersea infrastructure. There are heightened concerns that Russia may target undersea cables and other critical infrastructure in an effort to disrupt Western life.

In September 2022, several unexplained underwater explosions ruptured the Nord Stream 1 and newly-built Nord Stream 2 pipelines that link Russia and Germany across the Baltic Sea.

The blasts occurred in the economic zones of Sweden and Denmark and both countries say the explosions were deliberate – though they have yet to single out who was responsible.

Nato has since boosted its presence in the Baltic and North seas, with dozens of ships, supported by maritime patrol aircraft and undersea equipment like drones.

The South African delegation appears to have disembarked from the plane that landed in Warsaw on Thursday afternoon, after lengthy delays.

Journalist Pieter Du Toit, from South African media outlet News24, tweeted this:

We’ve disembarked, after another haranguing by Polish authorities. A South African SAPS official, clearly frustrated after 26 hours holed up in the plane, telling the Poles: “Just because we’re from Africa doesn’t mean you can disrespect us.” We’re going to the terminal. @News24 pic.twitter.com/6xMiD8PVgh

— Pieter Du Toit (@PieterDuToit) June 16, 2023

Among the group held up was Maj. Gen. Wally Rhoode, the head of Cyril Ramaphosa’s personal protection unit, who claimed the delegation faced hostile treatment from Polish authorities, including one of their female colleagues who was allegedly strip searched.

Rhoode told journalists from the steps of the plane that Polish officials were being deliberately obstructive and had tried to “confiscate” firearms from them – even though the arms were being transported in secure cases in the plane’s cargo hold, AP reports.

According to the Poland border guard agency, Ramaphosa’s security detail did not have permission for the weapons they were carrying, which resulted in a standoff. The Polish authorities have denied they were being racist.

There are two diplomatic rows brewing over the African peace visit to Ukraine today. As reported earlier, some of South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa’s entourage have been stuck in Poland. [See 12.23 BST]

Spokesperson Vincent Magwenya has said “The treatment received by PPS members and journalists in Poland, on board the South African charter flight is very unfortunate and deeply regrettable. Our officials remain engaged with their Polish counterparts in trying to resolve the situation.”

However, Magwenya has himself drawn ire for a tweet this morning, following the air alert in Kyiv. He said:

Strangely, we didn’t hear the sirens or explosions. #AfricanPeaceMission program is proceeding as planned.

A picture released by Ukrainian authorities purports to show damage from this mornings attack.

A handout view of a residential area hit after a Russian missile attack on the Kyiv region, 16 June, 2023.
A handout view of a residential area hit after a Russian missile attack on the Kyiv region, 16 June, 2023. Photograph: National Police Of Ukraine/Reuters

US defense secretary Lloyd Austin said he urged Turkey to allow Sweden’s entry into Nato during an introductory meeting on Friday with his new Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan during a gathering of Nato defence ministers in Brussels.

“My purpose in meeting him today was an introductory meeting, just to congratulate him on being installed as minister of defence. Of course, [I] seize every opportunity to encourage him to move forward and approve the accession of Sweden,” Reuters reports Austin told a press conference at Nato headquarters.

“But it’s a very short meeting, and I don’t have anything to report out from that.”

Canada will bolster the Nato force in Latvia with the deployment of 15 Leopard 2A4M tanks, their supporting personnel and equipment, the defence minister said on Friday, Reuters reports.

The army tank squadron will be fully deployed by the autumn, defence minister Anita Anand said, speaking to reporters from Brussels.

Canada is in the process of increasing its presence in Latvia, where it has 800 members of its armed forces in its largest foreign military deployment.

The Canada-led Nato battle group in Latvia is made up from contributions from 11 nations.

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin is still speaking in St Petersburg at the economic forum, by the way. He has mostly been going into specific detail about the performance and regulation of the Russian economy.

My colleague Emma Graham-Harrison notes photographs which seems to show that the artwork house of Polina Rayko has been significantly damaged by the flooding in Kherson.

It seems the worst fears of Ukraine’s art community, and art-loving community have been confirmed.

The extraordinary masterpiece of Polina Rayko, her sole work — the house she only started painting aged 69 — has been devastated by the Kharkhovka dam flood. https://t.co/jMLCCK4p7f

— Emma Graham-Harrison (@_EmmaGH) June 16, 2023

Volodymyr Litvinov, head of the Beryslav district administration in Kherson, reports on Telegram that one person has been injured in a village in the area. He stated:

The army of the Russian Federation struck a residential building, as a result of which the building and outbuildings were damaged. One person was injured.

Nato defence ministers meeting in Brussels have failed to reach agreement over the alliance’s first defence plans since the end of the cold war, two officials told Reuters on Friday (See post at 11:43).

“While regional plans were not formally endorsed today, we anticipate these plans will be part of a series of deliverables for the Vilnius summit in July,” a senior US official said.

Nato defence ministers and senior Nato officials pose for the official press photo on the second day of the Nato defence ministers’ meeting on 16 June, 2023, in Brussels, Belgium.
Nato defence ministers and senior Nato officials pose for the official press photo. Photograph: Omar Havana/Getty Images

Speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, Vladimir Putin has said that Russia’s public finances were generally balanced and that it had had to increase defence spending to reinforce its security.

The Russian president said:

Naturally, additional funds were needed to strengthen defence and security, to purchase weapons. We were forced to do this to protect our country’s sovereignty.

“I should say that on the whole this justifies itself from an economic point of view,” he added.

Vladimir Putin has said Russia’s economy may grow by up to 2% this year as it bounces back from last year’s contraction in the face of sweeping western sanctions.

Putin’s forecast for gross domestic product (GDP) growth, delivered at Russia’s flagship economic forum in St Petersburg, is similar to those of other Russian authorities, Reuters reports.

The International Monetary Fund in April forecast Russian GDP growth at 0.7%, up from 0.3% in a previous estimate, but lowered its 2024 forecast to 1.3% from 2.1%.

Vladimir Putin has started speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. You can watch a live feed of the speech at the top of the blog.

The forum, being held between 14 and 17 June, has for decades been Russia’s vehicle for touting its development and seeking investors.

The Russian president’s appearances at the forum have been highly visible and he often used the occasion to hold roundtable discussions with international news executives.

The spectre of the Russia-Ukraine war looms large over the forum this year, with many notable absentees, including no representation from Europe or the US.

Putin delivers speech at St Petersburg International Economic Forum – watch live

Yury Ushakov, a top Kremlin foreign policy aide, said on Friday that Russia was unlikely to quit the Black Sea grain deal before it comes up for renewal on 17 July, state media reported.

Russian officials have said, however, they see no grounds to extend it beyond that, Reuters reports.

Vladimir Putin said this week that Moscow was considering withdrawing from the deal – which enables Ukraine to ship grain from its Black Sea ports – because it had been “cheated” by the west over promises to remove barriers to Russia’s own grain and fertiliser exports.

Two children and an elderly woman have been injured in the Kyiv region after a Russian missile attack, with more than 30 houses being damaged, the Kyiv Post cited the regional police as saying (See post at 10:58).


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