Ukraine war live updates: Zelenskyy calls for ‘unity’ after Polish farmers block border; Russian military chief visits Ukraine

Ukraine war live updates: Zelenskyy calls for 'unity' after Polish farmers block border; Russian military chief visits Ukraine

Zelenskyy calls for top-level Poland-Ukraine meeting at border as grain protests escalate

Polish farmers with their tractors and vehicles block the expressway S3 during a demonstration. Polish farmers are staging protests against cheap Ukrainian grain flooding the market and EU regulations on pesticide and fertiliser usage. Tractors with Polish flags blocked motorways and major junctions in almost 200 locations in Poland. 

Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he had directed his “entire government” to arrive at the border with Poland by the weekend, as he called for top-level talks with Polish officials over farmers’ protests.

“I would like to address Polish society and express Ukraine’s gratitude to everyone who distinguishes between political manipulation and critical national security issues. I would also like to address the Polish government, specifically Prime Minister [Donald] Tusk and his ministers,” Zelenskyy said in a video posted to the social platform X.

Ukraine has been in dispute with several of its allied neighbors, including Poland, for months over the export of Ukrainian grain, which local farmers argue has been depressing prices.

Tensions escalated Tuesday as Polish farmers blocked the Ukrainian border and opened railway carriages to spill Ukrainian grain, according to a Reuters report.

“We are now witnessing an excessive and unfair politicization that threatens to dump common achievements,” Zelenskyy said, adding that he wanted to address the European Commission to “preserve Europe’s unity.”

— Jenni Reid

UK imposes sanctions on staff of Arctic penal colony where Alexei Navalny died

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via video link from the IK-2 corrective penal colony in Pokrov before a court hearing to consider an appeal against his prison sentence, in Moscow, Russia May 17, 2022. 

Evgenia Novozhenina | Reuters

The U.K. imposed sanctions on six people in charge of the Arctic penal colony where political opposition leader Alexei Navalny was imprisoned and died last week.

The individuals, who held the positions of head or deputy heads of the prison, will be banned from the U.K., and their assets will be frozen, according to U.K. foreign secretary David Cameron.

“It’s clear that the Russian authorities saw Navalny as a threat and they tried repeatedly to silence him,” Cameron said in a statement. “Those responsible for Navalny’s brutal treatment should be under no illusion – we will hold them accountable.”

Russian authorities say that Navalny, who was already serving a combined sentence of 19 years, fell ill and died after taking a walk.

Western governments have widely blamed the Kremlin for Navalny’s death. Navalny, who called for democratic reforms in Russia, campaigned against corruption, and vocally criticized the government, was seen as the most formidable opponent to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia has refuted such criticism before forensic data is available.

— Natasha Turak

Russia adds U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham to list of ‘terrorists and extremists’

Judiciary Committee Ranking Member U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks, during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on online child sexual exploitation at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2024. 

Nathan Howard | Reuters

Russia’s financial monitoring agency, Rosfinmonitoring, has put Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on its list of “terrorists and extremists,” Russian state news agency Tass reported.

The listing of Graham, who is well known for his strong anti-Russian and pro-Ukrainian stance, appears to be largely symbolic, as the senator has no Russian assets for the financial watchdog to freeze. Graham has called numerous times for Russia to be added to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror.

The “terrorists and extremists” list on Rosfinmonitoring includes more than 12,000 people and 400 companies, both domestic and foreign, and features both terrorist entities and political opposition groups, according to the platform

In a post on the X social media platform, Graham reacted to the news with what appeared to be sarcasm: “There goes all my rubles!”

— Natasha Turak

Russia is greatest foreign security threat to Sweden, country’s security service says

Russia is Sweden’s top external security threat, the Nordic country’s security service said, detailing parts of an annual report on domestic and international menaces.

Gotland’s Regiment patrols the roads in tanks, amid increased tensions between NATO and Russia over Ukraine, on the Swedish island of Gotland, Sweden January 16, 2022.

Karl Melander | via Reuters

“We must all learn to live with the serious security situation,” Charlotte von Essen, the head of Sweden’s Security Service, told a press conference, according to Reuters.

“Above all Russia, but also China and Iran continue to constitute the biggest threat to Sweden and they are working and to a certain extent also working together to change the current security system,” she said.

Shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly two years ago, Sweden, along with its neighbor Finland, broke with a historic position of nonalignment and applied to join the NATO alliance. Stockholm is waiting for the approval of one holdout member state, Hungary.

Moscow has vocally condemned Sweden’s move.

In a statement accompanying the report, Sweden’s Security Service described domestic threats from both Islamists and far right groups, and warned that Russia and other outside actors may look to exploit those risks.

— Natasha Turak

EU approves in principle the 13th sanctions package against Russia

The European Union has approved in principle its 13th sanctions package against Russia, the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the EU announced in a post from its official account on X.

“EU ambassadors just agreed in principle on a 13th package of sanctions in the framework of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” the post said, calling it “one of the broadest approved by the EU.”

The new measures will sanction some 200 people and entities, but no specific sectors will be targeted in this round, according to reports. The package is expected to take effect in time for the two-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

— Natasha Turak

Belarus leader Lukashenko calls for armed street patrols, warns of ‘extremist’ crime

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko called on law enforcement agencies on Tuesday to organise patrols with small arms on the streets of Belarusian cities to ensure the safety of people.

“People should feel safe at home, at work, on the street, at any time of the day,” Lukashenko said in a video from a meeting with the country’s top security bodies, posted on Pul Pervovo, a state outlet that reports on Lukashenko’s activities.

Lukashenko is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Alexander Nemenov | Afp | Getty Images

Lukashenko said that while the crime rate in Belarus was decreasing, the country was at risk of crimes of an “extremist nature.”

“Today, this is the most important aspect of maintaining law and order – to suppress the actions of thugs and preventing the loss of souls, who do not yet fully understand what foreign curators are targeting them,” he said in the video clip.

“I warn the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the KGB, the special services, everyone, the prosecutor’s office – anyone: we need to take control of this. Our patrol guys must be on the streets…Patrols must be armed with small arms, at least pistols.”

Lukashenko backed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 by allowing Moscow to use its territory to launch the war and agreed last year to deploy Russian tactical nuclear weapons in his country on Russia’s western border.

Last week he said several “saboteurs”, including Ukrainian and Belarusian nationals, had been detained on the border of the two countries in a “counter-terrorist operation” and that similar groups were detained “two or three times a week”.

In January, authorities in Belarus launched an investigation into a group of 20 independent analysts and commentators now outside the country and accused of conspiring to seize power and promote extremism.

In power since 1994, Lukashenko staged a new crackdown on dissent after stamping out unprecedented demonstrations against what his opponents say was his rigged re-election in 2020.


Russian military chief visits troops in Ukraine after recent successes

Valery Gerasimov attends a military meeting in Moscow in December 2022, when he was chief of the General Staff. Gerasimov will take direct control of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Sergey Fadeichev | Afp | Getty Images

Russia’s military chief has visited troops in eastern Ukraine as Moscow continues to promote its capture of Avdiivka after months of intensified fighting.

On Wednesday, Chief of the General Staff Valeriy Gerasimov met troops involved in offensive operations around Avdiivka in Donetsk and “presented state awards to military personnel who distinguished themselves during the liberation of Avdiivka,” the defense ministry said, according to news agency RIA Novosti.

“To date, the main task that was set has been completed, Avdiivka has been liberated. I must say that it was liberated in a fairly short time, but this was preceded by a long period of preparation,” Gerasimov said in a video distributed by the ministry and cited by RIA.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reportedly told Russian President Vladimir Putin about Avdiivka’s capture last Saturday, with the president congratulating troops on their success. Capturing the industrial city of Avdiivka means that the front line moves farther away from the nearby city of Donetsk and bolsters Russia’s defensive position.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War noted Tuesday that Russia is relishing its victory, stating that Putin and Shoigu have since “preened themselves on the Russian seizure of Avdiivka.”

The success has come at a high cost, however, with estimates suggesting that Russia lost between 16,000 and 47,000 troops in the fight for the city.

— Holly Ellyatt

U.S. to announce ‘major sanctions package’ on Friday over Navalny’s death

People attend a rally to commemorate Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, at Rome’s Piazza del Campidoglio city council square. 

Marco Ravagli | Future Publishing | Getty Images

White House national security communications adviser John Kirby said Tuesday that the U.S. plans to announce a “major sanctions package” on Friday, seeking to hold Russia responsible for the death of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

No further details about the measures were available at the time of writing.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday that “Putin is responsible” for Navalny’s death.

The Kremlin has rejected such allegations, with the Russian foreign ministry calling the reaction from some world leaders “self-exposing,” given that no forensic medical examination has yet been made available.

— Sam Meredith

Oleg Navalny, Navalny’s brother, back on Russia’s wanted list

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his wife Yulia and brother Oleg take part in a march at Strastnoy Boulevard in memory of Russian politician and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on his 4th death anniversary in Moscow, Russia on February 24, 2019.

Anadolu | Anadolu | Getty Images

Oleg Navalny, the brother of dead Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has been put back on Russia’s wanted list, according to Russian state news agency Tass.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Oleg Navalny had been placed on the list.

Tass reported Tuesday, citing Russia’s Interior Ministry, that the move was in connection to “an article of the Criminal Code,” without providing further details.

— Sam Meredith

Estonia says it successfully halted a hybrid operation by Russia on its territory

Prime Minister of Estonia Kaja Kallas.

Sean Gallup | Getty Images

Estonia Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said on Tuesday that the country, which borders Russia, successfully thwarted a hybrid operation by Russia’s security services on its territory.

“We know the Kremlin is targeting all of our democratic societies,” Kallas said via social media platform X.

“Our answer: be open and reveal their methods. This is the way to deter harmful actions and make us resilient,” she added.

Public broadcaster ERR reported Tuesday that Estonia’s Internal Security Service said a total of 10 people were detained as part of a criminal investigation linked to vandalized cars belonging to the country’s interior minister and a journalist.

The ISS said the purpose of the hybrid operation, which took place last year, was to “sow fear and create tension in Estonian society.”

— Sam Meredith

X restores access to the social media account of Yulia Navalnaya

Yulia Navalnaya, wife of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attends the Munich Security Conference, on the day Alexei Navalny’s death was announced by the prison service of the Yamalo-Nenets region where he had been serving his sentence, in Munich, southern Germany, on Feb. 16, 2024.

Thomas Kienzle | Afp | Getty Images

X restored access to the social media account of Alexei Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, after a brief suspension.

It was not immediately clear what triggered the suspension, which lasted less than an hour. A spokesperson for X has yet to respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Navalnaya created her account earlier this month. Her first public post dates Feb. 19 and features a video address to the Russian followers of Navalny.

Supporters of Navalny have rallied around Navalnaya since the death of her husband, amid international outcry and vigils that have led to 397 detentions across 39 cities in Russia as of Tuesday, according to rights group OVD-Info.

Ruxandra Iordache

‘Let me finally see my son’: Navalny’s mother calls on Putin to hand over her son’s body

Relatives of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Anatoly Navalny (R) and Lyudmila Navalnaya leave the IK-6 penal colony at Melekhovo, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) east of Moscow, where Alexei Navalny is jailed on June 19, 2023. 

Natalia Kolesnikova | AFP | Getty Images

Lyudmila Navalnaya, the mother of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, has demanded that Russian President Vladimir Putin hand over her son, so that she can bury him.

“Behind me is the penal colony IK-3 ‘Polar Wolf’ where my son, Alexey Navalny, died on February 16th. I haven’t been able to see him for five days. I’m not handed over his body and I’m not even told where he is,” Navalnaya said in comments broadcast on the Navalny LIVE YouTube channel, according to an NBC translation.

“I am addressing you, Vladimir Putin — the solution of the issue depends only on you. Let me finally see my son. I demand that Alexei’s body be immediately handed over so that I can bury him humanely,” Navalnaya said.

Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh on Monday said that investigators had told Lyudmila Navalnaya they would not give her his body for another 14 days while a “chemical examination” is carried out. CNBC could not independently confirm the report.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, has accused authorities of holding the activist’s remains to wait for traces of the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, with which he was reportedly poisoned in 2020, to leave his body. The Kremlin said Tuesday that these allegations were “unfounded.”

— Sam Meredith

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