2 Russian villages evacuated after the fire of an ammunition depot

Kyiv, Ukraine — A fire at an ammunition depot near the Russian village of Timonovo prompted the evacuation of two villages in Russia’s Belgorod region on Ukraine’s northeastern border, an official said on Friday. The fire was the latest in a series of destructive incidents on Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine or inside Russia itself.

About 1,100 people reside in the villages of Timonovo and Soloti, about 25 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. The fire did not cause any casualties on Thursday evening, Belgorod regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

The blaze came days after another ammunition dump exploded on the Crimean Peninsula, a Russian-occupied territory on the Black Sea that was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Last week, nine Russian warplanes were reportedly destroyed at an air base in Crimea, demonstrating both Russian vulnerability and Ukrainian ability to strike deep behind enemy lines. Ukrainian authorities have ceased to publicly claim responsibility.

But President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has hinted at Ukrainian attacks behind enemy lines after explosions in Crimea, which Russia has blamed on “sabotage”.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a televised address on Friday that statements by Ukrainian officials regarding strike facilities in Crimea mark “an escalation of the conflict openly encouraged by the United States and its allies in the ‘NATO’.

Ryabkov said Russian officials had warned the United States against such actions in phone calls with high-level members of the Biden administration, adding that the “deep and open involvement of the United States” in the war in Ukraine “effectively puts the United States on the verge of becoming a party to the conflict.“

“We don’t want escalation,” Ryabkov said. “We would like to avoid a situation where the United States becomes a party to the conflict, but so far we have not seen their willingness to consider these warnings deeply and seriously.”

Despite the latest incidents, a Western official said the war was at an “almost operational standstill”, with neither side in a position to launch major offensives.

“The whole tempo of the campaign has slowed, in part because both sides have become more aware that this is a marathon and not a sprint and that spend rates and ammunition conservation are important,” said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss intelligence matters publicly.

Meanwhile, Kyiv and Moscow have continued to accuse each other of bombing Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, stoking international fears of a disaster on the continent.

The Kremlin said on Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in their first telephone conversation since May 28 that the Ukrainian bombardment around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant “raised the threat of a large-scale disaster. scale that could lead to radioactive contamination of vast territories”. .”

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear facility in southern Ukraine was taken over by Russian forces shortly after the February 24 invasion began. Ukraine has accused Russia of stockpiling troops and weapons at the plant and using its land to launch strikes against Ukrainian-held territory. Ukrainian officials and military analysts say Moscow forces cynically used the plant as a shield, knowing the Ukrainians would be reluctant to retaliate.

Russia denied the charges and, in turn, accused Ukrainian forces of repeatedly bombing the plant.

The French presidency said in a statement that Macron “highlighted his concerns” about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia plant and expressed his support for the deployment of an International Atomic Energy Agency mission to the site “as soon as as possible”.

Putin accepted the deployment of the mission under the conditions discussed, according to the French press release. The Kremlin said that “the Russian side reaffirmed its readiness to offer the necessary assistance to the agency’s experts.”

Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of the Moscow-backed temporary administration for the Russian-controlled part of the Zaporizhzhia region, said on Friday that an IAEA mission could approach the plant from Ukrainian-held territory, a change in the position of Moscow which had previously suggested that the mission should go to the Crimean factory.

“I think they can also come from the Ukraine side,” Balitsky said in televised remarks. “We can get them safely to the factory and show where the fire is coming from and who is shooting.”

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s envoy to international organizations in Vienna where the IAEA is based, said he thought a visit by the agency could realistically take place in early September.

After a Thursday visit to Ukraine, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Zelenskyy had asked him to ensure that Russia removes weapons stored at the factory as an “important step for world peace”.

“Zelenskyy asked us for this in particular: that Russia remove all mines and similar (weapons) there and that the issue quickly cease to be scary. Because it is a threat,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan, whose country has close ties with Ukraine and Russia, said he would discuss the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying “Russia must do its part in this regard.”

Turkey’s president made the comments to a group of Turkish journalists upon returning from a visit with Zelenskyy and UN Secretary-General António Guterres to Ukraine on Thursday evening. His comments were reported on Friday by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu agency and other media.

At the meeting in the western city of Lviv, far from the frontlines, leaders discussed expanding prisoner-of-war exchanges and visiting UN atomic energy experts to help secure the nuclear plant.

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

– UN Secretary-General António Guterres visited a port in the Ukrainian coastal city of Odessa, where he hailed ongoing efforts to maintain a maritime corridor on the Black Sea allowing the export of vital Ukrainian grain . Guterres said 25 ships have left Odessa and other Ukrainian ports since Russia and Ukraine signed a four-month grain export deal in July. These ships have carried more than 600,000 tonnes of grain and other foodstuffs like wheat, corn, sunflower oil and soybeans, António Guterres said, adding that getting more food is crucial and fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia to further calm global commodity markets and lower prices. . Gutteres also called for unhindered access to global markets for Russian food and fertilizers, which are not subject to sanctions. “Without fertilizer in 2022, there may not be enough food in 2023,” he said.

— At least five people were killed and 10 others injured by the Russian shelling of towns and villages in the eastern region of Donetsk, according to regional authorities. The Russian shelling of the city of Kharkiv also killed at least one civilian on Friday morning. Russian missiles again hit port facilities and a university building in the southern port city of Mykolaiv.

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Jill Lawless in London contributed.

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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