Key events

China has notified several foreign missions in Beijing not to display “politicised propaganda” on their buildings, diplomats told Reuters, adding the request appeared aimed at Ukrainian flags they have displayed since Russia’s invasion.

Several foreign missions in China raised the Ukrainian flag, or displayed its image in posters and lights, following the February 2022 invasion that sparked international condemnation of Russia, a close ally of China.

“We and others got a letter calling on embassies and representative offices to refrain from using the outer walls of their buildings for ‘politicised propaganda’,” one diplomat, whose embassy is displaying a Ukraine flag image, told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat said the mission did not intend to comply with the notification.

Three other Beijing-based diplomats confirmed that there had been a notification, adding that while it did not directly mention the Ukraine flag it was clearly aimed at that.

A US-made Patriot missile defence system being used by Ukraine likely suffered some damage from a Russian strike, two US officials told Reuters on Tuesday, adding that it did not appear to have been destroyed.

The Patriot system is one of an array of sophisticated air defence units supplied by the West to help Ukraine repel a Russian campaign of air strikes that has targeted critical infrastructure, power facilities and other sites.

American Patriot surface-to-air missile system presented at the Warsaw-Radom Airport in Radom, 20 April 2023. Photograph: Paweł Supernak/EPA

One US official, speaking to Reuters on the condition of anonymity and citing initial information, said Washington and Kyiv were already talking about the best way to repair the system and at this point it did not appear the system would have to be removed from Ukraine.

The official added that the United States would have a better understanding in the coming days and information could change over time. The Guardian could not independently verify the truth of the comments.

The Patriot is considered to be one of the most advanced US air defence systems, including against aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. It typically includes launchers along with radar and other support vehicles.

And these are the demands Russia has made, per Reuters:

In a letter to UN officials on 16 March Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Moscow would only consider extending the Ukraine Black Sea grain export deal beyond 18 May if the following “systemic problems” were resolved:

  • Returning the Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to the SWIFT payment system.

  • A resumption of supplies to Russia of agricultural machinery and spare parts.

  • Lifting restrictions on insurance and access to ports for Russian ships and cargo.

  • The resumption of an ammonia pipeline from Russa’s Togliatti to Odesa in Ukraine.

  • Unblocking accounts and financial activities of Russian fertiliser companies.

Reuters has this useful explainer on what falls under the Black Sea grain deal, which is under threat after Russia said it will withdraw from the deal if its demands aren’t met.

Under the deal:

  • Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations set up a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) in Istanbul, staffed by officials from each party.

  • Ukraine can safely export grain and related foodstuffs and fertilizers, including ammonia, from the ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.

  • All activities in Ukrainian territorial waters are under the authority and responsibility of Ukraine.

  • The parties agreed not to undertake any attacks against merchant vessels and other civilian vessels and port facilities covered by the deal.

  • To prevent provocations and incidents, movement of vessels transiting the maritime humanitarian corridor is monitored remotely. No military ships, aircraft or drones can approach within 10 nautical miles of the corridor without JCC authorisation.

  • All merchant vessels are subject to inspection inbound and outbound from Ukraine by a JCC team in Turkish harbours.

  • The agreement was agreed to remain in effect for 120 days and be extended automatically for the same period, unless one of the parties notifies the other of the intent to terminate the initiative, or to modify it.

  • The deal was extended in November for 120 days and then in March for at least 60 days.

Zelenskiy welcomes ‘good start’ to F-16 fighter jets coalition announced by UK and Netherlands

Zelenskiy has welcomed a pledge by the UK and the Netherlands to build an “international coalition” to provide fighter jet support for Ukraine, and France’s support for the coalition, as a “good start”.

Reacting to the pledge in his nightly address, Zelensky called it “a good start to the coalition”, adding: “Thank you all.”

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday pledged to build an “international coalition” to provide fighter jet support for Ukraine.

Western nations have balked so far at providing advanced jets to help Ukraine take command of the skies against Russia, AFP reports.

Sunak said on Monday however the UK was preparing to open a flight school to train its pilots. French President Emmanuel Macron at the same time offered to train Ukrainian fighter pilots but ruled out sending war planes to Kyiv.

You can read more about the coalition here:

Last ship to leave Ukraine under current Black Sea grain deal

The last ship is due to leave a port in Ukraine today under a deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine grain, a UN spokesperson says.

The ship’s passage begins a day before Russia could quit the pact over obstacles to its grain and fertiliser exports, Reuters reports.

The United Nations and Turkey brokered the Black Sea deal for an initial 120 days in July last year to help tackle a global food crisis that has been aggravated by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, one of the world’s leading grain exporters.

Moscow agreed to extend the Black Sea pact for a further 120 days in November, but then in March it agreed to a 60 day extension – until May 18 – unless a list of demands regarding its own agricultural exports was met.

To convince Russia in July to allow Black Sea grain exports, the United Nations agreed at the same time to help Moscow with its own agricultural shipments for three years.
“There are still a lot of open questions regarding our part of the deal. Now a decision will have to be taken,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday, according to Russian media.

Opening summary

Welcome back to our live coverage of the war in Ukraine, with me, Helen Sullivan.

Our top story this morning: the last ship is due to leave a port in Ukraine today under the deal allowing the safe Black Sea export of grain a day before Russia could quit the pact over obstacles to its grain and fertiliser exports.

And Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has responded to the announcement from the UK and the Netherlands that they would build an “international coalition” to help procure F-16 fighter jets for the country, a move that France supported, calling it a “good start”.

We’ll have more on these stories shortly. In the meantime here are the key recent developments:

  • Ukraine said it had neutralised the Kremlin’s most potent hypersonic weapon, shooting down six out of six Kinzhal missiles launched at Kyiv during a sweeping and “exceptionally intense” night-time attack. It is the first time Ukraine has claimed to have struck an entire volley of Kinzhals, and if confirmed would demonstrate the effectiveness of Kyiv’s newly deployed western-supplied air defences.

  • The attack on Kyiv was one of the biggest since the 2022 invasion and followed Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s three-day trip to Europe. During meetings in London, Berlin, Paris and Rome, Ukraine’s president secured promises of more military assistance, including long-range attack drones from the UK.

  • European leaders convening in Iceland for two days pledged to hold Russia to account and unveiled a mechanism to track the losses and damage inflicted by Moscow’s forces.

  • The British and Dutch prime ministers, Rishi Sunak and Mark Rutte, have agreed to build an “international coalition” to help procure F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine, the British government has announced.

  • The assembly in a pro-Russian region of Moldova has endorsed the election of a local leader intent on improving ties with Moscow, setting up a clash with the pro-European national government.

  • Ukrainian forces have taken back about 20 sq km (7.5 sq miles) of territory from Russian forces around the eastern city of Bakhmut in recent days, the Ukrainian deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar said. She said on the Telegram messaging app that Russian forces had advanced “somewhat” in the city of Bakhmut itself, and that heavy fighting continued.

  • The head of Ukraine’s supreme court, Vsevolod Kniaziev, has been arrested as part of the biggest bribery investigation in Ukraine’s history. Police detained Knaiziev as part of a $2.7m bribery inquiry, as Kyiv pursues anti-graft measures required for closer integration with the EU.

  • Six African leaders plan to travel to Russia and Ukraine “as soon as is possible” to help find a resolution to the war, the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has said. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, had “agreed to receive the mission and the African heads of state, in both Moscow and Kyiv”, Ramaphosa said.

  • A bill banning Russian uranium imports to the US gained momentum on Tuesday by passing a committee in the US House of Representatives. After Russia invaded Ukraine, the US banned imports of its oil and imposed a price cap with other western countries on sea-borne exports of its crude and oil products, but not uranium.

  • About 2,000 people who had helped defend the Azovstal plant who were captured and became prisoners of war are still in the hands of the Russians, according to a charity set up to support families and those connected to the factory.

  • Six people have been killed in Kharkiv and Donetsk over the last 24 hours, according to the regions’ governors. Oleh Syniehubov and Pavlo Kyrylenko confirmed the figures on Tuesday.

  • Russia said it was still undecided on the extension of a Black Sea grain deal with Ukraine, brokered by the UN and Turkey and due to expire on 18 May. “There are a lot of unanswered questions regarding our part of the deal … now we have to make a decision,” the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

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