Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
EU publishes seventh package of sanctions against Russia
The European Union included in the seventh package of anti-Russian sanctions Sberbank, the Russian World Foundation, the Gorchakov Foundation for Public Diplomacy Support, the First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Andrey Belousov, the Mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin, the actors Sergey Bezrukov and Vladimir Mashkov, a number of employees in the sphere of security and deputies.
This was stated in a decision published in the Official Journal of the EU today.
Restrictions take effect from the moment they are posted. A total of 48 individuals and seven organizations are included in the list, including the "Night Wolves" motorcycle club and its leader.
Colonel-General Viktor Strigunov, First Deputy Director of the Russian Guard, Oleg Plohoi, Deputy Director of the Russian Guard, State Duma Deputy Adam Delimkhanov, Major General Sharip Delimkhanov, Chief of the Department of the Russian Guard in the Chechen Republic, and his deputy Alibek Delimkhanov also are among those subject to EU restrictions.
The sanctions list also includes Yuriy Chaika, the Russian president's envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Maria Lvova-Belova, the child rights ombudsman under the Russian president, and Andrey Kozitsyn, the general director of the Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company.
The list of sanctioned legal entities includes Rossotrudnichestvo and the Kvant scientific-production association.
In addition, the EU imposed sanctions on an EU citizen from Slovakia - Jozef Hambalek, head of the European branch of the "Night Wolves" club, whom the EU accused of pro-Russian propaganda and material and financial support for actions undermining Ukraine's sovereignty.
As well as expanding the EU's blacklist, the new sanctions also include a ban on gold exports from Russia. At the same time, the EU decided to ease a number of financial restrictions on Russian oil and food exports and lifted some bans on the export of certain aviation goods and services to Russia.
The EU Council extended all sanctions against Russia by six months until the end of January 2023.
Russia and Ukraine sign grain export agreement
Russia and Ukraine are expected to sign a grain export deal this afternoon, Turkey said, a hopeful sign that the international food crisis caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine may be eased. Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry declared the latest round of European Union sanctions illegitimate.
Russia, Ukraine and Turkey will meet later today in Istanbul to sign a UN-proposed agreement to free grain exports from Ukraine's besieged Black Sea ports, the Turkish presidency said. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will attend the event along with Turkish President Erdogan and the representatives of Russia and Ukraine. It is expected that, in addition to the unblocking of grain exports from Ukraine, the agreement will also include permission for the export of grain and fertilizers from Russia. Agreement in principle on the plan was reached last week.
The US would welcome a possible deal, but stresses Russia's role in the food crisis. State Department spokesman Ned Price expressed Washington's position:
"We welcome the announcement of this agreement in principle, but our focus is on holding Russia accountable for implementing the agreement. What we've heard over the past few hours is admirable, but what will really matter is the implementation. This was a deliberate decision by the Russian Federation to turn food into a weapon."
Russia: Accusations of 'exporting hunger' aim to shift the problem
The West and Ukraine, accusing Russia of "exporting hunger", are trying to shift the responsibility "from a sick head to a healthy one". This is stated in an article by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, published on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry. The minister recalls that even during the crisis caused by the pandemic.
"The West, using the mechanism of currency issuance, has 'pulled' commodity and food flows, which has worsened the situation in developing countries dependent on food imports. Then a difficult situation began to take shape in the food market. Western sanctions imposed on Russia in recent months have further exacerbated the negative trends," Lavrov said.
Russian Foreign Ministry declared the latest round of European Union sanctions illegitimate
“With its illegitimate unilateral sanctions, the European Union stubbornly continues to get stuck in a dead end, and the corresponding measures lead to disastrous consequences for the global economy and security”, according to a statement by the spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova.
“Along with the Covid-19 pandemic, the main reason for the rise in the prices of agricultural products and hydrocarbons is the short-sighted economic and energy policy of the West. The EU's anti-Russian measures, which openly pursue the goal of undermining our country's foreign economic activity, including in the agricultural sector, contribute to aggravating the situation,” Zakharova said.
Developments on the battlefield
On the battlefield - Russian forces appear to be closing in on Ukraine's second-largest power plant, the Uglegorsk thermal power plant, 50km northeast of Donetsk, with the aim of seizing critical infrastructure and the cities of Kramatorsk and Slavyansk, British intelligence said. One of the most densely populated areas of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv came under fire yesterday, the city's mayor, Igor Terekhov, said, urging civilians not to leave their shelters. There were reports of serious shelling in Nikolaev as well.
Russia has increased its use of air defense missiles in Ukraine
Russia has increased its use of air defense missiles in secondary ground attack mode because of a critical shortage of dedicated ground attack missiles, British military intelligence said.
It is almost certain that strategic S-300 and S-400 systems designed to shoot down aircraft and long-range missiles are located near Ukraine.
These weapons can pose a threat to troops in the field and to civilians, the British Ministry of Defense has warned.
Zelensky ordered an increase in attacks against Russian units
“Ukraine's military has the potential to win on the battlefield and inflict heavy losses on Russia”, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday after a meeting with top commanders.
In a video address broadcast late at night, he said the meeting discussed the supply of advanced weapons, adding that the intensity of attacks against the Russians must be increased.
"(We) agreed that our forces have a strong potential to advance on the battlefield and inflict significant new losses on the occupiers," the president said.
Kyiv hopes that Western weapons, especially longer-range missiles such as the US HIMARS salvo systems that Ukraine has deployed in recent weeks, will allow the Ukrainian military to launch a counterattack and regain territory.
Zelensky said three people were killed when Russia shelled the eastern city of Kharkiv on Thursday.
"Every single one of these Russian attacks is an argument for Ukraine to get more HIMARS and other modern and effective weapons. Every single one of these attacks only strengthens our desire to defeat the invaders, and that will certainly happen."
Meanwhile, British intelligence said it expected the Russian military to begin some sort of operational pause in the coming weeks, giving Kyiv a key opportunity to strike back.
Zelensky refuted fake news that he is seriously ill: “I am 44, not 70”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has denied reports that he is seriously ill. He released a video from his office in which he mocked Russian propaganda media reports that he was in the intensive care unit of a clinic.
The head of state in Kyiv defined this information as "another Russian lie about his country".
"I'm in the office, I've never felt better, and remember, I'm 44, not 70," Zelensky said.
This is an obvious jab at Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin, who is turning 70 this year.
The owner of "Azovstal": “Russia ‘loots’ steel paid for by Europe”
Russia is seizing $600 million worth of steel from plants and ports in Ukraine, claims the director of the largest Ukrainian steel company Metinvest.
The company is the owner of the "Azovstal" plant, which became the last support of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians during the devastation of the city of Mariupol.
Chief executive Yuri Ryzhenkov said the steel was being transferred to Russia and sold abroad, with some destined for customers in the UK.
Metinvest is headquartered in Mariupol, a trade and manufacturing hub that fell to Russia in May after a nearly three-month relentless assault.
Ryzhenkov said that 300 employees and 200 of their relatives were killed in the attack on the Azovstal plant, which together with its sister plant Ilyich produces 40% of all steel production in Ukraine.
Thousands of tonnes of steel have been paid for by European customers, including some from Britain.
He said that public sources and the company's own informants had reported that the steel was transferred to Russia and sold on domestic markets or in countries in Africa and Asia.
"What they are doing is robbery. They are stealing not only our products but also some of these products that already belong to European customers. So basically they are stealing not only from us, but also from the Europeans," Rizhenkov told BBC.
He said the company is documenting as many thefts as possible and is preparing to take future legal action.
"At some point, the Russians will face not only international but also criminal courts. And we will pursue them with everything we have."
The BBC approached the Russian Defense Ministry for comment, but it did not respond to the allegations.
Professor Marko Milanovic, an expert in international law at the University of Reading, says there are a number of options for litigation, but the prospects for success are uncertain.
"Whatever legal options Metinvest chooses, it's a very difficult process, and while looting is unfortunately quite common in conflicts, suing the looting country and getting compensation is very, very rare indeed," he told the BBC.
Lukashenko: The conflict in Ukraine must stop to avoid a nuclear war
The West, Ukraine and Russia must agree on ending the conflict in Ukraine to avoid the "abyss of nuclear war", Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said in an exclusive interview with AFP.
"We need to stop, reach an agreement, end this mess, operation and war in Ukraine."
"Let's stop and then we'll figure out how to go on living. . . . There's no need to go on. Beyond lies the abyss of nuclear war. There's no need to go there."
According to him, the West is to blame for the start of the military conflict and has "ignited this war" in Ukraine.
"You started this war. You started the war and you are continuing it," Lukashenko said.
"We saw the reasons for this war," he added. "If Russia hadn't gotten ahead of you, you NATO members would have organized and struck at her."
Belarus has served as a springboard for Russia's intervention in Ukraine, but Lukashenko has so far avoided being a party to the conflict.
Analysts say he is well aware of the fact that most Belarusians do not support sending troops to Ukraine.
The 67-year-old leader, who has ruled Belarus for nearly three decades, insists that authorities in Kyiv can end the war if they resume talks with Moscow and accept its demands.
"Everything depends on Ukraine," he said.
"Right now this war can be ended on terms more acceptable to Ukraine."
The leader of Belarus called on the authorities in Kyiv to "sit down at the negotiating table and agree that they will never threaten Russia."
In mid-April, negotiations between Russia and Ukraine were largely suspended.
Lukashenko said that Ukraine must accept the loss of Russian-occupied regions in eastern and southern Ukraine.
"This is no longer being discussed," he said. "That could have been discussed in February or March."
In his interview, Alexander Lukashenko admitted that he runs an authoritarian state, but said that there are no political prisoners in his isolated country.
"Yes, our system of power is stricter. I don't even exclude the word 'authoritarian'," he said.
Lukashenko rejected "tales of hundreds" of people deprived of their freedom.
"These people spoke out against the state. Not against the authorities - against the state and their own nation," he said, referring to those who participated in the protests against his controversial 2020 re-election as president.