(Bloomberg) — The Pentagon is looking into the feasibility of providing fighter jets to Ukraine, a move previously seen as off-limits for fears Ukraine would expand the conflict into Russian territory. But any move is a long way off, according to the National Security Council’s spokesman.
Officials from Russia and Ukraine signed parallel agreements with Turkey and the United Nations to allow the safe transit of millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain through Black Sea ports for an initial three-month period.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine has about $10 billion in grain, including 20 million tonnes from last year’s harvest, available to export. Ukraine’s president rejected any cease-fire that would allow Moscow to keep territories seized since February.
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On the Ground
Russian troops are concentrating on the Slobozhansk region to repel the advance of Ukrainian troops to the state border of Ukraine in the north and northeast of the Kharkiv region, according to Ukraine’s Military Office. Moscow’s forces launched assaults in the direction of Pokrovsky and the territory of the Uglegorsk thermal power plant. Ukraine’s troops have continued an offensive in Kherson oblast, west of the Dnipro river, the UK said on Twitter. Supply lines of the Russian force west of the Dnipro “are increasingly at risk” after Ukrainian strikes, the UK said. “If Dnipro crossings were denied, and Russian forces in occupied Kherson cut off, it would be a significant military and political setback for Russia.”
(All times CET)
Zelenskiy Says 20M Tonnes of Grain From Last Year Can be Shipped (7 a.m.)
About 20 million tonnes of grain from last year’s Ukrainian harvest can be exported under the new Black Sea protocol, in addition to new-crop supplies now being harvested, said President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“We now have approximately $10 billion worth of grain,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly speech to the nation Friday night.
Separately, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Zelenskiy said there could be no cease fire with Russia that allowed Moscow to hold the territories seized since February. “They will not use this pause to change their geopolitics or to renounce their claims on the former Soviet republics,” he said.
US Opens Door to Getting Fighter Jets to Ukraine (8:40 p.m.)
In what would be a major shift for the US and its allies, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the Pentagon is looking into the feasibility of providing fighter jets to Ukraine, though the effort is in the very early stages.
The effort is focused on providing US aircraft, not ex-Soviet jets, which means Ukrainian pilots would need to be trained on the fighters as well as how to maintain them, Kirby said, adding “So this is not something that’s going to happen anytime soon.”
Kirby spoke as the White House announced an additional $270 million in arms for Ukraine, a package that includes as many as 580 additional Air Force Phoenix Ghost anti-armor/reconnaissance drones. Ukrainian officials said they’re employing monitoring mechanisms to track and account for the delivery of Western weapons.
US Says Global Condemnation Forced Russia Into Grain Deal (8:00 p.m.)
Putin agreed to the deal to allow exports of Ukraine’s grain because “Russia ultimately felt the hot breath of global opprobrium, and it was losing the global south,” Victoria Nuland, US undersecretary of state for political affairs, said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.
Nuland said Moscow had failed to convince developing countries that sanctions by the US and European allies on Russia were causing rising food and energy prices.
UN Says Russia Signs Accord on Russian Food, Fertilizer (7:40 p.m.)
Just before the agreement to allow Ukraine grain exports, Russia signed a separate memorandum of understanding with the UN for the world body to aid in unimpeded exports of Russian food and fertilizer, UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
Emphasizing that goods such as food aren’t targeted by sanctions against Russia, he said the UN will establish a task team “focused on addressing the disruptions to the food and fertilizer trade largely due to the de-risking and overcompliance of the private sector, particularly in the sectors of finance and insurance and logistics.”
Ukraine Official Predicts Grain Exports Within Days (6:16 p.m.)
Ukraine is ready to start grain exports from its ports via the Black Sea within several days, Ukrainian infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Ukrainian TV.
He credited Ukraine’s navy, saying “they’ve liberated the Snake Island, opened up the Danube’s mouth, and now we can unblock the ports of greater Odesa.”
Ukraine sees no danger of Russian ships entering the “green corridors,” which will be used to export grain, Kubrakov said. He added that Ukraine will continue to seek additional ways to export its grain.
US Sees Fight for Donetsk Lasting Through Summer (5:01 p.m.)
The fight for Donestsk in Ukraine’s Donbas region is likely to last through the summer with Russia achieving slow gains at a high cost, a senior US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
Moscow’s forces are taking hundreds of casualties daily, the official said, adding that the death toll includes thousands of lieutenants and captains, and many generals.
Ukrainian forces using US-provided HIMARS and other long-range rocket systems and artillery have destroyed more than 100 high-value targets such as Russian command posts, ammunition depots, air-defense sites, radar and communication nodes, and long-range artillery positions, the official said.
Black Sea Grain Deal to Allow for ‘Significant Volumes’ (4:20 p.m.)
Friday’s signing will allow for “significant volumes of commercial food exports,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said at a press conference in Istanbul, as Russia signed a pact with the UN and Turkey. Ukraine signed a parallel agreement.
Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi ports are part of the agreement, he said. Guterres also announced establishment of a joint coordination center to monitor implementation. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that traffic would begin in “coming days.”
Ukraine Grain Challenge: Clear Mines, Find Ships, Trust Putin (2:42 p.m.)
Ukraine is about to finally secure a deal aimed at restarting Black Sea grain exports that have been crippled by Russia’s invasion. But getting them going won’t be easy.
A pact is expected to be signed Friday by representatives of both countries, which may help revive shipments from one of the world’s top wheat, corn and vegetable-oil exporters.
Germany Bails Out Uniper in Fallout From Russian Squeeze (12:35 p.m.)
Germany hammered out a rescue package for Uniper SE to prevent the collapse of a linchpin in the country’s energy network in the wake of Russia’s moves to slash gas supplies.
The government will get about 30% in Uniper, a holding big enough to give it veto rights on important strategic decisions, Uniper said in a statement on Friday. Fortum Oyj, Uniper’s main shareholder, will retain a majority.
Read more: Germany Bails Out Uniper in Fallout From Russian Gas Squeeze
Russia Makes Surprise Jumbo Rate Cut (12 p.m.)
Russia’s central bank brought interest rates below their level before the invasion of Ukraine, easing monetary policy more than forecast as it navigates risks to inflation and the economy from sanctions.
Policy makers lowered their benchmark to 8% from 9.5% on Friday and signaled they will consider further cuts.
Nord Stream Turbine in Transit in Germany (9:03 a.m.)
A gas turbine for the operation of Gazprom’s Nord Stream 1 pipeline that’s the main route of gas transport from Russia to Germany is held up in transit after maintenance in Canada, the latest twist in an ongoing spat between the two countries.
The turbine is currently stranded at an undisclosed location in Germany because Russia hasn’t provided the necessary documentation to enable the shipment, a person familiar with the matter said under the condition of anonymity.
“Under normal circumstances, the maintenance of turbines is a routine operation for us. Naturally, we want to transport the turbine to its place of operation as quickly as possible. However, the time it takes is not exclusively within our control,” a spokesman for Siemens Energy, the manufacturer for the turbine, said in an emailed statement Thursday.