President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen proposed wide-ranging new measures Wednesday, including a “mandatory target for reducing electricity use at peak hours.”
The proposals were introduced with the goal of helping European citizens deal with rising energy costs as Russia’s actions in “actively manipulating the gas market” and the effects of climate change cause prices to surge.
Speaking to journalists in Brussels, von der Leyen said that while the European Union has “very much increased our preparedness and we have weakened the grip that Russia had on our economy and our continent” over the past six months.
She warned that “Russian manipulation of the gas market has spillover effects on the electricity market” and will confront Europe “with astronomic electricity prices for households and companies.”
She presented five measures with the aim of supporting “vulnerable consumers and businesses.”
As part of the measures, von der Leyen announced that the EU “will propose a cap on Russian gas.”
“The objective here is very clear,” she said. “We must cut Russia’s revenues, which Putin uses to finance this atrocious war against Ukraine.”
Further measures include a “mandatory target for reducing electricity use at peak hours” to help “flatten the peaks and a cap on energy revenues for companies using renewable sources.
Additionally, the commission will “propose a solidarity contribution for fossil fuel companies” that would see “unexpected profits” from energy companies being used support consumers and businesses.
The five proposed measures will be put to member states on Friday, according to von der Leyen.
What Putin says: Earlier Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin hit out at the West’s proposed price caps on Russian energy, threatening to cut off gas and oil supplies if they are imposed.
“Well, we simply will not comply with them. And we will not supply anything at all if it is contrary to our interests — in this case, economic ones. Neither gas, nor oil, nor coal, nor heating oil — we will not supply anything,” Putin said.
Last week, the G7 nations announced plans to impose a price cap on Russian oil exports.
In his budget speech on Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised to work on lowering prices for energy imports as tensions with Russia continue, saying “the prices for energy supplies must come down.”
“Citizens must also be able to pay the prices. And we will take care of that,“ he said.
Scholz said the country’s gas storage facilities were over 85% full at a time when Russia has cut off gas supplies to Germany.
Germany “will probably get through this winter, despite all the tension, due to building liquefied natural gas storage terminals and purchasing gas elsewhere,” he added.
“You’ll never walk alone. That is the motto of this government,“ Scholz promised. “I am sure our country will rise above. We will stand together. We will overcome the challenges we are facing now.”
Scholz last week said that the country is better prepared for winter “than was foreseeable a few months ago” when it comes to gas supply and that it “can deal quite well with the threats that are coming our way from Russia.”
The Pentagon is preparing detailed analysis and working out how to support Ukraine’s military in the medium- and long-term, including after the war with Russia has ended, according to three defense officials.
The efforts are being led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and would build on the billions of dollars in military aid the US has given to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February.
The process is at an early stage and a senior defense official said it is looking at the “future of Ukrainian forces,” aiming to answer key questions about “what makes sense?” and “what do we want Ukraine to start having in the mid and the long term?” in terms of military support. As well as the current conflict, which is expected to be lengthy, the US is looking, at least, at the next five years after the war is over.
The analysis is being conducted in conjunction with the Ukrainians, and if approved by US President Joe Biden, it could lead to years of future arms sales and the establishment of a long-term military training program by the US. It would be presented to Kyiv as an assessment, but it would provide a clear road map showing how the US believes it should develop its military.
The analysis is expected to “come together in the next month or two,” the senior defense official said, emphasizing that Ukraine’s views will be central to the final effort. “What’s their strategy, what do they want?” they added. The effort will continuously evolve over the next few months as the battlefield shifts and Ukraine’s forces advance.
The initial effort could lead to recommendations for weapons and training, depending on the military strategy Ukraine approves. That could ultimately extend US and allied involvement with Ukraine for years to come through long-term, multi-year weapons contracts that could be initially finalized before the end of Biden’s first term.
Russia and Ukraine have traded accusations after the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report it was “gravely concerned” about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, amid ongoing fighting around the site.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday he trusted the report and accused Ukraine of shelling the plant.
“[The IAEA] are under pressure and cannot directly say that shelling comes from Ukrainian territory” he said on Wednesday. “We are controlling the station, our servicemen are stationed there. What, are we shooting at our own [men] or what? This is utter rubbish, it’s impossible to say otherwise.”
The Russian President went on to deny there were military personnel or equipment inside the station.
“I saw the report says that the IAEA considers it necessary to remove military equipment from the territory of the power plant. But there is no military equipment on the territory of the power plant, the IAEA staff should have seen it,” Putin said. “And they can still see it now because two employees stayed there.”
“Our military equipment… is not placed at the station. It is quite far off outside the perimeter of the station,” he added.
In its report, the IAEA said there was indeed military equipment inside the power plant, even releasing a picture of a Russian military truck.
“The team observed the presence of Russian military personnel, vehicles and equipment at various places at the ZNPP [Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant], including several military trucks on the ground floor of the Unit 1 and Unit 2 turbine halls and military vehicles stationed under the overpass connecting the reactor units,” the report said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday backed the IAEA’s call’s for demilitarization of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and surrounding support infrastructure, calling on the agency to “force Russia to demilitarize the territory of the NPP and return full control to Ukraine.”
Ukraine has also consistently blamed Russia for the shelling at the power plant and also accused Moscow of using the facility as a shield from which to fire at Kyiv’s positions across the Dnieper river.
The IAEA has called for the area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to be demilitarized but, thus far, both Ukraine and Russia seem reluctant to engage in the kind of coordination needed to achieve that.
The IAEA team dispatched to the plant included six experts who carried out what the agency describes as “essential nuclear safety, security and safeguards work.” Two of the experts have remained behind to continued that work and enable the IAEA “to observe the situation there and provide independent assessments.”
CNN has reached out to the IAEA for additional details on the work they will be undertaking at the station but has yet to hear back.
President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday accused European nations of acting “like colonial powers,” and used misleading figures to claim that low and middle-income countries are receiving a fraction of the Ukrainian grain exports they were expecting under the landmark UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative.
In remarks Wednesday during his opening speech at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Putin cited figures that do not accurately reflect current UN data on grain shipments.
“Only 3% of the grain being exported from Ukraine is going to developing countries, the majority is going to Europe… over the past decades European countries have acted like colonial powers, they are continuing to act like that today,” Putin claimed erroneously.
“Once again, they have deceived developing countries,” he added.
Fact check: According to a CNN analysis of UN data that tracks exports under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, 569,274 tonnes of grains and other foodstuffs have made it to countries the World Bank classifies as lower-middle-income as of September 4, accounting for roughly 27% of all shipments.
Putin’s remarks were consistent with Kremlin talking points around the looming global food shortages that have been caused in large part by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports. Russian diplomats in recent months have worked energetically to deflect criticism of Moscow by suggesting that Western sanctions, rather than Russia’s actions, are to blame for the crisis.
“It is clear that with this approach, the scale of the world’s food problems will only grow — which is capable of leading to an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe,” Putin claimed, adding that he would discuss the issue with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who aided the deal.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative — which was brokered by the UN and Turkey — was signed by representatives from Russia and Ukraine in July.
Its purpose is to facilitate the resumption of vital exports out of Ukraine to alleviate global food shortages and rising grain commodity prices.
Prior to the deal some 20 million metric tons of Ukrainian wheat and corn had remained trapped in the port of Odesa due to a Russian blockade.
CNN reached out to the UN’s Black Sea Grain Initiative Joint Coordination Centre to ask why less than a third of all exports are reaching lower-middle-income nations but did not receive an immediate reply.
The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have reached an “agreement in principle” to restrict the movement of Russian citizens through their borders with Russia and Belarus, according to Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics.
The last “nuances” of the restrictions are currently being agreed between Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, Rinkevics announced on Wednesday following a meeting of Nordic-Baltic foreign ministers in Kaunas, Lithuania.
What does this mean? Once implemented, the ban will prevent Russian citizens holding Schengen visas from crossing into Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia, from Russia or Belarus, Rinkevics said. There will be exceptions on humanitarian grounds, for lorry drivers, for family reasons and for diplomats, Rinkevics added.
There will be “sufficient warning time” before the restrictions are implemented, Rinkevics added, with further decisions being made within the next 10 days.
The number of border crossings from Russian citizens holding Schengen visas has “dramatically increased,” in recent weeks, Rinkevics said, adding that the crossings are becoming a public security concern as well as a moral and political issue.
Some background: Estonia implemented a ban on Russian citizens who already held Estonian-issued Schengen visas in August. Meanwhile, the European Union has agreed to reduce the number of new visas available to Russian citizens but stopped short of an outright ban on travel to the bloc.
Ukrainian forces are advancing to the east of Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv, with recent social media footage geo-located by CNN showing soldiers in the town of Volokhiv-Yar, which was occupied by Russian forces until recently.
Important: If Ukrainian forces are able to consolidate their presence in Volokhiv-Yar, they could encircle Russian troops in the neighboring town of Balakliya.
CNN has geolocated videos showing Ukrainian forces on the outskirts of Balakliya. There are indications fighting is ongoing in the area.
Reports from both sides suggest Balakliya is being defended by militiamen from the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic and soldiers from the Russian National Guard, who may now be facing a precarious situation.
CNN cannot independently verify their reports and neither Moscow nor Kyiv have commented on the Ukrainian offensive in the region.
On Tuesday, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Ukrainian forces were closing in on Balakliya, likely driving Russian forces to the left bank of the Severskyi Donets and Serednya Balakliika rivers.
Videos showed Ukrainian soldiers in Verbivka, next to Balakliya.
“Multiple Russian sources acknowledged Ukrainian gains in Verbivka and reported that Russian forces demolished unspecified bridges in Balakliya‘s eastern environs to prevent further Ukrainian advances,” the ISW said in its daily report on the war in Ukraine.
“The September 6 Ukrainian counterattack in Kharkiv was likely an opportunistic effort enabled by the redeployment of Russian forces away from the area to reinforce Russian positions against the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson Oblast,” the ISW added.
Russia has “lost nothing” in its “special military operation” in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin claimed in his speech to open the Plenary Session at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Wednesday.
“We have lost nothing and are not going to lose anything. Our main gain is the strengthening of our sovereignty. We didn’t start anything, in terms of military action, but are only trying to finish it,” Putin told the audience.
Based on downgraded intelligence, the US believes that Russia is facing “severe” shortages of military personnel in Ukraine and is seeking new ways to reinforce its troop levels, two US officials told CNN last week.
In a statement Monday, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said that it is now estimated that “over 25,000 Russian soldiers have lost their lives” since the start of the war.
In late August, President Putin ordered Russia’s military to increase the number of troops in Ukraine by 137,000, though it remains unclear how the Defense Ministry intends to reach that target.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet on the sidelines of a summit in Uzbekistan next week, Russia’s envoy to Beijing Andrey Denisov told reporters on Wednesday, according to Russian state news agency Tass.
The expected meeting at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit would be the first face-to-face between the two leaders, who have established a close relationship, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
It would also be the first overseas trip for Xi since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
The SCO summit will be held on September 15 to 16 in Samarkand.