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Ukraine Latest: Blinken Discusses Counteroffensive Preparations

(Bloomberg) -- China will send a special envoy to Kyiv on Monday, marking the first high-level visit from the Chinese government since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine almost 15 months ago.

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The US and South Africa sought to smooth over a diplomatic row after the American ambassador accused South Africa of supplying arms to Russia.

China’s envoy for Eurasian Affairs, Li Hui, will also visit Poland, France, Germany and Russia on the trip, the foreign ministry said on Friday. He was appointed last month after Chinese President Xi Jinping made his first call to Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy since the start of the war.

Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops back to regain territory around the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, officials in Kyiv said. Russia’s defense ministry said its troops had withdrawn to set up a new, more “favorable” defensive line.

Key Developments

  • South Africa, US Look to Ease Strain After Russia Weapons Dustup

  • China to Send Special Envoy to Ukraine, Russia From Monday

  • Erdogan’s Rival Accuses Russians of Meddling in Turkish Vote

  • How an Aging Armada and Mystery Traders Keep Russian Oil Afloat

  • Ukraine Crop-Deal Talks End With Pact Extension Still in Doubt

  • Ukraine Cites Gains on Russian Troops Near Embattled Bakhmut

(All times CET)

Preparations for Counteroffensive Discussed (1:30 a.m.)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, spoke about preparations for the Ukrainian counteroffensive in a call on Friday, the State Department said.

They discussed “how contributions from international partners can support” the success of the counteroffensive, the department said in a statement.

South Africa, US Seek to Smooth Over Weapons Dispute (1:10 a.m.)

South Africa and the US sought to make amends after the American ambassador was summoned in protest over his accusation that the country had provided weapons to Russia.

The government in Pretoria said the ambassador, Reuben Brigety, “admitted that he crossed the line and apologized unreservedly.” That followed South African officials expressing “utter displeasure with his conduct.”

Neither the US no South Africa addressed the veracity of his claim that South Africa had sent arms Russia for the war in Ukraine. Brigety said in a tweet late Friday that he was grateful for the chance to “correct any misimpressions left by my public remarks.” A State Department spokesperson didn’t dispute South Africa’s characterization of his statement as an apology.

Putin Seeks to Stop People From Leaving Russia (6:10 p.m.)

The Russian president wants additional measures to stop people from leaving Russia, according to a document published today by Kremlin.

Hundreds of thousands of Russians fled the country after Putin invaded Ukraine in 2022 and later announced a mobilization when his army suffered a series of setbacks.

According to Putin’s order, “emigration from Russia has increased because of changed social economic conditions and it is necessary to adopt additional financial, social and other mechanisms to keep human capital and reduce Russian population outflow abroad.”

Ukraine to Confiscate Part of Zaporizhstal Controlled by Russia (5:44 p.m.)

Ukraine will confiscate a stake controlled by Russia in Zaporizhstal, one of the country’s largest steel producers, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Friday in an address to the nation.

“We are blocking influence on this company by a terrorist state, which it had via different off-shore individuals,” Zelenskiy said.

Putin, Ramaphosa Speak After South African Arms Sale News (5:04 p.m.)

Russia’s president spoke with his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday, the Kremlin said, adding that Vladimir Putin supports the idea of involving a group of African leaders in discussing the prospects for resolving the war in Ukraine.

The Kremlin readout made no mention of reports Thursday of a US claim that South Africa had supplied weapons and ammunition to Russia despite Pretoria’s neutral stance on Ukraine. The claim helped push the rand to a record low against the US dollar on fears of damage to trade ties with the US.

Separately, South Africa’s government summoned US Ambassador Reuben Brigety after he accused Pretoria of supplying weapons to Russia, while its foreign minister intends to raise the matter with her US counterpart, Antony Blinken.

Russia’s Current Account Surplus Rebounds in April (4:53 p.m.)

Russia’s current account surplus ticked up in April from the previous month as oil prices recovered a bit, but inflows so far this year remains far short of the flood that helped support the economy in 2022.

The surplus in the current account — roughly the difference between exports and imports — more than doubled from March to $6.8 billion, according to Bloomberg calculations based on data from the Bank of Russia. The average price for Russia’s Urals crude oil - a key export - rose by 23% last month from March, according to the finance ministry.

Zelenskiy, Sunak Speak After UK Missile Donation (4 p.m.)

Ukraine’s president spoke with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, a day after the UK announced it would donate Storm Shadow long-range precision missiles to Kyiv.

“The leaders discussed the importance of the international community sustaining the level of support it has provided so far to Ukraine, particularly as the country prepares to intensify its military operations,” according to a readout from Sunak’s office.

Ukraine Cites Gains Near Embattled Bakhmut (2:27 p.m.)

Ukrainian forces pushed Russian troops back to regain some territory in the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut, officials in Kyiv said, as Russia acknowledged a flurry of attacks along the front line.

Kremlin troops around Bakhmut, which has been besieged in brutal running battles for almost a year, pulled back as much as 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) in some areas over the last 24 hours, Ukrainian military spokesman Serhiy Cherevatyi told Rada TV on Friday. It wasn’t clear if the stepped-up action around Bakhmut was part of Ukraine’s counter-offensive.

Russia’s defense ministry said its troops had withdrawn close to a reservoir north of Bakhmut to set up a new defensive line with more “favorable conditions.”

Zelenskiy Won’t Address ‘Nonpolitical’ Eurovision Song Content (2 p.m.)

Ukraine’s president will not address the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool, England, after organizers rejected a request for Zelenskiy to speak to the popular event, the Associated Press reported.

The European Broadcasting Union, an assembly of national public broadcasters that runs the annual contest, said in a statement on its website that letting Zelenskiy participate would breach “the nonpolitical nature of the event,” which attracts an estimated audience of more than 150 million people.

Read more: How Eurovision’s Silly Songfest Met War in Ukraine: QuickTake

Sergii Nykyforov, a Zelenskiy spokesman, denied in a Facebook post that the president’s office had asked organizers to address the event. Ukraine’s entrant won the 2022 contest which normally would mean Kyiv would hold this year’s event; the UK stepped in to host on Ukraine’s behalf.

Germany to Place Leopard Tank Order Worth Up to $3.2 Billion (12:52 p.m.)

Berlin is poised to order 18 Leopard 2 main battle tanks to replace units sent to Ukraine, with an option for 105 more, at a total cost of around €2.9 billion ($3.2 billion).

The budget committee in Germany’s lower house of parliament is expected to approve the initial order — worth about €525 million — by the end of this month, said people familiar with the plan.

The order is the latest in a broader push to modernize Germany’s armed forces triggered by Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Read more: Germany to Place Leopard Tank Order Worth Up to $3.2 Billion

Ukraine Needs to Be in EU and NATO for Peace, Estonia Says (12:14 p.m.)

The only way for a lasting peace is to end the gray zones in Europe and for Ukraine to join the EU and NATO, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told a press conference in Tallinn on Friday.

Ukraine needs a positive message on its future at the NATO summit in July, she said. The EU must move ahead with transferring frozen Russian assets to Ukraine for reconstruction, Kallas said. The Estonian leader also called for moving ahead with a special tribunal for judging Russia’s invasion.

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