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Ukrainian troops faced with 'brutal' front-line combat, says Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday said Kyiv's troops were faced with brutal fighting against Russian forces all along the front lines. The EU banned drone sales to Belarus, a close Kremlin ally, and sanctioned prominent state TV presenters there. Read our liveblog to see how all the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

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The United States remains concerned that North Korea will send munitions to Russia, White House national security advisor John Kirby told a briefing on Thursday.

"Our information indicates that Russia is seeking to increase military cooperation" with North Korea, he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that Kyiv troops were faced with brutal fighting all along the front, but were prevailing nonetheless.

"The occupiers are trying to stop our guys with all their might. The attacks are very brutal," Zelensky said, adding that "it is hard everywhere. But whatever the enemy does, it is the Ukrainian force that dominates."

The EU on Thursday banned drone sales to Belarus and added prominent state TV presenters to its sanctions list over Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Minsk's crackdown on opposition.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko is the closest ally of Russia's President Vladimir Putin and has allowed his country to be used as a staging post for Moscow's assault on Ukraine.

The EU has already imposed repeated rounds of sanctions on Minsk over Lukashenko's brutal repression of the opposition since 2020 and the war in Ukraine.

Those include blacklisting the Belarusian leader and his family members.

The latest measures target a further 38 regime figures and three state-owned entities, including leading "propagandists" on state television, prosecutors and prison officials.

In a bid to curb the flow of goods to Russia that could be used on the battlefield in Ukraine, the EU banned the export of aircraft engines and drones to Belarus.

The 27-nation bloc also tightened restrictions on the sale of semiconductors, camera equipment and other technology that could help Moscow's war effort.

Russia has enlisted more than 230,000 additional personnel into the army since the start of the year, Moscow's Deputy Security Council Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday.

Moscow has conducted an aggressive military recruitment campaign this year as it seeks to stave off an ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive and hold territories it has captured since its invasion in February last year.

"According to the ministry of defence, from January 1 to August 3 ... a total of more than 231,000 people have been accepted for contract service," said Medvedev, who served as Russia's president from 2008 to 2012.

Last September, President Vladimir Putin announced a "partial" military mobilisation - Russia's first since World War II - sending shock waves across the country as thousands of men were drafted into the army.

Poland announced Thursday it would reinforce its eastern border surveillance, two days after two Belarusian military helicopters violated its airspace.

"Russia and Belarus are intensifying pressure on the border, increasing the number of provocations, and we must be aware that this number will increase," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

"Today, Polish borders and the border of Lithuania are the borders of the free world, taming the despotism from the east," he added, as he hosted Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda in Suwalki, in the northeast of the country.

Morawiecki also said that Warsaw had information about "some 4,000 Wagner fighters" currently based in the Belarusian territory.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius on Thursday again ruled out supplying Ukraine with long-range Taurus missiles, saying it was "not a top priority" right now.

Ukraine asked Germany in late May to provide it with Taurus air-to-surface cruise missiles which have a range in excess of 500 kilometres (310 miles), but the government has so far rebuffed the request.

"We continue to believe that this is not our top priority right now," Pistorius said during a visit to a mountain infantry brigade in Bavaria.

The concerns about sending "special range" missiles to Ukraine "are obvious", Pistorius said.

"Our American allies are not delivering these cruise missiles either," he added.

After some initial hesitation, Germany has drastically ramped up its support for Ukraine and is now the second-biggest supplier of military assistance to Kyiv after the United States.

Russian drones on Wednesday hit agricultural infrastructure at a Ukrainian port on the Danube, damaging grain silos, said FRANCE 24's Emmanuelle Chaze in Kyiv.

Moscow is increasingly targeting facilities vital for grain shipments from Ukraine following the collapse of a key export arrangement.

Both the United Nations and Turkey, who helped broker the Black Sea grain deal allowing Ukrainian grain to pass through the Black Sea, urged Russia to refrain from escalating tensions.

Please click on the video player below to watch the report.

"This month the training of our Ukrainian pilots will begin", Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech to heads of Ukrainian diplomatic missions, referring to the F-16 fighter jets.

"Now we need to work one hundred percent with the countries that have these aircraft and will be able to transfer them to us after training", the Ukrainian leader added, according to the verbatim posted on the presidency website on August 2.

Russia has added Norway to its list of foreign states that have committed so-called "unfriendly" acts against Russian diplomatic missions.

Countries on the list are limited in the number of local staff they can hire in Russia, with Norway restricted to 27, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti said.

Norway expelled 15 Russian diplomats for alleged spying in April, and Russia responded by ordering out 10 Norwegian diplomats.

FRANCE 24's Ukraine correspondent Gulliver Cragg boarded one of the military patrol boats active on the Dnipro River in Kyiv.

"Russian-launched Shahed kamikaze drones often fly low along the river when they're attempting to attack the Ukrainian capital, so these riverboat patrols are an important part of Ukrainain air defences", he explained.

Watch the report by clicking on the player below:

Russia says it has downed six drones in the Kaluga region, less than 200 kilometres from Moscow, amid a surge in such attacks targeting the capital city.

"This night, six drones trying to cross the Kaluga region, were shot down with anti-air defence systems," said regional governor Vyacheslav Shapsha said on Telegram.

There were no casualties, he said.

Almost 15 drones were downed during an overnight attack on Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said early on Thursday, in the second strike on the capital in as many days.

Air defence forces "detected and destroyed almost 15 air targets", said Sergiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration, without specifying who launched the attack.

Early information indicated no damage or casualties, he said.

Popko said the attackers had used a barrage of Shahed drones, in an onslaught that lasted three hours.

Russia has used Iranian-made Shaheds to attack Ukraine multiple times since invading its neighbour in February 2022.

The city's military administration had earlier issued an alert for air attacks and warned residents to stay in shelters.

Key developments from Wednesday, August 2:

Russian drones attacked port and grain storage facilities in the south of Ukraine's coastal Odesa region in the early hours of Wednesday, including the inland port of Izmail across the Danube River from Romania, in a fresh blow to the country's critical grain exports.

Kyiv's military administration said the city's air defences downed more than 10 Russian drones during an overnight attack.

Read yesterday's liveblog to see how the day's events unfolded.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)