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Zelensky says grain deal resumption important for 'whole world'

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky Wednesday hailed "a significant diplomatic result for our country and the whole world" after Russia rejoined a deal to allow Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea. Read our live blog to see how all the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris local time (GMT+1).

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Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky Wednesday hailed "a significant diplomatic result for our country and the whole world" after Russia rejoined a deal to allow Ukrainian grain exports via the Black Sea.

"Implementation of the grain export initiative continues," he said in his daily evening address, after successful efforts to revive the agreement were struck between Kyiv and Moscow in July.

The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday said it would continue to carefully monitor developments on a deal freeing up grain exports from war-torn Ukraine after Moscow reversed course and said it would resume its participation.

An IMF spokesperson said the deal allowing grain exports through a Black Sea corridor had been "instrumental" in reducing the impact of Russia's war on global food markets and should be maintained.

Russia on Saturday suspended its participation, saying it could not guarantee safety for civilian ships crossing the Black Sea after an attack on its fleet, but reversed course on Wednesday after world leaders said the decision threatened to exacerbate global hunger.

Russia failed on Wednesday to get the UN Security Council to establish a formal inquiry into its accusation that the US and Ukraine have biological weapons programs in Ukraine, a claim that Washington and Kyiv deny.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he discussed with Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky the possibility of sending grain to African countries, after Russia's Vladimir Putin proposed sending grain to countries like Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan first.

In an interview with Turkish broadcaster ATV after Russia said it would resume participation in the Ukraine grain deal, Erdogan said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had changed his stance and was now saying common ground must be found with Putin.

The US will look at additional tools and authorities that may be used to counter North Korean military aid to Russia, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Wednesday.

White House National Security spokesperson John Kirby said the US has information that indicates North Korea is covertly supplying Russia with a "significant" number of artillery shells for its war in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government on Wednesday urged citizens not to post details about soldiers and civilians who are missing, saying this could help Russia identify valuable prisoners and track down people who are trying to avoid capture.

Deputy defence minister Hanna Malyar said people were turning to social media to seek more information, especially about soldiers who were in captivity or missing.

"Why are such posts dangerous? The point is that this specific person may indeed be in captivity, but the enemy considers them to be a civilian," she wrote on Telegram.

"Alternatively, the person may simply be hiding in temporarily occupied territories and looking for a way to return. By publishing the data and pictures of such people, you give the enemy a reference point for searches."

The US on Wednesday welcomed the restoration of a deal allowing safe passage of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, and urged Russia to renew it later this month.

State Department spokesman Ned Price praised UN and Turkish mediators but said it was important that the deal is "not only set back in motion, but it's renewed later this month".

"That will ultimately inject even more predictability and stability in this marketplace and, most importantly, apply downward pressure to the prices" of global food, he told reporters.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky Wednesday thanked his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his role in saving a landmark Black Sea grain export deal after Russia suspended its participation.

In a telephone call, Zelensky "thanked (Erdogan) for his active participation in preserving the grain deal", he wrote on Twitter following Turkish efforts to revive the July agreement which has played a crucial role in easing a global food crisis sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Swiss government agreed Wednesday to provide $100 million in aid to Ukraine to help provide drinking water and rehabilitate the conflict-torn country's damaged energy infrastructure as winter approaches

Switzerland's government, the Federal Council, said in a statement that it had "adopted an action plan to mitigate the impact of the coming winter on the people of Ukraine".

"In addition to its existing humanitarian undertaking in Ukraine and the region, it is making 100 million Swiss francs ($100 million) available for projects to support the urgent rehabilitation of energy infrastructure and alleviate the precarious humanitarian situation."

During a meeting in Kyiv last month, Swiss President Ignazio Cassis and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky had discussed the best ways to provide assistance to those affected by the war there as winter approached, the statement said.

Russia's decision to rejoin the Ukraine grain deal is "certainly a success for Ukraine - [as well as] the United Nations and Turkey, who brokered the original deal to facilitate grain exports on July 22, because what they decided after Russia's announcement on Saturday was basically to call Moscow's bluff, and send 16 ships anyway, despite the fact that Moscow was no longer guaranteeing their security," FRANCE 24's Gulliver Cragg reported from Kyiv.

"Those ships got through safely, and that basically showed that for the Russians it was one thing to say they wouldn't guarantee the safety of ships but actually going so far as to engineer some kind of incident or fire on one of the ships - that clearly would have been another matter indeed," Cragg continued. "And I think it's after that - with also the Turkish President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan putting pressure on Vladimir Putin - the Russians decided that perhaps it was better to fall into line.

"Seen from Kyiv, it seems pretty clear that the Russian statement that they received a written guarantee from Ukraine that they wouldn't go for any further attacks, for example on the port of Sebastapol, [...] was not the real reason why Russia decided to agree to renew its participation in the deal."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by phone on Wednesday the ability of Ukraine and Russia to sell grain was of critical importance for the whole world, Erdogan's office said.

Speaking after Russia said it would resume its participation in a deal freeing up grain exports from war-torn Ukraine, Erdogan said diplomatic efforts should be increased to end the war with a just solution, his communications directorate said.

"Russia said today it received written guarantees from Ukraine that it wouldn't use the grain ship corridor through the Black Sea for military purposes, but this is widely thought to be just a face-saving excuse," FRANCE 24's Jasper Mortimer reported from Ankara. "Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Russian President Vladimir Putin twice in two days, urging him to return to the deal. Now, Erdogan had won a lot of prestige when this deal was negotiated and signed in July. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres thanked Erdogan in public at the signing ceremony.

"So Erdogan didn't want this deal to collapse. And Turkey itself is benefitting from this deal. It is buying the grain on these ships."

The head of Ukraine's railway vowed to keep trains running and to repair the damage done to the network by Russian troops, highlighting how rail is the lifeblood of the country and how the system is vital to restoring towns devastated during the invasion.

Oleksandr Kamyshin, chief executive of Ukrainian Railways, spoke as he travelled by train through the Kupiansk railway hub, once used by Russian troops to resupply their frontline before the area was liberated by Ukrainian forces.

Kupiansk was one of an array of settlements Ukrainian troops recaptured during a surprise counteroffensive that caught Russian forces off guard in September.

Kamyshin said the railway infrastructure had suffered huge damage and full recovery would take years and significant funds.

"But whatever happens around, we find a way how we can fix it and keep running," he said.

The White House said Wednesday it was increasingly concerned over Moscow's talk of using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, after a media report said top Russian military officials had discussed how and when to use such a weapon.

"We have grown increasingly concerned about the potential as these months have gone on," said White House national security spokesman John Kirby.

Kirby did not confirm a New York Times report that said high-level Russian military officials recently discussed when and how they might use tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield.

The report, which cited unnamed US officials, said Russian President Vladimir Putin did not take part in the discussions, and there was no indication that the Russian military had decided to deploy the weapons.

He pointed to recent Putin comments talking about nuclear weapons and referencing the bombs US forces dropped on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki near the end of World War II. "We take note of that," Kirby said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday threatened to leave the Ukraine grain deal again if Kyiv violates security guarantees to Moscow, hours after Russia said it was resuming its participation in the agreement.

The US has information that indicates North Korea is covertly supplying Russia with a "significant" number of artillery shells for its war in Ukraine, White House National Security spokesperson John Kirby said on Wednesday.

"Our indications are that the DPRK is covertly supplying and we are going to monitor to see whether the shipments are received," Kirby told a virtual briefing, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed on Wednesday Russia's resumption of participation in the Ukraine Black Sea grain deal, a UN spokesman said, and is continuing to push for a renewal of the pact that could expire on November 19.

"The Secretary-General continues his engagement with all actors towards the renewal and full implementation of the Initiative, and he also remains committed to removing the remaining obstacles to the exports of Russian food and fertiliser," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The Swiss-based operator of Russia-led Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline said on Wednesday it had completed initial data gathering at location of the pipeline damage on line 1 in the Swedish exclusive economic zone and found "technogenic craters".

"According to preliminary results of the damage site inspection, technogenic craters with a depth of 3 to 5 meters were found on the seabed at a distance of about 248 metres from each other," it said.

Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2, laid on the bed of the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, were damaged in September and the infrastructure has been a focal point in the wider row between the West and Moscow.

High-level Russian military leaders recently discussed when and how they might use tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine, the New York Times reported Wednesday, citing unnamed US officials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not take part in the discussions, and there was no indication that the Russian military had decided to deploy the weapons, which would sharply escalate the war, the Times said.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said he did not have any comment on the details in the report.

At the same time, he said, the US sees "no indications that Russia is making preparations for such use".

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the weapons used by Russia's military should be modernised.

"Weapons must constantly, continuously improve and remain effective. To achieve this, I repeat, it is important to ensure that there is active competition between manufacturers and developers," Putin told a meeting of his co-ordination council.

2pm: Finland, Sweden optimistic Hungary will ratify NATO applications

Finland's president Sauli Niinisto said on Wednesday he was counting on Hungary to ratify the Nordic country's NATO application after he had talked on the phone with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.

"Good that Finland can count on Hungary in our NATO ratification. I look forward to further strengthening our Fenno-Ugric connection also as allies," Niinisto said on Twitter, referring to the countries' shared liguistic history.

Finland and Sweden asked to join NATO in May in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but ran into objections from Turkey. Hungary and Turkey are the only remaining members not to have ratified the applications.

Senior Ukrainian officials expressed gratitude to Turkey and the United Nations on Wednesday for their roles in Russia's decision to resume its participation in a deal to free up grain exports from Ukraine.

A senior official who declined to be identified said that Moscow's decision was mainly a result of Turkish pressure on Russia. Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov separately expressed gratitude for the roles played by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Britain has sanctioned four Russian steel and petrochemical business owners, including the former head of steel producer Evraz, the government said on Wednesday, its latest measures taken against Moscow over the war in Ukraine. The sanctions include travel bans, asset freezes and transport sanctions.

Those sanctioned include Alexander Abramov and Alexander Frolov, who Britain described as known associates of oligarch Roman Abramovich, himself sanctioned earlier this year.

"Today we are sanctioning an additional four oligarchs who rely on Putin for their positions of authority and in turn fund his military machine," Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said. "By targeting these individuals, we are ramping up the economic pressure on Putin and will continue to do so until Ukraine prevails."

Russia's participation in a Turkey and UN-brokered Ukrainian grain export deal was to resume on Wednesday, Moscow and Ankara said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu had called Turkey's Hulusi Akar and informed him that the grain corridor agreement would "continue in the same way as before" as of Wednesday.

Erdogan added that the deal would prioritise shipments to African nations, including Somalia, Djibouti and Sudan, in line with Russia's concerns that most of the grain was ending up in richer nations.

Russia will summon Britain's ambassador to Moscow over what it said was the involvement of British specialists in a Ukrainian drone strike on its Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, the foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

Russia suspended participation in a UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative on Saturday after what it said was a major drone attack on vessels in the Bay of Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

"These actions were carried out under the guidance of British specialists," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters on Wednesday.

Britain has dismissed the assertion as false.

Russian security services have detained a Ukrainian citizen on suspicion of planning to "sabotage" a power line in Crimea, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on Wednesday.

The FSB said a man in his 40s had been found carrying diagrams of power lines, three explosive devices and instructions on how to use them, and suspected the man had been recruited by Ukrainian intelligence.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine over eight months ago, Moscow has repeatedly accused what it calls Ukrainian "saboteurs" of targeting its energy infrastructure, including in August when it blamed Ukraine for damaging an electricity substation in Russian-annexed Crimea. Ukraine did not claim involvement but officials have welcomed previous incidents, calling them "payback" for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Italy's gas storage facilities are more than 95 percent full as the country prepares for a winter when supplies might be constrained by the war in Ukraine, gas grid operator Snam said on Wednesday.

Italy was a major importer of Russian gas but has moved to source supply from countries including Algeria, fill its storage tanks and reduce consumption. The country also experienced an unusually warm October, meaning Italians used less gas than predicted.

"The result achieved is essential for the coming winter and did not appear likely as recently as July when the 90 percent target itself seemed quite a challenge," Snam CEO Stefano Venier said in a statement.

The gas stored is enough to provide around 25-30% of daily demand for the month of January, Snam said in its statement.

Poland will build a razor-wire fence on its border with Russia's exclave Kaliningrad, its defence minister said on Wednesday, amid concerns that the enclave might become a conduit for illegal migration.

Construction of the temporary 2.5-metre (8ft) high and 3-metre deep barrier will start immediately, Mariusz Blaszczak told a news conference.

With tensions rising due to the war in Ukraine, he cited security concerns and referred a crisis triggered last autumn when thousands of African and Middle-Eastern migrants tried to cross the Belarus border into Poland, some of whom died. The European Union at the time accused Belarus - a close ally of Russia - of flying the migrants in as part of a "hybrid" warfare campaign to destabilise Europe. Minsk denied wrongdoing.

Online business magazine Russia Briefing reported last month that Kaliningrad is seeking to attract airlines from the Gulf and Asia under a new open skies policy.

Ships loaded with Ukrainian grain, deemed essential for the world's food supply, are stuck in Black Sea ports after Russia pulled out of a Turkey and UN-brokered deal that allowed for the safe sea passage of vital grain exports.

Russia suspended its participation after accusing Ukraine of misusing the safe shipping corridor for an attack on Russian ships in Crimea, an allegation Kyiv has dismissed as a "false pretext" to withdraw from the deal.

"The grain corridor needs reliable and long-term protection," Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said.