Leading the Day October 31st 2022

by Alexis Simendinger & Kristina Karisch | The Hill

The United States says Russia is “weaponizing” global food supplies while blocking Ukraine grain shipments in a turnaround from a deal reached months ago (Politico). The assertion that Moscow is trying to choke Ukraine into submission follows Russia’s targeting of Ukraine’s power, heat and water infrastructure, seizure of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and annexation of eastern Ukrainian territories with strategic aim at control of Black Sea ports.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday accused Russia of transforming the once-thriving port city of Kherson and the surrounding region into an exclusion zone, or “a zone without civilization” (France24 and Yahoo).

Yet the tide is turning along the front lines in southern Ukraine, according to The New York Times. Western weapons and deadly handmade drones have given Ukraine artillery superiority in the area, according to commanders and military analysts. Russia, which for months had the upper hand, lost it to Western-supplied precision-guided rockets and artillery shells, as well as homemade drones, which enable Ukrainian soldiers to take out Russia’s armored vehicles.

The Russian military remains a formidable force, however, and Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to make clear his determination to win the war at almost any cost. Russia suspended its participation in a July agreement to export grain and other agricultural products from Ukrainian ports, which was intended to alleviate a global food crisis. The announcement Saturday from Russia’s Defense Ministry came hours after it accused Ukraine of launching an attack on ships from the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea that it said were participating in the grain initiative, which was organized around specific shipping lanes in the Black Sea.

  • Reuters: United Nations Secretary-General António Gutteres on Sunday delayed planned travel in an effort to try to revive the U.N.-brokered grain transport agreement Russia rejected with Ukraine on Saturday.
  • Bloomberg NewsTurkey says defense minister in talks on Ukraine grain deal.

Ukrainian officials say Iran’s aid to Russia on the battlefield should force Israel to abandon its position withholding military assistance to Kyiv, and is counting on the U.S. to aid their case, writes The Hill’s Laura Kelly.

The Biden administration has held back public criticism over Israel’s stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine, where Jerusalem has sided with the U.S. and international community in condemning Putin’s invasion and has delivered humanitarian support to Kyiv.

But with the war in its eighth month and with Iran’s supply of suicide drones to Russia in mind, Ukrainian officials are doubling down on their criticism of Israel’s restraint, in particular in their push for air defenses against Iranian munitions that are destroying infrastructure and killing civilians.

“The Americans are the only country that Israel is listening to,” Ukraine’s Ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, said in a phone call with The Hill from Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile in BrazilLuiz Inácio Lula da Silva is set to become the next president after a tight runoff contest on Sunday.

The leftist former president, widely known as “Lula,” gained 50.9 percent of the votes, while right-wing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro — who spent a divisive four years in office — received 49.1 percent.

Silva, a former factory worker, became Brazil’s first working-class president exactly 20 years ago. Bolsonaro’s presidency was marked by policies that accelerated the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and exacerbated the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns that he would try to undermine the country’s election systems (The New York Times).

The two had previously gone head-to-head in a first round of voting in early October, but neither gained more than half of the votes, forcing Sunday’s runoff. More than 156 million people were eligible to vote in this year’s election (CNN and The Guardian).

“Our dream is coming true. We need to be free,” Joe Kallif, a 62-year-old social activist who celebrated the win, told The Guardian. “Brazil was in a very dangerous place and now we are getting back our freedom. The last four years have been horrible.”

As of this writing, Bolsonaro has not conceded, raising concerns in Brazil that he might contest the result (Reuters). Biden on Sunday congratulated Lula on his victory, saying in a statement that “I look forward to working together to continue the cooperation between our two countries in the months and years ahead” (The Hill).

The New York Times: Bolsonaro could face charges if he loses Sunday’s runoff.

Two U.S. nationals are among those who died Saturday in South Korea during a Halloween celebration crowd surge in a nightlife district in Seoul that left 153 dead and about 82 injured — the vast majority of whom were in their teens and 20s (The Washington Post and Reuters). A University of Kentucky third-year nursing student studying abroad is one of the Americans who died in Seoul (NBC News).

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