(Bloomberg) -- US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reinforced a pledge that Washington and its allies will continue supplying military aid to Ukraine to help it repel Russia’s invasion “for as long as it takes.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy earlier vowed to “liberate” Crimea as speculation swirled about the cause of a major fire at an air base on the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014. “This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea -- its liberation,” Zelenskiy said.

He did not mention the blaze, which Russian state media said resulted in one fatality. Russia’s Defense Ministry said munitions had exploded and the fire wasn’t caused by an incoming strike, while some defense analysts said it had the hallmarks of a Ukrainian attack.

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Key Developments

  • Russia Resumes Oil Flows to Central Europe as Fee Is Paid
  • Russian Inflation Heads for Post-Invasion Low as Shocks Fade
  • Poland’s Gain, Ukraine’s Loss: Hot Job Market Welcomes Refugees
  • Coal’s Skyrocketing Prices Could Last Years on Russia Disruption
  • Russia Is Scouring the Globe for Weapons to Use in Ukraine

On the Ground

Ukrainian forces said they damaged a bridge near the Kakhovska hydro power station in the Kherson region as they continue to target key Russian logistics links. Fighting continued in eastern and southern Ukraine, with Russian forces mounting ground attacks to the southeast of Siversk and around Bakhmut, as well as to the north and southwest of Donetsk, according to the latest report from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. A number of Russian attacks in the east of the country were unsuccessful and their forces later withdrew, the Ukrainian general staff said. 

(All times CET)

UN Official Cites ‘Tremendous Interest’ in Ukraine Grain (8:42 p.m.)

A United Nations official working with the center overseeing Ukraine’s grain shipment corridors said there’s “tremendous interest” from shipowners.

Shipowners were waiting for operating procedures to be released and now that they are published, “we’re expecting to see a big uptick in applications for transit,” Frederick Kenney said in a virtual briefing from Istanbul.

Ukraine Suggests Russian Smokers Caused Crimean Blast (6 p.m.)

Ukraine’s defense minister deflected questions about the massive fire at an airbase in Crimea, suggesting it was caused by Russian soldiers smoking there.

“It’s a dangerous place, they should not smoke there,” Oleksiy Reznikov said in response to questions at a news conference in Copenhagen, declining to answer whether Ukrainians were involved in the incident.

A number of Ukrainian officials have posted memes or comments on social media about Russia’s explanation of safety issues leading to the blast, including jokes about the dangers of smoking near explosives. 

Ukraine Wins Bondholder Approval to Freeze Debt Payments (5:30 p.m.)

Ukraine won approval for a debt-payment freeze from the holders of its international bonds, gaining some budget relief in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

Investors representing around 75% of $19.6 billion worth of Ukraine’s foreign bonds agreed to defer coupon and principal payments until 2024, the Finance Ministry in Kyiv said on Wednesday. 

Russian Anti-War TV Protester Faces New Probe (4 p.m.)

A Russian journalist who gained international attention when she staged a rare anti-war protest in March during a live broadcast on the country’s main TV news channel said police had raided her Moscow apartment as part of a new probe against her.

Marina Ovsyannikova said officers also took her away for questioning in a criminal case under Russia’s “fake news” law, over a protest she held near the Kremlin last month criticizing President Vladimir Putin for civilian deaths in Ukraine. “Are more than 350 children killed in Ukraine fakes?” Ovsyannikova wrote on Telegram. “How many more children have to die for you to stop?”

Russian Oil Flows Resume to Central Europe (3:40 p.m.)

Russia resumed oil flows toward Ukraine through a pipeline to central Europe after Hungary’s sole refiner stepped in to resolve a problem over the payment of a transit fee.

The flows toward the southern leg of the Druzhba link are going as planned, Transneft PJSC spokesman Igor Dyomin told Bloomberg. 

Ukraine Hopes to End ‘Active’ War Phase Before Cold (3:35 p.m.)

The Ukrainian president’s chief of staff says it is critical to finish the active phase of the war before cold weather sets in, Interfax reports.

The risk of Russian attacks on power and heat infrastructure remains, Andriy Yermak said in an interview with the news agency. Russia’s army continues its attacks on infrastructure and Ukraine seeks to “take maximum steps to finish the active phase of the war by the end of August.”

Inflation Keeps Climbing in Ukraine (3:30 p.m.)

Ukraine’s inflation accelerated for a sixth consecutive month, fueled in part by the central bank’s decision to devalue the currency to shore up the nation’s war-battered economy.  

Consumer prices surged by 22.2% in July from the previous year, compared with 21.5% in the previous month, official data published Wednesday showed.

Latvia Says Crimea Blast Should Be Signal to Putin (3 p.m.)

While Ukraine has remained silent on the cause of the explosions, Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks predicted they would be a telling moment for Russia.

“I wouldn’t say this is a turning point but I’d compare this to the first allied raids to bomb either Germany or to bomb Japan, by telling look you cannot escape that fate which you are actually planning for others,” he said in a brief interview on Wednesday. “We could see also yesterday those long queues of Russian cars that are trying to exit Crimea, so this is the right signal.”

Pabriks also said the blasts showed “capabilities are there,” although it was unclear if he was basing his comments on direct knowledge of what caused them or the observations of defense analysts that it was likely a Ukraine attack.

Austin Reiterates Commitment to Ukraine (12:15 p.m.)

“We are committed to helping Ukraine, and providing them the equipment to defend their sovereign territory,” Austin told reporters in Riga alongside Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks.

The US military chief also reiterated NATO’s commitment to maintain a “persistent, rotational” presence in the Baltic region to protect the alliance’s eastern flank. Russia has committed a “significant portion” of its best military equipment to the invasion of Ukraine, and retains air and sea capabilities despite heavy losses, Austin said.

Hungary Unblocks Dispute Over Oil Transit (12:10 p.m.)

Hungary’s biggest refiner said it paid Russia’s transit fee to Ukraine to resolve a dispute that has led to a halt in oil flows to central Europe. Mol Nyrt., the oil company that sought to unblock supplies, said Ukraine and Russia both accepted its decision to step in.

Ukrtransnafta JSC, which operates Ukraine’s oil network, blocked the the flow of Russian oil through Druzhba on Aug. 4, Russian pipeline operator Transneft PJSC said Tuesday. The halt occurred after Transneft’s payment of transit fees for August was rejected by European banks that wouldn’t accept the cross-border transfer without approval from national regulators amid European sanctions.

Denmark to Train Ukrainian Troops in UK (12 p.m.)

Denmark will send 130 military instructors to the UK, where they will train Ukrainian soldiers, according to the defense ministry in Copenhagen. The Nordic nation also plans to offer Ukrainians military training at facilities in Denmark, the ministry said.

Defense ministers from the UK, Ukraine and Denmark are meeting Wednesday in Copenhagen for a conference on military aid for the government in Kyiv.

Two More Crop Ships Expected at Ukraine Ports (10:20 a.m.)

Two more vessels have been authorized to head to Ukrainian ports, pending inspections Wednesday, according to a statement from the Joint Coordination Centre that oversees the grain corridor.

The Petrel S is expected to depart to Chornomorsk and the Brave Commander will go to Pivdennyi, while the Riva Wind, Glory and Star Helena -- which are loaded with Ukrainian corn and sunflower meal -- have been inspected and are cleared to sail, the center said. Ukraine began shipping grain again this month, bringing some relief to squeezed global markets, but many challenges remain before the millions of tons of food stuck in the country can be released.

EU Ban on Russian Coal Takes Effect (9 a.m.)

A full European Union ban on imports of Russian coal kicks in Wednesday following a four-month wind-down period. The provision of services needed to import coal, such as financing, brokering and technical assistance, is also banned.

The measure was approved by the bloc in April as part of a fifth package of sanctions. The EU said at the time that it would affect one fourth of all Russian coal exports, amounting to around an 8 billion-euro ($8.2 billion) loss of annual revenue. Restrictions on oil imports by sea begin to kick in later this year.

Biden Signs NATO Expansion Measure (8:49 p.m.)

After signing the protocols for Finland and Sweden to join NATO, U.S. President Joe Biden said the US and allies would “remain vigilant against any threats to our shared security” and “confront any aggression or threat of aggression that might come up.”

He urged other NATO countries to finish their ratification process “as quickly as possible.” Russia has denounced the move by the traditionally neutral Finland and Sweden as destabilizing to the region.

US to Provide Funds to Help Clear Mines (8:44 p.m.)

The US government is committing $89 million to assist Ukraine in clearing land mines and other unexploded ordnance scattered through through the country since Russia’s invasion, a State Department official said.

The funds will go to nongovernmental organizations and entities to support the creation of 100 mine-removal teams to augment Ukraine’s existing efforts, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of a department announcement.

Crimea Leader Says Fire Contained (8:10 p.m.)

Sergei Aksyonov, the head of Russian-occupied Crimea, says the fire at an air base there has been contained, according to Tass, Russia’s state-run news service.

Tass earlier reported that at least one person had died in the incident, with others injured, and cited an unidentified person in the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that the blaze occurred due to a breach of safety regulations.

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