3 Kremlin generals sacked; Biden urged to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism: Ukraine live updates

The poor performance of Russia’s armed forces during its invasion of Ukraine appears to have led to a shakeup in command, the British Defense Ministry said Sunday.

Gen. Aleksandr Vladimirovich Dvornikov, who had been charged with overall command of the operation in Ukraine, was removed from his post last week, the ministry said. General-Colonel Aleksandr Zhuravlev, who had commanded Russia's Western Military District since 2018, was absent from Russia’s Navy Day in St Petersburg a week ago and has likely been replaced, the ministry said in its assessment of the war.

Another general was relieved of command of Southern Grouping Forces, the ministry said.

"These dismissals are compounded by at least 10 Russian Generals killed on the battlefield in Ukraine," the assessment said. "The cumulative effect on consistency of command is likely contributing to Russian tactical and operational difficulties."

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Latest developments:

►U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken began his three-nation tour of Africa on Sunday in South Africa, one of several countries in the continent that have remained neutral regarding Russia's war in Ukraine. In recent weeks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and French President Emmanuel Macron have also visited Africa, seeking to gain support for their positions on the war.

►Five civilians have been killed in recent Russian and separatist attacks on cities in the Donetsk region, the part of Donbas still under Ukrainian control, regional governor Serhiy Haidai reported. 

►The city of Mykolaiv, an important shipbuilding center close to Ukraine's largest port in Odesa, is now facing daily Russian bombardments, local officials say.

►The Russian invasion that started Feb. 24 “is about to enter a new phase” in which the fighting would shift west and south along a 217-mile line that extends from near the city of Zaporizhzhia to Russian-occupied Kherson, Britain's Defense Ministry said.

Senators press Biden to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism

One prominent senator from each party is pushing the Biden administration to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism over its invasion of Ukraine, and they're jointly taking their case to the airwaves.

Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both with more than a decade in the Senate, told CNN on Sunday that if President Joe Biden doesn't get behind the designation, they would work toward getting Congress to pass a bill issuing one. Typically such designations are made by the State Department.

“I hope the president will decide to adopt this stance voluntarily, and he hasn’t taken it off the table,'' Blumenthal said.

Graham, who served in the Senate with Biden, was more pointed in trying to coax the president to put more pressure on Russia by adding it to the USA's current list of state sponsors of terrorism, which includes Iran, North Korea, Syria and Cuba. Inclusion on the list would trigger four categories of sanctions. 

"Whether or not we have to do legislation to make it happen – we’re willing to,'' Graham said. "I am urging the administration to act now.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who has called the notion of designating her country a sponsor of terrorism "idiotic'' and "naive,'' threatened a break in diplomatic relations between the countries if the U.S. made such a decision.

"Washington risks finally crossing the point of no return – with all the ensuing consequences,'' she said last week. "This should be well understood in Washington."

Six more grain shipments roll out of Ukraine ports

Six more ships carrying agricultural cargo held up by the war in Ukraine have received authorization to leave the country’s Black Sea ports, carrying more than 236,000 tons of grain. 

The body overseeing an international deal intended to get 20 million tons of grain out of Ukraine to feed people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia said the loaded vessels were cleared to depart Sunday. Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations agreed last month to create a sea corridor that would allow cargo ships to travel safely from Ukraine's southern coast.

The process has moved slowly, and the ship that left Ukraine last Monday with great fanfare as the first under the deal had its scheduled arrival in Lebanon delayed Sunday, Lebanese officials said. The reason was not immediately clear.

The shipments are considered a hopeful first step but far from the solution to a global food crisis that has been exacerbated by the war.

Ukraine nuclear plant under Russian fire

Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator, Energoatom, reported that Europe's largest nuclear power plant, located in southeast Ukraine, came under Russian fire late Saturday. Shelling at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station damaged three radiation monitors and injured one worker. Russia blamed the bombing on Ukraine.

Russian forces have occupied the station for months. Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, recently said he was worried the way the plant was being run and the fighting taking place around it posed grave health and environmental threats.

“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated” at the plant, said Grossi, who released a statement Saturday saying no significant damage was done by the attack.

The Star Helena grain carrier, center, makes its way from the port in Odesa, Ukraine, Sunday, Aug. 7, 2022.

Ukraine's Amnesty International leader resigns in protest

The head of Ukraine's Amnesty International chapter has resigned after the human rights organization released a report claiming Ukrainian forces put civilians in harm's way by basing themselves in populated areas. In a Facebook post, Oksana Pokalchuk accused Amnesty International of failing to recognize the realities of war in Ukraine and ignoring the advice of staff members, who urged the group to revise its report. 

The report, which drew the ire of top Ukrainian officials and Western scholars of international and military law, alleged that Ukrainian forces violated international humanitarian laws by setting up bases and operating weapons systems in schools, hospitals and other populated areas.

Pokalchuk claimed that Ukraine's Defense Ministry was not given adequate time to respond to the findings, calling the report a "tool of Russian propaganda." Russian forces have defended attacks in civilian areas by suggesting that Ukrainian fighters set up firing positions at the targeted locations.

Contributing: Ella Lee, USA TODAY; The Associated Press