Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 100

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Moscow blacklists 41 more Canadian citizens

Russia has announced travel bans on 41 Canadian citizens, including several members of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, in retaliation for what it described as “anti-Russian” sanctions imposed on Moscow.

Russia’s foreign ministry said “entry into Russia is closed for [these] citizens of Canada, including heads of organisations supporting ultra-nationalist forces in Ukraine, as well as top military officials”.

The list of affected individuals includes several Canadian deputy defence ministers and members of Ukraine-linked organisations, such as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the Ukrainian World Congress.

Russia had already blacklisted hundreds of other Canadian citizens prior to the move.

AU head tells Putin African nations are ‘economic victims’ of Ukraine conflict

The head of the African Union has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to take into account the suffering in African countries from food shortages caused by the conflict in Ukraine.

Macky Sall, who also serves as Senegal’s president, told Putin on a visit to Russia to “become aware that our countries, even if they are far from the theatre [of war], are victims on an economic level” of the conflict.

He added that food supplies should be “outside” of Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over Ukraine.

Germany says Putin, not West, responsible for food crisis in Africa

A spokesperson for Germany’s foreign ministry says Berlin strongly condemns what it describes as President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to create a narrative that the West is responsible for a looming food crisis in Africa.

“We have to stress that the fact that there is a risk of famine in parts of the world, that some countries are being cut off from grain exports, is a consequence of the Russian war of aggression and not of Western sanctions,” the spokesperson said at a regular government news briefing.

Zelensky pledges “victory shall be ours” in video message on 100th day of war

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a brief video message Friday that Ukrainians have been defending their country for 100 days against Russian aggression and that “victory shall be ours.”

“The leaders of parliamentary factions are here, the president’s chief of staff is here, Prime Minister of Ukraine [Denys] Shmyhal is here, [presidential adviser Mykhailo] Podolyak is here, the president is here. Our team is much bigger. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are here. Most importantly, our people, the people of our country, are here,” Zelensky stated.

“We have been defending Ukraine for 100 days. Victory shall be ours. Glory to Ukraine,” he added.

The message echoes a video from the president shortly after Russia’s invasion first began in February, with Zelensky flanked by his staff on a street in Kyiv, noting “we are all here.”

Scale of destruction in Ukraine ‘defies comprehension’: Red Cross

The scale of destruction in Ukraine “defies comprehension”, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced in a statement to mark the 100th day of the conflict.

Thousands of people “are living with the anguish of not knowing what happened to their loved ones”, ICRC’s director-general Robert Mardini stated.

Mardini’s statement said: “It would be hard to exaggerate the toll that the international armed conflict in Ukraine has had on civilians over the last 100 days. The scale of destruction in cities defies comprehension.”

Homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed and civilians have suffered the horrors of conflict, with lives lost and families torn apart, the statement read.

He urged all parties to allow access to prisoners of war, adding that “while we have been able to visit some prisoners of war, the parties are yet to give us access to them all. And some is not enough.”

Moscow warns of consequences over “West’s hostile actions” against Russian press

Russia’s Foreign Ministry wants to “explain” the consequences of what is called “West’s hostile actions” to the legal representatives of foreign media outlets that are in Moscow, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Friday as she invited them to a meeting.

“If Russian media operators are not allowed to work normally in the US, Russia will take the harshest measures,” Zakharova stated at the Foreign Ministry’s weekly briefing in Moscow.

Zakharova added the Foreign Ministry press center will explain the consequences of “their governments’ hostile policy […] their media and the entire media sector,” jokingly adding that “we will provide tea and coffee.”

“So much has been tolerated by our journalists working in the West,” she noted, reiterating once again Moscow’s claims that Western media are waging a disinformation campaign against Russia.

On Friday, the European Council announced in a news release that the EU has introduced sanctions against some Russian broadcasters, suspending the broadcasting activities in the EU of three Russian state-owned outlets: Rossiya RTR/RTR Planeta, Rossiya 24 / Russia 24 and TV Centre International. Several other Russian media outlets have been banned in previous rounds of sanctions.

Meanwhile, Russia introduced a censorship law in March making it impossible for news organizations to accurately report the news in or from Russia, forcing many foreign media outlets to scale back or shut down their operations in the country.

The law, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, makes it a crime to disseminate “fake” information about the invasion of Ukraine, with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for anyone convicted.

Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes since invasion started: Zelensky

Almost 12 million people have been displaced since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in late February, according to the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Zelensky said Russian troops have entered 3,620 settlements in Ukraine, of which 1,017 have been taken back by the Ukrainians while 2,603 are still held by Russia.

Zelensky added more than 5 million people, mostly women and children, have fled Ukraine since the war started.

According to the latest update from the UN Refugee Agency, estimated 6.6 million refugees fled Ukraine since late February, with 2.1 million people coming back to Ukraine since February 28. Further 8 million have been displaced internally, meaning they fled their homes, but stayed elsewhere in Ukraine.

Russia ramps up oil output, exports

Russian oil production rose by 5% last month after a sharp decline in April, the newspaper Vedomosti reported on Friday, citing an industry source.

May output amounted to 10.2 million barrels per day, up from 10 million in April but is still 2.5% down on production in May 2021.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said that oil production in 2022 could drop to 480-500 million tons, from 524 million tons in 2021. According to the official, however, the government expects a gradual recovery in production by about 1 million barrels per day this month.

According to the Vedomosti report, over January-May Russian oil producers increased output by some 3.5% compared to last year to 219.9 million tons. This was led by Surgutneftegaz (up 13%), Lukoil (up 10%) and NNK (up 9%).

Oil exports rose by almost 13% to 102.7 million tons, statistics show. This comes despite some foreign oil traders being hesitant about buying Russian crude due to the risk of secondary sanctions.

The US and Britain have already placed an embargo on Russian oil, while the EU agreed on a partial ban on Thursday. Under the bloc’s sixth round of sanctions, the import of Russian oil to the EU by sea will be banned within six months. However, restrictions on imports via the Druzhba oil pipeline have been postponed. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria have been temporarily exempted from the embargo of Russian oil supplies.

EU adopts sixth package of sanctions against Russia

The European Council has formally adopted the sixth package of sanctions against Russia over its aggression in Ukraine, it said in a press release Friday.

The European Council is the top political body of the European Union, bringing together the heads of states or governments of the 27 EU member states.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, stated the sanctions package increased “limitations to the Kremlin’s ability to finance the war by imposing further economic sanctions.”

He added: “We are banning the import of Russian oil into the EU and with this cutting a massive source of revenue for Russia. We are cutting off more of the key Russian banks from the international payment system SWIFT. We are also sanctioning those responsible for the atrocities that took place in Bucha and Mariupol and banning more disinformation actors actively contributing to President Putin’s war propaganda.”

The Council has listed the different areas impacted by the sanctions as:

  • Oil embargo
  • De-SWIFTing of additional Russian and Belarusian banks
  • Broadcasting
  • Export restrictions
  • Consulting services
  • Individual listings

The announcement followed an extraordinary European Council summit attended by EU leaders in Brussels on Monday.

Ukraine says Russia trying to move war into ‘protracted phase’

Ukraine’s defence minister says he believes the Kremlin is trying to move the war into a “protracted phase” by building layered defences in occupied regions in the south of the country.

“The Kremlin is trying to move the war into a protracted phase,” Reznikov told the GLOBSEC 2022 Bratislava Forum by video link.

“Instead of advancing, the Russian armies are constructing layered defences” in southern occupied regions, primarily Kherson, he added.

More talks needed to allow Russian exports: UN official

More talks are needed to strike a deal on allowing exports from Russia as part of an envisaged accord to resume Ukrainian food exports, the United Nations crisis coordinator for Ukraine stated.

“There was in principle agreement from Russia that they will agree to that, however there is more negotiation to be done to also…facilitate the exports of Russia,” Amin Awad, who also serves as an assistant secretary-general at the world body, told an online news briefing from Geneva.

Russia to continue ‘operation’ until all goals are achieved

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says Russia will continue its self-described “special military operation” in Ukraine until all its goals have been achieved.

“One of the main goals of the operation is to protect people in the DNR and LNR. Measures have been taken to ensure their protection and certain results have been achieved”, Peskov said, referring to the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

NATO should consider ‘de facto’ membership for Ukraine: DM

NATO should consider granting Ukraine “de facto” rather than “de jure” membership of the alliance when it discusses its strategy for the next 10 years at an upcoming summit in Madrid, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov says.

“I think that if we are talking about the membership of Ukraine with NATO de facto, not de jure, it could be the good idea in this strategy,” Reznikov told the GLOBSEC 2022 Bratislava Forum by video link.

“Ukraine will be also part of the strategy because we also are the part of eastern flank of Europe, the eastern flank of NATO countries, eastern flank of the EU. I think it will be a win-win situation for all countries,” he added.

NATO allies have supplied Ukraine with billions of dollars worth of weapons amid Russia’s offensive.

Ukraine war ‘will have no winner’: UN official

The UN crisis coordinator for Ukraine has warned there will be no victor from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as the conflict enters its 100th day and Moscow’s forces press deeper into the country’s eastern Donbas region.

“This war has and will have no winner. Rather, we have witnessed for 100 days what is lost: lives, homes, jobs and prospects,” Amin Awad, who also serves as an assistant secretary-general at the world body, said in a statement.

“This war has taken an unacceptable toll on people and engulfed virtually all aspects of civilian life … We have witnessed destruction and devastation across cities, towns and villages. Schools, hospitals and shelters have not been spared,” he added.

“Our tireless efforts to respond to the war’s devastating impact will continue, robustly and steadfast. But above all we need peace. The war must end now,” he continued.

Ukraine’s envoy says Turkey among those buying stolen grains

Ukraine’s ambassador to Ankara has accused Turkey of being among a number of countries that Kyiv claims are buying grains that Russia stole from the country amid its invasion.

Ambassador Vasyl Bodnar also told reporters he has sought help from Turkish authorities and Interpol to investigate who is involved in the alleged shipments of grains transiting Turkish waters.

Ukraine has no plans to attack Russia with US missiles: Presidential advisor

Ukrainian presidential advisor claims Kyiv does not plan to use multiple-launch rocket systems it receives from the United States to attack facilities in Russia.

“Ukraine is waging a defensive war and does not plan to use the MLRS to attack facilities in Russia,” Mykhailo Podolyak said in a Twitter post.

“Our partners know where their weapons are used,” he added.

Ukrainian officials say Russia is suffering “systematic counterattacks” in south

Russia is suffering from “systematic counterattacks” by Ukrainian troops in Kherson in the south of Ukraine, a statement from Operational Command South said on Friday.

“The enemy suffers from systematic counterattacks of our units,” the statement said, adding that Russia brought in 27 infantry fighting vehicles by rail, and unloaded 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Kherson to support their operation.

Russian troops “continue to try to hold the ground” in Kherson, a separate update from the Kherson Regional Military Civil Administration said, and at the border with the neighboring Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk regions, “hostilities are taking place.”

Residents of Kherson and some local communities have been without any internet or phone connection “for the fourth day in a row,” the Regional Military Civil Administration added.

There is also information that ”the occupiers in Kherson have seized passport services” and are now issuing Russian passports to residents, the update said.

In nearby Mykolaiv, Operational Command South stated two people were killed and two others injured on Thursday after heavy shelling in the morning, afternoon and evening hit two high-rise buildings and four homes.

However Russia’s “desperate attempt” to retake their lost positions around Mykolaiv “didn’t succeed,” Operational Command South announced, adding that two Russian airstrikes also hit their positions, with no losses.

Northeast of Mykolaiv in the Kryvyi Rih area, Russian troops “intensified air reconnaissance and attempted assault operations,” but the attempt was thwarted and they retreated to their former positions.

Putin fires five more generals

Russian President Vladimir Putin fired a slew of generals earlier this week as Moscow continues to experience losses among its top officers and generals during its invasion of Ukraine.

Five top generals — Maj. Gens. Vasily Kukushkin, Alexander Laas, Andrey Lipilin, Alexander Udovenko and Yuri Instrankin — in addition to Police Colonel Emil Musin were fired by the Russian president on Monday, the Russian newspaper Pravda reported, citing a decree extract, which a source close to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia confirmed the authenticity of to the news outlet.

Pravda, citing Russian media organization RBC, noted that a standard employee reshuffle procedure accounted for why the top officials had been fired.

But the development comes as officials have noted that Russia has suffered an unprecedented loss of top officers and generals.

Russia likely to control all of Luhansk in two weeks: UK

Russia will likely control the whole of the Luhansk region in the next two weeks, the UK’s ministry of defence has said, adding that Russia controls more than 90 percent of the Luhansk region, one of the two regions that make up the Donbas.

But although Russia currently appears to hold the initiative over Ukrainian opposition in the Donbas, Moscow’s “tactical successes” have come at a “significant resource cost”, the ministry said in its latest intelligence briefing.

Measured against Russia’s original plan to take the capital Kyiv and Ukrainian centres of government “none of the strategic objectives have been achieved,” the ministry noted.

“In order for Russia to achieve any form of success will require continued huge investment of manpower and equipment, and is likely to take considerable further time,” it added.

Some 70 Luhansk schools, 33 hospitals and 237 clinics destroyed in 100 days: Governor

In the 100 days of Russia’s invasion, more than 400km of roads have been damaged, and almost 70 schools and 50 kindergartens destroyed in the Luhansk region, the governor has said.

Serhiy Haidai said the price the region has paid included “33 hospitals and 237 rural outpatient clinics equipped with the latest medical equipment.”

“Today, all this is destroyed by enemy artillery, and angiographs, ultrasound and CT scanners are being taken to the “People’s Republic”,” he added, speaking of the Luhansk People’s Republic established by Russian-backed separatist forces in the region and recognised by Russia as an independent state.

“Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers are buried on this earth, our children were born here. Therefore, until our last breath, we will fight for the freedom, unity and prosperity of our small homeland,” Haidai said in a post on Telegram on Friday morning.

US, European weapons supplies to Ukraine mean proxy war against Russia: Medvedev

The United States and Europe are eager to supply weapons to Ukraine, because this situation gives them an opportunity to wage a proxy war against Russia, Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview to Qatar’s Al Jazeera television.

“US and European curators are already saying that everything must be done to ensure Ukraine’s victory. But it is Ukraine who is fighting, not the United States or Europe. They don’t want to spare lives of Ukrainians and supply the country with weapons eagerly, including the above-mentioned MLRS [multiple-launch rocket systems], they support Ukraine financially, and, by doing this, they in fact encourage the hostilities to continue,” Medvedev stated.

“Their participation in those hostilities is limited to the so-called proxy war,” he continued.

He added that at the start, the Kiev government agreed to address most of the issues at the negotiating table.

“They were ready to discuss Ukraine’s neutral status, demilitarization, de-Nazification and – in certain aspects – to recognize territorial realities,” he said, adding, “But then they stepped out, because they started to receive lots of money and weapons from Europeans and Americans”.

Medvedev said Ukraine’s declared intention to obtain nuclear weapons could be the last straw for Russia, after which the decision to launch the special military operation was made.

“Ukraine’s declared intention to return to nuclear weapons might have been the last straw that affected the final decision-making,” he continued, adding, “Under those circumstances, our country had to ensure due level of security”.

That is why Russian President Vladimri Putin made the decision to carry out the special military opration, Medvedev said.

In his words, NATO’s continuous expansion remained the factor of permanent concern for Russia, and Moscow made that clear at all diplomatic levels. The official also reiterated that Moscow had submitted its draft security agreements to Washington and NATO headquarters in Brussels in an attempt to be heard.

“They would not listen. They were saying the same thing over and over again: everyone can join NATO, we will expand as much as we want,” Medvedev noted.

“It is totally clear that it was a direct and clear threat to us. NATO bases on Russain borders, where strike missiles could be deployed would turn all security matters upside down. This level of threat would be absolutely unacceptable for us, and we have said that many times before,” he added.

NATO’s destructive attitude hampered a peaceful resolution of the situation in Ukraine, Medvedev underlined.

In his words, “those who, in fact, imposed their point of view on Ukraine” played “a huge role” in the failure of the diplomatic path.

“I will name them openly. Those are the United States of America, European Countries and NATO in general. If it were not for their destructive stance, we would have come to an agreement,” Medvedev underscored.

When asked whether it was possible for Russia to achieve its goals without the special military operation, Medvedev replied: “There was a certain point in time after which it was no longer possible”.

Russia is sour on any expansion of NATO, which is trying to gain the upper hand all over the world, he said.

“I’ll be pretty straitforward: we are sour on any expansion of NATO, because the global balance has shifted when the Warsaw Pact was off the center stage,” he stated, commenting on Sweden and Finland’s plans to join NATO.

“There no longer are two blocks that can offset each other. On the contrary, NATO is trying to gain the upper hand all over the planet,” he added.

The United States and its NATO partners are encouraging militaristic moods in Ukraine, so that its people fought with Russia “until the last remaining Ukrainian,” Medvedev noted.

“They are trying to encourage militaristic moods, the militarist hysteria, to make Ukraine fight with Russia ‘until the last remaining Ukrainian,’ so to say. For obvious reasons, neither the United States nor Europe sustain any losses in this situation,” he said.

“Six million people have already left Ukraine, and those countries bear a noticeable share of responsibility for what had happened,” Medvedev added.

Some 50 embassies resume work in Kyiv: Zelensky

Around 50 embassies have resumed work in Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

“More and more embassies resume their full-fledged activities in Kyiv. As of today, there are already 50 of them,” he said, adding this wasn’t only important on a diplomatic, but also a symbolic, level.

“Every new embassy that returns to our capital is a testament to the faith in our victory. Faith that Ukraine will be able to defend its statehood in this war unleashed on our land by the Russian Federation,” he added.

UN confirms 9,151 civilian casualties in Ukraine

The United Nations has confirmed 9,151 civilian casualties in Ukraine from the start of the conflict on February 24 until June 2.

This includes 4,169 people killed and 4,982 injured, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in its latest civilian casualty update, noting that the actual figures are likely “considerably higher”.

“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” the OHCR added.

US and allies vow to hold Russia accountable for crimes in Ukraine

The United States and its Allies are vowing to hold Russia accountable for crimes committed by its forces since they invaded Ukraine on February 24.

US Undersecretary of State Uzra Zeya told a United Nations Security Council meeting Thursday on strengthening accountability and justice for serious violations of international law that in nearly 100 days the world has seen Russian forces bomb maternity hospitals, train stations, apartment buildings and homes and even kill civilians cycling down the street.

Zeya added the US was working with its Allies to support a broad range of international investigations into atrocities in Ukraine.

Ireland’s Attorney General Paul Gallagher welcomed efforts over the last three months to support calls for justice in Ukraine, saying Ireland was one of 41 countries that quickly referred the situation in the country to the International Criminal Court.

Gallagher stated the ICC has deployed a team of 42 investigators, forensic experts and support staff to investigate Russian crimes and support Ukrainian efforts.

Ukraine investigates Russians who looted private property in Bucha

Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office has begun an investigation into 10 Russian military personnel who looted the property of civilians in the town of Bucha, in the Kyiv region, when it was under Russian occupation.

The prosecutor’s office said these men had been reported under “suspicion of violating the customs of war”, having stolen items which “could not be used for military purposes: from underwear and clothing to large household appliances”.

“After the liberation of the territories of Kyiv region, the occupiers, retreating to Belarus, from Mozyr sent the looted property in Ukraine by mail to their relatives,” the prosecutor general announced in a post on the Telegram app.

NATO chief in talks with Turkey over Sweden, Finland’s bid to join pact

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that he was in close contact with Turkey to find a way forward to address Ankara’s concerns over Sweden and Finland’s bid to join the alliance.

“When an ally, Turkey, raises concerns, we have to do what we always do and that is to sit down, address those concerns, then find a united way forward. We are in close contact with Ankara, leadership there,” he stated, noting NATO was also in close contact with Sweden and Finland.

Stoltenberg was speaking outside the White House after meeting with US President Joe Biden.

European Parliament bans Russian lobbyists from premises

The European Parliament has announced that it has banned all Russian lobbyists from its premises, AFP reported.

A parliament spokesperson stated it was due to “Russia creating and spreading false narratives about the war in Ukraine through multiple channels, including through state-owned companies”.

Much of key Ukraine city destroyed by attacks

Some 60 percent of the infrastructure and residential buildings in Lysychansk, one of only two cities in the east still under at least partial Ukrainian control, have been destroyed by attacks, a local official has said.

Oleksandr Zaika, head of Lysychansk City Military-Civil Administration, said on an “information telemarathon” cited by the Unian news agency that non-stop shelling had knocked out electricity, natural gas, telephone and internet service.

Zaika said 20,000 people are left in the city, down from a prewar population of 97,000.

Situation in Severodonetsk ‘hardest’: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said the situation in Severodonetsk was “the hardest right now”, as well as in cities and communities nearby.

“Lysychansk, Bakhmut and others. Many cities are facing a powerful Russian attack,” he stated in his nightly video address to the nation.

Zelensky noted Russian forces were mobilising people from areas of the Donbas that were already under their control and sending them into battle in the first line of attack, with Russian troops coming in behind them.

“The longer the war goes on, the more vile, shameful and cynical things Russia is forever inscribing in its history,” he added.

Ukrainian forces have had some success fighting Russian forces in the city of Severodonetsk but the overall military situation in the Donbas region has not changed, Zelensky has said.

“The situation in the Donbas has not changed significantly over the last 24 hours. We have had some success in the battles in Severodonetsk,” he added.

He also slammed what he called the “absolutely senseless shelling” of northern border regions from Russian territory, especially on Chernihiv.

“Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, the Kharkiv region were shelled. The entire temporarily occupied territory of our state is now a zone of complete disaster, for which Russia bears full responsibility,” he continued.

US adds 71 new Russian, Belarus companies to trade blacklist

The United States has added 71 new Russian and Belarusian entities to its trade blacklist, including aircraft plants and shipbuilding and research institutes.

The export restrictions include the Russian Academy of Sciences. In total, the Commerce Department has now added 322 entities to its economic blacklist for support of Russia’s military since February.

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