Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 101

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:

Sweden, Finland joining NATO would be tough for Russia: Top US general

Finland and Sweden joining NATO would put Russia in a difficult military position in the Baltic Sea, top US General Mark Milley said during a visit to Stockholm ahead of a military exercise.

The two Nordic neighbours, which both have long borders on the Baltic Sea, applied last month to join the military alliance. Once approved, their membership would mean the Baltic Sea’s coastline would, bar short strips around Russian cities Kaliningrad and St Petersburg, be encircled by NATO members.

“So from a Russian perspective that will be very problematic for them, militarily speaking, and it would be very advantageous to NATO,” added Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Putin: Russia has destroyed US weapons in Ukraine by the dozen

Russian President Putin, in comments about a US decision to send new arms to Ukraine, stated Russia was easily coping and was already destroying American-supplied weapons by the dozen, state-run news agency RIA reported.

Putin made the remarks in an interview with national television

Russia says some Ukrainian units pulling out of Severodonetsk

Russia’s army said that some Ukrainian military units were withdrawing from the key city of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine.

“Some units of the Ukrainian army, having suffered critical losses during fighting for Severodonetsk, are pulling out towards Lysychansk,” Severodonetsk’s twin city, which sits just across a river, the defence ministry said in a statement.

It added however that some Ukrainian fighters remained in the city.

“The Ukrainian authorities, having realised that it was impossible to resist further and to hold on to the industrial zone of Severodonetsk, ordered a mixed tactical unit to mine the tanks containing nitrate and nitric acid in the Azot factory,” it said.

Ukraine FM lambasts Macron for saying Russia should not be “humiliated”

Ukraine’s foreign minister reacted angrily to comments by French President Emmanuel Macron that “we must not humiliate Russia.”

Macron has kept a line of communication open with the Kremlin and flew to Moscow in February in a failed effort to deter Russia from invading Ukraine.

In an interview published Saturday, Macron said in an interview with regional newspapers in France: “We must not humiliate Russia so that the day when the fighting stops we can build an exit ramp through diplomatic means. I am convinced that it is France’s role to be a mediating power.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Saturday that “calls to avoid humiliation of Russia can only humiliate France and every other country that would call for it. Because it is Russia that humiliates itself. We all better focus on how to put Russia in its place. This will bring peace and save lives.”

Ukrainian officials have been swift to reject any proposals suggesting territory be ceded to Russia as part of peace negotiations. Russia currently occupies about one-fifth of Ukraine.

“I think, and I told [Putin], that he is making a historic and fundamental mistake for his people, for himself and for history,” Macron added in his interview.

Macron has not been to Ukraine since the invasion but stated he is open to the possibility.

Negotiations with Russia can continue after Ukraine’s position is “strengthened”: Negotiator

Negotiations with Russia will only continue after advanced weaponry arrives from Western allies and Ukraine’s position is “strengthened,” said David Arakhamia, a member of Ukraine’s negotiation group with Russia.

“So far, I see no reason to initiate further negotiations,” Arakhamia stated, “until there is really some big change at the front.”

He added the current situation is “one step forward, two steps back” as Ukraine tries to push the Russian forces out of occupied villages and Russia takes over new areas.

“Negotiations must continue when our negotiating position is strengthened,” he said. “And it can be strengthened now,” he said, when weaponry “constantly promised to us by international partners … will eventually arrive in sufficient quantities.”

“The armed forces are ready to use it, new brigades have already been trained and formed. And then we can initiate a new round of negotiations with an intensified negotiating position,” he added.

Medvedev criticizes West for sanctions on family members of politicians

Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev has criticized the West for illegitimate sanctions against family members of Russian politicians.

“It seems that the West decided to reproduce the best practices of the past,” he said on Telegram.

“Let’s take sanctions. They are doubly illegal. Now, according to their model, not only participants in political events – statesmen or deputies – but also their families, who are in no way capable of influencing their relatives, are responsible for the mythical violations invented in the West,” he added.

“If European and US lawmakers decided, then the families will answer,” he went on to say.

“To the full extend and without the fault. And let’s block the accounts of family members, their property, ban them from crossing the border to Western values,” he stated.

Medvedev noted with irony that now the West in the future could embrace “other progressive family rules as well.”

“For example, there are many useful things in the ways of the Italian ‘Ndrangheta and Cosa Nostra. Or you can go deeper into history. Recall the Laws of Hammurabi that said, as you know, if a poorly built house collapsed and killed a son of its owner, it was permissible to kill a son of the builder,” the official continued.

EU not considering Russian gas embargo: Economy chief

Discussions in the EU regarding further sanctions on Russia over the military operation in Ukraine so far do not include a ban on Russian gas, European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has revealed.

In an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa published on Saturday, Gentiloni said that while no punitive measures were off the table for the European Commission, “today we are not talking about a gas blockade.”

He noted that Brussels is seeking to strike the right balance between hurting Russia’s economy as much as possible and minimizing the secondary effects on European economies.

Gentiloni acknowledged that, despite the EU’s efforts, the sanctions have taken a toll on Europe as well. Nevertheless, he believes the bloc had no other choice but to respond to Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine “with economic weapons.”

The commissioner cautioned, however, against believing the conflict can be won solely through sanctions.

The sixth round of EU sanctions on Moscow, which was approved on Thursday and includes an embargo on some crude oil imports to the EU, “will in any case have a devastating effect on the Russian economy and power,” Gentiloni added.


EU countries can tap recovery fund to boost LNG capacity: Commissioner

European Union countries will be allowed to use money coming from the EU recovery fund, created to support post-pandemic economic growth, to boost their liquefied natural gas capacity (LNG), EU Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni has said.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, EU countries have been scrambling to cut their dependence on Russian gas imports. Building new infrastructure to import additional liquefied natural gas is part of the EU strategy.

Russia ‘throwing all its power’ at Severodonetsk: Ukraine governor

Russia is using all its available forces to capture the industrial city of Severodonetsk in a bid to control the entire eastern Donbas region, Lugansk regional governor has said.

“The situation in the region as a whole is extremely difficult. Fighting is now concentrated in Severodonetsk because, as we understand it, the Russian army is throwing all its power, all its reserves in this direction,” Sergiy Gaiday stated in an interview posted on his official social media.

Ukraine now controls half of Severodonetsk after reclaiming ground: Ukrainian official

Ukraine now controls around half the city of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine after reclaiming some ground from the Russians, Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk region military administration said.

Hayday was responding to a question about an intelligence assessment from the UK defense ministry, which predicted Russia would control all of the Luhansk region within two weeks.

“Two weeks is unrealistic. It’s just unreal,” Hayday stated.

“Earlier there was a difficult situation, and somewhere around 70% [of Severodonetsk] was captured, now we have already moved them back somewhere around 20%,” he added.

The Russians “had previously managed to capture most of the city, but now our military has pushed them back. They are really suffering huge losses,” he said in further comments on Saturday.

“The difficult situation remains in the region as a whole, and Severodonetsk is now just a concentration of hostilities because the Russian army — as we understand — is throwing all its reserves into this direction,” Hayday added.

Currently the Ukrainian military lacks long-range artillery, which could be a game changer for the battle in the east, Hayday said, adding, “They are moving forward step-by-step. They are simply destroying everything with artillery, aircraft, mortars, tanks.”

“But as soon as we have enough Western long-range weapons, we will push their artillery away from our positions. And then, believe me, the Russian infantry will just run,” he continued.

Street fights continue in Severodonetsk, and Ukrainian troops are still “trying to push back the enemy,” he noted.

On Friday, the Russians “tried to surround the Ukrainian troops” in the city and neighboring Lysychansk, but were unsuccessful. In total, Ukraine repelled a total of nine attacks by the Russians in the Donbas region in the past 24 hours.

Russia is also blowing up bridges to prevent Ukraine sending in reinforcements to the region, Hayday said.

“They are really afraid that the success of our defenders will develop, and this can be done if the ammunition, weapons and reinforcements are provided in time. This is the first thing they are afraid of,” Hayday added.

“Luhansk region is a huge outpost for us, we are holding it now.” Around 30 km (18.6 m) south of Severodonetsk, three people were killed on Friday, including a mother and child, in Hirske, Hayday said. The humanitarian situation in Severodonetsk is “very difficult,” Hayday stated, as they are currently unable to safely evacuate people or bring in humanitarian aid to the city.

Ukraine clears over 127,000 explosive devices from urban areas

Ukraine’s State Emergency Services have removed 127,393 explosive devices, mostly from urban areas in the Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Zhytomyr regions.

The retreat of the Russian Forces has offered space for considerable explosive ordnance clear-up operations, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) said in a report.

Plans are to increase this capacity by a further 80 teams, UNDP added, with international organisations working alongside Ukrainian state entities.

Second ship sent to take metal to Russia arrives in Mariupol

A ship sent to load metal and transport it to Russia has entered the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, Moscow’s TASS news agency has reported, citing a port authority representative.

The ship was the second vessel to arrive in the southeastern city since Russia completed its capture last month.

Earlier this week, another vessel left Mariupol for Russia with a cargo of metal. Ukraine said the shipments amounted to looting.

Ukraine prepared sanctions list of over 12,000 Russian citizens: Foreign Ministry

Ukrainian authorities prepared a list of over 12,000 Russian citizens that Ukrainian diplomats will fight to get restrictions imposed against, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said.

“Ukraine will continue fighting to achieve sanctions imposed against [Patriarch] Kirill and other Russian citizens who undermine [Ukrainian] national security. Overall, the Ukrainian side prepared a sanctions list, which includes over 12,000 Russian oligarchs, officials and propagandists,” Nikolenko stated, according to Ukrainian media.

“We work with our partners to establish a mechanism that would define priority of applying personal sanctions against those who facilitate or is involved in Russia’s aggression,” the spokesman added.

Nikolenko provided no names from the list.

Ukraine has already repeatedly imposed sanctions against Russian citizens, including figures of art and culture.

Russia condemns US deliveries of rocket systems, Mi-17 helicopters to Ukraine

Moscow resolutely condemns US deliveries of long-range rocket systems and Mi-17 helicopters to Ukraine, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.

“Amid statements from Washington about new shipments of military aid to Kiev, we took note of another flagrant violation by the US side of its international obligations,” the statement stated.

“The package of ‘assistance’ to Ukraine announced on June 1 by the US administration includes, among other things, 4 Mi-17 helicopters, which our country previously gave to the United States for operation exclusively in Afghanistan,” she added.

“We also note that the US side, in an ostentatious manner declaring its disinterest in an escalation between Russia and NATO, is irresponsibly supplying long-range rocket and artillery systems to Ukraine,” the statement continued.

“We most resolutely condemn such actions by the United States, which only delay the prospect of a prompt peaceful settlement of the conflict in Ukraine,” it added.

“The responsibility for the consequences lies with Washington and its puppets in Kiev,” Zakharova said.

The diplomat stated these moves by the US indicate that legal restrictions “are not an obstacle for Washington in its unrestrained desire to inundate Kiev with weapons.”

US, EU discussed potential conditions for truce in Ukraine

US Administration representatives have been having regular consultations with European allies regarding potential frameworks of a truce in Ukraine during the last few weeks, CNN reported citing US government sources.

According to the sources, Ukraine did not take part in these discussions. Meanwhile, CNN sources did not name any specific frameworks that the discussions were happening in, but they underscored that Washington does not intend to put pressure on Kiev to surrender territories. The Italian initiative on the potential truce found no support, CNN sources added.

They also noted that, despite these consultations, Washington currently sees no readiness for a truce in the sides of the conflict. However, an alternative to an agreement would be an indefinite prolonging of the conflict, which leads to growing problems in the global economy. Meanwhile, the US hopes that it will be able to support Ukraine long enough for the conflict to end in a peace settlement, not in a total capitulation.

Earlier, Italy’s La Repubblica reported that Italy presented the UN and the G7 its proposals on a peaceful settlement in Ukraine, which implies a ceasefire and an agreement on the “disputed territories,” as well as a multilateral agreement on guarantees of security in Europe.

Russian air activity remains high over Donbas: UK

The British defence ministry has announced that Russia is using air and surface cruise missiles to disrupt the movement of Ukrainian reinforcement and supplies in the eastern region of Donbas.

The increased use of unguided munitions has caused “widespread destruction” as well as civilian casualties, the ministry said in its regular intelligence update.

The strikes however have “failed to have a meaningful impact on the conflict” and Russia’s artillery stock has been significantly depleted.

Reports of fierce fighting in Severodonetsk on Saturday

Reuters news agency is reporting fierce fighting in Severodonetsk on Saturday morning.

Russia had reinforced its troops and used artillery to conduct “assault operations” in the city, Reuters said, citing Ukraine’s military.

But Russian forces had retreated after failed attempts to advance in the nearby town of Bakhmut, it added.

‘War crimes, shame and hatred’: Zelensky dismisses Russian military

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has dismissed the danger posed by the Russian military.

“At first it looked threatening. Then dangerous… And now probably just a bitter smile,” he said in his nightly video address.

“Because what’s left of it? … War crimes, shame and hatred,” he added.

He earlier promised his people victory, in a video released to mark 100 days since the Russian invasion.

“Victory will be ours,” Zelensky said, adding that he expected more “good news” on weapons shipments.

Ukraine’s defence minister thanks army, asks for more weapons

Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov has called on allies to continue to arm Ukraine after “100 days of resistance, bravery and fortitude”.

“I want to thank our military, volunteers and the entire Ukrainian nation,” Reznikov said in a tweet.

“We appreciate the support of our foreign partners & ask for reinforcement of arms supply, artillery & MLRS, aircraft & air defence systems. Let’s win this war!” he added.

UN warns Ukraine war ‘aggravating’ existing global food crisis

As the cost of food soars around the world, the United Nations warns that the war in Ukraine risks aggravating inflating prices and causing a full-on global food crisis.

Luca Russo, lead analyst for food crises at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), told Al Jazeera that as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sends energy prices higher, the cost of delivering aid has increased as well.

The risk of a severe food crisis is particularly felt in the developing world, he warned.

‘Partial success’ for Russia in Severodonetsk: Think-Tank

In its latest update on the fighting in Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) says Russia continued ground assaults in Severodonetsk on June 3 with “partial success” and while it could not confirm the exact control of terrain “Russian forces likely control much of the city”.

The US-based think tank added there had also been significant fighting around Popasna and Izyum, but that Russia had been unable to make any significant advances.

In the south, ISW said Moscow was stepping up efforts to consolidate its control of the Ukrainian territories it has occupied – including the distribution of Russian passports – and create the conditions for eventual annexation.

However, the think tank added the push to issue Russian passports, had also triggered increased activity from the Ukrainian resistance.

Putin blames West for food, energy crises

Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed the West for emerging global food and energy crises and repeated his government’s offers of safe passage for ships exporting grain from Ukraine if mines are removed from the waters.

He also said Western sanctions against Russia would only worsen world markets – reducing the harvest and driving up prices.

He added inflation stemmed from the unprecedented dollar “printing press” during the coronavirus pandemic and blamed short-sighted European policies for under-investment in alternatives to traditional energy supplies and price increases.

Putin said there is “no problem” to export grain from Ukraine, after Moscow’s operation in Ukraine raised fears of a global food crisis.

“There is no problem to export grain from Ukraine,” he noted, adding it could be done via Ukrainian ports, via others under Russian control, or even via central Europe.

Putin stated people are trying to blame Russia for problems on the global food market and denied Moscow had imposed a ban on grain exports from Ukrainian ports.

“The situation will worsen, because the British and Americans have imposed sanctions on our fertilizers,” Putin told national television in an interview.

Inflation in the US is a consequence of mistakes by American financial authorities, which they admitted to, while in the EU it has more to do with short-sighted energy policies in Brussels, Putin said on Friday. Either way, it has nothing to do with Moscow or its actions in Ukraine, he added.

Ukrainian military: Russian army amassing forces outside Slovyansk

The Russian army is amassing forces for an attack on the city of Slovyansk in eastern Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian General Staff.

The Ukrainian military said on Facebook that there were up to 20 Russian combat units with armoured infantry, artillery and air defence, numbering 600 to 800 soldiers.

Slovyansk is part of the Donetsk administrative region in eastern Ukraine, which Russia has set its sights on completely conquering.

Ukraine has retaken about 20 percent of territory lost in Severodonetsk: Regional head

Ukrainian forces have recaptured around 20 percent of the territory they lost in the city of Severodonetsk during fighting with Russia, the head of the eastern region of Luhansk has stated.

“Whereas before the situation was difficult, the percentage [held by Russia] was somewhere around 70 percent, now we have already pushed them back by approximately 20 percent,” Serhiy Gaidai told national television.

Putin made ‘historic’ error in Ukraine: Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron has said President Vladimir Putin had committed a “historic and fundamental error” by invading Ukraine and was now “isolated”.

“I think, and I told him, that he made a historic and fundamental error for his people, for himself and for history,” he stated in an interview with French regional media.

Macron also did not “rule out” a visit to Kyiv soon.

Biden: Ukraine settlement needed for peace

President Joe Biden has said he thinks a “negotiated settlement” will be necessary to end Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Asked whether Ukraine should give up some of its territory to Russia in order to end the war and bring peace to the region, Biden stated his policy continues to be that the US will not make any decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine.

He added “it’s their territory” and “I’m not going to tell them what they should and shouldn’t do.”

Russian state depository halts operations in euros after EU sanctions

The Russian National Settlement Depository (NSD) has said it suspends operations in euros due to the latest EU sanctions, calling the situation an emergency.

The EU has expanded sanctions against Russia and added the NSD, which Moscow planned to use to service the country’s Eurobonds, to the list of sanctioned entities, an EU document showed.

Ukraine UN ambassador: Russia playing ‘hunger games’

Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva has said Russia is playing “hunger games” with the world by trying to depict sanctions against Moscow as the reason that grain and other key foodstuffs and fertilizer cannot transit the Black Sea – and not Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia has played Hunger Games recently to put the blame on Ukraine and others for blocking Ukrainian food experts,” Yevheniia Filipenko stated in an interview.

Filipenko added Ukrainian forces were intensely motivated to protect their homeland and would one day win the war.

Erdogan tells Stoltenberg Turkey’s security concerns are just

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg by phone that Turkey’s security concerns regarding Sweden and Finland’s membership bids are based on just and legitimate grounds, Erdogan’s office has said.

“Both countries should make it clear that they have stopped supporting terrorism, that they have lifted sanctions against Turkey, and that they are ready to show alliance solidarity,” Erdogan was cited as telling Stoltenberg in the call.

UN Secretary-General renews call for “immediate halt to violence” on 100th day of war in Ukraine

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement renewed his call for an end to violence as Ukraine marked 100 days of Russia’s war.

“I renew my call for an immediate halt to violence, for unfettered humanitarian access to all those in need, for safe evacuation of civilians trapped in areas of fighting and for urgent protection of civilians and respect for human rights in accordance with international norms,” Guterres said in a statement on Friday.

He added the conflict has already killed thousands of people and displaced millions of others, and that the war has “resulted in unacceptable violations of human rights and is inflaming a three-dimensional global crisis – food, energy and finance – that is pummeling the most vulnerable people, countries and economies.”

Guterres said the United Nations is “committed to the humanitarian effort” but ultimately, negotiations and dialogue will be necessary to resolve the conflict.

“The sooner the parties engage in good-faith diplomatic efforts to end this war, the better for the sake of Ukraine, Russia and the world,” he added.

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