Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 155

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:

Ukraine: Russians can no longer move heavy weapons into Kherson after bridge was damaged

Ukrainian officials claimed that Russian troops can no longer carry heavy weapons and munitions across a strategic road bridge in the Kherson region after it was repeatedly struck by long-range Ukrainian artillery.

Serhii Khlan, adviser to the head of Kherson civil-military administration, said the Antonivskyi bridge, which is about 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) wide, “used to be the main route for the supply of weapons, ammunition and food to the Mykolaiv front” for Russian forces.

But “the strikes on the bridge were accurate,” he continued, adding, “The new hits were at the exactly those spots that were hit before. This made it impossible for any type of transport to cross the bridge. At the moment, the entrance to the bridge is blocked.”

Ukrainian officials announced the bridge was hit on Tuesday night. Social media video also showed large detonations in a cluster toward one end of the bridge.

“Hypothetically, the Russians might be able to build a pontoon crossing. However, the left bank of Dnipro almost entirely consists of floodplains and swamps,” Khlan noted.

The Russian-appointed deputy head of the Kherson region, Kirill Stremousov, said via Telegram that ferry crossings from near the bridge were already underway, adding, “just come here to the bridge and you will definitely get to the opposite bank of Dnipro.”

On Thursday, the UK’s defense ministry said that Russia’s 49th Army, which is stationed on the west bank of the Dnipro river, “now looks highly vulnerable” after Ukrainian long-range artillery hit a total of three bridges.

“Kherson city, the most politically significant population centre occupied by Russia, is now virtually cut off from the other occupied territories,” the ministry added.

However, the Russians still control large areas to the northeast of the city and may be able to resupply forces on the west bank with pontoon bridges and river ferries across the Dnipro.

Khlan also said that “a month ago, the invaders used the railway bridge. They brought whole trains to Kherson and to the right bank (of the Dnipro river) of military equipment and weapons. After the ammunition depots located near the railway bridge were destroyed, the occupiers stopped using the railway bridge.”

As a result of the damage to the Antonivskyi bridge, Khlan stated that “the detour for civil transport is via the hydroelectric power station through Kakhovka; a lot of cars have accumulated there.”

The bridge at Kakhovka upstream from Kherson is smaller than the Antonivskyi.

Khlan also referenced reports that a police vehicle in Kherson was attacked with an explosive device Wednesday, claiming that “the resistance movement in Kherson is gaining momentum. This is the result of their work.”

Dmytro Butriy, temporary acting head of Kherson region military administration, noted the attack on the police car had been carried out by a radio-controlled explosive device and had killed one policeman.

Butriy added attacks against Russian positions in Kherson continued.

“Our aircraft made five strikes on the enemy. Pairs of attack aircraft and a bomber hit three enemy strongholds,” he continued.

He also claimed that Russian occupation authorities had announced a ban on the Ukrainian currency hryvnia.

“The so-called occupation ‘police’ are walking around the market and warning people who sell cash that they will be punished for issuing hryvnias,” he said.

Hungary’s PM: Ukraine “cannot win” war with NATO’s current strategy

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told journalists on Thursday that Ukraine cannot defeat Russia with NATO’s current strategy of support, while also warning of dire consequences for the European economy.

“This war in this form cannot be won,” Orban said, speaking alongside Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in Vienna.

Orban added that NATO countries’ strategy of supporting Ukraine with weapons and training “has shown until now that it will not lead to success.”

“Without changing the strategy, there is not going to be peace,” he continued, warning that, without peace in Ukraine, all of the European Union will “be pushed into a war situation.”

“It is not clear how we can avoid recession in the EU if the war carries on,” Orban added.

Both leaders warned against the possibility of a European Union embargo on Russian gas.

“We met a wall just now, and that wall is called gas embargo, and I would suggest to the EU that we do not knock against that wall,” Orban said, as Nehammer warned such an embargo “is not possible.”

“Not only because we, as Austria, are dependent on Russian gas. The German industry is also dependent on Russian gas. And if the German industry collapses, the Austrian industry collapses,” said Nehammer, adding that that situation could result in “mass unemployment.”

“There are many announcements from the EU Commission, but very little is being implemented,” he noted, regarding EU action on the energy crisis, adding that there is “no sign” of the implementation of the common gas purchase platform that was proposed by the EU Commission.

He stressed that, given the current pressures on the energy market, that “this common platform would be more important than ever.”

Russian strikes hit military base outside Kyiv: Ukraine army

A senior Ukraine military official has stated Moscow’s forces have struck a military base north of the capital, Kyiv, in a rare admission of a successful Russian attack on Ukrainian military infrastructure.

Oleksiy Gromov told reporters that Russian forces had fired “six Kalibr cruise missiles on a military base in Lyutizh” at around 02:00 GMT from the Crimea peninsula. One building was destroyed and two were damaged in the attack on the town some 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of the capital.

Gromov also reported attacks on Ukraine’s northern region of Chernihiv, with shells fired from neighbouring Belarus, an ally of Moscow. He added there were “losses” among Ukrainian troops.

Mayor says nowhere in Kharkiv is ‘safe’

Ukraine’s second-biggest city has been hit by a barrage of Russian shelling, leaving residents little hope for a return to normalcy.

“We have nine districts in the city and they are all being bombed with varying intensity and at different times. So you can’t say anywhere in Kharkiv is safe,” Igor Terekhov told AFP.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s one-time Soviet capital, was besieged from the first days of the full-scale conflict and has been a key focus of the Russian invasion.

Last week, raids killed three people including a 13-year-old boy, adding to a toll that Terekhov says is in the “many hundreds.”

Russia says no deal ‘yet’ on prisoner swap with US

Negotiations between Moscow and Washington on exchanging prisoners are ongoing, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman has stated.

“A concrete result has not yet been achieved,” Maria Zakharova announced in a statement.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted on Wednesday he would speak with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov by phone and press him to respond to an offer Washington has made to secure the release of American citizens detained by Moscow, including basketball player Brittney Griner.

When asked by journalists during his daily conference call on Thursday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also said, “Well, look, since there are no agreements now that would be finalized, then, accordingly, I have nothing more to add to what has been said.”

Ukraine’s offensive to recapture Kherson gathering momentum: UK

Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the Russian-occupied Kherson region is gathering momentum, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has said.

“Ukraine has used its new long range artillery to damage at least three of the bridges across the Dnipro River which Russia relies upon to supply the areas under its control,” the ministry announced in its latest intelligence briefing.

“Russia’s 49th Army is stationed on the west bank of the Dnipro River and now looks highly vulnerable,” it added.

Security Council can’t agree on statement lauding grain deal

The United Nations Security Council has been unable to agree on a statement welcoming last week’s deal to get grain and fertiliser moving from Ukraine and Russia to millions of hungry people around the world, Norway’s UN ambassador has said.

The statement also would have commended Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Turkey’s government for their key roles in arranging the agreement.

“Norway and Mexico have been working for days to unify the council in one message welcoming the significant deal to resume exports of grains, foodstuffs and fertilisers through the Black Sea,” Mona Juul told The Associated Press, adding, “We regret that this was not possible.”

UK adviser warns of nuclear war risk amid communication breakdown

The United Kingdom’s national security adviser has warned of the growing risk of nuclear confrontation with Russia and China amid a breakdown in the backdoor communication channels that helped maintain peace during the Cold War.

Speaking in Washington, DC, Stephen Lovegrove said there was a lack of dialogue at a time when there were not only a “broader range” of strategic risks, but also more “pathways to escalation” as a result of advances in science and technology, the proliferation of weapons, and increasing rivalry in areas such as space.

“The Cold War’s two monolithic blocks of the USSR [Soviet Union] and NATO – though not without alarming bumps – were able to reach a shared understanding of doctrine that is today absent,” he stated on Wednesday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a think-tank.

“Doctrine is opaque in Moscow and Beijing, let alone Pyongyang or Tehran,” he added.

Russia: No requests from US on Lavrov-Blinken phone contact

Moscow has received no requests from Washington for a telephone contacts between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign ministry told TASS on Wednesday.

“There have been no requests, only media reports. We rely on regular diplomatic practices rather than on megaphone diplomacy,” a ministry spokesman said.

Blinken stated earlier that he plans to speak with Lavrov within days to discuss issues of grain export from Ukraine and possible release of US nationals detained in Russia.

US House members told over 75,000 Russians have been killed or wounded during war on Ukraine

United States House lawmakers who attended a classified briefing Wednesday on Ukraine stated Joe Biden administration officials informed them that more than 75,000 Russians have been killed or wounded during the war on Ukraine.

The briefing also added the Russian military is fatigued, but Ukrainians are looking for additional reinforcements as they aim to launch a counteroffensive in the south before the winter.

“We were briefed that over 75,000 Russians have either been killed or wounded, which is huge, you’ve got incredible amounts of investment in their land forces, over 80% of their land forces are bogged down, and they’re tired,” Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee and recently visited Ukraine, told CNN.

“But they’re still the Russian military,” Slotkin continued.

US and Western officials have noted in recent weeks that the next few weeks of war will be crucial, because the Ukrainians are going to try to mount a major counteroffensive in the south. Richard Moore, the head of the UK’s secret intelligence service, MI6, said last week at the Aspen Security Forum that he believes the Russians will begin to lose steam in the coming weeks because they are running out of manpower. US and western officials believe Ukraine will aim to take back the southern city of Kherson, which has been occupied by Russia since March.

“The sort of main conversation in the briefing was, you know, what more we can and should be doing for the Ukrainians, literally in the next three to six weeks, very urgently. Ukrainians want to go to the south and do operations in the south. And we want them to be as successful as possible,” Slotkin said.

“I think that what we heard very firmly from President Zelensky and reinforced today is that the Ukrainians really want to hit Russia in the teeth a few times before the winter comes, put them in the best position possible, particularly hitting them down south,” Slotkin added.

During the briefing, Slotkin stated there was bipartisan support for sending Ukraine long-range missiles, known as ATACMS, that can strike as far as 180 miles away (more than 280 kilometers). The Ukrainians have been urging the US to provide these systems for months because the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) can only strike distances of around 49 miles (more than 78 kilometers).

But US national security adviser Jake Sullivan reiterated last week at the Aspen Security Forum that the US would not be providing the ATACMS because they could be used to strike into Russian territory, which would escalate the war even further.

The US Senate will also get its own briefing on Ukraine. It was originally scheduled for today but had to be rescheduled.

Russian forces, Ukraine both claim control of vital power plant

The fate of Ukraine’s second-biggest power plant was hanging in the balance after Russian-backed forces claimed to have captured it intact, but Kyiv did not confirm its seizure, stressing only that fighting was under way nearby.

Seizing the Soviet-era coal-fired Vuhlehirsk power plant in eastern Ukraine would be Moscow’s first strategic gain in more than three weeks in what it calls its “special operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its neighbour.

Ukraine “very grateful” for increase in Western military assistance: National security official

Ukraine is “very grateful” for an increase in deliveries of Western military aid over the past month, the country’s national security adviser Oleksiy Danilov tweeted on Wednesday

“Over the past month, there has been a strong intensification of military assistance from our partners, we are very grateful to them for this,” Danilov wrote.

The Ukrainian National Security went on to say his country’s forces had used some of that equipment to target the Antonivskyi bridge, in the Kherson region, an important supply artery for Russian forces stationed west of the Dnieper river.

“The destruction of the [Antonivskyi] bridge shows how delicately modern military equipment works — the enemy trembles, and partners are delighted at how quickly and efficiently our military has mastered it,” Danilov continued, adding that Russia has been moving “troops in the Kherson direction.”

Analysts have suggested Russia has been fortifying it’s positions in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in advance of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

“This war will result in the decolonization of the Russian federation,” Danilov also stated.

Blinken says he will speak to Lavrov for first time since war

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he will speak to his Russian counterpart for the first time since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but would narrowly focus the call to priorities including the release of detained Americans.

The phone call “in the coming days” with foreign minister Sergey Lavrov “will not be a negotiation about Ukraine”, Blinken told reporters.

Moscow warns of consequences if Ukraine uses US-made weapons against Russian territory

Moscow has warned of “more than serious” consequences if Ukraine uses US-made multiple launch rocket systems or other NATO-supplied long-range weapons against Russian territory, according to Russian official Konstantin Gavrilov.

Gavrilov is the head of the Russian delegation at talks in Vienna on issues of military security and arms control.

“If the Armed Forces of Ukraine use American MLRS or other NATO long-range weapons against Russian territory, the consequences will be more than serious,” Gavrilov said according to a statement published by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“An increase in the transfer of Western weapons to Kyiv may force the Russian Federation to move to tougher responses,” he continued.

Gavrilov also stated that all of the main goals set by President Vladimir Putin will be accomplished in Ukraine and urged Western governments to listen to Russia’s concerns.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on Tuesday that the United States and other allies have praised his country’s use of donated systems, such as the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, with officials in Washington saying Russia has yet to take out any of the gifted Western rocket artillery.

The Ukrainian defense minister added the donated weapons were “already affecting the course of the war.”

The HIMARS, with range and accuracy superior to that of equivalent Russian artillery, has allowed Ukraine to hit targets well within Moscow-controlled territory, the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff noted last week.

Germany has also delivered three Mars II multiple launch rocket systems launchers from its army stocks, as well as five Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft guns and three self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine, German Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht said on Tuesday.

Ukraine to increase electricity exports to EU: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Ukraine will up its export of electricity to the European Union as the bloc faces an energy crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion.

“We are preparing to increase our electricity exports to consumers in the European Union,” Zelensky stated in his daily address to the nation.

“Our exports would not only allow us to increase our income in foreign currency but will also help our partners to resist Russian energy pressure,” he noted after Russia drastically slashed its gas deliveries to Europe.

“We will gradually make Ukraine one of the guarantors of European energy security,” he added.

War in Ukraine ‘weakened Russia profoundly’: Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the war in Ukraine has “profoundly” weakened Russia despite Moscow’s insistence that it is thriving politically and economically.

The growing strength of NATO, global condemnation of Russia’s invasion and overwhelming sanctions all prove to “refute” the Kremlin, Blinken stated in a press briefing.

“The Kremlin says that global businesses haven’t really pulled out of Russia. In fact, more than 1,000 foreign companies – representing assets and revenue equal to more than a third of Russia’s GDP – have stopped operations in Russia,” Blinken continued, adding, “They say that Russia is replacing lost imports from the West with imports from Asia. In fact, imports into Russia have dropped more than 50 percent this year.”

“Though President Vladimir Putin will likely claim that this war was a resounding success, the world can see that it has weakened Russia profoundly,” he noted.

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