Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 464

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine in February 2022 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:

Europe is aware of the risks if Ukraine joins NATO: Kremlin

The Kremlin spokesperson says many European countries are aware of the problems that could arise if Ukraine joins NATO, but the United States “calls the tunes” for the alliance.

Dmitry Peskov was asked about Ukraine’s push to join the Western military alliance, which he said underscored Kyiv’s unwillingness to resolve problems at the negotiating table.

He added that Ukrainian membership in NATO would cause problems for many years and that Moscow would protect its security and interests.

Ukrainian forces begin training on Abrams tanks: US

US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley says training for Ukrainian forces on Abrams tanks has begun.

The training got under way as the US and its allies began to work out agreements to also train Ukrainians on F-16 fighter jets.

“Everyone recognizes Ukraine needs a modernized air force,” Milley said, adding, “It’s going to take a considerable amount of time.”

The US training schedule for the tanks is timed to get the troops up to speed before 31 of the 70-tonne Abrams tanks are scheduled to arrive in a few months.

The tanks will make up part of a force of about 300 tanks pledged by Western allies, including Challenger tanks from the UK, Leopard 2 tanks from Spain and Germany, and light tanks from France.

Swiss government rejects proposal to transfer arms to Kyiv

The Swiss parliament has rejected an exemption for the transfer of arms to Ukraine after most MPs voted against a proposal drafted by the security policy committee on Thursday night.

The proposal would have allowed other states to supply Swiss-made weapons to Ukraine.

But, the laws of neutral Switzerland prohibit support for countries involved in acts of war.

Germany has repeatedly pressed for permission to supply Swiss-made ammunition to Ukraine.

Those favouring an exception to the rule argued that Switzerland should provide more support to Ukraine and contribute to European security.

G7 countries must maintain Russian sanctions: Japan

G7 and like-minded countries must be united and maintain sanctions on Russia, Japan’s foreign minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, said.

“Judging from the situation and especially what Russia is saying and doing, I think it’s important that the G7 and like-minded countries still remain united and continue severe sanctions against Russia,” Hayashi told a press conference.

Hayashi hopes sanctions will encourage Russia to put an “end its aggression as soon as possible so that we can reach the phase that we can use the dialogue and peace talks”.

Last month, G7 countries met in Hiroshima and renewed their commitment to Russian sanctions.

US welcomes any initiative on Ukraine peace bringing Russia to negotiating table: Blinken

The United States welcomes any initiative on peace in Ukraine that will bring Russia to the negotiating table, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday.

“To be clear, the United States welcomes any initiative that helps bring (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin to the (negotiating) table to engage in meaningful diplomacy,” he stated during his address in the city hall of Helsinki.

“We will support efforts whether by Brazil, by China or any other nation if they help find a way to a a just and lasting peace consistent with the principles of the United Nations Charter,” Blinken added.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has been a “strategic failure” that has diminished the country’s influence and interests “for years to come,” Blinken stated.

“There is no question,” he added, “Russia is significantly worse off today than it was before its full-scale invasion of Ukraine – militarily, economically, geopolitically.””

Reiterating US support for Ukraine and its commitment to “just and lasting peace,” he said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has only strengthened large-scale international resolve.

“Where Putin aimed to project strength, he’s revealed weakness,” Blinken stressed, “Where he sought to divide, he’s united. What he tried to prevent, he’s precipitated.”

Chinese envoy says Ukraine-Russia peace talks may be “difficult” but neither has “shut door”

Li Hui, China’s special representative on Eurasian affairs, said Friday that while he believes there are “a lot of difficulties” for Ukraine and Russia to sit down and negotiate, neither side has shut the door to talks.

The crisis in Ukraine “may now face a lot of difficulties for the parties to sit down and negotiate, but we should also see that on the other hand, the parties are not completely without consensus,” Li said in a rare press conference in Beijing following his visit to Europe, which included stops in Kyiv and Moscow.

“The Russian side, for example, has said that Russia has never opposed peace talks and has always supported a political solution… The Ukrainian side also said that it cherishes and desires peace, and I feel that the two sides have not shut the door to peace talks,” he added.

The Chinese envoy, who previously served as China’s ambassador to Russia, also stated that the “risk of escalation” remains high and that while he was in Kyiv, he heard air raid sirens every day and the Ukrainian capital experienced two massive airstrikes.

“The conflict is in a stalemate and the battlefield is fraught with uncertainty. This situation is worrying,” Li said, stressing the importance of finding a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

“If the war continues to go on there will only be more disasters and suffering as long as there is a glimmer of hope for peace we should work actively toward it, instead of allowing the conflict to continue and spread,” he continued.

Li also reiterated China’s rejection of the Wall Street Journal report that said Beijing called on European nations to accept a ceasefire that would leave Russia in possession of parts of Ukraine.

“The report is not in line with the facts,” Li told reporters, adding, “This practice of spreading false information by advocating confrontation for political self-interest is immoral and very dangerous.”

Li also stressed the importance of the Black Sea grain deal, calling it an initiative of “great significance” to ensuring global food security, and emphasized China’s position towards promoting peace talks and its 12-point proposal for a political settlement on the conflict.

China has repeatedly attempted to portray itself as a peacemaker in the grinding conflict, despite its close ties with Russia.

Li met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv in May. He was the highest ranking Chinese official to travel to Ukraine since the start of the war. He said at the time that “there is no panacea in resolving the crisis.”

“All parties need to start from themselves, accumulate mutual trust, and create conditions for ending the war and engaging in peace talks,” Li said.

He has appealed to governments to “stop sending weapons to the battlefield” and hold peace talks.

“China believes that if we really want to put an end to war, to save lives and realise peace, it is important for us to stop sending weapons to the battlefield, or else the tensions will only spiral up,” Li stressed.

However, some western analysts have questioned whether China’s efforts to promote peace are genuine – and whether its vision of how the conflict might end aligns with Kyiv’s.

During Li’s visit, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stressed that peace negotiations must be “based on respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“Ukraine does not accept any proposals that would involve the loss of its territories or the freezing of the conflict,” Kuleba stated.

Two dead in shelling of Russia’s Belgorod border region: Governor

Shelling in Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, has killed two women, the region’s governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a Telegram post Friday.

He blamed Ukrainian forces for the shelling, saying they had fired at a road in the village of Maslova Pristan, in the Shebekino district. Ukraine has not commented on the claim.

“Shell fragments hit cars passing by. Two women were traveling in one of them. They died on the spot from their injuries,” Gladkov stated.

He added two men travelling in a separate car were injured by shrapnel and were taken to hospital.

Meanwhile, anti-Putin Russian fighters from the Freedom for Russia Legion, who claim to be fighting in Belgorod, said Russian troops “destroyed a Renault car with civilians, mistaking it for one with our sabotage group” near the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka, which is approximately a 20-minute drive from Maslova Pristan.

“At least two civilians were killed and this is a direct consequence of the unprofessionalism of Putin’s army,” the group added.

The Freedom for Russia Legion also claimed Friday there is “active fighting on the outskirts of the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka.”

“Unfortunately, there are wounded legionaries, but freedom is gained through blood. All the wounded have already been taken to hospital,” it said.

Although the Freedom for Russia Legion is aligned with the Ukrainian defense forces, Kyiv has previously stated they act as “independent entities” when operating in Russia.

Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk told CNN’s Eleni Giokos on Thursday that Ukraine “does not have any responsibility” over the Russian dissident groups who have claimed to be fighting inside Russian territory.

Amid the intensified violence in the region, Gladkov said Thursday that evacuations were underway, and that 2,500 people have been moved to temporary accommodation.

Russian officials report drone attacks and shelling in multiple regions near the Ukraine border

A number of Russian governors reported attacks on their regions on Friday, as the war spills over from Ukraine’s borders into Russian territory.

Two drones attacked fuel and energy facilities in Smolensk, western Russia early Friday, the region’s acting governor said.

Gov. Vasily Anokhin wrote on Telegram that no casualties or “critical damage” were reported.

The two long-range drones struck around 3 a.m. in the villages of Peresna and Divasy, according to Anokhin.

Local officials in several Russian regions bordering Ukraine reported shelling, including in Bryansk, where Gov. Aleksandr Bogomaz directly blamed the Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU).

“The AFU shelled the village of Novaya Pogoshch, Suzemsky district. There were no casualties. A two-family house caught fire because of the shelling. Operational services are working on site,” he stated.

A house also caught fire from shelling in the town of Lomakovka, he added.

The nearby border region of Belgorod has seen continued shelling, allegedly from Ukrainian forces, according to its governor.

Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said 2,500 people have been moved to temporary accommodation to shelter from the incoming fire.

“Of course, conditions are not easy. Not easy in that they are huge sports facilities where there are hundreds of beds where adults and little ones, the elderly and the young sleep,” Gladkov wrote on Telegram.

On Thursday, Gladkov said on Telegram that the region had seen dozens of strikes over the past day, with damage to roads, property and vehicles. Most of the attacks were from artillery and mortar, with reports of people wounded but nobody killed, he stated at the time.

Belgorod has seen rising violence in recent days, following a raid by Russian dissident fighters last week. Ukrainian officials have denied direct involvement, saying the fighters were acting independently.

On Thursday, anti-Putin Russian nationals claimed they were again fighting inside Russian territory, which Moscow’s military denied.

2 injured in Kyiv attacks early Friday: Ukrainian officials

Two people were injured by falling debris after Ukraine’s air defenses repelled a Russian aerial attack on Kyiv early Friday, according to officials.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office said an 11-year-old child was wounded and a 68-year-old man was hospitalized.

Ukraine’s Air Force announced a total of 36 weapons — 15 cruise missiles and 21 Shahed drones — were destroyed over Kyiv.

Officials earlier said 30 missiles and drones were shot down.

Falling debris damaged five houses, according to the head of the Kyiv region’s military administration, Ruslan Kravchenko.

Ukrainian air defenses shoot down 30 missiles and drones over Kyiv: Official

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 30 missiles and drones around Kyiv overnight into Friday, a senior military official said

Serhiy Popko, the head of Kyiv’s military administration, said in a Telegram post Friday that this was the sixth wave of attacks on the Ukrainian capital in the past six days.

The latest attack used both ballistic missiles and drones, Popko said. He praised Ukraine’s air defense system for repelling what he believed were air-to-surface missiles and Iran-made Shahed attack drones.

No information is yet available on damage or casualties, Popko added.

Earlier Friday, the city’s mayor reported explosions taking place in the city, with air raid alerts issued across the country.

Kyiv mayor reports explosions and incoming drones as air raid alerts issued for entire country

The mayor of Kyiv reported explosions in the capital as air raid alerts were issued across Ukraine early Friday morning (local time).

“There were explosions in the city. The air defense is working. Another wave of UAVs is heading for Kyiv,” Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Telegram.

A live map on the website of the Ministry of Digital Transformation shows all areas of Ukraine currently under an air raid alert.

Russia has lost more than 200,000 troops since beginning of invasion: Ukraine’s military

Ukrainian Armed Forces have claimed that Russia has lost about 208,000 troops since the beginning of the invasion, according to Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Cherevatyi noted this was more than the about 170,000 Russian forces he says were involved in the initial invasion in 2022.

NATO stronger in spite of Putin’s attempt to crack the alliance: Biden

President Joe Biden has said NATO is stronger in spite of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempt to crack the alliance with his invasion of Ukraine. It is bolstered further, he stated, by the recent admission of Finland, “and soon, Sweden”.

“It will happen, I promise you,” Biden stressed, but provided no details.

The United States president was speaking at the US Air Force Academy days after he hinted at a possible deal to overcome Turkey’s opposition to admitting the Nordic country to the alliance.

On Monday, Biden spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on his re-election.

Biden told reporters Erdogan repeated Ankara’s desire to buy F-16 fighter jets from the United States, while Biden urged Ankara to drop its objection to Sweden’s joining NATO.

The White House has denied that Biden is pursuing a deal with Turkey to lift its opposition in exchange for F-16s.

The president emphasised US support for Ukraine in the war with Russia.

“The American people’s support for Ukraine will not waiver,” Biden noted.

Ukraine needs strong security guarantees: Macron, Scholz

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that Ukraine needed to be given clear and strong security guarantees at a NATO summit in Lithuania in July.

“Vilnius must send a clear message to Ukraine and Ukrainians. I favour stronger, concrete very clear security guarantees,” Macron told reporters after a European leaders summit in Moldova, adding he would hold talks on the issue with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Potsdam on June 7.

Scholz told reporters that the guarantees should be designed in such a way that they give Ukraine the security it needs against the danger of being attacked.

Scholz stated such guarantees must “also stabilise Ukraine at the same time, which of course also means a commitment with regard to the establishment of defence capability on the part of Ukraine”.

Top US general stresses importance of tanks for Ukraine, says F-16s are long-term effort

The top US general stressed the importance of modern battle tanks for Ukraine, especially with its counteroffensive looming against occupying Russian forces, but cautioned that F-16 fighter jets would be more of a long-term effort.

Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley stated tanks provide the firepower and strength to play a major part in the highly anticipated counteroffensive and will play a critical role for Kyiv.

“Tanks are very important, both for the defense and the offense,” said Milley, speaking to reporters during a trip to France for the commemoration of D-Day.

“Upgraded modern tanks, the training that goes with it, the ability to use them will be fundamental to Ukrainian success,” he added.

Approximately 400 Ukrainian troops recently began training on US-made M1A1 Abrams tanks, a process that is expected to last approximately 12 weeks. About half of the troops are learning to operate the tanks, while the other half will learn how to maintain the complex Western system.

The US committed to providing Ukraine with a total of 31 Abrams tanks. Other countries have already sent in UK-made Challenger 2 tanks and German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

Milley said the tanks will operate in a coordinated fashion with artillery, infantry and more when the counteroffensive begins, utilizing the training on military maneuvers the US has provided for Ukraine in Germany to attack entrenched Russian positions.

“If you look back to World War 2, some of the biggest armored battles that were ever fought in history were fought basically in parts of Ukraine,” he continued.

Milley also addressed the nascent effort to provide Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets or other modern fighters, saying it is more of a long-term plan to equip Ukraine with a modern air force better capable of standing up to Russia’s vastly superior air power.

“Everyone recognizes that Ukraine needs a modernized air force and everyone knows that. It’s going to take a considerable length of time, effort, money, to build that air force,” Milley added.

Russia’s has hundreds of fourth and fifth generation fighters and bombers, dwarfing the smaller, older Ukrainian fleet or military aircraft. Since the beginning of the war, instead of trying to compete with Russian air power by matching them plane-for-plane, the US and other countries provided Ukraine with ground-based aerial defense systems, Milley stated.

“The fastest, cheapest, most effective way to do that was from the ground,” he said.

The flow of aerial defense systems has been effective at forcing Russia’s air force to largely remain out of Ukrainian air space and prevent Russia from establishing aerial supremacy over Ukraine.

With an aerial defense system established across critical parts of Ukraine, the effort has now shifted to bolstering Ukraine’s air force with modern Western fighter jets.

But the plan will still take time, with open questions about who will provide the jets, training, and sustainment needed.

Zelensky wants similar security guarantees given to Israel

President Volodymr Zelensky has told reporters he wants clear guarantees if Kyiv is not given NATO membership in the immediate term.

He did not elaborate on what sort of guarantees, but said it needed to be somewhere between what security guarantees Israel receives and full NATO membership.

“We have to give a long-term perspective to Ukraine,” Zelensky stated, adding, “It is imperative that the [upcoming NATO] Vilnius summit gives these immediate guarantees.”

NATO commits to preparing Ukraine for end of the war so “history doesn’t repeat itself”

NATO will continue to support Ukraine to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself once the war is over, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

“We all agree that in the middle of the war, we cannot make Ukraine a full member of NATO, but at the same time we need to prepare for what happens when the war ends because then we need to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself,” he stated, adding that could look like Russian forces regrouping and attacking again.

The secretary-general said that Russian President Vladimir Putin made a mistake by underestimating Ukraine and NATO – and the alliance continues to be committed to supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”

“It will be a big tragedy for Ukrainians if President Putin wins but it will also be dangerous for us because our message to him and all the alternative leaders including in Beijing, is that when they use force, they get what they want and that will make also us, NATO allies, United States, Europe, more vulnerable,” he continued.

UK pledges to make sure Ukraine has support for successful counteroffensive: PM

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged Thursday to continue to support Kyiv’s government and make sure it has what it needs for a successful counteroffensive, adding that Ukraine’s “rightful place” is in NATO.

Sunak pointed to the UK’s move to provide longer-range weapons to the country. Speaking at the European Political Summit in Moldova, he said the UK was “also the first country to provide battle tanks — I’m proud of that record.”

The prime minister said he wanted to put in place security for Ukraine for the long term so that a “very strong signal” is sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We are not going anywhere, we are here to stay and we will continue backing Ukraine, not just now but for years into the future and he needs to know that and we are sending that signal of support,” he added.

In May, the United Kingdom delivered multiple “Storm Shadow” cruise missiles to Ukraine, giving Kyiv a new long-range strike capability in advance of a highly anticipated counteroffensive against Russian forces.

United Nations expresses concern about slowdown of Black Sea grain exports

The United Nations expressed concern Thursday about a “continuous slowdown” in shipping traffic carrying grain from Ukrainian Black Sea ports during April and May, despite the recent renewal of the grain initiative agreed upon by Ukraine and Russia.

“In May, 33 vessels departed Ukrainian ports, half of the number compared to April,” UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in New York.

“Only three of those departed from the port of Yuzhny/Pivdennyi, one of the three Ukrainian ports covered in the initiative,” he continued, adding, “Exports in May reached 1.3 million metric tonnes of grains and other foodstuffs, less than half of the previous month,” he continued.

Dujarric said that in the last week the number of inspection teams at the Joint Coordination Center, which clears ships for passage, has been reduced from three to two.

“The limited registrations and reduced inspection teams contributed to the drop of the average daily inspection rate to three,” he added.

He called it a “serious situation,” and said that “global hunger hotspots are increasing and the spectre of food inflation and market volatility lurks in all countries.”

“We will continue our intense engagement with the parties towards the full resumption of operations and continuation of the Initiative, he noted.

Ukrainian officials say Russia has blocked inbound traffic to the Black Sea and the Joint Coordination Centre was not able to formulate an inspection plan for Thursday.

Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said 50 ships were waiting to be cleared through the Bosphorus to be loaded with 2.4 million tons of food.

Ukraine “does not have any responsibility” over groups claiming to fight inside Russia: Official

Ukraine said it “does not have any responsibility” over the Russian dissident groups that have claimed to be fighting inside Russian territory.

Those groups are “acting on their own and that’s why it’s difficult to reply,” Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andriy Melnyk said.

Melnyk comments follow Thursday’s claims from The Russian Volunteer Corps, a military group of anti-Putin Russian nationals, that it had begun its “second phase” of fighting inside Russian territory. The Freedom for Russia Legion — a similar but separate group — also claimed Thursday to be “near the border” with Russia.

Although both groups are aligned with the Ukrainian defense forces, Kyiv has previously stated they act as “independent entities” when operating in Russia.

Melnyk said Ukraine “has a legitimate right to attack goals inside Russia,” but caveated they must “proceed with cautiousness.”

“We do not want to create any chance of Russia to accuse us of attacking them,” he continued.

“Our partners and our key allies have requested Ukraine not to use some kind of weaponry that we have received the Russian territory, and that is an arrangement that we really cherish,” the deputy foreign minister added.

Zelensky calls for more Patriot systems until fighter jets are delivered

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked world leaders to provide more Patriot systems until fighter jets are delivered to Ukraine.

“If there were any other systems which were able to protect from any type of modern Russian evil — we would be talking about them,” Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian president, who is at the European Political Community Summit in Moldova, previously said he has heard “powerful support” from allies on providing fighter jets to Ukraine, as well as training Ukrainian pilots. But in the meantime, Zelensky called for a “patriot coalition” and more of the defense systems.

“We have a variety of different systems and I’m grateful to all the partners, but Patriots are Patriots,” he added.

In May, one of the two Patriot systems in Ukraine sustained minor damage, according to United States officials, during a Russian missile attack on Kyiv.

Wagner’s next assignment could be defending Russian territory: Chief

The head of the Wagner private military company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has suggested that his fighters’ next role may be in defending Russian territory.

First, Wagner wants “at least one month of recovery” after fighting for months in the eastern city of Bakhmut, Prigozhin told Russian military reporters, adding that then there will be “next scuffles, I think, most likely this time on Russian territory.”

His comments come amid attacks on Russia’s border region of Belgorod, where groups of Russian volunteers who oppose the current Kremlin leadership have again claimed to have entered Russian territory. The Kremlin said they were repelled and did not violate the state border.

Wagner fighters are due to leave the Bakhmut area by June 5, being replaced by regular Russian forces. Prigozhin said Wagner units will relocate to rear camps in Donetsk and Luhansk regions for now, away from the line of contact.

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