Saturday, May 18, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 78: Putin says anti-Russian sanctions provoking global crisis

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:

UN sets up inquiry into Russia’s alleged rights abuses in Ukraine

The UN Human Rights Council has passed a resolution by a strong majority, setting up an investigation into allegations of rights abuses by Russian troops in parts of Ukraine formerly under their control.

The Geneva-based Council passed the resolution through a vote, with 33 members voting in favour and 2 against (China, Eritrea). There were 12 abstentions.

Russia was recently suspended from the 47-member Council. However, it could still have joined the session as an observer but chose not to do so in protest at the resolution which it said amounted to political score-settling.

More than 300 killed in Irpin: Mayor

Russian forces have killed some 300 civilians and 37 militias in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, its mayor, Oleksandr Markushkin, has said.

The figure was far from final and was “unfortunately growing”, Markushkin was quoted by the ITV online magazine as saying.

He added the bodies of civilians were still being found in parks and backyards.

Irpin and several suburbs north of Kyiv were occupied between late February and early April.

France ‘fully supports’ Finland’s choice to join NATO

French President Emmanuel Macron has told his Finnish counterpart that France fully supported the country’s choice to join NATO, the Elysee presidential office announced in a statement.

Finland must apply to join the NATO military alliance “without delay”, its president and prime minister stated, in a historic policy shift triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Scholz offers “full support” to Finland’s NATO bid

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday welcomed Finland’s bid to join NATO and offered Berlin’s “full support” after Finland’s president and prime minister announced their support for joining NATO, moving the Nordic nation – which shares an 800-mile border with Russia – one step closer to membership of the US-led military alliance.

“I welcome Finland’s decision to speak out in favor of the country’s immediate accession to NATO,” Scholz said in a tweet.

“In a phone call with President Sauli Niinistö, I assured Finland of the German government’s full support,” Scholz added.

The Finnish president on Twitter said that he discussed Finland’s NATO membership bid with the German chancellor.

”Finland is grateful for German support for our NATO membership,” he wrote, adding that they also discussed “the need to achieve peace in Ukraine.”

Europe’s gas supply crisis grows after Russia imposes sanctions

Pressure on Europe to secure alternative gas supplies has increased after Moscow imposed sanctions on European subsidiaries of state-owned Gazprom and Ukraine stopped a gas transit route, pushing prices higher.

Russia imposed sanctions late Wednesday mainly on Gazprom’s European subsidiaries including Gazprom Germania, an energy trading, storage and transmission business that Germany placed under trusteeship last month to secure supplies.

It also imposed sanctions on the owner of the Polish part of the Yamal-Europe pipeline that carries Russian gas to Europe.

Key gas route will not reopen until Ukraine controls transit system

Ukraine will not reopen the suspended Sokhranovka gas transit route from Russia to European customers until Kyiv obtains control over its gas transit system, the head of the system’s operator GTSOU told the Reuters news agency.

The gas pipeline runs through Ukraine’s Luhansk region, part of which has been under the control of Russia-backed separatists since 2014.

Putin: Sanctions against Russia are “provoking” global crisis

Sanctions imposed on Russia by the West are “provoking” a global crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday during a meeting on economic issues.

“Their authors, guided by short-sighted, inflated political ambitions, Russophobia, to a greater extent hit their own national interests, their own economies, the wellbeing of their citizens. We see this, first of all, in a sharp increase in inflation in Europe,” stated Putin.

According to the Russian leader, continuation of the West’s “obsession with sanctions” will inevitably lead to the “most difficult, intractable consequences” for the European Union as well as the poorest countries in the world.

“The blame for this lies entirely with the elites of Western countries, who are ready to sacrifice the rest of the world in order to maintain their global dominance,” he continued.

Putin added that Russia is coping with external challenges provoked by Western sanctions and the inflation in the country is slowing down.

“The weekly increase in prices has already dropped to 0.1% — this is already close to the weekly growth rate that corresponds to the inflation target of the Bank of Russia,” he noted.

Russia is using energy as “a weapon”: German vice chancellor

German Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck accused Russia on Thursday of using energy “as a weapon,” following an announcement by the Russian government on Wednesday to impose sanctions on 31 foreign energy companies in retaliation for Western penalties over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“It has to be said that the situation is coming to a head, in such a way that the use of energy as a weapon is now being realized in several areas,” Habeck told reporters at a news conference in Berlin.

This is not the first time Habeck has said Russia is using energy as ”a weapon.”

Germany has been under pressure from Ukraine and other nations in Europe to make progress in weaning itself off Russian energy supplies since the start of the invasion on Feb. 24.

On Thursday, Habeck stated that Germany was focusing on building up gas reserves to prepare for winter.

“The gas storage facilities must be full by winter or else we will be in a situation where we can easily be blackmailed,” Habeck added.

Russia will be “forced to take retaliatory steps” if Finland joins NATO: Foreign ministry

Finland “must be aware of the responsibility and consequences” of joining NATO, Russia’s foreign ministry announced in a statement Thursday, adding that Russia “will be forced” to take retaliatory steps if the country joins the alliance.

“The statement by Finnish President S. Niinistö and Finnish Prime Minister S. Marin, who spoke today in favor of Finland joining NATO, is a radical change in the country’s foreign policy,” the Russian foreign ministry said, adding “Helsinki must be aware of the responsibility and consequences of such a move.”

Finland’s possible accession to NATO would cause serious damage to bilateral Russian-Finnish relations, which are maintaining stability and security in the Northern European region, the ministry said.

“Russia will be forced to take retaliatory steps, both of a military-technical and other nature, in order to stop the threats to its national security that arise in this regard,” it added.

“Joining NATO will also be a direct violation of Finland’s international legal obligations, primarily the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 and the 1992 Treaty between Russia and Finland on the fundamentals of relations,” Russia’s foreign ministry stressed.

Finland shares an 800-mile border with Russia.

Russia “waging war against our children”: Ukrainian first lady

At least three people have died and 12 were injured after a school and a boarding school were shelled at night by Russian forces in the northern Ukrainian city of Novhorod-Siversky, Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska stated, as she accused Russian of “waging war against our children.”

“Tonight, the Russian army fired rockets from a plane at a school and boarding school in the city of Novhorod-Siversky, Chernihiv region. Rescuers are currently working there, but we already know of 3 dead and 12 injured. The bombing was aimed. The Russians, who claim to be attacking only military installations, are waging war against our children. In fact, they are waging war against our future,” Zelenska said in a Telegram post Thursday.

She added that, according to the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, 1,635 educational institutions in the country have been affected by bombing and shelling, with 126 being completely destroyed.

“Whether Russia’s actions in Ukraine are genocide is currently being debated around the world. Instead of answering, look at the map. Every day a new school or kindergarten appears there, which was deliberately destroyed with unprecedented cynicism by the Russians,” she stated.

Russia responsible for most civilian casualties: UN

The UN’s human rights chief announced her office has found Russian forces and affiliated armed groups are responsible for most civilian deaths during the war in Ukraine.

“According to our information, while such incidents can be attributed to both parties to the conflict, most of these casualties appear attributable to the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups,” Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council.

Ukraine abuses may amount to war crimes: UN rights chief

The UN human rights chief has said some 1,000 bodies had been recovered around Kyiv in recent weeks, adding that many of the reported abuses since the Russian invasion may amount to war crimes.

“The scale of unlawful killings, including indicia of summary executions in areas to the north of Kyiv, is shocking,” Michelle Bachelet stated in a video address to the UN Human Rights Council.

The OHCHR will decide on Thursday whether to conduct an official probe into the events that occurred in Kyiv and other regions in February and March.

Russian forces try ‘blocking’ underground passages in Azovstal

In their attempt to take the besieged Azovstal plant in Mariupol, Russian troops tried to block the underground passages under the gigantic complex, a Ukrainian official has said.

The plant, which occupies 11 square kilometres (4.25 square miles), remains the only Ukrainian stronghold in the nearly-destroyed  Azov Sea port that was pummeled for more than two months.

The Russians’ “main goal is to block the exits from the system of underground passages, which was pointed out by a traitor,” city official Petro Andriushchenko stated on Telegram.

However, the hundreds of Ukrainian servicemen holed up in the plant “were trying to counterattack risking everything,” he added.

Gas supplies from Russia to Europe via Ukraine down: Gazprom

Russian energy company Gazprom says gas transported to Europe using a key route through Ukraine has dropped by a third.

According to the Interfax news agency, Gazprom said supplies transiting Ukraine on Thursday had dropped by nearly 30 percent compared with the day before.

Ukraine’s pipeline operator GTSOU announced it was halting gas transport at the Sokhranivka transit point from Wednesday as Russian occupying forces now in control were interfering with operations.

Ukrainian strike killed one, wounded seven in western Russia: Governor

A Ukrainian attack killed one Russian and wounded seven more in a village that borders Ukraine, a regional governor claims.

The attack also destroyed 17 houses and six cars in the village of Solokhi in the Belgorod region on late Wednesday, Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram, calling the situation “the direst since the shelling began” in April.

Moscow accused Ukraine of hitting several western Russian villages where fuel and arms depots are located, but Kyiv has routinely denied the claims.

Sweden to take Finland’s NATO assessment into account: FM

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde stated her country will take into account Finland’s NATO assessments when deciding to apply for membership.

“Finland is Sweden’s closest security and defence partner, and we need to take Finland’s assessments into account,” Linde posted on Twitter.

One Ukrainian killed, three wounded in Kharkiv: Governor

Russian shelling killed one and wounded three civilians in the northeastern Kharkiv region, its governor has claimed.

The shelling hit the village of Derhachi northwest of the regional capital, Kharkiv, Oleh Sinehubov stated on Telegram.

In recent days, Ukrainians liberated several key towns around Kharkiv and pushed Russian forces towards the border.

Moscow: Not much to boast of in negotiation process between Russia, Ukraine

There are no changes in the negotiation process between Russia and Ukraine, currently there is not much to boast of, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Thursday.

He noted that he already commented on this subject a day earlier.

“Since yesterday, nothing has changed with regards to the negotiations,” the Kremlin official added.

In response to a question as to how the shelling of Russia’s border regions from the Ukrainian side may impact the negotiations, he said: “And currently there is nothing to write home about on the negotiating track.”

Kremlin warns against attempts to interfere in Russia’s special operation in Ukraine

Moscow will be ready to give the most resolute response, if any side ventures to interfere in Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday.

“We, first of all, proceed from the statements that the president [Russian President Vladimir Putin] has made since February 24 that Russia will be ready to give the most resolute response to the side, which will try somehow to get into Ukraine and get into the special military operation that the Russian Armed Forces are currently conducting in Ukraine,” the Russian presidential spokesperson stressed.

“These statements by the president are well known and we, first of all, proceed from these statements,” the Kremlin spokesman pointed out.

Commenting on the issue of a potential Russia-NATO direct clash, he stated that “all want to avoid” this scenario.

“Both Russia [wants to avoid it] and, statements to this effect have been repeatedly made by NATO and, most importantly, by Washington, including at the highest level: such statements have been made by [US] President [Joe] Biden. This is what everyone would want to avoid,” Peskov said.

Twenty European companies open accounts with Russia’s Gazprombank to buy gas

Ten more European companies opened accounts with Russia’s Gazprombank to buy Russian gas, thus increasing the total number of companies with the bank’s accounts to 20, Bloomberg reported on Thursday, citing a source familiar with the situation.

Another 14 companies have asked the bank for documents that are necessary for opening the account, the news outlet added.

Finland’s accession to NATO would ‘certainly’ threaten Russia’s security: Kremlin

Finnish accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation would “certainly” constitute a threat to Russia’s security, and Moscow will analyse the consequences of such a step for its own security, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has warned.

“The latest expansion of NATO will not make our continent more stable and secure,” Peskov said, speaking to reporters on Thursday.

“If you remember, there is an active instruction from the [Russian] president and commander-in-chief to develop a list of measures to strengthen our western flanks in connection with the strengthening of NATO’s eastern flank. NATO is moving in our direction. Therefore, of course, all of this will become an element for a special analysis and the development of the necessary measures to balance the situation and ensure our security,” Peskov noted, when asked how specifically Moscow might respond to Finnish membership in the US-led alliance.

“Everything will depend on how the expansion process will manifest itself in the future, how far military infrastructure will move closer to our borders”, the presidential spokesman stressed.

Asked to comment on whether the Western bloc might try to use the Ukraine crisis as a pretext to incorporate even more countries bordering Russia, Peskov stated that “a wide range of options is always being considered and analysed.”

Russia warns potential Russia-NATO conflict can go nuclear

Flooding Ukraine with weapons increases the odds of a conflict between Russia and NATO, which can turn into a nuclear war, Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev wrote on Telegram on Thursday.

“Efforts by NATO countries to flood Ukraine with weapons, train its troops to use Western equipment, deploy mercenaries and hold drills near our borders increase the odds of a direct and open conflict between Russia and NATO instead of its current proxy war,” Medvedev pointed out.

“There is always a risk that such a conflict will turn into a full-on nuclear war. This will be a disastrous scenario for everyone,” he warned.

The former president emphasized that foreign analysts kept chattering non-stop about NATO’s war against Russia, “with Western ‘talking heads’ becoming increasingly cynical.”

He highlighted attempts to argue that Moscow was allegedly trying to scare the world with the threat of a nuclear conflict.

“Even [former US President Donald] Trump has recently put his two cents in on the matter. And of course, the Europeans have also started chirping with high-pitched voices,” Medvedev wrote.

When speaking about the mutually fatal consequences of a nuclear war, the Russian Security Council deputy chief urged the West to “stop lying to itself and others.”

“There is a need to just think about the possible impact of one’s actions and try not to choke on one’s own saliva during Russophobic fits,” Medvedev stressed.

Medvedev has dismissed as cynical the Western rhetoric Russia is allegedly threatening the world with a nuclear conflict, adding that “foreign analysts never stop talking about NATO’s war with Russia.”

“The cynicism of Western ‘talking heads’ is getting ever more straightforward. They go to great lengths in their attempts to persuade one and all that Russia is threatening the world with a nuclear conflict,” Medvedev said.

He recalled that Trump, “just recently came up with such charges, too, though he did that mostly to take a dig at [the incumbent president Joe] Biden.”

“And, of course, the European stooges add their thin voices to the chorus,” Medvedev continued.

Ukraine to seize Russian banks

The authorities in Kiev will forcibly seize the assets of two major Russian banks in the country, Sberbank and VEB.RF, according to media reports citing a decision published on the website of the Supreme Council of Ukraine on Thursday.

According to the decision of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine from May 11, approved on the same day by a decree of the president of Ukraine, Kiev will withdraw 99.8% of the shares of Prominvestbank (PIB) owned by Russian state corporation VEB.RF, and 100% of the shares of the International Reserve Bank (MR Bank), owned by Sberbank of Russia.

Financial assets will also be withdrawn in the form of rights to claim the liabilities of VEB.RF to Prominvestbank for 0.93 billion Ukrainian hryvnia (around $30 million) and Sberbank of Russia to MR Bank for 14.9 billion hryvnia ($491 million).

In addition, other financial assets of these subsidiaries of Russian banks are to be withdrawn, with the exception of 3 billion hryvnia ($98 million) of MR Bank assets, which will be used to satisfy the requirements of its creditors.

Siemens to wind down industrial operations in Russia

German industrial giant Siemens announced its withdrawal from the Russian market on Thursday, saying that the conflict in Ukraine and related sanctions have already cost the company about $630 million.

“Siemens will exit the Russian market as a result of the Ukraine war. The company has started proceedings to wind down its industrial operations and all industrial business activities,” the company announced in a press release.

It added that the withdrawal would be “orderly” and aligned with regulatory requirements and international sanctions.

“The comprehensive international sanctions, as well as current and potential countermeasures, impact the company’s business activities in Russia, particularly rail service and maintenance,” the release read.

Siemens has lost 0.6 billion euros ($630 million) in the first quarter due to Russia sanctions, according to the company’s latest financial report.

Earlier in March, the corporation halted its international supplies and operations in several new projects in Russia.

Founded in 1847, Siemens is one of the largest European technology companies, providing industrial, infrastructure, transport, and health care services.

Finnish President & PM say “Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay”

In a joint statement Thursday, Finland’s President and Prime Minister announced their support for joining NATO, moving the Nordic nation – which shares an 800-mile border with Russia – one step closer to membership of the US-led military alliance.

“During this spring, an important discussion on Finland’s possible NATO membership has taken place,” said Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

“Time has been needed to let parliament and the whole society establish their stands on the matter. Time has been needed for close international contacts with NATO and its member countries, as well as with Sweden. We have wanted to give the discussion the space it required,” they added.

The leaders stated that the “moment of decision-making is near” and Finland must apply for NATO membership.

“NATO membership would strengthen Finland’s security. As a member of NATO, Finland would strengthen the entire defence alliance. Finland must apply for NATO membership without delay. We hope that the national steps still needed to make this decision will be taken rapidly within the next few days,” the joint statement read.

Demining Ukraine may take up to 10 years: Official

It will take up to 10 years to remove all the landmines planted by Russian forces in eight Ukrainian regions, an official has reportedly said.

“Judging by international experience, the demining would take between five to 10 years,” Oleh Bondar of the State Emergencies Service was quoted by the Ukrinform news agency as saying on Thursday.

Ukrainian military and officials announced Russians leave mines, booby traps and explosive devices in public schools, houses and next to dead bodies.

Mykolaiv faces bombardments “almost every day”: Mayor

The mayor of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine told CNN his city’s proximity to the battlefields between Russian and Ukrainian forces in nearby Kherson means bombardments have occurred “almost every day.”

“They launch rockets, and in three minutes they are over our city,” said Mayor Oleksandr Syenkevych.

The frontlines have remained relatively stationary for two weeks, he said, and officials are expecting more aerial attacks since both militaries have taken defensive positions.

Mykolaiv is about 56 miles (90 km) north of Kherson, which has been under Russian control.

Syenkevych strongly disputed Russian reports that residents in areas under their control wish for Russian rule, adding he knows the previous mayor of Kherson who was replaced after the city was seized and that those claims are not true.

“I’m sure that no one wants to go to Russia,” Syenkevych said, adding, “People want to be part of Ukraine, but for sure Russian TV and Russian propagandists will say they want to go to Russia. No one wants to go to Russia.”

EU: Russia ‘most direct threat to world order’

Top European officials warned Thursday that Russia poses the “most direct threat” to world order and urged China to play a more constructive role on the international stage as they held talks in Tokyo.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel are in Japan for talks that have touched on Russia’s military operation against Ukraine but also growing concerns about China’s role in Asia and beyond, AFP reported.

Russia “is today the most direct threat to the world order with the barbaric war against Ukraine, and its worrying pact with China”, von der Leyen said after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not just a matter for Europe, but it shakes the core of the international order including Asia. This must not be tolerated,” stated Kishida, whose government has joined tough sanctions on Moscow, including on energy.

Beijing’s increasingly muscular stance in Asia was also on the agenda, with the EU looking to take a more high-profile role in confronting China.

“Our cooperation in Ukraine is critical in Europe, but it’s also important in the Indo-Pacific and we also want to deepen our consultation on a more assertive China,” Michel noted, adding, “China must stand up to defend the multilateral system that it has benefitted from in developing its country.”

Von der Leyen stated the EU and Japan were stepping up cooperation including launching a digital partnership that will focus on competitiveness and security.

She added the two sides would also work on supply chains, which have been disrupted by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, but are also the subject of worry about China’s role in chip production.

“There are materials and technologies that have become essential to our economy and everyday lives, like semiconductors for example. We must be able to count on trustworthy supply chains,” she continued.

Japan and the EU have been working to strengthen ties, including with a landmark 2019 trade deal, and Tokyo has broken with past diplomatic postures to take a strong stand on Ukraine.

It has sanctioned Russian businesses and officials, sent humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine and joined a G7 pledge to phase out or ban Russian oil.

Japan has, however, stopped short of measures on gas because of its reliance on energy imports.

Von der Leyen and Michel are due to hold a working lunch with Kishida later Thursday, with Michel visiting Hiroshima on Friday.

Kishida said their discussions would include talks on “tensions in the South and East China Seas, where Tokyo fears Beijing is increasingly attempting to stake a claim to disputed territory”.

There are also longstanding fears about whether Beijing could move to take control of Taiwan, which China claims and has vowed to eventually seize.

Michel stated the two sides discussed “ways to boost our cooperation in security and defence”, noting Japan is the only Asian country specifically mentioned in the EU’s 2030 security and defence plan.

Von der Leyen also urged cooperation on infrastructure in the region, in a veiled reference to Beijing, which has sought to cement alliances in the region and beyond with projects sometimes criticised as debt traps.

“The needs for investment are huge, and the options are limited. They very often come at a price that no country should have to pay, like encroachments on their sovereignty,” she added.

Russia’s Kharkiv withdrawal shows its inability to capture key cities: UK

The withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kharkiv region “is a tacit recognition of Russia’s inability to capture key Ukrainian cities,” the UK’s defence ministry has said.

In its latest intelligence briefing, the ministry noted Ukrainian forces were continuing a counter-attack in the north of Kharkiv and had recaptured several towns and villages. It said Russia’s prioritisation of operations in the Donbas had left the troops in the Kharkiv area vulnerable.

It added that Russia had withdrawn troops from Kharkiv to replenish. Once reconstituted, the ministry said “these forces will likely deploy to the eastern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, forming a blocking force to protect the western flank of Russia’s main force concentration and main supply routes for operations in the vicinity of Izium.”

One dead, one injured in Dnipropetrovsk: Governor

Russian shelling of the town of Zelenodolsk, near Kryvyi Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk region, has killed one person and injured another, the region’s governor has claimed.

“In the morning, the occupiers again fired on the Zelenodolsk community … They hit just as people were leaving for work. One dead, one wounded … An energy infrastructure facility was destroyed,” Valentin Reznichenko wrote on Telegraph on Thursday morning.

Several dead and wounded in Chernihiv after airstrikes: Governor

Airstrikes hit the town of Novhorod-Siverskyi in Chernihiv overnight, killing and injuring several people, the region’s governor has claimed.

Vyacheslav Chaus stated schools, other administrative buildings and private houses were damaged.

“There are dead and wounded. Rescuers and doctors are currently working at the scene,” Chaus wrote on Telegram.

He did not specify the number of casualties.

Heavy shelling in Zaporizhzhia village kills one person

The village Komyshuvakha in the Zaporizhzhia region came under heavy shelling on Wednesday, which killed one person and destroyed 60 residential buildings, Interfax reports.

Missiles fell on Komyshuvakha throughout the day, according to the Zaporizhizhia Regional Military Administration (ZOVA).

ZOVA also said that Zaporizhzhia’s city Orekhov has been shelled for three days in a row. The city council introduced a three day curfew starting from May 13 prohibiting citizens from going out onto the street without a special pass, ZOVA wrote on Telegram.

Nearly 800 missiles launched at Ukraine since February 24: Army

Ukraine’s army has announced 788 cruise and ballistic missiles have been launched on targets in Ukraine from the territories of Russia and Belarus since the start of the full scale invasion.

Alexei Gromov of Ukraine’s armed forces said the main targets were transport infrastructure in the south and east of Ukraine “but they repeatedly fired at other objects of critical infrastructure of social importance”.

EU says bloc wants to ‘weaken Russian war machine’, not fight Moscow directly

Brussels would like to “weaken the Russian war machine” in Ukraine, but does not want a direct confrontation with Moscow, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, has said.

“We are saying that we’re not taking part in the conflict, but we’re taking sides. We want to weaken the Russian war machine. We want to weaken the ability of [Vladimir] Putin and his regime to baselessly attack a sovereign country. We want to help Ukraine defend itself. But we don’t want to go to war with Russia,” Borrell told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in an interview.

Borrell stressed that the EU must “do more” to make that happen, including by supplying Ukraine with more weapons, weakening the Russian economy, and “isolating” Moscow internationally.

The diplomat stressed that he “didn’t understand” people who say “that the more weapons you supply to Ukraine, the longer the war will last and the greater the suffering of Ukrainians will be…I ask these people: Doesn’t it matter how this war ends? Should the Ukrainians get on their knees and be torn to pieces by the Russians?…You see, wars end in negotiations. But you have to come to the negotiating table from a position of strength, and the task now is to put the Ukrainians in that position.”

Russia made no gains in Ukraine yesterday: Think-Tank

Russian forces made no significant advances anywhere in Ukraine on Wednesday, while Ukrainian forces took further ground northeast of Kharkiv, the Institute for the Study of War has reported.

“The Ukrainian counteroffensive north of Kharkiv City has forced Russian troops onto the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City,” the institute said in its latest campaign assessment.

It added the Russians made no advances in the Severodonetsk-Rubizhne-Lysychansk areas, either.

The institute announced Moscow’s forces may have started a new advance towards Bakhmut after capturing Popasna and “are attempting to consolidate their positions in western Kherson Oblast to push into Mykolaiv Oblast”.

Allies to approve Finland, Sweden NATO bid

NATO allies expect Finland and Sweden to apply to join the alliance in coming days and will grant membership quickly, five diplomats and officials told Reuters.

During the one-year ratification of their membership, the allies would provide an increased troop presence in the Nordic region, hold more military exercises and naval patrols in the Baltic Sea and possibly rotate US and British forces through Finland and Sweden, they added.

Finland and Sweden would not benefit from NATO’s collective defence clause – that an attack on one ally is an attack on all – until the parliaments of all 30 member states have ratified the decision.

Germany may be able to withstand winter without Russian gas: Minister

Germany may be able to cope with a boycott of Russian gas imports as soon as the coming winter, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck has stated.

“If we have full storage facilities at the turn of the year, if two of the four floating LNG tankers we have leased are connected to the grid and if we make significant energy savings, we can to some extent get through the winter if Russian gas supplies collapse,” Habeck told WirtschaftsWoche.

Germany is Europe’s biggest natural gas consumer. Last year, Russian gas accounted for 55% of its imports and a sudden stop could trigger a recession in Europe’s biggest economy, a study found this week.

Jill Biden asks Putin to end ‘senseless war’

US First Lady Jill Biden has asked President Vladimir Putin to “please end this senseless and brutal war” in an article for CNN.

Biden wrote of the women she spoke with during her trip to Europe.

“A young mother I met in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, told me that when she and her family ventured out in search of food, Russian soldiers would shoot into the lines of people waiting for a piece of bread,” Biden wrote.

She also met with President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wife Olena Zelenska, saying: “She didn’t ask me for food or clothing or weapons. She asked me to help her get mental health care for all those suffering from the effects of Vladimir Putin’s senseless and brutal war.”

Russians block all evacuation routes out of Mariupol: Official

An adviser to the Mariupol mayor has said that Russian forces have blocked all evacuation routes out of the city.

Petro Andriushchenko stated on Wednesday that there were few apartment buildings fit to live in after the weeks of bombardment and very little food or drinking water.

Andriushchenko added some residents who have remained in the city are cooperating with the Russian occupying forces in exchange for food.

Mariupol’s mayor told Ukrainian television on Wednesday that conditions in the city were “dire” and Russians had turned Mariupol into a “medieval ghetto”.

Zelensky discusses more Russia sanctions with Scholz

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated he discussed defensive aid, energy sector cooperation and increasing sanctions on Russia in a call with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

“We appreciate the high level of dialogue with Germany and support in our struggle!” he said in a tweet.

A German government spokesperson noted the Chancellor and the Ukrainian president “exchanged views on very concrete, practical ways of continuing to support Ukraine and agreed to remain in close contact,” giving no further details.

One dead, three wounded in Russia after Ukraine attack: Belgorod governor

One person died and three more have been injured in southwestern Russia as a result of shelling from Ukraine, the governor of Belgorod has claimed.

“As of now, one person lost his life, he died in an ambulance, and there are three wounded,” the governor of the southwestern region of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said on messaging app Telegram.

Ukraine proposes swapping injured Azovstal fighters for Russian prisoners

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says Ukraine has proposed to swap badly injured fighters in the Azovstal plant in the port of Mariupol for Russian prisoners of war.

Vereshchuk stated the remaining Ukrainian soldiers would be evacuated through humanitarian corridors while the Russians would be released following standard procedures for the exchange of prisoners of war.

She added that the government was working around different options to find an actionable one.

“There is no agreement yet. Negotiations are continuing,” she continued.

UK says NATO does not pose a threat to anyone

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said NATO is a defensive alliance that does not pose a threat to any other country, as Sweden and Finland consider joining the organisation.

“NATO is a defensive alliance. NATO poses no threat to anyone. It is there for the purposes of mutual defence,” Johnson stated in a joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in Helsinki.

Russian use of hypersonic weapons in Ukraine is not “game-changing”: Top US general

US Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said the Russian use of hypersonic weapons in Ukraine was not having “really significant or game-changing effects” during a House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing.

“Other than the speed of the weapon, in terms of its effect on a given target, we are not seeing really significant or game-changing effects to date with the delivery of the small number of hypersonics that the Russians have used,” Milley added.

A senior US defense official stated on Tuesday that Russia had launched between 10 and 12 hypersonic missiles against Ukraine so far.

Milley confirmed this was the first time hypersonic weapons had ever been used in combat, and he said that the Defense Department has analyzed each hypersonic strike, but added he could only elaborate on the details in a classified session.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at the same hearing that he concurred with Milley, and he did not think that Russian President Putin’s use of hypersonics would “cause him to be willing to elevate to use a nuclear weapon.”

“I think he’s trying to create a specific effect with the use of that weapon,” noted Austin, referring to hypersonics.

“And as the chairman has pointed out, it moves at a speed that makes it very difficult to interdict. But it hasn’t been a game-changer,” he continued.

Earlier in the hearing, Austin said it was US President Joe Biden’s decision to share intelligence with US allies and partners in the lead-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“That created trust amongst our allies in a more meaningful way,” stated Austin, “and that trust allowed us to create greater unity.”

Austin added that intelligence sharing was “a key element” in fostering that unity, which he hoped would continue.

Putin does not want to take on NATO: Pentagon

The United States does not believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to militarily take on the NATO alliance, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has noted.

“As you look at Putin’s calculus, my view – and I’m sure the chairman has his own view – but my view is that Russia doesn’t want to take on the NATO alliance,” Austin stated during a congressional hearing.

Russia’s new offensive focusing on southern and eastern Ukraine is “no less dangerous” than when it attempted to take Kyiv, the US secretary of defence has said.

Austin met with the UK’s defence secretary Ben Wallace tand discussed “the next steps to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian military aggression”, according to a tweet from the UK’s defence ministry.

“Russia’s invasion has entered a different phase that is no less dangerous,” Austin noted, according to a US defence department statement.

“But we will continue to work together with unity and resolve to rush Ukraine what it needs to defend itself now, and in [the] future,” he added.

He also thanked the UK for the assistance it has provided to Ukraine.

“Your country is a leader among allies and partners in providing security aid to Ukraine,” Austin told Wallace.

First Russian soldier to face trial in Ukraine for alleged war crime

Ukraine’s prosecutor general has announced a Russian soldier will stand trial for committing an alleged war crime in Ukraine for the first time since the war began.

Iryna Venediktova said in a post on Facebook that the man, identified as Vadim Shysimarin, is accused of killing an unarmed civilian in Ukraine’s northeastern Sumy region on February 28, four days after Moscow launched its offensive.

The 21-year-old is currently being held in custody. If convicted, he faces between 10 years to life in prison, Venediktova added.

Russian spy boss compares US with German Nazi propaganda machine

A Russian spy chief has compared the US State Department with the World War II Nazi propaganda machine constructed by Joseph Goebbels, saying Washington had launched an anti-Russia messaging campaign across social media.

Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency (SVR), stated the United States was encouraging the spreading of fake information on the popular Telegram messaging service to “discredit” and “dehumanise Russia’s political and military leadership in the eyes of the Russian people”.

“Their actions have a lot in common with the traditions of the Third Reich’s ministry of public education and propaganda and its head Joseph Goebbels,” Naryshkin added in a statement published on the SVR website.

Naryshkin provided no evidence to support the claims of a US-backed information campaign.

Russia regularly accuses the West of funding and supporting anti-Kremlin movements and has labelled dozens of independent human rights groups and media outlets in Russia “foreign agents” over recent years.

World Bank says Ukraine war slowing global remittance growth

The war in Ukraine will help slow the growth of officially recorded remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries to an estimated 4.2 percent this year from a strong 8.6 percent rebound in 2021, the World Bank announced.

The World Bank said in its latest Migration and Development Brief that it expects remittances to Ukraine, the largest recipient in Europe and Central Asia, to rise by more than 20 percent in 2022, but remittance flows to many Central Asian countries will likely fall dramatically.

Russia, hit with crippling sanctions by Western countries over its invasion of Ukraine, is the main source of remittances to Central Asia.

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