Thursday, February 22, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 79

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:

White House: Biden relays to Swedish, Finnish leaders US support for NATO open door policy

US President Joe Biden spoke by telephone with the leaders of Sweden and Finland and emphasized the United States’ support for NATO’s Open Door policy and for the right of each country to decide whether to join the military alliance, the White House announced on Friday.

“President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. spoke today with Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinisto of Finland to discuss the close defense and security cooperation between our countries as well as our respective efforts aimed at strengthening Transatlantic security,” the White House said in a press release.

“President Biden underscored his support for NATO’s Open Door policy and for the right of Finland and Sweden to decide their own future, foreign policy and security arrangements,” the White House added.

Russia to cut electricity to Finland from Saturday: supplier

Russia will suspend electricity supplies to Finland this weekend, a supplier has claimed, as tensions rise over Helsinki’s anticipated NATO bid.

“We are forced to suspend the electricity import starting from May 14,” RAO Nordic, a subsidiary of Russian state energy holding Inter RAO, announced.

There was no immediate confirmation from Russia or Finland over the reported move.

G7 intends to allocate some $31.1bn in large-scale assistance to Ukraine

G7 coutnries intend to provide large-scale financial support to Ukraine in the amount of about 30 billion euros ($31.1 billion), Germany’s magazine Der Spiegel reported on Friday, citing sources.

The group is expected initiate this assistance at the meeting of G7 finance ministers in Germany’s Petersberg next week, the news outlet added.

This amount of funds is calculated provided for that the hostilities will be completed within a year, Der Spiegel said.

Russia presented UNSC with new evidence of US ‘bio-activities’ in Ukraine: UN envoy

Russia has presented the UN Security Council with new evidence regarding US activities in Ukrainian biolabs that Moscow obtained over the past two months, Russia’s UN Envoy Vasily Nebenzia said on Friday.

“Over the past two months since the previous meeting, a number of new testimonies have appeared. We have distributed all these materials in the UN Security Council,” the Russian envoy stated.

UN deputy arms chief Thomas Markram suggested on Friday activating the Biological Weapons Convention mechanisms to address Russia’s concerns over bio labs in Ukraine.

“I would encourage any parties with compliance concerning to use the procedures available under the Convention,” he told a UN Security Council.

Pentagon: US defense secretary spoke to Russian counterpart for first time since Feb. 18

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with his Russian counterpart for the first time on Friday since before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Pentagon announced.

“On May 13, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu for the first time since February 18,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

Austin “urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication,” Kirby added.

Ukraine calls on G7 nations to seize Russian assets

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba is calling on major industrialised nations to seize and hand over Russian assets to help rebuild his war-torn country, as he meets the G7 club in Germany.

He has warned that any omission of an embargo on Russian oil in the EU’s next sanctions package, due to Hungary’s opposition, would spell the end of the bloc’s unity, calling it a “critical moment”.

At that G7 meeting, the EU’s Josep Borrell said the bloc plans to provide another $520m for the delivery of weapons and other military equipment to the Ukrainian armed forces.

Ukraine threatens Russian town with shelling

An aide to Ukraine’s interior minister has warned that Ukrainian forces may shell a western Russian town.

“Belgorod, get ready,” Victor Andrusiv said in televised remarks.

Belgorod is where Russia had stationed multiple-rocket launchers to hit Kharkiv.

Andrusiv stated that Ukraine may attempt an attack because his country needs to safeguard the second-largest city, that sits 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the border.

“That’s why I think in the near future, they will find out what it’s like to run to basements, when their houses are burning,” Andrusiv added.

Ukraine accuses Russia of forcibly deporting over 210,000 children

Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman has accused Moscow of having forcibly deported hundreds of thousands of children since launching its invasion on February 24 and wanting to make them Russian citizens.

Lyudmyla Denisova stated the more than 210,000 children were among 1.2 million Ukrainians who Kyiv alleges have been taken out of the country against their will.

“When our children are taken out, they destroy the national identity, deprive our country of the future,” Denisova said on national television, adding, “They teach our children there, in Russian, the history that Putin has told everyone.”

There was no immediate reaction to Denisova’s claims from Moscow.

The 1949 Geneva Conventions, which define international legal standards for humanitarian treatment in conflict, prohibit mass forcible transfers of civilians during a conflict to the territory of the occupying power, classifying it as a war crime.

Erdogan says Turkey opposed to Finland, Sweden joining NATO

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey is opposed to anticipated NATO membership bids by Sweden and Finland, accusing the two countries of being “guesthouses for terrorist organisations”.

Speaking to reporters in Istanbul on Friday, Erdogan stated Ankara did not have “positive views” on the Scandinavian countries’ expected moves.

Turkey’s opposition could pose a problem for Sweden and Finland given all 30 NATO allies must unanimously approve a new country becoming part of the United-States led alliance.

The United States is working to clarify Turkey’s position on Sweden and Finland’s potential membership of NATO, Washington’s top diplomat for Europe at the State Department has stated.

Karen Donfried, assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasian affairs, noted during a call with reporters that the topic will be discussed at the NATO ministerial meeting over the weekend in Berlin.

Renewed bombardment of Azovstal plant as talks continue on evacuating wounded

Ukrainian officials say that the besieged soldiers at the Azovstal steel plant have again come under Russian bombardment.

Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor, said that aircraft had dropped heavy bombs on the plant, “because very powerful explosions are being heard. People also saw pillars of smoke.

“As far as I understand, after the bombing is over, the Russians may try to start ground attacks,” he stated.

“The territory of the plant is huge, they [the Russians] are trying to break through the facility, gain a foothold and find entrances and exits to the underground areas — where the field hospital is, where our defenders are,” Andriushcheko added.

So far their efforts to penetrate the plant had not been very successful. “And this is what provokes the new shelling, the new artillery cover for these ground operations,” Andriushchenko continued.

He also said that more people were returning to Mariupol because the Russians were not allowing them into Ukrainian-held territory.

“People are returning due to the actual closure of all green corridors by the Russian Federation. People who have settled in Mariupol district, Nikolske district, Berdiansk district, who cannot get to Zaporizhzhia, are forced to move back to the city, to their homes. At the same time we haven’t seen an increase in food supplies,” he added.

The International Red Cross is discussing with Russian officials the fate of those badly wounded and still trapped at Azovstal, according to Iryna Vereshchuk, Ukraine’s deputy Prime Minister.

“We have started a new round of negotiations around the road map of the special operation. Let’s start with the severely wounded,” she said.

“We want a document to be signed: how exactly the evacuation from Azovstal will take place, we are preparing to sign it,” she continued, adding Turkey has agreed to act as a mediator in the current round of talks.

Russia lost 200 planes, almost 27,000 servicemen: Ukraine’s military

Moscow’s losses amounted to 26,900 soldiers, including some 250 in the past 24 hours, according to Ukraine’s military.

Since the invasion began on February 24, Russian forces have also lost 200 planes, 162 helicopters, 1,205 tanks and 2,900 armored vehicles, the General Staff of Armed Forces said on Facebook.

The biggest losses occurred around the city of Kurakhove in the southeastern Donetsk region, where Moscow focused its offensive after withdrawing forces from around Kyiv and northern Ukraine, it added.

Sweden: NATO membership would increase regional deterrence in security policy review

Joining NATO would enhance deterrence across northern Europe, according to a cross-party review published by the government on Friday.

The review assessed the changed security environment following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and what NATO membership would mean for the Nordic country. It concluded that “Swedish NATO membership would raise the threshold for military conflicts and thus have a deterrent effect in northern Europe.”

Sweden is expected to decide on whether it intends to join NATO soon, after the leaders of neighboring Finland announced its support for membership on Thursday.

The report, presented in Stockholm by Foreign Minister Ann Linde and Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist alongside party representatives, states that “Russian provocation and retaliatory measures against Sweden cannot be ruled out during a transition period in connection with a Swedish application for NATO membership.”

“There is a readiness to respond to Russian threats, but it is not possible to eliminate with certainty all the risks of Russian retaliatory measures,” it said.

The report added: “If both Sweden and Finland were NATO members, all Nordic and Baltic countries would be covered by collective defence guarantees. The current uncertainty as to what form collective action would take if a security crisis or armed attack occurred would decrease.”

China complains of UN “double standards” over Ukraine war

China’s Foreign Ministry has criticized the UN Human Rights Council after it adopted a resolution on Russian abuses in Ukraine, saying the body portrays “double standards.”

Speaking at a regular press briefing on Friday, spokesman Zhao Lijan accused the council of tolerating aggression by some nations while condemning others.

The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on Thursday for an investigation into alleged human rights abuses by Russian troops in Ukraine. All members except China and Eritrea voted in favor of the resolution.

“Politicized double standards and selective practices are on the rise in the Human Rights Council. The reason why China voted against Ukraine is based on China’s principled position on the Ukrainian issue,” Zhao said.

“The Human Rights Council held special meetings frequently in some countries, but it has not been able to take actions against some other countries,” added Zhao, who questioned the UN’s record on unrelated issues including disinformation, racism, gun violence and migrant abuse.

First war crimes trial against a Russian soldier kicks off in Ukraine

The first war crimes trial of a Russian soldier since the start of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has opened in Kyiv.

A 21-year-old captured member of a tank unit is accused of shooting to death a 62-year-old civilian during the war’s first week.

Scores of journalists packed inside a small courtroom in the Ukrainian capital where suspect Sergeant Vadim Shyshimarin appeared in a small glass cage.

Moscow predicts anti-Russian sanctions mess will lead to collapse of ‘US-centric world’

Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev foresees a number of crises and conflicts as a result of the anti-Russian sanctions and the failed concept of a “US-centric world.”

On Friday, the former president took to his Telegram channel to write about the repercussions of the sanctions against Russia, which he believes will stoke energy, logistics and food quagmires, and trigger other global crises.

“As a result, a new security architecture will be created which will recognize the new reality first de facto and then also de jure: a) the weakness of the Westernized concepts of international relations along the lines of the “rules-based order” and other meaningless Western junk; b) the collapse of the idea of a US-centric world; c) the presence of interests respected by the global community of those countries that are in a critical stage of disagreement with the Western world,” he wrote.

In his post entitled “Friday the 13th. What will happen next or the world after anti-Russian sanctions (not a forecast at all),” the Security Council’s deputy chairman delves into detail about possible scenarios involving global crises. In particular, he noted that such restrictions would lead to a crash of numerous global supply chains of goods. A major logistics crisis is possible, including the collapse of foreign airlines which are banned from flying over Russia, he wrote.

“The energy crisis will intensify in those states that introduced the ‘shoot yourself in the foot’ sanctions against the deliveries of Russian energy products, a further price hike on fossil fuels will continue, and the digital economy’s development worldwide will slow down,” he specified. “A full-blown international food crisis will begin with the possibility of starvation in some countries,” Medvedev added.

He predicted that the restrictive measures would also damage the global financial system which may trigger a monetary and financial crisis in some countries or their blocs due to the stability of a number of national currencies being undermined, rampant inflation and the breakdown of the legal system protecting private property.

According to the politician, many spheres of life will be affected.

“New regional military conflicts will emerge in those places where the situation has not been resolved peacefully for years or where the substantial interests of major international players are ignored. Terrorists will become active who think that the Western authorities are currently diverted by the showdown with Russia,” he said.

Medvedev also did not rule out the possibility of new epidemics caused by the rejection of honest international cooperation in the sanitary and epidemiological field or directly through the use of biological weapons.

Speaking of the sanctions’ repercussions on international cooperation, he forecasted that international institutions that failed to prove their effectiveness in settling the Ukraine crisis will crumble. As an example, he cited the Council of Europe.

“New international alliances of countries will be formed based on pragmatic criteria and not on ideological Anglo-Saxon ones,” the politician concluded.

‘Long-term’ phase of war ahead: DM

Ukraine’s Defence Minister has said that Kyiv has thwarted Moscow’s plans to destroy Ukrainian statehood – but a “long-term” phase of the war lies ahead.

Russian President Vladimir Putin planned to report a major triumph on May 9, the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s 1945 capitulation. However, Kyiv’s fierce resistance led to Russia’s “strategic defeat” and withdrawal from Kyiv and northern Ukraine, he stated.

“We are entering a new – long-term – phase of the war. To win it, you need to carefully plan resources, avoid mistakes, project our strength so that in the end, the enemy fails,” he wrote.

Scholz pushes for Ukraine ceasefire in call with Putin

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to agree to a ceasefire in Ukraine as soon as possible during a telephone call on Friday, according to a government spokesperson.

A truce was needed to improve the humanitarian situation in Ukraine and allow progress in finding a diplomatic solution for the conflict, the spokesperson said.

During the 75-minute call, Scholz reminded Putin of Russia’s responsibility for the global food situation, the spokesperson quoted by the Reuters news agency added.

UK introduces sanctions against Putin’s ex-wife and his relatives

The UK has extended its anti-Russian sanction list by including Lyudmila Ocheretnaya, ex-wife of President Vladimir Putin in it as well as several relatives of the Russian leader. This is according to a statement the UK Foreign Office published on its website on Friday.

In particular, restrictions were imposed on Igor Putin, first cousin of President Vladimir Putin, and a Russian businessman, Mikhail Putin, Deputy Chairman of the Management Board of SOGAZ Insurance and Deputy Chairman of the Management Board of Gazprom, Roman Putin, Chairman of the Board of Directors of MRT Group of Companies.

Sanctions, implying a ban on entry into the UK and freezing assets in that country, if any are discovered, have also been imposed against Olympic champion in rhythmic gymnastics Alina Kabaeva and her grandmother Anna Zatsepilina, as well as businessmen Mikhail Shelomov and Alexander Plekhov, member of the board of directors of SOGAZ Mikhail Klishin, Vladimir Kolbin, General Director of Gelendzhik Sea Port LLC, Yury Shamalov, President of the NPF Gazfond, and Viktor Khmarin, lawyer.

Since the beginning of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine, the UK has introduced restrictions against more than 1,600 Russian politicians, businessmen, officials, journalists and enterprises. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, about 20 Russian banks with a total assets of 940 billion pounds (over $1.2 trillion), as well as more than 100 large businessmen and their relatives, whose total assets are estimated by London at more than 170 billion pounds (about $220 billion).

Bulgarian embassy employee declared persona non grata in Russia

Russia has declared an employee of the Bulgarian embassy to Moscow persona non grata in retaliation to a similar move Bulgaria made in April, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

“On May 13, Bulgarian Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Russia Atanas Krastin was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry to be presented with a note declaring an employee of the Bulgarian embassy to Moscow persona non grata,” the ministry announced.

“The measure is in retaliation to the non-motivated decision Bulgaria made in April to declare a diplomat from the Russian embassy to Sofia persona non grata”, the ministry added.

On April 1, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry declared the first secretary of the Russian embassy to Sofia persona non grata. Earlier that day, the Bulgarian prosecutor’s office informed Foreign Minister Teodora Genchovska of unregulated intelligence activities allegedly carried out by a Russian diplomat. The embassy’s first secretary was reportedly suspected, yet no evidence confirming the Russian diplomat’s illegal activities was provided to the diplomatic mission.

Russian Foreign Ministry declares ten employees of Romanian Embassy personae non gratae

Moscow, responding to Romania’s actions, declared ten employees of this country’s embassy in Russia as personae non gratae, according to a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry made public on Friday.

“On May 13, Romania’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Russian Federation Cristian Istrate was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry where he was handed the ministry’s note on declaring ten employees of the Romanian embassy in Moscow personae non gratae (unacceptable),” the statement said.

The diplomatic agency pointed out that this was a tit-for-tat measure in response to Romania’s April 5 decision to expel ten Russian diplomats.

“The Russian side resolutely rejects unfounded attempts by the Romanian side to groundlessly pin the blame for war crimes in Ukraine on Russia and condemns Bucharest’s policy of exonerating atrocities being committed by national battalions against civilians as well as of supplying arms, equipment and providing other assistance to the Kiev regime,” the statement noted.

On April 5, Romania’s authorities declared ten employees of the Russian embassy in Bucharest personae non gratae. As Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stressed, Moscow views this move as part of a campaign by the US and its allies to discredit Russia’s special operation in Ukraine.

Russia not against Putin-Zelensky meeting, but it must be well prepared: Kremlin

Russia does not reject the idea of a meeting of Russian and Ukrainian presidents, Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, but holding it without preparations will be impossible, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the media on Friday.

“The position has not changed in any way. You know very well the position of the Russian president: nobody rejects the idea of such a meeting offhand, but it must be prepared well,” Peskov said in reply to a corresponding question.

He pointed out that “preparations for such a meeting can and must proceed in the form of drafting a corresponding document that would be eventually finalized at the summit level.” He stressed that holding a meeting “without such preparations would be hardly possible.”

As far as the drafting of such a document is concerned, Peskov stated that there was no progress along these lines yet.

“As we have already said, there is no progress for now,” he said. “Our conditions are well-known. They were clearly formulated on paper and handed over to the Ukrainian side. No answer,” Peskov concluded.

EU plans to provide more money for Ukraine weapons

The European Union plans to add an additional 500 million euros to the fund it set up to repay member states that provide weapons to Ukraine, foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell said Friday.

Speaking at a Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting, Borrell stated the money would be spent to help EU countries provide heavy weapons for Ukraine. However, the decision still needs signoff by member states and a senir diplomat involved in discussions said on Friday that the proposal was still under discussion.

The new money will take the total provided by Brussels for weapons deliveries to Ukraine to €2 billion, equivalent to $2.1 billion.

Asked if the money could be used to provide jet fighters to Ukraine, Borrell noted that was unlikely.

“You cannot provide a lot of fighter jets with €500 million. This €500 million will be allocated for heavy arms,” he continued, adding, “We are at the moment providing armored vehicles, tanks, heavy artillery, ammunition⁠—the things needed for this kind of war.”

Russian FM: EU turned into aggressive player in international arena

The European Union has turned into an aggressive player in the international arena, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.

According to the diplomat, the EU countries are “rushing exactly along the tracks that NATO is already laying, thereby confirming the trend that they are merging with NATO and will, in fact, perform the functions of its appendage”.

“[In this regard,] the harmlessness of such a desire of Kiev [to join EU] raises serious doubts … considering that the European Union has turned from a constructive economic platform … into an aggressive, militant player,” Lavrov told reporters on the sidelines of a CIS ministerial meeting in Dushanbe.

Putin ‘humiliating himself on world stage’: Truss

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has stated President Vladimir Putin was “humiliating himself on the world stage” as she called on international allies to go “further and faster” in supporting Ukraine and restraining the Russian leader.

Truss urged fellow G7 foreign ministers at the start of a three-day meeting to commit to renewed waves of sanctions for as long as Putin’s troops remain in Ukraine.

She called on countries to agree that the restrictions should stay in place until there was a complete withdrawal and peace agreed, as well as for financial and technical assistance to help Ukraine rebuild.

The UK is arguing that Ukraine needs a “clear pathway” to NATO standard equipment, including the immediate provision of urgently-needed artillery shells, as well as training and expertise from NATO members, and a plan for transition to this equipment by the end of the summer.

Truss said, “Putin is humiliating himself on the world stage. We must ensure he faces a defeat in Ukraine that denies him any benefit and ultimately constrains further aggression.”

“To help Ukraine, we need to go further and faster,” she continued, adding, “The best long term security for Ukraine will come from it being able to defend itself. That means providing Ukraine with a clear pathway to NATO-standard equipment.”

Russian forces attacking Azovstal to trap Ukrainian fighters: Army

Ukraine’s military says Russian forces have continued to launch artillery and air strikes on the embattled port of Mariupol, focusing on blocking Ukrainian fighters at their last holdout at the Azovstal steelworks.

In its daily operational note on Friday, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces announced Russian forces staged assaults on multiple villages in eastern Ukraine as they try to expand control there, but not all were successful.

Russian forces also targeted villages near Donetsk, Lyman, Bakhmut and Kurakhiv, the Ukrainian military continued.

The update added that Russian forces are transferring additional artillery units to border areas near Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv region, where deadly Russian strikes hit a school and dormitory on Thursday.

In the south, the regional administration in Zaporizhzhia said there are signs the Russians are trying to reinforce their units by bringing in more equipment and troops. It added a new Russian contingent had arrived in Mykhailivka, just south of current frontlines.

In the nearby city of Enerhodar, occupied by Russian forces since early March, the regional administration reported on Friday, “The city is almost out of medicine, and humanitarian aid is not always available.”

Enerhodar residents, it announced, are “already afraid to go to protests and organize rallies” because of constant patrols and intimidation by Russian soldiers.

In his daily address on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky stated the Russian offensive was hiding behind missile, air and artillery strikes.

Ukrainian forces prevented attempted Russian river crossing in Donbas: UK

Russian troops are putting “significant effort” into the area around Izium and Severodonetsk to finally break through to Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the UK’s defence ministry has announced.

“The primary objective on this axis is to envelop Ukrainian forces in the Joint Forces Operation area, isolating them from support or reinforcement by units in the west of the country,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence briefing.

It also added Ukrainian forces successfully prevented a river crossing in the Donbas by the Russians, who incurred some losses during the attempt.

“Conducting river crossings in a contested environment is a highly risky manoeuvre and speaks to the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine,” the ministry noted.

Finland & Sweden will be ‘targets’ as NATO members: Russian diplomat

Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership, and the deployment of allied units on their territory, will make them possible targets for Russia, Moscow’s representative to the UN has said.

“They know that the moment they become members of NATO it will imply certain mirror moves on the Russian side,” Dmitry Polyansky stated in a video interview with online publication UnHerd.

“If there are NATO detachments in those territories, these territories would become a target – or a possible target – for a strike,” he continued.

“They were living normally as good neighbours with us for tens of years; if they suddenly choose to become part of a very unfriendly bloc, it’s up to them,” Polyansky added.

UN official warns Putin millions will die if Ukraine’s ports remain blocked

David Beasley, head of the United Nations World Food Programme, is pleading with Russian President Vladimir Putin to reopen Ukraine’s Black Sea ports before global calamity strikes.

Millions of people around the world will die because these ports are being blocked,” Beasley told CNN during a conference on Thursday.

Asked what he would say directly to Putin, the UN official said: “If you have any heart at all for the rest of the world, regardless of how you feel about Ukraine, you need to open up those ports.”

Vital shipments of agriculture from Ukraine, known as the breadbasket of the world, are stuck in the war-torn nation because the port of Odesa and neighboring ports have been blocked by Russian officials.

Beasley, a former Republican governor of South Carolina, warned that the ports must be operational within the next 60 days or Ukraine’s agriculture-centric economy will implode.

“If you don’t get this port issue resolved and open, Ukraine’s economy completely collapses,” Beasley stated at the SABEW conference in New York.

“It becomes landlocked like Moldova. The ports are critical,” he added.

Russian diplomat says invasion is proceeding on schedule but not as quickly as some in country would like

Russia’s Ambassador to the European Union said Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is on track but not proceeding at the speed certain people in the country wanted.

Calling the invasion a “special military operation,” Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov told Sky News Russia could have “steamrolled” Ukraine by now if it had wanted.

“It is continuing at a certain speed, having in mind the various aspects of the situation in Ukraine, including the need to protect the troops — the Russian troops and the allies of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics — as well as the civilian population,” Chizhov stated.

“Had the Russian army followed the pattern of the United States and other Western countries, we would have steamrolled Ukraine several times by now. But that was never the intention. Actually, I should repeat that it was not the intention of Russia to capture territory in Ukraine,” he continued

When asked about the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine Chizhov said: “You mean whether NATO will deploy nuclear weapons in Ukraine? I hope not.” He added, “As distinctly different from the United States, Russia does not deploy nuclear weapons anywhere beyond its own territory.”

Chizhov noted he is “deeply disappointed and saddened” by Finland and Sweden making moves to join NATO.

“Why the current Finish government has chosen to turn the country into a backwater periphery of NATO, I cannot understand,” he said.

If Finland joins, Russia will take “certain military technical measures,” he added.

“Like improving or raising the degree of defense preparations along the Finish border…not necessarily troops and tanks but certain preparations like radars, perhaps, but I’m not a military expert,” he continued.

Russian ship likely damaged, but has not sunk: Ukrainian Official

An adviser to Ukraine’s president has said that Moscow’s navy logistics ship, Vsevolod Bobrov, was carrying an air defence system from Russia’s northern fleet to Zmeiny (Snake) Island, when Ukraine allegedly struck it.

Oleksiy Arestovych told former Russian lawyer and politician Mark Feygin that the ship was seriously damaged but was not believed to have sunk.

There has been no confirmation from Russia and no reports of casualties.

Alternatives to European integration ‘unacceptable’ for Ukraine: Official

Proposals on alternatives to European integration are “unacceptable” for Ukraine, the head of Zelenskyy’s office has said.

Andriy Yermak told an online meeting with European officials that Ukraine’s cooperation with the EU during the period of Russia’s invasion proves the country is already part of the European team. He said Ukraine was determined to continue the integration process.

“Ukraine must become part of a united Europe as soon as possible. This is a matter of mutual security,” he added.

Zelensky says he is ready for talks with Putin

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated he is ready to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin and that “we must find an agreement”, but with no ultimatum as a condition.

Zelensky told Italian RAI state TV in an interview scheduled for broadcast on Thursday night that Ukraine will never recognise Crimea as part of Russia.

“Crimea has always had its autonomy, it has its parliament, but on the inside of Ukraine,” he said in excerpts of the interview that RAI released.

Zelensky has noted Russian forces hit schools in attacks in the Chernihiv region.

“Of course, the Russian state is in such a state that any education only gets in its way. But what can be achieved by destroying Ukrainian schools? All Russian commanders who give such orders are simply sick, and incurable,” he stated.

Zelensky added that since the invasion began, the Russian military had damaged 570 medical facilities, fully destroying 101 hospitals.

“What is that? It’s stupidity. It’s barbarity. It’s the self-destruction of Russia as a state that anyone in the world could see as a cultured nation,” he noted.

Russian forces likely control all of Rubizhne: Think-Tank

Russian forces likely control all of Rubizhne as of Thursday and have likely seized the town of Voevodivka, north of Severodonetsk, the Institute for the Study of War has announced.

“They will likely launch a ground offensive on or around Severodonetsk in the coming days,” the institute said in its latest campaign assessment.

“The relative success of Russian operations in this area combined with their failure to advance from Izium and the notable decline in the energy of that attempted advance suggest that they may be giving up on the Izium axis,” it added.

Ukraine warns against involvement in sale of ‘stolen’ grain

Ukraine’s foreign minister has said that everyone involved in the transportation and sale of grain seized by Russia in occupied areas of the country will face legal consequences.

“I want to remind the participants in this deal: what is stolen has never brought happiness to anyone. Everyone involved in the sale, transportation or purchase of stolen grain is an accomplice to the crime,” ministry’s press service quoted Dmytro Kuleba as saying.

Ukrainian officials stated earlier this week that a Russian ship carrying seized Ukrainian grain had reached the Mediterranean Sea with Syria as it likely destination.

US: “Several thousand Ukrainians” sent to so-called filtration centers and tens of thousands taken to Russia

The United States assesses that Russian forces have sent “at least several thousand Ukrainians” to be processed at Russia’s so-called filtration centers “and evacuated at least tens of thousands more to Russia or Russia-controlled territory,” US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Michael Carpenter stated Thursday.

The forced displacement – and reported violence that are faced by those at the so-called filtration centers – amount to war crimes, Carpenter said according to the transcript of his remarks to the OSCE Permanent Council.

“Numerous eyewitness accounts indicate that ‘filtering out’ entails beating and torturing individuals to determine whether they owe even the slightest allegiance to the Ukrainian state,” Carpenter added.

EU: Global security under nuclear threat

The president of the European Council, who is visiting Japan’s Hiroshima, the first city to suffer an atomic bombing, has said that global security was under threat from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and North Korea’s recent missile test.

Charles Michel stated the nuclear memorial city of Hiroshima is “a stark reminder of the urgency” to strengthen international rules for nuclear disarmament and arms control.

“As we speak, global security is under threat. Russia, a nuclear armed state … is attacking the sovereign nation of Ukraine, while making shameful and unacceptable references to the use of nuclear weapons,” Michel added.

White House backs any move by Finland and Sweden to join NATO

The White House has said it would support any move by Finland and Sweden to join NATO in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We would support a NATO application by Finland and/or Sweden should they apply. We would respect any decision they make,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.

Canada to deploy military general, officers to new NATO unit in Latvia

Canada will deploy a general and six staff officers to a new NATO unit in Latvia that will help plan, coordinate and integrate regional military activities, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said.

The general and staff officers will “be part of a first of its kind unit”, Trudeau told reporters at a joint news conference with Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins.

“It’ll serve as a continued important part of our enhancements to NATO’s defence and deterrence capabilities,” he added.

Canada has almost 700 members of its armed forces deployed in Latvia, a small Baltic state that shares a border with Russia. Karins welcomed Canada’s participation in a new “multi-divisional headquarters” there.

Ukrainian forces damage Russian navy ship in Black Sea

Ukrainian forces have damaged a modern Russian navy logistics ship in the Black Sea, setting it on fire, a spokesman for the Odesa regional military administration in southern Ukraine has claimed.

Spokesman Serhiy Bratchuk stated in an online post that the Vsevolod Bobrov had been struck near Snake Island, the scene of renewed fighting in recent days, but did not give details.

The tiny island is located near Ukraine’s sea border with Romania.

Ukraine war a ‘child rights crisis’: UNICEF

The war in Ukraine is a “child rights crisis” where education is under attack, nearly 100 youngsters have been killed in just the last month and millions more have been forced to flee their homes, the UN children’s agency has said.

Omar Abdi, deputy executive director of UNICEF, told the UN Security Council on Thursday that children are paying “an unconscionably high price” in the war, with 239 confirmed killed and 355 wounded since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. He stated the actual numbers are much higher.

Abdi added the school year came to a standstill after Russia invaded its smaller neighbour, and as of last week at least 15 of 89 UNICEF-supported schools in the country’s east had been damaged or destroyed in the fighting.

“Hundreds of schools across the country are reported to have been hit by heavy artillery, airstrikes and other explosive weapons in populated areas, while other schools are being used as information centres, shelters, supply hubs, or for military purposes – with long-term impact on children’s return to education,” Abdi continued.

Over six million refugees have fled Ukraine: UN

More than six million refugees have fled Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began on February 24, figures from the UN refugee agency has announced.

A total of 6,029,705 people had fled Ukraine as of May 11.

Many had gone to neighbouring countries before continuing their journey, according to the agency’s dedicated website, with Poland hosting the largest number.

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