Sunday, June 26, 2022

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 82

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:

EU has not yet found agreement on oil embargo against Russia: Borrell

The European Union has not yet found agreement on a sixth package of sanctions against Russia, its top diplomat Josep Borrell said after a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in Brussels.

“Unhappily, it has not been possible to reach an agreement today,” Borrell told reporters.

He added foreign ministers had decided, however, to provide an additional 500 million euros for arms purchases in support of Kyiv, taking the total sum of money the EU has earmarked for that purpose to 2 billion euros.


Erdogan says Swedish, Finnish delegations should not bother coming to Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed Ankara’s opposition to NATO membership for Finland and Sweden, again accusing them of failing to take a clear stance against terrorism.

“We will not say ‘yes’ to those [countries] who apply sanctions to Turkey to join security organisation NATO,” Erdogan noted.

He stated that Swedish and Finnish delegations should not bother coming to Ankara to convince it to approve their NATO bid.

In a news conference, Erdogan said Turkey would not approve their bids to join NATO, calling Sweden a “hatchery” for terrorist organisations, and adding they had terrorists in their parliament.

Ankara says Sweden and Finland harbor people it says are linked to groups it deems terrorists, namely the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) armed group and followers of Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt.


 

Ministers of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania endorse Sweden and Finland’s “historic” decision to join NATO

The ministers of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have endorsed Sweden and Finland’s plans to seek membership in NATO.

In a joint statement released on Monday, the foreign ministers called the decisions “historic” and said that they will “do what it takes to assist both countries.”

“We are confident that both Sweden and Finland will contribute to unity, solidarity, cohesion and strength of the Alliance and whole Transatlantic area, at a time when the security environment we face is increasingly complex,” the statement says.

The ministers stated that Sweden and Finland’s membership “will also greatly increase the security of the Baltic Sea region”, as well as “open new perspectives for Nordic-Baltic and other regional cooperation formats in defense and security matters.”

“We are committing ourselves to promote speedy ratification of the accession protocols once they are signed,” the joint statement adds.


Denmark, Iceland and Norway “strongly welcome” Finnish and Swedish decision to apply for NATO membership

The leaders of Denmark, Iceland and Norway have welcomed Finland and Sweden’s decision to apply for membership of NATO.

“We strongly welcome Finland and Sweden’s decisions to apply for NATO membership,” the three nations said in a joint statement.

“We note that the decisions by Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership are sovereign national decisions in line with Finland and Sweden’s right to choose their own security arrangements. Finland and Sweden have the right to pursue their accession process without any attempts of outside interference,” the statement added.

The three nations stressed Monday that Finnish and Swedish security are “a matter of common concern to us all.”

“Should Finland or Sweden be victim of aggression on their territory before obtaining NATO membership, we will assist Finland and Sweden by all means necessary,” the three nations pledged.

They also vowed to do their “utmost to ensure a swift accession process, as Finland and Sweden already live up to the relevant criteria for NATO membership.”


Zelensky says he discussed financial support with IMF chief

Ukraine’s president stated he discussed the need for financial support for the country’s economy with International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva.

“The IMF is our important partner. We look forward to further fruitful joint work in maintaining [the] financial stability of Ukraine,”  Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted.


Over 1,000 Russian troops killed in failed river crossing attempts: Luhansk governor

Ukrainian forces killed “more than a thousand” Russian troops who tried for days to cross a strategically important river in the southeastern region of Luhansk, its governor has claimed.

Serhiy Haidai said in a post on Telegram that Moscow’s forces had made multiple attempts to cross the Siversky Donets near the town of Bilohorivka last week but were repeatedly repelled.

“Bilohorivka will definitely go down in the history of this war,” he added.


Sweden confirms it will apply for NATO membership

Sweden’s government says it has taken the formal decision to apply for NATO membership, following in the footsteps of its neighbour Finland in a move that will redraw the geopolitical map of northern Europe.

“There is a broad majority in Sweden’s parliament for joining NATO,” Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stated following a debate on security policy in parliament.

“The best thing for Sweden and the Swedish population is to join NATO,” Andersson added.


Russia announces agreement to evacuate wounded soldiers from Azovstal

Russia’s defence ministry announced that an agreement had been reached to transport wounded Ukrainian soldiers out of the besieged Azovstal steel works in Mariupol to a medical facility in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk.

“An agreement was reached with representatives of the Ukrainian military blocked at Azovstal in Mariupol to evacuate the wounded,” the ministry said, adding that a “regime of silence” was introduced for the duration of the evacuation.


Russia starts moving nuclear-capable missiles to Finland border over NATO row

Russian forces have begun moving nuclear-capable missiles towards its border with Finland, according to Mirror

A video posted on Monday shows the deployment of mobile Iskander missiles purportedly from a motorway on the way to Vyborg, a western Russian town close to the Finnish border.

The footage comes immediately after Helsinki formally announced its bid to join NATO, a move which Russian President Vladimir Putin has long been opposed to.

A commentary on a dashcam video says that seven ballistic missile systems were on the way to the town just 24 miles from the Finnish border.

Russian state television previously said that Moscow would deploy nuclear weapons to its European borders should Nordic nations Finland and Sweden set up military bases on their territory.


Putin: US biolabs in post-soviet states gather biological material, study virus spread patterns

Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that the main goal of the US-funded biological laboratories on the territories of the former soviet republics was to gather biological material and study the spread patterns of viruses.

He added that Russia has obtained, in the course of the special military operation in Ukraine, documents evidencing that these laboratories had engaged in the production of components that could be used to create biological weapons.

“We have long expressed concerns about the activity of US biological laboratories in the post-Soviet space. As you know, the Pentagon has set up dozens of specialised biological laboratories and centres in the region. And these laboratories are not busy providing medical assistance to the population of the countries, where they launched their operations,” Putin said.

The president noted that the US-built laboratories also engaged in working out the methods and the means of destabilising the epidemiological situation on the territory of the former USSR. Putin stressed that it was a direct violation of the Biological Weapons Convention.

Putin lambasted the further expansion of the NATO alliance towards the borders of Russia as Finland and Sweden announced their plans to file for membership. He argued that the necessity to expand is created artificially and that NATO essentially serves the foreign interests of a single country – the US.

“These actions exacerbate an already difficult global security environment,” he stated.

Commenting on the decision of Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, Putin noted that the expansion of NATO in this direction does not create threats for Russia per se as Moscow has no row with these two countries. However, the expansion of the alliance’s military infrastructure to the territory of Finland and Sweden will prompt a response from Russia.


Hungary still has no acceptable proposal from EU on Russia oil embargo: FM

Hungary’s foreign minister says his country has not yet received any new serious proposal from the European Commission regarding an embargo on Russian oil imports after Budapest demanded mitigations over the cost of ditching Russian crude.

“The European Commission has caused a problem with a proposal so its a rightful expectation from Hungary… that the EU should offer a solution: to finance the investments and compensate for … the [resulting] price rises which necessitates a total modernisation of Hungary’s energy structure,” Peter Szijjarto said in a Facebook post.

He added another solution would be to make oil shipments via pipeline exempt from the planned embargo.


Kharkiv counteroffensive is ‘unstoppable’: Ukrainian official

The withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine’s second-largest city and the region around it “can not be stopped,” a Ukrainian official says.

“This counterattack of ours can’t be stopped, and the Russians feel it. That’s why they sometimes retreat chaotically, blowing up bridges to stop the counteroffensive,” Interior Ministry advisor Vadim Denysenko said in televised remarks.


Dozens of Russian troops killed in Kherson: Ukraine’s military

Ukrainian forces have hit Russian positions in the southern region of Kherson, killing 75 troops, according to Kyiv.

Ukraine’s defence ministry claimed to have struck the troops on Sunday, as they tried to land for a twentieth time at the airport near the town of Chornobaivka.

Each previous Russian attempt had been thwarted in what has been likened to a “television series” about Ukraine’s military triumphs.

“We had a spectacular premiere of yet another episode of [the] Chornobaivka [series],” the defence ministry said in a video posted on Facebook.

“The loss of 75 Rashists has been confirmed,” it added, using a derogatory term used in Ukraine combining Russian, racist and fascist.


Germany: EU needs a few more days for next sanctions package on Russia

The European Union will need a few more days to find agreement on a sixth package of sanctions against Russia, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday.

“As Germans, we know that this [an oil embargo] is not an easy step. Certain issues still need to be resolved, and this will not happen today,” she told reporters as she arrived for a meeting with her EU counterparts in Brussels.

“But I am confident that we will find agreement in the coming days”, she added.


McDonald’s to sell its Russian business, try to keep workers

McDonald’s says that it has started the process of selling its Russian business, which includes 850 restaurants that employ 62,000 people, making it the latest major Western corporation to exit Russia in the wake of its invasion.

The fast food giant pointed to the humanitarian crisis caused by the offensive, noting holding on to its business in Russia “is no longer tenable, nor is it consistent with McDonald’s values.”

The Chicago-based company announced in early March that it was temporarily closing its stores in Russia but would continue to pay employees. On Monday, it announced it would seek to have a Russian buyer hire those workers and pay them until the sale closes. It did not identify a prospective buyer.


Kremlin: Ukraine joining NATO would lead to bloc having territorial dispute with Russia

Kiev does not recognise a 2014 popular referendum of the residents of Crimea, who voted in favour of leaving Ukraine for Russia following a Western-backed coup that brought nationalist-minded politicians to power and amid concerns they could strip the peninsula of its language rights.

Switching to Finland and Sweden announcing their own NATO bids, Peskov commented that Russia will be watching the process closely.

The spokesperson warned that this development requires a thorough analysis of possible consequences. He added that from Moscow’s viewpoint, the accession of these two countries to the alliance won’t improve the continent’s security landscape.

“We will be closely monitoring the unfolding events and we will make note of the statements. There were statements from Sweden that it is not going to allow any foreign military bases or weapons systems on its territory even if it joins the alliance,” Peskov continued.

EU FMs confident latest sanctions against Russia will be ready soon

The foreign ministers of Austria and Estonia have spoken about the prospect of an upcoming sixth EU sanctions package against Russia, with Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg “confident” that the package will be “done in the next days.”

The EU has been ratcheting up its economic action against Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Speaking ahead of an EU-Canada Joint Ministerial Committee meeting in Brussels, Schallenberg said that the sixth sanctions package would be “very substantial,” but there was still “a certain need for discussion.”

The whole Russian military complex would be targeted in the upcoming sanctions, he added.

Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets stated that ahead of “very important discussions,” she hoped that EU member states would “make progress and this package will be adopted and also oil will be included to this package.”

Liimets noted that the EU “must continue to support Ukraine, we must continue to give to Ukraine humanitarian aid, also defensive military aid, but also to discuss with Ukrainians how we can support them to reconstruct their country.”


One country holding EU ‘hostage’ on Russian oil embargo: Lithuania

Lithuania’s foreign minister says the European Union’s plans to impose an oil embargo on Russia are being blocked by just one of its 27 member states.

“The whole union is being held hostage by one member state … we have to agree, we cannot be held hostage,” Gabrielius Landsbergis stated as he arrived for a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels.

Hungary is the country that is holding out, the Reuters news agency reported, citing unnamed EU diplomats.


Moscow: Finland, Sweden joining NATO would be a ‘mistake with far-reaching implications’

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has stated that a move by Finland and Sweden to join NATO “would be a mistake with far-reaching implications”.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Ryabkov suggested that if Stockholm and Helsinki enter NATO, “the general level of military tension will increase, and there will be less predictability in this area”.

“It’s a pity that common sense is being sacrificed to some phantom ideas about what should be done in the current situation,” he said.

According to him, “This is another serious mistake with far-reaching implications. But there’s nothing to be done, such is the level of those who make the appropriate decisions in the respective countries”.

The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister added that the security of Sweden and Finland will not be strengthened as a result of their anticipated accession to NATO.

“The situation, of course, is changing drastically in light of what is happening […] in the countries of northern Europe. […] It is absolutely clear for us that like Finland’s (security), the security of Sweden will not be strengthened as a result of this decision [to join NATO]”, Ryabkov emphasised.

He also said that “in what form” Russia “will ensure” its security following the change in NATO’s configuration remains another matter.

“This will depend on what, in practical terms, will be the result of the anticipated accession of Finland and Sweden to the North Atlantic alliance. They should not have any illusions that we will simply put up with this,” Ryabkov added.


Moscow: French carmaker Renault’s assets in Russia get nationalized

The shares of Renault Russia have been transferred to the government of the city of Moscow, and NAMI, a state-backed research center, has become the owner of Renault’s stake in Avtovaz, the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade said on its Telegram channel.

The Moscow government will now own 100% of shares of Renault Russia, while Renault’s 67,69% interest in Avtovaz will be sold to NAMI, the ministry said in a statement.

Avtovaz will continue to assemble the whole product range of Lada cars at its plants, and the automaker will offer Renault car maintenance services on the Russian market.

The deal included a six-year option to buy back Renault’s stake in Avtovaz, the ministry’s press service announced.

“By transferring Group Renault’s stake to state ownership [Russia] would be able to maintain its control of Avtovaz and ensure the company’s operability amid sanctions,” the press service quoted Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov as saying.

The move would also allow the company to maintain its key competencies, production cycle and save jobs, he added.


Russian diplomat doubts Europe’s capacity of coping with refugee influx from Ukraine

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has doubted Europe’s ability to cope with the influx of Ukrainian refugees as smoothly as the first wave of refugees from the Middle East.

“I am not sure that they [European countries] will be able to live through this wave as smoothly as they lived through the first wave of refugees from the Middle East,” she stated in an interview with the Voskresny Vecher (Sunday Evening) with Vladimir Solovyov program on the Rossiya-1 television channel.

“It was the goal of our country to make Ukraine a common home for all and we offered it as a shared European agenda,” she said, adding that Europe had cared little about people’s lives in other countries when it focused on critical inflation growth in Europe.

“They are yelling that it was a heavy blow for them. But they have no idea of what a real trial is,” she noted.


Kharkiv’s governor strengthened claim Ukraine’s troops reached Russia border

Kharkiv’s regional governor has strengthened earlier claims that Ukrainian troops defending the city of Kharkiv had reached the state border with Russia.

“We are proud of the soldiers of the 227th Battalion of the 127th Brigade of the Territorial Defense Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, who restored the border sign on the state border!,” Oleh Sinegubov wrote on Telegram.

His post included an earlier released video that claims to show Ukraine’s troops reinstalling a blue and yellow border post in the northern Kharkiv region.


Ukraine forces claim to reach Russia border in northeast

Ukraine has released footage that it said showed its troops reaching the border with Russia in the Kharkiv region.

The video showed Ukrainian troops reinstalling a blue and yellow border post.

The reported development comes as Russian troops withdraw from around Kharkiv following a Ukrainian counteroffensive.


Russia still shelling Mariupol and Azovstal: Army

The Russian military has continued artillery and air strikes on Mariupol, particularly on the Azovstal plant where some Ukrainian fighters are holed up, Ukraine’s army reports.

“The main efforts of the occupiers focused on blocking and impacting our units in the area of the Azovstal plant,” the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces announced in its latest update.

Over the past day, the general staff said Ukraine’s army repelled 17 attacks on Donetsk and Luhansk. It also destroyed three Russian tanks, one artillery system and six units of armoured equipment. It added that the losses of Russian personnel were being clarified.


EU foreign ministers to discuss Ukraine, sixth package of sanctions on Monday

The foreign ministers of 27 EU countries will discuss the situation in Ukraine at a scheduled meeting on Monday, an EU official told reporters. The meeting will be attended by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba.

According to the EU representative, the ministers “will focus on continued support for Ukraine, diplomatic ties, ongoing work on an action plan to overcome global consequences and counter the manipulation of foreign information.”

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly will also join the discussion.

The EU Foreign Ministers are also expected to discuss the situation around the sixth package of sanctions against Russia, which Brussels has been unable to approve for almost two weeks due to the embargo on Russian oil imports included in it.

On Monday, no decisions on this issue are expected, but the European diplomat expressed confidence that discussions on the next sanctions package will end with a “good result.” The diplomat could not clarify the timing of the decision.

When asked by journalists whether there is a possibility of splitting the sixth package of sanctions into two parts, the EU representative said that it is up to the EU countries whether to split it or not. The official expressed hope that the package will be approved in full.

The sixth package of sanctions against Russia proposed by the European Commission includes a project of a delayed oil embargo. It is proposed to introduce a ban on the import of crude oil and petroleum products from Russia six months after the package comes into force – from 2023. The EC proposed to allow Hungary and Slovakia to purchase Russian oil until the end of 2024. According to sources, the European Commission has already had to soften a number of its proposals on the timing of the introduction, parameters and possible exceptions to the oil embargo.

Hungary opposes the oil embargo with the support of a number of other countries that believe that the damage from this measure will be catastrophic for Europe.


Europe’s dependence on Russian energy coming ‘to an end’: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has again pointed to the need to strengthen sanctions against Russia, particularly for European nations to ban Moscow’s oil imports.

“Partners need to make decisions that limit Russia’s ties to the world every week. The occupiers must feel the rising cost of war for them, feel it constantly,” Zelensky said in his nighttime address.

“Now the priority is the oil embargo. No matter how hard Moscow tries to disrupt this decision, the time of Europe’s dependence on Russian energy resources is coming to an end,” he added.

Zelenskyy has denounced Russian attacks on several Ukrainian cities on Sunday, saying the brutality “which Ukraine is experiencing every day, will only lead to the fact that Russian surviving soldiers will bring this evil back to Russia”.

He mentioned missile strikes on Lviv and the shelling of Hulyaipole, Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, as well as the cities and communities of the Donetsk region.

“They will bring it back because they will retreat. This is how all the feverish activity of the Russian military we see now will end,” he noted.

Zelensky has said that the Russian troops were “at a dead end” in the conflict with Ukraine.

He added that “the time will surely come when the Ukrainian people fully force” Russia to “recognise reality.”


Ukraine says Russia attempting to encircle its forces in Donbas

Russia is pummelling positions in the east of Ukraine, its defence ministry has stated, as it seeks to encircle Ukrainian forces in the battle for Donbas and fend off a counteroffensive around the strategic Russian-controlled city of Izium.

Russia announced it had struck Ukrainian positions in the east with missiles, targeting command centres and arsenals as its forces seek to surround Ukrainian units between Izium and Donetsk.

Ukraine’s Joint Forces Task Force claimed its troops had repelled 17 attacks and destroyed 11 pieces of Russian equipment while its air defences shot down two Russian helicopters and five drones.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the situation in Donbas remained very difficult and Russian forces were still trying to salvage some kind of victory in a region riven by conflict since 2014.

“They are not stopping their efforts,” he added.


Russian army likely out of combat-ready reservists: Think-Tank

Russian forces have likely run out of combat-ready reservists, forcing Moscow to bring in soldiers from different elements, including private military companies proxy militias, the Institute for the Study of War has announced.

In its latest campaign assessment the institute said Ukraine’s army had around 2,500 Russian reservists were training in Russia’s Belgorod, Voronezh and Rostov regions to reinforce Moscow’s operations in Ukraine. It added this number was not enough to replenish Russian units “that have reportedly lost up to 20 percent of staffing in some areas”.

The Institute added Ukraine’s intelligence reported that Russian forces were conducting covert mobilisation and creating new units with personnel who likely have insufficient training to be effective and little motivation to fight.

“Russian forces also deployed new conscripts from occupied settlements in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts to maintain an offensive around Kharkiv City, likely due to the lack of Russian reserves,” it stated.


Germany to ban Russian oil regardless of EU

Germany plans to stop importing Russian oil by the end of the year, even if the EU fails to agree on a ban in its next set of sanctions, Bloomberg has reported citing government officials.

“Efforts to seal deals with alternative suppliers are progressing in the chancellery in Berlin and the government is confident it can solve remaining logistical problems within the next six to seven months, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity,” according to the report.


Serbia vows to ‘fight as long as we can’ against Russia sanctions

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic says that Serbia is suffering for its refusal to impose sanctions on Russia and that life would be “ten times better” if it did so. But, he stated Serbia will still not impose sanctions because it has an independent policy, regional media N1 has reported.

“Everyone would say that Vucic is announcing the introduction of sanctions. No, we will fight as long as we can to maintain our policy and we are pursuing that policy not because we gain something from not imposing sanctions,” N1 quoted Vucic as saying.

“This is because I listen to experts who are pointing out the costs of natural gas, which would be a loss of a billion… not to mention the reduced direct investments and that seven American producers and actors refused to come to make films because we did not impose sanctions on Russia,“ Vucic added.

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