Sunday, March 3, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 87: Russia stops gas supply to Finland

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:

Russia declares travel ban on 963 Americans including Biden and Blinken

Russia said on Saturday it was banning entry to 963 Americans including US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and CIA chief William Burns

The travel bans have only symbolic impact but form part of a constant downward spiral in Russia’s relations with the United States and its allies since its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Russia Imposes Sanctions on Canadian PM’s Wife

Moscow has banned Canadian Prime Minister’s wife Sophie Trudeau, Canadian air force commander Eric Jean Kenny and 24 other people, including officials and top managers, from entering Russia, the country’s foreign ministry said on Saturday.

“In response to further sanctions against Russia announced by the Canadian authorities, which affected not only the country’s leadership, military and business circles, but in some cases the closest relatives of those who have been added to the ‘black list,’ entry into Russia is permanently closed for a similar category of Canadian citizens,” the ministry announced in a statement.

The list of 26 individuals, among others, includes Canadian Maritime Forces Pacific Commander Rear-Admiral Angus Ian Topshee and Army Commander Lt.-Gen. Jocelyn (Joe) Paul.

“New countermeasures will soon follow in response to the hostile actions of Canadian Justin Trudeau’s regime, who uses a militant Russophobia to good advantage. The additions to the Russian ‘stop list’ will be announced publicly,” the ministry added.

Biden signs Ukraine funding bill: White House

US President Joe Biden has signed a bill to provide nearly $40 billion in aid for Ukraine as part of efforts to boost military support over Russia’s invasion, the White House said.

Biden, who is in Seoul for his first summit with new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, also signed a bill aimed at improving access to baby formula, the White House added.

‘Large’ shipment of western weapons to Ukraine destroyed: Russia

Russian forces have destroyed a large shipment of Western-supplied weapons in northwestern Ukraine with long-range missiles, Moscow’s defence ministry said.

“High-precision long-range sea-based Kalibr missiles destroyed a large batch of weapons and military equipment near the Malin railway station in Zhytomyr region delivered from the United States and European countries,” it added.

Donbass experiencing heavy fighting: Governor

Ukraine’s eastern Donbass province is experiencing heavy fighting, a regional governor has reported.

The eastern Ukrainian town of Sievierodonetsk has been under fire for days, with several dead and injured, according to the governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Hajday.

“The Russians are wiping out Sievierodonetsk like Mariupol,” Hajday stated on the Telegram news channel.

Germany, Italy agree to pay for Russian gas in rubles

Germany and Italy have allowed national companies to open ruble accounts in Russia’s Gazprombank to comply with the new natural gas payment scheme and avoid a supply cut-off, Reuters reported, citing sources.

The move comes after Poland, Bulgaria and most recently Finland refused to accept Russia’s new payment mechanism, resulting in gas flows from Russia being halted.

According to the outlet, the move was approved by Brussels after discussions with the European Commission and is not considered a breach of the sanctions that the EU placed on Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine.

Russia’s new payment scheme requires gas buyers from “unfriendly” countries that have placed sanctions on Russia to open accounts in Russia’s Gazprombank. They can then deposit funds in their currency of choice, which the bank converts to rubles and transfers to Gazprom.

Only ‘diplomacy’ can end Ukraine war: Zelensky

The war in Ukraine can only be resolved through “diplomacy”, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said amid a deadlock in negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow.

“The end will be through diplomacy,” he told a Ukrainian television channel.

The war “will be bloody, there will be fighting but will only definitively end through diplomacy,” he added.

Britain wants to arm Moldova

According to local media outlet The Telegraph, the UK wants to send modern weaponry to Moldova to protect it from any threat of invasion from Russia, citing Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

She told the newspaper that Russian President Putin was determined to create a “greater Russia” even though his invasion of Ukraine had failed to achieve quick success.

Russia halts gas supplies to Finland

Russia has halted natural gas deliveries to Finland after state energy wholesaler Gasum failed to make a required payment in rubles, the Finnish gas system operator Gasgrid Finland said on Saturday.

“Gas imports through Imatra entry point have been stopped,” the statement read.

Russia’s Gazprom Export has confirmed a complete halt in gas deliveries to Finland.

“Gazprom has completely stopped gas supplies to Gasum (Finland) due to non-payment in rubles. As of the end of the business day on May 20, Gazprom Export has not received payment for gas supplies in April from Gasum (Finland)” in accordance with the new ruble-based payment mechanism, the company said in a statement.

Gasum also confirmed on Saturday that the deliveries had stopped.

Earlier this week, Gasum announced that it would not comply with Russia’s new ruble-based gas payment scheme.

Zelensky’s aide: Ukraine needs more high-precision rockets, drone systems

Ukraine still needs heavy military equipment, high-precision rockets, drone systems, air defense munition and other weaponry to counter Russia’s special military operation, head of the Ukrainian presidential office Andriy Yermak said during a virtual conversation organized by the Atlantic Council.

“We still need heavy military equipment, heavy arms. We need high precision rockets and missiles, drone systems, some of air defense munition and ammunition and many other things,” Yermak added.

Pentagon denies Ukrainian reporting US plans to destroy Russia’s Black Sea Fleet

The Pentagon has denied Ukrainian reports that the United States is planning to destroy Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

“I can tell you definitely that that’s not true,” spokesman John Kirby told a briefing.

Earlier in the day, Ukrainian ministry of internal affairs adviser Anton Gerashchenko said that the US is “preparing a plan to destroy the Black Sea Fleet.” He added that deliveries of anti-ship weapons, including Harpoon and Naval Strike Missile with a range of 250-300 km, are being discussed.

Gerashchenko stated that Ukrainians’ alleged effective fight against Russian warships convinced the Unite States to prepare a plan to unblock Ukrainian ports.

Over 2,400 Ukrainian fighters surrendered in Mariupol: Russia

Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti has quoted the country’s defence ministry as saying a total of 2,439 Ukrainian fighters who had been holed up at Mariupol’s steel plant had surrendered since Monday, including more than 500 on Friday.

US is expected to keep 100,000 troops in Europe for foreseeable future: Officials

The US is expected to keep 100,000 troops stationed in Europe for the foreseeable future unless Russia escalates and threatens Sweden and Finland or NATO members, according to multiple US officials.

The numbers could temporarily increase if NATO carries out more military exercises in the region, and the US could add additional bases in Europe if the security environment changes, the officials added.

The plans are being considered following Thursday’s meeting of NATO’s military chiefs in Brussels, the officials said. The military chiefs are making the recommendations to a NATO defense ministers meeting planned for June, and NATO leaders including US President Joe Biden will meet in Madrid at the end of that month.

The US increased its overall force posture in Europe from about 60,000 troops before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to about 100,000 now, adding troops and military assets to countries along Europe’s eastern flank to support NATO and to further deter Russia. The US contributed thousands of troops to NATO’s Response Force, which was activated for the first time in NATO’s history earlier this spring.

Germany to ship anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine

German news agency DPA has reported that the country will ship the first 15 Gepard anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine in July.

DPA reported that the delivery, which includes training and almost 60,000 rounds of ammunition, was agreed upon following talks between Germany’s defence minister and her Ukrainian counterpart.

Gepard — German for “cheetah” — is considered highly effective against low-flying aircraft and lightly armoured ground targets. It was decommissioned by the German military in 2012 but some 50 mothballed units are being restored by manufacturer KMW for use by Ukraine.

US ‘confident’ Turkey’s concerns on NATO expansion will be addressed

The US Department of State has said Washington is “confident” that Turkey’s concerns about the admission of Sweden and Finland into NATO will be addressed.

“Turkey is a longstanding, valued NATO ally,” said spokesperson Ned Price.

“We understand Turkey’s longstanding concerns, and we’ll continue to work together in our efforts to end the scourge of terrorism,” he added.

Turkey has accused Finland and Sweden of harbouring “terrorists”, referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Fethullah Gulen movement, the latter of which Ankara accuses of being behind a 2016 failed coup against the government.

Top EU official decries ‘unspeakable crimes’ by Russian forces

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has decried what he called “unspeakable crimes”, including sexual violence, by Russian forces being reported in areas recently recaptured by Ukraine.

“Perpetrators must be held accountable,” Borrell wrote on Twitter.

Germany signs energy partnership with Qatar to distance itself from Russian gas

Germany and Qatar on Friday agreed on an energy partnership, which may see Doha start supplying liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Berlin in 2024.

Qatar will become key to Germany’s future energy strategy to diversify away from Russian gas, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, addressing a joint press conference with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Berlin.

“The energy security issue plays an important role for us. Germany will develop its infrastructure to be in a position to import liquefied gas by ship,” Scholz noted.

“It’s a big step, and Qatar plays an important role in our strategy,” the German leader added.

The Qatari emir told journalists at the news conference that he hopes his country will commence to supply liquefied natural gas to Germany in 2024.

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 Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Germany started construction works for its first floating LNG terminal in Wilhelmshaven, a city and port located in Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany.

US intel is skeptical that Putin will be swayed by Russian public opinion over Ukraine war

US intelligence officials are skeptical that any change in Russian public opinion against the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine — even a dramatic one — would have an effect in persuading Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the conflict, according to multiple sources familiar with the latest intelligence.

Officials also doubt that the war, which many strategists believe has been an unmitigated disaster for Russia’s military, is likely to lead to the removal of Putin from power, at least in the short term.

That assessment reflects the extent to which officials believe Putin has cemented his control over Russia during his more than two decades in power.

Putin is intimately involved in the day-to-day management of the conflict, according to three sources familiar with US and western intelligence, who told CNN that Putin directly participates in decision-making that in most Western armies would be reserved for lower-ranking officers.

“He clearly is his own decision maker. He doesn’t seem to rely even on experts within the government or the cabinet very much,” a senior NATO official said, adding, “So it’s a bit hard to imagine that popular opinion sways him all that much.”

Russia should pay for destruction”: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky devoted his nightly video address to Ukraine’s demand that Russia be held financially responsible for the damage its forces are inflicting on Ukraine.

In the eastern Donbas, where the Russian attack has been fiercest, he said Russian troops turned the towns of Rubizhne and Volnovakha into ruins, just as they did with Mariupol, and were trying to do the same with Severodonetsk.

Zelenskyy said Russia should be made to pay for every home, school, hospital and business it destroys. He added a legal mechanism should be created through which everyone who suffered from Russia’s actions would be able to receive compensation.

Russia “digging in” for protracted war: Institute for Study of War

In its latest update on the fighting in Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War (IOW) stated Russian forces appear to be “digging in” around Kharkiv and along the southern axis in preparation for Ukrainian counter-offensives and a protracted war.

The key developments on May 20, according to IOW:

  • Fighting was focused on the area between Izyum and the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts
  • Significant Russian offensives continue around Severodonetsk with “marginal gains” in the north, west and south of the city especially near Popasna
  • Russia could be overstating the number of soldiers evacuated from Azovstal in order to “maximise” any POW exchange with Ukraine. It said 2,439 Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in the past few days, including 531 in the final group

Russia removes bodies from bombed Mariupol theatre

An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol says Russia on Friday removed the last bodies from the Drama Theatre where hundreds of civilians had been sheltering when Russian forces bombed it in March.

“Today, the occupiers completed the removal of the bodies of the dead,” Petro Andriushchenko wrote on Telegram.

He added he felt “rage” and “anger” over what he said was a war crime.

“Now we will never know how many civilians were actually killed,” he said, adding that the bodies had been buried in a mass grave.

Serb leader tells EU Bosnia cannot join sanctions against Russia

Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik has told European Council President Charles Michel that Bosnia needs to maintain neutrality and not join EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

“I think it is of utmost importance for Bosnia to remain neutral,” Dodik said at a joint news conference with Michel and presidency Bosniak Chairman Sefik Dzaferovic.

“In conditions in which we exist, it would be a problem for us to impose any kind of sanctions and join the EU or global sanctions,” he added.

Russia claims remaining Azovstal defenders have surrendered, siege is over

Russia’s defence ministry has announced the last group of Ukrainian forces holed up in Mariupol’s smashed Azovstal steelworks had surrendered, marking an end to a weeks-long siege.

“The territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant … has been completely liberated,” the ministry said in a statement.

It added the group that had given up comprised 531 people.

Canada bans luxury goods trade with Russia, punishes more oligarchs

Canada has announced a ban on trade in luxury goods with Russia, and added 14 more Russian oligarchs and other associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin to its sanctions list.

The trade ban covers Canadian exports of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, some textile products and sportswear, footwear, luxury clothing and accessories, jewellery, kitchenware, and art, as well as imports from Russia of alcoholic beverages, seafood, fish and diamonds.

The trade in such goods represented $59m worth of goods in 2021, according to trade figures.

The Canadian government has sanctioned more than 1,000 individuals and entities from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine since Moscow’s invasion on February 24.

Putin accuses West of carrying out barrage of cyberattacks

Russian President Vladimir Putin claims his country has faced a barrage of cyberattacks from the West amid Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine but has successfully fended them off.

Speaking to members of Russia’s Security Council, Putin stated that “the challenges in this area have become even more pressing, serious and extensive.”

He charged that “an outright aggression has been unleashed against Russia, a war has been waged in the information space.”

Putin added that “the cyber-aggression against us, the same as the attack on Russia by sanctions in general, has failed.”

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