Sunday, April 21, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 88: Biden to meet Modi in bid ‘to isolate Russia’

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 membership for Ukraine would take “15 or 20 years”: France

Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union would take at least “15 or 20 years” to complete, France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said on Sunday, while promoting President Emmanuel Macron’s alternative proposal of creating a new “European political community” including Ukraine.

“If we say that Ukraine will join the European Union in 6 months, one year, two years, we are lying. It is not true,” Beaune told Jewish community radio station Radio J.

“It is probably maybe 15 or 20 years. No matter what, it’s very long,” he added.

“It takes a very long time and I don’t want us to sell illusions and lies. If we tell Ukrainians ‘welcome to the European Union, but you didn’t fully read the contract, the footnote says: hey it will be in 15 years,’ then I think we are setting the ground for the disappointment of a whole generation of Ukrainians,” Beaune continued.

The French minister went on to say that Macron’s recent proposal to create a new European political community outside the EU, including Ukraine, was “not an alternative” to any EU membership for Ukraine and “did not prevent its future EU membership.”

“It is a complementary project to the European Union, which can offer a concrete political project to countries that are not in the heart of the European Union but that want to get closer to the Union,” the minister stated.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a speech on Saturday that any alternative to Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union would be a “compromise” with Russia, in response to the project proposed by Macron.

Beaune noted that “any accession to the European Union, let’s be honest, it takes time.”

“And while waiting for this membership, we cannot simply say ‘it is this or nothing’,” he added.

“It is a quick and useful complement to protect Ukraine politically, economically and energetically and to tell Ukraine ‘you are already in a project and a European political family’,” Beaune told the radio.

Ukraine extends martial law for three more months

The Ukrainian parliament has extended the period of martial law and general mobilization for an additional 90 days, until August 23, a sign that Kyiv expects many more months of fighting.

Martial law gives the military expanded powers and restricts civil liberties such as the right to demonstrate. Able-bodied men aged 18 to 60 were prohibited from leaving the country and urged to join the fight against the Russians.

President Volodymyr Zelensky first imposed the drastic measures across the country on February 24, just hours after Russia invaded the country.

Polish president: “Free world has face of Ukraine”

Polish President Andrzej Duda told Ukrainian lawmakers Sunday that the “free world today has the face of Ukraine,” according to a Ukrainian member of parliament.

Roman Hryshchuk tweeted a photo of Duda addressing the chamber with lawmakers holding up a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.

“Dear Ukrainians, your relatives — wives, parents, children — who were forced to leave for Poland, are not refugees in our country. They are our guests,” Hryshchuk tweeted in English, quoting Duda.

Nearly 3.5 million Ukrainian refugees have entered Poland since the Russian invasion in February, making it by far the single largest host nation for people fleeing the country, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Duda also told Volodymyr Zelensky that “no one can break our unity” during the address, as he became the first foreign leader since the Russian invasion to address Ukraine’s parliament, the Rada, in Kyiv.

Duda’s office tweeted the message.

Almost 1,000 Ukrainian UAVs Destroyed Since February 24: Russia

Almost 1,000 Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been destroyed since the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine on February 24, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov stated Sunday.

“In total, since the start of the special military operation, the Russian Armed Forces have destroyed 174 planes, 125 helicopters, 977 unmanned aerial vehicles, 317 anti-aircraft missile systems, 3,198 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 408 multiple launch rocket systems, 1,622 field artillery guns and mortars, as well as 3,077 units of special military vehicles,” Maj. Gen. Konashenkov said.

Konashenkov noted that the Russian air forces overnight hit 26 personnel and military equipment hubs and destroyed three control centers and an ammunition storage facility, adding that Russian high-precision missiles hit another 13 personnel and military equipment hubs and destroyed four ammunition depots.

“As a result of the strikes, more than 210 nationalists were killed, 38 units of Ukrainian military equipment were disabled,” the spokesman continued.

Konashenkov added that Russian missile defense systems intercepted overnight two Ukrainian missiles launched from the Smerch heavy multiple rocket launchers.

Biden will meet individually with Modi as India resists pressure to isolate Russia

President Joe Biden will meet one-on-one this week with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Japan as the US works to convince India to join western punishment of Russia.

They will meet on the sidelines of the Quad summit, where security in the Indo-Pacific is expected to be a central issue. The Quad is an informal alliance between the US, India, Japan, and Australia

When Biden and Modi meet separately, their talks will be “constructive and straightforward,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters as the US President flew from South Korea to Japan.

Sullivan said it wouldn’t be a “new conversation,” since Biden and Modi have spoken by phone about the issue, but rather a continuation of that conversation.

“They’ll talk all of that through,” added Sullivan.

India is a major purchaser of Russian arms, and has been wary of distancing itself from Moscow amid the war in Ukraine.

At the larger Quad summit — which will include Australia’s freshly elected prime minister Anthony Albanese — leaders will discuss security issues, including Taiwan, according to Sullivan.

He declined to preview the Quad leaders statement, but said no member wants to see military aggression.

Lithuania set to cut imports of Russian energy

Lithuania will have completely cut imports of Russian energy supplies including oil, electricity and natural gas from Sunday.

The Lithuanian Ministry of Energy said in a statement on Friday that the energy exchange operator Nord Pool had decided to stop trading Russian electricity with its only importer in the Baltic States, Russian utility Inter RAO – meaning the country would no longer be importing any Russian energy.

“Not only is it an extremely important milestone for Lithuania in its journey towards energy independence, but it is also an expression of our solidarity with Ukraine,” Lithuanian Energy Minister Dainius Kreivys stated, adding, “We must stop financing the Russian war machine.”

This move was hailed by Oleksandr Korniyenko, first deputy speaker of Ukraine’s parliament.

Russia halts electricity supply to another EU country

Russia has stopped supplying power to Lithuania, the country’s electricity transmission system operator Litgrid announced on Sunday.

Inter RAO, which was the only importer of electricity from Russia to Lithuania, confirmed the suspension of deliveries.

Lithuania’s Energy Ministry initially announced that it would stop buying Russian electricity on Friday.

Earlier this month, Inter RAO’s Nordic branch also stopped supplying electricity to Finland.

Mariupol facing health and sanitation ‘catastrophe’: Mayor

The mayor of Mariupol Vadym Boychenko has said that mass burials in shallow graves and the breakdown of sewage systems could lead to a health crisis in the Ukrainian port city.

He added that summer rains threaten to contaminate water sources as he pressed Moscow to allow residents to leave the city safely.

“In addition to the humanitarian catastrophe created by the occupiers and collaborators, the city is on the verge of an outbreak of infectious diseases”, he stated.

Over 1,000 educational institutions destroyed by Russian army: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said more than 1,000 educational institutions have been destroyed by the Russian Army since the start of the war.

“The Russian Army destroyed 1,873 educational institutions. This is a colossal scale of losses,” Zelensky stated.

The figure includes primary schools, universities, kindergartens, and other institutes impacted by Russian shelling since the war began last February.

Women among Azovstal fighters now prisoners of Russia

There are 78 women among the people captured by Russian forces from the besieged Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol, a pro-Russian separatist leader said.

Russia’s TASS news agency reported the Donetsk separatist leader Denis Pushilin as saying there were also foreigners among those taken prisoner from the Azovstal steelworks. He did not state how many foreigners were taken prisoner.

“They had enough food and water, they also had enough weapons,” Pushilin told TASS.

“The problem was the lack of medicine,” he added, referring to the Ukrainian forces that had held out at the steel plant.

Russia has blocked 22mn tonnes of Ukraine’s food exports: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed that Russia has blocked Ukraine from exporting 22 million tonnes of food products.

Speaking with media after a meeting with Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, Zelensky stated if the global community didn’t help Ukraine unblock its ports, the energy crisis would be followed by a food crisis.

“You can unblock them in different ways. One of the ways is a military solution. That is why we turn to our partners with inquiries regarding the relevant weapons,” he added.

Ukraine says agreeing to ceasefire with Russia will only escalate war

Ukraine’s presidential advisor has dismissed as “very strange” calls in the West to negotiate an urgent ceasefire with Russia that would involve its forces remaining in territory they have occupied in Ukraine’s south and east.

Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters making concessions would backfire on Ukraine because Russia would hit back harder after any break in fighting.

“Any concession to the Russian Federation would instantly lead to an escalation of the war. So the war will not stop. It will just be put on pause for some time,” he said.

“After a while, with renewed intensity, the Russians will build up their weapons, manpower and work on their mistakes, modernise a little, fire many generals… And they’ll start a new offensive, even more bloody and large scale, taking into account all mistakes,” Podolyak added.

Ukraine’s army deterring Russia’s attacks on Slovyansk, Severodonetsk

President Volodymyr Zelensky has noted that Ukraine’s army has for days been deterring Russia’s advances on Slovyansk and Severodonetsk.

“The situation in Donbas is extremely difficult. As in previous days, the Russian army is trying to attack Slovyansk and Severodonetsk. The Armed Forces of Ukraine are deterring this offensive,” Zelenskyy stated.

Russia’s defence minister announced on Friday that Moscow’s forces had almost taken full control of Luhansk. Russia is intensifying its offensive on Severodonetsk, which is the last Ukrainian stronghold in the region.

Russia again accuses Ukraine of firing on Kursk region

The governor of Russia’s Kursk region has again accused Ukraine of firing on its settlements, TASS news agency reports.

“Tetkino and nearby residential areas were subjected to Ukraine’s fire once again,” Roman Starovoit said on Saturday, adding he would provide further details on the situation later.

The governor noted there were no casualties or damage to infrastructure as a result of the attack.

Ukraine ready to exchange its soldiers for Russian prisoners of war: Zelensky

The Ukrainian president says his country is prepared to exchange its troops who surrendered at the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol for Russian prisoners.

In an interview with a Ukrainian television channel, Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated the most important thing for him was is to save the maximum number of people and soldiers.

“We will bring them home,” he added.

Russia claims to have taken full control of the besieged city of Mariupol after the last group of Ukrainian soldiers surrendered.​​

Zelensky has also warned that only a diplomatic breakthrough rather than an outright military victory could end Russia’s war on his country.

“There are things that can only be reached at the negotiating table,” Zelensky continued.

Sanctions ‘practically broken’ logistics in Russia: Minister

Russia’s transport minister has stated that international sanctions have “practically broken” logistics in the country, the state news agency TASS has reported.

“The sanctions imposed on Russia… have practically broken all logistics in our country. And we have to look for new logistics corridors,” Vitaly Savelyev, said on a visit to Russia’s southern port city of Astrakhan, on the Caspian Sea

The new corridors for moving goods include a north-south route through two Caspian Sea ports: Olya and Makhachkala.

The minister’s comments were a rare admission from the Kremlin that sanctions intended to cripple Russia’s economy are having a significant effect.

Portugal PM visits Ukraine

Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa says he supports Ukraine’s European Union accession bid.

Speaking alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a visit to Kyiv, Costa backed Ukraine’s EU ambitions saying “the worst thing the European Union could do to Ukraine would be to divide itself now over any decision regarding the future.”

Costa reaffirmed Portugal’s commitment to the reconstruction of Ukraine stating it should be a priority in the next European Councils to find a collective response on how to rebuild the war-torn country.

Erdogan: Turkey expects concrete Swedish steps on ‘terrorism’

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan says he told Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson that Ankara expects concrete steps regarding its concerns about “terrorist organisations”, the state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.

In a phone call, Erdogan also stated an arms exports embargo imposed on Turkey after its Syria incursion in 2019 should be lifted.

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO on Wednesday, following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Turkey surprised NATO allies last week by objecting to the two countries’ membership, but Western leaders have expressed confidence that Ankara’s objections will not be a roadblock for the NATO accession process.

Finland’s president holds talks with Erdogan

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto says he held “open and direct” talks with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan to discuss Finland’s bid for NATO membership.

Erdogan has publicly questioned whether Finland and Sweden should be allowed to join the military alliance.

“I stated that as NATO allies Finland and Turkey will commit to each other’s security and our relationship will thus grow stronger,” Niinisto tweeted after the call.

“Finland condemns terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Close dialogue continues,” he added.

Zelensky talked to Italian PM, urged more Russia sanctions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy says he talked to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and stressed the importance of more sanctions on Russia and unblocking Ukrainian ports.

Zelenskyy tweeted that he had also thanked Draghi for his “unconditional support” of Ukraine’s bid to become a member of the European Union.

Draghi had initiated the call, he added.

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