Friday, March 1, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 92

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 seeks to blame West for food crisis

Moscow has sought to shift the blame onto Western countries for a growing food crisis that has been worsened by Kyiv’s inability to ship millions of tons of grain and other agricultural products due to the conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi that Moscow “is ready to make a significant contribution to overcoming the food crisis through the export of grain and fertilizer on the condition that politically motivated restrictions imposed by the West are lifted,” according to a Kremlin readout of the call.

Russian forces get closer to encircling Ukraine troops in east

Advancing Russian forces came closer to surrounding Ukrainian troops in the east, briefly seizing positions on the last highway out of a crucial pair of Ukrainian-held cities before being beaten back, a Ukrainian official has said.

Three months into its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has abandoned its assault on the capital Kyiv and is trying to consolidate control of the industrial eastern Donbas region, where it has backed a separatist revolt since 2014.

Thousands of troops are attacking from three sides to try to encircle Ukrainian forces in Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. If the two cities straddling the Siverskiy Donets river fall, nearly all of the Donbas province of Luhansk would be under Russian control.

Russia: Arms supplies to Ukraine could lead to unacceptable escalation

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned the West that supplying weapons to Ukraine capable of hitting Russian territory would be “a serious step towards unacceptable escalation”, Tass news agency reported.

Lavrov told the RT Arabic channel that he hoped sane people in the West would understand this, adding “There are still a few left there”, RIA quoted him as saying.

Italy aims to unblock grain exports at Black Sea ports

Italy aims to free grain exports blocked in Black Sea ports, Prime Minister Mario Draghi has told reporters following a phone call he held with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The first initiative one could begin to explore is to see whether a cooperation between Russia and Ukraine to unblock Black Sea ports could be built,” Draghi said.

Draghi added he would soon talk to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on this issue.

China’s support of Putin “should raise alarm bells”: Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed China for defending Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, saying that defense “should raise alarm bells for all of us who call the Indo-Pacific region home.”

“Even while Russia was clearly mobilizing to invade Ukraine, President Xi and President Putin declared that the friendship between their countries was, and I quote, ‘without limits,’” Blinken stated in a speech on the Biden administration’s policy towards China at George Washington University.

He emphasized that the US is not seeking a conflict or a new Cold War with China.

“Our task is to prove once again, that democracy can meet urgent challenges, create opportunity, advance human dignity, that the future belongs to those who believe in freedom and that all countries will be free to chart their own paths without coercion,” noted Blinken.

“We are not looking for conflict or a new Cold War. To the contrary, we’re determined to avoid both,” he continued.

“Even as President Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order – and that’s posed by the People’s Republic of China,” he added.

Russian forces have lost about 1,000 tanks in Ukraine so far: Senior US defense official

Russian forces have lost “nearly about 1,000 tanks” and “well over 350 artillery pieces,” as well as “almost three dozen fighter bomber fixed-wing aircraft and more than 50 helicopters” so far in the ongoing war in Ukraine, a senior US defense official told reporters Thursday.

Still, with all of that loss, the US assesses that Russians “still have the … majority of their capability left to them,” the official added.

“They have invested an awful lot of their hardware and their personnel in this fight, and the Ukrainians have suffered losses, the Russians have suffered losses,” the official said.

“Russians do have a superiority here in terms of number of assets they can apply to this fight in terms of people, and equipment and weapons, and we just have to bear that in mind,” the official continued.

“No room for impunity” in prosecuting alleged Russian war crimes in Ukraine: Finland’s PM

Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin visited Kyiv — as well as the cities of Irpin and Bucha — Thursday and meet with local residents and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

She announced plans for additional support for Ukraine, including an increase in arms deliveries.

After hearing testimonies about alleged atrocities committed by Russian soldiers, Marin emphasized that Finland supports Ukraine and the International Criminal Court bringing the perpetrators to justice, according to a Finnish government statement, and that there will be “no room for impunity.”

During the visit, Marin strongly condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine, calling them “a blatant violation of the UN Charter and international law,” the statement said.

“It is important for the European Union to be united, bold and determined in the face of Russia’s invasion,” Marin stressed, adding that “it is important to create concrete steps for Ukraine to become an EU Member State.”

US energy secretary: Russia “weaponizing energy” amid war in Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing sanctions from the West have sent oil prices skyrocketing, lifting gasoline and diesel prices in the United States to unprecedented levels.

Natural gas prices also have climbed around the world.

After the West imposed tough penalties on Russia, Putin warned that “unfriendly” nationswould need to pay for crucial Russian shipments of natural gas in rubles instead of euros.

Following payment disputes, Russia has turned off the flow gas to Finland, Bulgaria and Poland.

“I wouldn’t trust them,” US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told CNN in response to a question about whether Russia will ever again be considered a reliable energy supplier.

“They have to prove they are a reliable partner and they’re certainly not doing that,” she added.

“They are weaponizing energy, which is another reason why as a nation, we should move to energy sources that cannot be weaponized,” Granholm stated while speaking from a General Electric wind turbine testing facility in New Orleans.

Of course, Russia could argue that the West is also weaponizing energy. The United States and other countries have banned imports of Russian oil, natural gas and coal, while Europe is debating similar steps, she continued.

Russian resolution on Ukraine health emergency fails at WHO

A Russian resolution that expresses concerns about a “health emergency” in Ukraine but makes no reference to its own actions in the country has been rejected by a World Health Organization assembly.

The proposal brought to the annual assembly by Russia and Syria was rejected with 66 against and 15 in favour with 70 abstentions, the meeting’s president Hiroki Nakatani said.

It closely mirrors the language of the Western-led resolution with both expressing: “grave concerns over the ongoing health emergency in and around Ukraine”. It also condemns attacks on civilians.

Money making some countries tolerant of Russia: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated that the appeal of Russian money is making some countries tolerant of its aggression.

He rejected calls to accept territorial concessions to appease Moscow.

“Today we hear that allegedly Russia should be given what it wants, supposedly it is necessary to agree that some peoples may be deprived of some of their foreign policy rights,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to the Latvian parliament.

Russia has the advantage in Luhansk: Ukraine military

Ukrainian military has stated that Russia has the military advantage in the fight in the eastern Luhansk region, but they are doing everything they can.

Meanwhile, Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces were retreating before Moscow’s offensive in the eastern Donbas region, but noted the last road out of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk remained outside Russian control.

Lukashenko orders new military command in area bordering Ukraine

Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko has ordered the creation of a new military command for the south of country, bordering Ukraine, according to a video release.

Belarus planned to deploy special operations troops in three areas near its southern border with Ukraine as Lukashenko talked up the role of Russian-made missiles in boosting the country’s defences.

Medvedev says Europe feels consequences of sanctions on Russia including hyper inflation

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, has said it’s hard for Russia live in the conditions of foreign sanctions but Europe is feeling the consequences of these decisions as well.

Medvedev, who’s also the chairman of the United Russia party, made the comments at the party’s conference entitled Entrepreneurship in a New Economic Reality.

“Residents of Europe started to feel all the ‘sweet’ consequences of anti-Russian sanctions: inflation or – for Europe – even hyper inflation, rising prices for fuel, housing, utilities, food, essential goods, job cuts and so on,” he added.

He also stated Russia “isn’t having an good time” in this situation either.

Ukraine warns ‘something should happen’ to pipeline delivering Russian oil to Hungary

Kiev should make “something happen” to the Druzhba (“Friendship”) pipeline carrying Russian oil through Ukraine to Hungary to teach Budapest a lesson, Lana Zerkal, an adviser to Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Haluschenko, has suggested.

“In my view, it would be very appropriate if something happened to the pipeline. But again, this is in the hands of the government and the president – to decide political questions, and whether we really want to speak to Orban in the language he understands and which he is imposing on the European Union”, Zerkal said, speaking at the Kiev Security Forum.

Druzhba is an “excellent lever” with which to influence Hungarian policy, she stressed.

Zerkal’s comments were echoed by former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who called for the oil pipeline to be shut down last week, notwithstanding the expected loss of income to the Ukrainian budget via transit fees collected from Russia.

EU not prepared for war: Top diplomat

The European Union is not prepared for a war such as the one in Ukraine, the bloc’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell warned.

He made the claim at a debate panel hosted by the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS) think tank.

The top diplomat stated that he doesn’t believe it “realistic” that European nations could substantially improve their military capabilities in a timely manner, since the process is “voluntaristic” and there is no “law of gravity to make things happen.”

He explained that even though it is well known where the EU defense shortcomings are, there has to be a “wake-up call” for members to act in a coordinated manner and not end up wasting money.

However, he expressed his dismay that the war in Ukraine was apparently not “the right wake up call.”

“We should learn from this war. Look, the European armies couldn’t maintain a war like the one in Ukraine for more than two weeks. They’ll run out of ammunition,” Borrel added.

He also pointed to the fact that Europeans had grown too accustomed to peace and refused to acknowledge the threat looming from abroad.

He stated that the EU was built with the banner of peace and that war had “disappeared from our collective imagination,” after the founders of the bloc set out to make war “mentally impossible.”

However, the diplomat noted that peace was “no longer an engine, no longer something that moves. Yes, peace, okay, what else?”

“Don’t believe that peace is the natural state of things. The natural state of things is war and we in Europe, we have been accustomed to believe that peace is the normal state and I hope that we are not going to learn that this is not the case,” he said.

Borrell went on to compare Europeans to “big birds that put their head inside the sand” and don’t want to understand how dangerous the world is, insisting that it is important to make them understand “how the world is.”

Borrell previously called for an enhancement of European defense capabilities and for shortfalls revealed by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine to be overcome. He wrote in his blog on Sunday that the most obvious examples of such gaps were the “depleted stockpiles resulting from the military support we provided to Ukraine,” as well as issues “inherited from past budget cuts and underinvestments.”

“The EU needs to take on more responsibility for its own security,” which would require creating “modern and interoperable European armed forces, looking at the higher-end of the spectrum and also striving to scale up capabilities and forces,” he pointed out.

The diplomat underscored three main lines of action that should eventually allow the bloc to eradicate the current deficiencies in its defense: working on combat readiness, stockpile replenishment and modernization of its capabilities.

“The time to push forward European defense is now. We need to strengthen the European defense industrial base and to be operational with the needed military capacities. To be able to increase our military capacity to defend ourselves, to make NATO stronger and to support better our partners whenever needed,” he underlined.

Moscow has decried the EU’s increasing militarization and has argued that the bloc is becoming an “aggressive militant player that has ambitions stretching far beyond the European continent” and is “following in the footsteps of NATO.”

Germany working “flat out” to end reliance on Russian gas

Germany is working “flat out” to end its reliance on Russian gas imports, the country’s Chancellor said Thursday, adding there was “no doubt” that both Berlin and the European Union would end their dependence on energy imports from Moscow.

Russian oil could be completely phased out by the end of the year, Olaf Scholz added during his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He said Germany was looking towards liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and alternative sources of supply.

The EU is following the “same path,” Scholz stated. However, Ukraine is asking for maximum sanctions against Moscow, including an immediate ban on Russian oil and trade.

Russia still wants to take Kyiv: Mayor

Russia plans to take the whole of Ukraine, with the capital of Kyiv being its main target, according to city mayor Vitali Klitschko.

It is clear that Russia is not carrying out a “special operation” but rather a “genocide” in Ukraine, Klitschko said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday.

He warned that Ukraine is not only defending its own sovereignty, but that of all like-minded nations.

“We defend not just our families, we defend all of you,” Klitschko continued, adding, “We defend you because we have the same values.”

The war is a danger to Europe and the whole world, Klitschko noted. He made a plea for “fast decisions” from other leaders on sending Ukraine more defensive weapons, which he says they need quickly.

EU looks to the Middle East to replace Russian gas imports

Russia’s war on Ukraine is forcing the European Union to look for alternatives to Russian gas imports which amount to about 40 percent of consumption every year. Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries can play a crucial role, according to reports.

Kremlin hits out at West’s rhetoric on Russia’s Ukrainian grain blockade as unacceptable

Moscow finds the West’s rhetoric on Russia’s Ukrainian grain blockade unacceptable, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.

“We flatly reject this rhetoric, and we ourselves accuse the West of a number of illicit steps it has taken to cause the blockade,” Peskov stated.

“They should retract the illegal decisions they have made resulting in blocked freight, grain exports, etc.,” the presidential spokesman said in response to a question about whether Western countries should lift their anti-Russian sanctions to unlock grain deliveries.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Reuters earlier this week that the EU should seek dialogue with Russia on unlocking the export of grain and other foods trapped in Ukraine to avoid a global food crisis. She also alleged that Russia was hoarding its food exports as a form of blackmail.

Military actions in Ukraine and large-scale sanctions against Russia imposed by the US and the EU have disrupted grain deliveries, increasing the risk of a food crisis in a number of countries. Wheat and corn prices have risen by 30% since the start of the year. Earlier, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a BBC interview that the issue of clearing mines in the Black Sea in order to create safe passages for vessels was currently being discussed with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres within the framework of his initiative to get Ukrainian grain and Russian fertilizers back to global markets.

On Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko noted Russia had been interacting with the UN on the issue of unlocking wheat exports from Ukrainian ports and that relevant consultations were underway.

Russia not leaving global economy: Putin

President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia is not going to leave the global economic arena despite Western attempts to squeeze it out. It is simply impossible, he stressed.

According to Putin, who was addressing the Eurasian Economic Forum via video link, the countries that are seeking to harm Russia with the sanctions are hurting themselves.

“Russia is getting stronger in some ways because of the sanctions,” he noted.

The president noted that today, more and more countries in the world want to and will pursue an independent economic policy.

The priority today is the development of national technologies in key areas, and Russia has taken the necessary steps, Putin continued.

“Russia starts acquiring new competences, focusing on breakthrough technologies,” he explained, adding that the government will not only implement import substitution but will also develop domestic industries.

Regarding the mass withdrawal of foreign companies from Russia, the president stated other companies will take their place.

Anti-Russia sanctions seem to have boomeranged around on those who implemented them, and developed economies haven’t seen such high levels of inflation in decades, Putin has said.

“No matter how stable the economies of the countries that pursue such a short-sighted policy, the current state of the world economy shows that our position is correct and justified, even looking at macroeconomic indicators. These developed countries haven’t seen such inflation in 40 years, unemployment is on the rise, supply chains are being broken, global crises are intensifying. And in such sensitive areas like food – this is not a joke, these are serious things, which affect the entire system of economic and political relations,” he added.

“World is at a turning point”: German Chancellor addresses impact of war in Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned that Europe and the international community are at a critical point, and said the world has changed since the Ukraine war began.

“The world is at a turning point,” said Scholz during a special address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, adding that not only is Ukraine at risk but also the “system of international cooperation that was forged after two world wars.”

The war was a “thunderbolt,” but the prospect of Russia “capturing Ukraine seems less likely than it did at the beginning” of the invasion, stated Scholz, citing the fierce resistance by Ukrainian troops and help from the international community.

Moscow has failed in its military objectives so far, but succeeded in uniting the international community and fast forwarding Ukraine’s plan to join the European Union, he added.

“We cannot let Putin win this war, and I firmly believe he will not win it,” Scholz continued.

Western reporters to be expelled if YouTube blocks foreign ministry briefings: Russia

Russia’s foreign ministry has noted that reporters from Western countries will be expelled from Russia if YouTube GOOGL.O blocks access to its spokeswoman’s briefings.

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who holds a weekly briefing on Russian foreign policy, including the country’s military intervention in Ukraine, stated the foreign ministry had warned YouTube against blocking her content.

“We just came and told them: ‘You block another briefing, one journalist or American media outlet goes home,’” TASS news agency quoted her as saying.

Eastern cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk under Russian assault: Ukrainian officials

The Ukrainian cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk are under Russian assault amid an offensive in the eastern Luhansk region, the Office of the President of Ukraine announced in an update Thursday.

Severodonetsk — an industrial city situated across the Siverskyi Donets river from Lysychansk — has been under heavy shelling, and the statement said the Impulse Research and Production Association and 11 high-rise buildings in the city had been destroyed.

Oleksandr Striuk, head of the Severodonetsk military administration, stated in a radio interview Thursday that the connection between Severodonetsk and Lysychansk had been “complicated” because of Russian shelling of a bridge between the two cities.

The enemy hasn’t stopped shelling residential neighborhoods for the past one-and-a-half weeks, Striuk added.

“12,000 — 13,000 people remain in the city. People are hiding in shelters and basements. The city is under constant fire,” Striuk said.

Striuk added that communication was limited and that 90% of Severodonetsk’s housing stock had been damaged or destroyed.

The fall of Severodonetsk — the last major city in the Luhansk region under Ukrainian government control — would be a major setback for Kyiv.

“The situation is difficult, especially in the Donetsk operational district,” said Fedir Venislavskyi, a Ukrainian lawmaker and member of the parliamentary Committee for National Security, Defense and Intelligence.

“The hottest spots are Severodonetsk and Lysychansk,” he continued, adding that Russian soldiers were trying to encircle Ukrainian troops before next targeting the cities of Bakhmut and Soledar.

“The enemy partially controls Lyman and is going to the outskirts of Severodonetsk. The situation in this operational area will be very difficult in the coming days,” Venislavskyi noted.

Putin holding world to ransom over food: UK

British foreign minister Liz Truss has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is holding the world to ransom over food, responding to a question about whether she supported lifting sanctions in exchange for grain exports from Ukraine.

“It is completely appalling that Putin is trying to hold the world to ransom, and he is essentially weaponising hunger and lack of food amongst the poorest people around the world,” Truss stated during a visit to Bosnia on Thursday.

“We simply cannot allow this to happen. Putin needs to remove the blockade on Ukrainian grain,” she added.

Ukraine says 240 children killed amid war

Ukraine has confirmed that 240 children have died and 436 have been injured as a result of, and since, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Human rights ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova announced that the numbers came from a register of pre-trial investigations and “as well as other sources that need to be confirmed”.

Ukraine has ‘forever’ lost access to Sea of Azov: Russian-backed official

A Russian representative in the occupied Zaporizhzhia region says that Ukraine has forever lost access to the Sea of the Azov, state news agency RIA has reported.

Earlier another Russian representative in the annexed territory of Crimea told RIA that after the “liberation” of Mariupol, the Sea of Azov became a joint sea for Russia and the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.

Russia expects oil output to shrink up to 8.4% in 2022

Russia’s oil production is expected to decline to 480-500 million tonnes this year from 524 million tonnes in 2021, the deputy prime minister has said, RIA reported.

The forecast is subject to change depending on the situation, Alexander Novak told reporters in Tehran on Thursday.

The Russian economy ministry has stated Russia’s oil output this year was set to fall 9.3 percent to 475.3 million tonnes in the base-case scenario.

“I think the contraction will be way smaller. There was only one month with contraction of more than one million barrels per day, which is not as deep by now. So, I think there will be a recovery in the future,” Novak added.

Separatist republics ‘hold 8,000 Ukrainian POWs’

Ukrainian prisoners of war held in the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics number about 8,000, Luhansk official Rodion Miroshnik is quoted by TASS news agency as saying.

“There are a lot of prisoners. Of course, there are more of them on the territory of Donetsk People’s Republic, but we also have enough, and now the total number is somewhere in the region of 8,000. That’s a lot, and literally hundreds are being added every day,” Miroshnik stated.

Donbas separatist leader wants Russia’s operation to be accelerated

The leader of Russian-backed separatists in the breakaway Donetsk region has called for the military operation in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine to be accelerated, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.

Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), said Kyiv had blocked water supplies to key cities in the north of the region and called for military action to be stepped up.

Nineteen high-rise buildings destroyed in eastern Ukraine: Kyiv

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office has said 11 high-rise buildings were destroyed in Sievierodonetsk and eight in Lysychansk.

Zelensky has stated Russian troops heavily outnumber Ukrainian forces in some parts of the east and Kyiv has been trying unsuccessfully to arrange a prisoner swap with Moscow.

Russia cuts key interest rate

The Central Bank of Russia cut the key interest rate three basis points on Thursday from 14% to 11%, as inflation in the country shows signs of subsiding, according to the regulator.

The move is part of the easing of capital control measures adopted in March to protect the economy from the onslaught of Western sanctions.

According to the regulator, “the latest weekly data points to a significant slowdown in the current price growth rates.”

“Inflationary pressure eases on the back of the ruble exchange rate dynamics as well as the noticeable decline in inflation expectations of households and businesses,” the press release reads.

The regulator notes that last month, annual inflation reached 17.8%, but based on estimates on May 20, it slowed down to 17.5%, “decreasing faster than in the Bank of Russia’s April forecast.”

According to the Bank of Russia forecast, annual inflation will decrease to 5-7% in 2023 and return to 4% in 2024.

The regulator also indicated that it might further reduce the key rate in the coming weeks, noting that the risks to Russia’s financial stability have “somewhat decreased, enabling a relaxation of some capital control measures.” However, it stressed that the conditions for the economy remain challenging.

Russia was forced to introduce capital control measures and hike the key rate to 20% in March, after the US and its allies imposed an unprecedented number of sanctions in response to Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine. The sanctions sparked inflation growth in the country and resulted in a historic drop in the ruble’s exchange rate to record lows. However, measures introduced to protect the economy have reversed these trends, with the national currency surging to multi-year highs this month.

Ruble sets new record against dollar and euro

The Russian ruble set another multi-year high against both the US dollar and euro on Wednesday, even as the central bank loosens capital controls.

The ruble was trading below 58 to the euro, its strongest level since May 2015, and below 56 against the dollar, its strongest since February 2018. The quotes are according to Moscow Exchange data.

The Russian currency gave up some of the gains later in the session.

The ruble continued to strengthen on Wednesday even as the central bank loosens the capital controls initiated in March to protect it from Western sanctions.

Ukraine condemns Russian move to issue passports in occupied regions

Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned a move by Moscow that makes it easier for Ukrainians in some Russian-occupied regions to obtain Russian citizenship.

“Illegal passportization in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, as well as in Crimea and the temporarily occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, is a gross violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, norms and principles of international humanitarian law, and the obligations of Russia as an occupying power in accordance with Article 45 of the 1907 Hague Convention and Article 47 of the 1949 Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The decree of the president of Russia is legally null and void and will have no legal consequences. This decision will not affect the citizenship of Ukrainians on the territories temporarily occupied by Russia,” it added.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Wednesday streamlining the process for providing passports to Ukrainians in the occupied portions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. Russia has already handed out hundreds of thousands of passports to residents of separatist areas in Ukraine’s east and in the annexed Ukrainian territory of Crimea, as well as to residents of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Transnistria in Moldova. Analysts say those moves have helped Moscow create a pretext for continued intervention in those areas.

Yevhen Yaroshenko, an analyst for the human rights organization Crimea SOS, said Russia’s policy of “passportization” may also serve an agenda of providing conscripts for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Shortly after obtaining a Russian passport, the Russian Federation may call up such a person for military service and subsequently involve him in combat operations against Ukraine,” Yaroshenko continued, adding, “Thus residents of the temporarily occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions become hostages of the call of the Russian Federation.”

Russia likely mismanaged professional air forces: UK

Although Russia’s airborne forces, the VDV, enjoy elite status, high pay and are manned by professional contract soldiers, they have been involved in major tactical failures in Ukraine, the UK’s ministry of defence has said. It added that this likely reflects strategic mismanagement of this otherwise superior capability.

The tactical failures the VDV was involved in include “the attempted advance on Kyiv via Hostomel Airfield in March, the stalled progress on the Izyum axis since April, and the recent failed and costly crossings of the Siverskyi Donets River,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence briefing.

“The VDV has been employed on missions better suited to heavier armoured infantry and has sustained heavy casualties during the campaign,” the ministry announced.

“Its mixed performance likely reflects a strategic mismanagement of this capability and Russia’s failure to secure air superiority,” it added.

Occupied Zaporozhzhia and Kherson won’t return to Ukraine: Russian-backed official

Moscow’s decision to fast track Russian citizenship for Ukrainian residents of the occupied Zaporozhzhia and Kherson regions means these territories will not return to Ukraine, a Moscow-installed officer of the so-called ministry of internal affairs of Zaporozhzhia has said.

Alexei Selivanov stated residents of the occupied regions “get the opportunity to work, get an education throughout the territory of great power, register in the territory to receive all social benefits and payments,” Russia’s Tass news reports.

“This means that the Zaporozhzhia and Kherson regions will no longer return to Ukraine,” Selivanov added.

Moscow looking to mobilise Ukrainians in occupied territories: Think-Tank

Moscow’s moves towards making Ukrainian residents in occupied regions Russian citizens may be laying groundwork to carry out mobilisation in these regions, the Institute for the Study of War suggests.

“…having a Russian passport would make conscription-eligible residents of occupied territories subject to forced military service,” the ISW said in its latest campaign assessment.

The institute noted other moves Russia had made to increase its diminishing pool of combat-ready reservists, such as Moscow raising to raise the maximum age of voluntary enlistment from 40 to 50.

“Russian Telegram channels also reported that Russian leadership forced operational officers and commanders of the Russian Border Guards of southern Russian regions including Rostov Oblast and occupied Crimea to indefinitely cancel all summer vacations … an indication of the next source of manpower to which Putin will apparently turn,” the ISW added.

Russia working on package of measures in response to US sanctions

Russia is working on a package of measures to respond to the United States’ sanctions, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated on Wednesday.

“We are elaborating a package of [response] measures. There is certain understanding but I would refrain from speaking about them until they are agreed with all sides concerned. Not because I want to keep you in suspense, but because we really agreeing it with all who are in charge of corresponding matters,” she told Russia’s TV Channel One.

US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said earlier that the United States will not lift its anti-Russian sanctions that not linked with food until Russia stops its special operation in Ukraine.

Moscow will take adequate retaliatory actions if other countries seize assets belonging to Russia, Zakharova said at a briefing on Wednesday.

“Any use of the funds of both the Russian state and its citizens without the consent of the legitimate owners, as you understand, will be interpreted by us as an unlawful and defiantly unfriendly attack on a particular country and its power structures, giving the right to adequate response actions,” the diplomat stressed.

Speaking about the blocking of Russian foreign accounts, Zakharova noted that Moscow considers such steps illegitimate and violating the international law and the unbiased functioning of the global financial system.

“Of course, this is the beginning of the destruction of the global financial system. Such actions of Western countries can be interpreted as a blatant encroachment on sovereign property and a blatant theft. This applies not only to interstate relations, but also to private ones, because the same applies to individuals as well,” she added.

According to her, this is another reason for the whole world to think about the reliability of the dollar and the euro as reserve currencies and the main means of external settlements, as well as the ability of the US and the EU to guarantee anything to anyone.

Zakharova stressed that “the West’s refusal to interact exclusively within the legal framework and the further aggravation of the situation with the access of states and individuals to their assets” will create an extremely dangerous precedent.

“This would mean that the sovereign status of certain assets is no longer guaranteed and can always be revised by individual players using their privileged positions when the geopolitical situation changes,” the diplomat continued.

World Bank president: War in Ukraine may trigger global recession

World Bank President David Malpass has suggested that the war in Ukraine and its effects on food and energy prices could trigger a global recession.

Malpass told an event hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce that Germany, the world’s fourth-largest economy, has already seen a substantial economic slowdown due to higher energy prices. He also said limited access to fertiliser could worsen conditions elsewhere.

“As we look at the global GDP … it’s hard right now to see how we avoid a recession,” Malpass stated.

US, EU, UK announce new war crimes accountability initiative

The United States, European Union and the United Kingdom have announced they are launching a new mechanism to help ensure accountability for war crimes in Ukraine.

Dubbed the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA), the new initiative aims to support the office of the prosecutor general of Ukraine in its investigation of war-related crimes, the Western allies said in a joint statement.

“The ACA seeks to streamline coordination and communication efforts to ensure best practices, avoid duplication of efforts, and encourage the expeditious deployment of financial resources and skilled personnel to respond to the needs of the OPG [office of the prosecutor general],” the statement read.

Zelensky rebukes suggestions that Ukraine should cede territory

President Volodymyr Zelensky has strongly rebuffed those in the West who have suggested Ukraine should cede control of areas occupied by Russian forces for the sake of reaching a peace agreement.

Those “great geopoliticians” who make that suggestion are disregarding the interests of Ukrainians, “the millions of those who actually live on the territory that they propose exchanging for an illusion of peace”, Zelensky said in his nightly video address to the nation.

“We always have to think of the people and remember that values are not just words,” he noted.

“It seems that Mr Kissinger’s calendar is not 2022, but 1938, and he thought he was talking to an audience not in Davos, but in Munich of that time,” Zelensky stated.

He added that in 1938, Kissinger was 15 years old and his family fled Nazi Germany.

“And nobody heard from him then that it was necessary to adapt to the Nazis instead of fleeing them or fighting them,” he continued.

UK foreign minister will call on the West to ensure Putin loses in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Thursday, where she will use an address to the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to urge the UK’s Western partners to ensure Russian President Vladimir Putin loses in Ukraine, the Foreign Office said in a statement late Wednesday.

Truss will also warn against appeasing the Russian leader, the release added.

“Russia’s aggression cannot be appeased. It must be met with strength”, she will say according to the Foreign Office.

“We must be relentless in ensuring Ukraine prevails through military aid and sanctions. We can’t take our foot off the accelerator now,” she will add.

Putin announces 10% hike in state pensions and minimum wage as inflation rises in Russia

President Vladimir Putin has announced that state pensions and the minimum wage will rise substantially in Russia from June 1.

According to the state news agency TASS, Putin made the announcement at a meeting of the State Council.

“We discussed this issue with the government for a long time, there were differences within the government and a solution was worked out,” he said, noting, “I propose to increase the pensions of non-working pensioners by 10% from June 1.”

“Our main task is to ensure [a] further increase in the minimum wage, so that the citizens’ income level would significantly exceed the size of the subsistence rate,” he added.

Evidence of Russian war crimes continues to mount: US

The US State Department has stated evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine continues to mount.

“In addition to continued bombardments and missile strikes hitting densely populated areas, causing thousands of civilian deaths, we continue to see credible reports of violence of a different order,” Spokesperson Ned Price said.

He added that includes reports of “unarmed civilians shot in the back; individuals killed execution-style with their hands bound; bodies showing signs of torture, and horrific accounts of sexual violence against women and girls”.

US will not lift Russia sanctions to ‘help’ unblock Ukraine ports

The United States says it will not consider lifting sanctions on Russia in exchange for Moscow helping Ukrainian exports leave Black Sea ports.

“We certainly won’t lift our sanctions in response to empty promises, and we’ve heard empty promises before from the Russian Federation,” US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price stated.

“I think we have – all have good reason to be skeptical when we hear various pledges and offers from Russia. This was the same country, of course, that for months maintained that it had no intention of invading its neighbor and taking on this brutal war,” he added.

Russian forces shelled over 40 towns in Donbas: Ukraine’s army

Russian forces shelled more than 40 towns in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, Ukraine’s military has said, threatening to shut off the last main escape route for civilians trapped in the path of their invasion, now in its fourth month.

“The occupiers shelled more than 40 towns in Donetsk and Luhansk region, destroying or damaging 47 civilian sites, including 38 homes and a school. As a result of this shelling five civilians died and 12 were wounded,” the Joint Task Force of Ukraine’s armed forces announced on Facebook.

Russia has poured thousands of troops into the region, attacking from three sides in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces holding out in the city of Severodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk. Their fall would leave the whole of Luhansk province under Russian control, a key Kremlin war aim.

Russia promises safe corridor for ships to leave Black Sea ports

The Russian Defence Ministry is promising to open a safe corridor to allow foreign ships to leave Black Sea ports. A separate corridor will be open to allow ships to leave Mariupol by sailing from the port on the Sea of Azov to the Black Sea.

Russian Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, who heads the National Defence Control Centre under the General Staff, stated 70 foreign vessels from 16 countries are now in six ports on the Black Sea including Odesa, Kherson and Mykolaiv.

Mizintsev, whose comments at a briefing in Moscow on Wednesday were reported by the Interfax news agency, said the corridors would be open every day.

Earlier Wednesday, the Russian military announced Mariupol’s port was functioning again after three months of fighting. The Defence Ministry spokesperson said the military first had to clear the port of mines.

Turkey calls on Sweden, Finland to take concrete steps against ‘terror groups’

Turkey’s presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin has called on Sweden and Finland to take concrete steps against “terror groups” in order to address Turkey’s security concerns.

Ankara has repeatedly voiced objections over the two Nordic countries’ application to the military alliance due to their perceived support of groups such as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long fight against Turkey.

Kalin also said he noted a “positive attitude” by Swedish and Finnish officials over lifting an arms exports embargo on Turkey – one of the country’s demands to soften its position over their bids to join NATO.

Sweden and Finland had banned arms exports to Turkey after its Syria incursion against the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Ankara considers the group similar to the PKK.

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