Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 94: Putin warns European leaders against sending heavy weapons to Ukraine

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:

Putin cautions Scholz, Macron against sending heavy weapons to Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has cautioned German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron against providing Ukraine with heavy weapons in an 80-minute phone call.

Deliveries of more powerful weapons posed the risk of further destabilising the situation and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, Putin stated, according to a Kremlin statement issued after the call.

Putin has informed Macron and Scholz about the current situation with the now-frozen talks with Ukraine, stating that Moscow is willing to resume the dialogue, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

“Special attention was paid to the situation with the negotiations that are frozen through the fault of Kiev. Vladimir Putin confirmed the Russian side’s openness to resume the dialogue,” the Kremlin added.

Macron, Scholz urge Putin to free 2,500 Azovstal fighters

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have asked President Vladimir Putin to release 2,500 Ukrainian fighters who were holed up inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and who were taken prisoner by Russia.

“The president of the Republic and the German chancellor asked for the release of some 2,500 defenders of Azovstal made prisoners of war by the Russian forces,” the French presidency said after a telephone call between the three leaders.

Scholz and Macron have also asked Putin to hold “direct serious negotiations” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

During an 80-minute conversation with the Russian president, the two EU leaders “insisted on an immediate ceasefire and a withdrawal of Russian troops,” the German chancellor’s office stated.

Macron and Scholz urged Putin to have “serious direct negotiations with the Ukrainian president and [find] a diplomatic solution to the conflict,” it added.

Scholz and Macron called for an end to the conflict, German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said.

“The chancellor and the president demanded an immediate ceasefire, direct talks with the Ukrainian president and a diplomatic solution to the conflict,” Hebestreit noted.

Russia opens humanitarian corridors for ships, Kiev refuses to cooperate: Moscow

The Western statements about Russia blocking foreign ships in the Black and Azov seas are unfounded, as Moscow opens humanitarian corridors every day, but the Ukrainian authorities refuse to cooperate, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday.

“As for the statements made the day before by official representatives of foreign states about the ‘blocking’ by the Russian military of foreign vessels in the waters of the Black and Azov seas, they are not consistent with reality. The port in Mariupol has resumed work after the military of Russia and the DPR gained control over it, so the navigating channel was unblocked, and the conditions were created for the ships to leave,” Zakharova added.

According to the spokesperson, the Russian armed forces open two maritime humanitarian corridors daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Moscow time (05:00 to 16:00 GMT), but the Ukrainian authorities “refuse to interact with representatives of foreign states and shipowner companies to ensure the safe exit of the blocked ships, practically holding the crews hostage.”

On Thursday, the head of the Russian National Defence Control Center, Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, stated that foreign shipowners had ignored opportunities provided by Russia to safely withdraw their vessels from the port of Mariupol, and called on the diplomatic missions of Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, Liberia, Panama, Turkey, Jamaica and the International Maritime Organization to influence the shipowners.

According to the defence official, the danger of mines in the waters of the Mariupol port has been eliminated and the harbour can be safely used by civilian ships, and a 139 nautical miles long and 3 miles wide naval humanitarian corridor from other Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea will be open daily starting 27 May, with the Ukrainian side being responsible for ensuring the safety of ships leaving the ports.

On Tuesday, the Russian Defence Ministry said that the minesweepers finished clearing the Mariupol port of mines and freed the routes from sunken ships and other navigational hazards. Works to recover port infrastructure are currently underway. On Wednesday, Zakharova noted that five foreign vessels were able to leave after the demining.

Ukraine vows to reclaim Black Sea with foreign weapons

Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexey Reznikov declared on Saturday that Kiev “will still win” its conflict with Russia. Like other Ukrainian officials, Reznikov has placed his hopes in foreign-supplied weapons, particularly Harpoon anti-ship missiles provided by Denmark.

In a lengthy Facebook post on Saturday, Reznikov thanked “several” countries for replenishing Ukraine’s stocks of 155mm artillery shells, and hailed the United States for a recent shipment of M777 155mm howitzers and more than 100 drones of various types.

“I would also like to inform that the coastal defence of our country will not only be strengthened by Harpoon missiles – they will be used by trained Ukrainian teams,” he added.

On Monday, following a virtual meeting of American allies, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that Denmark would send an unspecified number of these missiles to Ukraine.

Boeing’s A/U/RGM-84 Harpoon is the US Navy’s standard anti-ship missile, with an estimated range of about 300km. It has active radar guidance and skims the surface until reaching its target, at which point it can execute a ‘pop-up’ maneuver and strike from above. Harpoons are normally launched from either surface vessels or attack aircraft, but launchers can be removed from ships for use onshore.

“I am confident that the military brotherhood of Harpoons and our Neptunes will help us liberate and make our Black Sea safe again, as well as reliably protect Odessa,” Reznikov declared.

‘Neptunes’ refer to a Ukrainian-manufactured cruise missile that Kiev claims it used to strike a Russian warship in April. Moscow has not confirmed these claims.

Reznikov is not the first Ukrainian official to issue bold statements about retaking the Black Sea, which has been mostly under the control of the Russian Navy since early in the conflict. After the Danish Harpoon delivery was announced on Monday, Ukrainian Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko tweeted that the US was “preparing a plan to destroy the Black Sea Fleet,” a statement that the Pentagon immediately denied.

An earlier Ukrainian attempt to retake the Black Sea outpost of Snake Island resulted in failure. Russia announced that the assault on the island, which took place earlier this month, cost Ukraine 30 drones, 14 aircraft and three ships.

Kiev has accused Russia of blockading the vital port city of Odessa, preventing food shipments from entering and leaving Ukraine. Moscow has said that the logistical problems stem from Ukraine having mined the Black Sea, although the Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that it had cleared a stretch of the Azov Sea of mines and opened the lane to civilian vessels. Another three-mile-wide naval corridor in the Black Sea has been maintained by the Russian Navy for some time and remains open for traffic.

Spain adding missiles, troops to NATO Latvia mission: Report

Spain is sending a battery of surface-to-air missiles and around 100 troops to the NATO forward presence mission in Latvia, joining some 500 compatriots already present in the Baltic state, El Pais has reported.

The Spanish defence ministry “plans to deploy in Latvia a battery of surface-to-air NASAMS,” or Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System, El Pais said as NATO beefs up its presence in the Baltic region in the face of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

“Our commitment to NATO is total,” Defence Minister Margarita Robles told Spanish television in addressing the report.

“We have troops at the moment in Latvia and also in Lithuania, we have our ships in the Mediterranean,” Robles added.

Putin signs law scrapping upper age limit to enlist in Russian military

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law scrapping the upper age limit for Russians and foreigners to join the military as contract service members, according to Russian state news agency TASS.

Russia’s State Duma passed the bill on Wednesday but Putin’s signature was needed for it to become law.

Previously, citizens aged 18 to 40 and foreigners aged 18 to 30 could enlist in the Russian military.

The changes were drafted by the head of the State Duma Defense Committee, Andrei Kartapolov, and his first deputy, Andrei Krasov. According to TASS, they believe the abolition of an upper age limit will attract specialists in areas such as medical support, engineering and communications.

The explanatory note to the draft law also notes that the use of high-precision weapons and military equipment requires specialists and they gain the experience by the age of 40 to 45.

The changes in law come amid serious Russian casualties in Ukraine, where Moscow is waging what it euphemistically calls a “special military operation.”

Russia also has a system of military conscription. The Kremlin initially announced draftees would not serve in Ukraine but subsequently acknowledged they were serving in combat.

Ukraine receives Harpoon missiles and howitzers: DM

Kyiv has started receiving Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark and self-propelled howitzers from the US, Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov announced, saying the arms would bolster forces fighting Russia’s invasion.

“The coastal defence of our country will not only be strengthened by Harpoon missiles – they will be used by trained Ukrainian teams,” Reznikov wrote on his Facebook page.

He added Harpoon shore-to-ship missiles would be operated alongside Ukrainian Neptune missiles in the defence of the country’s coast including the southern port of Odesa.

Russian army claims capture of Lyman

Russia’s army in a statement has claimed that it captured the strategic town of Lyman in eastern Ukraine.

“Following the joint actions of the units of the militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Russian armed forces, the town of Lyman has been entirely liberated from Ukrainian nationalists,” the defence ministry announced in a statement, confirming an announcement a day earlier by pro-Moscow separatists.

Kherson region switches to Moscow time: Authorities

The Kherson Region has switched to Moscow time, deputy head of the military-civil administration of the region Kirill Stremousov told Sputnik on Saturday.

“We have switched to Moscow time and now live according to Moscow time. Moscow is the centre of time in the Kherson Region,” Stremousov said, adding that starting this year, the region will no longer switch to winter time, as in Ukraine.

On Friday, the authorities of the liberated part of the Zaporozhye Region announced the transition to Moscow time.

The Russian military, during a special operation to demilitarize Ukraine, took control of the Kherson Region in the south of the country and part of the Zaporozhye Region. Military-civilian administrations have been formed in the regions, broadcasting of Russian TV channels and radio stations has begun, and trade ties with Crimea are being restored.

Any agreement with Russia ‘isn’t worth a broken penny’: Ukraine negotiator

Ukrainian presidential adviser and peace talks negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak has said that any agreement with Russia cannot be trusted and Moscow can only stopped in its invasion by force.

“Any agreement with Russia isn’t worth a broken penny, Podolyak wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

“Is it possible to negotiate with a country that always lies cynically and propagandistically?” he added.

Some 10,000 Russian troops in Luhansk region: Governor

Serhiy Haidai has noted there are some 10,000 Russian troops in the eastern region.

“These are the (units) that are permanently in Luhansk region, that are trying to assault and are attempting to make gains in any direction they can,” Haidai stated on Ukrainian television.

He said the key eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk was “not cut off,” as Russian troops press a concerted offensive in the Luhansk region.

Hayday added intense Russian shelling was underway in Severodonetsk, an industrial center which is the last major stronghold of Ukrainian control in the Luhansk region.

Russia: Negligence of Ukrainian bio specialists, US’ influence pose threat to world

Unprofessionalism of Ukrainian biolab specialists, corruption in Ukraine’s executive authorities and the destructive influence of US puppeteers pose threats to the civilian population in Ukraine and in Europe, Chief of Russia’s radiation, chemical and biological protection force, Igor Kirillov, said.

“Negligence in handling pathogens, unprofessionalism and corruption in the system of executive authorities, as well as destructive influences of US patrons pose a direct threat to the civilian population in Ukraine and in European countries,” he stated, commenting on numerous flagrant violations exposed at the Odessa Anti-Plaque Research Institute.

According to Kirillov, all these violations at this institute were committed when it was involved in the implementation of the US program for the reduction of biothreats. “It means that the goals that are officially declared by Washington are only a smoke screen to hide illegal military biological activities in Ukraine,” he stressed.

He drew attention to the Ukrainian health ministry’s report about the results of the check of the Odessa institute’s collection of strain, numbering 654 samples. The institute had 32 anthrax strains, 189 tularemia strain, 11 brucellosis strains, and 422 cholera strains. The report fixed flagrant violations in microorganism storage conditions, the lack of the system of control and access management, and malefaction of the air ventilation system.

Apart from that, according to Kirillov, a laboratory-acquired tick-borne encephalitis case was registered at the institute’s laboratory in April 2017. Along with that, according to eyewitnesses, a laboratory employee took several test tubes with dangerous microorganisms from the institute in 2021.

The United States, Poland and Germany have not submitted any reports to the United Nations about their joint biological research with Ukraine, including about developing biological defense, Kirillov added.

Kirillov recalled that each signatory to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention submits an annual report in the form of a declaration of compliance. Moscow has analyzed the information submitted to the UN by those states.

“Neither Ukraine nor the United States provided information on joint biological research, as well as on studies in biological defense. Poland and Germany did not mention interaction with Ukraine in their reports either,” Kirillov said.

The lieutenant general pointed out that Ukraine claimed in the reports for 2016-2020 that its government had not conducted and was not conducting either offensive or defensive activities under biological research and development programs.

“This contradicts the statement made by Lewis Gitter, Deputy Political Counselor of the US Mission to the OSCE, on May 20, 2022. He said that the aid had been sent to Kiev ‘to reduce biological threats and support public and veterinary health to reduce the risk of disease outbreaks’ and ‘to secure illegal biological weapons left in the Soviet successor states after the USSR fell’,” he stressed.

While examining Ukrainian reports, Russia found plenty of inconsistencies.

“Thus, Form A of the 2020 Confidence Building Measures declares that there are no national biosafety programs whatsoever. Along with this, Item 2 ‘i’ of this form lists the Kiev-based State Scientific Control Institute of Biotechnology and Strains of Microorganisms as a participant in the biological protection program,” Kirillov added.

The chief of the Russian Radiation, Chemical and Biological Defense Forces noted that the characteristics of the facility, including the area of laboratories and the number of staff, are inconsistent with the information previously provided by Ukraine.

“A question arises: Why wasn’t the work under the joint military biological projects codenamed UP mentioned in the reports submitted by the US and Ukraine to the UN? This secrecy is a reason to wonder about the Pentagon’s true goals in Ukraine,” he emphasized.

Russian-occupied Kherson closes borders to Ukrainian-held territory

The Russian occupied region of Kherson has closed its borders to surrounding Ukrainian areas, state media RIA-Novosti quoted Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-installed administration in Kherson as saying Saturday.

“The border is now closed for security reasons … we do not advise travel to Ukraine at all, regardless of the pretext,” Stremousov stated.

Kherson’s border crossings with the Ukrainian regions of Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk are closed, while travel from Kherson to Crimea or the Russian-controlled areas of Zaporizhzhia remains possible, Stremousov added.

Nearly all of Kherson — located in Southern Ukraine — has been occupied by Russia since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Exit points from Kherson have been unofficially blocked off for weeks, according to Ukrainian officials, who allege that anyone wanting to leave the area has been sent to Crimea.

Efforts by the Russian-installed administration in Kherson to install military bases and advance a referendum to make the region a “Republic” — mirroring other separatists statelets in eastern Ukraine — are ongoing.

WHO members’ vote on Kiev resolution reflects sober assessment of Ukraine crisis: Russia

The vote at the 75th session of the World Health Assembly, the decision making body the World Health Organization (WHO), indicated that the world community appears to be taking an increasingly sober view of the situation in and around Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced.

“We are pleased to state that out of the 183 WHO member states that attended the session and that have voting rights, only 88 states supported Ukraine’s resolution. Ukraine and its allies failed to mobilize even half of the votes in their support, although, as far as we know, they had put unprecedented pressure on other countries prior to the session and during it,” the statement says.

“There is an evident tendency for the world community to look more and more soberly at the situation in and around Ukraine, unwilling to sacrifice multilateral cooperation in the crucial areas for all humankind,” the statement added.

The Foreign Ministry pointed out that during the 75th session of the World Health Assembly in Geneva on May 26 “Ukraine and its Western supporters attempted once again to politicize the work of international organizations called to facilitate multilateral cooperation among countries in relevant areas, in this case – in health care.

“An anti-Russian resolution was submitted which contained lies and reality-distorting statements and was designed to isolate our country and exclude it from the WHO work. Regrettably, the document was adopted owing to the consolidated support of the European countries that had initiated a resolution of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe on May 10, which was aimed at terminating cooperation with Russia in the WHO European Region,” the ministry stressed.

UK warns West won’t feel safe if Russia succeeds in Ukraine

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss stated Western countries won’t feel safe if Russia succeeds in Ukraine.

“We must ensure Ukraine wins this great fight for freedom,” she said in a speech while visiting Prague.

Truss noted that Russia is acting not only against the Ukrainian people but also “freedom, sovereignty and the rule of law” in the Western countries.

“If he [Russian President Vladimir Putin] succeeds in Ukraine, we will never feel safe again,” she said, according to a copy of the speech released by the UK Foreign Office.

The foreign minister reiterated that appeasement is not an answer in the situation.

“We must respond with strength. Appeasement cannot be the answer,” she added.

Putin has achieved ‘exactly zero’ of his objectives: US official

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby has said President Vladimir Putin has “achieved exactly zero” of his objectives in Ukraine, despite intensifying fighting in the east.

“Our assessment is that the Russians continue to make some incremental gains in the Donbas. Not great magnitude – not leaps and bounds. They are facing and continue to face a stiff Ukrainian resistance,” Kirby told reporters during a news conference.

“We are almost 100 days into this, and Mr Putin has achieved exactly zero of his strategic objectives,” he added.

NATO talks with Sweden, Finland ‘will continue’: Turkish official

A senior Turkish official has told the Reuters news agency that talks with Sweden and Finland over the two countries’ efforts to join NATO are “not an easy process” but will continue.

Ankara has raised concerns over their recent bids to join the US-led alliance, accusing Sweden and Finland of harbouring “terrorists” while also criticising Stockholm for suspending weapons sales to Ankara in 2019 over its involvement in the war in Syria.

Swedish and Finnish diplomats met in Turkey on Wednesday to try to bridge their differences.

The Turkish official told Reuters that Sweden and Finland must take “difficult” steps to win Ankara’s support.

“Further negotiations will continue. But a date doesn’t seem very close,” the official added.

US Army confirms buying more Stingers to help replenish stocks

The United States Army has announced it has awarded a contract worth $625m to Raytheon Technologies Corp for anti-aircraft Stinger missiles to replenish stocks sent to Ukraine.

The shoulder-fired, anti-aircraft Stinger missiles made by Raytheon were in hot demand in Ukraine, where they have successfully stopped Russian assaults from the air, and in neighbouring European countries that fear they may also need to beat back Russian forces.

US troops have limited use for the current supply of Stingers, but the US needs to maintain its supply on hand while it develops the next generation of a “man-portable air defense system”.

Since February, Washington has shipped about 1,400 Stingers to Kyiv.

‘Donbas will be Ukrainian’: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has struck a determined tone in his regular nightly video address amid reports that Russia had captured Lyman and was pounding the city of Severodonetsk.

Ukraine was protecting its land “as much as our current defence resources allow,” he said.

“If the occupiers think that Lyman or Severodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong,” Zelensky continued, adding, “Donbas will be Ukrainian.”

Biden says Putin trying to erase Ukrainian culture and identity

US President Joe Biden has accused his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of seeking to “wipe out” Ukrainian culture and identity.

“Not only is he trying to take over Ukraine, he’s literally trying to wipe out the culture and identity of the Ukrainian people,” Biden said in a speech at a US Naval Academy graduation ceremony.

He stated Russian forces are “attacking schools, nurseries, hospitals, museums with no other purpose than to eliminate a culture” and added that the war is “a direct assault on the fundamental tenets of rule-based international order”.

Pentagon is “mindful” of Ukraine’s request for long-range rockets: Spokesperson

The US Defense Department said it is “mindful and aware” of Ukraine’s request for multiple-launch rocket systems, but that “decisions … haven’t been made yet.”

“Our goal from the very beginning has been to try to help them in the fight that they’re in today,” said outgoing Pentagon press secretary John Kirby at a briefing with reporters.

“I won’t go so far as to say it’s too late to provide the Ukrainians with any system or capability that they might need because they are very active in the fight and they have pushed back the Russians up near Kharkiv,” Kirby added.

However, Kirby stated the Defense Department is “mindful of the clock” when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We are ever mindful as we have been since the beginning, mindful of the clock here, mindful of this sense of urgency, mindful that time is not our friend,” noted Kirby, “which is why we have been continuing to move equipment literally every day for the last 90 plus days of this war.”

22 million tons of grain on hold as Russia blocks Ukrainian ports

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said nearly half of Ukraine’s grain export supply is currently held up as Russia continues to block the country’s main export routes through the Black Sea and Azov Sea, calling the situation a potential “catastrophe” for global food security.

Addressing an Indonesian foreign policy think tank in an online forum Friday, Zelensky stated, “22 million tons of grain are kept in silos today. We cannot supply them to international markets where they are needed at this very point in time.”

The Ukrainian president also added the UN estimates that famine might affect additional 50 million people this year were a “conservative” estimate, implying that the number of those affected will be greater.

“Famine doesn’t come alone, it is always accompanied by political chaos that exacerbates the situation, ruins people’s lives, creating unsafe conditions for ordinary people,” he said, adding, “In July, when many countries will exhaust their stock of last year’s harvest, it will become obvious the catastrophe is truly coming.”

The Ukrainian president also accepted an invitation to attend G20 Summit in Indonesia in November. He urged the hosts to include “only friendly nations,” implying Russia should be excluded from the summit in Bali.

“Fierce defense” of Severodonetsk underway with 90% of housing damaged: Local military official

About 90% of the city’s housing stock had been damaged amid a “fierce defense” of the town, a local military official in the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk said Friday.

The city “held out through the night” under heavy Russian attack, Oleksandr Striuk, the head of the Severodonetsk military administration, said in a radio interview. But he acknowledged that Russian forces were continuing to press the offensive.

“Yesterday the fighting took place at the entrance to the city,” he continued, adding, “Our military managed to stop the vanguard of the Orcs [a pejorative Ukrainian term for Russian troops] who were trying to break into the city. Severodonetsk is in fierce defense. The enemy is located on two-thirds of the city’s perimeter, but the city is not surrounded.”

The city had seen widespread destruction, Striuk stated.

“The Azot (Nitrogen) chemical plant is being shelled,” he said, adding, “There are dead among the civilian population and among employees of the enterprise. Ninety percent of the housing stock is damaged, 60% will have to be rebuilt.”

Striuk stated a Russian force that entered a hotel on the north of the city was expelled by Ukrainian forces, a claim that could not be immediately verified. Ukrainian officials previously announced the hotel was not under their control.

Ukrainian officials are denying that the city of Severodonetsk in Luhansk is surrounded, but have acknowledged that Russian forces hold one part of the city.

“The city is not cut off, and it is not surrounded. The fighting continues,” said Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk region’s military administration, in a radio interview. The Russian army has “only entered the outskirts of the city,” he claimed.

“This is a war, a war against a very powerful enemy, and in theory anything is possible,” Hayday stated when asked about the possibility of Russian troops gaining further ground in the city.

“The higher military command sees this situation. But so far I can’t say that in a day, two, three they will completely take over the area. No, most likely they won’t,” he added.

“We have enough strength,” he continued, while also cautioning that, “Maybe there will be a command to our troops even to retreat.”

ICC prosecutor urges Russia to cooperate on Ukraine probe

Russia should cooperate with the International Criminal Court’s investigation into alleged war crimes carried out during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the tribunal’s prosecutor has told the AFP news agency.

“The invitation is there. My door is open, and I will also keep knocking on the door of the Russian Federation,” ICC prosecutor Karim Khan stated in an interview at the Hague-based court.

Russian forces could struggle in Severodonetsk urban battle: ISW

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has released its latest assessment on the fighting in Ukraine.

It says Russia’s direct attacks on Severodonetsk began even before the city had been completely encircled, which could make it difficult for the military to advance quickly in the town.

“Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in built-up urban terrain throughout the war to date,” the think tank added.

It also observed an increase in the activity of Ukrainian partisan forces in the south that have been occupied by Russian troops.

Ukraine nuclear inspectorate accuses IAEA of falling for Russian propaganda

Ukraine’s state nuclear inspectorate has accused the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of falling for Russian propaganda and demanded it back efforts by Kyiv to expel Moscow’s forces from a major power plant.

Oleg Korikov, acting head of the inspectorate, said IAEA director general Rafael Grossi had this week told the World Economic Forum at Davos that there were large stocks of plutonium and enriched uranium at the Zaporizhzhia power plant that could be used to make nuclear weapons. Korikov added this was totally untrue.

“It is very sad that the bold lies of Russian propaganda are broadcast at a high level by the IAEA’s top official,” he stated in statement posted on the inspectorate’s Facebook page.

Russia needs huge financial resources for military operation: Finance minister

Russia needs huge financial resources for its military operation in Ukraine, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has stated, putting the amount of budget stimulus for the economy at 8 trillion roubles ($120bn).

“Money, huge resources are needed for the special operation,” Siluanov said in a lecture at a Moscow financial university.

President Vladimir Putin this week ordered 10 percent rises in pensions and the minimum wage to cushion Russians from inflation, but denied the economic problems were all linked to what Russia calls “a special military operation” in Ukraine.

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