Sunday, May 19, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 95

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:

Turkey’s President says talks with Sweden and Finland on NATO bids did not happen “at desired level”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that talks last week with Sweden and Finland regarding their NATO membership did not happen “at the desired level.”

“Unfortunately, the talks held by our delegation with Finland and Sweden were not at the desired level,” Erdogan stated while speaking to reporters on his plane following a trip to Azerbaijan, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO earlier this month, driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The decision represents a setback for Moscow, with the war in Ukraine triggering the kind of enlargement of the alliance that it invaded Ukraine to prevent.

Accession of new states, however, requires consensus among existing members — and that’s where Ankara comes in.

Erdogan accused the two countries of harboring members of the separatist militant Kurdistan’s Workers Party, also known as PKK. The PKK, which seeks an independent state in Turkey, has been in an armed struggle with that country for decades and has been designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Erdogan has repeatedly asserted that both countries are effectively supporting terrorists.

“We cannot say ‘yes’ to the countries supporting terrorism to join NATO,” Erdogan noted in remarks published by the Turkish government.

the Turkish government announced Erdogan will hold separate phone calls with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts on Monday to encourage the parties to maintain channels of dialogue and diplomacy to bring peace to Ukraine.

“I will have phone calls with both Russia and Ukraine on Monday. We will continue to encourage the parties to use the channels of dialogue and diplomacy,” Erdogan told reporters.

NATO wants to hold Turkey-Sweden-Finland meeting: Ankara

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wants to hold a meeting between Turkey, Sweden and Finland, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Sunday.

“The NATO secretary general has some initiatives and intentions. There is also a desire to hold a meeting within NATO. Frankly speaking, we do not hold meetings just for the sake of holding a meeting. If we want to achieve some results, we expect that two delegations will give an answer in this direction, as we strive for a process that includes concrete steps focused on the results,” Kalin was quoted as saying by the Turkish Hurriyet newspaper.

Europol fears weapons sent to Ukraine will end up on European black market

Executive Director of Europol Catherine De Bolle has stated in an interview with Welt am Sonntag that her agency is bracing for an influx of illegal weapons in Europe originally shipped to Ukraine by Western countries to help Ukrainian troops fighting against Russia.

According to De Bolle, Europol is concerned with who will get these weapons once the hostilities are over. She noted that 30 years ago, large amounts of weapons surfaced in Europe following the end of the Yugoslav Wars and that these guns are used to this day by various criminal groups. This time, De Bolle wants Europe to be ready.

According to her, an international working group has already started exploring the options to deal with their potential issue.

De Bolle did not elaborate on the measures Europol plans to undertake to prevent the proliferation of weapons from Ukraine across the continent via the criminal groups.

Apart from monitoring the trafficking of guns, Europol is also keeping an eye on known terrorists and violent extremists, namely right-wing ones, trying to leave Ukraine for Europe, the head of the agency told Welt am Sonntag.

Zelensky visits front lines in first visit outside Kyiv region

Ukraine’s presidency says Volodymyr Zelensky visited troops on the front lines in the northeastern region of Kharkiv.

The visit marks his first official appearance outside kyiv region since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

“You risk your lives for us all and for our country,” the President’s office website cited him as saying to the soldiers, adding that he handed out commendations and gifts.

Russian envoy to UK says war crime allegations are “fabrications”

Allegations of war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha are a “fabrication,” Russia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom claimed on Sunday.

Andrei Kelin made the comments during an interview on the BBC’s “Sunday Morning” program and denied that Russian forces were shelling civilians.

“The mayor of Bucha in his initial statement confirmed that Russian troops have left, everything is clean and calm, the town in a normal state. Nothing is happening, no bodies are on the street,” Kelin stated.

Russia’s month-long occupation of Bucha and other districts around Kyiv resulted in hundreds of deaths, with its troops retreating in late March after failing to encircle the capital.

Moscow has refused to accept responsibility for the atrocities, repeatedly claiming that the reports of indiscriminate killings, mass graves, disappearances and looting are false.

When pressed whether the evidence was made up, Kelin replied: “In our view it is a fabrication. It is used just to interrupt negotiations.”

Maintaining that Russia’s invasion was a “limited operation” and not a war, Kelin added: “I can assure you that it is not our idea to kill civilians.”

Russia says destroyed Ukrainian army arsenal

The Russian defence ministry has announced it destroyed a large arsenal of the Ukrainian army in the city of Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine, Reuters reported.

The ministry also added that Russian anti-aircraft defence systems shot down a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet in Dnipro region, according to Russian news agency, Tass.

EU reportedly proposes partial oil embargo against Russia

The EU has called for a ban on seaborne Russian oil deliveries while delaying restrictions on imports from a key Soviet-era pipeline in a bid to break a deadlock over talks to clinch a deal on Brussels’ sixth package of sanctions against Moscow over its ongoing special operation in Ukraine, according to Bloomberg.

The news agency quoted unnamed sources as saying that the European Commission had sent a revised proposal to national governments in the EU countries that stipulates sparing shipments through the Druzhba pipeline, a main source of crude imports for Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria.

The sources claimed that under the proposal, EU members would phase out their imports of seaborne crude in six months and refined petroleum products in eight months. The proposal would also give more time to Budapest to find a technical solution that satisfies its energy needs, additionally addressing the concerns of Bratislava and Prague related to the banning of Russian oil imports from the Druzhba pipeline.

It comes after Budapest made it clear that a deal on the sixth package of sanctions against Moscow was out of reach until Brussels offers a “solution” to replace Russian oil in the Hungarian economy.

Ukraine claims 30,000 Russian troops killed since start of war

At least 30,000 Russian soldiers have so far been killed during the war in Ukraine, the Ukrainian General Staff said.

Some 250 Russian troops were killed over the past 24 hours, according to a Ukrainian General Staff statement.

It announced Ukrainian forces have destroyed 207 planes, 174 helicopters, 1,330 tanks, 3,258 armored vehicles, 628 artilleries, 203 rocket launchers, and 93 air-defense systems since the start of the war.

Russia has also lost 2,226 vehicles, 13 ships and light boats, and 503 unmanned aerial vehicles along with 116 cruise missiles, the statement added.

Russian figures for its soldiers killed have been far lower than Ukrainian figures.

Situation “more difficult” in Severodonetsk

Fighting is continuing in Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine, where the situation is “even more difficult” and “the enemy keeps assaulting,” the head of the Luhansk regional administration said on Sunday.

In a statement, Serhiy Hayday has stated that 60 houses were destroyed in the region, and two people, including a girl, were found dead under the rubble.

Over 682 children killed or injured in Ukraine

More than 682 children have been injured or killed in Ukraine, the country’s Prosecutor General’s Office said on Telegram.

The statement added 242 have died and 440 have been wounded, adding that the figures were not final as it was difficult to confirm reports in places of active fighting. The largest numbers were in Donetsk (153), Kyiv (116) and Kharkiv (108).

Gazprom still shipping gas to Europe via Ukraine

Russia is continuing to ship gas to Europe through Ukraine, Russian gas producer Gazprom has confirmed.

The Russian gas producer has announced its supply of gas to Europe through Ukraine – via the Sudzha entry point – continues, despite the war.

An application to supply gas via another entry point, Sokhranovka, was rejected by Ukraine, according to Reuters.

Ukraine calls for long-range weapons

An adviser to Ukraine’s president has called on the West to supply his country with long-range weapons if it really wants Kyiv to win against Russia.

“It is hard to fight when you are attacked from a 70km distance and have nothing to fight back with. Ukraine can bring Russia back behind the Iron Curtain, but we need effective weapons for that,” Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has also said he expects good news about the delivery of weapons from partner countries next week.

“Every day we are bringing closer the time when our army will surpass the occupiers technologically and by firepower. Of course, a lot depends on the partners. On their readiness to provide Ukraine with everything necessary to defend freedom. And I expect good news on this already next week,” he added.

Russia preventing Ukrainians from leaving Kherson: Zelensky

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Russian forces are trying to prevent the departure of Ukrainians from occupied areas in southern Kherson region.

“They do not provide any humanitarian corridors. And closed the individual departure of people. Those who are confident in their position would definitely not make such decisions. This is clearly a sign of weakness,” Zelensky said in his evening address.

He stressed Russia’s war in the frontlines in Donbas and Kharkiv region “is very difficult”.

Wearing a t-shirt that read, “I’m Ukrainian”, Zelensky noted the Russian focus remains focused on the cities of Sievierodonetsk, Lysychansk, Bakhmut and Popasna.

He added: “I will remind the world that Russia must finally be officially recognized as a terrorist state and a state sponsor of terrorism.”

Zelensky said the time until Ukraine is liberated “grows shorter” every day, and that it is “just a matter of time” before Ukraine takes back Russian gains.

“Ukraine will take everything back [from Russia]. This is an imperative,” he added, “And it’s just a matter of time. Every day at this same time, the time until liberation grows shorter. Everything we do is for this.”

Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson region ongoing: ISW

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said an ongoing counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces in the Kherson region has reportedly pushed Russian forces back to “unfavourable borders” near the villages of Andriyivka, Lozove, and Belohirka in Kherson.

The policy research organisation announced earlier on Saturday that a ground attack launched by Russian forces near Kherson-Mykolaiv had been unsuccessful.

It was the first such Russian attack near Kherson for several weeks.

Ukraine official says agreements with Moscow not worth ‘broken penny’

Ukrainian presidential adviser and peace talks negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak said any agreement with Russia could not be trusted, adding the only way to stop Moscow’s invasion was by force.

“Any agreement with Russia isn’t worth a broken penny,” Podolyak wrote on the Telegram messaging app, adding, “Is it possible to negotiate with a country that always lies cynically and propagandistically?”

“Russia has proved that it is a barbarian country that threatens world security,” Podolyak said, adding, “A barbarian can only be stopped by force.”

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other after peace talks stalled, with the last known face-to-face negotiations on March 29.

Pro-Moscow Kherson official sees decision ‘towards next year’ on joining Russia

A senior pro-Russian official in the occupied Ukrainian region of Kherson has told Reuters that nearby fighting could affect the timing of its formal bid to join Russia and a decision was likely “towards next year”.

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-backed Kherson Military-Civilian Administration, also stated that the process might involve a referendum, backtracking on previous comments that none would be needed.

Asked about the timetable for joining Russia, he replied: “It won’t happen by autumn. We’re preparing an administrative system and then towards next year we will see what the situation is like.”

Ukraine condemns arrival of Russian vessel in Mariupol port to load metal

Ukraine has condemned Russia for sending a ship to the captured Ukrainian city of Mariupol to load a shipment of metal bound for Russia.

The Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights Liudmyla Denisova announced in a statement that the Russians were “sending 3,000 tons of metal products by the first ship from Mariupol to Rostov-on-Don (in Russia). In addition, for more convenient removal of the loot, the occupiers have begun to restore railway connections in Mariupol and Volnovakha.”

Russian state news agency TASS reported Saturday that a Russian ship entered the seaport of Mariupol. It quoted a representative of the port administration as saying the vessel would load 2,700 tons of metal and depart for Rostov-on-Don on Monday.

Denisova claimed that the Mariupol port housed about 200,000 tons of metal and cast iron worth $170 million prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Severodonetsk military chief says Ukraine’s forces are in “tough defensive position”

Oleksandr Striuk, the head of the civil military administration in the embattled Ukrainian industrial city of Severodonetsk, said Ukrainian forces were in a “tough defensive position” as fighting raged on the outskirts of the city.

In remarks on national television, Striuk stated some of the most intense fighting was concentrated around the Mir Hotel on the outskirts of the city.

“A real battle can be heard in the main bus station area,” he continued, adding, “Our military is in a tough defensive position. The city is being constantly shelled. The humanitarian headquarters that is located in the city was practically immobilized today, because it is not safe to move around the city, and the work of the headquarters was suspended.”

Striuk described a dire situation, saying there were no mobile telephone communications and that electricity has been cut. His comments come just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted in his nightly address on Saturday that the time until Ukraine is liberated “grows shorter” every day, and that it is “just a matter of time” before Ukraine takes back Russian gains.

“We supplied water to the city with the help of electricity, pumping stations,” he stated, adding, “The water that is available is from open wells with generators. There are about six or seven wells in the city. It is extremely dangerous, as soon as people gather for water, shelling begins there.”

Striuk, however, expressed some confidence the city would be able to hold out with some limited supplies delivered over the road.

“There are still opportunities for reaching the city,” he said, adding, “There are opportunities for delivery of minimum loads. This is extremely difficult, but still possible. ”

“The evacuation is very unsafe, few people, priority for the wounded. Only an initial level of medical care is available in the city,” he continued.

In a statement, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine claimed Russian forces had suffered losses and retreated to some previously occupied positions in the direction of Severodonetsk, but added that the Russians were continuing to conduct reconnaissance of the area to identify and strike elements of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Fedir Venislavskyi, a member of the Ukrainian parliament’s Committee for National Security, Defense and Intelligence, said the next few days “will be decisive” in the battle for Severodonetsk.

“Our forces pushed the enemy back to the positions he had previously held,” he continued, noting, “But we must understand that Russian troops are practically on the outskirts of Severodonetsk.”

Ukrainian FM: Sanctions on Russia have ‘no connection’ to global food crisis

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated Saturday that Western sanctions on Russia have “no connection” to the unfolding world food shortage.

In a statement on Twitter, Kuleba said: “Sanctions on Russia have no connection to the unfolding global food crisis.

Kuleba claimed that “the sole reason for shortages, rising prices, and threat of hunger is the Russian military physically blocking 22 million tonnes of Ukrainian food exports in our seaports.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov noted on Thursday that Russia does not accept Western accusations of blocking grain exports from Ukraine, instead saying that the actions of these countries led to such a “blockade,” TASS reported.

Russia is waiting for Ukraine to accept its demands and realize the real situation, Peskov added.

Russia and Ukraine are huge exporters of some of the world’s biggest staple foods and between them are responsible for 53 percent of global trade in sunflower oil and seeds and 27 percent of the wheat trade, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

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