Friday, March 1, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 22

Russian forces are pressing ahead with their military operation in Ukraine to counter what they call a “threat” to their national security from the pro-West Ukrainian government. Kiev and Russia’s Western adversaries call the operations an “invasion”. The situation is fluid in Ukraine right now with both sides claiming victories on the battlefield. Iran Front Page brings you the latest developments on the ground live as they unfold in Ukraine.

US: Russia launches over 1,000 missiles since start of invasion

Russia has fired more than 1,000 missiles at Ukrainian targets since the start of its invasion, which has now entered its fourth week, a senior US defense official has claimed.

Blinken accuses Russia of committing ‘war crimes’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine.

“Yesterday, President Joe Biden said that – in his opinion – war crimes have been committed in Ukraine. Personally, I agree,” Blinken told reporters.

“Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime. After all the destruction of the past three weeks I find it difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing otherwise,” he added.

Still, Blinken said US State Department experts are in the process of documenting and evaluating potential war crimes to help international efforts towards accountability.

Russia may stage a chemical attack to escalate the war against Ukraine, Blinken said, noting that Washington accurately predicted the Russian invasion weeks before it started.

“We believe that Moscow may be setting the stage to use a chemical weapon, and then falsely blame Ukraine to justify escalating its attacks on the Ukrainian people,” Blinken told reporters at the US State Department.

The top US diplomat also stated Washington believes that Moscow will bring in mercenaries from foreign countries to fight in the conflict. He added that Russia will “systematically” kidnap local Ukrainian officials to replace them “with puppets”.

Blinken noted that Russia was not making serious efforts in negotiations with Ukraine to end the war.

“On the one hand, we commend Ukraine for being at the table despite being under bombardment every minute of the day,” Blinken said.

“At the same time, I have not seen any meaningful efforts by Russia to bring this war that it is perpetrating to a conclusion through diplomacy,” he added.

City council: 80% of housing in Mariupol destroyed

The port city of Mariupol has lost as much as 80 percent of its housing stock, and more than 350,000 residents are hiding in shelters and basements because of continuous Russian shelling, the city council announced Thursday.

Nearly 30 percent of the destroyed housing will not be restorable. An average of 50 to 100 bombs are being dropped on the city on a daily basis, the council said.

After 16 days under the Russian blockade, the situation in Mariupol is “critical,” it added.

Ukraine’s armed forces “continue to heroically hold the defense of Mariupol and repel the enemy’s attacks, which outnumbers,” it said, adding, “The fighting is already on the outskirts of the city. But Ukrainian defenders are selflessly fighting for every street.”

Biden calls Putin a “murderous dictator, pure thug”

US President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “pure thug” while speaking at a St. Patrick’s Day event Thursday.

At the annual Friends of Ireland Luncheon on Capitol Hill, Biden said Putin is a “murderous dictator, a pure thug who is waging an immoral war against the people of Ukraine.”

“Putin is paying a big price for his aggression, and they are part of the reason the cost is going so high,” Biden added.

“Putin’s brutality and what he’s doing, what his troops are doing in Ukraine is just inhumane,” he continued.

Italian PM: Putin does not want peace

Russian President Vladimir Putin does not want peace and it is possible that further sanctions might be needed against Moscow to try to end the conflict in Ukraine, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has noted.

“On Putin’s part there is no willingness for peace. There is a willingness for war,” Draghi told reporters

Scholz: Influx of Ukrainians will become big challenge for Germany

The growing number of Ukrainians seeking refuge in Germany will become a “big, big challenge,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said.

Speaking after talks with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, Scholz stated that despite the challenge it should be relatively easy to help Ukrainians settle in given that they don’t need visas to enter Germany and they have automatic access to healthcare and education as well as language and integration courses.

German police have so far registered just under 190,000 Ukrainians who have fled Russia’s invasion of their country.

Pentagon chief: US won’t close skies in Ukraine

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin again reiterated that the United States will not enforce closing the skies in Ukraine, because “a no-fly zone means you’re in a conflict with Russia.”

“From a US perspective, our President, President Biden, has been clear that we would not have US forces fighting in Ukraine. Having said that, we’ll do everything within our power to support Ukraine in their efforts to defend their territory,” Austin said in Bratislava, Slovakia, after meeting with his Slovakian counterpart.

“We’ve also stated enforcing a no-fly zone actually means that you’re in combat, you’re in a fight with Russia, and that’s one of the things that we have said, that our President said we weren’t going to do, get in a fight with Russia,” he said.

“So what this really means is that in order to control the skies, you have to shut down the air defenses there on the ground. And some of those air defense systems are in Russia and so, again, there’s no easy or simple way to do this. There’s no such thing as a no-fly zone light. A no-fly zone means you’re in a conflict with Russia. So from a US perspective, we’re, again, our position remains that we’re not going to do that,” he continued.

Austin added that Ukrainian forces have successfully utilized air defense systems to deter attacks from Russia.

“So our goal has been to continue to reinforce those things that have worked for the Ukrainian forces,” he said, adding the US is talking to allies to provide support.

In his address to the US Congress yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed gratitude to Biden for aid the US has delivered so far, but he argued that more assistance is desperately needed. Zelensky specifically reiterated calls for the US to help enforce a no-fly zone in Ukraine to protect civilians.

Kremlin tells Biden: US has no right to lecture Russia on war crimes

The Kremlin has said that Joe Biden’s claim that President Vladimir Putin was a “war criminal” for invading Ukraine was an unforgivable remark by the leader of a country which had killed civilians in conflicts across the world.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has killed thousands, displaced more than three million and raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and the United States, the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.

In an exchange with a reporter on Wednesday, Biden said, “Oh I think he is a war criminal,” after initially responding with a “no” to a question about whether he was ready to call Putin that.

“Our president is a very wise, prescient and cultured international figure and head of the Russian Federation, our head of state,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked about Biden’s remark.

“Such statements by Mr Biden are absolutely impermissible, unacceptable and unforgivable,” Peskov continued, adding, “The main thing is that the head of a state which has for many years bombed people across the world… the president of such a country has no right to make such statements.”

Human Rights Watch: Russian forces fired cluster munitions in Mykolaiv on 3 separate dates

Russian forces attacked the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv with cluster munition rockets in three separate attacks spanning a week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Thursday. 

According to the non-governmental organization, it interviewed six witnesses and verified dozens of social media footage, residential areas were hit on March 7, 11, and 13.

The images show four dead bodies, HRW said, and remnants of the weapons used including Uragan and Smerch cluster munition rockets — stockpiled by both Russia and Ukraine — as well as remnants and unexploded 9N210 fragmentation submunitions. 

The attacks “might amount to war crimes,” HRW added.  

Due to the widespread and indiscriminate damage they cause, cluster munitions are banned under international law. Neither Russia nor Ukraine are state parties to the treaties, however.

“Cluster munitions pose an immediate threat to civilians during conflict by randomly scattering submunitions or bomblets over a wide area. They continue to pose a threat post-conflict by leaving remnants, including submunitions that fail to explode upon impact becoming de facto landmines,” according to HRW.

The report details civilian accounts which describe the alleged attacks.

HRW says they geolocated one image shared by a witness that places an attack in the Inhulsky neighborhood on March 11 around 1.7 kilometers (about 1 mile) from a factory which produces gas-turbines for defense technology and vessels.

“The factory may have been identified as a potential military target, but the significant distance between the factory and the civilian objects damaged also suggests the attacks were indiscriminate,” it added.

Over 3.2 million people have fled Ukraine, more expected to leave

About 3.2 million people have fled Ukraine, according to data released by the United Nations.

While the numbers arriving in the frontline states – Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova – have slowed in recent days, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban stated he expected a “bigger wave” next week.

“The war is not subsiding, but spreading; and as it spreads, there is the risk that next week will see the arrival of more people in Hungary, presenting us with a huge challenge,” he said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

“They are not only fleeing from areas threatened by war, but also from war zones themselves,” he added.

Mariupol officials say number of possible casualties at theatre is unclear

Authorities in Mariupol have said it was still not possible to estimate the number of potential casualties from what they said was an air strike on a theatre where hundreds of people were believed to have been sheltering.

“Yesterday and today, despite continuous shelling, rubble is being cleared as much as is possible and people are being rescued. Information about victims is still being clarified,” the city council announced in an online statement about Wednesday’s incident.

It provided no figures on the number of people rescued.

MoD: Russian forces seize two more Donbass settlements

Russian forces have advanced 10 kilometers (6 miles) in the Donbass and seized two more settlements, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said on Thursday.

“The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, continuing their successful offensive, took control of the settlements of Novomayorskoye and Prechistovka. The advance in a day was 10 kilometers,” Konashenkov told a briefing.

“In total, since the beginning of the special military operation, 182 Ukrainian aircraft and helicopters, 177 unmanned aerial vehicles, 1,393 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 134 multiple rocket launchers, 523 field artillery guns and mortars, as well as 1,182 units of special military vehicles have been destroyed,” the spokesman added.

Erdogan repeats proposal to host Putin-Zelensky meeting in Turkey

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday repeated his proposal to hold a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky in Turkey, Erdogan’s office said in a statement.

Erdogan held a phone conversation with Putin on Thursday.

Indicating that leadership-level talks may be required to reach consensus on some issues, President Erdogan reiterated his offer to host Putin and Zelensky in Istanbul or Ankara,” the office added.

‘Very big gap’ remains in peace talks between Russia & Ukraine

Ukraine and Russia are taking peace talks seriously but a very big gap remains between the two sides, Western officials have stated.

“Both sides are taking them seriously but there is a very, very big gap between the positions in question,” one official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Those … who saw [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin addressing the nation yesterday would be forgiven for thinking that Russia was not in compromising mood,” another official added.

Red Cross chief calls on warring parties to allow aid into Mariupol

The International Committee of the Red Cross has called on the warring parties to allow safe passage out of besieged Mariupol and allow aid in, the organisation’s head Peter Maurer noted.

The ICRC had to leave the city on Wednesday, Maurer told a news conference, because its staff had “no operational capacity any more”, but the organisation would be making arrangements to bring aid “as soon as we have a safe way”.

The ICRC was also still seeking access to prisoners of war from both sides in the conflict, adding captured troops should be treated with dignity and not exposed to “public curiosity”.

Macron: Ukraine war will lead to food crisis in next 12-18 months

The war between Ukraine and Russia, two of the world’s top crop producers, will likely lead to a food crisis in the next 12-18 months in Africa and the Middle East, French President Emmanuel Macron has said.

At least 21 dead after shelling of east Ukraine town

At least 21 people were killed and 25 were injured when Russian forces shelled a town in eastern Ukraine, local prosecutors have claimed.

Artillery fire earlier hit a school and a cultural centre in the town of Merefa outside the city of Kharkiv, regional prosecutors stated. Of the wounded, 10 people are in serious condition.

Russia claims Ukrainian bio laboratories received $32m of funding from US

Ukrainian Defense Ministry laboratories in Kiev, Odessa, Lvov and Kharkov received $32 million funding from the US, claims Russian Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Protection Troops commander Igor Kirillov.

“I draw your attention to the fact that the agreement on joint biological activity was signed between the US military ministry and the Health Ministry of Ukraine. However, the true recipients of the funds were laboratories of Ukrainian Ministry of Defense located in Kiev, Odessa, Lvov and Kharkov. The total funding amount was $32 million,” he said.

According to Kirillov, these laboratories were selected by US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and its contractor Black & Veatch for implementation of Project UP-8, aimed aimed at studying the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF), leptospirosis and hantaviruses.

“Examination of documents on Project P-781 on transmission of diseases to humans via bats revealed that this research was carried out in the Kharkov laboratory, in cooperation with the notorious Lugar Research Center in Tbilisi. The total Pentagon’s spending for its implementation in Ukraine and Georgia amounted to $1.6 million, with Ukraine receiving most of it as main contractor,” Kirillov stated.

“In our opinion, the interest of US military biologists is connected to the fact that these pathogens have natural hotbeds both in Ukraine and Russia, and their use could be disguised as natural disease outbreaks,” he added.

UN warns Ukraine war already impacting food security

The war in Ukraine is already resulting in rising food prices and a shortage of staple crops in parts of central Asia, the Middle East and north Africa, the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) warns.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine last month has severely curtailed shipments from the two countries, which jointly account for around 25 per cent of world wheat exports and 16 per cent of world corn exports.

These are now trickling down to retail food prices in some of the world’s poorest countries, according to IFAD.

“The conflict in Ukraine, already a catastrophe for those directly involved, will also be a tragedy for the world’s poorest people living in rural areas. We are already seeing price hikes,” said Gilbert Houngbo, IFAD president.

He warned that hikes are set to cause escalating hunger and poverty, with dire implications for global stability.

Wheat prices are currently not far off levels seen during the last food crisis of 2007 and 2008, which sparked protests in many developing nations.

Moscow claims Russia reached agreement with Ukraine on jointly ensuring security of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

Russia has reached an agreement with Ukrainian military on jointly ensuring security at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (NPP), Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday.

“An agreement was reached with the military personnel of the Ukrainian branch of the station guard battalion on joint security of its power units and the sarcophagus,” Zakharova told a briefing.

Moscow intends to further make efforts to ensure the security of the Chernobyl NPP, the diplomat noted.

Additionally, the official stated that the formations controlled by Kiev are carrying out provocations, the most revealing of which is sabotage against the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

“Attacks against their own nuclear facilities are already becoming a hallmark of the ruling regime in Ukraine. The blame for this falls entirely on Kiev, and, of course, on [Volodymyr] Zelensky’s American ‘masters’ and US vassals in NATO,” she added.

Russia claims to have ordered crucial bond payment as it seeks to avoid historic debt default

Russia’s Finance Ministry said on Thursday that it had made a $117 million payment on interest due on two US dollar-denominated bonds.

The payments are due this week to prevent Russia’s first default on foreign debt since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

The ministry added the payment had been made to a “foreign correspondent bank” on Monday, but it was unclear whether the bondholders will receive the money. The ministry announced it would provide an update later from Citibank’s London branch, which it said was the paying agent on the bonds.

Chernihiv is “suffering great losses”

The head of the Chernihiv region, northeast of Kyiv and close to the Russian border, has said that Chernihiv city is “suffering great losses” as it comes under a sustained attack from Russian forces.

“The enemy continues systematic artillery and air strikes of our regional center, destroying civilian infrastructure,” Vyacheslav Chaus wrote on Telegram.

“Just yesterday [Wednesday], 53 bodies of our dead citizens, killed by the Russian aggressor, were brought to the city morgue,” Chaus added.

UK to deploy Sky Sabre missile defence system in Poland

Britain will deploy its Sky Sabre missile system in Poland, its defence minister stated during a visit to Warsaw, as NATO moves to beef up the security of its eastern flank in view of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We are going to deploy the Sky Sabre medium-range, anti-air missile system to Poland with about 100 personnel to make sure that we stand alongside Poland, protecting her airspace from any further aggression by Russia,” Ben Wallace told a news conference.

Germany: NATO will not intervene with military force into Ukraine war

NATO will not risk an escalation in the Ukraine war by intervening with military force, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at joint news conference in Berlin with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday.

“It is the core duty of the alliance to secure the safety of all members,” he added.

Germany is sending financial and humanitarian aid, as well as military goods, to Ukraine, but Berlin has stated repeatedly that it will not send fighter jets to help Ukrainian forces in their defense against the Russian invasion.

“The fate of people in Ukraine touches us deeply,” Scholz said following an address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the German parliament.

“[President Vladimir] Putin brings horrible sufferings and death for the people in Ukraine … We are standing with Ukraine,” he stated.

Scholz added that Putin bears the sole responsibility for the deaths of young Russians in the military, noting, “We are also touched by those many young Russians led by their own leadership oppose a senseless war.”

France says Russia ‘pretending to negotiate’ in Ukraine talks

Russia is pretending to negotiate with Ukraine, while pursuing the invasion of its neighbour in line with a brutal strategy it has used elsewhere, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said.

“Unfortunately we’re still facing the same Russian logic – making maximalist demands, wanting Ukraine to surrender and intensifying siege warfare,” Le Drian told newspaper Le Parisien.

“Just as in Grozny (in Chechnya) and Aleppo (in Syria), there are three typical elements – indiscriminate bombardment, so-called humanitarian “corridors” designed to allow them to accuse the other side of failing to respect them, and talks with no objective other than pretending that they are negotiating,” he added.

WH: Biden, Xi to speak Friday on Ukraine, competition

US President Joe Biden will hold a call on Friday with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and will discuss managing competition between the two countries as well as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the White House announced.

Kremlin: Work continues on Russian-Ukrainian agreement

A Financial Times publication about an alleged agreement between Russia and Ukraine is generally untrue but the parties continue their work, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

According to him, “the publication compiles much information about issues on the agenda, which was earlier made public, but it was compiled incorrectly.”

“It is essentially incorrect. There are some correct things but on the whole it’s not true,” the Kremlin spokesman noted.

“Work (on an agreement) continues. We will inform you once there is progress,” he added.

Moscow cannot consider the decision of the UN International Court of Justice, which ordered an immediate halt to the military operation in Ukraine, Peskov said.

“No, we cannot take this decision into consideration. The International Court of Justice has such a thing as the consent of the parties. There can be no agreement here. In this case, this is something that we cannot consider,” Peskov stressed responding to a question on whether Russia would take this decision into account.

China opposes US sanctions against Russia, intends to protect its interests

Beijing opposes the US sanctions against Russia, which destabilize the global market, and intends to protect the interests of its national enterprises, Gao Feng, an official representative of the Ministry of Commerce of China, told a press conference on Thursday.

“We are against any unilateral sanctions, which do not consider the rules of international law. <…> They destabilize the global market,” he said when asked how Beijing would behave amid Washington’s mounting pressure on Moscow over the Ukrainian crisis and the growing risk of Chinese companies being restricted by the US. “China will definitely take necessary measures and protect the legal rights, as well as the interests of its companies involved in ordinary trade,” he noted.

Apart from making it hardly possible to settle the security problem, Washington’s sanctions may also have a negative impact on consumers, he said.

“The US is therefore creating additional difficulties for the global economy, which is experiencing a turmoil,” he continued, adding that despite the Ukrainian crisis, China would continue cooperating with Russia on a regular basis.

“China will continue regular trade and economic cooperation both with Russia and Ukraine,” he said when asked to comment on the plans of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

Beijing plans to expand economic ties with Moscow on an equal footing, he added.

“We will cooperate in accordance with the principles of mutual respect and mutual benefit,” he pointed out.

Kremlin: Many people in Russian are showing themselves to be traitors

The Kremlin has announced that many people in Russia were showing themselves to be traitors and pointed to those who were resigning from their jobs and leaving the country.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov made the comments a day after President Vladimir Putin delivered a stark warning to Russian “traitors” who he said the West wanted to use as a “fifth column” to destroy the country.

Zelensky says Germany prioritised its economy over Ukraine’s security

German deputies gave Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a standing ovation Thursday ahead of a video address before the Bundestag lower house, one day after a searing appeal for help before the US Congress.

In his speech, Zelensky accused Germany of putting its economy before his country’s security in the run-up to the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

In an address to Germany’s parliament Thursday, Zelensky criticised the German government’s support for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project meant to bring natural gas from Russia. Ukraine and others had opposed the project, warning that it endangered Ukrainian and European security.

Zelensky also noted Germany’s hesitancy when it came to imposing some of the toughest sanctions on Russia for fear it could hurt the German economy, which relies on Russia for more than half of its natural gas.

The Ukrainian president called on Germany not to let a new wall divide Europe, urging support for his country’s membership of NATO and the European Union.

Zelensky urged Germany to help destroy a new “Wall” Russia was erecting in Europe.

“It’s not a Berlin Wall – it is a Wall in central Europe between freedom and bondage and this Wall is growing bigger with every bomb” dropped on Ukraine, Zelensky told MPs.

“Dear Mr Scholz, tear down this Wall,” he implored German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, evoking US President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War appeal in Berlin.

Report suggests secret CIA training program helped Ukraine prepare for Russia military operation

A secret training program in Ukraine run by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) helped Ukrainians prepare for Russia’s special military operation in the country, Yahoo News reported.

The CIA training program began around 2014 when the conflict in the Donbass region started but the administration of President Joe Biden pulled out all CIA personnel from Ukraine before the start of Russia’s military operation in that country, the report said, citing former officials.

The covert CIA training program was run from Ukraine’s eastern frontlines, possible through previously existing authorities for the agency that did not require a new legal determination, the report added.

Only a small number of CIA paramilitary officers in the low single digits were sent to eastern Ukraine, according to the report.

The CIA paramilitary officers taught Ukrainians sniper techniques, how to use Javelin anti-tank missiles, how to evade digital tracking the Russians used to locate Ukrainian troops, how to use covert communications tools, among other skills, according to the report.

Ukraine: Pilot who bombed a Mariupol theater is a “monster”

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Thursday that the Russian who bombed a theater being used as a civilian shelter in the besieged city of Mariupol is a “monster.”

Reznikov told the European Parliament via video link that the pilot dropped the bomb despite the fact it had the word “children” written in large letters on two sides of the building.

It is not clear how many survived the attack. People have been emerging from the shelter alive on Thursday, according to a short statement posted on Facebook by the former head of the Donetsk region.

“You’ve probably already heard that this theater which was struck by missiles, a theater where 1,200 women and children were hiding,” Reznikov added to the European Parliament.

“And you can see from the maps, from the drones that around this theatre, big letters of ‘children’ were written so that the pilot of the plane which was throwing the bombs could see ‘children’, and still, in spite of that, this monster has bombed the theatre,” Reznikov continued.

Reznikov told European Union lawmakers that they should recognise Russian President Vladimir Putin as a war criminal after Russia invaded Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday called Russian leader Vladimir Putin a war criminal in comments the Kremlin said were “unforgivable”. Russia has denied targeting civilians and the defence ministry in Moscow said on Wednesday it had not attacked the theatre.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine stated in an overnight public address that a Russian aircraft had “purposefully dropped a huge bomb” on a theater in the center of Mariupol as crowds sheltered there.

“The death toll is still unknown,” he said, adding, “Our hearts are broken by what Russia is doing to our people, to our Mariupol.”

Satellite images showed the world “children” written in large letters outside the building.

FM: UAE keen to cooperate on energy security with Russia

The United Arab Emirates is keen to cooperate with Russia on bolstering global energy security, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said.

The UAE official added in televised comments he planned to discuss the crises in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen and Iran during his visit to Russia.

Moscow claims Russia’s special operation is not aimed at ruining Ukraine’s statehood

Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine is not aimed at ruining that country’s statehood or ousting its president, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing on Thursday.

“Let me stress once again what both the Western mass media and the Western establishment refuse to see: this operation is not targeted at the civilian population. It does not pursue the aim of seizing the country’s territory, ruining its statehood or ousting the current president. We keep saying this again and again,” she said.

“The Western media are forming an absolutely distorted picture of current events. They disinform their own population. They are a propaganda tool in the hands of their politicians,” Zakharova added.

US weapons supplies to Ukraine can have dangerous consequences, she continued.

“Such statements are highly dangerous, while supplies like these will become a factor of instability that won’t help bring peace to Ukraine, which is what presidential administration officials have said. As for long-term prospects, it can have more dangerous consequences,” she stated, commenting on Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s call on the US to provide Ukraine with S-300 missile systems as an alternative to imposing a no-fly zone.

Zakharova emphasized that the Ukrainian president’s statement was in line with his reckless and heartless policy towards his own country and people.

Russia promises more docs on Ukraine biolabs

The Russian Defense Ministry announced on Thursday it will soon release additional documents pertaining to the operation of Pentagon-funded biolabs in Ukraine.

Moscow believes they have been involved in bioweapons research.

Russian military specialists in weapons of mass destruction are analyzing documents obtained from staff members of the Ukrainian labs, defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a daily briefing. He claimed they detailed “implementation by the US in Ukraine of a secret project to study the ways humans can be infected from bats,” which was done in Kharkov.

The official added the same Institute of Experimental and Clinical Veterinary Medicine in the Ukrainian city worked for years to study under which conditions wild birds carrying flu could cause an epidemic in humans and to assess the damage that would result.

Konashenkov didn’t explain why such research should be considered military in nature, as assessed by the defense ministry.

Russia: Embassies & representative offices of Ukraine recruiting citizens into ‘Zelensky’s corps’

Ukraine’s embassies and representative offices abroad are recruiting foreign citizens into “Volodymyr Zelensky’s corps,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday.

“We took note of the recruitment by foreign diplomatic missions — that is, embassies, consulates, representative offices of Ukraine attached to international organizations — of foreign citizens into the so-called volunteer foreign ‘Zelensky’s corps,'” Zakharova told a briefing.

She added that Moscow will use the same methods against new foreign mercenaries in Ukraine as in the strike on a firing range in the Lviv region.

Ukraine’s defense ministry: Russia lost 14,000 servicemen

Ukraine’s defense ministry claimed that Russia lost some 14,000 servicemen, including about 200 in the past 24 hours.

It also said that Ukrainian forces destroyed 444 Russian tanks, 1435 armored vehicles, 86 planes, 108 helicopters, 11 drones and 3 ships.

It added the figures were approximate and their verification was “complicated” by the high intensity of the fighting.

Russia’s defense ministry has reported the death toll only on March 2, claiming that 498 servicemen had been killed in Ukraine.

There is no way to verify the claims of both sides.

Ukraine official: No casualty toll yet after Russian bombardment of theatre in Mariupol

An official in the Mariupol mayor’s office confirmed on Thursday the city authorities did not yet have a casualty toll after what they stated was a Russian bombardment of a theatre in the besieged Ukrainian city.

Russia lays to waste Ukrainian S-300 systems, other military infrastructure

Operational-tactical, army and unmanned aircraft of Russia destroyed 11 anti-aircraft missile systems of Ukraine, including an S-300 division, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.

“Operational-tactical, army and unmanned aircraft disabled 46 military facilities in Ukraine. Among those destroyed were 11 anti-aircraft missile systems, including an S-300 division, one installation of a multiple launch rocket system, three command posts, one electronic warfare station, seven ammunition depots and 18 places of accumulation of military equipment,” he added.

Konashenkov also noted that since the start of the special military operation, 181 Ukrainian aircraft and helicopters, 172 unmanned aerial vehicles, 170 anti-aircraft missile systems, 1,379 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, 133 multiple rocket launchers, 514 field artillery guns and mortars, as well as 1,168 units of special military vehicles were destroyed.

During a night mission, Su-25 warplanes from the Russian Aerospace Forces obliterated weapons and ammunition warehouses belonging to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the Russian Defense Ministry reported on Thursday.

Regional governor: Losses mount in Ukrainian city of Chernihiv

Losses are mounting in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, with 53 people killed by Russian forces on Wednesday alone, the regional governor claimed.

“We are suffering heavy losses – 53 citizens were killed yesterday,” Governor Viacheslav Chaus stated.

Medvedev: Russia will put its enemies in their place

Russia has the might to put enemies led by the United States in their place and Moscow will foil the West’s Russophobic plot to tear Russia apart, Dmitry Medvedev said.

Medvedev, who served as president from 2008 to 2012 and is now deputy secretary of Russia’s security council, stated the United States had stoked “disgusting” Russophobia in an attempt to force Russia on its knees and then rip it apart.

“It will not work – Russia has the might to put all of our brash enemies in their place,” Medvedev added.

UK: Russian forces advance into Ukraine has largely stalled

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has largely stalled on all fronts, the UK Defense Ministry said Thursday on its official Twitter account.

“Russian forces have made minimal progress on land, sea or air in recent days” and continue to suffer heavy losses, the ministry announced, adding that Ukrainian resistance remains strong.

“The vast majority of Ukrainian territory, including all major cities, remains in Ukrainian hands.”

An earlier intelligence report from the ministry said Russia is resorting to the use of older, less precise weapons that are less militarily effective and more likely to result in civilian casualties.

Due to the delays in “achieving their objectives and failure to control Ukrainian airspace,” the UK Ministry of Defence’s intelligence update said Russia has probably “expended far more stand-off air launched weapons than originally planned,” leading them to resort to weapons that are less militarily effective.

Russian gov’t sites facing unprecedented cyber attacks

Russian government websites are facing unprecedented cyber attacks and efforts are being made to filter foreign web traffic, the TASS news agency cited the digital ministry as saying.

Russian government entities and state-owned companies have been targeted over events in Ukraine, with the websites of the Kremlin, flagship carrier Aeroflot and major lender Sberbank among those to have seen outages or temporary access issues in recent weeks.

Interior minister: “No safe place in Ukraine”

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky has stated that Russian spies and diversion groups are omnipresent throughout Ukraine.

“Unfortunately, there are no places in Ukraine without an obvious military threat. We can’t name a region where there has been no shelling or where we haven’t found diversion groups,” he was quoted by the Unian news agency as saying.

He added that such groups or fire spotters are detained almost daily in Kyiv and are present even in the western Ukrainian regions where hostilities have been limited to rare cruise missile strikes on strategic sites such as military bases or airports.

“The problem is everywhere,” Monastyrsky continued.

Ukrainian military forces tackle Kherson airport

Ukrainian military forces have dealt a punishing blow to the airport in Kherson, which Russian troops had seized early in the war, the General Staff claimed.

It added the Russians were trying to remove any surviving military equipment.

Ukraine’s military said it hit the airport on Tuesday. Satellite photos taken by Planet Labs PBC and analysed by The Associated Press show helicopters and vehicles on fire at the air base.

Russia seized the southern port city without a fight in the first days of the war. Control over Kherson allows Russia to restore fresh water supplies to Crimea.

The General Staff said Russia’s ground offensive on major Ukrainian cities had largely stalled.

Japan’s defense ministry says it spotted 4 Russian warships, possibly taking troops to Ukraine

Four Russian warships passed through the Tsugaru Strait in northeastern Japan between Tuesday and Wednesday, possibly transporting troops and combat vehicles to Ukraine, Japan’s Defense Ministry announced.

“Japan’s Ministry of Defense will continue to monitor the situation and movements of the Russian army with a high sense of caution,” the ministry added.

The Tsugaru Strait connects the Sea of Japan with the Pacific Ocean and is located between Japan’s two largest main islands, Honshu and Hokkaido.

1 person killed after debris from downed missile hits Kyiv residential building

One person died and three others were injured after debris from a downed missile hit a residential building in Kyiv on Thursday, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Ukraine’s state emergency service announced it received a report of a fire and damage to a 16-story apartment in the Darnytsky district of the capital.

The blaze was later extinguished, the service said.

According to initial information, 30 people were evacuated from the site as rescue operations continue, the service added.

Putin calls pro-Western Russians “national traitors”

President Vladimir Putin has blasted pro-Western Russians by calling them “national traitors” in a televised address.

“The West will try to rely on the so-called fifth column, on national traitors, on those who earn money here with us but live there. And I mean ‘live there’ not even in the geographical sense of the word, but according to their thoughts, their slavish consciousness,” Putin said.

These people “cannot live without oysters and gender freedom,” he added.

US senator repeats call to assassinate Putin

US Senator Lindsey Graham is undeterred by the backlash over his suggestion earlier this month that someone should assassinate Russian President Vladimir Putin. In fact, he’s ramping up his violent political rhetoric amid the Ukraine crisis.

“I hope he will be taken out, one way or the other,” Graham told reporters on Wednesday in Washington.

“I don’t care how they take him out. I don’t care if we send him to The Hague and try him. I just want him to go,” he added.

Graham confirmed that he sees murdering Putin as a desirable option for removing the Russian president, just as he implied in a March 3 Twitter post in which he asked, “Is there a Brutus in Russia? Is there a more successful Colonel Stauffenberg in the Russian military?”

At the time, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denounced the “hysterical stirring-up” of anti-Russian sentiment in the US, calling it a “Russophobic meltdown” of sorts.

Toll from attack on Chernihiv bread line rises to 13

The number of civilians killed in an alleged Russian attack on a bread shop in the city of Chernihiv has risen to 13, according to Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform.

The outlet quoted a local police official, Volodymyr Nidzelsky, saying that “13 civilians and dozens of people were injured” in the attack.

Nidzelsky also added police investigators were working “at the scene of the war crime”.

Ukraine claims Russians bombed a second Mariupol facility sheltering pregnant women and children

Authorities in Ukraine say the Russian military launched an air raid on a second Mariupol facility where women and children were sheltering on Wednesday.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk Regional Military Administration, said “only civilians” were sheltering at the Neptune Pool.

“Now there are pregnant women and women with children under the rubble. This is pure terrorism!” Kyrylenko added.

White House ‘not interested’ in World War III

President Joe Biden was apparently unmoved by Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky’s latest plea for a no-fly zone amid Moscow’s military offensive in the former Soviet republic, standing by his view that such a move would carry too much risk of triggering a wider war with Russia.

“As we’ve said before, a no-fly zone would require implementation,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday.

“It would require us potentially shooting down Russian planes, NATO shooting down Russian planes,” she said.

“We are not interested in getting into World War III,” she added.

HRW: Bombed Mariupol theatre sheltering at least 500 civilians

Human Rights Watch announced the Mariupol theatre hit during an alleged Russian attack was sheltering at least 500 civilians.

“Until we know more, we cannot rule out the possibility of a Ukrainian military target in the area of the theatre, but we do know that the theatre had been housing at least 500 civilians,” stated Belkis Wille, senior crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Report: Russia’s military lost 7,000 soldiers in three weeks

US officials have told the New York Times that Russia’s military has lost more than 7,000 soldiers in its three-week invasion of Ukraine.

The officials cautioned that the number is inexact, and compiled through analysis of news media, Ukrainian figures, Russian figures, satellite imagery and perusal of video images of Russian tanks and troops that have come under fire.

Ukraine claims 13,500 Russian personnel have been killed while Russia put the death toll at 498.

Ukraine publishes list of museums, churches destroyed in Russian invasion

Ukraine’s ministry of culture has published a preliminary list of sites destroyed or damaged in the Russian invasion.

It includes the Museum of Ukrainian Antiquities in Chernihiv, the Kharkiv National University, as well as the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Zhytomyr.

Vladimir Putin’s “real goal is to destroy the Ukrainian nation, culture, history and identity,” the ministry added.

Three Panama-flagged ships hit by Russian missiles in Black Sea

Panama’s Maritime Authority says three Panamanian-flagged ships have been hit by Russian missiles in the Black Sea since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

One ship sank, the maritime authority said in a statement, but there were no casualties reported.

The two others remain afloat with damages.

Zelensky: World War III ‘may have already started’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview that World War III “may have already started” as the embattled leader pleads with the US and the West to take more drastic measures to aid Ukraine’s defense against Russia.

The Ukrainian president responded to a question from NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt about whether he’s worried about concerns from the Joe Biden administration that certain actions could trigger conflict between nuclear-armed powers that could lead to World War III.

“Nobody knows whether it may have already started and what is the possibility of this war, in case Ukraine will fall,” Zelensky stated in translated remarks.

“It’s very hard to say and we’ve seen this, 80 years ago when the second World War has started, and there were similar tragedies in history, nobody would predict when the full scale war would start and who would put an end to it. In this case we have the whole civilization at stake,” he added.

Negotiations between Ukraine and Russia are quite difficult, Zelensky said, adding, “First of all, negotiations are still in progress. The negotiations are fairly difficult.”

US sending Switchblade drones to Ukraine

The US will send 100 Switchblade drones to Ukraine as part of the Joe Biden administration’s new $800 million weapons package, Texas Rep. Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told POLITICO.

The inclusion of the “tactical” drones, which crash into their targets, represents a new phase of weaponry being sent to Ukraine by the US, which so far has shipped mostly anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.

An administration official confirmed McCaul’s account that the US is sending the Switchblade.

Poll: Majority of Americans back troop presence in Europe

A majority of Americans back the presence of troops in Europe as Russia continues its assault on Ukraine, according to a new Monmouth University Poll.

The poll found 69 percent of US citizens support American troops stationed within the borders of European allies in order to keep Russian President Vladimir Putin from advancing his attack outside Ukraine.

Currently, the US has thousands of troops in NATO countries such as Poland, and the Biden administration has committed to defending any NATO member state Putin could try to go after.

However, Americans are not in favor of troops in Ukraine itself, with 56 percent opposed and 41 percent in support.

The Joe Biden administration has ruled sending any American troops into Ukraine off the table, as Ukraine is not a NATO ally.

Satellite images show significant damage from military strikes across Ukraine

Russia Ukraine war

France warns Russia against use of chemical weapons

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says Paris would consider Russia responsible for any use of chemical or biological weapons in the war in Ukraine.

“If chemical or bacteriological attacks took place in Ukraine, we’d know who would be solely responsible for them. It would be Russia,” Le Drian told French newspaper Le Parisien in an interview.

“The use of unconventional means would constitute an intolerable escalation and would lead in response to absolutely massive and radical economic sanctions, without taboos,” he added.

UK: Russia resorting to older weapons more likely to cause civilian casualties

Russia is resorting to the use of older, less precise weapons that are less militarily effective and more likely to result in civilian casualties, according to the UK Ministry of Defence’s latest intelligence update Thursday.

Due to the delays in “achieving their objectives and failure to control Ukrainian airspace,” the ministry announced Russia has probably “expended far more stand-off air launched weapons than originally planned,” leading them to resort to weapons that are less militarily effective.

“Stand-off air launched weapons” are munitions fired from aircraft that are not in close range of a target.

Firing from a distance allows for the delivery of the weapon while minimizing possible harm to the aircrew from retaliatory attack.

Zelensky adviser claims Ukrainian forces are starting to counterstrike Russian invaders

A senior adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed the Ukrainian army is beginning to counterstrike Russian forces in a number of directions.

In a statement released on Telegram, adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said the “Ukrainian army is beginning a counterstrike on a number of active directions. This fact is drastically changing the dispositions of the sides.”

The “Russian administration is trying to find allies whose soldiers would be ready to die on the field,” Podolyak added.

Zelensky: At least 103 children killed in Ukraine

At least 103 children have been killed in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video message posted to Facebook.

Speaking before addressing the US Congress, but released on Facebook afterward, Zelensky stated in the video, “Last night, Russian troops continued shelling Ukrainian territory, our peaceful cities, our citizens. Kharkiv and the region … They bombed the coast of the Odesa region. They fired missiles at Kyiv. Hit civilian infrastructure of Zaporizhzhia.”

He added, “As of this morning, 103 children have been killed.”

Zelensky said Russian troops have caused “hundreds of times more damage” in Ukraine than on Donbas in eight years of war. The Ukrainian president went on to say a total of 400 educational institutions have been destroyed in Ukraine to date, with 119 being in the Donetsk region.

Zelensky also added he spoke with the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, and that the Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine and law enforcement agencies have already started working to “bring the invaders to justice.”

“The invaders will be responsible for all war crimes against Ukrainians,” he continued.

US, allies discuss pursuit of Russian oligarchs

The United States has held a meeting with European and other allies to discuss ways to pursue Russian oligarchs and violators of sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Attorney General Merrick Garland met virtually with representatives from Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and the European Commission, the Department of the Treasury said.

Yellen announced in a statement the multilateral task force aimed to raise the cost for Russian oligarchs “by galvanising coordinated efforts to freeze and seize assets … and deny safe haven for their ill-gotten gains.”

UN Security Council to vote on Russia’s draft resolution on Ukraine

The UN Security Council is due to vote on Friday on a Russian-drafted call for aid access and civilian protection in Ukraine.

The United Kingdom’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward described the absence of measures to end to the fighting or withdrawal of Russian troops as “glaring omissions.”

In a video posted on Twitter, Woodward said Russia was “game playing” and added that Britain would not vote for Russia’s draft text.

“Their resolution calls for parties to respect international humanitarian law, but leaves out the fact that Russia is committing war crimes,” she added.

Kremlin says Biden’s comments about Putin ‘unacceptable and unforgivable’

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said Joe Biden’s characterisation of Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a war criminal was “unacceptable and unforgivable rhetoric”, TASS news agency and Ria Novosti reported.

“We believe such rhetoric to be unacceptable and unforgivable on the part of the head of a state, whose bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world,” Peskov stated.

Russia urges US to stop lying, cover events in Ukraine impartially

Moscow is calling on Washington to stop spreading false information and engage in objective coverage of events in Ukraine, the Russian Embassy in the United States said, commenting on publications in US media about an alleged air strike by Russian troops on a theater building in Mariupol.

“We draw attention to the ongoing disinformation campaign in the American media about what is happening in Ukraine. Another example was the fake circulated in the local press about the alleged involvement of the Russian Armed Forces in the attack on the Mariupol drama theater… We urge you to stop lying and engage in objective coverage of events in Ukraine,” the embassy added.

The embassy suggested that those who are “really interested in true information” about the events taking place in Ukraine should be guided by Russian resources, in particular, data from the Russian Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and the Russian Embassy in Washington.

Earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that the accusations by the Kiev regime against Russia of allegedly delivering an air strike on the drama theater in Mariupol, where civilians could be held hostage, are not true – Russian aircraft did not carry out any strikes on ground targets. According to the ministry, it was previously known from refugees who had escaped from Mariupol that neo-Nazis from the Azov battalion could hold civilians hostage in the theater, using upper floors as firing points.

Five people, including three children, killed in Chernihiv

Emergency officials in the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine have claimed five people, including three children, have been killed after Russian forces shelled a residential building.

Emergency workers recovered the five bodies from under the rubble of a multi-storeyed apartment building, Ukraine’s emergencies ministry announced in a statement on Telegram.

Ukraine negotiator says reported draft peace plan reflects Russian requests

Ukraine’s top negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak has stated a draft 15-point peace plan described by the Financial Times reflects the requests of the Russian side.

“The [Ukrainian] side has its own positions,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

The British daily reported that the peace plan under consideration included a ceasefire and the withdrawal of Russian troops in exchange for Kyiv’s declaration of neutrality and the imposition of limits on its armed forces.

US: Russian forces have not made “any significant advances” towards Kyiv

Russian forces are still “generally stalled” near Kyiv, Ukraine, and have not “made any significant advances” towards the city from the north, northwest or east of the city, a senior US defense official told reporters Wednesday

Russian forces to the east of Kyiv are still about 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) away from the city’s center, the official said.

“The bottom line is they haven’t made any appreciable progress coming to the east,” the official added.

Ukrainians are still in control of Brovary. Chernihiv remains isolated, but the US is seeing Ukrainians “trying to develop lines of communication to the south and with some success,” the official said.

There has been no “apparent progress in or around Kharkiv” by Russian forces, the official added.

Mariupol also remains isolated by Russian forces, the official continued.

In Mykolaiv, Ukrainians continue to defend the city. Russian forces are still outside of the city “mostly to the northeast,” about 10 to 15 kilometers (six to nine miles) away, the official noted.

Public swimming pool used as civilian shelter in Mariupol hit by Russian military strike

The building that houses the “Neptune” swimming pool in northern Mariupol has been hit by a military strike Wednesday, a city government official claimed.

Maxim Kach, a Mariupol city government official, said that​ a bomb hit the building and that rescue workers were busy trying to get a pregnant woman out from under the rubble.

“Here there were only pregnant women & women with kids under three years old,” Kach added.

Kach ​also stated there were no military ​personnel at, or near, the pool.

Biden calls Putin a “war criminal”

US President Joe Biden called President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” on Wednesday as Russia intensifies its attack on Ukraine.

“I think he is a war criminal,” Biden noted.

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