Monday, April 22, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 31

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. Clashes are ongoing in various locations of Ukraine, while the Russian military keeps up its airstrikes. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict during round-the-clock negotiations. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Biden’s words “narrow window” for improvements: Kremlin

Joe Biden’s comments on Vladimir Putin “narrow the window” for mending relations, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has warned, after the US president described his Russian counterpart as a “butcher” during a visit in Poland.

“After all, the state leader must remain sober,” Peskov told TASS news agency.

 “Every time such personal insults narrow the window of opportunity for our bilateral relations under the current administration (USA). We must be aware of this,” he added.

US considering sanctioning Russian companies that make supplies for military

The United States is considering sanctioning Russian companies that make supplies for the Russian military, sources familiar with the option tell CNN, though an official decision hasn’t been made.

After meeting with top US officials in Warsaw on Saturday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated they believed officials in US President Joe Biden’s administration were “keen to move on with further sanctions.”

Nearly 60 religious site bombed since war started

At least 59 places of worship across Ukraine have been shelled by Russian forces, said a report by the country’s authority responsible for church affairs.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which operates under the Moscow Patriarchate and is particularly strong in the east of the country, had suffered particularly heavy losses, it added.

A Catholic church, five Protestant churches, three mosques and three synagogues have also been damaged in the fighting so far.

Chernihiv, a ‘devastated’ city

Vladyslav Atroshenko, the mayor of Chernihiv in Northern Ukraine, has said the city “is completely devastated,” adding that over 200 civilians had been killed in the past few weeks.

The city, located near Ukraine’s border with Russia and Belarus, now has just half of its usual 285,000 inhabitants, he stated.

Atroshenko also described the current conditions in the city as catastrophic. Chernihiv was without power, he noted, and it was impossible to establish escape corridors since Russian forces destroyed a bridge leading towards Kiev.

City council: Three explosions heard near Lviv

Three explosions were heard near Ukraine’s western city of Lviv, an official from the city council stated.

“There have been three powerful explosions near Lviv… Everyone should keep calm and stay indoors,” Igor Zinkevych said.

Regional Governor Maksym Kozytskyy has said on his Telegram channel the city of Lviv has been hit by two missile strikes.

“According to preliminary data, five people were injured,” he added.

Biden calls Putin ‘a butcher’

Asked what he thought of Russian President Vladimir Putin after meeting refugees in Warsaw, US President Joe Biden stated: “He’s a butcher.”

The US president also stated he was not sure that Russia had changed its strategy in its invasion of Ukraine, after Moscow announced its focus was now to completely “liberate” the breakaway eastern Donbass region.

“I am not sure they have,” Biden said when asked by a reporter if Moscow had changed its strategy.

Ukrainian DM says he has “cautious optimism” after meeting with US officials

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said he feels cautiously optimistic following his meeting with US counterpart Lloyd Austin, President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken Saturday.

Reznikov added he and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba discussed with the US officials “urgent needs” of the Ukrainian army.

Reznikov and Kuleba met with the US officials in Warsaw earlier Saturday, where Kuleba stated the US promised additional defense support for Ukraine.

Ukrainian FM says US promised more defense support

The United States has made assurances that there will be additional defense support for Ukraine, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Saturday.

“Today we did receive additional promises from the United States on how our defense co-operation will evolve,” Kuleba told reporters in Warsaw, stressing that “no other country provided Ukraine with more support than the United States.”

“Ukrainian stamina and Western weapons, mostly American weapons, is the recipe for success on the battleground,” Kuleba added.

Earlier on Saturday, Kuleba and Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov met their US counterparts, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in Warsaw.

“We see that the United States are keen to move on with further sanctions,” Kuleba also said.

“We have some European countries who need to be convinced and who need to be taken on board as well, so we agreed today with my counterpart, Secretary Blinken, on how we will be working together with them,” the foreign minister added.

Biden: NATO countries must be in “lockstep” with each other as Russian invasion of Ukraine continues

US President Joe Biden, while holding talks with Polish President Andrzej Duda, said that peace in Europe is directly related to stability in the United States, adding that lack of action in two world wars “has come back to haunt us.”

“America’s ability to meet its role in other parts of the world rests upon a united Europe, a secure Europe. We’ve learned from sad experience in two world wars, when we’ve stayed out of and not been involved in stability in Europe, it always comes back to haunt us, the United States,” Biden stated.

“So I’ve been saying for a long time, as a senator who visited here, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, as vice president for eight years, now as President, that stability in Europe is critically important to the United States in terms of our interest. Not only in Europe, but around the world,” he continued.

Biden also said that he and US leaders see NATO’s Article 5 as “a sacred commitment.”

Article 5 is the principle that an attack on one member of NATO is an attack on all members.

Biden added Russian President Vladimir Putin thought he’d be able to divide NATO countries with his invasion of Ukraine.

“The single most important criterion in this time-changing world … is that NATO stay absolutely, completely, thoroughly united. There be no separation in our points of view. That whatever we do, we do in unison, and everyone — everyone — comes along,” he stated.

The US President also acknowledged the strain of Ukrainian refugees upon Poland, referencing the situation at the US-Mexico border.

Mayor: Chernihiv’s population has dropped by more than half since invasion began

The mayor of the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, which is located about halfway between Kyiv and the Russian border, claimed the population has more than halved since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking during a virtual press briefing Saturday, Mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko said 120,000 to 130,000 residents remain in the city, compared to around 290,000 prior to Russia’s invasion, adding that the “the city is surrounded.”

Atroshenko noted that Russian forces “consciously destroyed the only bridge connecting Chernihiv with a southern highway towards Kyiv.”

Atroshenko was referring to Russian warplanes destroying a key bridge on March 23, one of the last remaining routes linking it with other Ukrainian-held territory.

The mayor stated there are currently no evacuation corridors or “any safe way to bring or supplies, aid or wounded in or out.”

Atroshenko’s remarks come as the city attempts to evacuate 44 people who have been severely wounded. Most are military-related, but the figure also comprises civilians, including three children, he said.

Atroshenko added there have been direct hits on hospitals, including Chernihiv District Hospital, which has been “destroyed.” Electricity and water supplies have also been impacted, with water being delivered by volunteers.

Chernihiv has seen some of the most intense shelling since Russia invaded Ukraine just more than four weeks ago.

Among the more recent deadly attacks on March 16 was on a line of people in line for bread, in which officials announced at least 10 people died.

Kyiv’s regional military administration reports shelling in suburbs

The Kyiv region’s military administration said Saturday that suburbs to the west and east of the capital had come under Russian shellfire in recent hours, adding that Russian forces were digging in within some districts.

Oleksandr Pavliuk, the head of the Kyiv regional military administration, stated in a statement that the western suburbs of Маkariv, Bucha and Irpin were under shelling and that the community of Bilohorodka had come under rocket attack and missile strikes.

Pavliuk added that Russian forces were entrenching in Bucha and another western suburb, Nemishaeve.

A Ukrainian counterattack north and west of the capital appeared to have made some headway earlier this week, with Ukrainian forces restoring control of the town of Makariv, which is about 40 miles west of Kyiv. Shellfire was audible in central Kyiv Saturday morning.

The greatest damage from shelling was in the region’s Bucha, Brovary and Vyshhorod districts, Pavliuk continued.

Biden meets with Ukrainian officials in Warsaw

US President Biden is huddling with senior Ukrainian officials in Warsaw on the final day of his trip to Europe.

At a hotel in the Polish capital, Biden dropped by a meeting between Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and their American counterparts, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Biden meets with Ukrainian officials in Warsaw

During a short photo-op, the group made small talk about the arduous journey the ministers took from Ukraine to Poland, which included a train ride followed by three hours in a car.

“It’s like flying from Kyiv to Washington with a connecting flight in Istanbul,” Kuleba said.

“The good thing is that since the beginning of the war I’ve learned how to sleep under any conditions. So I slept on the train, I slept in the car,” he went on.

Biden latched onto the idea the ministers had traveled by train, and relayed that he, too, had experience of rail travel.

“You’re looking at a fellow who’s traveled over a million, 200,000 miles on a train. Literally,” Biden stated.

“So you learned how to sleep,” one of the ministers replied.

“I learned how to sleep,” Biden noted, adding, “I even learned how to become friends with a conductor so they kept the people away. You didn’t have to worry about that.”

Reporters were told to leave the room before any questions of substance about the war in Ukraine could be answered.

Japan’s PM sees growing chance of Russia using nuclear weapons

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says the prospect of Russia using nuclear weapons was “increasingly real”, while welcoming a visit by the United States ambassador to Hiroshima, the first city to suffer a nuclear attack.

Japan, the only country attacked by atomic weapons, has regularly spoken out against nuclear armaments. Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, visited the city’s peace memorial and museum on Saturday with envoy Rahm Emanuel.

“When the possible use of nuclear weapons by Russia is increasingly real, I believe ambassador Emanuel’s visit to Hiroshima and his experience of seeing the nuclear reality will become a strong message to the international society,” Kishida told public broadcaster NHK.

“I believe our visit was meaningful,” he added.

President Vladimir Putin has not directly threatened a nuclear attack. But he warned that anyone hindering Russia would face “such consequences that you have never encountered in your history” – a statement some leaders took as a threat to use nuclear weapons.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced on Tuesday that Russia would use nuclear weapons only to counter “an existential threat for our country”.

Ukrainian forces stage counter-offensive around Kharkiv

Ukrainian forces have staged a counter-offensive in areas around Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, a local official stated Saturday.

In a statement on Telegram, Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said, “We are not only defending our positions, but also liberating our temporarily occupied land. Several settlements were liberated, and fighting for our territories is underway in the direction Rohan. Fighting also continues in the Izium direction and Chuhuiv direction.”

Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, has come under intense shellfire since Russian forces invaded in late February.

Syniehubov added the city “was shelled only 24 times overnight. Which now can be considered a relatively small amount.”

Kyiv region head: Russian forces seized Chernobyl workers’ town

The governor of Kyiv region claims Russian forces have taken control of the town of Slavutych, where workers at the defunct Chernobyl nuclear plant live.

In an online statement, Oleksandr Pavlyuk stated Russian troops had occupied the hospital in Slavutych and kidnapped the mayor.

On Friday, Ukraine announced its troops had repulsed a first attack by Russian troops closing in on the town.

WH: Biden to meet two Ukrainian ministers in Warsaw

US President Joe Biden will join a meeting in Warsaw between the Ukrainian foreign and defence ministers and their US counterparts, the White House said.

“This morning, President Biden will drop by a meeting between Secretaries (Antony) Blinken and (Lloyd) Austin and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov,” the White House added.

Russian DM seen speaking at army meeting after long public silence

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was seen chairing an army meeting and discussing weapons supplies in a video posted by his ministry, the first time he had publicly been shown speaking for more than two weeks.

In the video, uploaded on social media, Shoigu said he had discussed issues related to the military budget and defence orders with the finance ministry.

“We continue ahead-of-schedule delivery of weaponry and equipment by means of credits. The priorities are long-range high-precision weapons, aircraft equipment and maintenance of engagement readiness of strategic nuclear forces,” added Shoigu, who is overseeing what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine.

The meeting was attended by a number of top Russian army officials including the chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, who also had not been seen in public recently.

Ukraine calls on energy producers to hike output

Ukraine’s president made a surprise video appearance at Qatar’s Doha Forum, calling on energy producing countries to increase output so that Russia cannot use its oil and gas wealth to “blackmail” other nations.

Addressing the Doha Forum international conference via video link, Zelensky stated countries such as Qatar could make a contribution to the stabilisation of Europe.

Zelensky also said no country is insured against shocks from disruptions to food supply, with Ukraine one of the world’s largest grain producers.

“Russian troops are covering fields in Ukraine for miles, they are exploding agrarian equipment,” he added.

“They are destroying our ports,” Zelenskyy said, adding, “The absence of exports from Ukraine will deal a blow to countries worldwide.”

Russia’s “bragging” about its nuclear weapons is fuelling a dangerous arms race, Zelensky told the Doha Forum on Saturday.

“They are bragging that they can destroy with nuclear weapons not only a certain country but the entire planet,” Zelensky stated in a video message to the forum of political and business leaders.

Emir of Qatar: We stand with refugees & “victims of this unjust war”

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has stated that Doha stands with millions of refugees in the “unjust” war on Ukraine.

Speaking at the opening of the Doha Forum, Sheikh Tamim said Qatar also stands against any hostilities against national sovereignties.

“We stand in solidarity with the millions of innocent people and refugees who are victims of this unjust war and the geopolitical calculations,” he added.

Qatar, one of the world’s top suppliers of liquefied natural gas (LNG), has been thrust into the limelight as European states rush to find alternatives to the Russian gas that has powered their economies for decades, while Moscow presses on with its brutal war in Ukraine.

The European Union depends on Russia for about 40% of its natural gas. This week, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck left the Qatari capital with an understanding to have Qatar supply it with gas. Berlin currently has no terminals to receive direct shipments of LNG from Qatar, but it plans to build two.

Russian military hits 117 Ukrainian military facilities

“During the past 24 hours, operational-tactical and army aviation hit 117 military facilities of Ukraine”, defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkovsaid.

According to the spokesman, those included six command posts, three multiple rocket launchers, one S-300 surface-to-air missile system, nine depots with arms and ammunition, two [depots] with fuel and lubricants, and 92 team sites of units of the Ukrainian armed formations, nationalist battalions and areas of military equipment concentration.

Konashenkov stressed that the Russian armed forces had destroyed an ammunition depot of the Ukrainian troops in the Zhytomyr region to the west of Kiev with Kalibr missiles and a fuel base in the Mykolaiv region in the south of the country with an Oniks supersonic cruise missile.

“A total of 267 unmanned aerial vehicles, 207 anti-aircraft missile systems, 1,618 tanks and other armored combat vehicles have been destroyed since the beginning of the special military operation”, the spokesman added.

He also noted that the Russian forces had destroyed 166 installations of multiple rocket launchers, 662 pieces of field artillery and mortar guns, and 1,453 units of special military vehicles.

UK: Russia is likely to continue using “heavy firepower” on urban areas

Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Saturday in its latest intelligence update that Russia prefers “indiscriminate” bombardments and will likely continue using “heavy firepower” on urban areas.

“Russian forces are proving reluctant to engage in large scale urban infantry operations, rather preferring to rely on the indiscriminate use of air and artillery bombardments in an attempt to demoralise defending forces,” the ministry added.

“It is likely Russia will continue to use its heavy firepower on urban areas as it looks to limit its own already considerable losses, at the cost of further civilian casualties,” it said.

Russia “continues to besiege” several major Ukrainian cities, including Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Mariupol, the ministry added.

Ukraine: 136 children killed in Russia’s war

The conflict in Ukraine has killed 136 children so far, Ukraine’s office of the prosecutor general said in a message posted on Telegram.

At least 199 other have been wounded since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24, the office added.

Putin signs law on veteran status for participants in special operation in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin signs law on veteran status for participants in special operation in Ukraine.

Analysts: Russian war damage on Ukrainian infrastructure exceeds $62bn

Damage to Kyiv’s infrastructure from Russia’s war nears $63 billion, Ukrainian experts have stated.

Since the beginning of the war on Feb. 24, damage to Ukrainian infrastructure is $62.88 billion with $3.5 billion of that figure occurring last week, according to a report by the Kyiv School of Economics.

Experts calculated that more than 8,000 roads, 260 bridges, 4,431 residences, 92 factories or enterprises, 378 educational institutions, 138 health facilities, two ports, eight civilian and 10 military airports as well as eight power plants, including a nuclear plant, were damaged or destroyed by the Russian army.

Zelensky reportedly in talks to make appearance during Academy Awards

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is in talks with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to make a video appearance during Sunday’s presentation of the 94th Academy Awards, the New York Post reported.

According to the outlet’s sources, Academy decision-makers are still deciding how Zelensky would appear on the show to address the audience and the world. It was also unclear to sources whether he would appear live or use a pre-recorded message. However, most observers of the conflict suggest that Zelensky would opt for a live video address.

The news comes as the age-old discussion again revolves in Hollywood about whether art should remain out of politics amid events taking place in the world and particularly, in Ukraine.

Zelensky claims over 16,000 Russian troops lost

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed Russia has lost more than 16,000 troops so far.

“The number of the Russian losses has exceeded 16,000 casualties,” Zelensky said.

“Among them are the high-ranking commanders. So far no reports of killed Russian general colonels or admirals. However, in that number we have a commander of one of the occupiers’ armies and a second in command of the Black Sea Navy,” he added.

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced in a briefing Friday that 1,351 military personnel had been killed in Ukraine and 3,825 had been wounded, during the first major casualty update since March 2.

Meanwhile, two senior NATO military officials on Wednesday estimated the number of Russian soldiers killed in action in Ukraine to be between 7,000 and 15,000. Other US officials have put Russian losses in a similar range — between 7,000 and 14,000 Russian soldiers killed — but they have expressed “low confidence” in those estimates.

Zelensky stressed Ukraine’s military has delivered “powerful blows” against Russian forces leading to “significant losses”.

The Ukrainian president also noted authorities were able to ensure 18 humanitarian corridors over the past week and managed to rescue 37,606 people including 26,477 from the besieged city of Mariupol who were taken to Zaporizhzhia.

“All of these war crimes against the civilians in Mariupol and other cities of Ukraine will continue informing nations of the world,” Zelensky continued.

Zelensky stated that negotiations with Russia were necessary, however, they had to be result-oriented and fair for Ukrainians.

“Talk is necessary: Meaningful. Urgent. Fair. For the sake of the result, not for the sake of the delay,” he continued.

EU to Russia: ‘War crimes must stop immediately’

European Union leaders have urged Russia to fully respect its obligations under international law and abide by the recent order by the International Court of Justice that told Moscow to withdraw from Ukraine.

“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine grossly violates international law and is causing massive loss of life and injury to civilians,” the leaders of the 27-nation EU said in a joint statement.

“Russia is directing attacks against the civilian population and is targeting civilian objects, including hospitals, medical facilities, schools and shelters. These war crimes must stop immediately.”

US: Russian advance on Kyiv appears to have halted

A senior US defence official has said Russia’s military advance on Kyiv appears to have halted as Moscow turns its focus to fighting elsewhere in the country.

The official added Russia appears to be concentrating more on fighting for control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region rather than its ground offensive aimed at capturing Kyiv, at least for now.

Macon: No reason to accept demands for rouble payments for Russian gas

French President Emmanuel Macron has said there was no reason for his country to accept a demand from Russia to pay in Russian roubles for Russian gas.

President Vladimir Putin had stated earlier this week that Russia will seek payment in roubles for gas sold to “unfriendly” countries, raising alarm about a possible gas crunch in Europe.

Macron told a news conference in Brussels that “texts show it is forbidden” to make such demands for payments in the rouble.

Germany says it is rapidly reducing its energy dependency on Russia

Germany is rapidly reducing its energy dependency on Russia which applies in particular to the coal and oil sectors, according to a report released on Friday.

Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck stated that “dependency on Russian oil will now drop to around 25 percent; these changed supply chains will already take effect in the coming weeks. Russian oil imports to Germany are expected to be halved by the middle of the year. By the end of the year we aim to be almost independent.”

The German Bundestag on Friday obliged gas operators from now on to guarantee gas reserves before the onset of winter.

Blinken accuses Kremlin of killing ‘countless Ukrainians’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused the Kremlin of killing “countless Ukrainians”.

In a Twitter post, Blinken called on Moscow to end what he called “this inhumane war”.

The US government has previously accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine.

Top Russian general claims “first stage” of Moscow’s military plan is now complete

A top Russian general gave some of the most detailed public remarks to date on Russia’s military strategy in Ukraine, claiming that the “first stage” of Russia’s military plan is now complete, with their primary focus now centered on eastern Ukraine.

“In general, the main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been completed,” Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy, first deputy chief of Russia’s General Staff, said in a Friday briefing.

“The combat potential of the armed forces of Ukraine has been significantly reduced, allowing us, I emphasize again, to focus the main efforts on achieving the main goal — the liberation of Donbas,” he added.

Rudskoy’s remarks come as Russia’s advances appear to have stalled around major Ukrainian cities such as Kyiv and Kharkiv. Russia has also failed to achieve air superiority in Ukraine and has suffered heavy losses of personnel since the start of the invasion.

“The public and individual experts are wondering what we are doing in the area of ​​the blockaded Ukrainian cities,” Rudskoy said.

“These actions are carried out with the aim of causing such damage to military infrastructure, equipment, personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the results of which allow us not only to tie down their forces and prevent them from strengthening their grouping in the Donbas, but also will not allow them to do this until the Russian army completely liberates the territories of the DPR and LNR,” he added.

Rudskoy was referring to the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, separatist territories in eastern Ukraine that Russia recognized on the eve of its invasion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated that the goal of what Russian officials refer to euphemistically as the “special military operation” in Ukraine is the complete demilitarization of the country. Putin has stated the war is going according to plan, but Russian forces have incurred serious losses.

Rudskoy claimed in the same briefing that 1,351 military personnel had been killed in Ukraine and 3,825 had been wounded. US, NATO and Ukrainian officials estimate the Russian casualty count is much higher.

“Initially, we did not plan to storm them in order to prevent destruction and minimize losses among personnel and civilians,” Rudskoy continued, adding, “And although we do not exclude such a possibility, however, as individual groupings complete the tasks set, and they are successfully solved, our forces and means will be concentrated on the main thing — the complete liberation of Donbas.”

It is unclear if Rudskoy’s statement implies a shifting of the goalposts for the Russian military, or just represents a change in public messaging.

The Russian military has claimed it is not targeting civilians or residential areas, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Biden compares Russia’s invasion to Tiananmen Square

President Joe Biden has compared Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to China’s crushing of protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Biden praised Ukrainians for showing “backbone” in their resistance against Russia, giving the example of “a 30-year-old woman standing there in front of a tank with a rifle”.

“I mean, talk about what happened to Tiananmen Square. This is Tiananmen Square squared,” he added.

Ukraine FM: ‘Russia sticks to ultimatums’

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has announced the difficulties in talks with Russia to end the war, saying that there has not been a consensus in the negotiations with Kyiv demanding a ceasefire as Moscow “sticks to ultimatums”.

“To stimulate a more constructive approach we need two things: more sanctions and more military aid for Ukraine,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

UN: Russia ‘abducting Ukrainian civilians’ in attempt to assert control over occupied areas

Ukrainian civilians are being abducted and transported into regions controlled by Russia, as the invading force struggles to quell resistance in captured towns, the UN has claimed.

The Russian military is feared to be increasingly deploying kidnap tactics to assert control over occupied areas, including by targeting individuals known to hold pro-Ukrainian views.

The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNOHR) announced on Friday it had now verified at least 36 cases of civilian detentions.

A spokesman for the UNOHR told the BBC that families of the abducted individuals were often denied any information about their fate.

He added that those being targeted “are mostly representatives of local communities, journalists and people who were vocal about their pro-Ukrainian positions”.

IAEA: Chernobyl staff members have not been rotated in four days

Staff on duty at Chernobyl’s Russian-held radioactive waste facilities have not been rotated in four days, and Ukraine cannot say when that will change because of fighting in the town where many of them live, the UN nuclear watchdog has announced.

“Ukraine informed the International Atomic Energy Agency today that there had been no rotation of technical staff at [Chernobyl] since 21 March and it did not know when it might next take place,” the IAEA said in a statement.

US to sanction Russian firms providing tech to Moscow’s military

The Joe Biden administration is preparing sanctions targeting Russian companies it says provides goods and services to Moscow’s military and intelligence services, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

The US Treasury Department sanctions could be announced as early as next week, the report said, citing US officials.

The Treasury Department declined to comment on the report.

Most of the companies that are expected to come under the reported sanctions – including Serniya Engineering and equipment maker Sertal – were earlier added to a US list banning exports of sensitive technologies to them, according to the report.

While that blackballs the firms, it does not ban all business dealings, the report added.

Ukrainian intelligence chief: Russia using ‘old methods of warfare’

The Russian army is using “old methods of warfare” against Ukrainian forces, the head of Ukraine’s defence intelligence agency GUR said.

Speaking to The Nation, Brigadier General Kyrylo Budanov stated that Ukrainian forces have benefited from “miscalculations” made by the Russians.

He added, “Russian command has made miscalculations many times, and we use these miscalculations.”

“The Ukrainian army has shown that the Russian army as the second army in the world is a big myth, and it’s just a medieval concentration of manpower, old methods of warfare,” he continued.

He also noted that Ukrainian forces have benefited from having “lots of informers within the Russian army” and within “their [Russia’s] political circles and their leadership”.

EU leaders struggle to find short-term fix for energy crunch

EU leaders failed on Friday to agree a short-term solution to the energy market crunch made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but did offer a compromise for Spain where spiralling fuel prices have led to 12 days of trucker blockades.

An intense debate on whether to cap energy prices, pitting some southern countries against Germany and the Netherlands, pushed the second day of an EU summit into the evening, with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez at one point walking out of the meeting room.

In the end, they settled on trade-off and left a number of issues unresolved.

The war in Ukraine has pushed energy prices to record highs and prompted the European Union to seek to cut Russian gas use by two-thirds this year, by finding gas elsewhere and boosting renewable energy.

While the Mediterranean rim states pressed for a cap on wholesale gas prices to shield poorer households, opponents stated that this would entail public cash subsidising fossil fuel generation.

Biden appears to suggest US troops will be sent to Ukraine

US President Joe Biden told American soldiers on Friday that “you’re going to see” Ukrainian civilians fighting Russian soldiers “when you’re there.”

Despite signaling a potential US deployment to Ukraine, the White House announced there’s been no change to Biden’s position of not sending troops into the country.

“You’re going to see when you’re there … some of you have been there. You’re going to see women, young people standing in the middle, in the front of a damn tank saying ‘I’m not leaving, I’m holding my ground’,” Biden told members of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division stationed in Poland.

Envoy: Moscow doing everything to stop war crimes in Ukraine

Unlike the United States, Russia is doing everything to prevent war crimes in Ukraine, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov announced, commenting on US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s attempts to blame the Russian leadership for the deaths of thousands of Ukrainians and Russian soldiers.

“Such cynical rhetoric of the US Department of State representative is unacceptable,” the embassy quoted Antonov as saying in its Telegram channel.

“Washington should bring charges against itself for destroying cities and killing tens of thousands of people in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. The countless atrocities that marked the path of the US – NATO armed interventions are not limited to the recent history,” he continued.

He recalled that “the world honored the memory of the victims of Yugoslavia” on Thursday.

“The US bombings, which lasted 78 days, took lives of more than 2 thousand innocent people, including children, women and the elderly. America has wiped out numerous civilian infrastructure facilities. As a result, the country plunged into a humanitarian catastrophe,” the Russian diplomat added.

FM: Sanctions backfiring globally even though Russia has not retaliated yet

The sanctions imposed on Russia have already caused price hikes and shortages of fuel and electricity and the risk of famine in many countries in view of the threats to international food security, although Russia has in fact taken no active countermeasures yet, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s economic cooperation department, Dmitry Birichevsky, said on Friday.

“Although Russia has not taken any retaliatory measures in practice yet, the key impact of the whole sanctions maze is now being witnessed: soaring energy prices, electricity and fuel shortages, threats to food security and the risk of famine in many countries,” Birichevsky stated on the Rossiya-24 television news channel on Friday.

He believes that the architects of these restrictions “are not quite aware of the degree of Russia’s involvement in the global economy.”

“Apart from Russia’s well-known contribution to energy and food supplies the domestic businesses are actively involved in many production chains in which it is extremely difficult to find a substitute for us, if at all,” he stressed.

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