Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 35

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:

Ukraine claims Russian army continues “full-scale, armed aggression”

On Wednesday, the Russian army continued to conduct a full-scale, armed aggression against Ukraine, while Ukrainian forces continue to conduct a defense operation in the eastern, southeastern, and northeastern directions, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense also claims Russian troops have “suffered significant losses” and likely “temporarily gave up the task of blocking Kyiv.”

The Russian military has regrouped and is focused on “offensive operations in the Eastern Operational Zone and to increase the system of logistical support of troops in the Donetsk and Tavriya areas,” the ministry said in a statement.

Russia has “intensified fire and assault operations” in the Donetsk region and “continues to strike air and missile strikes on settlements,” it added.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claims that Russia’s main efforts are focused on taking control of the cities of Popasana, Rubizhne and Mariupol. It also claims that the Russian military is “demoralized” and has “low motivation to take part in hostilities in Ukraine.”

Russian forces are continuing to build up in the area of the Chernobyl power plant, the Shelter Facility, and the exclusion zone in general, according to the latest assessment.

On Tuesday, Moscow claimed it would “drastically reduce military activity,” but US officials are skeptical of Russia’s claims, with the Pentagon cautioning that troop movement near Kyiv is “a repositioning,” not a withdrawal.

Pentagon: Russian troops around Kyiv moving toward or into Belarus

The Pentagon says it has seen some Russian troops in the areas around Kyiv moving north toward or into Belarus over the last 24 hours.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby stated the US does not view this as a withdrawal, but as an attempt by Russia to resupply, refit and then reposition the troops.

“We don’t know exactly where these troops are going to go,” he noted, speaking on CNN and Fox Business.

Spokesperson: Scholz did not agree with Putin on rouble energy payments

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is committed to a G7 agreement that energy supplies from Russia would be paid for only in euros or US dollars, a German government spokesman said after Scholz spoke to President Vladimir Putin by phone on Wednesday.

The Russian president told Scholz that nothing would change for European partners and payments would still be made in euros and transferred to Gazprom bank, which is not affected by sanctions, and then converted into roubles, added the German spokesperson.

“Scholz did not agree to this procedure in the conversation, but asked for written information to better understand the procedure,” said the German spokesperson, adding that the previous Group of Seven agreement remained.

The German government announced it has received assurances from Russia that European companies won’t have to pay for Russian gas supplies in roubles.

Scholz’s office said Putin had stressed during a phone conversation that there would be no change for European contractual partners, who would continue to pay only in euros to Gazprom Bank.

However, Scholz’s office also reported Putin as saying that he planned to issue a law requiring gas supplies to be paid in roubles from April 1.

UN Chief: World facing highest number of violent conflicts since WWII

The United Nations chief has stated two billion people – one-quarter of humanity – are living in conflict areas today, as the world experiences the highest number of violent conflicts since the end of World War II in 1945.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres cited conflicts from Yemen, Syria, Myanmar and Sudan to Haiti, Africa’s Sahel and now the war in Ukraine, which he described as “a catastrophe shaking the foundations of the international order, spilling across borders and causing skyrocketing food, fuel and fertiliser prices that spell disaster for developing countries.”

He told the UN Peacebuilding Commission that last year 84 million people were forced to leave their homes because of conflict, violence and human rights violations. “And this year, we estimate that at least 274 million will need humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Mykolaiv mayor says Russia used cluster bombs, killed 80 civilians since start of war

About 80 civilians have been killed and around 450 wounded in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv since Russia invaded Ukraine, the local mayor has said.

Oleksandr Senkevych told national television that Russia had used cluster munitions in Mykolaiv. He provided no evidence but stated there was a “huge number of cluster bombs scattered around the city”.

Russia has previously denied using cluster munitions, which are prohibited under international law.

Russian MoD: Kiev regime seriously considered using bioweapons against Russia, Donbass

Ukrainian authorities seriously considered the possibility of using biological weapons against civilians in the Donbass and Russia, and the military will hold a special briefing on the matter, Russia’s Ministry of Defence spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, has claimed.

“The facts which have been unearthed demonstrate that the Kiev regime seriously considered the possibility of using biological weapons against civilians in the Donbass and in the Russian Federation,” Konashenkov said in a briefing on Wednesday.

The spokesman added the Russian military is continuing its analysis of documents received from employees of Ukraine-based biological laboratories, including the secret military biological activities being conducted in the country by the US.

“As a result of the analysis of new materials by experts from the Russian Radiological, Chemical and Biological Defence Troops, specific officials who were involved in the creation of components of biological weapons have been named. These include the heads of departments and employees at the US Defense Department, as well as its main contractor companies. As ongoing journalistic investigations in the western press show, these campaigns were directly connected to Hunter Biden, the son of the US president,” Konashenkov stated.

The MoD spokesman did not elaborate on when the new information would be made public. The Russian military has spent the past month slowly pulling back the curtain on the extent of US-funded research into dangerous pathogens in Ukraine-based labs. Last week, the MoD cited documents which implicated an investment firm connected to Hunter Biden in the financing of the military biological programme in Ukraine.

US official: Putin & Russian Ministry of Defense have ‘persistent tension’

A US official provided NBC News with declassified intelligence claiming that there is “persistent tension” between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Ministry of Defense (MOD), allegedly because Putin’s senior advisors are “too afraid to tell him the truth” about Russia’s battlefield failures.

“We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisors about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions because his senior advisors are too afraid to tell him the truth,” the official stated.

The official did not provide evidence for these claims, citing a need to protect sources and methods.

They said that Putin was unaware that the Russian military had used and lost conscript soldiers in Ukraine, saying that this lack of information showed “a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information to the Russian President.”

“We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military. There is now persistent tension between Putin and the MOD, stemming from Putin’s mistrust in MOD leadership,” the official added.

The Joe Biden administration sharing this declassified information follows weeks of accusations from US officials that Putin had been isolated, though no evidence had been provided.

Putin had a tense exchange on camera last month in which he told his chief of foreign intelligence service to “Speak plainly!” and emphasized earlier this month in televised remarks that Russia would not use conscript soldiers in Ukraine.

“I emphasize that conscript soldiers are not participating in hostilities and will not participate in them. And there will be no additional call-up of reservists,” Putin noted.

Kremlin: Putin, Scholz discuss Russia-Ukraine talks, gas payment issues

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz discussed results of Russia-Ukraine talks in Turkey and gas payment issues during a phone conversation on Wednesday, according to the Kremlin.

“Vladimir Putin and Olaf Scholz exchanged views in connection with the recent round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian representatives held in Istanbul the day before. The issues of ensuring the safe evacuation of civilians from areas of clashes, primarily from Mariupol, were considered,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Putin informed Scholz in detail about Moscow’s decision to switch to ruble payments for gas.

“It was noted that the decision should not lead to a deterioration in contractual conditions for European companies importing Russian gas. It was agreed that experts from the two countries would additionally negotiate on this matter,” the Kremlin added.

Slovakia cuts Russia’s embassy staff by 35

Slovakia has ordered Russia’s embassy to cut its staff by 35, a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Wednesday, citing unacceptable activity by another Russian diplomat.

The aim of the move was to “set a maximum number of diplomatic and service passport holders at this (Russian) mission,” spokesperson Juraj Tomaga announced in a statement.

The move cuts the embassy staff roughly to a half of its previous size, according to calculations in Slovak media.

On March 14, Slovakia expelled three Russian embassy staff based on secret service information.

“The step is an inevitable reaction to Russia’s embassy personnel continuing with activities running contrary to the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, Slovakia’s interests, and partnership with Russian Federation,” Tomaga added.

Diplomats say EU considering new Russian bank sanctions

European countries aiming to tighten sanctions on Russia are considering targeting more banks, broadening the net to additional family members of oligarchs and strengthening curbs on the use of cryptocurrencies to evade financial restrictions in coming days, as part of a new package of measures aimed at shoring up Western pressure on Russia’s economy, according to diplomats and officials familiar with discussions, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The efforts come as the US and the European Union gear up joint task forces aimed at ensuring the sanctions already announced on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine can be effectively implemented. The trans-Atlantic efforts include work to pressure third countries that are making it possible for Russian people and companies to move assets located outside Russia beyond the reach of Western sanctions.

EU sources told Reuters on Wednesday the European Commission is readying new sanctions against the Kremlin over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The majority of the new measures are understood to depend on President Vladimir Putin’s stance on demanding Western countries pay their gas bills in roubles, a request rejected by Western nations.

The new package of EU sanctions could be ready as early as next week, two of the sources said.

The executive Commission is consulting with EU governments on a “compliance package,” they added.

This would apply what European leaders agreed at a summit last week about ensuring that existing sanctions are not by-passed, especially those against blacklisted individuals.

Officials have repeatedly noted sanctions against oligarchs could be circumvented using family members, cryptocurrencies, trusts and shell companies in offshore jurisdictions.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general registers 3,236 war crimes

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine has registered a total of 3,236 war crimes committed by Russian troops.

The UN rights chief said Wednesday Russia’s widespread and indiscriminate attacks in populated areas of Ukraine are of “immense concern”, warning that they could amount to “war crimes”.

“Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes,” Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“The massive destruction of civilian objects and the high number of civilian casualties strongly indicate that the fundamental principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution have not been sufficiently adhered to,” Bachelet added.

Russia: Key goals in Kiev & Chernigov directions have been accomplished

Russia’s Defence Ministry pointed out that Russia was conducting a planned redeployment of forces on Kiev and Chernigov directions, and that all goals there have been accomplished.

The major goal of the redeployment is to start advancing more actively in key directions – first of all to complete the liberation of Donbass, the defence ministry added.

Johnson says UK not aiming to remove Putin from power

The United Kingdom is not aiming to overturn Russia’s government and remove President Vladimir Putin from power, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

“I understand the frustrations that people feel about Putin and to desire a change of government in itself is not an ignoble thing … that’s the objective of a lot of democratic politics,” Johnson told lawmakers at a committee hearing.

“But let’s be absolutely clear, it’s not the objective of the UK government, and it’s very, very important that everybody gets this. We are simply setting out to help to protect the people of Ukraine, and to protect them against absolutely barbaric and unreasonable violence,” he added.

Johnson said economic and financial sanctions imposed on Russia by Western countries following Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine should not be lifted just because a ceasefire is agreed.

“I certainly don’t think that you could expect the G7 [the group of seven most industrialized economies] to lift sanctions simply because there’s been a ceasefire in Ukraine,” Johnson added.

Ukraine says death toll from Mykolaiv attack has risen to 15

Ukraine’s State Emergency Service says that the death toll from a Russian attack on the regional administration building in the southern city of Mykolaiv has risen to 15 people.

It added that 33 others had been wounded in the strike on Tuesday morning, which saw Russian forces allegedly blast a gaping hole in the nine-storey building.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to demilitarise its neighbour. It denies targeting civilians and has not commented on the incident in Mykolaiv.

Ukrainian negotiator ‘optimistic’ after talks with Russia

Ukrainian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak has said he feels optimistic after the latest round of talks with Russian officials.

“I have an optimistic impression of the round of negotiations in Istanbul,” Podolyak, a political adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, told an online briefing following the discussions in Turkey on Tuesday.

He added that a proposed system of security guarantees for Ukraine, which would be offered in exchange for its neutrality, would be put to a nationwide referendum only after Russian troops withdrew to positions they held before invading the country.

Russia hopes Europe will find creative solution to roubles-for-gas problem

Russia hopes European countries will change their minds about paying for Russian gas in roubles and find a creative solution to the problem, the country’s RIA Novosti news agency has cited Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

The Kremlin has announced Moscow will not immediately demand that buyers pay for its exports of the energy source in roubles, promising a gradual shift instead.

Russia: Kyiv stated willingness to meet Moscow’s core demands

Moscow’s lead negotiator in talks with Ukraine has claimed that Kyiv’s readiness to consider a neutral status would meet a key Russian demand.

Vladimir Medinsky said in televised comments that Ukrainian officials had submitted a set of proposals including Kyiv’s readiness to adopt a non-bloc, nuclear-free status and drop its bid to join NATO during Tuesday’s talks.

He added Ukraine had also signalled its readiness not to host foreign military bases and to hold joint drills with foreign militaries only in consultation with countries serving as guarantors of a peace deal, which would include Russia.

Medinsky said the proposals signalled Ukraine’s readiness to reach agreement “for the first time in years,” adding that “if it fulfils the obligations, the threat of creating a NATO bridgehead on the Ukrainian territory will be removed.”

UNICEF says 2 million children have fled Ukraine, with over 100 killed

Roughly two million children have now been forced to flee Ukraine — making up half of all refugees from the war — the United Nations Children’s Fund said Wednesday.

More than 1.1 million have arrived in Poland alone, with hundreds of thousands in nearby countries of Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

UNICEF warned of a heightened risk of exploitation and trafficking for children fleeing violence.

In an effort to quell those risks, the UN agency is scaling up “Blue Dots,” which are one-stop safe spaces for traveling families. More than 100 children have been killed in the conflict, UNICEF added, with over 130 injured.

More than 2.5 million children have been internally displaced within Ukraine, according to UNICEF.

US official: “We believe that Putin is being misinformed” about Russian military performance

The US believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin is being “misinformed” by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing in Ukraine and the impact of sanctions on Russia’s economy, a US official tells CNN.

“We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions, because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth,” a US official said.

The official added the assessment is based on declassified US intelligence findings. The official added that the US has information indicating that Putin has become aware of the misinformation, leading to a rift between Putin and his top defense officials.

“We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military. There is now persistent tension between Putin and the (Ministry of Defence), stemming from Putin’s mistrust in MOD leadership,” the US official said.

The official added Putin did not know his military was “using and losing conscripts in Ukraine, showing a clear breakdown in the flow of accurate information to the Russian president.”

Pentagon chief: Putin is attacking “core of transatlantic security”

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion involves not just attacking Ukraine, but also “attacking principles at the core of transatlantic security.”

Austin called the war in Ukraine “Putin’s war of choice” during opening remarks at the Pentagon on Wednesday ahead of a meeting with German Minister of Defence Christine Lambrecht.

“Putin’s war of choice has taken a terrible toll on civilian casualties and forced millions of innocent Ukrainians to flee their country,” he added.

Austin thanked Germany for working with the US to deploy forces “to and through Germany in recent months,” as part of the US’s increased security presence in Europe.

He also said he applauds Germany’s decision to spend 2% of their “economic output on defense.”

“Together, we send a clear message, and that message is any challenge to our security will meet a firm and united response. And our commitment to NATO’s collective defense is ironclad,” Austin added.

Lambrecht said the relationship between the US and Germany is “good” and “permanent” in her opening remarks.

“We met in very troubling times, and what is important for me is that the transatlantic relationship, especially the relationship between Germany and the United States, is meant to last and is sustainable, so we were able to show that we were able to unite NATO, that we were able to unite Europe against President Putin in the form of the sanctions that we decided on together, and especially through the support that we have shown our allies in the alliance,” Lambrecht added.

UN nuclear watchdog chief visits power plant in southern Ukraine

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has visited a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine on his first trip to the country since Russia launched its invasion.

Director General Rafael Grossi said he was meeting with Ukrainian government officials and staff at the South Ukraine nuclear power plant as part of the UN nuclear watchdog’s effort to provide the country with “technical assistance” to ensure the safety and security of its nuclear facilities.

He added in a series of tweets that the agency’s presence on the ground in Ukraine “will help prevent the danger of a nuclear accident that could have severe public health and environmental consequences” both within the country’s borders and beyond.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors at four active power plants, and is also home to the defunct Chernobyl facility, the site of a major nuclear disaster in 1986. Russian forces have taken control of Chernobyl and the Zaporizhzhia power plant, the largest in Europe.

Mayor claims hundreds of civilians killed in Irpin

An estimated 200-300 civilians were killed in the Ukrainian town of Irpin, near Kyiv, before it was taken back from Russian forces this week, the local mayor has said.

Oleksandr Markushyn told a news briefing that about 50 Ukrainian servicemen had also been killed there, and some bodies were still trapped under rubble. He added there had been Russian shelling in the area all night.

Ukrainian forces on Monday seized back full control of the town, which has been one of the main hotspots of fighting with Russian troops near the capital.

HRW: Russia used banned anti-personnel landmines in Ukraine

Russian forces fighting in Ukraine have used banned anti-personnel mines in the eastern Kharkiv region of the country, according to Human Rights Watch.

The international organization said that the anti-personnel mines were located by Ukrainian explosive ordnance disposal technicians on March 28.

“Russia is known to possess these newly deployed landmines, which can indiscriminately kill and maim people within an apparent 16-meter (52 feet) range,” HRW announced, adding that Ukraine does not possess this type of landmine or its delivery system.

“Countries around the world should forcefully condemn Russia’s use of banned antipersonnel landmines in Ukraine,” said Steve Goose, the arms director of Human Rights Watch.

“These weapons do not differentiate between combatants and civilians and leave a deadly legacy for years to come,” Goose added.

The 1997 international Mine Ban Treaty comprehensively bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel mines. Russia is not among the 164 countries that have joined the treaty, according to HRW.

“Russia’s use of antipersonnel mines in Ukraine deliberately flouts the international norm against use of these horrid weapons,” Goose continued.

Zelensky tells Norwegian parliament Europe must shut ports to Russian ships

Norway and the rest of Europe should close their sea ports to Russian ships, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Norwegian parliament Wednesday.

“The European Union, and I do hope so Norway, need to introduce the ban on Russian vessels to use European ports for the time being while they are blocking our ports,” Zelensky stated via video link from Ukraine.

Zelensky asked for anti-ship missiles, Harpoon rockets, anti-air missile systems and anti-tank guns.

Downing Street: UK won’t pay in roubles for Russian gas

The UK will not pay for Russian commodities like gas in roubles and is liaising with British companies who might be concerned about the issue or its impact on industries and manufacturers across Europe, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said.

The Kremlin indicated on Wednesday that all of Russia’s energy and commodity exports could be priced in roubles, with Germany triggering an emergency plan to manage gas supplies that could see Europe’s largest economy ration power if the standoff disrupts or halts supplies.

“Kwasi Kwarteng, working with his counterparts, have made clear that they won’t be paying in roubles,” a Downing Street spokesman told reporters.

It is possible to expand anti-Russia sanctions and further restrict the country’s access to the SWIFT payment system, the spokesperson added.

China: ‘Outburst’ of Ukraine crisis stems from long-lasting differences over security in Europe

The ‘outburst’ of the Ukraine crisis has stemmed from long-lasting differences that have existed between different countries concerning the security system in Europe, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a press conference after the talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in China on Wednesday.

“The Ukrainian issue has a rather complicated history, it is not only the result of the contradictions accumulated over many years about the European security system but also the Cold War mentality and confrontations between different blocs,” he added.

The Chinese minister noted that Beijing welcomes the first results that were achieved during the Russian-Ukrainian talks in Istanbul on Tuesday and supports the continuation of the negotiations aimed at de-escalating tensions in Ukraine.

“We support the efforts being made by Russia and all other sides to avert a full-scale humanitarian crisis,” the Chinese top diplomat stated.

According to Wang, it is necessary to build an effective and sustainable security system in Europe.

“From an long term perspective, lessons should be learned from the Ukrainian crisis; relying on the principles of mutual respect and indivisibility of security, it is necessary to respond to the legitimate concerns of all parties in the security sphere, and build a balanced, effective and sustainable European security system through dialogue and negotiations and achieve long-term order and long-term stability in Europe,” Wang stated after the talks with Lavrov.

Ukraine claims Russian strikes hit Red Cross building in Mariupol

Russian forces struck a Red Cross facility in the besieged southern Ukraine port city of Mariupol, Kyiv claimed.

“In Mariupol, the occupiers aimed at the building of the International Committee of the Red Cross,” Lyudmyla Denisova, Ukrainian Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement on social media.

“Enemy aircraft and artillery fired on a building marked with a red cross on a white background, indicating the presence of wounded people or civilian or humanitarian cargo,” the statement added.

Denisova did not specify when the strikes had taken place and said there was no confirmation yet if anyone had been killed or injured in the attack.

Kremlin reveals details on switching to ruble payments for gas

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the process of switching to ruble payments for Russian gas export deliveries will take time and won’t begin immediately this week, despite the March 31 deadline set by presidential order.

“This process is more drawn out in time for technical reasons,” he told reporters, adding that importers will be allowed time to adjust.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the government to take necessary steps to switch all payments for Russian natural gas from “unfriendly” importers to the ruble, starting March 31.

Russia’s FM hails China as part of new, ‘just world order’

Russia’s foreign minister has hailed China as part of a new, “just” world order ahead of talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in the eastern city of Huangshan.

“We, together with you, and with our sympathisers will move towards a multipolar, just, democratic world order,” Sergey Lavrov said in a video released by the Russian foreign ministry before the pair held their discussions.

He added the world was “living through a very serious stage in the history of international relations”.

The two ministers were seen in face masks, bumping elbows in front of their national flags prior to their talks, which came as China hosts two days of international meetings on Afghanistan.

Wang, for his part, stated that “China-Russia cooperation has no limits”, repeating a line used by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to characterise ties.

“Our striving for peace has no limits, our upholding of security has no limits, our opposition towards hegemony has no limits,” he added.

EU to work with member states to prepare for gas supply situations

The European Union’s executive arm has announced it will work closely with the bloc’s member states to prepare for gas supply situations, after Germany triggered an emergency plan to manage stocks in case of a potential disruption to flows from Russia.

“We are prepared for any such cases. We will of course, work closely with member states to have everybody be prepared for any sort of situations,” EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans told a news conference.

Russia: ‘New world financial order’ is coming

A new financial order will be negotiated in the world, and the West won’t have the main say in it anymore, ex-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has claimed.

The “hellish” sanctions imposed on Russia by the US, EU, and their allies over the conflict in Ukraine have failed to cripple to the country, but are instead “returning to the West like a boomerang,” Medvedev, the former Russian president who is now the deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, wrote on Telegram.

“This is hurtful for our ‘friends’ in Europe and overseas,” he added.

But while the West continues its “fruitless efforts” to restrict Russia, “the world is gradually moving towards a new logic of global economic relations; towards upgrading the financial system,” he said.

According to Medvedev, the US and EU have “tarnished their reputation” by blocking the reserves of the Russian central bank.

“It is impossible to trust those who freeze the accounts of other states; steal other people’s business assets and personal possessions, compromising the principles of sanctity of private property,” he stated.

Confidence in reserve currencies is “fading like the morning mist,” and the prospect of abandoning the dollar and euro in this role does not seem like such an unrealistic prospect anymore, he said.

“The era of regional currencies is coming,” he added.

Beijing praises Russian-Chinese cooperation in resisting hegemony

Cooperation between Russia and China in the sphere of security and regarding measures to resist global hegemony has no boundaries, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin stated on Wednesday.

“The cooperation between Russia and China has no boundaries. It regards our bilateral measures on maintaining peace and security as well as joint steps to resist hegemony,” the diplomat said at a press briefing in response to a question about how far this cooperation between Moscow and Beijing could go.

Commenting on the most recent round of talks held in Istanbul, Turkey, between Russia and Ukraine, he noted “positive signals” demonstrated by both parties.

“We have always believed that dialogue and negotiations are the only correct way to reach a settlement to the Ukrainian crisis,” he stressed.

The spokesman also added he hoped that Moscow and Kiev would reach a compromise soon, adding that the international community should contribute to the efforts of Russia and Ukraine in settling the conflict.

“All actions that may add fuel to the fire or heighten controversies must be prevented,” the Chinese diplomat continued.

He revealed what role China would have in the facilitation of the Russian-Ukrainian talks.

“We will continue to play a constructive role and provide assistance to normalize the situation in Ukraine,” he noted at a briefing in response to a question by TASS as to whether Beijing was ready to serve as a guarantor of a peace agreement between Moscow and Kiev.

Moscow says Istanbul talks produced no ‘breakthrough’

The Kremlin has said there was no “breakthrough” during the latest round of talks between delegations from Moscow and Kyiv on Tuesday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters it was a “positive factor” that Ukraine submitted its written proposals during the discussions in Istanbul, but added that “we can’t say there has been something promising or any breakthroughs”.

“There is a lot of work to be done,” he stated.

On Tuesday, Ukraine set out a detailed framework for a peace deal under which the country would remain neutral but its security would be guaranteed by a group of third countries. It announced it would also be willing to hold talks over a 15-year period on the future of the Crimean Peninsula.

Russia has claimed it intended to scale back its military activity near the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and the northern city of Chernihiv.

Ukraine: Russia attempting to create a global food crisis

Russia is “purposefully” trying to destroy Ukraine’s agriculture infrastructure in order to disrupt the country’s sowing campaign and create a global food crisis, Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency has quoted a government minister as saying.

“Russia doesn’t want us to sow the agriculture lands we have in the areas we control,” Oleh Nemchinov, minister of the cabinet of ministers, added.

He accused Moscow of wanting to manufacture a “humanitarian catastrophe” in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as the other parts of the world to which Ukraine exports grain, in order to create a “point of geopolitical confrontation”.

UN names experts to probe on possible war crimes in Ukraine

The UN has named three human rights experts to conduct an investigation into possible war crimes and other violations committed in Ukraine.

The independent panel, to be led by Erik Mose of Norway, has a mandate to “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law and related crimes in the context of the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation”, a statement said.

Mose is a former judge on Norway’s supreme court and on the European Court of Human Rights, and previously president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

He will be joined on the panel by Jasminka Dzumhur, the human rights ombudsperson of Bosnia Herzegovina, and Pablo de Greiff of Colombia, who has served as the UN’s top expert on the promotion of truth, justice and reparations.

The UN Human Rights Council agreed on March 4 to establish the commission of inquiry, for one year, at the request of Ukraine and allies including the European Union, United Kingdom and United States.

Ukrainian officials believe Russian forces not retreating, but ‘regrouping’

Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi, reporting from the city of Lviv, in western Ukraine, says the prevailing wisdom among Ukraine’s leaders is that Russia is “not making a retreat of any kind”, but its forces are instead “regrouping”.

“They continue to say that you cannot trust what Russia says, but that you have to see what they do and watch their actions on the ground,” Basravi stated.

“And what we have seen is more attacks in the west of the country overnight – fuel depots were hit, and the Russian ministry of defence has said that is to hinder the resupply of Ukrainian forces fighting in the Donbas region,” he added.

“We have definitely seen an observable uptick in the number of missile strikes happening on this side of the country and we have also seen fighting continue in areas around Kyiv as well as Chernihiv,” he noted.

‘Crimea is Russia’: Kremlin refuses to discuss Peninsula’s status with Ukraine

Crimea is Russia and its status is not up for negotiation with Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov has said.

“Crimea is a part of the Russian Federation, and according to the constitution, we cannot discuss with anyone the fate of Russian territories, the fate of Russian regions. This is out of the question, it is written into our constitution. Nor will we discuss or tell you about any nuances of the negotiations,” Peskov told reporters Wednesday.

The spokesman declined to comment on the subject of countries which could serve as guarantors of Ukraine’s security, advising reporters to instead contact his “colleague,” presidential aide and Russian top negotiator Vladimir Medinsky.

Medinsky is expected to provide additional information later in the day, according to Peskov.

Peskov’s comments follow Medinsky’s remarks at a press conference in Istanbul, Turkey, on Tuesday following negotiations with the Ukrainian delegation, during which he told reporters that the two sides had brought up a proposed commitment by Kiev to reject the idea of “returning” Crimea and the Donbass to its jurisdiction using force.

Ukraine was said to have proposed holding 15 years of bilateral talks on Crimea and the port city of Sevastopol, and to have brought up the concept of a permanent neutral, non-bloc, non-WMD-possessor status secured by international guarantors.

Peskov stated that the Ukrainian side’s move to formulate concrete proposals and put them down on paper was a “positive thing,” and that up until the Istanbul talks, this had not taken place.

“This is a positive factor. As for the rest, we cannot say anything very promising, about any sort of breakthroughs, there is still very, very long-term work to be done,” he added.

Russia may reportedly create new payment unit for trade with friendly countries

A group of Russian economists suggested that Moscow consider creating a new payment unit for trade with friendly countries and the Economic Development Ministry does not rule out such possibility in the future, the Russian RBC newspaper reported.

This opinion was expressed by several economists including experts of the Moscow-based Centre for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting and the Institute of Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS).

The countries of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), China, India, Iran, and Turkey may be interested in the formation of a non-dollar payment settlement system, according to the experts.

The overall benefit for these countries will be a reduced dependence on reserve currencies that can be used as geopolitical weapons.

According to the economists, the internal value of this unit must be provided by the resources available to the participating countries, namely gold and precious metals. The unit’s rate will depend on the weighted average price of resources in the global market, while the conversion of national currencies into the payment unit at the time of foreign trade operations will be carried out by the clearing centre of the system.

It is obvious to Russia that any conflict of a political and economic nature can lead to a decrease in value of dollar and euro reserves, experts announced. Using a payment unit similar to the European Currency Unit, a precursor to the euro, would solve the problem.

The daily noted that Deputy Minister of Economic Development Dmitry Volvach said at a conference on Tuesday that Russian authorities do not rule out the possibility of creating a payment unit with friendly countries but this is a matter for the future.

UN: Over four million people have fled Ukraine

The UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) announced more than four million refugees have now fled Ukraine since Russia launched its war on February 24.

Of those, 2.3 million have entered neighbouring Poland.

An estimated 6.5 million people have also been displaced from their homes within Ukraine.

Moscow: Russia and China to advance ‘fair world order’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met, on Wednesday, with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, for the first time since Moscow launched its military campaign in Ukraine on February 24, according to RT.

Unlike most Western nations, and some Asian countries, Beijing has refused to condemn Moscow and rejected calls to impose sanctions.

The neighboring countries will work to achieve “a multipolar, fair, and democratic world order,” Lavrov noted after arriving in Tunxi, a city in China’s eastern inland Anhui Province, on Wednesday.

Beijing has argued that economic restrictions disrupt world trade and will not resolve the conflict. Officials insist only dialogue and diplomacy can lead to peace.

TASS quoted Wang as saying that despite “new challenges” to the ties between the two nations, “the will of both sides to develop bilateral relations has become even stronger.”

The minister stated this month that China’s relations with Russia is “one of the most crucial bilateral relationships in the world,” and hailed the friendship between the pair as “ironclad.”

Ukraine says death toll from Mykolaiv attack has risen to 14

Ukraine’s State Emergency Service says that the death toll from a Russian attack on the regional administration building in the southern city of Mykolaiv has risen to 14 people.

Ukrainian authorities say Russian forces blasted a gaping hole in the nine-story building in an attack on Tuesday morning. The regional governor has said that they waited for people to go to work before hitting it.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” to demilitarise its neighbour. It denies targeting civilians and has not commented on the incident in Mykolaiv.

Germany issues “early warning” of gas shortages after Russia threatened to cut supplies

Germany has issued an “early warning” of possible natural gas shortages after Russia said it wanted to be paid in rubles and threatened to cut off supplies if its demand was not met.

Speaking at a press conference in Berlin on Wednesday, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said the warning stage was preventive in nature and would mean an increased monitoring of gas supplies.

Triggering the first of three crisis levels, Wednesday’s announcement does not yet provide for government supply restrictions.

Habeck called on companies and consumers to use gas sparingly. German gas storage is currently filled to 25% capacity, according to Habeck.

There are currently no supply shortages,” Habeck continued, adding, “Nevertheless, we must take further precautionary measures to be prepared for any escalation by Russia.”

Fears of Russia ending its gas deliveries to Germany arose after Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that “unfriendly” countries start paying for natural gas with rubles rather than US dollars or euros, as agreed in their supply contracts. Germany, Russia’s biggest energy customer in Europe, had dismissed Putin’s directive as “blackmail.”

“A payment with rubles is not acceptable,” Habeck said Monday, adding that “we will not be divided and the answer of the G7 states is unambiguous: the contracts will be met.”

Russia is central to the global energy system. It is the world’s largest exporter of oil, making up about 8% of the global market. And it supplies Europe with 45% of its natural gas, 45% of its coal and 25% of its oil. In 2019, before Covid-19 depressed prices, revenues from oil and natural gas accounted for 40% of the country’s federal budget. Oil and gas accounted for almost half of Russia’s total goods exports in 2021.

UK: Some Russian units returned to Belarus to reorganize and resupply

Some Russian units have returned to Belarus after suffering heavy battlefield losses in Ukraine, according to the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence (MoD) in an intelligence update Wednesday.

The units will need to reorganize and resupply in Belarus, in what the MoD said was an indication of the logistical difficulties Russia is having in Ukraine.

“Russia will likely continue to compensate for its reduced ground manoeuvre capability through mass artillery and missile strikes,” the update reads.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has claimed it will “drastically reduce military activity” on two fronts — Kyiv and Chernihiv — following in-person talks between Russia and Ukraine in Istanbul.

Instead, Russia announced it will now focus more of its offensive on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine’s far east.

The UK added it believes this shift to be a “tacit admission that it is struggling to sustain more than one significant axis of advance.”

Moscow: West’s unilateral anti-Russian sanctions leading to crisis of historic scale

The West’s unilateral anti-Russian sanctions are leading to a global economic crisis of a historic scale, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia said.

“The actual causes threatening the global food market with serious turbulence are not in Russia’s actions but rather is the unrestrained sanction hysteria the West has unleashed against Russia giving no thought either to the population of the countries of the so-called global south or to their own citizens,” he added.

“The attempt to isolate Russia economically, financially and logistically from the years-long cooperation channels is already entailing an economic crisis of the historic scale. It is clear even for an unsophisticated person that only the refusal from unilateral illegal restrictive measures can ease tensions in the transport and logistics, and financial ties, to ensure uninterrupted supplies and to stabilize international agricultural and food markets,” he continued.

Russia moving troops to encircle Ukrainian forces in east

Russia is moving forces from northern to eastern Ukraine to try to encircle Ukrainian troops, but is keeping some behind near the capital Kyiv to tie down part of the Ukrainian military there, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.

Speaking on national television, Oleksiy Arestovych also added Ukraine had improved its negotiating position since before the start of the Russian invasion, pushing to secure neutral status but with external security guarantees.

Chernihiv governor sees no let-up in Russian attacks

The governor of Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv region says there has been no let-up in Russian attacks despite a promise by Moscow to scale down military operations there.

“Do we believe in it [the promise]? Of course not,” Governor Viacheslav Chaus stated on Telegram.

“The ‘decreased activity’ in the Chernihiv region was demonstrated by the enemy carrying out strikes on (the city of) Nizhyn, including air strikes, and all night long they hit [the city of] Chernihiv,” Chaus added.

The mayor of Chernihiv has also dismissed Moscow’s claim of a scale-back in operations, following what he describes as a “colossal attack.”

In an interview with New Day’s John Berman, the city’s mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko hit out at Russia’s claim on Tuesday that it planned to “drastically reduce” its military assault on Chernihiv and the Ukrainian capital Kyiv.

This is yet another confirmation that Russia always lies,” he told Berman.

Russia made the claim on Tuesday following talks it had with Ukrainian representatives in Turkey. The suggestion appeared appeared to show signs of progress towards an off ramp to the conflict.

But according to Atroshenko, hostilities actually increased in Chernihiv since the claim was made.

He stated, “They’re saying reducing intensity, they actually have increased the intensity of strikes. Today we have a colossal attack on the center of Chernihiv. Twenty-five people have been wounded and are now in hospitals. They’re all civilians. So whenever Russia says something, this needs to be checked carefully.”

Russian gas flow through Yamal-Europe pipeline falls to zero

Russian natural gas flow through the Yamal-Europe pipeline on the Germany-Poland border fell to zero, Reuters reported.

Eastbound flows from Germany into Poland along the Yamal-Europe pipeline at the Mallnow border point stood at some 1,451 kWh/h by 1100 GMT but in the afternoon fell to zero, Reuters claimed, citing data from operator Gascade.

According to the TASS news agency, this may be due to equal gas flow deliveries in the direct and reverse modes. Gas via the Yamal-Europe usually moves westbound but when Polish customers buy gas from Germany, the pipeline reverses flow.

Gazprom booked some gas transit capacity via the Yamal-Europe pipeline for Wednesday, Interfax news agency reported citing auction results. However, the actual flows are not guaranteed because Gazprom does not always use booked capacity, Reuters said.

The agency added that Russian gas deliveries to Europe on the other two key pipeline routes – the Nord Stream and via the Ukrainian transit network – were broadly steady.

The Yamal-Europe gas pipeline passes through the territory of Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany.

Russian energy major Gazprom announced on Wednesday that gas deliveries to Europe through Ukraine are continuing as normal.

Multiple explosions heard in Kyiv

A Ukrainian news outlet is reporting “multiple explosions” in Kyiv, a day after Russia pledged to reduce combat operations around the capital

The Kyiv Independent also reported air raids went off early in the morning on several regions across the country, including in Zhytomyr, Kharkiv, Dnipro and Poltava.

UN records 1,179 civilian deaths in Ukraine

The UN human rights office says it has verified 1,179 civilian deaths in Ukraine since the Russian invasion began. A further 1,860 civilians were wounded, it added.

“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” it announced in a statement.

Zelensky: Russia talks gave ‘positive’ signals

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has described the signals from peace talks with Russia as positive, but he expressed caution about Moscow’s promise to sharply curtail military action in some areas.

“We can say the signals we are receiving from the talks are positive but they do not drown out the explosions of Russian shells,” he said, adding that Ukraine could only trust a concrete result from the talks.

“The Russian army still has significant potential to continue attacks against our state,” he continued, noting, “Therefore we are not reducing our defensive efforts.”

“Of course, we see all the risks. Of course, we see no reason to trust the words of certain representatives of a state that continues to fight for our destruction,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

“Ukrainians are not naïve people. Ukrainians have already learned during these 34 days of invasion and over the past eight years of the war in Donbas that only a concrete result can be trusted,” he added.

Envoy: Russia suffering an ‘unprecedented blow in Ukraine’

Ukraine’s UN ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya has told the UN Security Council that the “demilitarisation of Russia is well under way” due to “unprecedented” personnel and equipment losses.

Since the beginning of the invasion into Ukraine, Kyslytsya said the Russian occupiers have lost more than 17,000 military personnel, at least 1,700 armoured vehicles and almost 600 tanks.

He also added Russia also has lost 300 artillery systems, 127 planes and 129 helicopters, almost 100 rocket launchers systems, 54 air defence systems and seven ships.

Kyslytsya noted that is “an unprecedented blow to Moscow, where the numbers of Soviet losses in Afghanistan pale in comparison”.

Military: Russia’s promised withdrawal aimed at ‘misleading’ Ukraine

Ukraine’s military says it distrusts Russia’s announced withdrawal from around Kyiv and Chernihiv.

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