Saturday, February 24, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 46

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

Ukraine: “Extremely difficult” to think about negotiations after Russian attacks in Kramatorsk, Bucha

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated Sunday it would be “extremely difficult” to even think about negotiations with Russia, after the missile strike in the eastern city of Kramatorsk and the atrocities committed in the town of Bucha.

“It’s extremely difficult to even think about sitting down with people who commit or find excuses for all these atrocities and war crimes, who have inflicted such a horrendous damage on Ukraine,” Kuleba said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“But I understand one thing — if sitting down with the Russians will help me to prevent at least one massacre, like in Bucha, or at least another attack in Kramatorsk, I have to take that opportunity,” he added.

Kuleba said Russia’s initial plan of the invasion of Ukraine “failed” and that “history will demonstrate whose plan will prevail,” after Russia appointed a new general to lead its military invasion.

When asked to comment on the appointment of Russia’s Army Gen. Alexander Dvornikov to direct the war in Ukraine, Kuleba stated: “now they have another plan, but we have our plans.”

“Whatever Russia is planning to do, we have our strategy and this strategy is based on the assumption that, on the confidence that we will win this war and we will liberate our territories,” he added.

EU ready for extraordinary approach to Ukraine’s accession bid

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen stated on Sunday that the bloc will support Ukraine’s parallel efforts to rebuild and seek EU membership once the conflict is over.

Von der Leyen told CNN in an interview that the eastern European nation belonged in Europe and its accession to the European Union might be viewed as an extraordinary case.

It usually takes an aspiring EU member state years to clear accession hurdles, von der Leyen admitted.

She travelled to Kiev on Friday to hand President Volodymyr Zelensky a membership questionnaire to launch the process.

WH: Russia’s new military leadership is a continuation “of what we’ve already seen” in Ukraine

White House press secretary Jen Psaki stated Russia’s appointment of new military leadership, “shows that there’s going to be a continuation of what we’ve already seen on the ground in Ukraine.”

“And that’s what we’re expecting,” Psaki said to Dana Perino in an interview on Fox News Sunday.

Psaki also added the administration found the admission from the Kremlin that their forces had suffered great losses, “interesting,” for a country that is slow to admit defeat.

“It was significant,” she noted, calling it a reflection of “the courage of the Ukrainian leaders.”

Ukraine’s FM: Germany & France made a “strategic mistake” by not allowing Ukraine to join NATO

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Sunday it was a “strategic mistake” by Germany and France to not allow Ukraine to join NATO in 2008.

“If we were a member of NATO, this war wouldn’t take place,” Kuleba stated in a Sunday morning interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The strategic mistake that was made in 2008 by Germany and France who rejected the efforts of the United States and other allies to bring Ukraine in, is something that we are paying for,” Kuleba continued.

“It’s not Germany or France that are paying the cost for this mistake, it’s Ukraine,” he added.

US increasing gas supplies to Europe

The United States is increasing gas supplies to Europe and considers reducing European dependence on Russian energy a matter of priority, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan stated on Sunday.

“He [US President Joe Biden] is now working on a daily basis with his European colleagues on steps Europe can take to wean itself off of Russian oil and gas. In fact, the United States is surging gas exports to Europe in order for them to reduce their dependence on Russia. And he’s talking to them about what they can do to get off Russian oil as well,” Sullivan said in an interview with ABC News.

He noted that the US is not going to rush until the decision is made, but it is “a matter of priority for the United States to continue to work with European partners on this issue.”

US warns new Russian general could carry out further civilian attacks

National security adviser Jake Sullivan warned that the US expects Russia’s new top general directing its war in Ukraine to carry out further brutal attacks on civilians.

“This particular general has a resume that includes brutality against civilians in other theaters, in Syria, and we can expect more of the same in this theater,” Sullivan told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

“This general will just be another author of crimes and brutality against Ukrainian civilians,” he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has named Army Gen. Alexander Dvornikov, the commander of Russia’s Southern Military District, as its theater commander of its war in Ukraine following a series of battlefield setbacks and an apparent lack of coordination among groups of Russian forces operating in Ukraine. Dvornikov, 60, was the first commander of Russia’s military operations in Syria, after Putin sent troops there in September 2015 to back the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Zelensky aide: Ukraine is ready for big battles

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would likely meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin only after an anticipated major battle for the eastern Donbas region, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak stated Sunday.

“Ukraine is ready for big battles,” Podolyak said in televised remarks.

“Ukraine must win them, particularly in Donbas. And after that, Ukraine will get a more powerful negotiating position, from which it can dictate certain conditions. After that, the presidents will meet. That may take two or three weeks,” he added.

Ukrainian officials have announced they anticipate a major offensive in the Donbas by Russia, which has announced a shift in military strategy focusing on the country’s east.

Ex-Putin aide: Russian invasion would end if West blocked energy

A full Western embargo on Russian energy could halt the war in Ukraine, one of Vladimir Putin’s former closest aides has stated.

Dr Andrei Illarionov, the former chief economic adviser to the Russian president, said Russia was not threatened by countries’ current vows to wean off of their supplies.

The European Union remains heavily reliant on Moscow for around 40 per cent of its natural gas imports, and more in countries such as Germany. The EU is still paying Russia around a billion euros a day for its energy.

He told the BBC that if Western countries “would try to implement a real embargo on oil and gas exports from Russia… I would bet that probably within a month or two, Russian military operations in Ukraine, probably will be ceased, will be stopped”.

“It’s one of the very effective instruments still in the possession of the Western countries,” he added.

UN: 4.5 million refugees fled Ukraine

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has updated the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine since war started bringing the total to some 4.5 million.

About 2.6 million of those fled at least initially to Poland and more than 686,000 to Romania, the UN said.

The number of internally displaced people in Ukraine rose to 7.1 million as of Wednesday, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced Sunday.

The preliminary estimate of internally displaced people was between 6.5 million and 6.7 million.

Slovakia could sell howitzers to Ukraine: DM

Slovakia could sell Ukraine some of its Zuzana self-propelled howitzers, stated Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad.

“I can confirm that we are in talks (about the sale),” Nad said in a televised debate.

The Zuzana 2 howitzer, a modernised version of an older model, is using 155-mm rounds and has an effective range of 40 km to more than 50 km (30 miles) depending on ammunition type.

Dnipro airport ‘destroyed’ by Russian shelling

The airport in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro has been completely destroyed in fresh Russian shelling, a local official claimed.

“There has been another attack on Dnipro airport. There is nothing left of it. The airport itself and the infrastructure around it has been destroyed. Rockets keep flying and flying,” the head of the city’s military administration, Valentin Reznichenko, said on Telegram.

He added that authorities were seeking to clarify information about victims.

Russian soldiers in Chernobyl ‘picked up radioactive material with bare hands’

Russian soldiers who seized control of Chernobyl spread radioactive material around the plant, its staff have said, while one soldier even picked up a source of radiation with his bare hands.

Employees at the power plant have described how Russian soldiers, who seized the plant for a month in late February, may have been exposed to potentially harmful doses of radiation.

This brings a high risk of cancer and other health issues, even decades later. One soldier is already reported to have died.

Drone footage released by the Ukrainian military revealed that the soldiers dug trenches in the nearby Red Forest, to this day one of the most radioactive places on earth at the site of one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.

Russian nuclear workers freed in Ukraine

Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear company, has announced that its four employees who had been held by the Ukrainian authorities since late February were freed as part of a prisoner swap and returned to Russia on Sunday.

Russia announces strikes in Dnipropetrovsk, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv regions

Russian forces have carried out missile strikes in Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv regions, the Russian Ministry of Defense said Sunday.

“During the night in the village of Zvonetske — Dnipropetrovsk region — high-precision sea-based missiles destroyed the headquarters and base of the Dnipro nationalist battalion, where reinforcements from foreign mercenaries arrived the other day,” Russian defense ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov announced in a statement.

“High-precision air-launched missiles in the area of ​​​​the settlement of Stara Bohdanivka, Mykolaiv region and at the Chuhuiv military airfield [in Kharkiv region] destroyed launchers of Ukrainian S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems identified by reconnaissance,” he added.

The Russian troops have destroyed 436 Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), 232 multiple launch rocket systems and 2,052 tanks and armored vehicles since the beginning of their special military operation in Ukraine, Konashenkov said.

“Overall, 127 aircraft, 98 helicopters, 234 surface-to-air missile systems, 436 unmanned aerial vehicles, 2,052 tanks and other combat armored vehicles, 232 multiple launch rocket systems, 894 field artillery guns and mortars, as well as 1,975 special military motor vehicles, have been destroyed since the beginning of the special military operation,” the spokesman aded.

‘Put the weapons down’: Pope Francis urges truce

Speaking in front of tens of thousands of people in the Italian square of St. Peter, Pope Francis called for an Eastern truce in Ukraine.

“Put the weapons down!” he said at the end of a Palm Sunday service.

“Let an Easter truce start. But not to rearm and resume combat but a truce to reach peace through real negotiations,” he added.

Ukrainian, German leaders discuss additional sanctions on Russia

President Volodymyr Zelensky has discussed over the phone with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz “anti-Russian sanctions, defense and financial support for Ukraine,” he said on Twitter.

The two leaders also stressed that “all perpetrators of war crimes must be identified and punished,” Zelensky added.

Two killed in Derhachi: Regional governor

Two people have been killed due to Russian shelling in Derhachi, a city in the northeastern province of Kharkiv, regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said on his Telegram channel.

He added that 66 artillery attacks were carried across several regions in the past 24 hours.

Strikes in Dnipropetrovsk region: Military official

Valentyn Reznichenko, head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional military administration in east-central Ukraine, said Sunday there had been a series of strikes around the region over the past 24 hours.

“There were sirens almost every hour,” Reznichenko stated, adding, “And, unfortunately, there are incoming shells in different areas.”

A Russian strike on the regional capital of Dnipro has destroyed infrastructure, he said, without giving further details. He added that rescuers worked for hours to extinguish a fire and that one person had been injured.

In the Pavlohrad district, to the east of Dnipro, a rocket hit an industrial facility, destroying the premises and causing a fire, Reznichenko said, while in the Dnipo district, an agricultural building was burned down.

No casualties were reported in either incident, he added.

Mass grave found in Buzova village: Local official

A grave with dozens of civilians has been found in Buzova village near Kyiv, a local official has claimed.

The latest reported mass grave comes as Ukrainians forces have regained control of areas surrounding the capital, discovering the amount of damage Russian troops left behind as they focus their offensive on the east.

The level of destruction and number of casualties among civilians, including in the city of Bucha, has triggered global outrage.

Over 46,000 explosive devices defused since war started: emergency service

Ukraine’s State Emergency Service (SES) has announced that its pyrotechnic units have neutralised more than 2,700 explosive devices in a day.

Since war started, the SES said on its Telegram channel, 46,275 explosive devices have been defused.

Russia confirms prisoner exchange with Ukraine

Russian Human Rights Commissioner Tatiana Moskalkova confirmed that Russia and Ukraine carried out a prisoner exchange on Saturday.

Moskalkova said that among those exchanged to Russia, there were four employees of the State Atomic Energy Corporation Rosatom and soldiers.

“Early this morning they landed on the Russian soil,” Moskalkova added.

‘Ukraine will prevail’: EU top diplomat

“Ukraine will prevail and rise back even stronger,” said EU top diplomat Josep Borrell Fontalles.

“And the EU will continue to stand by you, every step of the way,” he added on Twitter.

UK claims Russia seeks to bolster armed forces

Russian forces are seeking to bolster troop numbers with personnel discharged from military service since 2012, the British intelligence has said in its latest bulletin.

It added that Russia has been trying to recruit forces from the unrecognised Transnistria region of Moldova.

Satellite images show apparent Russian military convoy east of Kharkiv

Satellite images collected and analyzed by Maxar Technologies show an eight-mile-long military convoy moving south through the eastern Ukraine town of Velkyi Burluk on April 8.

The town sits to the east of Kharkiv, close to Ukraine’s border with Russia.

The images show “armored vehicles, trucks with towed artillery and support equipment” making up the convoy, according to Maxar.

Russia strikes school, two buildings in eastern Sievierodonetsk: Local official

Russian shelling has hit a school and two high-rise buildings in the city of Sievierodonetsk in the besieged Ukrainian region of Luhansk, a local authority said.

“Fortunately, no casualties,” the region’s governor Serhiy Gaidai wrote on Telegram, adding that two elderly people have been rescued.

NATO undergoing ‘fundamental transformation’ with stronger Eastern flank, but keeps eye on China

NATO is going to beef up its military forces on the eastern flank as part of a fundamental reset of the alliance, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with The Telegraph.

Stoltenberg added that NATO was “in the midst of a very fundamental transformation” and that this major “reset” will entail the replacement of the relatively small “tripwire” presence on the alliance’s eastern flank with stronger forces.

According to the daily, NATO military commanders are developing options for the reset and the alliance’s military presence in countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland is expected to be transformed into a “major force” that would be able to repel a potential invasion.

“What we see now is a new reality, a new normal for European security,” Stoltenberg told the newspaper, adding that NATO leaders are expected to make decisions on “what we call a reset, a longer-term adaptation of NATO” at the Madrid summit in June.

Stoltenberg stated that NATO’s “strategic concept” will, for the first time, address the “threat” from China, amid closer cooperation between Beijing and Russia.

EU now is just NATO’s ‘economic department’: Russia

The European Union has devolved to the level of “NATO’s economic relations department,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed.

Following his visit to Ukraine, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, tweeted that “this war must be won on the battlefield.” The militant remarks coming from a diplomat prompted a reaction from Moscow.

“So much for ‘economic organization.’ This is no longer the European Union. It’s just NATO’s economic relations department,” Zakharova wrote.

Zelensky: ‘It is important to stop this war’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated he is committed to pressing for peace as he renewed his plea for countries to send more weapons ahead of an expected surge in fighting in the country’s east.

“No one wants to negotiate with a person or people who tortured this nation. It’s all understandable. And as a man, as a father, I understand this very well,” Zelenskyy said in an interview with The Associated Press.

But “we don’t want to lose opportunities, if we have them, for a diplomatic solution”.

“We have to fight, but fight for life. You can’t fight for dust when there is nothing and no people. That’s why it is important to stop this war,” he added.

Russia’s ‘imperial illusions’ must be defeated: Ukraine

Ukranian negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak says President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin will not meet until after the country defeated Russia in the east, which would bolster its negotiating position.

“We are paying a very high price. But Russia must get rid of its imperial illusions,” he said, according to the Interfax Ukraine news agency.

Ukrainian officials have urged civilians in the east of the country to flee. On Friday, officials announced 52 people were killed in a missile strike on a train station in city of Kramatorsk, where thousands of people had gathered to evacuate.

Russia’s departure from northern Ukraine shows evidence of non-combatants being targeted: UK Military Intelligence

Russia’s departure from northern Ukraine shows evidence of non-combatants being disproportionately targeted, according to UK military intelligence update.

The evidence includes mass graves, the fatal use of hostages as human shields and mining of civilian infrastructure, the update said.

“Russian forces continue to use IEDs to inflict casualties, lower morale, and restrict Ukrainian freedom of movement,” the update read.

The update added Russian forces “continue to attack infrastructures with high risk of collateral harm to civilians, including a nitrate acid tank at Rubizhne, Ukraine.”

Kyiv suburb’s residents line up for food

Civilians remaining in Bucha are lining up for food donated by the local church in the battered Kyiv suburb where Ukrainian forces and journalists reported evidence of war crimes after Russian soldiers withdrew.

Volunteer Petro Denysyuk told The Associated Press that he and fellow church friends started providing food, with a wide array of basic foodstuffs and hot meals.

“We have gathered together with the youth from our church and prepared food for the needy,” Denysyuk said, adding, “We prepared pilaf, boiled eggs, prepared meat, sausages, noodles.”

Third prisoner swap under way

Kyiv announced 26 Ukrainians are returning home following a prisoner exchange with Russia.

“On the order of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the third prisoner exchange took place. Twelve of our servicemen are returning home, including one female officer,” deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk says on Telegram.

Fourteen civilians including nine women were also on their way home, she added.

Russian shelling traps Mariupol residents

Shelling by Russian forces of Ukraine’s key port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov has collapsed several humanitarian corridors, making it more difficult for people to leave, The Associated Press reported.

It was not clear how many people remain trapped in the city, which had a prewar population of 430,000. Ukrainian officials have put the number at about 100,000, but earlier this week, British defence officials stated 160,000 people remained trapped in the city.

Ukrainian troops have refused to surrender the city, though much of it has been razed.

Kremlin is targeting all of Europe: Zelensky

Russia is targeting the whole of Europe with its aggression and stopping the invasion of Ukraine is essential for the security of all democracies, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a late-night address posted to his Telegram channel on Saturday.

Repeating his call for a complete embargo of Russian oil and gas, Zelenskk stated they were “the two sources of Russian self-confidence” and “their sense of impunity.”

He added that the “whole European project is a target for Russia.”

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