Monday, December 4, 2023

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 47

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:

War in Ukraine could halve 2022 global trade growth: WTO

Russia’s war in Ukraine could almost halve world trade growth this year and drag down global GDP growth, according to a economic simulation model issued by the World Trade Organisation.

“The crisis could lower global GDP growth by 0.7 to 1.3 percentage points, bringing growth to somewhere between 3.1 percent and 3.7 percent for 2022. The model also projects that global trade growth this year could be cut almost in half from the 4.7 percent the WTO forecasted last October to between 2.4 percent and three percent,” the Geneva-based organisation announced.

White House: New Russian general overseeing Ukraine war will not erase fact “this is a strategic failure”

The White House said Vladimir Putin’s decision to appoint Army Gen. Alexander Dvornikov as theater commander of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine “is not going to erase the fact that this is a strategic failure.”

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.

“What we should all be aware of, and we are certainly aware of, is this is a general who was already responsible for overseeing atrocities in Syria, and that we would expect that it would be a continuation of the type of atrocities we’ve already seen take place in Ukraine,” press secretary Jen Psaki told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on Monday, “But again, they have not — it has not gone as President Putin has planned, and we don’t expect a change in personnel we’ll change that.”

Looking forward, Psaki said the Joe Biden administration anticipates Russian forces “will seek to surround and overwhelm Ukrainian forces,” in Eastern Ukraine, where they’ve coalesced forces after unsuccessful efforts to capture Kyiv and the surround areas, while continuing “to launch air and missile strikes across the rest of the country to cause military and economic damage.”

“And we expect this stage of the conflict could last a long time, and we should have no illusions that Russia is going to adjust their tactics and make them less brutal, and certainly changes in leadership reflect a continuation of the type of atrocities we’ve seen, or the type of approach that we’ve seen, and we’ve also predicted from the beginning,” she added.

Modi told Biden he suggested Putin & Zelensky hold direct talks

On Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told US President Joe Biden he had suggested the leaders of Russia and Ukraine hold direct talks.

“I have spoken on the phone several times with the presidents of both Ukraine and Russia. Not only did I appeal for peace but I also suggested President Vladimir Putin to hold direct talks with the President of Ukraine,” said Modi.

Modi also spoke on the killing of civilians in the Ukrainian city of Bucha, describing the incident as “very worrying.”

“We immediately condemned it and demanded a fair investigation. We hope the ongoing talks between Russia and Ukraine will pave the way for peace,” Modi continued, adding that India would continue to support Ukraine through humanitarian aid.

“We have also placed importance on the safety of the civilian population in Ukraine and the uninterrupted supply of humanitarian aid to them. On our behalf, we have sent medicines and other relief materials to Ukraine and its neighboring countries. And on the request of Ukraine, we are sending another consignment of medicines very soon,” he stated.

Multiple casualties after shelling of Kharkiv: Mayor

Ukraine’s eastern city of Kharkiv came under heavy shelling, causing multiple casualties including one dead child, Mayor Ihor Terekhov has said in a televised interview.

When asked about the risk of a new Russian assault on the city, which Ukraine’s defence ministry recently warned of, Terekhov stated that Ukrainian forces were focused and ready to defend the city.

“There is no panic in the city,” Terekhov added.

US official: Biden was “candid” in conversation with Modi, but didn’t make specific ask on energy

US President Biden shared his “candid” view on India’s neutral stance in the war in Ukraine during an hour-long virtual meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, according to a senior administration official.

But he did not make a specific ask of the Indian leader to take a side, nor did he receive any firm commitment from Modi to back off energy purchases from Russia.

Speaking afterward, the official said the two leaders were able to exchange their views in a “warm” fashion, even though India’s position has caused increasing concern in Washington.

“There was no concrete ask and concrete answer, but the leaders were able to step back and have a pretty detailed and candid exchange of views,” the official added.

India has not backed off purchases of Russian oil or gas, despite efforts by the United States to rally the world behind crippling economic sanctions on Moscow. The official said in their meeting, Biden did not specifically demand India halt its purchases.

“Other countries have to make their own choices,” the official continued, adding, “That said, we don’t think India should accelerate or increase imports of Russian energy.”

Instead of making demands, Biden sought to underscore areas where India could help “mitigate the destabilizing impacts of Vladimir Putin’s war,” the official said, citing food supplies as one place India has already shown a willingness to help.

“There was discussion about what more India might be able to do,” the official added.

In the meeting, Modi expressed concerns about the close ties between Russia and China — a factor the official noted could impact India’s thinking in its stance on the war in Ukraine.

Russia moving army vehicles to prepare for new assault: Ukraine governor

Russia is moving military vehicles closer to the front lines in Ukraine’s Luhansk region in what looks like a move to prepare for a new assault, Serhiy Gaidai, the region’s governor, has stated on television.

UN Women warns of rape & sexual violence against Ukrainian women & children

Increased reports of rape and sexual violence against Ukrainian women and children must be thoroughly and independently investigated to ensure accountability, Sima Bahous, executive director of UN Women, stated Monday.

“The combination of mass displacement with the large presence of conscripts and mercenaries, and the brutality displayed against Ukrainian civilians, has raised all red flags,” Bahous said.

She later added that there is also an increased risk of human trafficking at border crossings, with young women and unaccompanied teenagers at particular risk.

Bahous was addressing the UN Security Council in New York City upon her return from Moldova, where she observed the humanitarian response at temporary shelters erected for people fleeing Ukraine.

There are an estimated 95,000 Ukrainians being hosted in Moldova to date, Bahous said.

Bahous stressed the imperative need to have a “gender-sensitive” humanitarian response, including “services to provide with a focus on protection and to address the increased trauma and psycho-social support needs.”

“Gender-sensitive and survivor-centered response must be at the heart of all humanitarian action,” Bahous continued.

She added that despite all of the violence, “women continue to serve and lead their communities and support the internally displaced.”

“Women make up 80% of all health and social care workers in Ukraine, and many of them chose not to evacuate,” Bahous said, adding, “I heard from women in the shelters that they too, are taking on leadership roles, and supporting the refugee response in the host countries.”

Despite this, Bahous noted that women remain largely absent from any current negotiation efforts.

She called for the UN Security Council and all UN member states to “to ensure the meaningful participation of women and girls, including from marginalized groups, in all decision-making processes, peace, diplomacy, and humanitarian. Without this, we will not have peace, development, or human security.”

Nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children have been displaced: UNICEF

Nearly two-thirds of Ukraine’s children have been displaced in just six weeks and nearly half of the children who remain in Ukraine may face food insecurity, Manuel Fontaine, director of emergencies for UNICEF, stated Monday.

“Of the 3.2 million children estimated to have remained in their homes, nearly half may be at risk of not having enough food. Attacks on water system infrastructure and power outages have left an estimated 1.4 million people without access to water in Ukraine. Another 4.6 million people have only limited access,” Fontaine said in remarks to the UN Security Council.

“In just six weeks, nearly two-thirds of all Ukrainian children have been displaced. They have been forced to leave everything behind: Their homes, their schools, and often, their family members,” Fontaine continued.

Fontaine added that the situation for children in Ukraine is even worse in Mariupol and Kherson, “where children and their families have now gone weeks without running water and sanitation services, a regular supply of food, and medical care. They are sheltering in their homes and underground, waiting for the bombs and violence to stop.”

The UNICEF emergencies director also expressed his concerns about the presence of “explosive remnants of war” which can expose children to death and injury, as well as the disruption of education for children across the country.

“Nationwide school closures are impacting the learning — and the futures — of 5.7 million school-age children and 1.5 million students in higher education. In the Donbas region, a whole generation of children have already seen their lives and education upended during the past eight years of conflict,” Fontaine noted.

Austin, Blinken to talk anti-Russia sanctions, energy with Indian counterparts

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will discuss with their Indian counterparts on Monday anti-Russia sanctions compliance and energy, a senior US administration official told reporters.

“Throughout the course of the 2 plus 2 today, Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin of course will have a chance to go over these issues and many more including sanctions compliance, again, cooperation on food supply… [and] energy,” the official said.

The meetings will also cover science and technology, partnership initiatives, people to people ties, counterterrorism, operationalizing the major defense partnership, space, cyber and emerging technologies, and multilateral cooperation on certain matters, the US official added.

White House: US not currently planning a trip by Biden to Ukraine

The United States is not planning at present a visit by President Joe Biden to Ukraine, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Monday.

“We are not currently planning a trip by the President of the United States to Ukraine,” Psaki added.

NATO holds drills on Russia’s border

British, French, and Danish troops who recently arrived to serve in NATO Battlegroup Estonia began joint drills with Estonian forces this weekend.

The ongoing Bold Dragon exercises, involving the foreign troops and members of Estonia’s 1st Infantry Brigade, are being held at the Estonian military’s central training area in the north of the Baltic state.

Their aim is to provide the newly-arrived Western European servicemen with their first opportunity to get acquainted with the Estonian terrain and improve their cooperation with their local counterparts.

The participants of the drill practiced both assault and defensive maneuvers, according to a statement by the 1st Infantry Brigade. Some 2,000 Estonian troops are taking part in the war games, which will culminate in a battalion-level tactical exercise.

The Bold Dragon drills also feature aviation, including Belgian F-16s, British Eurofighter jets and Wildcat helicopters as well as Estonian aircraft.

Russia responsible for global food crisis: EU diplomat

Russia is responsible for a growing global food crisis because its war in Ukraine has destroyed wheat stocks and prevented ships from carrying grain abroad, the EU’s top diplomat stated on Monday.

“They are causing scarcity. They are bombing Ukrainian cities and provoking hunger in the world. They are provoking hunger in our world,” Josep Borrell told a media conference after chairing a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

EU fails to agree Russian energy ban

The European Union’s foreign ministers have not agreed on a ban on Russian oil and natural gas imports, Head Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said on Monday, adding that discussions on the issue will continue. The energy ban was expected to be part of the latest EU sanctions package against Moscow.

“We discussed, first of all, how to ensure the effectiveness of the existing sanctions in order to avoid gaps in their implementation. But we also discussed new steps we can take, including sanctions against oil and gas,” Borrell stated.

“We have not made decisions regarding such sanctions, we agreed to continue the discussion,” he continued.

Borell stressed the importance of EU countries becoming less reliant on Russian energy, arguing that buying gas from Moscow is “financing the war.” He did, however, admit that it’s impossible to cut a 55% dependence on Russian gas overnight, referring to the situation in Germany, which has already warned of a looming “collapse” of its economy.

Russia starting to reinforce positions in eastern Ukraine: US official

The United States believes that Russia has started reinforcing and resupplying its troops in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, a senior US defence official has claimed.

However, Washington did not believe this marked the start of a new offensive in the area, the official told reporters at a Pentagon briefing on condition of anonymity.

Russian regions bordering Ukraine step up security

Three Russian regions bordering Ukraine have said they are stepping up security measures over what they warned were “possible provocations” from the Ukrainian side.

The authorities in the Belgorod, Voronezh and Bryansk regions announced they were boosting security and urged citizens to be more vigilant. Another region bordering Ukraine, Kursk, was the first to announce similar measures on Sunday.

Moscow has accused Ukraine of targeting its border regions, including by striking a fuel depot in the city of Belgorod earlier this month.

Russia accuses Ukraine of preparing more ‘false provocations’

Moscow has accused Ukraine of preparing new “false” allegations about Russian violence against civilians with the help of British intelligence.

“New false staged provocations accusing the armed forces of the Russian Federation of allegedly cruel treatment of the population of Ukraine are being prepared by the Kiev regime under the leadership of British special services on the territory of the Sumy region,” Russia’s defence ministry claimed.

The ministry did not provide any evidence to support its claim.

Several nations considering tank deliveries to Ukraine: Senior US official

Several countries are considering tank deliveries to Ukraine, a senior US defense official said on Monday.

“As far as I know, there are several nations that are considering that [tank deliveries to Ukraine]. And some tanks by some nations have been delivered to Ukraine. These are tanks that they know how to use – largely T-72s,” the official told reporters.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell stated on Saturday that the Ukrainian conflict will end on the battlefield, pledging an additional 500 million euros ($543 million) from the European Peace Facility to Kiev.

The official also added that eight to 10 flights per day are carrying military materiel into Ukraine.

“You’re talking about 8 to 10 flights per day into the region and there are constant convoys on the ground of materiel that are moving into the country and that continues and we want to preserve that,” the official told reporters.

The United States is not aware of any plans to provide the S-400 air defense system to Ukraine, the official noted.

“I know of no plans to provide S-400 systems to Ukraine from anybody. This is not a system as you know, it’s very, very much more advanced. It’s not a system that the Ukrainians are trained on and know how to use,” the senior said during a press briefing.

DPR head claims Donetsk militia captures Mariupol Port

The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) head, Denis Pushilin, claimed on Monday that the DPR forces have captured the Mariupol port.

“Regarding the port of Mariupol, it is already under our control,” Pushilin told Russia’s Channel One.

Mariupol lies between eastern areas of Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists and the Crimean Peninsula.

Austrian leader holds ‘open and tough’ talks with Putin

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer has concluded his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, describing the pair’s meeting as “very direct, open and tough”.

The Austrian chancellor’s office said in a statement that he had told Russia’s leader the conflict in Ukraine must end because “in a war there are only losers on both sides”.

It added Neehamer had “mentioned the serious war crimes in Bucha and other locations and stressed that all those responsible have to be brought to justice”.

A spokesman for the Austrian leader stated that the meeting took place at Putin’s official Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow. Austrian media reported that the pair’s talks lasted for about 90 minutes.

Nehammer stated he was not “particularly optimistic” from his talks with Putin.

“At the moment I’m not particularly optimistic after my talks with Putin. The offensive (in Ukraine) is being prepared with determination,” Nehammer said in a briefing in Moscow following the meeting between the two leaders earlier in the day.

Nehammer — the first European leader to have met with Putin face-to-face since the invasion of Ukraine began — added that he confronted the Russian president “with the facts.”

“I made it clear to Mr. Putin, his attitude, his view is not shared by anybody. He sees it as a kind of self-defense operation of the Russian federation. He calls it special military operations. I call it the war,” he added.

Nehammer, however, noted that “it was also clear and recognizable that the Russian president still has confidence” in the ongoing negotiations between Russia and Ukraine in Turkey.

Ukraine expects major Russian attack in east to ‘begin soon’

Ukraine is expecting Russia to launch a major offensive in the east of the country “soon”, Ukrainian defence ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said at a briefing.

“The enemy has almost finished preparation for assault on the east, the attack will begin soon,” he added.

Lavrov: Russian special operation in Ukraine aims to put end to US course for world domination

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated on Monday that Moscow won’t succumb to pressure from abroad, noting that the operation in Ukraine aims to put an end to America’s plans for global domination.

“Our special military operation is designed to put an end to the reckless expansion and reckless course towards complete domination by the United States and, under them, the remainder of Western countries on the world stage,” Lavrov said in an interview with the broadcaster Rossiya 24.

“This domination is built with egregious violations of international law, and in accordance with some [unclear] rules, which are imposed on occasion,” he added.

The EU made a “serious U-turn” by morphing into a military organization acting in the interests of Washington and NATO, Lavrov stressed.

Russia will not pause its military operation in Ukraine for subsequent rounds of peace talks, Lavrov stressed.

Russian officials say peace talks with Ukraine are not progressing as rapidly as they would like, and have accused the West of trying to derail negotiations by raising war crimes allegations against Russian troops in Ukraine, which Moscow denies.

Lavrov said he saw no reason not to continue talks with Ukraine but insisted Moscow would not halt its military operation when the sides convene again.

He added that President Vladimir Putin had ordered a suspension of military action during the first round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators in late February but that Moscow’s position had changed since.

“After we became convinced that the Ukrainians were not planning to reciprocate, a decision was made that during the next rounds of talks, there would be no pause (in military action) so long as a final agreement is not reached,” the foreign minister noted.

Ukrainian forces preparing for ‘last battle’ in Mariupol

Ukrainian forces are preparing for a “last battle” for control of Mariupol, soldiers in the city have said, adding they have been “pushed back” and “surrounded” by Russian forces.

“Today will probably be the last battle, as … ammunition is running out,” the 36th marine brigade of the Ukrainian armed forces announced in a post on Facebook.

“It’s death for some of us, and captivity for the rest,” the brigade added.

Zelensky: Russia likely to attack Kyiv again if Donbas falls

As Russia refocuses its war goals on Ukraine’s eastern provinces after failing to take the capital, President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned the battle over the breakaway Donbas region will be crucial.

In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera, he said: “If our forces in Donbas won’t be able to hold their positions, then the risk of a repeated offensive against Kyiv and Kyiv Oblast [province] is almost probable.”

Russia recently scaled back its attacks after failing to take the Ukrainian capital. It had claimed that the first phase of its “military operation” was mostly complete and that it was focusing on completely “liberating” eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.

But to observers in Western capitals, the announcement was a sign that Moscow had underestimated Ukrainian resistance and that after a month of war it was limiting its objectives.

However, Zelensky stated, he did not exclude a new offensive on the capital if Russia were to make military gains in the east.

Zelensky added that, while he is prepared to meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, alleged Russian atrocities in Bucha, where a mass grave has been found, and in other towns around the capital, signalled that “we don’t have a positive climate in our negotiations”.

Canada rolls out sanctions on Russia’s defence sector

Canada has announced new sanctions on dozens of companies in the Russian defence sector that Ottowa says have provided support for Russia’s invasion.

The measures impose restrictions on 33 entities, the Canadian government said in a statement.

“These entities have provided indirect or direct support to the Russian military and are therefore complicit in the pain and suffering stemming from Vladimir Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine,” the statement added.

Hungary says roubles-for-Russian gas plan breaches no EU sanctions

Hungary’s foreign minister says the country plans to pay for Russian gas in euros through Gazprombank, which will convert the payment into roubles to meet a new requirement set by Putin.

Under the scheme, Hungarian energy group MVM’s subsidiary, CEE Energy, would pay an upcoming bill in euros, which Gazprombank would convert into roubles and then transfer to Russia’s Gazprom Export, Peter Szijjarto told a news conference.

Croatia tells 24 Russian embassy staff to leave over Ukraine invasion

Croatia has told 24 Russian embassy staff to leave over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and “brutal aggression”, the foreign ministry announced in a statement, following similar moves by other EU countries.

The 24 included 18 diplomats, it said.

The ministry added that the Russian ambassador was summoned in a protest over the “brutal aggression on Ukraine and numerous crimes committed (there)”.

“The Russian party was informed about the reduction of administrative-technical staff of the Russian Federation’s embassy in Zagreb,” the statement reads.

Leaders must make “any kind of effort” to ease situation in Ukraine: Czech FM

The Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Lipavsky said leaders must make “any kind of effort which would lead to at least some easing of the situation” in Ukraine.

Speaking ahead of the EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Luxembourg, Lipavsky stated “some humanitarian corridors” will help Ukrainians, but added: “On the other side, don’t be naive. Putin is a perpetrator of this horrendous war crime and those atrocities, and he should be punished for that.”

Spanish FM: EU will discuss oil embargo on Russia

EU foreign ministers will discuss at a meeting in Luxembourg the possibility of imposing sanctions on the Russian oil sector in connection with hostilities in Ukraine, Spain’s Foreign Minister Madrid Jose Manuel Albarez said.

“We will analyze the military situation and how we can support the army and government of Ukraine so that a free Ukraine continues to exist. Undoubtedly, we will analyze this situation (the possibility of imposing an oil embargo against the Russian Federation – ed.),” He added.

At the same time, he drew attention to “the need not to destabilize individual countries whose energy structure is traditionally closely linked to Russia.”

France sends police officers to Ukraine to probe war crimes

French police officers have arrived in Ukraine to help the country investigate alleged Russian war crimes after hundreds of civilian bodies were discovered in towns around Kyiv, the French ambassador to Ukraine said.

“Proud to welcome to Lviv the detachment of technical and scientific gendarmes who came to assist their comrades in investigations of war crimes committed near Kyiv,” Etienne de Poncins said on Twitter, adding, “France is the first to provide such help. They will start work tomorrow.”

He posted a photo of around 20 uniformed investigators standing by a mobile laboratory van in the western city of Lviv.

Moscow-backed rebel forces to ‘intensify’ battle in eastern Ukraine

The Russian-backed leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine says the rebel republic will “intensify” its battle against Ukrainian forces in the region.

“The more we delay, the more the civilian population simply suffers, being held hostage by the situation. We have identified areas where certain steps need to be accelerated,” Denis Pushilin was quoted as saying by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

Pushilin also said more than 5,000 civilians may have been killed in Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces have attempted to hold off a relentless Russian attack since Moscow launched its invasion.

Kremlin says NATO membership for Finland, Sweden won’t bring stability to Europe

The Kremlin’s spokesman has warned against Sweden and Finland possibly joining the NATO transatlantic security alliance.

“We have repeatedly said that the alliance remains a tool geared towards confrontation and its further expansion will not bring stability to the European continent,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

His remarks came amid reports that NATO membership for both Nordic countries was discussed during talks between the alliance’s foreign ministers last week attended by representatives from Sweden and Finland.

Lithuania wants NATO to expand Baltic battalions into brigades

Lithuania wants NATO battalions currently stationed in the Baltic states to be expanded into brigades, the country’s defence ministry has announced.

A brigade consists of several battalions of troops.

The Baltic states are Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Russia halts plan to nationalize foreign firms

The Russian government has suspended work on the recently proposed bill to nationalize foreign firms that have chosen to end their operations in the country amid Ukraine-related Western sanctions, Izvestia newspaper reported on Monday, citing sources.

Last month, a government commission on legislative activity approved a draft law, which would allow for the introduction of external management in firms, at least 25%-owned by residents of “unfriendly states,” or of countries that have placed sanctions on Russia. The initiative was proposed in response to a mass exodus of foreign companies from the country due to Western sanctions related to the conflict in Ukraine. The measure was aimed at preventing these firms’ bankruptcies and the loss of jobs in Russia.

According to Izvestia, the draft document has not yet been submitted to the government. One of the unnamed sources cited by the publication explained that “it does not make sense to launch such a serious mechanism at this stage” because foreign companies are increasingly expressing interest in negotiating the terms of their exit with Russian authorities, and many of them plan to resume work in Russia in April-May.

“For the majority of companies, we do not yet see any actual steps, except for declarations. Even those who have suspended their activities, for example, closed shops or restaurants, often do not break lease agreements and continue to pay wages to their employees,” another source told the paper.

Kremlin declined to comment on Chechen leader’s statement on offensive across Ukraine

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday declined to comment on Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov’s statement that a Russian offensive on all Ukrainian cities to destroy Banderites is imminent.

“We traditionally don’t talk with you about the course of the special military operation,” the spokesman told reporters, when asked to comment on the statement.

“We are leaving this prerogative to the Defense Ministry,” he added, saying the Defense Ministry has news conferences on the special operation twice a day.

“I suggest that you get information from there,” Peskov stated.

China warns against groundless allegations over Kramatorsk attack until probe finishes

Beijing is urging all parties to stay calm and avoid groundless accusations until an investigation into Friday’s missile attack on a railway station in the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk is wrapped up, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a briefing on Monday.

“As for the reports of an attack on the railway station that you mentioned, the truth and the causes should certainly be established. However, we believe that humanitarian issues should not be politicized and all accusations should be based on facts,” he pointed out.

“The parties should avoid groundless accusations and stay calm until the investigation presents its conclusions,” the diplomat maintained.

He also noted that China was paying much attention to the humanitarian situation in Ukraine and was concerned about the damage that was being done to civilians. When asked if China believed that Russia was involved in the incident, he stated that Beijing “supports an impartial, independent and transparent investigation into the situation.”

He urged the US to take practical action to facilitate peace in Ukraine’s situation instead of taking profits from the turbulence.

Zhao condemned the US for using sanctions as a tool to preserve its hegemonic position and make illegal gains.

“Escalating sanctions are not helping to alleviate the situation but are creating new problems for a world in the midst of an epidemic,” the spokesman said.

Zhao reiterated China’s stance on the issue and insisted that dialogue and negotiation are the only correct way to resolve the Ukraine crisis.

“We support the Russian and Ukrainian sides to overcome difficulties and continue to negotiate. We also welcome the international community’s support for the Russian-Ukrainian peace talks. We encourage both sides to maintain the momentum of the negotiations and strive for results and peace,” he added.

China will continue to play a constructive role in its own way to promote peace talks, the spokesperson continued.

Kremlin says there is no reason for Russian debt default

The Kremlin said that Russia had the resources to pay its debt so there was no objective reason for a default.

“There can only be a technical, man-made default,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“There are no objective reasons for such a default. Russia has everything it needs to fulfil all its obligations,” he added.

Austrian Chancellor to visit Moscow to ‘tell Putin truth’

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s visit to meet Vladimir Putin is meant to tell the Russian president the truth about the war in Ukraine, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said.

“It makes a difference to be face to face and tell him what the reality is: that this president has de facto lost the war morally”, Schallenberg stated upon his arrival for a meeting with EU counterparts in Luxembourg.

“It should be in his own interest that someone tells him the truth. I think it is important and we owe it to ourselves if we want to save human lives,” he added.

Medvedev says Europe gave up environmental values for sake of fighting Russia

Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council Dmitry Medvedev on Monday announced the US is using the fight against the “bloody regime” in Russia as an excuse to gain access to the European energy market and ship shale oil to the continent.

Europeans have given up their environmental values and embraced the new dirty energy, Medvedev said on Telegram.

He stated Washington has long been fighting for Europe’s energy market and is ready to “sink its teeth” in it. However, in recent years, this has been greatly hampered by the clean-energy agenda in Europe and the bombastic rhetoric around it, Medvedev added.

“Now is the time for America to turn things around and make some real money under the pretext of joining forces to fight the ‘bloody regime’ in Russia by supplying the Old World with its world’s dirtiest oil and gas,” he noted.

“Who is interested anymore in global warming and sustainable development goals that were proclaimed by the UN?” he continued.

Medvedev said Europe, as it rejects Russian energy resources, will have to forgo its green ideals.

“It’s amazing how, without thinking for a second, the Europeans spit on all their ‘unshakable values’ of recent decades, all the ‘global challenges and threats’ and rushed to their happiness: new dirty energy,” the Security Council official added.

Zelensky claims tens of thousands killed in Mariupol

Ukraine’s president claimed tens of thousands of people have been killed in Russia’s assault on the country’s southeastern port city of Mariupol.

“Mariupol has been destroyed, there are tens of thousands of dead, but even despite this, the Russians are not stopping their offensive,” Volodymyr Zelensky stated in a video address to South Korean lawmakers.

Mariupol lies between eastern areas of Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists and the Crimean Peninsula.

Zelensky has used his address to South Korea’s parliament to ask for weapons to aid his country’s defense against Russia — even though South Korea’s Defence Ministry has denied the request earlier.

“Ukraine needs support for its military, including planes and tanks,” Zelensky told lawmakers, adding: “South Korea can help Ukraine. South Korea has various defense systems that could defend against Russian tanks, ships, and missiles. We would be grateful if South Korea could help us to fight Russia. If Ukraine can have these weapons, they will not only save the lives of ordinary people, but they’ll save Ukraine.”

Earlier on Monday, South Korea’s Defence Ministry spokesperson Boo Seung-chan said the ministry had denied Ukraine’s request for an anti-air weapon system and that they cannot provide lethal weapons considering its own “national security situation and military readiness posture.”

EU discussing a sixth package of sanctions against Russia: Danish FM

The European Union is “already discussing a sixth package of sanctions” in an effort “to keep increasing pressure on Russia to stop the war,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said Monday.

“From the Danish side, we will be willing to go as far as we can to find consensus on sanctions, including also on energy,” he told reporters when arriving for a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg.

Gabrielius Landsbergis, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, stated he was “happy that the European Commission was very clear that we’re starting to work on six package with oil options.”

“And I hope that this time, it works,” Landsbergis added

Asked what more is needed from the EU, Landsbergis stated it was “best to go to Kyiv, go to Irpin, go to Bucha and see for yourself why we need to impose the sanctions.”

19,500 Russian servicemen killed: Ukraine’s military

Russia has lost about 19,500 soldiers since it invaded Ukraine on February 24, Ukraine’s military has claimed.

It also lost 725 tanks, 1,923 armored vehicles, 154 planes and 137 helicopters, the General Staff of the Armed Forces said, adding that the figures are approximate because of the ongoing hostilities.

On Friday, the Kremlin admitted to “significant losses,” but didn’t specify the number. NATO said on March 24 that Moscow lost up to 15,000 troops in Ukraine.

Railway station in eastern Ukraine shelled by Russian forces: Rail chief

A railway station in eastern Ukraine was hit by Russian shelling, the chairman of Ukraine’s state railway company claimed Monday, without providing a specific location.

“Last night another railway station in the east of Ukraine was shelled by Russian troops,” chairman Oleksandr Kamyshin said on Telegram.

“They continue to hit, aiming at railway infrastructure. There are no casualties either among civilians or among railway workers,” Kamyshin added

Five locomotives were damaged, Kamyshin said, as well as tracks and power lines.

“But that’s just iron, we will restore that,” he added.

Russian troops destroy 441 drones, 2,079 tanks in Ukraine special operation: Top brass

Russian forces have eliminated 441 Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), 239 multiple rocket launchers and 2,079 tanks and other armored vehicles since the beginning of their special military operation in Ukraine, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said on Monday.

“Overall, the following targets have been destroyed since the beginning of the special military operation: 129 aircraft, 99 helicopters, 243 S-300, Buk-M1 and Osa AKM surface-to-air missile systems, 441 unmanned aerial vehicles, 2,079 tanks and other combat armored vehicles, 239 multiple launch rocket systems, 909 field artillery guns and mortars, and also 2,003 special military motor vehicles,” the spokesman added.

The Russian troops delivered a precision strike by sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles to eliminate the hardware of a Ukrainian S-300 surface-to-air missile battalion delivered from Europe, Konashenkov claimed.

EU working on possible oil embargo on Russia: Ireland

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney stated that the European Commission was working on details of an oil embargo on Russia as part of a possible next sanctions package, but that nothing has been decided.

His comment came as the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell said that “sanctions are always on the table,” when asked if the block was ready to consider a Russian oil embargo.

“Ministers will discuss which are the further steps,” he added.

Ukraine claims Russian offensive in Donbas “has already started”

Russia’s latest offensive in the eastern Donbas region has begun, a senior Ukrainian official said Monday, warning that Russia continues to amass forces there.

Vadym Denysenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, stated in remarks on national television, “From my point of view, this big offensive (in eastern Ukraine) has already started.”

“We have to understand it’s not going to be the repetition of Feb. 24, when the first airstrikes and explosions started and we said, ‘The war has begun.’ The big offensive de-facto has already started,” he added.

Ukrainian and Western officials have announced in recent days they have observed movement of Russian troops to Donbas following major setbacks for Moscow in a push to take Kyiv.

“Russians are accumulating their forces,” Denysenko continued, stating, “They continue to redeploy their troops and equipment to Donetsk and Luhansk regions.”

“Yes, there are still no major battles that are being discussed so much in the past few days. But in general we could say the offensive has already started,” he said.

Denysenko noted explosions overnight in the Dnipropetrovsk region and said the shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, had also continued.

German FM says Ukraine needs heavy weapons, urges support

Ukraine needs heavy weapons, and foreign partners have no time for excuses and need to bee creative to support Kiev, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated on Monday.

“It is more than clear that … Ukraine needs further military support to be able to defend itself. We are doing this together with our international partners, together with European partners, we are providing further millions … But it is clear that Ukraine needs further military goods, first of all heavy weapons, and now there is no time for excuses, now is the time for creativity and pragmatism,” Baerbock told reporters ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

She noted there are “massive indications of war crimes” having been committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

“In the end, the courts will have to decide, but for us, it is central to secure all evidence,” Baerbock continued.

French bank quits Russia over Ukraine

French banking group Societe Generale announced on Monday that it would stop all business activities in Russia.

“Societe Generale ceases its banking and insurance activities in Russia and announces the signing of a sale and purchase agreement to sell its entire stake in Rosbank and the group’s Russian insurance subsidiaries to Interros Capital, the previous shareholder of Rosbank. With this agreement, concluded after several weeks of intensive work, the group would exit in an effective and orderly manner from Russia, ensuring continuity for its employees and clients,” the group said in a statement on its website.

Rosbank is one of the top 15 Russian banks in terms of assets and is among the country’s most systemically important credit institutions. According to Forbes Russia, Rosbank is considered the third most reliable Russian bank.

More EU sanctions on Russia an option: Top diplomat

More European Union sanctions on Russia are an option, the bloc’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said when asked if the EU was ready to consider a Russian oil embargo in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Sanctions are always on the table,” Borrell told reporters as he arrived for a meeting with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

“Ministers will discuss which are the further steps,” he added.

UN: 1,793 civilians killed in Ukraine war

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, 1,793 civilians have been killed and 2,439 injured, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“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,” the OHCHR notes in its civilian casualty update.

The organisation writes the actual figures are likely considerably higher, as information from areas where there are “intense hostilities” has either been delayed or is pending corroboration. This includes Mariupol, Izium and Borodianka, where there are allegations of many civilian casualties.

The figures in these areas are “being being further corroborated and are not included in the above statistics”, the update notes.

Zelensky: Next few days of war are crucial

Ukraine’s president has warned his countrymen that the coming week would be as crucial as any since Russia launched its invasion.

“Russian troops will move to even larger operations in the east of our state,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in an address.

He accused Russia of trying to evade responsibility for war crimes.

“The day will come when they will have to admit everything. Accept the truth,” the Ukraine’s president added.

Zelensky stressed the nation is doing all it can to win the war and accused Russian leadership of “lying” in efforts to shift the blame away from them.

“When cowardice grows, everything turns into catastrophe,” he continued, adding, “When people don’t have the courage to recognize their mistakes and apologize, to conform to reality, and to see that they are turning into monsters.”

The Ukrainian president said Russia has lost touch with reality, acting as aggressors yet blaming Ukraine for the actions committed by Russian troops, including the killings in Bucha, the missile strike on the train station in Kramatorsk, and “every destroyed city and burnt village.”

“They have destroyed the lives of millions. They started a full-scale war and act as if we are to blame for this,” Zelensky continued.

He added Russia, fearing defeat, will launch more full-scale combat actions in Ukraine’s east.

“But we are ready,” the president said, promising Ukraine will ensure it has enough weapons and demand stronger sanctions against Russia so that justice will be served.

He again called on Western countries to provide more assistance to Ukraine.

Gazprom continues gas exports to Europe via Ukraine

Russian state-owned gas producer Gazprom continued to supply natural gas to Europe via Ukraine on Monday in line with requests from European consumers, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.

Requests stood at 95 million cubic metres for April 11, Interfax reported, citing Ukraine’s gas pipeline operator.

183 children have died since Russian invasion: Ukraine

Ukraine’s Ombudsman for Human Rights, Lyudmyla Denisova, has reported 183 children are confirmed to have died since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russia may use phosphorous munitions in Mariupol: UK defence ministry

“Russian forces’ prior use of phosphorous munitions in the Donetsk Oblast raises the possibility of their future employment in Mariupol as fighting for the city intensifies,” the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence writes in its latest intelligence briefing.

It also notes that Russia has continued shelling the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and that Ukrainian forces have repulsed several assaults “resulting in the destruction of Russian tanks, vehicles, and artillery equipment”.

Russia’s continues using unguided bombs which “decreases their ability to discriminate” during strikes and increases “the risk of further civilian casualties,” the briefing adds.

Bodies of 6 people found in Kharkiv: Interfax

Rescuers in the city of Kharkiv have found the bodies of six victims of shelling, Interfax Ukraine reports.

Moscow: Kiev plotting provocations with mass killings of civilians to accuse Russian troops

Kiev is plotting, with the West’ support, provocations with massacre of civilians in the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) to place the blame for it on the Russian army, Mikhail Mizintsev, chief of Russia’s National Defense Management Center, has claimed.

“Official Kiev, with the support from several Western countries, continues to plan barbarous and ruthless actions with mass killings of civilians in the Lugansk People’s Republic to later accuse the Russian armed forces and LPR troops,” he said.

According to Mizintsev, a provocation is planned in the Ragovka community in the Kiev region. The Ukrainian side, in his words, is plotting to shoot a fake video about searches of places of mass burials of civilians allegedly killed by Russian troops.

“A team of Ukrainian forensic experts and police officers will be involved in the provocation to make it look more trustworthy,” he added.

“Reporters from foreign mass media outlets have arrived in the city of Kremennaya in the Severodonetsk district and have accommodated in the building of the local hospital. They are supposed to record the Ukrainian army’s provocation with the alleged selling of ambulance cars carrying patients by Russian troops,” he stated.

‘I am no longer interested in their diplomacy’: Zelensky on NATO and UN

President Volodymyr Zelensky has criticised NATO and the United Nations in an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes.

“When you are [working] at diplomacy, there are no results. All this is very bureaucratic … I don’t have any more lives [to give]. I don’t have any more emotions. I’m no longer interested in their diplomacy that leads to the destruction of my country,” Zelensky said, after being asked why he had spoken in an undiplomatic way to NATO and the UN’s Security Council (UNSC).

In recent days Zelensky had told the UNSC it should punish Russia or “dissolve itself”.

When asked what he wants the world to understand, Zelenskyy stated, “We are defending the right to live. I never thought this right was so costly. These are human values. So that Russia doesn’t choose what we should do and how I’m exercising my rights. That right was given to me by God and my parents.”

The Ukraine’s president added the world is responsible for Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine.

“I remember, all of us remember, books about the second world war, and about the devil in uniform – Adolf Hitler. Are those countries who did not participate in the war responsible? The countries who let German forces march throughout Europe? Does the world carry responsibility for the genocide? Yes. Yes, it does.  When you [have the ability to] close the sky – yes it’s scary, that a world war could start. It’s scary. I understand [that]. And I cannot put pressure on these people because everyone is afraid of war. But whether the world [is responsible] for this, I believe so, yes. I believe so,” he stressed.

NZ to send more military aid to Ukraine

New Zealand will send a C-130 Hercules aircraft, with 50 defence force personnel, to help transport and distribute donated military aid to Ukraine, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.

“But at no point will they enter Ukraine, and nor have they been asked to,” Ardern stated at a press conference.

The aircraft will leave New Zealand for Europe on Wednesday.

New Zealand will also contribute $13 million for military, legal and human rights support, including $7.5m for weapons and ammunition procurement via the United Kingdom, enabling the UK to help supply arms to Ukraine.

Report: Sweden, Finland may join NATO in summer

Sweden and Finland may join NATO as early as this summer, the Times newspaper reported citing its sources.

According to the daily, it is expected that Finland will apply for its membership in June and Sweden will follow.

War to slash Ukraine’s economic output: World Bank

Ukraine’s economic output will likely contract by 45.1 percent this year as Russia’s invasion has forced businesses to close, slashed exports and destroyed productive capacity, the World Bank announced in a new assessment of the war’s economic effects.

The World Bank also forecast Russia’s 2022 gross domestic product (GDP) output to fall 11.2 percent due to punishing financial sanctions imposed by the United States and its Western allies on Russia’s banks, state-owned enterprises and other institutions.

The World Bank’s Eastern Europe region, comprising Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, is forecast to show a GDP contraction of 30.7 percent this year, due to shocks from the war and disruption of trade.

Oil companies, Putin share blame for high gas prices: Survey

A majority of Americans believe that oil companies, in addition to Russian President Vladimir Putin, should be blamed for the recent spike in oil and gas prices, according to an ABC News poll.

The poll found that 71 percent of those surveyed blame Putin for the spike in gas prices amid his country’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine while 68 percent said they blame oil and gas companies for the recent high gas prices.

The poll also found that 52 percent of those surveyed place a “good amount” or “great deal” of blame for high gas prices on Democratic policies, with 51 percent blaming President Joe Biden. Thirty-three percent blamed the issue on the GOP and 24 percent blamed it on former President Donald Trump.

Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed said they disapprove of Biden’s handling gas prices with 93 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats saying the same.

On Ukraine, 79 percent supported economic sanctions on Russia and 63 percent supported Ukrainian refugees being relocated to the US.

Death toll in Kramatorsk train station strike rises to 57

The head of the Donetsk regional military administration announced the death toll from a Russian missile strike on the train station in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, had risen to 57.

“As of 11 a.m. today, April 10 [the total is] 57 dead, 109 injured,” Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

“Those with minor injuries have been released to go home, the heavily injured are being transported to safe regions and being provided with the necessary aid,” Kyrylenko added.

Russia threatens legal action if West forces debt default

Russia will take legal action if the West tries to force it to default on its sovereign debt, Russia’s finance minister Anton Siluanov has told the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper.

“Of course we will sue, because we have taken all the necessary steps to ensure that investors receive their payments,” Siluanov told the daily.

“We will present in court our bills confirming our efforts to pay both in foreign currency and in roubles. It will not be an easy process. We will have to very actively prove our case, despite all the difficulties,” he continued.

Russia faces its first sovereign external default in more than a century after it made arrangements to make an international bond repayment in roubles earlier this week, even though the payment was due in US dollars.

EU ‘could revisit renewable targets’ in push to quit Russian energy

The European Union could set more ambitious targets for its transition to renewable energy as it seeks alternatives to imports of oil and gas from Russia, EU climate policy chief Frans Timmermans has said.

The European Commission has proposed that the EU cut imports of Russian gas by two-thirds this year, and is drafting plans to phase them out by 2027.

The commission is due to propose a “Repower EU” plan in May for how the bloc can quit Russian fossil fuels.

“What we will do in the next couple of weeks is work towards what I call the Repower EU initiative, and as part of that we want to accelerate the energy transition. So in that context we might revisit our targets,” Timmermans told reporters during a visit to Cairo.

Russian forces will attack Kyiv: Chechen leader

Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, stated Russian forces will stage an offensive against Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.

“There will be an offensive … not only on Mariupol, but also on other places, cities and villages,” Kadyrov said in a video posted on his Telegram channel.

“Luhansk and Donetsk – we will fully liberate in the first place … and then take Kyiv and all other cities,” he added.

US will supply Ukraine with ‘the weapons it needs’ against Russia

National security adviser Jake Sullivan has stated that the United States is committed to providing Ukraine with “the weapons it needs” to defend itself against Russia as Kyiv seeks more military aid from the West.

Sullivan added the Joe Biden administration will send more weapons to Ukraine to prevent Russia from seizing more territory and targeting civilians, attacks that Washington has labelled war crimes.

“We’re going to get Ukraine the weapons it needs to beat back the Russians to stop them from taking more cities and towns where they commit these crimes,” Sullivan said on ABC News’ This Week.

Over 1,200 bodies found in Kyiv region: Ukraine’s prosecutors

Ukraine’s prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova claimed more than 1,200 bodies have been found in the region around the capital Kyiv so far.

“We have actually now, only for this morning, 1,222 dead people only in Kyiv region,” Venediktova stated in an interview with Sky News.

The scenes of mass civilian deaths in towns surrounding Kyiv, recently liberated from retreating Russian forces, shook the world last week.

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