Saturday, March 2, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 52

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:

‘Elimination’ of last Mariupol troops would end Moscow talks: Zelensky

The elimination of the last Ukrainian troops trapped in the besieged port of Mariupol would put an end to talks with Russia, President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on Saturday.

“The elimination of our troops, of our men (in Mariupol) will put an end to any negotiations” between Ukraine and Russia,” Zelensky said in an interview with the Ukrainska Pravda news website.

“That will be an impasse as we don’t negotiate neither our territories nor our people,” he added.

He noted the “situation is very difficult” in the besieged city of Mariupol.

“Our soldiers are blocked, the wounded are blocked. There is a humanitarian crisis… Nevertheless, the guys are defending themselves,” the president continued.

Ukraine fighters had held out at a metal works facility in underground tunnels and bunkers. But the factory was reduced to a ruin of twisted steel and blasted concrete, with no sign of defenders present. Several bodies of civilians lay scattered on nearby streets, Reuters news agency reported.

Russia claimed to have captured the strategic port city on Friday. If Mariupol falls it would be Russia’s biggest prize of the war so far.

The Ukrainian governor overseeing Mariupol on Friday said the port city has been “wiped off the face of the earth” by relentless Russian strikes and shelling.

Asked if Russia could effectively take control of Mariupol, Ukrainian governor of the Donetsk region Pavlo Kyrylenko told CNN the city was “no more,” leaving Russians with nothing left to seize.

“The enemy may seize the land Mariupol used to stand on, but the city of Mariupol has been wiped off the face of the earth by the Russian Federation, by those who will never be able to restore it,” he stated, adding, “To restore Mariupol, that is something only Ukraine can do.”

‘We remain resolute in our support for Ukraine’: UK government says after entry ban

Following Russia’s decision to bar Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other British government politicians and members from entering the country, a UK government spokesperson has told the Guardian: “The UK and our international partners stand united in condemning the Russian government’s reprehensible actions in Ukraine and calling for the Kremlin to stop the war.”

“We remain resolute in our support for Ukraine,” the spokesperson added.

Italy to close ports to Russian vessels starting Sunday

Italy will close its ports to Russian ships starting this Sunday, including those that have changed their flag since February 24, Italian media reported on Saturday.

According to newspaper La Stampa, citing the country’s port authority, the vessels that are currently staying at Italian ports will have to leave immediately after concluding their commercial activities.

Last week, the European Union agreed on the fifth package of anti-Russian sanctions over Ukraine, which include a ban on access to EU ports for ships under the Russian flag.

Romania also banned Russian-flagged vessels from entering Romanian ports except for humanitarian emergency purposes and energy transit starting Sunday.

Hundreds feared dead after Ukraine sinks Russia’s flagship Moskva

There were fears for the fate of hundreds of sailors aboard Russian flagship the Moskva on Saturday, with reports suggesting that just a few dozen of the 510-strong crew were able to be rescued before it was sunk by Ukrainian missiles earlier this week.

It took the Russian military almost a day to admit the embarrassing loss of the pride of its Black Sea fleet after it was hit in the early hours of Thursday, initially insisting that it had caught fire after an explosion and was being towed back to land.

But the US has since confirmed that the warship was hit by two Ukrainian strikes, believed to be Neptune anti-ship missiles.

US: Concern growing over Ukraine’s ammunition inventory

There is growing concern about the need to get more ammunition — and in particular artillery ammunition — to Ukrainian forces more rapidly as heavy ground combat against Russian units is expected to unfold in the coming days, according to a US official.

While the United States is shipping 18 155mm towed howitzers and 40,000 artillery rounds to Ukraine as part of the new security assistance announced by President Joe Biden’s administration this week, even that amount could be expended within several days, raising the prospect of Ukraine forces running out of ammunition, the official said.

During some of the heavy earlier fighting, Ukrainian forces fired up to thousands of artillery rounds in a given day, the official noted.

Going forward, the US believes the likely Russia strategy is to move weapons and troops into eastern Ukraine from their current positions just north, and then encircle and cut off Ukraine forces that are there, the official added.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley are conducting daily phone calls with counterparts in the region to encourage them to ship more weapons and supplies to Ukraine as soon as possible.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon hosted the CEOs of the military’s eight largest prime contractors to figure out how to arm Ukraine faster.

One killed and 18 wounded in missile strike in Kharkiv

One person was killed and 18 were wounded when a Russian missile hit one of the central districts of Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region on Saturday, the regional governor stated.

Kyiv mayor: One killed, several wounded in missile strikes

Vitali Klitschko, Kyiv’s mayor, says one person was killed and several wounded in missile strikes on the Ukrainian capital.

Klitschko added that medics were fighting for the lives of those who had been wounded.

“Kyiv was and remains a target of the aggressor,” he stated.

“Increasingly hostile” situation in southern Ukraine after sinking of Russian ship: Ukrainian officials

The situation in Ukraine’s southern Mykolaiv and Kherson regions is “increasingly hostile” following the loss of a Russian warship in the Black Sea, Ukrainian officials announced on Saturday.

“During the past day, the situation in the south of Ukraine has been characterized by increasing hostile aggression,” Ukraine’s Operational Command South said in a video statement.

“Desperately trying to gain a foothold and hold on to the positions of the southern front, the world’s most shameful army is pursuing civilians in Mykolayiv and Kherson regions,” the statement added.

“The work of snipers has been recorded in some areas,” the statement reads.

Russian forces were “enraged by the losses in the Black Sea” — an apparent reference to the sinking of the Russian guided-missile cruiser Moskva — and had “intensified the missile threat” in the region, the statement continued.

Mykolaiv and several other settlements of the region have come under heavy fire, including from cluster munitions, according to the statement.

200 children killed since the invasion started: Ukrainian officials

Two hundred children have been killed in Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to attack the country in late February, the office of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General said in a statement on Saturday.

The office added that more than 360 children have been injured during the war so far.

Russian attacks intensify in eastern Ukraine, ahead of a planned ground offensive

Russian attacks have intensified in a range of locations in eastern Ukraine including Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk, according to Ukrainian military and regional officials.

Russian forces appear to be heavily shelling areas of all three regions ahead of a planned ground offensive.

Ukrainian GDP may drop 30-50% due to Russia’s military operation: Finance minister

Ukraine’s economy may contract by between 30% and 50% due to the impact of Russia’s special military operation, Finance Minister Sergii Marchenko said in an interview with Ukrainian broadcaster Hromadske on Saturday.

“[According to] rough estimates that have been announced, from 30 to 50% of GDP may be lost. But the issue is that it is too early to make such predictions. Everything depends on the course of the war,” Marchenko added.

Moscow bans British PM, other top officials from entering Russia

Moscow has enrolled individual sanctions against UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Foreign Minister Elizabeth Truss, Defence Minister Ben Wallace and other top-level officials, banning them from entering Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

“It was decided to include key members of the British government and a number of political figures to the Russian ‘stop list’ amid the unprecedented hostile actions of the British government, expressed in particular in the imposition of sanctions against senior officials of the Russian Federation,” the statement read.

The ministry noted that new sanctions are in response to London’s information and political campaign aimed at isolating Russia internationally, containing it and strangling its economy.

The ministry also accused the United Kingdom of deliberately inflaming the situation around Ukraine, sending lethal arms to Kiev, and pushing other countries to impose sanctions against Russia, as well as “the Russophobic course of the British authorities.”

The list includes a total of 13 UK officials, with the outlook of being expanded “in the near future” to include politicians and members of parliament.

Russian forces destroy 133 aircraft, 2,246 tanks in Ukraine special operation

Russian troops have eliminated 133 Ukrainian combat aircraft and 458 unmanned aerial vehicles, 2,246 tanks and other armored vehicles and 252 multiple rocket launchers since the beginning of their special military operation in Ukraine, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said on Saturday.

“Overall, the following targets have been destroyed since the beginning of the special military operation: 133 aircraft, 458 unmanned aerial vehicles, 246 surface-to-air missile systems, 2,246 tanks and other combat armored vehicles, 252 multiple launch rocket systems, 981 field artillery guns and mortars and 2,146 special military motor vehicles,” the spokesman added.

Russian forces delivered strikes by long-range precision weapons on the armor-producing plant in Kiev and military hardware repair workshops in Nikolayev, the Russian DM spokesman stated.

“Long-range air-launched precision weapons eliminated the production facilities of the armor plant in Kiev and military hardware repair workshops in Nikolayev,” the spokesman continued.

Report: Biden’s remarks on ‘genocide’ in Ukraine run counter to intelligence data

US President Joe Biden’s remarks that the events in Ukraine look like genocide raised concerns among some US government officials, because this has so far not been corroborated by information collected by the US intelligence, the NBC television reported.

“Genocide includes a goal of destroying an ethnic group or nation and, so far, that is not what we are seeing,” the channel quoted an unnamed US intelligence official as saying.

Biden earlier expressed this opinion in private conversations, but his administration officials were taken aback by the president’s public statement on the issue, made in Iowa last week.

The president’s declaration of genocide in Ukraine was the third time in recent weeks that the president has tried to separate what he says are his personal views from official US policy, the channel added.

Explosions in Kyiv, Lviv; air raid sirens sound across Ukraine

Explosions have been reported in Kyiv and Lviv. Air raid sirens have also been sounded across most of Ukraine, according to the Reuters news agency.

Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, stated rescuers and medics are working on the site of a blast on the outskirts of the city.

The explosion took place in Kyiv’s Darnytskyi district, Klitschko said in a post on the Telegram messaging app. It is the southeastern district of Kyiv, on the left bank of Dnipro river.

Zelensky estimates 2,500-3,000 Ukrainian troops killed in war

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky has told CNN that between 2,500 and 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers are estimated to have died in the war so far.

He said about 10,000 have been wounded and it’s “hard to say how many will survive”.

Zelensky added Russia was thought to have lost between 19,000 and 20,000 troops although the Kremlin has put the figure at 1,351.

Russia: Ukraine preparing another rocket attack on civilians

The Ukrainian government is preparing a false-flag attack against a railway station filled with civilian refugees, in order to accuse Russia of war crimes, the Russian military has announced.

Moscow cited intelligence to name the target, method, and even point of origin of the impending attack, which it said was patterned after the recent carnage in Kramatorsk.

“The Kiev regime is preparing another monstrous provocation, similar to the one carried out in Kramatorsk, to accuse Russian servicemen of war crimes with a massacre of civilians,” Lieutenant General Mikhail Mizintsev, head of the National Defense Management Center, claimed.

According to Mizintsev, the 19th Missile Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine intends “in the near future” to fire a Tochka-U tactical ballistic missile at “the accumulation of refugees at the railway station” at Lozovaya – a city in the Kharkov region and a major rail junction.

In order to make the strike look like it came from territory controlled by the Donetsk People’s Republic or Russian forces, the rocket will come from Staromikhaylovka, a village west of Donetsk held by the Kiev forces, the general added.

Such actions demonstrate Ukraine’s “inhuman attitude towards the fate of civilians” and “complete disregard for all norms of morality and international humanitarian law,” said Mizintsev.

Britain special forces providing training in Ukraine

Britain’s Times newspaper reported that the SAS, the country’s special forces, have been providing training to two local battalions stationed near Kyiv.

It’s the first time they’ve done so since the Russian invasion began seven weeks ago, the paper said, citing Ukrainian officers.

The Ukrainians are getting instruction in how to use British-supplied anti-tank missiles that were delivered in February, the daily added.

Germany to release more than 1bn euros in military aid to Ukraine

The German government has said it plans to release more than one billion euros ($1.08bn) in military aid for Ukraine, amid complaints by Kyiv it is not receiving heavy weapons from Berlin. The funds will feature in a supplementary budget for this year.

In total, taking into account all countries, Germany has decided to increase its international aid in the defence sector “to two billion euros” with “the largest part being planned in the form of military aid in favour of Ukraine”, a government spokeswoman told the AFP news agency.

This envelope of two billion euros ($2.16bn) “will go mainly to Ukraine”, Finance Minister Christian Lindner confirmed on Twitter.

Death toll in Kharkiv shelling rises to 10

The prosecutor’s office in the northeastern region of Kharkiv stated at least 10 people have been killed, including a 7-month-old baby, as a result of shelling by Russian forces.

The office of the general prosecutor said on Telegram that at about 4:30 p.m. local time Friday, Russian forces used multiple rocket launchers against the industrial district of Kharkiv.

“The shelling killed ten civilians, including a 7-month-old child. Another 35 people were injured. Several residential buildings were damaged and destroyed,” it added.

Ukraine PM, senior officials to visit US next week

Reuters news agency reported Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and some of the country’s top finance officials will visit the US next week during the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Shmyhal, Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko and central bank governor Kyrylo Shevchenko are expected to hold bilateral meetings with finance officials from the Group of Seven countries and others, and take part in a roundtable on Ukraine to be hosted by the World Bank on Thursday, sources familiar with the plans told Reuters.

Zelensky appealed to US to designate Russia ‘state sponsor of terrorism’

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky recently made a direct appeal to President Joe Biden for the US to designate Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism,” the Washington Post reported, citing people familiar with the conversation.

Biden did not commit to specific actions during that call, the Post said.

The label can be applied to any country that has “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism,” the newspaper added, citing a State Department fact sheet.

The list currently includes four countries: North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Syria.

Wife of Putin ally held in Ukraine accuses authorities of abuse

The wife of one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s top allies in Ukraine has said he was beaten by the Ukrainian security service while being interrogated in detention.

At a news conference in Moscow, Viktor Medvedchuk’s wife Oksana Marchenko stated that one of two photos released by Ukraine this week showed he had been beaten.

Ukraine has announced that it had captured Medvedchuk, posting a photo of him in handcuffs, wearing a Ukrainian army uniform.

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