Friday, July 12, 2024

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 61

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:

Five killed in alleged Russian attack on railways in Vinnytsia

At least five people were killed and another 18 injured on Monday in Russian strikes on railway infrastructure in the central Ukraine region of Vinnytsia, Kyiv claimed.

“Preliminary information shows that five people died and 18 were injured. Rescue operations are under way, investigators, prosecutors and other services are working at the scene,” the office of the Ukrainian prosecutor general announced in a statement on social media.

Russia reveals number of diplomats expelled since start of operation in Ukraine

About 400 Russian diplomats have been expelled from 28 Western countries since the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Ivanov said on Monday at a meeting of the Russian Federation Council’s Interim Commission for the Protection of State Sovereignty and Prevention of Interference in the country’s Internal Affairs.

“Along with the introduction of all kinds of sanctions, the favorite method of Moscow’s punishment has been the expulsion of Russian diplomats. This did not begin on February 23; it began earlier; our [Western] colleagues have been practicing this. Since the start of the special military operation in Ukraine, about 400 employees of our foreign missions have been expelled from 28 Western countries. The leaders there are Poland, Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia, France, Italy, and Spain,” the deputy minister noted.

“The capacity of consular missions in many countries has also been reduced, of course. This is done in order to complicate the provision of any assistance, including this to Russian citizens and our compatriots who live in these countries. This also applies to press secretaries in a number of countries, so that it is impossible to convey information,” Ivanov added.

“The actual reduction to a minimum of the apparatus of our diplomatic missions in a number of states means that the West has moved to a course of isolating Russia in a variety of areas,” he continued.

“The West’s hybrid war with Russia, unleashed long before the special military operation, has led to the fact that for many years our diplomats have not been able to work fully in Western countries. The total control of Western security services significantly impedes communication with representatives of local circles, who fear that their authorities will blame them for Russian connections. Constant expulsions, attacks on the part of local authorities on embassy schools, and the issuance of visas <…> do not allow not only normal work but also normal life,” he stated.

The diplomat also noted that the way out of this crisis will depend on further developments.

“In any scenario, the restoration of diplomatic relations with the West to the previous level will be, to put it mildly, long and difficult,” the deputy minister pointed out.

ICC prosecutor to join EU team probing war crimes in Ukraine

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor will join an EU investigations team to probe possible crimes committed in Ukraine, the EU’s judicial cooperation agency has announced.

Chief prosecutor Karim Khan has signed an agreement with prosecutors general of Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine to take part in a joint investigative team to look into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since Russia’s invasion on February 24.

Britain to send Stormer armoured vehicles to Ukraine

Britain will send a small number of Stormer armoured vehicles fitted with launchers for anti-air missiles to Ukraine, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said.

Wallace added that British assessments showed that around 15,000 Russian personnel had been killed in the conflict while 2,000 armoured vehicles including some 530 tanks had been destroyed, along with 60 helicopters and fighter jets.

“I can now announce to the House that we will be gifting a small number of armoured vehicles fitted with launchers for those anti-air missiles,” he stated.

Moscow: Unfriendly actions against Russia won’t remain unanswered

Unfriendly actions against Russians will not remain unanswered, the seizure of assets in Russia might be at stake, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgeny Ivanov said on Monday.

“We oppose [unfriendly actions], where we can, up to the appeal to the courts. Unfriendly actions do not remain unanswered in the legislative sphere,” Ivanov told lawmakers, adding that a number of legislative measures have been taken to protect the rights of Russian citizens, including economic restrictions, namely the seizure of assets on the Russian territory.

The official stated that sanctions for violating the rights of Russian citizens now apply to all foreigners, not only to the US citizens, and that it will be long and difficult to restore diplomatic relations with the West to the previous level.

Pentagon: US State Department approves $165mn sale of ammunition to Ukraine

The US State Department has approved a $165 million sale of ammunition to Ukraine, the Pentagon announced on Monday.

“The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Ukraine of various rounds of non-standard ammunition for an estimated cost of $165 million. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale on April 24, 2022,” the statement said.

Finland, Sweden to begin NATO application in May

Finland and Sweden will together express their will to join NATO in May, tabloid newspapers Iltalehti in Finland and Expressen in Sweden have reported, citing sources close to the matter.

Despite tightening cooperation with the military alliance since Russia annexed Crimea, the Nordic countries have both opted to stay out, but Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine has led to a sharp U-turn in both countries’ attitudes towards NATO.

Finland and Sweden are planning to have their country leaders meet in the week of May 16 and after that publicly announce their plans to bid to join the alliance, Iltalehti wrote.

Russia’s expulsion of German diplomats not ‘justified’: Berlin

Germany reacted with defiance to Russia’s announcement that it would expel 40 German diplomats in response to a similar move by Berlin over the conflict in Ukraine.

“We expected today’s step, but it is in no way justified,” Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in a statement.

She added that the 40 Russian diplomats expelled by Berlin “did not serve diplomacy for a single day” while those expelled by Russia had “not done anything wrong”.

Russian diplomat says no point in ceasefire at moment

Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the United Nations has said Moscow sees no point in establishing a ceasefire in Ukraine at this stage, fearing Kyiv may use it to stage “provocations”, RIA reported.

RIA cited Dmitry Polyanskiy as saying that Russia had not struck any residential areas in Ukraine’s Black Sea port city of Odesa. Ukraine’s southern air command on Saturday announced that two missiles struck a military facility and two residential buildings in Odesa.

Russia deployed 8 warships off Ukraine’s coast: Official

Moscow has deployed eight warships near Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, Defence Ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk has said.

He stated in televised remarks the ships are capable of launching a total of 58 missiles at a time, and their presence would “endanger” Ukrainian civilians.

The Moskva, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet flagman, capsized and sank on April 14 becoming Russia’s largest loss since its invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.

Ukrainian officials claimed it was hit by two Neptune missiles, but Russia insisted that it sank while being towed after a munitions explosion.

Russia fired two missiles over large nuclear station: Officials

Russia deliberately fired two cruise missiles over a large nuclear station in central Ukraine as an act of “nuclear terrorism,” energy officials have said.

The missiles flew over the Khmelnitsky nuclear power station in the Vinnitsia region, Energoatom, the state-run agency that controls Ukraine’s nuclear generation, said in a statement on the messaging app, Telegram.

“This is the latest act of nuclear terrorism,” it said, adding that the missiles flew “maximally close” to the power station.

Turkey at odds with plans to create NATO forces in Black Sea region: Defense chief

Ankara is not backing Washington’s plans to create NATO special deployment forces in the Black Sea region, the Hurriyet newspaper reported on Monday, citing Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.

The paper points out that the proposal to create such forces in the Black Sea region in order to contain Russia, which was presented by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin last year, particularly involves Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria.

“We told Romania and Bulgaria not to act hastily,” the Turkish defense chief informed the newspaper, when asked about Ankara’s attitude to the US idea. Hurriyet added that Akar’s diplomatic answer made it clear that Turkey was at odds with the proposal.

The Turkish defense minister’s remark points to Ankara’s efforts to prevent the Black Sea region from turning into an arena for rivalry, conflicts and tensions between Russia, NATO and the US amid the Ukrainian crisis.

“Turkey seeks to use diplomatic avenues outside the Montreux Convention and persuasion to keep NATO allies away from the Black Sea,” Hurriyet notes.

Russia declares 40 German diplomats personae non gratae in mirror response to Berlin

Russia has decided to declare 40 German diplomats personae non gratae in a tit-for-tat response to Berlin, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Monday.

The ministry mentioned that it summoned the German ambassador in Russia on Monday to lodge a protest over expulsion of 40 Russian diplomats from Germany.

In early April, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock announced that a “substantial number” of Russian diplomats would be expelled in response to what she described as “unbelievable brutality” allegedly committed by the Russian armed forces in the town of Bucha outside Kiev and across Ukraine in general.

No agreement on Mariupol corridor

Ukraine has not reached any agreement with Russia on establishing a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from the southern city of Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshschuk said.

“It is important to understand that a humanitarian corridor opens by the agreement of both sides. A corridor announced unilaterally does not provide security, and therefore is not a humanitarian corridor,” Vereshchuk added, referring to a previous announcement by Russia that a safe route had been opened.

Ukraine claims to have rebuffed attack in east

Ukraine’s defence ministry claimed Russia was continuing to attack in eastern Ukraine but was being pushed back.

Defence Ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk stated Russian forces had attempted to break through the defences of towns including Rubizhne, Popasna, Sievierodonetsk, Maryinka and Avdiivka, and was attempting to advance from the town of Izyum towards Barvinkove and Sloviansk.

US State Dept backs ammunition sale for Ukraine

The US State Department supports the approval of a possible sale of $165 million worth of ammunition to Ukraine, it announced in a statement.

The Ukrainian government has asked to buy various rounds of so-called non-standard ammunition, which are those that do not adhere to NATO standards.

Russia opens corridor, says up to Kiev to release trapped civilians used as human shields

Civilians could leave the Azovstal industrial site in Mariupol, if “the Kiev regime stops using them as human shields,” Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has stated.

“As for the reports saying ‘there’s no way people can leave’ the Azovstal site. They can, if the Kiev regime stops using them as human shields,” she wrote on her Telegram channel.

On Monday, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported that Russian troops and the Donetsk People’s Republic’s forces would suspend hostilities at 14:00 to allow civilians who may still be trapped at the Azov steel complex to exit the combat zone.

Soldier downs three Russian helicopters: Ukraine military

Ukraine has claimed that a new recruit shot down three Russian helicopters in the southern Zaporizhzhia region on April 21, using a portable Igla (Needle) infrared homing surface-to-air missile.

Ukraine’s general staff of armed forces posted a video on Facebook showing the debris of a Ka-52 helicopter that Moscow hails as “the pride and joy of Russia’s air forces”.

There were no reports of lost helicopters from the Russian side.

Russian shelling kills five in Donetsk: Local authority

Five civilians, including two children, have died in a Russian attack in the southeastern Donetsk region, an official has said.

The children were aged five and 14 and lived in the village of Krasnohorivka, Donetsk defense chief Pavlo Kirilenko stated.

The three other victims were from the towns of Novoselivtsy and Novomikhailivtsy, he added.

Putin: Russia knows names of CIA curators advising Ukrainian Neo-Nazis to carry out crimes

Russia announces ceasefire around Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant

Russia’s defence ministry on Monday announced a ceasefire around the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol to allow a civilian evacuation from the industrial area that has been sheltering the port city’s remaining defenders.

Russian troops “from 14:00 Moscow time (1100 GMT) on April 25, 2022, will unilaterally stop any hostilities, withdraw units to a safe distance and ensure the withdrawal” of civilians, the defence ministry announced in a statement.

It follows multiple pleas from the Ukrainian president and the UN over the weekend to cease fighting in the area, where an estimated 1,000 civilians are located along with about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters.

The destroyed city’s last Ukrainian defenders have already rejected Vladimir Putin’s call for them to surrender, instead warning Moscow that peace talks would be called off if any of them were killed.

Russia has claimed victory in the city, however the steel plant has remained a stubborn pocket of resistance. The city is crucial to the Kremlin’s new aim of occupying the south of the country and establishing a land route to Crimea.

Power and water outages throughout Luhansk region: Regional military governor

The Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine has seen extensive cuts to water and power supply due to heavy Russian shelling, stated Serhiy Hayday, head of the regional military administration.

There had been “7,500 more power outages, almost the entire Luhansk region is without water supply,” Hayday said in a statement on Telegram on Monday.

“In the last 10 days, 10 settlements have seen power cut off due to Russian shelling, nine of which have been completely cut off. That makes 30,000 families without electricity. In the past day alone, 7,500 apartments and private houses were cut off,” he added.

Hayday stated Russian forces had shifted to destroying infrastructure because of a lack of progress on the battlefield.

“In total, 39 settlements have had power cuts, 26 completely and 13 partially,” he said, adding that “121,746 consumers are without electricity.”

Due to power cuts, pumping stations that supply water to Severodonetsk and Popasna district have been shut down, and water supply infrastructure in Rubizhne, Popasna, and nearby villages is also damaged, Hayday continued.

Russians shell towns in central Ukraine: governor

Russian cruise missiles hit two towns in the southwestern Ukrainian region of Vinnytsia, its governor said, adding that “sites of critical infrastructure” were hit in the towns of Zhmerynka and Kozyatin.

There are “dead and wounded”, Serhiy Borzov stated on Telegram without providing further details.

Five railway stations hit

Five railway stations in central and western Ukraine were hit by Russian forces early morning, the country’s railway service’s chief Oleksandr Kamyshin has said.

“There are victims, we are finding out the details,” he stated in an online post, adding that at least 16 trains have been delayed.

Azovstal under fire: Ukraine’s military

Russian forces hit the Azovstal steel plant, Ukraine’s military announced on Monday.

The steelworks is the last remaining pocket of resistance in southern Mariupol, and hundreds of Ukrainian fighters and some 1,000 civilians are estimated to be hiding in underground tunnels there.

Russia strikes Ukrainian oil depot and military installations

Russia has struck and destroyed the Kremenchug oil refinery and Ukrainian military installations, the defence ministry said, TASS news agency has reported.

Russian air defense systems shot down a dozen Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles in the areas in the Kharkiv region, it added.

Russian troops have destroyed 566 Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), 2,526 tanks and other armored vehicles and 283 multiple launch rocket systems since the start of their special military operation in Ukraine, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said on Monday.

“Overall, the following targets have been eliminated since the start of the special military operation: 141 aircraft, 110 helicopters, 566 unmanned aerial vehicles, 265 surface-to-air missile systems, 2,526 tanks and other combat armored vehicles, 283 multiple launch rocket systems, 1,096 field artillery guns and mortars and 2,362 special military motor vehicles,” the spokesman added.

Russia storms eastern town of Popasna

Russian forces stormed Popasna, a town of 20,000 in the southeastern Luhansk region, Ukraine’s General Staff of Armed Forces has announced.

Its takeover could ease the encirclement of Ukrainian forces in Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk as the city sits on a hill near a key transport hub.

Sources: Putin abandons hopes of Ukraine deal and shifts to land-grab strategy

President Vladimir Putin has lost interest in diplomatic efforts to end his war with Ukraine and instead appears set on seizing as much territory as possible, according to three people briefed on conversations with the Russian president, according to the Financial Times.

Putin, who was seriously considering a peace deal with Ukraine after Russia suffered battlefield setbacks last month, has told people involved in trying to end the conflict that he sees no prospects for a settlement.

“Putin sincerely believes in the nonsense he hears on [Russian] television and he wants to win big,” said a person briefed on the talks.

Though Moscow and Kyiv agreed their first draft communique at a meeting in Istanbul in late March, talks stalled after Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of committing war crimes against civilians in cities such as Bucha and Mariupol.

Putin noted peace efforts were at a “dead end” and was infuriated after Ukraine sank the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, according to two people.

“There was hope for a deal. Putin was going back and forth. He needs to find a way to come out of this a winner,” one of the people stated.

After the Moskva sank, “Putin was against signing anything. [ . . . ] after the Moskva he doesn’t look like a winner, because it was humiliating,” the person added.

Ukrainian and western officials had always doubted Putin’s commitment to peace talks, suspecting it was a way of buying time for Moscow’s offensive.

The Russian president appears to hold a distorted view of the war as set out by his generals and depicted on Russian television, the people briefed on conversations with him said.

They added that he insisted, despite all evidence to the contrary, that his forces have not targeted civilians during attacks such as the siege of the Azovstal steelworks, Ukrainian forces’ last holdout in the largely destroyed city of Mariupol.

Putin noted talks had run aground because Ukraine “put up a wall”, and stated it “was not the right time” to meet Zelensky, according to a person briefed on that conversation.

Putin is avoiding the meeting with Zelensky “with all his might”, a person involved in the peace talks said, adding, “He wants everything to be decided before their personal meeting.”

Zelensky said on Saturday that he wanted the talks to go on but said Ukraine would not negotiate if people in Mariupol were killed or if Russian authorities in the occupied southern region of Kherson were to stage a separatist referendum.

Meeting between Russia’s Lavrov, Ukraine’s Kuleba not being prepared

A meeting between Russian and Ukrainian Foreign Ministers Sergey Lavrov and Dmytro Kuleba in Istanbul is not yet being prepared, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko said on Monday.

“Not yet,” Rudenko told reporters when asked a corresponding question.

Commenting on the possibility of a face-to-face meeting between Ukrainian and Russian delegations, the diplomat noted that it can take place as soon as there are meaningful agreements, while by now there are none.

Ukraine can win war “if they have right equipment, support”: Austin

The US believes Ukraine can win the war against Russia with “the right equipment and the right support,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told reporters Monday, from an undisclosed location in Poland near the Ukrainian border.

“In terms of their ability to win – the first step in winning is believing that you can win. And so, they believe that we can win. We believe that we – they – can win, if they have the right equipment, the right support, and we’re going to do everything we can and continue to do everything we can,” Austin told reporters.

Austin said Ukraine’s needs are changing as the nature of the fight evolves, in part because the focus has shifted to the east of the country.

“So (the Ukrainians) need long-range fires. You’ve heard them express a need for tanks. And we’re doing everything that we can to get them the types of support, the types of artillery and munitions that will be effective in this stage of the fight,” Austin told reporters during a news conference at an undisclosed location near the Polish-Ukrainian border following high level talks on Monday.

“You’ve seen what we’ve done here in the recent past with a recent $800 million authorization provided by the President that allows us to provide five battalions of 155 howitzers, hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery, and so we’re also engaging our colleagues in other countries for the same type of capability,” he added.

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 61

Austin said he has seen “indications” that “many countries are going to come forward and provide additional munitions and howitzers.”

So we’re going to push as hard as we can, as quickly as we can to get them what they need,” he added.

Russia failing, Ukraine succeeding: Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Monday that Russia was “failing in Ukraine” and that “Ukraine is succeeding.”

“Russia has sought as its aim to take away (Ukraine’s) sovereignty, to take away its independence. That has failed,” Blinken said during a news conference at an undisclosed location near the Polish-Ukrainian border.

“It sought to assert the power of its military, its economy. We of course are seeing just the opposite,” he added.

“We don’t know how the rest of this war will unfold, but we do know that a sovereign independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene,” he stated.

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 61

Blinken said a “sovereign independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene”.

“The bottom line is this. We don’t know how the rest of this war will unfold, but we do know that a sovereign independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene,” Blinken continued, adding, “And our support for Ukraine going forward will continue. It will continue until we see final success.

American diplomats will be back in Ukraine “starting next week,” Blinken said.

“They’ll then start the process of looking at how we actually reopen the embassy itself in Kyiv, I think that will take place over a couple of weeks,” he added.

“We’re doing it deliberately. We’re doing it carefully with the security of our personnel foremost in mind,” he continued.

Blinken noted that US President Joe Biden will nominate Bridget Brink as the US Ambassador to Ukraine. He described Brink as “deeply experienced in the region.” The post has been without a confirmed ambassador since Marie Yovanovitch was recalled in May 2019. Brink is the current US ambassador to Slovakia.

Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials in Kyiv on Sunday, making them the highest-level US officials to have traveled to the country since the Russian invasion began.

Blinken stated he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spent about three hours with Zelensky and his senior team in the capital Kyiv.

“That was the entire focus of our visit. We wanted to focus on the work that needed to be done in looking at the game plan that we have, how we’re moving forward across all of these different lines of effort,” Blinken told reporters from an undisclosed location in Poland near the Ukrainian border.

US military aid taking Ukraine’s defence to ‘new level’: Zelensky

The $3.4 billion in military assistance from the US is “already” helping bring
Ukraine’s defence capabilities to a qualitatively new level”, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said, according to a statement from his office issued after Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austin’s visit to Kyiv.

“We appreciate the unprecedented assistance of the United States to Ukraine. I would like to thank President Biden personally and on behalf of the entire Ukrainian people for his leadership in supporting Ukraine, for his personal clear position. To thank all the American people, as well as the Congress for their bicameral and bipartisan support. We see it. We feel it,” Ukraine’s president stated.

Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 61

The statement noted the president’s discussions with the US delegation included “current priorities for the belligerent state” strengthening sanctions on Russia, financial support for Ukraine and security guarantees.

One dead and seven injured in Kremenchuk: Governor

One person has died and seven have been injured in missile attacks in the city of Kremenchuk, Governor of the Poltava region, Dmytro Lunin, confirmed on Telegram on Monday morning.

On Sunday night, Lunin had written of attacks on infrastructure but said details were being clarified.

“Nine enemy missiles the day before hit the Kremenchuk thermal power plant and the Kremenchuk oil refinery,” Lunin stated in today’s post, adding the hit to the power plant meant most of the city’s districts were without hot water.

Explosions reported in Lviv as air raid sirens blare across Ukraine

Several explosions have been reported in Ukraine’s western city of Lviv, with a large plume of smoke cited in an unknown location.

Air sirens were activated across Ukraine overnight, including in the Chernihiv, Kyiv, Kirovohrad, Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Sumy, Kharkiv, Odesa, Mykolaiv, Zaporizhzhia, Poltava, Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk regions.

Explosions were also reported in Vinnytsia.

Russia likely trying to hide true death toll from domestic population: UK

Russia’s defence ministry has proposed that compensation for families of deceased military personnel will be overseen by military rather than civilian officials, the latest briefing of the United Kingdom defence ministry says.

“This likely reflects a desire to hide the true scale of Russia’s losses from the domestic population,” the ministry adds.

It also noted that Russia had made only “minor advances” in some areas since it shifted its focus to occupying the eastern region of the Donbas.

“Without sufficient logistical and combat support enablers in place, Russia has yet to achieve a significant breakthrough,” it continued.

Entire region under heavy shelling: Luhansk governor

The entire Luhansk region is under “heavy shelling” on Easter Sunday, the region’s governor, Serhiy Haidai, has said in a post on Telegram, adding that three three high-rise buildings and four houses had burned down as a result.

He stated several vehicles, including trucks, were involved in accidents.

“Therefore, people were saved not only by sorting out the rubble, but also from under beaten vehicles,” he continued.

“The Russian army has hit the oil refinery in Lisichansk for the third time,” he noted without mentioning any casualties.

Moscow sends note to US demanding an end to Ukrainian arms supplies: Russian Ambassador

Moscow has sent a note to Washington demanding it stop supplying weapons to Kiev, the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, said in an interview with TV channel Russia-24.

“$800 million, for this [amount of] weapons will be supplied to Kyiv from Washington. This is a huge figure, it does not contribute to finding a diplomatic solution, resolving the situation,” Antonov said.

“Did we pass a note – yes, we emphasised the unacceptability of the situation when the United States are stuffing Ukraine with weapons, we demanded an end to this practice,” he stated.

Antonov added that the US was “trying to raise the stakes even more and aggravate the situation”.

Russia says a fire has broken out at an oil depot in its Bryansk region

A fire has broken out at an oil depot in the Bryansk region of Russia, state news agency TASS reported Monday citing government sources.

“The Emergency Situations Ministry has confirmed there’s a fire. There’s also a confirmation that it’s the fuel tanks,” TASS reported, citing the government’s press office, which also said first responders were on their way to the scene.

Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry in Bryansk received reports of the fire at 2am Moscow time, according to TASS. The ministry sent rescue teams to the scene and these confirmed the fire was at an oil depot, it added.

The cause of the fire remains unclear.

On April 14, Russia’s top law enforcement body said it was investigating an alleged Ukrainian helicopter strike in the Bryansk region, just days after the Kremlin accused Ukraine of mounting a helicopter attack on a fuel depot in the neighboring Belgorod region.

US diplomats could return to Ukraine during this week

US diplomats will return to Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during their meeting in Kyiv Sunday, a senior State Department official said.

The diplomats will “start with day trips into Lviv” and “graduate to potentially other parts of the country and ultimately, resume (their) presence in Kyiv,” the State Department official added.

Blinken, who traveled to Kyiv alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, also stated US President Joe Biden will nominate Bridget Brink as the US Ambassador to Ukraine, according to the State Department official.

The post has been without a confirmed ambassador since Marie Yovanovitch was recalled in May 2019. Brink is the current US ambassador to Slovakia.

Russia reportedly attempting to save parts of sunken Moskva

Russia is using a special rescue ship Kommuna to lift its sunken warship Moskva from the seabed, Ukraine’s news channel Espreso reports, citing German newspaper Bild.

“Due to the size of the Moskva (187 meters in length), the 110-year-old Kommuna is unlikely to be able to lift the sunken cruiser from the depths completely, but there will be attempts to save the ship’s anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, as well as secret documents and military equipment,” Bild reportedly notes.

Other publications such as Forbes say the Kommuna is only attempting to rescue sensitive materials from the ship.

Kommuna, a submarine-salvage ship, was placed into active service in July 1915. She has served in the Russian Imperial, Soviet, and Russian Federation navies, through the Russian Revolution and both world wars.

Pentagon chief headed to Germany for talks with NATO ministers

After his trip to Kyiv to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin will head to Ramstein, Germany, for a meeting of NATO defence ministers and other donor countries, to be held Tuesday, the Associated Press reports.

That discussion will look at battlefield updates from the ground, additional security assistance for Ukraine and longer-term defence needs in Europe, including how to step up military production to fill gaps caused by the war in Ukraine, officials told AP.

Zelensky praises Ukraine’s resistance, thanks US for support

President Volodymyr Zelensky has praised his people for two months of bravely resisting Russian forces since Moscow’s invasion on February 24, and has thanked the US for its support.

“Two months of heroic nationwide resistance of Ukraine to the Russian aggression have passed. I am grateful to POTUS and the people of the US for leadership in supporting Ukraine,” Zelensky wrote on Twitter.

He was responding to President Joe Biden’s tweet which honoured Ukraine’s resolve.

“Two months after [Vladimir] Putin launched an unprovoked and justified attack on Ukraine, Kyiv still stands,” Biden wrote. He added the US would continue to support Ukraine “in their right to defend their homeland.”

Russia may be preparing for renewed Azovstal assault: Think-tank

Russian forces continued to bombard the remaining Ukrainian defenders in Mariupol’s Azovstal Steel Plant and may be preparing for renewed assaults on the facility, which would likely lead to high Russian casualties, the Institute for the Study of War said in its latest analysis of the situation.

The institute also noted that Russian forces had secured limited gains northwest of the city of Severodonetsk, but remained “unlikely to be able to launch massive offensive operations”.

It added Russia was deploying additional forces to “reinforce unsuccessful attacks on the Izyum front.”

EU readying ‘some form of an oil embargo’ on Russia

The European Union is preparing “smart sanctions” against Russian oil imports, The Times has reported, citing the European Commission’s executive vice president, Valdis Dombrovskis.

“We are working on a sixth sanctions package and one of the issues we are considering is some form of an oil embargo. When we are imposing sanctions, we need to do so in a way that maximises pressure on Russia while minimising collateral damage on ourselves,” Dombrovskis stated.

Russia blocking locals from leaving occupied territories: Army

Russian forces are restricting “the rights and freedoms of civilians” in temporarily occupied territories, “in particular freedom of movement,” Ukraine’s army has claimed.

“The settlements that are preparing for holding pseudo-referendums are closed for entry and exit,” the General Staff of the Armed forces of Ukraine also announced.

The UK defence ministry said Russian forces in the occupied city of Kherson are planning to stage a referendum to justify the invasion. Ukrainian officials have previously warned of referendum in Kherson similar to the one Russia used to annex Crimea in 2014.

Putin’s actions in Ukraine ‘nauseating’: Johnson

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson described President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine as “nauseating” in a phone call with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Sunday afternoon.

Johnson told Guterres the actions were a “blatant aggression, which is having devastating consequences for Ukraine’s people,” according to a statement from his office.

“They discussed their shared concerns on attacks in areas besieged by Russian forces, such as Mariupol and Kherson, and the need to secure a ceasefire, facilitate humanitarian efforts and allow civilians to leave,” the statement added.

Current Russia sanctions ‘insufficient”: Ukrainian official

The continuation of the war in Ukraine and killing of people and children “makes it clear that the current sanctions policy is insufficient”, Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Andriy Yermak has said.

“It needs to be strengthened. It needs to be updated, new sanctions need to be developed constantly,” he stated on French TV.

Yermak spoke of the sanctions action plan developed by an international group of experts, and led by him and former US diplomat Michael McFaul, which advises on further steps countries should take to pressure Russia. This includes the EU placing a full embargo on Russian gas and oil and “recognising Russia as a country that sponsors terrorism.”

Russian forces forming for ‘offensive’ in Kherson region

The military head of the south-central city of Kryvyi Rih said Ukraine had observed preparations for a possible offensive by Russian forces from the Kherson region, adding defenses were being bolstered in the area.

In televised remarks, Oleksandr Vilkul stated Russian forces were “forming an offensive strike formation in our direction in the Kherson region. We are waiting for their possible transition to the offensive in the coming days. But we know more about them than they think; we understand all their plans; and we are fully prepared for any development in the situation.”

Vilkul said the Krivyi Rih garrison was in a state of readiness and had defenses prepared.

“A lot of work continues to help in evacuating people from the frontline zone,” he continued, adding, “Kryvyi Rih is providing buses and ambulances. We have provided medical assistance and social workers. But people are going out on bicycles and taking old people and children out in wheelbarrows.”

Earlier this week, a top Russian general said Moscow plans to establish “full control” over southern Ukraine in the second phase of its invasion of Ukraine.

Kremenchuk hit by nine missiles: Ukrainian regional military governor

Dmytro Lunin, head of the Poltava Regional Military Administration, said nine Russian missiles struck the central Ukrainian city of Kremenchuk.

“Already nine Russian missiles have hit Kremenchuk’s infrastructure this evening,” Lunin continued, adding, “The enemy has no regard, even on such a holy day.”

Lunin gave no further details about the consequences of the strikes.

Russia plans ‘staged referendum’ in Kherson: UK

Russia is “planning a staged referendum in the southern city of Kherson aimed at justifying its occupation”, the United Kingdom’s ministry of defence has said in an intelligence update.

Russian forces seized the strategically important city in early March.

“The city is key to Russia’s objective of establishing a land bridge to Crimea and dominating southern Ukraine,” the defence ministry wrote on Twitter.

Blinken and Austin make unannounced trip to Ukraine to meet Zelensky

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced trip to Kyiv on Sunday where they met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials, making them the highest-level US officials to have traveled to the country since the Russian invasion began.

While in Kyiv, Blinken and Austin met Zelensky, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, and Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky for an extended, roughly 90-minute bilateral meeting, a senior State Department official said.

Blinken stated US diplomats would return to Ukraine this week, the senior State Department official noted, in a strong message of solidarity from the United States.

Blinken also relayed that US President Joe Biden would nominate Bridget Brink as US Ambassador to Ukraine, according to the senior State Department official. The post that has been without a confirmed ambassador since Marie Yovanovitch was recalled in May 2019. Brink is the current US ambassador to Slovakia.

In addition, Blinken and Austin discussed the deliveries of recent US military assistance to Ukraine, the ongoing training for Ukrainian soldiers, and the Biden administration’s intention to provide $713 million in additional foreign military financing to help Ukraine transition to NATO-capable systems, according to the senior State Department official and a senior Defense Department official.

Both officials briefed press who traveled to the region shortly before Blinken and Austin were due to arrive in Kyiv; the traveling US press corps did not travel with the secretaries to the Ukrainian capital.

In the background briefing, the officials made clear that the US military would still not be involved directly in the war.

“The President has been very clear there will be no US troops fighting in Ukraine and that includes the skies over Ukraine,” the defense official said, adding, “This visit does not portend actual involvement by US forces.”

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