Sunday, December 3, 2023

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 67: ‘US congressional delegation secret visit to Ukraine’

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:

Next round of EU sanctions on Russia must include oil embargo: Ukraine

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has told the European Union’s top diplomat that the bloc’s next round of sanctions must include an oil embargo on Russia.

“I also emphasized there can be no alternative to granting Ukraine EU candidate status. We paid separate attention to further safe evacuation from besieged Mariupol,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter after his call with Josep Borrell.

Russia’s war in Ukraine causing “catastrophic effect” on global food prices: USAID administrator

Samantha Power, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said Sunday that the impacts of the war in Ukraine include global food shortages and prices, maintaining “our job is to look at it globally” when asked if the worldwide consequences are reflective of a brewing world war.

“It is just another catastrophic effect of Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” Power stated on ABC’s “This Week.”

This comes after US President Joe Biden pressed Congress on Thursday to consider supplying Ukraine with an additional $33 billion aid package, with $3 billion allocated for humanitarian assistance and food security funding.

“Food prices, right now, George, globally, are up 34 percent from where they were a year ago. Aided substantially, again, by this invasion,” Power noted, adding: “So we’ve gone to Congress asking for a substantial increase in humanitarian assistance.”

She continued: “We really do need this financial support from the Congress to be able to meet emergency food needs so we don’t see the cascading deadly effects of Russia’s war extend into Africa and beyond.”

Power noted that many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and in the Middle East get much of their wheat from Ukraine, where farmers are struggling to plant and harvest their crops for fear of shelling and Russian landmines. Their path to exporting these vital products is then severely restricted by Russia’s invasion which caused the closure of Ukraine’s ports.

Power was pressed on the nature of the crisis by host George Stephanopoulos, who noted that “listening to you lay out these consequences, it’s hard not to conclude that in some respects this is already become something of a world war.”

“Certainly in terms of effects, not confined to the horrors that the Ukrainian people are suffering,” Power responded, adding, “But our job is to look at it globally.”

“Russia tries to take advantage of this and say, ‘oh, it’s the sanctions that are causing these high food prices.’ Not at all,” she said.

“It is Russian’s invasion of Ukraine for no reason and its unwillingness now to come to the negotiating table and get out of Ukraine and get back to Russia,” she stated.

Fire at Russian military site near Ukraine injures one: Governor

One person has been injured in a fire on a Russian defence ministry facility in the southern Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, its regional governor has said.

Vyacheslav Gladkov added a local resident suffered minor injuries and his life was not in danger.

There were no immediate comments from the defence ministry.

Seven houses were damaged as a result of the incident on the territory of one of the objects of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation in the Belgorod region, Gladkov stated.

“Seven houses were damaged…We will start the restoration of the buildings as soon as possible. The funds are available in full,” Gladkov wrote in his Telegram channel.

Ukraine seeks urgent WHO meeting on impact of invasion on health

Ukraine, backed by dozens of other countries, has written to the World Health Organization’s regional chief calling for an urgent meeting on the impact of Russia’s invasion on health and healthcare.

The letter, sent this week by Ukraine’s diplomatic mission in Geneva and seen by Reuters, is signed by some 38 other members of the agency’s European region, including France, Germany and Britain.

It urged Europe’s regional director Hans Kluge to convene a meeting “no later than 9 May” and referred to attacks on health facilities, disrupted vaccination campaigns and concerns about the risk of radiological and chemical events.

Germany announces sharp reduction in Russian fossil fuel imports

Germany has announced a sharp reduction in its imports of Russian fossil fuels, just days before the EU is expected to include oil in its sixth package of sanctions against Moscow.

Germany’s spokesperson at the EU, Sebastian Fischer, stated Berlin was reducing its energy dependence on Russia “rapidly”.

Denmark says Russia spy plane breached airspace

The Danish government has summoned Russia’s ambassador after a Russian spy plane violated its airspace.

Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said in a Twitter post that the breach was “totally unacceptable and particularly worrying in the current situation”, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rising tensions with NATO, where Denmark is a member.

The plane entered Danish airspace on Friday evening east of the Danish Baltic island of Bornholm before flying into Swedish airspace, the government added.

Swedish defence officials reported the violation on Saturday.

UN says evacuation in Mariupol is underway

The United Nations has confirmed that an operation to evacuate people from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol is underway.

UN humanitarian spokesman Saviano Abreu stated the evacuation effort was being done in collaboration with the International Committee for the Red Cross and in coordination with Ukrainian and Russian officials.

He called the situation “very complex” and would not give further details. Up to 1,000 civilians are believed to be hunkered down with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian fighters.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working with the United Nations in an ongoing operation to move people out of Mariupol and the besieged Azovstal steel plant, the ICRC announced in a statement.

“The ICRC confirms that a safe passage operation is ongoing, in coordination with the UN and the parties to the conflict. The convoy to evacuate civilians started on 29 April, travelled some 230 kilometres and reached the plant in Mariupol on Saturday morning, local time, according to the statement.

“The ICRC insists on the fact that no details can be shared until the situation allows, as it could seriously jeopardize the safety of the civilians and the convoy. Relevant local authorities are communicating with the civilians about practical details,” the statement added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed in a tweet on Sunday that the “Evacuation of civilians from Azovstal began.”

“The 1st group of about 100 people is already heading to the controlled area,” he added.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general says there’s more than 9,000 cases of war crimes being investigated

The prosecutor general of Ukraine said her office is opening new cases of alleged war crimes by Russian forces, with a total of 9,158 criminal cases “involving purely war crimes.” “We have already identified specific war criminals,” said Iryna Venedictova.

“There are 15 people in the Kyiv region for instance, 10 of them in Bucha. We are holding them accountable for torture, rape, and looting,” Venedictova added.

Ukrainian prosecutors named ten Russian soldiers last week as suspected of a variety of crimes in Bucha.

On the identification of victims in Bucha, Venedictova noted that some bodies cannot be identified and DNA samples are collected.

“Unfortunately, we have grounds to open new cases every day: the death of civilians, bombing, deportation of our citizens and children to the occupied territories and to the territory of the aggressor state, etc,” she said.

She added the cases covered the regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy.

Venedictova stated that Ukraine was receiving international assistance in its investigations.

“Now we have a team of French experts, and experts from Slovakia. We are waiting for the experts from Lithuania next Tuesday,” she continued.

Russia reports fire at military facility near Ukraine border

A Russian defence ministry facility in the southern Belgorod region bordering Ukraine has caught fire, the region’s governor has announced.

There was no immediate information about damage or casualties, the governor said in a post on Telegram.

Videos and Images posted to social media showed a large funnel of smoke rising above the ground.

German leader says pacifism is ‘outdated’

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has pledged to continue to support Ukraine with money, aid and also weapons, saying a pacifist approach to the war is “outdated.”

“I respect all pacifism, I respect all attitudes, but it must seem cynical to a citizen of Ukraine to be told to defend himself against Putin’s aggression without weapons,” Scholz said at a May Day rally in Dusseldorf.

The German leader also warned that the war would have consequences for food supply, potentially leading “to a worldwide hunger crisis.”

Russia says could seize assets of ‘hostile’ countries

Russia suggested Sunday that it could seize the Russian-based assets of countries it deems hostile in retaliation for a US proposal to sell off Russian oligarchs’ assets and pay the proceeds to Ukraine.

“As far as companies based in Russian territory are concerned whose owners are citizens of hostile countries and where the decision has been taken” to seize Russian assets, “it is fair to take reciprocal measures and confiscate assets,” said the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin.

“And the proceeds from the sale of these assets will be used for our country’s development,” he said on his Telegram channel.

Volodin accused “a certain number of hostile countries — Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and even the United States” — of flouting international law and “resorting to pure theft.”

Volodin noted that “today, Russian businessmen are buying foreign companies operating in Russia, and purchasing the shares of partners who want to quit our market.”

He urged “hostile” countries to “act in a civilized manner and respect international law.”

Volodin’s remarks came after US President Joe Biden announced a proposal to ratchet up economic pressure on Russia, with enhanced seizure and forfeiture procedures allowing oligarchs’ seized assets to be “sold off” to “remedy the harm Russia caused and to help build Ukraine.”

“A dangerous precedent has been set, which could boomerang back on the US itself,” Volodin stated.

“This decision won’t affect our country’s economy. The yachts, villas and other assets of rich (Russian) citizens contribute nothing to the development” of Russia, he added.

Germany names conditions for lifting Russia sanctions

The Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its military offensive in Ukraine will not be lifted unless Moscow withdraws its troops from the neighboring country, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has stated.

In an interview with Bild on Sunday, Baerbock explained that “a ceasefire can only be a first step” when it comes to removing the sanctions.

“It is clear to us that the sanctions can only be lifted if Russia withdraws its troops,” she said, adding that “peace on terms dictated by Russia” will not bring security to Ukraine or Europe.

“At worst, it would be an invitation to the next war – even closer to our borders,” he noted.

Baerbock said the Russian attack on Ukraine has “irretrievably shattered” the peace in Europe, and that “there is no going back” to the times before February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the “special military operation,” despite earlier assurances from his government that no attack against Ukraine was being planned.

“We can never again rely on Putin’s promises alone,” Baerbock continued.

She added that the international community has the responsibility to ensure that Ukraine is strong enough to make its own decisions.

“It is Ukrainians who are dying in this war and who are threatened with oppression and tyranny under Russian occupation. No one has the right to dictate to them,” she said.

Pope says Mariupol ‘barbarously bombarded’

Pope Francis on Sunday described the war in Ukraine as a “macabre regression of humanity” that makes him “suffer and cry”, calling for humanitarian corridors to evacuate people trapped in the Mariupol steelworks.

Speaking to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his noon blessing, Pope Francis again implicitly criticised Russia.

In Roman Catholicism, the month of May is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God. The Pope asked for month-long prayers for peace in Ukraine.

“My thoughts go immediately to the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, the city of Mary, barbarously bombarded and destroyed,” he said of the mostly Russian-controlled southeastern port city, which is named after Mary.

“I suffer and cry thinking of the suffering of the Ukrainian population, in particular the weakest, the elderly, the children,” he added.

EU leans towards Russian oil ban by year-end

The European Union is leaning towards a ban on imports of Russian oil by the end of the year, two EU diplomats stated, after talks between the European Commission and EU member states this weekend.

The European Union is preparing a sixth package of sanctions against Russia over the invasion just over two months ago of Ukraine that Moscow calls a special military operation. The package is expected to target Russian oil, Russian and Belarusian banks, as well as more individuals and companies.

The Commission, which is coordinating the EU response, held talks dubbed “confessionals” with small groups of EU countries and will aim to firm up its sanctions plan in time for a meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday.

Pelosi says “America stands with Ukraine” after meeting Zelensky in Kyiv

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she traveled to Kyiv on Saturday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and send “a clear message to the world that America stands with Ukraine.”

Pelosi led the first official US congressional delegation to visit the country since Russia’s invasion began more than two months ago.

“America stands with Ukraine, we stand with Ukraine until victory is won, and we stand with NATO,” Pelosi told reporters in Rzeszow, Poland, after leaving Ukraine.

Pelosi stated that she and Zelensky discussed humanitarian and financial assistance during her visit, which lasted just over three hours. She added it was “a great honor” to meet with Zelensky and “to convey to him a message of unity from the US Congress and a message of appreciation.”

Russia reinforcing operations in the east amid heavy artillery assaults: Ukrainian military

Russia is reinforcing its offensive operations in eastern Ukraine with weapons and military equipment amid heavy artillery assaults, according to the Ukrainian military.

Airstrikes and artillery fire by Russian forces continue in many areas, from Kharkiv in the north to Zaporizhzhia in the south, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its latest operational update.

One of the main targets of Russian forces is the industrial town of Sloviansk in Donetsk.

The “enemy’s strike group continues to strengthen. Up to 300 weapons and military equipment were transferred,” along with air defenses, the General Staff added.

Further east and south, “enemy troops are conducting active operations along the entire section of the demarcation line,” it said, adding, “In order to prevent the ability of our forces and vehicles to manoeuvre, the enemy is blocking them in specified areas.”

The General Staff announced Russian forces were trying to break through Ukrainian defensive lines around Olenivka. Altogether in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, nine enemy attacks had been repulsed.

There appears to be intense pressure on front-line Ukrainian defenses in the Luhansk region. The Luhansk regional administration said that the village of Zolote-3 had been 70% destroyed by Russian fire. And the region’s military administrator, Serhiy Hayday, stated that nearby – in Orikhovo – there were “intense gunfights – street after street.”

He added the towns of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk had withstood “six massive artillery shellings each” on Saturday.

In southern Ukraine, the Ukrainian military said that Russian troops were trying to establish control over all of the Kherson region and preparing for offensive action towards the cities of Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih.

The Air Command “South” of the Ukrainian Air Force said that in “the Mykolaiv-Kherson direction active hostilities continue.” But it added its forces had attacked Russian positions on Snake Island off the coast of Kherson, destroying equipment.

Ukraine warns of Russia missile threat from Belarus

Ukraine’s army says there is a threat of Russia carrying out missile attacks from the territory of Belarus.

Oleksandr Shtupun, the spokesperson of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, stated that Russia continues to reinforce its equipment and military force in the Slobozhansk area of Kharkiv region.

According to Shtupun, up to 300 weaponry units and 1,000 mobilised people arrived from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

“For the purpose of air defence of the advancing troops in four specific areas, the enemy deployed two anti-aircraft missile divisions armed with the Buk-M2 air defence system and the Tor-M air defence system,” Shtupun added.

Russia has killed twice as many in Mariupol as Nazi Germany did: City council

The Russian army has killed twice as many people in Mariupol in two months as German Nazis did in two years during World War II, Mariupol City Council claimed in a statement on its Telegram channel.

In two years, the Nazis killed 10,000 civilians in Mariupol. And the Russian forces killed over 20,000 Mariupol residents in two months. Over 40,000 people were forcefully removed,” Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said, according to the city council.

Russia has also illegally deported as many Mariupol residents as Hitler’s troops did during the years of occupation, the city council claimed in its statement on Saturday.

“This is one of the most terrible genocides of peaceful population in modern history. The Russian army is targeting and mercilessly decimating our city and its residents,” Boychenko added.

Russia: 46 civilians left area near Azovstal plant in Mariupol

Two groups of civilians left the residential area around the Azovstal steel plant in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol on Saturday, Russian news agencies cited the defence ministry as saying.

The ministry announced a total of 46 civilians had left the area and were provided with food and shelter, RIA and TASS reported.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford stated the location of the 20 civilians evacuated earlier from the steel plant is not yet known.

“There has been no verifiable proof of life,” he continued, adding, “It was hoped that they would be taken to Zaporizhzhia north of Mariupol but they haven’t been seen yet, and there are rumours that they may have been taken to the Russian side.”

Germany supports EU embargo on oil imports from Russia

The German government supports the plans of the European Union (EU) to impose an embargo on oil imports from Russia. During the latest preliminary talks on the sixth package of sanctions against Russia, Berlin spoke in favor of a ban, the DPA news agency reported, citing diplomatic sources in the EU.

Thus, such decision by the European Union has become much more likely. The reason for the sharp change in Germany’s position could be the recent success in finding alternative oil suppliers.

Last week, Vice Chancellor of Germany, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Robert Habeck stated that the country’s dependence on Russian oil imports has decreased from 35% before Russia launched a special military operation in Ukraine to 12%.

According to the DPA, at the moment only such countries as Hungary, Austria, and Slovakia, as well as Spain, Italy, and Greece halt the embargo on oil supplies from Russia. According to diplomatic sources, Slovakia and Hungary have so far been opposed to an immediate cut in supplies, mainly because of their heavy dependence on Russian oil imports. As for the states of Southern Europe, consumers are greatly concerned about the expected growth in energy prices after the decision. The next few days will likely show how the discussions will progress.

Ukraine FM asks China to be security guarantor

Ukraine’s foreign minister has asked China to provide security guarantees for Kyiv.

Western powers and Ukraine have repeatedly urged China to condemn Russia’s invasion as it tries to maintain a supposedly neutral stance, with the United States threatening consequences if Beijing provides military or economic support to Moscow.

“Ukraine is currently studying the possibility of acquiring security guarantees from permanent members of the UN Security Council, including China, and other major powers,” Dmytro Kuleba was quoted as saying by official news agency Xinhua Saturday.

“We propose that China becomes one of the guarantors of Ukraine’s security, this is a sign of our respect and trust in the People’s Republic of China,” he added.

Kuleba also accused Russia of having “compromised” Beijing’s signature Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, warning that the consequences of the global food security crisis would threaten China’s economy.

“We also believe that this war is not in China’s interests,” he stated.

Ukraine’s envoy asks Germany to send modern weaponry

Ukraine is calling on Germany to supply it with more modern weaponry, just days after the German government approved the direct delivery of anti-aircraft tanks to the Ukrainian military for the first time.

The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that the Gepard anti-aircraft tanks are already 40 years old.

To defeat Russia, “we need the most modern German weapons,” he said.

What was needed, he said, was newer Leopard and Marder tanks as well as self-propelled howitzers “and much more.”

Nancy Pelosi, Democratic lawmakers visit Zelensky in Kyiv

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made an unannounced visit to Kyiv along with Democratic lawmakers and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In a video posted by Zelensky on Sunday, Pelosi could be seen walking with the Ukrainian leader on the streets with lawmakers, including Reps. Adam B. Schiff, Jim McGovern, Gregory W. Meeks (N.Y.) and Jason Crow.

“We are visiting you to say thank you for your fight for freedom. … Your fight is a fight for everyone,” Pelosi told Zelensky.

“So our commitment is to be there for you until the fight is done,” she stated.

The trip had not been publicized before Zelensky shared visuals on Sunday, with a caption praising the United States for being a leader in support of Ukraine.

“Thank you for helping to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state!” he wrote on Twitter.

Heavy shelling in Ukrainian village of Barvinkove

Ukraine’s eastern village of Barvinkove is the site of a new attempt by Russian forces to push south to surround the neighbouring city of Slovyansk.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford said it is unknown how many people are still inside the village.

“Since we’ve arrived, yet again, [there has been] a lot of heavy shelling we believe targeting the east of the town,” he added.

“So far at least, the Ukrainians have managed to keep Russian forces back. But there is a fear amongst the soldiers here, that the closer we get to May 9, a day that it’s believed Vladimir Putin wants something to show for Russian efforts in this war, the more tense and the more dangerous it becomes in areas like these,” he continued.

Russia intends to exert strong influence in Kherson over long term: UK

The British Ministry of Defence claims Russia has sought to legitimise its control of the city of Kherson and surrounding areas by installing a pro-Moscow administration.

The new government has declared a return to Ukraine control “impossible” and announced a four-month currency transition to the Russian rouble.

These moves “are likely indicative of Russian intent to exert strong political and economic influence in Kherson over the long term,” the ministry said in its latest intelligence update.

“Enduring control over Kherson and its transport links will increase Russia’s ability to sustain its advance to the north and west and improve the security of Russia’s control over Crimea,” it added.

Ukraine should get EU candidate country status in June: Deputy PM

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olga Stefanishyna says that her country expects to obtain EU candidate status already this summer.

Ukraine should be granted the status of an EU candidate country during the upcoming meeting of EU leaders that is planned for June, 2022, Stefanishyna was cited as saying by the Ukrainian Telegram channel on Saturday.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy submitted Ukraine’s questionnaire for obtaining EU candidate status to EU Ambassador in Ukraine Matti Maasikas.

Finland getting ready to cut off Russian gas supplies in May

Finland is preparing to cut off natural gas supplies from Russia in May, the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper reports.

Russian energy giant Gazprom has asked the Finnish state-owned energy company Gasum to give a response before May 20 regarding Russia’s request to receive payments for gas in rubles.

According to Helsingin Sanomat, Finland, as well as most of Europe, could cut off Russian gas supplies on May 21.

Finnish officials say that without Russian gas, Finland will need to search for alternative sources, such as the Baltic Connector pipeline, or reduce production.

Finnish Minister of European Affairs and Ownership Steering Tytti Tuppurainen said on Wednesday that Finland had decided not to agree to Russia’s terms on ruble payments for gas.

Russia has lost 23,000 soldiers in ‘senseless war’: Zelensky

Ukraine’s president claims Russia had lost more than 23,000 soldiers in what he described as a “senseless war”.

Speaking in his night time video address, Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine had destroyed more than a thousand Russian tanks, almost 200 planes, and nearly two and a half thousand armoured vehicles during the conflict.

He added that “thousands more Russian soldiers will be killed and thousands wounded in the coming weeks.”

Despite these losses, Russian troops still have equipment to launch additional attacks, Zelensky said.

“Of course, the occupiers still have equipment in stock. Yes, they still have missiles to strike at our territory,” he continued, adding, “But this war has already weakened Russia so much that they have to plan even fewer military equipment for the parade in Moscow.”

Russia: Civilians killed in shelling near Kherson

Russia’s defence ministry claims shelling by Ukraine’s forces of villages in the Kherson region has killed and injured civilians, according to the Russian RIA news agency reported.

The ministry announced Ukrainian forces shelled a school, a kindergarten and a cemetery in the villages of Kyselivka and Shyroka Balka. It gave no information on how many people were killed or injured, or when the shelling took place.

There was no immediate response from Ukraine to the report.

Turkey presidential spokesman meets Zelensky in Kyiv

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Saturday, his office said.

There were no immediate details about the content of Kalin’s meetings in Kyiv, but Ankara has been mediating between Ukraine and Russia in efforts to end the war.

Kalin was accompanied by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal.

Turkey is trying to pave the way for an Istanbul summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Zelensky.

UK: Russian troll factory spreading disinformation on social media

The British Foreign Office claims Russia is using a troll factory to spread disinformation about the war in Ukraine on social media and target politicians across a number of countries including the United Kingdom and South Africa.

The foreign office cited UK-funded expert research, which it did not publish. It added the research exposed how the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign was designed to manipulate international public opinion of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, boost support for it and recruit new sympathisers.

“We cannot allow the Kremlin and its shady troll farms to invade our online spaces with their lies about Putin’s illegal war,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss stated in a statement.

“The UK Government has alerted international partners and will continue to work closely with allies and media platforms to undermine Russian information operations,” she said.

Russian rocket attack destroys Odesa runway: Ukraine

A Russian missile attack destroyed an airport runway in Odesa, Ukraine’s third-largest city and a key Black Sea port, the Ukrainian army claimed.

In a Telegram post, Ukraine’s Operational Command South announced there was no way that the Odesa runway could be used as a result of the missile attack.

Local authorities urged residents of the area to shelter in place as Ukrainian news agency UNIAN, citing army sources, reported that “several” explosions were heard in Odesa.

Odesa’s regional governor said that the missile was fired from Russian-occupied Crimea. Maksym Marchenko added there were no reports of any injuries.

Russian military plane briefly violates Swedish airspace

A Russian reconnaissance plane briefly violated Sweden’s airspace, say Swedish defence officials, as the Scandinavian country ponders a bid for NATO membership after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“A Russian AN-30 propeller plane violated Swedish airspace on Friday evening,” the Swedish defence ministry said in a statement on Saturday evening, adding that its teams had followed the incident and photographed it.

The ministry announced the plane was flying east of Bornholm, a Danish island in the Baltic, before it headed towards Swedish territory.

“It is totally unacceptable to violate Swedish airspace,” public television SVT quoted Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist as saying.

Russia’s Rosneft seeks prepayment in roubles for oil products

Russia’s Rosneft has offered oil products from its refineries for loading May-June in a tender requiring prepayment in roubles, according to three sources talking to Reuters news agency.

Last week Rosneft has offered 6.5 million tonnes of crude oil via tenders for loading in May-June, seeking full prepayment in roubles for the first time.

Bids were invited for about 2 million tonnes of fuel oil and vacuum gasoil (VGO), 1.4 million tonnes of naphtha and 1 million tonnes of marine diesel oil (MDO), traders added.

UK is more committed than ever to reinforcing Ukraine: Johnson’s office

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky that he was more committed than ever to reinforcing Ukraine, according a spokesperson for Johnson’s office.

“He confirmed that the UK will continue to provide additional military aid to give the Ukrainians the equipment they needed to defend themselves,” the spokesperson said, adding that Johnson also offered Britain’s continued economic and humanitarian support.

Russia says it hit 17 Ukrainian facilities, killed more than 200 troops

Russia’s armed forces has claimed they hit 17 Ukrainian military facilities with high-precision missiles and also destroyed a command post and a warehouse used to store rockets and artillery.

In an online post, the defence ministry also added air force attacks during the day killed more than 200 Ukrainian troops and destroyed 23 armoured vehicles.

The post made no mention of an attack on Odesa airport which the local governor stated had been hit by a Russian missile, putting the runway out of action.

The Ukrainian military claimed a Russian missile attack on Odesa airport has damaged the runway and it can no longer be used.

Russian air forces continuing to strike city of Mariupol: Ukraine

Ukraine’s military has said that Russian planes had continued to launch attacks on the besieged city of Mariupol, focusing on the Azovstal steelworks where troops and civilians are sheltering.

In a Facebook post, the general staff of the armed forces also added the Ukrainian military had regained control over four settlements in the Kharkivska region.

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