Monday, April 22, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 106

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:

Russia “continues to press by sheer mass”: Ukrainian DM

Acknowledging that Russia has the wherewithal to continue advancing on some parts of the frontline, Ukraine’s defense minister on Thursday stated that he is dissatisfied with the “tempo and quantity” of weapons arriving to Ukraine.

“The situation at the front lines is difficult,” Oleksiy Reznikov said in a statement on Facebook.

“The Kremlin continues to press by sheer mass. It stumbles and faces strong rebuff. It suffers huge casualties,” he added.

“But yet still has forces to advance in some parts of the front,” he noted.

Echoing President Volodymyr Zelensky’s previous comments, Reznikov said that up 100 Ukrainian soldiers were being killed every day, and up to 500 wounded.

Ukraine, he added, had “already received, bought on the market, manufactured and handed over to the Armed Forces of Ukraine a significant number of weapons.”

“These numbers would have been enough for a victorious defence operation against any army in Europe. But not against Russia. The Russian Moloch still has a lot of means for devouring human lives for to satisfy its imperial ego,” said Reznikov.

“That is why we emphasize: Ukraine desperately needs heavy weapons, and very fast. We have proved that, unlike many others, we do not fear the Kremlin,” he stated, adding, “But as a country we cannot afford to be losing our best sons and daughters.”

Russia says no agreement with Turkey on Ukrainian grain exports

The Kremlin has announced no agreement was reached with Turkey on exporting Ukrainian grain shipments across the Black Sea.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that work was continuing.

Turkey has been pushing for an agreement between Russia and Ukraine on a plan to resume grain exports from Ukrainian ports, although prospects for a deal look dim, with each side blaming the other for disrupting global food supplies.

Zelensky calls for Russia to be expelled from UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for Russia to be expelled from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization over the impact its war in Ukraine has had on global food insecurity.

The call is likely largely symbolic. All 193 UN member nations are also members of the FAO.

“There can also be no question of Russia’s continued membership in the FAO – the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,” Zelensky said during a speech Thursday to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“What has Russia to do there if it is working for starvation of at least four hundred million and at most more than a billion people?” he added.

The war in Ukraine could increase the number of “acute food insecure people” around the world by 47 million this year, to a total of 323 million, according to new projections in a joint report by the FAO and World Food Programme.

Russia has started paying Mariupol pensioners in rubles: Ukrainian official

Russian forces in Mariupol have begun paying pensions in Russian rubles, using cash, an adviser to that city’s Ukrainian mayor said on Thursday.

“It is now known that the occupiers have already delivered trucks with cash,” Petro Andrushchenko said on national television.

“Russian pensions are being handed to pensioners in Russian rubles – which shows very well what the Russian economy is, that such a sum of money can be stupidly brought in cash and start handing out,” he added.

“But you understand what’s going on there: Huge queues, fights, scandals, because of the heat, because there is no organization really. That is, no process is organized,” he stated.

Andrushchenko is not in the city but has been a reliable conduit for information from Mariupol.

Russian state news agency RIA Novosti has reported that around 46,000 applications for pension payments have been received, and that the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic has begun paying out those benefits.

Andrushchenko said that those figures can “more or less” be trusted.

“But we must add another 20 to 30 percent of our elderly Mariupol people who do not accept the occupation and deliberately did not submit documents, and another 5 percent who could not physically come and submit documents. This is a critical amount for the city in which it is located,” he added.

Russia says West risks ‘direct military clash’ over cyber attacks

Russia has warned the West that cyber attacks against its infrastructure risks leading to direct military confrontation, and that attempts to challenge Moscow in the cyber sphere would be met with targeted countermeasures.

In a statement, the foreign ministry said that Russia’s critical infrastructure and state institutions were being hit by cyberattacks and pointed to figures in the US and Ukraine as being responsible.

“Rest assured, Russia will not leave aggressive actions unanswered,” it noted, adding, “All our steps will be measured, targeted, in accordance with our legislation and international law.”

Scholz reaffirms Germany’s NATO resolve

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has discussed updating NATO’s strategic aims in the light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a phone call with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, according to a German government spokesperson.

In the call, laying the ground for NATO’s June-end Madrid summit, Scholz reaffirmed the German government’s resolve to contribute to the alliance to help it achieve its aims in the next decade, the spokesperson said.

The two were set to meet in person in Berlin on Thursday but had to switch to speaking remotely after Stoltenberg was diagnosed with shingles.

Johnson warns over pushing Ukraine into peace deal

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that increasing costs of fuel and wheat as a result of the war in Ukraine must not be used as a reason to encourage the Ukrainians to accept a Russian peace deal that is not in its interest.

In a major speech aimed at moving on from questions of his leadership, Johnson stated some may argue that “the price of supporting the Ukrainians is now too high and they should be encouraged to accept whatever terms Putin may ask. I don’t believe that option is really open to us. Never mind that abandoning the Ukrainians would be morally repugnant”.

Russia energy revenues may be higher now than before Ukraine war: US official

Russia may be getting more revenue from its fossil fuels now than before its invasion of Ukraine, as global price increases offset the impact of western efforts to restrict its sales, US energy security envoy Amos Hochstein told lawmakers during a hearing.

“I can’t deny that,” Hochstein told the Senate Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation in response to a question about whether Moscow was making more money now off its crude oil and gas sales than before the war.

EU to provide Ukraine with $219.3m in humanitarian aid

The European Commission has announced the bloc will provide another $219.3m to Ukraine to combat the humanitarian crisis in the country.

“With this funding our humanitarian partners are providing food, water, health care, shelter, protection and cash assistance,” EU Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic said in a statement during a visit to Ukraine.

Lenarcic added the commission is “working closely with the Ukrainian authorities to ensure the assistance provided by the EU member states is aligned with the constantly evolving needs”.

Russia, France’s military chiefs of staff discuss Ukraine

Russian military’s chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and his French counterpart, Thierry Burkhard, have held a phone call and discussed situation in Ukraine and West Africa’s Sahel region, Tass news agency reports.

Separatists in Donetsk sentence 3 foreigners to death: Report

A court in the separatist “People’s Republic of Donetsk” has sentenced two UK nationals and one Moroccan to death.

Britons Shaun Pinner, Aiden Aslin and Moroccan Saadun Brahim served in the 36th Paratroopers’ Brigade and were captured while fighting in the southeastern Donbas region, the Donetsk News Agency reported.

It claimed that “the mercenaries’ actions led to deaths and wounds of civilians”.

Four people killed in Azot chemical plant shelling in Severodonetsk

Four people have been killed in the shelling of the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk, Luhansk governor Serhii Haidai has said on Telegram.

Hundreds of civilians are seeking safety in the plant in eastern Ukraine that is currently being used as an air-raid shelter, according to Ukrainian sources.

So far, however, it is not surrounded by Russian troops as was the case in Mariupol, when residents and Ukrainian fighters sought cover in the Azovstal steelworks and were surrounded for weeks before.

Ukraine: Russia still using Belarus airfields for strikes

Russia continues to use Belarus for strikes against Ukraine, according to an official from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Oleksii Hromov, Deputy Head of Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said Russian aircraft launched from Belarus to deploy missiles in Ukraine.

Hromov added the Russian army continued an “assault operation” to establish control over Severodonetsk, but without results.

Putin mocks west for naming inflation after him

With US officials regularly referring to their country’s record-high inflation as “Putin’s price hike”, the Russian president joked that “they already call inflation with my name”.

Putin also suggested that the current generation in Russia has the same fate as Russian 17th century emperor, Peter The Great, who “returned and strengthened territories”.

“This fate also fell on us,” the president concluded.

He explained that if a country is not able to make its own sovereign decisions, then it’s a colony, especially in today’s harsh geopolitical conditions.

“In order to claim to be a leader, let alone a global leader, […] any country, any people, any ethnic group must ensure its sovereignty,” Putin continued.

“A country is either a sovereign nation or a colony. There is nothing in-between,” he continued.


Ukraine recaptures territory near Kherson in counter-offensive

Ukrainian forces have recaptured territory from Russian forces in Kherson, the country’s defence ministry has said.

A counter-offensive in the south-west of the city has resulted in Russian forces suffering “losses in manpower and equipment”, it added.

Kremlin: No more gas cuts to European customers expected

The Kremlin has announced it does not expect Gazprom to cut gas supplies to any more European customers, adding that its scheme to make buyers pay for their gas in roubles was functioning as intended.

Gazprom has cut supplies to some European countries for refusing to make payments for Russian gas in roubles under a new scheme the Kremlin set up in response to Western sanctions.

Integration of Kherson into Russia started: Moscow-appointed leader

The integration of the Ukraine’s Kherson region into Russia is underway, the Russian-appointed leader of the region claimed on Thursday.

“We are sure that Russia is with us, and we are with Russia forever,” Vladimir Saldo said via Telegram, adding, “Integration has begun and will continue intensively.”

Saldo offered no further details on what “integration” means.

The city of Kherson, in the south of Ukraine, has been under Russian control since the early days of the invasion.

But the Ukrainian military has in recent weeks stepped up its counterattacks on Russian positions in the Kherson region.

War in Ukraine could push 47mn people into acute food insecurity: UN

The conflict in Ukraine could increase the number of “acute food insecure people” around the world by 47 million this year, to a total of 323 million, according to new projections from the United Nations.

The war has disrupted vital agricultural production and exports, and increased energy prices, which all have an impact of the availability and price of food, according to a joint report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP).

Food prices have risen by 17% since January, according to the FAO price index. The price of cereals is up by more than 21%.

That 47 million would come on top of the 276 million people that WFP estimates were already facing acute hunger before the war. The largest increases are likely to be seen in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report.

Ukraine and Russia account for a large portion of the world’s agricultural supply. More than half of the world’s supply of sunflower seed, important for cooking oil, came from Ukraine and Russia before the start of the war, according to the FAO.

In the five years before the war, the two countries on average were responsible for 19% of global barley production, 14% of wheat and 4% of maize. Africa and the Middle East are particularly dependent on Ukrainian and Russian wheat exports.

“In March 2022, almost half of the area planted with winter wheat and about 40 percent of area planted with rye for the 2022 harvest were in occupied or war-affected areas. While areas affected by direct fighting have shifted, the uncertainty about damages, losses and the actual harvestable area remains. Between 20 and 30 percent of these areas may remain unharvested in 2022,” according to the report.

Military operation to end when its goals are achieved: Kremlin

Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine will end when its goals are achieved, Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.

“Russian President [Vladimir] Putin has outlined the tasks for this special military operation. The fulfillment of these tasks will mean the end of the special military operation,” the Kremlin spokesman pointed out.

This is how he responded to a request to designate the date of the special military operation’s end.

At the same time, Peskov did not comment on the statement that the results of the special operation could not be achieved under the current Ukrainian regime.

Evacuation impossible, 10,000 trapped in Severodonetsk: Mayor

Ukrainian forces still hold the industrial zone and adjacent areas in the city of Severodonetsk, and the situation is “difficult but manageable”, according to Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk.

He said defence lines were holding despite intense Russian artillery fire but that it was now impossible to evacuate people from Severodonetsk.

He added about 10,000 civilians remained in the city, which is now the main focus of Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

Fighting has raged on the streets of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine and Russian forces have been destroying “everything that can be used for defence”, according to the regional governor.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai stated Russia was shelling areas of the city that are still controlled by Kyiv but that Ukrainian forces would be able to “clean up” in the city once they received long-range artillery.

Ukraine sees threat of pollution to water basins after Russian invasion

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has underscored Russia’s invasion of his country posed a huge threat of pollution to water basins, including the Sea of Azov.

In an address to a ministerial meeting of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), he also underlined the need for green energy to replace Russian natural gas supplies following Russia’s invasion on February 24.

Zelensky warns “millions of people may starve” if Russia continues blockade of ports

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is warning that millions of people around the world may starve if Russia fails to allow Ukraine to export grain from its ports.

“We cannot export our wheat, corn, vegetable oil and other products that have played a stabilizing role in the global market,” he said according to the prepared remarks of a taped video address to the Time 100 Gala.

“This means that, unfortunately, dozens of countries may face a physical shortage of food. Millions of people may starve if Russia’s blockade of the Black Sea continues,” he added.

Global leaders have condemned a months-long blockade by Russian forces at key ports in Ukraine — including Mariupol on the Sea of Azov and Odesa on the Black Sea — which has left more than 20 million tons of grain stuck inside the country. The Ukrainian Navy announced Monday that approximately 30 Russian ships and submarines continued the blockade of civilian shipping in the Black Sea.

Ukrainian official accuses Russia of stealing 600,000 tons of grain

A Ukrainian official has accused Russia of stealing about 600,000 tons of grain from Ukraine that he claimed was later transported to the Middle East.

In a statement, Denys Marchuk, deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Agrarian Council Public Union, claimed the grain was stolen from occupied regions in the south of the country.

He added the grain was transported to the port of Sevastopol in the Russian-occupied territory of Crimea before onward shipment to the Middle East.

Criminal cases have been opened “to demand through the international courts of law that Russia compensates those who has been affected by these actions,” Marchuk said.

Marchuk called Russia’s actions “a well-planned operation by the occupiers.”

Russia has not yet responded to Marchuk’s accusation.

Russia resumes Izyum offensive: UK

Russian forces have resumed their efforts to advance to the south of the town of Izyum, an offensive that has been stalled since April, the UK’s defence ministry says.

The ministry announced Russia likely tried to reconstitute its eastern ground forces from the Izyum operation after they “suffered very heavy casualties in the failed advance on Kyiv, but its units likely remain understrength.”

“Russia likely seeks to regain momentum in this area … to put further pressure on Severodonetsk, and to give it the option of advancing deeper into the Donetsk Oblast,” the ministry added.

Four killed, at least six injured in Luhansk: Governor

Russian attacks killed at least four people in the Luhansk region, the governor has said.

“The Russians continue their unsuccessful search for weaknesses in the defence of Severodonetsk, while firing on peaceful neighbourhoods and industrial facilities in the Luhansk region,” Serhiy Haidai wrote on Telegram.

He added Russians fired on the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk, where he has previously said many civilians have been sheltering.

Haidai stated that one man died on Wednesday after having been injured in Severodonetsk on Monday. Another three people died in Lysychansk after Russian forces fired “mortars, artillery, and rocket-propelled grenades” on the town and its surrounds, he said, adding at least six people were injured in the attacks.

Four killed, 11 injured in Donetsk: Governor

Russian forces killed four civilians and injured another 11 in the Donetsk region Wednesday, the governor has stated.

Donetsk’s Pavlo Kyrylenko said three civilians died in town of Kurakhove and one in Avdiivka.

“It was also possible to clarify information about four victims in Mariupol, including two children,” Kyrylenko wrote on Telegram without specifying whether these victims were killed or injured.

He added that the exact number of victims in occupied Mariupol and Volnovakha was currently unknown.

Russia launched at least 2100 missiles towards Ukraine: Visegrad

Russia has launched at least 2,100 missiles against Ukraine since the start of the invasion, according to information collected by Visegrad.

More than 600 of the missiles were launched from Belarus.

Visegrad, a cultural and political alliance of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, published a timeline video with a map of Ukraine showing where the missiles landed.

Russia still feels too strong to negotiate: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that for Russia to join in negotiations to end the war “is simply not possible now because Russia can still feel its power”.

Speaking via a video link to US corporate leaders Wednesday through a translator, he added: “We need to weaken Russia and the world is supposed to do it.”

Zelenskyy said Ukraine is doing its part on the battlefield and called for even tougher sanctions to weaken Russia economically. He told the business leaders: “We need to switch Russia off the global financial system completely.”

He also added Ukraine is willing to negotiate with Russia to end the war — but “not at the expense of our independence”.

Ukraine’s PM thanks EU for vote in favour of candidate status

Ukraine’s prime minister Denys Shmyhal has thanked Europe’s parliament for voting in favour of making his country a candidate for EU membership.

Some 438 members voted in favour of the resolution to make Ukraine a candidate, 65 voted against and 94 abstained.

The speaker of Ukraine’s parliament had made a plea for his country to become a candidate for EU membership, a move that would bring his nation closer to the EU without guaranteeing its admittance.

Ruslan Stefanchuk, chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, told EU legislators Wednesday that failing to give Ukraine a sign of an open door would be a clear signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that “he can be totally going forward without any punishment”.

European heads of state and governments are expected to consider Ukraine’s bid for EU candidate status at the end of June. The European Parliament already passed a resolution in favour of making Ukraine a membership candidate.

Millions hurt as Ukraine war hikes prices

A UN report has said the war in Ukraine is increasing the suffering of millions of people by escalating food and energy prices, coming on top of ills from a growing financial crisis, the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

The UN Global Crisis Response Group report said the war “has exacerbated a global cost-of-living crisis unseen in at least a generation” and is undermining the UN goal of ending extreme poverty around the world by 2030.

The group was appointed by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to assess the effect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russian troops trying to lower Ukrainian soldiers’ morale: ISW

Russian forces are using psychological tactics to damage the morale of Ukrainian soldiers, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has announced.

ISW cited several sources for its assessment, including Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR), which said Wednesday that Russian forces were sending threatening messages to Kyiv’s soldiers’ “calling on them to betray their service oaths, lay down their arms, surrender, or defect to Russia.”

According to the GUR, the messages were being sent on a number of platforms including SMS, Telegram, Viber, Signal, and WhatsApp.

The ISW also cited Ukrainian military expert Dmytro Snegirov who noted that Russian propagandists were similarly seeking to lower Ukrainians’ morale by disseminating information that the battle for Severodonetsk would become the “next Mariupol.”

US, China to clash on Ukraine at Shangri-La Dialogue

The US and China are expected to use the upcoming Shangri-La Dialogue – which attracts top-level military officials, diplomats and weapons makers from around the globe – to trade blows over everything from Taiwan’s sovereignty to the war in Ukraine, Reuters reports.

On the sidelines of the summit, to take place June 10-12 in Singapore, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Minister of National Defence General Wei Fenghe are expected to hold their first face-to-face meeting since Joe Biden took office more than two years ago.

Although the summit is focused on Asian security issues, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will remain central to discussions. Ukraine will send a delegation to the meeting but the Russians will not be attending, a source familiar with the list of attendees told Reuters.

Severodonetsk defenders are inflicting big losses: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claims defenders in the city of Severodonetsk were inflicting major losses on Russian troops during what he called a fierce and difficult battle.

“In many respects, the fate of the Donbas is being decided there,” he stated in an online address.

An adviser to Zelensky’s office has stated Russian troops had changed their tactics in the battle for Severodonetsk.

Oleksiy Arestovych said Wednesday that Russian soldiers had retreated from the city and were now pounding it with artillery and air attacks.

As a result, he added, the city centre is deserted.

In his daily online interview, Arestovych noted, “They retreated, our troops retreated, so the artillery hits an empty place. They are hitting hard without any particular success.”

The eastern Ukraine city of Severodonetsk is now “largely” under Russian control after fierce fighting, while its twin city of Lysychansk is suffering enormous destruction, the region’s governor confirmed.

Moscow’s forces “control a large part of Severodonetsk. The industrial zone is still ours, there are no Russians there. The fighting is only going on in the streets inside the city”, Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, stated on Telegram.

Western long-range artillery would enable Ukraine to beat back Russian forces and capture Severodonetsk within days, according to Haidai

“As soon as we have long-range artillery to be able to conduct duels with Russian artillery, our special forces can clean up the city in two to three days,” Haidai stated.

‘Endless caravan of death’ in Mariupol: local official

Workers are removing bodies from the ruins of high-rise buildings in the devastated Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and transporting them in an “endless caravan of death”, according to a mayoral aide.

Petro Andryushchenko stated on the Telegram app that in a search, they have found from 50 to 100 bodies in about two-fifths of the buildings. They are taking the bodies to morgues and landfills.

Ukrainian authorities estimate at least 21,000 civilians were killed and hundreds of buildings destroyed during a weeks-long Russian siege of Mariupol. Reports have surfaced of mass graves holding thousands of bodies.

UN chief warns effect of Ukraine war on world is worsening

UN chief Antonio Guterres stated the consequences for the world of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are worsening, affecting 1.6 billion people.

“The war’s impact on food security, energy and finance is systemic, severe, and speeding up,” the Secretary-General noted, presenting the UN’s second report on the repercussions of the conflict.

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