Saturday, May 18, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 108: Ukraine warns of food crisis, urges end to Russian blockade

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:

Zelensky warns all of Europe a ‘target’ for Russia

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that “all of Europe is a target for Russia”.

“This is why a positive EU response to the Ukrainian application for membership can be a positive answer to the question of whether the European project has a future at all,” he said.

Zelensky made the comments during a meeting with European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen in Kyiv.

She told him the EU executive’s opinion on Ukraine’s membership bid will be ready by the end of next week.

Zelensky called for a new round of “even stronger” EU sanctions against Russia.

He expressed his gratitude for the sanctions the bloc had already put in place against Moscow.

“I am grateful to the European Union for its sanctions policy against the Russian Federation, which is very helpful in our struggle,” he said, adding, “However, the war, unfortunately, is still going on, so the seventh package of sanctions is needed.”

EU assessment on Ukraine membership to be ready next week: Top diplomat

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has told President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv that the EU executive’s opinion on Ukraine’s request to join the European Union would be ready by the end of next week.

In a press conference, Von der Leyen stated discussions with Zelensky “will enable us to finalise our assessment by the end of next week,” about whether to recommend Ukraine as a candidate for membership.

“You have done a lot in strengthening the rule of law but there is still need for reforms to be implemented, to fight corruption for example,” she told the Ukrainian president.

High risk for cholera in Mariupol: WHO

The World Health Organization has warned it sees a “high” risk for a cholera outbreak in the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol, but that so far there has been no confirmed cases.

“WHO has not received an alert or notification of any suspected or confirmed cases,” a spokesperson stated in Geneva.

Mayor Vadym Boichenko, who is no longer in the Russian-occupied port city, and the British Defence Ministry recently warned that Mauripol faced a looming cholera outbreak.

Zelensky warns of food crisis, urges end to Russian blockade

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged international pressure to end a Russian naval blockade of Black Sea ports that has choked off his country’s grain exports, threatening a global food crisis.

“The shortage of foodstuffs will inexorably lead to political chaos, which can result in the [collapse] of many governments and the ousting of many politicians,” he said in a video address to the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore.

“This looming threat is plain to see by just looking at the skyrocketing prices of basic products in the world markets and in certain countries. This is the direct consequence of the acts of the Russian state,” he added.

Kyiv is in discussion with the UN, Turkey and other countries to open a way to allow the grain exports, and Zelenskyy said the talks are focused on the “format” of the corridor.

Macron says France unwilling to make concessions to Russia

France is unwilling to make concessions to Russia and wants Ukraine to win the war against Moscow’s invading forces with its territorial integrity restored, a French presidential official has said, as Paris seeks to assuage concerns over its stance in the conflict.

President Emmanuel Macron has been criticised by Ukraine and eastern European allies after an interview quoted him as saying it was vital not to “humiliate” Russia so that when the fighting ends there could be a diplomatic solution.

“As the president has said, we want a Ukrainian victory. We want Ukraine’s territorial integrity to be restored,” the official told reporters when asked about Macron’s comments.

“There is no spirit of concession towards Putin or Russia in what the president says. When he speaks to him directly, it is not compromise, but to say how we see things,” the official added.

Up to 300,000 tonnes of grain in destroyed warehouses in Ukraine

Up to 300,000 tonnes of grain may have been stored in warehouses that Kyiv says were destroyed by Russian shelling last weekend, deputy agriculture minister Taras Vysotskyi has said.

Speaking on national television, Vysotskyi stated, according to records, at the start of the war on February 24 the warehouses at one of Ukraine’s largest agricultural commodities terminals in the Black Sea port of Mykolaiv held 250,000-300,000 tonnes of grain, mainly wheat and corn.

Zelensky adviser concedes huge Ukrainian military losses

The Ukrainian Armed Forces can admit to having lost around 10,000 personnel since the beginning of the Russian military offensive in late February, presidential aide Alexey Arestovich indicated, while claiming Moscow’s losses are significantly higher.

Russian sources believe that Kiev is significantly underestimating its casualties.

In an interview with activist and YouTuber Mark Feygin, Arestovich revealed that “at the beginning of the conflict, 100 people died per day on average.”

“But in the Russian army, 1,000 per day died in the first 20-30 days. Now 200-300 die, no less,” he stated, without proving any evidence to support his assertion.

He claimed that Friday was an “unusual day” for the Ukrainian Army, as “600 people [died] in one day, no less.”

“It will be like this: one to five, one to three, one to six, it will fluctuate like this,” Arestovich added.

Feygin asked if it is possible, based on these calculations, to say that the Ukrainian Army had lost up to 10,000 soldiers.

“Yes, something like that,” he replied.

Zelensky says new air strikes launched in Russian-held Kherson

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv has launched new air strikes in the captured southern region of Kherson, one of the first areas to be taken by Russia after the February 24 invasion, as “very difficult battles” are ongoing in the eastern Donbas region.

He added that Ukraine must “not allow the world to divert its attention away from what is happening on the battlefield”.

Britain says Russian forces have not made advances into the south of Severodonetsk

Russian forces around Ukraine’s Severodonetsk have not made advances into the south of the city, Britain’s Defence Ministry has said in its daily intelligence update.

“Intense street to street fighting is ongoing and both sides are likely suffering high numbers of casualties,” the ministry wrote on Twitter.

It added Russian medium bombers have likely launched dozens of 1960s era Kh-22 (NATO designation, AS-4 KITCHEN) air-launched, heavy anti-ship missiles, which are “highly inaccurate and can therefore cause significant collateral damage and civilian casualties.”

Russian passports to be distributed in parts of Zaporizhzhya

Russian passports will be distributed in parts of Zaporizhzhya starting on Saturday, a member of the occupying authority has announced.

Recipients will be considered full Russian citizens, Vladimir Rogov told Russian broadcaster Rossiya-24.

Rogov stated more than 70,000 people had submitted applications in the region. Moscow simplified the process for receiving a Russian passport in May and proceeded to distribute the documents in occupied areas.

Ukraine reports deaths of 24 more children in Mariupol

The office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general claims it has learned about the deaths of 24 more children in Mariupol, bringing the total to 287 children killed since the start of the Russian invasion.

“During the recording of criminal offences, it has become known that 24 more children died in Mariupol, Donetsk region, as a result of the indiscriminate shelling by the Russian military,” the office said on the Telegram messaging app.

“These figures are not final, as work is underway to establish them in places of active hostilities, in the temporarily occupied and liberated territories,” it added.

Russia has denied targeting civilians and has rejected allegations of war crimes.

Zelensky calls for weapons, says world must not look away

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Kyiv has launched new air strikes in the captured southern region of Kherson, one of the first areas to be taken by Russia after the February 24 invasion, as “very difficult battles” are ongoing in the eastern Donbas region.

“Ukrainian troops are doing everything to stop the offensive of the occupiers,” Zelenskyy said in an address.

“As much as the heavy weapons, modern artillery — all that we have asked and continue to ask our partners for — allow them to,” he continued.

He added that Ukraine must “not allow the world to divert its attention away from what is happening on the battlefield”.

Growing concerns about Russian artillery superiority: ISW

The Institute for the Study of War says Ukraine is making more urgent requests for sophisticated Western weaponry as a result of concerns about Russia’s superiority in artillery.

It cites a senior military intelligence official saying that Russian troops have 10 to 15 artillery pieces for every one held by Ukrainian forces.

“Considering the current prevalence of protracted positional battles, especially in the Severodonetsk- Lysychansk area, Ukrainian forces urgently need fresh supplies of artillery systems,” ISW announced in its latest update on the war.

“As Ukrainian forces use the last of their stocks of Soviet-era weapon systems and munitions, they will require consistent Western support to transition to new supply chains of ammunition and artillery systems. Effective artillery will be increasingly decisive in the largely static fighting in eastern Ukraine,” it added.

Mariupol mayor: Russia demolished 1,300 high-rise buildings in city without removing dead bodies of residents

Russian forces occupying the ruined Ukrainian city of Mariupol have demolished 1,300 high-rise apartment buildings without carefully removing hundreds of dead bodies buried under the rubble, Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol Vadym Boychenko said on Friday.

Speaking on the city council’s Telegram, Boychenko — who has fled Mariupol for Ukrainian controlled territory — stated people remaining inside the city have told him, “Initially, the occupiers involved Mariupol residents in dismantling the rubble carefully.”

But Boychenko noted when the Russians saw the actual number of bodies found under the rubble, they immediately moved the local residents away from the area.

“The real number of bodies under the rubble of destroyed houses is frightening. Almost 50 to 100 people were killed under almost every destroyed house, and 1,300 high-rise buildings were destroyed in Mariupol,” Boychenko added.

Boychenko stated that because demolition of buildings has been carried out indiscriminately, the bodies of Mariupol residents killed in the fighting have been removed to landfill together with the concrete rubble.

On May 25, an adviser to the mayor, Petro Andriushchenko — who has also moved to Ukrainian-held territory — told CNN that Mariupol town hall officials believe at least 22,000 residents of the city were killed during three months of war.

Boychenko on Friday stated “Unfortunately, the real numbers of those killed in the city may be much higher than we reported.

The Ukrainian presidency has described the number of civilians killed in the city as being in the “tens of thousands.”

Biden says Zelenskyy ‘didn’t want to hear it’ on Russian invasion

US President Joe Biden has said that President Volodymyr Zelensky “didn’t want to hear it” when US intelligence had information that Russia was preparing to invade, according to the Associated Press.

“Nothing like this has happened since World War II. I know a lot of people thought I was maybe exaggerating. But I knew we had data to sustain he (Russian President Vladimir Putin) was going to go in, off the border,” Biden told Democratic donors in Los Angeles.

“There was no doubt. And Zelensky didn’t want to hear it,” he added.

37,000 women are in Ukraine army: First lady

Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska has said on Telegram that 37,000 women are in the Ukrainian army and over 1,000 women have become commanders.

“Most of our doctors are women, as well as 50 percent of our entrepreneurs, who work to support the economy at war,” she added.

Serbian president appears to reject call for sanctions on Russia

Serbian president Aleksandar Vuvic appears to have rejected calls from German chancellor Olaf Scholz for his country to join the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Scholz had previously said that Serbia, which is vying for EU membership, should join the European bloc in imposing harsh measures against Moscow.

“As far as sanctions are concerned we have different position…. We remember sanctions [against Serbia] and we do not think sanctions are efficient,” Vuvic added.

Serbia is in a complicated position given its long-standing special relationship with Russia.

Biden blames Russia’s war on Ukraine for continued high inflation

United States President Joe Biden has reacted to Friday’s Consumer Price Index report, which revealed continuing high inflation in the country, by blaming the high prices on Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“Even as we continue our work to defend freedom in Ukraine, we must do more—and quickly—to get prices down here in the United States,” Biden said in a statement.

“Putin’s Price Hike hit hard in May here and around the world: high gas prices at the pump, energy, and food prices accounted for around half of the monthly price increases, and gas pump prices are up by $2 a gallon in many places since Russian troops began to threaten Ukraine,” Biden added.

Nine European countries ask NATO to strengthen its eastern flank

The leaders of nine central and eastern European countries have asked NATO to strengthen its eastern flank following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The leaders of Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland met in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, less than three weeks ahead of a NATO summit later this month in Madrid, Agence France-Presse reported.

Russia wants to destroy every city in the Donbas: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated his army’s ability to hold off Russian forces in the Donbas region depends on the supply of Western weapons.

“The Ukrainian troops are doing everything to stop the offensive of the occupiers, as much as is possible. As much as the heavy weapons, modern artillery – all that we have asked for and continue to ask for from our partners – allow them,” he said in his nightly video address.

He added that Russia wants to destroy every city in the region.

“Every city – that’s not an exaggeration. Like Volnovakha, like Mariupol. All of these ruins of once-happy cities, the black traces of fires, the craters from explosions – this is all that Russia can give to its neighbours, to Europe, to the world,” he noted.

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