Monday, June 24, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 109

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:

EU blames Russia for no solution to reopening Ukrainian ports

Russia is holding up talks on funding agreement on a plan to release Ukrainian grain currently blocked from export mid Russia’s invasion, said EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis.

“I think it’s clear what’s blocking it: Russia,” Dombrovskis stated, adding, “It is time for Russia to stop its aggression and to stop blocking Ukrainian food exports.”

Ukraine is a key global supplier of grain and edible oils, but much of its harvest is bottled up because Russia has occupied its ports or because free ports have been mined to fend off Russian offensives.

Pope warns don’t become accustomed to war in Ukraine

Pope Francis has cautioned people not to become accustomed to the war in Ukraine.

Speaking during his Sunday address before thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, he said, “The thought of the people of Ukraine, afflicted by war, remains vivid in my heart.”

“Let the passage of time not temper our grief and concern for that suffering population,” he continued, adding, “Please, let us not grow accustomed to this tragic situation! Let us always keep it in our hearts. Let us pray and strive for peace.”

Czech FM criticises Macron over Putin comment

The Czech foreign minister has criticised French President Emmanuel Macron for saying that Vladimir Putin mustn’t be “humiliate” if peace is to be achieved in Ukraine.

“Macron probably doesn’t understand the issue very well,” Jan Lipavsky said.

“Putin doesn’t care how Russia is perceived in the west,” he added.

The Macron administration sought to quell criticism earlier this week by insisting that it did not want to given any concessions to Russia.

NATO chief says Turkey’s security concerns are legitimate

Security concerns raised by Turkey in its opposition to Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership applications are legitimate, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

“These are legitimate concerns. This is about terrorism, it’s about weapons exports,” Stoltenberg told a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto while visiting him at his summer residence in Naantali, Finland.

Sweden and Finland applied to join the Western defence alliance last month, in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. But they have faced opposition from Turkey, which has accused them of supporting and harbouring Kurdish armed fighters and other groups it deems terrorists.

Second Briton killed in Ukraine fighting

A British former soldier has been shot and killed in Ukraine, his family confirmed.

Jordan Gatley is the second Briton reported to have died fighting alongside Ukrainian forces against Russian troops.

Gatley’s father Dean stated his son was killed in the eastern city of Severodonetsk, and described him as a “hero”.

Tens of Ukraine Azovstal fighters’ bodies still in Mariupol: Ex-commander

The former commander of Ukraine’s Azov National Guard regiment says the bodies of tens of Ukrainian fighters killed during the siege of Mariupol’s Azovstal steelworks are still awaiting retrieval.

Maksym Zhorin said that under the terms of a recent exchange, some 220 bodies of those killed in Azovstal had been sent to Kyiv, but “just as many bodies still remain in Mariupol”.

One-third of the dead were from the Azov battalion, while the others were border patrol, navy, and police.

“Talks are continuing about further exchanges, to return home all the bodies,” Zhorin added in a video posted on his Telegram channel.

Russia to ‘rely’ on new recruits: UK

Vladimir Putin’s generals will “likely have to rely” on new recruits or mobilised reservists as the war grinds on in eastern Ukraine, the UK has said.

As heavy fighting continues around the city of Sievierodonetsk, Russia is attempting to use its artillery superiority to its advantage, according to the British Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) latest military assessment

Usually, the Kremlin’s senior officers only commit two of their three battalions to operations at the same time. However, it is thought that Russia will soon use all three.

“The third battalions within brigades are often not fully staffed – Russia will likely have to rely on new recruits or mobilised reservists to deploy these units to Ukraine,” the UK added.

Russia extending plans for long war in Donbas: Ukraine

The Russian army is extending its plan to wage a long war of attrition in the Donbas, according to Ukrainian military intelligence.

In its latest briefing on the war in Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a US think tank, reported Russian mobilisation remains “poor”.

In late March, the Kremlin announced that 134,500 recruits would be conscripted into its army as part of the spring draft.

Russia ‘destroyed’ large depot with western weapons in Ukraine

Russian forces fired Kalibr cruise missiles to destroy a large depot with US and European weapons in Ukraine’s Ternopil region, Interfax news agency reported, citing the Russian defence ministry.

Russian forces have also shot down three Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jets near Donetsk and Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, Interfax quoted the Russian defence ministry as saying.

Ukraine claims it still controls Sievierodonetsk plant sheltering hundreds

Ukraine authorities have claimed that it is still in control of an industrial area in Sievierodonetsk — where heavy fighting continues — and the chemical plant where hundreds are sheltering from Russian shelling.

Ukrainian forces are running out of ammunition as Russia steps up its intense bombardment, officials have announced, amid reports of street-to-street fighting in the town of Sievierodonetsk.

Serhiy Gaidai, the region’s governor, had earlier stated that Russian forces controlled much of Sievierodonetsk in Luhansk province.

A Russia-backed separatist group had also claimed on Saturday that some 300-400 Ukrainian fighters were trapped in the Azot plant. Some 800 people, including employees of the chemical plant and residents of Sievierodonetsk, are hiding in Azot plant.

Gaidai confirmed on Telegram that “the information about the blockade of the Azot plant is a lie. Our forces are holding an industrial zone of Sievierodonetsk and are destroying the Russian army in the town.”

Russian gas exports to Europe via Ukraine unchanged

Russian gas producer Gazprom says its supply of gas to Europe through Ukraine via the Sudzha entry point was seen at 41.9 million cubic metres (mcm) on Sunday, unchanged from Saturday.

An application to supply gas via another major entry point, Sokhranovka, was rejected by Ukraine, Gazprom added.

Russia in control of much of Sievierodonetsk: Governor

Russian forces are now in control of much of Sievierodonetsk.

“The situation remains difficult. Fighting continues, but unfortunately, most of the city is under Russian control. Some positional battles are taking place in the streets,” Serhiy Haidai, the governor of Luhansk region said.

Haidai stated that Russian forces were using “highly destructive thermobaric rocket artillery.”

“Unfortunately, enemy artillery is simply dismantling floor-to-floor buildings that are used as shelters. In this sense, it is difficult because the enemy will be knocked out of one street, and then they will start dismantling neighbourhoods house by house with tanks, artillery and grads,” the governor added.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has praised Ukrainian forces in the region and said that he was “proud of our defenders who could stop the advance of these hostile people, these occupiers, for many weeks and keep our defence strong.”

He had said earlier that “Sievierodonetsk remains the epicentre of the confrontation in Donbas.”

“This is a very fierce battle, very difficult … Probably one of the most difficult throughout this war,” he continued, adding, “In many ways, the fate of our Donbas is being decided there.”

Ukraine: Over 795 children have been killed or injured

As of 12 June, more than 795 children have been killed or injured in Ukraine, the country’s government has said in its regular update.

It announced at least 287 children had died, and 508 injured in the conflict, adding the caveat that confirmation of incidents was difficult in areas of active hostilities and the occupied territories.

The report added most of those affected were in Donetsk (2017 children), Kharkiv (149), and Kyiv (116).

Ukrainian officials push back on Biden claim that Zelensky ‘didn’t want to hear’ invasion warnings

Ukrainian officials have pushed back against President Joe Biden’s claim that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky brushed off US warnings of an impending Russian invasion before the start of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Responding to Biden’s comment during a Democratic fundraiser Friday evening that Zelensky “didn’t want to hear” warnings from the US, a spokesman for the Ukrainian president said that “the phrase ‘did not want to hear’ probably needs clarification.”

Spokesman Sergei Nikiforov told Ukrainian news outlet that the two leaders spoke over the phone “three or four” times leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February, stating that Biden and Zelensky exchanged “detailed” assessments of the relationship between Ukraine and Russia.

“In addition, if you remember, the President of Ukraine called on partners to impose a package of preventive sanctions to encourage Russia to withdraw troops and de-escalate the situation. And here we can say that our partners ‘did not want to hear us,’” added Nikiforov.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak corroborated Nikiforov’s claims that Zelensky was consistently presented with complicated evidence regarding Russia’s intentions and criticized Biden for putting “blame” on Ukraine over the situation.

“And finally, the key, I think it is pointless to blame the country, which is more than 100 days a full-fledged war against a much more resourceful opponent, if key countries have failed to prevent the militaristic appetites of the Russian Federation, knowing them well,” Podoliak said, according to independent Russian outlet Interfax.

“Undoubtedly, the volume of the invasion, which we saw on February 24, shocked many countries, including our partners,” added Podoliak, arguing that Ukraine was equally as aware of Russia’s threat as its Western allies.

He noted: “Volodymyr Zelensky constantly had an analyst on the table based on high-quality intelligence. The President also responded carefully to all the words and warnings of our partners. The question was always: what will be the scope of the invasion?”

Zelensky claims Russia suffers 32,000 casualties of war

President Volodymyr Zelensky said fierce street battles were continuing in Severodonetsk and he was proud of the Ukrainian defenders, who, for weeks, have held back a Russian advance.

He added the Russians have suffered heavy losses since the war began on February 24.

“Do you remember how Russia hoped to capture the entire Donbas by early May? It is now the 108th day of the war… Donbas is holding on. The losses suffered by the occupiers, including in this area, are extremely significant. In total, the Russian army today has about 32,000 dead souls. For what? What did it get you Russia?” he continued.

Pentagon chief chides Russia over ‘imperial appetite’

Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine “is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all”, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

“It’s what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbours,” Austin stated during a visit to Asia.

“And it’s a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in,” he added.

DM: China does not want war in Ukraine, but sanctions are not helpful too

The Chinese government is not interested in a conflict in Ukraine, but, at the same time, it does not believe that sanctions can help in resolving the crisis, Chinese State Councilor and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe told the Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore on Sunday.

“A conflict or a war are the last thing that China would want to see in Ukraine. At the same time, we do not believe that maximum pressure or sanctions can solve the problem. It may cause even more tensions and make the problem even worse,” the official said in a speech, broadcast live on YouTube.

The government of China supports the dialogue between Russia and Ukraine and hopes that the United States and NATO would hold talks with Russia for a soonest ceasefire, Fenghe added.

“China supports negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. We also hope that the US and NATO would hold talks with Russia to create conditions for a soonest ceasefire,” he said, adding China has never provided any material support to Russia amid the crisis in Ukraine.

“With regard to the Ukrainian crisis: China has never provided any material support to Russia,” he continued.

Smoke cloud seen after blast in Ukraine city with chemical plant

A cloud of smoke could be seen after an explosion in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, which houses a chemical plant, the Russian news agency RIA quoted one of its reporters as saying.

RIA posted a video it said had been taken from Donetsk which showed a large smoke cloud rising from Avdiivka.

Scholz to travel to Kyiv with Macron and Draghi before G7

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will travel to Kyiv with his counterparts from France and Italy before the Group of Seven summit at the end of June, Bild am Sonntag has reported.

The newspaper cited French and Ukrainian government sources.

A German government spokesperson told the Reuters news agency that “we are not able to confirm this”.

Shelling of Severodonetsk plant causes oil leak and fire: Governor

Russian shelling of the Azot chemical plant in Ukraine’s front-line city of Severodonetsk caused a powerful fire to break out after a leak of tonnes of oil, regional governor Serhiy Haidai has stated.

Speaking on national television, Haidai did not say if the fire at the plant, where hundreds of civilians are sheltering, had been extinguished.

Separatists claim Ukraine defenders ‘holding civilians hostage’

Some non-combatants managed to flee an industrial zone in the war-torn city of Severodonetsk as Russian forces battle Ukraine defenders there.

Rodion Miroshnik, a Russian-backed representative of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, said civilians started to leave the plant, but he did not say how many.

“There are occasional exchanges of fire… They [Ukrainian defenders] may still be holding several hundred civilians hostage,” he added in an online post.

Ukraine announced about 800 people were hiding underneath the Azot factory, including about 200 employees and 600 residents of Severodonetsk.

Miroshnik estimated 300 to 400 Ukrainian fighters were blockaded on the grounds.

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