Sunday, April 21, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 112: Russia doubts Ukraine will still exist in two years

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:

Biden administration expected to announce additional $1 billion in new military aid for Ukraine

The Joe Biden administration Wednesday is expected to announce an additional $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine, according to a US official.

The package is expected to include shipments of additional howitzers, ammunition and coastal defense systems among the first items to be shipped.

Speaking in Brussels, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noted the US and Ukraine are “working in lockstep to meet Ukraine’s requests for new capabilities, especially its need for long-range fires, armor and coastal defense.”

The package is expected to include weapons and supplies that can be quickly shipped from existing US stockpiles as well as issuing new contracts for long-term supplies for Ukraine.

Macron says EU expansion cannot be the only solution to stability of its neighbors

French President Emmanuel Macron stated that joining the European Union “can’t be the only answer to the stability” of neighboring countries such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

“First of all, because it is a process that is rightly demanding, and because we must also continue to simplify our Europe so that it is more efficient,” Macron said during a joint news conference with Moldovan President Maia Sandu on Wednesday in Moldova’s capital of Chișinău.

He stressed the importance of building a broader European political community to cooperate over key issues such as defense and security, which would not be a substitute for adhesion.

EU leaders will gather at the end of June in Brussels to discuss the candidacy applications of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. This will be the last EU summit held under the French presidency.

“My role is to build consensus,” Macron added.

France has also taken the initiative to lead the European Moldova Support Platform, which promises the eastern European country 650 million euros ($675 million) of aid, according to Macron.

Russia offering ‘safe passage’ for Ukraine grain shipments: Envoy

Moscow can “provide safe passage” for Ukraine grain shipments from the country’s Black Sea ports, but is not responsible for establishing the corridors, Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations stated.

“We are not responsible for establishing safe corridors. We said we could provide safe passage if these corridors are established. Establish them. It’s obvious it’s either demine the territory, which was mined by the Ukrainians, or to ensure that the passage goes around those mines,” Vassily Nebenzia told reporters.

US sanctions backers of Russian ‘extremist group’

Washington has imposed sanctions on two backers of an “ethnically motivated violent extremist group” called the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), one of whom visited the US to make connections with far-right and white nationalist groups.

The US Department of the Treasury named the two individuals as Stanislav Shevchuk, a Europe-based representative of RIM, who travelled to the US in 2017 seeking connections with “extremist” groups, and Alexander Zhuchkovsky, a Russia-based supporter of RIM, who has used his Russia-based social media platform to fundraise and recruit for the group.

Since 2014, Zhuchkovsky has raised over 200 million rubles to buy weapons and military equipment for RIM and other pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region and facilitated the travel of RIM fighters to the region, the Treasury announced.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Zhuchkovsky has continued using his social media accounts and online payment methods to purchase military equipment and supplies for Russian fighters carrying out the invasion and fighting in the Donbas, it added.

Russian says Kiev halted talks with Moscow on orders from US handlers

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Wednesday stated Ukraine halted peace talks with Russia on orders from its US handlers while Russia was prepared to carry on.

“These talks were frozen, halted, broken off,” she said on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

“Let them (Ukraine) say for themselves what they did with these talks. We know that very well because we have information that was the order given by their American handlers,” she added.

The diplomat noted Kiev hasn’t yet reacted to the Russian response to the Ukrainian proposals to settle the situation in the country.

Zakharova also said it was Ukraine that sought talks, and Russia agreed to the proposal. However, the spokeswoman stated the Kiev regime subsequently started to put forward various conditions for the negotiations.

“We saw a lot of things: The venue is wrong, the makeup of the delegation isn’t right, the host country needs to be different. There were a lot of quirks,” she added.

Moscow: Russia will end operation in Ukraine where it deems right

Russia will put an end to its military operation in Ukraine there where it finds appropriate, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on the 60 Minutes program on the Rossiya-1 television channel on Wednesday.

He stressed Moscow’s steadfast commitment to the originally proclaimed goals of the military operation.

“Our reaction is to prove that these plans (to make Russia suffer a defeat) will collapse, that they will fail, that we will put an end to it there where we deem right, and not where some strategists, ideologists or military planners in Washington or other capitals imagine. We must prove this by our willpower, by the force of arms, and by our readiness to stand firm, to adhere to the aims that were declared by our leadership, and to ensure their achievement,” Ryabkov noted, while answering a question about whether Russia had a response to the Americans’ indifference to Moscow’s statements.

“If [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky and his team are not ready for negotiations, if those behind him are determined to continue their mindless, or rather, insane pumping of Ukraine with weapons, it is their choice, it is sad, it is tragic, but we cannot retreat,” Ryabkov added.

Must stay focused on Ukraine during ‘pivotal’ moment: Pentagon chief

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was at a “pivotal” moment and the United States and its allies could not lose focus on the three-month long conflict, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday during a meeting of dozens of defense ministers in Brussels.

Austin has urged Washington’s allies not to “lose steam” on sending weapons to Ukraine as Kyiv pleads desperately for heavier arms to hold back Russia’s invasion.

“We must intensify our shared commitment to Ukraine’s self-defence, and we must push ourselves even harder to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself, its citizens and its territory,” Austin added.

The meeting on the sidelines of a NATO defense ministerial will focus on weapon deliveries to Ukraine and is the third time the group of nearly 50 countries are meeting to discuss and coordinate assistance to Ukraine. The previous in-person meeting was at Ramstein Air Base in Germany in April.

Ukraine needs 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks and 1,000 drones among other heavy weapons, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak stated on Monday. Western countries have promised NATO-standard weapons, including advanced US rockets.

NATO will have preassigned forces in its eastern regions for first time since Cold War

NATO will have preassigned forces and prepositioned equipment on its eastern flank for the first time since the Cold War, the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday.

This would enable a faster response by the alliance in case of a threat, he said at a Brussels news conference before a NATO Defense Ministers meeting.

“That’s exactly what we are working on with Germany but we expect all the allies to make similar offers, to enable preassigned forces that are training and are responsible for the defense of specific territories,” Stoltenberg added.

Ukraine ‘waiting for a decision’ on more Western weapons

Ukraine announced it was outgunned and appealed to Western allies for greater military aid to fend off Russia’s invasion ahead of a gathering of NATO officials in Belgium to discuss more supplies.

Presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak wrote on social media that Ukrainian soldiers were asking him “daily” when Western artillery was expected on the frontlines and added, “Brussels, we are waiting for a decision”.

Thousands of civilians trapped in Sievierodonetsk as water supplies dwindle: UN

Thousands of civilians, including women, children and elderly people, are trapped in the embattled Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk with a diminishing supply of food, clean water, sanitation and electricity.

An urgent situation is developing in the bunkers beneath the Azot chemical plant in the city, a spokesperson for the UN’s humanitarian affairs office, Saviano Abreu, told the BBC.

Abreu stated, “The lack of water and sanitation is a big worry. It’s a huge concern for us because people cannot survive for long without water.”

Food and health services are also at risk of running out, he said, adding both parts of the conflict have an obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilians, so it is not an option – they have to assure the people who want to leave the city that they can do it safely.

Separately, the head of Sievierodonetsk’s military administration, Roman Vlasenko, told CNN that the more than 500 civilians sheltering underneath the Azot plant have not been supplied in two weeks.

“There are food stocks, but they have not been resupplied for two weeks. So stocks won’t last long. If there is a humanitarian corridor, I believe people are ready to leave Azot,” Vlasenko continued.

UK says it’s “important” to listen to Turkey

Britain’s Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, said he would be speaking to the Turkish government next week about Sweden and Finland’s applications to join NATO.

Speaking at a news conference, Wallace stated it was “important” to listen to Turkey.

The two Nordic countries formally applied last month to join the military alliance but are facing opposition from Turkey, which accuses them of supporting and harbouring Kurdish militants and other groups it deems terrorists.

Wallace has previously noted he believed there was a way to address Ankara’s concerns.

“I think we will get there in the end,” he told parliament last month.

Kremlin: Putin and Xi agree to expand cooperation ‘due to the west’s illegitimate sanctions policy’

Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a phone call with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to expand cooperation in energy, finance and industry as Moscow faces unprecedented Western sanctions over Ukraine, the Kremlin announced on Wednesday.

“It was agreed to expand cooperation in energy, finance, industry, transport and other spheres, taking into account the global economic situation that has become more complicated due to the West’s illegitimate sanctions policy,” the Kremlin said in a readout of the leaders’ call.

NATO chief warns Ukraine in ‘urgent need’ of arms deliveries

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has called on members of the US-led transatlantic military alliance to continue to supply Ukraine with heavy weaponry and long-range weapons systems, warning there is an “urgent need” to step up arms deliveries.

Addressing reporters at a news conference in Brussels ahead of a meeting of NATO defence ministers, Stoltenberg said the alliance was “extremely focused on stepping up support” for Kyiv but warned it will take time for Kyiv’s forces to adapt to using modernised heavy weapons.

“Ukraine is really in a very critical situation and therefore, it’s an urgent need to step up,” he stated, echoing calls for additional supplies from Kyiv, which complains it has only received a fraction of what it needs and is clamouring for heavier weaponry.

Stoltenberg noted that NATO allies had recently shifted to delivering “more long-range, more advanced air defence systems, more advanced artillery [and] more heavy weapons” to Ukraine.

“[But] it is also a fact that when we now are actually starting the transition from Soviet-era weapons to more modern NATO weapons there will also be some time needed to just make the Ukrainians ready to use and operate these systems,” he added.

Kremlin says communication with US remains ‘essential’

The Kremlin says communication with the US remains “essential” despite high tensions between Moscow and Washington over the war in Ukraine.

But Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that dialogue could only be conducted on a basis of mutual respect and benefit.

“The US is not going anywhere, Europe is not going anywhere, so somehow we will have to communicate with them,” he said.

But he added the issue was “not a topic on the short-term horizon”.

Relations between Russia and the West were already at one of their lowest points since the end of the Cold War even before Moscow launched its invasion.

Russia says recession may be significantly less deep than expected

Russia’s economy minister says that this year’s economic recession in the country could be significantly less deep than previous estimates.

“We can say that inflation [in Russia] will clearly be much lower than the estimates … It is quite possible that we will look at the May data, and the depth of the decline may be a bit lower than we thought,” Maxim Reshetnikov said.

Russia’s central bank last week cut its key interest rate to 9.5 percent and kept the door open to further easing as inflation slowed.

In call with Putin, Xi says all sides should work to resolve Ukraine crisis

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during talks by phone that all parties should work towards resolving the crisis in Ukraine “in a responsible manner”, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported.

China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine or call them an invasion, and has urged a negotiated solution.

In their call, Xi reiterated China’s willingness to help resolve the situation.

China and Russia have grown increasingly close in recent years, and in February, Putin and Xi signed a wide-ranging strategic partnership aimed at countering the geopolitical influence wielded by the United States and said they would have “no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation”.

Deadly blast rocks town in occupied Kherson: Regional official

A powerful blast has rocked the town of Chornobaivka in Ukraine’s largely-occupied southern region of Kherson, killing and wounding civilians, according to a regional official.

The blast ripped through a market early on Wednesday morning, Serhiy Khlan, adviser to the Ukrainian head of the region, said in a Facebook post.

Khlan didn’t specify the number of victims, but called the incident a Russian “terrorist attack.”

“The occupiers want to frighten people,” he added.

There was no immediate reaction to the claim from Moscow.

War in Ukraine sinks global peace level to 15-year low: Report

Global peace is at its lowest level in more than a decade fuelled by pandemic-related economic uncertainty and the Ukraine conflict, according to the Global Peace Index.

The report (PDF), the 16th of its kind produced by the Australian-headquartered Institute for Economics and Peace, said the average level of global “peacefulness” had deteriorated by 0.3 percent in 2021, falling to its lowest overall level in 15 years.

“Last year, we warned about the economic fallout from COVID-19. We are now experiencing supply chain shortages, rising inflation, and food insecurity that have been compounded by the tragic events in Ukraine,” Steve Killelea, IEP’s founder and executive chairman, said.

“The political and economic consequences of this will reverberate for years to come,” he added.

UN experts probing possible war crimes say no contact yet with Russia

A UN commission set up to investigate possible war crimes in Ukraine during Russia’s invasion says it has not yet not managed to establish contact with Moscow.

Erik Mose, who heads the independent panel, told a news conference during a visit to Kyiv that efforts to start dialogue with Russia’s mission in Geneva had “not been successful” but that the commission would keep trying to make contact.

The commission was created by the UN’s Geneva-based Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate alleged abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law during the war.

Mose stated it was too early to discuss details of evidence collected in Kyiv, in the eastern cities of Kharkiv and Sumy, and in the towns of Irpin and Bucha where Ukraine says Russia committed large-scale atrocities. Russia denies the allegations.

The International Criminal Court has opened a separate inquiry into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. The office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general said on Wednesday that ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan had visited Kharkiv to view evidence of alleged war crimes, but gave few details.

Zelensky: Ukraine opens way for Russia to invade other countries

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the EU to tighten sanctions on Russia and warned Moscow’s forces could attack other countries after invading his own.

In an address to the Czech parliament, Zelensky reiterated calls for the EU to allow Ukraine to start on the road to membership of the blog by giving it candidate country status.

“As in the past, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the first step that the Russian leadership needs to open the way to other countries, to the conquest of other peoples,” he stated.

Russian official doubts Ukraine will still exist in two years

Deputy Head of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev took to Telegram on Wednesday and conveyed his doubts about Ukraine still being around in two years.

He referred to a post saying that Ukraine “seeks to get LNG from its overseas sponsors under lend-lease and pay for it in two years,” because otherwise “it will just freeze” next winter.

“The only question is, who says that Ukraine will still exist in two years?” Medvedev maintained.

However, in his words, “the Americans don’t care anymore.”

“They have invested so much in the ‘anti-Russia’ project that everything else means nothing to them,” Medvedev emphasized.

Pope appeals to world not to forget Ukraine war

Pope Francis made an appeal for people not to forget about the Ukraine war as the conflict rages on.

Speaking on Wednesday in his weekly general audience, he urged that people keep the “martyred” people of Ukraine in their thoughts.

“Let’s not get used to living as if war were a distant thing,” he said.

“Our memory, our affection, our prayer, our help always goes…. to the people who suffer so much and who are carrying out a true martyrdom,” he added.

Pope Francis previously stated that the war in Ukraine “was perhaps in some way either provoked or not prevented” in remarks published by Italian newspaper La Stampa on Tuesday.

The Pope spoke of the “brutality and ferocity” of the war, “but the danger is that we only see this, which is monstrous, and we do not see the whole drama that is unfolding behind this war, which was perhaps in some way either provoked or not prevented,” he added.

Russia is predicted to lose around 15,000 millionaires this year

Millionaires are leaving Russia in droves after its invasion of Ukraine and the West imposed sanctions.

According to a report by Henley & Partners — a company that helps the wealthy move abroad — almost three times as many Russian millionaires are expected to leave the country in this year than in 2019.

As Western sanctions take a toll on its elite, Russia is predicted to suffer a net loss of around 15,000 high net-worth individuals (HNWIs) — people with over $1 million in assets — in 2022 which is about 15% of Russia’s millionaire population, the report said.

Andrew Amoils, head of research at analytics company New World Wealth, which contributed data to the report, said that Russia was “hemorrhaging millionaires.”

“Wealth migration figures are a very important gauge of the health of an economy,” he told CNN Business, adding that this usually precedes “any major country collapse in history.”

NATO allies to keep up arms supply to Ukraine: Stoltenberg

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says that members of the United States-led transatlantic military alliance will continue to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons and long-range systems.

Addressing reporters at a news conference in Brussels ahead of a meeting of NATO defence ministers, Stoltenberg said the aliance was “extremely focused on stepping up support” for Kyiv.

Mariupol residents reduced to living ‘everyday life’ on war-torn streets: Ukrainian official

Civilians in Ukraine’s occupied southeastern port city of Mariupol have been reduced to living almost all aspects of “everyday life” on its war-torn streets due to the destruction inflicted by Moscow’s offensive, a Ukrainian official has claimed.

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, who is based outside of the city, stated in a Telegram post that people were “cooking, looking for firewood, collecting water and making a living” in the open air due to the city’s infrastructure – including swaths of houses and apartment blocks – being largely ruined by Russian shelling.

“They are still trying to find relatives. They bury people in backyards. [And] The [Russian] occupiers have left people to their own devices,” he added.

“The worst thing is that people are getting used to it … They compare [their living conditions] not to what was before the war but to [what happened] in February – April. With their lives in the cold basements under fire,” Andryushchenko noted, citing Russia’s weeks-long bombardment of the city in the early stages of the war.

“Sometime in the future, psychologists will describe the ‘Mariupol syndrome’. A separate psychological state that seems impossible in normal life,” Andryushchenko continued.

Russia-backed separatist says up to 1,200 civilians may be holed up in Severodonetsk plant

Up to 1,200 civilians may be holed up in the shelters of the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk, according to a Moscow-backed separatist leader in eastern Ukraine’s self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).

“About 1,000 to 1,200 civilians of Sievierodonetsk may still be on the territory of the Azot chemical plant,” Rodion Miroshnik, an official in the LPR’s Russian-backed self-styled separatist administration, said in a Telegram post.

Miroshnik added the civilians are in a part of the plant that is still controlled by Ukrainian forces, which he said numbered up to 2,000 people including Ukrainian and foreign fighters.

Moscow has accused what it described as Ukrainian “militants” of having deliberately led civilians into the Azot plant and using them as human shields.

Ukraine says the number of civilians at the plant is closer to 500 and has denied Russian claims that it uses civilians as human shields.

Macron: Zelensky will have to negotiate with Russia at some point

France’s president says that Ukraine’s leader will have to hold talks with Russia at some point in order to try and end the war.

“The Ukrainian President and his officials will have to negotiate with Russia,” Macron stated while on a visit to Romania and Moldova.

Macron’s visit marks the beginning of a three-day trip to NATO’s southern flank. Two unnamed diplomatic sources told the Reuters news agency he may also head to Kyiv on Thursday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi for talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Romanian president urges EU to grant Ukraine candidate status

Romania’s president has urged the European Union to grant Ukraine candidate status, saying the decision is the correct call.

“In my opinion, the candidate status must be granted as soon as possible, it is a correct solution from a moral, economic and security perspective,” Klaus Iohannis said after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Romania.

He added that a decision on the issue may come by the end of June.

Russia says it has destroyed warehouse for NATO weapons in western Ukraine

Russia’s defence ministry says its forces have launched missile strikes on an ammunition warehouse for weapons donated to Kyiv by NATO member states in Ukraine’s western Lviv region, destroying the facility.

The ministry added some of the ammunition was to be used for US-produced M777 howitzers, a type of artillery weapon.

There was no immediate reaction to the ministry’s claims from Kyiv or any NATO member states.

Russia accuses US & UK of encouraging Ukraine to recruit foreign mercenaries

The Russian foreign ministry is pushing a message from press secretary Maria Zakharova on social media in which she accuses the US and UK of encouraging Ukraine to recruit foreign mercenaries.

“The Kyiv regime continues to recruit foreign mercenaries as the Ukrainian armed forces lose fighters. They have recruited more than 6,500 ‘soldiers of fortune’. By early June, there was a two-fold decrease in the number of foreign mercenaries,” she said.

“Still, efforts to recruit mercenaries and ‘volunteers’ continue unabated, mostly targeting Afghan refugees and what is left of the ISIS (ISIL or Daesh) fighters in Syria. These people have probably found new and fertile ground for their hateful ideology. Private military contractors from the United States and Great Britain have been helping select these fighters and send them to Ukraine. However, there has been no talk of sanctioning them in any way,” she added.

“The West has a two-fold agenda: to help Volodymyr Zelenskiy, while also getting rid of its own extremists and radicals. What faulty logic. These fighters will return home having acquired extensive combat experience,” she wrote.

Macron toughens tone on Russia before possible Ukraine visit

French President Emmanuel Macron has voiced a tougher line on Russia after visiting French and allied troops at a NATO base in Romania, seeking to assuage concerns in Ukraine and among some European allies over his previous stance towards Moscow.

French officials have in recent days sought to strengthen the public messaging, while Macron appeared to take a tougher line when he was with his troops.

“We will do everything to stop Russia’s war forces, to help the Ukrainians and their army and continue to negotiate,” he told French and NATO troops at a military base in Romania.

“But for the foreseeable future, we will need to protect, dissuade and be present,” he added.

Macron arrived in Romania on Tuesday for a three-day trip to NATO’s southern flank including Moldova before possibly heading to Kyiv on Thursday on a visit with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, two diplomatic sources stated.

War in Ukraine is “a child rights crisis”: UNICEF regional director

The war in Ukraine is “a child rights crisis,” a regional director for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told a news conference in New York after returning from a trip to that country.

“Nearly two-thirds of Ukraine’s children are displaced — whether displaced inside the country or those who have fled across borders as refugees,” said Afshan Khan, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, according to remarks as prepared for delivery.

“Children forced to leave homes, friends, toys and treasured belongings, family members and facing uncertainty about the future,” she added.

Khan said that according to UN figures, 277 children have been killed and 456 injured over the course of the war, and fighting has damaged or destroyed one in six “UNICEF-supported ‘safe schools’” in the country’s east.

The Ukrainian government quotes an even higher figure. The Prosecutor General announced 313 children have been killed and 579 injured.

““As these numbers show, the war in Ukraine is a child rights crisis, and UNICEF is working to support children and families wherever they are in the country,” Khan added.

She stated that attacks on populated areas and civilian infrastructure “clearly must stop.”

“UNICEF continues to call for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and to protect all children from harm. Every day that this war continues, is increasing the long-lasting, devastating impact on children, in Ukraine, in the region and across the world,” she noted.

War in Ukraine reaches pivotal moment that could determine long-term outcome: Intelligence officials

Ukraine’s military is burning through Soviet-era ammunition that fits older systems as the country pleads with the West to send more heavy weaponry and Russia amasses a significant artillery advantage around two strategically important cities in eastern Ukraine.

Western intelligence and military officials believe Russia’s war in Ukraine is in a critical stage that could determine the long-term outcome of the conflict, according to multiple sources familiar with US and other Western intelligence.

This pivotal moment could also force a tough decision for Western governments, which have up until now offered support to Ukraine at a steadily increasing cost to their own economies and national stockpiles of weapons.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is poised to lead a working group of nearly 50 countries to discuss the crisis on Wednesday, when the US expects more announcements of weapons and equipment packages for Ukraine, according to a senior US defense official. Ukrainian officials have expressed frustration that these vital munitions appear to be trickling into the fight piecemeal — and have raised fears that Western commitment may be softening at a decisive moment.

“I think that you’re about to get to the point where one side or the other will be successful,” said a senior NATO official.

“Either the Russians will reach Slovyansk and Kramatorsk or the Ukrainians will stop them here. And if the Ukrainians are able to hold the line here, in the face of this number forces, that will matter,” the official added.

Moscow-backed separatist claims Ukraine ‘holding hostage’ civilians at Azot plant

Russian-backed separatists in the Luhansk region say Ukrainian forces have “taken hostage” up to 1,200 civilians in the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk, Moscow’s news agency TASS has said.

“Now in Severodonetsk somewhere 1-1,200 civilians have been taken hostage and are in the territory of ‘Azot’. They are kept there forcibly and for a long time… there is no water, no food, no medicine, among them are about 127 children,” TASS quotes the Moscow-installed Assistant Minister of Internal Affairs of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, Vitaly Kiselev, as saying.

Ukraine’s Luhansk Governor, Serhiy Haidai, has stated around 500 civilians are sheltering in the Azot chemical plant that Russian forces are attacking with artillery.

It’s becoming more difficult for Ukraine’s forces to hold off Russia’s attacks on Severodonetsk, which are coming from three sides at the same time, he said, adding Russian forces again fired on the Azot chemical plant on Tuesday.

“High-rise buildings located closer to the chemical giant are being destroyed. The enemy is weaker in street battles, so it opens artillery fire, destroying our homes,” he continued.

Surrounding towns and villages also saw significant damage with many wounded and dozens of homes destroyed, Haidai noted.

‘Extensive collateral damage’ in Severodonetsk due to Russian artillery: UK

Russia’s reliance on heavy artillery has caused “extensive collateral damage” throughout Severodonetsk, which Moscow’s forces largely control after more than a month of heavy fighting, the UK’s defence ministry has announced.

Ukraine’s fighters can likely survive in the underground bunkers of the city’s Azot chemical plant, where they are holding out with several hundred civilians, the ministry said, adding that Russian forces will likely be fixed in and around the plant.

“This will likely temporarily prevent Russia from re-tasking these units for missions elsewhere,” it said in an intelligence briefing on Twitter.

“It is highly unlikely that Russia anticipated such robust opposition, or such slow, attritional conflict during its original planning for the invasion,” the ministry added.

China should look to West’s Ukraine response when considering Taiwan: Blinken

China should factor in the world’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as it looks to any future actions with respect to Taiwan, the US secretary of state has said.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the last 10 years is China acting more repressively at home and more aggressively abroad, to include actions that it’s taken with regard to Taiwan that are potentially dangerous and destabilising,” Antony Blinken stated in an interview on PBS NewsHour on Tuesday.

“One of the things I think that China has to factor into any calculus is the response that we’ve seen to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, and so many countries coming together to stand against that aggression, both by making sure that Ukraine had the support that it needed and also making sure that Russia paid a price for the aggression,” he added.

Blinken also noted the fighting in Ukraine’s Donbas was “horrific” and has led to “terrible death” and destruction.

Russia-backed separatist announces road opening from Donbas to Crimea

The route between Ukraine’s Donbas region and the Russian-annexed territory of Crimea via the occupied regions of Mariupol, Melitopol and Kherson is now available for civilian vehicles, the Russian state-owned TASS news agency reports, citing a member of the self-proclaimed Moscow-backed administration of the Zaporizhia region.

“It’s not only for the military,” Vladimir Rogov said, adding, “I myself have already traveled from Kherson through Melitopol to Berdyansk, Mariupol, Novoazovsk. Through Novoazovsk I went to Russia.”

“People take advantage of this, and there are many who want it, there are queues at the border, it was not designed for such an influx. But this corridor exists,” he continued.

Last week, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the opening of the route to Crimea from Russia’s city of Rostov-on-Don – through Ukraine’s occupied cities of Mariupol, Berdyansk and Melitopol.

Ukraine claims 313 children killed amid war

The office of Ukraine’s prosecutor general says 313 children have been killed and 579 injured amid the war.

Most of the casualties were recorded in the southeastern Donetsk region, northeastern Kharkiv, and in areas around the capital, Kyiv, the office added in a Telegram post.

Poland’s PM criticises NATO’s support for Ukraine

Poland’s prime minister has criticised NATO’s support so far for Ukraine, which has time and again called for more and heavier weapons.

“We have not done enough to defend Ukraine, to support Ukrainian people to defend their freedom and sovereignty. And this is why I urge you, I asked you to do much more to deliver weapon, artillery to Ukraine,” Mateusz Morawiecki said at an informal meeting of seven European NATO nations at The Hague.

“Where is our credibility if Ukraine fails? Can we imagine that Ukraine fails and we revert back to business as usual? I hope not,” he added.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated: “Ukraine should have more heavy weapons, and NATO allies and partners have provided the heavy weapons now for actually a long time. But they are also stepping up.”

Russian troops control 80% of Severodonetsk: Governor

Russian troops control about 80 percent of the fiercely contested eastern city of Severodonetsk, the governor of Luhansk has said.

Serhiy Haidai acknowledged on Tuesday that a mass evacuation of civilians from Severodonetsk now was “simply not possible” due to the relentless shelling and fighting. He said about 500 civilians were still sheltering in the Azot chemical plant.

Ukrainian forces have been pushed to the industrial outskirts of the city because of “the scorched earth method and heavy artillery the Russians are using,” he stated.

“There is still an opportunity for the evacuation of the wounded, communication with the Ukrainian military and local residents,” he told The Associated Press news agency by telephone, adding that Russian soldiers had not yet completely blocked off the strategic city.

Asked about Sweden and Finland’s applications to join the alliance, Stoltenberg noted he was seeking “a united way forward” to resolve opposition from Turkey, which has been angered by what it deems as Swedish support of Kurdish activists.

NATO must strengthen readiness: Chief

NATO must build out “even higher readiness” and strengthen its weapons capabilities along its eastern border in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the military alliance’s chief has said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was speaking after informal talks in the Netherlands on Tuesday with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the leaders of Denmark, Poland, Latvia, Romania, Portugal and Belgium ahead of a wider NATO summit in Madrid at the end of the month.

“In Madrid, we will agree a major strengthening of our posture,” he stated, adding, “Tonight we discussed the need for more robust and combat-ready forward presence and an even higher readiness and more pre-positioned equipment and supplies.”

Zelensky says painful losses continue in Severodonetsk and Kharkiv region

Fierce fighting continues in Severodonetsk and the Kharkiv region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a video address.

In Severodonetsk “the losses, unfortunately, are painful,” Zelensky stated, “But we have to hold on.” He went on to say how it is vital for the Ukrainian military to stay in Donbas.

““The more losses the enemy suffers there, the less strength they will have to continue the aggression. Therefore, the Donbas direction is key to determining who will dominate in the coming weeks,” Zelensky added.

Ukraine’s president also spoke about how “painful losses” have taken place in the Kharkiv region where the Russian army is trying to strengthen its position.

“Fighting for this direction continues, and we still have to fight hard to fight for complete security for Kharkiv and the region,” Zelensky noted.

Fierce battles are occurring in Izium, to the south of Kharkiv, according to local official Maksym Strelnyk.

Strelnyk, the deputy of Izium’s city council, tells CNN that Russian forces are trying to move in the direction of Sloviansk and Barvinkove.

Ukrainian Armed Forces have been able to liberate some settlements on the outskirts of Izium with counterattacks. Strelnyk estimates 15,000 civilians remain in Izium and the city lacks electricity, water, gas, mobile communications and internet. According to the official, about 80% of the infrastructure has been destroyed in Izium.

Ukraine says Russian troops carrying out assaults on eastern cities

Russian troops are carrying out assault operations in several places in eastern Ukraine as fierce street fighting continues for control of the strategically important city of Severodonetsk, according to the Ukrainian armed forces.

Russia is regrouping its troops and is trying to bring in reinforcements, the Ukrainian General Staff announced in its latest report.

There were Russian assaults in Rubizhne in Kharkiv and Zolote in the Luhansk region.

Biden: Temporary silo plan to get Ukraine grain out

US President Joe Biden stated he’s working closely with European Union partners to build temporary silos along the Ukraine border and some in Poland to get much-needed grain out.

Biden made the announcement during a speech in Philadelphia.

Blockaded ports in Ukraine, caused by the ongoing war with Russia, have impeded exports of up to 25 million tonnes of grain from the key European breadbasket.

Ukraine has received 10 percent of arms requested: Defence ministry

Ukraine has received just 10 percent of the weapons it requested from the West to help fight off the Russian offensive, the deputy defence minister has said.

“From what we said we need, we got about 10 percent,” Anna Malyar stated in televised remarks, noting the West should speed up its delivery schedule.

“No matter how hard Ukraine tries, no matter how professional our army is, without the help of Western partners we will not be able to win this war,” Malyar added.

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