Sunday, April 21, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 115: Ukraine planning to resume talks with Russia

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: Ukraine will definitely win

The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has said “Ukraine will definitely win” during a working trip to the southern city of Mykolaiv, as relentless fighting in the country’s east continued.

The president handed out medals and posed for selfies with the servicemen in what appeared to be an underground shelter, according to a video posted to his official Telegram account. “Our brave men. Each one of them is working flat out,” he added.

“We will definitely hold out! We will definitely win,” he stressed.

Russian forces reached the outskirts of Mykolaiv in early March but were then pushed back to the eastern and southern edges of the region, where fierce fighting continues.

EU says Russia putting world in danger of famine

Russia is putting the world at risk of famine through its blockade of Ukraine’s shipments of grains and restrictions on its own exports, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has stated.

“Russia’s conscious political choice is to ‘weaponise’” grain exports and “use them as a tool for blackmail against anyone that opposes its aggression” in Ukraine, Borrell said in an article published on his official blog.

The threat to food security and a “battle of narrative” with Russia on Western-imposed sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine will dominate European Union foreign ministers’ talks in Luxembourg on Monday.

Five civilians return in prisoner swap with Russia: Ukraine

Ukraine’s defence intelligence directorate has said five Ukrainian civilians had been returned in a five-for-five prisoner swap with Russia. It did not say whether the exchanged Russians were combatants.

The directorate added four of the five Ukrainian civilians had been taken prisoner during Russia’s occupation of parts of Kyiv region, from where Russian forces withdrew at the end of March.

German authorities investigating several hundred possible Russian war crimes In Ukraine

Several hundred potential war crimes committed by Russian troops in Ukraine are being investigated by German authorities.

Its federal police says it has received leads in the triple digits involving both political and military officials.

“Our clear goal is to identify those responsible for atrocities, to prove their actions through our investigations and bring them to justice,” its head, Holder Muench, told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

German investigators could be sent to Ukraine, he added, but they would need an international mandate to do so.

Ukraine last month declared 15,000 suspected war crimes had been reported since the war began.

Chief prosecutor Iryna Venediktova stated some 600 suspects had been identified, and included “top military, politicians, and propaganda agents of Russia”.

Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes

Macron names conditions for Russia visit

The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, has said he would not rule out traveling to Russia and meeting with President Vladimir Putin, but only if certain preconditions are met. Paris supports Ukraine but will take measures to avoid any escalation of the conflict, the French leader told TF1 TV.

Macron believes his continued contact with Putin does not affect France’s relations with Ukraine. He also stated he plans to continue engaging with the Russian president on humanitarian issues such as food security.

The French leader added some people do not understand his policy of maintaining contact with Russia, but he “thinks it is France’s role” to continue to do so.

Asked whether he would visit Russia, Macron noted it would require certain preconditions and “gestures” on the part of the Russian president.

He did not specify what exactly he wants Russia to do, but added that he would engage with Putin in a “transparent way” and only when it is “useful.” The French president also defended his earlier statement that it is vital that Russia is not humiliated over its actions in Ukraine.

France made this mistake with Germany after WWI, and it led to a situation in which the peace was lost when WWII broke out, he noted.

Earlier this week, Macron called on Kiev to return to the negotiating table and resume talks with Moscow. The president suggested that France could serve as a mediator, adding that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “is going to have to negotiate with Russia.”

At the time, Macron warned that prolonged hostility with Russia is not a viable long-term solution for European security. On Friday, he said that gasoline and food prices in France continue to rise due to the conflict, and “we have to take exceptional decisions in exceptional times.”

Macron arrived in Kiev on Thursday together with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. During the visit, he voiced support for Ukraine’s EU candidacy status.

Moscow expressed hope that the four leaders will help Kiev adopt a more “realistic” stance on the conflict, saying that supplying more arms to Ukraine will only prolong the suffering of its people and bring more devastation.

Johnson warns of ‘Ukraine fatigue’

As “Ukraine fatigue” builds up around the world it is crucially important to convey a message of support to Kiev, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday amid the ongoing Russian military offensive in the neighboring country.

Speaking to Sky News the day after his trip to the Ukrainian capital, Johnson expressed concern that at this “particularly critical time” when Ukrainian forces are fighting the Russians, “a bit of Ukraine fatigue is starting to set in around the world.”

“Ukrainians are suffering terribly in the east of the country. Putin [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is continuing to commit appalling atrocities. The Russians are grinding forward, inch by inch. And it’s vital for us to show what we know to be true, which is that Ukraine can and will win,” Johnson stated, explaining the importance of his visit to Kiev, the second one since the Russian offensive began at the end of February.

The prime minister claimed that the Russian forces “are still sustaining huge casualties, they are running out of a lot of the most sophisticated weaponry, their precision weapons are starting to be run down very severely.”

“We’ve got to get the message to the Ukrainians and the world about how strongly we’re backing them and how important it is that they succeed,” Johnson stressed.

During his surprise visit to Kiev, Johnson offered President Volodymyr Zelensky a major training program for Ukrainian forces with the potential to train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days.

The UK has been one of the key European supporters of Kiev in its fight against Russia. Britain has already pledged more than £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion) in economic and humanitarian support to Ukraine, providing Kiev with, among other things, more than 5,000 NLAW anti-tank missiles and long-range multiple launch rocket systems.

Russia has consistently warned the West against sending weapons to Ukraine, saying that it would only prolong the conflict and create further problems. It also made it clear that it considers any foreign weapons on the Ukrainian territory as a legitimate target.

Ukraine wants West to stop pushing for ‘unacceptable’ peace terms

Ukraine can defeat Russia on the battlefield if the West supplies enough artillery and other heavy weapons instead of pushing Kiev towards a bad peace deal, Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba wrote in an op-ed published by Foreign Affairs magazine.

“The West must therefore not suggest peace initiatives with unacceptable terms and instead help Ukraine win,” Kuleba wrote, calling for additional weapons for Kiev and more sanctions on Moscow.

The foreign minister criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for saying the West should not “humiliate” Russia, and former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for suggesting that Ukraine should cede some territory for the sake of peace with Moscow.

“These declarations are premised on the idea that Ukrainians, no matter how well they fight, cannot defeat Moscow’s forces. But that notion is wrong,” Kuleba said.

He insisted that “with sufficient support,” Ukraine can stop the advance of Russian troops and take back some of its land.

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin is not suicidal; a Ukrainian victory will not lead to nuclear warfare,” Kuleba noted, adding, “Instead of focusing on Putin’s feelings, the United States and Europe should focus on practical steps to help Ukraine prevail.”

The op-ed comes at a time when Ukrainian officials are growing frustrated with the speed and quantity of Western arms deliveries.

“Either the world doesn’t quite understand what is happening, or it does understand, is tired, and is content with a few Ukrainians dying,” Defense Minister Alexey Reznikov told The Economist on Sunday.

Mikhail Podoliak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, suggested this week that countries such as France and Germany are “hiding from the war.”

“If you think we should lose, just tell us directly: ‘We want you to lose.’ Then we will understand why you give us weapons at this level,” Podoliak told the New York Times.

Several European leaders, including Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, met with Zelensky in Kiev this week, pledging more support. Sergey Nikiforov, Zelensky’s spokesman, denied that the Ukrainian leader was pressured into holding talks with Russia.

West doesn’t want ‘complete defeat’ of Russia: Zelensky aide

Western countries aren’t arming Ukraine with tanks and planes because they’re now looking for a negotiated end to the conflict between Kiev and Moscow, Alexey Arestovich, a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, has stated.

“It’s clear what we’re talking about. They don’t want a complete defeat of Russia. They want to force Russia to negotiate in order to achieve peace,” Arestovich said in an interview interview with activist Mark Feygin on the latter’s YouTube show.

However, the adviser warned that the plans of the EU leaders to stop the conflict through talks are bound to fail.

“It’s going to be about Ukraine liberating all its territories by military means, or at least, bringing things to as they were before February 24” when Moscow launched its military operation, he insisted.

So far, the Russian forces, who have an overwhelming advantage in artillery and other arms, are steadily gaining ground in Donbass.

But, according to Arestovich, “one day, a turning point will come – the Russian troops will begin to withdraw from Ukraine on their own just like they retreated from the Kiev, Sumy, and the Chernigov Region.”

This will happen “for one simple reason” because the Russian military will “realize the futility” of its efforts, he stated.

Ukraine in its previous borders no longer possible: Russia

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s official spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said it was no longer possible for Ukraine to return to its previous borders.

“The Ukraine that you and I had known, within the borders that used to be, no longer exists, and will never exist again. This is evident,” the diplomat stated in an interview to Sky News – Arabia, published in her Telegram channel.

The head of the Lugansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, said the country may hold a referendum on accession to Russia. The head of another Donbass republic, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), noted the issue on joining Russia will “become the number one issue” once the republic restores its constitutional borders.

Besides, officials of the military-civilian administration of the Kherson Region, an area that has been under Russia’s control since mid-March, have repeatedly stressed that the region was seeking to join Russia as well.

Also, a senior official with the military-civilian administration of another region, Zaporozhye, announced the territory hopes to join Russia and become a part of its Southern Federal District.

Ukraine planning to resume peace talks with Russia in August

Ukraine plans to resume peace talks with Russia by the end of August, when counter-attack operations have been carried out.

The country will be in a better position to negotiate, Kiev’s chief negotiator David Arakhamia told an interview with US broadcasters Voice of America.

He believes Ukraine will conduct an operation with counter-attacks in different places, he said without giving details.

‘Fierce battles’ outside Ukraine’s Severodonetsk: Governor

Ukrainian authorities say that “fierce battles” with Russia are raging in villages outside the eastern city of Severodonetsk, which Moscow’s forces have been trying to seize control of for weeks.

“Now the most fierce battles are near Severodonetsk. They [Russia] do not control the city entirely,” the governor of the eastern Lugansk region, Sergiy Haiday, said on Telegram.

“In nearby villages there are very difficult fights, in Toshkivska, Zolote. They are trying to break through but failing,” he continued, adding, “Our defenders are fighting Russians in all directions. Recently, they shot down a plane and took captives.”

He noted that Lysychansk, a Ukrainian-controlled city across a river from battered Severodonetsk, was being “heavily shelled”.

Russian state TV airs videos of two missing Americans in Ukraine

A Russian state TV channel has aired videos on social media of two Americans who went missing last week while fighting alongside the Ukrainian army, stating they had been captured by Russian forces.

United States President Joe Biden had stated on Friday he did not know the whereabouts of Alexander Drueke and Andy Huynh, both US military veterans.

“Mom, I just want to let you know that I’m alive and I hope to be back home as soon as I can be,” Drueke said in a video posted by Russian journalist Roman Kosarev, who works with RT channel, on messaging platform Telegram.

The missing Americans, including a third identified as a former US Marines captain, are believed to be part of an unknown number of mostly military veterans who have joined other foreigners to volunteer alongside Ukrainian troops.

Russian vessel en route to Snake Island sinks: Ukraine

A Russian vessel that was delivering weapons to the strategically important Snake Island has sunk after being hit by Ukrainian missiles, a military official has claimed.

The Russian Black Sea Fleet’s tug, named Vasily Bech, was damaged on Friday by anti-ship missiles provided to Ukraine by Denmark.

“Later it became known that it sank,” Odessa military governor Maxym Marchenko stated in a video statement on his Telegram channel.

Russian officials have not confirmed the incident. Moscow had confirmed the loss of the landing ship Saratov and the flagship missile cruiser Moskva.

UN says civilian casualties exceed 10,000

The United Nations announced more than 10,000 civilians, including hundreds of children, have now been killed or injured in the war in Ukraine.

Some 4,509 people had been killed and 5,585 injured as of midnight in Kyiv (21:00 GMT) on June 16, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in its daily update. The dead include 294 children, the OHCHR said.

“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” the statement read, adding that the actual figures were probably much higher.

Scholz says it is “absolutely necessary” to continue speaking to Putin

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated that it is “absolutely necessary” to continue speaking to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In an interview with dpa news agency, Scholz said: “It is absolutely necessary to speak to Putin. And I will continue to do so, as the French President [Emmanuel Macron] will also.”

“And there are some countries needed and some leaders needed that speak with him. And it is necessary that they are clear because when I speak to Putin, I say, for instance, the same things I said to you: Please understand that there will be not dictate(d) peace,” Scholz continued.

“And if you really believe that you will rob some land and then hope that the times will change and all the things will become normal again, this is a mistake. You have to withdraw your troops and you have to find an agreement with Ukraine which is acceptable and right for the people of Ukraine,” the Chancellor added.

US high-tech drone sale to Ukraine hits snag: Report

The Reuters news agency is reporting that the United States’ plans to sell four MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones to Ukraine have been put on hold because of concerns the sophisticated surveillance equipment could fall into enemy hands.

The technical objection to the sale of the armable drones was raised during a deeper review by the Pentagon’s Defense Technology Security Administration, which is charged with keeping high-value technology safe from enemy hands, Reuters added, citing two people familiar with the plan.

Russian forces renew bid to advance south of Izium

Russia has likely renewed its efforts to advance south of Ukraine’s eastern city of Izium in the last 48 hours, Britain’s defence ministry has announced.

Its goal is to penetrate deeper into the Donetsk region and envelope the pocket around the embattled city of Sievierodonetsk from the north, it said in an intelligence update on Twitter.

If trapped Ukrainian civilians do not take up an offer of leaving via a corridor, Russia is likely to claim justification in making less of a distinction between them and any Ukrainian military targets in the area, the ministry added.

Ukrainian defence remains ‘strong’ around Severodonestsk, Lysychansk: ISW

Russia is deploying more forces to support its offensive in the Severodonetsk and Lysychansk area, but Ukraine’s defences remain “strong”, according to the latest update from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

“The Russian military has concentrated the vast majority of its available combat power to capture Severodonetsk and Lysychansk at the expense of other axes of advance and is suffering heavy casualties to do so,” the US-based think tank announced.

Russian media show images allegedly of US citizens captured in Ukraine

Russian media broadcast images of what they said were two US citizens captured while fighting for Ukraine in what could be the first confirmation the duo had been taken prisoner.

The Izvestia newspaper showed a video clip of what it said was a brief interview with Andy Huynh, 27, of Hartselle, Alabama. The RT channel posted an image of a man it identified as Alexander Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

In a separate six-second video posted on the Telegram messaging app, a bearded man with an American accent speaks into a camera and says, “My name is Alexander Drueke, I am against war.” He repeated, “I am against war” in Russian.

In another two-second video, the man Izvestia identified as Huynh says, “I am against war” in Russian.

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