Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 117

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:

Africa has been “taken hostage” by Russia’s war against Ukraine: Zelensky

Addressing the African Union Commission via video link on Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Africa has been “taken hostage by those who started the war against our country.”

Zelensky warned the global food crisis will continue “as long as this colonizing war goes on,” affecting the lives of as many as 400 million people all over the world who depend on Ukrainian exports.

“Our main task right now is to eliminate the threat of famine. In the 21st century this threat simply cannot be, thanks to Ukraine and thanks to our agrarian industry,” he added.

“If it wasn’t for the Russia’s war, you would be in a different situation right now – in a totally secure situation. Therefore, to avoid famine, the attempts of countries like Russia to return the colonial policy of landgrabs has to come to an end,” Zelensky stated.

According to Zelensky, Ukraine is attempting to build new supply logistics, but 25 million tonnes of grain still remain on hold as Russia continues to block Ukrainian ports.

Russia’s war in Ukraine could push up to 49 million people into famine or famine-like conditions because of its devastating impact on global food supply and prices, the United Nations has announced.

With its fertile soil and sprawling agricultural lands, Ukraine has long been described as one of the world’s breadbaskets. But Russia’s unprovoked assault is now putting a huge strain on Ukraine’s food production and exports. The ripple effects are being felt around the world.

Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports has already raised global food prices and threatens to cause a catastrophic food shortage in parts of the world, according to the UN.

The Russian invasion has affected Ukraine’s entire food production and supply chain: From sowing to harvesting to exports. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that between 20% and 30% of Ukraine’s agricultural land will remain either unplanted or unharvested this year because of the war.

With regards to food that is already harvested, Ukrainian authorities, and some international officials, have accused Russia of robbing the country of grain and other commodities in areas it occupies.

Syrian fighters spotted in Melitopol: Deposed mayor

The deposed mayor of Russian-occupied Melitopol, in southeastern Ukraine, has claimed that Syrian fighters have been spotted in the city.

Ivan Fyodorov said in televised remarks that Syrian nationals “dressed in the uniform of the Russian Federation” were seen at a military base where explosions were heard on Sunday evening. He provided no further details or evidence for his claims.

The New York Times reported in late March that a contingent of hundreds of Syrian fighters had arrived in Russia for military training before heading to Ukraine, citing an unnamed Western diplomat and a Damascus-based ally of the Syrian government.

Explosions rock Odesa after alleged attack on Crimean energy company assets

Explosions have rocked Odesa after reported Ukrainian strikes on drilling platforms in the Black Sea owned by a Crimean oil and gas company.

A spokesman for Odesa’s regional administration confirmed to the Reuters news agency there had been blasts in the southwestern city but gave no further details, including on whether there had been any casualties.

Oleksiy Honcharenko, a legislator from Odesa, stated the city appeared to have come under attack in what he described as “revenge for our morning shelling of oil rigs near Crimea.”

Earlier on Monday, the head of the Russian-annexed Crimean Peninsula said Ukrainian forces had struck drilling platforms in the Black Sea owned by the Chernomorneftegaz energy company. Kyiv made no immediate comment on the alleged attack.

A food warehouse in the port city of Odesa was destroyed by a Russian missile attack today, according to the Ukrainian military.

The military said Russian forces fired 14 missiles at southern Ukraine during a three-hour barrage “in impotent anger at the successes of our troops”, Reuters reports.

No civilians were killed, it added.

‘Decisive’ fighting for Severodonetsk ongoing: Ukrainian official

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister says “decisive” battles for Severodonetsk are taking place, with Russia having focused its resources on taking control of the strategically important city.

“Without exaggeration, decisive fights for Severodonetsk are going on, and the enemy’s plans and goals are to reach the borders of the Luhansk region before June 26,” Anna Maliar stated in televised remarks.

She added that the Russian army had “thrown all of its force and resources” into the “fight to storm residential areas” around the city.

Ukrainian forces have lost control of village near Severodonetsk: Governor

Ukrainian troops have “lost control” over the southeastern village of Metolkine, near the embattled city of Severodonetsk, Luhansk’s governor says.

“There’s fighting raging in many towns around Severodonetsk and Lysychansk. Unfortunately, now we don’t control Metolkine near the region’s center,” Serhiy Haidai stated in a Telegram post.

Haidai added that Russian forces had intensified their shelling of the industrial zone in Severodonetsk, where hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have taken shelter.

Russians ‘treating dead as garbage’ in Mariupol: Ukrainian official

Russian forces have started to use tractors to exhume and transport the bodies of civilians killed by shelling in Ukraine’s occupied, southeastern port city of Mariupol, a local official has alleged.

“The bodies are dug up, loaded onto tractors and taken to the morgue,” Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the mayor of Mariupol, who is based outside of the city, said in a Telegram post.

He claimed that some of the bodies are then buried in mass graves.

“Treating the dead as garbage has become normal,” Andryushchenko added.

Russia claims its forces struck Odesa airfield

Russia’s defence ministry says its forces have struck an airfield in Ukraine’s southwestern Odesa region, destroying two Bayraktar drones and a drone control station.

Spokesman Igor Konahsenkov said a high-precision Oniks missile was used to target the Artsyz airfield. Ukraine’s military had earlier said its air defence system deterred two attempted attacks on the Odesa region, destroying incoming missiles.

Ukrainian forces hit Crimea oil drilling platforms: Pro-Russian regional head

Ukrainian forces have struck drilling platforms belonging to oil and gas company Chernomorneftegaz off the Crimean Peninsula, the head of the Russian-annexed region has claimed.

Three people were injured and the search is ongoing for seven other workers, Sergei Askyonov said in a post on Telegram.

Ukraine breaks Russia’s ‘first line of defense’ in Kherson

Ukrainian troops have “broken” Russian forces’ “first line of defence” in the largely-occupied southern region of Kherson, according to a local official.

Serhiy Hlan, an aide to the governor of Kherson, stated in televised remarks that Ukrainian forces were advancing in the delta of the Dnieper River and had destroyed Russian military stores in the town of Nova Kakhovka.

Large swaths of territory in the Kherson region – a key gateway to Crimea – were seized by Russian troops early in Moscow’s invasion.

Russia demands Lithuania immediately lift Kaliningrad transit ban

Russia has demanded that Lithuania immediately lift a ban on the transit of some goods to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

The Russian foreign ministry told the Lithuanian envoy in Moscow that if cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of Russia through Lithuania was not restored, Moscow would respond to protect its interests.

Lithuanian authorities banned the transit of goods which are sanctioned by the EU across its territory, which includes the only rail route between mainland Russia and the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea, which is wedged between Lithuania and Poland.

Banned goods include coal, metals, construction materials and advanced technology.

Lithuania’s decision to ban the transit of sanctioned materials to Russia through the Kaliningrad region is “unprecedented” and Russia considers it “illegal,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“This decision is truly unprecedented. This is a violation of everything,” Peskov told reporters during a regular conference call on Monday. ”

“We also consider it illegal,” Peskov stated, adding that the Kremlin will need to analyze the situation carefully.

“It is part of a blockade, of course,” he continued.

Separatists claim control of village south of Severodonetsk

Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine say they have taken control of a village beside the main southern road towards Severodonetsk.

Vitaly Kiselev, an assistant to the self-styled interior minister of the self-proclaimed Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), was quoted by Russia’s TASS news agency as saying the village of Toshkivka, about 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Sievierodonetsk, had been seized.

Luhansk’s governor, Serhiy Haidai, had previously told Ukrainian television that pro-Russian forces were trying to break through the lines of Toshkivka.

Relationship between US and Russia is at “zero Kelvin”

Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the security council of Russia and long-time ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin has posted to Telegram to say that the relationship between the US and Russia is at “zero Kelvin”.

Speaking about the prospect for further negotiations on nuclear treaties, Medvedev posted: “As a person who had a direct relationship with START-3 and signed it in 2010, I consider the time for new negotiations to be the most inopportune.”

“We don’t have any relations with the USA now. They are at zero Kelvin. And you don’t need to defrost them today. And there is no need to negotiate with them yet. Let them run or crawl and ask for it. And they appreciate it as a special favour,” he added.

Germany says working with Poland, Romania on freeing stuck grain

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated Berlin supports Poland and Romania in adapting their railways to enable the export of millions of tonnes of grain stuck in Ukraine due to a Russian sea blockade.

“The railway tracks need to be modernised, we need the right cargo wagons – the German government is working on this with many other actors,” Baerbock said as she arrived for a meeting with her EU counterparts in Luxembourg.

“It is clear that, in the end, we will certainly not be able to get out all grain but if we even just manage to free part of it, on various routes, then this will help as we are facing this global challenge,” she added.

Germany “very confident” of deal on Sweden, Finland NATO bid

Germany is “very confident” NATO will reach an agreement with Sweden and Finland over bid for membership of the alliance but it would not be a “catastrophe” if this did not happen by the summit in Madrid next week, a German government source said.

“As nice as it would be to announce concrete steps .. it would not be a catastrophe if it needed a few more weeks,” the source stated, adding, “What is decisive from our point of view is there are no unsurmountable problems”.

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

Borrell: Russian blockade of grain exports is ‘a real war crime’

Russia’s blockade of the export of millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain is a war crime, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has stated.

“We call on Russia to deblockade the ports … It is inconceivable, one cannot imagine that millions of tonnes of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine while in the rest of the world people are suffering hunger,” he told the media.

“This is a real war crime, so I cannot imagine that this will last much longer,” he said on arriving to a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

Ukraine says 323 children killed amid war

Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office announced 323 children have died amid the war and 586 have been injured.

An eight-year-old girl was wounded as a result of shelling in Donetsk’s village of Zheleznoye on Sunday, the office said.

In the Kharkiv region on the same day, another two children aged 13 and 14 received shrapnel wounds when a shell fell into a pond they were swimming in, the office added.

Ukraine not suitable for EU: Russian official

Ukraine is “by no means” a suitable candidate for European Union membership, the speaker of Russia’s parliament has said.

“Total corruption, rampant crime, oligarchic power and a ruined economy are the characteristics of modern Ukraine. Europe understands this very well too, but the desire to weaken Russia prevails,” Viacheslav Volodin wrote on Telegram.

Volodin stated the 27-nation union was ready to give Ukraine candidate status because Washington and Brussels want “to keep hostilities going”.

“The result for Ukraine will be sad. The decision-making centre will be officially transferred to Brussels. It will finally lose its independence,” he added.

Russia’s air forces performing poorly in Ukraine: UK

Russia’s air forces are underperforming in Ukraine, and Moscow’s campaign is relying more than planned on its exhausted ground troops and advanced cruise missiles that are running low on stock, the UK’s ministry of defence has announced.

The inadequacy of Russia’s air forces is one of the most important factors behind its limited success in Ukraine, the ministry said in an intelligence briefing on Twitter, adding that the forces operated “in a risk-adverse style, rarely penetrating deep behind Ukrainian lines.”

One reason for this was the heavily scripted training designed to impress senior officials, rather than to develop initiative among the crew, the ministry noted.

“While Russia has an impressive roster of relatively modern and capable combat jets, the air force has also almost certainly failed to develop the institutional culture and skill-sets required for its personnel to meet Russia’s aspiration of delivering a more Western-style modern air campaign,” it added.

Von der Leyen ‘confident’ about Ukraine’s EU candidacy

The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has expressed confidence that Ukraine will be granted official candidate status ahead of a key EU summit in Brussels later this month.

“I firmly believe that we will get a positive decision, that we will get support, that the course has now been set,” von der Leyen told German public broadcaster ARD.

“Of course, this is also a historic decision that the European Council now has to make, but the preparations are good,” she said, adding that she was “confident” of Ukrainian prospects.

Von der Leyen’s comments come after the EU Commission on Friday came out in favour of formally designating Ukraine and Moldova as candidates to join the European Union. The 27 EU member states are due to discuss the Commission’s recommendation at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Fighting raging around clock in Severodonetsk: Governor

Ukraine’s forces in Severodonetsk are holding the line, as fighting rages around the clock, Luhansk’s governor has said.

“The enemy regularly uses prohibited ammunition,” Serhiy Haidai wrote on Telegram.

Mayor Alexander Stryuk stated that Russian forces were deporting the city’s residents.

They control all of Severodonetsk’s residential areas, he added.

Ukraine investigating Russian soldiers for sexual violence

Ukraine’s deputy prosecutor general has stated Kyiv has launched 19 criminal proceedings against Russian soldiers for the rape of at least 14 women in the temporarily occupied territories.

“Every culprit must be punished,” Gyunduz Mamedov said in a tweet.

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani, on Saturday noted that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has verified cases of sexual violence against both women and men in Ukraine.

Zelensky expects Russia to intensify attacks on Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that he expects Russia to intensify attacks on Ukraine as Kyiv waits for the European Union’s decision to grant it the status of a candidate state.

“Obviously, this week we should expect from Russia an intensification of its hostile activities, as an example,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address.

“And not only against Ukraine, but also against other European countries. We are preparing. We are ready,” he added.

Top EU human rights official on a fact-finding mission in Ukraine

A EU top human rights official has said that war crimes committed in Ukraine will be thoroughly investigated.

“When we talk about war crimes we talk not only about those who committed the crime […] They of course have responsibility. But we are also talking about those who are in the chain of command, if necessary right to the very top,” Eamon Gilmore, EU special human rights representative, stated.

Gilmore spoke after walking around ruined buildings and wrecked cars in Irpin, a town near Kyiv which became the scene of heavy fighting early in the invasion.

The Irpin tour was designed to highlight what Ukraine and its backers say were large-scale atrocities committed by Russian troops, and what German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described as the scene of “unimaginable cruelty” and “senseless violence”.

Surrendered Ukrainian fighters testifying against colleagues: Russian-backed fighters

Ukrainian fighters who surrendered to Russian-backed troops in the settlement of Metolkine, which Moscow says its forces now control, are testifying against colleagues holed up in a chemical plant in the eastern city of Severodonetsk, news agency Tass has reported.

Fighters from the self-proclaimed, Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) on Sunday said that soldiers from Ukraine’s Luhansk-based Aidar Battalion surrendered to the LPR on June 18, during Russia’s capture of Metolkine on the outskirts of Severodonetsk, according to Russia’s news agencies. The fighters did not say how many of Ukraine’s troops had surrendered but claimed the unit’s commander was among them.

Tass on Monday quoted a source close to the LPR saying that Russian-backed separatists are now using information given to them by the Aidar Battalion in negotiations with Ukraine’s soldiers at the Azot chemical plant.

Hundreds of civilians and some Ukrainian forces have been sheltering inside the Severodonetsk plant, which the Luhansk governor says is being pounded daily by Russian forces.

Ukraine says it will ‘fight with shovels’ if denied Western arms

Ukraine will continue fighting against Russia even if it has no weapons whatsoever, so the West should speed up its shipments of arms to Ukraine or be responsible for the deaths of its troops, Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said to German media on Sunday.

“If we don’t get weapons, fine. Then we will fight with shovels. But we will keep defending ourselves because this is a war for our existence,” Kuleba was quoted as saying in an interview with the public broadcaster ARD.

“The sooner we get the weapons, the sooner they are sent, the more good they will do us. If they come late, we will still thank you, but then there will be a lot of waste, and many people will have died by then,” he added.

He made the remarks during a panel discussion with political talk show host Anne Will. The list of guests on the show also included the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and several German politicians and political experts.

Kuleba noted that Russian artillery outgunned Ukraine’s in Donbass 15 to 1, echoing statements that several senior Ukrainian officials have made lately. Kiev cannot win with such an imbalance of power, the foreign minister stated.

Western politicians, who believe Kiev should make concessions to Russia and agree to settle the conflict with a peace agreement due to the dire situation on the battlefield, are wrong, Kuleba claimed.

Ukraine was left with some of the largest military stockpiles among former Soviet republics when the USSR dissolved. Now it says it’s lost up to half of its heavy weapons fighting against Russia and allied forces in the east.

Kiev has been pleading for the West to deliver artillery guns, tanks and fighter jets, but have received just a fraction of what they asked for. Ukraine’s allies say they are concerned that Moscow could perceive delivery of weapons as a serious escalation, and Moscow might consider the suppliers as part of the hostilities, Western officials claim.

Moscow says that any military aid given to Ukraine escalates and prolongs the conflict and accused its opponents of waging “a war to the last Ukrainian” against Russia.

US weapons supplies to Kiev won’t force Russia to comply with Washington rules: Lavrov

By supplying arms to Ukraine, the United States will not be able to deprive Russia of the right to its own voice in international affairs and force it to comply with the rules invented by Washington, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with the Rossiya 1 TV channel on Sunday.

When asked about what the United States is trying to achieve by sending additional shipments of weapons to Ukraine, the minister pointed out that Washington had declared these goals for a long time.

“They are achieving what they announced a long time ago, that Russia must know its place, Russia does not have the right to its own voice in international affairs, Russia must comply with the rules that were invented by the United States. That’s all. I think they understand very well that they won’t succeed,” Lavrov stressed.

Earlier, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said that pumping up the Kiev government with US-made weapons is a road to direct military confrontation between the two biggest nuclear superpowers, fraught with “unpredictable consequences.”

UK must have military capable of defeating Russia: Army head

The United Kingdom must have a military capable of fighting in Europe and defeating Russia, the new head of the British army was quoted as telling troops by local media.

Patrick Sanders, who took command of the British army this month, told his troops, according to the ‘i newspaper’ on Sunday: “I am the first Chief of the General Staff since 1941 to take command of the Army in the shadow of a land war in Europe involving a continental power.”

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine underlines our core purpose – to protect the UK by being ready to fight and win wars on land,” he added.

Report: Vast majority of Russian munitions in Ukraine are ‘unguided’

The New York Times has identified more than 2,000 munitions used by Russian forces in Ukraine, “a vast majority of which were unguided”.

According to the newspaper, more than 210 weapons that were identified were types that have been widely banned under a variety of international treaties.

“All but a handful were cluster munitions, including their submunitions, which can pose a grave risk to civilians for decades after war has ended,” the report said.

“More than 330 other weapons appeared to have been used on or near civilian structures,” the daily added.

Ukraine to restrict Russian books and music, cutting cultural ties

Ukraine’s parliament has voted through two laws which will place severe restrictions on Russian books and music in an attempt to break cultural ties between the two countries.

One law will forbid the printing of books by Russian citizens, unless they renounce their Russian passport and take Ukrainian citizenship. The ban will only apply to those who held Russian citizenship after the 1991 collapse of Soviet rule.

It will also ban the commercial import of books printed in Russia, Belarus, and occupied Ukrainian territory, while also requiring special permission for the import of books in Russian from any other country.

Another law will prohibit the playing of music by post-1991 Russian citizens on media and on public transport, while also increasing quotas on Ukrainian-language speech and music content in TV and radio broadcasts.

The laws need to be signed by President Volodymyr Zelensky to take effect, and there is no indication that he opposes either. Both received broad support from across the chamber, including from lawmakers who had traditionally been viewed as pro-Kremlin by most of Ukraine’s media and civil society.

Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko stated he was “glad to welcome” the new restrictions.

The laws are designed to help Ukrainian authors share quality content with the widest possible audience, which after the Russian invasion do not accept any Russian creative product on a physical level,” the Ukrainian cabinet’s website quoted him as saying.

The new rules are the latest chapter in Ukraine’s long path to shedding the legacy of hundreds of years of rule by Moscow.

Ukraine announced this process, previously referred to as “decommunisation” but now more often called “derussification,” is necessary to undo centuries of policies aimed at crushing Ukrainian identity.

Report: Russia will likely seize Severodonetsk but make little progress on other fronts

The Institute for the Study of War has said that “Russian forces will likely be able to seize [the industrial city of] Severodonetsk in the coming weeks, but at the cost of concentrating most of their available forces in this small area”.

In a report, the Washington, DC-based think-tank added, “The Russian military continues to face challenges with the morale and discipline of its troops in Ukraine.”

Gaining full control of the Luhansk region is a main strategic goal for Russian forces, as part of a campaign to try and take complete control of the Donbas.

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