Friday, August 19, 2022

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 122

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:

Russia says it has full control over Severodonetsk

Russian forces have established full control over the Ukrainian city of Sievierodonetsk, Interfax new agency cited the defence ministry as saying.

Ukrainian officials stated earlier in the day that their troops had withdrawn from the city after a prolonged battle.


Biden, G7 leaders to agree on import ban on Russian gold

US President Joe Biden and his G7 counterparts will agree on an import ban on new gold from Russia as they broaden sanctions against Moscow for its war against Ukraine, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters news agency.

The United States has rallied the world in imposing swift and significant economic costs on Russia to deny President Vladimir Putin the revenue he needs to fund his war in Ukraine.

According to the source, the US Treasury Department will issue a determination to prohibit the import of new gold into the US on Tuesday, in a move aimed at further isolating Russia from the global economy by preventing its participation in the gold market.


Russia to send Belarus nuclear-capable missiles within months: Putin

Moscow will deliver missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Belarus in the coming months, President Vladimir Putin has said.

“In the coming months, we will transfer to Belarus Iskander-M tactical missile systems, which can use ballistic or cruise missiles, in their conventional and nuclear versions,” Putin stated in a broadcast on Russian television.


Russian forces occupy all of Ukraine’s Severodonetsk: Mayor

The mayor of Severodonetsk has confirmed Russian forces had fully occupied the city.

“The city is now under the full occupation of Russia. They are trying to establish their own order, as far as I know they have appointed some kind of commandant,” Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk stated on national television.


Biden leaves for G7, NATO summits focused on Ukraine

President Joe Biden has left the White House for a week of diplomacy in which he hopes to reinforce the Western alliance against Russia and look to challenges from China.

Biden was headed first to a luxurious castle in Germany’s Alps for a G7 summit with leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Next week he flies to Madrid for a NATO summit.

Both sessions will take place in the shadow of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, but also a global surge in inflation, fears of recession, and the ever-growing challenge of containing China while avoiding open conflict.


Erdogan tells Sweden, NATO leaders Turkey awaits steps for NATO bids

President Tayyip Erdogan told the heads of NATO and Sweden on Saturday that Nordic countries must take binding steps to address Turkey’s concerns and overcome its opposition to their membership bids, Turkish state media reported.

Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But Ankara surprised allies in opposing the bids on grounds it says Stockholm and Helsinki support Kurdish militants like the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and they maintain arms embargos on Turkey. It wants reversals on both fronts.

On one call, Erdogan told Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson that Turkey wants to see the “concrete and clear applications of binding commitments Sweden will make” before backing its bid, Anadolu agency reported.


Mayor says Ukrainian troops have ‘almost left’ Severodonetsk

The mayor of Ukraine’s Severodonetsk says Ukrainian troops have “almost left” the strategic frontline city after holding out for weeks against advancing Russian forces.

Mayor Oleksandr Stryuk did not confirm whether a full withdrawal was underway. On Friday, regional authorities stated Ukraine was set to pull back its troops there.

“Unfortunately, they have almost left the city,” Stryuk added on national television.


FM says Ukraine stands with Moldova against threats from Russia

Ukraine stands with Moldova in response to renewed threats from Russia, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has stated, after Moscow warned of negative consequences over the two countries becoming candidates for EU membership.

“We stand with the people and the government of friendly Moldova amid renewed threats coming from Moscow,” Kuleba wrote on Twitter.


Ukraine already using US-supplied rocket systems in conflict: Top general

US-supplied HIMARS rocket systems are already working and hitting targets in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, the country’s top general has stated.

“Artillerymen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine skilfully hit certain targets – military targets of the enemy on our, Ukrainian, territory,” Chief of Ukraine’s General Staff Valeriy Zaluzhnyi wrote on the Telegram app.


Russia pushes to block second city in eastern Ukraine

Russian forces are attempting to blockade the city of Lysychansk from the south, Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk, has stated on Facebook.

Russian moves to cut off Lysychansk will give Ukrainian troops retreating from nearby Severodonetsk little respite as Moscow focuses all efforts on capturing all of the eastern Donbas region, comprising Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.


‘Massive’ bombardment on Chernigiv region came from Belarus: Ukraine army

Ukraine’s northern border region of Chernigiv came under “massive bombardment” fired from the territory of Russia’s ally Belarus, the Ukrainian army has said in a statement.

“Around 5:00 o’clock in the morning (0200 GMT) the Chernigiv region suffered a massive bombardment by missiles. Twenty rockets, fired from the territory of Belarus and from the air, targeted the village of Desna,” Ukraine’s northern military command wrote on Facebook, adding that there were no reports of victims so far.


Russian shelling hits Severodonetsk chemical plant where civilians trapped

Russia has launched artillery and air strikes on the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, hitting a chemical plant where hundreds of civilians are trapped, a Ukrainian official has said.

“There was an air strike at Lysychansk. Severodonetsk was hit by artillery,” Serhiy Haidai stated on the Telegram messaging app, adding the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk and the villages of Synetsky and Pavlograd and others were shelled on Friday.

He made no mention of casualties in the industrial zone, where about 300 civilians are sheltering.


Ukraine claims Russia has lost over 34,500 military personnel

More than 34,500 Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine so far, Ukraine has claimed.

Ukraine’s Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security announced that Russia has lost 34,700 troops since it began its invasion in February.

The body estimates that 1,511 tanks have also been lost and 217 aircraft.


Ukrainian forces ordered to withdraw from key city of Severodonetsk

Ukrainian forces have been ordered to withdraw from the key battleground city of Severodonetsk after weeks of fierce street fighting, in order to limit further casualties and regroup.

Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said that “it is now a situation where it makes no sense to hold out in battered positions”.

“That’s why our defenders who are there have already been ordered to withdraw to new positions and conduct normal, fully fledged military operations from there,” he added.

Severodonetsk was already mostly under the control of Russian troops, even if they still met resistance. The move will be seen by Russia as a significant victory.


UK: Major shakeup in Russian high command

The UK MoD claims that there has been a major shakeup in the Russian army’s high command since the start of June leading to the removal of the commander of airborne forces (VDV), Gen-Col Andrei Serdyukov, and commander the southern army group (SGF), Gen Alexandr Dvornikov.

These includes the commander of Airborne Forces (VDV) General-Colonel Andrei Serdyukov; and commander Southern Group of Forces (SGF) General of the Army Alexandr Dvornikov.

The MoD says the latter was probably at some point overall operational commander of the invading forces.

And finally it adds that command of the SGF is likely to transfer to Col-Gen Sergei Surovikin, as SGF continues to perform a central part in Russia’s offensive in the Donbas. For over thirty years, Surovikin’s career has been dogged with allegations of corruption and brutality, the MoD claims.


Johnson says he fears Ukraine will be coerced to make a ‘bad peace’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday that he feared Ukraine could face pressure to agree a peace deal with Russia that was not in its interests, due to the economic consequences of the war in Europe.

“Too many countries are saying this is a European war that is unnecessary … and so the pressure will grow to encourage – coerce, maybe – the Ukrainians to a bad peace,” he told broadcasters in the Rwandan capital Kigali, where he is attending a Commonwealth summit.

Johnson added the consequences of Russian President Vladimir Putin being able to get his way in Ukraine would be dangerous to international security and “a long-term economic disaster”.


Moscow says Ukraine EU candidacy is to ‘contain Russia’

Russia’s foreign ministry has condemned the decision by Brussels to grant Ukraine official EU candidate status as a move to “contain Russia” geopolitically.

The decision “confirms that a geopolitical monopolisation of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) space is continuing actively in order to contain Russia,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated.


Ukraine will need at least 10 years to demine its territory: Official

Ukraine will need at least a decade to clear all the mines and explosives from its land and territorial waters once its war with Russia is over, an emergency services official has said.

Ukraine has managed to clear 620 square kilometres of land that were littered with thousands of explosive devices, including 2,000 bombs dropped from the air, but nearly 300,000 square kilometres are still seen as “contaminated”, the official added.

“Up to 10 years, that’s the optimistic figure. Because we don’t know what’s happening on the territories where active combat is ongoing right now,” Oleksandr Khorunzhiy, spokesperson for Ukraine’s State Emergency Service, stated.

“Just imagine the number of bombs that have been dropped on us by the enemy,” the official told a news conference.


Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol says there is no water and thousands of tons of garbage in streets

Vadym Boichenko, the exiled mayor of Mariupol, gave a brief update on the situation inside the city now under Russian control.

Speaking on Friday, Boichenko said that 120,000 residents of the city are trapped, unable to escape. He added that the sanitary situation in the city is becoming critical.

“Garbage has not been taken out since February. Thousands of tons of garbage lie on the street, rotting. The sewer does not work. There is no water,” he added.

Boichenko is no longer physically in the city, but he provides updates on the conditions inside the city from sources and information he receives.

According to those sources, Russian forces have “distanced themselves from the locals because they are afraid of getting infected.”

Boichenko noted that he is unsure if diseases may be spreading around the city.


US says it “makes no sense” for Russia to demand inspecting Ukrainian ships

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated it doesn’t make sense for Russia to demand that it be able to inspect every Ukrainian ship leaving Ukrainian ports.

“By what right or by what logic does Russia insist on inspecting Ukrainian sovereign ships leaving Ukrainian ports going to other countries? That makes no sense,” Blinken said to CNN’s Fred Pleitgen at a press conference in Germany on Friday.

He also added that Ukraine needs assurances that its ports will be safe from potential Russian ships, when asked about Russian demands that Ukraine clears the passages of mines.

“When Russia says that it might be prepared to let ships out, that potentially creates the risk of Russian ships going in and attacking Odesa directly. So the Ukrainians have to have confidence that in doing anything that would allow their ships to get out of port that the Russians won’t take advantage of that and allow Russian ships to go in and attack Odesa,” Blinken noted.

Blinken did not say there has been any definitive progress on getting Ukrainian grain out of the country despite high-profile attention — both by the Joe Biden administration and its allies — on the problem for over a month now.

Blinken also expressed support for the United Nations, which has been trying to work with both the Russians and the Ukrainians to develop a solution.

“The United Nations, the secretary general, have been working very persistently to see if some kind of agreement can be reached that would allow a channel out of Odesa for Ukrainian ships and so food and grain. We very much support that effort,” Blinken continued.


Mykolaiv mayor urges “everyone who wants to stay alive to leave the city”

The mayor of the southern Ukraine city of Mykolaiv, Oleksandr Sienkevych, has urged residents of the city to leave.

“I suggest everyone who wants to stay alive to leave the city. About 230,000 people remain in Mykolayiv city now,” the mayor said.

Evacuation routes out of the city are in the directions of Odesa, Kryvyi Rih and Kyiv.

He described the situation as “generally very bad. The city is shelled every day.”

The mayor added 111 people have been killed and 502 people have been injured, including six children.


Italy says it has reduced dependence on Russian gas by quarter

Italy has managed to reduce its dependence on gas imported from Russia to 25 percent from 40 percent last year as it diversifies suppliers, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Friday.

“The measures the government has put in place since the beginning of the war are starting to pay off. In other words, other gas suppliers are beginning to replace Russian gas,” Draghi told the Italian media in Brussels following the EU summit.

To reduce its dependence on Russian gas following its invasion of neighbour Ukraine, Italy signed a major agreement with Algeria in April on increased gas supplies.

Discussions have also been held with Qatar, Angola and Mozambique.

In addition, Italy was thinking ahead to the winter season when gas demand is higher, and “storage is going very well”, Draghi added.


Spain warns of possible cyberattack at NATO summit

Spain’s defence minister warned on Friday of a possible cyberattack during the Nato summit in Madrid next week.

Asked if Spain feared Russia could launch such an attack, Margarita Robles told journalists “the possibility of a cyberattack exists”, without mentioning the country by name.

“There are many challenges and many threats,” she said, adding that there were “many people working… to prevent any situation that could affect security” at the summit on June 28-30.

According to the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia, Spanish intelligence services fear a Russian attack on strategic infrastructure such as airports, hospitals, or water and energy supply centres.

The Spanish capital will be under tight security.

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