Saturday, March 2, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 131

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:

Reconstruction of Ukraine is a “common task” of democratic world: Zelensky

The reconstruction of Ukraine is a “common task” of the democratic world, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday during the opening statement at the “Ukraine Recovery Conference” in Lugano, Switzerland – a two-day conference looking to set a roadmap for the reconstruction of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

“The reconstruction of Ukraine is not a local project. It’s not a project of one nation, but a common task of the entire democratic world, all countries who can say that they are civilized,” Zelensky stated in the virtual address.

The Ukrainian president also added that restoring his country means restoring the principle of life, “restoring the space of life, restoring everything that makes humans human.”

This reconstruction also implies “an opportunity for our countries and our companies and our specialists to show why freedom is mightier than any tyranny,” he continued.

European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen announced on Monday that the European Union has proposed setting up a reconstruction platform to help the Ukrainian government rebuild the country after the war with Russia.

“The European Commission has proposed to the government of Ukraine to set up a reconstruction platform to map investment needs, to coordinate action, to channel resources and, of course, in support of an ambitious reform agenda,” Von der Leyen said during the opening ceremony of the Ukraine recovery conference.

“This platform will be the place to shape strategic orientations and priorities for our common work,” she added.

Von der Leyen also noted the platform will “focus on future-proof reconstruction, moving towards climate neutrality, embracing the digital decade [and] building a social market economy that leaves no one behind.”

She went on to say that the Kremlin’s aim is to “undermine Ukraine’s very existence as a state,” the “the military, political and economic destruction” of the country and that the European Union “will never let that happen.”

Von der Leyen added that the EU has already mobilized 6.2 billion euros in financial support and that “more has to come and more will come.”

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal reiterated the need for financial assistance in his speech at the conference, saying that the country’s recovery plan will cost an estimated $750 billion.

Shmyhal said confiscated Russian assets should be a key source of funding.

“Who should pay for the recovery plan which is already estimated at $750 billion? We believe that the key source of recovery should be the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs. The Russian authorities unleashed this bloody war. They caused this massive destruction and they should be held accountable for it,” Shmyhal stated during the conference, adding that “Russia’s frozen assets, according to various estimates, range from $300 billion to $500 billion.”

According to the Ukrainian prime minister, other sources of funding for the recovery plan should include grants and soft loans from international financial organizations and partner countries, private sector investments and off-budget contributions from individuals and corporations as well as Ukraine’s own budget funds.

The prime minister also said that Ukraine’s direct infrastructure losses amount to more than $100 billion.

“More than 1,200 education institutions, more than 200 hospitals, thousands of kilometers of gas pipelines, water, and electricity network, roads and railways were destroyed or damaged,” Shmyhal added.

British Foreign Secretary says Russians must be accountable for Ukraine war

Russia needs to help pay for the damage it has inflicted on Ukraine during its “appalling war” while Kyiv also needed help to revive its battered economy, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Reuters news agency.

“Russia needs to be held to account for this appalling war,” Truss said on the sidelines of the Ukraine Recovery Conference in Lugano.

“We are looking at options for the deployment of Russian assets,” she continued, adding Britain is looking at legislation to seize assets from people responsible for the war.

We need to look at alternatives to get grain out of Ukraine: Johnson

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that alternative routes to retrieve grain stuck in Ukraine will need to be looked at if the Bosphorus strait in Turkey cannot be used to move it.

“The Turks are absolutely indispensable to solving this. They’re doing their very best … It does depend on the Russians agreeing to allow that grain to get out,” Johnson told parliament.

“We will increasingly have to look at alternative means of moving that grain from Ukraine if we cannot use the sea route, if you can’t use the Bosphorus,” he added.

Ukraine reconstruction estimated to cost $750bn: PM

Reconstructing Ukraine is expected to cost $750bn, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has said, insisting that seized Russian assets should be used pay for the recovery of his war-shattered country.

Speaking to the Ukraine Recovery Conference in southern Switzerland, he stated Ukraine’s recovery “is already estimated at $750bn. We believe that the key source of recovery should be the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs.”

Putin says generals proposed “development of offensive operations” and forces must proceed per plans

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that he received a proposal from the Russian army generals on the development of the “offensive operations” in Ukraine.

“Col. General Alexander Pavlovich Lapin and Army General Sergey Vladimirovich Surovikin also reported to me today on the progress in fulfilling the tasks assigned to them and their proposals for the development of offensive operations,” Putin told Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at meeting in the Kremlin.

The Ministry of Defense “keeps in view” all the proposals of the commanders in the field, Putin added, saying that while military units that participated in the operation in the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) should rest, other formations, including the East and West groups, must proceed with tasks according to plans.

This comes as Putin congratulated Russian troops for “achieving victory” in Ukraine’s Luhansk region.

Pope Francis says he still aims to visit Russia and Ukraine

Pope Francis has stated he still plans to visit Russia and Ukraine.

“I would like to go, it is possible that I manage to go to Ukraine. The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help, but I would like to go to both capitals,” said Pope Francis in an exclusive interview with Reuters.

In the interview released Monday, he firmly denied rumors of a possible resignation due to health issues.

The pontiff, whose trip to Africa scheduled for July 2-7 was canceled due to problems with his knee, said he is planning to travel to Canada at the end of July, and after that, he is willing to visit both Moscow and Kyiv.

Turkey halts Russian ship, investigates Ukrainian claims

Turkey has halted a Russian-flagged cargo ship off its Black Sea coast and is investigating a Ukrainian claim that it was carrying stolen grain, a senior Turkish official has said.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey stated on Sunday the Zhibek Zholy ship was detained by Turkish customs authorities.

Ukraine previously asked Turkey to detain the vessel, according to an official and documents viewed by Reuters.

Russia says weekend strike on Belgorod was aimed to provoke Moscow

Moscow says the alleged missile strike carried out by Ukrainian forces on the city of Belgorod aimed to provoke Russia, according to the spokeswoman for the country’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova.

“The goal of the Kyiv regime is to strike with unguided weapons at residential areas of cities. We understand that these actions of the Kyiv regime were not just coordinated with its Western curators, but most likely prompted by them,” Zakharova said.

“This is being done in order to push us to launch retaliatory strikes of this kind, and then further spin the anti-Russian hysteria,” she continued.

“We have so far refrained from taking such steps, but we will be following developments very closely,” she added.

The Russian Ministry of Defense accused Ukraine of targeting the city of Belgorod with three Tochka-U missiles and of using drones laden with explosives to hit the Russian city of Kursk on Sunday.

Ukraine has not acknowledged the strikes.

Western ambassadors in China sound off over Russia in rare forum

Western envoys in China have criticised Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, with the US ambassador saying China should not spread Russian “propaganda”, in an unusual public forum in a country that has declined to condemn Moscow’s attack.

Speaking at the World Peace Forum, organised by the Tsinghua University, US ambassador Nicholas Burns called the Russian war against Ukraine “the greatest threat to global world order”.

Burns stated he hoped China’s foreign ministry spokespeople would stop repeating “Russian propaganda” blaming NATO for the war.

“I hope foreign ministry spokespersons would also stop telling lies about American bioweapons labs, which do not exist in Ukraine,” he added.

Ukraine says after Luhansk, Russia preparing for assault on Donetsk region

Russia will shift the main focus of its war in Ukraine to trying to seize all of the Donetsk region after capturing neighbouring Luhansk, the Luhansk region’s governor has stated.

Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Reuters in an interview that he expected the city of Sloviansk and the town of Bakhmut in particular to come under attack as Russia tries to take full control of what is known as the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian military also announced that after taking over the last remaining Ukrainian-controlled city in the Luhansk oblast, Russian forces are preparing to continue their move toward cities in Donetsk still controlled by Kyiv.

“In the Sloviansk direction, enemy units are trying to establish control over the settlements of Bohorodychne, Mazanivka, and Dolyna through assault operations,” the Ukrainian military said in a status update early on Monday.

The focus now shifts to the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the two largest population centres in the area.

“The enemy is regrouping troops to resume the offensive. For this purpose, a battalion tactical group was moved from the district of the city of Izium in the direction of the settlement of Snizhkivka, and additional units of barrel artillery were deployed,” the statement added.

After taking the city of Lysychansk, Russian forces now control nearly the entirety of the Luhansk oblast, barring a few pockets of resistance.

The general staff said the Russians were “getting entrenched in the areas of the settlements of Lysychansk and Bilohorivka.”

“In the Bakhmut direction, the enemy intensified shelling of the positions of our troops with barrel and rocket artillery along the contact line,” it noted.

EU lending arm aims to raise 100 billion euros to help rebuild Ukraine

The Reuters news agency reported the European Investment Bank is proposing a funding structure previously used during the COVID-19 pandemic to help rebuild Ukraine with up to 100 billion euros ($104.3 billion) of investment.

Citing an official document, Reuters added the EU-Ukraine Gateway Trust Fund (E-U GTF) would seek to have an initial 20 billion euros in contributions from EU countries and the EU budget in the form of grants, loans and guarantees.

The guarantees in particular would have a multiplier effect, leading to infrastructure projects totalling some 100 billion euros, the document said, about half of Ukraine’s more immediate needs.

Ukraine leader says forces will return to Lysychansk

President Volodymyr Zelensky has acknowledged that Ukrainian forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk but pledged to restore control over the city thanks to the military’s tactics and the prospect of new, improved weaponry.

“If the commanders of our army withdraw people from certain points at the front, where the enemy has the greatest advantage in firepower, and this also applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

“That we will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons,” he added.

The Russian army shelled the eastern cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk on Sunday, as well as the city of Kharkiv, with multiple launch rocket systems as well as Soviet Smerch rockets, Zelensky has said, adding that Russia has enough weapons to destroy every city in Ukraine.

“Russia has enough Smerch, Uragan and Grad systems to destroy city after city in Ukraine. They have now accumulated their largest firepower in Donbas,” he noted.

Australia to send $100 million aid package to Ukraine

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visited the Kyiv region on Sunday, travelling to Bucha, Hostomel and Irpin, before meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Kyiv Governor Olexiy Kuleba said on his official Telegram channel.

Kuleba said Albanese expressed Australia’s solidarity with Ukraine and the crimes committed in the Kyiv region.

According to Kuleba, Albanese was “stunned by what he saw: ruined civilian buildings, traces of mines, the ruined Antonov Airport.”

Albanese then announced a new assistance package to Ukraine, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s office.

The package includes:

  • A$99.5 million (US $67 million) in military assistance, including 14 armored personnel carriers, 20 Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles and other military equipment.
  • A$8.7 million (US$6 million) to upgrade border management equipment, improve cyber security and enhance border operations in the field.
  • Australia will also prohibit imports of Russian gold, joining countries who’ve made similar pledges, including Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and United States.
  • Australia will impose targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on 16 additional Russian ministers and oligarchs.

“Russia’s brutal invasion is a gross violation of international law. I saw first-hand the devastation and trauma it has inflicted on the people of Ukraine,” Albanese stated, according to the statement.

“My visit to Kyiv and recent visits by other world leaders sends a clear message that democratic nations like Australia will stand side-by-side with the Ukrainian people in their time of need,” Albanese added.

UK supports seizing frozen Russian assets to help Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says the United Kingdom wants to follow the example of Canada and seize the assets of Russians in the country and redistribute them to victims of Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to the Guardian.

“I am supportive of the concept,” Truss told legislators last week.

“We are looking at it very closely. The Canadians have in fact just passed legislation This is an issue that we are working on jointly with the Home Office and the Treasury, but I certainly agree with the concept. We just need to get the specifics of it right,” she added.

US won’t push Ukraine to negotiate: Official

It’s not the United States’ role to push Ukraine to negotiate a settlement with Russia, even if the Joe Biden administration thought that it was the right thing to do, John Kirby stated.

“It’s time for the United States to continue to support Ukraine, and that’s what we are doing,” the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications added.

Speaking to Mike Emanuel on “Fox News Sunday,” Kirby noted it will always be Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call as to if and when to seek a negotiated settlement with President Vladimir Putin and Russia.

“President Zelensky,” Kirby said, “he gets to determine how victory is decided and when and on what terms. And [what] we’re going to do is continue to make sure that can succeed on the battlefield so that he can succeed at the table. But even President Zelensky will tell you that the time is not now for those discussions.”

Russian troops continue to attempt to push forward, slowly and at great cost in human lives, in Ukraine’s east and also have launched recent raids on Kyiv and other cities.

But as other Biden administration officials have done since Russia launched what Putin intended as a lightning-fast invasion in February, Kirby said Ukraine has done a much better job fending off Russian invaders than anyone thought possible.

“The Ukrainians are fighting really bravely and skillfully, Mike, and they’re not only working to defend territory — and they have done a noble job of that — they’re going on the counteroffensive,” Kirby added.

Six dead amid Russian shelling in Sloviansk

At least six people have been killed in the eastern Ukrainian city after it was hit by Russian shelling from multiple rocket launchers, local officials said.

Donetsk regional administration spokeswoman Tetiana Ihnatchenko told Ukraine’s public news network that 15 people had been wounded in the attack on Sloviansk.

Ukrainian army announces retreat from Lysychansk

Ukraine’s military command has confirmed its soldiers had retreated from the strategic eastern city of Lysychansk after weeks of fierce fighting with Russian troops.

“The continuation of the defence of the city would lead to fatal consequences. In order to preserve the lives of Ukrainian defenders, a decision was made to withdraw,” it announced in a statement posted on social media.

Earlier in the day, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky denied that Russian forces have fully seized the last Ukrainian stronghold in Luhansk province.

The city of “Lysychansk is still being fought for,” he told a news conference with Australia’s Prime Minister Albanese.

Scholz claims Moscow invasion planned ‘one year’ earlier

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade neighbouring Ukraine has been made well in advance, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has claimed.

“I think the decision to – to do this war was taken one year before it started or possibly earlier, because he [Putin] prepared for it,” the German leader said in an interview with US broadcaster CBS.

“And so he will be able to continue with the war really a long time,” Scholz added.

Germany is one of the countries “doing the most” to provide military aid to war-torn Ukraine, Scholz stated, while defending his country’s delays in delivering weapons to Kyiv.

The long delays for German weapons, compared to the speedy deliveries of US arms, are due to the need to train Ukrainian soldiers in Germany, Scholz added.

Scholz also stated his government is discussing security guarantees for Ukraine in preparation for a time after the war, but said that these will not be the same as for a member of the transatlantic NATO alliance.

“We are discussing with close allies the question of the security guarantees we can give. This is an ongoing process. It is clear that it will not be the same as if someone were a member of NATO,” Scholz told the broadcaster ARD.

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