Sunday, August 7, 2022

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 134

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 hasn’t really started anything yet: Putin

Russia is ready to engage in peace negotiations with Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, warning that those who reject such prospects should realize that prolonging the ongoing conflict would only make such talks more difficult.

“We do not refuse to negotiate peace, but those who refuse should know that the longer they do, the more difficult it will be to negotiate,” Putin stated, issuing a warning to those who might think Russia has already exhausted its capabilities amid the conflict.

“We hear today that they want us to be defeated on the battlefield. Well, what can I say? Let them try. We haven’t even really started anything yet,” he added.

Putin also noted that the West appears to actually be willing to “fight until the last Ukrainian,” which he said is a “tragedy” for the Ukrainian people.

The president blamed the ongoing conflict on the US-led NATO, stressing that Russia’s consistent efforts to create a fair international security system have been jeopardized.

“The initiatives to work together on missile defense have been rejected, warnings about the unacceptability of NATO expansion, especially at the expense of the former Soviet republics, have been ignored,” Putin added.

If the West’s goal was to provoke a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, it has evidently succeeded in that, Putin admitted. On the strategic level, however, the West already lost when Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine, Putin stated.

“They should have realized that they had already lost from the very beginning of our special military operation, because its beginning also means the beginning of a complete breakdown of the American world order,” he continued.

The president added that the ongoing breakdown “cannot be stopped.”


NASA says Russia occupies 22 percent of Ukrainian farmland

Russian forces now occupy about 22 percent of Ukraine’s farmland since the invasion, impacting one of the major suppliers to global grain and edible oils markets, NASA has said.

Satellite data analysed by scientists at the US space agency shows that Russia’s occupation of eastern and southern Ukraine gives it control of land that produces 28 percent of the country’s winter crops, mainly wheat, canola, barley, and rye, and 18 percent of summer crops, mostly maize and sunflower.

“The world’s breadbasket is at war,” stated Inbal Becker-Reshef, director of NASA’s Harvest program, which uses US and European satellite data to study global food production.


US interested in researching tick-borne infections in Ukraine: Russian top brass

US microbiologists were interested in studying tick-borne infections in Ukraine and research in this direction was funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), Chief of Russian Radiation, Chemical, and Biological Protection Force Igor Kirillov said at a briefing on Thursday.

“[Just as German researchers], the US microbiologists were particularly interested in the tick-borne infections, research in this direction was financed by the DTRA within the framework of the UP-1, UP-8 projects,” he stated following an analysis of documents on the US military biological activity in Ukraine.

The general noted that a separate project researching ixodid ticks who transmit multiple particularly dangerous infections (tularemia, West Nile fever, Crimean-Congo fever) was implemented by specialists from the University of Texas.

According to the military official, ticks were collected primarily in Ukraine’s south-eastern regions where natural hotspots of infections, typical for the Russian Federation, are located. That said, this research coincided with a rapid rise in the incidence of Lyme disease among the Ukrainian population as well as the increased number of ticks in several Russian regions bordering Ukraine.

This issue is being studied by relevant Russian experts jointly with the Russian Defense Ministry’s specialists, the general added.


Zelensky meets US senators

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has met with two US senators in Kyiv, according to a statement from his office, which published images of the president with United State Senators Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, and Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut.

Zelensky spoke with them about Ukraine needing more air defenses before the scheduled start of its school year in September.

“We must ensure such a level of security in the sky (so) that our people are not afraid to live in Ukraine,” Zelensky said.


Russian prosecutor seeks 7 years in jail for councillor over Ukraine criticism

A Russian prosecutor has requested a seven-year prison term for a Moscow city councillor for criticising Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, AFP news agency reported from court.

Alexei Gorinov, a 60-year-old lawyer by training, was arrested in late April for spreading “knowingly false information” about the Russian army and is now on trial.


Russian raid hits Kramatorsk, casualties reported

A Russian raid has killed at least one person and wounded several others in Kramatorsk, an administrative centre of Ukraine’s eastern region under Russian attack.

Mayor Oleksandr Goncharenko said on Facebook that an “air strike on the central part of Kramatorsk” had caused casualties, providing no further details.

The explosion left a large crater in a courtyard located between a hotel and residential buildings, AFP journalists have said. They saw the body of one person who had been killed and several others with wounds, as well as two cars on fire.

Russia has set its sights on Kramatorsk, the regional administrative capital of Donetsk region, and its twin city Sloviansk as it steps up its offensive in Ukraine’s war-torn east.


Russia to jail citizens who cooperate with foreigners

Russia’s parliament has introduced harsh prison terms for cooperating with foreigners and calling to undermine national security.

In a bill harkening to the Soviet era, establishing and maintaining “confidential” cooperation with a foreigner or international organisation and helping them act against Russia’s interests will be punishable by up to eight years in prison.

Public calls to act against Russia’s security will be punished by up to seven years in prison.


Ukraine angered by release of ship carrying allegedly stolen grain

The release of a Russian ship allegedly carrying stolen Ukrainian grain from Turkish waters is “unacceptable,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said.

Turkey ignored a request to arrest the vessel and cargo and the ship was released on July 6, according to a ministry statement on Thursday.

It expressed “deep disappointment and appeals to the Turkish side with an urgent request to conduct an investigation … and provide a full response to the requests of the relevant authorities of Ukraine.”

The Russian merchant ship, Zhibek Zholy, had carried the grain from the occupied port of Berdiansk to the Turkish port of Karasu.

“In relation to the unacceptable situation, the ambassador of Turkey in Kyiv was invited to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” the ministry added.

The Russian news agency TASS reported Thursday that the Zhibek Zholy, “which is anchored in Turkey, plans to leave due to idle time and ship grain to a storage vessel.”

“It is planned to go to the accumulative (storage) vessel and trans-ship,” TASS said, citing one of the ship’s crew members.

“Then, when the large vessel is loaded, (it) goes to ports and unloads,” it added.

Shipping monitoring data Thursday shows the transponder of the Zhibek Zholy no longer active at its recent anchorage outside Karasu.

Satellite imagery shows that Russian ships frequently offload their cargoes to other vessels in the Black Sea.

Ukraine’s Ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar previously told CNN the Zhibek Zholy was at anchor near Karasu as “it was in fact detained by Turkish customs authorities and it is not allowed to enter the port.”

“Now we are waiting for the decision of the relevant authorities of Turkey regarding the actions that the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine insist on,” he noted.

For months, Ukraine and allied countries have been trying to mitigate a growing food crisis caused by Russia’s months-long blockade of Ukrainian ports, with Moscow being accused of using food as a weapon of war.

On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated up to 60 million tons of grain could be stuck in the country by the fall if it continues to face blocked exports.

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

Russia has repeatedly denied it is blocking the ports or stealing grain.


Civilians evacuated from Sloviansk as Donbas offensive continues

Civilians are being evacuated from the flashpoint eastern city of Sloviansk as Russian forces continue their relentless offensive in the Donbas region at the heart of the war.

Sloviansk mayor Vadym Lyakh says 23,000 people out of a pre-war population of 110,000 have yet to leave but that people are being bussed out every day.

He adds 17 people have been killed in Sloviansk since Russian forces focused their offensive on the Donetsk area of Donbas after conquering neighbouring Lugansk.


Russia to citizens who cooperate with foreigners

Russia’s parliament has introduced harsh prison terms for cooperating with foreigners and calling to undermine national security.

In a bill harkening to the Soviet era, establishing and maintaining “confidential” cooperation with a foreigner or international organisation and helping them act against Russia’s interests will be punishable by up to eight years in prison.

Public calls to act against Russia’s security will be punished by up to seven years in prison.

They are part of an unprecedented crackdown on dissent under Putin which has intensified since he sent troops into Ukraine.


Russian grain ship leaves Turkish port: Data

A Russian-flagged cargo ship, the Zhibek Zholy, which was suspected of carrying stolen Ukrainian grain, left the Turkish northwest port of Karasu late on Wednesday, Refinitiv ship tracking data shows.

On Sunday, Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey stated Turkish authorities had detained the ship. Ukraine had previously asked Turkey to arrest the ship.

On Wednesday, Russia’s foreign ministry dismissed as false reports of the ship’s detention by authorities.

Kyiv has accused Moscow of stealing grain from territories seized by Russian forces since their invasion began in late February. The Kremlin has previously denied that Russia has stolen Ukrainian grain.


Russian forces made little progress in Donetsk: UK

Heavy shelling occurred along the front line in the Donetsk region on Wednesday, but Russian forces made few advances, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has said.

The defence ministry announced that this was likely due to the fact the Russian units, involved in last week’s gains in the Luhansk region, were “reconstituting”.

The ministry also added legislation that passed the first reading in Russia’s lower house on Tuesday was likely Kremlin’s attempt to put in place economic measures to support its Ukraine offensive without formally announcing state mobilisation, “which remains politically sensitive”.

“The legislation would give the authorities special powers over labour relations; the reactivation of mobilisation facilities; and to release assets from state reserves,” the ministry noted.


Russia plans to exploit shifting opinions on Ukraine: Report

Russia’s propaganda apparatus is preparing to exploit coming divisions in European public opinion as inevitable cracks in the support for the Ukrainian war effort appear, a US intelligence firm has claimed.

The longer the war goes on the more it will “further strain the relationship between Western populations and their governments”, Recorded Future, a private US threat assessment firm based in Massachusetts, said in a report.

“Over time, this will likely result in a natural dwindling of support for the Western coalition resulting from both exhaustion with the war and a lack of appetite for long-term economic pain,” it added.

“Blowback on sanctions” could be a key trigger for shifting views, it noted.


Russia, China to boost interaction amid containment attempts by US, satellites: Lavrov

Moscow and Beijing will boost practical interaction amid attempts by the US and its satellites to contain Russia and China, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday.

“We continue to increase the scope and range of practical interaction amid the strategic policy aimed at containing the development of both our countries that the United States and its satellites pursue,” he pointed out at a meeting with Chinese top diplomat Wang Yi on the sidelines of a G20 foreign ministers meeting.

Lavrov stressed that the position of Russia and China was gaining more support among other countries.

“In contrast to the openly aggressive policy of the West who seeks to maintain its privileged position and dominance in global affairs, our stance is gaining increasing support and appreciation among participants in international relations,” the Russian foreign minister added.

According to him, Moscow commends the outcome of the Beijing summit where the leaders of Russia and China, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, had thoroughly discussed the challenges of promoting a strategic partnership.

“As noted by our leaders, the internal reserves of Russia-China relations have enormous potential, so we will carry on with the substantive development of new forms of cooperation, independent from external factors, for the benefit of our countries and people,” Lavrov emphasized.


Ukrainian forces advancing in Russian-occupied areas: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has told Ukrainians his troops are advancing in areas of the country occupied by Russian forces, particularly in the southern regions of Kherson and Zaporizhia.

“Today, the general public became aware that in the south of our country, in the occupied areas, access to social networks, messengers and YouTube was closed. Russian forces have blocked any possibility for people to know the truth about what is happening and about our potential, which we are gradually increasing,” he said in his nighttime address.

The president urged everyone who could, to let people in the occupied areas know Ukraine’s army was working on recovering its territories.

“Use every opportunity to tell the people in the occupied areas that we remember them and we are fighting for them. We are fighting for our entire south, for the entire Ukrainian Donbas – the most brutal confrontation is currently there, near Sloviansk and Bakhmut. We are fighting for the Kharkiv region. The occupiers should not think that their time on this land is long-lasting and that the superiority of their artillery is eternal,” he added.


Australia urges China to help end war

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong has urged China to exert its influence on Russia to halt the war in Ukraine.

In a speech in Singapore on Wednesday night, Wong said it was vital that powerful countries should “exert their influence” on Putin to end the conflict.

“This includes China, as a great power, a permanent member of the [United Nations] Security Council, and with its ‘no-limits partnership’ with Russia,” Wong continued, noting, “Exerting such influence would do a great deal to build confidence in our own region.

“The region and the world is now looking at Beijing’s actions in relation to Ukraine,” she added.


Zelensky says Western artillery Ukraine received “started working very powerfully”

Speaking in his nightly address, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Western artillery they have received “started working very powerfully” on Wednesday.

“Its accuracy is exactly as needed. Our defenders inflict very noticeable strikes on depots and other spots that are important for the logistics of the occupiers. And this significantly reduces the offensive potential of the Russian army. The losses of the occupiers will only increase every week, as will the difficulty of supplying them,” Zelensky added.


Ukrainian official: Luhansk region not in complete Russian control yet

The eastern Luhansk region has not yet been completely occupied by Russian forces and fighting continues in a settlement on the outskirts of the region, the head of the Luhansk region military administration, Serhiy Hayday said on Wednesday.

Russian forces have suffered “enormous losses” in equipment and personnel, according to Hayday.

Russian forces have been trying to take control of the Luhansk region for more than four months.

He added hospitals in the occupied area of the region are full of Russian soldiers who are severely wounded.

Hayday also noted he believes Russian forces are trying to develop an offensive against the cities of Sloviansk and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region.


Up to 8,000 people remain in Severodonetsk as conditions deteriorate: Ukrainian official

Approximately 7,000 to 8,000 people remain in the eastern city of Severodonetsk but in the near future they will live in “awful conditions” with no water, gas or power supply, Oleksandr Striuk, the head of the military administration of Severodonetsk, said Wednesday.

Russian forces destroyed the material base of housing and utility services in this key city in the Donbas region, and they are looking for staff to help restore them but almost no staff members remain in Severodonetsk, according to Striuk.

Many utility and city workers had been evacuated previously, Striuk continued.

He added that Russian forces who now occupy the city are working on organizing the Education Department for children to go back to school starting on Sept. 1.


Mykolaiv mayor urges residents to evacuate

The mayor of Mykolaiv has reported heavy shelling in the southern port city on Wednesday and said air alarms were also activated several times on Thursday morning.

The city has already shed about half of its pre-war population of 500,000.

“There are no safe areas in Mykolaiv,” Oleksandr Senkevych told a briefing, adding, “I am telling the people … that they need to leave.”


Russia cannot be allowed to use G20 meeting as a platform: Germany’s FM

Germany’s foreign minister has said Russia must not be allowed to use the G20 meeting as a platform given its war in Ukraine.

“It is in the interest of us all to ensure that international law is respected and adhered to. That is the common denominator,” Annalena Baerbock stated in a statement ahead of her arrival in Bali.


Germany must speed up energy transition due to Ukraine war: Scholz

Germany must implement the transition to green energy faster because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said, adding that Russia was using energy as a political weapon.

“Energy policy is not just a question of price. Energy policy is also security policy,” Scholz said at an event hosted by the Renewable Energy Association.

“That’s why we now have to turbo charge the expansion of renewable energy,” he added.

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