Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 148

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:

EU continues to impose sanctions against Russia, but Moscow’s position unchanged: Kremlin

The European Union continues to persistently come up with sanctions against Russia, but they will not lead to Moscow changing its position, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated on Thursday.

When asked whether there is a feeling that the policy of sanctions pressure on Russia is wearing off, Peskov said, “No, there is no such feeling. So far, the European Union is trying to come up new and new sanctions with enviable persistence. Although it is obvious that no sanctions, even the toughest ones, have ever, in any part of the world, caused those countries against whom they are imposed to somehow change their position. Surely it would not work with our country as well.”

According to him, the European Union continues to “maniacally adhere to sanctions that harm their own interests, their population, who begin to obviously suffer from the sanctions and the consequences that these EU decisions entail.”

At the same time, Peskov pointed out that “the Americans are much more pragmatic in this regard, they are very quick, using their flexible system to introduce licenses that provide for exceptions from sanctions where it is beneficial to the United States.”

“The European bureaucracy, on the other hand, which is larger than the Soviet bureaucracy, the European bureaucracy is even more complicated. And this conservative EU system does not allow them to quickly make any adjustments, and Europe suffers for it. But this is the reality, the course of events that Europeans choose themselves,” the Kremlin spokesman summarized.

Russia awaits IAEA’s reaction to Ukrainian attacks on nuclear facilities

Russia has sent an appeal to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over the Ukrainian army’s attacks on the Zaporozhye NPP and is awaiting its reaction, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing on Thursday.

“We have already addressed the leadership of the IAEA’s Secretariat over this incident and are expecting the appropriate reaction on the part of the agency,” she added.

According to the diplomat, the Ukrainian attacks on the NPP confirm Kiev’s goal to create conditions for a nuclear catastrophe for all of Europe.

“Ukraine continues provocations in order to create threats for nuclear facilities. On July 18, the Ukrainian armed forces attacked the premises of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant using a drone. The strike was delivered in the immediate vicinity, several dozen meters away from the constructions that are critically important for the NPP’s security – storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel and a reactor cooling reservoir. Only by lucky coincidence this did not result in any damage to the plant’s equipment and a man-made catastrophe,” she emphasized.

The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman noted that on July 20, the Ukrainian army attacked the nuclear power plant using the drones again.

“This confirms that the Kiev regime intends to create the conditions for a nuclear catastrophe not only on its own territory but in entire Europe,” she stressed.

The diplomat pointed out that such a catastrophe won’t be just a local problem.

“The responsibility for the possible consequences of these actions by the Kiev regime rests both with Ukraine and with the states that provide military support to the criminal regime,” she noted.

Ukraine may disappear from world map ‘as a result of current events’: Russia

Ukraine as a state may disappear from the map “as a result of unfolding events,” Deputy Chairman of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev wrote on his Telegram channel on Thursday.

“After the 2014 coup, Ukraine lost its state independence and fell under direct control of the collective West as well as began to believe that NATO would guarantee its security,” he noted. “As a result of all the current events Ukraine may lose what’s left of its state sovereignty and disappear from the world map,” the politician added.

Medvedev also asserted that “Ukrainian criminals will definitely be prosecuted for atrocities committed against the people of Ukraine and Russia”.

Gas delivery problems caused by EU restrictions: Kremlin

The Kremlin said that gas delivery problems to Europe were caused by sanctions that create “technical difficulties”, as the Nord Stream pipeline reopened after maintenance but with a reduced flow.

“Any technical difficulties linked to this are caused by those restrictions that European countries introduced themselves,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

He added accusations that Moscow was using gas deliveries as political blackmail were “completely” unfounded.

Britain to supply over 1,600 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine

Britain will send scores of artillery guns and more than 1,600 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine in the latest supply of Western arms to help bolster its defence against Russia, UK defence secretary Ben Wallace said.

The uplift comes after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month promised another 1 billion pounds ($1.2bn) of military support to Ukraine.

“Together with our international partners, we will ensure Ukraine has the tools to defend their country from Putin’s illegal invasion,” Wallace stated.

Wallace added Britain would also provide counter-battery radar systems, hundreds of drones and more than 50,000 rounds of ammunition.

The UK has already supplied Ukraine with a range of military equipment including almost 7,000 anti-tank weapons, hundreds of missiles and armoured fighting vehicles, and has also been training Ukrainian soldiers

Russian says no contact with US on Ukraine peace talks

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said there has been no contact with the United States over peace talks with Ukraine.

“The American administration forbids its wards in Kyiv to even think about talks with us, and evidently forces them to fight to the last Ukrainian,” Zakharova told reporters.

Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine have been frozen since early April, when ceasefire talks brokered by Turkey in Istanbul collapsed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has played down the prospect of peace talks while Russian troops still occupy Ukrainian territory.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that peace talks with Ukraine made “no sense”.

Kremlin assures Putin is in good health

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s health is fine, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“[Everything] is fine, he is in good health,” the Kremlin spokesman assured reporters on Thursday.

According to him, “both Ukrainian, American and British information ‘specialists’ have been throwing in various fakes about the president’s health in recent months.”

“These are nothing but fakes, we assure,” Peskov added.

Commenting on Putin, who, speaking on Wednesday at the Strong Ideas for a New Time forum, apologized for his cough and attributed it to “rustling” air conditioners during his visit to Tehran the day before, Peskov said that “it happens, it’s no big deal.”

“As for the air conditioners, yes, indeed, the heat outside was forty (degrees Celsius) and it was chilly under the air conditioners. I’m also hoarse, I have the same thing,” he added.

Earlier, William Burns, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), stated that there were many rumors about President Putin’s health, but, according to unofficial intelligence reports, the Russian leader was “rather healthy.”

On Tuesday, Putin visited Iran, where he held several rounds of bilateral talks and attended a summit of the Astana troika (Russia, Iran, Turkey).

Ukrainian military claims another six Russian ammunition sites in Kherson struck

Several Russian ammunition warehouses and command posts in Kherson have been destroyed, the Ukrainian armed forces have claimed.

Natalia Humeniuk, spokeswoman for Operational Command South, stated a total of six ammunition warehouses in occupied Kherson had been destroyed in the last day.

A bridge over the Dnipro river — an important link for the Russians to Crimea — was also hit several times. Despite damage it appears to remain open to some traffic.

The regional military administration for Kherson said Thursday that “there were loud explosions and gunshots at night in Kherson region,” including in Beryslav, on the north bank of the river.

Fighting continues along the border of Mykolaiv and Kherson regions, with the Russians trying to improve their defensive positions. The command added the Russians had tried to counter-attack around the settlement of Lozove but without success.

The command announced it had carried out 10 airstrikes against the enemy: “Five times enemy strongholds were hit, three times — accumulation of manpower and equipment in Kherson region.”

The Ukrainian air force has continued to operate despite Russian air superiority.

The Russians continue to use missiles against the city of Mykolaiv, according to the regional military administration.

“Russian occupiers fired seven S-300 missiles at Mykolaiv at night,” the administration said. A gas pipeline and a warehouse were hit.

“Villages located on the demarcation line remain under constant shelling,” it added.

“As a result of constant fighting in the region, fields with crops and forest areas continue to burn,” the regional military administration noted.

According to official information, more than 230 hectares of wheat in the Beryslav and Henichesk districts, as well as about 10 hectares of forest near the city of Oleshki, burned in just the last few days.

Russia closing in on Ukraine’s second biggest power plant: UK

Russian forces are likely closing in on Ukraine’s second biggest power plant at Vuhlehirsk, 50 kilometres (31 miles) northeast of Donetsk, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has reported.

“Russia is prioritising the capture of critical national infrastructure, such as power plants,” the ministry said in an intelligence briefing.

The ministry added that Russia is probably attempting to break through at Vuhlehirsk, as part of its efforts to regain momentum on the southern pincer of its advance towards the key cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.

Russian troops committed serious rights violations in Ukraine: Report

International experts have documented serious violations of international humanitarian and rights law on a massive scale by Russian troops since Moscow invaded Ukraine.

A report released on Wednesday by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), a Warsaw-based institution of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), outlined the allegations.

Particularly grave cases include the shelling of a theatre in Mariupol in mid-March and of Kramatorsk train station in early April, both of which resulted in civilian deaths and which the ODIHR said may amount to war crimes by Russia. The ODIHR added it was extremely alarmed by the siege of Ukrainian cities and towns by Russian forces which prevented safe civilian evacuations.

The Russian military’s conduct has been characterised by a general disregard for the basic principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions under humanitarian law, the report said. Witnesses reported many illegal executions, detentions, abductions, and cases of torture and sexual violence.

Russian bombardments “around the clock” on parts of Donetsk: Ukraine

Russian forces are trying “around the clock” to break through Ukrainian lines in the eastern Donetsk region but have not been successful, according to Ukrainian officials.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk Civil Military Administration, said on Ukrainian television Thursday that shelling around the city of Bakhmut is constant.

“This is one of the main lines on which the enemy is trying to make a breakthrough and then go to the main goal — Sloviansk and Kramatorsk from the side of Bakhmut,” Kyrylenko stated, referring to two larger nearby cities coveted by Moscow.

The Russians have inflicted considerable damage in Bakhmut, according to Kyrylenko. He added that 350,000 people were still in the region and evacuations were taking place daily.

In its latest operational update, the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said more than a dozen locations around Bakhmut had come under fire Wednesday.

“Ukrainian soldiers forced the occupiers to flee. Fighting continues in the area near Novoluhanske,” it added.

Novoluhanske and neighboring settlements are under almost constant attack as the Russians try to break down Ukrainian defenses south of Bakhmut and encircle Ukrainian defenses in the pocket of territory bordering the neighboring Luhansk region.

The General Staff said the Russians also continued shelling in the Sloviansk direction.

The eastern city of Kramatorsk again came under attack Wednesday night.

Kyrylenko stated two schools were destroyed in Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka, to the south of the city.

The mayor of Kramatorsk noted two industrial plants were also hit. There were no details about casualties.

Tens of thousands of people are thought to remain in Kramatorsk and the surrounding areas.

Russian artillery continues to bombard towns behind the front lines that run through parts of Dnipropetrovsk, Mykolaiv and Kherson regions, according to the General Staff.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced Moscow’s objectives in Ukraine now extend beyond the Donbas into the south of the country, warning it “cannot allow” Ukraine to have weapons that threaten Russia or its territories.

Gas flow from Nord Stream 1 pipeline resumes from Russia into Germany

Russian state energy giant Gazprom has resumed gas shipments through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline into Germany, according to data from the operator’s website.

”We are in the process of resuming gas transportation through the pipeline. It can take some time to reach the nominated transport volume,” a Nord Stream 1 spokesperson told CNN on Thursday.

Nord Stream 1 had been closed for 10 days of scheduled maintenance, and there had been fears Russia would not resume deliveries once the work was done.

The reading on Thursday showed 21,388,236 kWh/h gas was sent through the pipeline between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. ET — well below Nord Stream 1’s capacity.

The head of Germany’s network regulator Klaus Mueller said on Twitter Wednesday that Gazprom had scheduled deliveries on Thursday of only about 30% of the pipeline’s capacity.

Before the pipeline closed, Gazprom was only delivering 40% of its capacity after a dispute over repairs to a key gas turbine.

On Wednesday, the European Union announced plans to ration gas until next spring, amid fears Russia could drastically cut the flow of natural gas to the continent. The “Save Gas for a Safe Winter” plan sets a target for the 27 member states to reduce their gas demand by 15% between August and March next year. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated Wednesday that a total shut off of Russian gas was a “likely scenario.”

US House committee demands intelligence community track Russian war crimes in Ukraine

The US House Intelligence Committee advanced legislation that would require the intelligence community to establish a central coordinator responsible for tracking and cataloging Russian war crimes in Ukraine, among other provisions related to the ongoing war.

The annual intelligence authorization bill — large portions of which are classified — would also require the intelligence community to submit a report every 180 days documenting any Chinese support for Russia’s war effort, including any efforts to help Russia evade western sanctions. It would also require the intelligence community to assess the impact of American sanctions.

“The world we live in today is vastly different than the one we knew just a year ago,” committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat of California, said in a statement.

“Russia is waging a bloody and unprovoked war on Ukraine. China’s malign global influence is rising. And human rights across the globe continue to come under attack,” he added.

The legislation passed out of committee on a bipartisan basis. It must still pass both chambers of Congress and be signed by US President Joe Biden before becoming law. The Senate Intelligence Committee advanced its version of the legislation last week.

The bill also homes in on US national security concerns beyond the war in Ukraine. It would demand the creation of a coordinator to lead intelligence community efforts to track and counter the development and proliferation of Iranian-made drones, among other provisions.

It would require the Defense Intelligence Agency to produce a report on the impact and utility of drone strikes outside of war zones over the last five years — in part to understand whether or not the policy of taking out senior leaders of terror organizations has the strategic impact of undermining the group itself, according to a committee aide. The provision was also “designed to determine whether or not sufficient intelligence was produced before and after such strikes to inform policy and operational decisions,” according to a release.

And it would direct the General Administration Office to study historical classified information to help unravel the mystery surrounding so-called “UAPs” — unidentified aerial phenomena.

Putin wants to restore Russia to a ‘great power’: CIA chief

The chief of the CIA has said that President Vladimir Putin’s goal is to restore Russia to its former status as a great power.

Bill Burns described the Russian leader as having “a very combustible mix of grievance and ambition and insecurity”.

“He is not a big believer in the better angels of the human spirit,” Burns continued, adding, “He is convinced that his destiny as Russia’s leader is to restore Russia as a great power.”

Asked about periodic media reports suggesting Putin is ill, Burns retorted: “There are lots of rumours about President Putin’s health and, as far as we can tell, he is apparently too healthy.”

Decades of development progress now reversed: UN

The head of the United Nations body promoting development is warning that the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and the war in Ukraine have led to “an unprecedented reversal” of decades of progress in combatting global poverty and hunger, and ensuring quality education for children everywhere.

Collen Kelapile, president of the UN Economic and Social Council, said there is growing concern that funding for critical UN development goals, including ending extreme poverty and hunger by 2030, might be neglected by Western donor nations supporting Ukraine militarily and financially in its war against Russia.

“Please, let’s not forget other pre-existing challenges. … We need to finance development. We need to finance climate. We need to finance many other conflicts around the world,” Kelapile stated in an interview with The Associated Press news agency.

Making a mistake and sidelining these issues, Kelapile warned, could lead to higher costs in the future if they escalate “because there is no longer attention to them”.

Ukraine making China rethink when, not whether, to invade Taiwan: CIA chief

China appears determined on using force in Taiwan, with Russia’s experience in Ukraine affecting Beijing’s calculations on when and how — not whether — to invade, the head of the CIA has said.

Bill Burns, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, stated that China likely saw in Ukraine that “you don’t achieve quick, decisive victories with underwhelming force”.

Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum, he played down speculation that Chinese President Xi Jinping could move on Taiwan after a key Communist Party meeting later this year but noted the risks “become higher, it seems to us, the further into this decade that you get”.

“I wouldn’t underestimate President Xi’s determination to assert China’s control” over self-ruling Taiwan, he continued, adding, “I suspect the lesson that the Chinese leadership and military are drawing is that you’ve got to amass overwhelming force if you’re going to contemplate that in the future.”

US says Iran risks dependency on Russia

The United States has warned Iran that it risked dependency on an isolated Russia after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei called for “long-term cooperation” with Moscow when President Vladimir Putin visited Tehran for a summit on Tuesday.

“Iran has now cast its lot with a small number of countries who wore that veil of neutrality only to end up supporting President Putin in his war against Ukraine and the Ukrainian people,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Wednesday.

Russia’s central bank eases more currency controls

Russia’s central bank will allow banks from designated “unfriendly countries” to trade between foreign currencies on the Russian forex markets, the regulator has said.

Moscow has labelled countries that hit it with sanctions as “unfriendly” — a list that includes the entire European Union, United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and others.

The bank also abolished a 30 percent limit on advance payments to non-residents on import contracts for some services — part of currency controls introduced after Russia sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine, triggering a raft of Western sanctions.

The central bank added that easing controls would “support foreign economic activity and create the conditions for building new supply chains”.

Russia issues first passports to residents of occupied Enerhodar

Moscow-installed officials in Ukraine’s occupied southeastern city of Enerhodar have started handing out Russian passports to residents, Russia’s state news agency RIA has reported.

Twenty-five residents living in Enerhodar have already received passports, officials told RIA, after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree in July giving all citizens of Ukraine a simplified way to obtain Russian citizenship.

Enerhodar, located in the Zaporizhia region, was captured by Russian forces in the first weeks of Moscow’s so-called “special military operation”. The region’s Russian-installed authorities have floated the idea of holding a referendum on joining Russia, a move Ukraine has called illegal.

Russia and its proxies have seized the majority of the Zaporizhia region but Ukraine’s military still controls the northern part, including the city of Zaporizhzhia, the largest urban centre in the area and home to more than half of the region’s pre-war population.

Zelensky says latest EU sanctions against Russia not enough

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has dismissed as inadequate a seventh round of European Union sanctions against Russia, which is currently being finalised.

“This is not enough and I am telling my partners this frankly. Russia must feel a much higher price for the war to force it to seek peace,” he stated in a late-night video address.

CIA director says ties between Russia, Iran suffer from “limits”, lack of trust

Russia won’t supply oil to the world market if price cap imposed

Russia will not supply oil to the world market if a price cap is imposed, Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak as telling Russian television.

“If these prices that they are talking about are lower than the cost of producing oil, then, of course, Russia will not ensure the supply of this oil to world markets. This means we are simply not going to work at a loss,” it cited Novak as saying.

Some 15,000 Russians killed in war: CIA director

The United States estimates that Russian casualties in Ukraine so far have reached about 15,000 killed and perhaps 45,000 wounded, the director of the CIA has said, cautioning that Kyiv has endured significant losses as well.

“The latest estimates from the US  intelligence community would be something in the vicinity of 15,000 [Russian forces] killed and maybe three times that wounded. So a quite significant set of losses,” William Burns stated at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“And, the Ukrainians have suffered as well — probably a little less than that. But, you know, significant casualties,” he added.

Austin, Milley warn Iran against helping Russia in Ukraine

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned Iran against helping Russia amid concerns that Tehran would send drones to help Moscow in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

“We would advise Iran to not do that,” Austin said in a joint press conference alongside Milley.

“We think that’s a really, really bad idea, and I’ll leave that at that,” he added.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that the US believed Iran was preparing to provide hundreds of drones to Russia on an “expedited timeline,” and that Tehran was preparing to train Russian forces to use the drones as early as this month.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian did not confirm US claim that Tehran is providing Russia with military equipment, including unmanned aerial vehicles. He assured that Tehran avoids any steps that may result in an escalation in Ukraine conflict.

Austin and Milley thought it would not be a good idea for Tehran to help Russia given US opposition to Iran providing assistance. However, when asked why, Milley declined to answer.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea that Iran is providing UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] or other weapon systems that are being commented on the media to Russia. And we’ll see where all that goes,” Milley stated.

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