Monday, August 15, 2022

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 149: Russia, Ukraine sign UN-mediated grain deal

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:

Erdogan says grain deal signed will “relieve dangers of hunger” for billions

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the agreement signed on facilitating grain export will relieve dangers of hunger for billions of people.

“Millions of people will be relieved of this danger of hunger,” Erdogan stated, adding, “In the coming days, we will see the start of ship traffic and many countries will have a breath of fresh air.”

“This will contribute to the entire process from the export to the arrival to destination and on all points we have reached an agreement,” he continued.

The implementation of the agreement will be through the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, he noted.

“We carried out an intense and difficult process with Ukraine, Russia and UN officials for grain export. We were in constant contact. We held extensive consultations, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense put forth a great deal of effort,” the president stated.


Russia and Ukraine sign grains export deal

Russia and Ukraine have signed a major exports deal to resume exports of some 20 million of tons of grain through the Black Sea.

Turkey and the UN brokered the agreement in Istanbul after Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports sent global food prices soaring.

Fierce fighting continues in Ukraine, the world’s fifth biggest exporter of wheat.


Russia is “about to run out of steam” in Ukraine: MI6 chief

British spy chief Richard Moore has said Russia is “about to run out of steam” in Ukraine, in an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto.

“Russians will increasingly find it difficult to supply manpower, material over the next few weeks. They will have to pause, and that will give Ukrainians an opportunity to strike back,” Moore, chief of MI6, stated in the interview, his first outside of the UK.

“(Vladimir Putin) has suffered a strategic failure in Ukraine,” and forces have lost 15,000 lives, Moore noted on the sidelines of the Aspen Security Forum, adding that it’s “probably a conservative estimate.”

However, Moore said it is very important for Ukrainians’ morale to demonstrate their ability to strike back.

“It will be an important reminder to the rest of Europe that this is a winnable campaign by the Ukrainians. Because we are about to go into a pretty tough winter,” he continued.

“Winter is coming and clearly, in that atmosphere with the sort of pressure on gas supplies and all the rest, we are in for a tough time,” Moore added.

He said that following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European countries have taken concerted effort against Russian intelligence.

“North of 400 Russian intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover have been expelled,” and it has reduced Russian ability to spy in Europe by half.

When asked about rumors of Putin’s ill-health, Moore continued, adding, “There is no evidence that Putin is suffering from serious ill-health.”

His comments came after the expulsion of more than 400 Russian intelligence officers from cities across Europe and the arrest of several deep-cover spies posing as civilians.

Moore told CNN that since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, European countries have expelled “north of 400 Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover” across the bloc.

“And we reckon, in the UK, that has probably reduced their ability to do their business to spy for Russia in Europe by half,” Moore said.

He added that a number of “illegals,” or Russian spies operating under deep cover and masquerading as ordinary civilians, have also been exposed and arrested in recent months.

Asked whether the war in Ukraine has made Russia a “target rich environment” for the UK and its allies to recruit potential assets, Moore would only say that “it is our hope” that Russians in the intelligence and diplomatic services will “reflect on what they are witnessing in Ukraine” and decide to “strike back against the system” as many did during the Prague Spring in 1968.


Russia taking hundreds of casualties daily in Ukraine war: US official

The United States believes that Russia’s military is sustaining hundreds of casualties a day in its war in Ukraine, including having lost thousands of lieutenants and captains in total, a senior US defence official has said.

The official, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity, stated that Washington also believed that Ukraine had destroyed more than 100 “high-value” Russian targets inside Ukraine, including command posts, ammunition depots and air-defence sites, the Reuters news agency reported.

Washington estimates that Russian casualties in Ukraine so far have reached around 15,000 killed and perhaps 45,000 wounded, CIA Director William Burns notedd on Wednesday, adding that Ukraine has also endured significant casualties.

Neither Ukraine nor Russia has given detailed estimates of their own losses.


Kyiv warns of military response to any Russian ‘provocations’ over grain deal

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has warned any “provocations” by Russia over a deal to reopen Ukrainian ports for grain exports will be met with a military response from Kyiv.

“1. Ukraine does not sign any documents with Russia. We sign an agreement with Turkey and the UN and undertake obligations to them. Russia signs a mirror agreement with Turkey and the UN,” Podolyak tweeted.

“2. No escorting of transport by Russian ships and the presence of Russian representatives in our ports. In case of provocations, an immediate military response,” he added.

“3. All inspections of transport ships will be carried out by joint teams in Turkish waters should the need arise,” he continued.


EU targets additional 54 individuals and 10 entities including major Russian bank over Ukraine aggression

The European Council has imposed restrictive measures on 54 individuals and 10 entities, including Sberbank, in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.

“We are listing another major Russian Bank, Sberbank, and preventing it from conducting transactions outside Russia,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Friday.

“We are also adding further individuals involved in Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, such as military officials, the Nightwolves motorcycle club and disinformation actors,” Borrell added.

This decision is in addition to the “maintenance and alignment” package of sanctions adopted by the Council Thursday.

The listed individuals include Syrians responsible for recruiting mercenaries fighting in Ukraine alongside Russian troops, the EU council stated.

The European Union further tightened sanctions against Russia by adopting additional measures Thursday.

“We are effectively banning Russia’s most significant export after energy – Russian gold,” Borrell continued.

“We are also extending the exemption of transactions for agricultural products and transfer of oil to third countries. Because the EU is doing its part to ensure we can overcome the looming global food crisis. It is up to Russia, to stop bombing Ukraine’s fields and silos, and stop blocking Black Sea ports,” Borrell noted Thursday.

The latest measures come days after Ukraine’s foreign minister called on the EU to enforce additional sanctions on Russia.

“Today, I addressed EU ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council,” Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Monday.

“My key message: weapons to Ukraine, sanctions on Russia, and accountability for Russia are the three ways to restore peace, enhance security, and protect stability in Europe,” he added.


Russia adds Greece, Denmark, Slovenia, Croatia, and Slovakia to list of “unfriendly” countries

The Russian government has expanded its list of “unfriendly foreign states,” adding Greece, Denmark, Slovenia, Croatia and Slovakia, a decree signed by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and published on the official website said.

The Russian authorities consider “unfriendly countries” states that “commit unfriendly actions” against Russia. The list previously included the Czech Republic and the US.

In accordance with the decree on unfriendly countries signed by President Vladimir Putin last April, these countries are limited in their ability to hire workers located in the territory of Russia for embassies, consulates and representative offices of state bodies.

Greece has a limit of hiring 34 people, Denmark of 20, and Slovakia of 16, the decree added. Slovenia and Croatia will not be able to hire employees for their diplomatic missions and consular offices, as was the case with the US.


Russia says it has destroyed 4 HIMARS launchers since early July

Russia’s defence ministry has claimed its forces destroyed four US-supplied HIMARS rocket systems between July 5-20.

“Four launchers and one transport-loading vehicle for the US-made multiple launch rocket systems [HIMARS] were destroyed,” the ministry announced in a daily briefing.

The claim came two days after the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, stated none of the HIMARS systems supplied to Kyiv by Washington had been “eliminated”.

He told a Pentagon news briefing on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces were “being very effective at using them, employing precision weapons against targets”.

Kyiv has hailed the arrival of 12 HIMARS in Ukraine to date as a possible game changer for the course of the war. The advanced weapons are more precise and offer a longer range than other artillery systems, allowing Kyiv to strike Russian targets and weapons depots further behind the front lines.

There was no immediate comment from Kyiv on the Russian defence ministry’s claim.


FM slams allegations of Russia ‘exporting hunger’ as baseless

The West and Ukraine seek to shift the blame by accusing Moscow of “exporting hunger,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an article for African media outlets, published on the Foreign Ministry’s website on Friday.

“I would like to point out that propaganda allegations by the West and Ukraine that Russia is ‘exporting hunger,’ are completely baseless. In fact, it is another attempt to shift the blame,” Lavrov noted.

According to him, after the coronavirus pandemic had triggered a crisis, “the collective West used the mechanism of currency emission to attract goods and food flows, worsening the situation in developing countries who depend on food imports.”

“This is when the food market situation started to deteriorate. The sanctions that the West imposed on Russia in recent months added to the negative trend,” Lavrov stressed.


Russian forces close in on Ukraine’s second-biggest power plant

Russian forces appear to be closing in on Ukraine’s second-biggest power plant in a bid to seize critical infrastructure, Britain has said.

In a daily intelligence update, the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence reported Ukrainian forces were continuing to repel an assault on the Vuhlehirsk power plant, 50km (31 miles) northeast of Donetsk.

The ministry added on Twitter that Russian artillery remained focused on the cities of Kramatorsk and Siversk.


Nord Stream flows stable after pipeline resumes export

Physical flows of Russian gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which accounts for more than a third of Russian gas exports to the European Union, have remained stable, operators’ data showed on Friday.

The pipeline resumed on Thursday after a 10-day outage due to maintenance amid concerns that Russia might retaliate for Western sanctions.

Exit flows to Germany remained at pre-maintenance levels of 40-percent capacity, according to the Nord Stream AG website.


Britain to send scores of artillery guns and hundreds of drones to Ukraine

Britain will supply scores of artillery guns, hundreds of drones and hundreds more anti-tank weapons to Ukraine in the coming weeks, the defence secretary has said.

Ben Wallace announced in an update to Parliament that more than 20 M109 155mm self-propelled guns and 36 L119 105mm artillery guns will soon reach Ukraine.

Counter-battery radar systems and more than 50,000 rounds of ammunition for Kyiv’s existing Soviet era artillery will follow, he added.

London will also send more than 1,600 more anti-tank weapons in the coming weeks, along with drones, including hundreds of loitering aerial munitions.


Zelensky says Ukraine has “significant potential” to advance on the battlefield

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his national security team believes “we have a significant potential for the advance of our forces on the front and for the infliction of significant new losses on the occupiers.”

Zelensky was speaking in his daily video message after meeting with intelligence chiefs, the armed forces commander, and the Interior and Defense Ministers.

“We defined tasks in some tactical areas to strengthen our positions. And we also thoroughly worked out the issue of providing the troops with the modern weapons — the intensity of attacks on the enemy still needs to be increased,” Zelensky stated.

He added that his chief of staff Andriy Yermak and armed forces commander Gen. Valery Zaluzhny had another conversation with the US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley.

“And tomorrow we also expect news for our state from Turkey regarding the unblocking of our ports,” Zelensky continued.

Listing places struck by Russian artillery and rocket forces Thursday, Zelensky noted each strike “is an argument for Ukraine to receive more HIMARS and other modern and effective weapons.”

He also welcomed a proposed resolution in the US Senate that would recognize Russia’s actions against Ukraine as genocide.


Russia’s ability to spy in Europe has been cut in half: UK intelligence chief

The chief of Britain’s foreign intelligence service believes that Russia has lost its ability to spy in Europe “by half,” following the expulsion of more than 400 Russian intelligence officers from cities across Europe and the arrest of several deep-cover spies posing as civilians.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, European countries have expelled “north of 400 Russian intelligence officers operating under diplomatic cover” across the bloc, Richard Moore, the head of MI6, the UK’s foreign intelligence service, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto at the Aspen Security Forum.

“And we reckon, in the UK, that has probably reduced their ability to do their business to spy for Russia in Europe by half,” Moore stated.

A number of “illegals,” or Russian spies operating under deep cover and masquerading as ordinary civilians, have also been exposed and arrested in recent months, he added.

Asked whether the war in Ukraine has made Russia a “target-rich environment” for the UK and its allies to recruit potential assets, Moore would only say that “it is our hope” that Russians in the intelligence and diplomatic services will “reflect on what they are witnessing in Ukraine” and decide to “strike back against the system” as many did during the Prague Spring in 1968.

“Our door is always open,” he continued.


US welcomes “agreement in principle” on transport of Ukrainian grain

The United States welcomes the “agreement in principle” brokered by the UN and Turkey between Russia and Ukraine to allow the safe transport of Ukrainian grain from blocked ports, but is focused on “holding Russia accountable for implementing this agreement and for enabling Ukrainian grain to get to world markets,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Thursday.

“It has been far too long that Russia has enacted this blockade,” Price stated at a State Department briefing.

European officials familiar with the discussions expressed optimism about the agreement, but cited concerns about its implementation. The officials announced that Russia is unlikely to follow through on the agreement without any issues.

Price noted “this is very early going” when asked about details of the “agreement in principle.”

“Reports have just emerged, but I can say that throughout these discussions we have supported the UN Secretary-General, we have supported our Turkish allies, we of course supported our Ukrainian partners in their efforts in this as well,” he continued.

“We’ve been briefed by the UN at various stages. Our experts have compared notes and shared notes with their experts. The same goes with our Turkish allies and our Ukrainian partners,” Price added.

Western officials have accused Moscow of “weaponizing” food supplies, and as leaders and experts warned of a catastrophic food crisis as millions of tons of Ukrainian grain are unable to reach the global market due to the war.

A US official stated last month that they had intelligence that the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy “is under orders to effectively blockade the Ukrainian ports of Odesa and Ochakiv.


Russia: Latest EU sanctions will hurt global economy

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced that the latest round of European Union sanctions were illegitimate and would have “devastating consequences” for security and parts of the global economy.

“The European Union is continuing to drive itself into a dead end with enviable persistence,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement.


Ukraine, Russia to sign grain deal: Turkey

Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will sign a deal on Friday to resume Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office has announced.

Russia and Ukraine are both major global wheat suppliers, but Moscow’s February 24 invasion of its neighbour has sent food prices soaring and stoked an international food crisis.

The war has stalled Kyiv’s exports, leaving dozens of ships stranded and some 20 million tonnes of grain stuck in silos at Odesa port.

Ankara said a general agreement was reached on a UN-led plan during talks in Istanbul last week and that it would now be put in writing by the parties. Details of the agreement were not immediately known. It is due to be signed on Friday at the Dolmabahce Palace offices at 13:30 GMT, Erdogan’s office added.


EU further tightens sanctions against Russia over invasion of Ukraine

The European Union further tightened sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine by adopting additional measures on Thursday, the European Council announced in a press release.

The new measures, which the EU refers to as a “maintenance and alignment” package, are a broadening of previous measures and now include Russian gold exports. The package also extends the list of individuals and entities that would be subject to potential asset freezes.

“We are effectively banning Russia’s most significant export after energy – Russian gold. We are also extending the exemption of transactions for agricultural products and transfer of oil to third countries. Because the EU is doing its part to ensure we can overcome the looming global food crisis. It is up to Russia, to stop bombing Ukraine’s fields and silos, and stop blocking Black Sea ports,” said EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell.

Thursday’s package introduces a new prohibition “to purchase, import, or transfer, directly or indirectly, gold, if it originates in Russia and it has been exported from Russia into the EU or to any third country after,” the press release stated. The prohibition also covers jewelry.

The package extends the list of controlled items, “which may contribute to Russia’s military and technological enhancement or the development of its defense and security sector,” it added.

However, the EU is extending the exemption from prohibition to engage in transactions with state-owned entities the transactions for agricultural products and the transport of oil to third countries “with a view to avoid any potential negative consequences for food and energy security around the world,” the release noted.

This step is aimed at avoiding food crisis stemming from the war.

Similarly, third countries and their nationals operating outside of the EU won’t be prohibited from purchasing pharmaceutical or medical products from Russia.

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