Saturday, April 20, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 150: Ukraine says preparing to export grain from ports despite ‘Russian attack’

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:

Zelenskyy: Odesa attack shows Russia will find ways not to implement grain deal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Russia’s missile attack on the port of Odesa demonstrates that Moscow will find ways not to implement the grain deal struck with the United Nations, Turkey and Ukraine.

“This proves only one thing: no matter what Russia says and promises, it will find ways not to implement it,” Zelensky noted in a video posted on Telegram.

Two Russian missiles hit the port of Odesa but caused no significant damage, public broadcaster Suspilne reports, quoting the Ukrainian military.

A pumping station was hit and the attack caused a small fire that damaged houses around the port, the spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command, Natalia Humeniuk, was quoted as saying.

The grain storage area was not hit, she added. No casualties have been reported.

UN condemns reported strikes on Ukraine’s Odesa port

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “unequivocally condemns” reported strikes on Ukraine’s Odesa port, a UN spokesperson has said, adding that all parties in the Russia-Ukraine war had committed to a deal on Friday for the export of grains from Ukrainian ports.

“These products are desperately needed to address the global food crisis and ease the suffering of millions of people in need around the globe,” UN spokesperson Farhan Haq stated in a statement.

“Full implementation by the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Turkey is imperative,” he continued.

Two Americans die in Donbas region

The US Department of State says two Americans have died in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

“We can confirm the recent deaths of two US citizens in the Donbas region of Ukraine. We are in touch with the families and providing all possible consular assistance,” a Department of State spokesperson stated.

The Department of State added it had no further information “out of respect to the families during this difficult time”.

At least two other Americans have been killed since Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February.

Russia tells Turkey it had ‘nothing to do’ with Odesa port strike

Turkey’s defence minister says Russian officials have told Ankara that Moscow had “nothing to do” with strikes on Ukraine’s Odesa port.

“In our contact with Russia, the Russians told us that they had absolutely nothing to do with this attack, and that they were examining the issue very closely and in detail,” Defence Minister Hulusai Akar stated.

“The fact that such an incident took place right after the agreement we made yesterday really worried us,” he added.

Ukraine hits bridge used for Russian supplies in occupied south

Ukraine has struck a bridge in the occupied Black Sea region of Kherson, targeting a Russian supply route as Kyiv prepares for a major counteroffensive, a Ukrainian regional official said.

The strike hit the Daryivskyi bridge across the Ingulets river used for supplies by Russian troops, days after a key bridge over the nearby Dnieper was hit, said an adviser to the region’s governor who is on Ukrainian-held territory.

“Every bridge is a weak point for logistics and our armed forces are skilfully destroying the enemy system. This is not yet the liberation of Kherson, but a serious preparatory step in that direction,” the official, Serhiy Khlan, wrote on Facebook.

The deputy head of the Russian-installed regional authority said the bridge had been hit by seven rockets from Western-supplied high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), but that the bridge still worked, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.

Ukraine preparing to export grain from ports despite Russian strike: minister

Ukraine continues to prepare to restart grain exports from its Black Sea ports despite a Russian missile strike that hit the port of Odesa on Saturday, according to Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov.

Russian missiles hit the southern port of Odesa, the Ukrainian military said, threatening a landmark deal signed just the day before to unblock grain exports from Black Sea ports and ease global food shortages caused by the war.

“We continue technical preparations for the launch of exports of agricultural products from our ports,” Kubrakov wrote on Facebook.

US envoy says Russia should be held to account for strike on Odesa

The US ambassador to Kyiv said that Moscow should be held to account for what she said was an “outrageous” Russian strike on the port city of Odesa on Saturday.

Russian missiles hit infrastructure in Odesa a day after Russia and Ukraine, with mediation by the United Nations and Turkey, signed a deal to reopen Black Sea ports and resume grain exports.

“The Kremlin continues to weaponize food. Russia must be held to account,” US ambassador Bridget Brink wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine urges UN, Turkey to push Russia over grain export deal

Ukraine has called on the United Nations and Turkey to ensure that Russia fulfills its commitments under the agreement for a safe corridor for grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, according to the foreign ministry.

Russian missiles hit infrastructure in Ukraine’s port of Odesa on Saturday, a day after Russia and Ukraine, with mediation by the United Nations and Turkey, signed a deal to reopen Black Sea ports to resume such exports.

Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa: Kyiv

Russian missiles have hit infrastructure in Ukraine’s port of Odesa, a day after Russia and Ukraine signed a deal to reopen Black Sea ports to resume grain exports, the Ukrainian military announced.

“The enemy attacked the Odesa sea trade port with Kalibr cruise missiles; 2 missiles were shot down by air defense forces; 2 hit the infrastructure of the port,” the Operational Command South wrote on Telegram.

Europol Says Working Closely With Kiev to Prevent Arms Trafficking Into EU

The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) announced that is was working closely with Kiev to reduce risks of weapons being smuggled from Ukraine for sale on the EU black market, given that such cases were established.

Europol spokesman Jan Op Gen Oorth has told the dpa news agency that there was evidence of firearms and military goods from Ukraine being offered on the black market as well as evidence of illegal trade in heavy weapons.

“Europol is working closely with Ukrainian officials to mitigate the threat of arms trafficking into the European Union. We have full confidence in them as they implement new measures to monitor and track these firearms,” a statement read.

The EU police agency continues to maintain close contact with the Ukrainian authorities as the situation in the country evolves, while Kiev is cooperating on cases of interest for EU security, according to the statement.

“Europol has warned that the proliferation of firearms and explosives in Ukraine could lead to an increase in firearms and munitions trafficked into the EU via established smuggling routes or online platforms. This threat might even be higher once the conflict has ended,” the agency added.

US discussing America-made fighter jets for Ukraine

Washington is exploring whether it can send US-made fighter jets to Ukraine, a White House spokesman told reporters, as the conflict with Russia is about to enter its sixth month and fighting rages in eastern Ukraine.

While the Joe Biden administration was making preliminary explorations into the feasibility of potentially providing the jets to Ukraine, the move is not something that would be done immediately, White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters in a briefing.

Fatalities reported as 13 missiles hit Ukrainian airfield

Thirteen Russian missiles hit a military airfield and railway infrastructure in Ukraine’s central Kirohovrad region on Saturday, killing and wounding a number of people, the local governor has stated.

Andriy Raikovych wrote on Telegram that rescue teams were working at the impact sites, and that one small district of the regional capital, Kropyvnytskyi, had been left without electricity by the strikes.

UK: Ukraine continues offensive against Russia in Kherson

Heavy fighting has been taking place in the last 48 hours as Ukrainian forces continued their offensive against Russia in Kherson province, west of the Dnipro River, according to British military intelligence.

Russian forces are using artillery fire along the Ingulets River, a tributary of the Dnipro, the UK’s Ministry of Defence noted.

“Supply lines of the Russian forces west of the river are increasingly at risk,” the ministry said in an intelligence update.

It added that additional Ukrainian strikes have caused further damage to the key Antonivsky Bridge, though Russia has conducted temporary repairs.

IAEA chief calls for “maximum restraint to avoid any accident” at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), called “for maximum restraint” following recent reports indicating an alarming situation at Europe’s largest nuclear plant in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

The plant is located in the Russian occupied part of southern Ukraine and the IAEA said it has not been able to visit the facility since before the conflict began five months ago.

“These reports are very disturbing and further underline the importance of the IAEA going to the Zaporizhzhia plant. I’m continuing my determined efforts to agree and lead a safety, security and safeguards mission to the site as soon as possible. It is urgent,” Grossi said in a statement, adding that there is a need to ”avoid any accident that could threaten public health in Ukraine and elsewhere.”

On Monday, Dmytro Orlov, the mayor of the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar, which is adjacent to the plant, noted that an unexplained incident at the plant left several Russian soldiers injured as well as a number of dead people.

Orlov, who’s not in the city, said there was a lot of speculation surrounding what had happened, but that on Monday afternoon nine Russian soldiers “were urgently delivered to the city hospital with injuries of varying severity. Some had been hospitalized and one was in intensive care.”

“There are also dead people, but we cannot give their exact numbers at the moment,” he said.

“We will not guess what caused the simultaneous ‘thinning’ of the ranks of the occupiers at the facility,” Orlov continued, adding that the Russians “were so frightened that they ran around the [power] station’s territory in a panic” and had blocked two shifts of power plant workers.

The IAEA announced that “in recent weeks, there have been a series of reports, both in the media and in the form of official communications received by the IAEA, suggesting that the already difficult and stressful conditions facing Ukrainian staff at the plant have deteriorated further.”

Grossi stressed that the UN nuclear watchdog must be able to send a mission to the Zaporizhzhia plant to “conduct essential safety, security and safeguards activities at the facility.”

Zelensky: Ukraine has $10bn worth of grain available for sale

President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced that Ukraine has approximately $10bn worth of grain available for sale in the wake of a deal signed with Russia earlier today to unblock supplies.

“This is another demonstration that Ukraine can withstand the war,” he said in a late-night address, Reuters reported.

He stated that Ukraine will also have a chance to sell the current harvest.

He went on to add that approximately 20 million tonnes of last year’s harvest will be exported after the conclusion of what he called an important deal.

US signs off on additional $270m in military aid to Ukraine

The US has signed off on an additional $270m in military aid to Ukraine, including four new HIMARS precision rocket systems.

The new aid will total the number of M142 HIMARS sent to Ukraine to 20.

The White House also said that the new military package will also include 500 new Phoenix Ghosts, small and highly portable drones that detonate on their target, as well as 36,000 rounds of artillery ammunition.

The majority of the aid comes from a $40bn package that Congress approved in May.

Grain export deal ‘life-saving’: Red Cross chief

Robert Mardini, director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has welcomed the grain export deal Russia and Ukraine have reached in Turkey and stressed its importance.

“A deal that allows grain to leave Black Sea ports is nothing short of life-saving for people across the world who are struggling to feed their families,” he said, noting that over the past six months prices for food staples have risen 187 percent in Sudan, 86 percent in Syria, 60 percent in Yemen and 54 percent in Ethiopia.

“Nowhere are the consequences felt harder than in communities already impacted by armed conflict and climate shocks,” Mardini added.

EU foreign policy chief urges ‘swift implementation’ of grain deal

The European Union’s foreign policy chief has welcomed the grain deal struck between Russia and Ukraine.

“Today’s Istanbul agreement is a step in the right direction. We call for its swift implementation,” Josep Borrell tweeted.

He added the bloc remained “committed” to helping Ukraine bring “as much of its grain into global markets as possible”.

In a fuller statement published online, Borrell also accused Moscow of having “endangered food security for millions of people across the world”.

“The present agreement offers an opportunity to start reversing this negative course,” he stated.

US says it will hold Russia accountable for implementing grain deal

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, stated Washington will work to hold Russia accountable for implementing the agreement reached on resuming Ukraine’s Black Sea grain exports.

The US also wants China to stop stockpiling grain and offer more to meet global humanitarian aid needs, James O’Brien, head of the US Department of States Office of Sanctions Coordination, told reporters.

Zelensky: No ceasefire with Russia without reclaiming occupied territory

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said a ceasefire with Russia without reclaiming occupied territory would only prolong the war.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday, he warned that a ceasefire that allows Russia to keep Ukrainian lands seized since the invasion in February would only encourage an even wider conflict, giving Moscow a much-needed opportunity to replenish and regroup for the next round of fighting.

“Freezing the conflict with the Russian Federation means a pause that gives the Russian Federation a break for rest,” Zelenskyy told WSJ.

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