Saturday, May 18, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 152

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’s foreign currency corporate loans fell by $2.5bn in June: Central bank

The volume of corporate loans in foreign currency fell by $2.5bn in Russia in June, its central bank has said, but rouble loans led to 0.1 percent growth in the overall corporate credit portfolio.

“The second quarter was not easy, but banks are coping with the challenges and the results are not bad in general,” said Alexander Danilov, director of the central bank’s banking regulation and analytics department.

The central bank, which slashed its key rate to 8 percent on Friday, has not reported banking sector profit or loss since before Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Western nations have imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia over the offensive.

Germany sees no technical reason for Nord Stream 1 cut

There is no technical reason for a further reduction in gas supplies via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, a spokesperson for Germany’s economy ministry has said.

“We have taken note of the announcement,” the ministry spokesperson stated, adding, “According to our information, there is no technical reason for a reduction in deliveries.”

Gazprom had earlier announced it was halting the operation of another Siemens gas turbine at Nord Stream 1’s Portovaya compressor station in accordance with the instructions of the relevant watchdog, taking into account the technical condition of the engine.

Gazprom to cut Nord Stream 1 gas supplies from Wednesday

Russian energy giant Gazprom has announced it is halting one more turbine along the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline for maintenance work, a move that will result in a reduction of flows.

Gazprom said that due to the turbine stoppage, daily production capacity at the Russian Portovaya compressor station will be cut to 33 million cubic metres (mcm) of gas per day from 04:00 GMT on Wednesday, down from its full capacity of more than 160 mcm per day.

The move will see flows drop to half of their current, already reduced, levels.

Kremlin-controlled Gazprom reopened Nord Stream 1 last week after a 10-day maintenance break, but only at 40 percent of the pipeline’s capacity – a level Russia has said it was forced to lower volumes to in June because of the delayed return of a separate turbine being serviced in Canada.

European politicians have challenged that explanation, with Germany saying the turbine in question was not meant to be used until September.

WFP ‘optimistic’ over Ukraine grain export deal

The World Food Programme (WFP) has said it is optimistic about the deal to reopen Ukrainian ports for grain exports but warned the agreement alone will not solve the global food crisis even if it is implemented effectively.

“We’re optimistic the deal could lead to improvements in global food prices. Countries dependent on grain supplies from the Black Sea would likely be the first to feel a positive impact,” a WFP spokeswoman told the Reuters news agency.

She added, however, that the current global food crisis is not a price crisis alone, and that man-made conflict, climate shocks and the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to keep food prices elevated even if Friday’s deal holds, which is by no means a certainty.

Before the conflict, the WFP used to buy more than half its wheat from Ukraine. The agency, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020, says some 47 million people face “acute hunger” this year due to the current global food crisis.

The WFP itself has had to cut aid this year in key hunger hotspots like Yemen and South Sudan due to global inflation and critical funding gaps, both exacerbated by the Ukraine conflict.

Russia says there are no barriers to Ukrainian grain exports

Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, has said there are no barriers to the export of grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports after Kyiv and Moscow agreed a deal to unblock shipments last week.

Speaking on Monday, Lavrov stated Russian missile strikes carried out on Saturday on Ukraine’s main port of Odesa had been aimed at military infrastructure.

He told a news conference there was nothing in the grain agreement signed by Russia to prevent it from continuing to attack military infrastructure in Ukraine.

Lavrov is currently on a diplomatic tour of Africa which will see him visit several countries in a bid to strengthen Moscow’s ties with the continent.

Many African nations import Russian grain and, increasingly, energy too but also buy the foodstuff from Ukraine too.

Ukraine receives first anti-aircraft tanks from Germany

Ukraine has received three Gepard anti-aircraft tanks from Germany, according to the country’s defence minister.

“Today the first three Gepards officially arrived,” Oleksii Resnikov told Ukrainian television, adding that tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition had also been delivered.

Kyiv is expecting to receive 15 of the tanks in total from Berlin, Resnikov stated.

Ukraine eyes first grain shipment under UN-brokered deal this week

Ukraine has said it hopes to resume grain exports from its Black Sea ports this week under a UN-brokered deal aimed at easing global food shortages.

Senior government officials told a news conference they hoped the first grain shipment under the agreement would be from the port of Chornomorsk this week, and that shipments could be made from all ports included under the deal within two weeks.

Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov stated there were no limits on how much grain could be exported under the agreement reached on Friday, which also allows got the export and import of fertiliser.

“We believe that over the next 24 hours we will be ready to work to resume exports from our ports. We are talking about the port of Chornomorsk, it will be the first, then there will be Odesa, then the port of Pivdeny,” Yuriy Vasyukov, Ukraine’s deputy infrastructure minister, said.

​​Russia charges 92 Ukrainian military members with crimes against humanity

Russia has charged 92 members of Ukraine’s military high command with crimes against humanity, according to Alexander Bastrykin, head of Russia’s Investigative Committee.

In total, Moscow has opened more than 1,300 criminal cases against Ukraine’s military and political leadership, Bastrykin said in an interview with government news site Rossiyskaya Gazeta published Monday.

“In the course of the preliminary investigation, more than 220 people have been identified as involved in crimes against the peace and security of humanity that do not have a statute of limitations, including representatives of the high command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as well as commanders of military units that fired at civilians,” Bastrykin told Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

“A total of 92 commanders and their subordinates have been charged. 96 people were put on the wanted list, in particular 51 commanders of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” he added.

The head of the Investigative Committee also suggested creating a separate international tribunal for crimes in Ukraine.

“Taking into account the position of the ‘collective West,’ which openly sponsors Ukrainian nationalism and supports the Kyiv regime, the creation of such a tribunal under the auspices of the UN in the current perspective is extremely doubtful,” he said.

“The establishment of the court and its charter could be formalized by an agreement between Russia, the member countries of these organizations, the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics,” he added.

France against setting uniform targets on reducing gas usage in Europe

France is against setting uniform targets for the reduction of gas consumption in Europe amid a looming energy crisis, officials from the country’s energy ministry have announced.

The future targets must notably take into account the export capacities of each country, the officials added, ahead of a meeting of European energy ministers on Tuesday in Brussels.

The European Union’s executive arm proposed last week that all member states should cut their gas use from August to March by 15 percent. The target would initially be voluntary, but would become mandatory if the Commission declared an emergency.

But from the outset, the proposal met criticism from a range of countries, including Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Ukraine says it has destroyed 50 ammunition depots using HIMARS

Ukrainian forces have destroyed 50 Russian ammunition depots using HIMARS rocket systems, according to the country’s defence minister.

“This cuts their [Russia] logistical chains and takes away their ability to conduct active fighting and cover our armed forces with heavy shelling,” Oleksiy Reznikov noted in televised comments.

There was no immediate comment from Russia on Reznikov’s claim.

Kremlin says Odesa strikes should not hamper grain exports

The Kremlin’s spokesman has said Russian strikes on Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa “should not affect” a UN-brokered deal between Moscow and Kyiv to unblock grain exports from the country.

“These strikes are connected exclusively with military infrastructure,” Peskov told reporters, two days after Moscow hit the port.

“They are in no way related to infrastructure that is used for the export of grain. This should not affect – and will not affect – the beginning of shipments,” he added.

Russia’s attack on Saturday came just hours after Kyiv and Moscow had signed the landmark grain deal. Kyiv denounced the strikes as “barbarism” and Ukraine’s Western allies announced the move cast “serious doubt” on Russia’s commitment to the agreement on resuming exports via the Black Sea.

Zaporizhia, Kherson referendums on joining Russia likely in September: Report

A referendum on Ukraine’s occupied southeastern Zaporizhia region joining the Russian Federation will most likely take place in September, alongside a similar vote in occupied Kherson, a local Moscow-installed official has told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.

“Everything is moving towards the fact that the referendum will be in the first half of September. I will not name the exact date yet. Election commissions are being formed,” RIA quoted Vladimir Rogov as saying.

“The main work of the election commissions being created will be to clarify the lists of voters, given that some people have left the region,” he added.

RIA also quoted Rogov as noting that “successes on the line of contact have assured security” in the two regions, meaning it is likely the referendums will be held simultaneously.

Russia says it destroyed HIMARS ammo depot in western Ukraine

Russia’s Defence Ministry says its forces have destroyed an ammunition depot for US-made HIMARS rocket systems in Bogdanovtsy, in Ukraine’s western Khmelnytskyi region.

Moscow has previously announced it has destroyed several of the HIMARS systems supplied to Ukraine by the US, contradicting claims made by Kyiv and Washington.

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

Kyiv has hailed the HIMARS systems 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 Ukraine’s forces to strike Russian targets and weapons depots further behind the front lines.

Ukrainians talk up progress against Russian forces in southern Kherson region

Ukrainian officials say they are confident of progress on the battlefield in the southern region of Kherson, as strikes against Russian command posts and ammunition depots impede the invading force’s defensive capabilities.

Serhii Khlan, an adviser to the head of the Kherson civil military administration, said that last week Ukrainian forces carried out “very successful strategic operations, as bridges that helped supply ammunition and equipment to the enemy’s network were hit.”

“It was a turning point in our fight for Kherson,” he added.

Khlan stated the success was down to the coordination of the resistance movement in the occupied territories with Ukrainian forces.

“These are very precise hits on the ammo warehouses, elimination of the command posts and personnel, radio-location systems and yesterday a whole bunch of S-300 systems, which had been shelling Mykolaiv were destroyed,” Khlan continued.

Khlan said civilians and passenger vehicles were still able to use damaged bridges that cross the Dnipro River, but the structures were not stable enough for heavy vehicles and trucks.

Images and video circulating last week showed the Antonivskyi bridge still standing but with substantial holes puncturing its surface after they were hit in Ukrainian strikes last week.

The bridge was a key element in the supply of a group of Russian troops to Kherson through the left bank of the river, according to Khlan.

He added the armed forces had also hit a bridge across the Inhulets river, a tributary of the Dnipro River.

Ukraine’s Operational Command South reported Monday that two Russian counterattacks in Kherson had been unsuccessful and they had retreated with losses.

It also said that Ukrainian combat aircraft and helicopters had carried out several strikes in the Beryslav district of Kherson. It claimed that several tanks and howitzers had been destroyed, and the command post of Russia’s 785th National Guard unit and two warehouses with ammunition were also destroyed.

US working on “Plan B” for Ukrainian grain exports after Odesa bombing: USAID administrator

The United States is working with Ukraine on a “Plan B” to get grain exports out of the country following Russia’s attack on the port of Odesa, according to United States Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power.

“Plan B involves road and rail and river and sending in barges and adjusting the rail systems so that they’re better aligned with those in Europe so that the exports can move out more quickly,” Power told CNN’s Larry Madowo in an interview in Nairobi, Kenya, after visiting drought-stricken areas of Kenya and Somalia last week.

“We have been living the contingency plan because there’s no way you can trust anything that Vladimir Putin says,” she continued.

Power stressed that despite the security afforded by a contingency plan, “there is no substitute for Putin allowing the blockade to end and the grains being sent out the most efficient way possible.”

On Friday, Russia and Ukraine signed a deal allowing for the export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea after months of tough negotiations, mediated by Turkey and the United Nations.

However just one day later, Russia carried out a missile strike on the southern Ukrainian port of Odesa, where vital grain stocks have been lying in storage.

More than half of Somalia’s wheat imports come from Ukraine, noted Power, adding that 20 million metric tons of wheat and corn are still trapped at the port of Odesa.

Power said she hopes that that the grain deal “somehow sticks” despite Russia’s move to “immediately turn its back” on it by bombing the port.

Ensuring the supply of grain will help drive down prices, Power added.

“Even the specter of this deal working and being enforced and the grains leaving the port brought prices down, even in a 24-hour period,” she said, adding, “So, more supply with the same amount of demand is going to mean lower prices.”

Last week, the US announced an additional $1.3 billion in humanitarian assistance to the Horn of Africa, with unprecedented drought across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

Power called on countries that play “leadership roles in the international system, such as the People’s Republic of China clearly aspires to do,” to “dig deeper” to prevent the food crisis “from becoming a catastrophe.”

Germany back on path towards gas storage goals: Network regulator

Germany is back on the path of decent gas injection levels and the task is now to reach its target of 75 percent gas storage levels by September 1, the head of the country’s network regulator has said.

Klaus Mueller, head of the Bundesnetzagentur regulator, added that gas importer Uniper had also ended withdrawals from storage.

Ships arriving in Ukraine will be inspected for weapons: Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that any ships coming to Ukrainian ports to pick up additional grain would be “inspected to make sure they don’t bring any weapons”.

In an address to the Arab League in Cairo, Lavrov stated that any ships carrying weapons would be “detrimental to the continued conflict”.

Egypt is one of the world’s top wheat importers and last year bought about 80 percent of its imports from Russia and Ukraine.

Lavrov earlier met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and offered reassurances over Russian grain supplies to Egypt.

Russia struggles to repair damaged combat vehicles: UK

Russia likely continues to struggle to extract and repair thousands of combat vehicles damaged in action in Ukraine, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has said.

In its latest briefing, the ministry announced UK intelligence had recently identified a Russian military vehicle refit and refurbishment facility near Barvinok, in Russia’s Belgorod region, about 10km (6 miles) from the Ukrainian border.

“At least 300 damaged vehicles were present, including main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and general support trucks,” the ministry added.

The ministry also noted Russian commanders were facing the dilemma of whether to resource the offensive in the eastern Donbas region or to bolster the defence in occupied areas, like Kherson, as Ukraine prepares for a powerful counteroffensive.

Poland fighter dies in Donbas: Polish MMA

Polish volunteer fighter, Tomasz Walentek, has died in the Donbas, according to Poland’s Mixed Martial Arts organisation.

“It is with great sadness that we received information about the death of Tomasz, who as a Polish volunteer fought in the international defence legion of Ukraine and died there,” the organisation said in a tweet on Saturday night.

His death has not been confirmed by Poland’s government, according to Interfax.

Zelensky says Ukraine unbowed, even Russians expect defeat

Ukraine will continue to do all it can to inflict as much damage on its enemy as possible, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said in his nightly video address.

“Even the occupiers admit we will win,” he stated as he hailed the upcoming day of Ukrainian statehood, July 28, a new annual holiday that Zelensky announced in August last year.

“We hear it in their conversations all the time – in what they are telling their relatives when they call them,” he added.

Zelensky said that Ukraine was not letting up: “We do everything to inflict the highest possible damage on the enemy and to gather for Ukraine as much support as possible.”

He added Ukraine had an important week ahead, with the holiday approaching in the midst of what he called a “cruel war”.

“But we will celebrate against all odds. Because Ukrainians won’t be cowed,” he continued.

Russian FM confirms regime change plans for Ukraine

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says, in contrast to earlier statements, that Russia is seeking to overthrow the Ukrainian government.

“We will definitely help the Ukrainian people to free themselves from the regime that is absolutely anti-people and anti-history,” Lavrov stated in Cairo.

The Russian and Ukrainian people would live together in the future, he added.

Ukraine: 18 medics killed, hundreds of health facilities damaged

Ukraine’s health ministry announced at least 18 medical personnel have been killed and nearly 900 medical facilities damaged or destroyed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a Facebook post, the health ministry said that more than 50 medical workers had been wounded by Russian attacks.

The post also added that 123 medical facilities in Ukraine were totally destroyed by the invasion, while another 746 needed repairs.

At least 183 religious sites damaged in Ukraine: Report

At least 183 religious sites in Ukraine have been fully or partially destroyed since Russia’s full-scale invasion began, the Kyiv Independent reports, citing figures from the State Service for Ethnic Affairs and Freedom of Conscience.

Five of these are Muslim, five are Jewish, and the other 173 are Christian, the report added.

German industry cuts production due to high energy prices: Survey

A survey of 3,500 companies in Germany has found that 16 percent of them are cutting production, or partially discontinuing business operations, due to soaring energy prices.

“These are alarming figures,” said Peter Adrian, president of the Chambers of Industry and Commerce, which conducted the survey.

“They show how permanently high energy prices are a burden,” he added.

Germany is largely dependent on Russian gas to fuel its export-led economy and to keep homes warm. But the nation has been bracing for a possible complete halt in Russian supplies if Moscow steps up its use of gas as an economic weapon against the West while it wages war in Ukraine.

A Canadian citizen died in Ukraine: Foreign ministry

A Canadian citizen died in Ukraine, Canada’s foreign ministry spokesperson has said, adding that further details will not be shared due to privacy considerations.

“Global Affairs Canada is aware of the death of a Canadian in Ukraine. Consular officials are in contact with the family and are providing consular assistance,” the spokesperson stated.

This comes a day after two United States citizens were confirmed dead in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, according to the US Department of State. No further details on the circumstances of their deaths were provided.

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