Monday, August 15, 2022

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 156

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:

Zelensky: Ukraine is ready for grain shipments

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated his country is ready to start grain shipments from Black Sea ports and is awaiting a signal from the United Nations and Turkey to start the shipments.

Zelenskyy’s office announced the president had visited the Black Sea port of Chornomorsk, which has been blockaded by Russia, to see preparations for the shipments under a UN-brokered agreement signed in Turkey last week.

“Our side is fully prepared. We sent all the signals to our partners – the UN and Turkey, and our military guarantees the security situation,” it quoted him as saying.

“The infrastructure minister is in direct contact with the Turkish side and the UN. We are waiting for a signal from them that we can start,” he added.


Ukraine military denies carrying out a strike on Ukrainian prisoners

Ukraine’s military has denied carrying out an attack on a prison in separatist-held territory that Russia’s defence ministry claimed killed 40 Ukrainian prisoners of war, and blamed it on Russian forces.

“The armed forces of the Russian Federation carried out targeted artillery shelling of a correctional institution in the settlement of Olenivka, Donetsk oblast, where Ukrainian prisoners were also held,” the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in a statement.

“In this way, the Russian occupiers pursued their criminal goals – to accuse Ukraine of committing ‘war crimes’, as well as to hide the torture of prisoners and executions …” it added.

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s internal affairs ministry, stated the allegations were fake and blamed Russia for the attack.

“All Russian media are full of claims that Ukraine made a rocket strike on prison in Elenovka near Donetsk – where Ukrainian POWs were, mostly from Azovstal,” he continued, adding, “Obviously, Ukrainian Army would never shoot any object like that. It is either a fake altogether or another horrible Russian crime.”


Macron and MbS to work to ‘ease effects’ of Ukraine war

French President Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have agreed to work “to ease the effects” of the war in Ukraine during talks in Paris, the French presidency said.

“The President and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia underlined the need to bring an end to this conflict and intensify their cooperation to ease the effects in Europe, the Middle East and the wider world,” a statement added.

Aides to the French president had indicated before the talks that Macron planned to urge Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production to help bring down crude prices.


German minister: Putting Nord Stream 2 online not an option

Putting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline into operation was not an option as this would only play into the hands of Russian President Putin, the German economy minister has stated.

“That is why, in my view, it would be wrong and is not an option,” Robert Habeck said in a conversation with representatives of a glass company in the state of Thuringia.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline was designed to double the flow of Russian gas directly to Germany but the German government decided it would not go into operation after relations with Moscow broke down ahead of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Flows through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline are currently subdued. Russia’s gas giant Gazprom has given technical reasons for this, but many in the West see it as a retaliation measure against Western sanctions.


Lavrov says Moscow will propose time for call with Blinken on prisoners

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated Moscow would soon propose a time for a call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which Blinken has said he wants to discuss an exchange of prisoners held in Russian and US jails.

Blinken noted on Wednesday that Washington had made a “substantial offer” to obtain the release of US basketball star Brittney Griner and former marine Paul Whelan, both imprisoned in Russia.

A source said that Washington was willing to exchange convicted arms trafficker Viktor Bout, jailed in the United States, as part of such a deal.

Lavrov told a news conference that talks on prisoner exchanges had been taking place since a summit in Geneva last year between presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden.

He added a time for the call with Blinken was being worked out and he would listen to what his US counterpart had to say.


Russian attacks kill 4 at bus stop in south Ukraine: Governor

Russian raids on the heavily bombed Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv near the country’s southern front line killed four people and wounded seven more, the regional governor has claimed.

“Today, they shot at another area near a public transport stop. According to the latest information, four people are dead and seven are injured,” Vitaliy Kim said in a statement on social media.


Russia: 40 Ukrainian POWs killed by Ukrainian missile attack on Donetsk prison

Russia’s defence ministry has claimed Ukraine struck a prison in separatist-held territory with US-made HIMARS rockets, killing 40 Ukrainian prisoners of war and leaving 75 wounded.

“A missile strike from the US-made multiple launch rocket system (HIMARS) was carried out on a pre-trial detention centre in the area of the settlement of Olenivka, where Ukrainian military prisoners of war, including fighters from the Azov battalion, are being held,” the defence ministry said in its daily briefing.

As a result of the attack, “40 Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed and 75 wounded,” and eight prison staff were also injured, it added.


Russian shelling continues in frontline Donetsk cities of Sloviansk & Bakhmut

Parts of the eastern Donetsk region came under heavy Russian shelling Friday, according to local officials.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, the head of the Donetsk regional military administration, said on Telegram Friday that it was a “restless night” in Sloviansk, Bakhmut, and the nearby towns of Pokrovsk and Krasnohorivka.

At least four people have been killed and five injured in Bakhmut since Thursday, Kyrylenko said. The city was hit by another airstrike overnight, damaging seven high-rise buildings and 27 houses, he added.

Five people were also injured by shelling in Pokrovsk, Kyrylenko continued.

Sloviansk is partially out of power after it came under Russian shelling on Friday morning, with at least one injured, said Sloviansk Mayor Vadym Liakh.

“The morning of Friday, July 29, was not good for Sloviansk. The city was shelled again,” Liakh said on Facebook, adding that many high-rise buildings and houses had been damaged by what was “presumably a rocket attack” in the city’s residential northern district.

Russian forces have been trying to advance west through Donetsk region for several weeks, but have so far made only incremental progress.


Russia is failing in many areas of Ukraine war: UK DM

Britain’s Defence Minister Ben Wallace said Russia is failing in “many areas” in its war in Ukraine and President Putin might seek to change strategy again.

“The Russians are failing at the moment on the ground in many areas …” he told Sky News television.

“[Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan A, B, and C has failed and he may look to plan D,” Wallace added.

He stated that he believed the fight against Russia to be a “noble cause,” characterizing the war as a “fascist state invading Ukraine.”

Wallace, who has overseen British efforts to equip Ukraine with anti-tank weapons, armored vehicles and ammunition, noted “everyone” believes the invasion to be “wrong” and “brutal.”


Ukraine’s Kharkiv hit by Russian shelling: Mayor

The center of Kharkiv was struck twice in the early hours of Friday, according to the northeastern city’s Mayor Ihor Terekhov.

In a Telegram post, Terekhov said there were strikes around 4:09 a.m. at a two-story building and an educational institution.

The State Emergency Service is at the scene “sorting out the rubble, looking for people under them,” Terekhov added.

There are no reports of casualties or deaths so far.

Kharkiv has continued to come under attack by Russian forces. On Thursday, city officials stated two S-300 long-range surface-to-air missiles had hit the region. On Wednesday, Terekhov said the city’s industrial district was struck.


Russia’s Sakhalin Energy tells LNG buyers to pay via Moscow bank

Russia’s Sakhalin Energy Investment Co has asked its liquefied natural gas (LNG) customers to make payments via a Moscow unit of a European bank and is negotiating to switch payment currencies away from US dollars, two sources familiar with the matter said.

The changes follow Russian President Vladimir Putin’s June 30 decree to create a new firm to take over all the rights and obligations of Sakhalin Energy.

Some buyers are already paying via the designated bank but these payments are still made in US dollars, added the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Among the alternative payment currencies being discussed were the Chinese yuan, the Japanese yen and South Korean won, one of the sources added.


UK says Wagner firm given responsibility for sectors of front line in Ukraine

Russian private military firm Wagner has likely been allocated responsibility for specific sectors of the front line in eastern Ukraine, Britain’s defence ministry announced in an intelligence update.

“This is a significant change from the previous employment of the group since 2015, when it typically undertook missions distinct from overt, large-scale regular Russian military activity,” Britain said in a regular intelligence bulletin on Twitter on Friday.

It also added that Wagner’s forces are highly unlikely to be sufficient to make a significant difference in the trajectory of Russia’s war on Ukraine.


Kremlin: US numbers on Russian dead and injured are ‘fake’

Figures cited by the US on Russian dead and injured amid Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine are “fake”, the Kremlin claimed.

“After all, these are not data from the US administration, but publications in newspapers,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

“In our time, not even the most solid newspapers are afraid to spread all kinds of fakes. Unfortunately, this is a practice we are seeing more and more often,” he added.

He was responding to a New York Times report on Russia’s high casualty figure in the war, according to Interfax news agency.

CNN had also reported that more than 75,000 Russians have either been killed or injured, quoting Democratic lawmaker Elissa Slotkin, who had earlier attended a classified US government briefing.


UN: first grain shipment from Ukraine could take place as early as Friday

United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths has said he is hopeful that the first shipment of grain from a Ukrainian Black Sea port could take place as early as Friday, but “crucial” details for the safe passage of vessels are still being worked out.

Griffiths stated Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian military officials were working with a UN team at a joint coordination centre in Istanbul to hammer out standard operating procedures for the deal agreed by the four parties on July 22.

He acknowledged that “the devil was in the details,” but said so far no major issues had emerged, Reuters reported.

Griffiths added one aspect being negotiated is the exact coordinates of the safe shipping channels.

“We are hopeful … for the first ship movements to take place within days – hopefully tomorrow – out of those ports,” Griffiths continued.


Ukraine says Syrian-owned ship docked in Lebanon carries stolen grain

The Ukrainian Embassy in Lebanon has called on authorities to clarify the conditions under which a Syrian ship — which Ukraine claims is carrying stolen barley — was allowed to dock in Tripoli.

The Syrian vessel, the Laodicea, belongs to state shipping company SYRIAMAR and was photographed passing through the Bosphorus strait into the Mediterranean on July 23.

Both the company and the vessel were sanctioned by the US Treasury in 2015.

In a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Thursday, Ukrainian Ambassador Ihor Ostash “drew the attention of the President of the Republic to the fact that a Syrian ship entered the sea port of Tripoli on July 27, 2022 carrying barley exported from the occupied territories in the port of Fyudosia,” the embassy said in a readout posted on Facebook on Thursday.

“He also expressed his hope that measures will be taken to clarify the conditions of this ship’s docking in Lebanese territorial waters,” the embassy noted, adding, “It has also been confirmed that this incident can damage bilateral relationships.”

The Laodicea was photographed transitioning through the Bosphorus on July 23.

Ukraine has repeatedly announced that Russia has taken grain from the country to ports around the Middle East. In May, satellite images appeared to show two Russia-flagged bulk carrier ships docking and loading up with what was believed to be stolen Ukrainian grain in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

Last week, Ukraine and Russia agreed a deal to allow the resumption of grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports. Ministers from both countries signed the agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in Istanbul.


Russian interior ministry departments open in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions

The Russian government has opened delegations of its interior ministry in Russian-controlled territories in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

According to the report, the delegations arrived in the occupied territory to “organize the work of the temporary departments of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia and provide practical assistance to local law enforcement authority.”

The agency also reported that territorial internal affairs bodies of those specific regions were being created.

Ukrainian troops claim to have won back some territory in the southern flank of the war. But there are growing signs that the Russians are reinforcing their military presence in Kherson, determined to hold it as a vital part of the land bridge to Crimea – and as the peninsula’s main source of water.

In the past two weeks, large convoys have traveled west from Mariupol through Melitopol in the Zaporizhzhia region and on to Kherson.

Ukrainian officials estimate that nearly half the population of Kherson has left the region for Ukrainian-held territory. They accuse the Russians of preventing more people from leaving cities like Melitopol, so that they can be exploited as “human shields” in the event of a Ukrainian offensive.


Kremlin confirms talks with the US on possible prisoner swap

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has confirmed that it is in talks with the US on a possible prisoner swap, but he said at a news briefing on Thursday that “there are no agreements in this area yet.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington had made a “substantial proposal” to Moscow to free basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, but declined to confirm reports that the US is offering to trade them for notorious Russian arms deal Victor Bout.

In a significant development, Blinken stated on Thursday that he will speak to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov “in the coming days” – in what would be the pair’s first telephone call since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

Maria Zakharova, Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, noted Lavrov will “pay attention” to the US State Department’s request to speak with Blinken when “time permits.”

Zakharova added, “Now he has a busy schedule with international contacts: the SCO Ministerial Council in Tashkent, bilateral meetings.”

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