Sunday, February 25, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 157

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 bars entry to 32 New Zealanders

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced sanctions against 32 officials and journalists from New Zealand for supporting what it called the country’s “Russophobic agenda”.

The list includes Shane Arndell, deputy chief of the naval forces, and Wellington Mayor Andy Foster, among other officials.

The sanctions bar the targeted individuals from entering Russia indefinitely, the ministry added.

Russia ‘running out of steam’ in Ukraine: UK spy chief

Russia is “running out of steam” in its assault on Ukraine, the chief of Britain’s MI6 foreign intelligence agency, Richard Moore, according to a brief comment on social media.

Moore made the remark “Running out of steam…” above an earlier post on Twitter by Britain’s defence ministry, which described the Russian government as “growing desperate” and as having lost thousands of soldiers in its invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine says scores of Russians killed in Kherson fighting

The Ukrainian military has announced it had killed scores of Russian soldiers and destroyed two ammunition dumps in fighting in the Kherson region, the focus of Kyiv’s counter-offensive in the south and a key link in Moscow’s supply lines.

Rail traffic to Kherson over the Dnipro River had been cut, the military’s southern command said, potentially further isolating Russian forces west of the river from supplies in occupied Crimea and the east.

Ukraine has used Western-supplied long-range missile systems to badly damage three bridges across the Dnipro in recent weeks, cutting off Kherson city and – in the assessment of British defence officials – leaving Russia’s 49th Army stationed on the west bank of the river highly vulnerable.

Gazprom says it has stopped gas supplies to Latvia

Russian gas producer Gazprom has announced it stopped supplying neighbouring Latvia with gas, accusing it of violating conditions for gas withdrawal.

The move comes a day after Latvian energy firm Latvijas Gaze said it was buying gas from Russia and paying in euros rather than the roubles required when trading with Gazprom.

Russian gas producer Gazprom has also noted its supply of gas to Europe through Ukraine via the Sudzha entry point was seen at 42.1 million cubic metres, a daily level that has remained unchanged since Thursday.

An application to supply gas via the Sokhranivka entry point was rejected by Ukraine, Gazprom added.

Ukraine calls for Russia to be recognised as state sponsor of ‘terrorism’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said the deaths of dozens of prisoners in a Russian-held jail showed there should be clear legal recognition that Russia was a state sponsor of “terrorism”.

“I am appealing especially to the United States of America. A decision is needed and it is needed now,” he stated in a late-night video address.

EU’s chief defends energy strategy as Russian gas revenues soar

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, hit back at criticism of the bloc’s energy policy, stating that EU states have cut their imports of Russian gas by 50% since the invasion of Ukraine began.

Borrell was asked whether, by refusing to cut themselves off from Russian energy altogether, EU states are still funding Russia’s war machine.

“It [Russian energy imports] was 40% before the war, it’s now 20% … but no one can ask European economies to cut gas supplies overnight,” Borrell said, adding, “We cannot do miracles.”

Despite the import cuts, EU member states remain dependent on Russian energy to power their economies and homes.

EU states this week agreed to cut their gas usage by 15% in case the Kremlin turns off supplies to the European Union in retaliation for sanctions. The austerity measures will help energy firms to refill gas storage facilities across the bloc in time for winter.

Asked why Brussels had not opted to levy punitive tariffs on Russian gas to reduce the flow of funds to Moscow’s war chest, Borrell said the proposal had been seriously considered but rejected.

He added EU countries made a “stronger decision” to “stop buying [Russian] oil from the end of the year, and now we’re in the process of stopping buying gas.”

Borrell noted further decreases in Russian gas imports would happen “quickly.”

The European Union’s chief diplomat also denied claims that Russia’s economy has been relatively unscathed so far by Western sanctions, while EU consumers are already feeling the pinch of high energy bills.

“More important than that [cutting gas] is cutting the links of the Russian economy with the rest of the world,” Borrell continued.

“The war machine is not only working with money — it is also working with technology,” he added, citing Russian tanks that rely on Western components.

“Have a look at the carcass of a destroyed Russian tank. And you will see how many Western companies’ electronic components are inside there. They will no longer have access to them,” as a result of sanctions.

Borrell said Russia’s car manufacturing, production of electronic appliances, and the aviation sector had ground to halt as a result of the measures.

The diplomat stated Russia’s gross domestic product is on course to contract by 10% this year, which he said would lead to “the biggest recession … since the end of the Soviet Union.”

Very soon, Russian President Vladimir Putin will “have to choose between having guns and having butter for the people,” Borrell told DW.

US mulls designating Russia as state sponsor of terrorism: White House

The US administration is looking into the possibility of including Russia into the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has told reporters.

She reiterated that the matter was up to the US Department of State to decide.

“This requires a determination by the Department of State on specific criteria in congressional statute. So we’re looking into it along with a range of other proposals to impose further costs on Russia,” the press secretary said.

She did not elaborate on other possible anti-Russian measures currently under consideration by the Joe Biden administration.

Earlier, Kiev pressed Washington to put Russia on this list. Similar statements were echoed by a number of Congressmen.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova earlier castigated Washington over its ‘idiotic’ gamble to brand Russia as a sponsor of terrorism and warned that this move won’t go unanswered.

The ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ designation is applied by Washington to countries that have allegedly “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism”.

The American government has broad authority to impose sanctions against those on the list. The US Department of Treasury can take action against those entities and individuals, as well as states that trade with countries on the list. The listing of a state can have significant consequences in terms of further restrictive measures. Since 1979, Washington has added only a handful of countries to its list, and these are rogue states where American interests are limited, the Washington Post explained earlier. Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Syria are currently on the list.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that the Joe Biden administration did not see much practical effect from a possible inclusion of Russia on the US list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

Lavrov tells Blinken US breaking promises about food sanctions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has told US Secretary of State Antoni Blinken that Washington is not living up to promises regarding the exemption from sanctions for the supply of food from Russia, Moscow has said.

A Russian foreign ministry read-out of the call also added Lavrov told Blinken that Russia would achieve all the goals of its “special military operation” in Ukraine and noted Western arms supplies would only drag out the conflict.

EU foreign affairs official “appalled” by reports of Russia killing dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war

Josep Borrell, who is the European Union’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said on Twitter that he is “appalled by reports of Russia killing dozens” of Ukrainian prisoners of war who surrendered and were registered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

He added in the tweet the “EU condemns in the strongest possible terms atrocities committed by Russia.”

In a full statement released by the European External Action Service, Borrell stated “Russia’s ongoing illegitimate and unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine and its people brings further horrific atrocities day by day.”

“Today in Olenivka, in eastern Ukraine, Russia is reported to have killed dozens of Ukrainian prisoners of war, including defenders of Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant, who surrendered to Russia, were registered by the ICRC in May and were in Russia’s legal protection under international humanitarian law. Evidence in form of appalling video footage has been widely shared on pro-Kremlin social networks today, in which Russian soldiers commit a heinous atrocity against a Ukrainian prisoner of war,” Borrell said in the statement.

He also noted in the statement “the perpetrators of war crimes and other serious violations, as well as the responsible government officials and military representatives, will be held accountable,” adding that the EU support measures to “ensure accountability” for human rights violations.

Ukraine demands UN, Red Cross react immediately react to killing of POWs

Ukraine’s security agencies have demanded the United Nations and Red Cross to immediately react to the killing of prisoners of war in a Russian-held jail, noting the two bodies had given guarantees the detainees would be well treated.

In a joint statement issued after a meeting called by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the agencies stated the UN and Red Cross should send investigative teams to probe the deaths.

Red Cross offers to help evacuate wounded from Ukrainian POW attack

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is seeking access to the site of a deadly attack on a facility holding Ukrainian prisoners of war and has offered to help evacuate the wounded, it has announced.

“The ICRC has offered its support in the evacuation of the wounded and to donate medical supplies, protective equipment and forensic material. Our priority right now is making sure that the wounded receive life-saving treatment and that the bodies of those who lost their lives are dealt with in a dignified manner,” it said in a statement.

“We have requested access to determine the health and condition of all the people present on-site at the time of the attack. We are also in contact with families, taking their requests and inquiries,” it added.

China accuses US of double standards at UN

China has accused the US of double standards at the United Nations for challenging Beijing’s sovereignty over Taiwan while emphasising the principle of sovereignty for Ukraine after Russian forces invaded.

A day after Chinese leader Xi Jinping warned US President Joe Biden in a phone call against playing with fire over Taiwan, Deputy UN Ambassador Geng Shuang reinforced the message during a meeting on Ukraine at the 15-member UN Security Council.

“While some country has repeatedly emphasised the principle of sovereignty over the issue of Ukraine, it has incessantly challenged the sovereignty of China over Taiwan, and even deliberately created tension in the Taiwan Strait,” Geng noted, a clear reference to the US without naming it.

UN: Russia preventing aid delivery to occupied Ukraine

Russia is preventing humanitarian aid being brought to the occupied regions of Ukraine, United Nations representatives have said at a briefing in Kyiv.

Saviano Abreu, from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), stated that humanitarian access to areas of Ukraine not controlled by the Ukrainian government is “extremely difficult,” if not impossible.

“People in these regions, in the Donbas, in the south of Ukraine, they are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance,” he added.

North Macedonia gives Ukraine Soviet tanks

NATO’s newest member North Macedonia is handing over several Soviet battle tanks to Ukraine as it prepares to modernise its defences in line with Alliance standards, the defence ministry has said.

North Macedonia would otherwise have discarded the tanks, but Ukraine needs them, the ministry statement added.

North Macedonia still has about 30 Soviet T-72 main battle tanks, but the number being given to Ukraine was not specified. A video published by the Makfax news agency showed several of the vehicles on transport trucks as they drove through the village of Kriva Palanka near the Bulgarian border.

Kyiv: Attack on prisoner of war camp was ‘targeted explosion’

Ukrainian intelligence services announced a deadly attack on a prisoner of war camp in eastern Ukraine was a targeted explosion by Russian forces.

“The explosions occurred in a newly constructed building specially prepared for the Azovstal prisoners,” the Ukrainian side claimed in a statement.

Azovstal is the steelworks in Mariupol where Ukrainian soldiers had holed up before submitting to Russian captivity.

Ukraine issued ruling to seize Syrian vessel docked in Lebanon: Statement

The Ukrainian embassy in Beirut has said that a judge in Ukraine has issued a ruling to seize a Syrian vessel docked in Lebanon and the cargo on board after an investigation.

In a statement to Reuters, the embassy added that in the case of confiscation of the cargo of the ship, Ukraine is ready to negotiate with Lebanon regarding the terms of its transfer to Lebanon.

Ukraine ready to resume grain exports

Ukraine has completed all necessary preparations to restart grain exports from two ports, the country’s infrastructure minister has said, adding that the first shipments could be on its way by the end of the week.

Oleksandr Kubrakov made the announcement at a news conference in the Black Sea port of Odesa along with representatives of various countries as well as the UN.

“Odesa and Chernomorsk are ready to begin shipments,” Kubrakov said, adding that Yuzhny port will be ready by next weekend.

“Today, we have started loading another ship in Chernomorsk. We agreed on almost all technical issues,” he continued.

16 ships loaded with grain in Odesa ports

The deputy chief of staff to President Volodymyr Zelensky has said there are already 17 ships ready to move goods from ports in Odesa.

Kirill Tymoshenko stated 16 of the ships were loaded with a total of 580 tonnes of grain.

US imposes new sanctions on Russian individuals and entities: Treasury Dept

The US has imposed new sanctions on two Russian individuals and four Russian entities, the Treasury Department’s website has shown.

The sanctions were issued under a US executive order related to interference in foreign elections and malicious cyber activity, according to the website.

Blinken speaks with Lavrov in first contact since start of Ukraine war

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had a “frank and direct” conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and told his counterpart that Russia must fulfil commitments it made as part of the deal on the export of grain from Ukraine.

Blinken added he also told Lavrov that “the world will never recognise annexation” of parts of Ukraine seized by Russian troops and that Russia would face additional costs.

Ukraine appeals to International Criminal Court after prison attack

Ukraine’s foreign ministry has condemned an attack on a prison in territory held by Russian-backed separatists and appealed to the International Criminal Court over what it said were Russian war crimes.

“We call on the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to urgently draw attention to the atrocities of Russian servicemen in the context of the investigation of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by citizens of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine,” the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Such alleged crimes, it added, coincided with “another war crime by Russia – shelling of penal institutions in occupied Olenivka, where it is believed that Ukrainians were held prisoners of war”.

Ukraine opens investigation into attack that killed Ukrainian prisoners of war

The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office has opened a pre-trial investigation into an attack that killed about 40 Ukrainian prisoners of war.

It announced “the occupying state struck the territory of correctional colony No. 120” in an attack that also injured 130 people.

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