Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 158

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:

Putin says United States is main threat to Russia

President Vladimir Putin has signed a new naval doctrine which cast the United States as Russia’s main rival and set out Russia’s global maritime ambitions for crucial areas such as the Arctic and in the Black Sea.

Speaking on Russia’s Navy Day in the former imperial capital of St Petersburg founded by Tsar Peter the Great, Putin praised Peter for making Russia a great sea power and increasing the global standing of the Russian state.

After inspecting the navy, Putin made a short speech in which he promised that what he touted as Russia’s unique Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles, cautioning that Russia had the military clout to defeat any potential aggressors.

Shortly before the speech, he signed a new 55-page naval doctrine, which sets out the broad strategic aims of Russia’s navy, including its ambitions as a “great maritime power” which extend over the entire world.

Owner of top Ukraine agriculture firm Nibulon killed in Russian strike

The founder and owner of one of the largest Ukrainian agriculture companies, Nibulon, Oleksiy Vadatursky, and his wife were killed in a Russian attack on the Mykolaiv region, Governor Vitaliy Kim has said.

The governor added on Telegram that the couple were killed in their home in Mykolaiv city, which was shelled overnight and on Sunday morning.

Nibulon, with its headquarters in Mykolaiv, specialises in the production and export of wheat, barley and corn, and it has its own fleet and shipyard.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has described the death of Vadatursky as “a great loss for all of Ukraine”.

Zelenskyy announced in a statement the businessman had been in the process of building a modern grain market involving a network of transhipment terminals and elevators.

Southern Ukrainian city hit by ‘strongest’ Russian strikes

Authorities in Ukraine’s southern city of Mykolaiv say widespread Russian bombardments overnight killed at least one person as Moscow continues to pummel the sprawling front line.

“Mykolaiv was subjected to mass shelling today. Probably the strongest so far,” Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych wrote on Telegram.

“Powerful explosions were heard after one in the morning and around five in the morning,” Senkevych added.

The governor of the region – where Ukrainian forces are looking to launch a major counteroffensive – said according to preliminary information one person had been killed and two wounded in the attack.

Ukraine denies carrying out drone attack on Russian fleet HQ

Ukraine has denied carrying out a drone attack on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea fleet in annexed Crimea, that Russian officials said wounded six personnel.

Sergiy Bratchuk, spokesman for the coastal Odessa military region, dismissed claims that Ukraine was behind the attack as “sheer provocation”.

“Our liberation of Crimea from the occupiers will be carried out in another way and much more effectively,” he wrote on Telegram.

Zelensky says harvest could be halved by war

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Ukraine’s harvest could be half its usual amount this year due to the Russian invasion.

“Ukrainian harvest this year is under the threat to be twice less,” suggesting half as much as usual, he wrote in English on Twitter.

“Our main goal — to prevent global food crisis caused by Russian invasion. Still grains find a way to be delivered alternatively,” he added.

Ukraine, a key global supplier of grains, has struggled to get its product to buyers due to a Russian naval blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

First grain-carrying ship could leave Ukraine on Aug 1: Turkish presidency

The possibility of the first grain-exporting ship leaving Ukraine’s ports on Monday is high, a spokesperson for President Tayyip Erdogan has said.

Speaking in an interview with broadcaster Kanal 7, Ibrahim Kalin stated the joint coordination centre in Istanbul will probably complete the final work on the exporting routes very soon.

Russia and Ukraine are major global wheat suppliers, and the UN-brokered agreement they signed in Istanbul last week is intended both to ease the food crisis and reduce global grains prices that have risen since the Russian invasion.

Black Sea Fleet HQ in Sevastopol, Crimea attacked by Ukraine: Governor

The Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol, Crimea was attacked by Ukraine, Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev wrote on his Telegram channel on Sunday morning. The attack took place on Russia’s Navy Day.

Six people were injured in a strike presumably carried out by a drone, he added.

Razvozhayev said that all celebrations have been canceled for safety reasons. Russia celebrates Navy Day on the last Sunday of July with military parades and other events across the country.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly voiced plans to take back Crimea.

Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Gavrilov stated this month that the Black Sea Fleet stationed in Crimea poses “a permanent threat” to Ukraine.

Moreover, when asked about the use of US-supplied HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, Vadim Skibitsky, the spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence, told reporters this month that military sites in Crimea were “among the targets that must be struck in order to ensure the safety of our citizens, sites and Ukraine in general.”

Crimea has “become a hub for the movement of all equipment and weapons that come from the Russian Federation,” he added.

Russia invites UN and Red Cross experts to investigate POW camp bombing

The Russian Defense Ministry announced that it had officially invited independent experts from the UN and the Red Cross to investigate the shelling of a detention center in Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).

The Friday bombing killed 50 prisoners, with dozens more wounded.

“In the interest of conducting an objective investigation of the strike on the detention center in Yelenovka, which led to the deaths of many Ukrainian prisoners of war, the Russian Federation has officially invited experts from the UN and the International Red Cross Committee,” the ministry said.

The facility in Yelenovka, south of Donetsk, housed hundreds of Ukrainian prisoners – mainly members of the “Azov” neo-Nazi militia who surrendered in Mariupol in May.

According to the Russian military’s earlier statement, the strike was conducted using US-made HIMARS multiple rocket launchers.

“All political, criminal and moral responsibility for the bloodbath against Ukrainians is borne personally by Volodymyr Zelensky, his criminal regime and Washington, which supports them,” Moscow stated.

The Ukrainian military released a statement on Friday, accusing Russian troops of shelling the town. Moscow destroyed the prison in order to pin the blame on Kiev, as well as to “hide the torture of prisoners and executions,” the statement alleged.

However, the DPR military suggested it was the Ukrainian authorities who had the reason to “deliberately” target the facility.

The republic’s head, Denis Pushilin, noted “Azov” members had been providing testimonies about possible war crimes by their commanders. The Kiev authorities also knew exactly where the “Azov” prisoners were being held, DPR militia spokesman Eduard Basurin told reporters.

Meanwhile, unlike the government in Kiev, Ukraine’s backers in Washington did not rush to blame the bombing on Moscow.

“We just don’t have enough information to speak intelligently about these very early reports,” John Kirby, spokesman for the US National Security Council, told reporters.

Zelensky announces mandatory evacuation from Donetsk region

The Ukrainian government has decided on a mandatory evacuation of people in the region around the eastern city of Donetsk, scene of fierce fighting with Russia, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.

In a late-night address, the Ukrainian president also stated the hundreds of thousands of people still in combat zones in the larger Donbas region needed to leave.

“The decision to leave should be taken at some point. The more people who leave Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will kill,” Zelensky added.

Azov leader pledges revenge for prison attack

The interim commander of the Ukrainian military’s Azov Regiment has accused and pledged revenge against Moscow for the air raid on the prison in Olenivka.

“We will find them wherever they are,” Nikita Nadtochiy warned and that Ukraine would ensure a “fair punishment”.

In the video, Nadtochiy stated his forces considered the Friday attack as “an act of public execution” by Russia.

Both Russian and Ukrainian sides have alleged the attack on the prison was premeditated and intended to silence Ukrainian prisoners and to destroy evidence, including of possible atrocities.

Spain’s leader backs EU candidacy for Bosnia

Spain’s prime minister has expressed support for Bosnia to become a candidate for European Union membership amid fears that uncertainty caused by the war in Ukraine could fuel instability in the ethnically torn Balkan nation that went through a devastating conflict in the 1990s.

Pedro Sanchez came to Sarajevo from Serbia, where he kicked off his tour of the Balkan region on Friday. Sanchez will also travel to Montenegro, North Macedonia and Albania.

“During my meetings today I wanted to highlight the opportunity that would be for Bosnia and Herzegovina if the European Union would take its enlargement with a new sense of urgency,” Sanchez stated at a news conference.

Ukraine slams Russian call to ‘hang’ Azov fighters

Ukrainian officials have denounced a call by Russia’s embassy in the United Kingdom for fighters from the Azov regiment to face a “humiliating” execution.

“Azov militants deserve execution, but death not by firing squad but by hanging, because they’re not real soldiers. They deserve a humiliating death,” Moscow’s diplomatic mission wrote on Twitter overnight.

Andriy Yermak, head of the office of the Ukrainian presidency, wrote on Telegram that in the 21st century “only savages and terrorists can talk at the diplomatic level about the fact that people deserve to be executed by hanging”.

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