Thursday, February 29, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 170

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:

Ukraine urges inspections of Russian POW camps

Ukraine’s security agencies have called for the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to send representatives to locations where Russia is holding Ukrainian prisoners of war.

The request follows earlier allegations by Kyiv that Moscow’s forces have tortured and executed prisoners, including by staging an explosion in late July in a Ukrainian POW camp in Olenivka.

Moscow claims Ukraine shelled the facility, killing more than 50 Ukrainian troops being held there.

Russia could buy yuan, rupees, Turkish lira for rainy day fund: Central bank

Russia is considering buying the currencies of “friendly” countries such as China, India and Turkey to hold in its National Wealth Fund (NWF), having lost the ability to buy dollars or euros due to sanctions, its central bank has said.

The bank said it was sticking to the policy of a free-floating rouble exchange rate but highlighted that it was important to reinstate a budget rule which diverts excess oil revenues into the country’s rainy day fund.

In a report on its monetary policy for 2023-2025, the central bank said various options on how to return to the fiscal rule and replenish the NWF are now being discussed, taking into account the Western sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

“The Russian Ministry of Finance is working on the possibility of implementing an operational mechanism of the budget rule mechanism for the replenishment/spending of the NWF in currencies of friendly countries (yuan, rupees, Turkish lira and others),” it added.

Spain says gas pipeline to France possible in less than a year

A potential new gas connection between Spain and France could be ready to operate in less than a year’s time, Spain’s energy minister Teresa Ribera has said, if France and other European countries agree on the project.

The European Union is racing to wean itself off Russian natural gas after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, bringing new interconnection projects into focus. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday pushed for the construction of a pipeline from Portugal via Spain and France to central Europe.

“This new interconnection, this gas pipeline could be operating in about eight or nine months on the southern side of the border, that is, from the Pyrenees to Spain,” Ribera told Spanish national broadcaster TVE.

The France-Spain connection would require laying another segment of pipeline to connect the Spanish grid to the French one.

‘Accidents can happen at European nuclear plants too’: Medvedev

Former Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev has issued a veiled threat to Ukraine’s Western allies, who have accused Moscow of creating the risk of a nuclear catastrophe at the Zaporizhzhia power plant, saying “accidents can happen at European nuclear plants too”.

Ukraine has accused Russia of firing at Ukrainian towns from the site in the knowledge that Ukrainian forces could not risk returning fire. It says Moscow has shelled the plant and surrounding areas itself while blaming Ukraine. Russia says it is Ukraine that has shelled the plant.

“They [Kyiv and its allies] say it’s Russia. That’s obviously 100 percent nonsense, even for the stupid Russophobic public,” Medvedev, now deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, stated.

“They say it happens purely by chance, like ‘We didn’t mean to,’” he continued, adding, “What can I say? Let’s not forget that the European Union also has nuclear power plants. And accidents can happen there, too.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has warned the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia complex could cause a nuclear disaster but has been unable to arrange the conditions for an inspection.

Ukraine confirms receipt of rocket systems from UK

Ukraine’s defence minister stated Kyiv has received a shipment of M20 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) from the UK.

“UK promised, UK delivered!” Oleksii Reznikov tweeted, adding that more “gifts” would arrive soon.

Reznikov said the Ukrainian army would “skillfully use” the rocket systems on the battlefield as they continue to confront Russia’s invasion.

Zelensky warns officials against talking about Ukraine’s military tactics

Ukraine’s president has told government officials to stop talking to reporters about Kyiv’s military tactics against Russia, saying such remarks were “frankly irresponsible”.

“War is definitely not the time for vanity and loud statements. The fewer details you divulge about our defence plans, the better it will be for the implementation of those defence plans,” Volodymyr Zelensky said.

“If you want to generate loud headlines, that’s one thing – it’s frankly irresponsible. If you want victory for Ukraine, that is another thing, and you should be aware of your responsibility for every word you say about our state’s plans for defence or counterattacks,” he added.

Ukraine’s leader addressed his remarks to state, local and military officials, as well as other people he said were commenting on events at the front.

Zelensky’s comments came after the New York Times and Washington Post newspapers cited unidentified officials as saying Ukrainian forces were responsible for the big blasts that wrecked the Saky airbase in Crimea on Tuesday. Ukraine’s government, on the other hand, declined to say whether its troops had been behind the explosions.

Shelling hits city across river from Russian-occupied nuclear power plant: Ukraine

The city of Nikopol in southeastern Ukraine, located across the Dnipro river from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, came under attack again by Russian rockets overnight, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Valentyn Reznichenko, head of the Dnipropetrovsk regional military administration, stated the Russian army hit two districts of the city with Grad rockets and artillery, while up to 40 rockets landed in nearby Marganets, injuring three people.

The Nikopol area has been hit almost every night by Russian rockets and artillery based close to the nuclear power plant, Ukrainian officials say.

The Zaporizhzhia plant, the largest of its kind in Europe, has continued operating at reduced capacity since Russian forces captured it early in March. The head of the UN nuclear watchdog on Thursday warned that parts of the plant had been knocked out due to recent attacks, risking an “unacceptable” potential radiation leak.

“Any military action jeopardizing nuclear safety, nuclear security, must stop immediately,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi noted, adding, “These military actions near to such a large nuclear facility could lead to very serious consequences.”

Russia and Ukraine have so far been unwilling to agree to an IAEA inspection of the plant and have accused each other of shelling the facility — action the IAEA has said breaches “indispensable nuclear safety and security pillars.”

2 more grain ships have departed from Ukraine: Turkey

Two more cargo ships carrying more than 63,000 metric tons of grain departed from Ukraine on Friday, according to Turkey’s Defense Ministry

The Marshall Islands-flagged Star Laura, carrying 60,150 metric tons of corn, left the Ukrainian port of Yuzhne for Iran, the ministry said.

It added that another vessel, the Belize-flagged Sormovskiy 121, with 3,050 metric tons of corn aboard, departed from Chornomorsk port for Tekirdag in Turkey.

In a statement, the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) that oversees Ukrainian grain exports said it had authorized two cargo ships to travel to the port of Odesa, pending inspections on Friday. The JCC was one of the key creations of the grain deal agreed last month between Russia and Ukraine under the auspices of the UN and Turkey.

Ukraine’s Minister of Infrastructure tweeted Thursday that the country was awaiting the arrival of the cargo ship Brave Commander to load more than 23,000 metric tons of grain for export to Ethiopia.

The UN says the “ripple effect” of the war in Ukraine threatens to worsen a food crisis sparked by conflict and drought in the East African country.

“No adequate control” over operations at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant: Ukraine

There is “no adequate control” over operations at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi said Friday.

The plant has been held by Russian forces since its capture in March but has continued operating at reduced capacity, largely by Ukrainian civilian technicians.

A recent uptick in artillery and mortar fire to the plant’s surrounding area led the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to state that the “alarming” situation had reached a “grave hour” on Thursday.

Repeating that the Ukrainian government has already appealed to the IAEA to ensure proper control over the plant, Monastyrskyi stated that his ministry “is preparing for any scenario.”

“There is no adequate control over the operations at Zaporizhzhia NPP,” Monastyrskyi said in a Facebook post, adding, “Now, it is actually not just in the hands of the enemy, but also in the hands of untrained specialists who can really allow a tragedy.”

“Those Ukrainian specialists who remained there are partially not allowed to the areas where they should be. As is known, military equipment of the Russian Federation is located on the territory of the station now. All this is assessed as the highest level of threat,” he continued.

Both sides have blamed each other for putting the plant at risk, with Monastyrskyi accusing Russian forces of shelling the plant’s power unit.

“It’s hard to even imagine the scale of the tragedy that could happen if the Russians continue to stay there,” he added.

UK says Crimea blasts have degraded Russia’s Black Sea aviation fleet

Blasts this week at the Russian-operated Saky military airfield in the annexed Crimean Peninsula led to the loss of eight Russian combat jets, degrading its navy’s Black Sea aviation fleet, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has said.

While the damaged jets are only a fraction of the overall aviation fleet, the force’s Black Sea capability would be affected since Saky is used as a primary operational base, the ministry said in its latest intelligence update.

It added that while the base airfield probably remained operational, its dispersal area was believed to have suffered serious damage.

The explosions, which Russia has said killed one and injured five, will “likely prompt the Russian military to revise its threat perception” in the region, the ministry announced.

Russian state depository files lawsuit to overturn EU sanctions

Russia’s National Settlement Depository (NSD) says it has filed a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to overturn European Union sanctions imposed on the country over its invasion of Ukraine.

The EU added the NSD, which Moscow planned to use to service the country’s Eurobonds, to its list of sanctioned entities in June.

UN nuclear watchdog: Fighting near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant could have “serious consequences”

The head of the United Nations’s nuclear watchdog told an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Thursday that fighting close to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine had caused some damage to the facility and called for an immediate inspection mission to be allowed to visit the plant.

However, Russia and Ukraine have been unwilling to agree to such a mission and thus the plant ends up caught in the crossfire.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi outlined the parts of the plant that have been knocked out due to attacks.

Speaking from Istanbul by video link, Grossi said the situation at Zaporizhzhia had recently been “deteriorating rapidly to the point of being very alarming.”

Grossi stressed right now, “IAEA experts believe that there is no immediate threat to nuclear safety,” but “that could change at any moment.” He warned of a potential nuclear radiation leak and said that would be “unacceptable.”

“Any military action jeopardizing nuclear safety, nuclear security, must stop immediately,” Grossi continued, adding, “These military actions near to such a large nuclear facility could lead to very serious consequences.”

Grossi stated the situation at the nuclear plant had reached a “grave hour” and insisted that the “IAEA must be allowed to conduct its mission to Zaporizhzhia as soon as possible.”

The plant — which is the largest nuclear power facility in Europe — was taken over by Russian forces in early March, along with the town of Enerhodar, where the complex is located.

Moscow and Kyiv have accused each other of shelling the plant.

US supports calls for “demilitarized zone” around Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

The United States supports calls for a “demilitarized zone” around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, a US State Department spokesperson stated.

“Fighting near a nuclear plant is dangerous and irresponsible – and we continue to call on Russia to cease all military operations at or near Ukrainian nuclear facilities and return full control to Ukraine, and support Ukrainian calls for a demilitarized zone around the nuclear power plant,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Russia is accused of using the nuclear power plant as a military base. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week cited reports “that Russia is using this plant as the equivalent of a human shield, but a nuclear shield in the sense that it’s firing on Ukrainian from around the plant.”

“And of course, the Ukrainians cannot and will not fire back, lest there be a terrible accident involving a nuclear plant. So this is the height of irresponsibility,” he added.

Both Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for attacks.

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia was maximizing the risk of a nuclear disaster at the facility, and the United Nations secretary general stated he was “gravely concerned about the situation.”

“We must be clear that any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia or any other nuclear facilities in Ukraine, or anywhere else, could lead to catastrophic consequences not only for the immediate vicinity, but for the region and beyond,” Antonio Guterres noted.

On Wednesday, the G7 Foreign Ministers in a joint statement demanded “that Russia immediately hand back full control to its rightful sovereign owner, Ukraine, of the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant as well as of all nuclear facilities within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders to ensure their safe and secure operations.”

“We remain profoundly concerned by the serious threat that the seizure of Ukrainian nuclear facilities and other actions by Russian armed forces pose to the safety and security of these facilities, significantly raising the risk of a nuclear accident or incident and endangering the population of Ukraine, neighboring states and the international community,” they stressed.

Radiation levels at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant are within the normal range despite renewed shelling on the site, Ukraine’s nuclear agency Energoatom reported on Thursday.

Zelensky urges world to ‘react immediately’ on Russian-controlled nuclear plant

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the international community to “react immediately” to force Russian forces to leave the occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant that has been shelled in recent days.

“The entire world must react immediately to chase out the occupiers from Zaporizhzhia. Only the Russians’ full withdrawal … would guarantee nuclear safety for all of Europe,” Zelenskyy stated in his daily video address.

WHO says attacks on medical facility depriving Ukrainians of healthcare

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported it has verified 445 attacks on medical facilities and service providers since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, resulting in 105 injuries and 86 deaths.

“These attacks deprive people of urgently needed care, endanger health-care providers, and undermine health systems,” the United Nations agency said in its latest report.

“Access to health care continues to be severely impacted due to security concerns, restricted mobility, broken supply chains and mass displacement,” it added.

WHO announced 6.2 million people had crossed to Europe as refugees, while 6.6 million were internally displaced inside Ukraine as of July 23.

IAEA chief demands agency be given access to nuclear plant

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has demanded access to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant “as soon as possible” to ascertain its safety after multiple strikes hit the compound.

“I ask that both sides cooperate… and allow for a mission of the IAEA to proceed as soon as possible,” Rafael Mariano Grossi said in an address to the United Nations Security Council.

Grossi added the IAEA had received updates from both Ukraine and Russia, but that the information provided was often contradictory.

“So I propose, I plead to call this mission as soon as possible,” he said, adding that preventing a nuclear disaster was a “collective responsibility”.

Ukraine seeks to evacuate eastern region of Donetsk before winter

Ukraine is aiming to evacuate two-thirds of residents from areas it controls in the eastern battleground region of Donetsk before winter, partly out of concern people will not be able to stay warm amid war-damaged infrastructure, the deputy prime minister has said.

The government plans to evacuate some 220,000 people out of approximately 350,000, including 52,000 children, Iryna Vereshchuk told a news conference.

She added thousands should leave before winter comes because the fighting has destroyed power and heating infrastructure.

Western countries pledge $1.55bn in military aid to Ukraine

Western countries have committed more than 1.5 billion euros ($1.55 billion) in cash, equipment and training to boost Ukraine’s military capabilities in its war against Russia, Danish defence minister Morten Bodskov has noted.

The money, which was pledged by a group of 26 countries at a conference in Copenhagen, will be used to supply existing weapons, missiles and ammunition, increase weapon production for Ukraine, train Ukrainian soldiers, and de-mine war-torn areas in Ukraine.

“We will continue to assist Ukraine in its military needs,” Bodskov told journalists at the end of the conference.

Ukraine fearful of ‘tragedy’ at nuclear plant

Ukraine’s interior minister has said Ukraine is making contingency plans to face any scenario at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, including evacuating people from the area.

“The plant is as of today not only in the hands of the enemy, but in the hands of uneducated specialists who could potentially allow for a tragedy to happen,” interior minister Denys Monastyrsky told Reuters in an interview.

“Of course, it’s difficult to even imagine the scale of the tragedy which could come into effect if Russians continue their actions there,” he added.

Moscow and Kyiv have each accused the other of striking the compound on Thursday and over the weekend.

Russia blames Ukraine of ‘monstrous’ actions in Zaporizhzhia

Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations has accused Ukraine of “criminal attacks” on the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant that are “pushing the world to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe”.

“We repeatedly warned our Western colleagues that if they didn’t talk some sense into the Kyiv regime, then it would take the most monstrous and irrational steps, the consequences of which will reverberate far beyond the borders of Ukraine,” Vasily Nebenzya said in an address to the UN Security Council.

“Unfortunately, that is what is now happening,” he added.

Russia is “maximizing” risk of nuclear disaster at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russia of maximizing the risk of a nuclear disaster at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which was taken over by Russian forces in early March.

Addressing a meeting of allies from across northern Europe, Zelensky recalled the Chernobyl disaster.

“If the Soviet authorities tried to hide the Chernobyl disaster and its full consequences, then the Russian authorities are much more cynical and dangerous. They themselves do everything to maximize the risk of a nuclear disaster and lie to the whole world that someone else is allegedly to blame,” he said.

Zelensky accused Russia of turning the nuclear power plant into a “battlefield.”

“The Russian occupation army is using the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant for terror and armed provocations,” he added.

The Ukrainian president also reiterated his demand that Russia be declared a terrorist state and also urged tougher sanctions.

Russia “simply would not have a combat-ready army in modern conditions if it were not for imported parts. Electronics, optics and many other parts of foreign production are used in the creation of missiles, drones, means of communication, armored vehicles, etc. This flow of technical assistance to Russian terror must be completely stopped,” he continued.

Ukraine also needs continued supply of weapons in order to force Russia to “finally think about finding a peaceful solution,” Zelensky said, adding an appeal for financial support.

Ukraine’s monthly deficit of is about $5 billion dollars, he told the Allied conference. “Ukraine needs reconstruction. Now. We need to carry out demining. And, of course, we need to prepare defenses for winter conditions,” he stated.

“Financial support for our state, for the budget and for fast recovery is as vital as weapons and ammunition for our army and sanctions against Russia,” he noted.

UN chief urges demilitarised zone around Ukraine nuclear power plant

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has called for military activity around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex to end as the UN Security Council met to discuss the situation.

“The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, urgent agreement is needed at a technical level on a safe perimeter of demilitarization to ensure the safety of the area,” Guterres said in a statement.

The United States backed the call for a demilitarised zone around the plant, the US under-secretary for arms control and international security, Bonnie Jenkins, told the Security Council.

She added a visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “cannot wait any longer”.

Ukraine says fresh shelling of nuclear plant damaged radiation sensors

Shelling at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has damaged “several radiation sensors”, Ukraine’s nuclear agency has said.

Energoatom announced the new attacks were close to one of the Russian-controlled Ukrainian plant’s six reactors and there was “extensive smoke”, adding that “several radiation sensors are damaged”.

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