Thursday, June 20, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 177

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:

US announces new $775m arms package for Ukraine

The US has announced a new $775m package of defence equipment and ammunition for Ukraine, including HIMARS missiles, artillery, and mine-clearing systems.

“We want to make sure that Ukraine has a steady stream of ammunition to meet its needs, and that’s what we’re doing with this package,” a senior US defence official told reporters.

Washington sent billions of dollars in security assistance to Kyiv, with weaponry including HIMARS, mortar and artillery ammunition, Javelin anti-tank missile systems, explosives and demolition equipment.

Putin agrees to send IAEA mission to Ukraine plant: France

Russia has agreed to send a mission of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine, the Elysee has said.

President Emmanuel Macron expressed his concern over the safety of the site during a phone call with President Vladimir Putin, according to a readout sent to journalists by Macron’s office.

The two presidents agreed to continue their talks in the coming days.

Putin confirms ‘readiness’ to facilitate IAEA inspection in Zaporizhzhia

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron have called for independent inspections at the Moscow-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant “as soon as possible” to “assess the real situation on the ground”, the Kremlin has said in a statement.

“The Russian side confirmed its readiness to provide the Agency inspectors with the necessary assistance,” the statement added.

Putin “stressed that the systematic shelling by the Ukrainian military of the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant creates the danger of a large-scale catastrophe that could lead to radiation contamination of vast territories”.

European gas prices soar on planned Nord Stream closure

European gas prices have soared to a new record high at the close of trading, after Russia’s Gazprom announced that the Nord Stream pipeline would be closed for maintenance at the end of the month.

The Dutch TTF Gas Futures contract jumped to a closing high of 257.40 euros ($258.30) amid fears of winter energy shortages after Gazprom said deliveries via the Nord Stream pipeline would be halted from August 31 to September 2 due to maintenance work.

Nord Stream to halt gas deliveries for three days: Gazprom

Nord Stream gas deliveries to Europe will be halted from August 31 to September 2 for “maintenance”, Russian energy giant Gazprom has said, raising the spectre of winter energy shortages in Europe.

“It is necessary to carry out maintenance every 1,000 hours” of operation, Gazprom added in a statement.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline under the Baltic Sea was shut for 10 days on July 11 to undergo annual maintenance. Gazprom also cut flows to Germany via the vital pipeline by some 40 percent in June, blaming the absence of a Siemens gas turbine that was undergoing repairs in Canada.

UN chief urges more effort to ensure access to Ukrainian grain

United Nayions Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said there was still much more to do to ensure full global access to Ukrainian food products and Russian food and fertilisers after a UN-brokered food export deal.

At a briefing in Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odesa, Guterres stated developing countries needed help to buy such grain and called for unimpeded access to global markets for Russian food and fertilisers which are not subject to sanctions.

“This is an agreement between two parties locked in bitter conflict. It is unprecedented in scope and scale. But there is still a long way to go on many fronts,” he added.

“It is time for massive and generous support so developing countries can purchase the food from this and other ports – and people can buy it,” he continued.

Russian control of Zaporizhzhia plant guarantees no ‘Chernobyl scenario’: Moscow

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has noted that Russia’s military presence at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine is a guarantee against what he called a “Chernobyl scenario”, referring to the 1986 nuclear catastrophe.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan Nechaev stated on Thursday that a UN proposal to demilitarise the area around the nuclear plant was “unacceptable”.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, was occupied by Russia in March. It remains near the front line and has repeatedly come under fire in recent weeks, raising fears of a nuclear disaster. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling the facility.

Russia calls UN idea to demilitarise Zaporizhzhia plant unacceptable

Russia’s foreign ministry has rejected a proposal by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to demilitarise the area around the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, saying it would make the facility “more vulnerable”.

The plant, Europe’s largest of its kind, was captured by Russia in March, shortly after President Vladimir Putin ordered tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in what he called a “special military operation”.

Fears have grown in recent weeks over its safety and the risks of a possible Fukushima-style nuclear accident after Ukraine and Russia accused each other of shelling it.

Ukraine says Russia plans to disconnect nuclear plant’s blocks from grid

Ukraine’s Energoatom state nuclear company has announced Russian forces planned to switch off the functioning power blocks at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and to disconnect them from the Ukrainian power grid.

In a statement, Energoatom said it believed that Russia, which controls the power plant in southern Ukraine, was preparing to conduct a “large-scale provocation” there.

Moscow itself accused Kyiv of preparing a “provocation” at the site on Thursday.

US readies about $800m in additional Ukraine security aid

President Joe Biden’s administration is readying about $800m of additional military aid for Ukraine and could announce it as soon as Friday, three sources familiar with the matter have told the Reuters news agency.

Biden would authorise the assistance using his Presidential drawdown authority, which allows the president to transfer excess weapons from US stocks, the sources added.

Seventeen dead in two attacks on Kharkiv: Official

A total of 17 people have been killed and 42 were injured in two separate Russian attacks on the major northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, according to the regional governor.

Three civilians were killed and 17 wounded in a pre-dawn rocket strike, the local emergency service said. That followed a Russian attack on Kharkiv, in which the emergency service initially said 12 people were killed.

Governor Oleh Synehubov stated more bodies had been discovered as rescuers picked their way through destroyed houses.

“As of now, 17 people have died in Kharkiv … and 42 people have been injured,” he wrote on Telegram, describing the attacks as “an act of terrorism”.

Several Ukrainian civilians killed and injured in Russian missile attacks in south

Ukrainian officials reported missile and artillery attacks by Russian forces overnight Thursday on several towns and cities in the south, including Mykolaiv and Kryvih Rih.

The regional administration in Mykolaiv said the river port was attacked again with S-300 missiles. Three missiles hit the Petro Mohyla Black Sea university, causing extensive damage.

South of the city, the town of Halytsynove was struck by Russian rockets Thursday, destroying several residential buildings and injuring three people.

In neighboring Dnipropetrovsk, the head of the regional administration, Valentyn Reznichenko, stated there was a night of “massive enemy attacks” with the cities of Nikopol and Kryvih Rih hit.

One man was killed in a village near Kryvih Rih, he added. And a 12-year boy was injured when Russian missiles hit his home near Synelnykove, which is about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the front lines.

Nikopol — which is on the opposite side of the Dnipro River to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant — was hit by 10 artillery shells, according to Reznichenko. Power had been disrupted and there was extensive damage, he noted.

US State Department has ‘serious problems’ with calling Russia state terror sponsor: Report

The US State Department has “serious problems” with the Senate’s recent resolution demanding Russia be placed on the terrorism blacklist, and is privately cautioning congressional members against the measure, Politico reported.

The fears stem from concerns that the move could jeopardize a fragile agreement, which has allowed merchants to begin shipping grain stuck behind Ukrainian mines in the Black Sea in recent weeks.

In July, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had privately issued an ultimatum to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, demanding he “designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism – otherwise, Congress will”.

Congress has largely marched in unison toward escalation with Russia at every turn of its six-month conflict with Ukraine – a unity evident in the unanimous passage in late July of a resolution calling on Blinken to add Russia to the list of supposed state terror sponsors.

Russian villagers evacuate after ammunition base fire near Ukraine border

The inhabitants of two villages in southern Russia near the Ukrainian border were evacuated on Thursday after a nearby ammunition storage depot caught fire but no one was hurt, an official said.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Belgorod region, added in a statement that emergency services were investigating the cause of the fire near the settlements of Timonovo and Soloti, 15km (nine miles) from Ukraine. He did not give details.

Russian troops “can’t move anywhere further” in Ukraine: former Ukrainian defense official

Russian troops are in a situation where they “can’t move anywhere further” in Ukraine thanks to weapons provided by Western countries, former Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk told CNN.

“The war is in a situation where the Russians cannot move anywhere further because of the weapons the West provided us. We managed now to make them stop,” Zagorodnyuk said.

“But unfortunately at the same time we don’t have enough weapons for a proper, serious, fully-fledged counter-offensive,” he added.

The former defense minister also stated the term “stalemate” was not applicable to the situation in Ukraine.

“Usually when people use the word stalemate, they assume some sort of stability and some sort of calmness. But it’s not the case, unfortunately. It’s an extremely active war right now, there are people dying every day and there are a lot of operations, small operations happening in almost every operational direction,” Zagorodnyuk continued.

Ukraine was behind at least three explosions in Crimea — an air base, an ammunition depot and an airfield — according to a Ukrainian government report.

Ukraine, UN agreed parameters for IAEA mission to nuclear plant: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated he agreed the parameters of a mission of the International Atomic Energy Agency to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant at talks with the UN secretary-general and Turkey’s leader.

Zelenskyy told a news conference after the talks in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv that Russia should immediately withdraw its forces and stop shelling from the nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s nuclear plant must be demilitarised: UN chief

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Thursday for the demilitarisation of the vast nuclear power plant held by Russia in southern Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, and said he was gravely concerned by the situation in and around it.

Guterres, speaking to reporters after talks in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, said that military equipment and personnel should be withdrawn from the plant and called for efforts to ensure it is not the target of military operations.

“The facility must not be used as part of any military operation. Instead, agreement is urgently needed to reestablish Zaporizhzhia’s purely civilian infrastructure and to ensure the safety of the area,” he added.

US says it is “aware of reports” Russians have “abused and coerced” Zaporizhzhia plant staff

The US State Department announced they are “aware of reports that Russian personnel have abused and coerced” staff at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, calling Russia’s actions “reckless.”

“We applaud the Ukrainian authorities and operators for their commitment to nuclear safety and security under the most trying of circumstances. The United States condemns in the strongest terms Russia’s reckless disregard for nuclear safety and security,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Price added the International Atomic Energy Agency must be allowed access to the plant “to help ensure the safety and security of the plant and monitoring of its nuclear material.”

Food markets starting to stabilize after agreement to unblock Black Sea ports: UN head

After meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said there were signs that global food markets were beginning to stabilize in the wake of the agreement to provide safe passage for merchant ships from Ukrainian Black Sea ports.

“As we speak, more than 560,000 metric tons of grain and other food produced by Ukrainian farmers is making its way to markets around the world,” he noted, according to remarks from his office.

Ministers from Ukraine and Russia signed an agreement to unblock Ukrainian Black Sea ports, which was brokered by the UN and Turkey in Istanbul on July 22.

Guterres stated that wheat prices dropped by as much as 8% following the signing of the agreement, and “the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Food Price Index fell by 9% in July – the biggest decline since 2008.”

But he warned that supply chains are still disrupted and energy and transportation costs high.

He added it was “vital to help reverse the turmoil in the global fertilizer market that is now threatening next season’s crops – including rice, the most widely consumed staple in the world.”

After meeting with Guterres and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Zelensky told the news conference that he was surprised by suggestions from Erdogan that the grain deal might open a window to broader negotiations on ending the conflict.

“I told President Erdogan that I have no faith in the Russian Federation,” Zelensky said.

“The people who are killing, raping, dropping rockets on our civilian infrastructures every day cannot want peace, so they have to free our territories first,” he added.

UN chief calls for “safe, secure and unfettered access” to detention center where 150 POWs died

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres discussed with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the UN’s efforts to establish a fact-finding mission into the attack that killed more than 150 Ukrainian prisoners of war at Olenivka late in July.

He said the terms of reference for such a mission had been shared with Ukraine and Russia, and he had appointed a Brazilian general with long experience of peacekeeping operations, Carlos dos Santos Cruz, to lead the mission.

The Russian defense ministry announced immediately after the attack that it was inviting the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the site, but the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) later said its requests had gone unanswered.

Each side has accused the other of being behind the attack.

In remarks distributed by his office, Guterres stated the UN “will now continue to work to obtain the necessary assurances to guarantee secure access to the site and any other relevant locations.”

“The team must be able to gather and analyze necessary information. Above all, that means safe, secure and unfettered access to people, places and evidence without any interference from any party,” he added.

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