Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 181

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 pledges to regain Crimea at virtual summit

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in an address to the Crimea Platform Summit has promised to do all he can to win back the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia seven years ago and urged international allies to support the effort.

“I know that Crimea is with Ukraine and is waiting for us to return. I want everyone to know that we will be back. When we return and correct everything that the occupiers did on our Ukrainian peninsula,” Zelensky said in his address.

“The whole world needs to win in the fight against Russian aggression to overcome terror and return predictability and security to our region in Europe. Therefore, it is necessary to free Crimea from the occupation; where aggression began, there it will end,” he added.

Several NATO states want Ukrainian conflict to continue: Turkey

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu stated on Tuesday that a number of NATO countries want the conflict in Ukraine to continue.

“There are countries in the West that want the war to continue, with NATO member states among them. I mean not only the US but also NATO member countries,” he said in an interview with the Haber Global TV channel.

“There were also those who wanted to sabotage the grain agreement. Yet this wasn’t the US. The US contributed [to the conclusion of the grain deal], including lifting restrictions on the exports of Russian fertilizers, unblocking ports and [lifting restrictions] on banking operations. Yet there were also European countries who wanted to sabotage this. We are not losing hope and continuing our efforts,” the foreign minister added.

Germany records almost a million Ukrainian refugees

Germany has registered almost a million refugees from Ukraine since the conflict with Russia began in February, the interior ministry said.

A total of 967,546 people fleeing the war have entered Germany at least temporarily, 36 percent of them children, the ministry announced in a statement.

Around 97 percent are Ukrainian nationals.

Among the adults, three in four are women and around eight percent are over the age of 64.

“Many in our society have gone above and beyond to help refugees,” stated Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, calling the influx “the largest movement of refugees (in Europe) since World War II”.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR reports more than 6.6 million Ukrainians have been registered as refugees across Europe since the Russian invasion.

Countries including the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Slovakia have opened their borders, homes and wallets to help those fleeing the war.

Baltic countries, Poland and Finland could ban Russian tourists

European Unions members Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Finland, which all share a border with Russia, may stop Russian tourists from entering their countries if the EU does not enact a union-wide ban, Lithuania’s foreign minister said.

“I have talked to ministers from all these countries…I don’t see many differences politically,” Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters in Vilnius.

“Russian tourists shouldn’t be in the European Union…Their country is undertaking genocide,” he added.

Russia and US maintain dialogue via diplomatic channels: Deputy FM

Russia maintains a dialogue with the United States via diplomatic communication channels, deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov has said in an interview with RT Arabic, quoted by state news agency RIA Novosti.

“The dialogue [with the US] has never stopped, we are conducting it on an ongoing basis. We are committed to contacts through our embassies, and, of course, through telephone contacts,” Ryabkov stated, as quoted by RIA Novosti.

Ryabkov also added “the role of diplomacy, unfortunately, is not at the proper level now.”

“These circumstances we are in now and the dynamics of Washington, its desire to punish Russia will fail and will not change anything. We are always fighting for a more just world,” he continued.

UN “concerned” Russia preparing trials for Ukrainian prisoners of war in Mariupol

The United Nations has warned that Russia and affiliated groups could be planning trials for Ukrainian prisoners of war around the country’s independence day on Wednesday.

“We are concerned by reports that the Russian Federation and affiliated armed groups in Donetsk are planning — possibly in the coming days — to try Ukrainian prisoners of war in what is being labelled an ‘international tribunal’ in Mariupol,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ravina Shamdasani.

“While there are few details available, photos and video footage published in the media and on social media appear to show metal cages being built in Mariupol’s philharmonic hall, apparently to restrain prisoners of war during proceedings,” she added.

Shamdasani stated that willfully depriving prisoners of war a fair trial is a war crime, and international humanitarian law prohibits the establishment of courts solely to judge prisoners of war.

On August 12, Ukrainian officials said they expect Russia to start the trials in Mariupol.

“The occupiers are turning the Mariupol Philharmonic Hall, the pearl of the city, where only festive events took place, into a place of trial for our prisoners of war and civilians,” said city mayor Vadym Boichenko.

A correspondent working for Zvezda, the Russian Defense Ministry’s channel, reported from outside the philharmonic hall in the same week, noting that a “huge metal frame is being built next to the philharmonic. This is a future hangar, where prison wagons with Azov prisoners of war will presumably come by.”

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in a statement they had submitted a number of new urgent demands to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) regarding ensuring the right to life and the prohibition of torture in relation to the Ukrainian fighters at Azovstal steel plant who were captured by Russian soldiers.

Ukraine demanded that urgent measures be taken to prevent the use of Ukrainian defense lawyers in any kind of so-called “tribunals” or trials, the statement added.

“Conducting any trials of prisoners of war for propaganda purposes is prohibited and equated to war crimes. We appeal to the world with the demand to use all available mechanisms to protect our prisoners of war and bring the Russian Federation and specific individuals to justice for their crimes,” stated Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Deputy minister of justice Iryna Mudra said that trials cannot be held for prisoners of war.

“We expect that the ECHR will carefully consider and grant Ukraine’s request,” she added.

Americans urged to leave Ukraine immediately as new Russian attacks feared

The US government is urging Americans in Ukraine to leave the country immediately, warning that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch attacks on civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days.

“The US Embassy urges US citizens to depart Ukraine now using privately available ground transportation options if it is safe to do so,” a security alert on the embassy’s website said, adding, “The security situation throughout Ukraine is highly volatile and conditions may deteriorate without warning.”

The renewed US warning comes as Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine approaches the six-month mark on Wednesday and follows similar warnings, from Ukrainian President President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials, that Moscow may carry out intense attacks, including missile strikes, to coincide with Ukraine’s Independence Day on Wednesday.

“We must all be aware that this week Russia could try to do something particularly ugly, something particularly vicious,” Zelensky stated in a video message at the weekend.

In Kyiv, the city military administration issued a ban on all big gatherings between Monday and Thursday, saying “it is forbidden to hold mass events, peaceful meetings, rallies and other events related to a large gathering of people.”

US: Russia looks to step up hits on Ukraine infrastructure

The US State Department has issued a security alert warning that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch attacks against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days.

The US Embassy in Kyiv urged US citizens still in Ukraine to depart the country immediately.

“If you hear a loud explosion or if sirens are activated, immediately seek cover,” the State Department said in its alert.

“If in a home or a building, go to the lowest level of the structure with the fewest exterior walls, windows, and openings; close any doors and sit near an interior wall, away from any windows or openings,” it added.

At least 720,000 tonnes of food left Ukraine under grain export deal

A total of 33 cargo ships carrying about 719,549 tonnes of foodstuffs have left Ukraine under a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey to unblock Ukrainian sea ports, the Ukrainian agriculture ministry said.

The Joint Coordination Centre in Turkey that monitors implementation of the agreement put the total amount of grain and foodstuffs exported from three Ukrainian Black Sea ports since the deal was reached at 721,449 tonnes.

Three Black Sea ports were unblocked under the deal signed on July 22 by Moscow and Kyiv.

In addition to the vessels that have already left Ukraine, the agriculture ministry added a further 18 were now loading or waiting for permission to leave Ukrainian ports.

UN chief says current nuclear risk is most serious in decades

The nuclear risk is currently at the highest point in decades, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres stated.

“The nuclear risk has climbed to its highest point in decades,” he said at a United Nations Security Council meeting.

“Countries with nuclear weapons must commit to the “no first use” of those weapons,” he stressed, adding, “They must also assure States that do not have nuclear weapons that they will not use — or threaten to use — nuclear weapons against them, and be transparent throughout. Nuclear saber-rattling must stop.”

“We need all States to recommit to a world free of nuclear weapons and to spare no effort to come to the negotiating table to ease tensions and end the nuclear arms race, once and for all.” Guterres continued.

US may ship certain weapons to Ukraine secretly: Report

The US authorities probably do not publicly announce shipment of certain weapons to Kiev, Politico speculated.

“Rumors are swirling around Washington that the United States has provided Ukraine with more weapons than the administration has announced publicly,” the report reads.

In particular, last Friday, a high-ranking Pentagon representative acknowledged during a briefing that the US has been shipping HARM anti-radar missiles to Ukraine without announcing it publicly.

“When we first announced the initial provision of HARM missiles, the way that we characterized it in the announcement was not specific. We described that we were providing a counter-radar capability,” the official said.

Later, Yahoo News also speculated that the US shipped ATACMS guided tactical ballistic missiles, Politico notes.

“If true — and it’s not clear that it is — that would go against what the administration has said publicly,” the report says.

In addition, Politico’s sources also said that the new package of military aid to Kiev announced last week also includes Excalibur guided artillery shells. They were also not mentioned separately in the Pentagon’s official announcement. Furthermore, Politico obtained the official notification that the US Administration handed over to the Congress in regards with the recent aid package. According to the report, this document mentions that the weapons sent to Ukraine are not “limited” by what’s featured in the notification.

“We admit this is all speculation. No member of the administration confirmed or even hinted that there were secret shipments of weapons to Ukraine. Even if there were, there’s little to no chance they’d share a classified decision with us,” Politico adds.

West assists Kiev in its nuclear blackmail attempts: Moscow

The United States and its allies are fueling the conflict in Ukraine by pumping weapons to Kiev and assisting it in nuclear blackmail attempts over the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant (ZNPP), Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, said at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday.

“The United States and its allies are supplying Kiev with heavy weapons in an attempt to prolong the conflict in Ukraine, which began after the Maidan regime in 2014 cracked down on the people of the southeast of the country with bombs and shells, thus condemning the Ukrainian people to the fate of cannon fodder,” he stated.

“At the same time, contrary to their own professed values, the Western countries cynically turn a blind eye on the spread of the neo-Nazi ideology, on the massacres of Donbass residents and on the Ukrainian army’s and nationalist battalions’ violations of international humanitarian law,” he added.

“In recent weeks, the Western patrons of Ukraine have essentially been helping Kiev in its attempts at nuclear blackmail, ignoring the bombardments of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant by the Ukrainian military. At the UN Security Council’s meeting that Russia convened, not a single Western delegation had the courage to call a spade a spade and urge Kiev to stop these dangerous actions that may lead to a radiation catastrophe in Europe,” Nebenzya continued.

The Zaporozhye nuclear power plant in Energodar is controlled by Russian troops. Over the past few days, Ukrainian forces have delivered several strikes on the NPP’s premises, using, among other things, drones, heavy artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems. The majority of attacks have been deflected by air defense systems, however, shells hit some infrastructure facilities and the vicinity of a nuclear waste storage facility.

On August 19, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi announced that active negotiations were underway on sending the agency’s mission to ZNPP.

UN announces fact-finding team to investigate Ukraine prison attack

The United Nations has a fact finding team ready to investigate the Ukraine prison attack in Olenivka — but for now — it’s going nowhere.

Despite Russia and Ukraine requesting an independent probe, the UN believes the situation around the prison is not safe for access without proper assurances.

The UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced other members of the team Monday.

Joining a veteran retired police Lieutenant-General from Brazil is a diplomat from Iceland and a police official from Niger.

The panel would establish facts and report back to the UN Secretary-General.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said at the end of July the attack on the prison in separatist-held eastern Ukraine, which resulted in the deaths of at least 50 prisoners, was “a deliberate war crime by the Russians.” Russia, meanwhile, blamed Ukraine for the attack.

Olenivka is in the part of the Donetsk region which has been held by pro-Russian forces for eight years.

The facility has been used to house many of the Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol several months ago.

Zelensky announces new initiative to strengthen ties with Eastern European and Baltic countries

Ukraine began a new initiative set to reinforce its ties with Eastern European and Baltic countries, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Monday in his nightly address.

“A new diplomatic and security format, ‘Kyiv Initiative.’ was founded today. Ukraine’s European neighbors are already participating in its work. These are Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and the Baltic states. We will gradually involve other countries. In the ‘Kyiv Initiative’ format, the work takes place at the level of foreign policy advisors of heads of state,” Zelensky said.

The Ukrainian president described the initiative as “a very promising line of our work in the Euro-Atlantic direction.”

He also called on European countries to add an eighth sanctions package against Russia, saying “the longer the interval between sanctions packages, the greater Russia’s audacity.”

In his address, Zelensky also announced that search operations have ended following a Russian attack against a residential building in Kharkiv last week.

US rejects Ukraine demand of blanket visa ban on Russians

The United States has rebuffed Ukraine’s demand for a blanket visa ban on Russians, saying Washington would not want to close off pathways to refuge for Russia’s dissidents and others who are vulnerable to human rights abuses.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had first urged the visa ban in an interview earlier this month with the Washington Post, noting Russians should “live in their own world until they change their philosophy”.

A State Department spokesperson stated the Joe Biden administration has already imposed visa restrictions for Kremlin officials, but it made it clear that its focus would be on identifying those involved in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and holding them accountable.

“We’ve also been clear that it is important to draw a line between the actions of the Russian government and its policies in Ukraine, and the people of Russia,” the spokesperson added.

Detained Ukrainian soldiers claim to have been beaten in captivity

Ukrainian soldiers from the Azov regiment who were taken prisoner by Russia after the battle for Mariupol have said they were beaten during their captivity.

The soldiers, who were released as part of a prisoner exchange, told reporters during an online press conference that they saw soldiers that were beaten until their bones were broken.

“They undressed us, forced to squat while we are naked. If any of the boys raised their heads, they began to beat them immediately,” said Denys Chepurko, a fighter from the Azov regiment who was seriously wounded.

Chepurko added he was beaten during interrogations and asked to sign a statement denouncing his command.

“I said that I would not do this – and they started beating me with sticks, threatening me with death, shooting,” he said, adding, “I saw guys who were brought in with broken ribs, in a very severe condition.”

Russia wants talks to buy time for a new attack: Ukraine

Russia is trying to get Ukraine into new talks to buy time to regroup so it can launch a new offensive, a Ukraine presidential adviser has said.

For weeks now, the Kremlin has been “trying to convince Ukraine to enter into negotiations”, Mykhaylo Podolyak told the AFP news agency, as the sixth month of the war draws to a close.

During such talks, Moscow wanted to “freeze the conflict while preserving the status quo in the occupied Ukrainian territories”, he added.

Russia “sends its proposals via various intermediaries”, he continued, without naming them, as Kyiv currently has no political contact with Russia.

Russia requests UN meeting on Zaporizhzhia plant: Report

Russia has requested a United Nations Security Council meeting on Tuesday regarding the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in southeastern Ukraine, according to a report by Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

RIA cited Russia’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy as saying that Moscow had requested UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres address the proposed meeting.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Europe’s largest, was overrun by Russian troops in March. It has come under repeated shelling in recent weeks, raising fears of a nuclear disaster.

Both Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for strikes at and near the facility.

Nearly 1,000 children killed or wounded in Ukraine: UNICEF

At least 972 children in Ukraine have been killed or wounded since the beginning of Russia’s offensive, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“The use of explosive weapons has caused most of the child casualties. These weapons do not discriminate between civilian and combatant, especially when used in populated areas as has been the case in Ukraine,” Catherine Russell, UNICEF’s executive director, said in a statement.

She added that the figure provided only accounted for the cases the UN had been able to verify and warned the true number of casualties was expected to be much higher.

“Once again, as in all wars, the reckless decisions of adults are putting children at extreme risk. There are no armed operations of this kind that do not result in children being harmed,” Russell said.

“Meanwhile, beyond the horror of children being killed or physically hurt in attacks, almost every child in Ukraine has been exposed to deeply distressing events, and those fleeing violence are at significant risk of family separation, violence, abuse, sexual exploitation, and trafficking,” she added.

Bulgaria says talks needed to resume Russian gas supplies

Bulgaria will have to hold talks with Russia’s Gazprom to resume gas deliveries that were halted in April, the country’s interim energy minister has said.

Rossen Hristov did not say when any talks with the Russian company would take place, although he said Sofia would hold talks with Azerbaijan this week to boost Azeri supplies and would discuss deliveries with Turkish gas traders.

“Given the demands of business and the trade unions, in reality, talks with Gazprom to renew supplies are inevitable,” he added.

Iranian FM reiterates Tehran opposition to Ukraine war

The Iranian foreign minister has reaffirmed Tehran’s opposition to the war in Ukraine.

Hossein Amirabdollahian, in a Monday meeting with Ukraine’s outgoing ambassador to Tehran, added Iran is ready to give any necessary assistance to end the conflict in Ukraine.

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