Friday, February 23, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 184

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: One reactor at Zaporizhzhia plant reconnected to energy grid

Ukraine’s state nuclear power company says that one reactor at the Zaporizhzhia plant has been reconnected to the Ukrainian energy grid.

Energoatom said in a Telegram post that the reactor was building up capacity after it, and the five other reactors at the facility, were disconnected from the grid for hours following alleged Russian shelling on Thursday.

Russia says it destroyed howitzer used to shell Zaporizhzhia plant

Russia’s defence ministry announced its forces have destroyed a United States-made M777 howitzer which it claims was used by Ukrainian troops to shell the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.

In its daily briefing, the ministry added that the howitzer had been destroyed west of the town of Marhanets, in Ukraine’s central-eastern Dnipropetrovsk region.

There was no immediate comment from Kyiv on the claims.

Turkey dismisses concerns over US sanctions warning

Washington’s warning to Turkey that its companies risk being sanctioned if they do business with sanctioned Russian individuals and firms is “meaningless,” Turkish finance minister Nureddin Nebati has said.

The United States Treasury warned both the country’s largest business group TUSIAD and the finance ministry this month that Russian entities and individuals were attempting to use Turkey to bypass Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its offensive in Ukraine.

Some Turkish firms have purchased or sought to buy Russian assets from Western partners pulling back from the country, while others maintain large assets there. Ankara has repeated that Western sanctions will not be circumvented in Turkey.

“The letter relayed to Turkish business groups creating concern among business circles is meaningless,” Nebati tweeted, adding, “We are determined to improve our economic and commercial relations with our neighbours especially in the areas of tourism and various sectors within a framework that is not subject to sanctions.”

Turkey, Finland and Sweden officials to meet over NATO-related concerns

Officials from Turkey, Finland and Sweden are expected to meet at an undisclosed location in Finland later on Friday to discuss security concerns that Ankara raised as a precondition for allowing the two Nordic countries to join the NATO military alliance.

Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto noted earlier the first meeting between officials would aim to establish contacts and set goals for cooperation that the three countries agreed to by signing a memorandum of understanding at NATO’s Madrid summit at the end of June.

The two Nordic countries applied for NATO membership in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but were faced with opposition from Turkey which accused them of imposing arms embargoes on Ankara and supporting groups it deems “terrorists”.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has demanded Sweden and Finland extradite suspects Turkey seeks over “terrorism”-related charges while the Nordic countries argue they did not agree to any specific extraditions by signing the memorandum.

Russia says it hit military train set to deliver arms

Russia’s defence ministry announced its forces struck a railway station in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, killing 200 Ukrainian military personnel, confirming an attack which Kyiv said killed 25 civilians as the nation marked its Independence Day.

The ministry reported an Iskander missile hit a military train at Chaplyne station that was to deliver arms to Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region.

Ukrainian officials stated civilians were killed when a house and the station were hit and five train carriages went up in flames. Moscow denies those allegations.

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant still disconnected from grid: Energoatom

All six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southeastern Ukraine are still disconnected from the country’s electricity grid, Ukraine’s state nuclear company has announced.

Energoatom said electricity for the plant’s own needs was currently being supplied through a power line from Ukraine’s electricity system, and that work was continuing to restore grid connection to the plant’s two functioning reactors.

It added there were currently no issues with the plant’s machinery or its safety systems.

UK calls out Russia’s ‘deliberate misinformation’

The Ministry of Defence has called Russia’s excuse for slowing the pace of its military campaign in Ukraine “deliberate misinformation”.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Russia had stalled military operations in order to reduce civilian casualties.

“Russia’s offensive has stalled because of poor Russian military performance and fierce Ukrainian resistance,” the ministry said on Friday.

“Under Shoigu’s orders, the forces operating in Ukraine have repeatedly missed planned operational timelines,” it noted, adding, “It is highly likely that Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin have fired at least six generals for not advancing quickly enough.”

Zelensky says radiation accident narrowly avoided at Ukraine nuclear power station

The world narrowly avoided a radiation accident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear station in Ukraine after power was cut to the two remaining working reactors, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.

Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom announced fires in the ash pits of a coal power station near the complex had disconnected the reactors from the power grid. The company blamed Russian “invaders” for the disconnection.

Zelensky stated back-up diesel generators had immediately kicked in to ensure continuous power supply. Electricity is used for cooling and safety systems at the nuclear plant.

“If the diesel generators had not turned on … if our station staff had not reacted after the blackout, then we would have already been forced to overcome the consequences of a radiation accident,” he noted in an evening address.

“Russia has put Ukraine and all Europeans in a situation one step away from a radiation disaster,” he added.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other world bodies need to act much faster to force Russian troops to leave the territory of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, the Ukrainian president said.

“Every minute that Russian troops remain at the nuclear power station there is a risk of global radiation catastrophe,” Zelensky added.

New shipping route announced for Black Sea Grain Initiative from Ukrainian ports

The Joint Coordination Center (JCC) announced in a statement a new shipping route under the Black Sea Grain Initiative that will come into effect on Friday.

The JCC — which has representatives of Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations — was one of the key creations of the grain deal agreed between Russia and Ukraine brokered by the UN and Turkey.

The new shipping route is 320 nautical miles long, and “it allows for shorter transit in the maritime humanitarian corridor and easier planning for the shipping industry,” according to the statement.

The route is intended for “merchant vessels going in and departing from the three Ukrainian ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk, Pivdennyi/Yuzhny,” and it connects the ports to inspections areas inside Turkish waters, the statement added. No military ship, aircraft or drone can approach a vessel going through the corridor within a radius of 10 nautical miles.

As of last week, about 27 ships loaded with grain have left Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since Aug. 1, according to Turkey. More than 650,000 metric tons of grain and other food have gone to markets around the world, according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Nuclear watchdog could visit Russian-held plant in coming days: Ukraine

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) could travel to Ukraine’s Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant for a mission in southern Ukraine in the coming days, Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko has said.

“A visit is planned. We are talking about the coming days – definitely no later than the beginning of September,” Galushchenko told Reuters news agency in an interview in Kyiv.

Ukraine’s state nuclear company said earlier that the nuclear power plant had been disconnected from the Ukrainian grid.

Galushchenko added it was vital the IAEA mission was able to see what was happening at the plant.

Russia should agree to demilitarised zone around Ukraine nuclear plant: White House

Russia should agree to a demilitarised zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine and allow international officials to assess its safety, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has said.

“Russia should agree to the demilitarised zone around the plant and agree to allow an International Atomic Energy Agency visit as soon as possible to check on the safety and security of the system,” Jean-Pierre continued.

She added the plant had come up in a call between US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, scheduled to mark Ukraine’s independence day on August 24.

“I know it is a bittersweet anniversary, but I made it clear that the United States would continue to support Ukraine and its people as they fight to defend their sovereignty,” Biden wrote on Twitter.

Satellite images show fires and smoke around Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

A series of satellite images, from Planet Labs and the European Space Agency, show a fire and smoke near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Enerhodar, Ukraine.

The three satellite images — which were taken on Aug. 24 at 10:39 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 11:35 a.m. local time — show a rare sequential glimpse of a fire growing toward the south of the plant, and smoke rising from an ash pit located in the northern section of the complex.

The plant, which is held by Russian forces, was completely disconnected from the power grid for the first time in its history on Thursday, according to the country’s nuclear operator.

The complex was disconnected due to fires at nearby ash pits, causing the last remaining power line connecting to Ukraine’s energy grid to disconnect twice, Energoatom announced in a statement.

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has confirmed Thursday the power supply from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been restored, but it currently remains disconnected from Ukraine’s energy grid.

In a statement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had been informed by the Ukrainian government that the plant’s last remaining operational 750 kV external power line is back up and running after disconnecting twice due to fires nearby. This would confirm an earlier statement from the Russian-installed governor of the occupied Zaporizhzhia areas.

However, the two remaining operational nuclear reactors “remained disconnected from the grid” after the power line was restored, Ukraine said, according to the IAEA.

“Ukraine also informed the IAEA that as a result of the cuts in the 750 kV power line, the ZNPP’s two operating reactor units were disconnected from the electricity grid and their emergency protection systems were triggered, while all safety systems remained operational, the Director General [Mariano Grossi] said. All six units remained disconnected from the grid also after the power line was restored, Ukraine said,” according to the statement.

The Russian-installed governor, Yevhen Balytskyi, earlier claimed: “Immediately after the fire was extinguished, one unit was put into operation. Work was underway to restore the power supply to the region and launch the second power unit.”

“There was no information immediately available on the direct cause of the power cuts,” the IAEA noted.

“The six-reactor ZNPP normally has four external power lines, but three of them were lost earlier during the conflict,” it added.

US: Any attempt to disconnect Zaporizhzhia plant from Ukrainian power grid is “unacceptable”

The US State Department’s principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Thursday that any attempt to disconnect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant from the Ukrainian power grid and redirect it to Russian-occupied areas is “unacceptable.”

“It is clear that Russia’s shelling and seizure of Ukraine’s power plants and infrastructure are part of its strategy to create energy crises in Europe. We strongly condemn any action at ZNPP or elsewhere that impacts the health and welfare of civilians throughout the region,” Patel stated during a briefing call with reporters.

“No country should turn a nuclear power plant into an active war zone, and we oppose any Russian efforts to weaponize or divert energy from the plant,” he continued, adding, “To be very clear, ZNPP and the electricity that it produces rightly belongs to Ukraine.”

Patel noted the United States is “closely monitoring the reports the last two operational reactors that ZNPP has been shut down,” and noted that “Ukraine is reporting that all the plant’s safety and security systems are working normally and we have no indication of increased or abnormal radiation levels.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency said the power supply from the Russian-occupied plant has been restored, but it currently remains disconnected from Ukraine’s energy grid.

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