Sunday, May 19, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 194: Zelensky says three settlements liberated in southern and eastern Ukraine

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:

Kremlin makes prediction about gas supplies to EU

The technical issues with gas deliveries to Europe via Nord Stream 1 will persist until the West lifts the sanctions it has slapped on Russia over the ongoing Ukraine conflict, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.

In his telling, these restrictions hamper maintenance of the pipeline.

On August 31, Gazprom completely shut down gas deliveries via the pipeline. Although initially Nord Stream 1 was slated to resume gas transit on Friday, Gazprom announced that it would remain closed indefinitely due to technical issues.

“Problems in [gas] deliveries arose due to sanctions that have been imposed on our country and a number of companies by Western countries, including Germany and the UK. There are no other reasons behind supply issues,” Peskov noted.

The Kremlin spokesman also claimed that it is not Gazprom’s fault that “the Europeans absolutely absurdly make a decision to refuse to service their equipment,” which they are contractually obligated to do.

Peskov stressed that all Nord Stream 1 operations hinge on “one piece of equipment that needs serious maintenance.”

On Sunday, his comments were echoed by Alexander Novak, Russian Deputy Prime Minister, who blamed the European Union for the problems that have prevented the resumption of gas supplies via the pipeline.

“The entire problem lies precisely on [the EU’s] side, because all the conditions of the repair contract have been completely violated, along with the terms of shipping of the equipment,” he added.

On Friday, Gazprom canceled the restart of Nord Stream 1 citing an oil leak in the turbine, which was detected during a joint inspection with manufacturer Siemens Energy at the Portovaya compressor station near St. Petersburg. At the same time, the malfunction could be remedied only in Canada, which has imposed sanctions against Moscow.

Despite the maintenance issues, Europe has accused Russia of weaponizing energy supplies, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen describing Moscow as “not a reliable partner” in terms of gas supplies.

Plan for referendum on Kherson joining Russia put on hold

Plans to hold a referendum on the Ukrainian region of Kherson becoming a part of Russia have been put on hold, said Kirill Stremousov, the deputy head of the Russian-backed administration in the region.

“Kherson region is ready for a referendum on joining the Russian Federation, but a pause was taken due to the security situation,” he added, according to the Russian state news agency TASS.

Ukrainian and US officials have long criticized Russian efforts to hold sham referendums in Kherson and other Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine.

Stremousov’s remarks come a week after Ukraine announced its long-anticipated offensive to retake Kherson had gotten underway. Since then, there have been dozens of strikes against Russian forces and infrastructure in Kherson.

Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk described the referendum as “a farce and a circus,” and warned Ukrainian citizens against participating.

“For our citizens who will participate in this — this is, in fact, an article of the Criminal Code,” she said.

“Do not to take part in any ‘referendums.’ Neither pressure, nor forceful incitement, etc., will be able to justify the fact that a person went to the ‘referendum,'” she added.

EU signs deal with Ukraine for nearly $500m in aid

The EU has signed a deal to release a further $497 million (500 million euros) in planned aid to Ukraine, this time to support housing, education and agriculture.

The European Commission announced the package as senior officials hosted a meeting of the EU-Ukraine Association Council with Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Brussels.

Ukraine says it has inflicted losses on Russian forces in Kherson

The Ukrainian military announced Monday that offensive action in the southern region of Kherson continued Sunday, with air strikes and artillery brought to bear against Russian forces.

The military’s Operational Command South said that the air force carried out 21 strikes, while “rocket and artillery units continue to carry out fire missions intensively. Crossings through the Dnipro and Inhulets (rivers) are under close fire control.”

The command added the Russians had lost six tanks and other equipment, including nine howitzers.

An ammunition depot at Tomyna Balka and a pontoon crossing near the village of Lvove were also destroyed, as well as the command post of the 35th Army in the Kakhovka district, it said.

But the Ukrainian General Staff noted that Russian forces continued to conduct defensive operations, attacking more than a dozen settlements in northern Kherson with artillery and air strikes.

“After intensive shelling by the Defense Forces of areas where the enemy is concentrated in the Kherson region, Russian invaders imposed a ban on the movement of local residents. In particular, people are prohibited from crossing the Dnipro River both by bridges and by watercraft,” the General Staff added.

The Kherson region military administration noted that amid the combat, most of the region was once again without electricity.

Ukrainian official suggests IAEA mission to  Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant was “ineffective”

A senior Ukrainian official says the government is still waiting for a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency on the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and has suggested the IAEA mission is “ineffective.”

“We do not understand whether everything is normal there in terms of safety, cooling of the reactors, with the personnel, whether they understand the algorithms by which they work. We did not see all this in the report, and this proves that international institutions, unfortunately, are completely ineffective,” Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the Head of the President’s Office of President of Ukraine, told Ukrainian television Monday.

Podolyak stated there should be a “nuclear audit” the plant, which included “a certain number of people who know nuclear physics and engineering technologies” working next to Ukrainian staff.

While occupied by Russian forces, the plant is run largely by Ukrainian technicians.

“There are Russian troops who do not understand what is happening there, they do not assess the risks correctly. But there is a certain number of our workers there who need some kind of protection, to have people from the international community standing next to them,” Podolyak added.

The weekend appears to have passed relatively quietly in the area around the plant, which has seen persistent shelling for weeks, some of which has damaged the plant’s infrastructure, according to the IAEA.

On Friday, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said the organization knows “much more” about the state of the plant after its visit last week. A team of inspectors will have “continued presence” at the plant, Grossi added.

Zelensky says Ukraine took three settlements in south, east

President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that his forces have taken two settlements in southern Ukraine, a third settlement in the east, and additional territory in the east of the country.

He did not say precisely where the territories were and provided no timeline, except to say he had received “good reports” at a meeting on Sunday from his military commanders and head of intelligence.

In his nightly video address, Zelensky thanked his forces for liberating a settlement in the eastern Donetsk region, the taking of “certain heights” also in an eastern area in the Lysychansk-Siversk direction and liberating two southern settlements.

More German troops begin arriving in Lithuania

About 100 German soldiers have arrived in Lithuania after Germany pledged to bolster its presence on NATO’s eastern flank. The troops drove off the ferry in the port city of Klaipeda.

They were to make up the command unit of a new brigade, a group usually made up of about 4,000 soldiers.

“Our message to our allies here, on the eastern flank, is that we are committed to ensuring security,” said the brigade’s commander, Christian Nawrat.

The command unit would remain permanently in the Baltic nation, while combat units would join them for exercises, he added.

EU energy ministers to consider gas price cap, other measures: Document

European Union countries’ energy ministers are set to consider options to rein in soaring energy prices including gas price caps and emergency credit lines for energy market participants, a document seen by Reuters suggests.

EU ministers will meet on September 9 to discuss urgent bloc-wide measures to respond to a surge in gas and power prices that is hammering Europe’s industry and hiking household bills after Russia curbed gas deliveries to the bloc.

The draft document says the ministers will discuss options including a price cap on imported gas, a price cap on gas used to produce electricity, or temporarily removing gas power plants from the current EU system of setting electricity prices.

‘Phosphorous munitions’ alleged in Kharkiv attack

Sixteen houses have been destroyed by Russian attack overnight Saturday into Sunday in the Ukrainian village of Bezruky, in the Kharkiv region.

Local officials announced it was the most intense round of attacks since the early days of the war, with the head of the Derhachi Hromada administration, Vyacheslav Zadorenko, alleging that “the enemy used cluster phosphorous munitions on civilian infrastructure”.

No residents were harmed in the strikes, with many having already evacuated. Some 1,000 people still live in the village, according to officials.

Ukraine PM visits Berlin, seeking more weapons

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmygal has voiced hopes that Germany would become a leading player helping Kyiv to build up its air defences, as he sought more heavy weapons for Kyiv from Berlin.

Germany’s initial stuttering response on providing military support to Kyiv following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had sparked consternation.

But Shmygal acknowledged during his visit that Germany has since significantly stepped up its military aid, with heavy armaments like the tank howitzer 2000 or MARS rocket launchers all “working well on the battle field”.

The air defence system Iris-T is expected to be delivered in the autumn, he said, adding that Ukraine “hopes that Germany will become one of the leaders in the process of developing Ukrainian air defence”.

Ukraine dispatches its biggest grain convoy of UN deal so far

Ukraine announced it has dispatched its biggest convoy of grain vessels under an UN-brokered deal so far after 13 ships set sail from its ports carrying 282,500 tonnes of agricultural products to foreign markets.

The cargo bound for eight countries was loaded at the Black Sea ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi. The ports had been completely blockaded by Russia’s invasion until a July 22 deal that was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey.

Eighty-six ships have since set sail from Ukrainian ports under the deal, carrying two million tonnes of agricultural products to 19 countries, the Ukrainian Infrastructure Ministry said in a statement on Facebook.

Sweden, Finland to offer liquidity guarantees to energy firms

Finland and Sweden have announced plans to offer billions of dollars in liquidity guarantees to energy companies in their countries after Russia’s Gazprom shut the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, deepening Europe’s energy crisis.

Finland is aiming to offer 10 billion euros ($9.95bn) and Sweden plans to offer 250 billion Swedish crowns ($23.2bn) in liquidity guarantees.

Berlin and Moscow trade blame over halted gas supplies

Berlin and Moscow are trading blame for the halting of gas flows through the Nord Stream 1 Baltic Sea pipeline between the two countries, the day after Russia failed to turn the taps back on after a planned period of maintenance ended.

“[Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s Russia has broken its contracts,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, and has not been fulfilling its supply commitments for some time now.

“Russia is no longer a reliable supplier of energy,” he added.

For its part, the Kremlin blamed the EU for the suspension of gas deliveries via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, news agency Interfax has reported.

Speaking in a television broadcast titled “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin”, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said, “If the Europeans make an absolutely absurd decision, where they refuse to maintain their systems, or rather, systems belonging to Gazprom, then it is not Gazprom’s fault but the fault of the politicians who decided about the sanctions.”

According to Peskov, Europeans are contractually obliged to maintain the systems of the Russian energy giant Gazprom.

Kremlin: ‘Every confrontation ends with easing of tensions’

Even amid historic tensions between Russia and the West, the Kremlin expects relations to return to normal at some point, according to spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“Every confrontation ends with an easing of tensions, and every crisis situation ends at the negotiating table,” Peskov stated on state TV, Interfax news agency reported.

“That will be the case this time as well,”he added.

It is likely, he said, that it will not happen so quickly, but it will happen, he said on the TV programme “Moscow. Kremlin. Putin.”

Zelensky discusses urgent aid, Russia sanctions with EU chief

President Volodymyr Zelensky says he has called on the EU to urgently allocate its next round of aid to Ukraine and pressed for a new wave of sanctions on Russia in a phone call with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

“Discussed the allocation of the next tranche of #EU macro-(financial) aid ASAP. Emphasized the need to prepare the 8th package of (Western) sanctions (on Russia), including a ban on issuing visas to Russian citizens,” he wrote on Twitter.

Zelensky, who has warned Europeans to expect a difficult winter due to Russian oil and gas export cuts, also added he and von der Leyen coordinated “steps to limit Russia’s excess profits from the sale of oil and gas”.

Ukrainian flag raised in Kherson

A post on social media has shown Ukrainian troops raising a Ukrainian flag on the roof of a hospital in Vysokopillya in Kherson.

The photo circulating on Twitter comes amid a counterattack by Ukrainian forces to retake the city of Kherson from Russia.

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