Saturday, April 20, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 196: Putin says west sanctions danger for entire world

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:

Ukrainian nuclear operator calls for UN peacekeepers at Zaporizhzhia plant

Ukrainian nuclear operator on Wednesday stated they would support the deployment of UN peacekeepers in the Russian-occupied nuclear plant of Zaporizhzhia, a day after the UN atomic watchdog called for a security zone around the plant.

“One of the ways to create a security zone at the ZNPP could be to set up a peacekeeping contingent there and withdraw Russian troops” Energoatom chief Petro Kotyn said in remarks broadcast by Ukrainian TV.

Officials say Ukrainian forces seek to retake Kherson by end of 2022

One week into a new counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces are making gains in the south, with the ambitious goal of taking back most of the Russian-occupied region of Kherson by the end of the year, senior US officials and Ukrainian officials tell CNN.

The last week has seen the most ambitious ground assaults by the Ukrainians since the beginning of the invasion, following sustained attacks on command posts, ammunition stores, and fuel reserves far behind the front lines, according to geolocation of video and satellite imagery.

The US has observed Ukrainian forces achieve some success in attacking Russian supply lines, with the intention of cutting off and isolating Russian troops currently deployed west of the Dnipro River, according to a senior US official.

“What we’ve seen in the Kherson region first is some continued offensive operations by the Ukrainians,” Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters, adding, “They continue to make some forward movement. We are aware that they have retaken some villages.”

Ryder also said that the US has seen “some offensive Russian activity … near Bakhmut.”

According to Ukrainian officials, the goal is to take at least all territory north or west of the Dnipro River, including not only the city of Kherson but also Nova Kakhovka, site of an important hydroelectric plant as well as the canal that supplies Crimea with much of its water.

The current offensive in the south is broad-based – extending more than 100 miles wide – to prevent Russian units from concentrating on one point. Additionally, there has been an uptick in sabotage operations and attacks on pro-Russian officials in occupied areas.

US officials acknowledge the Ukrainian goal of recapturing Kherson by the end of 2022 is ambitious but remains possible if Ukraine continues to make progress in its current operations.

IAEA report fails to set out next steps: Ukrainian presidential adviser

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) report on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant describes the Russian presence at the facility but fails to set out what should happen next, a Ukrainian presidential adviser said on Wednesday.

“The key part is missing in [IAEA director general] Mr [Rafael] Grossi’s report: There is no definite algorithm of what we must do,” Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters news agency.

“It says both sides have to negotiate, but it doesn’t say that Russian troops must vacate the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. It doesn’t mention a 10-15km demilitarisation area,” he added.

European Commission proposes reduction on electricity during peak hours to help with rising costs

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen proposed wide-ranging new measures Wednesday, including a “mandatory target for reducing electricity use at peak hours.”

The proposals were introduced with the goal of helping European citizens deal with rising energy costs as Russia’s actions in “actively manipulating the gas market” and the effects of climate change cause prices to surge.

Speaking to journalists in Brussels, von der Leyen said that while the European Union has “very much increased our preparedness and we have weakened the grip that Russia had on our economy and our continent” over the past six months.

She warned that “Russian manipulation of the gas market has spillover effects on the electricity market” and will confront Europe “with astronomic electricity prices for households and companies.”

She presented five measures with the aim of supporting “vulnerable consumers and businesses.”

As part of the measures, von der Leyen announced that the EU “will propose a cap on Russian gas.”

“The objective here is very clear,” she continued, adding, “We must cut Russia’s revenues, which Putin uses to finance this atrocious war against Ukraine.”

Further measures include a “mandatory target for reducing electricity use at peak hours” to help “flatten the peaks and a cap on energy revenues for companies using renewable sources.

Additionally, the commission will “propose a solidarity contribution for fossil fuel companies” that would see “unexpected profits” from energy companies being used support consumers and businesses.

The five proposed measures will be put to member states on Friday, according to von der Leyen.

Earlier Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin hit out at the West’s proposed price caps on Russian energy, threatening to cut off gas and oil supplies if they are imposed.

“Well, we simply will not comply with them. And we will not supply anything at all if it is contrary to our interests — in this case, economic ones. Neither gas, nor oil, nor coal, nor heating oil — we will not supply anything,” Putin stated.

Last week, the G7 nations announced plans to impose a price cap on Russian oil exports.

Erdogan says Western nations are provoking Russia

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated on Wednesday he did not think the West’s “provocative” policies towards Russia were correct after the European Union (EU) proposed a price cap on Russian gas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had threatened to halt all supplies if the EU took such a step, raising the risk of rationing in some of the world’s richest countries this winter.

Erdogan was speaking at a news conference with the Serbian president in Belgrade.

Germany’s gas storage is 85% full amid tensions over gas supplies with Russia: Chancellor

In his budget speech on Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised to work on lowering prices for energy imports as tensions with Russia continue, saying “the prices for energy supplies must come down.”

“Citizens must also be able to pay the prices. And we will take care of that,“ he stated.

Scholz added the country’s gas storage facilities were over 85% full at a time when Russia has cut off gas supplies to Germany.

Germany “will probably get through this winter, despite all the tension, due to building liquefied natural gas storage terminals and purchasing gas elsewhere,” he continued.

“You’ll never walk alone. That is the motto of this government,“ Scholz promised, adding, “I am sure our country will rise above. We will stand together. We will overcome the challenges we are facing now.”

Scholz last week said that the country is better prepared for winter “than was foreseeable a few months ago” when it comes to gas supply and that it “can deal quite well with the threats that are coming our way from Russia.”

Ukraine says Russia has no grounds to review grain export deal

A Ukrainian presidential adviser said on Wednesday that Russia had no grounds to review the landmark deal allowing Ukraine to export grain from ports in the Black Sea and that the terms of the wartime agreement were strictly observed.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told the Reuters news agency after President Vladimir Putin said he would discuss amending the deal to limit the countries receiving cargo shipments.

“Of course, there are no objective reasons for revising the grain deal, not even close,” Podolyak continued, adding, “The deal, in our view and in the view of intermediaries, is being strictly observed.”

“I believe that such unexpected and groundless statements rather indicate an attempt to find new aggressive talking points to influence global public opinion and, above all, put pressure on the United Nations,” he stated.

Moscow imposes sanctions against European military leaders, security figures

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced sanctions against a number of European military leaders and security figures in response to what Moscow described as the west’s “unfriendly anti-Russian” policy.

In a statement, it noted it was banning a number of the European military leaders, senior security figures and representatives of weapons companies from entering Russia.

The ministry did not name the individuals.

Russia threatens to ‘freeze’ west by cutting gas and oil supplies if price caps imposed

Speaking at an economic forum in Vladivostok, President Vladimir Putin threatened to cut off energy supplies if price caps are imposed on Russia’s oil and gas exports.

The Russian leader described European calls for a price cap on Russian gas as “stupid” and said they would lead to higher global prices and economic problems in Europe.

Last week, G7 countries agreed on a plan to put a ceiling on Russian oil prices in an attempt to stem the flow of funds into the Kremlin’s war coffers.

Russia would walk away from its supply contracts if the west went ahead with its plans, Putin said.

The Russian president added, “Will there be any political decisions that contradict the contracts? Yes, we won’t fulfill them. We will not supply anything at all if it contradicts our interests.”

“We will not supply gas, oil, coal, heating oil – we will not supply anything,” he continued.

Russia “would only have one thing left to do”, Putin said, adding, “As in the famous Russian fairy tale, we would sentence the wolf’s tail to be frozen.”

He said Germany and western countries themselves were to blame for the Nord Stream 1 pipeline not being operational and that Ukraine and Poland decided on their own to switch off other gas routes into Europe.

He added, “Nord Steam 1 is practically closed now.”

Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia reach “agreement in principle” to restrict movement of Russian citizens

The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia have reached an “agreement in principle” to restrict the movement of Russian citizens through their borders with Russia and Belarus, according to Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics.

The last “nuances” of the restrictions are currently being agreed between Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, Rinkevics announced on Wednesday following a meeting of Nordic-Baltic foreign ministers in Kaunas, Lithuania.

Once implemented, the ban will prevent Russian citizens holding Schengen visas from crossing into Latvia, Lithuania, or Estonia, from Russia or Belarus, Rinkevics said. There will be exceptions on humanitarian grounds, for lorry drivers, for family reasons and for diplomats, Rinkevics added.

There will be “sufficient warning time” before the restrictions are implemented, Rinkevics added, with further decisions being made within the next 10 days.

The number of border crossings from Russian citizens holding Schengen visas has “dramatically increased,” in recent weeks, Rinkevics said, stating that the crossings are becoming a public security concern as well as a moral and political issue.

Estonia implemented a ban on Russian citizens who already held Estonian-issued Schengen visas in August. Meanwhile, the European Union has agreed to reduce the number of new visas available to Russian citizens but stopped short of an outright ban on travel to the bloc.

 Putin says Russia has “lost nothing” during its “special military operation” in Ukraine

Russia has “lost nothing” in its “special military operation” in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin claimed in his speech to open the Plenary Session at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Wednesday.

“We have lost nothing and are not going to lose anything. Our main gain is the strengthening of our sovereignty. We didn’t start anything, in terms of military action, but are only trying to finish it,” Putin told the audience.

Based on downgraded intelligence, the US believes that Russia is facing “severe” shortages of military personnel in Ukraine and is seeking new ways to reinforce its troop levels, two US officials told CNN last week.

In late August, Putin ordered Russia’s military to increase the number of troops in Ukraine by 137,000, though it remains unclear how the Defense Ministry intends to reach that target.

Ukraine considering shutting down Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

Ukraine is considering shutting down its Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant for safety reasons, and is worried about the reserves of diesel fuel used for backup generators, according to Kyiv’s top nuclear safety expert.

“The option of switching off the station is being assessed,” Oleh Korikov stated during a news briefing on Wednesday.

Moscow: Kiev threatened Europe’s nuclear security

President Vladimir Putin has said that Ukraine had threatened Europe’s nuclear security by shelling the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and that Russia had no military equipment at the facility.

The Russian president added that he trusted a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which visited the power station last week, but criticised the IAEA for not saying that Ukraine was to blame for shelling on the site.

Kyiv and Moscow both blame each other for military attacks on the site which has triggered fears of a Chornobyl-style nuclear disaster at Europe’s largest nuclear power station.

Western sanctions danger for entire world: Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced as “short-sighted” the sanctions imposed on Moscow by the West, saying they are a danger for the entire world.

Putin made the remarks during a speech at the Eastern Economic Forum in the country’s Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok on Wednesday, noting the West had undermined the global economy with an “aggressive” attempt to impose its dominance across the world.

He also warned that problems on the global food market were likely to intensify, adding that a humanitarian catastrophe was looming.

West deceived poor nations with Ukraine grain deal: Putin

Western nations lied when they claimed Ukraine needed access to sea shipping to alleviate the surging food prices and risk of famine in poor countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.

Most of the cargoes that came out of Ukraine under a Turkey- and UN-brokered deal with Russia went to the EU, Putin stated in a speech at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia on Wednesday.

He added that he terms of the arrangement should probably be changed.

Putin made the remarks in reference to the arrangement allowing civilian ships to enter and leave Ukrainian Black Sea ports to deliver grain cargoes. The scheme was put into action in late July, with Turkey hosting a center that coordinates the deliveries.

The Russian leader noted that the deal was touted as a way to curb the surging global prices and help the most struggling nations. In practice, almost all of the grain shipped from Ukraine went to wealthy EU nations, he continued.

“Many European nations acted in decades and centuries past as colonizers, and they act in the same way today. They simply deceived developing nations once again. And they keep up the deceit,” the president stated.

With an attitude like this, problems with food availability will only grow worse, Putin warned.

Biden, Truss commit to stand up against Russia

President Joe Biden spoke by phone to congratulate new British Prime Minister Liz Truss and both leaders promised to strengthen their relationship as they stand together against Russia.

“I look forward to deepening the special relationship between our countries and working in close cooperation on global challenges, including continued support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression,” Biden wrote on Twitter.

The prime minister’s office said in a statement that Biden and Truss discussed deepening cooperation on NATO and the US-Australia-Britain security agreement established last year as a counter to China.

Truss looks forward to “working closely with President Biden as leaders of free democracies to tackle shared challenges, particularly the extreme economic problems unleashed by Putin’s war,” the statement added.

Zelensky: IAEA officials need to “force Russia to demilitarize” nuclear plant and return control to Ukraine

Ukrainian President Zelensky said in his nightly address Tuesday, “The [IAEA] mission, which had visited the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, has presented a documentary summary of its work.”

“The report notes the presence of Russian military equipment on the territory of the NPP, emphasizes pressure on our nuclear workers, and makes clear references to the Russian military occupation. That’s good,” he stated.

Zelensky added, “As for IAEA Director General Grossi’s proposal to create a protection zone at the plant, we need to we need to look into the specific sense of such tool: what exactly can be considered protection? If the sense of this proposal is to demilitarize the territory of the nuclear power plant – and this is logical, because it was the Russian military presence that put the Zaporizhzhia station on the brink of a radiation disaster – then we can support such a demilitarized protection zone.”

He continued, “In any case, there is a feeling that modern international organizations need a much broader mandate for their actions. I believe that the world not only deserves, but needs the representatives of the IAEA to force Russia to demilitarize the territory of the NPP and return full control to Ukraine.”

“If Russia has put the world on the brink of a radiation disaster, then the world must have adequate means to put Russia in the conditions where the terrorist state will be forced to stop terror,” the Ukrainian president noted.

IAEA director says “we are playing with fire” as he delves into report on Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant at UN

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director appealing to the United Nations Security Council Tuesday with regards to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant said that “we are playing with fire and something very, very catastrophic could take place.”

“The hits that this facility has received and that I could personally see and assess together with my experts is simply unacceptable,” said Rafael Mariano Grossi.

On the heels of the IAEA report released Tuesday he stressed that agency inspectors remained at the site ensuring capacity for direct evaluation of the situation.

“We in this case have the historical ethical imperative to prevent something from happening,” and establishing this presence — and in tandem establishing a safety and security protection zone — he believes they have the capacity to prevent catastrophe.

“This is something that can be done now,” the director general stated, adding, “We have the inspectors there already deployed they are doing their work.”

“We can agree on a very simple but incredibly necessary protective mechanism to avoid what is happening now as we speak which is the shelling of a nuclear power plant,” he continued.

Addressing the UN Security Council he said it’s time to “seize this opportunity so fundamental for peace for security and to protect the populations of Ukraine and beyond.”

He reiterated agenda items of his “neutral,” and “technical” report released Tuesday in particular calling for the establishment of a nuclear safety security protection zone around the perimeter of the plant.

The report also found operators operating under “extremely challenging circumstances together with military equipment and vehicles in different parts of it” and the IAEA called for the immediate removal of this military equipment so to not interfere.

His report also called for operators to be able to perform without external pressures.

The report also recommends the off site power supply line redundancy be re-established meaning all military activities that affect that power supply systems “must be stopped immediately”

He also called for uninterrupted supply chain transportation to and from the site.

Truss speaks to Zelensky, expresses ‘full backing’: spokeswoman

The United Kingdom’s new Prime Minister Liz Tuss has pledged her full backing to Ukraine in a call to President Volodymyr Zelensky, shortly after taking office.

“In her first call with a counterpart since becoming prime minister, she reiterated to the Ukrainian leader that he had her full backing, and Ukraine could depend on the UK’s assistance for the long term,” a spokeswoman said.

Zelenskyy stated he had “coordinated” with Truss “further pressure” on Russia in the seventh month of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The goal is to stop the aggression and bring the perpetrators to justice,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter, claiming he was the first foreign leader who had talks with Truss after she was confirmed in her new role.

Russia ‘regrets’ IAEA report did not blame Ukraine: UN envoy

Russia has voiced regret that a report by the United Nations nuclear watchdog warning of risks at Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia plant did not blame Kyiv for shelling the Moscow-occupied site.

“We regret that in your report … the source of the shelling is not directly named,” Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya told a Security Council session attended virtually by Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

UN chief urges Russia, Ukraine to demilitarise nuclear power plant

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres has urged Russia and Ukraine to agree to a demilitarised perimeter around the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine.

“As a first step, Russian and Ukrainian forces must commit not to engage in any military activity towards the plant site or from the plant site,” Guterres told the UN Security Council.

“As a second step, an agreement on a demilitarised perimeter should be secured. Specifically, that would include a commitment by Russian forces to withdraw all military personnel and equipment from that perimeter and a commitment by Ukrainian forces not to move into it,” he told the 15-member body.

Commandant of Russian-controlled Ukrainian city killed in bomb blast: local official

The Russian-installed commandant of a southern Ukrainian city has died in a blast, a local official told the Reuters news agency, the latest in a series of assassinations in occupied areas of southern Ukraine.

Vladimir Rogov, an official in the Russian-backed administration of the Zaporizhia region, blamed the Ukrainian government for Artyom Bardin’s death.

Russian media earlier reported Bardin was hospitalised and in critical condition, after his car exploded outside the city administration building in Berdiansk, an Azov Sea port of about 100,000 people that was captured by Russian troops in February.

The city’s deputy chief of traffic police died on August 26 after being wounded in a bomb blast, local officials said. On August 30, Alexei Kovalev, a former lawmaker with Volodymyr Zelensky’s party turned Russian-backed official in the Kherson region, was shot dead.

Ukraine official promises ‘great news’ from Kharkiv counteroffensive

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff stated he expected Kyiv to announce “great news” about its counteroffensive in the eastern Kharkiv region on Tuesday evening, without giving further details.

“Tonight there is going to be great news from President Zelenskiy on [the] counteroffensive operation in Kharkiv region,” Serhiy Leshchenko wrote on Twitter.

Kharkiv region, in northeast Ukraine, is on the far end of the front line from the southern Kherson region, which Ukraine last week announced as the focus of a push to retake territory.

US not to declare Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism

US President Joe Biden has made a final decision against designating Russia as a “state sponsor of terror”, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre has said.

The decision was announced a day after Biden said Russia should not be designated a “state sponsor of terrorism”, a label Ukraine has pushed for amid Russia’s continuing invasion while Moscow has warned it would rupture US-Russian ties.

The designation of Russia as a “state sponsor of terror” could delay food exports and jeopardise deals to move goods through the Black Sea, Jean-Pierre added.

Partisan activity increases in the occupied southern parts of Ukraine

From blowing up infrastructure and destroying arms depots, to spray-painting messages for the invading Russian forces, partisan activity is increasing in Ukraine, especially in the occupied southern parts.

The Free Ukraine Resistance Movement, a citizen-led group, writes on its website: “We’ve literally ruined Putin’s plans to ruin Ukraine from inside … Even months before the full-scale invasion, [we’d] already started to mobilise and train people for all levels of resistance to defend Ukraine – military, communications, humanitarian help, and diplomacy.”

Mainly active in the southern parts of the occupied Zaporizhia region and around the city of Kherson, where Ukraine is waging a counteroffensive, partisan activity has become more coordinated since the start of the war.

IAEA report: Conditions of Ukrainian staff operating plant should be improved

The United Nations nuclear watchdog on Tuesday listed damage to parts of the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia power plant and recommended that the conditions Ukrainian staff operating the plant are working in should be improved.

“Ukrainian staff operating the plant under Russian military occupation are under constant high stress and pressure, especially with the limited staff available,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said.

“This is not sustainable and could lead to increased human error with implications for nuclear safety,” it noted.

The report also added: “The situation in Ukraine is unprecedented. It is the first time a military conflict has occurred amid the facilities of a large, established nuclear power program.

“A nuclear accident can have serious impacts within the country and beyond its borders, and the international community is relying on the IAEA to perform a rigorous assessment of the situation and to keep it informed with accurate and timely information,” it continued.

IAEA report finds urgent need for interim measures to prevent nuclear accident

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report finds that there is an urgent need for interim measures to prevent a nuclear accident arising from the damage caused by military means.

This can be achieved, the report said, by the immediate establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone.

While at the plant, the IAEA announced the team saw damage to the special building that houses new nuclear fuel and the solid radioactive waste storage facility.

However, the IAEA has added it has not found any indication that would give rise to a proliferation concern.

European commissioner for energy to unveil bloc-wide package next week

The European commissioner for energy says the EU’s next steps for addressing the continent’s worsening energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are expected to be unveiled next week.

Many European countries have tightened their belts as energy costs soar amid the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia’s the European Commission president says the EU’s electricity market “is no longer operating”.

A meeting of the European Union’s energy ministers will be held in Brussels on Friday to discuss a bloc-wide package of solutions to the power market cost spikes, European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson told The Associated Press in an interview.

“Right now, in this situation where Russia is using their natural gas supplies as a weapon, we have to take care to secure the supply. And that means that some extraordinary investments are needed,” Simson noted when asked about the environmental concerns.

Moscow accuses West of breaking ‘grain deal’ pledge

Western countries have not fulfilled their promise to lift sanctions on Russian grain and fertilizers to allow them to reach world markets, the country’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said.

The commitment was part of a deal brokered by the United Nations and Turkey and signed in Istanbul in July to unblock Ukraine’s grain exports and ease a looming global food crisis.

Lavrov stressed that “artificially inflated” Western claims that Russian actions in Ukraine had undermined the stability of the global food market are “absolutely not the case.”

“On the contrary, our Western colleagues are not doing what we were promised by the UN secretary general, namely, they are not making a decision to remove logistical sanctions that prevent free access of Russian grain and fertilizers to world markets,” the minister pointed out at a joint press conference with his Thai counterpart, Don Pramudwinai.

Lavrov added that Russia continues to work with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his team to ensure the organization fulfills its obligations under the Istanbul agreements.

Wheat deliveries from Ukraine, a major producer, were disrupted after Russia launched its military operation in the neighboring state in late February. The two sides traded accusations over who was responsible for the stoppage of cargo traffic out of Ukrainian ports. Since August 1, however, when shipments from the ports resumed, 92 vessels have departed, bringing more than 2 million tons of food goods to global markets.

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