Thursday, January 26, 2023

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 197: US approves $675m in military aid to 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:

US Secretary of State makes unannounced trip to Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced trip to Ukraine Thursday – his third visit to the country since Russia invaded more than six months ago.

The top US diplomat met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

His trip comes as Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive aimed at reclaiming Russian occupied areas in the south of the country. It is also coincides with a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, hosted by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Both Austin and Blinken visited Ukraine in late April. They still remain the highest level US officials to have traveled to the country since the war began in late February. Multiple heads of state have gone to Ukraine to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky. US President Joe Biden has yet to travel there, though the two leaders spoke by phone in recent weeks.

Also on Thursday, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov met his US counterpart Austin and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley at the Ramstein base.

“Started the day with a meeting with great friends of Ukraine Lloyd Austin III @SecDef and Gen. Mark Milley @thejointstaff,” Reznikov tweeted. “We appreciate the US staunch support of Ukraine.”

“Look forward to launching #Ramstein 5 Meeting with 50+ participants,” he added.


UK to cap domestic energy prices: Truss

UK Prime Minister Liz Truss has said that her government will cap domestic energy prices for homes and businesses to ease a cost-of-living crisis fueled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Truss told legislators in Parliament that the two-year “energy price guarantee” means average household bills will be no more than 2,500 pounds ($2,872) a year for heating and electricity. Bills had been due to rise to 3,500 pounds ($4,000) pounds a year from October, triple the cost of a year ago.

The government has said the cap will cut the UK’s soaring inflation rate by 4 to 5 percentage points. Inflation hit 10.1% in July and has been forecast to rise to 13% before the end of the year.

The government hasn’t said how much the price cap will cost, but estimates have put it at over 100 billion pounds ($116 billion). Truss has rejected opposition calls to impose a windfall tax on oil companies’ profits. The cap will be paid for out of Treasury funds and by borrowing.


Erdogan says Ukrainian grain going to Europe

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has backed allegations by Russian President Vladimir Putin that grains exported from Ukraine under a UN-backed deal going to wealthy countries, not poor ones.

Speaking at a news conference with his Croatian counterpart, Erdogan also noted Putin was uncomfortable with these grains going to countries that sanction Russia. On Wednesday, Putin floated adding limits to Ukrainian grain exports.

On Wednesday, Putin said that “almost all” Ukrainian shipped under the Ankara and UN brokered deal, which was reached in July.

However, data compiled by a joint centre in Istanbul monitoring the July agreement showed slightly more than a third of the grain delivered to European countries and another 20 percent arriving in Turkey. Spain and Egypt are big recipients of the grain too, the data showed.

It also showed 30 percent reaching “low and lower-middle income countries” across the world.


Blinken unveils $2bn in new US military aid for Europe

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has announced major new military aid worth more than 2 billion dollars for Ukraine and other European countries threatened by Russia.

Blinken stated the Joe Biden administration would provide $2bn in long-term military assistance to Ukraine and 18 of its neighbors, including NATO members and regional security partners “most potentially at risk for future Russian aggression”.

That’s on top of a $675-million package of heavy weaponry, ammunition and armored vehicles for Ukraine alone that Defense Secretary Llloyd Austin announced earlier Thursday at a conference in Germany.

The contributions bring total US aid to Ukraine to $15.2 billion since the administration took office.


More shelling reported near Zaporizhzhia nuclear power

More heavy fighting has raged in areas near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station in Ukraine after Kyiv warned that it might have to shut down the plant to avoid disaster.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces announced in its daily morning update that some villages and communities near the plant were heavily shelled in the 24 hours into Thursday morning from “tanks, mortars, barrel and jet artillery”.

Overnight, Russian forces fired rockets and heavy artillery into the nearby town of Nikopol four times, the area’s regional governor, Valentyn Reznichenko, wrote on Telegram, damaging at least 11 houses and other buildings.

Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for shelling that has occurred close to the plant and within its perimeter, risking nuclear catastrophe. The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has established a presence at the site, has said the situation is not sustainable.


US has approved $675mn more in Ukraine military aid: Pentagon chief

The US has approved an additional $675m in military aid for Ukraine, according to US defence secretary Lloyd Austin.

Austin made the announcement while opening a meeting of allies at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

He said allies needed to evolve to support Ukraine, particularly as it faces a long winter of warfare, but hailed “demonstrable success” on the Ukraine battlefield.

He added countries taking part in the meeting of the so-called “Ukraine Defense Contact Group” would also discuss how countries can work together to train Ukrainian forces and improve their own defence industrial bases for the long haul.


Ukraine says repelled several Russian attacks, stays silent on offensives in Kharkiv and Kherson

The Ukrainian military says it has repelled several Russian offensives across the battlefield, but has remained silent about its own counter-offensives in the northeast around Kharkiv and in the south near Kherson.

“Units of the Defense Forces hold their positions and prevent the enemy from advancing. Our soldiers successfully repelled enemy attacks in the areas of Kostyantynivka, Dibrivne, Hryhorivka, Zaitseve, Mayorsk, Mykolaivka Druha, Pervomaiske and Kamyanka,” the military’s General Staff said in a situation update on Thursday morning.

The General Staff also reported intense Russian shelling across the battlefield.

The update goes on to claim Ukrainian forces struck a Russian base in the village of Solodkovodne, in the Zaporizhzhya region, using artillery, but did not include information on ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensives in the north-eastern and southern frontlines.

The General Staff says only that “missile troops and artillery of our land groupings of troops continue to perform tasks of counter-battery combat, disruption of the command and control system and logistical support, damage to the enemy’s manpower and combat equipment,” without any specifics.


Ukraine recaptures up to 400 sq km in Kharkiv

Ukraine has retaken 400 sq km of territory in the east of the Kharkiv region, according to US-based think tank The Institute for the Study of War.

In its latest assessment of the situation on the ground, the group said that, on 7 September, Ukrainian forces “likely used tactical surprise to advance at least 20km into Russian-held territory”.

It said Ukraine was “likely exploiting Russian force reallocation” to the south to “conduct an opportunistic yet highly effective counteroffensive” northwest of the city of Izyum.

It added that Russia had been forced to refocus its forces in the south because of Ukraine’s ongoing operations in the Kherson region.


Official reiterates Ukraine’s desire for long-range weapons

A senior Ukrainian presidential advisor has reiterated Ukraine’s desire for long-range weapons in order to equalise the battlefield.

“Increasing long-range is our mission,” Andriy Yermak wrote in a Telegram post on Thursday

“Because long-range gives birth to symmetry. And it is the basis of success in confrontation with the aggressor,” he added.


Over 51k Russian soldiers killed since invasion: Ukraine

Some 51,250 Russian soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the invasion, according to figures published by the Ukrainian military.

A graphic posted to Twitter by the general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces showed “total combat losses of the enemy” from 24 February to today.

As well as the soldiers killed, it said Russia has lost a total of 2,112 tanks, 4,557 armoured personnel vehicles, and 239 aircraft.

In a separate post on Facebook, it also added the greatest losses had been suffered in the region of the southeastern city of Donetsk.

Asked about the cost of the invasion during a speech at the Russian Eastern Economic Forum on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin denied reports of Russian losses.

“We haven’t lost anything and we won’t lose anything,” he said, adding, “The main gain is the strengthening of our sovereignty.”


Belarus launches military drills near border of Poland, Ukraine

Belarus has launched military exercises by the city of Brest near the Polish border and close to its border with Ukraine.

Belarus, a close Russian ally that allowed Moscow to stage part of the invasion of Ukraine from its territory, also launched drills near the capital Minsk and the northeast region of Vitebsk, the defence ministry has said.

It said the exercises, which are set to last until September 14, will practice “liberating territory temporarily seized by the enemy” and regaining control over border regions.

According to the ministry, the level of troops and military equipment involved in the exercise did not require them to provide notice under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe guidelines.


Germany to subsidise basic level of power for homes, businesses: Report

Germany plans to subsidise a basic level of electricity usage for households and set aside cheaper power for small and medium-sized businesses, according to measures set out in an Economy Ministry paper viewed by Reuters news agency.

Electricity distributors would be required to grant households a certain electricity quota at a discounted price per kWh, with a similar contingent planned for small and medium-sized enterprises, the paper said.

The stated goal is to decouple the price of electricity from the sky-rocketing price of gas.


Russian official rejects UN, US allegations Moscow forcibly relocating Ukrainians

A Russian official has rejected as “propaganda” and “disinformation” new allegations by the United Nations and the United States that Moscow is forcibly relocating Ukrainians to Russia, more than six months after a military conflict erupted between Russia and Ukraine.

Russia’s UN envoy, Vasily Nebenzya, told a United Nations Security Council meeting that accusations of relocating Ukrainians to Moscow-controlled areas in Ukraine or Russia were a “new milestone in a disinformation campaign unleashed by Ukraine and its Western backers.”

“As for the so-called filtration, first of all, we don’t really understand what is being talked about here because the return filtration doesn’t have a clear definition in international humanitarian law,” he added.

His comments came after Ilze Brands Kehris, the assistant UN secretary-general for human rights, said at the UN Security Council meeting that there had been “credible allegations of forced transfers of unaccompanied children to Russian occupied territory, or to the Russian Federation itself.”

The US’s envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also claimed that Washington had information that Russian officials were overseeing so-called filtration operations.

“These operations aim to identify individuals Russia deems insufficiently compliant or compatible to its control,” she alleged, claiming that Russian authorities had “interrogated, detained, and forcibly deported” between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainians to Russia since the onset of war.


Ukrainian official tells UNSC 2.5 million people have been forcibly deported to Russia

Ukraine denounced Russia’s “filtration” scheme at a United Nations Security Council meeting Wednesday.

Deputy Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Khrystyna Hayovyshyn said Ukrainians forced to head to Russia or Russian-controlled territory are being killed and tortured.

Hayovyshyn told the Security Council that thousands of Ukrainian citizens are being forcefully deported to “isolated and depressed regions of Siberia and the far east.

The envoy added 2.5 million people have been deported, including 38,000 children.

Ukrainian citizens are terrorized, under the pretense of a search for “dangerous” people by Russian authorities, Hayovyshyn noted. Those who have different political views or are affiliated with the Ukrainian government or media disappear into a gray area. Children are ripped from the arms of their parents, the Ukraine representative declared.


Zelenskyy reports good military news from Kharkiv region

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has reported “good news” from the Kharkiv region east of Kyiv, stating some settlements had been recaptured from Russian forces.

In an evening video address, he also thanked Ukrainian artillery troops for what he said were successful attacks against Moscow’s forces in the south of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian president has hailed military successes amid a counter-offensive in the Kharkiv region.

He congratulated the Ukrainian military, expressing “words of gratitude to the 25th Airborne Brigade, the 92nd separate Mechanized Brigade, and the 80th Air Assault Brigade for their bravery and heroism displayed during the execution of combat missions.”

He did not offer details of the successes.


Russia’s “filtration operations” are “horrifying”: US

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Wednesday that Russia’s “filtration operations,” which Russia has allegedly used to interrogate and forcibly transport Ukrainian citizens to Russia, are “horrifying.”

“A growing number of eyewitnesses and survivors of ‘filtration’ operations tell stories of threats, harassment, and incidents of torture by Russian security forces. They’ve had their biometric data captured, identification documents confiscated, and all means of communication cut off. They’ve been subject to invasive searches, interrogation under inhumane and demeaning circumstances. It really is horrifying,” Thomas-Greenfield told reporters outside the UN Security Council chamber.

“So why are they doing this?,” Thomas-Greenfield later asked during her remarks to the Security Council, adding, “The reason is simple: to prepare for an attempted annexation.”

“The goal is to change sentiments by force. To provide a fraudulent veneer of legitimacy for the Russian occupation and eventual, purported annexation of even more Ukrainian territory. This effort to fabricate these facts on the ground is the predicate to sham referenda. It is part of the Russian playbook for Ukraine that we have been warning Council members about since even before the war began,” Thomas-Greenfield noted.

“These referenda will attempt to create a false semblance of legality and public support, so Russia feels it can annex Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, and other regions of Ukraine. Of course, we will never recognize any efforts by Russia to change Ukraine’s borders by force. We must hold the perpetrators of these atrocities to account. We must respond as an international community — an international community that still respects the UN Charter,” Thomas-Greenfield continued.


UN says ‘credible’ accusations Ukraine children forcibly moved to Russia

The United Nations has announced that there are credible accusations that Moscow’s forces have removed children from Ukraine to Russia for adoption as part of larger-scale forced relocations and deportations.

“We are concerned that the Russian authorities have adopted a simplified procedure to grant Russian citizenship to children without parental care, and that these children would be eligible for adoption by Russian families,” Ilze Brands Kehris, the assistant UN secretary-general for human rights, told the Security Council.

“There have been credible allegations of forced transfers of unaccompanied children to Russian occupied territory, or to the Russian Federation itself,” she added.


Shelling resumes near Zaporizhzhia despite IAEA report

Shelling has resumed in the area of the Zaporizhzhia power plant, a day after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that urged for a safe zone to prevent a catastrophe.

Russian forces fired rockets and heavy artillery on the city of Nikopol, on the opposite bank of the Dnieper River from the nuclear plant, regional governor Valentyn Reznichenko said.

Recently, officials have distributed iodine pills to residents to help protect them in the event of a radiation leak.

In a Telegram post, Deputy President Iryna Vereshchuk urged residents to leave the area and noted, “I appeal to the resident of the districts temporarily not under the control of the government of Ukraine, adjacent to the ZNPP: evacuate!

“Find a way to get to controlled territory. We are waiting for you and will help you,” Vereshchuk added.


Zelensky hits back at Putin over grain export criticism

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday hit back at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s criticism of the UN-brokered Black Seas Initiative to export Ukraine’s grain.

“Today in Russia, another blatantly false statement was made that the absolute majority of Ukrainian grain is allegedly exported to European countries,” Zelensky said in his evening address, adding, “Well, true words have not been heard at the official level in Russia for a long time, and this does not surprise anyone.”

“By the end of this month, at least three million tons of agricultural products can be exported from our seaports,” Zelensky said, adding, “And a significant part is intended for the poorest and most needy countries.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Putin claimed that “only 3% of the grain being exported from Ukraine is going to developing countries, the majority is going to Europe.”

In figures shared with CNN on Wednesday, the United Nations said that roughly 30% of exports under the initiative have gone to countries classified as low- or lower-middle-income.

A further 37% of exports have gone to European Union countries. On top of that, 20% has gone to Turkey, though the UN advised that some of those shipments may have been sent on to Asia or Africa.

“Unlike Russia,” Zelensky stated, “we do not make a racist division of the world into those who deserve security and those who supposedly do not; into those who deserve to live without hunger and those who supposedly do not. We support all people, all countries. And those who help us, and those who still refrain from helping us.”

“And those that are more stable and those that are less stable. I emphasize once again: Ukraine was, is and will be the guarantor of world food security,” he noted.


Zelensky says next year’s budget will be a war budget, focus on defence

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated next year’s budget would be a war budget, devoting more than a trillion hryvnias ($27.40bn) to military and security spending.

In an evening video address, he also added social obligations such as pensions had to be covered in full. Non-critical expenses must be reduced as much as possible, he added.

Zelensky has also thanked the European Union for confirming five billion euros ($4.97bn) in macro-financial aid but said the country needed a “full-fledged” programme of financing from the International Monetary Fund.

It was not immediately clear what Zelensky meant by a “full-fledged” programme.


Gazprom says Russian gas deliveries to EU are down 48 percent this year

Russian natural gas deliveries to European Union countries have dropped by 48 percent so far this year, with the decline totalling 49 percent if the UK is included, Russian gas giant Gazprom has announced.

Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to cut off all energy supplies to the European Union if the bloc imposes a price cap on Russian gas, raising the risk of rationing in some of the world’s richest countries this winter.


US demands Russia halt ‘filtration’ operations in Ukraine

The United States has accused the Kremlin of overseeing so-called “filtration” operations in Ukraine and providing lists of Ukrainians to be forced to move to areas of Russian control, and it demanded Russia halt the practice.

“The United States has information that [individuals] from Russia’s presidential administration are overseeing and coordinating filtration operations. We are further aware that the Russian presidential administration officials are providing lists of Ukrainians to be targeted for filtration,” Department of State spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

“We demand that Russia halt these filtration operations immediately,” he added.


UN says it needs access to Ukrainian detainees held by Russia

The United Nations and Red Cross (ICRC) must have access to places where Ukrainian prisoners of war and civilian detainees are held in Russia, UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the Security Council.

Senior UN rights official Ilze Brands Kehris also told the council, “Our Office has verified that Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups subject civilians to so-called ‘filtration’, a system of security checks and personal data collection.”


EU proposes $5 billion loan for Ukraine

The European Commission on Wednesday proposed 5 billion euros (about $5 billion) in macro-financial assistance loans to Ukraine, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

The proposal would help the country address “its immediate financial needs caused by Russia’s brutal invasion,” she added.

The commission announced in a news release that the aid was part of a 9 billion euros (about $9 billion) funding package agreed by EU leaders in May.

The proposal now needs to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

Ukraine “must win this war: it must regain the freedom and independence it is so courageously fighting for. The EU will continue to do its part to make sure this happens – solidarity will prevail, and peace will come,” von der Leyen also stated.

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