Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 198: US imposes sanctions on Iranian firms over “Ukraine war”

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:

IAEA: Situation near Zaporizhzhia plant ‘increasingly precarious’

The situation in the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar, where staff operating the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant live, is increasingly precarious, the United Nations nuclear watchdog has said, calling for an immediate end to shelling there.

“I therefore urgently call for the immediate cessation of all shelling in the entire area,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said in a statement, noting shelling had caused a blackout in Enerhodar.

“Only this will ensure the safety and security of operating staff and allow the durable restoration of power to Enerhodar and to the power plant,” he added.

Ukraine has retaken settlements in Kharkiv region: Russian-installed official

Ukraine’s advance in the Kharkiv region has been “very sharp and rapid” and Ukrainian forces have recaptured a number of settlements, the Russian-installed administrator of Russian-controlled parts of the region said in a live online broadcast.

“The enemy is being delayed as much as possible, but several settlements have already come under the control of Ukrainian armed formations,” Vitaly Ganchev, head of the Russian-backed administration in Kharkiv region, stated on state television host Vladimir Solovyov’s daily livestream.

He added that civilians are being evacuated from three Russian-held towns in the region that have come under threat from a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Ganchev noted that civilians were being evacuated from the towns of Izyum, Kupiansk and Veliky Burluk.

Zelensky to appeal directly to US defence companies

President Volodymyr Zelensky is scheduled to speak to US arms makers and military leaders on Wednesday when he is expected to make an appeal for more weapons for his country’s defence against Russia, according to an advance notice of the speech seen by Reuters news agency.

Zelensky was set to speak by video link before a conference hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association in Austin, Texas, in his first-ever speech to the US defence industry.

The association’s members include Raytheon Technologies Corp and Lockheed Martin Corp, which jointly produce Javelin antitank weapons that have been used by Ukraine.

Those companies and other top weapons makers – Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and L3Harris Technologies – were present at an April meeting called by the Pentagon to discuss Ukraine’s weapons needs.

NATO calls on allies to supply winter uniforms for Ukrainian army

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has urged allies to supply Kyiv with winter gear such as clothing, tents and generators to enable Ukrainian troops to keep on fighting Russia’s invasion in the cold season.

Average winter temperatures are below freezing for much of the country and it is not unusual for temperatures to drop to minus 15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit).

“The winter is coming, it’s going to be hard, and therefore we need both to continue to supply weapons and ammunition but also winter clothing, tents, generators and all the specific equipment which is needed for the winter,” Stoltenberg told reporters after meeting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Brussels.

“Partly because the size of the Ukrainian army has just increased so much, they need more of this kind of winter equipment, and NATO is particularly focused on how we can provide tens of thousands of, for instance, winter uniforms,” Stoltenberg added.

Ukraine success in Kherson, Kharkiv encouraging: Pentagon chief

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has stated that Ukrainian forces were having some success in their operations in Kharkiv and Kherson.

“We see success in Kherson now, we see some success in Kharkiv and so that is very, very encouraging,” Austin said during a news conference with his Czech counterpart in Prague.

Ukrainian troops have recaptured more than 700sq km (270sq miles) of territory in the south and in the eastern Kharkiv region, where they advanced up to 50km (31 miles) into Russian lines and retaken more than 20 villages.

EU finance ministers back next $5bn loan to Ukraine

European Union finance ministers have backed a 5 billion euros ($5bn) loan for Ukraine to help keep its schools, hospitals and other state operations running as it fights against Russia’s invasion, the Czech finance ministry has said.

The loan, to be backed by guarantees of EU member states, is part of an overall 9 billion euros package announced in May. The first 1 billion euros was fully sent in early August.

Czech Finance Minister Zbynek Stanjura, who was hosting EU finance ministers in Prague, stated upcoming meetings would decide how the remaining 3 billion euros in the package could be split into loans or grants.

War in Ukraine “likely to go on for some significant period of time”: US

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday he believes the war in Ukraine “is likely to go on for some significant period of time,” noting that “there are a huge number of Russian forces that are in Ukraine, and, unfortunately, tragically, horrifically, President Vladimir Putin has demonstrated that he will throw a lot of people into this at huge cost for Russia and huge cost to its future.”

Speaking at a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Blinken stated “we see Ukraine making real, demonstrable progress in a deliberate way” in their counteroffensive to reclaim Russian-held parts of the country. He said he didn’t want to prejudge “where it will go and how far it will get, but the initial signs are positive,” and reiterated his view the fact that Ukrainians “are fighting for their own country” will be “the most decisive factor.”

“The Russian forces in Ukraine, many of them have no idea why they’re there. Some didn’t even know where they were being sent. We see reports that their morale is low. And when you don’t know what you’re fighting for, that is something that’s not sustainable,” Blinken added.

“Now, Russia has significant resources, military resources. It is acting in horrific, indiscriminate ways. Ukrainians are bearing an incredibly heavy cost,” Blinken continued, noting, “Even on the front lines now, in and around the Kherson area, even as they’re making progress, they’re bearing real costs, but fundamentally, they’re fighting for their own homeland.”

The tops US diplomat said he believed that Russian citizens would eventually see the toll the war is bearing on them.

“How is what Putin is doing, doing anything to improve the lives of Russian people? How is this helping them? How is this assuring their own future? How is this creating opportunity for them?” he asked, adding, “Not only is it not, it’s doing just the opposite. It’s cutting Russia off from the world. It’s denying opportunity. It’s depleting its resources, resources that go to help the Russian people.”

“In a closed information society that Putin has created and Russia, that information doesn’t get there as quickly as it as an otherwise might, but I believe it will. And Russians have to ask themselves, why in the world they are losing so many lives, trying to take another country that is not theirs,” Blinken continued.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive shows the country can retake its territory and use Western weapons: Senior official

The success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive shows that it can retake its occupied territory and effectively use modern Western weaponry, said Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president’s chief of staff.

“What does effective Ukrainian counteroffensive tell the world? [Ukraine] proved the capability of de-occupying its territories. There will be no freezing of the conflict,” Podolyak tweeted on Friday, adding, “[Ukraine] proved that it can effectively use modern Western weapons.”

He also called on Russian troops to “get out.”

Russian and Turkish Presidents will meet next week and discuss the grain deal: Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are planning to meet in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, next week and are likely to discuss the grain deal, the Kremlin spokesman told journalists Friday.

“The [grain discussion] is essential, and a conversation between [Presidents] Putin and Erdoğan is being prepared already. We are planning to hold it in Samarkand,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in a regular press briefing on Friday.

“We see that the Istanbul agreements on grain are being implemented. But we also see that this implementation is not beneficial to poor countries, for only two food cargo ships reached the ‘poor countries’ according to the UN classification,” he added.

On September 15-16, the Uzbek city of Samarkand will host the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Ukrainian forces reach outskirts of Kupyansk

The Ukrainian armed forces have reached the important logistics and supply node city of Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region.

Ukrainian forces have not yet retaken the city.

Kupyansk is an important logistical and supply hub for Russian forces not just in Izium and Lyman, immediately to the south, but also for some parts of the Luhansk and Donestk regions.

Draft IAEA resolution says watchdog’s board ‘deplores’ Russia’s actions

A draft resolution that diplomats say Poland and Canada have prepared ahead of next week’s meeting of the United Nations nuclear watchdog’s board of governors calls on Russia to cease all actions at Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, the text seen by Reuters shows.

The draft text adds the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board “deplores the Russian Federation’s persistent violent actions against nuclear facilities in Ukraine, including the ongoing presence of Russian forces and Rosatom personnel at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant” and calls on Russia to immediately cease all actions at Ukraine’s nuclear facilities.

EU divided over capping Russian gas price amid ‘energy war’

European Union energy ministers have been split over whether to cap Russian gas prices, as they met to work out steps to shield citizens and businesses from sky-high energy bills.

But ministers arriving for the emergency meeting indicated broad backing for moves to prevent power providers from being crushed by a liquidity crunch and several said it was urgent to decouple the price of gas from other cheaper energy sources.

Friday’s ministerial talks aim to whittle down options for further discussion, rather than reaching a final decision on ways to tackle a crisis fuelled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But many said agreement and action needed to be swift.

“We are in an energy war with Russia,” Czech industry minister Jozef Sikela said, adding, “We have to send a clear signal that we would do whatever it takes to support our households, our economies.”

EU makes it harder for Russian tourists to enter bloc

The European Union will make travelling to the bloc more difficult and expensive for Russians from Monday after it formally backed suspending a visa facilitation agreement over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Council of the EU, which groups the bloc’s member states, adopted a decision to suspend from September 12 the visa deal that has been in force since 2007.

A visa facilitation agreement gives privileged access to the EU to citizens of trusted partners.

“With its unprovoked and unjustified war of aggression, including its indiscriminate attacks against civilians, Russia has broken this trust and trampled on the fundamental values of our international community,” the Council announced.

Ukrainian forces raise country’s flag in Shevchenkove, inch closer to Kupyansk

Ukrainian forces have raised their country’s flag in the Kharkiv settlement of Shevchenkove, located roughly 30 kilometers from the important logistical node of Kupyansk.

Kupyansk is an important Russian logistics hub inside Ukraine and may become vulnerable if a Ukrainian counterattack in the region is sustained.

Ukraine claims Russian soldiers abandon uniforms to blend in with civilians as offensive in Kharkiv goes on

The Ukrainian military claimed Russian forces in the Kharkiv region have suffered significant losses, leading some soldiers to desert and abandon their uniforms, hoping to blend in while wearing civilian clothing.

“Some enemy units suffered significant losses,” the military’s General Staff said in a situational update on Friday.

“Personnel of the occupying forces in civilian clothes resort to desertion and try to return to the territory of the Russian federation,” it noted, adding, “So, during the day, more than 15 such cases were noted.”

The General Staff reiterated the Ukrainian military assessment that it had advanced almost 50 kilometers (31 miles) into Russian controlled territory in three days, and said Moscow’s armies were retreating.

“The occupiers are trying to evacuate wounded personnel and damaged military equipment to the areas of Vilkhuvatka and Borodoyarske settlements,” it added, referring to towns in Kharkiv.

In the past 24 hours, Kyiv has re-taken the city of Balakliia in Kharkiv, which was under Russian occupation for six months.

Ukraine has closed in on the important logistical and supply node of Kupyansk, which the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) says Ukrainian forces are likely to capture in the coming days.

“Ukrainian forces in the Kharkiv Oblast counteroffensives advanced to within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of Russia’s key logistical node in Kupyansk on September 8,” the ISW announced in its daily update on the war in Ukraine on Thursday.

The ISW added Ukrainian forces “will likely capture Kupyansk in the next 72 hours,” which may lead to “severely degrading but not completely severing” Russian ground lines of communication to Izyum in the southeast of Kharkiv.

Zelensky says Ukrainian forces recaptured more than 1,000sq km

President Volodymyr Zelensky has noted Ukrainian forces have recaptured more than 1,000sq km (390sq miles) of territory since September 1, gaining control over dozens of settlements as part of a counteroffensive against Russia.

He also released a video in which Ukrainian soldiers claimed they had taken the key eastern town of Balakleeia.

US sanctions Iranian firms over alleged drone transfer to Russia

The Joe Biden administration has imposed new sanctions on several Iranian companies, accusing them of involvement in the production and transfer of drones to Russia for its war against Ukraine.

The measures by the US Department of the Treasury targeted Safiran Airport Services, a Tehran-based air transportation service provider, as well as three other firms and one individual that it claimed were involved in the manufacturing of unmanned aerial vehicles.

“The United States is committed to strictly enforcing our sanctions against both Russia and Iran and holding accountable Iran and those supporting Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine,” Treasury official Brian Nelson stated.

Iran has earlier rejected the White House claim that Tehran is sending drones to Moscow for use in the Ukraine war.

“We are trying to avoid any actions that may lead to an escalation. We are working on stopping this war,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has stated.

Ukrainian counteroffensive showing ‘clear’ progress: US

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he is “proud” that American and international assistance is helping Ukraine “liberate territory” seized by Russia.

The top US diplomat added he received a “comprehensive update” about the Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian forces during his visit to the country.

“Again, it’s very early. But we’re seeing clear and real progress on the ground, particularly in the area around Kherson but also some interesting developments in the Donbas in the East,” Blinken told reporters before leaving Kyiv.

Russia says it ‘won’t close up’ over EU visa restrictions

Russia has announced it will not close up to Europe in response to recent European Union curbs on visas for Russians, but that Moscow would take other retaliatory action.

“The interests of us, of our people, will be taken into account in the first place when choosing retaliatory measures,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

“The Russian Federation won’t close itself up to the EU in response,” she added.

Ukraine official: Russia trying to ‘steal’ Zaporizhzhia plant

The head of Ukraine’s atomic energy operator has accused Russia of trying to “steal” Europe’s largest nuclear plant by cutting it off from the Ukrainian electricity grid and leaving it on the brink of a radiation disaster.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant remains without an outside source of electricity since Monday and receives power for its own safety systems from the only one of its six reactors that remains operational, Energoatom chief Petro Kotin told The Associated Press news agency.

Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for the shelling that has damaged parts of the plant and the transmission lines that connect the plant to Ukraine’s electricity network and provide power for crucial cooling systems needed to prevent a meltdown.

Kotin said of the Russians, “This is the highest degree of impudence and confidence in their actual thieving actions. Because first, they want to steal the plant, and then they want to sell what it produces.”

Biden discusses support for Ukraine with allies

US President Joe Biden has discussed international aid to Ukraine and “the sustained imposition of costs on Russia to hold the Kremlin accountable for its aggression” in a call with allies, the White House has said.

The US president held a conference call with foreign leaders, including the prime ministers of the UK, Italy, Canada and Japan, as well as the Polish president and German chancellor to “underscore continued international support for Ukraine”, the White House announced in a statement.

“The leaders also discussed Russia’s weaponization of energy and the need for further coordination to secure sustainable and affordable energy supplies for Europe,” it added.

Russia will pay “a heavy price” for war in Ukraine: CIA director

Russia “is going to pay a very heavy price” for a long time because of its war in Ukraine, CIA Director Bill Burns stated on Thursday.

“I think if you take a step back now, it’s hard to see the record of the war — Vladimir Putin’s record — as anything other than a failure so far,” Burns said at a cybersecurity conference in Washington, DC.

“Not only has the weakness of the Russian military have been exposed, but there’s going to be long term damage done to the Russian economy and to generations of Russians as a result of this,” he continued.

“Russia is going to pay a very heavy price, I think over a long period of time,” he added.

Burns’ remarks come as Ukraine has begun to mount what the CIA director described as a counteroffensive in the south and in Kharkiv — although some US officials have been reluctant to name the Ukrainian operation as a true “counteroffensive” just yet and its chances of reclaiming territory remain unclear.

“In the northeastern part of Ukraine, I would not underestimate the capacity or the courage of the Ukrainians right now, as well,” Burns noted.

Ukrainian forces not overstretched by counteroffensive: US general

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley has said Ukrainian forces are not “particularly overstretched” by the counteroffensive they launched against Russian forces in the east and south of the country.

“I would characterise it as a very deliberate offensive operation that is calibrated to set conditions and then seize their objectives,” Milley stated.

“I don’t think they are particularly overstretched, per se,” he added.

Milley has said Russia is failing in its invasion of Ukraine, but stressed that the war is not over and Western military aid to Kyiv needs to be sustained.

He added that Ukrainian forces are using the US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to “devastating effect” on Russian forces.

“We are seeing real and measurable gains from Ukraine in the use of these systems. For example, the Ukrainians have struck over 400 targets with the HIMARS and they’ve had devastating effect,” he told reporters at Ramstein Air Base in Germany after a meeting of US-allied defence officials to discuss support for Ukraine.

“Russian lines of communication and supply chains are severely strained. It is having a direct impact on the Russian ability to project and sustain combat power. Russian command and control in the headquarters have been disrupted, and they’re having great difficulty resupplying their forces and replacing their combat losses,” he continued.

Pentagon chief expects ‘broad’ support for Ukraine aid in US Congress

US Secretary of Defense Austin has said he expects continued bipartisan support in Congress for Ukraine aid.

The White House requested additional funds from Congress last week to be allocated for assistance to Ukraine after lawmakers had overwhelmingly approved a $40bn aid package to the Eastern European country earlier this year.

“Based upon the interest and the support that we’ve seen, I fully expect that we’ll continue to receive broad, bipartisan support because our leaders recognise how important this is,” Austin stated.

NATO chief warns of hard winter for Ukraine and its backers

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has warned that Ukraine and its supporters face a tough winter in the coming months, but he urged the public in Western nations to keep faith in their efforts, saying that the war is at a critical point as Russia loses some territory.

“We need at least to be prepared for this winter, because there is no sign of Russia giving up its goal of taking control of Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told The Associated Press news agency.

“While Ukraine has sought weapons and ammunition, it now needs winter equipment,” he noted.

“Winter’s coming, and winter’s going to be hard on the battlefield in Ukraine. We know that the size of the Ukrainian army is now roughly three times as big as what it was last winter,” Stoltenberg said, adding, “They are in urgent need for more winter uniforms, for generators that create electricity, warmth, and also, of course, tents and other things that can help them through the winter.”

Baltic states to restrict entry for Russians, hindering access to EU

European Union members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have agreed to restrict the entry of Russian citizens travelling from Russia and Belarus, their foreign ministers stated.

The three Baltic nations expect the entry ban to be in place by the middle of September, after they get formal approval from the national governments, Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics noted.

“In the last couple of weeks and months, the border crossing by Russian citizens holding Schengen visas have dramatically increased. This is becoming a public security issue, this is also an issue of a moral and political nature,” he told a news conference in Lithuania.

The countries will turn back all Russian citizens with visas to enter the EU’s Schengen open border area. Exceptions will be made for humanitarian and family reasons, truck drivers and diplomats.

Ukraine army says it has recaptured over 20 towns in Kharkiv region

The Ukrainian military has said it has ha recaptured more than 20 towns and villages in the northeastern Kharkiv region as part of a counteroffensive against Moscow’s forces.

Ukrainian “military units have penetrated 50 kilometres (31 miles) beyond the enemy lines. During active operations in the Kharkiv area, more than 20 settlements have been liberated,” noted Oleksiy Gromov, a senior official in the Ukrainian military.

Ukraine has been fighting a counteroffensive in the southern Kherson region, but only launched the counteroffensive in the northeastern Kharkiv region in recent days.

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