Sunday, March 3, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 199

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:

Kyiv claims ‘astonishing’ advances in east Ukraine

Kyiv has announced its forces are making lightning gains in the east of the country in a shock counteroffensive to recapture territory that fell to Russia shortly after Moscow’s February invasion.

“Ukrainian troops are advancing in eastern Ukraine, liberating more cities and villages. Their courage coupled with Western military support brings astonishing results,” foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said in a statement on social media.

“It’s crucial to keep sending arms to Ukraine. Defeating Russia on the battlefield means winning peace in Ukraine,” he added.

His assessment of the pace of the Ukrainian gains came after President Volodymyr Zelensky announced late on Friday his troops had retaken some 30 towns and villages in the northeastern Kharkiv region as part of the sweep.

US and EU officials discuss support for Ukraine

US State Secretary Antony Blinken has discussed with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen their support for Ukraine.

Von der Leyen wrote on Twitter she was “grateful” for being briefed on Blinken’s “visit to Kyiv and for our exchange on our respective security and economic assistance to Ukraine”.

The EU and the US “are united in purpose and action,” von der Leyen wrote, adding, “We stand by Ukraine in its courageous struggle.”

Ukraine says some troops advancing ‘dozens of kilometres’ in south

Ukrainian troops along the southern front line in some regions are advancing dozens of kilometres into territory captured by Russian forces at the beginning of the invasion, a military spokeswoman has stated.

“Our troops are advancing along the southern front lines in various sections from between two and several dozens of kilometres,” Nataliya Gumenyuk, a spokeswoman for the southern command of the Ukrainian army, told local media.

Zelensky speaks to Macron about demilitarising nuclear plant

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated he has spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, calling for it to be “demilitarised”.

“Our position is the only way to protect Europe from a nuclear disaster is to demilitarise the plant,” Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine negotiating $1.5bn US loan for gas: PM

Ukraine is negotiating for a $1.5bn loan tranche from the US Export-Import Bank to buy natural gas, Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has written on Telegram in a summary of a call with US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen

Moldovan airlines blocked from resuming flights to Moscow: Official

Moldova’s civil aviation authority has blocked Air Moldova and other national carriers from restarting flights between Chisinau and Moscow, Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Spînu has said.

Air Moldova had announced on Friday that it hoped to restart flights from Chisinau to Moscow from October 1. Moldova suspended air links with Russia over its February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Russia says forces ‘regrouping’ as Ukraine reports gains in east

Moscow has announced it is “regrouping” its forces in the eastern Kharkiv region of Ukraine after Kyiv announced its troops had made sweeping gains in the territory held for months by Russia’s army.

“To achieve the goals of the special military operation to liberate Donbas, a decision was made to regroup Russian troops stationed in the [Balakliia] and Izyum regions, to bolster efforts along the Donetsk front,” Russia’s defence ministry announced in a statement.

Russia will pull out its forces from the Ukrainian towns of Balakliia and Izyum, the state-run news agency TASS has quoted the Russian defence ministry as saying.

Pro-Russia separatist leader says fighting ‘difficult’ in Donetsk region

The Kremlin-backed leader of a separatist republic in eastern Ukraine has said that there was fierce fighting between Russian forces and Ukraine in his breakaway region.

Denis Pushilin noted the situation in the town of Lyman in the Donetsk region was “very difficult” and that there was also fighting in “a number of other localities,” particularly in the northern part of the region.

Ukraine appears to recapture key cities of Izyum and Kupiansk

Ukraine appears to have recaptured the key cities of Izyum and Kupiansk.

The cities lie southeast of Kharkiv city in the Kharkiv region, where Ukrainian forces have launched a major counter-offensive in recent days. Analysts say Kupiansk in particular is an important logistical hub for Russian forces in the east of Ukraine.

A number of pro-Russian Telegram channels have said Ukrainian forces now control half of Kupiansk, while Ukrainian sources have told the outlet that Kupiansk has been “completely liberated”.

The outlet also reports that pro-Russian channels have said Russian troops have left Izyum. Other channels reportedly said Ukrainian troops were already in the city’s centre.

Late on Thursday, US-based thinktank The Institute for the Study of War announced it expected Kupiansk to fall within 72 hours, and that its recapture would “severely degrade” Russia’s ground lines of communication to Izyum.

Ukrainian flag raised in Balakliya: Regional governor

The Ukrainian flag has been raised in the city of Balakliya, the Kharkiv regional governor has said.

Oleg Sinegubov posted a video of himself addressing the camera to Telegram.

“Balakliya is Ukraine! Today, the Ukrainian flag was raised. Boys and girls of the armed forces, today you are creating a new history of free Ukraine, we are proud. To be continued…” a caption read.

Footage shared on social media in recent days showed resident in Balakliya greeting and hugging Ukrainian soldiers following the liberation of the city.

Russia has sent 1,300 Chechen fighters to the southern Kherson region: Ukraine

Russia has sent 1,300 Chechen fighters to the southern Kherson region, according to the Ukrainian military.

It comes as Western intelligence suggests that Russian forces in Kherson are coming under sustained pressure from Ukrainian attacks.

In a post to Facebook, the general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces announced “a unit of the so-called ‘Kadyrivtsev’, numbering up to 1,300 people, formed according to national characteristics” had arrived in Kherson.

Kadyrivtsev refers to people serving under Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Kremlin head of the Chechen Republic.

Russian forces taken by surprise: UK

Ukrainian troops, the UK’s Ministry of Defence said, have advanced 50km (31 miles) along a narrow front line and have retaken or surrounded several towns.

It added, “Ukrainian units are now threatening the town of Kupiansk; its capture would be a significant blow to Russia because it sits on supply routes to the Donbas front line.”

“With Ukrainian operations also continuing in Kherson, the Russian defensive front is under pressure on both its northern and southern flanks,” it noted.

German FM arrives in Kyiv for surprise visit

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the trip, her second since the start of the invasion, was intended to demonstrate Berlin’s support for Ukraine in its battle against Russia.

“I have travelled to Kyiv today to show that they can continue to rely on us,” she announced in a statement, adding, “That we will continue to stand by Ukraine for as long as necessary with deliveries of weapons, and with humanitarian and financial support.”

It comes only a week after Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal’s visited Berlin, where he repeated a call for Germany to supply Ukraine with more weaponry.

Over recent weeks, Germany has sent howitzers, rocket launchers, and anti-aircraft missiles to Kyiv.

Heavier weapons like anti-aircraft systems, rocket launchers mounted on pick-ups, and anti-drone equipment are also due in a further military aid package worth over €500m (£438m).

Earlier this week, Berlin said it would also team up with the Netherlands to train Ukrainian soldiers on demining.

Baerbock stated it was “clear that Putin is counting on us getting tired of sympathising with the suffering in Ukraine”.

“He thinks that he can divide our societies with lies and blackmail us with energy deliveries,” she continued, adding, “This calculation must not and will not work. Because all of Europe knows that Ukraine is defending our peace.”

Hundreds of Russian soldiers killed: Ukraine

A further 350 Russian soldiers have been killed in Ukraine, according to the latest estimates from the Ukrainian military.

In its latest daily figures, Ukraine’s ministry of defence said total Russian fatalities now stood at 52,250, up from 51,900 on Friday.

It also added Russia had lost a total of 4,584 armoured combat vehicles, 239 military jets, 212 helicopters and 311 multiple launch rocket systems.

The figures follow the success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region.

Military has liberated more than 30 settlements: Zelensky

Ukrainian forces have liberated more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region as part of a counteroffensive against Russia, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

In a video address, he also added Kyiv’s forces were successfully continuing active operations in several areas.

Ukrainian forces have continued to advance deep into Russian-occupied parts of Kharkiv region in the country’s northeast.

Russians left “many trophies” in Kharkiv region: Ukrainian military official

The head of the Kharkiv regional military administration, Oleh Syniehubov, said he toured recently liberated areas of the region — and the “Russians left broken infrastructure and houses, many trophies and piles of garbage.”

“People, without exaggeration, met our soldiers with tears in their eyes….Residents, of course, need help. Most villages do not have electricity or gas. In the near future, we will restore them and bring in humanitarian aid,” he stated.

“But the first thing is cleansing and demining,” Syniehubov continued, adding, “For those who have left, we do not recommend returning until the relevant orders of the military.”

He also issued a warning to those who had collaborated with the occupation.

“No traitor will escape responsibility. Today, the head of one of the villages of the de-occupied community, who collaborated with the enemy, was detained,” he said.

“The most important thing: thanks to our Armed Forces, there are already Ukrainian flags everywhere!” Syniehubov added.

Ukrainian military claims Russian desertion rates are rising

The Ukrainian military has claimed that desertion among Russian forces is increasing in the southern Kherson region in the face of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in an operational update Friday, said that “due to significant losses and unwillingness to fight, the morale and psychological condition of the occupation units is significantly deteriorating and the number of deserters is increasing.”

It did not provide specific evidence for the claim.

The General Staff announced that in one town close to Crimea, the Russians had used helicopters “to search for fugitives and return them to combat positions.”

Elsewhere, it added Ukrainian units had blocked several enemy attacks in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, away from the area where a Ukrainian advance continues.

Separately, the military’s Operational Command South noted Ukrainian units continued to suppress “concentration of manpower and combat equipment, the pontoon crossing in the Darivka area and the temporary bridge in the Nova Kakhovka area,” which the Russians have erected to try to resupply forces on the west bank of the Dnipro river.

US weapons makers have some capacity to boost capacity: Pentagon

Some US defence industrial base suppliers would be able to ramp up their weapons production to replenish US stock that was sent to Ukraine, but not all, the US undersecretary of defence for acquisition and sustainment, Bill LaPlante, has stated.

“Most production lines that are active can have some … capacity to increase production, but not all,” LaPlante noted during a news conference.

High-impact projects are needed to rebuild Ukraine: US

US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen has stated there is a need for a broad coalition of partners to help Ukraine recover and rebuild after Russia’s invasion, with a focus on near-term, high-impact projects.

During a virtual meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, Yellen also discussed the need for Ukraine’s partners to deliver expeditiously on economic assistance for the country, which has been besieged for more than six months by Russian forces.

Pentagon: Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson has yielded “encouraging signs”

A senior US Defense Department official said the Ukrainian counteroffensive that began on Sept. 1 in the Kherson region has shown the Ukrainians have been “creative” in integrating military capabilities provided by the US and other countries in their operations.

“We’re watching the progress on the counteroffensive quite closely as you could imagine. … I think we’ve seen some encouraging signs, certainly even in just the last day or two,” US Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker stated Friday at a briefing with reporters, “but again, the Russians are a formidable adversary, and there’s a, I think, a long fight ahead.”

This is the first time the US Defense Department has called the Ukrainian operation a counteroffensive, a term previously avoided by department officials, including US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.

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

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 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 said, adding, “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 noted 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.

“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,” the top diplomat added.

“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 said.

IAEA issues warning urgently calling for cessation of shelling in the area of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a dire warning urgently calling for the immediate cessation of shelling in the area surrounding the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant due to the risk of a “nuclear accident.”

A “serious situation” developed after the power infrastructure feeding the city of Enerhodar — which houses the plant operators and their families — was destroyed by shelling, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a statement.

The shelling has led to a complete power blackout — with no running water, power or sewage — in the city.

“Given the increased and continued shelling, there is little likelihood of re-establishing reliable offsite power to the ZNPP, especially as the shelling continually and repeatedly damages the power infrastructure,” Grossi added.

Without confidence in the restoration of offsite power, the operator is considering shutting down the only remaining operating reactor — meaning the whole plant would be fully reliant on emergency diesel generators, he explained.

Grossi again called for the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone.
““This is the only way to ensure that we do not face a nuclear accident,” he said. ”

Ukraine and Russia have repeatedly traded accusations for who is responsible for the shelling.

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