Friday, June 21, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 201: Ukraine says Russia attacks caused widespread blackouts

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:

White House pledges continued support for Ukraine amid counteroffensives

The White House has vowed to keep up support for Ukraine as Kyiv’s troops press ahead with counteroffensives aimed at recapturing territory seized by Russia.

“We’ll leave it to Ukraine to describe their operations but it is clear they are fighting hard to take back territory,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

“We will continue to support Ukraine as they continue to defend their democracy against Russian aggression,” she added.

Putin says Western ‘economic blitzkrieg’ has failed

Russian President Vladimir Putin has stated Moscow is “confidently handling external pressure” from the West over his country’s self-described “special military operation” in Ukraine.

“I would like to emphasise once again that Russia is confidently coping with external pressure, and in fact, we might say, with financial and technological aggression from some countries,” the Russian leader told government officials during a virtual meeting.

“The tactics of economic blitzkrieg did not work, this is already obvious to everyone and to them,” he added.

Western powers, including the United States, the United Kingdom and European Union member states, have imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia over its offensive.

WHO warns of possible COVID surge in Ukraine, sounds alarm over polio

The World Health Organization (WHO) expects a rise in COVID-19 in Ukraine to peak in October, possibly bringing hospitals close to their capacity threshold, the UN health agency’s director general has said.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told WHO’S Regional Committee for Europe conference in Tel Aviv that oxygen shortages were predicted to occur in line with the envisaged spike in cases, with major supply sources located in parts of the country currently occupied by Russian troops.

Tedros also warned that Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine could increase the spread of polio. Ukraine has low vaccination coverage for COVID-19 and polio, an infectious disease mainly affecting children that can cause paralysis and kill in rare cases.

“We are also deeply concerned about the potential for the international spread of polio due to the gaps in immunisation coverage and mass population movement linked to the war,” he added.

Ex-president: ‘Moscow may eventually demand surrender of Kiev regime’

Russia’s current negotiating position on Ukraine is nothing but a “warm-up for kids”, because the eventual demand may be total surrender of the Kiev regime, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said on his Telegram channel on Monday.

He drew attention to the Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s statement about his refusal to conduct a dialogue with those who put forward ultimatums.

“The current ‘ultimatums’ are a warm-up for kids, a preview of demands to be made in the future. He knows them: the total surrender of the Kiev regime on Russia’s terms,” Medvedev warned.

Earlier, Zelensky stated in an interview with CNN that at the moment he was not ready to negotiate with Moscow.

Ukraine and Russia interested in Zaporizhzhia protection zone: IAEA chief

Ukraine and Russia are interested in a proposal put forward by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to create a protection zone around the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the agency’s chief has said.

“What I see is two sides that are engaging with us, that are asking questions, lots of questions,” Rafael Mariano Grossi told a news conference in Vienna, where the UN’s nuclear watchdog is headquartered.

Issues being discussed include the radius of the zone and the role of IAEA staff, Grossi said. Two IAEA officials are currently stationed at the plant and form what the agency calls a continuous presence there.

Asked if his proposal was for a ceasefire rather than a removal of all military equipment or personnel, Grossi stated what he was suggesting encompassed a ceasefire.

Ukraine’s military says 500 square kilometres of territory recaptured in south

Ukrainian forces have retaken about 500 square kilometres (193 square miles) of territory in the south of the country in the past two weeks as part of a counteroffensive against Russian troops, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s southern military command claimed.

“On various sections we have advanced by [between] four and several tens of kilometres,” Natalia Humeniuk told a news briefing via video link, naming five settlements in the Kherson region which she said had been recaptured by Ukraine.

The Ukrainian army has been progressing more slowly with its southern counteroffensive compared with its operation in the country’s northeast, where it has made significant and rapid gains in recent days.

Russian-installed official says there is ‘no panic’ in occupied Kherson

A Russian-installed official in southern Ukraine’s occupied Kherson region has stated there is no reason for concern despite a counteroffensive in the area by Kyiv’s troops.

“In Kherson, there is no panic,” Kirill Stremousov noted in a video posted on Telegram.

However, he acknowledged that news from the northeastern Kharkiv region, where Ukrainian troops have recently recaptured swaths of territory, had disturbed some pro-Russian locals.

“It’s calm. Possibly it’s the calm before the storm, but we are ready to stand until the end and will not surrender our Russian city of Kherson to anyone,” Stremousov continued.

Russia says its forces conducting air raids in Kharkiv

Russia’s defence ministry says its forces are conducting air raids on parts of Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region retaken by Kyiv’s troops during a lightning counteroffensive.

The ministry announced in its daily briefing that Russian air, rocket and artillery forces were “delivering precision strikes on units and reserves of the Ukrainian armed forces”, including in the urban hubs of Kupiansk and Izyum.

It added that 250 Ukrainian troops had been killed in the raids.

There was no immediate response to the minstry’s claims from Kyiv.

Hundreds killed in Izyum since start of war: Ukrainian official

At least 1,000 people have been killed in Ukraine’s northeastern city of Izyum since Russia launched its offensive in late February, a Ukrainian official has said, two days after Kyiv’s forces recaptured the major supply hub from Moscow’s troops.

“Izyum suffered heavily due to Russian aggression,” Maksym Strelnikov, a member of the city council, told a televised news conference, adding that 80 percent of its infrastructure including the central heating system had been destroyed.

“According to the information we have, at least 1,000 residents unfortunately died as a result of fighting, but we believe that an even larger number of people suffered due to not being able to receive necessary medical help as the Russians destroyed all medical institutions in Izyum in March,” he said.

Strelnikov added that only around 10,000 people remained in Izium, about a fifth of the city’s prewar population.

Norway PM says gas price cap will not solve Europe’s energy crisis

Norway’s prime minister says his country and the European Union have agreed to a closer dialogue on proposals to resolve Europe’s energy crisis.

“We’re going into the talks with an open mind but are sceptical towards a maximum price on natural gas,” Jonas Gahr Stoere stated in a statement following talks by phone with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“A maximum price would not solve the fundamental problem, which is that there is too little gas in Europe,” the PM added.

EU energy ministers last week asked the European Commission to propose broad gas price caps, even as the bloc’s executive itself poured cold water on the feasibility of such an idea. Norway, which is not an EU member, has become the bloc’s largest supplier of gas after Russia slashed exports to member states following its invasion of Ukraine.

Azerbaijan: Gas exports to Europe will rise by 30 percent this year

Azerbaijan says its gas exports to Europe will increase by 30 percent this year, as the European Union tries to decrease its reliance on Russian gas.

Energy Minister Parviz Shahbazov wrote on Twitter that Baku had “supplied to Europe 7.3 billion cubic metres of natural gas” so far this year.

“The overall volume of [gas] supplies to Europe in 2022 will amount to 12 billion cubic metres,” he added.

The figure marks a 31 percent increase compared to the volume supplied in 2021.

In July, the EU agreed a deal with Baku to double gas imports from Azerbaijan over the next few years.

Ukrainian defence minister warns of Russian counterattack

Ukraine’s defence minister has warned the country needs to secure retaken territory against a possible Russian counterattack on stretched Ukrainian supply lines.

“A counteroffensive liberates territory and after that you have to control it and be ready to defend it,” Oleksii Reznikov told the Financial Times newspaper, cautioning Kyiv’s troops could be encircled by Russian reinforcements if they advanced too far.

But he also lauded the Ukrainian push as a “snowball rolling down a hill”, saying it had made more progress than expected.

“It’s a sign that Russia can be defeated,” Reznikov added.

Kremlin says Russia will achieve its goals in Ukraine

Russia will achieve the goals of its self-described “special military operation” in Ukraine, the Kremlin’s spokesman has said.

“The military operation continues,” Dmitry Peskov stated in a conference call with reporters. “And it will continue until the goals that were originally set are achieved,” he added.

Peskov’s comments mark the Kremlin’s first response to recent counteroffensive manoeuvres conducted by Kyiv’s forces.

He refused to respond to questions about a possible mobilisation to support Moscow’s invasion, however, saying such queries should be directed to the country’s defence ministry.

Ukraine says it has recaptured more than 20 settlements in past 24 hours

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine says the country’s forces have recaptured more than 20 towns and villages in the past 24 hours during their eastern counteroffensive.

It added in an operational update posted on Facebook that “stabilisation measures” were being carried out in the newly re-taken settlements.

According to Kyiv, Ukraine’s forces have retaken more than 3,000sq km (1,160sq miles) of territory in the country’s east this month.

Russia’s ministry of defence acknowledged on Saturday that it had abandoned Izyum, its main stronghold in Ukraine’s northeast, and neighbouring Balakliia, in what it called a preplanned “regrouping” to gather forces in the eastern Donetsk region.

Macron calls for Russia to withdraw from Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant during phone call with Putin

French President Emmanuel Macron reiterated his demand for a ceasefire in Ukraine and Russian withdrawal from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Elysee Palace said Sunday.

Macron “condemned the continuation of Russian military operations in Ukraine and reiterated his demand that they cease as soon as possible, that negotiations begin and that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine be restored,” his office announced in a statement.

The French President “also stressed the need to ensure the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

He recalled that the Russian occupation was the cause of the current risks to the integrity of Zaporizhzhia. He called for Russian forces to withdraw their heavy and light weapons from the plant and that the IAEA’s recommendations be closely followed to ensure the safety of the site be restored,” the Elysee added.

Zaporizhzhia is the site of the largest nuclear plant in Europe, and the facility sits on the fire line between the Russian occupiers and Ukrainian forces.

The Elysee noted that Macron “will speak again to President Putin in the next few days in order to reach an agreement that guarantees the safety of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.”

On the issue of global food security, Macron told Putin that European sanctions against Russia do not apply to agricultural products. He also asked the Russian leader to ensure that the Ukraine grain export agreement between Russia, Ukraine and Turkey, under the supervision of the United Nations “to ensure that the exported grain goes to those who need it most.”

‘Do you still think you can scare us?’ Zelensky tells Russia

President Volodymyr Zelensky has delivered a fierce response to Russian attacks on the Kharkiv region.

In a nightly message on Telegram, the Ukrainian president said that although the Kremlin was trying to deprive his people of “gas, light, water and food”, it would not succeed in defeating them.

“Do you still think that you can scare us, break us, make us make concessions?” he asked.

Ukraine: Russian attacks on infrastructure ‘revenge’ for counteroffensive success

Ukrainian officials have accused retreating Russian forces of launching retaliatory attacks on civilian infrastructure, including a thermal power station in Kharkiv, that the authorities in Kyiv said caused widespread blackouts.

“No military facilities, the goal is to deprive people of light & heat,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Twitter of the attacks.

Moscow denies its forces deliberately target civilians.

Zelensky confirmed that Russian attacks caused a total blackout in the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, and partial blackouts in the Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions.

“They are unable to reconcile themselves to defeats on the battlefield,” Dnipropetrovsk Governor Valentyn Reznichenko wrote on Telegram.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the president’s office, posted an image on Telegram of a power station on fire but added power had been restored in some regions.

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov described attacks on infrastructure as “cynical revenge” for the success of Ukrainian troops at the front, particularly in Kharkiv.

“Last night’s situation is being repeated. Due to the [Russian] strikes … power and water supplies have halted,” Terekhov stated in a Telegram post, adding that emergency services were working to restore the services.

Earlier, Kharkiv’s regional governor had announced 80 percent of power in the city had been restored following Russian shelling on Sunday, which followed a large Ukrainian counteroffensive to recapture territory in the area.

Russia military map shows troop withdrawal in east Ukraine

Moscow’s forces have made a major withdrawal from Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, according to a military map presented by the Russian defence ministry on Sunday.

Russia controlled just a sliver of territory in the region’s east, behind the Oskil river, the map showed.

It was part of a ministry video of its daily briefing.

An earlier map on Saturday showed Russia occupying much more territory in the region.

Ukraine says it has reclaimed swathes of land over the last two days as part of a lightning counter-offensive, pushing back Russia’s military from strategic holdouts in the east.

The Russian military made the surprise announcement Saturday that it was “regrouping” its forces south from Kharkiv to the Donetsk region to focus its military efforts there.

Moscow remains ‘silent’ on defeats in Ukraine

Russia has been nearly silent about its soldiers being forced to abandon their main bastion in northeastern Ukraine.

The swift fall of Izyum in Kharkiv province was Russia’s worst military defeat since its troops were forced back from Kyiv in March, Reuters reported.

Moscow has almost been totally silent about the defeat – not offering any explanation for what had taken place in northeastern Ukraine.

“We take pride in Moscow, and love this city with its majestic antiquity and its modern and dynamic pace of life, the charm of its cosy parks, lanes and streets and abundance of business and cultural events,” Vladimir Putin told citizens on Moscow Day, according to a Kremlin transcript of his message.

Putin ally criticises Russian performance in parts of Ukraine

Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-appointed leader of Chechnya and Vladimir Putin ally whose troops have been at the forefront of the war in Ukraine, has conceded that the campaign was not going to plan.

In an 11-minute-long audio message posted on Telegram Kadyrov said: “If today or tomorrow changes are not made in the conduct of the special military operation, I will be forced to go to the country’s leadership to explain to them the situation on the ground.”

The criticism came after the Russian army’s leadership appeared to be caught off-guard by Ukraine’s fightback against its invasion in the northeast.

Pro-Russian Telegram channels are saying that this is a defeat, “and one high-profile military analyst said that their troops are in an operational crisis and that the Ukrainians have seized the initiative in this war”.

Putin, Macron discuss Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron have discussed the security situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine, the Kremlin announced.

Speaking by phone, the two leaders expressed readiness for a “non-politicised interaction” on the matter with the participation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), according to the statement published on the Kremlin’s website.

Citing UN figures, UK dismisses Putin’s claim on Ukraine grain export

The UK has dismissed as untrue Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that only a fraction of grain exported from Ukraine under an international deal was going to poor countries.

Last week, Putin asserted that only two of 87 ships, carrying 60,000 tonnes of products, had gone to poor countries. The deal to allow grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, took effect last month.

Quoting UN figures, the British Defence Ministry announced about 30 percent of grains exported under the deal has been supplied to low- and middle-income countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Russia is pursuing a deliberate misinformation strategy as it seeks to deflect blame for food insecurity issues, discredit Ukraine and minimise opposition to its invasion, the ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on Twitter.

France to sign deal with Romania to increase Ukraine grain exports

France’s transport minister has said he would sign an agreement with Romania to increase Ukrainian grain exports to developing countries, including to the Mediterranean.

“Tomorrow, I will sign an accord with Romania that will allow Ukraine to get even more grains out … towards Europe and developing countries, notably in the Mediterranean [countries] which need it for food,” Clement Beaune told LCI television, adding that the deal covered exports by land, sea and river.

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