Sunday, April 14, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 202: Ukraine claims shooting down Iranian drone used by Russia

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:

List of Russian municipal deputies calling for Putin’s resignation grows to nearly 50: Local official

Nearly 50 municipal deputies have now signed a petition demanding the resignation of President Vladimir Putin, 29 more than on Monday, according to one of those involved.

Ksenia Thorstrom, a municipal deputy of the Semenovsky District in Saint Petersburg, told CNN: “Now we have 47 verified signatures. Their geography has expanded significantly.””

“My colleagues and I wanted to support the deputies from Smolninsky, who were recently summoned to the police and will soon have a trial,” Thorstrom added.

The petition says: “We, the municipal deputies of Russia, believe that the actions of its president Vladimir Putin are detrimental to Russia’s and its citizens’ future. We demand Vladimir Putin’s resignation from the post of the President of the Russian Federation.”

“We decided to make our appeal so short that there would be less reason to find any fault with it from the authorities and so that as many municipal deputies as possible would sign the petition,” Thorstrom stated.

Last week, the deputies of the Smolninskoye municipality of St. Petersburg called on the State Duma of the Russian Federation to bring charges of treason against Putin in order to remove him from office due to the war in Ukraine. Now those deputies face charges of “discrediting” the Russian army, according to a tweet by one of them, Nikita Yuferev.

Municipal deputies are local officials with limited political influence. The petition follows Russia’s first regional and municipal elections since the start of the war, in which pro-Kremlin candidates were overwhelmingly successful.

White House official heralds “swift and stunning” Ukrainian advances on Russian-held territory

The White House reiterated some cautious optimism regarding Ukraine’s recent advances on Russian-held territory Tuesday, with John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, saying it has been “swift and stunning.”

“They certainly have some momentum, particularly up there in the northeast part of the country in that Donbas region. You saw just from that report how swift and how stunning their advances have been,” Kirby stated during an appearance on “Good Morning America.”

“There is more fighting to go, though, and in particularly down in the south where the Ukrainians are also trying to break through near Kherson city. They’ve made some incremental progress there. They’re facing a stiffer Russian resistance down south, but clearly up in that northeast region, there’s some momentum here by the Ukrainians, there’s no doubt about it,” Kirby added.

He noted that “weeks of planning” went into the offensive.

Pressed on threats to Russian President Vladimir Putin inside Russia, Kirby said the US is watching closely.

“It is very interesting to see, isn’t it now, that he’s facing some public rebukes not just from opposition figures, but from actual elected officials inside Russia. That’s not insignificant, and we’ll see where this goes. And we’re already starting to see signs that they’re going to probably start to crack down on some of these dissident elected officials. We’ll watch this carefully. But it is noteworthy that now even elected municipal officials are coming out speaking against Mr. Putin,” he added.

When asked if the US believes the table has been set for a diplomatic settlement, Kirby said, “I don’t know that we know we’re there yet,” saying he would defer to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“Mr. Putin has shown no inclination to stop the prosecution of this war against the Ukrainian people, as we saw with his retaliatory strikes and in Kharkiv just over the over the weekend. So I don’t think we’re there yet. Obviously, President Biden fully supports a diplomatic end of this war, an end that we’d like to see today if possible, but I just don’t know that we’re on the horizon right now,” he added.

Governor of Russian region bordering Ukraine urges evacuation of some villages

The governor of the Russian region of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, has again urged civilians to leave villages close to the border with Ukraine.

Belgorod is adjacent to Ukraine’s Kharkiv region.

Gladkov said on Telegram Tuesday that he had been to the village of Zhuravlevka, and the situation there is “difficult, but all services are in place,” including law enforcement and border guards.

“We continue to persuade people who still remain in Zhuravlevka and Nekhoteevka to temporarily leave their homes,” he added.

Shelling along the border has affected communities on both sides, with homes damaged and grain fields set on fire.

Ukraine: Russian intelligence officers and military commanders flee Crimea, southern Ukraine

In the Russian-occupied regions of the Crimea and southern Ukraine, Russian proxies, intelligence officers and military commanders have begun to evacuate and “urgently resettle their families” back into Russian territory, the defence intelligence of Ukraine’s military of defence stated.

Defence intelligence officials noted that Russian nationals were “secretly trying to sell their homes and to urgently evacuate their relatives from the peninsula”.

Ukraine’s FM accuses Germany of ignoring Kyiv’s pleas for arms

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Germany of ignoring Kyiv’s pleas for Leopard tanks and Marder infantry fighting vehicles, saying Berlin offered only “abstract fears and excuses” for not providing such military hardware.

“Disappointing signals from Germany while Ukraine needs Leopards and Marders now – to liberate people and save them from genocide,” Kuleba tweeted as Ukraine continues with a counteroffensive to retake land in the east and south from Russian forces.

“Not a single rational argument on why these weapons cannot be supplied, only abstract fears and excuses. What is Berlin afraid of that Kyiv is not?” he wrote.

Ukraine claims shooting down Iranian drone used by Russia

Ukraine’s military claimed Tuesday for the first time that its forces had shot down an Iranian-supplied drone used by Russia on the battlefield in the country’s east.

“With a great deal of conceit, it can be claimed that the Armed Forces of Ukraine for the first time destroyed an Iranian attack drone near Kupyansk,” the Ukrainian military’s Strategic Communication Directorate said in a statement on Telegram.

“Analysis of the appearance of the wing elements of the drone allows us to say with certainty that the Armed Forces of Ukraine destroyed an Iranian UAV for the first time. It is a long-range kamikaze UAV Shahed-136,” the statement added.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian did not confirm Washington claim that Tehran is providing Russia with military equipment, including unmanned aerial vehicles.

He assured that Tehran avoids any steps that may result in an escalation in Ukraine conflict.

Ukraine’s forces making good progress because they are highly motivated: Deputy DM

Ukrainian deputy defence minister Hanna Malyar told Reuters on Tuesday that Ukraine’s forces are making good progress because they are highly motivated and their operation is well planned.

“The aim is to liberate the Kharkiv region and beyond – all the territories occupied by the Russian Federation. Fighting is continuing [in the Kharkiv region]. It is still early to say full [Ukrainian] control has been established over [the] Kharkiv region,” Malyar stated in an interview.

“Our strength stems from the fact that we are very motivated and that we plan operations thoroughly,” she continued, adding that Ukraine had taken the decision to press on with its operation in the Kharkiv region due to its previous successes.

Malyar was speaking on the road to Balakliia, a crucial military supply hub recaptured by Ukrainian forces late last week during a counteroffensive that forced Russian troops to flee further east.

Balakliia is 74km (46 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, the regional capital and Ukraine’s second largest city.

Ukraine asks US for long-range missiles

Ukraine’s latest wish-list for US weapons reportedly includes a repeat request for longer-range tactical ballistic missiles. Washington previously declined to send such weapons, for fear of escalating the conflict with Russia.

The Army Tactical Missile System, or ATACMS, can be fired by M142 HIMARS and M270 MLRS multiple launch rocket systems, both of which Ukraine already has. But compared to regular rounds for the launchers, it has a significantly longer range of some 300km.

The missiles are among the 29 types of weapon systems and munitions that Kiev is seeking to get from the US to fight Russia into the next year, the Wall Street Journal reported. The list, which was shared with US lawmakers and studied by the newspaper, also includes tanks, drones, artillery systems, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and 2,000 regular rockets for HIMARS/MLRS systems, according to the report.

Ukrainian officials have long been asking the US to give them longer-range arms, including the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS). The surface-to-surface missile complex was specifically named in a keynote military strategy paper published in the Ukrainian media last week, co-authored by the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian forces, Valeriy Zaluzhny. One of the key points of the article was that Ukraine needed longer-range weapons to affect Russian policy, by putting pressure on its civilian population.

Washington and Kiev previously said the US conditioned its military aid to Ukraine on its pledge not to use the weapons against Russian territory. Washington declined to provide longer-range weapon systems, citing concern that Moscow would take it as a major escalation, potentially drawing NATO directly into the conflict.

The Ukrainian strategy paper suggested that an escalation of the conflict was inevitable. It predicted that Russia would deploy nuclear weapons against Ukraine and called on Kiev’s Western supporters to preemptively use “all means at their disposal” against Russia.

Zelensky calls on the West for more arms as the fight for Kharkiv escalates

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on the West to speed up deliveries of weapons systems as troops move to consolidate control over the northeastern territory seized back from Russia.

Since Moscow abandoned its main hold in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday, marking its worst defeat since the early days of the war, Ukrainian troops have recaptured dozens of towns in a shift in battleground momentum.

A senior US military official noted Russia has largely ceded territory near Kharkiv in the northeast and pulled many of its troops back over the border.

Washington and its allies have provided Ukraine with billions of dollars in weapons that Kyiv says have helped limit Russian gains. In a video address late on Monday, Zelensky said Ukraine and the West must “strengthen cooperation to defeat Russian terror.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated Ukrainian forces have made “significant progress” with Western support.

Washington announced its latest weapons program for Ukraine last week, including ammunition for HIMARS anti-rocket systems, and has previously sent Ukraine NASAMS surface-to-air missile systems, which are capable of shooting down aircraft.

Russia will achieve its goals: Kremlin

In the first response to Ukraine’s advances over the weekend in the Kharkiv region, the Kremlin has announced that Russia will achieve the goals of its “special military operation”.

During a conference call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also stated there were no discussions taking place about the possible demilitarisation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – one of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) key recommendations from its visit to the plant.

Peskov also refused to respond to questions about a possible mobilisation to support the military campaign.

Russian military says it launched ‘massive strikes’ on Ukrainian front lines

The Russian military announced on Tuesday it had launched “massive strikes” on all front lines in Ukraine after Kyiv’s forces made dramatic advances in a counter-offensive.

“Air, rocket and artillery forces are carrying out massive strikes on units of the Ukrainian armed forces in all operational directions,” the Russian defence ministry reported.

No discussion of a nationwide mobilisation after Ukrainian offensive: Kremlin

On Tuesday, the Kremlin said there was no discussion of a nationwide mobilisation to bolster the country’s military campaign in Ukraine, days after a surprise Ukrainian offensive forced Russia from almost all of Kharkiv region.

In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that criticism of the country’s leadership online nationalist commentators who have demanded mobilisation was an example of “pluralism” and that Russians as a whole continue to support President Vladimir Putin.

Key Russian army ‘severely weakened’: UK

The UK’s Ministry of Defence says Russia could take years to rebuild one of its most prestigious tank units after the retreat from Kharkiv oblast.

In its latest intelligence briefing on Twitter, the MoD announced that the 1st Guards Tank Army had been severely degraded, leaving Russia’s conventional forces “severely weakened”.

Ukrainian officials: Kharkiv is without electricity due to “insidious shelling” by Russian forces

The entire region of Kharkiv is without electricity, the Deputy Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine Kyrylo Tymoshenko said Tuesday, citing “insidious shelling by Russian [forces]” as the cause.

“It has just been reported that Kharkiv and the region are without electricity. The backup line that supplied the settlements failed. Now all forces are directed to eliminate the problem. These are the consequences of insidious shelling by the Russians the day before (Monday),” Tymoshenko added.

Local authorities in Derhachi, north-east of the city of Kharkiv, also reported electricity outages across its city center and nearby towns.

Zelensky says Ukraine retook 6,000sq km of territory this month

President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Ukrainian forces have recaptured 6,000sq km (2,320sq miles) of territory from Russia in a counteroffensive this month.

“Since the start of September, our soldiers have already liberated 6,000 square kilometres of Ukrainian territory in the east and south, and we are moving further,” Zelensky said in his daily address.

Ukrainian chief commander General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi announced on Sunday his troops had retaken more than 3,000sq km (1,160sq miles) this month.

Ukrainian prosecutor begins investigation into killings of civilians by Russian forces in Kharkiv

The Ukrainian Prosecutor’s office in Kharkiv says it has begun an investigation into reports that civilians were murdered by Russian occupying forces in a village in Kharkiv region.

In a statement on Facebook, the prosecutor announced local residents in Zaliznychne had reported that Russian forces had killed several of their fellow villagers.

“On September 11, law enforcement officers discovered four corpses. All of them have traces of torture,” the Prosecutor’s Office added.

“Three of them are buried on the territory of their homes, another one was buried on the territory of the asphalt plant,” it said.

“According to the preliminary version of the investigation, the victims were killed by the Russian military,” the Prosecutor’s Office added.

White House official: Recent Ukrainian advances are “impressive”

The White House cannot say for certain that recent Ukrainian advances represent a major turning point in the war, but a top adviser called the reports “impressive.”

National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby told CNN he didn’t know if “we can say that definitively today” the rapid advance was a major turning point.

“But it’s obvious these are impressive military reports to be sure,” he continued, adding, “What we’re going to do is continue to make sure we’re providing them the tools and capabilities they need to continue to succeed.”

While Kirby wouldn’t estimate just how much territory the Ukrainians have retaken, he said the operations “had an effect on the Russians, have forced them to push back, certainly have forced them to give up territory and to move away in retreat from where the Ukrainians have been advancing.”

He added, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, that even since the early days of the war, Russian soldiers “did not have the unit cohesion, they didn’t have the good leadership, they didn’t have the morale, they were running away from the fight, even in the first couple of weeks in and around Kyiv.”

Asked how significant the blowback could be on Vladimir Putin, Kirby noted the Russian president is “having more and more difficulty hiding the size and scale and scope of his failures inside Ukraine from the Russian people.”

Many retreating Russian soldiers near Kharkiv have exited Ukraine: US official

The US assesses that Russia has largely ceded its gains near Kharkiv and many retreating Russian soldiers have exited Ukraine, moving over the border back into Russia, a senior US military official has said.

“Overall, we assess the Ukrainians are making progress as they fight to liberate and reclaim territory in the south and east,” the US military official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity, without offering a number.

“On the ground in the vicinity of Kharkiv, we assess that Russian forces have largely ceded their gains to the Ukrainians and have withdrawn to the north and east. Many of these forces have moved over the border into Russia,” the official added.

Do not backtrack on climate goals amid energy crunch: UN tells EU

The United Nations has called on European Union countries not to resort to more fossil fuels as they face soaring energy prices amid fears of winter shortages.

Countries in the bloc are in the middle of an escalating standoff with Russia following the latter’s invasion of Ukraine more than six months ago.

Moscow has since reduced supplies of gas to EU members, sending prices for the fuel soaring and throwing national economies into deep uncertainty.

Authorities find four tortured bodies in Kharkiv’s town: Report

The bodies of four tortured civilians have been found in the small town of Zaliznychne, in Kharkiv district, after it was liberated by Ukrainian forces, the Kyiv Independent has reported citing the prosecutor general’s office.

“According to local law enforcement, the victims were allegedly killed by Russian troops during the community’s temporary occupation by Russian forces,” it added.

Millions of Russians will no longer be protected by EU rights convention: Council

Millions of Russians will no longer be protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, the Council of Europe has said, as Moscow will cease to be a party to the convention on September 16.

Marija Pejcinovic Buric, secretary-general of the Strasbourg-based council, noted with its departure from the convention, Moscow “will further isolate itself from the democratic world and deprive more than 140 million Russian citizens of the protection offered by the convention”.

She stated the council would continue to support “human rights defenders, democratic forces, free media and independent civil society” members in Russia and “ensure justice and accountability for the people involved”.

Ukraine says it captured many POWs

Ukraine claims to have captured many Russian soldiers as part of its lightning advance that forced Moscow to make a hasty retreat.

A spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence said Russian troops were surrendering en masse as “they understand the hopelessness of their situation”.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser added there were so many POWs that the country was running out of space to accommodate them.

80% of Izium infrastructure is destroyed and heating systems are damaged: Ukrainian officials

Ukrainian officials have begun addressing the daunting demands of reconstruction in recently liberated areas, with winter just a couple of months away.

After recapturing the city of Izium over the weekend, Ukrainian forces are taking steps to stabilize the situation there, according to Maksym Strelnikov, a member of the city council.

Residents who fled want to return home, Strelnikov said at a a briefing Monday, but added that “more than 80% of the city infrastructure is destroyed, including multi-storey buildings and private houses, enterprises, government institutions and educational institutions, as well as [industrial] plants.”

“The central heating system, which was used by majority of residents in winter, is damaged. So these would be the challenges to overcome for the local authorities,” Strelnikov added.

He also talked about the privations suffered by civilians during the occupation.

“As of now, we know at least 1,000 civilians [in Izium] have died due to hostilities. But we think even more people were affected due to lack of medical care, as the Russian occupiers have destroyed all the health care institutions in March. The occupiers have looted all the pharmacies, so there was no access to medication. This is the most urgent issue for now, along with hospitalization of Izium residents, who require urgent medical care,” he continued.

Strelnikov stated there were about 10,000 civilians left in the city, after a recent evacuation of women and children.

“Most Izium residents are waiting to come back home, but as of now the situation with critical infrastructure is a serious challenge … We hope that we will be able to do everything possible to be prepared for winter,” he noted.

Although Izium is under Ukrainian control, the war is not far away. There is fighting about 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) to the east around Lyman. The official Telegram channel of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic reported Monday that the town “is under full control of the troops of the People’s Militia of the DNR, LNR and the RF. It is relatively calm.”

It announced that Ukrainian forces “do not give up attempts to attack nearby territories,” but such attempts “have been repelled. The enemy retreated with loses.”

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