Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 208

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:

Germany still looking for ways to make gas affordable: Finance minister

German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said on Monday that he was still looking at ways to ensure gas prices remained affordable for people while awaiting recommendations from a group of experts.

“We have developed this commission, but proposals within the federal government are also being considered further, so it has not been completely outsourced,” Mr Lindner stated, when asked about a possible cap on gas prices.

Since the war in Ukraine began, gas prices have risen sharply in Germany, which depends heavily on Russian energy.

Bread prices jump by nearly a fifth in the EU

The price of bread rose by almost a fifth in the European Union in August as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – both major exporters of grains and fertilisers – continued to disrupt global markets.

Global wheat prices have surged since February, after the war halted grain exports from the Black Sea for months and restricted fertiliser shipments as Russian producers lost access to Baltic Sea ports they had used to ship ammonia, a key ingredient in nitrate fertiliser.

The average price of bread in the EU was 18 per cent higher in August 2022 than a year earlier, data from the bloc’s statistics office showed on Monday, the highest rise since December 2017 when Eurostat began compiling the statistic.

Bread prices have risen consistently in the EU this year, from an average of 8.3 per cent in February, when Russia launched what it calls its “special military operation”.

Baltic states and Poland close doors to Russian tourists

Four of the five European Union countries bordering Russia began turning away Russian tourists on Monday, saying they should not travel while their country is at war with Ukraine.

Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania imposed new restrictions as Finland decided to remain open, though it has cut back the number of consular appointments available to Russian travellers seeking visas.

The move was the latest in a series of sanctions and other steps taken by the EU or its member states since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The EU has banned all flights from Russia, leaving only rail and road transport links available, and this month it agreed to limit issuing free travel Schengen zone visas.

Monday’s entry ban is aimed at tourists and excludes Russian dissidents seeking refuge in the EU along with truck drivers, refugees and permanent residents of EU countries as well as those visiting family members.

Kremlin dismisses Ukrainian war crimes claims as a ‘lie’

The Kremlin has rejected claims made by Kyiv that Russian forces committed war crimes in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region as a “lie”.

“It is the same scenario as in Bucha. It’s a lie, and of course we will defend the truth in this story,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about Ukrainian reports of alleged Russian atrocities following the discovery of a mass grave in the recently recaptured town of Izyum.

Russia previously rejected claims that its troops had committed war crimes in Bucha, outside Kyiv, after evidence of civilians being killed while the town was controlled by Russian troops came to light when Moscow’s forces’ withdrew from there at the end of March.

Russia has ‘highly likely’ lost several combat jets in last 10 days: UK

The United Kingdom’s defence ministry says Russia has “highly likely” lost at least four combat jets in Ukraine within the last 10 days, possibly due to shifts in battlefield strategy triggered by the multi-pronged counteroffensive carried out by Kyiv’s forces.

“There is a realistic possibility that this uptick in losses is partially a result of the Russian Air Force accepting greater risk as it attempts to provide close air support to Russian ground forces under pressure from Ukrainian advances,” the ministry announced in its latest daily intelligence update.

It added the probable loss of the four combat jets had taken Russia’s total “attrition” of such units to approximately 55 since the start of its invasion in late February.

“Russia’s continued lack of air superiority remains one of the most important factors underpinning the fragility of its operational design in Ukraine,” the ministry noted.

Russia says ready for US prisoner swap talks, but scolds embassy

Russia’s foreign ministry has announced Moscow is ready for talks on a prisoner exchange to free US citizens jailed in Russia, but accused the American embassy of “not fulfilling its official duties” to maintain dialogue.

“We have stated many times that we are ready for negotiations to resolve the fate of  US citizens convicted in Russia and Russian citizens in the US,” Maria Zakharova, the ministry’s spokeswoman, said in a statement posted on Telegram.

[But] the fact is that instead of fulfilling their direct official duties – maintaining contacts with the diplomats of the host country – the US Embassy in Moscow is engaged in some kind of media madness,” she added.

Russia has previously suggested that it is open to a prisoner exchange which could include US Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan, basketball star Brittney Griner and Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer jailed in Illinois.

Over 10 “torture rooms” found in reclaimed areas of northeast Ukraine: Zelensky

Troops found so-called “torture rooms” and devices used by Russian forces in reclaimed portions of the northeastern Kharkiv region, Ukraine’s President Volodymr Zelensky claimed in his nightly address Saturday.

“More than ten torture rooms have already been found in the liberated areas of Kharkiv region — in various cities and towns,” Zelensky said, adding, “As the occupiers fled, they also dropped the torture devices.”

“Even at the regular Kozacha Lopan railway station, they found a room for torture, found tools for electric torture,” he continued.

Earlier on Saturday, the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office made similar claims.

“The Russian army tortured people in the cellar of the so-called ‘people’s militia’ in the town of Kozacha Lopan when it was under siege,” Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office stated in a social media post.

“Representatives of the Russian Federation created a pseudo-law enforcement agency, in the basement of which a torture chamber was set up, where civilians were subjected to inhuman torture,” the post continued, adding, “During the inspection, documents confirming the functioning of the pseudo-police department and the device with which the occupiers tortured civilians with electric shock were seized.”

The Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office also provided pictures of the “torture rooms” and a “device with which the occupiers tortured civilians.”

The reports from Kharkiv follow the discovery of a mass burial site in the eastern city of Izium this week. Zelensky announced Friday that some of the bodies showed “signs of torture.”

Biden: There’s been “no indication” China sent weapons or aid to Russians in Ukraine “thus far”

In a new clip of his “60 Minutes” interview, US President Joe Biden shared more details on his conversations last winter with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the “gigantic mistake” it would be if China assisted Russia in its war on Ukraine.

Biden added that “thus far” there’s been “no indication” that China has put forward weapons or “other things Russia has wanted” to aid in their war in Ukraine.

The president was about to add to his sentence when he stopped himself, saying: “Well, maybe I shouldn’t say any more.”

CBS’ Scott Pelly implored Biden to go on — but Biden answered a decisive no.

“I called President Xi. Not to threaten at all, just to say to him, we’ve met many times. And I said that, ‘if you think that Americans and others are going to continue to invest in China based on your violating the sanctions that have been imposed on Russia, I think you’re making a gigantic mistake. But that’s your decision to make,’” Biden stated, referencing a video call he had with Xi following the Beijing Olympics, which Xi invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend.

Zelensky says “lull” on frontline is “a preparation for liberation of more cities”

In his nightly address Sunday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky called any perceived slowing of his military’s progress “a preparation for the liberation of more cities.”

“Perhaps it seems to someone now that after a series of victories we have a certain lull. But this is not a lull,” Zelensky said.

“This is preparation for the next sequence. For the next sequence of words that are very important to us all and that definitely must be heard,” he added.

“The words that must be heard,” Zelensky continued, are the names of liberated cities.

“Izium, Balakliya, Kupyansk and the Kharkiv region in general are the cities and communities that we have liberated. These words are heard now. They are heard everywhere,” he noted.

Ukraine says Russia stuck Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant

Russian forces have struck the Pivdennoukrainsk Nuclear Power Plant (PNPP) in Ukraine’s southern Mykolaiv region, but its reactors have not been damaged and are working normally, Ukraine’s state nuclear company Energoatom says.

A blast took place 300 metres (330 yards) away from the reactors and damaged power plant buildings shortly after midnight, Energoatom said in a statement.

The reported attack, which the company described as an act of “nuclear terrorism”, also damaged a nearby hydroelectric power plant and transmission lines.

“Currently, all three power units of the PNPP are operating normally. Fortunately, there were no casualties among the station staff,” Energoatom added.

Energoatom published two photographs showing a crater it said was caused by the blast.

The PNPP is also known as the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant.

Ukrainian forces seize control of river near Kharkiv after Russian retreat

Ukrainian forces crossed the Oskil River in the northeastern Kharkiv region and now control both banks of the river, according the country’s military.

“The Armed Forces of Ukraine crossed the Oskil river. Since yesterday, Ukraine controls the left bank as well,” Ukraine’s Center for Strategic Communications announced on Telegram.

Earlier this month, Kirill Imashev, the military correspondent on the Russian Telegram channel Readovka, said Russian forces had left the city of Kupyansk in Kharkiv region (some 30 miles north of Izium) and retreated across the river to “regroup.”

UN: Chances of Russia-Ukraine peace deal now are ‘minimal’

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a global food crisis aggravated by the war will be the focus of world leaders when they convene at the United Nations in New York this week.

“It would be naive to think that we are close to the possibility of a peace deal,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres before the high-level meeting of the 193-member UN General Assembly, which starts on Tuesday.

“The chances of a peace deal are minimal at the present moment,” he added.

Canada: Mass graves in Ukraine evidence of Russian war crimes

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that mass graves found in Ukraine were evidence of Russia’s war crimes and that full accountability for its actions was needed.

Trudeau, in London for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, told reporters that he had met with British Prime Minister Liz Truss and that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was at the top of their agenda.

“Obviously the UK and Canada have been two of the strongest countries in standing up in support of Ukraine and pushing back against Russia’s illegal actions,” Trudeau stated.

Those actions “increasingly, clearly include war crimes, include absolutely unacceptable crimes, whether we think of what we found in Bucha or the discovery of mass graves in the reclaimed territories by Ukraine,” he added.

Top US general urges vigilance among his troops in light of Russia battle setback

The top United States general has cautioned that it was still unclear how Russia might react to the latest battlefield setbacks in Ukraine and called for vigilance among US troops as he visited a base in Poland aiding Ukraine’s war effort.

“The war is not going too well for Russia right now. So it’s incumbent upon all of us to maintain high states of readiness, alert,” US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Warsaw following a visit to a US military base.

Milley stated he was not suggesting US troops in Europe were under any increased threat, but noted they had to be ready, Reuters reported.

“In the conduct of war,” Milley added, “you just don’t know with a high degree of certainty what will happen next.”

SA leader warns against punishing African nations over ties with Russia

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has warned against punishing African nations for maintaining ties with Russia.

The Joe Biden administration has put a new focus on Africa after being taken aback by the reluctance of some nations to condemn Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Ramaphosa, however, warned President Biden over a piece of legislation that has passed through the US House of Representatives, which would require a strategy to counter Moscow’s role in Africa.

“I think it will harm Africa and marginalise the continent,” Ramaphosa told reporters after his meetings, adding, “We should not be told by anyone who we can associate with.”

The legislation, called the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act, has yet to clear the Senate and US policymakers stress that it does not in itself lay out any repercussions for African countries.

Australia will not ban Russian tourists from entering country: DM

Australia will not ban Russian tourists from entering the country as part of sanctions on Russia over its war in Ukraine, Defence Minister Richard Marles has said.

Since the start of the conflict, Australia has sanctioned hundreds of Russian individuals and entities, including most of Russia’s banking sector and all organisations responsible for the country’s sovereign debt.

It has also supplied defence equipment and humanitarian supplies to Ukraine, while outlawing exports of alumina and aluminium ores, including bauxite, to Russia.

Asked if Australia would also ban Russian tourists, Marles stated sanctions were aimed at Russia’s government, “not the Russian people themselves”.

“This is not something we are considering at the moment,” he told ABC television.

Meanwhile, Australia is “assessing” whether to reopen the Australian embassy in Kyiv.

It is also considering sending further military aid to Ukraine to bolster existing commitments.

“We do need to be preparing ourselves for protracted conflict and on that basis, we get that we are going to need to provide support for Ukraine over the long term,” Marles added.

Biden: ‘Ukraine is defeating Russia’

In an interview, US President Joe Biden declared victory for Ukraine meant removing Russian forces from the entire country and pledged US support for as long as it takes.

President Volodymyr Zelensky similarly echoed his sentiments in a video address on Sunday night.

“Winning the war in Ukraine is to get Russia out of Ukraine completely and to recognise the sovereignty. They’re defeating Russia,” he told CBS’s 60 Minutes broadcast on Sunday.

“Russia’s turning out not to be as competent and capable as many people thought they were going to be,” he added.

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