Thursday, May 30, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 219: Dozens killed and injured in Ukraine Zaporizhzhia shelling

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:

Leaks in the Nord Stream gas pipeline are a “deliberate act of sabotage”: Biden

US President Joe Biden said the leaks found in the Nord Stream gas pipeline were a “deliberate act of sabotage.”

He also accused the Russians of spreading “disinformation and lies.”

“We’re going to work with our allies to get to the bottom of precisely what happened. And at my direction, I’ve already begun to help our allies enhance the protection of this critical infrastructure,” he told reporters Friday.

He also committed to investigating what happened.

“At the appropriate moment, when things calm down, we’re going to be sending divers down to find out exactly what happened. We don’t know that yet exactly,” he continued, adding that he is not going to “listen to what Putin is saying.”

“What he’s saying, we know is not true,” he stated.

The pipelines were created to funnel gas from Russia into the European Union, and were controversial long before Russia waged war on Ukraine, largely because of fears around European reliance on Russian energy. On Monday, leaks were discovered, prompting investigations by European authorities that determined powerful underwater explosions had occurred just before the pipelines burst in several places.

Biden to Putin: US and NATO are prepared to defend “every single inch of NATO territory”

President Joe Biden reiterated that the US does not recognize Russia’s claimed annexation of four Ukrainian territories, directly addressing Russian President Vladimir Putin at one point when saying the US will “defend every single inch of NATO territory.”

“America and its allies are not going — let me emphasize — are not going to be intimidated, are not going to be intimidated by Putin and his reckless words and threats,” Biden said from the White House.

“Putin’s actions are a sign he is struggling,” citing the “sham referenda” and “this routine he put on this morning” when announcing his annexation claims for four Ukrainian regions.

“The United States is never going to recognize this. And quite frankly, the world is not going to recognize it either. He can’t seize his neighbor’s territory and get away with it, as simple as that,” Biden stated during White House remarks.

The US will continue to provide military equipment for Ukraine’s defense, plus an additional $13 billion more from Congress, Biden added.

“America’s fully prepared with our NATO allies to defend every single inch of NATO territory — every single inch — so Mr. Putin, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Every inch,” Biden noted.

NATO chief: Decision on Ukraine’s membership must be taken by all 30 allies

A decision on Ukraine’s request to join NATO must be taken by all members, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has stated.

“NATO is not party to the conflict,” Stoltenberg said, adding that “a decision on [Ukraine’s] membership has to be taken by all 30 allies by consensus.”

Stoltenberg called Russia’s announcement to annex Ukrainian territory the most serious escalation of the conflict since Moscow invaded its neighbour in February.

“Vladimir Putin has mobilised hundreds of thousands of more troops, engaged in irresponsible nuclear sabre-rattling and now illegally annexed more Ukrainian territory. Together, this represents the most serious escalation since the start of the war,” Stoltenberg told a news conference.

He noted NATO reaffirmed its “unwavering support” for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and would not be deterred by Putin from supporting the country in defending itself against Russia.

Half of Russians feel anxious, angry about mobilisation: Poll

A survey has found nearly half of Russians questioned said they felt fearful or anxious after hearing the Kremlin was drafting hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight in Ukraine.

In the poll released by the independent Levada Centre, 47 percent of respondents said they were anxious and scared following President Vladimir Putin’s announcement.

Another 13 percent said they felt anger, while 23 percent expressed pride in Russia.

Blinken: US has not seen action suggesting Russia is contemplating using nuclear weapons

The US has not seen any sign to date that suggest Russia is contemplating using nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said, despite what he decried as “loose talk” by President Vladimir Putin about their possible use.

“We are looking very carefully to see if Russia is actually doing anything that suggests that they are contemplating the use of nuclear weapons. To date, we’ve not seen them take these actions,” Blinken stated at a news conference in Washington.

“But we also know that Russia is engaged in horrific, horrific brutalisation of Ukraine, and so the threats that they make, we take very seriously,” he added.

Blinken also noted he would not speculate on Putin’s intent but that the US has plans for “every possible scenario, including this one”.

G7 ministers threaten ‘economic costs on Russia’ over Ukrainian annexation

The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) countries have condemned Russia’s proclaimed annexation of four Ukrainian regions as a “new low point” in the war and promised to take further action against Moscow.

“We will never recognise these purported annexations, nor the sham ‘referenda’ conducted at gunpoint,” a joint statement issued by the top diplomats of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the US and the EU said.

“We will impose further economic costs on Russia, and on individuals and entities – inside and outside of Russia – that provide political or economic support to these violations of international law,” it added.

NATO assets in Baltic and North Seas are collecting information to aid in Nord Stream probe: Chief

NATO military assets in the Baltic and North Seas are collecting information to help in the investigation into who and what caused the explosions near the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines earlier this week, according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

They are also monitoring “critical energy infrastructure,” Stoltenberg said during a news conference in Brussels Friday.

Stoltenberg stated NATO allies are both collecting new information and reviewing information they’ve collected over the last few weeks and months to see “whether we are able to discover something connected to the attacks.”

The military presence in the Baltic and North Seas is both “to send a message of deterrence, to collect and monitor, collect data and monitor the infrastructure and then share information and step up resilience,” Stoltenberg added.

At least 30 killed after Russian missile hits civilian humanitarian convoy in Zaporizhzhia: Ukraine

Ukrainian officials say at least 30 people have been killed and 88 injured in an attack by Russian forces on a civilian convoy leaving the city of Zaporizhzhia.

“The enemy launched a rocket attack on a civilian humanitarian convoy on the way out of Zaporizhzhia,” Oleksandr Starukh, head of the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration, said on Telegram.

“People were in line to leave for the temporarily occupied territory, to pick up their relatives, to deliver aid,” he added.

Images and video from the scene show wrecked vehicles and some bodies on the road.

Among the dead are an 11-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy, according to Ihor Klymenko, head of Ukraine’s National Police.

Macron condemns Russia’s “illegal” annexation of Ukrainian regions

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned Russia’s “illegal” move to annex four Ukrainian regions, describing the act as a “serious violation of international law and Ukrainian sovereignty” in a tweet Friday.

“France opposes this and will continue to stand alongside Ukraine to confront Russian aggression and allow Ukraine to recover its full sovereignty over all of its territory,” he wrote.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annexation announcement has sparked sharp rebuke from multiple Western leaders, with the US saying earlier Friday that it was announcing sanctions in coordination with G7 allies.

UK rolls out new sanctions on Russia over annexation move

The United Kingdom has imposed new sanctions on Russia in response to its formal annexation of swaths of Ukrainian territory, including measures directly targeting the governor of its Central Bank, Elvira Nabiullina.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) announced the UK had also imposed new services and goods export bans, targeted at “vulnerable sectors of the Russian economy”.

UK foreign secretary summons Russian ambassador

The United Kingdom’s foreign secretary announced he has summoned Russia’s ambassador to the country in response to Moscow’s formal annexation of vast swaths of Ukrainian territory.

“I have summoned the Russian Ambassador, Andrey Kelin, to protest in the strongest terms against Putin’s announcement of the illegal annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory,” James Cleverly tweeted.

Zelensky calls Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian territories a “farce”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed on Friday that the entire territory of Ukraine would be liberated from Russian control, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal declared annexation of some Ukrainian regions a “farce.”

“The entire territory of our country will be liberated from this enemy – the enemy not only of Ukraine, but also of life itself, humanity, law and truth,” Zelensky said in a pre-recorded address released on Friday afternoon.

“Russia already knows this. It feels our power. It sees that it is here, in Ukraine, that we prove the strength of our values. And that is why it is in a hurry, organizes this farce with the attempted annexation, tries to steal something that does not belong to it, wants to rewrite history and redraw borders with murders, torture, blackmail and lies,” he said.
“Ukraine will not allow that,” he added.

He stated peace will be restored only by “ousting the occupiers.”

Zelensky noted that while Ukraine was ready for dialogue with Russia, negotiation on “equal, honest, decent and fair terms” was impossible with Putin, so talks would only be possible “with another president of Russia.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Friday also stated that Putin’s claimed annexations of Ukrainian territory change “nothing.”

“Nothing changes for Ukraine: we continue liberating our land and our people, restoring our territorial integrity,” Kuleba said in a statement on Twitter.

“By attempting to annex Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, Putin tries to grab territories he doesn’t even physically control on the ground,” he added.

Zelensky says Ukraine is applying for NATO membership “under an accelerated procedure”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on Friday that his country is applying “under an accelerated procedure” to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

He signed Ukraine’s application together with Speaker of the Parliament Ruslan Stefanchuk and Prime Minister Denys Shmygal.

“It is here, in Ukraine, that the values of our Euro-Atlantic community have obtained real vital energy,” Zelensky said in a pre-recorded video message.

“The strength of the nation that fights for freedom, and the strength of the nations that help in this fight,” he continued.

He added that “de facto,” Ukraine had already “completed our path” to NATO.

“Today, Ukraine is applying to make it de jure. Under a procedure consistent with our significance for the protection of our entire community, under an accelerated procedure,” he said.

Zelensky added that he understood that accession would require consensus of NATO members.

“And therefore, while this is happening, we offer to implement our proposals regarding security guarantees for Ukraine and all of Europe in accordance with the Kyiv Security Compact, which was developed and presented to our partners,” the president noted.

US announces visa restrictions and sanctions in response to “sham” referendums and illegal annexation

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a slew of visa restrictions and sanctions in response to Moscow’s “sham” referendums and annexation of four regions of Ukraine on Friday.

“United States unequivocally rejects Russia’s fraudulent attempt to change Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders,” he said.

In a statement, the top US diplomat stated the State Department is imposing visa restrictions “on 910 individuals, including members of the Russian Federation military, Belarusian military officials, and Russia’s proxies for violating Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence.”

“The Department is also designating Russian national, Ochur-Suge Mongush, for his involvement in a gross violation of human rights perpetrated against a Ukrainian prisoner of war,” Blinken continued, adding, “Under this authority, Mongush and his immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States.”

Blinken said the US is “issuing a clear warning supported by G7 Leaders: We will hold to account any individual, entity, or country that provides political or economic support for Russia’s illegal attempts to change the status of Ukrainian territory.”

He noted the Treasury and Commerce Departments “are releasing new guidance on heightened sanctions and export control risks for entities and individuals inside or outside Russia that support Russia’s sham referenda, purported annexation, and occupation of part of Ukraine.”

Blinken added that the State Department is joining the Treasury Department “in targeting family members of Russia’s National Security Council by designating Olga Sergeevna Sobyanina and Anna Sergeevna Ershova pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 14024 for being the adult children of Moscow mayor and Russian Security Council member Sergey Sobyanin, a person whose property and interests in property are blocked under E.O. 14024.”

“We will continue the United States’ powerful, coordinated efforts to hold Russia to account, cut Russia’s military off from global commerce and severely limit its ability to sustain its aggression and project power,” Blinken continued.

Biden condemns Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory

US President Joe Biden sharply condemned Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory in a statement Friday.

“The United States condemns Russia’s fraudulent attempt today to annex sovereign Ukrainian territory. Russia is violating international law, trampling on the United Nations Charter, and showing its contempt for peaceful nations everywhere,” Biden said, adding that those actions have “no legitimacy” and will continue to “always honor Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders.”

Touting the new sanctions announced Friday, Biden added that the US “will rally the international community to both denounce these moves and to hold Russia accountable.”

“I urge all members of the international community to reject Russia’s illegal attempts at annexation and to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes,” he said.

European security organization says illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory will lead to escalation in war

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe on Friday condemned Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory, calling it a “blatant violation of the fundamental rules of international law, OSCE principles, and the UN Charter.”

Russia is one of 57 participating states in the OSCE, which until earlier this year ran a monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “unacceptable” action on Friday “eviscerates the principle of territorial integrity, which is at the core of the OSCE’s founding principles and the international order,” the statement read.

“This action by the Russian Federation, which includes military mobilization and irresponsible nuclear threats, will only lead to greater escalation of conflict, putting further millions of lives at risk and causing more senseless human suffering,” it added.

Friday’s OSCE statement was signed by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Margareta Cederfelt, OSCE Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Secretary General Roberto Montella.

EU recommends member states tighten tourist visa scheme for Russian citizens

The European Commission presented proposals for EU member states to further tighten visa restrictions for Russian citizens on Friday.

It recommended that an EU tourist visa should not be issued to Russian citizens applying from outside of Russia, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson announced at a news conference.

She called Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory, “an escalation of the security threat towards European Union”.

“In the guidelines we say that member states should not accept Schengen visa applications from citizens of the Russian Federation that are present in a third country,” Johansson said, adding, “When it comes to Russian citizens that just want to come to the EU because they don’t want to stay in Russia anymore, this stricter approach has to be applied,” she added.

The EU is also asking for stricter security checks at its borders for Russians trying to enter with a valid Schengen visa.

“Just having a valid visa is not enough, is not sufficient to be let into the EU,” Johansson continued.

It is up to the member states to decide on their visa policies. The proposal will now be submitted to the European Council for approval.

Johansson recommended restrictions should not apply to certain exceptions: including applicants for humanitarian reasons, family reasons, independent journalists and dissidents.

She also emphasized this new guideline won’t impact Russians who want to apply for a long-term EU visa, such as asylum. It’s only targeting tourist visas.

So far the EU has yet to see a wave of Russian asylum seekers, with around 20 to 30 asylum applications per day this last week, according to Johansson.

Johansson also vowed further actions from the EU following the “illegal annexation of the four Ukrainian regions” by Russia.

EU vows never to recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian territories

The European Union has strongly rejected and condemned Russia’s annexations in Ukraine, and said it “will never recognise” the Kremlin’s “illegal annexation.”

The bloc’s comments came as Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday formally signed a decree to illegally annex nearly a fifth of Ukraine’s territory, in blatant violation of international law.

The ceremony at the Kremlin’s St. George’s Hall came following so-called referendums held by Russian-backed officials in eastern and southern Ukraine on joining Russia. The votes are illegal under international law and have been dismissed by Ukraine and Western nations as “a sham.”

“We firmly reject and unequivocally condemn the illegal annexation by Russia of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions,” a statement on behalf of the members of the European Council said on Friday.

“By wilfully undermining the rules-based international order and blatantly violating the fundamental rights of Ukraine to independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, core principles as enshrined in the UN Charter and international law, Russia is putting global security at risk,” it added.

“We do not and will never recognise the illegal ‘referenda’ that Russia has engineered as a pretext for this further violation of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, nor their falsified and illegal results,” the statement read.

“These decisions are null and void and cannot produce any legal effect whatsoever. Crimea, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk are Ukraine. We call on all States and international organisations to unequivocally reject this illegal annexation,” the statement added.

The statement said the EU will strengthen sanctions on Russia and reiterated the bloc’s support for Ukraine.

Zelensky: “Everything will be Ukraine”

President Volodymyr Zelensky has reassured Ukrainians that “everything will be Ukraine,” in a statement posted before Russian President Vladimir Putin began speaking in Moscow during a ceremony where he announced the Kremlin’s intention to annex nearly a fifth of Ukraine in blatant violation of international law.

“We have the situation under control,” Zelensky said on Telegram at the conclusion of a meeting with Ukraine’s top military and security officials.

“Everything will be Ukraine,” he stressed.

Zelensky added that the officials heard reports from the frontline, “considered further plan for the liberation of our territories,” analyzed “the possible actions of the enemy in the near future,” and discussed the logistics of providing troops with weapons and ammunition.

While Putin was speaking, Andriy Yermak, the head of President Zelensky’s office, posted a brief comment on Telegram, noting: “We continue to work and liberate Ukrainian territories. We do not pay attention to those who should take pills. The army is working, Ukraine is united. Only forward.”

EU condemns Russia’s “heinous” attack on civilians in Zaporizhzhia

The European Union’s top diplomat has condemned Russian shelling on a civilian convoy in Zaporizhzhia early Friday, calling the bombardment a “heinous attack.”

“Another heinous attack by Russia on civilians: this time a humanitarian convoy bringing vital help to people living in the non-government controlled areas of Zaporizhzhia,” Josep Borrell tweeted Friday.

The EU “condemns this appalling attack in the strongest possible terms. Those responsible will be held accountable,” Borrell added.

The missile attack in the southeastern Ukrainian city killed at least 25 people and left 50 more injured, including children, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Russia will defend newly-annexed territories with all means at its disposal: Putin

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia will defend its new territory with all the means at its disposal, remarks that indicate a major escalation in the war.

He warned sternly that Moscow would never surrender control of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia, but also urged Ukraine to sit down for talks to end the conflict.

Putin noted the residents in the four annexed regions will now be Russia’s “citizens forever”.

The Russian president also argued it was the “integral right” of people in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia to join Russia, citing the United Nations charter and its affirmation of the right to self-determination.

He went on to claim that people in the Donbas – the industrial heartland in eastern Ukraine made up of Donetsk and Luhansk – had been “victims of inhumane terrorist attacks conducted by the Kyiv regime”.

Putin has denied seeking to revive the Soviet Union after moving to formally annex four Ukrainian regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia.

Ukraine was one of the most important republics of the Soviet Union prior to its dissolution more than two decades ago.

Putin also accused Western states – which have imposed sweeping sanctions on Moscow over its offensive in Ukraine – of waging a hybrid war against Russia and continually attempting to weaken it.

“They don’t want to see us a free society. They want to see us as a crowd of slaves,” he continued, adding, “They don’t need Russia. We need Russia.”

Putin announces annexation of four areas of occupied Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced the annexation of four areas of occupied Ukraine, which make up almost a fifth of Ukraine’s territory.

It comes after Russian-backed authorities held so-called referendums in four occupied Ukrainian territories.

The referendums in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are illegal under international law and were widely condemned as “a sham” by Western nations and Kyiv.

The European Union (EU) has dismissed the ballots as “illegal referenda”, while the White House has pledged not to recognize the results.

Russia’s annexation of occupied Ukrainian territories comes swiftly after Putin announced the “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens amid Moscow’s faltering invasion. The strategy has been met with heated protests at home and tens of thousands of people have left the country.

Putin informs Russian parliament of annexation plans

The head of Russia’s lower chamber of parliament noted on Friday that President Vladimir Putin had notified the house about plans to admit four regions of Ukraine into Russia – a technical step towards Russia’s annexation of the territories.

State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, a key Putin ally, said on the Duma’s official Telegram channel that Putin had informed the parliament of official requests by the regions.

Zelensky meets military chiefs to discuss ‘liberation’ plans

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met military chiefs on Friday to discuss “the further plan for liberation” of Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory.

Zelensky stated that he and the military chiefs also discussed supplies of weapons for the country’s armed forces, as well as Russia’s possible further plans following its invasion of Ukraine.

Kremlin says it ‘needs to clarify’ borders of two Ukraine regions

The Kremlin has announced it needs to clarify the exact borders of two Ukraine regions that Russia intends to annex, but which its forces have yet to claim complete control over.

“The Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics are recognised by Russia within 2014 borders. As for the territories of the Kherson and the Zaporizhzhia regions, I need to clarify this, I can’t answer this question right now,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted.

Norway may ban Russian tourists

Norway may impose a ban on Russian tourists similar to that introduced this week by Finland, Norwegian Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl has said.

“We will close the border quickly if necessary, and changes can come at short notice. There have been few arrivals in Norway compared to Finland, and the situation is different here,” Mehl stated on Friday.

Norway would station a helicopter with sensors as it now sees an increased risk of illegal border crossings amid the mobilisation.

Norway, an EU outsider but a member of Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone, has kept open its Arctic border with Russia where arrivals have recently risen to number a few hundred people a day.

Zelensky condemns Russian attack on civilian convoy in Zaporizhzhia, as death toll rises to 25

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated the Russian forces who carried out a missile attack on an evacuation convoy in Zaporizhzhia are “downright terrorists.”

Russian shelling bombarded a civilian convoy leaving the city in southeastern Ukraine on Friday morning, with images and videos from the scene showed battered vehicles strewn on the ground.

The number of people killed in the shelling has risen to 25 and about 50 people are injured, including children, according to the Prosecutor General’s office.

“The terrorist state fires missiles at the civilian population in Zaporizhzhia, the Mykolaiv region, the Dnipropetrovsk region. Hits Ukrainian regions with MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems) and drones,” Zelensky said on Telegram.

“The occupiers fired 16 missiles at Zaporizhzhia and surroundings this morning alone. This can only be done by downright terrorists, who should have no place in the civilized world,” he added.

“Bloodthirsty scum! You will definitely answer. For every lost Ukrainian life!” the president stressed.

Oleksandr Starukh, head of the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration, noted earlier on Telegram, “people were in line to leave for the temporarily occupied territory, to pick up their relatives, to deliver aid.”

The attack took place at 7:30 a.m. local time (12:30 a.m.) at a used car market where vehicles had gathered before proceeding to a crossing point into Russian-held territory further south.

Kremlin will consider attacks on newly annexed territories as aggression against Russia

The Kremlin has reiterated that any attacks on Ukrainian territory annexed by Russia will be considered as acts of aggression against the country itself.

When asked whether, after annexation documents are signed, Russia would perceive attacks by Ukrainian forces on annexed territories as an act of aggression against Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted: “It won’t be anything else.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to sign documents formally annexing four areas of Ukraine — up to 18% of Ukrainian territory — at a ceremony in the Kremlin on Friday.

The ceremony follows so-called referendums held by Russian-backed authorities in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia on joining Russia. The votes are illegal under international law and have been dismissed by Kyiv and Western leaders as “a sham.”

The four separate agreements on the admission of new territories to the Russian Federation will be signed in the Kremlin at a ceremony attended by Russian-installed heads of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and of occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions.

Moscow-installed official in Kherson region killed in strike

A Moscow-installed official in the southern Kherson region of Ukraine has been killed in a Ukrainian missile strike, according to Russian state media.

“On September 30, Alexey Katerinichev, First Deputy Head of the Military-Civilian Administration of the Kherson Region, tragically died while doing his duty,” a statement from Russia’s Ministry of Emergencies added.

Katerinichev was born in the Russian city of Rybinsk, in the Yaroslavl region, and took up the post in the Kherson region in August, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

He was previously the first deputy head of the Leader Center for High Risk Rescue Operations and prior to that served in the Federal Border Service and the Federal Security Service, the Ministry of Emergencies statement said.

Katerinichev “organized the activities of the Operational Headquarters of the FSB of Russia in the Kaliningrad region. For his courage and heroism, he was repeatedly awarded military orders and medals,” the statement read.

Ukrainian authorities have not commented on the attack.

Ukrainian forces take key village in Donetsk region as they encircle Russian units

Ukrainian troops said they have taken the village of Yampil in the eastern Donetsk region, a significant objective in their efforts to encircle Russian and pro-Russian forces in the town of Lyman.

Pro-Russian Telegram channels have described a bleak situation for the approximately 2,000 remaining troops in the area.

One prominent channel with more than 800,000 subscribers commented on Friday that Russian Armed Forces “withdrew from Yampil to Lyman.”

“The Armed Forces of Ukraine managed to break through the defensive orders of the RF (Russian Federation) Armed Forces and force the Russian troops to retreat to the city (Lyman),” the channel, which goes by the name of Rybar, wrote.

“The Lyman defensive line has narrowed to the administrative boundaries of the city itself. If emergency measures are not taken in the near future to release the Lyman and transfer a significant part of the reserves, then the city, together with its defenders, will fall, and nothing will stop Ukrainian formations from developing an offensive deep into Russian territories,” Rybar added.

UK says medical provision for Russian troops likely ‘growing worse’

The United Kingdom’s defence ministry announced medical provision for Russian combat troops in Ukraine is “probably growing worse” as Moscow’s offensive grinds on.

“Some newly mobilised Russian reservists have been ordered to source their own combat first aid supplies, with the advice that female sanitary products are a cost-effective solution,” the ministry said in its latest daily intelligence update.

It added that “medical training and first first-aid awareness is likely poor”.

“Russian troops’ lack of confidence in sufficient medical provision is almost certainly contributing to a declining state of morale and a lack of willingness to undertake offensive operations in many units in Ukraine,” the ministry noted.

Russian spy chief: We have evidence West involved in ‘sabotage’ of Nord Stream pipelines

Russia’s top spy has said that Moscow has materials which indicate the West had a role in ruptures to the undersea Nord Stream pipelines that have threatened to put them permanently out of use, according to reports by Russian news agencies.

“We have materials that point to a Western trace in the organisation and implementation of these terrorist acts,” the Interfax news agency quoted Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, as saying.

Naryshkin’s remarks are the most direct accusation against the West from a senior Russian official. He did not specify what evidence Russia had.

President Vladimir Putin on Thursday stated the “unprecedented sabotage” against the Nord Stream gas pipelines was “an act of international terrorism”.

The Kremlin has also reiterated calls for an international investigation into the circumstances of the suspected attack on the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea.

Declining to comment on earlier reports by the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service that it held unspecified “materials” pointing the finger of blame at the west, Reuters report Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated there was a need for a thorough international investigation.

UK will never recognise Russia’s annexation attempts

British Prime Minister Liz Truss has said that the UK will never accept the Russian annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

She accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of acting in violation of international law with clear disregard for the lives of the Ukrainian people he claims to represent.

The prime minister added in a statement that Putin cannot be allowed to alter international borders by brute force.

23 killed as civilian humanitarian convoy hit in Zaporizhzhia

Ukrainian officials say 23 people have been killed and 28 injured in an attack by Russian forces on a civilian convoy leaving the city of Zaporizhzhia.

“The enemy launched a rocket attack on a civilian humanitarian convoy on the way out of Zaporizhzhia,” Oleksandr Starukh, head of the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration, said on Telegram.

“People were in line to leave for the temporarily occupied territory, to pick up their relatives, to deliver aid,” he added.

Images and video from the scene show wrecked vehicles and some bodies on the road.

Ivan Fedorov, mayor of the occupied city of Melitopol, stated: “People leave Zaporizhzhia every day to support their relatives, deliver vital medicines to the civilian population and return back. It is impossible as of now to even count the number of dead and wounded people.”

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, noted that a total of 16 missiles were launched by Russian forces at the area where the civilian convoy was struck.

“According to preliminary information, 16 missiles were launched using the S-300 missile system. Twenty-three dead and 28 wounded,” Tymoshenko continued.

“Four missile strikes were launched in the area of the auto market, as well as at the point of concentration of vehicles and citizens for departure/entry to/from the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine. There was a column of vehicles with civilians on their way to the temporarily occupied territory to pick up their relatives,” Tymoshenko stated.

Russian forces frequently use S-300 missiles in the Ukrainian conflict.

US Secretary of Defense says cause of Nord Stream explosions won’t be known until probe is finished

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said while there is “a lot of speculation” about who caused the explosions near the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that funnel gas from Russia to Europe, “until a complete investigation is done, no one will really be able to determine for certain what happened.”

Austin made the remarks in Hawaii after a bilateral meeting with the Philippine Senior Undersecretary and Officer in Charge of the Department of National Defense Jose Faustino Jnr

Austin spoke with Denmark’s Minister of Defense Morten Bødskov yesterday by phone.

Austin stated he offered Denmark “any assistance that the United States may provide.”

Bødskov told Austin it “will be several days before he is able to get the right team in to look at the sites and try to really determine as best as possible what happened,” Austin said.

“Until that, until we get further information or are able to do further analysis, we won’t speculate on who may have been responsible,” Austin added.

Pentagon to form new command to coordinate arming and training Ukrainian forces

The Pentagon is working to form a new command to coordinate arming and training Ukraine, according to two US officials, in an effort to streamline what was a largely ad hoc process rapidly created in the wake of Russia’s invasion.

The new command, to be based at Weisbaden in Germany, will fall under Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the commander of US European Command, which has led the multinational effort to train Ukrainian military forces on advanced Western weapons and deliver those weapons to the border with Ukraine, one official said. It is expected to be led by a 3-star general.

But the US has been careful in how it discusses the plan, which the officials emphasized is not a major change to the current system of organizing and administering shipments. Officials are careful not to give Putin a reason to claim the US is party to the conflict, especially given the elevated rhetoric coming from the Kremlin about the threat of nuclear weapons usage.

The Joe Biden administration has openly signaled its ongoing and long-term support for Ukraine. Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion in late-February, the US has committed more than $16 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. This week, the Pentagon announced another $1.1 billion in additional military aid to Ukraine, which a senior defense official called a “multiyear investment” in the country’s defenses.

Since the first weeks of the war, the US has looked for ways to quickly and effectively translate Ukrainian requests for different types of equipment into shipments of weapons, turning a process that normally takes weeks or more into a matter of days.

As Ukrainian forces proved they could stand up to the Russian invasion, and as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hopes for a quick victory turned into a bruising war, the number of countries willing to provide security assistance to Ukraine grew.

The US and its allies and partners established the Ukraine Contact Group, consisting of more than 40 countries meeting monthly, to coordinate shipments of weapons and equipment into Ukraine.

The new command will create a more formal structure within the military to manage the shipments, officials said. Its anticipated location in central Germany also places it close to many of the areas used by Western countries to train Ukrainian forces.

The command would also work closely with the International Donor Coordination Center, which has played a critical role in handling the logistics necessary to match the need for Ukrainian weapons with the available stocks of potential donor countries.

Putin signs ‘independence’ decrees for Zaporizhia, Kherson

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the ‘independence’ of the Ukrainian regions of Zaporizhia and Kherson as Russia prepares to formally proclaim the annexation of Ukrainian territory in a major escalation of its seven-month invasion.

“I order the recognition of the state sovereignty and independence” of Zaporizhia and Kherson in southern Ukraine, Putin said in presidential decrees issued late on Thursday.

The two regions are set to be incorporated into Russia along with the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk at a lavish ceremony in the Kremlin on Friday after hastily-organised referendums in the Russian-occupied regions, which claimed majorities of up to 99 percent in favour of joining Russia. Putin recognised the ‘independence’ of Donetsk and Luhansk in February.

Zelensky urges Russians to stop Putin, saying he’s “one person in Russia who wants war more than life”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to the Russian people to stop President Vladimir Putin from waging war.

“The cost of one person in Russia wanting to continue this war will be that all Russian society will be left without a normal economy, without a decent life, and without respect for any human values,” Zelensky said in his daily address.

“This can still be stopped. But to stop it, you have to stop the one person in Russia who wants war more than life. Your life, citizens of Russia,” he continued.

Zelensky again dismissed the attempted annexation of four Russian-occupied regions of the country, adding, “Russia will not get new territory in Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian president shared a message specifically for Russia’s indigenous peoples.

“During the first week of criminal mobilization, more men fled from Russia than the Russian authorities were officially going to send to war,” Zelensky said, adding, “Dagestanis do not have to die in Ukraine. Chechens, Ingush, Ossetians, Circassians and any other peoples who came under the Russian flag. In total, almost 200 different peoples. … You know who sends them to Ukraine.”

Zelensky’s appeal to indigenous groups comes after warnings from activists in Russia that ethnic minorities are being disproportionately mobilized.

Collective data shows over 200,000 people have left Russia since Putin’s mobilization announcement

More than 200,000 people have traveled from Russia into Georgia, Kazakhstan and the EU since Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the immediate “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens on Sept. 21, collective data from various countries shows.

Here’s a breakdown of the numbers:

  • Approximately 100,000 Russians have crossed into Kazakhstan in the last week, Marat Kozheyev, Kazakh deputy minister of internal affairs, said Wednesday, according to Kazinform, a state-owned news agency.
  • At least 53,136 people have crossed the Georgian-Russian border between Sept. 21-26, data released by Georgia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs Tuesday shows.
  • Nearly 66,000 Russian citizens have entered the European Union over the past week (Sept. 19-25) — a more than 30% increase in comparison to the past week, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency Frontex said Tuesday.

This information does not include data from Mongolia and Armenia, where Russian citizens have also traveled in the past days. Official data from Russia has not been publicly available on how many Russian citizens have left the country since Sept. 21.

Russia’s mobilization announcement for its war in Ukraine sparked protests and an exodus of Russian citizens from the country, as the Kremlin tightened rules around evading military orders. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on Sept. 21 that up to 300,000 men with previous military experience will be drafted.

The number of Russians fleeing country to avoid call-up “likely exceeds” the number of troops that invaded Ukraine in February, the UK Ministry of Defense announced Thursday.

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday he does not know the number of people who have left the country since the announcement. Independent Russian media outlet Novaya Gazeta Europe on Tuesday cited a source in the Russian presidential administration as saying the FSB (Federal Security Service of Russia) reported 261,000 men fled Russia since the announcement of the mobilization on Sept. 21.

Biden declines to say whether he blames Russia for Nord Stream gas leaks

Asked directly if he blames Russia for this week’s Nord Stream pipeline gas leaks, US President Joe Biden declined to comment Thursday.

Biden was speaking at FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC about the federal response to Tropical Storm Ian.

“Let’s stick with this, okay?” Biden said when asked by a reporter if he held Russia responsible for the damage.

Pressed by reporters on the matter, Biden continued: “There’s a lot of important international issues, but we’re here to talk about America. Thank you.”

US officials say they do not have a thorough explanation yet for what happened, days after the explosions appeared to cause three separate and simultaneous leaks in the two pipelines Monday.

The leaks have been described by NATO’s chief and several European leaders as “acts of sabotage.”

The Kremlin has announced any claims it targeted the pipelines are “absurd” and spokesperson Dmitry Peskov added Thursday the “unprecedented nature” of the leaks suggests they may have been the result of a possible “terrorist attack.”

Biden says US will ‘never, never, never’ recognise Russia claims in Ukraine

US President Joe Biden has pledged to “never, never, never” recognise the results of Russian-led referendums in Ukraine, which he said were cooked up by Moscow.

“I want to be very clear about this. The United States will never, never never recognise Russia’s claims on Ukraine sovereign territory. The so-called referendum was a sham, an absolute sham,” Biden stated as he met Pacific Island leaders in Washington.

Putin calls gas leaks acts of ‘international terrorism’: Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin says the “unprecedented sabotage” against the Nord Stream gas pipelines was “an act of international terrorism,” the Kremlin announced in a statement.

Putin made the remarks in phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He also added it was necessary to fulfil an internationally brokered deal on Ukrainian grain exports, including the removal of barriers for Russian food and fertiliser supplies to the global markets.

Erdogan urges Putin to reduce tensions, extend Ukraine grains deal

In a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pressed his Russian counterpart to take steps to reduce tensions in Ukraine and urged him to extend a deal protecting Black Sea grains exports, the president’s office said.

Erdogan also mentioned Moscow’s plans to incorporate four Ukrainian regions into Russia, which Turkey opposes, and he asked Putin to give peace negotiations another chance, according to Ankara’s readout of the call.

The UN- and Turkey-brokered deal establishing a shipping corridor, allowing Ukrainian grain exports, is set to expire in late November and can be renewed with the backing of Russia and the other three parties to the agreement.

Blinken calls Moscow’s planned annexation as a ‘land grab’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement on Thursday called Russia’s so-called referendums in occupied-parts of Ukraine “a futile effort to mask what amounts to a further attempt at a land grab.”

He reiterated that “the United States does not, and will never, recognize the legitimacy or outcome of these sham referenda or Russia’s purported annexation of Ukrainian territory.”

“This spectacle conducted by Russia’s proxies is illegitimate and violates international law,” Blinken said in the statement, adding, “It is an affront to the principles of international peace and security.”

“The United States and our allies and partners will continue to assist Ukraine in its fight to defend its territory against Russian aggression,” Blinken added.

“We wholeheartedly support Ukraine’s unity, sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,” he said.

On Tuesday, Blinken made clear that Ukraine would be able to use weapons provided by the United States to regain its territory, including in the regions that are expected to annexed by Russia Friday.

“I’ve also been equally clear that Ukraine has the absolute right to defend itself throughout its territory, including to take back the territory that has been illegally seized in one way or another by Russia,” he stated in response to a question from CNN’s Kylie Atwood at a news conference Tuesday.

“Because there is no change at all in the territory that is being annexed by the Russians as a matter for us or for the Ukrainians, the Ukrainians will continue to do what they need to do to get back the land that has been taken from them. We will continue to support them in that effort,” Blinken noted at the news conference.

EU energy commissioner calls for price cap on Russian gas

The EU’s Energy Commissioner has called for a price cap on Russian gas exports to the EU Thursday.

“I strongly believe we need a price cap on all Russian gas imports, at a level that still makes it attractive for them to export to Europe,” EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said in a statement on Thursday as the bloc looks at ways to tackle the energy crisis.

“Europe is facing energy blackmail by Russia, and global demand for gas is higher than supply,” she added, calling Russia’s unreliability as a partner “the origin of the problem.”

“We are negotiating with our reliable suppliers of pipeline gas. If this doesn’t bring results, then a price cap is possible,” Simson added, saying that “these steps will reduce the cost of gas imports.”

The commissioner’s comments come a day before EU energy ministers meet in Brussels to address high energy prices. According to the commission, the leaks of the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea will also be discussed.

Putin says military mistakes should be corrected

Speaking at a meeting of Russia’s Security Council, President Vladimir Putin stated all mistakes made during a partial military mobilisation to reinforce Russia’s military operation in Ukraine should be corrected, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

He also added that those who had military experience and training in required specialities should be called up first.

There have been widespread public expressions of discontent from officials and citizens over the way the mobilisation, announced last week, has been handled, including complaints about enlistment officers sending call-up papers to ineligible men.

Thousands of men have fled Russia to avoid the draft.

UN chief says Russia’s annexation of Ukraine regions would be ‘dangerous escalation’

If Russia moves ahead with its plans to annex four Ukrainian regions, it would mark a “dangerous escalation” that would jeopardise the prospects for peace in the region, the United Nations secretary-general has warned.

“Any decision to proceed with the annexation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine would have no legal value and deserves to be condemned,” Antonio Guterres told reporters.

“It must not be accepted,” he added.

US army commander assures Ukraine of further support

Ukraine’s top general and the US Army commander in Europe discussed the war with Russia and assurances of further support from Washington.

The generals spoke on the eve of Vladimir Putin signing documents to proclaim Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions.

General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, said on Telegram, “I had a conversation with General Christopher Cavoli, Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Commander of the United States European Command.”

“We have shared thoughts on the operational situation, further plans and needs for weapons,” he added.

“I have shared with General Cavoli the vision of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine regarding the mobilisation in the Russian Federation. I have received encouraging esteem and assurances of further support,” he continued.

Putin accuses the West of provoking revolution

President Vladimir Putin says the West stands ready to provoke “colour revolutions” and a “bloodbath” in any country, without naming a specific country.

Putin, who did not provide any evidence, was speaking via a video link with the heads of the intelligent services of the ex-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States.

He stated that conflicts in countries from the former USSR, including Ukraine, are the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“It is enough to look at what is happening now between Russia and Ukraine and what is happening on the borders of some other CIS countries,” he continued, adding, “All this, of course, is the result of the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

Zelensky issues ‘very harsh’ warning to Russia if they annex regions

President Volodymyr Zelensky has issued a new warning to Russia of a “very harsh” response if Moscow annexed the four regions following what they and the West called “sham referendums” held by Russia at gunpoint.

“They [the votes] are worthless and do not change reality. The territorial integrity of Ukraine will be restored. And our reaction to recognition of the results by Russia will be very harsh,” Zelensky said.

A statement issued by Zelensky’s office after a phone call with Italy’s prime minister did not refer to the announcement by President Vladimir Putin that he would sign documents formalising the annexation of the four regions on Friday.

Zelensky has also called an emergency meeting of top security and defence officials for Friday, his spokesperson said on Thursday.

Serhiy Nykyforov announced the meeting on Facebook after the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin would sign formal documents on Friday proclaiming Moscow’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions following what Kyiv called “sham” referendums.

“President Volodymyr Zelensky has called an urgent meeting of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine for tomorrow. The agenda and other details will be announced later,” Nykyforov added.

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