Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 222

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:

Record 83 percent of Ukrainians want NATO membership: Poll

A record 83 percent of Ukrainians would like their country to join NATO, a Kyiv-based opinion pollster said, citing a survey conducted after Kyiv applied to join the military bloc.

The October 1-2 poll of 2,000 respondents by Rating Group was conducted after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced on Friday that Ukraine was submitting an expedited application for NATO membership.

Rating Group said the percentage of those supporting NATO membership was the highest ever recorded by a survey in Ukraine. Only 4 percent said they would vote against joining the bloc and 9 percent said they would not vote.

By contrast, in November, 55 percent voiced support for joining the bloc, illustrating how sharply public opinion has changed on the question of NATO since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The new poll indicated that support for NATO membership had risen seven percentage points since June.

Russia acknowledges Ukraine’s Kherson advance

Ukrainian forces have broken through Moscow’s defences in the strategic southern Kherson region, the Russian military acknowledged on Monday.

Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in his daily briefing that “with superior tank units in the direction of Zolotaya Balka, Aleksandrovka, the enemy managed to penetrate into the depths of our defence.”

“Russian troops have occupied a preprepared defensive line and continue to inflict massive fire damage” on Kyiv’s forces, Konashenkov added.

Kherson is one of the four regions illegally annexed by Moscow last week after a hasty “referendum” orchestrated by the Kremlin that Western nations have derided as a sham vote held at gunpoint.

Kherson has been one of the toughest battlefields for the Ukrainians.

Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed head of the Kherson region, noted on state television: “It’s tense. Let’s put it that way. … Where the Kakhovka [reservoir] is, there is a settlement called Dudchany. … It is in this area that there is a breakthrough and there are settlements taken by Ukrainian troops.”

Dudchany is about 30km (20 miles) south of where the front line stood before the breakthrough. It’s become the fastest advance of the war so far in the south.

Serhiy Khlan, a Kherson regional council member, listed Osokorivka, Khreschenikvka, Mykhailivka, and Zoloto Balka as recaptured villages or where Ukrainian troops had been photographed.

“It means that our armed forces are moving powerfully along the banks of the Dnipro nearer to Beryslav,” Khlan said.

“Officially, there is no such information yet, but the [Russian] social media pages, which are panicking, … absolutely confirm these photos,” he added.

Report: Russian commander fired after setbacks in Ukraine

Russia has sacked the commander of its western military district after a string of defeats in Ukraine have called into question the country’s tactics.

The Russian news outlet RBC said Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov would be replaced by Lieutenant General Roman Berdnikov, but there was no official confirmation of the change.

The western military district is one of five that make up Russia’s armed forces.

The reported departure of Zhuravlyov follows dramatic Russian losses in northeastern Ukraine last month and the recapture of Lyman by Ukrainian forces. The city had been an important logistics hub for Russia in the Donetsk region.

Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive has prompted criticism from Kremlin allies and rare public ridicule from allies of President Vladimir Putin.

Head of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant released: IAEA chief

The head of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been released, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi said on Monday.

Russian soldiers detained Ihor Murashov on Friday in what Ukraine called an act of terror.

“I welcome the release of Ihor Murashov, Director General of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant; I have received confirmation that Mr Murashov has returned to his family safely,” Grossi wrote on Twitter.

EU summons Russian diplomats over Ukraine ‘annexation’

The EU summoned Russia’s top diplomat in Brussels on Monday as part of a coordinated move with member states to condemn Putin’s “illegal annexation” of more Ukrainian territory.

“This is an EU-wide and EU coordinated exercise,” Peter Stano, a foreign affairs spokesman for the bloc, told AFP.

EU nations on Friday began calling in Russian envoys after Putin formally claimed four regions of Ukraine occupied by his troops since the invasion in February as Russian territory.

Europe must lower winter gas consumption: IEA

Europe must ramp down gas consumption to survive the winter given perilously low stocks, the International Energy Agency said on Monday.

Prices have exploded over recent months with a slump in Russian supply, leaving Europe to seek alternative sources.

The IEA warned of “unprecedented risks” of shortages unless demand is reined in, estimating cuts of nine per cent are needed compared with the average of the past five years if the continent is to make it through to the spring with “adequate” provision.

“The outlook for gas markets remains clouded, not least because of Russia’s reckless and unpredictable conduct, which has shattered its reputation as a reliable supplier. But all the signs point to markets remaining very tight well into 2023,” the agency warned in its latest quarterly report.

Russian FM says threats posed by Kiev forced Donbass people to abandon Ukraine

Serious threats on the part of the Kiev regime to the lives and security of people on a national, lingual and religious basis had been growing, which made the existence of the Donetsk and the Lugansk People’s Republics as well as the Kherson and the Zaporozhye Regions within Ukraine impossible, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday.

Addressing a State Duma plenary session, Lavrov stated: “Real threats to the lives and security of people, gross widespread violations of human rights, including the discrimination and prosecution of people for national, lingual, religious or political beliefs, had been on the rise.”

“All this rendered impossible the existence within Ukraine of those regions for whose people the Russian language and Russian culture have been native,” he continued.

In recent years, the Kiev regime “has waged an all-out war” against the Russian language, carried out widespread “abolition” of the Russian culture, while ostracizing the Orthodox Church and falsifying history shared by Russia and Ukraine, Lavrov explained.

“[Kiev] has been destroying books and dismantling monuments to those who liberated Ukraine from German occupation and forged the glory of the Soviet republic of Ukraine as part of the USSR. At the same time, laws have been passed that espouse the theory and practice of Nazism,” the foreign minister added.

The Ukrainian armed forces have been killing residents of Donbass with impunity, only because they refused to support the Kiev neo-Nazi regime and decided to stand up for their constitutional rights, he claimed.

“The Ukrainian armed forces and militants of nationalist factions have been killing residents of Donbass and neighboring areas without punishment only because they refused to share the neo-Nazi aspirations of the country’s new leadership and decided to stand up for their rights guaranteed by the Ukrainian constitution,” he said.

Among them, Lavrov stressed, is the right to the free use of their native Russian language.

“For long eight years Kiev has purposefully destroyed the civil infrastructure of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, imposed a financial, transport and energy blockade against Donbass, and cut off residents of these territories from social benefits, pensions, salaries, banking services, communications, education and healthcare,” the minister added.

Lavrov also emphasized that the Kiev regime has deprived the residents of Donbass of basic civil rights.

Under these conditions, he continued, independent republics were formed in Donbass in the spring of 2014 in order to preserve their own civilizational identity and life, but in view of Kiev’s refusal to recognize their special status under the Minsk agreements, Russia had no choice but to recognize their independence.

Russia, unlike the US, responds not to imaginary threats in distant countries but to real threats on its borders, Lavrov stated

“Then there was Yugoslavia, which the US and NATO tried to ‘bomb’ to turn into democracy, [they] destroyed Iraq, where weapons of mass destruction were never found, Libya was plunged into chaos. Now the moment of truth has arrived. We are not reacting to imaginary threats in distant countries, we are defending our borders, our homeland, all our people from real genocide, arranged by descendants and followers of Nazi henchmen who have gone to serve the overseas masters,” the diplomat noted

As Lavrov noted, the US, having subjugated the West to turn Ukraine into an instrument of war with Russia, acted according to the same scheme as Hitler did with regard to the USSR.

“Today, the US has subjugated virtually the entire collective West, mobilizing it to turn Ukraine into an instrument of war with Russia, just as Hitler once put most of Europe under arms to attack the Soviet Union,” the Russian top diplomat stressed.

“Just as then, the West’s current plans are not destined to come true. The president [of Russia Vladimir Putin] said this very clearly in the Kremlin,” Lavrov pointed out.

Moscow: Potential anti-Russian sanctions are double-edged sword

Moscow has no doubt that the West will continue to levy new anti-Russian sanctions, but this is a double-edged sword, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday.

“We have no doubt that more and more restrictions will be enacted, more and more illegal sanctions. This process will be quite long. It’s such a double-edged sword,” he said.

According to the press secretary of the Russian President, the West is understanding more and more “that you can shoot yourself in the foot indefinitely.”

“Why shoot themselves in the foot? Since all these sanctions backfire. They backfire to cause global inflation, global hunger, the global energy crisis, and so on,” he explained.

Russia keeps a close eye on Ukraine’s attempt to join NATO: Kremlin

Moscow is closely monitoring the situation around Kiev’s bid to join NATO, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday, recalling that Ukraine’s aspiration to join the alliance was one of the reasons for the special military operation.

“We are monitoring this decision very closely. And we remember that it was Ukraine’s NATO orientation and confirmation of Ukraine’s future membership in NATO that was one of the reasons for the special military operation,” he pointed out.

The Kremlin spokesman also drew attention to the fact that the NATO countries showed different reactions to Kiev’s statement.

“There are countries there that support this option of accelerated accession, there are countries that do not. In any case, everyone refers to the consensus rule,” Peskov commented on the situation.

Last Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed an application for the country to join NATO on an accelerated basis. The organization’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg did not respond to a direct question from reporters about whether the alliance was ready to consider such an application.

Ukrainian official: Ukraine makes further gains in south, including capturing town on bank of Dnipro river

Ukrainian forces have made additional gains in the country’s south, pushing towards the occupied city of Kherson and capturing the town of Zolota Balka on the western bank of the Dnipro river, according to a regional official and pro-Russian military blogger.

“Our Armed Forces are powerfully advancing just along the bank of the Dnipro closer to Berislav,” Serhii Khlan, adviser to the head of Ukraine’s Kherson region military administration, said in a news briefing.

The head of the Russian-appointed administration in Kherson, for his part, acknowledged that Ukrainian forces were advancing along the Dnipro river.

“What can I say, my friends?,” Kirill Stremousov stated, adding, “The Nazi forces got through a little bit further but our defense is working.”

“We are repelling all the attacks and to be fair those who are panicking today on social media they have to take a pause. It’s not Kharkiv here, it’s not Lyman here. We are holding our defence lines,” he continued.

Boris Rozhin, a Russian military blogger, said that Russian forces were trying to hold off Ukraine’s offensive.

“Artillery duels are going on between Zolota Balka and Dudchan,” he said on Telegram, adding, “Armed Forces of Ukraine are equipping strongholds in occupied positions.

US considering how to respond to possible Russian escalation in Ukraine: Sources

With concerns growing that Vladimir Putin will escalate Russia’s war in Ukraine, the US is considering how to respond to a range of potential scenarios, including fears that Russians could use tactical nuclear weapons, according to three sources briefed on the latest intelligence.

The US has since the start of the conflict been developing contingency plans to respond, including to the possibility that Russia’s President could escalate via a step just short of a nuclear attack on Ukraine, through what one source described as a “nuclear display,” such as a potential military strike on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, or the detonation of a nuclear device at high-altitude or away from populated areas.

Officials caution the US has not detected preparations for a nuclear strike. However, experts view them as potential options the US must prepare for as Russia’s invasion falters and as Moscow annexes more Ukrainian territory.

US officials have also taken somber note of the Russian President’s repeated public threats to use nuclear weapons.

In a televised address late last month, Putin stated, “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”

On Friday, at a ceremony in which he announced the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions, Putin said Russia would use “all available means” to defend the areas, adding that the US had “created a precedent” for nuclear attacks in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.

The US is studying the range of potential scenarios in order to have contingency plans in place for how it and its partners would respond to any such attacks. The potential for a “nuclear display” is considered an option if Putin stops short of ordering a nuclear strike on Ukrainian forces or population centers, opting instead for what one official described as a “show of bravado.”

Russia’s lower house approves annexation

The lower house of Russia’s parliament approved laws on annexing four Ukrainian territories into Russia, following a referendum that was denounced by Ukraine and the West and referred to as a “sham”.

No lawmakers in the State Duma voted against the resolutions, which were on incorporating Ukraine’s Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions into Russia.

Gas no longer leaking from Nord Stream pipelines

After leaks were reported in the Nord Stream gas pipelines, Sweden’s coast guard has said it can no longer see large gas leaks into the Baltic sea.

In a statement, the coast guard said: “The larger leak is now no longer visible on the surface while the smaller one instead has increased slightly”.

It added that the observations were made of the two pipelines during an overflight at around 8:00 am (0600 GMT).

“At that time, the smaller leak was approximately 30 metres in diameter,” the coast guard noted.

Ukraine making gains in Kherson: Russian-installed official

Ukrainian forces have made some breakthroughs in the southern Kherson region and taken control of some settlements, a Russian-installed official said on Monday.

“It’s tense, let’s put it that way,” Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed head of Ukraine’s Kherson region, stated on state television.

Russia formally annexed four Ukrainian territories last week, including the Kherson region.

However, none are fully under the control of Moscow’s forces, and Ukraine continues to advance in the south.

Lyman’s recapture allows Ukrainian forces to strike deeper: Think-tank

The recapture of Lyman, hours after Putin declared his annexation, allowed Kyiv’s forces to strike deeper into Russian-held territory and cut off supply routes, according to the Ukraine’s Centre for Defence Strategies think-tank.

Reserve colonel Viktor Kevlyuk at the think-tank said: “Thanks to the successful operation in Lyman we are moving towards the second north-south route … and that means a second supply line will be disrupted.”

Meanwhile, Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Luhansk region, stated that retaking Lyman is a key factor for reclaiming lost territory in Luhansk.

“The liberation of this city in the Donetsk region is one of the key factors for the further de-occupation of the Luhansk region,” Haidai added.

Nord Stream pressure stabilised: Gazprom

Russia’s Gazprom announced pressure in the Nord Stream gas pipelines has stabilised following leaks that caused gas to spill into the Baltic Sea.

A statement said the leaks had stopped and the energy giant was working to reduce environmental risks.

Meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted the United States had increased prices and sales of liquefied natural gas (LNG) after discovering the leaks.

“There is a party or a party that, in the absence of the functioning of these gas pipelines, is able to sell more LNG at a higher price. This side is well known, it is the United States,” Peskov continued.

He added, without specifying a country: “There are also countries that have the military-technological capabilities to carry out such sabotage.”

Norway’s military deploys troops to guard oil and gas plants

Norway’s military has posted soldiers to help guard onshore oil and gas processing plants to boost security after suspicions that sabotage caused leaks in the Nord Stream gas pipelines last week.

At the request of Norwegian police, the Norwegian Home Guard began to deploy troops at plants responsible for processing and exporting oil and gas.

The Norwegian government has announced it was unaware of any specific threats to oil and gas infrastructure but still sought to increase security and calm concerns among workers.

Residents in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia will be consulted on borders: Russia

The Kremlin said on Monday that it would consult with residents living in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia on how their borders should be defined after last week’s annexation announcement.

“We will continue to consult with people who live in these areas,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russia formally claimed to annex four Ukrainian territories last week, but none are entirely under the control of Moscow’s forces, and Ukraine continues to advance in the south.

Kremlin responds to Kadyrov’s nuclear weapons call

After the leader of the Chechnya region, Ramzan Kadyrov, called for Russia to use a “low-yield nuclear weapon” over the weekend, the Kremlin announced it favours a balanced approach.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was asked about the comments by Kadyrov, who has also criticised Russia’s military leadership over battlefield setbacks, and said he had the right to voice his opinion but that emotions should not drive Russia’s military strategy.

Peskov added the basis for any use of nuclear weapons was set down in Russia’s nuclear doctrine.

Lithuania declare Russian diplomat as persona non grata

Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday declared Russia’s top diplomat in the country persona non grata.

“(The diplomat’s) recent actions and statements are incompatible with a diplomat’s status and should be seen as interference in the host nation’s domestic affairs,” the ministry announced in a statement.

However, the ministry did not detail the alleged reasons for the Russian diplomat’s latest status and was told to leave the country within five days.

Lithuania expelled Russia’s ambassador in April and recalled its own, lowering its diplomatic ties to the level of charge d’affaires after Ukraine accused Russian forces of killing civilians in the town of Bucha.

Ukrainian military says Russia is making “door-to-door” conscription checks in occupied areas

Russian forces are carrying out “door-to-door” checks in occupied areas of Ukraine, looking for young men of conscription age, the Ukrainian military said on Monday.

“In the temporarily occupied territories, mobilization measures continue, during which the occupying forces carry out door-to-door and make lists of men of conscription age,” Ukraine’s Operational Command South announced in a statement.

Russian forces have also stepped up document checks at checkpoints, making it “as difficult as possible,” to leave the occupied areas, the statement added

Ukrainian officials have been warning for some time that Russia planned on using its claimed annexations as a pretext to draft Ukrainians in occupied areas to use as “cannon fodder.”

Ukrainian forces liberate Donetsk village and strike Russian targets in Luhansk: Military

Ukrainian forces liberated the village of Torske near Lyman in the Donetsk region on Sunday, as they inch closer to taking back the Luhansk region, according to the Ukrainian military.

Serhiy Cherevaty, spokesman for the Eastern Group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said on national television that Ukrainian forces are hitting Russian military units in Luhansk’s city of Kreminna “with fire.”

“For them (Russian occupiers), it is now very important to keep Kreminna. After overcoming Kreminna, the Armed Forces of Ukraine will go to Svatovo, Rubizhne, and further on they will be able to liberate the Luhansk region,” Cherevaty continued, adding they would also be able to take back Severodonetsk and Lysychansk should they win back control of Kreminna.

Ukraine’s latest gains come after the key Donetsk city of Lyman was liberated by Ukrainian forces at the weekend.

However, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Sunday that Ukraine’s military successes were not limited to Lyman. In his nightly address to the nation, Zelensky noted a substantial part of the war reports he receives are taken up with a growing list of recently liberated Ukrainian settlements.

“At least twice a day — in the morning and in the evening — I receive reports from our military. This week, the largest part of the reports is the list of settlements liberated from the enemy as part of our defense operation,” Zelensky said.

“The story of the liberation of Lyman in Donetsk region has now become the most popular in the media. But the successes of our soldiers are not limited to Lyman,” he added.

Zelensky also praised the liberation of Arkhanhelske and Myroliubivka settlements in Kherson region by soldiers of Ukraine’s 129th brigade.

Moscow says Blinken openly spoke about US, NATO motives to destroy Nord Stream pipelines

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Monday said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, as he held a joint news conference with Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, openly laid out the motives for the US and NATO to destroy the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines.

“Blinken openly, without hesitation, spoke about the fact that the US and its NATO partners have motives for the destruction of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines,” the diplomat said on Telegram.

Zakharova wrote Blinken stated the pipelines weren’t pumping any gas to Europe at the time, Nord Stream 2 hadn’t been allowed to operate, and Nord Stream 1 had been on hold for a few weeks because Russia used energy as a weapon.

Zakharova added Russia never used energy as a weapon.

“Russia, and before it the USSR, simply supplied Europe with gas. Without interruption. For 50 years. Washington’s lies serve only to confirm its criminal manipulation of this issue,” she noted.

As a motive to destroy the Nord Stream pipelines, Zakharova cited Blinken as saying that the US ramped up its production and are now a leading LNG supplier to Europe, helping to make up for any loss by Europe of oil and gas supplies from Russia.

Zakharova stated Ukraine had nothing to do with the situation and that “pressed by US officials, Kiev politicians regularly set conditions for the Russian side – verging on blackmail – for gas transit.”

The Nord Stream AG company reported that three threads of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 offshore gas pipelines had suffered unprecedented damage on September 26. Swedish seismologists later reported that two explosions had been recorded along the Nord Stream pipelines. The Danish Energy Agency reported that a large amount of gas had spilled into the sea. Aircraft and ships are barred from approaching the site any closer than five nautical miles.

The European Union has described the incidents as sabotage, stressing any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is unacceptable and would be met with a decisive response.

Russia collects facts on Nord Stream sabotage, sees Western trace

Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergey Naryshkin has said Russia continues to collect facts regarding the sabotage against the Nord Stream, but some indirect data point to a Western trace.

He made the statement in an interview on the Rossiya-1 television channel’s program ‘Moscow. Kremlin. Putin.’

“We continue to collect facts. They are so far indirect. But the indirect data, both the data that were earlier published and the data that aren’t yet in the public domain, of course point to a Western trace,” he stated, fielding questions from journalist Pavel Zarubin.

On Tuesday, the Nord Stream AG company reported that three threads of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 offshore gas pipelines had suffered unprecedented damage on September 26. Swedish seismologists later reported that two explosions had been recorded along the Nord Stream pipelines. The Danish Energy Agency reported that a large amount of gas had spilled into the sea. Aircraft and ships are barred from approaching the site any closer than five nautical miles.

The European Union has described the incidents as sabotage, saying any deliberate disruption of European energy infrastructure is unacceptable and would be met with a decisive response.

Russian President Vladimir Putin placed the responsibility for the situation on the West. According to Putin, the Anglo-Saxons “in effect started to destroy pan-European energy infrastructure.”

He added that, “It’s clear to everyone who benefits from it.”

Zelensky says success of Ukraine’s soldiers ‘not limited to Lyman’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that the success of the country’s soldiers is not limited to the recapture of Lyman.

“The story of the liberation of Lyman in the Donetsk region has now become the most popular in the media,” he stated in his nightly address.

“But the successes of our soldiers are not limited to Lyman,” he added without providing any details.

Ukraine advance in Lyman shows it can push back Russian forces: NATO

Ukraine’s capture of a city within the territory of Vladimir Putin’s declared annexation demonstrates that Ukrainians are making progress and able to push back against Russian forces, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has stated.

Stoltenberg said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, the best way to counter Russia’s proclaimed annexation of parts of Ukraine is to continue supporting the government in Kyiv.

Presidents of 9 NATO countries support Ukraine’s membership bid and call for more military aid

The presidents of nine NATO countries from Central and Eastern Europe issued a joint statement Sunday supporting Ukraine’s bid for membership of the defense alliance as they called for increased military aid to Kyiv.

The presidents of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia and Romania expressed their firm support for “the decision of the 2008 Bucharest NATO Summit regarding the future membership of Ukraine in the Alliance.”

“We support Ukraine in its defence against Russia’s invasion, demand Russia to immediately withdraw from all the occupied territories and encourage all Allies to substantially increase their military aid to Ukraine,” the statement added.

The statement noted that the leaders of these countries — which account for nearly a third of NATO’s members — “visited Kyiv during the war and witnessed with their own eyes the effects of Russian aggression.”

“We reiterate our support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. We do not recognize and will never recognize Russian attempts to annex any Ukrainian territory,” the statement said.

The statement also called on “all those who commit crimes of aggression” to be brought to justice.

A decision about Ukraine’s application for accelerated NATO membership must be agreed upon by all 30 members of the alliance, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general, stated Sunday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced Friday that Ukraine was applying “under an accelerated procedure” to become a NATO member.

US and allies not ‘intimidated’ by Putin: Biden

President Joe Biden has said the United States and NATO will not be intimidated by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and warned that the Western alliance would defend “every inch” of its territory if attacked.

“America and its allies are not going to be intimidated,” he stated in remarks at the White House.

Putin is “not going to scare us”, he stressed.

Biden then addressed the Kremlin leader directly, pointing his finger into the television camera as he warned against any attack spilling beyond Ukraine onto NATO territory.

“America’s fully prepared, with our NATO allies, to defend every single inch of NATO territory,” he continued, adding, “Mr Putin, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying: every inch.”

US defense secretary say Ukraine is “making progress” on the battlefield

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he believes Ukraine is “making progress,” in the Kherson region of the country as they continue to counter Russia’s invasion, adding there has been a “kind of change in the battlefield dynamics.”

Austin attributed the change to the skill of Ukrainian soldiers and their strategic use of weapons supplied by US and NATO allies, specifically their use of the high mobility air rocket systems, or HIMARS.

He made the comments in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria that aired Sunday on “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

“What we’re seeing now is a kind of change in the battlefield dynamics,” Austin stated, adding, “They’ve done very, very well in the Kharkiv area and moved to take advantage of opportunities. The fight in the — the Kherson region’s going a bit slower, but they’re making progress.”

Austin said Ukrainian forces have used “technology like HIMARS” and employed it in the “right way” to “conduct attacks on things like logistical stores and command and control, that’s taking away — taken away significant capability from the Russians.”

In doing so, Ukrainians have “changed the dynamics, and it’s created an opportunity for the Ukrainians to maneuver,” he added.

When asked why the US has not supplied longer-range weapons that Ukrainians have asked for, Austin noted he communicates with his Ukrainian counterpart, Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov, “routinely,” and believes the US has been “very effective in providing them those things that are very, very effective on a battlefield.”

Pope calls for end to ‘spiral of violence and death’

Pope Francis has for the first time directly appealed to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to stop the “spiral of violence and death” in Ukraine, saying he is haunted by “rivers of blood and tears”.

The head of the Catholic Church also condemned the annexation of four regions of Ukraine, saying it risked nuclear escalation and urged Putin to think of his own people during an address dedicated to Ukraine in St Peter’s Square.

He also called on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to consider proposals to halt the fighting.

“On the other side, pained by the enormous suffering of the Ukrainian population following the aggression it suffered, I address an equally hopeful appeal to the president of Ukraine to be open to a serious peace proposal,” he noted.

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