Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 223

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:

Kremlin says it won’t engage with Western ‘nuclear rhetoric’

The Kremlin has announced it does not want to take part in what it described as Western exercises in “nuclear rhetoric” after reports suggested Russia was preparing to demonstrate its willingness to use nuclear weapons.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s remarks came after The Times newspaper on Monday claimed NATO had warned member states that Russia was set to hold a nuclear test on Ukraine’s borders.

The British daily reported the alliance had distributed an intelligence report alerting members and allies to the alleged threat.

The warning reportedly made direct mention of Russia’s nuclear-capable torpedo drone, Poseidon, dubbed the “weapon of the apocalypse”.

The newspaper also said Russia had moved a train thought to be linked to a unit of the defence ministry that was responsible for nuclear munitions.

In a separate report, the Reuters news agency on Tuesday quoted an unnamed Western official as saying that there were no indications of unusual activity surrounding Moscow’s nuclear arsenal.

“We have not seen any indicators or activities that we would think are out of the norm. We have not seen activity which is beyond the usual for the sorts of activities that are conducted by those elements of the Russians’ strategic forces,” added the official.

Most countries understand Russia’s righteousness in Ukraine situation: FM

The vast majority of countries understand that Moscow is right in the situation around Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Tuesday.

“I assure you, the vast majority of countries understand that we are right perfectly well but, objectively speaking, not all of them have the courage and strength to speak frankly about it. Still, an overwhelming majority refuses to support the steps that the West is taking in the economic sphere and the overall sanctions pressure on Russia,” he pointed out.

According to the top diplomat, the West, immersed in an anti-Russian frenzy, “feels a lack of strong arguments in support of its position and seeks to intimidate all other countries, first and foremost, the developing countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, using threats and blackmail to make them take a position condemning Russia.”

Lavrov noted that it was further proof of the collective West’s weak position.

“If you believe that you are right, you should explain what you think about certain international developments and let other people decide for themselves like adults whose arguments are more convincing in this case, whether it’s Russia and the residents of Donbass and Ukraine who are unwilling to remain under the rule of a neo-Nazi regime, or it’s the collective West, who has proclaimed Ukraine a beacon of democracy and plegded to fight until the last Ukrainian in order to weaken Russia as much as possible or maybe even divide it,” the Russian foreign minister emphasized.

Moscow does not care whether Western countries recognize the four new Russian regions or not, Lavrov added.

“We do not care at all [about the West’s recognition],” Russia’s top diplomat said. “Of course, the entire world had better face this new reality, it was inevitable,” the foreign minister said.

Russia’s top diplomat said there were a huge number of legal arguments cementing the principle of equality and the right of peoples to self-determination, referring to the UN Charter. He also pointed to the UN General Assembly’s declaration which clearly obliged everybody to respect the territorial integrity of countries where governments acknowledge the right of an individual country to self-determination and represent the entire population.

According to Lavrov, Ukraine’s current regime led by Volodymyr Zelensky has so far not met the above criteria, nor did the previous administration of Pyotr Poroshenko comply with them. On the contrary, he insisted, grave violations were reported by both regimes.

“Never would nor will Donbass residents ever agree that the people who illegally seized power in Kiev represent the people residing in Donbass or in other areas of Ukraine whose residents inextricably link themselves to the Russian civilization,” the Russian foreign minister argued.

“This is why, in terms of international law, everybody had better show responsibility and face this obvious and objective reality,” Lavrov concluded.

UK to extend deployment of air defence system in Poland: Defence secretary

The United Kingdom will extend the deployment of an air defence system in Poland, the country’s defence secretary has announced during a visit to the southern Polish city of Zamosc.

“I am pleased to announce that we will extend the current posting of our medium air defence … for another period to make sure that as Poland helps to continue … logistical support to Ukraine it is safe in doing so,” Ben Wallace told a news conference.

Japan expels Russian consul in retaliatory move

Japan has ordered a Russian consul in Sapporo to leave the country by October 10 in retaliation for the expulsion of a Japanese diplomat in Vladivostok last month, the country’s foreign ministry has announced.

Takeo Mori, Japan’s vice minister for foreign affairs, summoned Russian Ambassador Mikhail Galuzin on Tuesday to inform him of the decision.

The move came after Russia’s FSB security agency said in September that it had detained a Japanese consul for suspected espionage and ordered him to leave the country.

“It is obvious that this latest step by the Japanese side can only lead to further deterioration of bilateral relations, which have already degraded recently as a result of Tokyo’s destructive policy,” Galuzin said in a statement.

After Zelensky decree, Kremlin says impossible to negotiate without Ukrainian president

The Kremlin has announced that Moscow will wait for a change in Ukraine’s position over peace talks, adding that it “takes two sides to negotiate”.

“We will either wait for the current president to change his position or wait for the next president to change his position in the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Zelensky decree rules out peace talks with Putin

Ukraine’s president has signed a decree formally declaring the prospect of any peace talks with his Russian counterpart as “impossible” but leaving the door open to talks with Russia.

The decree formalised comments made by Volodymyr Zelensky after Vladimir Putin proclaimed four partly occupied regions of Ukraine to be a part of Russia – a move Kyiv and its Western allies denounced as an illegitimate farce.

“He [Putin] does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia,” Zelensky noted.

Putin, who turns 70 this week, has dominated Russia’s political landscape for more than two decades and could run for office two more times under constitutional reforms he has presided over, potentially remaining in power until 2036.

Bodies of Russian soldiers lie in town recaptured by Ukraine

The bodies of Russian soldiers are lying in the streets of a key eastern Ukrainian town following a retreat that marked the latest defeat for Moscow.

The Ukrainian military collected the bodies of their comrades on Tuesday after fierce battles for control of Lyman, a key logistics and transport hub, but did not immediately remove the Russian corpses, according to reports.

Russia: Over 200,000 people drafted so far in ‘partial mobilisation’

More than 200,000 people have been conscripted into the Russian army since Putin announced a “partial mobilisation” of reservists on September 21, the country’s defence minister has been quoted as saying.

“As of today more than 200,000 people have entered the army,” Russian news agencies quoted Sergei Shoigu as saying.

“The training of the personnel of the formed units is carried out at 80 training grounds and in six training centers,” he added.

Shoigu’s remarks came after the governor of the Khabarovsk region, in Russia’s far east, said on Monday that thousands of mobilised reservists had been sent home after being deemed unfit for duty.

Russia’s nuclear threat must be taken seriously: German FM

Germany’s foreign minister has stated that while Russia’s threat to resort to nuclear weapons must be taken seriously, the international community has made clear that it won’t be daunted by them.

“It’s not the first time Putin has resorted to such threats, they are irresponsible and we must take them seriously,” Annalena Baerbock said during a visit to Warsaw.

“But it’s also an attempt to blackmail us, as we know from the more than past 200 days of this brutal war of aggression,” she added.

Russia’s Federation Council ratifies annexation of four Ukrainian regions

The upper house of Russia’s parliament has approved the annexation of four Ukrainian regions.

In a session on Tuesday, the Federation Council unanimously ratified legislation to formally “incorporate” the partly Russian-occupied Kherson, Zaporizhia, Luhansk and Donetsk regions into Russia, following a similar vote in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house, a day earlier.

The annexation documents now pass back to the Kremlin for President Vladimir Putin’s final signature to complete the process.

Kherson, Zaporizhia, Luhansk and Donetsk make up about 18 percent of Ukraine’s internationally recognised territory.

CIA director says it’s ‘hard to say’ if Putin ‘bluffing’ on nuclear weapons

CIA Director William Burns said that it’s “hard to say” if Russian President Vladimir Putin is “bluffing” when it comes to threatening the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

During an interview on “CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell,” the host asked Burns if there are any signs that Russia will deploy nuclear weapons.

“Well, we have to take very seriously [any] kind of threats given everything that’s at stake. And, you know, the rhetoric that he and other senior Russian leaders have used is reckless and deeply irresponsible,” Burns stated.

“We don’t see any practical evidence today in the US intelligence community that he’s moving closer to actual use, that there’s an imminent threat of using tactical nuclear weapons,” he added.

When O’Donnell asked if Putin is “bluffing” with his threats, Burns replied that US officials have to take his actions seriously either way.

“It’s very hard to say at this point. And, as I said, what we have to do is take it very seriously, watch for signs of actual preparations, and also — and this is the role of policymakers,” Burns continued, noting, “And I’m no longer a policymaker. But to communicate very directly the severe consequences that would flow from any use of nuclear weapons.”

Putin on Friday signed treaties of annexation for four regions of eastern and southern Ukraine, escalating a conflict with Kyiv and its Western allies, which called the move illegal. The move came after Putin warned that Moscow would deploy its massive nuclear arsenal to protect Russia’s territory or its people.

US has not seen large-scale Russian reinforcement in Ukraine: Official

The United States still has not seen a large-scale Russian reinforcement of its troops in Ukraine, even as it moves ahead with a mobilisation, a US military official has said.

“Broadly speaking, we’ve seen relatively small numbers [of Russian reinforcements] … but nothing large-scale at this stage of the game,” the official stated, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity.

US to send mobile rocket launchers to Ukraine

The Joe Biden administration’s next security assistance package for Ukraine is expected to include four High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers, munitions, mines and mine-resistant vehicles, two sources briefed on the $625m package told the Reuters news agency.

The package, expected to be announced as soon as Tuesday, is the first aid package since Russia’s most recent declared annexation of Ukrainian territory and the second Presidential Drawdown Authority since Ukraine made large battlefield gains in mid-September.

By using drawdown authority, the four HIMARS launchers and associated rockets, some 200 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, ammunition for Howitzers, and mines can be sent to Ukraine in the coming days.

Ukraine estimates $35bn in environmental damage from Russia invasion

Environmental damage in Ukraine caused by Russia’s invasion was estimated at around 36 billion euros ($35.3bn), with millions of hectares of natural reserves under threat, Ukraine’s environment minister has said.

One-fifth of protected areas in Ukraine are at risk of destruction and about 2,000 cases of environmental damages have already been recorded, the environment minister, Ruslan Strilets, stated, showing slides to European Union lawmakers at a hearing in the EU Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

According to estimates from the Ukrainian government, the bill from air pollution caused by the war in Ukraine is so far about 25 billion euros ($24bn) and another 11.4 billion euros ($11bn) are needed to address damage to soil.

Citing a new methodology developed by the Ukrainian government to calculate the damages, Strilets noted the seven-month-old war alone had caused 31 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, roughly the amount produced by New Zealand annually.

He added another 79 million tonnes of greenhouse emissions could be produced for the reconstruction of infrastructure and buildings destroyed during the war.

UK at “significant risk” of gas supply shortage this winter due to war in Ukraine: Energy regulator

The UK may enter a “gas supply emergency” in winter due to the war in Ukraine, UK’s energy regulator Ofgem announced on Monday.

Ofgem made the comments in response to a request by energy company SSE, who are worried that in case of a gas supply emergency, they will run out of money if they are hit with large penalties for not being able to deliver electricity.

“Due to the war in Ukraine and gas shortages in Europe, there is a significant risk that gas shortages could occur during the winter 2022/23 in Great Britain (‘GB’). As a result, there is a possibility that GB could enter into a Gas Supply Emergency,” Ofgem said in a letter.

“This winter is likely to be more challenging than previous ones due to the Russian disruption of gas supplies to Europe,” an Ofgem spokesperson told CNN Monday.

“Britain is in a good position with little direct import of gas from Russia; our own domestic gas production; reliable supplies from Norway; and the second-largest port capacity in Europe to import liquified gas. Nevertheless, we need to be prepared for all scenarios this winter,” the Ofgem spokesperson added.

Ofgem stated that they are putting in place sensible contingency measures “to ensure that the UK energy system is fully prepared for this winter.”

France wants to “make the cost of war unbearable for Russia”: PM

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told lawmakers on Monday that although the war in Ukraine will last, France is ready and wants to “make the cost of war unbearable for Russia.”

During her address before France’s lower house of parliament, Borne emphasized that “Russia is likely to go further into illegality and escalation,” and that France “will not weaken, neither in the face of the Russian aggressor nor to protect the French (people). The war in Ukraine will last but we are ready, the resistance of the Ukrainian people obliges us, we will be up to it.”

France has provided more than 200 million euros ($195 million) in aid to Ukraine and 2,500 tons of material have been delivered, according to the prime minister.

Borne added that “the sanctions against Russia are working. The facts are there: the Russian economy is suffocating.”

France’s goal in the conflict is demilitarization and the country is “determined that the crimes committed by Russia will be documented, tried and punished,” Borne continued.

Prior to Borne’s speech, the members of parliament paid a tribute to the Ukrainian ambassador to France Vadym Omelchenko, who was attending the session.

Biden administration is “closely” watching Russia’s actions amid concerns Putin could escalate his war

The US is “closely” watching Russia’s actions at the Zaporizhzhia power plant amid concerns that President Vladimir Putin could escalate his war with Ukraine and has been “thinking through” the response for any potential use of nuclear weapons by Russia.

“We’re watching this as closely as we can. And we’ve seen nothing that would make us change our strategic deterrent posture. So I think, you know, we take these threats seriously,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on “New Day,” adding that there have been no indications that Putin has moved toward any preparations for a nuclear attack.

Kirby suggested the US has taken steps toward preparing for a response should Russia use nuclear weapons.

“It’s irresponsible rhetoric coming from a modern nuclear power, so of course, we have been thinking through how we can make sure we can preserve our national security interest and those of our allies in NATO,” he said.

Pressed by Keilar on whether any of Russia’s tactical nuclear missiles might evade detection, Kirby stated the US watches it “as best we can” but declined to comment further.

Asked about new reporting from CNN that Ukraine is offering the US oversight of targets, Kirby would not say whether the US would accept veto power, but noted that the US is in “constant communication” with their Ukrainian counterparts.

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