Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 225

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:

EU approves new anti-Russia sanctions

The European Union has announced a new batch of “biting” measures intended to reinforce pressure on the Russian government and economy.

According to a statement published on its website on Thursday, the sanctions package “introduces into EU legislation the basis to put in place a price cap related to the maritime transport of Russian oil for third countries and further restrictions on the maritime transport of crude oil and petroleum products to third countries.”

The bloc is also extending an import ban on steel products that either originate in Russia or are exported from Russia. Further restrictions are also imposed on wood pulp and paper, cigarettes, plastics and cosmetics as well as elements used in the jewelry industry such as stones and precious metals. The aviation sector faces further restrictions on the sale, supply transfer or export of goods.

In addition, the sanctions target more individuals, including at the Russian defence ministry. They also ban EU nationals from holding any posts on the board of certain Russian state-owned organizations, entities or bodies.

“We are further hitting Russia’s war economy, limiting Russia‘s import/export capacities and are on the fast-track to liberate ourselves from Russian energy dependence..,” EU top diplomat, Josep Borrell said.

Zelensky accuses Russia of ‘nuclear blackmail’ over Zaporizhzhia plant

Ukraine’s president has accused Russia of “nuclear blackmail” over its seizure of the Zaporizhzhia power plant in southeastern Ukraine.

“[The] capturing of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant [stands] for nuclear blackmail and for exerting pressure on the world and on Ukraine,” Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address to the Sydney-based Lowy think tank via a translator.

“You’re not using the weapons, but you can still be blackmailing by not having the nuclear power plant working for the people – the people are not receiving the electricity,” he added.

Russia captured the plant in March, shortly after invading Ukraine, and President Vladimir Putin ordered his government on Wednesday to take full control of its operations. The plant is Europe’s largest, and Ukrainian staff have continued to operate it until now despite Russian forces’ occupation of the site.

New Russian conscripts to face Kherson ‘dilemma’: British intelligence

Russian reservists will be deployed to Kherson where commanders face a political-military “dilemma”, British intelligence believes.

Defence of the southern region would be “more tenable” by withdrawing troops in the face of rapid Ukrainian advances, according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Russian foreign ministry: Moscow ‘fully committed’ to avoiding nuclear war

Russia is “fully committed” to the principle of never allowing a nuclear war to be fought, a spokeswoman for the country’s foreign ministry has said.

Maria Zakharova told a news briefing that Moscow’s position on the issue had not changed.

Her remarks came amid mounting fears over a possible nuclear escalation in Ukraine as Russia’s invasion of its neighbour falters. President Vladimir Putin has warned he is “not bluffing” over his willingness to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia’s territorial integrity.

US gives $55mn heating package as Ukraine braces for winter

Samantha Power, the head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), has announced a $55 million investment in Ukraine’s heating infrastructure, as the war-torn country braces for a grim winter.

“This assistance will support repairs and maintenance of pipes and other equipment necessary to deliver heating to homes, hospitals, schools, and businesses across Ukraine,” according to a USAID statement.

“The new USAID assistance will directly benefit up to seven million Ukrainians in 19 regions,” it said.

“USAID will also provide power generators and alternative fuel sources to hospitals, centers for internally-displaced persons, and shelters for socially vulnerable citizens, helping provide Ukrainians with access to warm shelter during winter,” it added.

“The assistance will target parts of Ukraine that have been devastated by Putin’s war, including the regions of Chernihiv, Kharkiv, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Zaporizhzhya, and Zhytomyr,” the statement read.

Power arrived in the Ukrainian capital Thursday to meet a range of people, the US Embassy said in a post on Facebook.

The Joe Biden administration has emerged as a staunch ally to Kyiv after Moscow launched its military assault on Ukraine earlier this year.

Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion in late-February, the US has committed more than $16 billion in security assistance to Ukraine.

Last week the Pentagon announced $1.1 billion in extra military aid to Ukraine, which a senior defense official called a “multiyear investment” in the country’s defenses.

Moscow: West forced Ukraine into rendering negotiations with Russia impossible

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has stated that the West forced Kiev into rendering negotiations with Moscow impossible.

“We have paid attention to a recent decree by the Ukrainian president to approve the decision of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council on the “impossibility” of negotiating with the Russian president”, Zakharova told reporters on Thursday.

She drew parallels with the Minsk peace agreements, saying that Kiev at first “pretended that it wants to clinch them, then that those accords were being concluded and implemented only to finally announce that it was not going to deal with them, misleading the international community”.

“Already at the time it was obvious that this was done at the behest of the West, which does not want a cessation of hostilities [in Ukraine] and intends to continue them”, Zakharova emphasized.

US supplies HIMARS to Kiev in order to drown Ukraine in blood: Russian MFA

The purpose of Washington’s supplies of HIMARS multiple rocket launchers and ammunition to the Kiev regime is to drown Ukraine in blood, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing on Thursday.

“With every passing week more and more money is poured there, into the region, to the Kiev regime, to ensure the hostilities do not stop and ever more people die, in order to drown the region in blood with American money not backed by anything in the United States, whose public debt recently exceeded $31 trillion,” Zakharova said, commenting on Washington’s preparations for sending another batch of HIMARS to Ukraine.

Zakharova stressed that the US was ready to add four more launchers to the already provided sixteen HIMARS systems and ammunition $625 million worth.

“You can imagine the strength of hatred towards us,” she continued.

“The Americans openly admit that they transmit satellite and other intelligence data to the Ukrainian army’s command almost in real time mode and participate in the planning of military operations. What is it, if not complicity? This is a real hybrid war,” she added.

Zelensky says three villages in Kherson region recaptured from Russia

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky stated three villages in the country’s southern Kherson region had been recaptured from Russian troops.

“Novovoskresenske, Novogrygorivka and Petropavlivka … were liberated in the last 24 hours,” he noted in a video posted on social media, adding that the counteroffensive “continues”.

Germany, Spain stick to plan to build new gas pipeline as leaders meet

Germany and Spain are sticking to their plan to build a new gas pipeline across the Pyrenees in defiance of French opposition, a joint action plan showed, as the leaders of the two European nations met in the northern Spanish city of La Coruna.

The meeting between German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez came as their governments disagreed on other possible measures to tackle Europe’s energy crisis in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Spain has backed calls within the European Union for a gas price cap and for joint borrowing to help the 27-nation bloc navigate the energy crunch. Germany has opposed both measures and come under criticism for going its own way with a vast 200-billion-euro ($197.6bn) relief package its peers could not afford.

“We will both continue to lobby for a higher interconnection capacity of the Iberian Peninsula in order to enhance its contribution to the security of supply to the whole of EU,” the action plan said.

“The construction of a sufficiently big hydrogen-ready gas pipeline across the Pyrenees to be operative by 2025 is of paramount importance in order to achieve a truly robust internal energy market within the EU, accelerate the green transition and reinforce EU’s strategic autonomy,” it added.

Russia says it may cut oil output if price caps introduced

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said Moscow may cut oil production in order to offset negative effects from price caps imposed by the West over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.

The price cap plan agreed by Group of Seven (G7) wealthy nations calls for participating countries to deny insurance, finance, brokering, navigation and other services to oil cargoes priced above a yet-to-be-determined price cap on crude and oil products.

The European Union is looking at an oil price cap to match the one agreed by the G7, diplomats said last month.

“We believe that this tool is in breach of all the market mechanisms. It could be very pernicious for the global oil industry … We will be ready to cut production (deliberately),” Novak noted in televised comments.

EU chief says bloc should consider temporary gas price caps

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says the EU should consider imposing a temporary limit on gas prices and also look at a specific cap on the cost of gas used to generate power.

“We should consider a price limitation in relation to the TTF in a way that continues to secure the supply of gas to Europe and to all Member States and that would demonstrate that the EU is not ready to pay whatever price for gas,” von Der Leyen stated, referring to the Dutch Title Transfer Facility (TTF) gas price.

Such a cap would be a temporary fix while the EU works on launching a new gas price benchmark, she added.

Electricity at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant ‘fragile’: IAEA chief

The electricity supply at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant is fragile, the UN atomic watchdog told the Energy Intelligence Forum in London.

“The situation with regards to external power continues to be extremely precarious,” Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said by telephone from Ukraine.

“We do have at the moment external power, but it is, I would say, fragile. There is one line feeding the plant,” he continued.

He added he planned to visit Russia for talks.

Earlier, both Ukrainian and Russian officials announced they had control of the plant.

UN nuclear watchdog chief will travel to Kyiv after Putin announces seizure of Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

The chief of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency will head urgently to Kyiv after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to incorporate Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, located in Zaporizhzhia, as Russian federal property.

“On our way to Kyiv for important meetings. The need for a Nuclear Safety and Security Protection Zone (NSSPZ) around Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant is now more urgent than ever,” Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), tweeted.

Russian forces have controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant for months, and the area has seen heavy fighting in recent weeks.

Earlier on Wednesday, Putin signed a decree that puts the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power under Russian state control — and amends the country’s constitution by admitting new regions into the Russian federation.

The annexation of Zaporizhzhia and three other regions has been widely condemned by the international community as “a sham”, and the vast majority of governments have described it as against international law.

The confrontation over the status of the plant, and shelling that has damaged some installations there, has led the IAEA to intervene.

Putin signs decree making ‘corrections’ to partial mobilisation

During televised comments, President Vladimir Putin said he had signed a decree making “corrections” to the partial mobilisation drive he announced on September 21.

Speaking at a broadcasted meeting with teachers, Putin noted the new decree would defer conscription for additional categories of students, including those enrolled at accredited private universities and certain postgraduate students.

Since the decree was announced, thousands of Russians have fled to neighbouring countries to avoid fighting in the Ukraine war.

Russia has ‘great respect’ for Ukrainians: Putin

President Vladimir Putin said at a televised meeting with teachers that Russia has “great respect” for the Ukrainian people, despite what he called “the current situation”.

Speaking about the illegal annexation of the four Ukrainian regions that he declared Russian territory on Friday, Putin stated he expected the situation to “stabilise”.

Putin signs decree taking Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant into Russian federal ownership

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed a decree that puts the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine under Russian state control — and amends the country’s constitution by admitting new regions into the Russian Federation.

Putin also instructed the cabinet to determine how to regulate and operate the Zaporizhzhia plant — which has been under Russian military control since March — through 2028.

The annexation of Zaporizhzhia and three other regions has been widely condemned by the international community as “a sham”, and the vast majority of governments have described it as against international law.

The confrontation over the status of the plant, and shelling that has damaged some installations there, has led the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to intervene.

Just as Putin was signing the decree, the Ukrainian state nuclear operator, Energoatom, announced its president would assume the duties of the plant’s director general.

Petro Kotin, Energoatom president, said in a video address to the employees of the plant: “In accordance with the current legislation, approval and regulatory documents, I have decided to take up the duties of the director general of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.”

He added the administration of the plant would be transferred directly to Kyiv following the detention by Russian officials of the plant’s general director, Ihor Murashov. The official also noted that operational issues at the plant would be resolved by the technical staff by agreement with the central office of the company.

“Undoubtedly, our work, our destiny, our homes and our future are with Ukraine, as always. We will continue to work in accordance with Ukrainian legislation, in the Ukrainian energy system, in Energoatom. Don’t doubt it!” Kotin noted.

On Tuesday, the IAEA announced that Murashov will not continue his duties at the nuclear power plant following his release from Russian detention.

The nuclear plant, with six reactors, is the largest in Europe. It continues to be run by Ukrainian technicians, but the forcible annexation of Zaporizhzhia means that according to Russian law it is now on Russian territory.

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