Sunday, March 3, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 233

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:

Putin says he has no regrets about Russia action’s in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that there is no need for more “massive” strikes against Ukraine “at least for now.”

His comments come after a week of deadly strikes on civilian targets in Ukraine, including in the Kyiv region.

When asked if he had regrets about his actions in Ukraine, Putin stated: “I have no regrets. I want to make it clear that what is happening now is unpleasant.”

He went on to stress that Russia actions in Ukraine are right and timely.

Putin said that any direct clash of NATO troops with Russia would lead to a “global catastrophe.”

“I hope that those who are saying this are smart enough not to take such steps,” the Russian president continued.

Putin stated that there are no plans to expand the military mobilization and that the drive will be over within two weeks.

“Mobilization is ending. I assume in two weeks all mobilizing measures will be over,” he continued.

Some 222,000 out of the planned 300,000 Russians have already been drafted into the army so far, the Russian leader noted.

EU foreign ministers will not sanction Iran over drones

A senior EU official said that European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday would not take any decisions on additional Iran sanctions after alleged drones delivered from Tehran to Moscow.

The official added that the 27-nation bloc is still trying to find independent evidence for the use of Iranian drones by Russia in Ukraine.

Iranian officials have dismissed reports claiming that Iranian-made drones were being sent to Russia “for use in the war in Ukraine,” calling them “baseless.”

US threatens sanctions on countries that back Russia

The United States can impose sanctions on countries and companies that provide ammunition to Russia or support its military-industrial complex, the US Treasury Department has said.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo stated the department would issue guidance to make clear that Washington is willing and able to impose such a crackdown.

“This morning, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control [OFAC] is issuing guidance making clear that we are willing and able to sanction people, companies, or countries that provide ammunition to Russia or support Russia’s military-industrial complex,” Adeyemo added.

OFAC and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security will also issue an alert “outlining our actions against Russia’s military-industrial complex and the risks for those providing material support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”, he added.

Western sanctions are hurting Russia’s ability to replenish military supplies: Intelligence analysis

Western sanctions have sharply curtailed Russia’s ability to replenish the munitions it is using in Ukraine, according to a new analysis from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence, forcing Moscow to task its intelligence services with finding ways to evade restrictions and procure the critical technology and parts to sustain its war effort.

Russia has lost more than 6,000 pieces of equipment since the war began nearly eight months ago, the analysis obtained by CNN shows, with the country’s military struggling to acquire the microchips, engines and thermal imaging technology required to make new weapons.

Sweeping Western restrictions on exports to Russia have forced the country’s defense industrial facilities to periodically go idle. Two of the country’s largest domestic microelectronics manufacturers were forced to temporarily halt production because they weren’t able to secure necessary foreign components. And a shortage of bearings — a low-tech component — has undermined the production of tanks, aircraft, submarines and other military systems.

Even as early as May, only a few months into the war, the Russian defense industry found itself short of supplies and components for marine diesel engines, helicopter and aircraft parts and fire control systems, according to the analysis. And Russia has turned to Soviet-era tanks, removing them from storage to use in Ukraine.

The details were shared in a presentation with senior finance officials from nearly 30 nations Friday, who gathered at the Treasury Department for an update from Deputy US Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo, Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves and Deputy Director of National Intelligence Morgan Muir on the sanctions’ effectiveness in choking off Russia’s military industrial complex.

Red Cross says it shares “frustration” about lack of access to prisoners of war in Ukraine

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said it shares the feeling of “frustration” about not having access to prisoners of war in Ukraine.

The Red Cross added that a lack of “practical arrangements” meant that there are thousands of prisoners it has not been able to visit.

“We share the frustration regarding our lack of access to all prisoners of war (POWs) held in the international armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” the ICRC said in a statement Friday.

“We have been able to visit hundreds of POWs but there are thousands more who we have not been able to see,” it continued, adding, “We want to stress that our teams are ready on the ground—and have been ready for months—to visit the Olenivka penal facility and any other location where POWs are held.”

“However, beyond being granted access by high levels of authority, this requires practical arrangements to materialize on the ground. We cannot access by force a place of detention or internment where we have not been admitted,” it noted.

The statement came after a top Ukrainian official called on the ICRC to immediately send a delegation to the Russian prisoner of war camp at Olenivka, where more than 50 Ukrainian prisoners died in a fatal rocket attack in July.

A visit to Olenivka could not happen without Russian consent, as the detention center is in Russian-occupied territory in eastern Ukraine.

Over 600 attacks on Ukrainian health care since beginning of war: WHO

There have been 620 attacks on health services in Ukraine since Russian launched its military invasion in February, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The agency’s top priorities are continuing support for the 150 health partners on the ground and responding urgently to the 620 attacks on health care since the beginning of the war, the agency’s Europe director Hans Kluge said Friday.

Other concerns for WHO include the health needs of those in Ukraine and “anticipating and preparing for challenges winter will bring,” he said at a press conference on the health impacts of the escalating conflict in Ukraine.

The winter season poses challenges specifically for those “living precariously” and unable to heat their homes, Kluge added.

“Wintertime challenges, and the recent escalation in fighting, could add to significant internal displacement with an anticipated two to three million people on the move in Ukraine itself as well as another exodus of refugees to surrounding countries,” he said.
“Consequently, there will be an even greater strain on health services both in Ukraine and refugee receiving countries,” he continued.

Mental health issues, another priority for WHO, will likely be “exacerbated,” stated Kluge.

“Ten million people… are potentially at risk of mental disorders, including acute stress, anxiety, depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said, adding that this estimate was made before the recent escalation in Ukraine.

SpaceX says it can no longer pay for critical satellite services in Ukraine

Since they first started arriving in Ukraine last spring, the Starlink satellite internet terminals made by Elon Musk’s SpaceX have been a vital source of communication for Ukraine’s military, allowing it to fight and stay connected even as cellular phone and internet networks have been destroyed in its war with Russia.

So far roughly 20,000 Starlink satellite units have been donated to Ukraine, with Musk tweeting on Friday the “operation has cost SpaceX $80 million and will exceed $100 million by the end of the year.”

But those charitable contributions could be coming to an end, as SpaceX has warned the Pentagon that it may stop funding the service in Ukraine unless the US military kicks in tens of millions of dollars per month.

Documents obtained by CNN show that last month Musk’s SpaceX sent a letter to the Pentagon saying it can no longer continue to fund the Starlink service as it has. The letter also requested that the Pentagon take over funding for Ukraine’s government and military use of Starlink, which SpaceX claims would cost more than $120 million for the rest of the year and could cost close to $400 million for the next 12 months.

“We are not in a position to further donate terminals to Ukraine, or fund the existing terminals for an indefinite period of time,” SpaceX’s director of government sales wrote to the Pentagon in the September letter.

Putin urges “goodwill” to resolve global conflicts, without mentioning war in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged the use of “goodwill” to settle conflicts around the world, without making a reference to the war in Ukraine.

“Everyone has goodwill, and we need to use this goodwill to the maximum” in resolving any conflicts, Putin said while speaking to the leaders at the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit.

“We must strive to find ways out of the current situation, wherever it arises,” he added.

Putin also stated that Russia “welcomes the mediation efforts of anyone, as long as they are directed at calming the situation, to the benefit all participants in the conflicts.”

“This also applies to our partners from the US and Europe,” he continued.

The event in the Kazakh capital of Astana is being attended by the leaders of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Since launching its invasion of Ukraine in February, the Kremlin has ruptured diplomatic ties with Kyiv and its Western allies.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree formally ruling out potential negotiations with Putin. It came in response to Putin’s announcement that he would illegally annex four regions in Ukraine, in a move widely condemned by international leaders.

Ukrainian army chief says “no one and nothing will stop us” in efforts to reclaim territory

The battlefield is “complicated but controlled” as Ukrainian forces push ahead with their counteroffensive to take back parts of the country seized by Russia in the early days of Moscow’s invasion, Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi stated.

“In fierce battles, under the steel rain of Russian shells, we held on to every piece of our land. We stopped the enemy onslaught and buried the myth about the invincibility of the Russian army. And now we’re getting ours back. No one and nothing will stop us,” Zaluzhnyi said in a Twitter post.

Zaluzhnyi noted last winter “is already part of world history.”

“We withstood a powerful enemy’s attack. We showed what it means to be Ukrainian, to have the courage to fight for your freedom,” he added.

In the latest indication that Russian troops are struggling in the face of Ukrainian advances, Moscow announced Thursday its forces would help evacuate residents of the occupied southern Kherson region to other areas.

The Ukrainian military has been carrying out a counteroffensive in Kherson and eastern parts of the country, taking back territory that had been occupied by Russia as well as striking critical infrastructure such as bridges and railways.

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated his plea for more air defense capacities as NATO defense ministers met in Brussels, stressing Kyiv has only about 10% of what it needs to combat deadly Russian strikes.

According to Zaluzhnyi, Russia’s superior artillery means “the issue of increasing the fire capabilities of the Armed Forces is still relevant.”

“The issue of the integrated air missile defense system development is also essential,” he stated.

In near unanimous vote, European lawmakers call for Russia to be declared a “terrorist” regime

An assembly of representatives drawn from 46 national parliaments across Europe voted overwhelmingly in favor on Thursday for a resolution calling on European countries to “declare the current Russian regime as a terrorist one.”

A total of 99 out of 100 members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted in support of the resolution. Only a Turkish MP from the Republican People’s Party abstained.

“The continued use of long-range artillery by the Russian military to hit towns and cities across Ukraine has caused massive destruction and death,” the resolution said.

“With these indiscriminate attacks, Russia aims to advance its terrorist policy to suppress the will of Ukrainians to resist and defend their country and provoke maximum harm to civilians,” it added.

The resolution called on Russian to “completely and unconditionally withdraw its occupying forces.”

PACE is a parliamentary body of the Council of Europe, an international organization separate from the European Union. It has a broader membership, including countries like Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom. PACE consists of national parliamentarians drawn from its member nations.

Ukraine demands Red Cross mission to Russian POW camp where prisoners died in shelling

Ukraine is demanding that the International Committee of the Red Cross immediately send a delegation to the Russian prisoner of war camp at Olenivka in the Russian-occupied Donetsk region.

Andriy Yermak, the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, published the call for a mission on the administration’s website.

“At the end of July, as a result of terrorist shelling by the Russian occupiers, more than 50 defenders of Ukraine were killed” at the camp, Yermak told the Red Cross, according to the public message.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced a Ukrainian HIMARS rocket attack was responsible for the strike. The CNN investigation, based on analysis of video and photographs from the scene, satellite imagery from before and after the attack and the work of forensic and weapons experts, concluded the Russian version of events was very likely a fabrication.

In the aftermath of the attack, the Russian Defense Ministry said it was ready for the Red Cross to visit the camp. But, despite repeated requests from the organization, no visit was ever arranged.

Yermak noted the conditions under which Ukrainian prisoners are held, and what they face in places of detention in the Russian Federation and in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine, “is extremely important.”

“There are concentration camps again, and it is impossible to remain silent about this,” he continued, adding, “Therefore, I call for the Red Cross mission with international media representatives to arrive in Ukraine no later than in three days, even if you do not receive confirmation from Russia by this time. And we are sure that Russia is not interested in the truth being known.”

It’s unclear how any mission to Olenivka could happen without Russian consent, as the detention center is in Russian-occupied territory.

Zelensky seeks legal mechanism to punish all Russian ‘murderers’

President Volodymyr Zelensky has stressed the need to punish all Russian “murderers and torturers” and appealed for more air defence systems to fight Moscow’s renewed bombardments.

Zelensky told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that bringing the offenders to book was necessary to ensure lasting peace on the continent.

“We must continue our dialogue in order to hold Russia as the aggressor state and each of the Russian murderers and torturers to account for all crimes in this war, for every manifestation of terror,” he said via video link.

“When these legal mechanisms are established and operational, it will be one of the most powerful guarantees of long-term peace,” he added.

NATO plans for nuclear worst-case scenario in Ukraine

NATO defence ministers have discussed how to prepare for a potential Russian nuclear attack against Ukraine and maximise the alliance’s nuclear deterrent.

“NATO’s nuclear deterrence preserves peace, prevents coercion and deters aggression,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said after a meeting of the alliance’s defence ministers.

Vladimir Putin’s “nuclear rhetoric is dangerous and irresponsible”, he added.

Ministers of 29 of the 30 alliance’s member states took part in a classified meeting of the so-called “Nuclear Planning Group” to assess the latest developments and threats by Putin.

Any use of nuclear weapons by Russia in Ukraine will have serious consequences but NATO will not spell out exactly how it would respond, the alliance’s secretary-general noted.

“It will have severe consequences if Russia uses any kind of nuclear weapon against Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO’s headquarters.

“We will not go into how exactly we will respond but of course this will fundamentally change the nature of the conflict. It will mean that a very important line has been crossed. Even any use of a smaller nuclear weapon will be a very serious thing, changing the nature of the war in Ukraine,” he continued.

Ukraine could extradite Russians to ICC: Prosecutor

Ukraine could extradite Russian war crimes suspects to the International Criminal Court (ICC) even though Moscow is not a member, the tribunal’s prosecutor has announced.

Kyiv authorities could send Russians to the Hague-based court if trials could not take place in Ukraine for legal reasons, ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan stated.

“Legally, yes, it wouldn’t represent an obstacle to our jurisdiction,” Khan told journalists at the headquarters of the EU’s judicial agency, Eurojust.

NATO will continue to support Ukraine but won’t be ‘dragged into’ war: US defense secretary

NATO will continue to support Ukraine but “will not be dragged” into the war there, the US secretary of defense has said.

Speaking at a news conference after the two-day meeting of NATO defence ministers, Lloyd Austin stated, “NATO will not be dragged into Russia’s war of choice but we will stand by Ukraine as it fights to defend itself.”

Austin noted Vladimir Putin’s “nuclear sabre-rattling” is “very dangerous”, but declined to reveal how NATO would respond to an eventual nuclear attack on Ukraine.

At the same time, he stressed that Moscow still has a choice “to end this war today”.

IAEA chief see progress in talks about Zaporizhzhia plant

There has been some progress in talks about the embattled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine, according to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“The work continues, and I believe we are making good progress,” Rafael Grossi said.

He was referring to a security zone for the Zaporizhzhia plant which he advocates. However, there were no concrete signals of approval from Moscow and Kyiv.

Grossi added the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant remains concerning and there is an urgent need for a “protection zone” around the site.

Spain to send air defence systems to Ukraine

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said that Spain is sending four medium-range air defence systems to Ukraine.

Stoltenberg added the older Hawk launchers from Madrid would complement more modern systems being supplied by France, Germany and the US.

“We have seen that when we mobilise, when we call on NATO allies to do more, they’re actually doing more, and that’s making a huge difference,” Stoltenberg noted after the NATO defence ministers meet.

France says Putin’s proposal for new ‘gas hub’ makes ‘no sense’

The French presidency has snubbed Putin’s proposal to build a new gas hub in Turkey to supply Europe, saying it made “no sense”.

“There is no sense in creating new infrastructures that allow more Russian gas to be imported,” the presidency said.

Russia, Ukraine exchange 40 prisoners in new swap

Moscow and Kyiv say they have exchanged 20 soldiers each in their latest prisoner swap.

“Another exchange of prisoners, another moment of joy,” Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak said on Telegram, adding, “We have managed to free 20 people.”

They were “14 soldiers of Ukraine’s army, four members of the territorial defence, a member of the national guard and a member of Ukraine’s navy”, Yermak continued.

There were also “people that the Russians detained in Olenivka prison and in the temporarily occupied areas of the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions”, he noted.

Kremlin says its goals in Ukraine can be achieved through talks

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has been quoted as saying that the goals of Moscow’s “special military operation” in Ukraine have not changed, but that they could be achieved through negotiations.

The comments to the Russian newspaper Izvestia were the latest in a series of statements this week stressing Moscow’s openness to talks – a change of tone that follows a run of humiliating defeats for Russian forces in Ukraine.

“The direction has not changed, the special military operation continues, it continues in order for us to achieve our goals,” Peskov stated, adding, “However, we have repeatedly reiterated that we remain open to negotiations to achieve our objectives.”

Russian army will be ‘annihilated’ if Putin nukes Ukraine: Borrell

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has warned Moscow its forces would be “annihilated” by the West’s military response if Putin uses nuclear weapons against Ukraine.

“Putin is saying he is not bluffing. Well, he cannot afford bluffing, and it has to be clear that the people supporting Ukraine and the European Union and the member states, and the United States and NATO are not bluffing neither,” Borrell said at the opening of a Diplomatic Academy in Belgium.

“Any nuclear attack against Ukraine will create an answer, not a nuclear answer but such a powerful answer from the military side that the Russian army will be annihilated,” he added.

NATO to keep close eye on Russia’s upcoming nuclear exercise: Stoltenberg

NATO will monitor an expected upcoming Russian nuclear exercise very closely, the alliance’s chief has said, in particular, in light of Moscow’s latest nuclear threats related to its conflict in Ukraine.

“We have monitored Russian nuclear forces for decades and, of course, we will continue to monitor them very closely and we will stay vigilant – also when they now start a new exercise,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.

“What I can say is that this exercise, the Russian exercise, is an annual exercise. It’s an exercise where they test and exercise their nuclear forces,” he added, apparently referring to Russia’s annual Grom exercise that normally takes place in late October and in which Russia tests its nuclear-capable bombers, submarines and missiles.

“We will monitor that as we always do. And of course, we will remain vigilant, not least in light of the veiled nuclear threats and the dangerous rhetoric we have seen from the Russian side,” Stoltenberg continued.

EU states to look into Russian war crimes in Ukraine

The European Commissioner for Justice has revealed that 14 European Union member states are investigating alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine.

Speaking after a meeting of European Union Justice Ministers in Luxembourg, Didier Reynders also advised that the collective will be working with the International Criminal Court and the European Court of Human Rights on moving the issues further.

Reynders then advised that the Justice Council has requested Ukraine to “ratify their own statute, to take part in the International Criminal Court”.

“For the moment they have a reporting of 37,000 incidents and they are working on the investigation dedicate to 3,200 war crimes,” he added.

Ukraine prosecutor opens investigation into Russian missile attacks

Ukraine’s top prosecutor says his office has opened criminal proceedings relating to Russian missile raids that struck the capital Kyiv and other cities across the country this week.

Speaking at a joint news conference with International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan in The Hague, Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin described the attacks as “a classic act of terror” by Russia.

He stated Moscow had launched more than 112 missile attacks since Monday, marking its biggest aerial offensive since the start of its invasion on February 24.

“All of the hits of every missile, every drone, every damage of civil infrastructure, every … Ukrainian who was killed or wounded by these missile attacks, all of them are documented and criminal proceedings were registered and opened,” Kostin added.

Russia has repeatedly denied deliberately attacking civilians in Ukraine. Moscow also denies violating international law and has dismissed allegations by Kyiv that Russian soldiers have carried out war crimes.

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