Monday, May 20, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 236: Ukraine calls for sanctions against Iran over alleged drone sales to Russia

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:

Ukraine and Russian-backed authorities in Donetsk region swap over 100 prisoners each

The Ukrainian government and Russian-backed authorities in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region each freed more than 100 prisoners on Monday in a swap.

The Russian-backed side released 108 Ukrainian women, both military and civilian, according to Ukraine’s Coordinating Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Among the released Ukrainians are members of the Armed Forces, servicewomen in the Navy, National Guard and Border Guard. The Russian-backed authorities also released 12 Ukrainian civilians.

“It was a very nerve-wracking exchange,” Andrii Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, wrote on Telegram.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government released 110 people, among them 80 civilian sailors and 30 servicemen who serve on behalf of Russia, according to Denis Pushilin, the Russian-backed leader in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, which Russia now claims to be part of its country.

Military jet crashes into residential area in Russia

A Russian Su-34 supersonic fighter-bomber jet crashed into a residential building in the city of Yeysk on Monday, the Russian state media TASS reported.

The crash was due to ignition of one of the engines, Russian state media RIA Novosti reported citing the country’s defense ministry.

It is not clear how many people were in the fighter jet.

“On October 17, 2022, a Su-34 aircraft crashed while climbing to perform a training flight from the military airfield of the Southern Military District,” the ministry said in a statement to RIA.

“According to the report of the ejected pilots, the cause of the plane crash was the ignition of one of the engines during take-off. At the site of the crash of the Su-34 in the courtyard of one of the residential quarters, the plane’s fuel ignited,” it added.

According to the testimony TASS received from an eyewitness, the firefighters and ambulances have arrived at the scene.

“Plane crashed in our city. In Yeysk. In the area of ​a residential building – Kommunisticheskaya, house 20/1. Ambulances and firefighters are coming from all over the city, helicopters are in the air,” noted the eyewitness, as quoted by TASS.

The state media reported that another resident of the city specified that this residential building has nine floors. The entire house is on fire, according to the eyewitnesses.

Yeysk is located across the water from the Russian-occupied city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian presidential adviser calls for Russia’s expulsion from G20

An adviser in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office has called for Russia to be expelled from the G20 forum of leading nations.

“Those who give orders to attack critical infrastructure to freeze civilians and organize total mobilization to cover the frontline with corpses, cannot sit at the same table with leaders of G20 for sure,” Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the President’s office, said on Twitter.

“Time to put an end to ru-hypocrisy. RF must be expelled from all platforms,” he added.

Russia was expelled from the G8 in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea. The G20 is set to meet in Bali, Indonesia, next month. The Kremlin has not yet confirmed whether President Vladimir Putin will attend, but said that Russia will participate.

Ukraine claims it shot down 36 of 42 drones used in Monday’s attack

Kyiv’s security forces were able to shoot down 36 of 42 attack drones that Russia launched on Monday, Ukraine’s interior minister said on Monday.

“It shows that this attack has not reached its goal. I think that the goal was to outdo the last Monday missiles attack. But this did not happen today,” Denys Monastyrskyi told Ukrainian television.

Of those 42 drones, around 30 targeted Kyiv, he continued, adding that the others targeted the Sumy and Dnipropetrovsk regions.

At least one drone in Kyiv was brought down by small arms fire from police officers, he added.

However, he warned that the chance of shooting down a drone with small arms fire is quite low with a high risk.

“I would like address those citizens who have firearms in their possession: shooting from a rifle or a gun from the high-rise building might cause more damage than a chance to shot down a drone,” he said.

US to penalize Iran for alleged missile sales to Russia

The United States intends to further crack down on Iran for helping Russia in the war on Ukraine, a US official stated Monday following reports that Tehran plans to send Moscow missiles to use on the battlefield.

The penalties — likely to include economic sanctions and possibly some export controls — would also target third parties that help Tehran and Moscow.

“Are we going to do more about Iranian military sales to Russia? Absolutely, yes,” the US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

“For any anybody in the world who is either selling material to Iran that could be used for [unmanned aerial vehicles] or ballistic missiles, or who is involved in flights between Iran and Russia: Do your due diligence, because we are absolutely going to sanction anybody who’s helping Iranians help Russians kill Ukrainians,” the official added.

The Washington Post daily reported over the weekend that Iran — in addition to continuing to sell Russia drones, some of which are used kamikaze style to crash into targets — plans to send Moscow surface-to-surface missiles. Those could include Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar missiles, two Iranian short-range ballistic missiles, according to the newspaper.

The US official noted that the Biden administration has in the past publicized such sales and made clear they would lead to penalties.

“We’ve been we’ve been very public warning people about coming sales, including the UAV sales since the summer,” the official said, adding, “Iran has just lied about them, and they’re being caught in their lies.”

Iran has denied supplying its drones and missiles to Russia.

‘Terror must lose and will lose’: Zelensky

Ukraine will bring to justice every Russian involved in “kamikaze” drone attacks that hit Kyiv and killed four people, President Volodymyr Zelensky says on Telegram.

He wrote: “It seems that the current enemy unites in its evil all previous enemies of our statehood. It acts insidiously – kills civilians, hits housing, infrastructure.

“Today, as a result of the occupiers’ attack on a residential building in Kyiv, 4 people have already died. Among them is a young family who was expecting a child. Search and rescue operations are still ongoing,” the president continued.

“Terror must lose and will lose, and Ukraine will prevail and will bring to justice every Russian terrorist – from commanders to privates – who carried out criminal orders,” he added.

Russia: Extension of Black Sea grain deal depends on Western sanctions

Russia has told a top United Nations official that the extension of a deal that allows grain exports to leave Ukrainian ports is dependent on the West easing agricultural and fertiliser sanctions, the defence ministry says in a statement.

In a meeting in Moscow, Russia’s deputy defence minister, Alexander Fomin, told UN Undersecretary General Martin Griffiths that extending the deal “directly depends on ensuring full implementation of all previously reached agreements”.

Russia announced the impact of Western sanctions on logistics, payments, shipping and insurance prevents it from exporting fertilisers and that easing those restrictions was a key part of the deal brokered in July by Turkey and the UN.

US and UK to work closer on sanctions against Russia

The United States and the United Kingdom will further their cooperation on sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine as well as on other targets, top financial officials for the two allied nations announced in a joint statement on Monday.

“Over time, we expect to realize the benefits of our collaboration not only in relation to the sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but also across other common sanctions regimes,” Andrea Gacki, the head of the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, and Giles Thomson, the head of Britain’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation, wrote.

EU investigating claims Iran sold drones to Russia

The European Union is investigating Iran’s alleged sale of drones to Russia as it warns of possible further sanctions on Tehran.

The bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated, “We are following very closely this use of drones. We are gathering evidence and we will be ready to react with the tools at our disposal.”

He spoke after chairing a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

Borrell noted that Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba denounced the use of drones in a speech to the ministers via video-link from a bomb shelter.

Iran has denied supplying its Shahed-136 drones to Russia.

Zelensky aide says Iran ‘responsible for murders of Ukrainians’, despite Tehran’s denial over drones

Kyiv has accused Tehran of being complicit in the deaths of at least six Ukrainians after Russia launched dozens of kamikaze drones at cities and critical infrastructure sites.

Mykhailo Podolyak, advisor to Ukraine’s presidential office, said on Twitter: “Iran is responsible for the murders of Ukrainians. Country that oppresses its own people is now giving ru-monsters weapons for mass murders in the heart of Europe.

“That is what unfinished business and concessions to totalitarianism mean. The case when sanctions are not enough…” he added.

Tehran has denied supplying its Shahed-136 drones to Russia.

Kyiv death toll rises to 4

The number of people killed after Russian strikes in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, has now reached four, the city’s mayor said Monday.

“We’ve got already 4 people dead under the ruins of the building in the Shevchenkivsky district which was hit by the Russian terrorist drone,” Vitali Klitschko wrote on Telegram.

“The rescuers found another body of a man there. The rescue operation is ongoing. There could be some other people under the rubble,” he added.

Three people have been taken to the hospital, he stated, two of whom are emergency responders.

Ukrainian foreign minister calls for sanctions against Iran

Ukraine’s foreign minister said “the patience broke,” as he explained why he called for sanctions against Iran on Monday at an EU meeting after dozens of drones struck across the country and the capital city of Kyiv.

“Today, for the first time in the history of Ukrainian-Iranian relations, I called for sanctions against Iran,” Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in the video statement on his Facebook page.

“The patience broke. We listened to various explanations and arguments for a very long time, but it’s impossible to hide the truth. And this truth today flew into the houses of the city of Kyiv. Therefore, the time has come to apply sanctions against Iran for the supply of weapons to the Russian Federation,” Kuleba added.

The foreign minister stated sanctions against Iran would send a message that anyone helping Russia will “suffer and feel the price of it.”

Earlier Monday, EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell noted that the EU “will look for concrete evidence” on Iran’s involvement in the war in Ukraine, ahead of today’s scheduled meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.

The Ukrainian military and officials have claimed that Russia has used Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones to attack the Ukrainian cities.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman has rejected Western media reports about Iran sending combat drones to Russia to be used in the Ukraine war as “baseless.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran considers reports about delivering drones to Russia for use in the Ukraine war ‘baseless’ and does not confirm them,” he said.

“Since the beginning of the conflict, we have voiced our principled and clear policy of active neutrality and opposition to war, while stressing the need for the two sides to solve their problems through political means free from violence,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman added.

Russia launched 42 drone attacks across Ukraine

Russia launched 42 drone attacks across Ukraine today, of which 36 were shot down before they hit their targets, a senior government advisor has said.

Anton Gerashchenko, advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs, stated five of the 30 that targeted the capital city got through.

Russia’s defence ministry has announced it carried out a “massive” attack on military targets and energy infrastructure across Ukraine using high-precision weapons.

In its daily briefing the defence ministry claimed it had hit “all designated targets” in the latest bombardment of Ukrainian cities.

Several people were killed in Russian air attacks in cities across Ukraine, Denys Monastyrskyi, the country’s Interior Minister, has stated.

Monastyrskyi told reporters there had been “a few” deaths including in other cities.

Russia claims it has hit ‘all designated targets’

Russia’s defence ministry has claimed it has hit “all designated targets” in its latest bombardment of Ukrainian cities.

It also claimed to have thwarted an attempt by Ukraine to breach its defences in the southern Kherson region.

The ministry said: “During the day, Russia’s armed forces continued to strike with high-precision long-range air and sea-based weapons at military command facilities and Ukraine’s energy system.

“All designated objects were hit,” it added.

NATO begins annual nuclear exercises in Europe

NATO has begun its annual nuclear exercises in northwestern Europe as President Vladimir Putin’s threat to use any means to defend Russian territory continues.

Fourteen of NATO’s 30 member countries were due to participate in the exercises, which the military alliance said would involve about 60 aircraft, including fighter jets and surveillance and refuelling planes.

The bulk of the war games will be held at least 1,000km (625 miles) from Russia’s borders.

Any move by Israel to supply weapons to Kyiv will damage ties: Moscow

Russia’s former President Dmitry Medvedev has warned Israel against supplying weapons to Ukraine, saying any move to increase Kyiv’s forces would severely damage bilateral ties.

“Israel appears to be getting ready to supply weapons to the Kyiv regime. A very reckless move. It would destroy all bilateral relations between our countries,” Medvedev said on Telegram.

So far, Israel has sent humanitarian aid, including helmets, to Ukraine, but it has not sent any weapons.

Three people dead and nine wounded in Sumy: Governor

In the eastern region of Sumy, the regional governor said three people had been killed, and several more were injured following Russian drone attacks.

“At 5:20 (0220 GMT) in the morning, three Russian rockets hit a facility of civil infrastructure. At least three people died. Nine are injured. There are still people under the rubble,” Sumy regional governor Dmytro Zhyvytsky wrote on Telegram.

Zhyvytsky also added that residents should reduce electricity consumption during busy hours after more than a thousand people were disconnected from electricity following the attack.

Russian strikes knock out electricity across Ukraine: PM

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal stated that Russian strikes had hit critical infrastructure in three regions, knocking out electricity to hundreds of towns and villages across the country.

“This morning, Russian terrorists once again attacked the energy infrastructure of Ukraine in three regions,” Shmygal said, pointing to five strikes in Kyiv as well as attacks in the Dnipropetrovsk and Sumy regions,” Shmyal wrote on Telegram.

The PM added that “Hundreds of settlements were cut off” and “we ask Ukrainians, in order to stabilise the energy system, to take a united approach to economical consumption of electricity.”

Three killed in Russian drone attack on Kyiv: Zelensky’s office

The death toll after a Russian drone attack on residential buildings in Kyiv has increased to three, according to Deputy Head of the President’s Office Kyrylo Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko wrote on Telegram, “As of now, the number of people killed as a result of a kamikaze drone attack on a residential building has increased to 3.”

“19 people have been rescued. Works are ongoing,” he added.

EU foreign ministers to agree on training 15,000 Ukrainian troops

European Union foreign ministers are expected to agree on a mission to train 15,000 Ukrainian troops from next month and an extra 500 million euros worth of funding for arms deliveries to Kyiv when they meet in Luxembourg.

Two senior EU officials said the military training would start in mid-November and take place on EU territory at one hub in Poland and another in Germany.

Previously several EU countries have already been instructing Ukrainian troops on how to use specific weapons, which will continue.

The ministers are also expected to add a further 500 million euros ($486 million) to a fund that reimburses EU member states for arms delivered to Ukraine, bringing the total amount earmarked for arms for Kyiv to over 3 billion euros.

EU investigates Iran involvement in Ukraine war

The European Union is seeking concrete evidence for any Iranian involvement in Russia’s war on Ukraine, the bloc’s top diplomat said on Monday.

“We will look for concrete evidence about the participation (of Iran in the Ukraine war),” Josep Borrell told reporters as he arrived for a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, adding Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba would take part in the gathering.

Iran announced it had not provided Russia with drones to use in Ukraine.

Russia “won’t be able to break us”: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky struck a defiant tone on Monday after Russia launched dozens of drone attacks against Ukraine, including Kyiv.

The Ukrainian capital was hit at least four times by “kamikaze” drones, with rescue workers pulling at least 18 survivors from the rubble, according to authorities.

“All night and all morning, the enemy terrorizes the civilian population. Kamikaze drones and missiles are attacking all of Ukraine. A residential building was hit in Kyiv,” Zelensky said in a post on Telegram.

“The enemy can attack our cities, but it won’t be able to break us. The occupiers will get only fair punishment and condemnation of future generations. And we will get victory,” he added.

The Ukrainian Air Force claimed it destroyed dozens of “kamikaze” drones across the south and east of Ukraine in the early morning hours on Monday. It comes after Moscow fired hundreds of missiles at civilian targets in deadly attacks across Ukraine last week.

Rescue operations ongoing at site of drone attack in Kyiv

Eighteen people have been rescued and two people remain under the rubble at the site of a drone attack in Kyiv on Monday, according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

“Rescue operations are ongoing. Extinguishing of destroyed building structures and demolition of rubble is ongoing,” he said in a statement.

Kyiv was hit at least four times in Russian “kamikaze” drone attacks on Monday, according to the city’s military administration.

Klitschko added authorities are working to clarify if anyone was killed in the attacks.

Dozens of “kamikaze” drones destroyed in south and east of Ukraine: Air Force

The Ukrainian Air Force said it destroyed dozens of “kamikaze” drones across the south and east of Ukraine in the early morning hours on Monday.

“On October 17, from 3:30 a.m. to 6:50 a.m., 15 kamikaze drones have been destroyed in the South as well as three cruise missiles in the East. Six drones were destroyed over Odesa region and five over Mykolaiv region,” the air force reported.

According to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russia has ordered 2,400 “kamikaze” drones from Iran. They are capable of carrying precision-guided missiles and have a payload of approximately 50 kilograms (110 pounds).

The air force announced drone attacks in the east of Ukraine had targeted crucial infrastructure.

Last week, Russia carried out attacks on the Ukrainian electrical grid that led to widespread power outages.

Kyiv hit four times Monday as drone attacks continue: Ukrainian officials

Ukraine’s capital Kyiv was hit at least four times in “kamikaze” drone attacks on Monday as of 9 a.m. local time, with strikes ongoing, according to the city’s military administration.

“A residential building in the Shevchenkivskyi district was hit. Currently, information about casualties is being clarified,” the Kyiv City Military Administration said in a statement on Telegram.

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, stated the attacks are ongoing and a group of drones was approaching Kyiv from the south and east.

“Everyone stay in shelters!” Gerashchenko warned in a Telegram post.

Air raid sirens continue to be heard in Kyiv.

One strike Monday morning hit close to Kyiv’s main train station, Gerashchenko added.

More explosions heard in Ukraine capital

Blasts continue to be heard in central Kyiv, where air raid sirens are sounding Monday.

Ukrainian officials confirmed Monday that Russia is attacking the Ukrainian capital with “kamikaze” drones.

Kyiv attacked by “kamikaze” drones

Russia attacked Kyiv with “kamikaze” drones on Monday morning, according to a top Ukrainian official, who repeated calls for Western allies to supply the country with more advanced air defense systems.

“The Russians think it will help them, but these actions smack of desperation,” Andriy Yermak, the Ukrainian President’s chief of staff, said in a statement.

“We need more air defense as soon as possible. We have no time to delay. We need more weapons to protect the sky and destroy the enemy,” he added.

In a separate Telegram message, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the “drone attack” caused a “fire in a non-residential building.”

“Firefighters are working. Some residential buildings have been damaged. Medics are on the site,” Klitschko added.

At least three explosions were heard in the Ukrainian capital at around 6:45 a.m. local time on Monday as a result of apparent Russian strikes.

Russia continues ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Ukraine

In a new update on the war in Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War has reported that Russia is carrying out “massive” forced deportations of Ukrainian civilians – in effect a form of ethnic cleansing.

Russia continues to conduct massive, forced deportations of Ukrainians that likely amount to a deliberate ethnic cleansing campaign in addition to apparent violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

UN: War pushes millions of children into poverty

Four million children have been thrown into poverty across eastern Europe and Central Asia due to Russia’s war on Ukraine and the consequential economic fallout, the UN children’s agency announced.

“Children are bearing the heaviest burden of the economic crisis caused by the war in Ukraine,” UNICEF said on Monday.

“(The conflict) and rising inflation have driven an additional four million children across eastern Europe and Central Asia into poverty, a 19 per cent increase since 2021,” it added.

UNICEF drew its conclusions from a study of data from 22 countries. Russian and Ukrainian children have been most affected since Russia’s invasion began in February.

US won’t tolerate Russian nuclear attacks in any form: National security adviser

The US will make no distinction in its response to Russia using any form of nuclear weapon in its war with Ukraine, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN Sunday.

Sullivan was responding to a hypothetical question from CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”

Bash asked whether the US would treat the so-called “tactical” use of a nuclear weapon — taking out a small target or detonating in the Black Sea, for example — any differently from wide-scale attacks.

“The use of a nuclear weapon on the battlefield in Ukraine is the use of a nuclear weapon on the battlefield in Ukraine, and we’re not going to slice the salami,” Sullivan said, adding: “The notion that somehow there’s differences in use here, I think, is a dangerous notion.”

“From our perspective, we believe it is incumbent upon the United States, working with our NATO allies and partners and other responsible countries around the world, including the likes of China and India, to send a very clear and decisive message to Russia that they should not contemplate the use of nuclear weapons in this conflict,” Sullivan continued.

EU leaders to explore gas price cap options

European Union leaders meeting at the end of this week plan to explore a range of options for gas price caps, which have divided them for weeks, according to a draft of conclusions for the summit seen by the Reuters news agency.

The EU’s 27 countries have been deadlocked for weeks over whether and how to cap gas prices as part of their efforts to tame soaring energy prices. Europe is heading into a winter of falling Russian gas supplies, a cost of living crisis and a possible recession.

Gas prices have soared as Russia slashed flows to Europe after it invaded Ukraine and Western sanctions were imposed on it. Most EU countries have called for a gas price cap although they disagree on its design.

Some countries – including Germany, Europe’s biggest gas market – remain opposed. They argue that capping prices could cause demand for gas to rise or leave countries struggling to attract supply from global markets.

The bloc’s executive body, the European Commission, is due to propose energy measures to tackle the crisis on Tuesday, ahead of the leaders summit on Thursday and Friday.

Russia sends first of 9,000 soldiers to Belarus for new joint force

Russia says it has sent its first soldiers to Belarus as part of a new joint force aimed at protecting the border with Ukraine.

“The first trains carrying Russian soldiers … have arrived in Belarus,” the Russian state news agency Tass quoted a defence ministry spokesperson in Minsk as saying.

Russia has been using Belarus as a deployment area for its invasion of Ukraine and has also been launching air strikes on Ukrainian targets from there.

Russia says sticking to war aims despite NATO support for Ukraine

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated Russia is sticking to its military goals in Ukraine despite Western support for the country.

NATO is already a “de facto” part of the conflict, but this will not influence Russia’s goals, Peskov told Interfax news agency.

The German government and other NATO states say they are not party to the war. Aid to Ukraine is seen as support for the right of self-defence of the country striving to join the EU and NATO.

Russia says its forces repelled Ukrainian advances in three regions

Russia’s defence ministry announced its forces have pushed back efforts by Ukrainian troops to advance in the Donetsk, Kherson and Mykolaiv regions, inflicting what it described as significant losses against the enemy.

The battlefield reports could not immediately be verified.

Russia also said it was continuing air attacks on military and energy targets in Ukraine, using long-range precision-guided weapons.

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