Saturday, February 24, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 238: EU readies new Iran sanctions 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:

At least 3 Ukrainian power plants hit by Russian strikes on Wednesday: Regional officials

At least three Ukrainian energy facilities came under attack on Wednesday, according to Ukrainian regional officials.

The latest report came from the Ivano-Frankivsk region in western Ukraine, where Svitalana Onyshchuk, the head of regional military administration, said the coal-fired power plant at Burshtyn had been hit.

“Unfortunately today our region came under missile attack. Our Burshtyn TPP [Thermal Power Plant] was hit today. As a result of the hit a fire started,” Onyshchuk wrote in a Facebook post.

“All emergency services are working on site. Thank God there are no casualties,” Onyshchuk added.

Earlier on Wednesday, officials in the Vinnytsia region in central Ukraine and the Kryvyi Rih district of the east-central Dnipropetrovsk region reported strikes on energy facilities.

Martial law decree ‘does not change anything’: Zelensky’s adviser

Ukraine’s presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, condemned President Vladimir Putin’s martial law order as “pseudo-legalisation”.

“‘Martial law’ implementation on the occupied territories by RF should be considered only as a pseudo-legalization of looting of Ukrainians’ property by another “regrouping”. This does not change anything for Ukraine: we continue the liberation and de-occupation of our territories,” the adviser wrote on Twitter.

Israel will help Ukraine develop air defense alert system but will not send weapons: Defence minister

Israel will help Ukraine develop an air defense alert system, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced Wednesday, but the country does not plan to deliver weapon systems.

Gantz made the announcement during a meeting with European Union ambassadors in Israel.

“We have sent a request to the Ukrainians to share information about their needs for air defense alerts. Once we gain this information, we will be able to assist in the development of a life-saving civilian early-warning system,” Gantz said.

But Gantz added that while “Israel supports and stands with Ukraine, NATO and the West,” and will continue sending humanitarian and defensive equipment, “Israel will not deliver weapon systems to Ukraine due to a variety of operational considerations”.

“We will continue to support Ukraine within our limitations, as we have done in the past,” he continued.

Israel’s offer to help Ukraine develop an air defense alert system came “too late,” Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk told CNN on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, it’s too late. We requested this assistance before the war but you can’t win the war with air defense alert system. We asked for defensive weapon and they have all our requests and no reply. It’s like when you’re going to the market and you’re asking someone for the bread and instead of the bread they give you the spoon,” the ambassador said.

Korniychuk stated that today Ukraine “made the formal request for missile defense system,” noting, “I have been asking the same thing for last eight months. Either with no reply or with the answer no.”

“I hope (the answer) will change before the election but what should I tell you?” the diplomat added.

Gantz’s comments come days after Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council and former Russian president, warned Israel against supplying military weapons to Ukraine.

Medvedev’s warning seemed to be in response to an Israeli government minister tweet saying it was time for Israel to provide “military aid” to Ukraine after Russia began using Iranian-made weapons.

Britain says Putin will face ‘severe consequences’ if he uses nuclear weapons

Russian President Vladimir Putin will face “severe consequences” if he uses nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Downing Street warned after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace dashed to Washington for talks with his US counterpart.

The prime minister’s official spokesman did not comment on Wallace’s meeting but noted, “We are very clear with Putin that the use of nuclear weapons will lead to severe consequences.”

The quote does not mark a change of language from when Defence Minister Alec Shelbrooke said outlining Britain’s response to a nuclear attack would not be “tactically smart” last week.

Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, had stated “clarity could be the very deterrence that helps prevent such hostile actions”.

Putin says he will increase power of local authorities in all Russian regions

Russian President Putin said Wednesday that he will give “additional powers” to the local leaders of all Russian regions.

“Senior officials of the subjects of the Russian Federation should pay the necessary attention to the implementation of measures designed to ensure the safety of people, the protection and anti-terrorist protection of critical facilities, maintaining public order, increasing the stability of the economy, industry and expanding the production of means necessary for a special military operation,” he stated.

This comes after Putin announced on Wednesday that he has signed a law introducing martial law in four Ukrainian regions the Kremlin has sought to annex, in violation of international law. The regions — Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk — are not under full Russian control. Western nations have decried the annexations and vowed not to recognize them as Russian territory.

“To coordinate the work of the heads of regions will receive the authority to create the appropriate headquarters. I instruct the government, the Ministry of Defense and other departments to provide them with all necessary assistance,” Putin added.

The president also noted that he has instructed the government to establish a special council to coordinate the changes.

“The council will include vice-premiers, representatives of law enforcement agencies, the socio-economic bloc of the government, the presidential administration, and the State Council, which will ensure close interaction with the regions,” he continued.

Russian missiles shot down over Kyiv: Mayor

A number of Russian missiles have been shot down over the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Wednesday, Mayor Vitalii Klitschko said in a post on Telegram.

“Air defense shot down several Russian missiles over Kyiv,” he stated, adding, “Air raid alarm is still on! Stay in shelters! Air defense continues to work.”

Putin announces martial law in the four annexed regions

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree announcing the introduction of martial law in the four annexed regions of Ukraine.

In the decree, Putin said: “I signed a decree on the introduction of martial law in these four constituent entities of the Russian Federation (Donestk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson).”

It will immediately be sent for approval to the Federation Council, and the State Duma will be informed of the decision,” he added.

Ukrainian official: Russia putting on a ‘propaganda show’ in Kherson

A senior Ukrainian official accused Russia of organising a “propaganda show” in Kherson after Russian-installed officials urged people to flee and said they were preparing to defend the city against Ukrainian soldiers.

Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s president’s office, added that Russia is trying to scare Kherson residents with what he described as fake newsletters about the Ukrainian shelling of the city.

“The Russians are trying to scare the people of Kherson with fake newsletters about the shelling of the city by our army and also arrange a propaganda show with evacuation,” Yermak wrote on Telegram.

“Propaganda will not work,” he continued.

Ukrainian forces tried to recapture Zaporizhzhia plant: Russia

Russia have claimed Ukrainian forces tried to recapture the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine. Still, their attempt was held back after several hours of fighting, the RIA news agency reported.

After shelling the city, a landing attempt was launched, including an effort to seize Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, it announced.

“The battle went on for several hours, at least three to three and a half hours,” RIA quoted Russian-installed official Vladimir Rogov saying, adding that the attack was “repelled.”

Ukraine claims over 220 drones downed in a month

Ukraine’s military claimed it had shot down more than 220 Iranian-made drones in a little more than one month.

“Since the first downing of an Iranian-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drone on the territory of Ukraine on September 13, the… Air Force and other components of the Defense Forces of Ukraine have destroyed 223 UAVs of this type,” it announced.

Iran has denied supplying its drones and missiles to Russia.

Some 50 Zaporizhzhia plant staff ‘held in Russian captivity’

About 50 staff at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant are being held in Russian captivity, the head of Ukraine’s state nuclear agency has said.

Petro Kotin added that more than 150 employees at the Moscow-occupied plant in southern Ukraine had been captured since the of the war, with “some of them were later released, but there are those whose fate is still unknown”.

Over 1,000 Ukrainian settlements were without power on Tuesday

More than 1,000 settlements in Ukraine did not have power Tuesday following Russia’s spate of attacks on critical infrastructure across the country, according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Energy.

“1,162 settlements remain without power supply at the moment,” Oleksandr Khorunzhyi, a spokesperson for the country’s State Emergency Service, said late Tuesday, citing the ministry.

“This is in the Dnipropetrovsk, Zhytomyr, Kirovohrad, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk, Mykolaiv, and Kherson regions – including in the occupied territories,” he added.

Swathes of Ukrainian territory have been hit with electricity and water outages, as the Kremlin ramped up strikes on energy facilities earlier this week.

European Commission chief labels Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian power infrastructure as “war crimes”

Moscow’s strikes on critical energy infrastructure in Ukraine constitute “war crimes,” according to the head of the European Commission.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described the attacks as “acts of pure terror,” which she said were “marking a new chapter in an already very cruel war.”

“Targeted attacks on civilian infrastructure with the clear aim to cut off men, women, children of water, electricity and heating with the winter coming, these are acts of pure terror and we have to call it as such,” von der Leyen said in a speech to lawmakers at the European Parliament Wednesday.

The Kremlin has launched a far-reaching assault on Ukrainian power facilities in recent days, leaving major cities without access to water or electricity.

On Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky stated 30% of the country’s power stations have now been destroyed since October 10, causing “massive blackouts” across the country.

Dnipropetrovsk hit by power outages after Russian attacks “all night long”: Military official

Dnipropetrovsk was hit “all night long” by Russian attacks, causing power outages in towns and villages in the central Ukrainian region, a military official stated in a Telegram post Wednesday.

“The Russians had been hitting the region all night long with various weapons. Two districts — Kryvyi Rih and Nikopol — were shelled. The energy infrastructure in the Kryvyi Rih district was hit by rockets [causing] serious destruction,” said Valentyn Reznichenko, the head of Dnipropetrovsk’s regional military administration.

“There is no electricity in towns and villages in Apostolove, Zelenodolsk, Shyroke and Sofiivka territorial communities and one of the districts of Kryvyi Rih,” he added.

There were also “water outages” in the same communities, the post added.

Earlier Wednesday, Kryvyi Rih’s mayor said parts of the city were without electricity due to an overnight strike on an energy facility.

Ukraine has been facing a wide assault on critical infrastructure and power sources from Russian forces this week.

On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the country’s military had targeted “energy systems” in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted that as of Tuesday, 30% of the country’s power stations have been destroyed since October 10, contributing to “massive blackouts” across the country.

Enerhodar faces power and water outages due to overnight shelling: Mayor

The Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar in southeastern Ukraine is facing power and water outages due to shelling overnight, Mayor Dmytro Orlov said in a Telegram post Wednesday.

“At night, Enerhodar came under fire again. The city is partially without electricity and water. The shelling, first of the industrial zone, and then of the city itself, began around midnight and did not stop in the morning,” Orlov stated.

“There are reports of damage to one of the substations, as well as to the building of the executive committee of the city council,” he continued, adding there was no information regarding potential casualties yet.

The city sits on the south bank of the Dnipro River, near the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Ukraine has been facing a wide assault on critical infrastructure and power sources from Russian forces this week.

On Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed the country’s military had targeted “energy systems” in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted that as of Tuesday, 30% of the country’s power stations have been destroyed since October 10, contributing to “massive blackouts” across the country.

Kryvyi Rih is latest Ukrainian city to report power outages due to air raids

Parts of Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine are now without power due to a strike on an energy infrastructure facility, the city’s Mayor Oleksandr Vilkul said in a Telegram post Wednesday.

“Due to destruction caused by a strike on an energy infrastructure facility in Kryvyi Rih during the last air raid many settlements of the district and the Ingulets micro district in Kryvyi Rih are without electricity,” Vilkul wrote, adding, “Electrical engineers are working to restore power.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Tuesday that 30% of the country’s power stations have been destroyed in Russian attacks since October 10, causing “massive blackouts” across the country.

US, France and UK to discuss Iran’s drone transfers to Ukraine at UN meeting Wednesday

The United States, France and the United Kingdom plan to discuss Iran’s drone transfers to Russia at a closed UN Security Council meeting Wednesday, a US official told CNN.

The meeting comes as Ukraine claimed Russia has launched Iranian-made drones against Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, killing several people.

The three countries have stated that the transfer of Iranian-made drones is a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which restricts certain arms transfers to or from Iran. It is unclear whether they will raise this specific point in the meeting tomorrow or move to snap back sanctions on Tehran for the arms transfers.

“I think you probably saw earlier today, our French and British allies publicly offered the assessment that Iran’s supply of these UAVs to Russia is a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, and this is something that we agree with,” State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel stated Monday.

UNSCR 2231 was tied to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and elements of that resolution, including a ban on the transfer of conventional weapons, were phased out in 2020. The Donald Trump administration attempted to unilaterally snap back the arms embargo in September 2021 and the Joe Biden administration told the UN Security Council it was reversing those efforts in February 2021.

Patel noted that UNSCR 2231 prohibits the transfer from Iran of all items, materials, equipment and goods and technology unless approved in advance by the UN Security Council on a case-by-case basis.

He also added the range of the drones being greater than 300km put them in violation of the resolution.

Iran has denied supplying its drones and missiles to Russia.

Iran sent military trainers to Crimea to train Russian forces on drones: Sources tell CNN

Iran has sent military personnel to Crimea to train and advise the Russian military on the use of Iranian-built drones, according to two sources familiar with US intelligence.

Moscow has used these drones to devastating effect in its war in Ukraine, the sources claimed.

Russia has launched many of what is believed to be a store of hundreds of Iranian-made drones from Crimea in a fusillade that has targeted Ukrainian cities and energy infrastructure in increasing numbers in recent weeks. The drones have been seen as a signal of growing closeness between Tehran and Moscow.

Earlier on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry said reports that Tehran was sending weapons, including military drones, to Russia for the war in Ukraine were “untrue.”

However, State Department principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel stated Tuesday that the deepening of relations between Moscow and Tehran should be seen as “a profound threat.”

It was not immediately clear how many trainers traveled to Crimea and whether they remain present. One source briefed on US intelligence said “dozens” of Iranian personnel had been sent.

US officials have noted that when Russia first began testing and deploying the drones in Ukraine in August, many of them experienced numerous failures. Russian operatives had been training on the systems inside Iran, but Iranian personnel began traveling to Crimea in recent weeks to help Russia operate the systems and try to fix their problems.

Russia’s use of Iranian drones shows military ‘bankruptcy’: Zelensky

Moscow’s use of Iranian-made drones in recent attacks on Ukraine is a symbol of the Kremlin’s “military and political bankruptcy”, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his daily address.

“The very fact of Russia’s appeal to Iran for such assistance is the Kremlin’s recognition of its military and political bankruptcy,” he added.

Iran has denied supplying its drones and missiles to Russia.

US to take ‘practical, aggressive’ steps to make sale of Iranian drones harder

The United States will take “practical, aggressive” steps to make it harder for Iran to sell drones and missiles to Russia, state department spokesman Vedant Patel said, adding that Washington has a number of tools to hold both Moscow and Tehran accountable.

Patel did not provide details at the daily press briefing on what steps the US government will take, but he pointed out that Washington has already used sanctions and export controls as a response.

He noted that a deepening alliance between Russia and Iran is a phenomenon that the world should view as a “profound threat”.

Kyiv slams Red Cross ‘inaction’ over Ukrainian prisoners

Kyiv has accused the Red Cross of “inaction” over Ukrainian prisoners held by Russia, saying a lack of visits to detained soldiers and civilians means they are vulnerable to being tortured.

“Unfortunately, at each exchange, we see that the International Committee of the Red Cross’s inaction has led to our prisoners of war and civilian hostages being tortured daily by hunger, by electrocution,” Ukrainian human rights commissioner Dmytro Lubinets stated.

Russia’s new Ukraine commander acknowledges ‘tense’ combat situation

The new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, Sergei Surovikin, has acknowledged that the military situation in Ukraine was “tense”, especially around the occupied southern city of Kherson.

“The situation in the area of the ‘Special Military Operation’ can be described as tense,” he told the state-owned Rossiya 24 television news channel in an interview.

“The enemy continually attempts to attack the positions of Russian troops,” he continued, stating, “First of all, this concerns the Kupiansk, Lyman and Mykolayiv-Kriviy Rih sectors.”

“The Russian army will above all ensure the safe evacuation of the population” of Kherson, Surovikin, who has been in charge of operations in Ukraine for the past 10 days, added.

Pentagon says can’t confirm reports of Iranian missiles to Russia

The Pentagon announced that it did not have information at this time to corroborate reports that Iran has promised to provide Russia with surface-to-surface missiles, along with more drones.

“I don’t have any information to corroborate that at this time,” Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said at a news conference.

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