Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 239: EU members agree on new measures against Iran over Russia-Ukraine war

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:

Moscow says West seeking to put “pressure” on Tehran

Russia’s foreign ministry announced the West is seeking to put “pressure” on Tehran with accusations that Moscow is using Iran-made drones in Ukraine, claims that Russia and Iran deny.

“Everything that is now being done on the Iranian track is subordinated to one goal – pressure on this country. And Washington is mobilising NATO and EU countries for this in support of its position,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a press briefing on Thursday.

The European Union has announced sanctions against three Iranian generals and an arms firm accused of supplying Iranian drones to Russia that Kyiv claims have been used for strikes on Ukraine.

Zakharova dismissed the drone accusations as “rumours”.

“This is all nothing more than a set of unsubstantiated conclusions and far-fetched assumptions that Britain and France are trying to build into a structure and every time it collapses in front of everyone,” she noted.

Ukraine welcomes ‘prompt action’ from EU on Iran sanctions

Ukraine on Thursday welcomed EU sanctions against three generals and one arms firm supplying Iranian drones to Russia that Kyiv claims have been used for strikes on Ukraine.

“I welcome the EU’s prompt action following my appeal on Monday to impose sanctions on Iran for helping Russia kill Ukrainians and damage our energy infrastructure,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

The EU has imposed sanctions on three Iranian generals and an arms firm accused of supplying Iranian drones to Russia that have been used to bomb Ukraine.

The names of Iranian drone maker Shahed Aviation Industries and three top Iranian military officials were published in the EU official journal, adding them to the sanctions blacklist.

The chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Maj Gen Mohammed Hossein Bagheri, logistics officer Gen Sayed Hojatollah Qureishi and Revolutionary Guards drone commander Brig Gen Saeed Aghajani, were sanctioned.

More than $1 billion worth of NATO weapons for Kiev ends up on black market: Russia’s MFA

The monthly amount of smuggling of NATO weapons originally meant for Ukraine via the black market exceeds $1 billion, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing on Thursday.

“The monthly amount of smuggling on this black market exceeds $1 billion. NATO’s military supplies addressed to the Kiev regime end up in the hands of terrorists, extremists and criminal groups in the Middle East, Central Africa and Southeast Asia,” she said.

The diplomat pointed out that the Russian side had warned of this problem from the very beginning.

“As always, nobody believed us. Everybody was saying that we were exaggerating everything and that in general this is not the problem. But it is a problem. The world community is now facing it. Political and public figures, journalists, and now the general public are well aware of this,” she stressed.

Zakharova recalled that independent experts and specialized organizations, including Interpol and Europol, have long expressed concerns about the illegal influx of weapons from Ukraine to European and other countries.

The flow of NATO weapons to Ukraine and military support for Kiev bring the alliance closer to a dangerous line of a direct military clash with Russia, the spokesperson added.

“The NATO countries seem to be racing each other in supplying weapons and ammunition to the Kiev regime, providing intelligence, training personnel and issuing instructions on how to conduct combat operations, thus coming ever closer to a dangerous line of a direct armed clash with Russia,” the official noted.

Zakharova drew attention to the fact that Western military support for Ukraine, according to the latest data, had already reached $42.3 billion, of which $28.3 billion was provided by the United States.

“You (NATO countries) are not just accomplices to the crimes being committed by the Kiev regime, you are precisely those whom you regularly mention in your declarations and statements. You are sponsors of terrorist activities that are taking place under the auspices of the Kiev regime and with the direct participation of NATO – both as a US-led alliance and as its individual members,” she said.

Russia accuses US of imposing “difficult” obstacles to exports to avert global food crisis

Russia’s foreign ministry has said it is “ready” to export food and fertilizer products to prevent a global food security crisis, but blamed the US for “making it very difficult” for Moscow to do so.

“The USA is making it very difficult for us to do this — and, accordingly, they take a hit at the world food security — by blocking as much as possible financial settlements for our products,” stated foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

She accused countries supplying weapons to Ukraine of being “donors and sponsors of extremist terrorist activities.”

The US has supplied Kyiv with strategic arsenal to bolster its sweeping counteroffensives.

“You are not just accomplices in the crimes of the Kyiv regime, you are exactly those whom you regularly talk about in the adopted declarations and statements,” Zakharova continued.

“You are the sponsors of terrorist activities that take place under the auspices of the Kyiv regime and directly with the participation of NATO as an Alliance and as its individual members, led by the United States,” she added.

Russia’s military assault on Ukraine has exacerbated the global food crisis.

Before the war, wheat supplies from Russia and Ukraine accounted for almost 30% of global trade, and Ukraine is the world’s fourth-largest exporter of corn and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat, according to the US State Department.

However, Moscow’s blockade of Black Sea ports earlier this year stalled millions of tons of grain exports from Ukraine.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative — brokered in July by the UN and Turkey — ended months of the blockade, allowing grain ships to navigate a safe corridor through the Black Sea, helping alleviate global food shortages.

Earlier this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasized the importance of the deal, adding that since July Ukraine has exported 8 million tons of food by sea.

EU agrees on new Iran sanctions over drone deliveries

The European Union will impose new sanctions on Iran for supplying drones to Russia after two attacks on the Ukrainian capital in a week.

“EU ambassadors agreed on measures against entities supplying Iranian drones that hit Ukraine,” said the Czech EU presidency said in a tweet.

“EU states decided to freeze the assets of three individuals and one entity responsible for drone deliveries (and) is also prepared to extend sanctions to four more Iranian entities that already featured in a previous sanctions list,” it added.

Ukraine’s military announced it had shot down at least 200 Iranian-made drones in a little more than one month.

Iran has denied supplying its drones and missiles to Russia.

Britain says to make sanctions announcement over Iranian drones

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will make an announcement later on Thursday about taking action using Britain’s autonomous sanctions regime concerning Iranian drones, a foreign office spokesperson stated on Thursday.

Russia has launched dozens of “kamikaze” drones on Ukraine on hitting energy infrastructure and killing five people in the capital of Kyiv.

Ukraine claims they are Iranian-made Shahed-136 attack drones.

Tehran denies supplying the drones to Moscow and the Kremlin on Tuesday rejected its forces had used Iranian drones to attack Ukraine. The United States says Iran’s denial is a lie.

NATO calls on Iran not to support Russia’s war against Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday that there is “every indication” that Iran is supplying Russia with drones, although he did not discuss NATO intelligence findings.

He added that the alliance is “monitoring closely what Iran is doing,” as well as calling on all nations, including Iran, “not to support Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine.”

Russia’s “scorched earth tactics” won’t help Putin win war: German chancellor

Moscow’s “scorched earth” attacks against Ukraine are only strengthening the Western alliance against Russia, according to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Scholz told members of the German Parliament that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using energy and hunger as weapons, adding that “such scorched earth tactics will not help Russia win the war.”

”They only bolster the resolve and perseverance of Ukraine and its allies,” he said in a key policy speech ahead of a European Council summit in Brussels.

“In the end, Russia’s bomb and missile terror is an act of desperation – just like the mobilization of Russian men for the warm” he continued, noting, “We will not let Moscow’s latest escalation go unanswered.”

The German chancellor spoke in reference to Moscow’s recent barrage of strikes on Ukrainian energy infrastructure.

The attacks on power facilities have caused rolling blackouts across the country and prompted authorities to introduce curbs on electricity usage, starting Thursday.

Scholz stated that Germany had ”freed itself from dependence” on Russian gas but was working to bring energy prices down, including by securing new gas delivery contracts from other countries.

He addressed the lower house of parliament in Berlin ahead of a meeting with the 27 European Union member countries on Thursday, which are set to meet for the second time in a fortnight in an effort to bring down energy prices across Europe.

NATO allies would act if Sweden, Finland come under pressure: Chief

NATO allies will act if Sweden or Finland come under pressure from Russia or another adversary before they become full members of the alliance, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

“It is inconceivable that allies would not act should Sweden and Finland come under any form of pressure,” Stoltenberg stated at a news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

Russia considering withdrawal of forces from west of Dnipro river: UK MoD

Russia’s recent admission that a “difficult situation has emerged” in the Kherson region is highly unusual and likely indicates that authorities are considering a major withdrawal of their forces from the area west of the Dnipro river, British intelligence has said.

Moscow’s recently appointed commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, general Sergei Surovikin, made the announcement earlier this week.

The latest UK Ministry of Defence report suggests: “It likely indicates that the Russian authorities are seriously considering a major withdrawal of their forces from the area west of the Dnipro river.”

“A key challenge of any Russian withdrawal operation would be extracting troops and their equipment across the 1000m wide river in good order,” it added.

“With all the permanent bridges severely damaged, Russia would highly likely rely heavily on a temporary barge bridge it completed near Kherson in recent days, and military pontoon ferry units, which continue to operate at several locations,” it continued.

Zelensky says Iran has supplied Russia with “kills of Ukrainians”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Iran of taking “blood money” from Russia for supplying “kamikaze” drones used in deadly attacks against cities including Kyiv.

The use of drones in the war in Ukraine has increased since the summer, when the United States and Kyiv say Moscow acquired Shahed-136 drones from Iran. Tehran has denied supplying weapons to Russia.

“I do not trust the leadership of Iran,” Zelensky said in an interview with Canada’s CTV.

“They publicly denied all that, saying that we didn’t sell anything, but here we see. Hundreds of strikes. At Ukraine, at the capital, at civil infrastructure, at schools, nearby the university, at the university and the shutting down of our energy system,” he added.

A spokesman for the Iranian mission at the United Nations stressed, “Iran does not confirm this claim and rejects it.”

Zelensky however, was unequivocal in his accusations against Tehran, stressing, “Iran supplies them drones.”

“Supplies them kills. Kills of Ukrainians. This is what they agreed on. Agreed on for money. This bloody money that Iran is earning,” the president continued.

Ukraine has so far shot down a total of 233 Iranian-made drones used by Russia, Zelensky said in his Wednesday night video address.

“We are working to guarantee the complete safety of the Ukrainian sky,” he added.

Russia’s deputy UN envoy dismisses reports of Iran’s drone exports to Russia

Western claims of Iran’s drone exports to Russia are nothing but a yet another example of disinformation, Russian First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Dmitry Polyansky told reporters.

“We’ve observed another round of the disinformation campaign <…> by the Western delegations, as they raised in the Council the issue of the UAVs allegedly used by Russia in Ukraine,” the diplomat said after closed UN Security Council consultations on the matter.

“The aim of our Western colleagues is clear: they attempt to hit two targets at once, inventing an artificial pretext to put pressure on Russia and on Iran,” he added.

Ukraine accuses Kremlin of declaring “martial law” in occupied regions to “legalize looting, forced deportations”

Ukraine’s foreign ministry has condemned Moscow’s declaration of “martial law” in the territories of Ukraine that are under Russian occupation, calling it a “new state of terror.”

The move was an attempt “to suppress the resistance of the residents of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, who oppose the Russian occupation,” said a statement released by Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Wednesday.

“Vladimir Putin’s decree is null and void. It has no legal consequences for Ukraine and its citizens, as well as for the international community,” it added.

Despite not fully controlling the territories, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced earlier on Wednesday he has signed a decree introducing martial law in four Ukrainian regions the Kremlin has sought to annex, in violation of international law. The regions are Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk. Martial law will come into effect Thursday, according to the decree.

Ukraine called on its “international partners to strongly condemn the intention of the Russian occupation administrations under the guise of the so-called “martial law” to deprive residents of the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine of even basic human rights, as well as to condemn their illegal plans to legalize looting, forced deportations and mobilization,” the statement added.

The ministry said Ukraine would continue to liberate the occupied territories and rescue the Ukrainian people.

EU working on new Iran sanctions due to Russia’s use of Iranian drones in Ukraine

The European Union is working on new Iran sanctions that could come as soon as this week due to the use of Iranian drones by Russia in Ukraine, a European diplomat told CNN.

These ongoing EU efforts come as the UN Security Council is set to discuss the Iranian drones during a closed-door meeting on Wednesday in New York. But diplomats caution that they do not expect that they could get new sanctions through the security council because they will be vetoed by Russia.

The State Department announced the US would “welcome” EU sanctions on Iran for supplying drones to Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said the US has been “coordinating closely with the EU” but would not get into details of those discussions.

“I would again note and reiterate that the United States itself continues to have tools at its disposal that are practical, that are aggressive, that are useful in holding Iran accountable,” added Patel, “and you have seen us take those actions as it relates to Iranian malign activity.”

Iran has denied supplying its drones and missiles to Russia.

US claims there’s ‘abundant evidence’ Russia is using Iranian drones in Ukraine

The United States has “abundant evidence” that Russia is using Iranian drones to strike Ukraine, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Wednesday.

“The United States began warning in July that Iran was planning to transfer UAVs to Russia for use in Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, and we now have abundant evidence that these UAVs are being used to strike Ukrainian civilians and critical civilian infrastructure,” Price said in a statement.

The United Nations Security Council received expert briefings on Iran’s transfer of such drones to Russia, Price added, and the issue was collectively raised by the US, United Kingdom and France at a closed-door UNSC meeting Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Iranian mission at the United Nations stressed, “Iran does not confirm this claim and rejects it.”

Internet connectivity hit in Ukraine due to rolling blackouts: Monitoring group

Internet connectivity has weakened in multiple cities in Ukraine following the introduction of rolling blackouts by the national power company, according to Netblocks, an Internet monitoring group.

The blackouts, which were a result of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, are now applied throughout the nation from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time.

According to a tweet by NetBlocks, Kyiv’s connectivity fell to 81% of normal levels. The worst-hit cities were Bucha, Irpin and Brovary, where Internet access was below 70% of its ordinary levels, the organization said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to Ukrainians to become careful about electricity consumption starting at 7:00 a.m. Thursday due to the damage caused to the nation’s electricity grid.

The national energy company, NPC Ukrenergo, on Wednesday called for the “understanding and support” of energy users as it announced restrictions.

“Unfortunately, according to new data, about 40% of the total infrastructure and our generating capacities are really seriously damaged,” noted Oleksandr Kharchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s energy minister.

Putin in ‘incredibly difficult position’ in Ukraine war: Biden

President Joe Biden stated that Vladimir Putin is in an “incredibly difficult position” in Ukraine and has run out of options beyond trying to “brutalise” civilians into surrender.

“I think that Vladimir Putin finds himself in an incredibly difficult position,” Biden told reporters at the White House.

“It seems his only tool available is to brutalise individual citizens of Ukraine, Ukrainian citizens, to try to intimidate them into capitulating. They’re not going to do that,” he added.

US State Department: Putin’s martial law orders are “desperate tactics to try to enforce and control”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s martial law orders in the areas Moscow claims to have annexed are “desperate tactics to try to enforce and control,” US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Wednesday.

“It should be no surprise to anybody that Russia is resorting to desperate tactics to try and enforce control in these areas,” Patel stated at a State Department briefing.

“The truth is that Russia is not wanted in these regions, and the people in Ukraine are rejecting Russia’s illegal invasion and seizure by force of what is Ukrainian territory,” he added.

Patel stressed that “no matter what the Kremlin says or does, no matter what they try to enact via decree via paper or otherwise, Crimea, Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia are Ukrainian sovereign territory.”

“They have no legal claim whatsoever. There is no jurisdiction that they have over those territories. This is Ukraine’s land and Russia has blatantly violated Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as violating UN Charter with their illegal acts,” he continued.

Zelensky’s appeal to Ukrainians: “Please do not turn on unnecessary electrical appliances”

Ukraine suffered new damage to its critical energy infrastructure, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address Wednesday.

“Of course, we will do everything possible to restore normal energy capabilities of our country. But this requires time and our combined effort,” he stated.

Zelensky appealed to Ukrainians to become careful about electricity consumption starting on Thursday from 7:00 a.m. local time.

“Please do not turn on unnecessary electrical appliances. Please limit electricity consumption on those appliances that require a lot of energy,” the president added, “Tomorrow it is very important that consumption is as conscious as possible. Then the schedules of stabilization outages will be shorter.”

Zelensky also thanked Ukraine’s armed forces for shooting down kamikaze drones and cruise missiles before they could reach their targets.

Over the last month, 233 drones and dozens of missiles were shot down, he stated, including 10 Iranian-made drones directed Wednesday at Kyiv.

Ukraine forced to introduce scheduled blackouts nationwide following days of Russian missile attacks

Ukrainian energy officials on Wednesday announced they had no choice but to introduce emergency and scheduled blackouts after losing at least 40% of the country’s power generating capacity following days of devastating Russian cruise missile and drone strikes.

“Unfortunately, according to new data, about 40% of the total infrastructure and our generating capacities are really seriously damaged,” Oleksandr Kharchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s energy minister, said

“Restoration and repair work is ongoing, but miracles are possible only to a certain extent,” Kharchenko noted in the statement broadcast on national television.

“Therefore, we should expect not only emergency but also scheduled outages today and tomorrow in order not to overload the grid,” he added.

NPC Ukrenergo, Ukraine’s national energy company, on Wednesday called for the “understanding and support” of its energy users as they have been forced to introduce consumption restrictions following the missile attacks.

Ukrenergo said the “consumption restrictions may be applied throughout Ukraine from 7:00 am to 22:00 pm” Thursday.

“The outages will be alternate — the duration of the outage is also determined by the regional power distribution company, but not more than 4 hours,” the statement added.

“The enemy, who cannot compete with the Armed Forces of Ukraine on the battlefield, attacked the civilian energy infrastructure again. Therefore, tomorrow we will apply controlled and carefully calculated restrictions to consumers, which we must implement to make the system work in a balanced way,” the power company said.

Senior US Treasury official travels to Turkey to discuss sanctions on Russia

A senior US Treasury Department official has travelled to Turkey this week to discuss sanctions and export controls imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, the Treasury Department has announced, as Washington closely monitors growing economic ties between Ankara and Moscow.

Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes Elizabeth Rosenberg travelled to Ankara and Istanbul from Monday through Wednesday, where she met with counterparts including officials from the ministries of finance and foreign affairs as well as representatives in the private financial and commercial sectors, according to a statement.

US targets Russian military procurement network in new sanctions

The US has imposed new sanctions on Russia, targeting a network that Washington accused of procuring military and dual-use technologies from US manufacturers and supplying them to Russian users.

The US Department of the Treasury said it imposed sanctions on Russian national Yury Yuryevich Orekhov, whom it accused of being a procurement agent, and two of his companies – Nord-Deutsche Industrieanlagenbau GmbH and Opus Energy Trading LLC.

Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo stated sanctions and export controls imposed by a broad coalition of allies had left Russia increasingly struggling to secure “inputs and technologies” for its war.

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