Thursday, May 23, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 243

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:

Zelensky criticises Israeli neutrality in Russian-Iran ‘alliance’

President Volodymyr Zelensky said the decision by Israeli leaders not to support Kyiv encouraged Russia’s military partnership with Iran, criticising Tel Aviv’s neutrality in the Ukraine war.

“This alliance of theirs simply would not have happened if your politicians had made only one decision at the time… it seems that it was adopted a long time ago – in 2014, when Russia began its aggression against Ukraine,” Zelensky told a conference organised by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“The decision ‘not to annoy’ the Kremlin, not to help Ukraine for real,” enabled the alliance between Moscow and Tehran, he added.

Zelensky has on several occasions criticised Israel for failing to firmly oppose Russian aggression. The Israeli position has however evolved over recent months, from near neutrality to more forceful condemnations of Russia

Russia bringing new military units into Kherson as it prepares to defend city: Ukrainian intelligence chief

Russia is bringing new military units into Kherson as it prepares to defend the city from any fresh Ukrainian offensive, the head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Agency said in an interview with Kyiv-based news website Ukrainska Pravda.

Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov stated that, while Moscow was moving injured people, cash and the Russian-installed administrative authorities and financial institutions out of the city, it was putting more troops in.

“[Russian bank] Promsvyazbank and other financial structures that the Russians brought there are being taken out,” Budanov continued.

“They are taking out cash, [internet] servers, the so-called occupation authorities … All the non-walking, seriously injured are being taken out, they are trying to discharge those who can walk as soon as possible from hospitals … They create the illusion that everything is lost,” added Budanov.

“And at the same time, on the contrary, they bring new military units there and prepare the streets of the city for defense,” he noted.

Budanov said Moscow was acting out of fear that Ukrainian troops might retake the critical Kakhovka dam, which lies to the east of Kherson, and encircle its troops in the city.

“They understand that if we take at least control over the Kakhovka dam … they will have to make a decision very quickly. Either [they will have to] very, very quickly leave the city and get out, or they risk ending up in the same situation that our units in Mariupol found themselves in earlier,” he added.

“Understanding all this, they are preparing the ground so that, if necessary, they can get out of there very quickly. However, they are not preparing to leave now. They are preparing to defend,” he continued.

Budanov repeated allegations that the Russians had “partially mined” the dam.

He said he didn’t believe Russian forces would completely destroy it, because doing so would flood much of the Kherson region and cut off the water supply to annexed Crimea and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

“In other words, if you make a complete destruction, then the scenario is as follows. Are they ready for it? I don’t think so,” he added.

US: No indication Russia has decided to use nukes in Ukraine

A senior US military official said Washington has seen no indications that Russia has decided to use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.

“We still have seen nothing to indicate that the Russians have made a decision to employ nuclear weapons,” the official told journalists, later adding that the same applies to chemical and biological arms.

The remarks come after repeated Russian warnings that Ukraine could use a so-called “dirty bomb,” which have sparked fears of an escalation by Moscow.

FM: Accusing Russia of planning attack not a ‘serious conversation’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted that accusing Moscow of planning an attack with a radioactive “dirty bomb”, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did on Sunday, was “not a serious conversation”, the Interfax news agency reports.

Lavrov was reported to have made the remarks to journalists at the Valdai Discussion Club think tank.

Russia taking steps to boost weapons production: Ex-president

Russia has taken steps to boost weapons production as it fights in Ukraine, says Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council.

Medvedev stated he visited the country’s top tank factory in the Ural Mountain city of Nizhny Tagil to discuss ways of increasing output.

“[The] production of weapons and equipment from tanks and cannons to precision missiles and drones is increasing many fold,” he continued, adding, “You just wait.”

He also noted that foreign observers have predicted that Russia would run out of its weapons stockpiles soon and stressed such forecasts are bound to be proven wrong.

Kremlin claims threat of using “dirty bomb” exists despite Western disbelief

The threat of Ukraine using a “dirty bomb” still exists whether NATO countries believe it or not, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call Monday.

“Their [the NATO countries’] disbelief of the information that was handed over by the Russian side does not mean that the threat of using a dirty bomb ceases to exist. The threat is clear,” Peskov told reporters during his daily press briefing.

“This information has been brought to the attention of the counterparts of defense minister [Sergei Shoigu]. Now it’s up to them whether to believe or not,” Peskov added.

Over the weekend Russia Defense Minister Shoigu accused Ukraine of planning to use a so-called “dirty bomb,” a claim that was refuted by US officials as a Russian false flag operation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky mocked Shoigu’s claims to Western defense officials that Kyiv is planning to detonate a “dirty bomb.”

Zelensky stated, “There’s only one individual who can use nuclear weapons in our part of Europe, and this person is the one who ordered Comrade Shoigu to call somewhere.”

Chief of British Defence Staff rejects ‘dirty bomb’ allegations

UK Chief of Defence Staff Tony Radakin has rejected Russia’s allegations that Ukraine is planning an attack with a “dirty bomb”.

“The Chief of Defence Staff rejected Russia’s allegations that Ukraine is planning actions to escalate the conflict, and he restated the UK’s enduring support for Ukraine,” a statement from the British Ministry of Defence said.

“The military leaders both agreed on the importance of maintaining open channels of communication between the UK and Russia to manage the risk of miscalculation and to facilitate de-escalation,” it added.

Russia’s military chief and UK counterpart discuss ‘dirty bomb’

The chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, and British Chief of Defence Staff Tony Radakin have spoken by phone to discuss what Moscow called the possibility that Ukraine could use a “dirty bomb”, the Russian defence ministry said.

It gave no details of the call, which followed a series of conversations on Sunday when Russian Minister of Defence Sergey Shoigu told Western defence ministers that Moscow believed Ukraine was preparing to detonate such a device.

A dirty bomb would use conventional explosives packed with radioactive material to spread contamination over a wide area.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of France, Britain and the United States announced they all rejected “Russia’s transparently false allegations”.

Russia: Ukrainian troops fire rockets at Kakhovka dam

Russian authorities say Ukrainian troops have fired rockets at a significant hydroelectric power plant in the southern region of Kherson.

On Telegram, Vladimir Rogov, a senior member of the Kherson regional administration, said the Ukrainian military fired 19 rockets at the Kakhovka plant and scored three hits.

He added that there was no critical damage to the plant, which continues to operate.

Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of plotting to blow up the Kakhovka dam.

Delays in exporting grain ‘politically motivated’: Ukraine

Ukraine said that Russian inspections that have been creating “significant” delays in exporting Ukrainian food products via the Black Sea were “politically motivated” and a cause for concern.

“We have reason to believe delays in Russia’s inspections of the grain initiative’s vessels are politically motivated,” the foreign ministry announced in a statement.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov stated that unblocking shipments from Black Sea ports would depend on UN information on which countries were receiving a shipment.

Ukraine’s foreign minister urges IAEA chief to visit Kyiv amid allegations

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urges the UN nuclear watchdog to immediately send an inspection team to the country to counter Moscow’s claim that Kyiv is preparing a “provocation” involving a “dirty bomb.”

Kuleba tweeted that he made the request in a call with Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“In my call with Rafael Grossi, I officially invited IAEA to urgently send experts to peaceful facilities in Ukraine, which Russia deceitfully claims to be developing a dirty bomb. He agreed. Unlike Russia, Ukraine has always been and remains transparent. We have nothing to hide,” he wrote on Twitter.

UN data on destinations of Ukrainian grain essential: Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated Moscow asked the United Nations for data on the destination and end-consumers for Ukrainian grain exports because “corrections” to the deal that unblocked shipments from Black Sea ports would depend on this information.

In July, Russia signed on to a Turkish-brokered deal to facilitate Ukrainian grain shipments that it had blocked since the start of its war with Ukraine.

But it has since said the deal is not directing grain to the world’s poorest countries and cast doubt on whether it will opt to renew it in future.

Lavrov added that between 5 and 7 percent of the grain concerned was reaching the world’s poorest countries, with about 50 percent of the exports being shipped to the European Union.

Ukraine’s economy expected to shrink by 30 percent: Deputy PM

As Russia’s invasion enters its ninth month, Ukraine’s economy is expected to shrink by 30 percent this year, First Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko noted.

Earlier this month, the economy ministry announced the economy had shrunk by an estimated 30 percent in the first three quarters of this year compared with the same period in 2021.

Svyrydenko also told a Ukraine-Germany business conference that inflation and unemployment were at 30 percent this year.

90% of Ukraine’s wind power generation destroyed in war: Deputy FM

Russia’s war in Ukraine has had a devastating impact on the country’s renewable energy infrastructure, according to Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Emine Dzheppar.

Dzheppar tweeted that 90% of Ukraine’s wind energy infrastructure and between 40% to 50% of its solar energy infrastructure has been destroyed.

“Russia keeps terrorizing Ukrainians and it’s course [sic] to create energy crisis in our country,” Dzheppar said, calling on allied countries to help protect Ukrainian skies.

Solar and wind power accounted for 7% of Ukraine’s energy consumption in 2021, according to TEK, a Ukrainian energy trading company. Ukraine’s Ministry of Energy does not currently provide a breakdown of the country’s energy consumption sources because of martial law restrictions.

Ukrainian officials believe Russia’s countrywide drone and cruise missile attacks are being carefully orchestrated to target important infrastructure as Ukraine heads into winter. By hitting thermal power stations, electricity sub-stations, transformers and pipelines, Russian forces have been directly impacting Ukrainians’ ability to access power, water and the internet.

On Saturday alone, more than 1.5 million Ukrainian energy subscribers were without power, according to the deputy head of the President’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko.

UN calls for “urgent measures” to prevent Black Sea grain ship delays

The United Nations is calling for “urgent measures to be taken” to prevent delays to ships sailing under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, UN spokeswoman Ismini Palla told CNN.

Ukrainian officials have claimed that Moscow is intentionally slowing down food shipments made under the agreement signed in July by Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the UN.

“The United Nations convenes the parties daily and has urged full and good faith participation in the Initiative and the need for additional urgent measures to be taken so the supply chain does not get disrupted and the Initiative continues to deliver more and much needed food to the world,” Palla said.

Palla confirmed there are currently “over 150 vessels waiting around Istanbul to move, and these delays have the potential to cause disruptions to the supply chain and port operations.”

She told CNN that the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) — comprised of representatives from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the UN — has acknowledged the problem of delays and is discussing ways to address the backlog.

\In recent weeks, Russia has complained that part of the agreement allowing for the export of its agricultural products and fertilizer is not being upheld.

Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, noted last week that Moscow could leave the deal, according to Reuters. Later, President Vladimir Putin weighed in, saying Russia would shut the export corridors if they are used to carry out “terrorist attacks.”

Elon Musk says SpaceX won’t turn off Starlink in Ukraine regardless of US funding

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has stated that the firm’s satellite internet service Starlink, which provides crucial telecommunication services in Ukraine, would not be shut off regardless of whether the company receives funding from the US Defense Department.

“Before [the Department of Defense] even came back with an answer, I told @FedorovMykhailo that SpaceX would not turn off Starlink even if DoD refused to provide funding,” Musk tweeted Sunday evening, referencing talks with Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister and minister of digital transformation.

Fedorov has previously praised SpaceX and Starlink, calling Musk “among the world’s top private donors supporting Ukraine.”

SpaceX had asked the Pentagon to pay tens of millions of dollars per month to fund Starlink in Ukraine and take the burden off SpaceX. In response to that reporting, Musk apparently reversed course, abruptly announcing on Twitter that SpaceX would continue funding the service in Ukraine for free.

The Pentagon announced last week that talks with SpaceX about Ukraine are ongoing.

SpaceX claims that providing Starlink services in Ukraine have cost it $80 million so far and that by the end of the year costs will exceed $100 million.

The Starlink satellite internet terminals made by SpaceX, which began arriving in Ukraine last spring, have allowed Kyiv’s military to fight and stay connected even as cellular phone and internet networks have been destroyed in its war with Russia.

Russia’s purported fears of Ukraine using a dirty bomb are “transparently false”: US

Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu and US defense secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone Sunday, the second call in three days between the two top officials.

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced the two discussed the situation in Ukraine but did not provide further details.

It was Shoigu who initiated the phone call to Austin, according to a senior US administration official.

A second official familiar with the conversation said Shoigu alleged Ukrainians are planning to use a so-called dirty bomb — a weapon combining conventional explosions and uranium. That claim, which the Kremlin has amplified in recent days, has been strongly refuted by the US, Ukraine and United Kingdom as a Russian false flag operation.

Shoigu made similar comments to his French and British counterparts as well.

“We reject reports of Minister Shoigu’s transparently false allegations that Ukraine is preparing to use a dirty bomb on its own territory,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson told CNN in a statement, adding, “The world would see through any attempt to use this allegation as a pretext for escalation.”

The US is also watching very closely for any intelligence that Russia has a specific plan to blow up a major dam near Kherson where Russia has ordered citizens to evacuate, the official stated.

On Friday, Austin called Shoigu, the first call between the two in several months. Before Friday, the two had not spoken since May.

City near Zaporizhzhia power plant is “on brink of a humanitarian catastrophe”: Mayor

The Ukrainian city of Enerhodar is “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe,” the city’s mayor said Sunday.

Mayor Dmytro Orlov told Ukrainian media that repeated Russian strikes on his city prevent quick emergency and restoration work.

“Enerhodar is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe because constant enemy shelling destroys civilian infrastructure and power grids,” Orlov continued, adding, “The city remains without electricity and without water supply. Gas has not been available in most parts of the city for almost six months.”

The mayor also noted the city has “a centralized heating system that has not been working since spring.”

The heating system depends on the nearby Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, “several units of which are in cold shutdown mode, and several units are under repair,” Orlov explained.

“There are currently no prospects for starting a heating season, the city is in danger of not starting the heating season at all,” the mayor emphasized.

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