Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 247: Energy company says hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians left without power due to Russia attacks

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 shot down more than 300 Iranian drones: Air force spokesperson

Ukraine has shot down more than 300 Iranian Shahed-136 ‘kamikaze’ drones so far, air force spokesman Yuriy Ihnat told a briefing.

The drones have become a key weapon in Russia’s arsenal during its war in Ukraine and have often been used to target crucial energy infrastructure in the past month.

Iran has denied Ukrainian and Western accusations of supplying drones to Russia.

Chechen leader reports 23 deaths in rare admission of losses

In a rare admission, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has acknowledged high losses in his ranks after artillery shelling by Ukrainian troops.

“Twenty-three fighters have died, and 58 have been injured,” Kadyrov wrote on his Telegram channel.

Ukrainian sources reported earlier this week that a Chechen unit in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson had given away its location via photos on social networks, which led to the attack.

The Chechen leader, who is close to President Vladimir Putin, also called on his compatriots to be mobilised for the war in Ukraine.

Russian soldiers edge closer to Bakhmut

Russian soldiers are edging closer to Bakhmut, which has remained under Ukrainian control despite Moscow’s goal of capturing the entire Donbas region.

Russia has attacked Bakhmut with rockets for more than five months. The ground assault sped up after Russian troops forced the Ukrainians to withdraw from Luhansk in July.

Mercenaries from the Wagner Group are also reported to be leading the charge.

Taking the city would hurt Ukraine’s supply lines and allow Russian forces to continue towards Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, the crucial Ukrainian strongholds in the Donetsk province.

Kherson civilian departures ‘complete’: Russian-installed official

The head of Moscow-annexed Crimea announced civilian departures from Russia-occupied Kherson were “completed” after he visited the region with the Kremlin’s domestic chief Sergei Kiriyenko.

“The work to organise residents leaving the left side of the Dnipro (river) to safe regions of Russia is completed,” Sergei Aksyonov, the Moscow-appointed head of Crimea, said on Telegram.

Kyiv has compared the evacuations with Soviet-like “deportations” of its people.

‘Harder years, rough years are coming’: German president

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has plunged Europe into an era of insecurity, says the German president.

“When we look at the Russia of today, there is no room for old dreams,” President Frank-Walter Steinmeier stated, referring to former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s dream of a “common European home”.

“It has also plunged us in Germany into another time, into an insecurity we thought we had overcome: a time marked by war, violence and flight, by concerns about the expansion of war into a wildfire in Europe,” he continued.

“Harder years, rough years are coming,” the president stressed.

The president, who is from a wing of Germany’s Social Democrats that long argued for closer economic ties to Moscow, said the February 24 invasion had ruptured those hopes.

Finland and Sweden comitted to joining NATO

Finland and Sweden are committed to joining the NATO military alliance simultaneously, the prime ministers of the two countries stated.

The Nordic countries launched their bids to join NATO in May in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

All NATO members except Turkey and Hungary have ratified the applications.

Russia has lost almost 70,000 troops: Ukraine’s Armed Forces

Latest figures from Ukraine’s Armed Forces estimate around 69,700 Russian troops have died since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.

US to send hi-tech nuclear weapons to NATO bases

The US will bring forward the delivery of dozens of highly accurate guided tactical nuclear weapons to Europe amid escalating tensions with Moscow.

The new B61-12 thermonuclear bombs are “dial-a-yield” devices, meaning their payload can be changed. They are expected to be sent to NATO bases within weeks.

In what was seen as a move to reassure NATO allies amid Russian nuclear-sabre-rattling, the replacement process will begin in December, having previously been expected next spring.

The new weapons have had “all of the bomb’s nuclear and non-nuclear components” replaced or refurbished, according to the US energy department.

Russia deploying just six men to positions where 100 are needed: UK

“Severely depleted” Russian Army companies in the Kherson sector have been fighting with between six and eight men each, when they should be formed of around 100 soldiers, the British MOD has said.

In its daily update, the UK Ministry of Defence added: “In the last six weeks there has been a clear move from Russian ground forces to transition to a long-term, defensive posture on most areas of the front line in Ukraine.

“This is likely due to a more realistic assessment that the severely undermanned, poorly trained force in Ukraine is currently only capable of defensive operations,” it stated.

“Even if Russia succeeds in consolidating long-term defensive lines in Ukraine, its operational design will remain vulnerable,” it noted.

“To regain the initiative, it will need to regenerate higher quality, mobile forces which are capable of dynamically countering Ukrainian breakthroughs and conducting their own large-scale offensive operations,” it continued.

Ukraine claims it has shot down over 250 Iranian-made drones used by Russia

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Axios his country’s military has shot down 260 Iranian-made drones used by Russia in the war in Ukraine.

Russia and Iran have repeatedly denied Iranian-made drones are being used in the war.

Kuleba said that Ukraine received the first indication of Iran’s intentions to provide the drones to Russia several months ago.

“They were very vague and uncertain, but we immediately reached out to Iran,” he added.

Kuleba claimed the Iranians at the time gave Ukraine verbal and written assurances that this would not happen. But since then, Ukraine has shot down hundreds of the drones, he continued.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has also stated Russia has deployed more than 30 drone attacks on Ukraine in recent days as he pledged to “clip the wings” of Moscow’s air power..

Since February, Moscow has carried out nearly 4,500 missile strikes and over 8,000 air raids, the president noted.

Zelensky says the Russians will be sieged by Ukraine if they stay in Kherson

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that “of course” they’ll be able to defeat the Russians in the southern region of Kherson, one of the territories Moscow claims to have annexed.

Speaking in an on-camera interview Thursday Zelensky explained it’s difficult because of the “price of people.”

He said for Russia “it doesn’t matter how many people will be dead tomorrow … For us it’s very important, we can’t just push people, go there and die.”

When asked when he thinks Ukraine may be able to enter Russian-occupied Kherson, Zelensky stated, “I don’t see that they are running out of the Kherson … I think that is an informational attack. For us, I don’t want to say all the secrets, for us to come there, to take more people from some dangerous places and to go there. I think it was their information attack. So, they are not ready to go out of Kherson. But they know that if we will have success, they will not have possibility to exit.”

He added the Russians will be sieged if they stay because “they know this problem and dangerous situation. But we’ll work on it.”

When asked about Russian-installed leaders of the occupied Kherson region evacuating civilians, Zelensky called it “theatre,” adding that “their most tough soldiers, they are on the places. All of them. Nobody gets away. We see it and don’t believe them.”

Meanwhile, Russian state media reports the “situation in Kherson area is stabilizing, artillery bombardments are less frequent, and the Ukrainian forces make no attempts to counter-attack,” TASS reported, according to the Kherson region’s Russian-appointed Gov. Vladimir Saldo, speaking Thursday on Russia-24 television.

“For now, there are no serious changes, or counterattacks, or anything else on the line of engagement. There are far fewer shellings than usual or than ten days ago. In general, the situation looks stable,” Saldo added.

White House official: US will provide more security aid for Ukraine very soon

The United States will provide a new security package to Ukraine “very, very soon,” according to John Kirby, White House National Security Council spokesperson.

“You’ll see some additional security assistance being provided to Ukraine from the United States through our drawdown authorities,” Kirby told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.

“And I think very, very soon you’ll see another one from the United States. We’re going to keep at this, as the President said, for as long as it takes,” he added.

Drawdown authority refers to a form of military spending that allows for speedy approval.

Asked about escalating rhetoric from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kirby said, “He’s the one who invaded Ukraine and in a completely unprovoked manner.”

“Ukraine poses a threat to no one, let alone Russia,” he continued, noting, “So if it’s uncertain, it’s dangerous right now, it’s because of Mr. Putin. And it wasn’t the West who raised any concerns about nuclear weapons first — it was Mr. Putin.”

Kirby added that the US sees no indication that the Russians plan to use a “dirty bomb” — a weapon combining conventional explosions with uranium — or other nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

State Department working to prevent US weaponry in Ukraine from falling into the black market

The US State Department detailed efforts underway to prevent United States weaponry in Ukraine from falling into the hands of criminal and non-state actors, a move that comes as Washington braces for congress to scrutinize Ukraine assistance next year.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that while Ukraine has “has committed to appropriately safeguarding and accounting for transferred defense equipment” the US “remains vigilant” about the possibility of the weapons falling into the wrong hands.

The action plan that is in place to prevent that from happening has a few parts, according to the department:

. Bolstering the ability of Ukrainian security forces and its neighbors to safeguard the weaponry
. Strengthening border management and security in Ukraine
. Building the capacity of Ukraine and its neighbors to “to deter, detect, and interdict illicit trafficking”

“Wars can provide opportunities for weapons to fall into private hands via theft or illicit sales, sometimes creating black markets for arms that endure for decades. A variety of criminal and non-state actors may attempt to acquire weapons from sources in Ukraine during or following the conflict, as occurred after the Balkans Wars in the 1990s,” the State Department said in a fact sheet.

Some incoming House Republicans are expected to call for cutting the assistance or putting greater oversight into place. Yet so far the vital need for the weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine “is assessed to be impeding black-market proliferation of small arms and guided infantry weapons,” the department explained.

Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians left without power

Thursday was a difficult day for Ukrainians after more Russian attacks left hundreds of thousands of homes without power, the CEO of Ukraine’s Yasno Energy Company said.

The power supply was slashed by 40% in some areas, Serhiy Kovalenko said in a statement. The new power cuts applied to Kyiv, Kyiv region, Chernihiv, Cherkasy and the Zhytomyr region, the CEO stated.

At one point, more than 320,000 homes in the capital were without power. By the evening, that number had fallen to 159,000 homes, he continued.

In the wider Kyiv region, at least 258,000 homes were without power and more than 500,000 homes were disconnected throughout the day.

“But we are standing. Energy workers are working hard to overcome the consequences of the attacks. Unfortunately, there are no dates for the restoration of normal supply yet. If there is no decrease in consumption overnight, the blackouts will continue,” he added.

US “concerned” about Russian escalation in Ukraine: Defense head

The US is “certainly concerned” about escalation in Ukraine, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a news conference at the Pentagon.

“As long as we have the channels of communication open and we’re able to communicate, you know, what’s important to us, then I think we have an opportunity to manage escalation,” Austin stated.

Austin also added that Russia’s use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine would result in “a very significant response from the international community.”

“We’re going to continue to communicate that any type of use of a weapon of that sort or even the talk of the use of a weapon of that sort is dangerous and irresponsible,” Austin, said, who added that if Russia used one, it “has a potential of changing things in the international community.”

“Russia has been indiscriminately using thousands of offensive missiles in Ukraine,” a senior defense official continued, noting, “Their use of missiles in Ukraine shows we should expect these weapons to become a common feature of 21st century conflict.”

So far, Russia has been “absolutely deterred from attacking NATO,” a second defense official said with a level of confidence rarely heard from the US, especially amid escalating rhetoric from Russia and its state-run media outlets.

“President Joe Biden has stated unequivocally that we will defend every inch of NATO territory, and it’s very clear to us here in the Pentagon that Russia has received that message,” the official added.

US envoy to UN rejects Russian claim of ‘military biological activities’ in Ukraine

Russia’s accusations implicating Washington in the development of biological weapons in Ukraine are “pure fabrications”, the US ambassador to the United Nations has told the Security Council.

“We all know these claims are pure fabrications brought forth without a shred of evidence,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.

“Still, I must take this opportunity to set the record straight,” she continued, adding, “Ukraine does not have a biological weapons programme. The United States does not have a biological weapons programme.”

Russia calls for UN probe into US ‘military biological activities’ in Ukraine

Russia has filed a complaint with the UN Security Council demanding an international investigation into US “military biological activities” in Ukraine, the Russian foreign ministry says.

“The Russian Federation was left with no choice but to file a complaint with the chairman of the UN Security Council to launch an international investigation” into “the military biological activities of the United States in Ukraine”, a statement from the ministry added.

Putin’s remarks show no change in Russian leader’s strategy: White House

The White House announced Vladimir Putin’s remarks were not very new and did not indicate a change in his strategic goals, including in Ukraine.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre reacted to Putin’s remarks during a press briefing held aboard Air Force One.

Biden sceptical of Putin claim to have no intention of using nuclear weapon

US President Joe Biden expressed scepticism on Thursday about Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s comment that he had no intention of using a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, Reuters reports.

Putin, in a speech earlier in the day, played down a nuclear standoff with the West, insisting Russia had not threatened to use nuclear weapons and had only responded to nuclear “blackmail” from Western leaders.

“If he has no intention, why does he keep talking about it? Why is he talking about the ability to use a tactical nuclear weapon?” Biden said in an interview with NewsNation.

“He’s been very dangerous in how he’s approached this,” Biden added.

Putin and other Russian officials have repeatedly said in recent weeks that Russia could use nuclear weapons to protect its territorial integrity, remarks interpreted in the West as implicit threats to use them to defend parts of Ukraine that Russia claims to have annexed.

In an interview earlier on CNN, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby stated it was possible Russia was considering the use of a so-called dirty bomb and was setting up a pretext to blame Ukraine. But he added the United States still had not seen any signs that was necessarily the case.

“They often blame others for that which they are doing themselves or about to do. So that’s why we have to take that seriously,” Kirby said of Putin‘s allegations.

“I’ll also tell you that we’re not seeing any signs, even today, that the Russians are planning to use a dirty bomb or to even make preparations for that,” he continued.

Putin says US needs to force Kyiv to negotiating table

President Vladimir Putin says Moscow is ready for talks to end the conflict in Ukraine but Kyiv is not prepared to sit down at the negotiating table.

“It’s not a question about us — we are ready for negotiations — but the leaders in Kyiv decided not to continue negotiations with Russia,” Putin told the Valdai Discussion Club in Moscow.

“It is very easy to solve this problem if Washington gives a signal to Kyiv to change its position and solve the problem peacefully,” he added.

There have been no peace talks between the two nations since attempts at a negotiated settlement fell apart in the first weeks of the conflict and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has explicitly ruled out a negotiated deal with Putin.

Putin stated ordinary citizens of Western countries should fight for pay rises and should not believe that Russia is the bad guy.

“Fight for higher wages,” Putin said when asked what he would tell an ordinary citizen of a Western country, adding, “And don’t believe that Russia is your enemy.”

Russia, Putin noted, was not an enemy of the West and has never had any “malicious” intentions towards Europe or the United States. But Western leaders, he said, had made grave mistakes that have led to economic and energy crises.

The president also called Western claims that Russia was behind explosions on the Nord Stream gas pipelines “crazy”.

Putin stressed that Russia’s relations with China were at an “unprecedented level” as he called China’s President Xi Jinping a “close friend”.

Moscow and Beijing signed a no-limits partnership just days before Russia launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine in February, and Russia has sought to forge closer political and economic ties with China in the face of Western sanctions over the war.

Putin also said that Russia’s military doctrine only permitted the country to use nuclear weapons in defence, rejecting claims that Russia was considering using them in Ukraine.

He added Russia was ready to restart talks with the United States on nuclear arms control, but had no response from Washington on Moscow’s proposals for talks on “strategic stability”.

Putin has alleged that the West rejected Moscow’s attempts to build good relations with the United States and NATO because it was set on making Russia vulnerable.

Moscow had wanted to “be friends” with the West and NATO, but would not accept attempts by the US, European Union and United Kingdom to hold Russia down, Putin said.

He also warned that the coming decade will be the “most dangerous” since the 1940s.

“Ahead is probably the most dangerous, unpredictable and at the same time important decade since the end of the second World War,” Putin added.

Putin has accused Washington of having discredited the international financial system by using the United States dollar as a “weapon”.

The Russian president stated he believed moves by other countries to reduce their reliance on the currency for international trade would accelerate.

Putin has accused the West of “fuelling the war in Ukraine” but said the United States and its allies will ultimately have to talk to Russia “about the future”.

“The new centres of the global order and the West will have to begin a conversation about the future – the earlier the better,” the Russian president said.

Putin also charged that the West was blinded by colonialism and said it was trying to contain the rest of the world.

“Dominion of the world is precisely what the West has decided to stake in this game. But this game is a dangerous, dirty and bloody one,” he added.

Biden has ‘no intention to sit down’ with Putin at G20: White House

United States President Joe Biden has “no intention” to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month while attending the Group of 20 (G20) summit, the White House has said.

“He has no intention to sit down with Vladimir Putin and that’s where we are today,” US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Biden has previously stated he has no plans to meet with Putin at the summit being held in Bali, Indonesia. It is not confirmed yet whether Putin will attend.

No indication Russian nuclear drills are ‘cover activity’: Pentagon

The United States has not seen anything to indicate that Russia’s ongoing annual “Grom” exercises of its nuclear forces may be a cover for a real deployment, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has noted.

“We haven’t seen anything to cause us to believe, at this point, that is some kind of cover activity,” Austin told reporters.

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