Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 248

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:

Russia says to raise Nord Stream, Crimea attack at UNSC

Russia announced it will raise the Nord Stream pipeline blasts and an alleged drone attack in Crimea, both incidents in which Moscow has alleged British involvement, at the UN Security Council.

“The Russian side intends to draw the attention of the international community, in particular through the UN Security Council, to the series of terrorist attacks against Russia in the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea, including the involvement of Great Britain,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Telegram.

Russia ‘playing hunger games’:Ukraine

Ukraine’s foreign minister accused Moscow of using a “false pretext” to suspend its participation in the Black Sea grain corridor on Saturday.

Russia announced earlier it was suspending participation in the three-month-old deal after what it claimed was a Ukraine and UK-led attack on Russian ships in the Moscow-occupied Crimea peninsula.

“I call on all states to demand Russia to stop its hunger games and recommit to its obligations,” Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine accuses Russia of ‘blackmail’ over Crimea attacks

The Ukrainian president’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, accused Russia of “blackmail” and “invented terror attacks” on its own territory on Saturday following explosions in the Crimean peninsula.

Moscow blamed Ukraine and the UK for a drone attack on the Sevastopol port on Saturday morning.

Hours later, it noted it was suspending its participation in a humanitarian deal supporting grain exports from Ukraine in response to the attack, Russian media reported.

Russia ‘suspends participation in grain deal’

Russia has suspended participation in the deal to export agricultural produce from Ukrainian ports following attacks on ships in Crimea, according to Russian news agency TASS, which cited the defence ministry.

Earlier on Saturday, the UN had urged Russia to extend the deal beyond its November 19th expiration date.

But Moscow claimed that its ships targeted in a drone attack in Crimea on Saturday were involved in the grain exports.

French Prime Minister dismisses Russian accusations against Britain

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said she gives no credence to Russia’s accusations on Saturday that Britain was involved in the explosions that damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea in September.

“There is an investigation underway and I give no credence to what was said this morning,” she told reporters.

Britain denies Russian claims that its navy personnel blew up Nord Stream gas pipelines

Britain has denied Russian claims that British navy personnel blew up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last month, calling them “false claims of an epic scale”.

“To detract from their disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defence is resorting to peddling false claims of an epic scale,” a spokesperson for Britain’s ministry of defence said.

“This latest invented story, says more about the arguments going on inside the Russian Government than it does about the West,” the official added.

Zelensky tells US students he is unwilling to negotiate with Russia

Political pressure for efforts to negotiate an end to the war are building in parts of western Europe.

But President Volodymyr Zelensky has said his country won’t negotiate with Russia as long as Moscow insists the annexed regions are Russian territory.

In remarks to Yale University students, the Ukrainian leader reiterated his unwillingness to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government because of its “disrespect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

EU has frozen 17bn euros in Russian assets

The European Union has frozen Russian assets worth around 17 billion euros ($16.9 billion) since Moscow invaded Ukraine, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said in an interview published on Saturday.

The figure has risen from the roughly 13.8 billion euros “from oligarchs and other entities” that Reynders in July announced the EU had frozen, mainly in five countries.

“So far, the assets of 90 people have been frozen, more than 17 billion euros in seven member states, including 2.2 billion euros in Germany,” he told German media group Funke, including the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung daily.

Ukrainian officials have been calling for the assets to be used to rebuild their country after the war.

“If it is criminal money confiscated by the EU, it is possible to transfer it to a compensation fund for Ukraine,” Reynders stated in the interview.

“This amount is far from being sufficient to finance reconstruction,” he added.

Reynders noted that Western sanctions have also led to the “freezing of 300 billion euros” of Central Bank of Russia foreign exchange reserves around the world, saying this could be used as a guarantee.

“From my point of view, it is at least possible to keep these 300 billion euros as a guarantee until Russia voluntarily participates in the reconstruction of Ukraine,” he continued.

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, 1,236 people including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as well as oligarchs including Roman Abramovich, have been subject to asset freezes and bans from entering the EU.

Moscow blames UK, Ukraine for drone attack

Moscow has accused the UK of helping Ukraine plan a drone attack on its Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, and said that one of its ships suffered “minor” damage.

“The preparation of this terrorist act and the training of the military personnel of the Ukrainian 73rd Special Center for Maritime Operations were carried out under the guidance of British specialists located in the city of Ochakiv in Ukraine’s Mykolaiv region,” Moscow’s defence ministry announced in a statement on Saturday.

“It should be emphasised that the ships of the Black Sea Fleet that were attacked by terrorists are involved in ensuring the security of the ‘grain corridor’ as part of an international initiative to export agricultural products from Ukrainian ports,” it added.

Russian navy ‘repels’ drone attack on Crimea’s Sevastopol

The Russian navy has “repelled” a drone attack in the bay of Sevastopol, home to Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet in Moscow-annexed Crimea, according to a statement by a Russian-installed governor, as a battle rages for the control of southeastern Ukrainian cities Kherson and Bakhmut.

“Today, starting at 04:30am for several hours, various air defence systems in Sevastopol repelled drone attacks,” Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev said on Telegram early on Saturday.

“All UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) have been shot down,” he added.

“Today at night, the most massive attack by UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and remote-controlled surface vehicles in the waters of the Sevastopol bay was undertaken” since Moscow launched its offensive, Razgozhayev told Russian state media later on Saturday.

The attack in Sevastopol – the largest city in the Crimean peninsula, comes as Ukrainian forces have been engaged in a fierce battle with Russian forces in Kherson province, which serves as the gateway to Crimea. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Russia accuses British Navy of “terrorist attack” on Nord Stream gas pipelines

Russia’s defence ministry on Saturday said that British navy personnel blew up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last month, directly accusing a leading NATO member of sabotaging critical Russian infrastructure, Reuters reports.

The defence ministry did not give evidence for its claim.

“According to available information, representatives of this unit of the British Navy took part in the planning, provision and implementation of a terrorist attack in the Baltic Sea on September 26 this year – blowing up the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines,” the ministry added.

Britain’s defence ministry declined immediate comment.

Russians stealing medical equipment in Kherson: Ukraine

Russian forces in the occupied region of Kherson are engaged in mass theft of medical equipment and ambulances in a bid to make the area uninhabitable, President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

Kherson is one of the four regions Moscow claims as part of Russia.

“The occupiers have decided to close down medical institutions in towns, take away medical equipment, ambulances, everything. They are putting pressure on doctors who still remain… to move to the territory of Russia,” Zelenskiy stated.

“Russia is trying to make the Kherson region a no man’s land,” he added.

Ukrainian officials have regularly accused retreating Russian troops of widespread looting.

Russia plans to ‘expedite’ withdrawal from Kherson city: UK MoD

Moscow is “likely” planning an expedited withdrawal from Kherson city, according to the latest intelligence update from the UK Ministry of Defence.

It notes that the remains of the 18th century Russian statesman Prince Grigory Potemkin had been removed from Kherson cathedral and moved to a location east of the Dnipro river, according to the Russian-appointed governor of the occupied Kherson region, Vladimir Saldo.

“In the Russian national identity, Potemkin is heavily associated with the Russian conquest of Ukrainian lands in the 18th century and highlights the weight Putin almost certainly places on perceived historical justification for the invasion,” the intelligence update states.

“This symbolic removal of Potemkin and the civilian exodus likely pre-empts Russian intent to expedite withdrawal from the area,” it noted.

Two days ago, Saldo said that more than 70,000 civilians had now left Kherson city.

For weeks, Ukrainian forces have been advancing towards Kherson, the biggest city that Russia has captured intact since the invasion in February, although the advance has slowed in recent days. The battle for Kherson would be one of the most consequential of the war so far.

Four million Ukrainians affected by power cuts: Zelensky

Four million people across Ukraine have been hit by power cuts due to Russia’s bombing campaign, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.

In his evening address, Zelensky stressed the whole country was suffering the consequences of the Russian campaign.

“About 4 million Ukrainians face restrictions now” from the rolling blackouts, he continued, adding, “We are doing everything so that the state has the opportunity to reduce such blackouts.”

US announces $275m in new military aid

The US will provide a new $275m military assistance package for Ukraine to help it battle Russia’s invasion, the Pentagon announced.

The package includes ammunition for HIMARS precision rocket launchers, various types of 155mm artillery rounds, anti-armour systems, small arms ammunition and four satellite communications antennas, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told journalists.

“We’re seeing Ukrainian infrastructure and electrical grids being targeted by the Russians and these antennas provide an additional capability on the ground at a critical time when Ukraine’s infrastructure is being hit,” Singh continued.

Kyiv’s power grid working in ’emergency mode’: Mayor

The mayor of Kyiv noted the Ukrainian capital’s power grid is operating in “emergency mode”, with electricity supplies down by as much as half compared with pre-war levels.

“Due to a significant shortage of electricity, from 20 percent to 50 percent, – the city’s energy supply system is operating in emergency mode,” Vitali Klitschko said on Telegram.

In the same post, Klitschko confirmed reports from the regional governor and Ukrenergo, the state energy company, that Kyiv and the surrounding region will see rolling blackouts in the coming days.

He expressed hope Ukrenergo employees would restore the flow of electricity to its usual level “in two to three weeks, barring circumstances beyond their control”.

UN secretary-general urges renewal of crucial grain deal

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for the renewal of the Black Sea grain initiative between Ukraine and Russia which potentially runs out in three weeks.

“The impact of the agreement signed in Istanbul has been clearly demonstrated. Exports of grains and other food products under the Black Sea Grain Initiative have surpassed 9 million tonnes,” Guterres said in a statement Friday.

In July, Ukraine and Russia agreed to the deal that allowed the resumption of vital grain exports from Ukrainian Black Sea ports, a major diplomatic breakthrough at the time, aimed at easing a global food crisis sparked by the war.

Ministers from both countries signed an agreement brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in Istanbul. It came after months of negotiations and promises to unblock ports on the Black Sea to allow the safe passage of grain and oilseeds – some of Ukraine’s most important exports.

Guterres underlined the urgency to renew the deal on Nov. 19.

“If food and fertilizers do not reach global markets now, farmers will not have fertilizers at the right time and at a price they can afford as the planting season begins, endangering crops in all regions of the world in 2023 and 2024, with dramatic effect on food production and food prices worldwide. The current crisis of affordability will turn into a crisis of availability,” the statement added.

Ex-president says power supply may be restored if Kyiv recognizes Russian demands

Former Russian President and Prime Minister and current deputy head of Russia’s Security Council Dmitry Medvedev said the power supply situation in Ukraine could improve if Kyiv would recognize “Russia’s demands.”

“The path to energy supply stability is different. It is necessary to recognize the legitimacy of Russia’s demands within the framework of the special military operation and its results, reflected in our Constitution. And then the light will come on…” Medvedev said on his Telegram account Friday.

Ukraine and the United Nations General Assembly have condemned Russia’s attempted annexations of four Ukrainian zones, saying it is illegal and not valid.

Emergency power outages in Kyiv continued on Friday morning as the city struggled to repair “significant damage” caused by an attack on energy infrastructure the previous day, according to the energy company DTEK. Russia has been striking key energy infrastructure across Ukraine in recent weeks, causing blackouts and leading to warnings that those living in the country could face a difficult winter period.

Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko told CNN Friday that Medvedev’s comments are the “usual Russian approach,” and “of course, it is even impossible to discuss and that is only giving evidence that all of these massive attacks on energy infrastructure were aimed to make terror to our people.”

“The main goal of this destruction is, especially on the upcoming winter, is to create problems for the civilians. … They aim to destroy the energy infrastructure of the country before the winter,” he added.

The energy minister also called for international assistance with more air protection systems to protect energy infrastructure from drone attacks. He said there is also an urgent need for equipment to replace what has been damaged.

Canada to sanction 35 Russians, including Gazprom executives

Canada will sell a government-backed, five-year bond to raise money for Ukraine and impose new sanctions on 35 Russians, including Gazprom executives, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.

“Canadians will now be able to go to major banks to purchase their sovereignty bonds, which will mature after five years with interest,” Trudeau stated at a meeting of the Congress of Ukrainian Canadians.

“These funds will go to support the government of Ukraine, so they can continue to support the Ukrainian people,” he noted in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Ukraine says Russia’s mobilized troops are poorly trained and equipped


While Russia touts the hundreds of thousands of reservists that have bolstered its forces in recent weeks, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Friday that the new troops are ill-prepared for battle.

“Today the enemy reports about the alleged completion of their mobilization, about the alleged unnecessity of new waves of deployment of Russian citizens to the front,” Zelensky said in his nightly address.

“We feel quite the opposite at the frontline. Russia is trying to increase pressure on our positions using the mobilized, but they are so poorly trained and equipped, so crudely used by the command, that it suggests that soon Russia may need a new wave of sending people to war,” he continued.

He added that Ukraine is preparing for Russian leadership to look for more opportunities to prolong the conflict.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday that the call for mobilization has been completed and the target goal of 300,000 mobilized citizens has been fulfilled.

The mobilization order got off to a rocky start and proved controversial in Russia, sparking protests and concerns from rights groups that ethnic minorities were disproportionately targeted for deployment.

Air defence equipment arrives in Kyiv: Mayor

Kyiv’s mayor has announced that new air defence equipment has arrived in the capital and expressed hope it would help protect the city’s energy infrastructure after weeks of Russian air attacks.

“The military have assured me [during a recent meeting] that new air defense equipment has arrived in the capital and our sky will be safer,” Vitali Klitschko said on Ukrainian TV.

“We hope that there will be no more attacks and provocations with kamikaze drones and missiles,” Klitschko added.

Partial mobilisation ‘complete’: Russian DM

Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu says the “partial mobilisation” order Russia announced in September is complete.

Speaking at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin broadcast on state television, Shoigu stated 82,000 of the recruits are in the conflict zone and a further 218,000 are in training.

Putin hailed the “patriotism” of the mobilised reservists.

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