Saturday, March 2, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 251

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:

Finland and Sweden hope to have NATO membership ratified by Turkey and Hungary soon

The leaders of Finland and Sweden have expressed their hopes that Turkey and Hungary ratify their membership applications to NATO “sooner rather than later.”

During a joint press conference in Helsinki, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said she had a phone call with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg earlier Tuesday to discuss “the ratification of our membership application.”

“Our eyes are now on Hungary, and of course, Turkey, and we are waiting for these countries to ratify our applications. I think it would be very important that this would happen preferably sooner than later,” Marin stated.

Sweden and Finland signed a memorandum with Turkey in June, committing to address Turkey’s security concerns around terrorism and arms exports after Ankara opposed their initial bid to join the alliance.

Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Oct. 26 that Hungary had “made it clear” that they would ratify the accession protocol soon, enabling the two countries to become fully fledged members of the alliance.

Marin’s Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, emphasized the “speedy” nature of the ratification process, highlighting the fact that 28 out of 30 members of the alliances have already ratified their applications.

“We fully respect that every country within the alliance makes their own decision. I had a telephone call [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan the other day and we agreed on me coming to Ankara, and I will communicate the exact date when it is formally confirmed,” Kristersson added.

Sweden and Finland both announced their intention to join NATO in May, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused a sudden shift in attitudes toward joining the bloc.

Moscow wants answers over Truss’ alleged ‘it’s done’ SMS to Blinken moments after Nord Stream blasts

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wants answers regarding the mysterious “It’s done” iPhone message allegedly sent by then-Prime Minister Liz Truss to the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken moments after the sabotage attacks against the Nord Stream network in late September.

“To be honest, I don’t care who got this information and how. I’m interested in London’s answer to the following question: Did Prime Minister Liz Truss of Britain send a message to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken immediately after the Nord Stream gas pipeline was blown up with the words ‘It’s done’?” Zakharova asked in a Telegram post Tuesday.

The spokeswoman suggested that “millions of people around the world” were waiting for answers to the question of how the planet’s energy security was undermined, “and what role the Anglo-Saxons played in this terrorist attack.”

Britain says it won’t be drawn into Russia’s Nord Stream ‘distractions’

Moscow’s claim that Britain is to blame for damage to the Nord Stream gas pipelines is an attempt to distract from the situation in Ukraine and is part of the “Russian playbook”, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman has said.

Moscow on Tuesday reiterated its allegation that Britain was responsible for an attack on the Nord Stream undersea gas pipelines. Britain has denied the claim.

“Obviously, we’re carefully monitoring the situation, but it is right to not be drawn into these sorts of distractions which is part of the Russian playbook,” Sunak’s spokesman told reporters.

“They continue their indiscriminate bombardment of civilians and attacks on civilian infrastructure. That is our focus, and we will continue to provide support so that they lose this illegal war,” he added.

Macron and Zelensky discuss strengthening defence capabilities

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron about strengthening Ukraine’s defence capabilities and restoring damaged energy infrastructure.

In a tweet, Zelensky wrote: “Extremely important and productive conversation with President Emmanuel Macron. Specific decisions on strengthening Ukraine’s defence capabilities. Specific initiatives to restore the destroyed energy infrastructure.

“Thank you, my friend, for your unwavering support,” he added.

Millions sent to bolster Ukraine’s cyber defences: UK

The UK reveals it is funnelling millions of pounds into increasing Ukraine’s cyber defences.

An initial £6.35 million package was mobilised in response to a rising “tempo” of Russian cyber activity at the beginning of Russia’s invasion in February but has been kept quiet until now for security reasons, the government announced.

The news came as the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of GCHQ, published its annual review.

Moscow has denied involvement in cyber strikes on Ukraine in the past.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said, “The UK’s support to Ukraine is not limited to military aid – we are drawing on Britain’s world-leading expertise to support Ukraine’s cyber defences.

“Together, we will ensure that the Kremlin is defeated in every sphere: on land, in the air and in cyber space,” he added.

Russia considering ‘further steps’ against Britain over Nord Stream ‘terror attack’

Russia is considering what “further steps” to take against Britain after alleging that the UK was responsible for an attack on the Nord Stream undersea gas pipelines.

“Our intelligence services have data indicating that British military specialists were directing and coordinating the attack,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.

“There is evidence that Britain is involved in sabotage, in a terrorist attack on vital energy infrastructure, not just Russian, but international,” he added.

Russia’s defence ministry announced on Saturday that Royal Navy personnel had blown up the Nord Stream gas pipelines in September, an assertion that London said was false and designed to distract from Russian military failures in Ukraine.

The Kremlin also added no decision had been taken on whether to repair the Russian-owned pipelines.

Three more ships carrying grain leave Ukrainian ports

Three cargo ships loaded with grain left Ukrainian ports on Tuesday, according to the centre overseeing the implementation of a deal brokered by Turkey and the UN.

“The movement of these vessels has been agreed by the Ukrainian, Turkish and UN delegations … The Russian delegation has been informed,” the Istanbul-based International Coordination Centre noted.

The ships are the latest to sail from Ukraine after Russia pulled out of a July agreement that allowed vital grain exports to leave Ukraine with the aim of alleviating global food shortages.

At least 10 ships sailed from Ukraine’s ports on Monday.

Battle for Kherson intensifies as Ukrainian forces attempt to break down Russian defenses

The battle for the southern city of Kherson is intensifying, as Ukrainian forces try to push through Russian defenses and occupying forces ramp up pressure on residents to abandon their homes.

Both sides have reported heavy fighting in the Beryslav district of the Russian-occupied city, where’s Kyiv’s forces are attempting to break through.

Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-backed deputy head of Kherson region military administration, said on Telegram that Ukrainians were “trying in every possible way, by reconnaissance battle, to break through in the Beryslav direction,” but that “all attempts are repulsed.”

He added that about 70 were killed and several pieces of equipment were destroyed.

Ukrainian officials in the southern region noted Russian forces had shelled several communities in the area.

“The enemy continues to defend and tries to hold the occupied lines,” Ukraine’s Operational Command South said, claiming a Russian attack helicopter had been shot down in the Kherson region.

Much of the fighting is in open, flat countryside west of the river Dnipro.

Amid the clashes, civilians are still leaving Kherson. According to the Ukrainian side, people are being evicted from their homes and forced to cross to the east bank of the river Dnipro.

“Occupiers evict people en masse from their homes,” according to Vitaliy Kim, head of the Mykolaiv regional administration.

“The bottom line is that they settle their people only in houses where there are good conditions – water, gas, electricity. What does it look like? First, that they are going to be there for a long time. Second, they provide better conditions for their mobilized than they have at home,” Kim wrote on Telegram.

“The Russians, at the expense of the civilian population of the Kherson region, create living conditions for their mobilized, so that they like living there. They are going to create an almost militarized zone on the east bank of the Dnipro, sort of a buffer near Crimea,” he added.

Russian forces have evacuated civilians from Kherson while fortifying their defenses in the region, a move some humanitarian bodies said constitutes human rights violations.

Russia should be expelled from G20: Ukraine

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson has called for Russia to be expelled from the Group of 20 major economies, demanding that President Vladimir Putin’s invitation to a G20 summit in Bali next month be revoked.

“Putin publicly acknowledged ordering missile strikes on Ukrainian civilians and energy infrastructure,” spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said.

“With his hands stained in blood, he must not be allowed to sit at the table with world leaders. Putin’s invitation to Bali summit must be revoked, and Russia expelled from G20,” he added.

EU claims Russia is “deliberately” targeting Tartars for conscription in annexed Crimea

The European Union has condemned what it says is Moscow’s campaign to conscript men in annexed Crimea into the Russian military.

In a statement, the EU said Crimean Tatars were being “deliberately and disproportionately targeted in the implementation of Russia’s mobilization order and reportedly forcibly involved in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, their traditional homeland.”

“Today’s step constitutes yet another violation of international law by Russia” the EU statement added.

On Monday, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry stated the conscription campaign in Crimea was the 16th since 2015.

“In this time, the Russian occupation administration in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol illegally forced about 36,000 Ukrainians into military service,” it noted.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry added that “a mobilization campaign is also underway in Crimea, the nature and methods of which testify to the desire of the Russian military-political leadership to reduce the number of Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars on the peninsula.”

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow’s “partial mobilization” of citizens to fight in its war against Ukraine has been completed. The conscription drive has been beset by errors, caused angry protests and prompted a mass exodus since it was announced in September.

Mayor: Water, power supplies restored in Kyiv after missile attacks

Water and electricity supplies have been restored in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, a day after being knocked out by Russian missile raids, the city’s mayor has said.

“Water supplies to the homes of Kyiv residents have been fully restored … Electricity supplies in Kyiv have also been restored” Vitali Klitschko stated on social media.

Nevertheless, Klitschko noted there would still be planned power cuts in the city “because of the considerable deficit in the power system after the barbaric attacks of the aggressor”.

At least 20,000 still without electricity in Kyiv

At least 20,000 people in the Kyiv regional area are still without electricity following Russia’s attacks on critical infastructure, its governor Oleksiy Kuleba has said.

“I am grateful to the residents of the region for their understanding” about “planned stabilisation shutdowns”, Kuleba stated, adding that “our energy workers work round the clock” on repairs.

Majority of Russian missiles brought down by air defenses during Monday’s attack: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky said that repair work continues after Russian missile strikes on Ukraine’s power infrastructure — and that a majority of the missiles fired had been brought down by air defenses.

“At this time, restoration works are still ongoing in the regions where Russian missiles hit today. We are doing everything possible to restore energy and water supply,” Zelensky stated.

“If someone in the Kremlin has listened to their crazy propagandists and decided that the darkness in Ukraine will help pressure Ukrainians, then let them not be surprised with their losses when they see how Ukrainians are conducting “negotiations” in the dark,” he added.

Zelensky repeated the military’s statement that of the 55 cruise missiles fired, 45 were shot down.

“For every ten hits, the terrorists have to expend at least four times more missiles,” Zelensky said, adding, “Russia’s performance on drones is even worse, including those supplied by their Iranian allies.”

“The wreckage of a Russian missile that fell on the territory of Moldova only reminds us how important it is to defend ourselves together against this evil,” Zelensky continued.

Scholz and Zelensky reject Russian claims of Ukraine preparing a “dirty bomb”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected the accusations made by Russia that Ukraine was preparing to use a “so-called dirty bomb” — calling them baseless, according to a readout of the call released by the German Chancellery on Monday.

In a phone call on between the two leaders, Scholz agreed with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that independent investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency would remove any doubt about Ukraine-initiated preparation of such a bomb, the readout said.

The IAEA announced Monday that investigators had begun their inspection of two locations that Russia said Ukraine was using to develop such bombs. Agency’s chief Rafael Grossi is expected to provide his initial conclusions later this week.

Scholz also stated that Germany will continue to provide “concrete political, financial and humanitarian support to Ukraine” as well as “defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity, including in arms deliveries.”

UK foreign secretary warns of “severe consequences” for Russia if nuclear weapons are used in Ukraine

The UK warned that there would be “severe consequences” for Russia if leaders chose to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly stated on Monday.

“The House will have noted Putin’s irresponsible talk about nuclear weapons, and absurd claim that Ukraine plans to detonate a radiological dirty bomb on its own territory,” Cleverly said in a statement to the House of Commons.

“No other country is talking about nuclear use. No country is threatening Russia or President [Vladimir] Putin,” he added.

“He should be clear that for the UK and our allies, any use at all of nuclear weapons would fundamentally change the nature of this conflict. There would be severe consequences for Russia,” the foreign secretary said.

Cleverly added Putin was “exacting revenge” for his military failures on the civilians of Ukraine by cutting off their power and water supply and “on the poorest people in the world by threatening their food supplies.”

He continued to say that 60% of the wheat exported under the Black Sea grain sea initiative has gone to low- and middle-income countries and it would be “unconscionable” for those lands to be “made to suffer” because of “Putin’s setbacks in Ukraine.”

“I urge Russia to stop impeding this vital initiative that is helping feed the hungry across the world and agree to its extension,” he stressed.

Russia suspended its participation in the grain deal on Saturday, after what it claimed was a drone attack by Ukraine on its Black Sea fleet in the Crimean city of Sevastopol.

UN nuclear experts begin inspection at Ukrainian locations cited by Russia

Experts from the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency have started their inspection at two locations that Russia said Ukraine was using to develop “dirty bombs,” a statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Monday.

Russia has repeatedly claimed that Ukraine is conspiring to use a “dirty bomb” — a device that contains nuclear materials along with traditional explosives — in what Moscow says would be a false flag operation to blame Russia.

The claims have been rejected by Ukraine as well as its Western allies, including the US and the UK.

The inspections are being carried out after a written request from Ukraine following Moscow’s claims, the statement noted, adding that the agency’s chief Rafael Grossi would provide his “initial conclusions” later this week.

Russia not ending participation in grain export deal, just suspending it: Putin

Russia is not ending its participation in a deal to export Ukrainian grain through Black Sea ports but rather is suspending it, President Vladimir Putin has said.

Also on Monday, UN aid chief Martin Griffiths reaffirmed the Russian position, saying that “they have suspended. They haven’t withdrawn. They have suspended and they haven’t terminated.”

“The difference is that as parties to that Black Sea Green initiative, they are still bound by it. That’s why I’ve been explaining our continuing effort to move the outbound vessels,” added Griffiths.

“We believe very strongly that provision remains in force, including for the Russian Federation,” he continued, noting that includes a pledge by Russia and Ukraine not to attack cargo ships or port facilities.

Putin warns Russia could do more than Monday’s onslaught of missile strikes

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Moscow’s fresh onslaught on Ukraine earlier in the day was partly in response to the attack on Russia’s fleet in the Crimean city of Sevastopol on Saturday, which he blamed on Kyiv.

When asked by a reporter if Monday’s strikes were a response to Saturday’s drone attacks in Crimea, Putin stated, “Partly it is indeed so. But that’s not all we could do.”

Russia launched missile attacks on infrastructure facilities in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, leaving parts of the capital without electricity and water.

When asked about the possibility of peace talks with Ukraine, Putin noted, “In order to start making proposals at the talks, the talks need to take place first. And laying out your negotiating position on the table in advance is not always advisable in order to achieve your national goals.”

“But in order to achieve agreements, you need to sit down at the negotiating table and negotiate,” he added.

The Russian leader blamed Ukraine for throwing “in the bin” the agreement reached in Istanbul earlier this year while signing the Black Sea grain export deal.

“And now, in general, they forbid themselves to talk with us. Well, how can we now discuss possible agreements if there is not even a desire on the other side to talk to us? We will wait, maybe some necessary conditions will ripen. And our goodwill is known — it is not subject to any changes and doubts,” he continued.

Ukrainian Association of Football calls for Iran to be excluded from 2022 FIFA World Cup

The Ukrainian Association of Football (UAF) will petition FIFA to ban Iran from the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

The UAF announced their intentions Monday based on Iran’s history of human rights violations in the country and the alleged involvement of Iran in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

If Iran was dropped from the competition, Ukraine could serve as a replacement team due to qualifying results.

A statement published on the UAF website notes that the decision to file the request was made at a meeting of their Executive Committee.

The statement reads, “The UAF Executive Committee decided… Taking into account media information about systematic human rights violations in Iran, which may violate the principles and norms of the FIFA Statutes, taking into account the UN Security Council Resolution 2231 regarding the imposition of sanctions on Iran and the possible involvement of Iran in the military aggression of Russia against Ukraine, to make a request to the FIFA to consider excluding the Iranian national team from the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”

The UFA press release also called for FIFA and UEFA to take “urgent measures” against the Russian Football Union “in the form of the membership exclusion from FIFA and UEFA.”

Russian ministry of defense announces cessation of all partial mobilization activities

Russia’s ministry of defense announced that all partial mobilization activities, including summons delivery, have been suspended, according to a statement published on Monday.

The ministry said that “all activities related to conscription for military service” have been stopped.

According to the statement, from now on military units will only be accepting volunteers and contractors.

The ministry added that on behalf of the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, the commanders of military districts and the Northern Fleet were sent orders to submit the reports on the completion of partial mobilization activities by the 1st of November.

The ministry’s announcement does not constitute an official end to Putin’s partial mobilization. This can only be done with an official decree from the Russian President.

40% of Kyiv still without power while restoration work continues

About 270,000 apartments in Kyiv remain without electricity following Russia’s missile attacks earlier Monday, Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said, adding that 40% of the capital’s consumers remain without water supply.

Water supply to the east bank of the city had been restored and restoration work for the right (west) bank of the capital is underway, Klitschko wrote on Telegram.

“Power engineers plan to stabilize the situation with the electricity supply at about 9-10 pm,” Klitschko said, adding, “But even after the resumption of electricity supply, power cuts will still be applied. Because the situation is difficult.”

Klitschko noted that to conserve electricity, the intervals between subway trains would be longer, starting Tuesday.

Ukrainian air force appeals for more US and German air defenses

Following another day of heavy attacks by Russian missile forces, the Ukrainian air force has appealed for accelerated delivery of modern air defenses from western partners.

Speaking on Ukrainian television, Yurii Ihnat, spokesperson of the Air Force Command, said: “We need air defense. Those systems that we have already mentioned, the [German-made] IRIS-T, we need more of them.”

So far Germany has supplied Ukraine with one IRIS-T.

“This system works and it worked today, and worked with a 100% result,” Ihnat stated, adding, “And we want the Germans to increase production.”

Ihnat also mentioned the US-made NASAMS system. which is due to be delivered to Ukraine, noting, “These are two batteries. We need more.”

He also said that Ukraine needed more of older systems such as the US-made HAWK ground-to-air missile.

Spain announced earlier this month it would provide some of its HAWK systems to Ukraine.

Ukrainian energy company says it’s running out of equipment to make repairs to the power grid

Dmytro Sakharuk, executive director of Ukrainian energy company DTEK, says that after the last wave of Russian missile strikes it’s not possible to say how long power outages will last.

Depending on the damage, Sakharuk stated, power cuts “might last 6, 7, 8 hours.”

“If the damage is critical and there’s no other reserve of power supply to consumers, then it might take even longer. We have to be ready. The schedules that we’ve made for the power cuts are 4-6 hours,” he added.

“Unfortunately, we have already used up the stock of equipment that we had in our warehouses after the first two waves of attacks that have been taking place since October 10. We were able to purchase some equipment. But unfortunately, the cost of the equipment is now measured in hundreds of millions of dollars,” Sakharuk told Ukrainian television.

“We are working on the ways to purchase it or get it from our partners. This is a problem for all power engineers. Cumulative losses as of yesterday are hundreds of millions of dollars for our company,” he continued.

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