Sunday, April 14, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 252

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:

Intel indicates North Korea is supplying Russia with artillery shells: White House

The United States has information that indicates North Korea is covertly supplying Russia with a “significant” number of artillery shells for use in Ukraine, according to White House national security spokesman John Kirby.

Kirby told a virtual briefing that North Korea was attempting to obscure the shipments by funnelling them through countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Our indications are that the DPRK is covertly supplying, and we are going to monitor to see whether the shipments are received,” Kirby said, referring to the country by the acronym of its official name, adding that the US would consult with the United Nations on accountability issues over the shipments.

“It is not an insignificant number of shells, but we don’t believe they are in such a quantity that they would change the momentum of the war,” he added.

North Korea announced in September that it had never supplied weapons or ammunition to Russia and has no plans to do so.

Putin warns Russia could withdraw from grain deal again if Ukraine ‘violates’ guarantees

President Vladimir Putin has warned that Russia could withdraw from the Ukraine grain deal again if Kyiv violates security guarantees that Moscow says it has provided.

“Russia retains the right to leave these agreements if these guarantees from Ukraine are violated,” Putin said in televised comments hours after Russia announced it was rejoining the deal.

Moscow announced it had received assurances from Kyiv that it would not use the secure shipping corridor or its designated Ukrainian ports for attacks against Russia.

Putin affirmed the receipt of those commitments and said that if Russia withdrew once more because of Ukrainian breaches, it would substitute the entire volume of grain destined for the “poorest countries” for free from its own stocks.

But, in a nod to Turkey’s influence, as well as what he called its “neutrality” in Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, Putin added: “In any case, we will not in the future impede deliveries of grain from Ukrainian territory to the Turkish Republic.”

Russia says it is committed to preventing nuclear war

Russia announced it is fully committed to preventing nuclear war, stating that avoiding conflict between the world’s nuclear powers is its first priority.

“We fully reaffirm our commitment to the joint statement of the five nuclear-weapon states leaders on the prevention of nuclear war and the avoidance of an arms race from January 3, 2022,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

That statement by Russia, the United States, China, the United Kingdom and France said they agreed “a nuclear war cannot be won”.

Putin calls for modernisation of Russian weapons

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the weapons used by Russia’s military to be modernised, the Reuters news agency reports.

“Weapons must constantly, continuously improve and remain effective,” Putin was quoted by Reuters as telling a meeting of Russia’s coordination council.

“To achieve this, I repeat, it is important to ensure that there is active competition between manufacturers and developers,” he added.

The coordination council was set up by Putin earlier this month to boost support for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its ninth month.

UN chief welcomes Russia’s move to rejoin Ukraine grain deal

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomes Russia’s move to rejoin the Ukraine Black Sea grain deal, secretary-general spokesman Stephane Dujarric has said.

Dujarric stated Guterres was also continuing to push for a renewal of the pact that is set to expire on November 19.

“The secretary-general continues his engagement with all actors towards the renewal and full implementation of the initiative, and he also remains committed to removing the remaining obstacles to the exports of Russian food and fertiliser,” Dujarric added.

No indications Russia is preparing to use nuclear weapons: White House

The United States does not see any signs that Russia is making preparations to use nuclear weapons, a spokesman for the White House has said.

“We’ve been clear from the outset that Russia’s comments about the potential use of nuclear weapons are deeply concerning, and we take them seriously,” John Kirby stated.

“We continue to monitor this as best we can, and we see no indications that Russia is making preparations for such use,” he added.

Kirby’s remarks came after the New York Times newspaper reported earlier on Wednesday that senior Russian military leaders had recently held discussions about when and how Moscow might deploy a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, citing multiple unnamed US officials.

Russia ‘can’t stand in the way of feeding world’: US ambassador

Russia cannot block global food production and supplies, the United States ambassador to the United Nations has said.

“They can’t stand in the way of feeding the entire world,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield told broadcaster CNN after Moscow said it would return to the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Thomas-Greenfield added she was “delighted” to hear about Russia’s decision to resume participation in the deal and that Moscow clearly had been “convinced” they needed to do so.

UK sanctions four Russian steel and petrochemical tycoons

The United Kingdom has imposed sanctions on four Russian steel and petrochemical tycoons over the war in Ukraine.

Those sanctioned included Alexander Abramov and Alexander Frolov, who the UK described as known associates of oligarch Roman Abramovich, who was himself sanctioned earlier this year.

“Today we are sanctioning an additional four oligarchs who rely on Putin for their positions of authority and in turn fund his military machine,” Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.

“By targeting these individuals, we are ramping up the economic pressure on Putin and will continue to do so until Ukraine prevails,” he added.

Ukrainian national energy supplier extends power cuts in several regions

Ukrenergo, Ukraine’s national power supply company, announced several regions will face extended power cuts as it tries to repair damage caused by recent Russian missile strikes.

“Unfortunately, today’s hourly power outages schedules are not enough to maintain the stable operation of the energy system,” Ukrenergo said on Telegram.

Further restrictions would be required on “the electricity supply of all categories of consumers in the Sumy, Kharkiv and Poltava regions. Hourly power outage schedules in these areas have been temporarily suspended,” added the company.

It noted the additional measures were needed “to reduce the load on the networks, to support sustainable balancing of the energy system and to avoid repeated accidents after the power grids were damaged by missile and drone attacks by the Russians.”

Russia to resume participation in Black Sea grain deal

Russia will resume its participation in the Black Sea grain deal, the defence ministry announced on Wednesday.

Russia suspended its involvement in the deal over the weekend, saying it could not guarantee the safety of civilian ships crossing the Black Sea because of an attack on its fleet there.

“The Russian Federation considers that the guarantees received at the moment appear sufficient, and resumes the implementation of the agreement,” the defence ministry added.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Ukraine’s grain export corridor needs long-term protection and the world must respond firmly to any attempts by Russian to disrupt it.

Speaking in his evening video address on Tuesday, Zelensky stated ships were moving out of Ukrainian ports with cargoes thanks to the work of Turkey and the UN, the two main brokers of the July grain export agreement.

“The grain corridor needs reliable and long-term protection,” he added.

“Russia must clearly understand that it will receive a harsh global response to any measures that disrupt our food exports. At issue here clearly are the lives of tens of millions of people,” the president continued.

Russian military leaders ‘discussed using tactical nuclear weapons’

Senior Russian military leaders discussed the use of tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, according to numerous senior American officials.

The group had conversations about how and when Moscow may use the weapons, adding to heightened concern in Washington and among Western allies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was not a part of the conversations, but the meetings suggest that Putin’s repeated statements on the use of nuclear weapons could be more than threats.

The director of the CIA, William J. Burns, has previously stressed that Putin’s “potential desperation” to achieve victory and the Kremlin’s failures in the war could lead Russia to use one.

American officials noted that they had seen no evidence of Russia preparing for a strike.

Ukraine in dialogue for more modern anti-aircraft systems amid looming Iranian missile threat

Ukraine is “actively conducting a dialogue” to get more anti-aircraft missile systems from the West while Russia plans to import more ballistic missiles from Iran, a top Ukrainian official said on Wednesday.

“We must be one step ahead in military chess. The desire of the enemy to obtain Iranian missiles only confirms the effectiveness of sanctions,” the head of the president’s office Andrii Yermak said in a statement on his Telegram channel.

“While we are doing everything possible and impossible to speed up the delivery of modern weapons to us, the President proposes to create an ‘energy Ramstein.’ We will maintain energy despite the enemy’s dream of destroying us,” Yermak added, vowing that Ukraine will defeat Russia.

The arms trade between Russia and Iran has been growing. Tehran is preparing to send approximately 1,000 additional weapons, including surface-to-surface short range ballistic missiles and more attack drones, to Moscow, officials from a Western country that closely monitors Iran’s weapons program told CNN on Tuesday.

Ukraine’s Air Force on Tuesday announced that it currently has no effective defense against the types of ballistic missile that Iran is preparing to ship to Russia to use in its war against Ukraine.

Poland to build temporary wall on its border with Russia

Poland announced it will take measures to “increase security” on its border with Russia by building a temporary wall, Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said Wednesday.

“I have decided to take measures to increase security on the border with the Kaliningrad Oblast. We will start building a temporary wall that will strengthen border protection,” he tweeted Wednesday.

In a televised press conference Wednesday, Błaszczak told reporters the decision comes after a surge in flights from the Middle East and North Africa to Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave along the Baltic Sea which is nestled between Poland and Lithuania.

The wall will be 2.5 meters high and 3 meters wide and consist of three rows of razor wire, Błaszczak said speaking to reporters in Warsaw. A fence will also be erected from the Polish side to protect animals, he added.

“We have taken steps to ensure that the fence is built as soon as possible. There will be as many soldiers involved as needed,” he noted.

For months, tensions have mounted around the Russian exclave, an isolated but strategically significant territory that experts fear could become a flashpoint in tensions between Moscow and Europe.

At least 16,000 homes in Kyiv still without power

A total of 16,000 homes in Kyiv are still without electricity, the area’s governor has said.

Oleksiy Kuleba told residents that “our power engineers have been working non-stop for the third day. During the day, we will restore electricity for all subscribers.”

Kuleba also asked people to prepare themselves for future outages while stabilisation shutdowns take place soon.

Ukrainians face power outages in multiple regions

Ukraine’s sole power grid operator has announced that power outages were implemented in multiple regions as it prepares to stabilise the energy supply damaged by recent Russian drone and missile attacks.

Ukrenergo said in a statement that people in the capital Kyiv, as well as Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr, Sumy, Kharkiv, and Poltava regions were without power as of 6am local time.

Consumption restrictions are necessary to reduce the load on the grid, ensure sustainable balancing of the power grid and avoid repeated accidents, it added.

Kyiv preparing more than 1,000 heating points: Mayor

Russia has fired missiles at Ukrainian cities including the capital Kyiv, in what President Vladimir Putin called retaliation for an attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet over the weekend.

Ukraine announced it shot most of those missiles down, but some had hit power stations, knocking out electricity and water supplies. Nine regions were experiencing power cuts.

Authorities in Kyiv are preparing more than 1,000 heating points throughout the city in case its district heating system is disabled, Mayor Vitali Klitschko stated.

Loaded ships expected to leave Ukrainian ports Thursday: UN

The UN coordinator for grain and fertiliser exports under the accord has said that he expects loaded ships to leave Ukrainian ports on Thursday.

Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov wrote on Twitter that eight vessels with agricultural products are expected to pass through the corridor on Thursday.

Ukraine’s military claims Iran plans to send sophisticated Arash-2 attack drones to Russia

Ukrainian military intelligence has claimed Iran is planning to send more than 200 combat drones to Russian forces, including Iran’s new combat drone, the Arash-2.

Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, part of the defense ministry, said “a batch of more than 200 combat drones Shahed-136, Mohajer-6 and Arash-2 is planned to be sent from Iran to the Russian Federation at the beginning of November.”

The intelligence agency noted in a post on Telegram that the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles “will be delivered via the Caspian Sea to the port of Astrakhan.”

The agency added the drones are being shipped in a disassembled state and once inside Russian territory, “they will be collected, repainted and applied with Russian markings.”

The intelligence agency did not specify how it obtained the information on the shipments.

But it echoes reporting by CNN on Tuesday, citing officials from a western country that closely monitors Iran’s weapons program, that Iran was preparing a large shipment of drones and ballistic missiles to Russia.

Any Russian deployment of the Arash-2 drone to the war in Ukraine could put further pressure on the country’s already challenged air defenses.

Since Sept. 13, when the Russians first used attack drones against Ukraine, the country’s air defense forces say they have shot down more than 300 attack drones — but dozens have managed to strike their targets and destroy vital energy infrastructure.

EU seeks ways to help Ukrainian energy sector after Russian attacks

The European Union is exploring ways to increase help for Ukraine’s energy sector following “cruel and inhumane” Russian attacks that have caused widespread power cuts, according to EU Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson.

Visiting Kyiv to show solidarity with Ukraine after Russia stepped up its missile attacks on Ukrainian power facilities in recent weeks, Simson stressed foreign companies should be urged to prioritise the transfer of energy equipment to Ukraine.

Russian attacks left many Ukrainians without electricity or water on Monday, and rolling power cuts have been introduced to save energy while engineers carry out repairs.

US says Russia ‘doesn’t care’ about starvation as grain stops

The United States has accused Russia of deciding to let the developing world “starve” after pulling out of a UN-brokered deal with Ukraine to export grain.

The body overseeing the July deal, also negotiated by Turkey, said that grain exports will halt as of Wednesday after Russia announced a pullout over the weekend.

“Any decision by the Kremlin to disrupt this initiative is essentially a statement that Moscow doesn’t care,” stated state department spokesman, Ned Price.

Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian water and energy supplies are aimed at exacerbating human suffering and are particularly heinous, according to Price

Russia fired a huge volley of missiles at Ukrainian cities on Monday in what Russian President Vladimir Putin stated was retaliation for an attack on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet at the weekend. Ukraine noted it shot most of those missiles down, but some had hit power stations, knocking out electricity and water supplies.

Ukraine accuses Russian occupiers of spreading misinformation in Kherson to force civilians to leave

Ukraine’s military has accused Russian-installed officials in the southern region Kherson of spreading misinformation to coerce civilians to leave the region in a forced evacuation, a war crime.

In a statement on Tuesday, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said, “The occupiers continue the forced displacement of civilians in the temporarily occupied territories of Kherson region.”

“The enemy resorts to intimidation of civilians, spreading misinformation about a possible explosion of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant dam,” the statement added.

The Ukraine armed forces explained that the local population in Kherson has been “deprived of means of communication,” and are unable to get an accurate picture of what is really happening in the war.

Earlier in the week, Russian-installed officials announced a new evacuation from Kherson region of Ukraine, saying they are taking civilians to safety because of the risk Ukraine might use unconventional weapons.

“Due to the possibility of the use of prohibited methods of war by the Ukrainian regime, as well as information that Kyiv is preparing a massive missile strike on the Kakhovka hydroelectric station, there is an immediate danger of the Kherson region being flooded,” Vladimir Saldo, Russian-installed head of occupied Kherson province, stated in a video message Monday.

Ukraine has categorically denied the allegation that it intends to blow up the dam and flood the area.

US will use tools “to expose, to confront, to counter” Iran’s provision of weapons to Russia

The United States will “use every relevant and appropriate tool in our toolkit to expose, to confront, to counter” Iran’s provision of weapons to Russia, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday.

Speaking at a State Department briefing, Price stated the US has “taken aim at Iran’s UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) proliferation networks over the course of months now,” and “we are always looking at targets that may be appropriate for this sort of response, sanctions, other, other financial measures.”

“We are concerned that Russia may also seek to acquire advanced conventional weapons from Iran, such as surface to surface missiles that will almost certainly be used to support Russia’s war against Ukraine,” Price continued.

The spokesperson added the US will “vigorously” enforce all sanctions on both Russian and Iranian arms trade “to make it harder for Iran to sell these weapons to Russia.”

CNN reported Tuesday that Iran is preparing to send approximately 1,000 additional weapons, including surface-to-surface short range ballistic missiles and more attack drones, to Russia.

Pentagon concerned that Russia may seek to acquire additional advanced weapons from Iran

The Pentagon has concerns that Russia may seek additional advanced weapons from Iran to use in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, according to Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.

“We do have concerns that Russia may also seek to acquire additional advanced munition capabilities from Iran, for example, surface-to-surface missiles, to use in Ukraine,” Ryder told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon Tuesday.

CNN reported earlier Tuesday Iran is preparing to send approximately 1,000 additional weapons, including surface-to-surface short range ballistic missiles and more attack drones, to Russia to use in its war against Ukraine.

Iran has provided Russia with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and the Pentagon expects Russia will “likely seek more of those” from Iran, Ryder added.

Russia seeking to obtain weapons from Iran is “indicative” of the two countries’ “continued collusion to attack Ukrainians,” Ryder continued.

Putin to Erdoğan: Resumption of grain deal can be considered only after investigation into Crimea drone attack

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a phone call that any resumption of the grain deal can be considered only after an investigation into the Sevastopol drone attack, according to a readout by the Kremlin Tuesday.

According to the statement, a resumption of the deal can be considered only after “a detailed investigation into the circumstances of this incident, and also after receiving from Kyiv real guarantees of strict observance of the Istanbul agreements, in particular, on the non-use of the humanitarian corridor for military purposes.”

The two leaders held a phone call Tuesday following Russia’s decision to suspend its participation in the United Nations-brokered grain export deal with Ukraine over the weekend after alleging drone attacks on the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Ukraine has not commented on the drone attacks against Sevastopol.

On Saturday, a top Ukrainian official accused Russia of inventing “fictitious terrorist attacks” on its own facilities and blamed Moscow of “blackmail” in suspending the grain deal.

According to the Turkish presidency, Erdogan told Putin he was confident that “solution-oriented cooperation” could be established regarding the grain deal.

Ankara would “continue to take the necessary initiatives with all parties for the resolution of the problems with regard to the implementation of the Istanbul Agreement on grain shipment,” the Turkish presidency said in a tweet.

“Voicing his confidence that they will establish solution-oriented cooperation on this issue, President Erdogan said that if they resolve the grain crisis with a constructive approach, they will also have encouraged steps for returning to negotiations,” the presidency added.

Ukrainian Air Force says it has no effective defense against ballistic missiles Iran plans to ship to Russia

Ukraine’s Air Force on Tuesday announced it currently has no effective defense against the types of ballistic missile that Iran is preparing to ship to Russia to use in its war against Ukraine.

Yuriy Ihnat, spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force Command, said the range of the Iranian ballistic missiles being supplied, with “one having a range of 300km the other 700km,” will allow Russian forces to strike anywhere inside Ukraine.

“There is a high probability that they will be delivered to the north above Ukraine [border], from where they can be launched to threaten the entire Ukraine,” Ihnat stated at a press conference in Kyiv on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, CNN reported that Iran is preparing to send about 1,000 additional weapons, including surface-to-surface short range ballistic missiles and more attack drones for Russia to use against Ukraine.

Asked whether Ukraine’s Armed Forces were ready to defend against these types of Iranian ballistic missiles, Ihnat replied that they “will take all measures and means of protection against these missiles” that they can.

However, Ihnat warned “currently we have no effective defense against these missiles. It is theoretically possible to shoot them down, but it is very difficult to do it with the means we currently have.”

“We have air defense, not missile defense,” he noted.

Ihnat said he believed Russia is being sent the Iranian ballistic missiles to boost its dwindling supply of Russian-built Iskander-M missiles.

“It is obvious that these missiles are coming to them to supplement these Iskanders, because they are actually running out of Iskanders,” he added.

Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, called Tehran “an accomplice of aggression.”

“Transferring missiles to the Russian Federation, Iran knows that it will attack our cities. Teaching Russians to use drones, it knows that they will attack Ukraine’s energy sector, provoking waves of refugees to EU,” he tweeted.

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