Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 254

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:

G7 establishes “coordination mechanism” to help Ukraine restore energy and water infrastructure

The G7 has established a “coordination mechanism” to help Ukraine “repair, restore and defend its critical energy and water infrastructure,” the group’s foreign ministers said in a joint statement on Friday following meetings in Münster.

The statement condemned Russia’s attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, “in particular energy and water facilities” in Ukraine.

“Through these attacks, Russia is trying to terrorize the civilian population. Indiscriminate attacks against civilian population and infrastructure constitute war crimes and we reiterate our determination to ensure full accountability for these and crimes against humanity,” the foreign ministers added.

Ukraine has been facing a wide assault on critical infrastructure and power sources since early October. Some 450,000 households across Kyiv are without electricity Friday as power outages across Ukraine continue, according to the city’s mayor Vitalii Klitschko.

This week alone, attacks on critical infrastructure in the regions of Kyiv, Cherkasy, Kirovohrad, Kharkiv, and Zaporizhzhia have left millions without electricity and water intermittently.

The G7 foreign ministers called on Russia to “immediately stop its war of aggression against Ukraine and withdraw all of its forces and military equipment.”

The G7 is shorthand for Group of Seven, an organization of leaders from some of the world’s largest economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the US.

Ukrainian DM suggests Russians may withdraw from parts of Kherson

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov has suggested that Russian forces may pull back from parts of the Kherson region.

At a briefing in Kyiv, Reznikov said, “we all know the habit of Russians showing the gestures of a goodwill” — a reference to the Russians’ withdrawal from north of Kyiv and from Snake Island, both of which were described by Russia as “goodwill gestures.”

“I think they are potentially ready for such an act of a goodwill,” he continued, adding, “But they’re going to have to lose some of their potential due to the actions of Ukrainian Armed Forces.”

Reznikov also referred to recent wet weather in Kherson, noting that it “contributes to the speed of events. The enemy is using irrigation channels as trenches.”

Ukrainian forces are pushing forward on several fronts in Kherson, but Russian units have fortified positions on both banks of the Dnieper river.

Reznikov also stated Russian forces had already used up their first batch of 300 Iranian drones. Hundreds more have been ordered, according to Ukrainian officials.

Reznikov said a priority is to “protect our sky,” appealing to the Brazilian government to supply some of the munitions it has for the Gepard anti-aircraft artillery system.

“We use Gepards in places where there are grain hubs to close the sky from Iranian drones, so that they do not destroy the logistics system of grain hubs,” he added.

“The [German] IRIS-T systems are already working, the [US] NASAMS are already on the way, with the crews. We will also receive the Crotale all-weather air defense missile system from our French partners,” he continued.

Putin says 318,000 Russians mobilized for Ukraine war effort

Russia has mobilized an additional 18,000 soldiers above its goal of 300,000 to fight in Ukraine from the general male population, President Vladmir Putin said Friday.

Since issuing a decree near the end of September to bolster Moscow’s forces, 318,000 men have been mobilized in Russia, and 49,000 of them are already in the combat zone fighting, according to Putin. He credited an “inflow of volunteers” who stepped up to fight.

“We already have 318,000. Why 318,000? Because the volunteers are coming. The number of volunteers is not decreasing,” Putin told reporters and volunteers outside of the Kremlin walls.

Last week, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin that the mobilization goal of 300,000 recruits has been reached and that the mobilization draft has been completed.

Putin says civilians in Kherson should be evacuated

Russian President Vladimir Putin stated Friday that civilians in the Ukrainian region of Kherson should be evacuated from conflict zones.

“Those who live in Kherson should be removed from the zone of the most dangerous actions, because the civilian population should not suffer,” Putin told a meeting at the Kremlin, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

Ukrainian forces are undertaking an offensive on several fronts in Kherson, and Russian-backed officials in the region have told civilians to leave areas on both sides of the Dnieper river, amid signs that Russian forces are trying to improve their defenses in several areas.

Nearly half a million Kyiv homes are without electricity: Mayor

Almost half a million homes in Kyiv are without electricity on Friday in the wake of Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure that have brought power outages across Ukraine, according to the capital’s mayor Vitali Klitschko.

“450,000 consumers, that is households in Kyiv, are out of power this morning. It is one and a half times more than the recent days,” Klitschko said on Telegram.

“Stabilization outages are applied due to overloading of the central unit of the country’s energy system. I urge all city residents to save electricity as much as possible because the situation remains difficult,” he added.

Ukraine has been facing a wide Russian assault on critical infrastructure and power sources since early October.

This week alone, attacks on infrastructure in the regions of Kyiv, Cherkasy, Kirovohrad, Kharkiv, and Zaporizhzhia have left millions without electricity and water intermittently. About 4.5 million Ukrainian consumers were dealing with power outages as of Thursday evening, according to President Volodymr Zelensky.

Ukrainian military says Russians stepping up rocket attacks in east

Russian forces have stepped up attacks in the east of Ukraine using multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), especially in the Donetsk region, according to the Ukrainian military.

The military’s General Staff announced 80 such attacks were recorded Wednesday, while on Thursday “the enemy carried out four missile and 28 airstrikes, and fired more than 45 times from MLRS.”

On Thursday, Lt. Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, told NATO Gen. Christopher Cavoli, the alliance’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, that “the enemy tripled the intensity of hostilities on certain areas of the front” with up to 80 daily attacks.

But Zaluzhnyi said Ukrainian troops were holding their defensive lines.

He also added he and Cavoli had “discussed the problem of Russian missile attacks and the employment of attack drones.”

“Our partners realize the necessity to supply air and missile defense systems to Ukraine and put significant efforts into it,” Zaluzhnyi continued.

The General Staff said recently liberated parts of the Kharkiv and Luhansk regions had come under artillery and mortar fire, and the front lines around the city of Bakhmut in Donetsk had also been active.

There had also been artillery and mortar fire against more than 25 settlements along the front lines in the south, the General Staff continued.

It noted the Ukrainian air force had been active Thursday and had “inflicted 21 strikes against the enemy.”

“Up to 20 areas of concentration of troops and equipment were hit,” the General Staff added.

The General Staff added there was “an increased movement of trucks and cars with looted property on the roads of Kherson region.” It said “significant robberies” are taking place in Beryslav and nearby settlements,” including from power grid maintenance enterprises.

International Energy Agency warns of potential natural gas shortage in Europe next year

Europe needs to take “immediate action” to avoid risking a natural gas shortage next year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned.

“When we look at the latest trends and likely developments in global and European gas markets, we see that Europe is set to face an even sterner challenge next winter. This is why governments need to be taking immediate action to speed up improvements in energy efficiency and accelerate the deployment of renewables and heat pumps – and other steps to structurally reduce gas demand. This is essential for Europe’s energy security, the wellbeing of its citizens and industries, and its clean energy transition,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.

Analysis by the world’s leading organization on global energy sector published Thursday said that Europe could face a supply-demand gap of as much as 30 billion cubic meters of natural gas during the key summer period for refilling gas storage sites in 2023, if Russia stops all pipeline deliveries and China’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports recover.

The potential gap could represent almost half the gas required to fill storage sites to 95% capacity by the start of the 2023-24 heating season, the organization added.

The organization that provides analysis and policy recommendations on global energy said it is “highly unlikely” that Russia will deliver another 60 billion cubic meters of pipeline gas in 2023 — the amount it estimates Russia will deliver in 2022 — cautioning that “Russian deliveries to Europe could halt completely.”

US teams inspecting weapon stockpiles in Ukraine are not near the front lines: Pentagon

The Pentagon clarified that the team making inspections of weapons stockpiles in Ukraine are not near the front lines of the war and are conducting the inspections based on security conditions.

“When and where security conditions permit, a small team comprised of US Embassy Kyiv – Office of the Defense Attaché personnel have conducted multiple inspections of US security assistance deliveries within the last couple months at locations in Ukraine. These locations are not near the frontlines of Russia’s war against Ukraine. For operational security and force protection reasons, we won’t discuss specific numbers of personnel or inspection locations,” according to Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that the US had begun conducting on-site inspections of weapons stockpiles in Ukraine as part of a broad effort to assure US-provided weapons are not illegally diverted, according to the Pentagon. It was the first public acknowledgement that troops are being used for other than embassy protection.

“To be clear, these inspections are not reactive – we have no evidence of widespread diversion of US security assistance in Ukraine. Rather, our approach to ensuring accountability for our security assistance is deliberate and proactive, as described in the recently-released US Plan to Counter Illicit Diversion of Certain Advanced Conventional Weapons in Eastern Europe,” he stated.

Ryder added that the US conducted inspections in Ukraine prior to Russia’s invasion in February.

UN official: Invasion of Ukraine drove the “fastest, largest displacement” of refugees in decades

The United Nations is expressing growing concern about the harsh winter Ukrainians may face after attacks on energy infrastructure and the large number of people displaced by the war.

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine has driven the fastest, largest displacement witnessed in decades. Some 14 million people have been forced from their homes since 24 February,” Filippo Grandi, the UN’s high commissioner for refugees, said in a statement.

“Ukrainians are about to face one of the world’s harshest winters in extremely difficult circumstances. Humanitarian organizations have dramatically scaled up their response, but much more must be done, starting with an end to this senseless war,” Grandi wrote to the UN Security Council.

“Unfortunately, we see the opposite: and the destruction caused by strikes at civilian infrastructure, which happens as we speak, is quickly making the humanitarian response look like a drop in the ocean of needs,” Grandi added.

Millions of Ukrainians without power after latest attacks on civilian infrastructure: Zelensky

About 4.5 million Ukrainian consumers are dealing with power outages Thursday evening, according to President Volodymr Zelensky.

Households across the country have been temporarily disconnected from energy supply under an emergency schedule aimed at stabilizing the nation’s fragile electric grid. Russia has been bombing and destroying civilian infrastructure, ushering in fears of a cold, dark winter.

Most people are affected in the capital, Kyiv, and nine other regions: Dnipropetrovsk, Zhytomyr, Zaporizhzhia, Sumy, Kirovohrad, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Khmelnytskyi, Cherkasy. Power outages are also possible in other areas.

“The very fact that Russia has resorted to terror against the energy sector indicates the weakness of the enemy. They cannot defeat Ukraine on the battlefield and therefore they are trying to break our people in this way,” Zelensky noted.

Kyiv’s Western allies have condemned Russia’s focus on dismantling Ukrainian energy infrastructure ahead of winter.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stressed Thursday that G7 countries have a “moral duty” to help Ukraine, as Vladimir Putin counts on the winter to help his forces batter Ukraine.

Ukraine has the capability to retake Kherson: Pentagon

Ukrainian forces can retake the strategic southern city of Kherson from Russian troops, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin has said, in what would be a major defeat for Moscow.

“On the issue of whether the Ukrainians can take the remaining territory on the west side of the Dnipro [Dnieper] River and in Kherson, I certainly believe that they have the capability to do that,” Austin told a news conference at the Pentagon.

“Most importantly, the Ukrainians believe they have the capability to do that. We have seen them engage in a very methodical but effective effort to take back their sovereign territory,” he added.

Zelensky touts UN watchdog probe as clear evidence that Ukraine isn’t making a “dirty bomb”

Ukraine’s president has said that despite Russia’s “delusions” about “dirty bombs,” there is now clear evidence that Ukraine is not creating such a weapon.

President Volodymyr Zelensky made the comments in his nightly address on the heels of an International Atomic Energy Agency inspection at three sites in Ukraine.

Inspectors did not find any indications of undeclared nuclear activities and materials, according to a statement by IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi Thursday.

“And the only thing that is dirty in our region now is the heads of those in Moscow who, unfortunately, seized control over the Russian state and terrorize Ukraine and the whole world,” Zelensky said.

A dirty bomb is a weapon that combines conventional explosives like dynamite and radioactive material like uranium. It is often referred to as a weapon for terrorists, not countries, as it is designed to spread fear and panic more than eliminate any military target.

Last month, Russia accused Ukraine of planning to use one of the weapons, an allegation dismissed by Kyiv and its Western allies as a false-flag operation that Moscow could use as a pretext to escalate the Kremlin’s war against its neighbor.

NATO chief: Iran supplying drones, and potentially ballistic missiles, to Russia is unacceptable

The NATO secretary general Thursday condemned any Iranian coordination with Russia on weapons for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

“We also see Iran offering drones and considering ballistic missile deliveries to Russia,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said at a news conference.

“This is unacceptable. No country should provide support to Moscow in this illegal war,” he added.

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

The shipment is being closely monitored because it would be the first instance of Iran sending advanced precision-guided missiles to Russia, which could give the Kremlin a substantial boost on the battlefield.

The last shipment of weapons from Iran to Russia included about 450 drones, officials claimed, which the Russians have already used to deadly effect in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials announced last week that they have shot down more than 300 Iranian drones.

Iran’s government has repeatedly denied sending weapons to Russia.

Last month, the Iranian government quoted Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian as saying Tehran “has not and will not” provide any weapon to be used in the Ukraine war.

Drones have played a significant role in the conflict since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Their use has increased since the summer when the US and Kyiv say Moscow first acquired drones from Iran. In recent weeks, these Iranian drones have been used to target critical energy infrastructure in Ukraine.

Putin is counting on winter to help his forces batter Ukraine: EU’s top diplomat

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said it’s a “moral duty” of the G7 nations to help Ukraine, with a potentially punishing winter on the way.

“The winter is coming. Vladimir Putin is waiting for the ‘General Winter’ to come and support the Russian army,” Borrell said after a meeting of G7 foreign ministers in the German town of Muenster.

He blamed Russia for destroying Ukraine “systematically” by bombing and destroying civilian infrastructure after Moscow’s army was unable to win on the battlefield.

“Millions of Ukrainians no longer have access to electricity, and what Putin is willing to do is to put the country in the darkness in the wintertime,” Borrell stated.

“(We have to) continue supporting (them), providing arms to defend themselves, to bring economic and financial support, and reaching out (to) the whole world in order to explain which are the causes and the consequences of this war,” he added.

This week’s meeting of the G7, which is short for Group of Seven, brought together leaders from some of the world’s largest economies: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the US.

No evidence of ‘dirty bomb’ at three sites in Ukraine: IAEA

There are no indications of “undeclared nuclear activities” at three locations in Ukraine, a UN watchdog says after visiting the sites at Kyiv’s request to address “dirty bomb” allegations made by Russia.

“Our technical and scientific evaluation of the results we have so far did not show any sign of undeclared nuclear activities and materials at these three locations,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi stated in a statement.

After the findings were released, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba called Russia the “world’s top liar”.

“IAEA has checked 3 Ukrainian facilities in focus of Russian disinfo and found no evidence of any ‘dirty bombs’. I thank Rafael Grossi for IAEA’s excellent and prompt cooperation which helped counter Russian falsehoods. Russia has confirmed its status of the world’s top liar,” he added.

Sweden, Finland have not yet fulfilled obligations to enter NATO: Turkey FM

Sweden and Finland have not yet fulfilled all obligations under a deal clearing their bids to join NATO, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said, adding that no concrete steps have been taken yet.

His comment came as he was speaking alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Istanbul who noted earlier that “it was time to welcome” the two Nordic countries in the defensive alliance to “prevent any misunderstanding or miscalculation in Moscow”.

Sweden and Finland signed a memorandum in June, resulting in NATO member Turkey lifting a veto of their applications to join the trans-Atlantic security alliance.

Turkey had opposed Finland and Sweden’s application accusing them of providing shelter to members of the PKK, a Kurdish armed group that Ankara, the European Union and the United States have designated as a terrorist group.

‘Do everything to bring victory closer’: Ukrainian PM

The Ukrainian parliament approved the 2023 draft budget with a record deficit of $38bn, a spending plan that Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said was intended to help bring victory against Russia closer.

“Do everything to bring victory closer,” Shmyhal stated after the vote, adding, “It was with this philosophy that we drafted this budget.”

Shymhal noted earlier this week that it would be a “budget for victory”, setting aside more than one trillion hryvnias ($27.1bn) for the armed forces and national security.

UK to ban countries using its services to transport Russian oil

The UK seeks to prevent countries from using its services to transport Russian oil unless it is bought at or below a price cap.

“We’ve banned the import of Russian oil into the UK and are making good progress on phasing it out completely,” finance minister Jeremy Hunt said in a statement.

“This new measure continues to turn the screws on Putin’s war machine, making it even tougher for him to profiteer from his illegal war,” he added.

The UK government announced the ban, which will come into force on December 5, applies to UK services, including insurance, brokerage and shipping.

Putin orders one-time $3,100 payment for mobilised and contract soldiers

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a one-time payment of 195,000 roubles ($3,100) for contract soldiers and those who have been mobilised to fight in Ukraine, the Kremlin has announced.

Last week, Moscow said the “partial mobilisation” of 300,000 reservists was over but conceded there had been problems. More than 2,000 people were arrested at protests amid public outcry over cases of men being called up despite medical exemptions or a lack of military experience.

In a decree published on the Kremlin website, Putin stated the payment was designed “to provide additional measures of social support” to contract soldiers and those who had been called up. It did not give further details.

The minimum monthly wage on offer for contract soldiers is 160,000 roubles ($2,600), which is almost three times the national average.

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