Saturday, March 2, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 256

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’s Zelensky discusses financial aid, Iran sanctions with EU’s von der Leyen

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to discuss macro-financial aid for Ukraine and further sanctions on Iran, the Ukrainian leader has said on Twitter.

“Noted the importance of continuing the grain initiative for world food security. Discussed increasing sanctions & opposing actions of Iran, which supports aggression,” Zelensky wrote.

Mayor of Kyiv tells residents to prepare for worst

The mayor of Kyiv has warned residents that if Russia keeps striking the country’s energy infrastructure they must prepare for having no electricity, water or heat as temperatures drop below freezing.

“We are doing everything to avoid this. But let’s be frank, our enemies are doing everything for the city to be without heat, without electricity, without water supply, in general, so we all die. And the future of the country and the future of each of us depends on how prepared we are for different situations,”Mayor Vitali Klitschko told state media.

Ukraine’s state-owned energy operator, Ukrenergo, announced parts of Kyiv were scheduled to have hourly rotating blackouts Sunday, with blackouts also planned in the nearby Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr, Sumy, Kharkiv and Poltava regions.

Kyiv plans to deploy about a 1,000 heating points, but this may not be enough for a city of 3 million people, according to reports.

Russians tell residents of Kherson to evacuate

Ukraine’s military claimed on Sunday that residents of Ukraine’s Russian-occupied city of Kherson received warning messages on their phones urging them to evacuate as soon as possible.

Russian soldiers warned civilians that Ukraine’s army was preparing for a massive attack and told people to leave for the city’s right bank immediately.

Ukrainian forces have been pushing forward in the south, as Russia intensifies its attacks on Kyiv.

Nataliya Humenyuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Southern Forces, told state television that Russia has been “occupying and evacuating” Kherson simultaneously, trying to convince Ukrainians that they’re leaving when in fact they’re digging in.

“There are defence units that have dug in there quite powerfully, a certain amount of equipment has been left, firing positions have been set up,” she added.

Russia accuses Ukraine of “terrorist act” in Kherson region

Ukrainian forces have targeted three power lines in the Kherson region, the Russian-installed administration has said, calling it a “terrorist act”.

Electricity and water supplies were “temporary absent”, the administration added in a Telegram message.

The power cuts come after Moscow announced that the Nova Kakhovka dam was damaged by a Ukrainian strike.

Kherson energy provider says no electricity in city

An energy company in the Russian-held Ukrainian city of Kherson has said there is no electricity in the city, Russian state-owned news agency RIA has reported.

RIA quoted the Khersonoblenergo press service as stating that the reasons for the outage, which occurred amid warnings that a battle for the strategic city could be about to begin, were being clarified.

Russia says major dam hit by US missile system

Ukraine’s Russian-held Nova Kakhovka dam has been damaged in shelling by Ukrainian forces, Russian news agencies have reported, citing emergency services.

State-owned news agency TASS quoted a representative of the emergency services as saying that a rocket launched by a US-made HIMARS missile system had hit the dam’s lock and caused damage.

The official quoted noted it was an “attempt to create the conditions for a humanitarian catastrophe” by breaching the dam. The reports provided no evidence to support the allegation.

The RIA Novosti Russian news agency has also quoted a local Moscow-backed official as saying the damage to the Nova Kakhovka dam was not “critical”.

“Everything is under control. The main air defence strikes were repelled, one missile hit [the dam], but did not cause critical damage,” Ruslan Agayev, a representative of the Moscow-installed administration of nearby city Novaya Kakhovka, told the agency.

The Kakhovka hydroelectric dam in southern Ukraine was captured by Russian forces at the start of their offensive. It supplies Russian-annexed Crimea with water.

Ukraine has in recent weeks warned that Russian forces intended to blow up the strategic facility to cause flooding.

Ukraine warns of Russian ‘brutality’ in eastern region

Russian forces are stepping up their strikes in a fiercely contested region of eastern Ukraine, worsening the already tough conditions for residents and the defending army following Moscow’s illegal annexation and declaration of martial law in Donetsk province, Ukrainian authorities have said.

The attacks have almost destroyed the power plants that serve the city of Bakhmut and the nearby town of Soledar, Pavlo Kyrylenko, the region’s Ukrainian governor, stated.

The shelling killed one civilian and wounded three, he reported. “The destruction is daily, if not hourly,” Kyrylenko said in a state TV interview.

Kyiv to evacuate all civilians in case of total blackout

Kyiv authorities have begun planning the evacuation of the city’s 3mn residents if the Ukrainian capital suffers a complete blackout, according to the New York Times.

The widespread bombardment by Russian forces of critical energy infrastructure across the country is continuing, with 40% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure damaged or destroyed.

Municipal workers are setting up 1,000 heating shelters that can double as bunkers while engineers try to fix bombed-out power stations without the needed equipment, the NYT reports.

Ukraine’s national energy utility said on Saturday that it would continue to impose rolling blackouts in seven regions in order to try to keep the grid from failing altogether.

Roman Tkachuk, the director of security for the Kyiv municipal government was quoted as saying, “If there’s no power, there will be no water and no sewage. That’s why the government and city administration is taking all possible measures to protect our power supply system.”

“We understand that if Russia continues such attacks, we may lose our entire electricity system,” Tkachuk stated, speaking of the city.

Officials in the capital have been told that they would be likely to have at least 12 hours’ notice that the grid was on the verge of failure. If it reaches that point, Tkachuk noted, “we will start informing people and requesting them to leave.”

For now at least, the situation is manageable, and there were no indications that large numbers of civilians were fleeing Kyiv, he added. But that would change quickly if the services that relied on city power stopped.

Russian colonel general latest military commander to be replaced in Ukraine: UK

A Russian colonel general has purportedly been replaced in the latest of a “series of dismissals” of senior Russian military commanders since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK Ministry of Defence announced.

It said in its latest intelligence update that Maj Gen Alexander Linkov was reportedly appointed acting commander of Russia’s central military district on Thursday, replacing Col Gen Alexander Lapin.

The ministry added, “Lapin has been widely criticised for poor performance on the battlefield in Ukraine by both Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin. These dismissals represent a pattern of blame against senior Russian military commanders for failures to achieve Russian objectives on the battlefield.”

It noted that this is in part likely an attempt to insulate and deflect blame from Russian senior leadership at home.

US privately asks Ukraine to show Russia it’s open to talks

The Joe Biden administration is privately encouraging Ukraine’s leaders to signal an openness to negotiate with Russia and drop their public refusal to engage in peace talks unless President Vladimir Putin is removed from power, the Washington Post reported.

The paper quoted unnamed people familiar with the discussions as saying that the request by American officials was not aimed at pushing Ukraine to the negotiating table, but a calculated attempt to ensure Kyiv maintains the support of other nations facing constituencies wary of fueling a war for many years to come.

It added the discussions illustrated the complexity of the Biden administration’s position on Ukraine, as US officials publicly vow to support Kyiv with massive sums of aid “for as long as it takes” while hoping for a resolution to the eight-month conflict that has taken a big toll on the world economy and triggered fears of nuclear war.

The daily added US officials shared the assessment of their Ukrainian counterparts that Putin is not for now serious about negotiations, but acknowledged that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s ban on talks with him had generated concern in parts of Europe, Africa and Latin America, where the war’s effects on costs of food and fuel are felt most sharply.

“Ukraine fatigue is a real thing for some of our partners,” the Post quoted one unnamed US official as saying.

28 ships with agricultural products left Ukrainian ports in the past week: Zelensky

Twenty-eight ships carrying various agricultural products left Ukrainian ports in the past week after Russia reversed course Wednesday by rejoining the Black Sea grain export deal, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

The vessels carried more than 800,000 tonnes of food products from ports in Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdenny, Zelensky stated during his nightly address.

“The destinations are Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, Oman, Turkey, China and Ethiopia. Moreover, the ship to Ethiopia with 30,000 tonnes of wheat on board was chartered by the UN (World) Food Programme,” the Ukrainian leader added.

Zelensky called this week’s revival of the Black Sea grain corridor “one of the most significant international results of the entire autumn.”

“We showed that the world is capable of guaranteeing stability despite any threats posed by Russia,” he said.

“The world did not succumb to Russian blackmail, key actors acted decisively and, as a result, the aggravation of the food crisis was avoided,” the Ukrainian president continued, adding, “When the world is united, terrorists stand no chance.”

Zelensky concluded his address with what he called “another proof of the power of real world unity.”

He noted Ukrainian charity platform UNITED24 has received $220 million in donations from people living in more than 100 countries around the globe since its launch six months ago. Ukraine will launch a new fundraising effort next week within the framework of the platform to raise money for a fleet of marine drones, according to Zelensky.

Putin’s presence at G20 would send ‘wrong signal’: Advisor to Zelensky

President Vladimir Putin’s presence at this years’s G20 summit in Indonesia would send the wrong signal to global leaders who want the “crown of an autocrat”, said an advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Putin discussed the upcoming summit with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in a phone call on Wednesday, but it is unclear if he plans to attend.

Mykhailo Podolyak said, “Putin’s presence at G20 – totally wrong signal to global political elites. Especially for those who want the “crown of an autocrat”.

“Non-returning point was passed: whoever commits genocide in must be an outcast, isolated from civilized world. Still not too late to fix it,” he added.

Scholz defends China trip with accord on anti-nuke message

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has defended a controversial trip to China as “worth it” due to an agreement to oppose the use of nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine.

Speaking to a meeting of his Social Democrats a day after his 12-hour visit to Beijing, Scholz hailed an accord with Chinese President Xi Jinping that a nuclear escalation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine must be avoided.

“I think that in light of all the debate about whether it was the right thing to travel there or not – the fact that the Chinese government, the president and I could state that there must not be any nuclear weapons used in this war – for that alone, this trip was worth it,” he said.

Scholz added after talks with Mr Xi on Friday that he had insisted “the Russia war in Ukraine is a dangerous situation for the whole world” and urged Russia’s ally Beijing to use its “influence” on Moscow to avert an escalation and stop the invasion.

Thousands in Italy march for peace in Ukraine

Tens of thousands of Italians marched through Rome on Saturday calling for peace in Ukraine and urging Italy to stop sending of weapons to fight the Russian invasion.

“No to war. No to sending weapons”, read one large banner carried by protesters, as a vast crowd broke into cries of “give peace a chance”.

Nato founding member Italy has supported Ukraine from the start of the war, including providing it with arms.

New far-right Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has stated that will not change and the government has said it is expecting to send more weapons soon.

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