Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 257

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 says it never refused to negotiate with Russia, wants talks with Putin successor

senior adviser to Ukraine’s president said on Monday that Kyiv had never refused to negotiate with Moscow and that it was ready for talks with Russia’s future leader, but not with Vladimir Putin.

The comments on Twitter by Mykhailo Podolyak followed a Washington Post report on Saturday saying the Joe Biden administration was privately encouraging Ukraine’s leaders to signal an openness to negotiate with Moscow.

“Ukraine has never refused to negotiate. Our negotiating position is known and open,” he wrote on Twitter, saying that Russia should first withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

“Is Putin ready? Obviously not. Therefore, we are constructive in our assessment: we will talk with the next leader of (Russia),” he added.

Putin says 50,000 mobilised Russian reservists serving with combat units

President Vladimir Putin has said that 50,000 reservists called up as part of his partial mobilisation drive are now involved in active fighting within combat units in Ukraine, according to a report by Russia’s Interfax news agency.

Putin reportedly stated a total of 80,000 of the reservists were “in the zone of the special military operation” – the term Russia uses for its war in Ukraine – with the remainder of the more than 300,000 called up since late September in training camps.

“We now have 50,000 in their combat units … the rest are not taking part in the fighting yet,” Interfax quoted Putin as saying during a visit to the Tver region, outside Moscow

Ukrainian official accuses Russian troops of looting, posing as civilians

A Ukrainian official accuses Russian forces of looting empty homes in the southern city of Kherson and occupying them with soldiers wearing civilian clothes to prepare for street fighting in what both sides predict will be one of the war’s most important battles.

“While Kherson residents are being forcibly deported from their homes, talking about ‘evacuation’, ru-military and FSB officers are doing what they love most – robbing their houses,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s president, tweeted.

“Robbery of those whom they came to ‘protect’ — the best ‘Russian world’ illustration,” he added.

Russia has ordered civilians out of Kherson in anticipation of a Ukrainian offensive to recapture the city, the only regional capital Moscow has seized since its invasion in February.

Kremlin says Russia is open to negotiations but not at this moment

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday that Russia is “open to” negotiation with Ukraine but that the moment is not right for talks.

“We have repeatedly said that the Russian side remains open to achieving its goals through negotiations,” Peskov told reporters.

“We also repeatedly drew the attention of everyone that at the moment we do not see such an opportunity, because Kyiv turned into a law [their decision] not to continue any negotiations,” he added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree in early October formally ruling out the possibility of negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to Russia’s illegal claim to annex portions of four Ukrainian regions.

“Russians are not ready to admit they have occupied our country,” Zelensky said in September, a month before the decree.

He added that “this means there will be no substantial dialogue”.

“We want to end the war, but the space and opportunities have changed,” Zelensky continued, noting, “There is no reassurance that [the Russians] will do what they say they will do. I think they won’t. No one believes them.”

The Washington Post on Saturday reported that US officials have privately encouraged the Ukrainian government to signal an openness to talks with Russia – not to reach a near-term settlement, but as a political move in order to maintain Western support for the war effort.

“We don’t know if this is true or not,” the Kremlin’s spokesperson told reporters on a regular conference call adding, “We are unable to comment on this without being sure that it is true.”

Ukraine receives first delivery of NASAMS air defence systems

Ukraine has received its first delivery of NASAMS and Apside air defence systems from Norway, Spain and the United States, the country’s defence minister has stated.

“We will continue to shoot down the enemy targets attacking us. Thank you to our partners: Norway, Spain and the US,” Oleksii Reznikov tweeted.

UK: Russia ‘losing significantly more aircraft than it can replace’

Russia has lost some 300 aircraft in Ukraine at a “significantly” higher rate than it can replace, the UK MoD announced.

Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Army, has noted Moscow had lost 278 aircraft in the war – more than twice the 119 it did in the Soviet-Afghan War.

“Whilst we cannot independently verify these figures, Russia’s continued lack of air superiority is likely exacerbated by poor training, loss of experienced crews, and heightened risks of conducting close air support in dense air defence zones,” the Ministry of Defence said in its intelligence update:

“This is unlikely to change in the next few months. Russia’s aircraft losses likely significantly outstrip their capacity to manufacture new airframes. The time required for the training of competent pilots further reduces Russia’s ability to regenerate combat air capability,” it added.

Germany says Ukraine should decide when to hold peace talks

A German government spokesperson has said it is up to Ukraine to decide when to hold peace talks with Russia, adding that Moscow has also been reluctant to participate in them.

The spokesperson’s remarks came after The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the United States has been privately encouraging Ukraine to signal it is open to talks with Russia.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has ruled out negotiations with Moscow while Russian President Vladimir Putin is in power.

Ukraine grain exports down more than 30 percent: Agriculture ministry

Ukraine has exported almost 14.3 million tonnes of grain so far in the 2022-23 season, down 30.7 percent from the 20.6 million tonnes exported by the same stage of the previous season, data collated by the country’s agriculture ministry shows.

The data showed that exports so far in the July 2022 to June 2023 season included 5.4 million tonnes of wheat, 7.7 million tonnes of corn and 1.2 million tonnes of barley.

Ukraine’s government has said the country’s farmers could harvest between 50 million and 52 million tonnes of grain this year, down from a record 86 million tonnes in 2021 because of the loss of land to Russian forces and lower yields.

Russian forces step up raids on civilians in occupied Kherson

Russian forces have stepped up their scrutiny of civilians in occupied areas of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, detaining locals to root out partisan resistance, according to the Ukrainian military.

In the occupied city of Kherson, Russian troops are now largely wearing civilian clothing and living in civilian housing as they “strengthen positions inside for conducting street battles,” according to the Ukrainian military and a resident of the city with whom CNN exchanged messages.

“Amid the counteroffensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the occupiers have significantly intensified filtration measures,” the National Resistance Center, a creation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said on Monday, adding, “Raids among the local population have intensified in the temporarily occupied part of Kherson region. The occupiers are actively looking for the underground movement.”

The National Resistance Center announced that it was aware of dozens of detentions in recent days. It called on civilians to leave the occupied territories “if possible” while the Ukrainian military pushed its counter-offensive.

A resident of the occupied city of Kherson told CNN through a third party on Sunday that Russian soldiers in occupied villages are behaving more aggressively towards civilians.

“On the west bank, near Snihurivka, there are cases of occupiers moving into locals’ houses when people move to the city,” the resident said, adding, “Many soldiers came to the villages, they settle in empty houses. But there are cases when they kick people out of their homes.”

The city of Kherson itself has been “relatively quiet,” she continued.

“From time to time you can hear automatic gunfire at night,” the resident said, adding, “There is a curfew in the city, and no one goes out at night. The occupiers have created some kind of territorial defense in the city, which deals with security issues.”

Checkpoints within the city itself have been removed, she stated.

“There are only checkpoints at the entrance to the city. At the checkpoint they check documents and look what is in the car. If it is public transport, then the soldier enters the minibus. It may vary, it all depends on the mood of the occupiers. They can start checking phones and force men to undress to check for tattoos,” she noted.

The resident said that most soldiers appear to be over the age of 30, but that they had begun to see more young men, around ages 18 to 20.

Russian authorities continued Monday to try to restore electricity after an outage on Sunday.

“I think electricity and communication will be restored in the near future,” Kirill Stremousov, the Russia-appointed deputy head of Kherson region military administration, stated Monday morning in a video on Telegram.

“There is no food problem in the city, there are foodstuffs. It’s true that some pharmacies are shut, but it is not impossible to get social benefits. We keep working on this too,” he continued.

Stremousov added that authorities continued to offer “evacuation” to the eastern bank of the Dnipro River, including now to bed-ridden civilians or those with reduced mobility.

Evacuation offers like this have sparked concerns that Ukrainian citizens may be forced to go to Russian territory against their will. Reports emerged early in the war of tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians being forcibly sent to so-called “filtration centers” before being moved to Russia. Moscow denounced the claims as lies, alleging that Ukraine has hindered its efforts to “evacuate” people to Russia.

The Kherson city resident who spoke to CNN viewed the idea of getting on an “evacuation bus” to Crimea as a “one-way ticket.”

Kyiv mayor says it must be prepared for worst case scenario if city is left without water and electricity

The Ukrainian capital of Kyiv is preparing for worst-case scenarios in the event of further Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure which could potentially leave the city without electricity or water, according to its mayor Vitali Klitschko.

“Our enemies are doing everything to keep the city without heat, electricity, and water supply, and in general, they want us all to die. This is their task. And how well we’ll hold out depends on how well we’re prepared for different scenarios … that’s why we need to be prepared,” said Klitschko.

“This is not a war, this is terrorism, this is genocide,” the mayor stated regarding Russian attacks on energy infrastructure.

The city’s mayor encouraged some residents to think about staying with family and friends outside of Kyiv if the city is left without electricity or water.

“If you have extended family — this is for if we consider the worst case, if we were left without electricity and water supply — or friends outside Kyiv, where there is autonomous water supply, an oven, heating, please keep in mind the possibility of staying there for a certain amount of time,” the mayor continued.

““His goal is for us to die, to freeze, or to make us flee our land so that he can have it. That’s what the aggressor wants to achieve,” Klitschko added regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin. ”

Russian forces have pounded Ukraine’s critical infrastructure in recent weeks, severely damaging its electrical grid and forcing many towns and cities across the country to impose scheduled hours-long blackouts.

Kremlin declines to comment on reported talks with US

The Kremlin has declined to comment on a Wall Street Journal report that Washington held undisclosed talks with top Russian officials about avoiding further escalation in the Ukraine war.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that while Russia remains “open” to talks, it is unable to negotiate with Kyiv due to its refusal to hold talks with Russia.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that US NSA Jake Sullivan held undisclosed talks with top Russian officials in the hope of reducing the risk the war in Ukraine spills over or escalates into a nuclear conflict.

Grid operator: Ukrainians need to brace for more blackouts

Ukraine’s grid operator has told consumers to brace for more blackouts in Kyiv and other regions as it seeks to reduce the strain on energy infrastructure damaged by Russian missile and drone attacks.

“The country’s power grid still cannot resume full operation after the Russian terrorist attacks. In some regions, we have to introduce blackouts to avoid overloading the high-voltage infrastructure,” the Ukrenergo grid operator said.

Scheduled shutdowns from 06.00 a.m. local time to the end of the day will affect Kyiv and the regions of Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr, Sumy, Kharkiv and Poltava, it added in a statement.

Ukraine accuses Iran of helping Russia ‘prolong’ war

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Iranian arms supplies to Russia accusing Tehran of helping “prolong the war”.

“Iran supports Russia’s terrorist regime and helps prolong the war and therefore prolongs the threats to the world created by Russia’s war of aggression,” Zelensky stated in his daily video address.

Without Tehran’s support for Moscow, Ukraine “would already be closer to peace,” the Ukrainian leader added.

On Saturday for the first time Iran has confirmed it sold drones to Russia but stressed that this was “months” before the start of the war in Ukraine.

US diplomat has held talks with Putin aides amid nuclear fears: Report

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has been engaged in behind-the-scenes contacts with senior Russian officials in a bid to decrease the chances of a broader conflict over Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing its sources.

According to US and allied officials interviewed by the newspaper, Sullivan has been in touch with Yuri Ushakov, a foreign policy aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and with Nikolay Patrushev, who heads Russia’s Security Council.

The aim of the talks has been “to guard against the risk of escalation and keep communications channels open” rather than to discuss a peace settlement for the Ukraine conflict, officials told the WSJ.

The WSJ’s sources refused to provide details on when the negotiations took place or whether they were productive.

US officials stated Sullivan has insisted on keeping a line of communication with Russia open, in contrast to other senior White House officials, who feel that engagement with Moscow will not be fruitful at this stage.

WSJ sources indicated that Sullivan has not only taken a leading role in coordinating Washington’s policies over the Ukraine conflict, but has also been involved in diplomatic efforts, visiting Kiev last week to meet with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky.

During the talks, the US national security advisor urged the Ukrainian leadership to publicly signal that they are ready to resolve the conflict, one US official told the outlet. According to the WSJ and earlier media reports, Washington is not insisting that Kiev return to the negotiating table, but wants it to show to the world that it is trying to bring the hostilities to an end.

In late September, Sullivan noted the US had warned “the very high levels” of the Russian leadership that Moscow would face “catastrophic consequences” should it resort to nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

His comments came after Putin vowed that Russia would use “all means available” to defend its people and territory, a statement that Washington and its NATO allies interpreted as a veiled threat to deploy nuclear weapons. However, several Russian senior officials have insisted that Moscow is not threatening anyone with its nuclear arsenal.

Zelensky: Russian suffering heavy losses in east

Russia is suffering heavy losses in continuing “fierce” attacks in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region and is preparing new assaults on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.

“Very fierce Russian attacks on Donetsk region are continuing. The enemy is suffering serious losses there,” Zelensky stated in his nightly video address.

The president added he believed Russia was “concentrating forces and means for a possible repetition of mass attacks on our infrastructure, energy in the first instance”.

Ukraine ‘will stand’ despite Russian attacks on energy infrastructure

Despite the fact that a third of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure has been damaged by Russian shelling, Ukrainian officials have stressed the country “will stand”.

This will happen thanks to a “simple protection plan” based on using air defence, protecting infrastructure facilities and optimising energy consumption, Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

Wagner Group to create paramilitary training centres

The Wagner Group is preparing to set up paramilitary training centres on the Ukrainian border, The Kyiv Independent daily reports.

“Yevgeny Prigozhin, close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the so-called ‘training centers’ located in the Kursk and Belgorod regions should consist of residents of these regions,” the newspaper said.

Ukraine says Russia destroying civilian ships on river in southern standoff

Ukraine’s army accused Russia of the large-scale destruction of civilian vessels moored on the banks of the Dnieper River in the occupied southern region of Kherson, which Kyiv’s forces are trying to capture.

The Ukrainian General Staff’s spokesperson said in a statement that the fuel from the destroyed vessels had leaked into the river’s delta and also accused Moscow’s forces of appropriating the vessels’ engines and other equipment.

The Ukrainian general staff gave no explanation for Moscow’s actions. Destroying civilian vessels would prevent Ukrainian forces from using them should they decide to cross to the eastern side in the event of any Russian withdrawal.

There was no immediate comment from the Russian defence ministry.

The statement fitted into a pattern of mounting tension in the region where Russian-installed occupation officials said that an act of sabotage had knocked out power and water supplies in the city of Kherson as well as a number of settlements.

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