Friday, February 23, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 258

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:

Zelensky urges the US to maintain ‘unity’ over aid support

President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the United States to remain united as questions hover over American support for his country following midterm elections to determine control of the US Congress.

“I call on you to maintain unwavering unity, as it is now, until that very day when we all hear those important words we have been dreaming of … Until we hear that peace has finally been restored. Democracies must not stop on their way to the victory,” he stated in a recorded address, receiving the US Liberty Medal.

As global inflation rates rise and are partially due to the war, for American voters, support for aiding Ukraine in its war efforts could be in jeopardy.

US support will continue “until Ukraine wins war” and Russia withdraws its troops: UN ambassador

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has said that American support for Ukraine is “unwavering” and will continue until the nation “wins this war.”

“We have been unified from day one, and we have not seen any cracks in that unity,” Thomas-Greenfield told CNN during an unannounced trip to the capital, Kyiv.

“Europe is unified. NATO is unified. We’ve had bipartisan support in the United States for support for Ukraine,” she continued, adding, “Our support is unwavering, and we will continue to be unified until Ukraine wins this war and Russia takes their troops out of Ukraine.”

When asked about reports that US officials have urged Ukraine to signal that they are still open to diplomatic discussions with Russia, amid concerns that public support for the country’s war effort could wane, Thomas-Greenfield demurred.

“We’ve been clear,” she said, adding, “No negotiations in which Ukraine is not in the driver’s seat. No negotiations about Ukraine without Ukraine.”

The international community, she noted, “wants justice for the people of Ukraine.”

“Any negotiations that take place have to take place with Ukraine in the driver’s seat. They have to determine that, when they are ready for those negotiations, with the backing and support of the international community, following the charter that Russia has violated,” she continued.

India will continue buying Russian oil: FM

Buying Russian oil works to India’s advantage, and India will continue doing that, Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar stated after meeting his Russian counterpart.

India has faced backlash for continuing to purchase Russian oil as Western leaders urged countries to stop buying it as a punishment for the invasion of Ukraine.

Zelensky to attend G20 summit

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will participate in the Group of 20 (G20) summit for significant economies next week, most likely attending virtually, his spokesperson told the Ukrainian Suspilne public broadcaster.

Previously, Zelensky said he would not participate if President Vladimir Putin attended Indonesia’s November 15 summit, but Serhiy Nykyforov, the spokesperson, did not say whether Zelensky had changed his position.

President Vladimir Putin is still expected to attend the summit. Still, the Indonesian president has noted that a recent call with the Russian leader gave him the “strong impression” Putin will skip the event.

Russia constructing defensive structure around Mariupol: British MoD

According to the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), Russia has begun constructing a defensive structure around Mariupol.

The latest military update explained that the “pyramidal anti-tank structures, known as dragon’s teeth”, were also sent to Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

With the Wagner Group last month saying it was creating a “Wagner line” of defence, the ministry announced that “this activity suggests Russia is making a significant effort to prepare defences in depth behind their current front line, likely to forestall any rapid Ukrainian advances in the event of breakthroughs.”

Turkish natural gas to be partially paid for in roubles

Turkey’s natural gas purchases from Russia have started to be paid partially in roubles, Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said.

In an interview with the Turkish broadcaster TRT Haber, Donmez stated that the share of local currency payments in energy trade with Russia would increase in the coming months.

Ukrainian officials say bottom line for any settlement with Russia must be “restoration” of occupied land

Responding to various media reports about a push for negotiation with Russia, Ukrainian officials on Tuesday said that an essential condition for any settlement of the war is the restoration of Ukrainian occupied territory.

“The main condition of the [Ukrainian] President of is restoration of [Ukrainian] territorial integrity,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, wrote on Twitter.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, asked on Twitter: “What do you mean by the word ‘negotiations’? Russian ultimatums are well-known: ‘we came with tanks, admit defeat and [the loss of territory].’ This is unacceptable. So what to talk about? Or you just hide the word ‘surrender’ behind the word ‘settlement?’”

The pair spoke out following reports that senior US officials have in recent weeks been urging Ukraine to signal that they are still open to diplomatic discussions with Russia. The push comes amid concerns that public support for the country’s war effort could wane with no end to the conflict in sight and neither side willing to begin peace talks, sources familiar with the discussions tell CNN.

The discussions are not aimed at encouraging the Ukrainians to negotiate now — rather, the US wants Kyiv to convey more clearly that it wants to find a resolution to the conflict and that Ukraine has the moral high ground, sources said.

North Korea denies sending arms to Russia

North Korea on Tuesday denied dealing arms to Russia following US accusations that Pyongyang is secretly supplying Moscow with weapons for use in the Ukraine war.

The United States was attempting “to tarnish the image” of North Korea “in the international arena,” according to a statement by the vice director of military foreign affairs at North Korea’s Defense Ministry published by state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

“We have never had ‘arms dealings’ with Russia… we have no plan to do so in the future,” the statement said.

Last week, declassified US intelligence claimed North Korea is secretly supplying Russia with a significant number of artillery shells for use in Ukraine and is trying to hide the shipments by making it appear as if the ammunition is being sent to countries in the Middle East or North Africa.

US officials believe the alleged surreptitious North Korean shipments — along with drones and other weaponry that Russia has acquired from Iran — are further evidence that even Moscow’s conventional artillery arsenals have dwindled during eight months of combat.

The report follows a US statement in September that North Korea intends to supply weapons to Russia including rockets and artillery shells, which Pyongyang promptly denied.

Russia sanctions 74 arms-producing companies

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has signed a decree applying “special economic measures” to 74 companies engaged in arms production.

According to a document published on the government’s website, the list included 74 organisations from Bulgaria, the UK, Germany, Canada, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Estonia, and the US.

“Transactions in the field of military-technical cooperation are prohibited with companies from this list,” the statement added.

Russia is no longer organizing “evacuations” from parts of occupied Kherson: Moscow-backed official

Monday was the last day of Russia’s “organized evacuation” offer for civilians from the west bank of the Dnipro River in the occupied portion of Ukraine’s Kherson region, according to a Russian-backed official.

“Most residents who decided to stay in Kherson are only now beginning to realize the gravity of the situation and my warnings,” Kirill Stremousov, the Russia-appointed deputy head of the Kherson region military administration, said on Telegram.

His comments come as an intense battle for the southern city of Kherson appears to be looming, with Ukrainian forces edging closer to the regional capital as part of a push to retake territory seized by Russian forces shortly after their invasion began in February.

Anyone who leaves the Kherson region will be given “a one-time payment of 100,000 rubles” (about $1,600) “and a housing certificate,” Stremousov added.

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.

Kherson is one of four regions Russia has said it will annex from Ukraine in violation of international law.

Zelensky says Russia must be forced into genuine peace negotiations

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Russia must be forced into genuine peace negotiations.

Speaking about the opening of COP27, the global climate conference underway in Egypt, Zelensky stated, “Anyone who seriously considers the climate agenda must also seriously consider the need to immediately stop Russian aggression, restore our territorial integrity and force Russia to engage in genuine peace negotiations.”

Zelensky noted that Russia had repeatedly shown itself unwilling to engage in such negotiations.

“The kind of negotiations that we have repeatedly suggested and to which we have always received crazy Russian responses with new terrorist attacks, shelling or blackmail,” he added.

US reserves right to talk with Russia about Ukraine war: White House

The United States reserves the right to hold talks with Russia at the senior level on risk reduction, the White House has announced.

This was in reference to a media report that National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has been talking to Moscow.

The Kremlin on Monday 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.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Sullivan spoke with senior Russian officials in the hope of reducing the risk the war in Ukraine spills over or escalates into a nuclear conflict.

US citizen recently died in Ukraine: State Department

A US citizen recently died in Ukraine, a State Department spokesperson confirmed Monday.

“We can confirm the death of a US citizen in Ukraine,” the State Department spokesperson stated.

“We are in touch with the family and providing all possible consular assistance,” the spokesperson said, adding, “Out of respect for the family’s privacy during this difficult time, we have nothing further to add.”

The spokesperson did not provide details on the identity of the person who died or the circumstances of their death.

This is the sixth American who has died in Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February.

US officials urge Ukraine to signal it is still open to diplomatic discussions with Russia

Senior US officials have in recent weeks been urging Ukraine to signal it is still open to diplomatic discussions with Russia, amid concerns that public support for the country’s war effort could wane with no end to the conflict in sight and neither side willing to begin peace talks, sources familiar with the discussions tell CNN.

The discussions are not aimed at encouraging the Ukrainians to negotiate now – rather, the US wants Kyiv to convey more clearly that it wants to find a resolution to the conflict and that Ukraine has the moral high ground, sources said.

Officials including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan began more urgently pressing the Ukrainians to shift their rhetoric after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree in early October ruling out any negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That decree came in response to Russia’s self-declared annexation of territories in eastern Ukraine following sham referendums there.

“We are ready for a dialogue with Russia, but with another president of Russia,” Zelensky noted last month.

Sullivan discussed the issue directly with Zelensky during a trip to Kyiv last week, the sources added. He expressed the US’ view that categorically ruling out any talks with Putin plays into the Russian leader’s hand by fueling the Kremlin narrative that the Ukrainians are refusing to talk.

On Monday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia is “open to” negotiation with Ukraine but “at the moment we do not see such an opportunity, because Kyiv turned into a law [their decision] not to continue any negotiations.”

The Washington Post first reported that the US is urging Ukraine to appear open to talks.

The advice to the Ukrainians is also coming ahead on the eve of what could be a tough winter for Europe, which has already been experiencing soaring energy costs tied to Russia’s invasion and warnings has warned of potential blackouts and gas rationing stemming from the energy crunch.

Ukrainian power company says Kyiv and Kharkiv regions are most vulnerable to power outages

Ukraine’s state energy company Ukrenergo announced that power supplies are most vulnerable in the Kyiv and Kharkiv regions after a campaign of Russian missile attacks against power infrastructure.

Ukrenergo’s CEO, Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, said on Ukrainian television Monday that the situation was tough after five massive missile strikes and a number of smaller attacks.

“Repair teams are working 24/7 in order to fix the damage caused in the past weeks. The most difficult situation is in the Kyiv region and Kharkiv region,” Kudrytskyi stated, adding, “So this is where the scheduled outages, hourly outages as we call them, are in place and additional emergency outages take place on top of them from time to time in order to balance the energy system in these regions.”

“We are working on improving the situation within the grid in Kyiv city and Kyiv region as well as in the north region, consisting of Kharkiv region, Sumy region and Poltava region,” he continued.

Kudrytskyi said that if there was no more shelling, there should be improvements in a few more days.

He added power engineers would do everything possible to avoid a total blackout.

Russian soldiers in Donetsk complain about being sent into an “incomprehensible battle”

In a letter purportedly sent from the front lines to a regional governor in Russia, the men of the 155th Brigade of the Russian Pacific Fleet Marines say they were thrown into an “incomprehensible battle” in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.

The letter, published by a prominent Russian military blog on Monday, was sent to the Governor of Primorsky Krai.

“Once again we were thrown into an incomprehensible battle by General Muradov and his brother-in-law, his countryman Akhmedov, so that Muradov could earn bonuses to make him look good in the eyes of Gerasimov [Russia’s Chief of the General Staff],” it said.

“As a result of the “carefully” planned offensive by the “great commanders” we lost about 300 men, dead and wounded, with some MIA over the past 4 days,” the letter noted, adding, “We lost 50 percent of our equipment. That’s our brigade alone. The district command together with Akhmedov are hiding these facts and skewing the official casualty statistics for fear of being held accountable.”

In the letter, they asked the governor, Oleg Kozhemyako, “For how long will such mediocrities as Muradov and Akhmedov be allowed to continue to plan the military actions just to keep up appearances and gain awards at the cost of so many people’s lives?”

Russian forces suffering heavy losses in Donetsk region: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the intense combat in parts of Donetsk region “the epicenter of the biggest madness of the occupiers.”

“They are dying in hundreds every day,” Zelensky said, adding, “The ground in front of the Ukrainian positions is literally littered with the bodies of the occupiers.”

Then speaking in Russian, Zelensky stated that some soldiers in the Pavlivka area had complained to the governor of their region, Primorsky Krai, in the Russian Far East, as CNN reported earlier Monday.

In response, Zelensky added, the governor — Oleg Kozhemyako — had noted that the losses were “not that big.”

In a Telegram post Monday, Kozhemyako said, “We contacted our Marine commanders on the front lines. These are guys who have been in combat since the beginning of the operation.”

He added they had told him, “We are attacking hard, yes there are losses, but far from that.”

Kozhemyako stressed the combat commander had emphasized that the losses of the [Primorsky] troops were considerably exaggerated.

Zelensky’s adviser: Kyiv never refused to negotiate with Moscow

Kyiv has never refused to negotiate with Moscow and it is ready for talks with Russia’s future leader, but not with Vladimir Putin, a senior adviser to Ukraine’s president has said.

The comments on Twitter by Mykhailo Podolyak followed a Washington Post report on Saturday that said the administration of US President Joe Biden was privately encouraging Ukrainian leaders to signal an openness to negotiate with Moscow.

“Ukraine has never refused to negotiate. Our negotiating position is known and open,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter, adding 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 continued.

Poll shows majority of Ukrainians expect prosperous future in EU

The majority of Ukrainians (88 percent) have said they believe their country will be a prosperous member of the European Union in a decade, according to a poll published by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology on Monday.

Ukraine applied for membership in the EU shortly after Russia launched a full-scale invasion in February, and Kyiv was granted candidate status in June.

The invasion has killed thousands of civilians and devastated vast tracts of territory and infrastructure.

The poll surveyed 1,000 respondents across Ukraine with the exception of the annexed peninsula of Crimea and other areas that were occupied by Russian proxies before February 24, when Moscow launched its invasion.

Ukrainians were optimistic about their chances of joining the EU even in the east of the country, which has seen particularly heavy fighting, the poll found.

Seventy-six percent of respondents there saw the future of their country in the EU. Only five percent said they believed the war would ultimately leave the country with a destroyed economy and provoke a large exodus of Ukrainians.

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