Sunday, March 3, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 259

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:

DM orders withdrawal of Russian forces from west bank in Kherson

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has ordered a withdrawal of Russian forces from the west bank of the Dnipro River in Kherson region, according to Russian state media.

His order comes as Ukrainian forces make advances toward the city of Kherson from two directions.

The Russian withdrawal would be the most significant military development since Ukrainian forces swept through the northern Kharkiv region in September.

Russia’s foreign ministry says Moscow is in occasional contact with US officials

Moscow has occasional contact with US officials from time to time despite the downturn in relations between the two sides, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry has said.

Maria Zakharova stated such contacts were between specific unnamed government agencies in both countries. She added the Russian foreign ministry had not been involved.

Zakharova also confirmed there would soon be US-Russia consultations on the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, the last remaining arms control agreement between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.

Putin restricts 191 companies from buying and selling shares

Russia has published a list of companies in which President Vladimir Putin has restricted the buying and selling of shares by foreign investors, including Unipro and the local subsidiary of Finnish energy group Fortum.

The list includes 191 companies in the fuel and energy complex, as well as equipment makers and servicing companies.

Moscow denies North Korean weapon supply

Moscow denies reports that North Korea has been supplying weapons to Russia, saying the claims were “false, from start to finish”.

US National Security Spokesperson John Kirby stated last week that Washington had information that North Korea was covertly supplying Russia with a “significant” number of artillery shells for use in Ukraine.

Russian-installed deputy head of Kherson killed in car crash

Kirill Stremousov, the Russian-installed deputy head of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, died during a car crash, Russian state news agencies reported.

The TASS news agency said the press service for the head of the region had confirmed his death.

The exact circumstances are unclear.

Stremousov had posted regular video updates on social media – including while in vehicles moving at speed – about the situation on the front line.

In the past few weeks, he had urged civilians to evacuate the western bank of the Dnieper River over fears of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

US midterm elections “important” but won’t change “bad” relations: Kremlin

The US midterm elections are “important” but the outcome won’t have a significant impact on the Russia-US relations, which will likely “remain bad,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated Wednesday.

“Of course, these elections are important, but I will probably not be mistaken if I say that there is no need to seriously exaggerate the significance of these elections in the short and medium term for the future of [Russia-US] bilateral relations,” Peskov said, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.

“These elections cannot change anything essential. Relationships still exist and will remain bad,” Peskov added.

No progress in easing fertiliser and grain exports: Russia

Russia announced it still sees no progress in easing its fertiliser and grain exports, which are parts of the Black Sea grain deal Moscow views as fundamental to extending the initiative.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, told reporters the United States and European Union were putting up obstacles to Russia’s exports.

“The US and the EU continue to put up obstacles to the export of Russian fertilisers and grain. We will take this into account when deciding whether to extend the grain deal,” she added.

On Tuesday, Russia said they were undecided over whether they will extend the deal further than the expiry date on November 19 after temporarily leaving and rejoining the agreement last week.

Eastern European countries preparing for new refugee wave in winter

With Russian forces continuing to target Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, power grid and heating plants, Eastern European countries are preparing for a new wave of Ukrainian refugees to come in with the winter months, according to Reuters

There are currently 6.9m people estimated to be displaced internally in Ukraine, and the countries bordering Ukraine are now reopening reception centres and restocking food supplies in preparation for the possible inflow of hundreds of thousands of them in what is predicted to be a very cold and unmanageable winter.

UN refugee agency UNHCR reports that about 4.5m Ukrainian refugees are currently registered under various protection schemes across Europe. After an initial surge following Russia’s invasion on 24 February, the number of refugees leaving Ukraine dropped in late spring, with some returning after their Ukrainian forces liberated their territories.

Ukraine wants to drag US into conflict with Russia: Envoy

Washington is ignoring Moscow’s warnings about alleged Ukrainian plans to detonate a ‘dirty bomb’ to frame Russia, the latter’s ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, claimed on Wednesday.

He added that this could enable Kiev to drag the US and NATO directly into the conflict.

In an article posted on social media, Antonov said that Russia has been “making every effort to get through to the international community” to warn about a potential dirty bomb false-flag incident by Kiev to frame Russia.

Ukraine, he stated, is also considering an even more dangerous scenario – a provocation at a nuclear power plant which could result in “an accident comparable to the Chernobyl and Fukushima.”

“Yet Washington shies away from our warnings, calling them ‘false’ and ‘groundless,’ while using a formula of ‘look who’s talking,’” the ambassador continued.

According to Antonov, Ukraine plans to detonate a dirty bomb to make it appear that Russia used a tactical nuclear weapon, so “Kiev can pretend to be a victim and drag the United States and NATO directly into the conflict” and “pit the nuclear powers against each other,” he said.

“The US keeps pretending that it does not see these dangerous trends,” he claimed, adding that “by justifying the Kiev regime,” Washington is becoming an “accomplice of nuclear terrorism.”

Ukraine: G20 summit should address plight of children deported by Russia

Ukraine says it has collated thousands of reports of its children being deported to Russia and wants their plight addressed at a summit of the Group of 20 major economies.

“The Russian Federation continues to commit its crimes in connection with Ukrainian children,” President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said.

The US envoy to the United Nations announced in early September that more than 1,800 children were transferred from Russia-controlled areas of Ukraine, to Russia, in July alone.

Ukraine wants such deportations investigated as a war crime.

US official says Russia has probably lost half its tanks, used majority of precision-guided weapons in Ukraine

Russia has probably lost half its main battle tanks and used up the majority of its precision-guided weapons in a war that has become a “massive strategic failure” for the Kremlin, Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, said.

“President Vladimir Putin has failed,” Kahl told a group of reporters as part of George Washington University’s Project for Media and National Security.

“Russia will emerge from this war weaker than it went in,” he added.

Kahl stated Russia has suffered “tens of thousands of casualties” since the war began in February, which is “orders of magnitude” more than the Soviet Union suffered in Afghanistan.

“They’ve probably lost half of their main battle tanks in the entire Russian military,” Kahl said.

“They’ve bogged down more than 80% of their land force in Ukraine. They’ve spent down a majority of their precision guided munitions in Ukraine, and the sanctions and export controls will make it very difficult for them to rebuild their military to what it looked like before the war,” the official added.

“Putin went into this war trying to extinguish Ukraine as an independent, sovereign democratic country. He’s failed, and that’s not going to change. A sovereign, independent, democratic Ukraine is going to endure,” he continued.

Kahl noted that there is considerable bipartisan support for Ukraine moving forward, but what that support looks like and what Ukraine’s military needs going forward may change.

US support of Ukraine will be “unwavering and unflinching” no matter election results: Official

A top State Department official said the Joe Biden administration is “confident” that US support for Ukraine will be “unwavering and unflinching” no matter the results of the midterm elections in the US.

“We’ve had… certain congressional voices offering other views, but Congress represents many, many different opinions, and I think we have seen the vast majority of members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, have been clear about their, about our enduring support for Ukraine,” stated Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried in an audio briefing with reporters.

Donfried also added she believes the European Union is committed to economically supporting Ukraine.

Zelensky says “fierce battles” rage in eastern Ukraine, with Russian forces suffering large-scale losses

Amid fierce fighting in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated that the “situation is complicated along the entire frontline.”

In his daily video address, Zelensky said “fierce positional battles continue in some areas, and the situation is especially difficult in Donetsk region. The occupiers’ activity there remains at an extremely high level — dozens of attacks every day.”

He added Russian forces “suffer extremely large-scale losses, but their order has not changed — to reach the administrative borders of Donetsk region. We do not surrender a single centimeter of our land there. And I thank all our heroes who hold positions in Donbas.”

In the southern Kherson region, Zelensky said Ukrainian units were acting “carefully, thoroughly and in the interests of liberating our entire territory. We are strengthening our positions, breaking Russian logistics, consistently destroying the potential of the occupiers to keep the south of our country in occupation.”

Zelensky added work continued to restore normal life in the liberated areas.

In two districts of Kharkiv region, he noted, “more than a thousand households have their gas and electricity supply restored.”

Across the country, repair work continued on energy facilities,

“As of this evening, about 4 million Ukrainians in 14 regions and the city of Kyiv are cut off from electricity supply. But the majority of them are under stabilization power cut off schedules, not emergency ones,” the president stated.

The schedules implement twelve hours of power cuts a day.

To address the energy crisis, Zelensky said that imports of goods necessary during the heating season will be exempt from VAT and import duties.

“This should simplify and reduce the cost of supplying generators, batteries, transformers and other similar equipment for energy and heat supply to Ukraine,” he added.

No need to evacuate Kyiv or other cities: Ukrainian PM

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said he saw no need at present to evacuate Kyiv or any other cities that are not near the front lines in the war against Russia.

Shmyhal spoke at a cabinet meeting following Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s energy system and after Kyiv’s mayor told residents everything, including a worst-case scenario where Kyiv loses power and water thoroughly, must be considered.

“Right now, the situation is far from [needing to] announce an evacuation,” Shmyhal stated.

“We must say that to announce the evacuation of any city not near the front lines, especially the capital, would not make any sense at present,” he added.

Zelensky tells COP27 Russia’s war harms climate efforts

A fast-heating world “cannot afford a single gunshot”, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has told the UN climate summit on, arguing that Russia’s invasion threatened international efforts to tackle global warming.

Speaking by video-link to the COP27 climate talks in Egypt, Zelensky itemised the environmental fallout from the Russian assault on his country – from compelling countries to increase their use of coal to the disruption of grain supplies, worsening food crises stoked by drought.

“We must stop those who, with their insane and illegal war, are destroying the world’s ability to work united for a common goal,” he stated.

Italy to send Ukraine more weapons and air defence systems

The Italian government is preparing a new arms package for Ukraine, including air defence systems.

An Italian coalition official, who declined to be named, told Reuter’s news agency that Rome was ready to provide Ukraine with various air-defence systems, including the medium-range Franco-Italian SAMP/T, Italian Aspide, and portable Stinger missiles.

However, it is unclear how many of these it could offer or when any shipment might be delivered.

Italian defence minister Guido Crosetto spoke by phone on Monday with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and pledged to support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion for “as long as necessary”, a statement said.

Giorgia Meloni’s newly installed right-wing coalition government is preparing the sixth round of supplies to Ukraine.

Russia is still undecided on extending Black Sea grain deal: Moscow

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Andrey Rudenko, said that the Kremlin has not yet decided whether to extend its agreement with Turkey and the UN.

“We still have time. We are looking at how this deal is being implemented following the restoration of our participation,” Rudenko continued, adding, “We are very dissatisfied with how the Russian part is being implemented, where the UN has taken responsibility for solving problems.”

Ukraine and Russia are major global exporters of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and other products.

Russia must be held ‘accountable’: US ambassador

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield says Russia must be held “accountable” during her visit to Kyiv.

Thomas-Greenfield tweeted, “In Kyiv, I met with victims of Russia’s war crimes.

“A mother told me about holding her dying child after an attack on her home,” she continued, adding, “A civilian medical worker told me about being detained and tortured by Russian forces for weeks. We must hold Russia accountable for these atrocities.”

Ukraine says grain deal must continue

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the US ambassador to the United Nations that the Black Sea grain export deal must be extended.

“[We] spoke about the situation at the front and Russian missile terror. Almost 40 percent of our energy infrastructure facilities were damaged by targeted attacks,” Zelensky said on Telegram.

“Therefore, the first priority is the urgent creation of an air shield over Ukraine. Separately, they talked about global food security. Thanks to the implementation of the grain initiative, millions of people in Africa, Asia and Europe are provided with food. It is necessary that the grain agreement continues in the future,” the president continued.

“Ukraine is ready to remain the guarantor of world food security,” he added.

Ukraine says talks with Russia hinge on ‘territorial integrity’

Kyiv’s main precondition for entering negotiations with Russia on ending the war is the return of all captured Ukrainian land, according to a high-ranking security official.

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, said that the Ukrainian side also needed the “guarantee” of modern air defences, aircraft, tanks and long-range missiles.

Kyiv has repeatedly called for additional arms from its Western backers following Russia’s invasion in late February.

“The main condition of the President of Ukraine is restoration of Ukrainian territorial integrity,” Danilov tweeted.

“Guarantee – modern air defence, aircraft, tanks, and long-range missiles. Strategy – proactive steps. Russian missiles must be destroyed before launch in the air, on land and at sea,” he said.

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