Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 261

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:

Russian forces mining roads, destroying infrastructure as they retreat in Kherson: Ukraine

The Ukrainian military on Friday announced that Russian forces were mining roads and destroying critical infrastructure as they retreated in the Kherson region west of the Dnipro River.

“The Russian invaders continue their looting of settlements from which they are retreating,” spokesman for the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Oleksandr Shtupun said on Friday.

“The enemy is also trying to damage power lines, other transport and critical infrastructure facilities of Kherson region,” he added.

Shtupun noted that Russian soldiers occupying the Kherson region had “booby-trapped roads and infrastructure elements with mines” in the villages of Tyahynka and Kozatske. He added that the “bombing of civilians” had been documented.

In the village of Zelenivka, on the outskirts of Kherson city, Russian forces “prohibited residents from moving at all throughout the settlement and are finishing a system of defensive borders,” Shtupun said.

The Ukrainian military has also announced its counter-offensive towards Kherson city continued Friday.

Russian forces “are urgently loading into boats that seem suitable for crossing and trying to escape,” the Ukrainian military’s Operational Command South noted Friday.

They are setting up defense lines on the East bank, shelling our positions on the West bank. The enemy is constantly shelling the rear areas with civilians, keeping civilians in fear.”

Russia’s defence ministry says it has completed Kherson city troop withdrawal

Russia has completed the withdrawal of its troops from Kherson city, the country’s defence ministry says.

In its daily briefing cited by Russian news agencies, the ministry announced all forces and equipment had been transferred to the eastern bank of the Dnieper River by 05:00 Moscow time (02:00 GMT) on Friday morning.

It added there was not a single piece of military hardware or soldier left on the western side of the river, which includes the regional capital Kherson, and that it had not suffered any loss of personnel or equipment during the withdrawal.

Russia ordered the withdrawal on Wednesday after it said its attempts to maintain its position and supply troops were “futile” in the face of a mounting Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Kremlin says Kherson remains a ‘subject’ of Russia despite troop withdrawal

The Kremlin says Russian forces’ withdrawal from Kherson city will not change the status of the region, which Moscow has proclaimed part of Russia after moving to annex it from Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the region’s status was “fixed” and that no changes were possible.

“It is a subject of the Russian Federation – it is legally fixed and defined. There are no changes and there can be no changes,” Peskov stated.

Russia claimed Kherson and three other Ukrainian regions after holding what it called referendums in September – votes that were denounced by Kyiv and Western governments as illegal and coercive.

‘A lot of mines’ in liberated areas: Ukrainian official

An official in southern Ukraine on Friday warned residents to be wary of quickly returning to recently liberated territory.

“There are a lot of mines in the liberated territories and settlements,” Vitaliy Kim, head of the Mykolaiv regional military administration, said on Telegram.

“Don’t go there for no reason. There are casualties,” he added.

Ukrainian forces on Thursday liberated Snihurivka, a town in the Mykolaiv region that lies on the main road to Russian-occupied Kherson city, in the neighboring Kherson region.

Russian attack leaves Kyiv facing emergency power outages

Overnight Russian attacks on Ukrainian power infrastructure have led to emergency power outages “in significant volumes” in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the Yasno energy company announced on Friday.

“New attacks at the energy facilities happened overnight,” Serhiy Kovalenko, CEO at Yasno energy company, said in a statement on Facebook.

“Emergency power outages are being applied in Kyiv city in significant volumes today. We’re not going with the schedules,” Kovalenko added

In the early hours of Friday morning, Russia struck the Vinnytsia region, that region’s leader noted.

“Another critical infrastructure facility in the Vinnytsia region was hit again,” Serhiy Borzov said on Telegram.

In recent weeks, Russian attacks on critical infrastructure have left millions without water and electricity intermittently, including in the capital Kyiv.

Russian rocket attack kills six in Mykolaiv: Mayor

Six people have been killed by a Russian rocket attack on an apartment building in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, its mayor has stated.

Rescuers were digging through the debris for survivors after the attack, Oleksandr Senkevych said in a Telegram post, which took place in the early hours of Friday.

There was no immediate comment on the reported attack from Moscow.

Vitaliy Kim, the governor of the wider Mykolaiv region of the same name, also put the death toll from the alleged attack at six.

US to buy South Korean howitzer rounds to send to Ukraine

The US will buy 100,000 rounds of howitzer artillery from South Korean manufacturers to provide to Ukraine, The Associated Press news agency has reported, citing an unnamed US official.

The reported agreement comes as Ukrainian leaders press for more weapons and aid to take advantage of a counteroffensive that is pushing Russian forces out of some areas they had taken over earlier in the war.

It would also relieve concerns within the US military – particularly the Army and the Marine Corps – who are worried that persistent transfers of the Pentagon’s howitzer ammunition to Ukraine are eating into their stockpiles.

South Korea’s defence ministry in a statement acknowledged ongoing talks over exporting an unspecified number of 155mm artillery shells to shore up diminishing US inventories.

Zelensky says over 41 settlements in southern Ukraine have been liberated

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said more than 41 settlements in southern Ukraine have been liberated following the Russian decision to withdraw to the eastern side of the Dnipro river.

“Today we have good news from the south — the number of Ukrainian flags returning to their rightful place in the framework of the ongoing defense operation is already reaching dozens. 41 settlements have been liberated,” Zelensky stated.

He added, “Everything that is happening now has been achieved through months of fierce struggle. Achieved by courage, pain and losses. It is not the enemy that is leaving. It is Ukrainians who are chasing the occupiers at great cost.”

The president noted police units had moved into several settlements in Kherson to begin stabilization measures, but the liberation of Ukrainian territory was just the first step in a long process.

“The first and basic thing is de-mining. The occupiers leave behind thousands of mines and unexploded ammunition. I have often heard estimates that clearing Ukraine of Russian mines will take decades. We cannot wait that long,” the Ukrainian president continued.

“The invaders mine everything: power lines, business enterprises, fields, forests,” he said, adding, “At the peak of mine contamination in Ukraine, we had 300,000 square kilometers of life-threatening territory.”

Now, he said, thanks to the efforts of sappers, “there are about 170,000 square kilometers left for demining. In particular, this is in the most difficult places – where the fighting is still ongoing, where the enemy will add more mines before its withdrawal, as it is now in Kherson.”

Zelensky thanked the dozen countries assisting in de-mining. He also alluded to Ukraine’s goals in the conflict.

“We have to go all the way — on the battlefield and in diplomacy — so that our flags, Ukrainian flags, and never again any enemy tricolors are on our entire land, within our internationally recognized border,” he added.

Moscow became more brutal, disciplined under new commander: Kyiv

Ukraine’s defence minister has accused the new commander of Russia’s invasion forces of carrying out a “doctrine of terrorists” by heavily bombarding civilians and critical infrastructure.

Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told Reuters news agency that the Russian army under General Sergey Surovikin appeared to have become more disciplined since his appointment in October.

Russia launched waves of attacks on nationwide infrastructure that began on October 10 in what it described as retaliation for an attack on Russia’s bridge to the annexed Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, which it blamed on Kyiv.

Asked if Moscow’s tactics had changed under Surovikin, Reznikov noted, “Yes, he changed it because he’s using terrorism tactics against civilians and infrastructure objects using cruise missiles, rocket missiles and drones, special Iranian drones.”

“They don’t send to Ukraine one or two rockets as before. They use 40 in a day and then wait – and then again and again,” he added.

US announces $400mn more in security aid for Ukraine, including air defense

The Joe Biden administration authorized an additional $400 million in security aid for Ukraine on Thursday.

The new package includes missiles for HAWK and Avenger air defense systems, more ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), grenade launchers, mortar and artillery rounds, and other battlefield supplies.

The package marks the 25th time the US has sent security assistance to Ukraine using presidential drawdown authority. The Defense Department pulls the weapons and equipment from US inventories to send abroad, instead of purchasing new weapons from manufacturers.

“This equipment will complement other air defense contributions announced by our allies and partners,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House.

“This increased air defense will be critical for Ukraine, as Russia continues to use cruise missiles and Iranian-made drones to attack critical civilian infrastructure,” he added.

The new aid comes as Ukraine claims big wins in its southern counteroffensive. But Kyiv remains concerned that retreating Russian soldiers could turn the regional capital of Kherson into a “city of death” on their way out.

Germany pledges more modern air defense systems for Ukraine

Germany on Thursday pledged to send additional military support to Ukraine, including three crucial IRIS-T SLM air defense systems and IRIS-T missile, according to a statement published by the German government.

Kyiv appealed for more German IRIS-T SLM units in late October following days of heavy attacks by Russian missiles. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the high-tech IRIS-T SLM as “one of the most modern air defense systems in the world” during a visit to Ukraine in late October.

Germany has already delivered one IRIS-T SLM air-to-air missile system to Ukraine.

Berlin also said it would supply Kyiv with 42 mine-clearing tanks; four mobile and protected mine-clearing systems; four mobile, remote-controlled and protected mine-clearing systems; and five mobile reconnaissance systems on vehicles, according to the German government’s statement.

The German government did not provide dates of delivery until after handing over the armaments and supplies, the statement added.

Germany also announced it had over the past week delivered to Kyiv an unspecified number of IRIS-T SLM missiles, 30 armored infantry mobility vehicles (DINGO), four additional anti-drone sensors and jammers, five tank transporter tractor M1070 Oshkosh units, and one additional lift truck.

Zelensky and UK PM agree to “exercise caution” until Ukrainian flag is raised over Kherson

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have agreed it was correct “to continue to exercise caution until the Ukrainian flag was raised” over the city of Kherson, according to a Downing Street spokesperson.

The two leaders spoke over the phone Thursday morning, according to Downing Street.

“The leaders agreed that any Russian withdrawal from the occupied city of Kherson would demonstrate strong progress for the Ukrainian forces and reinforce the weakness of Russia’s military offensive, but it was right to continue to exercise caution until the Ukrainian flag was raised over the city,” the Downing Street spokesperson stated.

According to a readout, Sunak confirmed that the UK would continue to provide military aid to Ukraine, including “another 1,000 surface-to-air missiles and more than 25,000 extreme cold winter kits for troops.”

The leaders also agreed that Russia must be “prevented from blocking vital supplies of Ukrainian grain and fertilizer reaching global markets.”

Zelensky said in a tweet after the call that the pair had discussed “the multifaceted defense support for Ukraine and assistance in enduring the winter period.”

Zaporizhzhia plant protection zone is ‘very complicated’: IAEA chief

Attempts to persuade Russia and Ukraine to install a protection area around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant are “very complicated”, the UN’s nuclear watchdog chief told AFP.

On the sidelines of the COP27 climate conference in Egypt, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said, “It’s taking awfully long, [and] I am the first to be impatient, but I cannot afford to lose patience.”

Europe’s largest nuclear plant, located in Ukraine, but in territory Russia claims to have annexed, is constantly shelled and only has enough power to prevent a meltdown of its six shut reactors.

“It’s a very complicated negotiation … because [it is] between two countries at war, and where there are actually no negotiations between them,” added Grossi, who has been in touch with the presidents of both Russia and Ukraine.

“I am trying to bring these two countries to accept the concept of protecting this nuclear power plant,” he continued.

EU will not recognise Russian passports from annexed regions

The European Union says it will not recognise Russian passports issued in regions of Ukraine “annexed” by Moscow.

The move, which also covers two Kremlin-controlled areas of Georgia, means Russian travel documents given to residents of those regions cannot be used to get visas or to enter the Schengen zone.

“This decision is a response to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified military aggression against Ukraine and Russia’s practice of issuing Russian international passports to residents of the occupied regions,” the European Council announced in a statement.

The move is yet to be formally signed by the European Parliament and EU member states.

Ukraine defence chief plays down Russian nuclear attack threat

Ukraine’s defence minister has said he did not believe Russia would use nuclear weapons in Ukraine as it would be neither pragmatic nor practical, but that in Russia’s case, all risks needed to be calculated.

“I don’t think they will use it. But again, when you have a monkey with a grenade for a neighbour you have to estimate all kinds of risks. But I think this is not a pragmatic and practical step for them,” Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told Reuters.

In an interview in Kyiv, he stated he hoped India and China, countries Moscow wants to do business with, had indicated to Putin clearly that using nuclear weapons would be a “red line”.

“What is the technical condition of their nuclear weaponry? Do you know? No. Me? No. They also don’t know. Because the last test they carried out in the 1990s in Kazakhstan, more than 30 years ago,” he continued.

Russian troops damage Kherson TV centre, infrastructure: Reports

Russian troops retreating from Kherson have blown up part of a television broadcasting centre and damaged heating and power infrastructure, according to reports from the region.

“Today, during the day, Russian troops blew up the broadcasting centre of Kherson television,” said the website IMI, one of two outlets reporting the development, quoting residents. “According to our contacts the [television] tower remained intact.”

The report added the troops also blew up mobile telephone infrastructure and “left the city without power”.

The Kherson region’s Ukrainian governor, Yaroslav Yanushevych, writing on Telegram, said Russian troops had “taken away public equipment, damaged power lines and wanted to leave a trap behind them”.

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