Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 271

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: We need ‘guaranteed protection’ against sabotage at Zaporizhzhia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urges NATO members to guarantee the protection of Ukraine’s nuclear plants from Russian sabotage.

“All our nations are interested in not having any dangerous incidents at our nuclear facilities,” Zelensky said in a video address to NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly in Madrid.

“We all need guaranteed protection from Russian sabotage at nuclear facilities,” he added.

Russia will do “everything possible” to find those responsible for alleged soldier execution

Russia will do “everything possible” to search for those responsible for allegedly executing a number of Russian soldiers, adding that they must be “punished,” Kremlin spokesperson Dimitri Peskov told journalists Monday.

Peskov said Russia will use the full extent of “the framework of international mechanisms to draw attention to this crime and call to law and order those who may be involved in it.”

“Of course, Russia will search for those who committed this crime. They must be found and punished,” he added.

The precise details of what happened remain unclear.

The video was filmed on the outskirts of the village of Makiivka, which lies in the eastern Luhansk region, about 25 miles (roughly 40 kilometers) northeast of the city of Lyman.

On Saturday, Russia accused Ukraine of war crimes after a video emerged on social media which Moscow says shows Russian soldiers killed after surrendering to Ukrainian forces.

The Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, Dmytro Lubinets, commented on the incident on Sunday, claiming the Russians staged a surrender and opened fire first, adding that “returning fire is not a war crime.”

Any negotiations must consider Ukraine’s battlefield strength: NATO

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says any negotiations to end the war in Ukraine must consider the country’s strength on the battlefield.

For this reason, he stated, NATO allies should provide Ukraine with more military support.

“We need to realise that this war most likely will end at some stage at the negotiating table. But we also know that the outcome of those negotiations are totally dependent on the strength on the battlefield,” Stoltenberg told NATO’s Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Madrid.

He added that to ensure the best outcome for Ukraine as “a sovereign, independent, democratic nation in Europe” is to continue military support.

Western countries must be careful over forming dependencies on China: NATO

Western countries must be careful not to create new dependencies on China as they are weaning off from Russian energy supplies amid Moscow’s war on Kyiv, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warns.

“We see growing Chinese efforts to control our critical infrastructure, supply chains and key industrial sectors,” he said on a visit to Spain.

“We cannot give authoritarian regimes any chance to exploit our vulnerabilities and undermine us,” he added.

Ukraine identifies four places in Kherson used for ‘torture’

Ukraine announced it has identified four places in the city of Kherson that Russian forces used to torture detainees before Moscow withdrew its troops from the city earlier this month.

The Office of the General Prosecutor said in a statement that officials had found and inspected “four premises” where Russian troops “illegally detained people and brutally tortured them”.

Head of Rosatom speaks to IAEA, warns of nuclear accident

The head of Russia’s state-run nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, says it has discussed Sunday’s shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

The head also warned of a risk of a nuclear accident at the plant, the TASS news agency added.

Italy to approve new law on supplies to Ukraine

Italy will approve a new law on military and civilian supplies to Ukraine throughout 2023, Defence Minister Guido Crosetto told Il Foglio newspaper.

The law will allow Rome’s government to send aid to Ukraine without seeking parliamentary authorisation each time based on a decree that expires at the end of the year.

“The Defence [Ministry] will shortly propose to renew that same measure, extending it to all of 2023,” Crosetto said.

As it has done in the past, Italy will continue supplying arms, “in the times and ways that we will agree with our Atlantic allies and with Kyiv”, Crosetto added.

Russia blames Ukraine for Zaporizhzhia shelling, calls on world to influence Kyiv

The Kremlin says it is concerned by the repeated Ukrainian shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and called on global powers to ensure that Kyiv stops attacking.

“This cannot but cause our concern,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“We call on all countries of the world to use their influence so that the Ukrainian armed forces stop doing this,” he added.

But Ukraine has accused Russia of shelling the plant.

The attacks have drawn condemnation from the UN nuclear watchdog, which fears the risk of a major disaster.

Russia not considering second round of mobilisation: Kremlin

The Kremlin says it is not discussing calling up more Russian soldiers to fight in Ukraine with a second round of mobilisation.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated, “I can’t speak for the defence ministry, but there are no discussions in the Kremlin about this.”

President Vladimir Putin ended the first mobilisation drive at the end of October, but has not revoked an official decree which provides the legal basis for the draft – a decision that has caused concern among some who say the Kremlin is keeping its options open for a future round.

The first order prompted thousands of Russian men to flee the country to avoid being conscripted and sparked the largest anti-Kremlin protests across the country since Moscow sent in its troops in February.

Moscow says change of government in Kyiv not one of its aims

A change of the Ukrainian government is not one of the goals of Russia’s “special operation,” according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

“Russia is striving to achieve its goals in the special military operation, and these goals can be achieved in different ways,” Peskov told journalists Monday.

CNN asked Peskov about comments made by Russian Senator Konstantin Kosachev, who stated that a normalization of relations with Ukraine could only happen if there was “regime change.”

When pressed if a change of power in Ukraine was one of the goals of the special operation, Peskov noted: “No.”

Austria says its dependence on Russian gas supplies is shrinking

Austria has successfully reduced its dependence on gas deliveries from Russia, the country’s climate action minister tweeted on Monday.

Russia’s share of total gas deliveries to Austria fell from 79% in February to 21% in September, said Leonore Gewessler.

“I would like to thank everyone who has helped – the energy suppliers who have been working to find new supply countries and all the people who have been able to save energy at home,” she continued.

“One thing is clear: we have not yet reached the end of the road. We will only be truly free when we can completely do without Russian #gas. We are working on this every day at full speed,” she added.

The Austrian Ministry for Climate Action tweeted a graph showing that imports from other sources had increased accordingly. Norway is now a major alternative gas supplier, it said.

“Alternative routes: While only about a third of the volumes previously supplied arrive in #Austria via the Ukraine route from Russia, #gas imports from Germany are currently at a record level,” the ministry tweeted.

Austrian gas reserves are now filled at 95.53% capacity, it added.

Many European economies have been working to reduce their reliance on Russian fuel imports since Moscow invaded Ukraine.

US will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes”: Defense secretary

Washington is committed to supporting Kyiv “for as long as it takes,” said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday.

Austin, answering a question on Ukraine from the media during a joint press conference in Jakarta with his Indonesian counterpart, stated it is “hard to predict how things will evolve and on what timeline, but we’re in this in support of Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

The focus of the US is to support Ukraine, while Ukraine’s focus is to “make sure they’re doing everything to take back every inch of their sovereign territory,” he added.

Austin also noted he believes Ukraine will be prepared to fight during the winter months, and will be in “much better condition than their adversaries” because of the support the US has provided.

Austin is in Indonesia to meet with senior military leaders. In the press conference, Austin said the US is a “proud partner” with Indonesia as the two countries “work together to advance our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Russia has used over 4,700 missiles to strike Ukraine since start of war: Zelensky

Russia has already used more than 4,700 missiles in Ukraine since the beginning of war, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated.

“Today is the 270th day of the full-scale war. Russia used more than 4,700 missiles,” he said in an address to members of the International Organization of La Francophonie.

“Hundreds of our cities are simply burned. Thousands of people died. Hundreds of thousands were forcibly deported to Russia. Millions left Ukraine for other countries, fleeing the war,” he added.

Zelensky also spoke about what he called “the Ukrainian peace formula.”

“The Ukrainian peace formula is very clear, and each of its points has been thoroughly worked out,” he said.

“Radiation and nuclear safety. Food security. Energy security. Release of all prisoners and deportees. Implementation of the UN Charter and restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the world order. Withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities. Restoring justice. Countering ecocide. Prevention of escalation. Fixing the end of the war,” the president added.

Zelensky invited world leaders “to choose the element of the peace formula they can help Ukraine implement.”

5 million people have lost jobs due to Russia’s invasion: Ukraine official

About 5 million people have lost their jobs in Ukraine due to Russia’s invasion, according to Ukraine’s deputy economy minister.

According to the Kyiv Independent, Tetyana Berezhna said “fighting continues in the regions where 10 million people were once employed”. She said the war, which led seven million people to flee, had “significantly” affected the unemployment rate.

“The war is destroying the Ukrainian labour market,” she added.

Over 84,000 Russian soldiers killed since February: Ukraine

Ukraine’s defence ministry has reported that 330 more Russian soldiers were “eliminated” in the last 24 hours.

In its daily update on “enemy combat” losses, the ministry reported that the total number of Russian servicemen killed during the invasion now stands at 84,210.

The update, which was not independently verified, also announced that Ukraine took out nearly 3,000 Russian tanks since February.

IAEA chief slams ‘targeted’ strikes at Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

UN atomic watchdog chief Rafael Grossi has denounced the “targeted” strikes at Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, calling for a “stop to this madness”.

Around a dozen strikes had targeted the plant, he said, and the situation was “very serious”, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told French broadcaster BFM TV.

It was an outrage that some people “consider a nuclear power plant to be a legitimate military target”, he added.

While he did not blame either Russia or Ukraine, Grossi said: “Whoever it is, stop this madness!”

“The people who are doing this know where they are hitting. It is absolutely deliberate, targeted,” the chief continued.

Earlier Sunday, Kyiv and Moscow blamed each other for shelling the site of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine.

The IAEA is to send a team of experts to the plant – the biggest nuclear facility in Europe – after the “powerful explosions” there on Saturday and Sunday.

“The plant is on the front line, there are military activities that are very difficult to identify, there are Russian troops and Ukrainian troops in operation,” Grossi stated.

“There has been damage in some rather delicate places,” he added, though the nuclear reactors themselves have not been affected but “rather the area where the fresh and spent fuel is located”.

“We expect to be able to take stock of the situation very early tomorrow morning,” he added.

But the inspectors had not been able to leave for the site on Sunday, as the situation was too dangerous, he said.

Russia, which launched an offensive on Ukraine in February, has been occupying the territory around the power station. Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed its annexation, along with four Ukrainian regions.

Moscow and Kyiv have blamed each other for the repeating shelling of the site.

Human rights commissioner denies Ukrainians killed Russian POWs

The Ukrainian parliament’s commissioner for human rights has denied Kyiv’s forces had killed Russian prisoners of war.

Videos circulated on Russian social media this week purporting to show the bodies of Russian servicemen killed after surrendering to Ukrainian troops.

Ukrainian ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets argued that Ukraine’s soldiers were defending themselves against Russians who feigned surrender.

He said “excerpts” of a video showed that Russians “using a staged capture … committed a war crime by opening fire on the Ukrainian Armed Forces”.

This means the soldiers “cannot be considered prisoners of war”, he argued.

The Russian defence ministry announced on Friday that the videos showed the “deliberate and methodical murder of more than 10 restrained Russian soldiers”.

It called for an investigation into “war crimes”.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova condemned “the merciless shooting of unarmed Russian” prisoners and demanded that “international organisations condemn and thoroughly investigate this shocking crime”.

A UN spokesperson told AFP on Friday it was “aware of the videos” and “looking into them”.

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