Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 276

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:

Belgium PM makes first visit to Ukraine

Alexander De Croo visited Kyiv for the first time as Belgium’s prime minister, as Volodymyr Zelensky hosts a summit on food security.

De Croo shared his support of Zelensky’s initiative of “Grain from Ukraine”.

He wrote on Twitter that Belgium supports “Ukraine to take Ukrainian grain to world markets, especially to countries with severe food insecurity”.

Europe is involved in processes of neo-Nazism revival: Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Europe is part of the processes of the neo-Nazism revival across the world, and that has been displayed by the crisis around Ukraine.

He made the statement in an interview that he gave for a film titled Nazism Under Investigation, which was published on the Foreign Ministry’s website on Saturday.

“I assume that Europe is part of the processes of neo-Nazism revival. It’s hard to make other conclusions,” he stated.

“French President Emmanuel Macron recently asked why Ukraine should live according to the model that Russia ‘imposes’? A telling statement. In the years that followed the coup, he did not ask why Russians in Ukraine should live according to the model that’s imposed by neo-Nazis – an obvious double standard. Without shame, this is uttered by the mouth of a man who at this stage seeks to be the top politician in Europe. Amazing!” the minister added.

According to Lavrov, Europe is “playing” together with the United States. He also said that the EU has almost no independence left as Washington has taken over Brussels.

“There are almost no independent voices left in the European Union. French President Macron occasionally, but increasingly less frequently, tries to bring up EU’s ‘strategic autonomy.’ No one will allow them to create any kind of autonomy, much less a strategic one,” the minister continued.

Lavrov said that European leaders also “encourage” the Ukrainian authorities display neo-Nazi manifestations. For example, European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg regularly say that there is a struggle for European values in Ukraine, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “defends freedom and democracy.”

“In the same way, they supported the essentially neo-Nazi coup of 2014, which was aimed at canceling everything Russian on Ukrainian territory. Subsequently, this was enshrined in numerous laws prohibiting Russian education, news media and culture. Today, they support the slogans under which Zelensky carries out his campaign and rule,” Lavrov noted.

Germany warns ‘hunger must never again be used as a weapon’

German chancellor Olaf Scholz has marked the 90th anniversary of the Holodomor famine – which killed more than three million people during the rule of Soviet leader Josef Stalin – by drawing parallels with the impact of the war on Ukraine on world food markets.

Exports from Ukraine have resumed under a UN-brokered deal but have still been far short of pre-war levels, driving up global prices.

“Today, we stand united in stating that hunger must never again be used as a weapon,” Mr Scholz said in a video message.

“That is why we cannot tolerate what we are witnessing: The worst global food crisis in years with abhorrent consequences for millions of people – from Afghanistan to Madagascar, from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa,” he added.

A World Food Programme ship is in the process of delivering Ukrainian grain to Ethiopia, and Germany is adding another €10m to efforts to help expedite shipments from Ukraine, Scholz continued.

Ukraine raised around $150m to support the most vulnerable to famine countries

President Volodymyr Zelensky hosted a summit in Kyiv to promote its “Grain from Ukraine” initiative to export grain to countries most vulnerable to famine and drought, saying it is “not just empty words”.

The Kremlin has announced that Ukraine’s Black Sea exports during the war have not been reaching the most vulnerable countries.

Zelenskyy stated Kyiv had raised around $150m from more than 20 countries and the European Union to export grain to countries including Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

“We plan to send at least 60 vessels from Ukrainian ports to countries that most face the threat of famine and drought,” Zelenskiy told the gathering.

The summit was attended in-person by the prime ministers of Belgium, Poland and Lithuania and the president of Hungary.

Zelensky’s wife claims Ukrainians ready To suffer

Ukrainians are ready to withstand heating and power outages for years if the country is eventually allowed to join the EU, First Lady Elena Zelenskaya has claimed.

Speaking to the BBC after weeks of Russian strikes on Ukraine’s energy facilities, Zelenskaya stated that Ukrainians were “ready to endure” a punishing winter if the country’s bid for EU membership was successful.

President Vladimir Zelensky’s wife cited a recent poll which reportedly found that 90% of Ukrainians would put up with power and heating shortages for two or three years if the country could become a member of the European bloc afterwards.

Nine Russian POW released in exchange

Nine Russian prisoners of war were released as part of a prisoner exchange with Ukraine, the Russian news agency TASS reported, citing Moscow’s defence ministry.

“On November 26, as a result of the negotiation process, nine Russian servicemen who were in mortal danger in captivity were returned from the territory controlled by the Kyiv regime,” the ministry announced in a statement.

Over 6 million customers still without power in Ukraine

More than 6 million customers are still without power in Ukraine, though that is half the number initially cut off by Russian air strikes Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday.

“As of this evening, blackouts continue in most regions and in Kyiv city,” he continued, adding, “On Wednesday evening, almost 12 million consumers were cut off.”

The capital, as well as the regions of Kyiv, Odesa, Lviv, Vinnytsia and Dnipro face the greatest problems with power supply as of Friday, according to Zelensky.

About 600,000 consumers in Kyiv alone are still cut off, he noted. Many residents of the capital have been without electricity for more than 20 or even 30 hours.

Residents start evacuating Kherson as officials warn of harsh winter and Russian shelling

Voluntary evacuations for residents from the recently liberated port city of Kherson are underway, with the first train carrying away 100 people, the Ukrainian government said.

The train is bound for the western city of Khmelnytskyi, according to the country’s Ministry of Reintegration of Ukraine. Among residents who “took advantage of the free evacuation” are 26 children, seven bedridden hospital patients and six people with limited mobility, it announced in a statement.

Authorities in Kherson are urging residents to leave the city, which is still mainly without power, before temperatures plunge further. Kherson has also come under renewed shelling since Russian troops were forced to leave the west bank of the Dnipro River.

Evacuees will receive financial support, accommodations and humanitarian aid once they reach Khmelnytskyi, according to city officials.

Authorities say there are also buses running from the Kherson region to the cities of Odesa, Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih, where people will be “accommodated in specially equipped shelters and then evacuated to safer regions of Ukraine by car.”

Ukraine on the agenda when Macron visits White House next week

French President Emmanuel Macron will discuss a range of political issues with US President Joe Biden next week including the war in Ukraine, trade issues and climate change, according to a French government official.

Beginning Wednesday the White House will host Macron and his wife, Brigitte Macron, for the first full-scale state visit of Biden’s administration.

The visit will be a multi-day affair with formal ceremonies, meetings and a black-tie dinner on Thursday.

Macron is the first French president to be offered two state visits, a gesture that “underscores the alliance between the two countries,” according to the official.

“It will be a different visit to the one with Trump as the dynamic won’t be the same,” the official said.

Macron, now in his second term, has emerged as the leading voice to advocate for the European Union. He is expected to raise concerns over Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, a US climate and tax law seen as a major threat to European companies.

“We cannot risk a shock on European industry,” the official added.

Macron is also expected to tackle energy issues, and he will emphasize that the sanctions on Russia aren’t having the same consequences on Europe and the US.

“The US is self-sufficient, but the EU does not produce gas or petrol, so we are very impacted by energy prices, and once again it’s another problem for European industry,” he stated.

The relationship between the leaders hasn’t always been smooth sailing.

A failed deal for France to produce nuclear-powered submarines for Australia caused a major international rift, with the French ambassador to Washington, Philippe Etienne, being recalled for what was believed to be the first time in the nearly 250-year-old history of the alliance

Speaking to CNN’s Melissa Bell on Thursday, the ambassador noted trust had since been “restored.”

US defence chief lauds German support for Ukraine

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has discussed support for Ukraine and efforts to “enhance security along NATO’s Eastern Flank” with his German counterpart, Christine Lambrecht, the Pentagon says.

“Secretary Austin praised Germany’s leadership in providing security assistance to Ukraine, which is having a major positive impact on Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against Russian aggression,” the Pentagon announced in a statement.

“The two leaders agreed to continue to closely coordinate their efforts in assisting Ukraine and strengthening NATO deterrence,” it added.

Kyiv hospital almost forced to evacuate some patients after loss of water supply

One of Ukraine’s largest state hospitals was on the verge of evacuating some patients Wednesday after it lost water supply due to a Russian missile barrage, a local official told CNN.

The Kyiv Regional Clinical Hospital was about to move patients undergoing dialysis treatment, which requires an uninterrupted water supply, the deputy head of the region’s military administration said in a phone interview.

“Unfortunately, when the power goes off in Kyiv, the central water supply also often fails,” the official, Vitaliy Vlasiuk, explained, adding, “A lack of water supply is critical.”

“Without water, it is difficult to run the hospital. First of all, sterilization rooms suffer and (dialysis) is impossible to conduct,” he said., adding, “On Wednesday, the Kyiv Regional Clinical Hospital was on the edge of evacuating patients who require (dialysis) to other facilities, but in the afternoon the water supply was restored and everyone received the procedures vital for them.”

Ukraine was hit by a barrage of Russian missiles Wednesday afternoon, which damaged critical infrastructure and resulted in a temporary loss of power to the national grid.

Hospitals have generators that kick in when the power is cut, but these have limited capacity, Vlasiuk said. Medical chiefs try to conserve power by using them only for essential activities.

How Ukraine’s hospitals survive outages: Power from generators allows surgeons to continue operations during a blackout, but non-urgent surgery does not take place, according to Vlasiuk.

Hospital staff may wear headlamps so that the generator can last longer, he continued.

But he insisted that wards would be “fully lit” – despite photos that have shown doctors in the capital and other regions wearing the lights.

Orest Chemerys, the head of Lviv’s regional health department, said that critical equipment like incubators and the intensive care wards were switched to generator power within seconds of a blackout. Almost all the region’s health care facilities temporarily survived on generators after Wednesday’s airstrikes.

“We are prepared for a situation in which there might be no power for 7 to 10 days,” Chemerys said. Each hospital in the Lviv region has a generator and the authorities have agreements with local gas stations to supply the fuel, he added.

Ukraine’s minister of health, Viktor Liashko, told national TV on Friday that each hospital with an ICU and operating room had a generator and the government was bringing in additional generators to further increase capacity.

‘We have to endure this winter’: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Ukraine will have to “endure” the freezing winter amid power shortages sparked by Russian bombardment.

“We have to endure this winter – a winter that everyone will remember. We have to do everything so that we remember it not because of what it threatened us with, but because of what we managed to do to protect ourselves from this threat,” the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry quoted the president as saying.

EU delays talks on Russian oil price cap until next week: Report

meeting of European Union government representatives, scheduled for Friday evening to discuss a Group of Seven proposal to cap Russian seaborne oil prices, has been cancelled, the Reuters news agency has reported, citing EU diplomats.

“There was not enough of a convergence of views,” one diplomat noted.

“There won’t be a meeting tonight nor this weekend,” a second diplomat stated.

Germany and France sign joint declaration on energy solidarity

Germany and France have signed a joint declaration to strengthen energy solidarity, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne announced Friday at a press conference in Berlin.

“Friends stand by each other in times of need,” Scholz told reporters during Borne’s inaugural visit to the German capital.

“Germany and France exemplify common European solidarity,” he added.

“It is an important text that will have concrete effects and protect citizens in both countries,” Borne said, noting, “Our two countries need each other to get through the energy crisis next winter.”

Relations between the two countries have been strained in recent months due to differing positions on key issues, such as energy, defense and industrial policies. Borne’s trip to Berlin on Friday is seen as an attempt to rekindle relations.

Scholz stated Germany and France support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion and called on Russia to stop bombing Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.

Europe appears to be moving toward breaking its energy dependence on Moscow, with Russian exports of coal, oil and natural gas falling sharply since the invasion of Ukraine. But European imports of a key type of Russian natural gas have risen and remain critical to meeting energy needs.

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