Friday, February 3, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 279

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:

Make weapons so Ukraine wins war: FM tells NATO members

In an interview with Politico, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said NATO countries must boost the production of weapons to support Kyiv, or risk Russia winning the war.

His comments came ahead of a two-day NATO meeting in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, starting Tuesday, where members will discuss ways to help Ukraine through the cold winter.

“While we are fighting the battles of today, we have to think how we will be fighting the battles of tomorrow,” Kuleba stated.

If more weapons are not produced, he warned, “we won’t be able to win – as simple as that”.

On the military side, NATO keeps pushing weapons manufacturers to accelerate production but a diplomat has cautioned there are increasing problems with supply capacity, according to Reuters.

“We are doing the maximum we can on deliveries, but there is a real problem. The Ukrainians know it. Even the US weapons industry despite its strength is having issues,” the diplomat told the news agency.


Kremlin claims “political will” is required to resume talks with Kyiv

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that “political will” is required to resume negotiations with Kyiv, but that in the current climate, negotiations with Ukraine are “impossible because the Ukrainian side denies them.”

Asked what is required to resume them, he stated, “it has to be political will and readiness to discuss those demands of Russia that are well known [in Kyiv].”

Moscow has been consistently accusing Kyiv of withdrawing from negotiations. When asked Monday about the possibility the Vatican could mediate in Russia-Ukraine negotiations — which the Vatican has repeatedly offered — Peskov noted they welcomed such initiatives, but added that platforms for negotiations are “not currently in demand” from the Ukrainian side.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree in early October formally ruling out the possibility of negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in response to Russia’s annexation of four Ukrainian regions, which is illegal under international law.

But speaking to CNN in mid-November, Zelensky said he did not rule out peace negotiations with the Russian president in Moscow. Zelensky had previously offered numerous times to sit down to talk with Putin and Russian officials during the beginning of the war.


NATO: Ukraine can one day join alliance

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has reaffirmed the alliance’s commitment to Ukraine, saying they will one day become a NATO member.

Stoltenberg’s remarks came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his NATO counterparts gathered in Romania to discuss increased support for Ukraine as Moscow continues to bombard energy infrastructure.

“NATO’s door is open,” Stoltenberg stated.

“Russia does not have a veto” on countries joining, he said about the recent entry of North Macedonia and Montenegro into the security alliance. He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin “will get Finland and Sweden as NATO members” soon.

The Nordic neighbours applied for membership in April, concerned that Russia might target them next.

“We stand by that, too, on membership for Ukraine,” the former Norwegian prime minister noted.

NATO allies will ramp up aid for Ukraine as Russia uses winter as a weapon of war, he continued.

“We have delivered generators and spare parts, and the allies are helping to rebuild destroyed infrastructure,” he told reporters ahead of a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Bucharest.

He stressed that the gathering would serve as a platform to ramp up Western aid to rebuild Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.


Russia condemns Pope’s criticism of ‘special military operation’

Russia’s envoy has expressed Moscow’s strong dissatisfaction with the Vatican following Pope Francis’ latest condemnation of the “cruelty” of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Francis had told the Jesuit magazine America in an interview: “When I speak about Ukraine, I speak about the cruelty because I have much information about the cruelty of the troops that come in. Generally, the cruellest are perhaps those who are of Russia but are not of the Russian tradition, such as the Chechens, the Buryati and so on. Certainly, the one who invades is the Russian state. This is very clear.”


Russia is trying to ‘freeze the Ukrainians in submission’: UK FM

Russia is targeting energy infrastructure to “freeze” Ukrainians in submission, UK Foreign Minister James Cleverly said just before a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Romania.

“We have seen Vladimir Putin attempting to weaponise energy supplies right from the very start of this conflict,” he told reporters.

“This targeting of civilian infrastructure, of energy infrastructure is obviously designed to try and freeze the Ukrainians in submission,” he added.


Italy to vote on sending Ukraine more weapons

Italy’s ruling parties are preparing to vote on allowing the government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine throughout 2023, according to a draft amendment and a parliamentary motion seen by Reuters news agency.

The proposal, still subject to approval, is under discussion at the upper-house Senate and would amend a decree passed earlier this month by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s government.

It would extend the authorisation to send “military assets, materials and equipment” until December 31, 2023.

“It is worth supporting Ukraine because negotiations can only emerge from a balance of power on the field,” Meloni stated in an interview with the daily Corriere della Sera.

The issue of weapons shipments is also being debated in the lower house, with part of the left-wing opposition lobbying the government to shift focus from sending arms to stepping up diplomatic negotiations.

However, the right-wing majority at the chamber is set to present a motion along the same lines as the upper-house amendment, urging the government to extend arms shipment until the end of 2023.

The draft motion, seen by Reuters, asks Meloni’s administration “to take all necessary steps to achieve the (NATO) target of 2 percent of GDP in defence spending by 2028,” laid down last March by the previous government of Mario Draghi.


China to form closer ties with Russia over energy security: Xi

China is looking to form a closer partnership with Russia on energy issues to ensure global energy security, President Xi Jinping said.

State broadcaster CCTV reported Xi’s comments in a message to the Fourth China-Russia energy forum.

“China is willing to work with Russia to forge a closer energy partnership, promote clean and green energy development and jointly maintain international energy security and the stability of industry supply chains,” it reported.

The meeting of businesses from the two trade partners comes amid preparations for a G7 price cap to be imposed from December 5 on Russian oil to curb Moscow’s ability to fund its invasion of Ukraine.


NATO will continue “critical” and unprecedented support of Ukraine: Alliance chief

NATO’s “critical” and unprecedented support in Ukraine remains ongoing, the head of the alliance stated Tuesday.

“Our relationship is a very close partnership — it is a relationship, where NATO allies have proven their willingness to support Ukraine in an unprecedented way,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

“When the invasion happened, NATO was not taken by surprise. Actually, we have been preparing, we have been ready to face situations like this since we started the big adaptation of NATO in 2014,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Bucharest, Romania.

Stoltenberg reiterated that the war began in 2014, referring to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, with Canadian troops, British troops, and US troops from NATO helping to train Ukrainian forces that year.

“The war didn’t start in February this year, the war started in the spring of 2014. And since then, NATO has implemented the biggest reinforcement, the biggest adaptation of our alliance since the end of the Cold War, with more presence in the eastern part of our alliance,” he added.

“So the reality was that when the invasion happened in February this year — compared to 2014 — the Ukrainian troops and armed forces were much better trained, much bigger, much better equipped, and much better led,” Stoltenberg said, adding, “That’s one of the main reasons why they were able to fight back.”

Of course, the gains and the victories the Ukrainians have made, that belongs to the bravery, to the courage of Ukrainian troops and armed forces,” Stoltenberg added, saying, “But it has been critical that they have received support from partners in NATO, and we will continue to do so.”

“The main focus now is on supporting Ukraine, ensuring that President Vladimir Putin doesn’t win, but that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe,” the chief continued.

“It is a mixture of partly more presence in the east, we have already doubled the number of groups, but also working on how to scale those battle groups up from battalions to brigade size levels quickly,” he stated, adding, “So the combination of more presence, earmarked troops, higher readiness, prepositioned equipment, all of that will strengthen our ability to react and act.”

“The purpose of all this, is every day, 24/7, to deliver credible deterrence and defense. And by doing that, we are not provoking conflict, but we are preserving peace, preventing a conflict,” he continued.

Stoltenberg noted that the alliance is working to build on the agreement made at the NATO summit in Madrid earlier this year.


Ukraine investigates suspected Russian torture sites in liberated Kherson

Ukrainian authorities have launched an investigation into a series of suspected torture sites in the liberated city of Kherson after local civilians told of being arbitrarily confined, beaten, given electric shocks, interrogated and threatened with death by Russian forces.

Kyiv forces entered Kherson on 11 November after the Russian army had withdrawn from the city which they captured in the early stage of the conflict, shortly after Russian troops had entered Ukraine in February 2022.

More than two weeks after the Russians retreated, investigators say five torture rooms have been uncovered in the once-bustling port city and at least four more in the wider Kherson region. Though human rights experts have indicated these early allegations are likely just the tip of the iceberg.


Russia ‘has lost nearly 160 generals and colonels among 1,500 officers’ in war

Russian President Vladimir Putin has lost more than 1,500 military officers – including nearly 160 generals and colonels – after Moscow invaded Ukraine in February this year, an open-source tally stated, matching the findings of other independent investigations.

According to one such tally, compiled by a Twitter account with the handle KilledInUkraine, which frequently includes links to Russian articles and social media posts corroborating the Russian casualties added to its public list, Moscow has now lost more than 1,500 officers.

The list of alleged Russian losses, cited by Ukrainian colonel Anatoly ‘Stirlitz’ Stefan, includes more than 150 colonels and lieutenant colonels, 205 majors, 296 captains and nearly 500 senior lieutenants – in descending order of rank.

The United States’ top general Mark Milley had suggested earlier this month, as the Russians retreated from Kherson, that Moscow and Kyiv’s forces had each sustained upwards of 100,000 casualties since the war began.

But Moscow has remained tight-lipped on the scale of military losses in Ukraine, with the most recent official figure of 5,397 – given in September by defence minister Sergei Shoigu – sitting significantly lower than Western estimates.


More than 17,000 civilian casualties in Ukraine war: UN

The Russian war against Ukraine has killed at least 6,655 civilians and injured 10,368, the UN says in its latest update.

The deaths include 2,601 men, 1,783 women, 173 girls, and 209 boys, as well as 37 children and 1,852 adults whose sex is as yet unknown, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced.

There have been 7,350 casualties – 3,502 and 3,848 injured – in the area controlled by the Ukrainian government, the UN officials said, citing the latest figures.

The Donetsk and Luhansk regions alone have recorded 9,352 civilian casualties – 3,962 killed and 5,390 injured, it added.

“Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects, including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles and air strikes,” it noted.

The actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration, the OHCHR said.

These include Mariupol (Donetsk region), Izium (Kharkiv region), Lysychansk, Popasna, and Sievierodonetsk (Luhansk region), where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties.


Ukraine’s first lady condemns ‘systematic’ sexual violence by Russian forces

Russian soldiers must be held accountable for raping Ukrainian women and committing other acts of sexual violence during Russia’s war in Ukraine, its first lady, Olena Zelenska, says at an international conference on preventing sexual violence in conflicts.

Zelenska told the London meeting that sexual violence was being perpetrated “systematically and openly” as the war in Ukraine drags on. Phone recordings have shown Russian soldiers openly discussing rape with their relatives at home, Zelenska stated.

“Sexual violence is the most cruel, most animalistic way to prove mastership over someone,” she continued, adding, “And for victims of this kind of violence, it is difficult to testify in wartimes because nobody feels safe.”

“This is another weapon in their arsenal in this war and conflict,” she said, adding, “That’s why they’re using this systematically and openly.”


Talks with EU on Russia oil price cap going well: White House

A White House spokesman says talks with the European Union about a Russian oil price cap are going well.

John Kirby told reporters that he did not see inordinate pressure to take more action on the cap.


More than half of damaged heating facilities in Ukraine have been restored

More than half of the damaged heating facilities in Ukraine have been restored, according to the YASNO energy company, which supplies electricity and natural gas.

The company’s CEO said “316 heat supply facilities have already been restored, which is 53.3% of the total number of affected facilities.”

“Despite the constant shelling, Ukraine has started the heating season – 99.7% of boiler houses have started functioning, 99.6% of residential buildings, 97.9% of kindergartens, 98.9% of schools and 99.9% of healthcare facilities have been provided with heating,” YASNO’s CEO, Sergey Kovalenko, stated.

“Special efforts are now being made to restore the operation of heat generating enterprises in the liberated territories of Kharkiv and Kherson regions, where the situation with access to communications remains difficult,” he added.


UN calls humanitarian situation in southern Ukraine “critical” as people struggle without power and heat

The United Nations says that the situation in the southern Ukrainian cities of Mykolaiv and Kherson remains “dire” and “critical.” Nearly a quarter of a million people in Mykolaiv alone face a lack of heat, water and power.

UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric stated that Humanitarian Coordinator Denise Brown visited the two southern cities over the weekend. Brown reported that people fleeing Kherson are going to Mykolaiv, according to Dujarric.

“Some heating points have already been established in Mykolaiv to help people who cannot heat their homes. Aid workers are providing supplies and generators to make these places functional,” Dujarric noted.

In Kherson, “We expect that, with support of the authorities, we will be able to cover the basic needs of people who have stayed in the city, if we are able to sustain the same level of aid sent over the past two weeks.”

“The situation with water, heating and electricity, however, remains dire, although the electricity supply is gradually being restored,” the spokesman added.

Donors have provided $3.1 billion in humanitarian aid through the UN this year, but Dujarric said continued funding is important to “maintain the moment or the response,” especially during winter months.

“We continue to be concerned about the plight of civilians in Ukraine especially as winter sets in. We are working to support people with services and supplies to make sure they can be protected and keep warm during these harsh months,” Dujarric continued.


Ukraine rejects Russian claims that eastern city of Bakhmut is surrounded, though intense fighting continues

Intense fighting continues around the city of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region, according to both Russian and Ukrainian accounts.

The city has become an important target for Russian forces, which have had no success in recent months in winning territory in eastern Ukraine and have been forced to withdraw from many areas. Social media video over recent days has illustrated the immense destruction in Bakhmut, where thousands of people still live, without power and piped water.

Denis Pushilin, the Russian-appointed leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, said on Monday that Russian forces were now close to encircling Bakhmut.

“The situation in Bakhmut remains difficult, but our units, in particular the Wagner group unit, are definitely moving forward,” Pushilin stated on Russian television.

Wagner is a private military contractor whose fighters have played a significant role in the fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk.

“There is also success in the vicinity of Bakhmut. The situation of the operational encirclement is quite close,” Pushilin claimed.

Ukrainians have acknowledged Russian offensives in the area but deny losing any ground.

The Ukrainian military’s General Staff announced Monday that “the enemy continues to focus its main efforts on conducting offensive operations,” listing about half-a-dozen settlements in the Bakhmut area.

Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the military in the east, noted on Ukrainian television Monday that “Bakhmut remains the epicenter of the main battle for Ukraine. The enemy acts most aggressively in this direction. He conducts attacks and fire strikes. On average, the enemy inflicts about 180-200 artillery strikes per day.”


Southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv loses water supply again after Russian strike

The city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine suffered another strike to its water supply, according to mayor Oleksandr Sienkievych.

Sienkievych said that a pumping station in neighboring Kherson had been damaged — and the city was now reliant on non-potable water “for an indefinite period of time.”

The strike is part of a Russian campaign to attack Ukrainian infrastructure providing water, power and heat as winter sets in.

“We were all waiting for the de-occupation of Kherson and other temporarily occupied territories. After that, the water supply system was repaired promptly, literally in a week,” Sienkievych continued.

He added repair work continued on networks that were destroyed by salt water.

“As soon as the security situation allows, we will promptly restore the pumping station and return drinking water to Mykolaiv city,” the mayor stated.


Kherson civilians continue to leave as Russian shelling strikes residential areas of city

Civilians continue to leave the recently liberated Ukrainian city of Kherson amid persistent shelling of residential areas by Russian forces stationed on the east bank of the Dnipro river.

Much of the city remains without power and water.

Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of the Kherson region military administration, said the Kherson district had been hit 30 times Sunday.

He added the town of Beryslav and surrounding settlements further upstream had also been shelled.

Yanushevych noted trains would take civilians to safer regions.

“Temporary accommodation will be provided in specially equipped schools and kindergartens, sometimes there are places in dormitories and empty houses in the countryside,” he continued.

The Kherson region military administration also confirmed that power supply had been restored to 17% of household consumers in Kherson.


Kyiv experiences more emergency power cuts

The Ukrainian capital of Kyiv is experiencing yet another spate of emergency power restrictions in addition to already scheduled blackouts.

“Emergency power cuts ongoing in Kyiv. This is a necessary step to balance the power system and avoid equipment failures,” power supplier DTEK said on Facebook, adding that it had been ordered to reduce consumption by 60% and that providing electricity to critical infrastructure — hospitals, pumping and heating stations — required 58% of the remaining electricity.

“We do our best to supply electricity to each customer for 2-3 hours twice a day,” DTEK said, adding, “As soon as we manage to balance the situation, we will return to scheduled outages.”

The sustained power outages come as Ukraine scrambles to find equipment to repair power infrastructure damaged and destroyed by Russian missile attacks.

Sub-zero temperatures and less daylight are compounding the hardship for people.


Ukraine’s electricity operator says it is running at a 27% deficit

Ukraine’s electricity operator Ukrenergo is running at a 27% deficit, the company said on Monday.

Ukrenergo announced in a statement on Telegram that it had implemented a series of “emergency shutdowns” across the country at “several power plants”.

Given deteriorating weather conditions, power usage is on the rise, it added, noting that it hoped the power deficit would reduce as “units return to operation.”

Seven waves of Russian missiles contributed to the recent outages, it claimed.

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