Monday, June 17, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 281: Russia says US and NATO are participants in Ukraine war

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:

Ukrainian FM calls for more EU sanctions

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met the EU foreign policy head Josep Borrell and called for more sanctions on Russia.

On Twitter, Kuleba wrote: “In Łódź, Josep Borrell and I agreed: total war against Ukraine means total support for Ukraine.”

“I thanked the EU for its continued defence assistance and stressed that next EU sanctions should include those hitting Russia’s missile production industry: it must be put to a halt,” he added.

Kyiv’s mayor tells residents to stock up on food and water

Kyiv’s mayor tells residents to stock up on water, food and warm clothes in case of a total blackout.

Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko warned that the temperature in homes could drop rapidly due to “a blackout and the destruction of infrastructure and a total absence of electricity, water supply, drainage and heat supply”.

“The temperature in the apartments may not differ much from the outside temperature,” he told a security forum in Kyiv, where temperatures are around -4 degrees Celsius (25 degrees Fahrenheit).

“I appeal to the people…to have a supply of technical water, drinking water, durable food products, warm clothing,” he continued.

Klitschko added that people should consider temporarily moving to stay with friends or relatives who own houses on the outskirts of Kyiv.

Ukraine says attacks amount to a war crime, but Russia says its attacks on vital infrastructure are militarily legitimate, and Kyiv can end its people’s suffering if it yields to Russian demands.

Russia’s war in Ukraine means “we need to become brothers in arms” once more: Macron

US President Joe Biden welcomed French President Emmanuel Macron to the White House Thursday, kicking off an official state visit aimed at shoring up the US-France alliance as Macron has emerged as a critical ally amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

“Our hearts are warm to welcome such close friends to the White House,” Biden said at a formal arrival ceremony on the White House South Lawn on the cold December morning.

“It’s a genuine honor to host you for the first state visit of my administration and to celebrate the current strength and vitality between France and the United States of America,” he continued.

“As war returns to the European soil, following Russia’s aggression to Ukraine and in light of the multiple crises our nations and our societies face, we need to become brothers in arms once more,” Macron said via a translator after Biden delivered remarks.

Following last year’s low point in French-American relations following the US-Australia submarine deal, the two presidents have forged a close relationship, as Biden highlighted in his opening remarks Thursday.

France, Biden stated, is the United States’ “oldest ally” and an “unwavering partner,” referencing the history of the relationship from the Revolutionary War’s Marquis de Lafayette to the beaches of Normandy during World War II.

“The alliance between our two nations remains essential to our mutual defense,” he added.

Biden said both countries are united amid Russia’s “brutal war” in Ukraine and said that the two countries are working to ensure “democracies deliver” on numerous key issues.

He noted the alliance will “grow stronger for decades to come” as he welcomed Macron and his delegation to Washington.

Americans fear future effects of war: WSJ

Americans fear that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could lead to a knock-on effect in Europe and possibly influence China to do something similar in Taiwan, the Wall Street Journal reported.

According to a national defence survey, while Americans support the US government sending weapons and providing financial support for Kyiv, they have less trust in their military leadership.

In total, the survey found that 57 percent of respondents said the US needs to continue supporting Ukraine, while 33 percent said they should focus on domestic issues and avoid angering Russia.

The US has sent more than $19bn in military aid to Ukraine this year, which 39 percent of Americans said was the right amount.

Russia has pulled some troops from towns near Dnieper River: Ukraine

Ukraine’s military announced Russia pulled some troops from towns on the opposite bank of the Dnieper River from Kherson city.

Ukrainian officials stressed that Russia had intensified shelling across the river, knocking out power again in Kherson, where electricity had only begun to be restored.

Since Russia abandoned Kherson last month, the river now forms the entire southern stretch of the front.

Ukrainian officials have previously said Russia pulled back some artillery near the river to safer positions further away, but until now, had stopped short of saying Russian forces were quitting towns.

“A decrease in the number of Russian soldiers and military equipment is observed in the settlement of Oleshky,” the military said, referring to the town opposite Kherson city, on the far side of a destroyed bridge over the Dnieper.

It added that most of the Russian troops in the area were recently mobilised reservists, suggesting that Moscow’s best-trained professional troops had already left the area.

European Council president urges China to use its influence over Russia

European Council President Charles Michel is once again urging Chinese President Xi Jinping to use the country’s “influence” on Russia over its war in Ukraine during a visit to Beijing.

Ukraine took up “a lot of time” during their three-hour meeting at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, where trade, climate, human rights, COVID-19 recovery, Xinjiang and Taiwan, were also discussed, Michel told reporters via video link from Beijing.

“I urged President Xi, as we did at our EU-China summit in April, to use his influence on Russia to respect the UN charter,” Michel stated.

President Xi made it clear that China is not providing weapons to Russia and that nuclear threats are not acceptable, the European Council president said.

Switzerland has frozen more than $7 billion in Russian financial assets

Switzerland has frozen over $7 billion in Russian financial assets, according to the Swiss State Secretary of Economy (SECO).

The total amount of seized financial assets since the start of the Ukraine war now amounts to US $7.89 billion as of Nov. 25, the SECO said in a news release on Thursday. Additionally, 15 properties attributed to sanctioned Russians in Switzerland have been seized.

A total of $48.5 billion belonging to Russian nationals have been reported to SECO for investigation.

In response to Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, the Swiss Federal Council broke with its tradition of neutrality and adopted European Union sanctions against Russia.

Switzerland has also announced it would seek closer ties to NATO and the European Union to strengthen its “defense capabilities” in the wake of Russia’s war.

EU: Possible Russia oil price cap at $60 per barrel

The European Union is discussing a price cap on Russian seaborne oil at $60 per barrel, with a review every two months, yielding to pressure from some countries to lower the lid, diplomats said.

Last week, the Group of Seven nations (G7) proposed a price cap on Russian oil to diminish Moscow’s revenues and its ability to finance its war in Ukraine by $65-70 per barrel.

The cap, if agreed upon, is to take effect from December 5.

Poland, Lithuania and Estonia refused to back the cap at that level, arguing that Russian crude was already trading lower, so the cap would be ineffective.

“The new level under discussion is now $60 per barrel, but talks are continuing,” one EU diplomat with knowledge of the discussions said.

Two others confirmed the $60 level, noting no agreement yet.

US, NATO are participants of the war: FM

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the United States had created an “existential” threat to Russia from Ukraine.

He stated Russia had never walked away from contacts with the United States but had not heard any “substantive ideas” from its US counterparts.

The foreign minister also accused NATO of trying to drag India into what he called an anti-Russian and anti-Chinese alliance at a time when he said the West was attempting to squeeze Russian influence out.

Lavrov has accused NATO of starting tensions near China in a way that posed risks for Russia.

“The South China Sea is now becoming one of those regions where NATO is not averse, as they once did in Ukraine, to escalating tensions,” Lavrov told a news conference.

“We know how seriously China takes such provocations, not to mention Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait, and we understand that NATO’s playing with fire in these regions carries threats and risks for the Russian Federation. It is as close to our shores and to our seas as Chinese territory,” he added.

Lavrov said that is why Russia was developing military cooperation with China and conducting joint exercises.

“The fact that NATO members under the leadership of the United States are trying to create an explosive situation there, in the wake of Europe, is well understood by everyone,” he added.

Lavrov did not provide evidence to back his assertions.

The top diplomat noted the West had a real chance to avoid conflict in Ukraine but chose to disregard Russian proposals to halt NATO enlargement and agree on a particular security status for Kyiv.

But the West says Russia’s proposals made in the run-up to the Ukraine war were unrealistic and insincere.

The foreign minister stated that the United States and NATO are participants in the Ukraine war because of their support to Kyiv.

He added that Washington and NATO were involved in the war because they were supplying arms to Ukraine and providing it with military training on their territory.

Kremlin condemns possible war crimes tribunal

The Kremlin has condemned the European Union’s calls to hold a war crimes tribunal over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, saying it would be illegitimate and unacceptable to Moscow.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated on Wednesday the EU would try to set up a specialised court, backed by the United Nations, to investigate and prosecute possible war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

“As for attempts to establish some kind of tribunal: they will have no legitimacy, will not be accepted by us, and we will condemn them,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted.

The West and Ukraine have alleged multiple counts of Russian war crimes during the nine-month war, including in the town of Bucha.

EU says will discuss possibility of Russia’s frozen funds confiscation at OSCE talks

The head of diplomacy of the European Union (EU), Josep Borrell, stated on Thursday that at the next meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Poland, he would discuss the legal possibilities to send the frozen funds of Russia to the restoration of Ukraine.

“These funds should be used to restore Ukraine. I will meet today with my fellow foreign ministers, and not only with the ministers of the EU states. We will discuss all legal possibilities to ensure that Russia pays for the destruction inflicted in Ukraine, ”he said on the website of the press service of the head of European diplomacy.

Borrell noted that so far Russian funds have been blocked, but not confiscated. Therefore, it is now necessary to study the legal procedures that will help confiscate the money.

According to him, at the moment it was possible to arrest almost €20 billion, which belonged to Russian oligarchs and persons supporting the Russian Federation. Moreover, about €300 billion of financial resources of the Central Bank of Russia are under control.

“As I have said many times, Russia must pay for the restoration of Ukraine. The restoration of Ukraine will require unthinkable resources due to the fact that the country is being destroyed systematically, ”concluded Borrell.

On Wednesday, the head of the European Commission (EC), Ursula von der Leyen, said that the EC proposes to create a fund from frozen Russian assets to allocate assistance to Ukraine. She added that when sanctions against Russia are lifted, these funds will be used as compensation for Ukraine.

In turn, the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, stated that Moscow would take adequate measures in response if it comes to the confiscation of Russian assets or property of Russian citizens in the EU.

US approves $1.2bn missile launcher contract for Ukraine

The US Army awarded a $1.2bn (£1bn) contract to Raytheon Technologies Co for advanced missile systems to be sent to Ukraine, the Pentagon announced.

Raytheon will provide six National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (Nasams), which help defend from missile and drone attacks, on top of two already received by Ukraine.

“Nasams are just the latest in the diverse set of air-defense capabilities we are delivering to Ukraine,” stated Bill LaPlante, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.

These six Nasams systems were part of the fifth Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) package which was announced on 24 Augusts and had a total value of $2.98bn, according to an army statement.

Russian shelling leaves Kherson without power: Ukrainian official

The recently liberated city of Kherson in southern Ukraine is without power in the wake of heavy Russian shelling, according to a local official.

“The voltage in the power grids has disappeared,” Yaroslav Yanushevych, head of Kherson region military administration, wrote on Telegram.

Energy company Khersonoblenergo is “already working to fix the problem,” Yanushevych added.

Ukraine’s liberation of Kherson last month delivered a major victory to Kyiv and marked one of the biggest setbacks for Russian President Vladimir Putin since his invasion began. But with winter fast approaching, residents face a dire situation in the face of continued Russian shelling and power and water shortages.

Ukraine readying ‘more powerful’ countermeasure: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that his administration is trying to assess Russia’s intentions and readying a countermeasure as Ukraine’s eastern region is once again witnessing a fierce battle.

“The main issues are the Donetsk region, Luhansk region, Kharkiv region, Zaporizhzhia region, Kherson region, Crimea, frontline territories and our state border. We are analysing the intentions of the occupiers and are preparing a countermeasure – an even more powerful countermeasure than now,” Zelensky stated in his address last night.

Ukraine is also considering the issue of providing for the military and supplying new equipment and ammunition, he added.

“I separately held a meeting on energy and communication issues. We record the results of what has already been done to protect our systems. We are preparing new solutions,” Zelensky continued.

The Ukrainian wartime president noted that the country is also preparing new solutions to “prevent any opportunity for Russia to manipulate the internal life of Ukraine”, details of which they will provide details in due time.

Ukraine welcomes European Commission proposal for new court to prosecute Russia for war

The Ukrainian President’s Office has welcomed a proposal by the president of the European Commission to establish a specialized court to prosecute Russia for its aggression against Ukraine.

“The European Commission offers to create a special court for the prosecution of crimes of the Russian federation in Ukraine, as well as conditions for the use of frozen Russian assets for the restoration of Ukraine,” Andriy Yermak, head of the president of Ukraine’s office, said on Telegram.

“This is exactly what we have been offering for a long time. Russia will pay for crimes and destruction,” he added.

In a statement Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated that “while continuing to support the International Criminal Court, we are proposing to set up a specialized court, backed by the United Nations, to investigate and prosecute Russia’s crime of aggression.”

Russian central bank moves to end some anti-sanctions support for Russian banks

Russia’s central bank has announced it plans to cancel from January 1 a number of support measures for Russian banks introduced following the imposition of Western sanctions after Moscow sent its troops into Ukraine in February.

In a statement, the regulator said it will extend some measures, including on reserve requirements, but will force banks to resume disclosing their financial statements and will not extend a relaxation in the rules on open foreign currency positions.

Ukraine’s FM urges NATO to provide supplies “as fast as it is required”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said it’s imperative that NATO supply Ukraine quickly as the war continues.

“You need to be with us not just as long as it takes, but also supply us with everything required as fast as it is required,” Kuleba stated.

Kuleba has been attending the NATO and G7 meetings in Bucharest.

“I’ve thanked all the states here, who said they will stand with Ukraine as long as needed. It is a very significant sign for us, as we did not have such unanimous support on this point before,” he added.

Kuleba also welcomed new equipment.

“These are transformers, generators, weapons, winter uniforms. I cannot talk about all of it, but there are also 155mm artillery, shells, armored vehicles among these. All this will soon be delivered to Ukraine and strengthen our armed forces,” he continued.

Speaking about the US Patriot air defense system, Kuleba noted, “Until now nobody would talk about this issue, except us. We were the only one to raise it. But now this issue is being discussed. This is a very serious and substantive discussion.”

On Tuesday, CNN reported that the US is considering sending the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine to support their air defense capabilities against incoming Russian attacks, according to a senior US defense official.

Kuleba said he had urged a change of approach by Ukraine’s western donors, which was now paying off.

“Now everything is being supplied,” he said, adding, “These decisions have been taken after some kind of tragedy took place on the frontline, which left no other choice but for this decision to be taken. I said: ‘Change your logics. Do not wait for something bad to happen. Take this decision now in order to prevent the tragedies, to act more proactive and liberate more Ukrainian territories and Ukrainian citizens.'”

Kuleba also met with G7 foreign ministers about aid for restoring Ukraine’s heavily damaged infrastructure, as some 30% of power capacity currently disabled.

“The first option is to buy electricity in the EU. But prices on the EU market are much higher than in Ukraine, so additional financial support will be needed,” he said. Another option is to source the necessary energy equipment, transformers and generators that will help alleviate energy shortfalls, he added.

The United States is among several countries pledging fresh aid to assist with repairing power infrastructure damaged by Russian missile attacks.

Germany Chancellor says Russia cannot win war in Ukraine on the battlefield

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has stated that Russia could no longer win the war in Ukraine on the battlefield.

Speaking at the Berlin Security Conference, Scholz also noted that Germany took Russia’s nuclear rhetoric seriously, but would not be cowed by it.

Britain unveils a new round of Russian sanctions

Britain unveiled a new round of sanctions on Russian officials, imposed on those accused of spearheading recent mobilisation efforts and the recruitment of “criminal mercenaries”.

The new package of 22 sanctions hit Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov, who London said is responsible for overseeing the country’s weapons industry and equipping newly mobilised troops.

It also covered 10 governors and regional heads in places including Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kalmykia, from where it noted: “a significant number” of conscripts have been drawn.

NATO is looking to invest in Soviet-era weapon systems in Ukraine: US secretary of state

NATO is looking to invest in Soviet-era weapon systems used in Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted.

“We’re looking at every option to make sure that, again, [the Ukrainians] get what they need and what can be most effective for them. Some of that does go to Soviet-era systems that they’ve had in their inventory for decades and, for example, making sure that the ammunition is there for those systems. And in some cases, that may require producing things that haven’t been produced for some time. So we are looking across the board at all of that,” Blinken told CNN in Bucharest, Romania, where he is attending a meeting of NATO foreign ministers.

The United States is “very focused” on providing air defense systems to Ukraine, Blinken stated.

“We’re now very focused on air defense systems and not just us, many other countries,” he added.

“And we’re working to make sure that the Ukrainians get those systems as quickly as possible but also as effectively as possible, making sure that they are trained on them, making sure they have the ability to maintain them, and all of that has to come together and it is. We have a very deliberate process established by the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Ramstein, Germany, that meets regularly to make sure that the Ukrainians are getting what they need, when they need it,” the top diplomat continued.

While Blinken would not elaborate on whether the Pentagon would provide the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine, he said that the United States had been working on making sure that “at any given time, [the Ukrainians] have the most effective systems possible to deal with the threat they are facing.”

“We just recently, for example, provided them with a very effective system called NASAMS that they are using very effectively. Before that of course, we had the HIMARS, which they used to great effect both in southern and eastern Ukraine,” Blinken noted.

Necessary to avoid ‘clash between nuclear powers’: Russian FM

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says it is vital to avoid any military confrontation between nuclear powers, even if it only involves conventional weapons, the TASS news agency reported.

Lavrov also stated the West was pushing Ukraine to continue fighting against Russia.

“It is necessary to avoid any military clash between nuclear powers, even with the use of conventional weapons. The escalation may become uncontrollable,” he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a series of thinly veiled nuclear threats during the war in Ukraine.

Still, several top officials have repeatedly denied Moscow’s plans to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

US considers dramatically expanding training of Ukrainian forces: Officials

The Joe Biden administration is considering a dramatic expansion in the training the US military provides to Ukrainian forces, including instructing as many as 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers a month at a US base in Germany, according to multiple US officials.

If adopted, the proposal would mark a significant increase not just in the number of Ukrainians the US trains but also in the type of training they receive. Since the start of the conflict in February, the US has trained only a few thousand Ukrainian soldiers, mostly in small groups, on specific weapons systems.

Under the new program, the US would begin training much larger groups of Ukrainian soldiers in more sophisticated battlefield tactics, including how to coordinate infantry maneuvers with artillery support — “much more intense and comprehensive” training than Ukraine has been receiving in Poland or the UK, according to one source briefed on the proposal.

The proposal, which was made at the behest of Ukraine, is still under inter-agency review by the administration. News of its existence comes more than nine months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as the onset of winter is expected to slow military operations.

A senior Biden administration official declined to comment on the specifics of the planning, telling CNN that “we won’t get ahead of decisions that haven’t been made, but we are constantly looking for ways to make sure the Ukrainians have the skills they need to succeed on the battlefield as Ukraine defends their territory from Russian aggression.”

How decisive so-called “combined arms training” is likely to be on the battlefield remains an open question because the war has primarily been fought as a grinding war of attrition between two artillery armies, said Mike Kofman, an expert on the Russian and Ukrainian militaries at the Center for Naval Analyses.

“It’s a good idea because they [Ukraine] need all the training they can get,” Kofman stated.

But the primary variable on the battlefield right now is the availability of ammunition on both sides, he continued, adding, “The Ukrainians aren’t going to be as effective at combined arms maneuvers if they don’t have enough artillery ammunition.”

US European Command declined to comment.

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