Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 282: Zelensky aide reveals between 10,000 and 13,000 Ukrainian troops killed

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:

Western calls to withdraw dampen chance for negotiations: Russia

Russia says the West’s demands that it should pull out completely from Ukraine as part of any talks to end the war effectively rule out negotiations.

Western demands for Russia to leave Ukraine reduce chances of negotiations, Moscow added.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reiterated that Russian President Vladimir Putin remains open to talks, but the Western demand that Moscow first withdraws its troops from Ukraine is unacceptable.

Peskov’s comments came as Putin spoke on the phone Friday morning with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Scholz’s office announced he made clear to Putin “that there must be a diplomatic solution as quickly as possible, which includes a withdrawal of Russian troops.”

UN investigating whether attacks on infrastructure amount to war crimes

UN-appointed investigators are investigating whether Russia’s attacks on critical infrastructure in Ukraine amount to war crimes.

Russia has been heavily targeting Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure since early October, causing blackouts and leaving millions without heating as temperatures plummet.

Russia says the assaults are not aimed at civilians and are meant to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight and push it to negotiate – though Kyiv says such attacks are a war crime.

“Part of the analysis that we are engaged in at present … is whether the attacks constitute war crimes,” Pablo de Greiff told a news conference, speaking from Kyiv.

If they do, the team will work out what it “can do in order to make a contribution to the accountability for such crimes,” he added.

European Commission to propose fining companies that break Russian sanctions

The European Commission will propose to fine companies at least 5 percent of their worldwide turnover if they break EU sanctions against Russia.

The proposal, which needs approval from the European Parliament and member states, also said that individuals breaking sanctions would face potential jail terms of at least five years.

Breaking sanctions is already a criminal offence in some EU countries, but in others, it is treated as an administrative offence, with penalties varying across the 27-member bloc.

“Too many gaps still remain between member states when it comes to the punishment of violation of EU sanctions”, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders stated in a statement, adding that the proposed rules would bring clarity.

Putin tells Scholz Western states’ position on Ukraine is “destructive”

Russian President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a phone call on Friday that the position of Western states on Ukraine is “destructive” and that Germany should reconsider its approach, according to a statement by the Kremlin.

“Attention has been drawn to the destructive line of Western states, including Germany, pumping up the Kyiv regime with weapons, training the Ukrainian military. All this, as well as comprehensive political and financial support for Ukraine, leads to the fact that Kyiv completely rejects the idea of any negotiations,” reads the statement.

“In addition, this stimulates radical Ukrainian nationalists to commit more and more bloody crimes against the civilian population,” the Kremlin claimed.

Putin “called on the German side to reconsider its approaches in the context of the Ukrainian events,” according to the Kremlin.

During the call, the Kremlin nnounced that the Russian military “had long refrained from targeted missile strikes against certain targets on the territory of Ukraine, but now such measures have become a forced and inevitable response to Kyiv’s provocative attacks against Russian civilian infrastructure.”

This “Russian civilian infrastructure” includes, according to the Kremlin, the Crimean bridge, energy facilities, as well a “terrorist act” against the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines, which requires “a transparent investigation with the participation of Russian specialized structures.”

Swedish and Danish authorities have been investigating four holes in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines which link Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea. Both pipelines have been flashpoints in an escalating energy war between European capitals and Moscow since the February invasion of Ukraine.

Western nations have previously said that the leaks, which were first discovered on September 26, were likely the result of sabotage. Denmark last month said a preliminary investigation had shown they were caused by powerful explosions.

Germany will send more anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz condemned Russian airstrikes against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday.

Scholz also urged Putin to find a diplomatic solution “as soon as possible” during the one-hour conversation devoted to the ongoing “Russian war of aggression against Ukraine and its consequences,” German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said.

The chancellor stressed Germany’s determination to support Ukraine in ensuring its defense capability against Russia, he added.

Germany plans to supply Ukraine with seven more Gepard anti-aircraft tanks and an additional, 100,000 first aid kits, according to a list of arms deliveries published by the German government.

The chancellor and the Russian president also discussed the global food crisis precipitated by the invasion of Ukraine and highlighted the important role of the recently extended grain agreement under the aegis of the United Nations.

Russia is firing dummy missiles to exhaust Ukraine’s air defenses: Ukrainian military

The Ukrainian military announced Russia is now using nuclear-capable missiles fitted with non-explosive warheads in a bid to exhaust Ukraine’s air defenses.

Mykola Danyliuk, a representative of the Ukrainian armed forces research unit, shared these updates at a briefing held at a site where missile fragments — from what Ukraine says is a Russian Kh-55 cruise missile — were on show.

“The use of such missiles is intended to distract the attention of Ukraine’s air defence system and tire it out,” Danyliuk continued, adding that more modern Russian missiles are generally aimed at infrastructure facilities and residential areas.

Pointing to a fragment on stage, Danyliuk said, “I would also like to add that even a missile without a warhead, a missile with a warhead like this, poses a great threat because of its kinetic energy and fuel. This is evidenced by… the impact of a Kh-55 missile into a residential building.”

“This exact fragment was a compartment of the warhead. So, this is a substitute for a thermo-nuclear guided charge, which is used in Kh-55 missiles,” he added.

Danyliuk noted tests on this Kh-55 missile did not show abnormal levels of radioactivity, “which means it didn’t have contact with nuclear elements.”

On Nov. 26, the British Ministry of Defense announced in its daily intelligence update that “Russia is likely removing the nuclear warheads from ageing nuclear cruise missiles and firing the unarmed munitions at Ukraine.”

Kremlin says Putin open to talks but US stance on Ukraine makes it difficult

President Vladimir Putin is open to talks on a possible settlement in Ukraine but the refusal of the United States to recognise annexed territories as Russian is hindering a search for any potential compromise, the Kremlin said.

US president Joe Biden stated on Thursday that he was prepared to speak to Putin if the Kremlin chief was looking for a way to end the war but that Putin had not yet indicated that.

“The president of the Russian Federation has always been, is and remains open to negotiations in order to ensure our interests,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about Biden’s remarks.

“The most preferable way to achieve our interests is through peaceful, diplomatic means,” Peskov continued, adding, “Putin was, is and remains open to contacts and negotiations.”

Between 10,000 and 13,000 Ukrainian troops killed: Zelensky adviser

Ukraine’s armed forces have lost somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000 soldiers so far in the war against Russia, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak has told a Ukrainian television network.

The remarks appeared to be the first estimate of dead since late August, when the head of the armed forces said nearly 9,000 military personnel had been killed.

“We have official figures from the general staff, we have official figures from the top command, and they amount to [between] 10,000 and 12,500 to 13,000 killed,” Podolyak told the Kanal 24 channel.

“We are open in talking about the number of dead,” he added, noting more soldiers had been wounded than had died.

Ukraine claims some Russian units in Zaporizhzhia are withdrawing as it strikes ammunition and troop depots

The Ukrainian military claims that some Russian troops are withdrawing from their positions in the southern region of Zaporizhzhia.

It also says that the Russians are preparing the evacuation of “the personnel of the occupation administrations” in the Zaporizhzhia region.

In its daily update, the military’s General Staff said that Russian units had left the settlements of Mykhailivka, Polohy and Inzhenerne, all towns south of the city of Zaporizhzhia. Front lines in the region run for 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) across rolling farmland. Geolocated footage posted on Wednesday shows the aftermath of strikes on buildings in Polohy.

The General Staff added that in the settlement of Burchak, the occupation authorities are conducting a census for the so-called voluntary evacuation of the population.

The Ukrainians appear to be repeating actions they undertook in Kherson — striking bridges, supply hubs and Russian troop concentrations behind the front lines. The General Staff said that in recent days strikes about half a dozen places had wounded more than 230 Russian soldiers and destroyed ammunition and equipment.

Analysts have suggested that the next offensive front for the Ukrainians is likely to be a thrust southwards towards the occupied city of Melitopol.

The General Staff announced that elsewhere Russian forces continued to defend their positions in eastern Luhansk region using tanks, mortars and artillery to prevent further advances of Ukrainian forces.

Russian units were also shelling several settlements in recently liberated parts of Kherson region. But Brig. Gen. Oleksii Hromov claimed that last week Russian forces had accidentally fired on their own unit near the village of Tsukury in Kherson, killing 14 servicemen.

Hromov stated that Russian forces had gathered in the city of Dzankhoi in Crimea, which had “actually turned into the largest military base on the territory… from where the Russian occupation troops and weapons and military equipment of the Russian Armed Forces are redeployed.”

Biden and Macron diverge on willingness to engage with Putin

US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron demonstrated a united front in addressing the ongoing war in Ukraine but offered divergent answers over their willingness to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin, relaying that they spent much of their recent meeting discussing the invasion.

Biden told reporters during a joint White House news conference with Macron that he “has no immediate plans” to contact Putin, but added that he’s prepared to speak with the Russian leader if he’s looking for a way to end the war in Ukraine. Biden also clarified that Putin has not done so yet.

“He’s just miscalculated across the board,” Biden said of Putin following his bilateral meeting in the Oval Office with the French president.

“And so the question is … how does he get himself out of the circumstances in? I’m prepared, if he’s willing to talk, to find out what he’s willing to do, but I’ll only do it in consultation with my NATO allies. I’m not going to do it on my own,” he added.

Macron stated that once Ukraine sets conditions for a peace agreement, he’s willing to speak with Putin.

Firm US support, Macron also relayed, “is very important, not just for the Ukrainians … but for the stability of our world today. Because if we consider that we can abandon the country and abandon the full respect of these principles, it means that there is no possible stability in this world,” pledging France’s own increased military, economic, and humanitarian support.

The French president’s trip to the White House alongside his spouse, Brigitte Macron, marks their second time as the guests of honor for a state visit, having first done so during Donald Trump’s administration in 2018.

Thursday’s agenda for Biden’s first state visit since taking office has been filled with formal fanfare, with a list of events intended to highlight the strength of the critical relationship between the US and its oldest ally.

NATO chief says it’s “too early” to decide on Poland’s request to move Patriot system into Ukraine

NATO’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday it is still “too early” to make a conclusion on Poland’s call to move Patriot air defense systems, which were offered by Germany, to Ukraine.

“It’s important to separate the discussion about those three Patriot which Germany has offered to help protect Polish airspace from the issue of more air defense to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg stated at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin.

“We all agree on the urgent need to help Ukraine, including with air defense systems,” he said, adding that ensuring the good operation of already-delivered systems is equally important as giving out new ones.

“There is a need for ammunition to existing systems, there is a need for spare parts and maintenance,” Stoltenberg added.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged Germany to provide Patriot air-defense systems to Ukraine “as soon as” it can. Kuleba’s comments come after Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak last week noted Berlin should send Patriot missile air-defense systems directly to Ukraine rather than Poland.

Kremlin says OSCE is losing its meaning

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) stance shows that Europe’s top security and rights watchdog is losing its meaning, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said, according to Russian news agencies.

Peskov was asked whether Russia might quit the pan-European body.

He also stated Moscow had no plans to contact the US administration before the end of the year, calling for discussions about possible prisoner exchanges between Russia and the United States to be conducted behind closed doors.

Biden calls Putin’s actions in Ukraine “sick”

US President Joe Biden described Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine as “sick” and said that there’s only one rational way to end the war in Ukraine — for Putin to “pull out” of the country.

“But it appears he’s not going to do that. He’s paying a very heavy price for failing to do it, but he’s inflicting incredible, incredible carnage on the civilian population of Ukraine. Bombing nurseries, hospitals, children’s homes. It’s sick what he’s doing,” Biden stated during a news conference alongside French President Emmanuel Macron at the White House.

Biden added that he had no immediate plans to contact Putin, but is “prepared to speak” with the Russian leader “if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he’s looking for a way to end the war — he hasn’t done that yet.”

He continued, “If that’s the case, in consultation with my French and my NATO friends, I’ll be happy to sit down with Putin to see what he wants, has in mind. He hasn’t done that yet. In the meantime, I think it’s absolutely critical what Emmanuel [Macron] said. We must support the Ukrainian people.”

Germany says ready to step in with OSCE funding if Russia blocks budget

Germany is ready to contribute more to the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation (OSCE) if Russia attempts to block the 57-member security bloc’s budget, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said.

“Germany is supporting the work of the OSCE in this extremely difficult year more than ever,” Baerbock told reporters in the Polish city of Lodz, where OSCE foreign ministers were meeting.

In light of the war in Ukraine and the suffering it has caused more broadly, Berlin upped its contribution to the OSCE from seven million euros ($7.35m) to 10 million euros, she added.

“If Russia tries to continue blocking the budget and rendering the work in all other countries impossible, we as Germany, including with our voluntary contributions, will step in for the other countries,” the minister stated.

Macron says it’s up to Ukrainians to decide conditions for possible end of war and “sustainable peace”

French President Emmanuel Macron stated he does not believe allies should push Ukrainians into a compromise with Russia that would “not be acceptable for them.”

“We will never urge the Ukrainians to make a compromise which will not be acceptable for them,” the French president said in response to a question about a possible end to the war.

“They are so brave and they defend precisely their lives, their nation, and our principles. … If we want a sustainable peace, we have to respect the Ukrainians to decide the moment and the conditions in which they will negotiate about their territory and their future,” Macron added.

In the meantime, Macron said, “We increased our military support. We increased our economic support. We are increasing our humanitarian support.”

Additionally, US support — both financially and in providing military weapons to Ukraine — is not just important for the country under attack but also for wider Europe, Macron added.

“For the stability of our world today — because if we consider that we can abandon the country and abandon the full respect of these principles, it means that there is no possible stability in this world,” Macron continued.

“I think it’s extremely important to have you so much committed,” he noted, referring to the money and assistance the US has provided in aid to Ukraine so far.

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