Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 286

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:

Russia considers setting oil price floor in response to G7

Russia is considering setting a price floor for its international oil sales as a response to a cap imposed by G7 nations, Bloomberg News reported on Tuesday.

Moscow is considering either imposing a fixed price for the nation’s barrels, or stipulating maximum discounts to international benchmarks at which they can be sold, the report added, citing two officials familiar with the plan.

The G7 price cap on Russian seaborne oil came into force on Monday as the West tries to limit Moscow’s ability to finance its war in Ukraine, but Russia has said it will not abide by the measure even if it has to cut production.

Peace talks can only happen after ‘special military operation’: Kremlin

The Kremlin announced it agrees with the United States about the need for lasting peace in Ukraine but does not see the prospect of negotiations at the moment.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview that the Ukraine conflict would end “almost certainly with diplomacy” and negotiations and that “just and durable peace” was needed.

“That the outcome should be a just and durable peace – one can agree with this. But as for the prospects for some sort of negotiations, we do not see any at the moment,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

He added that for talks to happen with potential partners, Russia would need to fulfil the goals of its “special military operation”.

It’s ‘absurd’ to stoke energy fears in France: Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron stated it was “absurd” to stoke fear in France over the country’s energy situation and reaffirmed France would get through this winter despite energy market tensions caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“The role of public authorities is not to spread fear nor to govern by fear,” said Macron, as he arrived at a summit of European Union and Western Balkans leaders in Albania.

“We must not make people feel scared. We must stop all that,” Macron continued, adding, “We will get through this winter, despite the war.”

Members of the Russian opposition call for a decree to end partial mobilisation

Opposition representatives from five Russian regional councils have sent appeals urging President Vladimir Putin to issue a decree formally ending the partial mobilisation.

The Defence Ministry announced the end of the call-up of 300,000 reservists on October 31, but the Kremlin said that no formal decree to cancel the mobilisation was needed.

Emilia Slabunova, an opposition councillor in Karelia in northern Russia, said the absence of such a decree meant those already drafted could not leave the armed forces.

She stated commanders refused to discharge them, and appeals against such refusals in court led nowhere, as courts were siding with commanders, citing that Putin’s September mobilisation decree still had legal force.

“We, as councillors, represent our constituents and these appeals from us are the result of numerous appeals from citizens,” Slabunova added.

Reuters news agency saw similar appeals from opposition deputies in the Moscow, St. Petersburg, Pskov and Veliky Novgorod regions.

All are members of the liberal opposition Yabloko party.

Russia says repelled drone strike on air base

Russia has claimed it repelled a drone strike on an air base in a region bordering Ukraine.

“As a result of a drone attack in the area of the Kursk airfield, an oil storage tank caught fire. There were no casualties,” governor Roman Starovoyt stated on Tuesday.

On Monday, Russia’s defence ministry announced Ukraine “attempted to strike” the Dyagilevo airfield in the Ryazan region and the Engels airfield in the Saratov region with “Soviet-made drones”.

The drones were intercepted but debris fell and exploded on the airfields, the ministry added, killing three.

The strikes on Monday, which were not confirmed by Ukraine, would represent the deepest into Russian territory since the invasion began.

Zelensky says “maximum efforts” continue to restore power after latest Russian missile strikes

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that “maximum efforts” are continuing throughout Ukraine to stabilize the power grid in the wake of another wave of Russian missile attacks Monday.

Zelensky stated, in his daily message, that repair work continues “in the central regions of Ukraine, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia and Kharkiv.”

“In order to stabilize the power grid, it was necessary to switch to emergency shutdowns in many regions. From Zakarpattia to Kyiv region, from Kirovohrad to Sumy and Kharkiv regions,” he continued.

Zelensky added several regions, including Kyiv and Odesa had extensive power outages.

Referring to the number of Russian missiles intercepted Monday, Zelensky said he was grateful to our partners for the air defense systems we are using now.

“Unfortunately, there are victims,” he continued, adding, “As of this time, the list of those killed by Russian strikes today is four.”

Dmytro Sakharuk, CEO of DTEK — a major energy distributor — said the overall situation was difficult but under control.

“Almost all regions of Ukraine are subject to emergency blackouts. Power engineers have started to repair the damage, the work will continue overnight. We will try to return to the scheduled outages as soon as possible to stop emergency outages,” he added.

“The most complicated situation is in Kyiv region, Kyiv city, Odesa city and northern regions of the country. This is due to both the damage and the number of consumers,” Sakharuk wrote on Telegram.

Biden administration downplays long-term economic impact of Russian oil price cap

The Joe Biden administration downplayed concerns that a price cap on Russian oil could backfire and hurt the global economy Monday, reiterating that the US reserves the right to adjust the price going forward as the cap begins to be implemented.

On Friday, the European Union’s 27 member states capped Russian oil at $60 a barrel, days before G7 and Australia begin to implement a price cap, set to start Monday. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Monday that Moscow will “not recognize any price caps” and warned that it was “a step towards destabilizing the world energy market.”

Global crude prices were up 2.6% on Monday as investors watched nervously for Russia’s next move.

National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby dismissed long-term effects of the price cap.

“We don’t believe that it’s going to have any impact long-term on global oil prices,” Kirby told reporters.

Kirby stated the US believes that “this cap will lock in a discount on Russian oil,” adding that the US “fully” supports the $60 price cap announced last week and “stand behind it.”

Kirby suggested that the price cap will allow countries to “bargain for steeper discounts on Russian oil” but was “not intended to eliminate Russian oil from the market.”

“We believe it’s going to help limit Mr. Putin’s ability to profiteer off the oil market. It’s also, you know, adjustable. It doesn’t mean we can’t come back and revisit it if we need to,” he said.

The White House has also announced it was not surprised by Russia’s reaction to the West’s price cap on oil from the country.

Spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre stated the cap can be adjusted over time to prevent Russia from profiting from the war in Ukraine while keeping Russian crude in the market.

Russia says there will be no withdrawal from Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

The Russian Foreign Ministry appears to have dealt a blow to proposals by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to create a demilitarized and protected zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova responded to a question from a Russian news agency about the status of the plant, which has been occupied by Russian forces since early March.

The news agency asked: “The head of the IAEA R[afael]. Grossi said that experts are close to an acceptable agreement between Ukraine and Russia on the creation of a security zone around the Zaporizhzhya NPP (ZNPP). How would you comment on this statement? Is it possible to transfer control over ZNPP to a third party? Is the visit of the head of the IAEA R. Grossi to Russia expected?”

Zakharova responded: “There can be no talk of any withdrawal of the Zaporizhzhya NPP from Russian control or transfer of control over it to some ‘third party.’ The station is located on Russian territory and is fully controlled by Russia. We presume that only we are able to ensure the physical and nuclear safety of ZNPP.”

There has been no response from the IAEA to the latest word from Moscow.

Last week, Director General of the IAEA Rafael Grossi said he hoped to reach an agreement with Russia and Ukraine on protecting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant by year’s end.

“My commitment is to reach a solution as soon as possible. I hope by the end of the year. I know that President Putin is following the process and I do not rule out another meeting with him soon, as well as with Ukrainian President Zelensky,” Grossi said in an interview published Friday with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

He told La Repubblica: “There is a concrete proposal on securing Zaporizhzhia and important progress has been made….The two sides now agree on some basic principles. The first is that of protection: it means accepting that you don’t shoot ‘on’ the plant and ‘from’ the plant. The second is the recognition that the IAEA is the only possible way forward: that was the heart of my meeting with President Putin in St. Petersburg on October 11.”

“Russia is not against an agreement and the principle of protecting the plant,” he added.

As for the Ukrainian side, Grossi stated: “The withdrawal of armaments from the plant is what, understandably from their point of view, the Ukrainians are demanding. And it would still be part of the overall agreement.”

Russia says Ukraine launched drone attacks against 2 military air bases inside its territory

The Russian Defense Ministry announced that Ukraine used drones to attack two Russian military airfields on Monday morning.

In a statement carried on the official Russian news agency RIA Novosti, the ministry said the attacks were “in the Saratov and Ryazan regions” but had been intercepted by air defenses.

“On the morning of December 5, the Kiev regime, in order to disable Russian long-range aircraft, attempted to strike with Soviet-made jet unmanned aerial vehicles [drones] at the Diaghilevo military airfields in the Ryazan region and Engels in the Saratov region,” the report said.

“The air defense of the Russian Aerospace Forces intercepted these Ukrainian drones flying at low altitude,” the ministry added, noting, “Three Russian soldiers were killed, four more were injured in the attack.”

“As a result of the fall and explosion at the Russian airfields of the wreckage of [the] jet drones, the skin of two aircraft was slightly damaged,” it stated.

Ukraine has not confirmed that it attacked either airfield. Recent satellite imagery shows a substantial number of Russian strategic bombers at the Engels airbase in Saratov.

Putin appears on repaired Kerch bridge

President Vladimir Putin was filmed driving and walking on the Kerch Bridge, according to Russian state media and video.

The bridge has been a major flashpoint in the war in Ukraine. On Oct. 8, a large explosion took place on the bridge that destroyed a large section. The bridge is the only land route that connects mainland Russia to illegally-annexed Crimea.

In one of the videos from state media, Putin is seen at the wheel of a Mercedes vehicle, sitting beside the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin. In another, he is seen walking along a section of the bridge with a hood pulled up on his coat.

Five images released by the Kremlin website show Putin accompanied by the deputy prime minister.

In the driving video, Khusnullin says to Putin that “metal was available for bridge parts, so the metal was brought over to build these structures, and within two weeks all the 1214 tonnes were assembled and brought here,” an apparent reference to the damaged that the Kerch Bridge sustain on Oct. 8.

In the video released by Russian state TV, Putin is heard asking “how many people worked on the repairs.” Khunsnullin replies, “500 people, 3 floating cranes, 4 barges and 31 pieces of equipment around the clock.”

CCTV from the time when the bridge sustained damage in October showed a truck exploding and the Kremlin was quick to point the finger at Kyiv. Putin alleged that the act was an “sabotage” by Ukrainian special services.

In 2018, Putin symbolically drove a truck across the Kerch Bridge to mark its opening. It was greeted with much fanfare on Russian state TV at the time.

US secretly modified HIMARS sent to Ukraine: Report

The HIMARS rocket launchers Ukraine received from Washington have been “secretly modified” so they can’t use longer-range missiles, even if Kiev obtained them from elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday citing anonymous US officials.

A total of 20 of the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers have been sent to Ukraine since June, along with several batches of GMLRS guided missiles and service vehicles. The GMLRS have a range of almost 80 kilometers (50 miles).

Multiple activists have since called for Ukraine to also receive ATACMS rockets, with a range of over 300 kilometers. The US has refused, so far. Even if the White House changes its mind, or Kiev manages to obtain the ATACMS – or similar long-range missiles – elsewhere, they won’t work in the HIMARS currently in the field, according to WSJ.

The modifications made to the systems before they were sent to Ukraine involve “hardware and software,” the unnamed officials who spoke with the outlet noted.

The Ukrainian military declined to comment. So did the Pentagon, citing “operational security considerations.”

According to WSJ, the modifications “reflect apprehensions among administration officials that their Ukrainian partner might stop keeping its promise not to strike Russian territory with US-provided weapons,” as well as the desire by President Joe Biden’s administration to “reduce the risk of a wider war” with Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly warned Washington that providing heavy weapons to Ukraine risks crossing Russia’s “red lines” and involving the US and NATO in the conflict directly. The US and its allies insist they are not a party to the hostilities, while continuing to arm Kiev.

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