Friday, February 3, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 287

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:

Putin: Special military operation is lengthy process, but some results already in sight

The special military operation is a long process, but it has already yielded significant results, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with members of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC) on Wednesday.

“As for the results of the special military operation, some of them may manifest themselves only after a long while. New territories have appeared. This is a significant result for Russia. These are serious questions. Take the Sea of Azov, which has become Russia’s inland sea. That’s very serious,” he stated.

Putin recalled that even Peter the Great in his day fought for access the Sea of Azov. The most important thing, though, is the people who live in all these territories, he added.

“The results of the referendum showed that the people want to be in Russia and consider themselves part of this world, part of this space, and our common culture, traditions, and language. This is the most important result. Now they are with us. There millions of such people. This is the most important thing,” Putin stressed.


Nuclear war threat growing: Putin

The threat of a global nuclear war is growing, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

Svetlana Makovetskaya, a member of the Human Rights Council, asked the president about the threat of a global nuclear war as he held a meeting of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights. She apologized for the off-topic question, but noted that she could not help but raise a topic about which there were such huge fears.

“As for the threat of nuclear war…you are right. Such a threat is growing, to be honest,” Putin replied.

The president stressed that Moscow does not want to be “brandishing” its nukes around the world, but noted that the Russian nuclear arsenal is the most advanced.

He also stated that nuclear weapons are a part of conflict deterrence.


EU has to show it ‘has its own interests’: Russia

The European Union could have a place in a new multipolar world but it has to first free itself from excessive dependence on its allies across the Atlantic Ocean, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has argued.

He added that the bloc needs to learn how to stick up for itself in areas that are important to it.

Speaking on Wednesday at the Primakov Readings, an international forum of experts, diplomats and decision-makers held in Russia, Lavrov said: “the European Union will be able to participate in these processes on an equal footing when it realizes that it doesn’t have to say 100% ‘yes, sir’ to the United States.”

He stated that the bloc needs to demonstrate that it “has its own interests.”

The minister also noted that, of late, voices calling for this have been emerging in European countries.

Lavrov stressed that Moscow is by no means trying to drive a wedge between Washington and Brussels, arguing that it is obvious that not all of Europe’s interests are necessarily in line with those of the US.

“That Europe cannot defend these interests is, in my opinion, for now also a medical fact,” the official quipped.


NATO chief says conditions for peace in Ukraine ‘not there now’

The conditions for a peaceful settlement to the war in Ukraine are “not there now”, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said, as he urged members of the western alliance to continue providing weapons to Kyiv over the winter because, he warned, Russia was preparing a spring offensive.

Stoltenberg’s remarks follow weeks of speculation over the potential for diplomatic talks over the more than nine-month-long war, and comments by senior western officials referencing possible negotiations.

“The conditions [for talks] are not there now because Russia has shown no sign of engaging in negotiations which are respecting the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the NATO secretary-general said in an interview at the FT’s Global Boardroom event on Wednesday.

“It is for Ukrainians to decide when the time is right to start to negotiate and to agree the conditions,” Stoltenberg continued, adding, “Most wars and most likely also this war will end at the negotiating table.”

Stoltenberg warned that Moscow was seeking a “break” in the fighting to prepare for a renewed assault early next year.

“What we see now is that Russia is actually attempting to try to have some kind of freeze of this war, at least for a short period of time, so they can regroup, repair and recover, and try to launch a bigger offensive next spring,” he said, urging allies to keep sending weapons to Kyiv.

“Now Ukraine has momentum,” Stoltenberg continued, stating, “I cannot go into the specific systems that we are now considering. We are always considering to add more [weapons] systems.”

“The paradox is that the more we want a peaceful, negotiated solution, ensuring that Ukraine prevails, the more urgent it is that we provide military support to Ukraine,” he added.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky named TIME Person of the Year

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has been named as TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year. The 44-year-old, a former comedian, actor, writer and producer, has been president since 2019.

UN documents 441 killings of northern Ukrainian civilians, some while “cutting firewood or buying groceries”

The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights published a report on Wednesday that looks at 441 killings of civilians in the northern Ukrainian regions of Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk stated the report details the murder of civilians for “cutting firewood and buying groceries” in the regions previously occupied by Russian forces following the invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions were taken back following a Russian withdrawal in late March.

Türk just concluded a four-day visit to the Ukrainian capital.

“We are working to corroborate allegations of additional killings in these regions, and in parts of Kharkiv and Kherson regions that were recently retaken by Ukrainian forces,” he said in a statement, indicating that the number could rise further.

“There are strong indications that the summary executions documented in the report constitute the war crime of [willful] killing,” he added.

In his statement, Türk listed the levels of assistance needed for the Ukrainian people, including 17.7 million people requiring humanitarian assistance and 9.3 million in need of food and livelihood assistance.

One-third of the population have been forced to leave their homes, according to his statement, while 7.89 million have fled the country and 6.5 million have been internally displaced.

Türk also said in the statement that he spent some of his visit in a bomb shelter on Monday as Russia launched another wave of missile attacks. He also visited the towns of Bucha and Izium.

Türk also noted the impact that Russia’s attacks on critical infrastructure will leave on the Ukrainian people.

“I fear that there is one long, bleak winter ahead for Ukraine. The consequences of the war on the enjoyment of human rights for people in the country have already been devastating, and the prognosis is very worrying,” he continued.


Russia resorting to “cheap” methods by using Iranian drones: Ukrainian presidential official

Andrii Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, has stated that Russia is resorting to using “cheap mopeds” — referring to Iranian ‘Shahed’ drones — in attacks against Ukraine.

Writing on Telegram, he said that Russia is having to use Iranian drones because its missiles are “running out” and that the strikes are not having the “desired effect of terror” intended.

Yermak noted that Ukrainian forces have “worked out” how to combat the drone. He barbed that Russia has been left behind, saying that Ukraine is “smarter, stronger more creative and modern.”


Russian drones and missiles strike Zaporizhzhia

Two villages in Ukraine’s southern region of Zaporizhzhia were struck with drones and S-300 missiles early Wednesday, injuring three people, the regional governor Oleksandr Starukh said in a post on Telegram.

One of those injured was a 15-year-old girl, he noted.

Three houses were destroyed in the Russian attack while a further 18 were damaged across two villages.

Starukh added that Ukrainian forces also shot down half a dozen unmanned aerial vehicles.

Zaporizhzhia has come under deadly Russian shelling in recent weeks, which has also damaged critical infrastructure and residential buildings.


Ukrainian defense chief claims Russia has nearly exhausted its stocks of precision missiles

The head of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine stated Russia has nearly exhausted its arsenal of high-precision missiles and has so far not received ballistic missiles from Iran.

Kyrylo Budanov said on Ukrainian television that Russian stocks of high-precision missile weapons “are already coming to an end.”

“However, as we see, they decided to go to the end, to zero, which, in fact, is very bad for the Russian Federation itself and the military there are aware of this problem,” he added.

“There is production of new missiles, but it is absolutely meager, compared to the huge number that they are using,” Budanov said, adding, “Only a few types of high-precision missile weapons are produced.”

“In reality, they have [missiles] for a few more large-scale attacks and they will reach full zero,” he claimed.

Budyanov also added that “as of now, Iran has not delivered any ballistic missile to Russia.”

He also sounded bullish about the overall military situation, saying, “Ukraine has already won, everyone in the world feels it. We also understand it. …There will be some more difficult times, but Russia’s loss is a done deal. They themselves are well aware of this.”


Air base attacks will ‘deeply worry’ Russia: Western official

Attacks on Russian airfields have struck a psychological blow and Moscow will have to think much more carefully about how to keep its long-range bombers safe, says a senior Western official.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official told Reuters news agency that the attacks were the deepest inside Russia since the war began.

“If it were them [the Ukrainians] … it does show that they can operate in Russia at will and that will deeply worry the Russians,” one official stated, adding, “Psychologically, I think it strikes a blow.”

The Engels air base, near the city of Saratov and at least 600 km (372 miles) from the nearest Ukrainian territory, and two other airfields have been hit in the last two days by drone attacks.

“It may have the effect of pushing those bombers into dispersed locations,” the official continued, noting, “It certainly makes the Russians less confident … [that] anywhere is safe.”


Ukrainian civilians facing test of survival: UN

The United Nations humanitarian chief says Russia’s “sustained” attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, as temperatures fall below freezing, has created a “new level of need” in a war he has called “senseless”.

Martin Griffiths, the under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, detailed to the UN Security Council on Tuesday the toll of “widespread death, displacement and suffering” since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

He stated the situation has been exacerbated by Moscow’s recent attacks on crucial utility infrastructure, which has left millions without access to heat, electricity and water and added “another dangerous dimension to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war”.

More than 14 million people have now been forcibly displaced from their homes in Ukraine, including 7.8 million who have sought refuge elsewhere in Europe, Griffiths told the council.

A total of 17,023 civilians have been killed, including 419 children as of December 1, he continued, citing data from the UN human rights office and warning “the real toll is far greater”.

There have been at least 715 attacks on healthcare facilities.

“As a result of the attacks on civilian infrastructure, people are being deprived of health care and children deprived of education. In Ukraine today, the ability of civilians to survive is under attack,” Griffiths noted.


Frontex: Numbers crossing Ukrainian border constant

The EU’s border protection agency Frontex has found no significant change in the number of people crossing Ukraine’s border with the bloc, despite severe Russian attacks on the country’s essential infrastructure.

Over the past week, 229,542 people left Ukraine for an EU country, while 208,988 travelled in the opposite direction, Frontex tweeted.


Ukrainian FM says allies are assisting in strengthening country’s defense

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the country is strengthening its defense industry in association with Western partners.

In an online briefing, Kuleba stated Ukraine’s allies had also stepped up weapons production and improved supply chains to help Ukraine.

“We continue to work on strengthening the military production capacities of Ukraine’s defense industry with the participation of international partners,” he continued.

“Partner governments are already mobilizing industries and allocating additional funds for training and retention of personnel, as well as investments in supply chains,” Kuleba added.

He said Ukraine was receiving military aid from “at least 20 countries,” which include many NATO members.

“Allies have announced the transfer of 155mm artillery, shells and armored vehicles to Ukraine. I am especially grateful to our American partners: in early December, the Pentagon signed a $1.2 billion contract with Raytheon Technologies for the production of six NASAMS anti-aircraft missile systems for Ukraine,” Kuleba added.

NASAMS are highly advanced anti-air systems which have helped Ukraine intercept and destroy a growing proportion of Russian missiles.

Kuleba also noted he was grateful to Germany for strengthening their air defenses by transferring a further seven Gepard anti-aircraft systems.


US lawmakers authorise $800 million more for Ukraine in defence bill

US lawmakers agreed to provide Ukraine at least $800 million in additional security assistance next year and to boost Taiwan with billions in aid over the next several years, according to an $858 billion defence policy bill unveiled on Tuesday.

The Fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, authorizes the additional spending for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, an increase of $500 million over President Joe Biden’s request earlier this year.

The bill also strengthens the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, with $11.5 billion in new investments. And it authorises the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act of 2022, legislation to increase security cooperation with Taiwan with up to $10 billion in spending over five years.

The compromise version of the NDAA, a must-pass bill setting policy for the Pentagon, is the result of months of negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives.

The overall bill authorizes $45 billion more in defence spending than Biden requested, as congressional negotiators sought to address the effects of global inflation and provide additional security assistance for Ukraine.


US is not “enabling” or “encouraging” Ukraine to strike within Russia: State Department

The US State Department announced the US is not “enabling” or “encouraging Ukraine to strike beyond its borders” with lethal aid, after Russia blamed several recent attacks on Russian military infrastructure on Ukraine.

“We are providing Ukraine with what it needs to use on its sovereign territory, on Ukrainian soil, to take on Russian aggressors, Russian aggressors that have crossed over the border,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.

Price stated that the US has not “provided Ukraine with weapons that it is to use inside of Russia.”

“We have been very clear that these are defensive supplies,” he added.

In an earlier interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland suggested that Ukrainians were behind the recent drone strikes on two Russian bases.

“The Ukrainians are enormously innovative. They are working very hard with their own technologies and their own equipment,” she noted.

Nuland, who just returned from a trip to Kyiv, said the US policy of not providing Ukraine with offensive weaponry that could strike Russian territory has not changed.


US is not preventing Ukraine from developing long-range strike capabilities: Defense secretary

The US is not working to prevent Ukraine from developing its own long-range strike capabilities that could potentially target inside Russian territory, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.

“We are not working to prevent Ukraine from developing their own capability,” Austin stated on Tuesday.

His comments come after a top US State Department official on Tuesday suggested that the Ukrainians were behind the recent drone strikes on two Russian bases, and directly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of committing war crimes by targeting civilian populations and infrastructure.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told CNN that “nobody has claimed responsibility” for the drone strikes, but added that “the Ukrainian people are incredibly innovative; they are making their own drones, air and sea, that are incredibly effective.”

Additionally, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted Tuesday that the US has “neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia.”

Speaking at a press conference with Austin and their Australian counterparts, Blinken stressed he was aware of the reported drone strikes on Russian territory, but had no further information.


US diplomat: Russia must remove all its troops from Ukraine

The fastest way to peace in Ukraine is for Russia to withdraw the troops deployed, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman noted.

“Russia must remove all its troops from Ukraine – period,” Sherman said in Rome at an event hosted by LUISS university.

She added Western states were succeeding in helping Ukraine resist against Moscow’s “unprovoked” invasion and they must “stay the course”.


‘Positive’ mood to Western Balkan countries joining EU bloc: German chancellor

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says he has detected a more positive mood among EU members on the prospect of Western Balkan countries joining the bloc compared with a few years ago.

“I am quite sure that a new inclusive movement has arisen and that the scepticism that was formulated a few years ago by several member states has now mutated into a willingness to actively push this forward,” Scholz told reporters after a summit on the potential accession of the six Balkan countries.


Russia, China vying for influence in West Balkans: EU

Russia and China are trying to exert influence in the Western Balkans against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated.

“Will autocracies and the law of the strongest prevail? Or will democracy and the rule of law prevail?” von der Leyen said in Tirana as she arrived at the first summit of EU and Western Balkan leaders to take place in the region.

“This wrangling is also noticeable in the Western Balkans – Russia is trying to exert influence, China is trying to exert influence,” she added.


Strong international support for Ukraine has likely impacted China’s thinking on Taiwan: US

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the strong international support for Ukraine has likely impacted China’s thinking about Taiwan.

Blinken reiterated that the United States is determined to preserve peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and indicated that robust support to Ukraine would help rather than deter that goal.

His comments came in response to a question from CNN’s Kylie Atwood about a letter to Blinken from Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, who voiced “concern about reports that US arms transfers to Ukraine are impeding our ability to prevent a war in Asia by supplying Taiwan with the weapons it needs to deter a Chinese invasion.”

Blinken said he couldn’t speak to the issue of weapons systems, but pushed back on the argument that Hawley put forward: “Taiwan is more important for US national interests than Ukraine.”

“I think, in fact, if it’s exactly the opposite, in the sense that China is watching very carefully what’s happening in Ukraine, watching very carefully the response of the United States and countries around the world to the Russian aggression,” Blinken noted at a press conference at the State Department with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and their Australian counterparts.

Blinken added Beijing has seen “countries coming together in extraordinary ways to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself, to put tremendous pressure on Russia to ends its aggression, and as well, to make sure that, in the case of NATO, we’re strengthening our own capacity to defend ourselves in case that aggression were to spread.”

“And I think that has to have an impact on China’s thinking about the future and about what it may be looking at in terms of Taiwan,” he continued.

Under the “One China” policy, the US acknowledges China’s position that Taiwan is part of China but has never officially recognized the Communist Party’s claim to the self-governing island of 23 million. The US provides Taiwan with defensive weapons but has remained intentionally ambiguous on whether it would intervene militarily in the event of a Chinese attack.


Senior US official suggests Ukraine is behind drone strikes on Russian bases

A top US State Department official has suggested that Ukrainians were behind the recent drone strikes on two Russian bases and directly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of committing war crimes by targeting civilian populations and infrastructure.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland noted that “nobody has claimed responsibility” for the drone strikes on the Russian bases Monday.

“But the targets were the very precise bombers that the Russians have been using to attack critical infrastructure,” she said, adding that “the Ukrainian people are incredibly innovative; they are making their own drones, air and sea, that are incredibly effective.”

Nuland, who just returned from a trip to Kyiv, said the US policy of not providing Ukraine with offensive weaponry that could strike Russian territory has not changed.

“As I said, the Ukrainians are enormously innovative. They are working very hard with their own technologies and their own equipment,” she told Amanpour.

Although US officials have stated that war crimes are being committed in Ukraine, they’ve often shied away from definitively naming specific acts or actors, citing ongoing investigations into the crimes. President Joe Biden in March did label Putin a “war criminal.”

Nuland directly called out the Russian leader for war crimes.

“What we have to remember is that Putin has now brought this war to every civilian home, and that is a war crime,” she continued, adding Putin had initiated a new phase to the war, noting that “when he couldn’t win on the battlefield, he decided to try to freeze Ukraine.”

On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the Ukrainians were collecting war crimes evidence, but said he did not “want to prejudge where this is going.”

“I don’t want to prejudge it, but all I can say is this: Accountability for what’s happened is very important,” he added.


Russia is “inflicting massive strikes” on Ukrainian military and key infrastructure: DM

Russian forces are “inflicting massive strikes” on Ukraine, said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday.

The strikes are being carried out with “long-range precision weapons on the military command and control system, enterprises of the military-industrial complex, as well as related facilities to crush the military potential of Ukraine,” stated Shoigu.

On Monday, Russia unleashed a wave of drone and missile attacks across Ukraine, targeting the country’s energy infrastructure.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted the strikes caused extensive power outages in several regions, including Kyiv and Odesa.

Alleged Ukrainian attacks on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) constitute “nuclear terrorism,” Shoigu claimed.

“In the last two weeks alone, 33 large-caliber projectiles have been fired at the [nuclear power] station by the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Shoigu said, according to a readout of a meeting with the leadership of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

Russian air defense forces are intercepting most Ukrainian weapons, Shoigu added, but some have still managed to hit objects that affect the safety of the nuclear power plant.

“We classify these attacks by Ukrainian troops as nuclear terrorism,” he said, adding Russia’s army will continue to protect critical facilities in the captured territories.

Since falling under Russian control, frequent shelling in and around the plant has raised fears about a nuclear accident. Both sides have accused the other of nuclear terrorism, with Ukraine alleging that the Kremlin is using the nuclear plant as a cover to protect troops and launch attacks.

Last week, Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he hoped to reach an agreement with Russia and Ukraine on protecting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.

In an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica published on Friday, Grossi stated his commitment was to reach a solution “as soon as possible,” hopefully by the end of the year, he added.

But Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova noted that there can be “no talk of any withdrawal of ZNPP from Russia or transfer control over it to a third party.”

“The station is located on Russian territory and is fully controlled by Russia,” Zakharova stated on Monday, adding, “We presume that only we are able to ensure the physical and nuclear safety of ZNPP.”


120 soldiers exchanged in Russia-Ukraine prisoner swap

Russian and Ukrainian authorities have confirmed the exchange of 120 people in a prisoner swap.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, 60 Russian servicemen have been returned from “Kyiv-controlled territory.”

Returned soldiers will be treated and rehabilitated at the defense ministry’s facilities, it added.

Ukraine will receive 60 prisoners in return, said Andrii Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, on Telegram.

“This is the best news on the holiday,” added Yermak.

Of the total, there are 58 men and two women, with 14 prisoners captured during the siege of the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol.

Details surrounding the timing of the swap and location have not been released.

Last week, 50 Russian and 50 Ukrainian soldiers were exchanged.

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