Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 288

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:

EU to agree on new Iran sanctions over drones and human rights abuses

The European Union is set to agree on new sanctions on Iran over human rights abuses and the supply of drones to Russia, France’s foreign ministry spokesperson says.

Speaking to reporters, Anne-Claire Legendre stated foreign ministers would discuss new designations on individuals and entities involved in the “crackdown on protesters” in Iran and entities exporting drones to Russia.

Iran has announced it shipped several drones to Russia before the invasion. Russia denies its forces have used Iranian drones to attack Ukraine.

The EU has already imposed two rounds of sanctions since October in the form of asset freezes and travel bans.

Ukrainian official lists possible Kremlin tactics for winter

Head of the Ukrainian presidential office, Mikhail Podolyak, writes on Twitter about what he thinks Russia might do this winter.

He wrote: “[Vladimir] Putin’s classic triad, or the Kremlin’s bets for this winter: 1. Genocidal energy attacks to leave millions without electricity and cause a flood of refugees. 2. An information campaign about the need for a ceasefire to end suffering. 3. Nuclear intimidation in case of defeat.”

Europe lacks ‘defence capabilities’: EU foreign policy chief

The European Union lacks “critical defence capabilities”, the bloc’s foreign policy chief says.

Speaking at the annual European Defense Agency (EDA) conference in Brussels, Josep Borrell stated that the EU needs to take more responsibility for its own security.

“After the Cold War, we shrunk our forces to small-size armies without coordination … We lack critical defence capabilities,” said Borrell. “We have to compensate [for] years of underspending,” he continued.

According to the EDA, the total defence expenditure of the EU member states, excluding Denmark, rose to 214 billion euros ($225 bn).

Although the EU’s defence expenditure grew 6 percent in 2021 compared with 2020, the finding revealed that joint European defence spending is still below benchmark levels.

“Total defence expenditure that member states have announced will grow by another 70 billion euros in the next three years”, Borrell noted.

Ukraine’s GDP to fall deeper than expected due to Russian air raids

Ukraine’s GDP will fall more than expected this year due to Russian air raids on the country’s energy infrastructure, according to central bank deputy governor Serhiy Nikolaychuk.

“The fall in GDP will be deeper this year than we had expected in October,” he said at a press conference.

“Next year, the economic recovery will be very lethargic and much lower than we had expected,” he added.

US will be able to call Sweden, Finland NATO allies soon: Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he is convinced the United States will be able to call Sweden and Finland NATO allies soon and stated Turkey’s concerns about the two nations joining the alliance are being addressed.

Blinken, speaking at a news briefing following meetings at the Department of State with his Swedish and Finnish counterparts, noted that the two nations are already integrating into the work of the alliance.

Russia remains focused on ‘liberating’ annexed regions: Kremlin

The Kremlin says its forces are still set on seizing parts of eastern and southern Ukraine that Moscow has “annexed”.

Asked about the goals of Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated Russia still has to “liberate” parts of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions.

Moscow proclaimed that those four regions of Ukraine were now part of Russia after holding so-called referendums in September, which Kyiv and its allies referred to as a “sham”.

The UN also denounced Russia’s annexation.

Goal of nuclear safety zone is to ‘stop Ukraine shelling’: Russia

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced the primary goal of a proposed safety zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is to “stop Ukraine shelling”.

The plant has come under repeated shelling, prompting the IAEA nuclear safety watchdog to call for a demilitarised safety zone around the plant.

Moscow and Kyiv continually accuse each other of shelling the plant.

Sweden, Denmark refuse to include Russia in Nord Stream probe: Moscow

Russia’s Foreign Ministry says Sweden and Denmark have refused to include Russian authorities in their investigation into the two damaged Nord Stream gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea.

“Denmark and Sweden are afraid to let Russia in on the investigation because then the world would know who was responsible for the blasts,” Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, stated in a briefing.

European governments suspect the ruptures of the pipelines, used to bring gas directly from Russia to Germany, were caused by gross sabotage.

In October, Russia alleged that the UK was responsible for the damage, but the UK denies the claim.

Ukraine announces new emergency power cuts

Ukraine enforces new emergency power cuts to try to repair damaged energy infrastructure, which the national grid operator says has caused significant supply shortages.

Russia pummelled power facilities across Ukraine in the latest big wave of attacks on Monday at a time of the year when energy consumption usually rises because winter is setting in.

“As of 11am on December 8, because of damage caused by missile strikes to power plants and the high-voltage network, the system has a significant shortage of electricity,” grid operator Ukrenergo announced.

It added the weather complicated the situation, with western regions facing frost, rain, snow and strong winds that were causing wires to ice over, but that the most difficult situation was in eastern areas where fighting has been fiercest.

“In all regions, there is a lack of energy – up to a third of what is needed,” stated Oleksandr Starukh, the governor of the Zaporizhia region in southeastern Ukraine.

Restoring energy to Ukrainians will remain a priority item for the government, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“[The] energy sector is a permanent item on our agenda – both at the staff and government levels,” Zelensky said in his Wednesday night address.

The president noted he held a meeting on stabilising the energy system and protecting Ukrainian power plants.

He added that the generation and supply of electricity is being increased by adding more volume to the country’s energy system “almost every day”.

But due to the extensive damage to electrical systems from Russian attacks, he cautioned: “We should not forget – and everyone should not forget – that it is now impossible to restore 100 percent of the energy system as it was before … We need time. That is why shutdown schedules remain in most cities and districts.”

Zelensky also stated the biggest number of shutdowns would be in the capital, Kyiv, and its surroundings and the Lviv, Zhytomyr, Khmelnytskyi, Poltava, Vinnytsia and Zakarpattia regions.

Red Cross visits Russian and Ukrainian POWs

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) gained access to Ukrainian and Russian prisoners of war last week and planned more visits in what it described as “important progress”.

“My expectation is that these visits lead to more regular access to all prisoners of war,” the statement cited ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric as saying.

“While the recent visits are important progress, the ICRC must be granted unimpeded access to see all prisoners of war repeatedly and in private, wherever they are held,” the ICRC statement added.

The ICRC announced it carried out a two-day visit to Ukrainian POWs last week, with another happening this week.

It also visited Russian POWs last week, and more such visits are planned by month-end.

The Red Cross is now reaching out to the family members of POWs to share updates.

Some sent back short notes of love and personal news, while others asked for cigarettes, sweets and socks, it said, adding, “All these messages are a lifeline to anguished relatives.”

Over 93,000 Russian troops killed: Ukraine

The Ukrainian army has killed another 340 Russian troops in the last 24 hours.

More than 93,000 Russian personnel have been killed since 24 February, a post on Facebook by the general staff of the armed forces said.

Battles on December 8 also led to the loss of two Russian battle tanks, two armoured combat vehicles and two artillery systems.

A further two drones, which have been used to attack Ukraine’s infrastructure and residential areas, were shot down.

Russia’s published statistics show much lower numbers of losses.

Russia’s Belgorod shelled by Ukrainian forces: Governor

Ukrainian forces have shelled the western Russian city of Belgorod, according to the region’s governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.

Gladkov said on Telegram Thursday that the city, located about 35 kilometers (21 miles) from the Ukrainian border, had sustained damage to a power line caused by “shell fragment.”

Preliminary indications show there are no civilian casualties, he added.

It’s not the first time Belgorod has been targeted, according to the governor. On Nov. 15, he claimed two people had been killed in the city by Ukrainian shelling.

The alleged shelling of Belgorod comes after Russia accused Kyiv of using drones to strike military airfields far inside its territory on Monday and Tuesday — an extraordinary breach of Moscow’s assumptions that it can protect its deep interior.

US slams ‘loose talk’ on nuclear weapons after Putin comments

The US has denounced “loose talk” on nuclear weapons after President Vladimir Putin mused on rising risks of nuclear war but said Moscow would not strike first.

State Department Spokesman Ned Price stated, “We think any loose talk of nuclear weapons is absolutely irresponsible.”

Price said nuclear powers around the world since the Cold War, including China, India, the United States and Russia itself, have been clear that “a nuclear war is something that must never be fought and can never be won”.

“We think any other rhetoric – whether it is nuclear sabre-rattling or even raising the spectre of the use of tactical nuclear weapons – is something that is irresponsible,” Price continued.

“It is dangerous and it goes against the spirit of that statement that has been at the core of the nuclear non-proliferation regime since the Cold War,” he added.

Biden administration weighs Ukrainian requests for cluster munitions from US stockpile

Ukrainian officials and lawmakers have in recent months urged the Joe Biden administration and members of Congress to provide the Ukrainian military with cluster munition warheads, weapons that are banned by more than 100 countries but that Russia continues to use to devastating effect inside Ukraine.

The Ukrainian request for the cluster munitions, which was described to CNN by multiple US and Ukrainian officials, is one of the most controversial requests the Ukrainians have made to the US since the war began in February.

Senior Biden administration officials have been fielding this request for months and have not rejected it outright, CNN has learned, a detail that has not been previously reported.

Cluster munitions are imprecise by design, and scatter “bomblets” across large areas that can fail to explode on impact and can pose a long-term risk to anyone who encounters them, similar to landmines. They also create “nasty, bloody fragmentation” to anyone hit by them because of the dozens of submunitions that detonate at once across a large area, Mark Hiznay, a weapons expert and the associate arms director for Human Rights Watch, previously told CNN.

Top US officials have publicly stated that they plan to give the Ukrainians as much support as they need to give them an upper hand at the negotiating table with Russia, should it come to that. But Western military equipment is not infinite, and as stockpiles of warheads dwindle, the Ukrainians have made plain to the US that it could use the cluster munitions currently gathering dust in storage.

The need for more ammunition for the artillery and rocket systems the US and others have provided, and a way of closing Russia’s numerical superiority in artillery.

The Biden administration has not taken the option off the table as a last resort if stockpiles begin to run dangerously low. But sources say the proposal has not yet received significant consideration in large part due to the statutory restrictions that Congress has put on the US’ ability to transfer cluster munitions.

Russians fired over 1,000 times at Ukrainian power grid: Interfax

Russian forces have fired more than 1,000 rockets and missiles at Ukraine’s power grid, which is still working despite taking major damage, Interfax Ukraine news agency cited a senior official as saying.

Volodymyr Kudrytsky, chief executive of the Ukrenergo grid operator, also told a meeting arranged by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) that his officials were scouring the world for the complex equipment needed for repairs.

“These attacks represent the biggest blow to a power grid that humanity has ever seen. More than 1,000 shells and rockets were fired at electrical facilities and lines, including substations,” Interfax Ukraine cited Kudrytsky as saying.

Ukraine now has a serious shortage of generating capacity, even though consumption is down between 25 percent and 30 percent compared with the pre-war period.

“The system is still working, it is integrated, not broken or disconnected,” Kudrytsky added.

US blacklists more companies for aiding Russia’s military

President Joe Biden’s administration has added 24 companies and other entities which have supported Russia militarily, Pakistan’s nuclear activities or supplied an Iranian electronics company to an export-control list.

The entities, based in Latvia, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore and Switzerland, were added over US national security and foreign policy concerns, the Commerce Department said.

The companies include Fiber Optic Solutions in Latvia, which produces fibre optic gyroscopes and other equipment and Russia’s AO Kraftway Corporation PSC, which calls itself one of the biggest Russian IT companies.

The Commerce Department also added four trading and supply companies in Singapore for supplying or attempting to supply an Iranian electronics company, Pardazan System Namad Arman.

EU implements 9th package of sanctions against Russia

The European Union is “stepping up the pressure on Russia” with another package of sanctions, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on Wednesday.

The package — the EU’s ninth — adds another nearly 200 individuals and entities to its sanctions list. It includes armed forces, members of the Russian parliament and defense industrial companies.

“This list covers key figures in Russia’s brutal, deliberate missile strikes against civilians,” she said in a video posted on Twitter.

The EU will also sanction three more Russian banks, including a full transaction ban on the country’s regional development bank, “to further dry out Putin’s war chest,” she added.

The measures will also cut Russia’s access to drones, both directly and via third-country suppliers such as Iran, she said.

The bloc will also impose new controls on exports, with a focus on dual-use goods such as chemicals, nerve agents, electronics and IT components, which “could be used by the Russian war machine,” she continued.

EU Commission Vice President Josep Borrell said the latest measures are a direct consequence of the weaponization of winter by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“He wants to disrupt electricity, heating, and water supplies for millions of civilians across Ukraine. We are responding with the 9th package of sanctions against those who are instrumental in this brutal war,” he wrote on Twitter.

NATO chief: Russia looking to “freeze” conflict in Ukraine to “regroup for bigger offensive”

Russia is looking to temporarily “freeze” the conflict in Ukraine in order to “regroup and then launch a bigger offensive,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday.

Speaking at an event hosted by the Financial Times, Stoltenberg stated it was Russia’s intention “to try to have a kind of short break or a short freeze of the conflict so Russia can recover their troops, regroup and then launch a bigger offensive later on, because now Ukraine has the momentum.”

Stoltenberg noted last week that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “failing in Ukraine,” pointing to Ukraine’s success in pushing Russian forces out of territories around Kyiv and Kharkiv, as well as the liberation of Kherson city, which he said was a sign of Russia’s “weakness.”

US has neither “encouraged” nor “enabled” Ukrainian strikes on Russia: White House

The White House sought to distance the US Wednesday from recent reported Ukrainian attacks on Russia, saying that the US will “respect” Ukraine’s decisions on the battlefield but has not encouraged escalation.

National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby deferred to Ukraine for confirmation of who was responsible for recent reported strikes on Russia, but said the US has neither “encouraged” nor “enabled” any such attacks.

“We have not certainly not encouraged, nor have we enabled Ukraine to strike into Russia. Our focus has been — and remains on — making sure that they have the capabilities they need, the resources they need to defend themselves,” Kirby said, adding, “Everything that we’re providing is really designed with that in mind.”

“We are providing them information to help them defend themselves. We certainly are providing them resources and material weapons to defend themselves. But they make their own decisions. And the whole idea, the whole principle behind this war is one of sovereignty and unlike the Russians, we respect Ukrainian sovereignty. When we give them a weapons system, it belongs to them, where they use it, how they use it, how much ammunition they use, to use in that system, those are, those are Ukrainian decisions and we respect that,” he continued.

But any escalation outside of Ukraine’s borders, he stated, is “not good” for US national security interests.

“We have clearly had conversations with [Ukraine] about accountability on weapons systems. We certainly have made it very clear our concerns about escalation. But in the end, these are Ukrainian decisions that they have to make and that they have to speak to one way or the other,” he told CNN.

Germany to send 18 more self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine

Germany plans to supply Ukraine with 18 RCH 155 wheeled howitzers, according to the government’s updated list of arms deliveries to Ukraine.

The delivery is in “preparation/implementation” phase, according to the list.

Germany will also be providing an additional 100 drone defense sensors and jammers, two hangar tents and seven load-handling trucks, according to the list.

Germany and the Netherlands have already sent 14 self-propelled howitzers PzH2000 to Ukraine, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition.

The RCH 155 is a modernized version of the PzH 2000 on wheels instead of tracks and with a higher degree of automation and crew safety, according to the company producing the howitzer, Krauss Maffei Wegmann. The German government legally cleared the way for RCH 155s to be sent to Ukraine in late September.

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