Friday, February 3, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 289

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:

US and Russian representatives to meet in Istanbul to discuss ‘difficult questions’

Representatives from Russia and the US are meeting in Istanbul today to discuss “difficult questions”, the Russian state-owned news agency Tass reported.

The two sides are set to discuss “irritants” in bilateral relations including visas, embassy staffing levels and the work of each side’s institutions and agencies abroad, among other unspecified issues, the report added.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, confirmed the meeting during a discussion in Moscow. He was cited by Tass as saying: “Yes, it is true that a meeting is being held today in Istanbul at the level of the directors of relevant departments. In principle, this event is held periodically to discuss so-called irritants in bilateral relations. After a certain pause, we resumed communication with the Americans in person on this issue.”

The allusion to “irritants” means that they are discussing the technicalities of how the US diplomatic missions in Russia and Russian ones in the US function, he continued.


Bulgaria to send military aid to Ukraine for first time

Bulgaria will send military aid to Ukraine for the first time since the Russian invasion began.

It was one of the few EU countries not to send aid after the Russia-friendly Socialist party, a coalition partner in the previous government, blocked a previous proposal in May.

The list of arms Bulgaria will send to Ukraine is classified, but government officials have said Sofia would mainly send light weaponry and ammunition.

Caretaker Defence Minister Dimitar Stoyanov said Bulgaria could not afford to send its Russian-made anti-aircraft missile systems or MIG-19 and SU-25 fighter jets, which Kyiv wants.

“My approach has been conservative because I need to ensure the defence capabilities of Bulgaria. The aid is fully in line with Ukraine’s priorities, but we are not sending S-300 systems, nor MIG-29 or SU-25 aircraft”, Stoyanov told Nova TV.


Western support is not ‘charity’: Ukraine’s finance minister

Ukraine’s finance minister says Western financial support is “not charity” but “self-preservation” in defending democracy as Ukraine repairs electrical and heating infrastructure damaged by Russian attacks.

“It’s not charity to support Ukraine,” Serhiy Marchenko stated, adding, “We are trying to protect freedom and democracy of all (the) civilized world.”

Marchenko told The Associated Press that he believes European Union officials will sort out a dispute with Hungary, who, last week, blocked an €18 billion ($18.97 billion) aid package.

Marchenko said financial support for Ukraine is tiny compared to what developed countries spent to combat emergencies like the global financial crisis of 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic.

He added that the damage to civilian infrastructure would cost 0.5 percent of annual economic output next year, adding to the burden as Ukraine tries to cover a budget deficit equivalent to $38 billion.


Putin: West’s desire for global dominance is ‘increasing risk of conflict’

Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the West’s desire to maintain its dominance on the world stage was increasing the risks of conflict.

“The potential for conflict in the world is growing and this is a direct consequence of the attempts by Western elites to preserve their political, financial, military and ideological dominance by any means,” he noted.

The Russian leader was speaking in a video message to a summit of defence ministers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and a group of ex-Soviet countries that was published by the Kremlin.

“They deliberately multiply chaos and aggravate the international situation,” Putin continued.

He also accused the West of “exploiting” Ukraine and using its people as “cannon fodder” in a conflict against Russia.

Putin has repeatedly cast the war in Ukraine – which Moscow calls a “special military operation” – as a conflict between Russia and the West, criticising those who have provided military and financial backing to Ukraine.

Kyiv, European countries and Washington say Moscow used the pretext of security concerns to launch a cynical war of aggression against its pro-European neighbour in an attempt to seize swathes of territory and topple President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.


US to impose further sanctions on Russia

The US is set to levy fresh sanctions against Russia and China on Friday, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing officials familiar with the matter.

The measures will target Russia’s deployment of Iranian drones in Ukraine, as well as alleged human-rights abuses by Russia.

oth Tehran and Moscow have repeatedly denied claims that Iran has provided Russia with weapons to be used in the war in Ukraine.


Kherson hospital hit by Russian shelling

A hospital in Kherson city was hit by Russian shelling on Friday morning, Yaroslav Yanushevysh, head of the Kherson region military administration, said in a Telegram post.

The pediatric ward and morgue were damaged in the shelling, according to Yanushevysh. No injuries or casualties have been recorded so far.

On Wednesday, two people died after Kherson was shelled 51 times, according to Yanushevysh, who stated Russians had “fired at peaceful settlements of the region with artillery, MLRS, tanks and mortars.”

Last month, Russian troops withdrew from Kherson city after having occupied it for eight months, in a humiliating setback. But Russia still retains control of much of the broader Kherson region.


US to unveil new military aid package for Ukraine

Washington is about to send another security assistance package to Kiev, which will include anti-drone and air defense systems, Reuters reported, citing sources.

The $275 million measure is expected to be officially announced on Friday.

According to officials and documents cited by the news agency, the security aid will also include rockets for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), 155mm ammunition, Humvee vehicles, and generators. At the same time, there are no details on the air defense equipment, the report added. In addition to this, the contents and the size of the aid package may change before it is approved by US President Joe Biden.

The new measure is expected to be covered by the Presidential Drawdown Authority, which allows Washington to dispatch military equipment quickly and without congressional approval.

Supporting Ukraine with air defense systems has become an “absolute priority” for Western countries since Russia began targeting the country’s energy infrastructure, according to the US Department of Defense. The recurring bombardments picked up steam after Moscow accused Kiev of conducting “terrorist attacks” on Russian structures, including the strategic Crimea Bridge.

In early November, the Pentagon announced a $400 million security package for Ukraine, which included ammunition for the HAWK air defense system as well as four Avenger air defense systems and additional Stinger missiles.

Since the start of the conflict, the US has committed more than $19 billion in security assistance to Kiev.

Moscow has repeatedly warned Western countries that providing heavy weapons to Ukraine risks both crossing Russia’s “red lines,” and could lead to their direct involvement in the conflict. Washington and its allies insist they are not a party to the hostilities, but continue sending arms shipments to Kiev.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the strikes on Ukraine’s power infrastructure were intended to degrade Kiev’s ability to transport troops, and Western-supplied weapons and equipment to the battlefield by rail.


US wants the Ukraine conflict to last until at least 2025: Russia

US arms procurement documents show that Washington intends to fuel the conflict in Ukraine for at least three more years, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has insisted.

She added that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky should take notice of it when assessing the future of his country.

“Washington plans to fuel hostilities in Ukraine at least till the end of 2025. That’s what their plans are, judging by documents, which they don’t hide from anybody,” the Russian diplomat told journalists.

Zakharova was referring to a contract for Raytheon’s National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS), which the Pentagon announced last week. The US Army will buy $1.2 billion worth of hardware for Ukraine, according to the announcement, with an estimated completion date in late November 2025.

The US, which pledged to provide military assistance to Kiev for “as long as it takes” to defeat Russia, previously supplied this type of anti-aircraft system to Ukrainian troops.

Advisors to President Zelensky should tell him about the procurement timeline, Zakharova suggested, so that he didn’t promise his people that the conflict would end next year, as he did this week.

“Washington has different plans. There is a lot of money to be embezzled” through Ukraine aid programs, she alleged. Zakharova claimed that Western assistance was “a corruption marathon” going from the White House to Kiev and back again and profiting grifters on a global scale.

She also sفشفثی that Zelensky should watch his back, considering last week’s visit to Ukraine by Victoria Nuland, a veteran US diplomat, whom Zakharova called “a harbinger of tragic shocks, caused by the Washington-orchestrated bloody putsch” of 2014.

“A new palace coup may be in the making or some other reshuffle. I believe the Zelensky regime, which has repeatedly tested Washington’s patience, has some things to consider,” she remarked, adding that the US didn’t care who was in power in Kiev.

Nuland, who served as US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs in 2014, was recorded discussing with then-US Ambassador to Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, the composition of the post-coup Ukrainian government. The private conversation was leaked online by unidentified parties. Her preferred candidate for prime minister subsequently got the job.


NATO is increasingly involved in Ukrainian conflict: Russia

NATO countries are increasingly involved in the conflict in Ukraine, with the United States intentionally proceeding with an escalation on this track, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on the Rossiya-24 TV channel.

“NATO members are increasingly and directly involved in this conflict. Their support for Kiev is now much diversified than it was a few months ago. This is a reflection of Washington’s intentional policy, obediently pursued by the Europeans, of escalating the conflict. They are playing with fire. The risks are soaring,” Ryabkov stated.

Moscow does not see that the West has any caps on the range of arms supplies to Ukraine, he continued.

“The Westerners are pushing ahead with expanding the range of deliveries of ever heavier, longer-range weapons. At the same time, they slyly and deceitfully, by and large, try to create an impression that there is some kind of a border line, some kind of self-restraint in this regard. We do not see anything like that,” Ryabkov emphasized.

He stressed that the Russian side was conducting bilateral diplomatic work on this issue, primarily with unfriendly countries, “to warn them of the consequences of these steps.” The UN Security Council is the central platform for resisting such Western practices, Ryabkov said.

“All diplomatic tools – demarches, protests, notes, appeals on specialized platforms, and diplomatic clashes in Vienna and in New York, where there are opportunities to drive the message home and to warn our opponents – are being used to the full extent,” the diplomat added.


Ukraine says it is working with UN nuclear watchdog on demilitarising Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said his government was working with the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency to create a safety zone around the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant.

Kyiv remained “in close contact” with Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he stated at a joint press conference with his Slovak counterpart, Rastislav Káčer, in Kyiv.

Kuleba added, “Of course, we are all interested in ensuring that all nuclear power plants, not only the Zaporizhzhia NPP, are safe. This is extremely difficult to achieve without stopping Russian missile strikes on the territory of Ukraine, but we are moving forward step by with mutual understanding with the IAEA.”

There is a rule in diplomacy that nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed, he noted.

Ukraine’s state nuclear energy firm Energoatom repeated Kyiv’s claims that Russia was using the site as a de facto weapons depot.

Energoatom announced Russia had brought multiple rocket launchers to the site and stationed them near the plant’s power unit No 6.

It went on to claim that Russian forces planned to use them to launch attacks against Ukrainian positions and bridges on the western bank of the Dnipro River.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has come under repeated shelling since Moscow seized it shortly after launching its invasion in February, prompting the IAEA to call for a demilitarised safety zone around the plant.


Kremlin sees ‘risk’ of Ukraine attacks on Crimea

The Kremlin has announced that the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula was vulnerable to Ukrainian attacks after officials said they had shot down a drone near a key naval base.

The latest drone attack came after Russian President Vladimir Putin recently visited the only bridge connecting Crimea with the Russian mainland to survey repair work on the key artery damaged in a blast Moscow blamed on Kyiv.

“There are certainly risks because the Ukrainian side continues its policy of organising terrorist attacks,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“But, on the other hand, information we get indicates that effective countermeasures are being taken,” he continued.


No reason to believe Russia involved in blocking ships from Mediterranean: US

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has told reporters the Joe Biden administration had no reason to believe the Russian government was involved in a decision by Turkey to block ships from transiting to the Mediterranean Sea.

Yellen also stated the administration saw no reason oil shipments from Kazakhstan should be subjected to new procedures.

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