Friday, February 3, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 290

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 struggles over gas price cap

A dozen countries including Belgium, Italy, Poland and Slovenia have made a push to “significantly” lower a planned European Union cap on gas prices, as the bloc struggles to strike a deal on the measure, Reuters reported.

EU countries are holding emergency negotiations as they attempt to line up a deal to cap gas prices at a December 13 meeting of their energy ministers – but states remain split over the plan.

“The text has not gone far enough towards what we could consider a satisfactory compromise,” they stated.


Iran’s support for Russia set to grow in return for ‘unprecedented’ military access: UK MoD

Iran’s backing for the Russian military is likely to grow in coming months and Moscow will probably offer Tehran an “unprecedented” level of military support in return, the UK Ministry of Defence has announced.

The ministry’s latest intelligence update said Iran had become one of Russia’s top military backers since Russia invaded Ukraine in February and that Moscow was now trying to obtain more weapons, including hundreds of ballistic missiles.

“In return Russia is highly likely offering Iran an unprecedented level of military and technical support that is transforming their defence relationship,” it added.

The ministry noted Russia had highly likely used a large proportion of its stock of its own SS-26 Iskander short-range ballistic missiles, which could carry a 500kg warhead up to 500km.

“If Russia succeeds in bringing a large number of Iranian ballistic missiles into service, it will likely use them to continue and expand its campaign of strikes against Ukraine’s critical national infrastructure,” it continued.


City of Bakhmut now just ‘burnt ruins’: Zelensky

Russian forces have “destroyed” the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, President Volodymyr Zelensky said, while Ukraine’s military reported missile, rocket and airstrikes in multiple parts of the country.

The latest battles of Russia’s nine-and-a-half-month war in Ukraine have centred on four provinces that Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed to have annexed in late September.

The fighting indicates Moscow’s struggle to establish control of the regions and Ukraine’s determination to reclaim them.

Zelensky stated the situation “remains very difficult” in several frontline cities in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

Together, the provinces make up the Donbas, an expansive industrial region bordering Russia that Putin identified as a focus from the war’s outset, where Moscow-backed separatists have fought since 2014.

“Bakhmut, Soledar, Maryinka, Kreminna. For a long time, there is no living place left on the land of these areas that have not been damaged by shells and fire,” Zelensky noted.

“The occupiers actually destroyed Bakhmut, another Donbas city that the Russian army turned into burned ruins,” he continued.

He did not specify what he meant by “destroyed”, and some buildings remained standing and residents were seen in city streets.


Ukraine deadliest for journalists as 67 killed worldwide in 2022

Russia’s war in Ukraine, chaos in Haiti and rising violence by criminal groups in Mexico have contributed to a rise in the number of journalists killed doing their work in 2022, according to a new report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The IFJ announced that 67 journalists and media workers have been killed around the world so far this year, up from 47 in 2021.

More media workers were killed covering the war in Ukraine – 12 in total – than in any other country this year, according to the IFJ. Most of them were Ukrainian journalists but several foreign reporters also died, with many deaths occurring in the first chaotic weeks of the war.


Chief warns against conflict spiralling into Russia-NATO war

The head of NATO has expressed worry that the fighting in Ukraine could spin out of control and become a war between Russia and The North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“If things go wrong, they can go horribly wrong,” NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said in remarks to Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

“It is a terrible war in Ukraine. It is also a war that can become a full-fledged war that spreads into a major war between NATO and Russia. We are working on that every day to avoid that,” he added.

Stoltenberg said in the interview that “there is no doubt that a full-fledged war is a possibility”.

He added that it was important to avoid a conflict “that involves more countries in Europe and becomes a full-fledged war in Europe”.


Weapons sent to Ukraine falling into wrong hands: Russia

The United Nations Security Council has met following Russian claims that weapons supplied to Ukraine by Western countries have ended up in the hands of criminal gangs.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya stated the weapons the West supplied to Ukraine have been falling into the wrong hands, not only in Europe but also in Africa and the Middle East.

Countries that ship weapons to Kiev and aid the Ukrainian armed forces will face concrete legal consequences, Nebenzya said.

“We scrupulously register all such criminal actions of the US and its allies, they will have concrete legal consequences for everyone involved,” he added.

“We track and destroy the shipped vehicles. Since there its amount in Western warehouses drops, Washington and its allies have recently been trying to actively work with third countries, buying weapons and military equipment from them and shipping it to Ukraine,” the diplomat noted.

“The fact of such deals was recently admitted by Ukrainian Foreign Minister [Dmitry] Kuleba,” he continued.


Infrastructure and military among priorities amid energy crunch in Ukraine: PM

As Ukraine grapples with an energy crisis, the country will have to set priorities for electricity supply, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said.

“The first priority is critical infrastructure, in particular water and heat supply facilities and hospitals,” Shmyhal told a government meeting.

“The second priority is the military-industrial complex — facilities that work for the defense of the state. The principle, ‘Everything for the front,’ remains absolutely unchanged,” he added.

He stated the third priority is businesses that produce essential products — for example, bakeries and dairies. And the residential sector was fourth.

Volodymyr Kudrytskyi, CEO of state electricity generator Ukrenergo, said that repairs were continuing after the last wave of Russian missile attacks on Monday.

Kudrytskyi added substations in southern Ukraine and power plants were damaged.

“Several power plants were forced to stop generating electricity after the damage. Now we are gradually trying to restore generation at thermal power plants, to bring them to the levels that existed on the eve of the last attack,” he continued.

Kudrytskyi noted that since Oct. 10, more than 1,000 heavy missiles and drones have been fired at energy infrastructure facilities. The major difficulties with electricity supply were currently in the Odesa region, Kherson region, and Kharkiv region.

Nuclear generation has provided a little more than half of Ukraine’s needs in the recent past but Kudrytskyi said said the country needed other types of energy generation.

“There is not a single thermal power plant in Ukraine that was not damaged by the attacks,” he stated, adding, “Similarly, almost all hydroelectric power plants have suffered some damage and have a limited ability to generate electricity.”

He said as repairs continued, he hoped the country could transition to planned outages in the next few days. Much of Ukraine has also suffered emergency power cuts in recent weeks.

Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko noted more Russian targeting of infrastructure could be expected, and the energy supply might also be affected by heavy frosts.

“Ukraine has already received power equipment worth millions of euros. Our task today is not only to use the equipment for rapid restoration works but also to form a stock of equipment that may be urgently needed after the next shelling,” he added.


Inflation in Russia slows to under 12 percent

Inflation has continued to slow in Russia, standing at less than 12 percent in November year on year, after soaring to a 20-year high following the start of Moscow’s assault on Ukraine, according to statistics.

Last month, the rise in prices stood at 11.98 percent, down from 12.63 percent in October, the Rosstat state statistics service said.

The decline in inflation comes despite a barrage of Western sanctions that have affected much of the Russian economy, such as the automobile sector.

Earlier Friday, President Vladimir Putin stated he expected inflation to stand at 12.2 percent this year while the gross domestic product (GDP) would contract by 2.9 percent.


Russia bans 200 Canadians in tit-for-tat move

Russia is banning 200 prominent Canadians from entering the country in a direct response to personal sanctions announced by Ottawa, the foreign ministry in Moscow has announced.

Canada earlier announced sanctions against 33 current or former Russian officials and six entities involved in alleged “systematic human rights violations” against citizens who protested against the invasion of Ukraine.

“In response to personal sanctions imposed by Ottawa … 200 Canadian citizens are denied entry on a reciprocal basis,” the Russian ministry said on its website.

The ministry has also summoned Canada’s ambassador in Moscow.


US announces new air defence aid package for Ukraine

The White House has announced a new $275m aid package to help boost Ukraine’s air defences – against Russian drones, in particular.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters the aid “will soon be on its way to provide Ukraine with new capabilities to boost its air defences and counter the threats that Ukraine is facing from drones“.

The United States has also expressed alarm about a “full-scale defence partnership” between Russia and Iran, describing it as “harmful” to Ukraine, Iran’s neighbours and the world.

“Russia is seeking to collaborate with Iran, in areas like weapons development, training,” Kirby continued, adding that the US would sanction three Russian-based entities active in “the acquisition and use of Iranian drones”.


Russia is expanding and modernising its arsenal: US

Russia is expanding and modernising its nuclear arsenal, says US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“Russia is also modernising and expanding its nuclear arsenal,” Austin stated at a ceremony for the incoming commander of US Strategic Command, which oversees the United States’s nuclear arsenal.

“And as the Kremlin continues its cruel and unprovoked war of choice against Ukraine, the whole world has seen Putin engage in deeply irresponsible nuclear sabre-rattling,” Austin added.


Putin floats possibility that Russia may abandon doctrine of “no first use” of nuclear weapons

For the second time this week, President Vladimir Putin has floated the possibility that Russia may formally change its current doctrine that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.

Putin noted that United States’ policy was not to exclude the possibility of a “disarming” nuclear strike.

“They have it in their strategy, in the documents it is spelled out – a preventive blow. We don’t. We, on the other hand, have formulated a retaliatory strike in our strategy,” Putin said.

Even if Russia were to retaliate immediately on seeing the launch of nuclear missiles towards it, Putin stated, “This means that the fall of the warheads of enemy missiles on the territory of the Russian Federation is inevitable – they will still fall.”

“So if we’re talking about this disarming strike, then maybe think about adopting the best practices of our American partners and their ideas for ensuring their security. We’re just thinking about it. No one was shy when they talked about it out loud in previous times and years,” he added.

“If a potential adversary believes it is possible to use the theory of a preventive strike, and we do not, then this still makes us think about those threats that are posed to us,” he continued.

Putin was speaking at a news conference in Bishkek. He described the preemptive nuclear strike as “applied to the control points, deprive the enemy of these control systems and so on,” implying that it could even prevent a retaliatory strike.

On Wednesday, Putin acknowledged that the conflict is “going to take a while,” as he also warned of the “increasing” threat of nuclear war.

“As for the idea that Russia wouldn’t use such weapons first under any circumstances, then it means we wouldn’t be able to be the second to use them either — because the possibility to do so in case of an attack on our territory would be very limited,” he said Wednesday.

Putin’s comments come as the war enters winter, with Russia continuing to shell eastern and southern parts of Ukraine – and facing attacks on its own soil.

Joe Biden administration officials have previously said that Moscow has been warned at the highest levels of the consequences for use of nuclear weapon in the war.


Some critical infrastructure for electricity is “totally destroyed”: Ukraine’s infrastructure minister

Around 50% of Ukraine’s critical infrastructure for electricity have been “damaged more” and some has been “totally destroyed,” Oleksandr Kubrakov, the country’s infrastructure minister, has told CNN.

Ukraine was using “big bags of sand” to protect the targets, he added.

In a daily update to the energy situation across the country, the state energy supplier Ukrenergo maintained that the situation “remains difficult but under control”.

However, the company did admit that “all thermal and hydroelectric power plants are partially damaged,” and that the occupied Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is not supplying electricity to the grid.

The company noted that that there will be little “major improvement” on the restoration of power across the country over the weekend. Russian shelling and missile strikes have continued to impact Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

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