Friday, February 3, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 291

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:

Energy facilities being hit ‘almost every day’

Ukrainian energy facilities are being attacked almost every day, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Addressing power outages affecting many parts of the country, he said: “It must be understood that even if there are no heavy missile strikes, this does not mean that there are no problems. Almost every day in different regions there is shelling, there are missile attacks, drone attacks. Energy facilities are hit almost every day.”

Everyone must reduce their usage to account for losses, he stated, adding that “Recovery is also very difficult. But still, our energy and utility crews are doing truly heroic things, restoring in weeks what would have required months of work.”


Russia ‘ramping up production of powerful weapons’

Russia is ramping up production of its most powerful, new-generation weapons to protect itself from Western enemies, according to ex-president Dmitry Medvedev.

“We are increasing production of the most powerful means of destruction. Including those based on new principles,” Medvedev, now deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, said.

He named Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand as having “pledged allegiance to the Nazi.”

President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated that Russia is developing new types of weapons, including hypersonic weapons.

Medvedev did not provide details of the weapons being produced.


‘No need’ for NATO to be drawn into conflict: UK

NATO is a defensive alliance and there is no need for it be drawn into the conflict in Ukraine, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said.

It follows comments from NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg who stated he feared the war could spiral into a direct conflict between Russia and NATO.

“NATO has made it clear that we are a defensive alliance. Nato has never threatened Russia and is not doing so now,” he added.

“Vladimir Putin has tried to create this narrative but… the alliance is there to protect its member states, not to threaten anybody else. So there is no inherent need for NATO to be drawn into a conflict and in fact we are trying to ensure that does not happen,”he continued.


Erdogan, Putin discuss potential regional gas hub in phone call

Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia have discussed a potential regional gas hub in Turkey, both countries said.

“The special importance of joint energy projects, primarily in the gas industry, was emphasized,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

Putin in October had proposed creating a base in Turkey for exports of Russian natural gas, as a means to redirect supplies from Russia’s Nord Stream pipelines to Europe, which were damaged in explosions in September.

The two leaders also discussed exporting other food products and commodities through the Black Sea grain corridor, Erdogan’s office said.


Most of southern Ukrainian city without power following Russian shelling

Most of the southern Ukrainian city of Odesa and parts of the Odesa region are without power Saturday following Russian shelling of energy infrastructure facilities, according to one of Ukraine’s major electricity providers, DTEK.

“Tonight, there was another attack by the Russian Federation on energy infrastructure facilities in the Odesa region. Several facilities were destroyed at once. Due to the scale of the destruction of the energy infrastructure in Odesa, all consumers except for critical infrastructure were disconnected from electricity,” DTEK reports.

“Emergency shutdowns also occur in populated areas of the region,” the provider continued.

“Currently, the situation in the region remains difficult.” Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s President’s Office, took to telegram to comment on the situation in Odesa.

He also confirmed the city is currently without power, and that electricity has only been restored at some critical facilities such as hospitals.

What Russia cannot win on the battlefield, it is seeking to win by casting Ukrainian cities into the dark and cold as a long winter sets in.

The result is a grinding battle of attrition: Barrages of Russian missiles fly across Ukraine, and Ukrainian power engineers work for days in freezing temperatures to restore power.

Monday saw the largest wave of missile attacks since Nov. 23. Officials report smaller rounds of shelling near-daily in regions across the country.


Kremlin says Europe switching gas dependency from Russia to US

Europe is simply switching from dependency on Russian gas to dependency on liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States, the RIA news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

He called the European desire to shake off dependency on Russian gas “absurd” and “frenzied”,  noting that the dependence was the same, just with “much less reciprocity”.

“And now, when the Europeans are losing billions of euros every day, Washington is already earning these billions of dollars,” Peskov added.


Ukraine port of Odesa not operating after attack on energy facilities: Official

The Ukrainian port of Odesa is not operational after the latest Russian attack on the region’s energy system, Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky has said, but added that grains traders were not expected to suspend exports.

Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi, two other ports authorised to export grains from Ukraine under a deal between Russia and Ukraine, were partially operating.

“Chornomorsk port is now operating at about 80 percent of capacity,” Solsky told Reuters in a phone call.


Water supply interrupted in parts of Odesa after drone attacks

There were emergency shutdowns in Odesa after Russian drones hit energy facilities, a spokesman for the regional administration has said.

Sergiy Bratchuk stated “interruptions of water supply” took place in parts of the city due to power outages.

On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted more than 1.5 million people were left without power in the region of Odesa after Russia used Iranian drones to strike the city and surrounding territory.


No plans to suspend grain exports from Odesa: Ukraine

There are no plans to suspend grain shipments from the Black Sea ports of Odesa following the latest Russian attack on the region’s energy system, Agriculture Minister Mykola Solky has said.

“There are problems, but none of the traders are talking about any suspension of shipments. Ports use alternative energy sources,” Solky told Reuters in a phone call.

Ukraine is among the world’s largest producers and exporters of corn and wheat but its exports have fallen significantly due to the Russian invasion.

Odesa regional authorities announced electricity for the city’s population will be restored “in the coming days”, while complete restoration of the networks may take two to three months.


British intelligence says Russia under pressure to fund Ukraine war

The UK’s Ministry of Defence announced Russia’s federal draft budget has allocated more than 9 trillion roubles ($143bn) to “defence, security and law enforcement” in 2023.

This is equivalent to more than 30 percent of Russia’s entire budget and represents a significant increase compared with previous years, it added.

As a consequence, other parts of Russia’s budget will come under “increasing pressure to support the cost of the war”, the regular intelligence bulletin said.


Over 1.5 million people in Odesa without power: Zelensky

More than 1.5 million people in Ukraine’s southern Odesa region are without power after Russian drone strikes on the electricity generating system, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said.

On Saturday, all non-critical infrastructure in Ukraine’s southern port city was without power after Russia used drones to hit energy facilities.

Russia used Iranian-made drones to hit two energy facilities in Odesa, officials stated.


Dozen European countries push to lower cap on gas prices

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

Gas prices in Europe have soared this year after Russia slashed gas deliveries following its invasion of Ukraine.

EU countries held emergency negotiations on Saturday as they try to reach a deal in time for a meeting on Tuesday of their energy ministers. EU members have wrangled for months over whether to cap gas prices but have so far failed to bridge the gap between their divergent views.

Pro-cap countries say the measure would shield their economies from high energy costs, but Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and gas market, and the Netherlands have opposed it.

They warn it could disrupt the normal functioning of energy markets and deter gas producers from sending much-needed fuel to Europe.


UK sanctions Russians over human rights abuses

Britain has announced wide-ranging sanctions against 30 targets worldwide, including five people from Russia and Russian-held Crimea amid the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, which has attracted successive waves of UK sanctions against Moscow.

Those targeted include Russian Colonel Ramil Rakhmatulovich Ibatullin for his role as the commander of the 90th Tank Division, which has been involved in fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine.

The government announced there had been multiple allegations made against serving members of the 90th Tank Division, including the conviction in Ukraine of a senior lieutenant on sexual abuse charges during the war.


Romania defuses fourth naval mine in Black Sea since March

Romania’s navy has defused a naval mine that had drifted close to its Black Sea shore, the Ministry of National Defence says.

Mines began floating in the Black Sea after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and Romanian, Bulgarian and Turkish military diving teams have been defusing those drifting in their waters.

The ministry added the navy was alerted by a Turkish cargo ship to a mine drifting about 2.5 nautical miles (4.6km) north of the Black Sea port of Constanta, Romania.

The Black Sea is crucial for shipping grain, oil and oil products. Its waters are shared by Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Turkey, Ukraine and Russia.

The mine defused on Saturday was the fourth handled by the Romanian military since March. Since the war started, Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine have destroyed roughly 40 mines in the western Black Sea.


Russia used Iranian drones to hit Odesa energy facilities: Ukrainian officials

Russia used Iranian-made drones to hit two energy facilities in Ukraine’s southern port city of Odesa, Ukrainian officials say.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office said two power facilities in the Odesa region were hit by Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones.

Fifteen of those drones, which carry an explosive payload and fly into their targets, were launched on targets in the southern regions of Odesa and Mykolaiv, and 10 were shot down, Ukraine’s armed forces said on Facebook.

Odesa, Ukraine’s largest port city, had a population of more than 1 million people before Russia’s February 24 invasion.

Maksym Marchenko, governor of the Odesa region, stated Russia used “kamikaze drones”, which fly into their targets rather than bomb or fire on them. He added two had been shot down over the Black Sea.

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

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