Thursday, June 20, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 292

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:

G7 to focus on boosting Ukraine’s air defence

The Group of Seven (G7) economic powers have announced they would continue to work together to bolster Ukraine’s military capabilities, with an immediate focus on air defence systems, according to a leaders’ statement released by Britain.

“We will continue to coordinate efforts to meet Ukraine’s urgent requirements for military and defence equipment with an immediate focus on providing Ukraine with air defence systems and capabilities,” the statement said.

NATO will not treat Russia like they treat Ukraine: Polish president

NATO can guarantee that they will not treat Russia the way they are treating Ukraine, Poland’s president said in response to a question about French President Emmanuel Macron’s idea of security guarantees for Russia.

“What we, as honest people, politicians, NATO members, are able to guarantee to Russia is that no one is going to do to Russia what she is doing to her neighbours,” Andrzej Duda told a news conference in Berlin.

EU threatens to keep billions from Hungary over Ukraine veto

Germany reminds Hungary of the importance of the EU’s values as the bloc threatens to keep billions from Budapest unless it lifts its veto on a joint loan to Ukraine and a global corporate tax.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s comments add pressure ahead of a meeting on Monday of the EU’s national ambassadors to try to break the deadlock.

The EU has withheld 5.8 billion euros from an economic stimulus pot citing poor judicial independence in Hungary, and a further 7.5 billion euros they said should be frozen over corruption.

But, Hungary blocked the 18 billion euros joint EU loan to Ukraine and the tax plan, drawing ire from other countries for what they said was an attempt to blackmail the bloc into releasing the funds to Budapest.

Hungary says it opposes joint EU borrowing to support Ukraine but that it would extend bilateral aid to Kyiv instead.

EU ministers agree to recharge military aid fund for Ukraine

European Union foreign ministers agreed to replenish a fund that has been used to pay for military support for Ukraine with another two billion euros ($2.11bn).

There is a possibility of another boost later, with the total increase until 2027 amounting to up to 5.5 billion euros, said the European Council.

“Today’s decision will ensure that we have the funding to continue delivering concrete military support to our partners’ armed forces,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated in a statement.

Ukrainian PM appeals for Patriot missile batteries

Ukraine’s prime minister appeals for Patriot missile batteries and other hi-tech air defence systems to counter Russian attacks.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told French broadcaster LCI that Russia wants to swamp Europe with a new wave of Ukrainian refugees by taking down infrastructure that has caused electricity and water outages for millions during freezing winter.

The provision of Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine would mark a significant advance in the air defence systems the West is sending to help the country defend itself from Russian aerial attacks.

So far, no country has offered them, although Germany has provided Patriot missiles to neighbouring Poland, its NATO ally.

Britain ‘open-minded’ about sending long range weapons to Ukraine

British defence minister Ben Wallace says he would be “open minded” about supplying Ukraine with long range weapons systems if Russia continues targeting civilian areas.

Speaking to parliament, Wallace was asked by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a vocal supporter of Ukraine, about the possible supply of longer-range missile systems to Kyiv to destroy or damage drone launch sites.

“I constantly review the weapons systems we could provide,” Wallace told parliament.

“We too have in our armour potential weapons systems that are longer and should the Russians continue to target civilian areas and try and break those Geneva Conventions, then I will be open minded to see what we do next,” he said.

Since the invasion, Britain has committed 3.8 billion dollars ($4.6 billion) to supporting Ukraine, which includes military training, weapons and humanitarian assistance.

‘Russia has already lost’: Ukrainian presidential adviser

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mikhail Podolyak stated Russia has already lost and that everything must be done to stop a reoccurrence of Russian aggression.

“Russia has already lost — mobilisation only delays its defeat. After Ukraine liberates its territories and RF’s [Russian Federation] defeat will be official, everything possible must be done to prevent recurrence of ru-aggression. It’s simple: tribunal, sentences to war authors and as NATO member,” he tweeted.

EU could face gas shortage in 2023

The European Union has secured enough gas for this winter but could face a gas shortage next year if Russia further cuts supplies, the European Commission and the International Energy Agency said.

“Despite the action that we have taken, we might still face a gap of up to 30 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas next year,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a press conference, citing data from the International Energy Agency due to be published.

UN aid chief visits Ukraine

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths arrives in Ukraine on a four-day trip as officials work to repair energy facilities that have caused winter power outages.

The under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator will visit Mykolaiv and the city of Kherson, the United Nations said.

“Griffiths will see the impact of the humanitarian response and new challenges that have arisen as infrastructure damage mounts amid freezing winter temperatures,” it said.

In Kherson, which was recaptured from Russian forces on November 11, Griffiths will see how warm shelters are being set up for residents in case they are left without heating, power or water.

Ukraine claims Russia has lost 94,760 soldiers

Another 620 Russian military personnel have been killed by Ukrainian forces. It brings the total number of losses on the Russian side since they invaded Ukraine to 94,760.

The figures published by the general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine have not been verified by IFP, and differ from those released by Russia.

The bulletin announced that a further 24 tanks were taken out on Sunday, as well as four more drones.

Russia slams US approach to Ukraine

Russia has accused the United States of an unhelpful approach to diplomatic talks in Istanbul, as the Turkish city remains the neutral meeting point for the two countries.

“Istanbul is a convenient place for such contacts,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

“I can say that any contacts are useful, but, unfortunately, we do not see a constructive approach from the American side aimed at concrete results,” Vershinin added.

Last month, a meeting between US CIA Director William Burns and Sergey Naryshkin, head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, in Ankara triggered speculation about back-channel talks between Moscow and Washington.

President Vladimir Putin noted last week that US President Joe Biden requested the CIA meeting and that the CIA-SVR contacts were continuing.

Russian and US diplomats also met in Istanbul on Friday to discuss several technical issues in their relationship, such as visas.

Black Sea port of Odesa reopens after Russian attack

The Black Sea port of Odesa has resumed operations after a Russian attack on the region’s energy system, a spokesperson for the infrastructure ministry said.

Since October, Russia has been targeting Ukraine’s energy infrastructure with waves of missile and drone strikes.

Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky stated on Sunday that two other ports, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi, that are authorised to export grains from Ukraine under a deal between Russia and Ukraine were partially operating.

No agreement on additional Russia sanctions yet: EU foreign policy chief

European Union member states have not yet agreed on a ninth package of Russia sanctions, the bloc’s foreign policy chief stated on Monday.

He hoped for agreement later on Monday or on Tuesday, Josep Borrell told reporters before an EU foreign ministers’ meeting, referring to additional Russia sanctions that would place almost 200 more individuals and entities on the EU sanctions list.

Russian soldiers unhappy with top brass: Pro-Krelim blogger

Some Russian officers fighting in Ukraine are reportedly unhappy with the military top brass and President Vladimir Putin because of the poor execution of the war, an influential nationalist Russian blogger has said after visiting the conflict zone.

Igor Girkin, a nationalist and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer who helped Russia annex Crimea in 2014 and then organise pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine, stated there was some discontent with the top brass.

In a scathing 90-minute video analysing Russia’s execution of the war, Girkin noted the “fish’s head is completely rotten” and that the Russian military needed reform and an intake of competent people who could lead a successful military campaign.

Some at the mid-levels of the military, Girkin added, were open about their dissatisfaction with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and even Putin.

“It is not just me … people are not blind and deaf at all: people at the mid-level there do not even hide their views which, how do I put it, are not fully complimentary about the president or the defence minister,” Girkin continued.

Girkin has repeatedly criticised Shoigu, a close Putin ally, for the battlefield defeats Russia has suffered in the war.

Biden reaffirms US support for Ukraine in phone call with Zelensky

Ukrainian PM says 40% of the country’s high-voltage network facilities are damaged

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Facebook that after eight waves of missile attacks on the country, all thermal and hydroelectric power stations have been damaged to some degree.

Shmyhal also stated that 40% of all high-voltage network facilities have been damaged “to varying degrees.”

“Each of us must realize that this winter we will have to live through with significant restrictions on electricity consumption,” he added.

EU military stockpiles ‘depleted’: Borrell

European Union members must pour more resources into boosting their military capabilities to ensure the flow of weapons will continue “until Ukraine prevails” over Russia, the bloc’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said, acknowledging that insufficient preparation has led to member states’ armories being stripped all but bare.

“We have given weapons to Ukraine, but in so doing, we realized that our military stockpiles have been depleted,” he wrote in a blog post on Sunday.

“And we should be able to do this as long as necessary, until Ukraine prevails,” he added.

The situation “has been a wake-up call for all of us about our military capabilities,” he lamented, reiterating his last week’s assessment that the EU is “lacking critical defense capabilities.”

While admitting that “you do not fight wars with bank notes,” and acknowledging “there is a long way between allocating money and developing physical and human operational capabilities,” Borrell praised the fact that the EU spending on defense had surpassed the €200 billion-level in 2021 for the first time.

Borrell also noted that the unchecked military spending in the name of helping Ukraine defeat Russia has brought the EU and its member nations closer to NATO’s benchmark of 2% GDP spending on military than they have been in years, while the European Defense Agency – which he also spearheads – saw a record €52 billion ($54.7bn) in defense investments.

As of last month, the EU and its member states together had committed over $11 billion in purely military aid to Ukraine in 2022, according to statistics collected by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. The UK and Canada provided another $5.5 billion, while the top donor, the US, sent at least $22.8 billion worth of weapons.

Ukraine’s Western backers, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised to keep the supply of arms to Kiev flowing “for as long as it takes,” a phrase that both leaders, as well as US President Joe Biden have frequently used when referring to their multibillion-dollar arms shipments.

US outlines position on Ukrainian strikes inside Russia

The US has not explicitly encouraged Ukraine to hit targets deep within Russia, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told ABC’s Martha Raddatz on Sunday.

His comments were apparently a response to Aleksey Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, who claimed on Saturday that Kiev does not rule out strikes inside Russia.

Asked by the ABC anchor whether he thought Ukrainian drones should be striking “airfields deep inside Russia,” Kirby first stated that he would “let the Ukrainian Armed Forces speak for their operations.”

He then clarified that “We are certainly not encouraging or enabling Ukrainian operations inside Russia. We are trying to make sure they can defend their territory, win back their ground in Ukraine.”

“From the very beginning, Martha, we’ve talked about monitoring and being mindful of the risks of escalation of this war because it’s not only not good for the Ukrainian people, it’s not good for our interests, and it’s not good for the Russian people,” Kirby concluded.

Saudi energy minister sees no clear results yet from Russia price cap

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said the effect of European sanctions on Russian crude oil and price cap measures “did not bring clear results yet” and its implementation was still unclear.

The Group of 7 price cap on Russian seaborne oil came into effect on December 5 as the West tries to limit Moscow’s ability to finance its war in Ukraine.

Russia has announced it would not abide by the measure even if it has to cut its production.

“What is happening now, in terms of sanctions and price caps imposed … really did not bring clear results, including measures implemented on December 5. We see a state of uncertainty in implementation,” Prince Abdulaziz told a forum held following the country’s 2023 budget announcements.

Prince Abdulaziz added Russia’s reaction and what actions it would take in response to these tools was another aspect that needed to be taken into consideration when looking at the state of play in global markets.

Ukraine and France discuss Kyiv’s 10-point peace plan

President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and discussed the implementation of his 10-step peace plan formula to end the war with Russia.

“Had a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron. Synchronised positions on the eve of G7 online summit and Ukraine support conference in Paris. Discussed the implementation of our ten-step peace formula, cooperation on defence and energy stability of Ukraine,” Zelensky wrote on Twitter.

For his part, Macron said he and Zelensky spoke on two separate conferences France is hosting on Tuesday: one to meet Ukraine’s needs through the winter months and a second with French companies involved in the war-torn country’s reconstruction.

“Ukraine will be able to count on the support of France for as long as it takes to see its sovereignty and territorial integrity fully restored,” Macron added.

International legal experts assist Ukraine in sexual violence investigation

An international team of legal advisers has been working with local prosecutors in Ukraine’s recaptured city of Kherson in recent days as they began gathering evidence of alleged sexual crimes by Russian forces as part of a full-scale investigation.

The visit by a team from Global Rights Compliance, an international legal practice based in The Hague, has not previously been reported.

Their efforts are part of a broader international effort to support overwhelmed Ukrainian authorities as they seek to hold Russians accountable for crimes they allegedly committed during the conflict, now nearly 10 months old.

Soon after Russia’s February 24 invasion, accusations of rape and other abuses surfaced across the country, according to accounts Reuters gathered and the United Nations investigative body.

Moscow has denied committing war crimes or targeting civilians, and the Kremlin denies allegations of sexual violence by the Russian military in Ukraine.

Situation in Odesa is “controlled, although not easy” amid power outage: Mayor

Power and water supplies are gradually being restored around the key port of Odesa after the region was hit by drone strikes, Odesa Mayor Hennadii Trukhanov said in a statement on Telegram.

The number of people without power in the region decreased from 1.5 million on Saturday to 300,000 on Sunday.

“The situation is quite controlled, although not easy,” he stated.

Trukhanov added his administration is re-launching pumping stations and delivering water by truck to zones where shortages continue. Regarding power supply and heating, the official said 43 out of 140 boiler houses are still not working.

“Power engineers are working to ensure that the electricity returns to the homes of Odesa residents as soon as possible,” the mayor continued.

The head of Odesa regional state administration, Maksym Marchenko, said in a statement that “power is gradually returning to Odesa”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted Saturday that the damage was done by drones, which Russia launched overnight Friday into Saturday.

The port of Odesa is Ukraine’s key to exporting vital food products, including through its “Grain from Ukraine” initiative, which is aimed at addressing the global hunger crisis.

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