Friday, June 21, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 294: Blasts hit Kyiv, emergency services dispatched

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:

Attacks on energy infrastructure put ‘almost every child in Ukraine at desperate risk’: UNICEF

Nearly seven million children in Ukraine, or almost every child in the country, have been put at “desperate risk” as continued attacks on Ukrainian critical energy infrastructure cause widespread blackouts and disruption of heating and water, the UN’s children agency has warned.

Without sustained access to electricity, children in Ukraine are “facing a bleak winter huddled in the cold and the dark” with temperatures of below -20C, UNICEF said.

Many schools in the country have been destroyed or damaged by missile attacks, leaving children unable to continue the online learning opportunities which, for many, is their only access to education, it added.

UNICEF’s executive director, Catherine Russell, said, “Beyond the immediate threats the freezing conditions bring, children are also deprived of the ability to learn or stay connected with friends and family, putting both their physical and their mental health at desperate risk.”

An estimated 1.5 million children are at risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders and other mental conditions this winter, the agency announced.

The harsh winter, combined with the war’s impact on families’ livelihoods and incomes as well as the energy and socioeconomic crisis triggered by the war, will be particularly hard for the 6.5 million people, including 1.2 million children, who are currently displaced within Ukraine, it noted.

Russell called on UNICEF and humanitarian colleagues to be given “rapid and unimpeded” access to children and families in need of humanitarian assistance no matter where they are.

She added, “The rules of war are clear – children and the essential civilian infrastructure they rely on to survive must be protected.”

Zelensky urges Europe to back war tribunal for Russian leaders

Pope says spend less on Christmas, give to Ukraine

Pope Francis urged people to spend less on Christmas celebrations and gifts this year and send the difference to Ukrainians to help them get through the hunger and cold of winter.

The pope, who has been making appeals for Ukraine at nearly every public event since Russia invaded its neighbour in February, made the unscripted plea at the end of his weekly general audience.

“Brothers and sisters, I tell you, there is so much suffering in Ukraine, so much, so much,” he said, adding that he wanted to draw attention to the particular problems Ukrainians will bear in the coming months.

“It is beautiful to celebrate Christmas, but let us lower the level of Christmas spending. Let’s have a more humble Christmas, with more humble gifts, and send what we save to the Ukrainian people, who need it,” he stated, prompting several rounds of applause in the audience hall.

“They are suffering so much, they are going hungry, they feel the cold and many are dying because there are not enough doctors and nurses available,” he continued.

He spoke as millions of civilians enduring Europe’s biggest conflict since the second world war have had to contend with cuts to power, heat and water caused by Russian attacks on infrastructure as sub-zero temperatures take hold.

“Let’s not forget. Christmas, yes. In peace with the Lord, yes. But with Ukrainians in our hearts. Let’s make this concrete gesture for them,” he added.

Zelensky and Ukrainian officials discuss border security

The president’s office said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and top military officials discussed moves to ensure border security.

The office emphasised securing the border in a statement issued after a supreme command meeting, without saying which part of the border was focused on.

The statement comes as Belarus, a neighbouring country and Moscow ally, undertook several military activities in the past week.

“The recent activities of the enemy and the way to confront it were … analysed. Particular attention was given to ensuring the security of Ukraine’s state border,” the statement added.

Despite the big freeze, Ukrainians are returning: migration agency

With temperatures in Ukraine continuing to fall to -10 degrees Celsius, data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that only seven percent of people were leaving the country.

“Nearly 18 million people – 40 per cent of Ukraine’s population – need urgent humanitarian aid,” said IOM Chief of Mission in Ukraine, Anh Nguyen.

“We must support them during winter, particularly those with no access to shelter or heat. IOM urges stakeholders to scale up their efforts as the needs keep growing with each passing day,” Nguyen added.

The organisation also found that 43 percent of households have used up their savings for survival purposes. A further 63 percent of respondents are rationing their use of gas, electricity and solid fuel.

As of December, the IOM reported that “over 5 million people who had been displaced within Ukraine or beyond, have returned home”.

“There were only 700,000 persons living in Kharkiv in March and now there are over 1.1 million. People are coming back and are determined to stay. We need to take care of them,” stated Ievhen Hryschenko, the technical director of the Kharkiv Heating Networks.

Russia oil exports rose in November, ahead of G7 price cap

Russia’s oil exports rose in November ahead of the G7 price cap which came into effect on December 5, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said.

But lower global prices and steeper discounts for Russian oil meant Moscow’s revenue fell by $700m to $15.8bn, the IEA added.

The energy watchdog announced it expects the price cap to reduce Russia’s oil output by 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) next year.

EU united in support for Ukraine: German chancellor

The EU is united in its support for Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told Germany’s parliament.

“Anyone who thinks he can undermine the values of the EU, to which every member state has committed itself, by blocking its foreign and security policies, will fail,” he told legislators on Wednesday.

Hungary dropped its objections to an EU loan to Kyiv after the EU partially unfroze financial support for Hungary.

Support for Ukraine, including sanctions against Russia, would be maintained and intensified for as long as President Vladimir Putin kept up his war against Kyiv, Scholz added.

“Nobody is suffering as much from Russia’s war as the Ukrainians – and we stand firmly by their side,” he said.

Russian shelling targets Kherson regional headquarters: Kyiv

Multiple Russian rocket launchers hit the regional administration building on the central square of the recently liberated southern city of Kherson, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office announced.

Ukraine recaptured Kherson from Russian forces on November 11.

Since leaving the city, Russian forces have been shelling Kherson from the opposite side of the Dnieper River.

No proposals on ‘Christmas ceasefire’: Kremlin

The Kremlin says it has not received any proposals about a “Christmas ceasefire” in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Russia this week to withdraw its troops by Christmas as the first step towards a peace deal.

Asked whether Moscow had seen proposals for a “Christmas ceasefire,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “No, no such offers have been received from anybody. This topic is not on the agenda”.

Peskov noted on Tuesday there would be no peace with Kyiv until Zelenskyy accepted the “realities” on the ground, referring to the regions it annexed following “referendums”, Kyiv and the West have referred to as a “sham”.

Patriot defence system would be legitimate target: Russia

The Kremlin says that US Patriot missile defence systems would be a legitimate target for Russian attacks against Ukraine, should the United States authorise them to be delivered to support Kyiv.

Washington is finalising plans to send the Patriot missile defence system to Ukraine, a decision that could be announced as soon as this week.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated Patriots would “definitely” be a target for Russia but that he would not comment on unconfirmed media reports.

The Patriot is considered one of the most advanced US air defence systems, including aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.

Drone attacks were launched from Sea of Azov: Ukrainian Air Force

The Russian drones that targeted Kyiv in a series of attacks on Wednesday morning were “strike UAVs flying from the east coast of the Sea of Azov,” the Ukrainian Air Force announced.

The inland Sea of Azov is located between mainland Ukraine to the north, Crimea to the west and Russia’s Kuban region to the east.

Ukraine’s air defense forces shot down multiple drones as Kyiv came under a barrage of Russian attacks that damaged buildings, the capital’s military administration said earlier.

Attacks from Russian missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, over the past two months have destroyed key infrastructure across Ukraine.

Russian commander says “NATO bloc” in Ukraine can’t be beaten without nuclear weapons

Russia can’t “defeat the NATO bloc” in Ukraine without using nuclear weapons, a Russian commander in the east of the country said on state television.

Commander Alexander Khodakovsky of the Russian militia in the Donetsk region stated on Russia-1 that Moscow’s resources are limited.

He also claimed that Russia is now fighting the entire Western world, which is why the next escalation of the Ukraine war can “only be one: nuclear.”

““We don’t have the resources to defeat the NATO bloc with conventional means. But we have nuclear weapons for that,” Khodakovsky added.

The Kremlin has not publicly responded to Khodakovsky’s comments.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of the “increasing” threat of nuclear war but said he viewed the Russian nuclear arsenal as a deterrent rather than a provocation.

No deaths reported

No deaths have resulted from the drone attacks in Kyiv on Wednesday morning, the spokesperson for Kyiv’s rescue services, Svitlana Vodolaga, noted.

President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on Wednesday that Ukrainian air defence systems had shot down 13 kamikaze drones that targeted the capital Kyiv earlier in the day.

Russia “started this morning with 13 Shaheds… all 13 were shot down by our Ukrainian air defence systems,” Zelensky said in a video address on social media, referring to Iranian-made suicide drones that Moscow has been accused of deploying against Ukraine targets.

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

Explosions heard in Ukrainian capital, emergency teams deployed

Three explosions have been heard in the centre of Kyiv, as Ukraine announced it had shot down a number of drones.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko said 10 drones had been shot down by Ukraine’s air defences, while emergency services had been dispatched to the central Shevchenkivskyi district.

“Details later,” he added on his Telegram channel.

The city’s administration announced two administrative buildings were damaged in a drone attack, adding that there was still no information about potential injuries or fatalities.

Oleksiy Goncharenko, a Ukrainian politician, said on Twitter he had heard three explosions by 6.30am local time (04:30 GMT).

The air-raid alarm had gone off at 5.55am (03:55 GMT) with residents urged to stay in shelters until the all clear.

“Ukrainians wake up not from alarm clocks, but from explosions,” Goncharenko wrote, adding, “Thanks to neighboring Russia! Good morning!”

Air defence systems were activated and “hitting targets” Kyiv Oblast governor Oleksiy Kuleba said.

Ukrainian says Russia may be able to launch a “large offensive” in January or February

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, has said that Russia’s capability to launch a “large offensive may be restored” by the end of January or February.

Speaking to foreign reporters from a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine’s top diplomat stated “they definitely still keep hopes that they will be able to break through our lines and advanced deeper in Ukraine.”

Kuleba explained that he felt several reasons contributed to the signs that Russia still has its sights set on larger portions of Ukraine.

He attributed that view to, “the conscription they have announced, and the training of new conscripts and the movement of their heavy weapons supports the country.”

Russia launched a drive in September to mobilize 300,000 soldiers.

US finalizing plans to send Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine

The US administration is finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine that could be announced as soon as this week, according to two US officials and a senior administration official.

The Pentagon’s plan still needs to be approved by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin before it is sent to US President Joe Biden for his signature. The three officials told CNN that approval is expected.

Ukraine has been calling for the US to send the advanced long-range air defense system that is highly effective at intercepting ballistic and cruise missiles as it comes under a barrage of Russian missile and drone attacks that have destroyed key infrastructure across the country. It would be the most effective long-range defensive weapons system sent to the country and officials say it will help secure airspace for NATO nations in eastern Europe.

It is not clear how many missile launchers will be sent but a typical Patriot battery includes a radar set that detects and tracks targets, computers, power generating equipment, an engagement control station and up to eight launchers, each holding four ready to fire missiles.

Once the plans are finalized, the Patriots are expected to ship quickly in the coming days and Ukrainians will be trained to use them at a US Army base in Grafenwoehr, Germany, officials said.

Ukraine has been asking for the system for months but the logistical challenges of delivering it and operating it are immense. Despite those obstacles, “the reality of what is going on the ground” led the administration to make the decision, the senior administration official told CNN, noting the continuing intense Russian missile barrages.

Zelensky thanks EU for pledging billions in aid at Paris donor conference

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the European Union for its $19 billion aid package, as well as an additional $1 billion pledged by dozens of countries during a donor conference in France earlier in the day.

“Every day we gain new strength for Ukraine to get through this winter, and I thank everyone who works for this and who helps our country,” Zelensky said in his nightly address.

The funding will focus on Ukraine’s embattled energy sector, which has been targeted during the war against Russia, along with other humanitarian support.

Zelensky also thanked other European countries that provided additional support beyond the EU funding, specifically naming Spain, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic.

He added that during a forum that focused on French business relations on Wednesday, Ukrainian officials presented French entrepreneurs with opportunities for investment in Ukraine during and after the war.

Ukrainian FM: Russian missile attacks have turned the “entire country into a frontline”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that Russia’s huge missile attacks against Ukraine have turned the “entire country into a frontline”.

Kuleba continued to say that “it doesn’t matter whether you are a soldier or a civilian, you are under attack. And that’s how we feel.”

Speaking to foreign journalists from Kyiv, Kuleba responded to a question about whether he places more value on weapons or energy supplies, he said both are “almost equally important.”

Russia launched its barrage of missile attacks across Ukraine, targeting its energy infrastructure on Oct. 10.

European Union agrees to $19 billion Ukraine aid package after striking a deal with Hungary

European Union member states have agreed plans to provide a $19 billion aid package for Ukraine in 2023 after Hungary dropped its opposition in return for funding from the EU.

Hungary had initially blocked the package last week, amid a long running standoff over EU aid. Brussels had called for EU funds for Hungary be frozen due to concerns over corruption and insufficient reforms to strengthen the rule of law.

On Monday evening, the EU struck a deal with Hungary. Under the new agreement, Brussels will give Budapest $6.1 billion in grants to “enable Hungary to foster its economic recovery from the Covid 19 pandemic and finance the green and digital transitions.”

It will still freeze some funds, around $6.9 billion, but that is less than the near $8 billion the EU had previously planned on suspending.

The Czech Presidency of the European Council tweeted about the deal and the aid package for Ukraine Monday evening.

Germany pledges more than $50 million in winter aid to Ukraine

Germany on Tuesday pledged an additional $53.2 million to support Ukraine over the winter period as it faces an onslaught of Russian attacks on its critical infrastructure, leaving millions of civilians without electricity, heating and water.

Confirming the pledge in a tweet, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of trying to “break Ukrainians with his brutal tactic of plunging them into the cold,” adding: “We won’t let that happen.”

Germany will send equipment to help restore Ukraine’s energy grid, including generators and transformers, Baerbock said in a tweet.

“Putin’s bombs mean that doctors have to operate on a boy’s heart by the light of their cell phones. That children do homework in candlelight with hats, scarves & jackets,” she continued.

The money was part of a total of more than one billion dollars pledged by 46 countries and 24 international organizations at a conference in Paris on Tuesday that aimed to mobilize immediate support for Ukraine between December and March.

Switzerland also announced a pledge of more than $100 million to Ukraine, according to a Tuesday press release by the Swiss government.

Over $1 billion pledged for Ukraine at winter aid conference: French FM

More than one billion dollars was pledged to support Ukraine during a bleak winter at a conference in Paris Tuesday, France’s foreign minister said.

The money, pledged by 46 countries and 24 international organizations, will be split between restoring Ukraine’s depleted energy network, the food sector, water supply, health and transportation, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna told the conference, adding that $520 million of funding was yet to be allocated.

The announcement comes after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for $843 million in aid in a virtual address to delegates at the conference, as millions of Ukrainians face a freezing winter under the shadow of Russia’s war, without access to electricity, water and central heating.

UK admits it sent troops to Ukraine

British Royal Marines conducted high-risk operations in Ukraine in April, Lieutenant General Robert Magowan wrote in the force’s official journal. Before Magowan’s admission, Russia’s claims that NATO troops were active in Ukraine had been dismissed by Western analysts and media.

Members of 45 Commando Group of the Royal Marines left Ukraine in January after evacuating the British embassy in Kiev to Poland. However, some 300 members of the elite unit were sent back into the country in April to reestablish the British mission in Kiev, before going on to conduct “other discreet operations,” Magowan wrote in the force’s magazine, according to a report by The Times on Tuesday.

These operations took place “in a hugely sensitive environment and with a high level of political and military risk,” Magowan, who formerly served as commandant general of the Royal Marines and is now deputy chief of Defense Staff at the Ministry of Defense, stated.

While Magowan did not elaborate on what kind of missions the commandos carried out, his statement marks the first time that the UK has admitted its troops conducted special operations in Ukraine. The Ministry of Defense refused to confirm earlier accounts of British special forces training Ukrainian troops in Kiev in April.

Just 1% of Americans view Russia as top problem: Poll

Less than 1% of Americans listed Russia as the top problem facing the US during the second half of 2022, according to a Gallup poll published on Tuesday. The survey revealed that the chief issue for most respondents is the nation’s own government.

An average of 19% of those surveyed throughout 2022 rated “government” as the “most important problem,” followed by “inflation” (16%) and “the economy” (12%).

The percentage of Americans viewing Russia as the primary issue facing the country did jump from 2% to 9% from February to March following the launch of Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine, but that figure had dipped back to 5% by April, and it has remained at 1% or below for the last five months, even as Washington pumped tens of billions of dollars into military aid for Kiev.

The US government has dominated Gallup’s “most important problem” polling for most of the last decade, only briefly being dislodged in 2020 by the Covid-19 pandemic. The disease regained some of the public’s attention in early 2022, having been mentioned by 20% of respondents in January.

However, on average it failed to surpass the leaders in Washington and has not cracked 1% for over six months, leaving it in sixth place in the year’s overall list of issues – behind immigration and “unifying the country.”

Americans are on the whole less satisfied with the direction of their country than they have been since 2011, with just 18% expressing optimism about where things are going. This is just the fourth time since 1979 that national satisfaction has dipped below 20%. According to Gallup, this year’s decline was largely driven by a 14-point drop in outlook among Democrats, only 31% of whom now view the country’s trajectory positively.

Republicans’ outlook, already bleak following the inauguration of President Joe Biden last year, has further declined – just 4% now see a positive future for the US. Those not backing either of the two parties have also seen their optimism drop to the point where just 19% are now satisfied with the country’s direction.

Despite this dismal outlook among the electorate, last month’s midterm elections did not hand Republicans control of Congress, though the party did win a majority in the House of Representatives. Biden’s approval ratings have remained at 40% as of this month.

NATO faces “very real” weapons shortage due to Ukraine: US envoy

Almost all NATO countries face depleted weapons and ammunition stockpiles due to the amount of armoury they’ve sent to Ukraine, US ambassador to the bloc Julianne Smith admitted on Tuesday. The US, NATO and the EU are all working on urging the Western military industry to ramp up production to deal with the shortfall.

Speaking at an event hosted by the CSIS think-tank, Smith used the example of Estonia, which has given a massive quantity of aid to Ukraine and is now facing “some very real shortfalls.”

“They are not alone. We see that across the alliance writ large,” the US permanent representative to NATO said.

While the “contact group” for Ukraine is focused on organizing deliveries to Kiev, NATO has tasked the Conference of National Armaments Directors (CNAD) to deal with the problem of “declining stockpiles across the alliance,” noted Smith.

Meanwhile, the EU has launched a separate initiative aimed at the military industry.

“Lots of flowers are blooming here,” Smith told CSIS, adding that the key is to find “connective tissue” so the EU, NATO, and the US work together and not at odds. From what Smith explained, all of these efforts are aimed at persuading the military industry in the West to expand production.

Kremlin dismisses Zelensky’s demands

The “three steps” that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged the country’s foreign supporters to take to help Kiev will result in continued hostilities in his country, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said.

“Those are three steps towards continued military action,” Peskov said on Tuesday.

Zelensky outlined the measures to members of the G7 club of nations in a virtual address on Monday. The steps included sending Ukraine more advanced arms, such as tanks and longer-range missiles, providing an extra 2 billion cubic meters of gas to get through the winter, and using diplomacy to help Kiev achieve its goals in the conflict with Russia.

The latter part refers to a ten-step ‘peace formula’ that Zelensky explained in a virtual address to the summit of G20 leaders in Indonesia last month. It requires that Russia meet a number of Ukrainian demands, including relinquishing all lands that Kiev considers to be under its own sovereignty.

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