Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 295

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:

Shelling in Kherson kills two and leaves city without power: Ukrainian presidential office

Russian shelling killed two people in the recently liberated city of Kherson, a senior Ukrainian official stated.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, said on Telegram: “The enemy hit the city centre again. 100 meters from the Kherson OVA building, which was attacked yesterday. There is information about two dead people”.

Tymoshenko added that Kherson is now “completely without power” after heavy shelling of a critical infrastructure facility in the Ship district.

Ukrainian official believes Russia will have a renewed attempt at capturing Kyiv

The head of Ukraine’s armed forces believes that Russia will have a renewed attempt at capturing the capital Kyiv, after its previous attack was repelled earlier this year.

In an interview with the Economist, Gen Valery Zaluzhny, stated he was trying to prepare for Russian forces to have another go at taking the city, possibly in February or March.

In response to a question where he is asked what he makes of Russia’s mobilisation of 300,000 reservists and former soldiers, he said it had worked.

“They may not be that well equipped, but they still present a problem for us. We estimate that they have a reserve of 1.2m-1.5m people … The Russians are preparing some 200,000 fresh troops. I have no doubt they will have another go at Kyiv,” he added.

Zaluzhny noted that generals had worked out how many tanks, artillery and soldiers they need to repel another concerted effort by Russian troops. He added that Russian commanders had pulled soldiers back beyond the range of the US-made HIMARS multiple rocket launcher systems, and that Ukraine hasn’t got anything longer range.

The 49-year-old made a comparison to the second world war, and said “somewhere beyond the Urals, they are preparing new resources”.

“According to my calculations it must have been three and a half or four years that they built [resources] up intensively: people, equipment, ammunition. I think they had three months’ worth of resources to achieve their goals. The fact that they have exhausted these resources and wasted their potential without achieving practically any result, shows that their position was chosen incorrectly. They now have to think again about how to get out of this situation,” he underscored.

“So most likely they are looking for ways to stop [fighting] and get a pause by any means: shelling civilians, leaving our wives and children to freeze to death. They need it for one simple purpose: they need time to gather resources and create new potential so they can continue to fulfil their goals,” he underlined.

“In my personal opinion, I am not an energy expert but it seems to me we are on the edge. We are balancing on a fine line. And if [the power grid] is destroyed … that is when soldiers’ wives and children start freezing. And such a scenario is possible. What kind of mood the fighters will be in, can you imagine? Without water, light and heat, can we talk about preparing reserves to keep fighting?” Zaluzhny continued.

Breakthrough soon on Russian fertiliser exports: UN

senior UN official has voiced optimism that there will be a breakthrough in negotiations on exports of Russian fertilisers.

The Black Sea grain export agreement was extended in November, but Russia complained its concerns about fertiliser exports had not been addressed.

Rebeca Grynspan, the secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development who is in charge of the fertiliser aspect of the deal, said she had been focused on overcoming remaining obstacles since the renewal.

“I am cautiously optimistic that we can have important progress soon,” she told reporters in Geneva but declined to give further details about her optimism.

Russian and Ukrainian representatives have previously discussed allowing Russia to resume ammonia exports, used to make fertilisers, in exchange for a prisoner swap.

EU members fail to reach agreement on new Russia sanctions: Diplomats

European Union member states failed to agree on a ninth package of Russia sanctions in talks late on Wednesday, diplomats said as EU leaders gathered in Brussels on Thursday for their last summit of the year.

Countries moved closer to a deal in Wednesday’s negotiations but Poland and some other countries still have objections, one EU diplomat told Reuters, adding a new draft was expected to be circulated on Thursday evening.

Fresh sanctions on Moscow have been held up by disagreement over whether the EU should make it easier for Russian fertiliser exports to pass through European ports, even in the case when the fertiliser companies are owned by blacklisted oligarchs, Reuters reported.

Some say EU restrictions pose a food security threat to developing countries, while others argue that relaxing them would allow Russian oligarchs who own fertiliser businesses to dodge EU sanctions against them.

One EU diplomat stated Poland and the Baltic states are telling other countries that they are deluding themselves if they think a relaxation on Russian fertilisers is not going to be abused as a loophole for oligarchs.

Some member states want the World Food Programme involved on authorisation for exports of fertilisers to countries that need it.

US to answer for Ukraine’s terrorist actions against Russian civilians: Moscow

Washington will not be able to evade responsibility for Kiev’s terrorist actions, including for aiming rockets at Russian targets, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing Thursday.

“Washington, which has practically become a party to the conflict, will not be able to evade complicity in the terror unleashed by the Kiev regime against Russian civilians and absolve itself of responsibility for the deaths and destruction caused by American weapons on American tip-off,” she stated.

The diplomat drew attention to the fact that the shelling of civilian objects on the territory of the Russian Federation was carried out on direct orders from Kiev “with the approval of the United States, which is directly involved in the aiming of artillery and missile systems and provides satellite intelligence to the Ukrainian armed forces.”

“American journalists openly write that the Pentagon has greenlit drone strikes on Russian territory,” Zakharova pointed out, “Inspired by this support, Ukrainian politicians are already declaring their intention to strike critical infrastructure near Moscow.”

Zakharova noted that all weapons supplied to Ukraine by the west were legitimate targets for Russia, and that they would be either destroyed or seized.

Negotiations with Russia to end war should be left to Zelensky: White House official

US National Security Council special coordinator for communications John Kirby told CNN Wednesday that any discussions on whether it’s time to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin for an end to the war in Ukraine should be left “to President Volodymyr Zelensky, not the United States,” while acknowledging that initial assessments that the war could end by year’s end seem unlikely.

“We certainly would love to see it end, if not today, then before the end of this year, which is, of course, fast approaching. I think just given what we’re seeing in the air and on the ground in Ukraine, it’s difficult to conclude that this war will be over by year’s end,” Kirby told CNN’s MJ Lee in a virtual gaggle.

He continued: “And both sides are still in violent fighting in the Donbas, particularly in and around Bakhmut – a small area comparatively speaking to some of the other battles of Ukraine over the last nine months, but very intense fighting– and the Russians are in defensive positions all throughout the South, while the Ukrainians continue to try to press. So, there is active fighting going on right now, we would expect that that would continue for some time going forward.”

Kirby noted that while military analysts have suggested winter freezes may cause a lull in skirmishes as conditions become less ideal for fighting in the air and on the ground in Ukraine, “we have no expectation that the fighting will stop in the winter months to come.”

“So, no indications, certainly no expectations that, by the year’s end, there’ll be an end of war — that doesn’t mean, however, after your word, aspiration, that we wouldn’t love to see that, it’s just that none of the indicators are pointing in that direction,” he added.

EU to possibly push for more gas deals to replace Russia

EU countries intend to push for more gas deals to replace Russian supplies next year, draft conclusions for an EU leaders’ summit on Thursday showed.

The draft, seen by the Reuters news agency, said the EU should move quickly to start jointly buying gas.

At the same time, countries should also speed up talks with reliable suppliers “to secure the supply of gas in view of winter 2023/2024 with a view to concluding long-term contracts,” added the draft, which could change before leaders adopt it.

Russia was Europe’s top gas supplier but has cut off most European deliveries since its invasion of Ukraine, sending energy prices soaring.

Brussels has announced that most Russian supplies should be displaced by locally produced renewable energy and energy savings to ensure the EU meets its climate change targets.

US to sanction one of Russian richest men

The United States is moving to impose sanctions on Vladimir Potanin, one of Russia’s wealthiest men, but would not sanction Nornickel, the company where he is a significant shareholder, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing US officials.

The action, which may come as early as Thursday, is expected to include sanctions against Potanin, his wife Ekaterina Potanina and a yacht he owns.

Putin must accept ‘new reality’: Zelensky adviser

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Russia needs to accept the “new reality” that Ukrainian land will not remain part of Russian territory.

“It is essential for Russia (especially for Putin and Peskov) to accept “new reality’,” Mikhail Podolyak tweeted, referring to Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman.

“There are no stolen Ukrainian territories within RF ‘forever’. There is only the loss of reputation as a monster-country, Russian military defeats, destroyed army, sanctions and disdain even from CSTO,” he added.

The CSTO is the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, a Russian-led military alliance of former Soviet republics.

The Kremlin announced on Tuesday that Ukraine must accept the new “realities” regarding Moscow’s illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions if it wants to discuss a peace deal.

Over 60 Ukrainian soldiers released as part of swap deal

Ukraine said that it had secured the release of 64 Ukrainian members of the military in its latest prisoner swap with Russian forces, as well as a US citizen.

“Sixty-four soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces who fought in Donetsk and Lugansk – in particular participated in the defence of the city of Bakhmut – are going home,” the Ukraine presidency’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak said on social media.

“It was also possible to free a US citizen who helped our people – Suedi Murekezi,” he added.

Russia’s state-run TASS news agency has reported that Murekezi was arrested in the eastern Donetsk region of Ukraine in June and charged with attending anti-Russian protests and inciting “ethnic hatred”.

Citing his lawyer, TASS reported Murekezi was born in Rwanda and moved to the United States with his family in 1994. The lawyer said Murekezi worked in a nightclub in Kherson city and denied his client was a fighter.

A US national has been released as part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, White House national security spokesman John Kirby has noted.

The head of Ukraine’s presidential administration said earlier that a US citizen has been released by Russia in an exchange involving dozens of detainees.

Zelensky urges Europe to back war tribunal for Russian leaders

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged Europe to help set up a tribunal to try Russia’s leadership for the “crime of aggression”, as he accepted the EU’s top rights award.

“I call on all of you, your parties and states to effectively support this work. The tribunal must start working,” Zelenskyy told the European Parliament in a speech via video link.

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