Friday, February 3, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 296

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:

Latest Ukraine security package ‘coming’: US

The White House says the next security assistance package for Ukraine is coming, and it is expected to include more air defence capabilities.

“As you have seen in previous packages, I think you can expect to see additional air defence capabilities in this,” John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, told reporters.


‘Moscow loves to show off’, says Ukrainian official

Head of the Presidential office, Mikhail Podolyak, stated “Moscow loves to show off” after the latest Russian missile attack.

He tweeted: “Moscow loves to show off. Re-offensive, Kyiv capture, landing on Mars. Corrupt imperialists gratify their egos in corridors of Kremlin, giving orders to the military. But there is a problem ru-generals do not tell about: these plans cannot be implemented. Ukrainians won’t allow.”


Latest EU sanctions package to target the Russian military

The European Union says its latest round of sanctions will target Russia’s military-industrial complex, as well as people and groups.

Valdis Dombrovskis, a European Commission vice-president, noted the package would deal a blow to 168 “entities”, companies or state organisations, as well as some two dozen individuals.

The ninth package of EU sanctions against Russia for its war in Ukraine was approved by EU leaders at a summit on Thursday.

It was formally adopted on Friday by written procedure.

European Commission Ursula von der Leyen stated the package also focuses “on tech, finance and media to push the Russian economy and war machine further off the rails”.

She also proposed “to ban the direct exports of drone engines to Russia and the export to any third countries, such as Iran, which could supply drones to Russia”.


Canada to transfer $500m loan to Ukraine

Canada is transferring a $500m loan to Ukraine following the sale of Canadian bonds allowing individuals and other entities to support Kyiv, Canada’s Finance Department said in a statement.

The government announced that the loan, transferred through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), follows the sale of bonds costing $100 or more to Canadians, investors, institutions and other buyers.


Croatia rejects EU mission of supporting Ukraine’s military

Croatian politicians have rejected a proposal that they should join an EU mission supporting the Ukrainian military after hours of debate reflecting deep divisions between the premier and the country’s president.

A majority was needed to agree on the proposal that would have included allowing up to 100 Ukrainian troops to be trained in Croatia over the next two years. President Zoran Milanovic, who is the supreme commander of the Croatian armed forces, opposed the plan.

Of the 107 who voted in the 151-seat parliament, 97 supported it. Ten voted against it.

Milanovic said Croatia should not be involved in the war and that the proposal would violate the constitution because it failed to clarify the basis for declaring Ukraine an ally, given that it is not a member of the EU or NATO.

The European Union agreed in October to set up the Military Assistance Mission in support of Ukraine (EUMAM Ukraine) and appointed a Polish general to lead training that will mostly take place in Poland.


Frozen Russian assets in Hungary rise to 870 million euros

Russian assets frozen by Hungary’s government rose to 870 million euros ($925 million) by the end of November from a previously reported 3,000 euros, the newspaper Nepszava reported.

Nepszava cited a European Commission document which said Hungary had reported that it had frozen 870 million euros worth of assets of Russians under sanctions as of November 25.

A Commission spokesperson declined to give details of assets frozen in Hungary but stated nearly 19 billion euros linked to Russian individuals had been frozen by the end of November in EU member states.

The Hungarian government did not immediately reply to questions from the Reuters news agency on the total of Russian assets frozen.


FIFA rebuffs Zelensky’s request to share message of peace at World Cup final

A request by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to share a message of world peace prior to kickoff at the World Cup final on Sunday has been rebuffed by FIFA, a source told CNN.

The source said Zelensky’s office is offering to appear in a video link to fans in the stadium in Qatar, ahead of the game and was surprised by the negative response. It’s unclear if Zelensky’s message would be live, or taped.

“We thought FIFA wanted to use its platform for the greater good,” the source said. However, talks between Ukraine and the sport’s governing body are still underway, the source added.


9 power facilities damaged in Friday airstrikes on Ukraine: energy minister

Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko has said that “9 power generation facilities” have been damaged in Friday’s attacks.

He did not specify which locations.

The minister stated the substations were damaged and as a result this has lead to a “restrictions of electricity production at nuclear generation facilities.”

The power situation in Kharkiv “will be difficult,” he continued.

The northeastern city has lost power completely, Mayor Ihor Terekhov noted on Telegram earlier.

Halushchenko stated in his message that “electricity supply is impossible for 50% of customers.”

It comes as Ukraine’s state energy provider Ukrenergo announced it had activated its “emergency mode,” following the wave of Russian attacks on Friday.

Ukrenergo reported the targets included “thermal power plants, hydroelectric power plants and substations of 330-750 kV main grids.”


Kremlin finalising price cap response

The Kremlin is finalising the last details of how it is going to respond to the Group of Seven (G7) price cap on Russia’s oil exports.

Moscow has repeatedly announced it will not sell oil to countries that comply with the cap and has promised to publish a presidential decree outlining Russia’s full response this week.


60 missiles launched so far at Ukraine and strategic bombers used for first time: Ukrainian Air Force

Ukrainian Air Force Spokesman Yurii Inhat has stated that as of 10:50am (3:50aET) “60 missiles” had been launched towards Ukraine.

Inhat also gave a detailed description of the weaponry used in the attacks. He said missiles were launched from Tu-95 aircraft and the missiles were of the Kh-555 and Kh-101 variety.

The spokesman added that “Kalibr” missies were launched from the Black Sea, and that S300s and Tu22M3 bombers launched X-22 missiles. Mig31K aircraft were spotted in the skies, Inhat continued.

He also noted that “for the first time, the occupiers used Tu95 strategic bombers from the area where those aircraft are located, from the Engels area. In addition, there were launches from the north of the Caspian Sea.”

Engels is an airbase in Russia that Moscow says came under attack from Ukrainian launched drones on December 5. Missile attacks have been reported across Ukraine on Friday, including in Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia In Kyiv, Mayor Vitaly Klitschko reported explosions in the capital’s Desniansky district.

Since October, Russia has waged a series of strikes against Ukraine that have damaged the energy system and civilian infrastructure, causing power outages in the freezing winter.


Putin, Modi discussed ‘strategic partnership’ and war in Ukraine

In a statement about the meeting between the Russian president and his Indian counterpart, the Kremlin says Vladimir Putin gave Narendra Modi his assessment of the Ukraine conflict at Modi’s request.

It said the leaders expressed satisfaction with the high level of cooperation in their “privileged strategic partnership” and discussed prospects for the two countries to work together in areas such as investment, energy, agriculture, transport and logistics.

India has become a leading buyer of Russian energy since Western sanctions triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February sharply reduced Western purchases of Russian oil and gas.


Emergency power shutdowns announced across Ukraine

Emergency power blackouts are being brought in across Ukraine after a fresh wave of Russian missile strikes targeted energy regions, a senior Ukrainian presidential official noted.

Russia launched dozens of missiles at Ukraine, the latest in a wave of attacks on critical infrastructure.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the presidential office, did not say which facilities had been hit.


Russian strikes reported on Ukrainian infrastructure

Residents were warned to take cover in cities across Ukraine, including the capital, Kyiv, southern Kryvyi Rih and northeastern Kharkiv, as Russian strikes hit critical infrastructure, according to local officials.

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on the Telegram social media app that the city is without electricity, with the regional governor, Oleh Syniehubov, reporting three strikes on the city’s critical infrastructure

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a top official in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, reported a strike on a residential building in Kryvyi Rih, warning people could still be under the rubble.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko reported explosions in the northeastern Desnianskyi and western Holosiivskyi district, urging residents to go to shelters.


14 million tonnes of grain exported from Ukraine: UN

More than 14 million tonnes of grain have been exported from Ukraine under the Black Sea deal with Russia, easing global food prices, the United Nations has said.

Rebeca Grynspan, head of the UN’s trade and development agency UNCTAD, which helped broker the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI), said it had reduced world food prices for seven straight months.

“We have surpassed 14 million tonnes of food that has come out through the Black Sea Grain Initiative,” Grynspan stated in Geneva.

“The volumes that we are talking about are very significant for the market,” Grynspan added.


Russia preparing for long war: Ukrainian military

Ukraine’s Brigadier General Oleksiy Gromov has told a military briefing that although he does not expect Moscow to launch an attack from Belarus, Russia is training new troops on its neighbour’s soil and has moved military aircraft there.

“The Kremlin … is seeking to turn the conflict into a prolonged armed confrontation,” Gromov said.

Deputy Minister of Defence Hanna Malyar, at the same briefing, warned against allowing complacency to set in after recent Russian military setbacks.

“We and the world should not relax, because the ultimate goal of the Russian Federation is to conquer all of Ukraine, and then it can move on,” added Malyar.


Zelensky and Ukrainian generals warn of new Russian offensive in the new year

In a series of interviews with The Economist, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his top commanders say they expect a new offensive by Russia early in the new year – but are in no mood to compromise on their ultimate goals.

Zelensky repeated that Ukraine’s aim was to retrieve the land it held when it became independent in 1991 — including Crimea.

Days after the Kremlin announced Ukraine must recognize new realities, including Russia’s recent annexation of four Ukrainian regions, Zelensky repeated that Ukraine would make no concessions.

“If he [Vladimir Putin] now withdraws to the 1991 borders then the possible path of diplomats will begin. That is who can really turn the war from a military path to a diplomatic one. Only he can do it,” he noted.

Zelensky stated some 95% of Ukrainian people do not want to compromise on territory. “The issue is deeper than land. No one wants to have a dialogue with these people who unleashed [the war].”

He added it was “a little scary” to visit recently liberated towns and witness how the occupation had changed people.

“I must admit that this propaganda model of the Kremlin — it works,” the president continued.

It had changed Ukrainians in occupied territories. They were like “astronauts who cannot take off heavy helmets — limiting what they can see to unrelenting disinformation.”

The overall military commander in Ukraine, General Valery Zaluzhny, said he expected a new Russian offensive in the new year.

“They [Russian forces] are 100% being prepared,” he noted.

A major Russian attack could come “in February, at best in March and at worst at the end of January”, he added.


US announces expansion of training for Ukrainian armed forces

The US announced an expansion of training for Ukrainian armed forces in Europe “to include joint maneuver and combined arms operations training,” according to the Defense Department.

“Combined arms maneuver training is a logical next step in our ongoing training efforts which began in 2014 to build the Ukrainian armed forces capacity,” said Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder at a news briefing.

Ryder stated the program will train approximately 500 Ukrainians per month starting in January and will be conducted in Germany by US Army Europe and Africa Command’s 7th Army Training Command.

“As we move forward, we will stay flexible and adaptable based on our Ukrainian partners and the evolving situation in Ukraine,” added Ryder.

He said he was “not aware” that the training would require additional US forces to be deployed.

“We have forces in place that have been conducting training, so to my knowledge, no significant increase in support,” he added.

The US had been providing this kind of training to the Ukrainian military prior to the Russian invasion, starting in 2014, according to Ryder.

“When Russia invaded, we withdrew our trainers from Ukraine, and so this is a continuation now of the training that we had previously provided,” Ryder continued.

Ryder noted that the training will include “live fire exercises, followed by squad, platoon and company-level training that will then culminate in battalion-level maneuver training.”


US Senate passes defense bill that includes $800 million in support for Ukraine

Congress has passed a bipartisan $858 billion defense bill that would authorize $858 billion in national defense funding, which includes $800 million in support for Ukraine.

The Senate voted Thursday to pass the massive National Defense Authorization Act, known as the NDAA, with bipartisan support. It follows the House’s bipartisan approval of the legislation last week.

The legislation now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The NDAA extends and modifies the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, as well as authorizes $800 million in funding in fiscal year 2023, which is $500 million more than was contained in last year’s defense bill.

The program provides funding for the federal government to pay industry to produce weapons and security assistance to send to Ukraine, rather than drawing directly from current US stockpiles of weapons.

The funding authorization is intended to supplement additional money for the initiative expected in a future federal spending package, according to Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican who wrote the program into law in 2015.

Also, the defense bill would expedite the delivery of munitions to Ukraine and the replenishment of associated US stockpiles by streamlining acquisition requirements and authorizing multiyear procurement for certain munitions, according to the House Armed Services Committee.

One of the key concerns throughout the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has been whether the industrial bases of the US and other allied nations can meet the demand required to support Ukraine.

This measure is focused on reducing bureaucratic red tape to help industry produce those weapons for Ukraine faster.


Russia shelled Kherson more than 16 times Thursday: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Russia shelled Kherson more than 16 times, Thursday, and hit a Red Cross aid station.

“During another Russian shelling of Kherson today, a shell hit the Red Cross aid station. A woman — a paramedic, a volunteer — was killed. My condolences to the family… Only since the beginning of this day Russia has already shelled Kherson more than 16 times,” Zelensky said during his nightly address.

The southern city was liberated by Ukrainian troops last month after eight months of occupation by Russian forces. The retreat across the Dnipro River was a major blow to Moscow as Kherson was the only regional capital Russian forces had captured since February’s invasion.

Zelensky also noted the ongoing battles in the eastern Donbas region.

“The occupants are throwing everyone and everything they have at the offensive. They cannot overcome our army, so they physically destroy every town and village so that there are no buildings, not even walls, that can be used for any defense,” he added.


Russia will not “dictate” security assistance US provides to Ukraine: Pentagon press secretary

The US will not “allow comments from Russia to dictate the security assistance” the Joe Biden administration provides to Ukraine, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder stated during a briefing with reporters on Thursday.

In a statement Wednesday, the Russian Embassy in Washington said a possible shipment of Patriot missile systems to Ukraine would “lead to unpredictable consequences” and threaten global security.

“I find it ironic and very telling that officials from a country that brutally attacked its neighbor in an illegal and unprovoked invasion through a campaign that is deliberately targeting and killing innocent civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure, that they would choose to use words like provocative to describe defensive systems that are meant to save lives and protect civilians,” Ryder said at the briefing at the Pentagon.

Ryder reiterated Russia could de-escalate the ongoing conflict any moment if they wanted to, but they have chosen to “double down.”

“It’s important to remember that Russia is the aggressor here. And when it comes to escalation, they could de-escalate the situation today by withdrawing their forces and saving countless innocent lives, but clearly they’ve chosen to double down,” he added.


US targets Russia’s financial sector in new round of penalties

The US has imposed a new round of financial penalties on people and entities involved in Russia’s financial sector, with the targets including one of the country’s richest men, Vladimir Potanin.

Potanin had served as Russia’s deputy prime minister. He, his wife, adult children and a yacht named Nirvana were designated for sanctions, as well as Rosbank, a Russia-based commercial bank Potanin acquired in 2022.

The US treasury department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control also imposed sanctions on more than 40 people linked to the Russian financial sector and 17 subsidiaries of Russia’s second-largest bank, VTB Bank Public Joint Stock Company, also known as VTB Bank. VTB Bank was designated for sanctions in February.

“By sanctioning additional major Russian banks, we continue to deepen Russia’s isolation from global markets,” said Brian Nelson, the US treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

“Today’s designations by the United States, together with actions taken by our international partners, will further inhibit the Putin regime’s ability to fund its horrific war against Ukraine,” he added.


More attacks on Ukraine could lead to severe humanitarian issues: UN chief

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk says further attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure could lead to severe humanitarian deterioration and displacement.

Russia’s attacks on Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure have left millions without heat, clean water or electricity as temperatures plummet. About 18 million people now rely on humanitarian aid.

In a speech to the UN’s Human Rights Council following a trip to Ukraine last week, Turk stated Russian attacks have exposed millions of people to “extreme hardship”.

“Additional strikes could lead to a further serious deterioration in the humanitarian situation and spark more displacement,” he continued.

He added that the war is an “unmitigated tragedy and disaster”.

Moscow says the raids do not target civilians but are meant to reduce Ukraine’s ability to fight and push it to negotiate.

Kyiv says the attacks are a war crime.


Russia will expand trade with new partners in light of Western sanctions: Putin

President Vldimir Putin says Russia will expand trade with new partners, including switching gas flows to eastern neighbours.

In a televised speech, the president stated Russia would develop its economic relations with partners in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

“We will remove restrictions in logistics and finance. Let me remind you that by introducing sanctions, Western countries were trying to push Russia to the periphery of world development. But we will never take the route of self-isolation,” he continued, adding, “On the contrary, we are broadening, and will broaden, cooperation with all who have an interest in that.”

Putin said Russia would increase gas sales to the east and reiterated his plan to build a new “gas hub” in Turkey.

He stated Russia would define prices for gas sales to Europe using an “electronic platform”.

However, Russia’s economy is expected to shrink by 2.5 percent in 2022, Putin added.

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