Friday, February 3, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 301

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:

Russia: NATO officers are in war zone in Ukraine

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed on Wednesday NATO officers are in the war zone in Ukraine and 25 countries have sent $97 billion to Kiev to supply weapons.

The West seeks to prolong military operations in Ukraine as much as possible in order to weaken Russia, the minister stated.

“We are particularly concerned about the buildup of NATO’s forward presence near the borders of Russia and Belarus, as well as the desire of the West to prolong military operations in Ukraine as much as possible in order to weaken our country,” Shoigu said at a collegium meeting at the Defense Ministry.

Russian armed forces continue to deliver precision strikes targeting the Ukrainian military command and control system, military enterprises and related facilities, and destroy the military potential of Kiev, he added.

Russian servicemen are being confronted by the joint forces of the West during its military operation in Ukraine, Shoigu said.

“Today, in Ukraine, Russian military is being confronted by the joint Western forces. The United States and its allies are pumping the Kiev regime with weapons, training military personnel, providing [Ukraine with] intelligence information, sending advisers and mercenaries, and waging an information and sanctions war against us,” the defence official added.


US moves to brand Russia ‘aggressor state’: Report

US lawmakers and officials are working to introduce a bill to Congress labeling Russia as an “aggressor state” over its military operation in Ukraine, The Hill reported. Critics have called the measure a PR stunt ahead of the visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to Washington.

The draft document seen by the outlet would grant US President Joe Biden new powers to sanction any individual who is “responsible for, engaged in or complicit in” Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine. It also reportedly says that the president can “designate any foreign country” as an aggressor state if it is engaged in hostile actions against Kiev.

US lawmakers are reportedly scrambling to introduce the measure ahead of the anticipated visit of Zelensky to Washington on Wednesday. The Ukrainian president has repeatedly urged the US to designate Russia as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ to further crack down on Moscow and impose costs on countries that engage with the Kremlin. The Biden administration has rejected the appeal, arguing that it would impede dialogue with Moscow.

The proposed bill has been widely criticized, The Hill reported. One congressional aide told the outlet that the “alternative designation… doesn’t even exist under US domestic or international law,” and “There is no legal basis for it.”

The designation ‘aggressor state’ has also been criticized, as the US has already sanctioned hundreds of Russian officials and family members. “It’s a half-baked PR measure that won’t do anything to punish Russia, nor help the Ukrainian people,” the congressional aide said.

Last month, the European Parliament, in a largely symbolic move, designated Russia as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’. In response, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the EU Parliament a “sponsor of idiocy.”

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov dismissed the move, saying the non-binding resolution was adopted as “hatred for Russia is boiling over.”

In late July, Peskov stated that if the US designates Russia as a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’, this would have negative repercussions, but noted that “it is very difficult to spoil relations between Russia and America even further.”


Putin says Russia will improve combat readiness of nuclear forces

President Vladimir Putin has said that he will ensure that Russia’s nuclear forces are combat ready as he laid out his country’s military plans during a speech at an end-of-year meeting of Russia’s top defence chiefs.

The president also vowed Moscow would fulfill all the goals of its military campaign in Ukraine as he heralded Russian soldiers and defence chiefs as “heroes”.

Putin stated the NATO military alliance was using its full capabilities against Russia and urged the assembled military leaders to use their experience gained fighting in Syria and during the 10 months of what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine and what the international community calls an invasion.

Putin’s comments come on Wednesday after the Kremlin announced that he would be making an “important, substantive speech” – coinciding with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s announcement of a surprise visit to the US.


Kremlin warns against more US weapons for Ukraine

The Kremlin warns that increasing the supply of US arms to Kyiv will aggravate the war and “does not bode well” for Ukraine.

“Weapon supplies (by the US) continue, the assortment of supplied weapons is expanding. All this, of course, leads to an aggravation of the conflict and, in fact, does not bode well for Ukraine,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Peskov’s comments were the first official Russian reaction to the news that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was heading to Washington for a summit with US President Joe Biden.

The trip would be Zelensky’s first known foreign trip since Russia’s February 24 invasion.


Kremlin: No chance of peace talks after Washington visit

The Kremlin announced it sees no prospect of peace talks with Ukraine after President Volodymyr Zelensky announced a visit to Washington.

In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that continued Western arms supplies to Ukraine would lead to a “deepening” of the conflict.


Zelensky’s visit ‘extremely significant’: Ukrainian adviser

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the US is “extremely significant” and will disprove Russian attempts to show that US-Ukrainian relations are slowing down, a presidential adviser said.

Political adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told the Reuters news agency in written comments that Zelensky’s trip provides an opportunity to explain the situation in Ukraine, what weapons Kyiv needs and why.

“Firstly, both the visit itself and the level of planned meetings unequivocally testify to the high degree of trust between the countries. Secondly, this finally puts an end to the attempts by the Russian side … to prove an allegedly growing cooling in our bilateral relations,” Podolyak added.

“This, of course, is not even close. The United States unequivocally supports Ukraine,” he continued.

He noted: “In my opinion, the visit will undoubtedly activate and optimise key areas of military cooperation, further mobilise bipartisan political support and more clearly paint a picture of the future if the war is not ended correctly”.


Air raid sirens heard across Ukraine

Air raid alerts were activated across Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv, warning of possible Russian airstrikes.

Local authorities urged the public to find and take safe shelter until the all-clear is given.

The alert comes as President Volodymyr Zelensky visits the US in his first known visit abroad since the war began this February.


Russia FM: EU not conducting fair investigation into Nord Stream explosions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says it appears no European countries are conducting a proper investigation into the series of explosions that ruptured the Nord Stream gas pipelines in September.

“After the explosions on Nord Stream – which, it appears nobody in the European Union is going to objectively investigate – Russia stopped gas transportation through the northern routes,” Lavrov said.

Russia has blamed Britain for the explosions – claims rejected by London – while investigators in Sweden and Denmark said they were the deliberate results of sabotage, though did not name any possible culprits.


Russia launches Kovykta gas field supplying China with gas

Russian President Vladimir Putin will join in a video conference marking the launch of the Kovykta gas field, which feeds into the Siberia pipeline carrying Russian gas to China, the Kremlin noted.

The field is the largest in eastern Russia, and its launch is part of a significant drive by Russia to ramp up gas supplies to China as the European Union imposes oil and gas sanctions on Moscow.

“This is a unique deposit,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russia is now Beijing’s third-highest gas supplier.

There are also plans to construct another major pipeline, the Power of Siberia 2, via Mongolia with a view to selling an additional 50 bcm of gas per year.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev is in China for talks with President Xi Jinping, which includes discussions on the “no limits” strategic partnership that the two countries announced in February.


Pope: Remember Ukrainian children this Christmas

Pope Francis calls on people to remember Ukrainian children freezing this Christmas.

“Let us think of the many children in Ukraine who suffer, suffer so much, because of this war,” he said at the end of his weekly general audience in the Vatican.

The pope has been making appeals for Ukraine at nearly every public appearance, usually at least twice weekly, since Russia invaded in February.

“The majority of those that I have seen here can’t manage to smile,” he stated, referring to Ukrainian children who migrated to Rome.

“It is grave when a child loses the capacity to smile. These children carry within themselves the tragedy of that war, so inhumane, so harsh. Let us think of the Ukrainian people this Christmas – without electricity, without heating, without the essential things they need to survive,” he added.


Chinese leader meets with former Russian president in Beijing

Chinese leader Xi Jinping met with former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday in Beijing, where they “discussed international issues, including of course the conflict in Ukraine,” Russian state-run news agency TASS reported.

In a video posted to his Telegram account showing the meeting, Medvedev could be seen talking about the industrial and economic “cooperation” between China and Russia, while Xi spoke about “deepening relations” between the two countries.

Xi also reiterated his message that he hoped all parties in the Ukraine crisis could resolve security concerns through political means, according to Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua, which added that Medvedev had come to China at the invitation of the ruling Communist Party.

China is among a handful of countries that have repeatedly abstained from votes condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations. Beijing has refused to label the military aggression as an “invasion” or “war,” and has amplified Russian propaganda blaming the conflict on NATO and the United States, while decrying sanctions and stepping up economic assistance to its neighbor.


Zelensky says he’s on his way to US to meet with Biden

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday he is traveling to the United States, where he will meet with US President Joe Biden and address Congress.

“On my way to the US to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities of Ukraine,” Zelensky said on Twitter, adding he will discuss with Biden cooperation between the two countries and “have a speech at the Congress and a number of bilateral meetings.”

The trip will be Zelensky’s first outside Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began in February.


Biden to announce $1.8 billion in new assistance during Zelensky visit, including Patriot system

US President Joe Biden will announce an additional $1.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s expected visit the White House.

The significant boost in aid is expected to be headlined by the Patriot missile defense systems that are included the package, a US official told CNN.

The new announcement will add to the nearly $20 billion in US security assistance provided to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February, and will come at the same moment US lawmakers are considering a sweeping government spending measure that includes an additional $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine.

Patriot missile defense systems: 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.

Previously, the US has sent Patriot batteries to NATO allies like Poland as a way to bolster their defenses, and sent other weapon systems to Ukraine to assist against the Russian invasion.


Plans underway for Zelensky to visit White House

Planning is underway for President Joe Biden to welcome Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the White House Wednesday. The surprise visit will coincide with the administration’s intent of sending a new defense assistance package that will include Patriot missile systems, according to two sources familiar with the planning.

The visit, which hasn’t been finalized and has remained tightly held due to security concerns, would mark Zelensky’s first trip outside Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February.

The White House declined to comment on a potential visit, a Biden announcement or new security assistance announcements.

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