Sunday, February 5, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 303

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 has made progress towards ‘demilitarising’ Ukraine: Kremlin

The Kremlin says Russia has made significant progress towards “demilitarising” Ukraine, one of the goals President Vladimir Putin declared when he launched his war more than 10 months ago.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov offered the assessment of Russia’s military progress when asked during a news briefing about comments by Putin, who on Thursday said that Ukraine’s defence potential was close to zero.

“It can be stated that there is significant progress towards demilitarisation,” Peskov replied.


Global oil prices rise after Russia threatens to cut supply

Global oil prices have risen on the back of Moscow’s threat to cut oil output in the coming months.

Russia threatened on Friday to slash production by 5 to 7 percent in early 2023 in response to price caps on Russian energy exports rolled out by Western countries.

The warning spooked markets, sending global oil prices surging upwards by more than $1 fuelled by expectations of a drop in supply.


Ukraine says Russia lost 100,950 troops since start of war

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported that Russia has lost 100,950 troops in Ukraine since the war started on February 24.

It has also lost 3,005 tanks, 5,986 armoured fighting vehicles, 4,622 other vehicles and fuel tankers,1,984 artillery systems, 414 multiple launch rocket systems, 212 air defence systems, 283 aeroplanes, 267 helicopters, 1,698 drones, and 16 boats.


Russian envoy to Washington says relations with US in ‘ice age’

Russia’s ambassador to the United States has compared the state of relations between Moscow and Washington to an “ice age”, according to a report by the state-owned TASS news agency.

TASS quoted Anatoly Antonov as saying that the risk of a clash between the two countries was “high” amid spiralling tensions over the conflict in Ukraine.

He added it was hard to say when talks on a strategic dialogue between the two sides could resume, but that talks on prisoner swaps had been “effective” and would continue.


Russia says it’s better to cut oil production

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Novak says it is better for Russia to cut oil production than to agree to a price cap imposed by Western countries.

During an interview with Russian state television, Novak also stated a European Union embargo on Russian oil products might lead to price rises for oil products in Europe.

Novak noted earlier that Russia may cut oil output by 5-7 percent in early 2023 due to price caps on its crude and oil products to halt their sales.


Russia says NATO instructors must leave Ukraine before talks can start

A senior Russian diplomat said on Friday that talks on security guarantees for Russia cannot take place while NATO instructors and “mercenaries” remain in Ukraine, and while Western arms supplies to the country continue.

In an interview with Russian state-owned news agency TASS, Alexander Darchiev, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s North America department, stated talks would be premature “until the flood of weapons and financing for the (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky regime stops, American and NATO servicemen/mercenaries/instructors are withdrawn”.

Russia typically refers to foreign volunteers fighting with the Ukrainian army as “mercenaries”, and has convicted captured foreign fighters of acting as such.

Russian officials have increasingly stressed their openness to talks on Ukraine in recent weeks, even as they have emphasised that they do not believe Zelensky is interested in a peaceful settlement.

In his comments, Darchiev noted that talks would also need to be preceded by “recognition of the realities we have defined on the ground”, an apparent reference to Russia’s control of parts of eastern and southern Ukraine.


West supplied Ukraine with 5,000 drones, 350 tanks, 700 artillery systems: Russia

Since the start of Russia’s special operation, Western countries have supplied Ukraine with more than 350 tanks, 700 artillery systems, 100 multiple launch rocket systems, 30 helicopters, at least 5,000 drones, 1,000 armored fighting vehicles, Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Valery Gerasimov said.

“In total, since the beginning of the special military operation, Western countries have provided Kiev with four aircraft, more than 30 helicopters, over 350 tanks, about 1,000 armored fighting vehicles, at least 800 armored vehicles, as well as up to 700 artillery systems, 100 MLRS units, 130,000 anti-tank weapons, over 5,300 man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) and at least 5,0000 unmanned aerial vehicles for various purposes,” Gerasimov noted.

According to the official, the United States and its allies have been consistently increasing the volume of military assistance to Kiev since the beginning of the special operation to make the conflict protracted. The total foreign financial assistance to Ukraine amounted to almost $ 100 billion, the largest contribution to the supply is made by the United States, Great Britain, Poland and Romania.

Russian high-precision long–range missiles during the special operation hit over 1,300 critical objects of Ukraine, which significantly reduced the combat potential of the Ukrainian military and paralyzed the work of Kiev’s military-industrial complex, added Gerasimov.

“As part of the operation, more than 1,300 critical objects were hit by high-precision long-range missiles. This made it possible to significantly reduce the combat potential of the Ukrainian armed forces, disrupt the command and control system, paralyze the work of the military-industrial complex, significantly complicate military transportation,” Gerasimov told a briefing.

The official added that Russian attack drones have destroyed over 600 Ukrainian objects during the special operation.

Russian operational-tactical and army aviation has destroyed 11,000 units of Ukrainian weapons during the special operation, making about 150 flights a day, Gerasimov stated.

“Operational-tactical and army aviation performs tasks with high combat tension, making about 150 flights daily. It destroyed more than 11,000 units of weapons and equipment of the Ukraine’s military,” he said.


North Korea rejects claims of alleged arms supplies to Russia

The Foreign Ministry of North Korea rejected claims of alleged arms supplies to Russia, South Korea’s Yonhap​​​​ news agency reported citing the ministry’s statement.

“The Japanese media’s false report that the DPRK offered munitions to Russia is the most absurd red herring, which is not worth any comment or interpretation,” Yonhap quoted a ministry spokesman as saying in an English-language statement, published by the state-run news agency KCNA.

US National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby claimed on Thursday that North Korea has supplied weapons to Russia’s Wagner private military company and was planning new supplies. UN Secretary-General’s Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric stated at a briefing later in the day that the global organization had no information about alleged arms deliveries from North Korea.

Russia stressed on numerous occasions that its armed forces have no need to buy weapons from abroad for the special military operation in Ukraine, since the country’s defense industry is coping with its tasks.


US secretary of state says he discussed Ukrainian peace proposal with G7 leaders and it’s “a good start”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he discussed Kyiv’s peace proposal with his Group of Seven colleagues this morning after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington.

“I can just tell you that we’re looking at what he’s put forward. I was just on the — the video with our G7 partners this morning. And this is one of the things that we talked about,” Blinken told CNN’s Kylie Atwood.

Blinken called Zelensky’s peace proposals “a good start.”

“They’re things that everyone should be able to, in one way or another, to rally to,” he added.

Blinken would not say how long it would take for the US and Ukraine to evaluate the plan together. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the two sides agreed to reviewing the plan yesterday in the meeting between US President Joe Biden and Zelensky.

Blinken stated the US and Ukraine agreed on the overall peace effort underway. He did not respond more directly to a question of whether Kyiv would accept a goal of reclaiming territory up to its borders before the Feb. 24 invasion. Blinken has previously noted that’s the US focus, while Zelensky has outlined broader visions for retaking the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014.

“What’s clear from all of our conversations with Ukraine, including the conversations just yesterday between President Biden and President Zelensky, is that we have the same objectives, the same goals: a free and independent, a prosperous, a democratic Ukraine, one that demonstrates that the principles of the United Nations charter are being upheld, including on territorial integrity and sovereignty and independence, and that’s something the president reiterated yesterday,” Blinken continued.

He said Ukraine has told the US that it is currently focused on taking back its eastern and southern territory that has been occupied since February.

“But that doesn’t prejudge in any way where this goes, where it settles,” stated Blinken at his year-end news conference, emphasizing that it would be up to Ukraine to decide what a “just and durable” peace looks like.

Blinken also reiterated that Russia has shown “no meaningful interest” in diplomacy to end the war.

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted Thursday that his administration has always been open to talks and that “it was the Ukrainian leadership that refused itself to conduct negotiations.”


US Congress clears spending deal that includes Ukraine aid

US senators approved a sweeping annual spending package that includes almost $44.9bn in aid to Ukraine.

The $1.7 trillion blueprint passed by a vote of 68-29 and now goes to the House of Representatives for a final vote before it can be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.

Lawmakers were racing to get the bill approved before a partial government shutdown would occur at midnight Friday, and many were anxious to complete the task before a deep freeze and wintry conditions left them stranded in Washington, DC for the holidays.


Head of Wagner dismisses US claim group took weapons from North Korea

The head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, stated Thursday claims by the United States that his group took weapons deliveries from North Korea are “nothing more than gossip and speculation.”

“Everyone knows that it’s been a long time since North Korea has supplied weapons to the Russian Federation,” Prigozhin said in a statement published on his Telegram channel.

“And no other such attempts have even been made. Therefore, these arms deliveries from the DPRK are nothing more than gossip and speculation,” he added.

“On our behalf, I want to stress that – and I’ve already answered this question today – we buy quite a lot of American weapons. And that is why my lawyers will more than likely take an active part in the process to lift the US sanctions on the supply of weapons to the Wagner PMC,” he said.

“We believe these restrictions are completely unfair, due to the fact that Wagner PMC has never violated international trade rules when buying the US weapons,” Prigozhin added.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Kirby makes a lot of statements based on speculation,” Prigozhin noted in response to remarks by the strategic communications coordinator at the US National Security Council John Kirby.

Earlier Thursday Kirby said that “it’s pretty apparent to us that Wagner is emerging as a rival power center to the Russian military and other Russian Ministries” and that it is recruiting convicts, including some with serious medical conditions.


US will begin Patriot missile training for Ukrainian troops very soon: Official

The US has trained approximately 3,100 Ukrainian troops to date on different systems, with training on the newly announced Patriot missile systems set to begin “very soon,” a senior defense official said.

Nearly half of those troops have been trained on M777 howitzers or HIMARS rocket launchers, two of the systems that have been critical to Ukrainian operations so far. Ukrainian forces have also been trained on vehicles, various forms of artillery, drones and other systems.

The Pentagon will soon begin training Ukrainian personnel on how to operate and maintain the Patriot missile system, officially announced yesterday during President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington.

Though the Pentagon would not specify exactly when the training would begin or how long it would take for Ukrainians to master the complex system, a senior defense official said it would start “very soon” and would take “several months.”

The Patriot system costs between $450 and $550 million, the Pentagon said, depending on the configuration of the platform. Each missile costs approximately $4 million.

The US will also soon start an expanded training program for Ukrainian forces, including joint maneuver and combined arms training. This program will train approximately 500 soldiers per month on larger combat operations.


Putin: Russia wants to end the war with diplomacy

President Vladimir Putin says Russia wants to end the war in Ukraine and all armed conflicts with diplomatic negotiations.

“Our goal is not to spin the flywheel of military conflict, but on the contrary, to end this war,” he told reporters, adding, “We are striving for this and will continue to strive.”

“We will strive for an end to this, and the sooner the better, of course,” he said.

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