Friday, February 23, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 306

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:

Zelensky, Modi discuss ‘peace formula’ in phone call

President Volodymyr Zelensky stated he sought India’s help with implementing a “peace formula” in a phone call with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

On Twitter, he wrote: “I had a phone call with [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi and wished a successful G20 presidency. It was on this platform that I announced the peace formula, and now I count on India’s participation in its implementation.”

“I also thanked for humanitarian aid and support in the UN,” he added.

Ukraine calls for Russia’s removal from the UN

Ukraine’s foreign ministry calls for Russia to be removed from the United Nations, saying they “abused” the charter and that their presence is “illegitimate”.

In a statement posted by the ministry, it argues that the Russian Federation took the seat granted to the USSR in 1991 and never went through a formal approval process, much like the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which previously held a seat under ‘Czechoslovakia’.

“The Russian Federation has never gone through the legal procedure to be admitted to membership and therefore illegally occupies the seat of the USSR in the UN Security Council. From a legal and political point of view, there can be only one conclusion: Russia is a usurper of the Soviet Union’s seat in the UN Security Council”, it added.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, tweeted the announcement, reiterating the ministry’s stance that Russia’s membership is “illegitimate”.

Russia tests home-grown power tools amid sanctions

Russian power equipment manufacturer Power Machines says it has completed assembly and testing of its first domestically made high-power gas turbine.

According to a statement, Power Machines plans to be able to produce eight 170-megawatt turbines a year by 2025 and raise annual capacity to 12 turbines in the future. It will also ensure the maintenance of gas turbines, including imported ones.

The first clients will be Russian oil company Tatneft, state energy holding InterRAO and power company Rushydro, the statement added.

Russia has for years been trying to start production of its own medium- and large-capacity gas turbines for power plants.

It has accelerated domestic production due to international sanctions that have made importing and maintaining equipment in Russia much harder.

Czech president calls for more support for Ukraine

Czech President Milos Zeman calls for further support for Ukraine, including military backing, arguing that Russia would eventually have to leave Ukraine.

“I am convinced that the pressure of free countries will sooner or later compel Russia to leave the territory of Ukraine,” Zeman said in his Christmas television address.

He added he had always favoured the economic relations between the Czech Republic and Russia, but now, the world’s security was threatened.

Zeman was previously considered an opponent of tough European Union sanctions against Russia and had often been criticised as “pro-Russian” before the invasion began.

Russia’s Sberbank to close UAE office due to Western sanctions

Russia’s money lender Sberbank will be forced to close its office in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) early next year, First Deputy Chairman Alexander Vedyakhin said.

Sberbank is one of several central Russian banks to have been blocked from the international SWIFT payments system after sweeping Western sanctions due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Unfortunately, in the context of sanctions restrictions, we are facing serious constraints on our SberInvest Middle East office in Abu Dhabi and we, unfortunately, are forced to close it in the first quarter of 2023,” Vedyakhin told reporters.

He added Sberbank would continue serving clients in the UAE market and that active communications were under way with Chinese regulators about opening an office there.

Russia ready to resume gas supplies to EU: Official

Moscow is ready to restart supplies of natural gas to the EU via the Yamal-Europe Pipeline, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak said on Monday.

He noted that shipments through the route were halted for political reasons.

According to the official, the EU remains a relevant market for Russia, which is able to resume supplies to a region suffering from a gas shortage.

“For example, the Yamal-Europe Pipeline, which was shut down for political reasons, remains unused,” Novak added.

Gas supplies via the pipeline, which usually flow westward, have been mostly reversed since Poland terminated a supply contract with Russia ahead of its end-2022 expiry date, after rejecting Moscow’s demand for ruble payments. The Polish leg of the route is currently being used to pump stored gas from Germany.

In response to Warsaw’s move, Russian state-run energy giant Gazprom cut off supplies, saying it could no longer send gas via Poland, while Moscow imposed sanctions against the firm that owns the Polish section of the Yamal-Europe pipeline.

Although Russian gas deliveries to the EU via the Nord Stream and Yamal-Europe pipelines have been halted, Russian gas is still being supplied to certain European buyers via a transit line through Ukraine and the TurkStream pipeline through Türkiye.

Despite the persisting problems, Novak said he still sees the EU as a viable market for Russia.

“Today we can confidently say that there is a stable demand for our gas. Therefore, we continue to consider Europe as a potential market for our products. It is clear that a large-scale campaign was launched against us, which ended with acts of sabotage against the Nord Stream pipelines,” he added.

The market for liquefied natural gas (LNG) also remains open, according to Novak, who noted that Russian LNG supplies to the EU are expected to grow to 21 billion cubic meters by the end of the year.

US is pursuing an ‘end of history’: Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claims the US pursues a policy to establish the “end of history”, referring to Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man.

“If you look at the policies that the administration of (US President Joe) Biden is pursuing, they want exactly this. They want the end of history to take place not just in the works of political analysts and political scientists, but for it to take place in real life,” Lavrov said during a meeting with journalists and leaders of the Russian media.

During the meeting, Lavrov added that actions taken on a global scale in taking an “anti-Russian stance,” which he stated are initiated by the US, reflect attempts by Washington to establish the “end of history”.

Sweden, Finland to join NATO in 2023: Chief

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expects Sweden and Finland to join the bloc officially in the new year, he noted in an end-of-year interview with the dpa news agency.

Stoltenberg was not able to say when exactly this would happen.

However, he stated he was “absolutely confident that the ratification process will be finalised in a timely manner”.

Sweden and Finland applied for NATO membership in May due to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Turkey has so far refused to ratify the accession protocols to clear the way for them to join NATO.

Emergency power cuts introduced across Ukraine

Ukraine’s power grid operator says it introduced emergency shutdowns in multiple regions across the country, including the capital Kyiv, due to an excess of energy consumption.

“Due to exceeding consumption limits, emergency shutdowns have been introduced in the Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, Lviv, and Kyiv regions, and in the city of Kyiv”, Ukrenergo announced on Telegram.

Repair work is ongoing at facilities, and several power grids have been damaged due to recent Russian attacks.

“Due to the scale and complexity of the damage, restoring the equipment and functioning of a number of key facilities requires considerable time … Operators are doing everything possible to improve the situation with electricity supply in the country”, a Ukrenergo statement added.

Russian forces focused on defence: British MoD

Russian forces have focused on forming “defensive positions” on the front line, according to the latest British Ministry of Defence update.

“Russian forces have largely focused on constructing defensive positions along many sections of the front line in Ukraine since October. This includes laying additional fields of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, almost certainly going beyond Russian doctrinal guidelines,” the ministry said on Twitter.

“Minefields only present an effective obstacle for trained troops if covered by observation and fire. A major challenge for the Russian forces will likely be a shortage of surveillance assets and trained personnel to effectively monitor large areas of the new minefields,” it added.

Ukraine to call for Russia’s removal from UN Security Council

Kyiv is planning to call for Russia to be removed as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated.

“We will officially express our position. We have a very simple question: Does Russia have the right to remain a permanent member of the UN Security Council and to be in the United Nations at all?” he said, speaking late on Sunday on national television.

“We have a convincing and reasoned answer – no, it does not,” he added.

Kuleba claimed that the question of Russia’s veto-wielding permanent seat in the UN Security Council – also held by the United States, Britain, France and China – was already being discussed in diplomatic circles.

Three killed in Ukrainian drone attack on Russian airfield: Moscow

Ukraine targeted the Engels airfield in Russia’s Saratov Region with a drone early on Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The UAV, approaching the base at a low altitude, was shot down by the air defenses, but three servicemen suffered fatal wounds from the falling debris, the ministry announced.

None of the aircraft stationed at the airfield were damaged in the incident, it added.

The Engels base, which hosts Russian long-range bombers, was targeted in a similar drone strike in early December.

Erdogan accuses West of ‘provocations’ over Ukraine

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has praised Turkey’s role in securing a grain deal between Russia and Ukraine, claiming in a speech on Sunday that unlike Ankara, Western nations did not make any tangible diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict.

“Unfortunately, the West has only made provocations and failed to make efforts to be a mediator in the Ukraine-Russia war,” Erdogan said at a youth event in Turkey’s eastern Erzurum province on Sunday.

Turkey has thus “assumed this mediator role in 2022” and is set to continue its diplomatic efforts next year, building up on the success of the Black Sea corridor created as part of an Istanbul grain deal in July, Erdogan added.

The grain corridor was touted as a way to secure food supplies to the neediest nations as a matter of priority, but Erdogan confirmed Russia’s long-standing concerns, saying on Sunday that some 44 percent of the grain exported from Ukraine went to Europe instead. In the meantime Moscow voiced its readiness to supply African nations with “large volumes” of grain and fertilizers out of its own stocks for free.

Majority of Germans against sending tanks to Ukraine: Poll

Nearly half of Germans do not want to see the country’s Leopard 2 battle tanks handed over to Ukraine, a recent YouGov opinion poll has indicated. Kiev has been imploring Berlin for the hardware for several months now, so far to no avail.

In its report on Sunday, media outlet Das Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND), citing a YouGov survey, said 45% of respondents opposed the shipment of Leopard 2 tanks to the eastern European country, while another 33% spoke in favor of the transfer, with the remaining 22% undecided.

The poll commissioned by Die Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) also revealed that it is only among supporters of the German Green Party that the number of those backing the move exceeds the number of skeptics, 50% to 25%, respectively.

Among the other two members of the traffic-light government coalition, the figures look different. 41% of supporters of the Social Democratic Party, which Chancellor Olaf Scholz belongs to, would not want German tanks delivered to Ukraine, while 40% would have no issue with such a decision. Among the Free Democratic Party’s ranks, 42% are against and 33% are for.

The opposition Christian Democrats surveyed also return similar proportions.

The highest numbers of opponents of sending tanks to Kiev have been registered among voters of the right-wing Alternative for Germany Party (76% against, 13% for) and of the Left Party (52% against, 32% for).

Despite Ukraine’s repeated requests for Germany to provide it with the Leopard 2, Chancellor Scholz has been reluctant to do so. He argues that, since no other nation has supplied Kiev yet with equivalent weaponry, Germany should not blaze a trail.

However, there has been growing pressure from the other coalition members, the Greens and Free Democrats, for him to do so. The conservatives, who are in opposition, have also urged Scholz to change his mind.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba expressed regret over Berlin’s unwillingness to accommodate Kiev’s requests for the tanks. The diplomat noted that Ukraine did not understand what the reasons were for Berlin’s hesitancy.

Nuclear deterrence only factor preventing West from waging full-fledged war on Russia: Ex-president

Russia’s former president, Dmitry Medvedev, says the only thing that is preventing the West from seeking an all-out war with Russia is the country’s nuclear arsenal.

“Is the West ready to unleash a full-fledged war against us, including a nuclear war…?” Medvedev, who is currently deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, wrote in an article in the Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper, which was published on Sunday.

“The only thing that stops our enemies today is the understanding that Russia will be guided by the fundamentals of state policy … on nuclear deterrence. And in the event that a real threat arises, it will act on them,” he added.

“The Western world is balancing between a burning desire to humiliate, offend, dismember, and destroy Russia as much as possible, on the one hand, and the desire to avoid a nuclear apocalypse, on the other,” Medvedev continued.

Russia enjoys the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons, with an arsenal containing close to 6,000 warheads.

President Vladimir Putin has recently said the risk of a nuclear war was rising, but added that Russia had not “gone mad” and sees its nuclear arsenal as a purely deterrent in nature.

The Russian leader added that, while the United States had stationed some of its nukes inside the territory of some members of the Washington-led military alliance of NATO in Europe, “We have not, and are not, transferring our nuclear weapons to anyone.

Russia rejects West’s price cap on its energy resources, says it will never accept any such caps

As Western countries and their allies rally to put limits on Russian energy prices, especially its natural gas, Moscow says it will never accept any caps placed by any foreign party on its energy resources.

Speaking during a televised interview on Sunday, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated “any price caps are unacceptable,” despite the fact that the limits are set rather high, because it is a matter of principle.

“It is interference into market pricing processes…. That is why it is out of the question,” the Kremlin official noted.

Peskov added, “And if today we accept this generous limit, tomorrow we will have to accept a limit infringing upon our interests,” adding, “We will never accept such distortion and destruction of the market pricing process.”

On December 2, the European Union and the Group of Seven industrialized nations — that includes the UK, Germany, Italy, Canada, the Unites States, France, and Japan — agreed on a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian oil imports in an alleged attempt to starve Russia’s ongoing military campaign in Ukraine.

Three days later, the EU also started enforcing an oil embargo on Russian crude deliveries by sea that would ban shipments, which reportedly account for two thirds of its imports.

Similar steps were taken by the Group of Twenty countries and Australia, which also included banning Western companies from offering transport, financial and insurance services to tankers shipping oil from Russia at a price exceeding the agreed price cap.

Pope condemns use of ‘food as a weapon’ of war

Pope Francis has urged an end to the use of “food as a weapon” of war, noting the Ukraine conflict had put “entire peoples at risk of famine”.

“We know that every war causes hunger and exploits food as a weapon … [let us], starting with those who hold political responsibilities, commit ourselves to making food solely an instrument of peace,” he stated in his annual Christmas message.

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