Friday, February 3, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 307

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:

Work ongoing to reconnect power, but millions without energy

Repair work is ongoing to restore power to large parts of Ukraine, local media has reported.

Russian attacks have targeted energy infrastructure, leaving nine million without power according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.

A Ukrainian news agency reported that at least one power plant has been reconnected.


Bakhmut is holding “courageously”: Ukraine’s Deputy DM

The city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region is holding “courageously” despite Russian forces’ concentrated efforts to advance, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Tuesday.

“Bakhmut is really our eastern fortress now. Indeed, the enemy has concentrated most of its efforts, military equipment and weapons there,” Maliar stated in an interview with Ukrainian television.

“They have set themselves the task to reach the borders of Donetsk region by the end of this calendar year. They can no longer hold that huge front line, so they choose some parts where they can concentrate their efforts to the maximum, and as it seems to them that this is the easiest aim,” she continued.

“But you can see how courageously Bakhmut is holding, how much our soldiers inflict losses on the enemy and the enemy simply cannot advance further,” she said. “There was a slight advance, but the enemy was pushed out,” she added.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine announced Tuesday that in the Bakhmut and Avdiivka directions, Russian forces had inflicted damage through firing on more than 25 settlements, including Bilohorivka, Bakhmut, Klishchiivka, Bila Hora, Kurdiumivka, Vodiane, Pervomaiske, Maryinka and Novomykhailivka in Donetsk region.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged on Monday evening that the situation on the front lines of Bakhmut and other areas in the eastern Donbas region was “difficult, painful.”


Russia “bringing in huge amount of reserves” to fight in Kreminna: Ukraine

The Ukrainian city of Kreminna, northwest of Lysychansk, continues to experience heavy fighting as the Russian military keeps renewing its forces there, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, Serhiy Haidai, said Tuesday.

“The Russian occupation troops managed to build a very powerful defense in a month, even a little more. They are bringing there a huge amount of reserves and equipment. They are constantly renewing their forces,” Haidai stated.

He added the Russian military had suffered a large number of casualties “but they still bring new [personnel], because they understand that if they lose Kreminna, in principle, the entire line of defense will crumble.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged on Monday evening that the situation on the frontlines in Bakhmut, Kreminna and other areas in the eastern Donbas region is “difficult, painful” as Russian forces use all resources available to them “to squeeze out at least some progress.”

The town in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region has been occupied since the spring.

Kreminna lies on a key north-south road from Svatove, which Russian troops had been using to resupply and which became even more important to them after Ukrainian troops took over Kupyansk, a resupply hub to the northwest of Kreminna and Svatove. Losing Kreminna would limit Russia’s ability to resupply its troops in the key city of Severodonetsk.

Haidai stated the road remained under Ukraine’s fire control, which meant there was “no safe and calm way for the occupiers to bring in the equipment or ammunition towards Kreminna using this road”.

Ukrainian forces appeared to be on the verge of retaking Kreminna a few weeks ago, but Ukrainian officials said the approaches to the city were difficult because of extensive mining.

“Every meter is difficult, because everything there is mined and they are constantly shelling with large caliber,” Haidai said, adding the situation in Kreminna was “radically different from Bakhmut.”

“[Russian troops] are trying to shell more powerfully, they have occupied all the forests, they have completely mined everything and no one knows the map of minefields. Therefore, it is very difficult to advance,” Haidai continued.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, which follows the conflict closely, said information from Russian military bloggers suggests that “Russian forces are pulling troops from various points throughout the theater to fill holes in the Svatove-Kreminna line and compensate for the continued degradation of conventional units.”


Power shortage persist: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday that power shortages persisted, with nearly nine million people without electricity.

Zelenskyy stated that power workers repairing the grid after repeated Russian attacks had reconnected many people over Christmas, but problems remained.

“Naturally, shortages persist. Blackouts are continuing”, he added.

“The situation as of this evening in different regions of Ukraine is that nearly nine million people are without electricity. But the numbers and the length of the blackouts are gradually decreasing,” the president continued.


US, NATO seek victory on battlefield: Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the US and NATO are seeking victory on the battlefield to destroy Russia.

“The actions of countries of the collective West and (Ukrainian President) Volodymyr Zelensky, who is controlled by them, confirm the global nature of the Ukrainian crisis,” Lavrov stated in an interview with TASS news agency.

“It is no secret that the strategic goal of the US and its NATO allies is victory over Russia on the battlefield as a mechanism for significantly weakening or even destroying our country,” he continued.

Lavrov added that the US remains the “main beneficiary” of the Ukraine war while pursuing its “geopolitical goal of breaking traditional Russian-European ties to further subjugate Europe”.

“The US is doing everything to prolong the conflict and make it more violent. The Pentagon is openly planning orders for the American defense industry for years to come, constantly raising the bar for military spending … and demanding the same from other members of the anti-Russian alliance,” the minister noted.


Zelensky’s adviser says Kremlin is trying to buy time by talking of negotiations

An adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN that comments about peace negotiations from the Kremlin are just ways for the Russian government to buy more time and cannot be trusted.

Alexander Rodnyansky, Zelensky’s economic adviser, said, “The Blitzkrieg has gone terribly wrong for them and they know that, so they need more time to regroup and rebuild their troops.”

He added that the Kremlin was trying to dissuade the world from sending more military aid to Ukraine. “We must not fall into that trap,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stated he was ready to “negotiate with everyone involved in this process about acceptable solutions” regarding the war in Ukraine, according to Russian state news agency TASS, citing Putin’s interview with state TV Sunday.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov threatened Ukraine, saying it must fulfil Moscow’s proposals regarding Russia’s “new territories” — the four Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson that Russia claims to control after sham referendums in September — or the Russian military will take action, according to TASS.

The Ukrainian government has repeatedly said it will not accept any deal that would jeopardise its territorial integrity.


Fighting remains focused around Bakhmut: British MoD

According to the British Ministry of Defence, over the past 48 hours fighting in Ukraine has remained the heaviest around the Bakhmut region.

“Russia continues to initiate frequent small-scale assaults in these areas, although little territory has changed hands”, the intelligence update reported.

“To the north, elements of Russia’s 1st Guards Tank Army were probably amongst the Russian forces recently deployed to Belarus. This formation was likely conducting training before its deployment and is unlikely to have the support units needed to make it combat-ready,” it added.


Ukraine war drives German arms exports to exceed eight billion euros in 2022

The German government has approved arms exports worth at least 8.35 billion euros ($8.9bn) this year, the second-highest annual figure in the country’s history.

More than a quarter of the weapons and military equipment delivered from January 1 to December 22 went to help Ukraine. The data comes from the Economy Ministry at the request of Sevim Dagdelen, a lawmaker with the far-left Linke Party.

Since Russia attacked Ukraine in February, deliveries worth 2.24 billion euros ($2.4bn) have been approved for Ukraine, including anti-aircraft tanks, self-propelled howitzers, multiple rocket launchers and the IRIS-T air defence system. But even without Ukraine, exports worth more than six billion euros ($6.4bn) received government approval.


Russian rouble falls to 70 vs dollar as sanctions weigh

The Russian rouble has weakened, struggling to consolidate a slight recovery from last week’s slide as the market comes to terms with the prospect of lower export revenue in the wake of restrictions on Russian oil.

The rouble lost about 8 percent against the dollar last week and is on course for a monthly decline after an oil embargo and price cap came into force. The finance ministry has said the recent slump was related to recovering imports.

At 07:42 GMT the rouble was 1.2 percent weaker against the dollar at 70.10, but still some way off the almost eight-month low of 72.6325 struck last week.


Oil price cap may widen Russia’s 2023 budget deficit: Finance minister

Russia’s budget deficit could be wider than the planned 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2023 as an oil price cap squeezes Russia’s export income, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has said, an extra fiscal hurdle for Moscow as it spends heavily on its military campaign in Ukraine.

Russia last week announced price caps on its crude and refined products could see it cut oil output by 5 to 7 percent early next year, but regardless of how deep the cuts are, Siluanov promised that spending commitments would be met, tapping borrowing markets and the country’s rainy day fund as needed.

“Is a bigger budget deficit possible? It is possible if revenues are lower than planned. What are the risks next year? Price risks and restrictions,” Siluanov told reporters in comments cleared for publication.

He added a reduction in the volume of energy exports was possible, as some countries shun Russia and Moscow looks to develop new markets, a process that will dictate Russia’s export returns.


Zelensky calls situation on front lines in Donbas region “difficult, painful”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the front lines of Bakhmut, Kreminna and other areas in the eastern Donbas region are “difficult, painful.”

“The situation there is difficult, painful. The occupants are spending all the resources available to them — and these are significant resources — to squeeze out at least some progress,” he stated in his nightly address.

He thanked employees who worked Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to restore energy to different parts of the country. He said that while there are still some outages, the situation is improving.

“As of this evening, about 9 million people are cut off in different regions of Ukraine. But the number and duration of outages is gradually decreasing. I am grateful to each and every person who ensured this result,” he added.

“Today, I held a special meeting with government officials on the situation in the energy sector and infrastructure. We are preparing for the next year — and not only for the winter months. There are threats that must be eliminated. There are steps to be taken. And the state will definitely make them,” the president continued.

The Ukrainian president told people to be prepared for further Russian attacks as the war stretches on, saying, “Air defense is preparing, the state is preparing, and everyone must be prepared. Please pay attention to the sirens.”


Russia gives Ukraine ultimatum over 4 occupied regions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Ukraine must fulfil Moscow’s proposals regarding their “new territories” — or the Russian military would take actionو

“The enemy is well aware of our proposals for the demilitarization and denationalization of the regime-controlled territories and the elimination of threats to Russian security from there, including our new territories (the DNR, LNR, and the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions),” the foreign minister stated.

“There is just one thing left to do: to fulfill them before it’s too late. Otherwise the Russian army will take matters into its own hands. With regard to the duration of the conflict, the ball is now in the court of Washington and its regime. They can stop this futile resistance at any moment,” he added.

Russia claimed control over the four regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson after sham referendums in September, widely slammed by Kyiv and Western governments as violating international law.

But Russia has struggled with setbacks in these areas from the start — Moscow’s forces were not in full control of the territories when they were rubber-stamped as part of the Russian Federation.

Just weeks after illegally annexing Kherson, Ukraine reclaimed its regional capital with the same name, liberating about 10,000 square kilometers of land and moving its Western-supplied artillery within range of Crimea.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that the situation in the four occupied territories was “extremely complicated,” a rare window into the challenges that Moscow faces in areas it has attempted to illegally annex.


FM: Ukraine aims to hold peace summit by February

Ukraine’s foreign minister has said that his government is aiming to hold a peace summit by the end of February, around the time of the anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

Dmytro Kuleba told The AP at the foreign ministry that, “The United Nations could be the best venue for holding this summit because this is not about making a favour to a certain country. This is really about bringing everyone on board.”

Kuleba stated that the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres could be the possible mediator for peace talks.

He also added that Ukraine will do whatever it can to win the war in 2023, adding that diplomacy always plays an important role.


Ukraine says it has neutralized more than 4,500 cyberattacks this year

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has neutralized more than 4,500 cyberattacks on the country this year, an official stated Monday.

Ilya Vitiuk, head of the SBU cybersecurity department said in a statement that Ukraine had “entered 2022 with eight years of hybrid warfare experience behind us,” adding that “at the time of the invasion, we were already ready for the worst scenarios.”

“And the massive cyberattacks that we repelled in January and February became additional ‘training’ before the invasion,” he added.

The scale of cyberattacks is now much wider, particularly compared to previous years, he said. In 2020, nearly 800 cyberattacks were recorded, while in 2021 it jumped to 1,400, and in 2022 the number increased more than three times.

“Today, the aggressor country launches an average of more than 10 cyberattacks per day. Fortunately, Ukrainian society does not even know about most of them,” Vitiuk continued.

He added that attackers are most likely to target energy, logistics, military facilities, government databases and information resources.

“We monitor risks and threats in real-time 24/7. We know most of the hackers from the Russian special services working against us by name. We are working on documenting them,” Vitiuk said, declaring they would face hearings at a future international military tribunal.

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