Friday, February 3, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 308

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:

Ukraine ‘peace plan’ must factor in Russia’s four new regions: Kremlin

No “peace plan” on Ukraine is possible if it does not account for four new regions joining Russia, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Wednesday.

“To begin with, so far, there is no Ukrainian ‘peace plan’ of any kind,” the Kremlin official said replying to a request to comment on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s initiative to come up with a “peace plan” by February when he would like to hold a “peace summit” at the UN.

“And again, no Ukrainian ‘peace plan’ is possible if it does not take into account the modern reality – with Russia’s territory, with four new regions joining Russia,” President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary stressed.

“Any plan that does not take into account these circumstances cannot claim to be a peace plan,” he added.

Earlier, the Ukrainian leader told a joint meeting of Congress following his talks with US President Joe Biden that the two had discussed Kiev’s proposals to settle the Ukrainian conflict. According to Zelensky, Biden supported Ukraine’s initiative to hold a global peace summit to discuss these proposals. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba noted that Kiev intended to hold a “peace summit” at the UN by the end of February and suggested that the organization’s Secretary General Antonio Guterres serve as a mediator with Guterres expressing readiness to do so.

From September 23 to September 27, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) as well as the Kherson Region and the Zaporozhye Region held a referendum where the majority of voters opted to join Russia. On September 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the heads of the DPR and the LPR, the Zaporozhye and Kherson Regions signed treaties on their accession to Russia. On October 4, Putin signed laws ratifying the treaties on the DPR, LPR, Zaporozhye and Kherson Regions joining Russia.


‘Just dogs barking’: Moscow on Kiev’s bid to oust Russia from UNSC

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova hit back at the Kiev regime’s calls to expel Russia from the UN Security Council by saying such rhetoric needs to be ignored.

“Do nothing. This is precisely the case when dogs bark but the caravan moves on,” she told the Sputnik radio station on Wednesday replying to a question as to how Moscow should react to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s statement on the matter.

On December 20, Dmitry Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, noted that Kiev was gearing up for official steps to annul Russia’s membership in the UN Security Council. That said, he admitted that it wouldn’t be easy to launch this process.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeatedly stated that it is impossible to exclude Russia from the UN Security Council. The US also thinks that it is impossible to alter the UN’s rules in order to do so, White House Spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said at the December 15 briefing.


Over 700 infrastructure facilities were damaged in Ukraine since February

More than 700 critical infrastructure facilities including gas pipelines, electric substations and bridges have been damaged in Ukraine since February of this year, the country’s First Deputy Interior Minister Yevgeny Yenin said.

“Altogether, according to the information that we have for Ukraine as of today, more than 35,000 facilities have been damaged,” he stated on the Rada television channel.

“Of that number, 702 facilities were critical infrastructure, such as natural gas pipelines, electric substations, bridges and so on,” he added.


Total of 17,831 casualties in Ukraine: UN body

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has released the number of civilian casualties in Ukraine – a total of 17,831 – between 24 February 2022 to 26 December 2022.

It recorded a total of 6,884 civilians killed including 2,719 men, 1,832 women, 175 girls, and 216 boys, as well as 38 children and 1,904 adults whose sex is yet unknown.

A total of 10,947 have been injured, with most in Donetsk and Luhansk regions where 4,052 civilians have been killed and 5,643 injured.

The office warned that “the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration.”


Ukraine buys 1,400 drones

Ukraine has bought some 1,400 drones, mostly for reconnaissance, and plans to develop combat models that can attack the exploding drones Russia has used during its invasion of the country, according to the Ukrainian government minister in charge of technology.

Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov described Russia’s war in Ukraine as the first main war of the internet age. He credited drones and satellite internet systems like Elon Musk’s Starlink with having transformed the conflict.

Ukraine has purchased drones like the Fly Eye, used for intelligence, battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance.

“And the next stage, now that we are more or less equipped with reconnaissance drones, is strike drones,” Federov stated, adding, “These are both exploding drones and drones that fly up to three to 10 kilometres [1.8 to 6.2 miles] and hit targets.”

He predicted “more missions with strike drones” in the future, but would not elaborate.

Russian authorities have alleged several Ukrainian drone attacks on their military bases in recent weeks. On Monday, Russia said its forces shot down a drone approaching the Engels airbase located more than 600km (370 miles) from the Ukrainian border.


Australian man killed fighting in Ukraine

An Australian man has been killed fighting in Ukraine, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) announced.

Sage O’Donnell, from the southeastern state of Victoria, is believed to have been killed just before Christmas, according to a report from the country’s national broadcaster, ABC.

He “died in action defending the freedom of the Ukrainian people”, according to the mother.

During the past 10 months, legions of volunteers from around the world have made their way to Ukraine, fighting what they believe is unprovoked aggression from Russia.


Germany to endure higher gas prices in 2023: Economy minister

German consumers will have to put up with high gas prices for at least a year, after costs skyrocketed due to Russian supply cuts, Economy Minister Robert Habeck has stated.

“We will still have to endure higher prices over the [next] year,” Habeck said, hoping prices would fall again by the end of 2023 when the necessary infrastructure to replace Russian gas supplies was scheduled to be completed.

However even then he was not expecting prices to fall below 2021 levels, Habeck added.

In the course of the Russian war against Ukraine, gas supplies from Russia – which accounted for 55 percent of German consumption before the conflict – were completely stopped.


Putin aide visits Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

An aide of President Vladimir Putin has visited the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in a part of southern Ukraine that Russia says it has annexed, a Moscow-installed official in the region stated.

Sergei Kiriyenko, a Kremlin official responsible for overseeing Russia’s domestic politics and a former head of the country’s state nuclear corporation, reviewed the safety of the plant, according to Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed local official.

“Sergei Kiriyenko visited the nuclear power plant — he checked the safety of the facility and the working conditions of Rosatom employees,”  Rogov said on Telegram.

The facility has repeatedly come under fire in recent months, with Ukraine and Russia trading blame for the shelling.

Special Russian military units guard the facility and Russian nuclear specialists are on site. Ukrainian staff continue to help operate the plant.


Italy reaffirms full support for Ukraine

Italy’s government has pledged its support for Kyiv and reiterated its commitment to achieving a “just peace” for Ukraine, it said in a statement following a phone call between Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“[Prime Minister] Meloni renewed the Italian government’s full support for Kyiv in the political, military, economic and humanitarian fields, to repair energy infrastructure and [to work] for the future reconstruction of Ukraine,” the statement said.

In a tweet, Zelensky thanked Meloni for her “solidarity and comprehensive support” and said Italy was considering providing Kyiv with air defence systems.


Putin bans oil exports to price cap countries

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree banning the sale of oil and oil products to nations participating in the price cap.

The G7, the European Union and Australia agreed to a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian seaborne crude oil effective from December 5 due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s decree stated: “This … comes into force on February 1, 2023, and applies until July 1, 2023.”

Crude oil exports will be banned from February 1 but the Russian government will determine the date for the oil products ban, which could begin later.

The decree includes a clause that allows Putin to overrule the ban in exceptional cases.


Serbia influenced by Russia: Kosovan minister

Kosovan Interior Minister Xhelal Svecla stated Serbia is under the influence of Russia and aims to destabilise Kosovo by supporting the Serb minority in the north who have been blocking roads.

“It is precisely Serbia, influenced by Russia, that has raised a state of military readiness and that is ordering the erection of new barricades, in order to justify and protect the criminal groups that terrorise … citizens of Serb ethnicity living in Kosovo,” Svecla said in a statement.

Serbs in the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo put up new barricades hours after Serbia said it had put its army on the highest combat alert following weeks of escalating tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.

Serbia denies trying to destabilise its neighbour and says it wants to protect its minority there.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic noted Serbia would “continue to fight for peace and seek compromise solutions”.


‘Freedom comes at a high price’: Zelensky

In a message to Ukrainians, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Telegram: “In this battle, we have one powerful and effective weapon. The hammer and sword of our spirit and consciousness. Courage and bravery. Virtues that incline us to do good deeds and overcome evil.”

He added: “The main act of courage is endurance and bringing one’s work to the end in spite of everything. The truth illuminates our path. We know it. We protect it. Our truth is a struggle for freedom. Freedom comes at a high price. But slavery costs even more.”


Russia’s economic recovery lies in consumer demand: Official

Recovering consumer demand and helping the corporate sector become profitable are the biggest tasks for the Russian government to address in 2023, the first deputy prime minister, Andrei Belousov, said.

Russia’s economy is set to contract for the second year in 2023 as Western sanctions take effect and a “partial mobilisation” bill is changing Russia’s workforce.

“The consumer market is recovering very slowly,” Belousov stated in an interview on state television.

He referred to the situation as something “close to stagnation”.

“This is above all because our real wage growth is recovering very slowly and, in turn, is the flip side of a low unemployment rate,” Belousov continued, adding, “The price of high employment is very slow real wage growth”.

Inflation is projected to be 5-6 percent next year but Belousov expects it to drop lower, which could allow the Bank of Russia to ease monetary policy and foster growth.


Blinken again vows US will support Ukraine’s energy infrastructure

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed again on Tuesday to “work tirelessly with the G7 and other partners to repair, replace, and defend Ukraine’s energy infrastructure” as it faces a tough winter of Russian attacks.

But that effort will not come without challenges. An initial tranche of US electrical equipment, which a US official told CNN included big items like circuit breakers, relays, disconnectors, arrived in Ukraine more than a week ago — part of a multimillion dollar pledge by the Joe Biden administration to help to support Ukraine’s electrical system.

However, as the US and its partners work to try to supply the capital of Kyiv with the supplies it needs to keep the electricity and heat on this winter, they have had to contend with worldwide supply chain issues, the US official said.

There is a global effort to try to deal with this, the official explained, and the US is working with the private sector to try to narrow the gap in equipment, but with the existing supply chain issues, there is not as much extra supply.

Some of the “bigger ticket” items that are used in the United States are not compatible in Ukraine, as they are designed to work on different frequency grids, the official told CNN.

The US hopes that the provision of air defense systems will help counter the barrage of Russian attacks on Ukrainian critical infrastructure, so that the equipment provided by the US and partners is not destroyed.

By attacking the infrastructure, the Russians have made defense and recovery of the grid much more complicated, the official explained, because there are so many more places the system can go down than if they were to attack a power plant.

In the short term, the US is trying to locate items the Ukrainians have prioritized, such as large gas generators.

These generators would not be used to power individual homes, the US official said, but rather would be used to keep critical utilities such as water and heat on even if the electricity is down.

The official explained that even when the electrical grid is repaired, it cannot immediately be run on full capacity or it risks blowing out, so Ukrainian officials likely will need to keep rolling blackouts until they can ensure the patched electrical grid can sustain itself, the official added.

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