Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 310

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 outlines plan for foreign investors from ‘unfriendly’ countries

Foreign investors from “unfriendly” countries selling stakes in Russian assets may have to do so at half-price or less, the finance ministry said, with the Russian budget potentially taking a 10 percent cut of any transaction.

Minutes from a commission meeting monitoring foreign investment listed measures that could apply to “foreign persons associated with foreign states that commit unfriendly acts against Russian legal entities and individuals” when selling assets.

“Unfriendly” countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, including members of the European Union, the United States, Japan, Canada, Britain and Australia.

“The sale of assets at a discount of at least 50% of the market value of the relevant assets indicated in the asset valuation report”, one condition stated.

Another said sellers could be required to commit to one to two years of additional payments or an upfront charge of 10 percent of the overall transaction to Russia’s federal budget.


NATO chief suggests ‘weapons for peace’ in Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that Western military aid to Ukraine is what is needed to bring peace to the Eastern European country in the shortest time possible.

He claimed that Russia will only agree to peace talks when it faces a situation in which it cannot achieve its goals militarily.

In an interview with German news outlet DPA, parts of which were published on Friday, Stoltenberg stated, “It may sound paradoxical, but military support for Ukraine is the quickest way to peace.”

The Western military bloc’s chief claimed that for the conflict to end, Russian President Vladimir Putin has to come to the conclusion that his forces are unable to take over Ukraine. It is only then that the Kremlin would be ready to negotiate a settlement.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected out of hand a ten-point “peace formula” floated by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that envisages the withdrawal of Russian troops from Crimea, Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporozhye and Kherson Regions.

Lavrov told reporters that Moscow will “not talk to anyone” under the conditions previously proposed by Ukrainian president.

He stressed, however, that the Kremlin has not refused in principle to engage in negotiations with Ukraine, adding that Kiev must first recognize the new reality on the ground.

Stoltenberg also defended recent Ukrainian strikes on military targets deep inside Russian territory. He argued that “every country has the right to defend itself,” insisting that the attacks were justified.

When asked whether Ukraine should be given intermediate-range ballistic missiles, Stoltenberg revealed that individual NATO member states and Ukraine are engaged in dialogue regarding specific systems, which he declined to name. He also pointed out that several members of the military bloc have already supplied Kiev with weapon systems that have a longer range, such as US-made M142 HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems and drones.


At least 15,000 Ukrainians missing since the war began

At least 15,000 people, including civilians, have gone missing in Ukraine since the war began in February, a Ukrainian official said.

Russia has confirmed that it has 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers in captivity, Alyona Verbitskaya, the Ukrainian military ombudswoman, told the Bloomberg news agency.

Communication with Russian officials on the issue of prisoners of war has been “very poor”, she added.


Russia will not become a ‘democratic country’: Ukraine

Russia will never be a liberal democracy and should be “pushed into their borders and locked up,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

“The main thing now is … to make our partners understand that no matter who is in power there, Russia will not turn into a liberal, democratic country …They need to be pushed into their borders and locked up,” stated Kuleba.

He noted some people in the West still fear the consequences of a Russian defeat in Ukraine.

“Many sincerely support Ukraine, but still cannot imagine Russia’s defeat. I have already started to tell them that the world will not collapse if Russia collapses,” he continued.

“Not a single inch of Ukrainian land will be subject to diplomatic or military concessions,” he stressed, adding that Ukraine’s tough negotiation stance was “war diplomacy”.


Ukraine receives new package of Starlink satellites

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the president’s office, announces a new package of Starlinks, part of SpaceX’s internet service, from Poland.

On Telegram, he wrote: “Ukraine received another batch of Starlinks, which will go to our ‘Points of Invincibility’, as well as for the energy and medical spheres,” referring to the heated and powered spaces offering hot meals, electricity and internet connections for displaced Ukrainians.

“We work to keep people connected,” he continued, adding, “This is the third batch we have received from Poland, and the first part of a large batch that will arrive by the end of January.”


Russian football federation seeks UEFA return

The Russian Football Union wants its teams to return to international competition after European football’s governing body, UEFA, banned Moscow from competition after Putin sent troops to Ukraine in February.

“We are indeed considering the option of returning to UEFA competitions as soon as possible,” said Alexander Dyukov, the president of the Russian Football Union.

“It is important for us to take part in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers,” he added.

The Russian Football Union was proposing the establishment of a group to conduct consultations with UEFA to resume ties, said Dyukov.

He did not rule out that Russia could seek membership with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) at a later stage.

As part of the UEFA ban, Russia has been excluded from the qualifying draw for Euro 2024 and will not take part in upcoming qualifying matches starting next March.


Russia revises GDP growth from 4.7 percent to 5.6 percent in 2021

Russia’s federal statistics agency revised its estimate for economic growth in 2021 from 4.7 percent to 5.6 percent, saying the country bounced back from the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than first believed.

The Rosstat statistics office announced the new figures were based on a more complete set of information on business performance, the balance of payments data and government accounts.

However, independent analysts expect the country’s economy to struggle for years due to the loss of crucial energy exports to Europe and access to Western technology and finance.

President Vladimir Putin stated this year’s economic decline is set to be less than 2.5 percent, while the economy ministry’s official forecast sees a 2.9 percent contraction.

After Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, some analysts had expected Russia to suffer a double-digit hit to its gross domestic product in 2022.


China will uphold ‘objective and fair stance’ on Ukraine: Xi

According to Chinese state media, China’s president tells President Vladimir Putin that Beijing and Moscow should closely coordinate and cooperate in international affairs.

Xi Jinping also told the Russian president that the road to peace talks in Ukraine would not be smooth and that China would continue to uphold its “objective and fair stance” on the issue, according to state broadcaster CCTV.


Russia, China to reach $200bn trade turnover earlier than planned: Putin

President Vladimir Putin says Russia and China will reach a trade turnover of $200bn earlier than planned.

He stated this year, Russia became one of the leaders in oil exports to China, second in pipeline gas supplies and fourth in deliveries of LNG.

“Relations between Russia and China are the best in history they withstand all the tests,” he added.

Putin praised military cooperation, noting the two countries will further strengthen it, as “cooperation between Russia and China in the international arena serves to form a just world order”.

President Xi Jinping said Beijing is ready to strengthen strategic cooperation with Russia.

“In the face of a difficult, far-ambiguous international situation, we are ready to increase strategic cooperation, provide each other with opportunities for development,” he added.


Ukraine currently most dangerous country in Europe for media: RSF

Eight journalists have been killed in Ukraine since Russia invaded in February. This compares with a total of 12 media deaths there over the preceding 19 years, according to an analysis published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Ukraine is currently the most dangerous country in Europe for the media, after Russia itself, where 25 journalists have been killed over the past 20 years.

“Since (President) Vladimir Putin took over, Russia has seen systematic attacks on press freedom – including deadly ones – as RSF has repeatedly reported,” it added.

“They include Anna Politkovskaya’s high-profile murder on 7 October 2006,” the rights group said.


‘Unlikely’ that Ukrainian missile was an accident: Belarus

In an interview, the secretary of Belarus’ Security Council said it was “unlikely” that a Ukrainian air defence missile downed on Thursday had entered Belarusian airspace by accident.

“Kyiv is striving to provoke a regional conflict by any means,” Alexander Volfovich told the Russian state-owned outlet Sputnik Belarus.

“An example of this is the recent incident with the destruction of the Ukrainian S-300 missile,” he continued, adding, “There is little reason to believe that it entered our airspace by accident. By all appearances, it seems some plan was being realised here”.

A regional military official compared the missile to an incident in November, when a stray S-300 landed on the territory of NATO-member Poland, triggering fears of an escalation that were rapidly defused.

Ukraine’s defence ministry announced it would investigate the incident, suggesting it was a Russian provocation and reserves the right to protect its skies.


Kremlin concerned over rogue Ukrainian missile in Belarus

The Kremlin announced it is highly concerned over a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile that flew into Belarus’s air space on Thursday.

Belarus’s defence ministry said on Thursday its air defence forces had shot down a Ukrainian S-300 surface-to-air missile near the village of Harbacha in the Brest region, some 15km (9 miles) from the Belarus-Ukraine border.

Belarus has summoned Ukraine’s ambassador over the rogue missile and asked for an investigation into the incident.


Ukraine continues to log Russian war crimes

Ukraine is investigating Russian war crimes as the conflict nears the end of the ten-month mark.

The Associated Press and “Frontline”, have recorded in a public database, has independently verified more than 600 incidents that appear to violate the laws of war.

Some of those attacks were massacres that killed dozens or hundreds of civilians, and as a totality, it could account for thousands of individual war crimes.

Karim Khan, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, told the AP, “Ukraine is a crime scene”

While authorities have amassed a staggering amount of evidence they are unlikely to arrest most of those who gave the order or abused people.

Ukrainian authorities face serious challenges in gathering air-tight evidence in a war zone with the vast majority of alleged war criminals have evaded capture and safely behind Russian lines.


Olympic sanctions against Belarus and Russia to stay in place: IOC

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach has reiterated that sanctions against Russia and Belarus must remain in place.

Bach also said in a New Year’s Message that the IOC will continue to support Ukraine’s Olympic community.

The IOC imposed sanctions on Russian and Belarusian governments and states shortly after the start of the invasion in late February.

“These sanctions against the Russian and Belarusian states and governments must and will remain firmly in place,” he continued, noting, “We are supporting the athletes and members of the Ukrainian Olympic community everywhere with all our solidarity.”

“Also in the new year, the Ukrainian athletes can count on the full commitment to this solidarity from the IOC and the entire Olympic Movement. We want to see a strong team from Ukraine at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 and the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026”, he added.


European gas prices fall to pre-Ukraine war level

European gas prices have dipped to a level last seen before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, after warmer weather across the continent eased concerns over shortages.

The month-ahead European gas future contract dropped as low as €76.78 per megawatt hour on Wednesday, the lowest level in 10 months, before closing higher at €83.70, according to Refinitiv, a data company.

The invasion roiled global energy markets and forced European countries, including industrial powerhouse Germany, to look for alternative suppliers to those funding the Kremlin. Europe had continued to rely on Russian gas even after its 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.


Ukrainian forces face “heavy losses” in Bakhmut and Soledar: Presidential adviser

Heavy Russian attacks on the eastern Ukrainian cities of Bakhmut and Soledar “smack of desperation, reminiscent of suicide bombers,” according to a Ukrainian presidential adviser.

As fighting continues in the area, Ukrainian forces are experiencing heavy troop losses, Arestovych said on Friday, adding “[the enemy] is losing more, of course, but we have heavy losses. It’s a very serious fight.”

Bakhmut has become perhaps the most contested and kinetic part of the 1,300 kilometer (800 mile) front line in Ukraine and the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the war.

The greater Donetsk region, where Bakhmut and Soledar are located, has been held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014 and is one of four Ukrainian regions that Moscow claims as Russian territory in violation of international law.


Biden includes assistance to Ukraine in US government spending bill

President Joe Biden has signed off on a $1.7 trillion spending bill that will keep the US government funded through the next fiscal year — notably including another big package for Ukraine’s war effort.

The legislation includes $45bn in emergency military and economic aid for Ukraine, which is battling a full-scale Russian invasion. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was in Washington earlier this month to plead for increased US assistance.

“It’ll invest in medical research, safety, veteran health care, disaster recovery” and funding for programs combating violence against women, Biden tweeted.


Zelensky: Ukraine repelled 54 Russian missiles and 11 drones

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said air commands across Ukraine repelled 54 Russian missiles and 11 drones in Thursday’s assault.

Zelensky acknowledged that most regions were suffering power outages.

The areas where the loss of power was “especially difficult” included the capital, Kyiv, Odesa and Kherson in the south and surrounding regions, and the region around Lviv near the western border with Poland, he added.

Officials had earlier stated more than 120 missiles were fired during Thursday’s assault.

More than 18 residential buildings and 10 critical infrastructure installations were destroyed in the attacks, the defence ministry announced in a statement.


Moldova’s president hopes crisis-hit country would join EU before 2030

President Maia Sandu, elected in 2020 on a pro-European and anti-corruption platform, has expressed hopes that crisis-hit Moldova would join the European Union before 2030.

The EU accepted Moldova as a membership candidate in June, when it extended the same status to neighbouring Ukraine.

Moldova has been striving to wean itself off Russian gas as it deals with power cuts partly caused by Moscow’s attacks on neighbouring Ukraine’s power infrastructure.


Britain gives Ukraine metal detectors to help clear minefields

Britain says it has given Ukraine more than 1,000 metal detectors and 100 kits to deactivate bombs to help clear minefields, in the latest instance of military support.

“Russia’s use of landmines and targeting of civilian infrastructure underline the shocking cruelty of Putin’s invasion,” British defence minister Ben Wallace said in a statement.

The metal detectors can help troops clear safe routes on roads and paths by helping to remove explosive hazards, the defence ministry announced, while the kits can de-arm the fuse from unexploded bombs.

Wallace stated on Thursday Britain would allocate $2.77bn to Ukraine in military aid in 2023, matching the amount it has provided this year.


Missile downed over Belarus may be Russian ploy: Ukraine

Ukraine has suggested a missile Belarus shot down over its territory might have been a move by Moscow aimed at bringing Minsk into the war.

“The Ukrainian side does not exclude a deliberate provocation on the part of … Russia, which laid such a route for its cruise missiles to provoke their interception in the airspace over the territory of Belarus,” said a defence ministry statement quoted by the AFP news agency.

Belarus has summoned Ukraine’s ambassador after shooting down a Ukrainian S-300 air defence missile in a field.

The military commissar of the Brest region, Oleg Konovalov, told locals they had “absolutely nothing to worry about”, adding, “Unfortunately, these things happen.”

“The Belarusian side views this incident as extremely serious,” Belarusia’s foreign ministry spokesman Anatoly Glaz said.

“We demanded that the Ukrainian side conduct a thorough investigation … [and] hold those responsible to account and take comprehensive measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents in the future,” he continued.

Belarus announced the missile had come down near the village of Harbacha in the Brest region, some 15km (9 miles) from the border with Ukraine, at around 10am (07:00 GMT).


Russia eases some restrictions on rouble transfers for ‘unfriendly’ banks

The Bank of Russia has announced it is allowing banks from so-called “unfriendly” countries to transfer roubles out of Russia from correspondent accounts opened with Russian credit institutions.

“In the face of sanctions pressure, such a payment channel will help to raise the sustainability of international settlement infrastructure,” the central bank said.

It was not immediately clear how the move might impact foreign investors’ assets currently trapped in Russia in response to the sweeping sanctions that Western countries imposed on Moscow because of its military campaign in Ukraine.


‘Significant damage’ to Ukraine power grid after new Russian strikes: Operator

A barrage of Russian missile strikes on Ukraine has resulted in “significant damage” to the national power grid, already battered by repeated bombardment, officials confirmed.

“Unfortunately, due to significant network damage, it is difficult for us to deliver electricity in Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odesa, Mykolaiv, Kherson and Lviv regions,” stated the head of Ukraine’s grid operator Ukrenergo, Volodymyr Kudrytskyi.


Moscow ‘outraged’ by crackdown on Russian media abroad

France’s push to ban Russian news outlets both on the nation’s territory and in the EU is unacceptable, Moscow’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, stated on Thursday.

Earlier this month, French TV regulator Arcom ordered satellite operator Eutelsat to stop broadcasting Channel One Russia, Rossiya 1, and NTV channels.

In a statement, Zakharova said the French watchdog had imposed those restrictions “under apparent pressure from the authorities,” adding that the move preceded relevant sanctions on the EU level.

“Moscow is outraged by the new steps taken by Paris aimed at introducing more and more broadcasting bans on Russian media, both on its territory and in the EU as a whole,” she added.

Such actions suggest that France, given its political clout in the bloc, “is the main lobbyist” supporting the ban on Russian TV channels in Europe, Zakharova claimed.

“Such a display of Russophobia, which, unfortunately, has already become mundane, [points to] the aspiration to silence any voices that provide an alternative to the EU propaganda at all cost,” she continued.

According to Zakharova, Europeans “are being deprived of the right to free access to information.”

She suggested that Paris and Brussels might be “afraid that the audience, after seeing a different point of view and picture of the world that does not correspond to that shown by the mainstream of the Western media, will draw their own conclusions” about global politics and the Ukraine conflict.

The spokeswoman described the crackdown on Russian media as “a flagrant violation” of freedom of speech, which is “discriminatory in nature.”

The ban is “another testament that the Western ideal democratization model is in fact no more than a tool for achieving foreign policy goals,” Zakharova claimed.

In recent years, Western countries unleashed a massive campaign against Russian media, which only intensified after Moscow started its military operation against Ukraine. In March, the EU suspended the broadcasting activities of Sputnik and RT, while the number of blacklisted channels has only grown since then as the bloc introduced new sanctions packages.

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