Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 315

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:

Patriot missiles to be deployed soon: Ukrainian FM

The Ukrainian foreign minister says that Patriot air defence systems are expected to be deployed in Ukraine soon.

In a briefing broadcast on the Ukrainian foreign ministry’s Facebook page, Dmytro Kuleba stated preparations for transferring the Patriot air defence systems have already begun.

On December 21, US President Joe Biden announced a $1.85bn military aid package for Ukraine, including a Patriot missile defence system, during a joint news conference with President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal added that Kyiv expects the US Congress to approve another package of almost $45bn, which includes new HIMARS multiple rocket launcher systems and the Patriot air defence systems.

European companies in Russia are ‘supporters of war’: Ukrainian adviser

European companies who work in Russia must be labelled “supporters [of] the war”, an adviser to Zelenskyy, Mikhailo Podolyak, says.

“European Union companies, including pharmaceutical ones, which continue to work in the RF [Russian Federation], must be labeled: ‘supports the war’, ‘supports the mass murder of Ukrainians’, ‘supports the destruction of critical infrastructure’,” Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

“That’s fair. Financing the war with European taxes is inadmissible,” he added.

Putin wants to destroy Ukraine: German FM

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock noted that the EU had tried everything to stop the war in Ukraine but that President Vladimir Putin had nothing on his mind but to destroy Ukraine.

Speaking at a conference in Portugal’s capital Lisbon, Baerbock stated Putin’s stance was why it was “important to keep up the delivery of weapons so Ukraine can defend itself and protect people’s lives”.

Germany is looking for additional ways to help Ukraine protect its people and infrastructure, the foreign minister stated, stressing that any dip in Europe’s resolve on the issue would serve as a win for Moscow.

“And this year, we must protect and further develop the joint European unity that made us strong last year,” Baerbock said during a news conference with her Portuguese counterpart in Lisbon.

Three Russian ships on standby in the Black Sea: Ukraine

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces says three Russian ships are on standby in the Black Sea.

In an update on Facebook, it wrote: “There are three enemy ships in the Black Sea on combat standby in the Sea of Azov. The enemy continues to control maritime communications by holding on combat standby.

“The Russian Federation continues to violate the International Convention for the Protection of Human Life at Sea 1974 (SOLAS), disabling auto-identification systems (AIS), on civilian vessels in the Azov Sea,” it added.

Putin sends a warship equipped with weapons to Atlantic

President Vladimir Putin has sent a warship towards the Atlantic and Indian oceans armed with new hypersonic Zircon cruise missiles, which he said were unique worldwide.

In a video conference with defence minister Sergei Shoigu and Igor Krokhmal, commander of the frigate named Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Gorshkov, Putin said the ship was armed with Zircon hypersonic weapons.

“This time the ship is equipped with the latest hypersonic missile system – Zircon – which has no analogues,” said Putin.

“I would like to wish the crew of the ship success in their service for the good of the motherland,”  he noted.

Shoigu added that the hypersonic missiles, known as either Tsirkon or Zircon, could overcome any missile defence system.

The missiles fly at nine times the speed of sound and have a range of more than 1,000km, Shoigu stated.

Production of new electronic weapons to start soon: Russia’s Rostec

Russia says that mass production of new electronic warfare and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems will start in the next few months.

“Within 1-2 months, it is planned to complete state tests and switch to mass production of a fundamentally new generation of aviation and ground electronic warfare and combat UAVs,” Russian state-owned defence enterprise Rostec said on Telegram.

Rostec added that it is increasing the production volume of weapons and special military equipment.

“We are talking about attack and transport helicopters, new and modernised combat fighters, front-line bombers, strategic missile carriers, transport and combat training aircraft,” the statement added.

“Rostec also produces ground, air and sea-based electronic warfare equipment, state identification equipment, special-purpose measuring equipment, and much more,” it said.

Ukrainian prosecutors allege torture of residents by Russian forces in Mykolaiv and Kherson

Ukrainian authorities detailed allegations of what they called “torture chambers” discovered in a village in the Mykolaiv region and the city of Kherson.

Mykolaiv’s regional prosecutor’s office, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and forensic experts with the National Police of Ukraine established the location of an alleged “torture chamber” in the village of Oleksandrivka, in the southern Mykolaiv region, after it was taken back from Russian occupation, according to statements from the regional prosecutor’s office and the SBU.

“According to the investigation data, the representatives of the aggressor country seized the houses in the village and illegally held and brutally tortured local residents who refused to cooperate with the enemy,” according to the Mykolaiv prosecutor’s office.

The office also said that “physical evidence was discovered and seized” during the investigation.

The SBU alleged in a statement that “Russians forcibly held and brutally tortured local residents who refused to cooperate.”

“They tried to ‘beat out’ the addresses of Ukrainian patriots, in particular members of the resistance movement,” the SBU claimed.

“The victims were suffocated with plastic bags, beaten with heavy objects and electrical torture was used,” the statement added, noting, “During the inspection of the chamber, law enforcement officers discovered torture tools.”

The SBU stated that Ukrainian citizens who were “illegally detained and tortured by the Russians for a month were found.”

The Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine also reported another “torture chamber” was discovered in the city of Kherson in “one of the police administration buildings, which Russians used to ensure the functioning of the occupation penal authorities.”

Russia has previously denied allegations of war crimes and claimed its forces do not target civilians, despite extensive evidence gathered by international human rights experts, criminal investigators and international media in multiple locations.

Russia is still targeting civilian infrastructure: Ukraine’s presidential office

Russia has kept targeting Ukraine’s energy system and civilian infrastructure, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of the Ukrainian president’s office, said in a video message.

Power lines and several civilian buildings suffered damage following Russian shelling in the Chervonohryhorivka community of the Dnipropetrovsk region, he stated, adding, “The city of Nikopol got hit but the strike fell on the open territory.”

“In the Donetsk direction, the cities of Bakhmut and Kurakhove came under shelling as well,” he continued, noting, “One person got killed and two injured in the town of Kurakhove shelling. One shell flew directly into the high-rise building. The water supply facility in the town suffered damage.”

The Kyiv region got hit twice with ‘Iskander’ cruise missiles. “A residential area, ice arena and industrial area suffered damage,” he added. “One person was killed and one injured.”

In other details, Tymoshenko stated:

  • Zaporizhzhia region was attacked 86 times. “Almost all the strikes targeted civilian infrastructure in a total of 21 settlements.”
  • The Mykolaiv region got hit with barrel artillery eight times overnight Tuesday.
  • “Sumy region came under shelling 11 times. In the village of Pavlivka, a local school and power lines got damaged, and a car got destroyed. No casualties were reported,” he said.
  • The Kharkiv region suffered from Russian shelling as well. In particular, Russian shelling caused fires in the settlements of Vovchansk and Dvorichna, where the emergency workers came under Russian shelling while putting out the fire.
  • In the Chernihiv region, the villages of Lipivka and Yeline came under fire as well.

Tymoshenko added that Russia was also “shelling energy infrastructure in the eastern and southern Ukraine again,” without giving any further details.

Russia blames its soldiers’ mobile phone use for deadly Makiivka attack

Russia’s defence ministry has blamed the unauthorised use of mobile phones by its soldiers for a deadly Ukrainian missile attack that it stated killed 89 servicemen, raising the reported death toll significantly.

The Russian defence ministry said four Ukrainian missiles hit a temporary Russian barracks in a vocational college in Makiivka, the twin city of the Russian-occupied regional capital of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Although an official probe has been launched, the main reason for the attack was clearly the illegal mass use of mobile phones by servicemen, the ministry added.

“This factor allowed the enemy to track and determine the coordinates of the soldiers’ location for a missile strike,” it announced on Wednesday.

Zelensky adviser restates Kyiv’s position on peace talks

Mykhailo Podolyak, a political adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, has said any possible peace talks to end the war must take account of Russia’s aggression.

“The key thing must be kept in mind. Especially when you want to ‘talk about war or negotiations’ … RF [The Russian Federation] came to a foreign country to kill its citizens,” Podolyak tweeted.

“RF is massively shelling. RF is trying to seize part of foreign territory. RF is the only author of an unprovoked war in Europe,” he added.

Moscow has recently rejected a 10-point peace plan put forward by Zelensky that calls for Russia to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and withdraw all of its troops from his country.

Russia updates toll on number of service members killed in New Year’s Day strike

The Russian Defense Ministry confirmed 89 servicemen were killed in the strike in eastern Ukraine that occurred on New Year’s Day. Among them was the regiment’s deputy commander, Lt. Col. Bachurin, the ministry said in a statement.

The apparent Ukrainian strike took place just after midnight on Sunday at a vocational school housing Russian conscripts in Makiivka in the Donetsk region, according to both Ukrainian and pro-Russian accounts.

On Monday, in a rare admission, the Russian Ministry of Defense said 63 servicemen had been killed in Makiivka when Ukraine used HIMARS rockets to attack a building where Russian soldiers were quartering. The Russian Defense Ministry updated the death toll after more bodies were found under the rubble.

The Ukrainian military had claimed up to around 400 Russian soldiers were killed and a further 300 wounded, and then said the exact number was “being clarified.”

In any case, it would represent one of the deadliest single losses of the war for Moscow’s forces.

Ukrainian military claims another devastating hit on Russian troops

Ukraine’s military on Tuesday alleged another devastating attack on Russian troops had taken place.

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said around 500 Russian troops were either killed or wounded in a hit near Chulakivka, a town in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, on New Year’s Eve.

“The enemy continues to suffer losses. It was confirmed that on December 31 Ukrainian Defense Forces hit an enemy troop and equipment stronghold near Chulakivka, Kherson region,” it claimed.

“Around 500 enemy troops were wounded and killed,” the General Staff said.
Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian armed forces in the south, told Ukrainian television, adding, “This is one of our achievements in this direction of the front.”

“There will be more because we identify the enemy’s locations,” she said of the alleged hit.

A widely read Russian war blogger known as “Operation Z” said in a Telegram post on Tuesday “there is no f***ing denying” that Ukraine is now targeting barracks and other Russian troop strongholds with HIMARS, a reference to High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems. He included Chulakivka in his list of hits on Russian troops he said had taken place in December.

It comes after both Russian and Ukrainian authorities acknowledged a strike that took place just after midnight on New Year’s Day at a vocational school housing Russian conscripts in Makiivka, in the Donetsk region.

The Russian defense ministry on Monday acknowledged the Makiivka attack and claimed that 63 Russian servicemen died, which would make it one of the deadliest single episodes of the war for Moscow’s forces.

Bulgaria signs deal to use Turkey’s gas terminals

Bulgaria has signed a long-term deal granting it access to Turkey’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and transit network, a move that will help the country replace supplies once provided by Russia.

The agreement between Bulgaria’s state-owned gas operator Bulgargaz and Turkish state gas firm Botas will allow the EU member state to unload LNG at its neighbour’s gas terminals and use the Botas network to transport gas.

Bulgaria, which was almost fully dependent on Russian gas ahead of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, is looking for alternative gas supplies at reasonable prices after Moscow cut off deliveries in April over Sofia’s refusal to pay in roubles.

Zelensky holds talks on further military support with UK PM

President Volodymyr Zelensky says he has discussed further defence cooperation with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“We agreed to intensify our efforts to bring victory closer this year already. We already have concrete decisions for this,” Zelensky tweeted after the pair’s talks by phone.

A spokesperson for Sunak stated the two leaders “discussed the abhorrent drone attacks on Ukraine in recent days”.

The British leader told Zelenskyy that Ukraine could “count on the UK to continue to support it for the long term”, the spokesperson added.

First tanker carrying natural gas from US arrives in Germany

The first regular shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States has arrived in Germany as part of a wide-ranging effort to help the country replace energy supplies it previously received from Russia.

The tanker Maria Energy arrived at the North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven, where its shipment of LNG will be converted back into gas at a special floating terminal, which was inaugurated last month by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Germany has rushed to find a replacement for Russian gas supplies since Moscow’s invasion. The facility in Wilhelmshaven is one of several such terminals being put in place to help avert an energy shortage.

Germany has also temporarily reactivated oil- and coal-fired power stations and extended the life of its last three nuclear power plants until mid-April.

Soldiers’ widows group calls for large-scale mobilisation

A patriotic group that supports the widows of Russian soldiers has called on President Vladimir Putin to order a large-scale mobilisation of millions of men and to close the borders to ensure victory in Ukraine.

Putin is under intense pressure to deliver victory in Ukraine more than 10 months since he sent troops as part of an operation he says was intended in part to defend Russians in eastern Ukraine.

“We ask our President, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, to allow the Russian Army to carry out a large-scale mobilisation,” the Soldiers’ Widows of Russia group wrote in a post on Telegram.

Ukraine “needs our support more than ever”: Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron reaffirmed that Ukraine “needs our support more than ever,” as he hosted Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in Paris on Tuesday.

“Ukrainian victory is existential for Europe and for the entire world,” Kristersson said, setting out the priorities for Sweden as it took over the rotating presidency of the European Union on January 1.

The two leaders mentioned Sweden and Finland’s application to join NATO, with Macron saying Sweden can “count on France’s support and solidarity.”

Kristersson stated Sweden was “very grateful” for the “strong support,” adding “we are right now doing exactly what we said we were going to do to be able to enter the Alliance as soon as possible.”

Work is underway to provide more equipment to Ukraine in the coming weeks: UK PM

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the United Kingdom will continue long-term support for Ukraine and work is underway to “provide further equipment in the coming weeks and months,” according to a Downing Street readout of a call between the two leaders on Tuesday afternoon.

“The leaders discussed the abhorrent drone attacks on Ukraine in recent days, and the Prime Minister said the thoughts of the UK were with the Ukrainian people as they continued to live under such bombardment,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.

“The Prime Minister said Ukraine could count on the UK to continue to support it for the long term, as demonstrated by the recent delivery of more than 1000 anti-air missiles,” the spokesperson noted in the readout, adding that the prime minister said, “Work was also underway to provide further equipment in the coming weeks and months to secure Ukraine’s victory on the battlefield.”

Sunak also stated that partners of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) are working closely to provide additional equipment requested by Ukraine, according to Downing Street.

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