Saturday, February 4, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 328

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:

Putin supports plan to increase Russian armed forces to 1.5 million

Moscow is planning to increase its armed forces due to the “proxy war” that the West is waging, as Russia’s faltering invasion of Ukraine approaches eleven months.

Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu announced earlier Tuesday that President Vladimir Putin had made a decision to increase the strength of the Russian Armed Forces to 1.5 million servicemen.

“Conceptually, Putin agreed” with the suggestions that were announced by the country’s defence ministry, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

The details of the military expansion are yet to be finalized, Peskov added.

Previous Russian mobilization efforts: In September, Russia conducted a partial mobilization of its citizens after suffering a series of major setbacks on the battlefields of Ukraine. Officials suspended the mobilization in November, citing that the draft’s target of recruiting 300,000 personnel had been met.

That same month, Putin signed into law to conscript citizens with unexpunged or outstanding convictions for murder, robbery, larceny, drug trafficking and other serious crimes under the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation to be called up for military service to mobilize.

“This is due to the war that the countries of the collective West are waging,” Peskov noted.

“The proxy war includes both elements of indirect participation in hostilities, and elements of economy, financial, legal war,” he commented.

Diplomatic relations between the Kremlin and Western leaders are historically low, as allies of Kyiv including the US, the UK and the European Union, have leveled economic sanctions against Russia in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.


Putin says Russian economy likely shrank 2.5 percent in 2022

President Vladimir Putin noted the Russian economy was likely to have shrunk by 2.5 percent in 2022, but that it was performing better than most experts had predicted.

Putin, who was speaking at a meeting with top officials including the finance minister and central bank chief, also stated real wage growth needed to be stimulated.


Russia ‘terrorising’ Ukrainian civilians: Kyiv mayor

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko says Russian forces are “terrorising” Ukrainian civilians as Moscow presses on with its nearly yearlong offensive.

“The Russians are trying to attack critical infrastructure and destroy normal life [in Ukraine] by leaving people freezing cold in winter conditions,” Klitschko told Al Jazeera on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“This is terrorism and everyone who is involved in this senseless war [on the Russian side] must be held responsible [for it],” he added.


“Europe will always stand with you”: EU chief tells Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska that the alliance’s support for her nation is “unwavering,” as world leaders and policymakers gathered at the World Economic Forum Tuesday.

“In this last year your country has moved the world and has inspired Europe and I can assure you that Europe will always stand with you,” von der Leyen said, following an address by the Ukrainian first lady.

The European Commission president stated Europe had implemented “the strongest sanctions ever which leave the Russian economy facing a decade of regression and its industry starved of any modern and critical technologies.”

She reiterated that there would be “no impunity” for Russia’s actions and that there would be “no let-up in our steadfast support to Ukraine.”

Western allies of Kyiv, including the US, the UK and the European Union, have remained steadfast in their support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion.

Countries including Poland, France and the UK recently pledged to send tanks to the Ukrainian military, while the US announced a new $1.8 billion aid package to Ukraine in December.


Ukraine says over 9,000 civilians killed during war

More than 9,000 civilians, including 453 children, have been killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion last February, according to a Ukrainian presidential aide.

“We have registered 80,000 crimes committed by Russian invaders,” Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential staff, said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.

“We will not forgive a single [act of] torture or life taken. Each criminal will be held accountable,” Yermak added, reiterating that Ukraine wants a special international tribunal to try Russian political leaders and reparations for the destruction caused by Moscow’s offensive.


Dnipro apartment strike death toll rises to 44

Forty-four people have died following a Russian cruise missile strike on an apartment block in Dnipro over the weekend, according to the city’s mayor.

Mayor Borys Filatov gave the new death toll on social media on Tuesday.

The count rose since the earlier announcement that 41 people had died, including four children, according to Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the Presidential Administration.

Filatov did not immediately provide the ages of the three other bodies that have been discovered since.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the attack by Moscow was a “war crime” and pledged to bring its perpetrators to justice in his evening address Monday.

Also on Monday, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported that 7,000 civilians have died in Ukraine since the beginning of the war on February 24. 2022.

OHCHR added that they believed “most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects, including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles and air strikes.”


NATO deploys surveillance planes to Romania

NATO surveillance planes are due to arrive in Romania today to bolster the military alliance’s eastern flank and help monitor Russian military activity.

The transatlantic military alliance announced last week that it would deploy the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance planes to Bucharest, where they will start reconnaissance flights solely over NATO territory.

The aircraft deploying to Romania belong to a fleet of 14 NATO surveillance aircraft usually based in Germany. About 180 military personnel will be deployed in support of the planes.


Finland hopes to supply German-made tanks to Ukraine

Finland’s foreign minister has stated he is hopeful a decision will be made to supply German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine, adding his country stands ready to supply the units.

“We are currently in intensive discussions on what more we can do as the European Union, [and] Nordic countries to help Ukraine,” Pekka Haavisto said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“The discussion is ongoing about the Leopard tanks. I hope this decision will be made real and Finland definitely is ready to play its part in that support,” Haavisto added.


UN condemns Russian missile attack in Dnipro as possible war crime

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has condemned the Russian missile attack on an apartment building in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro as a possible war crime, his spokesperson said.

“A strike hit a residential building in Dnipro on Saturday evening, in one of the deadliest attacks in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion last February,” Stephanie Tremblay told reporters.

“The secretary-general condemned this attack, saying that this was another example of a suspected violation of the laws of war,” she added.

The UN coordinator in Ukraine, Denise Brown, “called for an effective investigation of suspected war crimes and appropriate prosecution of suspects,” Tremblay stated.


Ukrainian troops have arrived at US Army base in Oklahoma for Patriot training

Ukrainian troops have arrived at Fort Sill in Oklahoma to begin training on the Patriot missile system, the US Army base announced Monday.

Fort Sill is home to the Fires Center of Excellence where the US conducts Patriot training for its own military and other countries.

“The same instructors who teach US, allied and partner nations will conduct the Ukrainian training, and these classes will not detract from the ongoing training missions at Fort Sill,” the base said in a statement.

The training will take “several months” on the advanced but complex long-range aerial defense system, according to Pentagon officials.

It’s not clear how much the military can accelerate the training program.


Zelensky labels deadly strike on Dnipro apartment building a war crime

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday called the Russian attack on an apartment building in Dnipro a “war crime” and vowed to bring its perpetrators to justice.

“There is no doubt: everyone who is guilty of this war crime will be identified and brought to justice,” Zelensky said in his evening address.

At least 40 people have died and 25 remain missing following the attack.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) named six members of the Russian military whom it claimed were involved in the strike, according to what the agency described as “preliminary investigation” findings.

“This strike on Dnipro, as well as other similar strikes, falls under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court,” Zelensky stated.

“And we will use all available opportunities — both national and international — to ensure that all Russian murderers, that everyone who gives and executes orders on missile terror against our people, receive legal sentences. And that they serve their sentences,” he added.


High-level US delegation met with top Ukrainian officials in Kyiv

A high-level United States delegation met Monday in Kyiv with top Ukrainian officials “to reaffirm the United States’ strong and steadfast commitment to Ukraine and its defense against Russia’s unprovoked aggression,” according to a State Department readout.

Here’s who was on the US delegation:

  • Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman
  • Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer
  • Under Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl

Here’s who they met with in Ukraine:

  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
  • Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal
  • Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov
  • Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov
  • Ukrenergo CEO Volodymyr Kudrytskyi

“Prior to the visit, the delegation made stops in Germany and Poland to review U.S. security assistance to Ukraine,” the readout said.

During the meetings, the leaders talked about how international assistance “has helped stabilize Ukraine’s economy” as well as how the US and Ukraine could continue to have an economic and trade relationship when the war is over, according to the readout.

Leaders also discussed efforts to repair Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, it added.


Putin tells Erdogan that Western weapons are intensifying hostilities in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call Monday that Western weapons supplies to Ukraine are intensifying hostilities and that Kyiv’s rejection of a ceasefire proposed by Russia for the Orthodox Christmas period is an example of Kyiv’s “hypocritical policy,” according to a statement by the Kremlin.

“Vladimir Putin drew attention to the destructive line of the Kyiv regime, which relied on the intensification of hostilities with the support of Western sponsors, increasing the volume of transferred weapons and military equipment,” the statement reads.

“An example of the hypocritical policy of Kyiv was the rejection of the proposal to cease fire for the period of Orthodox Christmas,” it added.

“On the initiative of the Turkish side and taking into account recent contacts in Ankara, the commissioners of Russia and Ukraine for human rights will touch upon the issue of the exchange of prisoners, primarily the wounded,” the Kremlin said.

The call between Putin and Erdogan came just a few days after a Russian missile hit an apartment building in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro. The missile strike left at least 40 people dead, making it one of the deadliest single attacks of the war, and the deadliest in months.

The implementation of the package of agreements on the export of Ukrainian grain from the Black Sea ports and the unblocking of food and fertilizer supplies from Russia were also discussed, according to the Kremlin.

“Both sides reaffirmed their commitment to the further comprehensive development of Russian-Turkish cooperation,” the Kremlin said, adding, “Among the priorities is cooperation in the energy sector, including the supply of Russian natural gas and the creation of a regional gas hub in Turkey.”


Russia sanctions UK foreign minister

Russia has sanctioned the UK foreign Minister James Cleverly, according to a tweet from Cleverly Monday.

“I’ve been sanctioned by the Russian government. Good,” he said, adding, “If this is the price for supporting Ukrainian freedom, then I’m happy to be sanctioned.”


Germany’s economy minister says Putin has failed to destroy German industry with his war in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has failed to destroy German industry amid his war in Ukraine, Germany’s economy minister Robert Habeck told a Monday conference.

“It was Putin’s plan to cause a meltdown of German industry, but his plan has failed,” Habeck told the energy conference in Berlin, hosted by the business newspaper Handelsblatt.

Habeck added he hoped Germany’s energy crisis would be overcome by 2024, adding that thanks to the fast construction of gas import infrastructure, gas storage facilities were expected to be full for 2023 and into the winter of 2024. This would lead to “safe and stable” gas deliveries at moderate prices,” Habeck added.

After a short period of freezing temperatures in December, a warm January so far has helped to keep Germany’s gas storage facilities around 90% full, according to the country’s gas network regulator.

While a shortage of gas this winter seems unlikely, the situation could still deteriorate, according to the network regulator’s website.

If temperatures drop below zero degrees Celsius, Germany consumes around one percent of its gas storage per day,” Habeck warned.

“If we succeed in coming out of the winter months with adequate gas storage levels, we won’t experience last year’s madness again,” he continued.


Slovakia concludes first howitzer delivery to Ukraine

Slovakia has completed the delivery of eight Zuzana 2 howitzers ordered by Ukraine last year, the Defence Ministry in Bratislava announced.

“As of today, we have handed over to Ukraine a complete battery of high-quality artillery systems produced by our own defence industry,” Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad said, according to the ministry’s website.

“We are convinced that with their help Ukrainian defenders will be able to save as many lives as possible and bring their homeland closer to unconditional victory over the enemy,” he added.


Lithuanian FM: The only way to end the war is by sending more weapons to Ukraine

Lithuania’s minister of foreign affairs said the only way to end the war in Ukraine is for Western allies to send weapons, particularly tanks, to counter Russian attacks.

“The discussion in the West is still about the end of the war, and there are those who believe that maybe a frozen conflict would be suited better, which I completely disagree with that notion,” Gabrielius Landsbergis told CNN’s Becky Anderson in an interview on Monday.

“This thinking I think is the main obstacle for some countries to send the weapons that Ukrainians need,” he added.

As Russian attacks increase on civilian areas of Ukraine, Western allies have stepped up their support for Ukrainian forces with more advanced weaponry. Germany, however, has received some heightened criticism over its reticence to send Leopard 2 battle tanks.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called on the German government to supply “all sorts of weapons” to Ukraine on Monday.

Asked whether the Germans should be doing more, Landsbergis agreed. And he also noted that many countries had procured German-made tanks.

“They are willing to send the tanks to Ukraine. So far, they have not got a greenlight from Berlin, and I truly truly hope that this might change – and that will reduce the pressure on Germany itself,” he continued.

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