Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 330

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:

Power deficit across Ukraine remains “significant”: National energy company

The power grid deficit across Ukraine remains “significant, especially during the evening peak,” Ukraine’s national energy company, Ukrenergo, announced in a statement Thursday.

During the evening peak, power generation can only cover three-fourths of the consumption, Ukrenergo said, adding, “Following each subsequent Russian attack on the energy infrastructure, the restoration becomes more difficult and takes longer.”

“As a reminder, Ukraine’s power system has already survived 12 enemy missile attacks and 14 UAV strikes on power facilities. In addition, more than 10 GW of the main installed capacities are currently inaccessible to the Ukrainian power system and are under enemy control,” Ukrenergo said.

These Russian-occupied plants include:

  • Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the largest in Ukraine and Europe
  • Zaporizhzhia Thermal Power Plant
  • Luhansk Thermal Power Plant
  • Vuhlehirsk Thermal Power Plant
  • Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant

“In addition, most wind and solar power plants are also located in the temporarily occupied territories of the south of the country,” the company added.

Talks of supplying Ukraine with weapons that can reach Russia are “extremely dangerous”: Kremlin

Any discussions among Western countries about supplying Ukraine with weapons that will allow it to strike at Russian territory are “extremely dangerous,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday during a regular call with journalists.

“The discussion itself about the permissibility of supplying Ukraine with weapons that will allow it to strike at Russian territory – although Ukraine already has weapons with which it constantly strikes at our new regions – is potentially extremely dangerous,” he stated.

“It will mean bringing the conflict to a new qualitative level, a level that will not bode well for European security,” the spokesperson added.

On Thursday, Russia’s Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov also commented on weapons shipments to Ukraine, noting: “It should be clear for everyone – we will destroy any weapons supplied to the Volodymyr Zelensky’s regime by either the United States or NATO.”

Ukraine welcomes EU Parliament push for special tribunal

Ukraine’s foreign minister has welcome the European Parliament’s move to push for the creation of a special court to judge Russia “for the crime of aggression against Ukraine”.

Dmytro Kuleba hailed the move as an “important step toward a legal mechanism for putting [the] Russian leadership on trial and preventing such crimes in the future”.

Kremlin says Zelensky “would prefer neither Russia nor Putin exist”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “would prefer that neither Russia nor (Vladimir) Putin exist,” according to Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, after Zelensky said Thursday that he was unsure if the Russian president “is alive.”

It is clear that both Russia and Putin are a big problem for today’s Ukraine and Zelensky. Purely psychologically, Zelensky would prefer that neither Russia nor Putin exist,” Peskov said during a regular call with journalists on Thursday.

“The sooner the Ukrainian regime shows readiness to take into account the demands of Russia – which will be achieved one way or another – the sooner everything will end and the sooner the people of Ukraine will begin to recover from the tragedy that the Kyiv regime staged,” Peskov claimed.

Earlier Thursday, Zelensky told attendees at Davos that he doesn’t “understand who to talk to” on the Russian side in response to a question about the possibility of peace talks.

“I do not quite understand whether he (Putin) is alive or whether he makes decisions, or who is making decisions,” he stated.

“I don’t quite understand how you can promise the European leaders one thing and start a war the next day,” Zelensky added.

EU Parliament backs special court for Russia’s war in Ukraine

The European Union’s Parliament has called on the bloc’s member states to back the creation of a special court to judge Russia “for the crime of aggression against Ukraine”.

The nonbinding resolution was approved by a 472-19 vote with 33 abstentions.

The legislature called on the EU “to work in close cooperation with Ukraine to seek and build political support in the UN General Assembly and other international forums … for creating the special tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine”.

The Hague-based International Criminal Court has launched an investigation into war crimes in Ukraine but can’t prosecute the crime of aggression – the act of invading another country – because the Russian Federation is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the court.

Kremlin warns Ukrainian attacks on Crimea would be ‘extremely dangerous’

The Kremlin has warned that any Ukrainian attacks on the Russian-annexed Crimea would be “extremely dangerous” after The New York Times reported that US officials were warming to the idea of helping Kyiv attack the Black Sea peninsula.

“The mere discussion of allowing Ukraine to be supplied with arms that would allow it to attack Russian territory … is extremely dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“It would mean taking the conflict to a new level, which would not bode well for global and pan-European security,” he added.

Crimea, which is internationally recognised as part of Ukraine, was seized by Moscow in 2014. The peninsula is the historical base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and a popular summer holiday destination.

Asked whether Washington would seek to bar Ukraine from using US weapons in Crimea, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday that the peninsula was part of Ukraine and that the US was providing Kyiv with the supplies it needed to defend its territory.

Kremlin urges Ukraine to accept Russian demands to end war

The Kremlin has announced the sooner Ukraine accepts Russia’s demands, namely Moscow’s claims to Ukrainian territory in the country’s east and south, the sooner war can end.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would achieve its goals “one way or another”, adding Kyiv would be better off accepting Russia’s position and settling at the negotiating table.

Ukraine has pledged to fight until Russia withdraws all of its troops from the country.

Kyiv reiterates appeal for tanks from its Western allies

Ukraine has urged its Western allies to act quickly and supply tanks and air defence systems to Kyiv, saying it was paying with Ukrainian lives at the war’s front lines for the slow pace of discussions over boosting military aid in foreign capitals.

“We have no time, the world does not have this time,” Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, said in a Telegram post.

“We pay for slowness with the lives of our Ukrainian people. It shouldn’t be like that,” he added.

Ex-President warns of nuclear war if Russia defeated in Ukraine

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warns the “defeat of a nuclear power in a conventional war may trigger a nuclear war”, referring to Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.

In a post on Telegram discussing NATO support for the Ukrainian military, Medvedev stated, “Nuclear powers have never lost major conflicts on which their fate depends.”

Berlin will allow exports of German tanks to Ukraine if US sends its tanks

Berlin will allow German-made tanks to be sent to Ukraine to help its defence against Russia if the United States agrees to send its own tanks, a German government source told Reuters news agency.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has stressed the stipulation several times in recent days behind closed doors, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Western allies will meet at a US airbase in Germany on Friday to offer more weapons for Ukraine.

Efforts are focused on Germany, which has veto power over any decision to send its Leopard tanks, fielded by NATO-allied armies across Europe and widely seen as the most suitable for Ukraine.

Pentagon asks US forces in South Korea to provide equipment for Ukraine

The US military says the Department of Defense has asked its forces stationed in South Korea to provide equipment to help Ukraine in the war against Russia, adding the move has “zero impact” on its operations in the Asian country.

US Forces Korea (USFK), which has some 28,500 military personnel in South Korea, said the move is part of Washington’s efforts to help Ukraine with its inventories.

“This has zero impact on our operations and our ability to execute on our ironclad commitment to the defence of our ally, the Republic of Korea,” USFK spokesperson Colonel Isaac Taylor said in a statement.

USFK declined to provide further details, including what types of equipment and how much has been requested or already transferred.

Zelensky says Ukraine will reclaim Crimea

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Kyiv is aiming to reclaim Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, as he called on his Western partners to provide him with more weaponry.

“Our objective is to liberate all of our territories,” he told an audience in Davos.

“Crimea is our land, our territory, our sea, and our mountains. Give us your weapons and we will bring our land back,” he added.

New German DM vows to strengthen military

Germany’s incoming defence minister says it is his job to strengthen the country’s military as Russia’s bloody offensive in Ukraine continues to cast the shadow of war over Europe.

“These are not normal times, we have a war raging in Europe. Russia is waging a brutal war of annihilation on a sovereign country, on Ukraine,” Boris Pistorius stated after a ceremony at the defence ministry in Berlin.

“Our task is to make the Bundeswehr strong now, it is about deterrence, effectiveness and readiness. And it is about continuing to support Ukraine, also with materiel of the Bundeswehr,” he added.

Zelensky reaffirms Ukraine’s priority of joining NATO: Alliance is “best security guarantee for us”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday again reiterated his desire for Ukraine to join NATO, telling leaders gathered at the World Economic Forum that the alliance is the “best security guarantee for us.”

“Security guarantees are among the top priorities for us,” Zelenksy said virtually via a translator in response to a question from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

“We understand that at the moment, we’re not there yet, unfortunately, Russia does understand this well, and they do their damnedest to not make it easy for us to join. But we are on the way toward NATO, because NATO is the best security guarantee for us, for our country, for our kids,” he added.

On Tuesday, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said that while Ukraine must be supported, Russia should be given the opportunity to be a member of the global order.

Asked about Kissinger’s remarks regarding Russia’s place in the world, Zelensky noted “Russia has already earned a place among terrorists.”

“Our priority today, our political task today is to see the different political leaders and figures, those who are still very relevant or have been relevant until recently, for them to be able to recognize the great mistake that Putin committed, for them to recognize this is Russia’s aggression,” Zelensky added.

Zelensky also called for speedier decision-making to combat Russian aggression against his country.

“The tyranny is outpacing the democracy. Russia needed less than one second to start the war. … The time the free world uses to think is used by the terrorist state to kill. Ukraine and its allies have been resisting it for almost a year, this period proved all of our prompt actions brought positive results,” he underlined.

Zelensky underscored “the world was hesitant” when Russia took over Crimea in 2014 and then when it attempted to invade the whole country in February 2022.

“The world must not hesitate today and ever,” he said, adding that “the world must make faster than Russia makes its new moves.”

“The supplying of Ukraine with air defense systems must outpace Russia’s next missile attacks. … The restoration of security and peace in Ukraine must outpace Russia’s attacks on security and peace in other countries,” Zelensky said.

He added he last addressed the forum three years ago, when the world was fighting Covid-19.

“In three years, we will be discussing new challenges and threats in Davos. What will this mean? it will mean We will definitely overcome the current threat. If history repeats itself at first the world either fails to notice or underestimates a threat, then it unites to resist it, and then the world wins every time,” the Ukrainian president stressed.

US set to finalize massive $2.5B aid package for Ukraine

The United States is set to finalize a huge military aid package for Ukraine totaling approximately $2.5 billion worth of weaponry, including — for the first time — Stryker combat vehicles, two sources briefed on the next tranche of aid told CNN. The package is not yet finalized, one of the sources said, but could come before the end of the week.

The new package is one of the largest to be announced since the war started last February, according to one source. It would include more armored Bradley Fighting Vehicles that, combined with the Strykers, is a significant escalation in the armored vehicles the US has committed to Ukraine for its fight against Russia. Mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, known as MRAPs, are also on the list, the source said.

The announcement is not expected to include tanks or the long-range missiles that has been repeatedly asked for by Ukraine. The US is expected to send Ukraine more ammunition for its artillery systems and HIMARS rocket systems that have been consistent in recent aid packages.

Ukrainian officials have been fiercely lobbying Washington for longer-range missiles known as Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), which have a range of around 200 miles (300 kilometers). The Joe Biden administration has resisted sending them out of fear of escalating the conflict with Russia. The administration has also pushed back on sending M1 Abrams tanks because of logistical and maintenance complications.

The Biden administration also intends to provide $125 million in additional energy support for Ukraine, according to the US Agency for International Development. The funding, which will be drawn from the 2023 Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act passed in December, builds on existing contributions to assist Ukraine in the face of attacks from Russia.

“USAID will utilize the $125 million to procure vital equipment including additional gas turbines, high voltage autotransformers, distribution substation repair equipment, and backup power for Kyiv’s water supply and district heating services,” a statement added.

Turkey and US diplomats discuss support for Ukraine

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, where they “conducted an extensive dialogue on a broad range of areas of bilateral cooperation and emphasized the significance of our partnership as NATO Allies,” according to a joint statement released Wednesday by the governments of the Republic of Turkey and the United States.

“Minister Çavuşoğlu and Secretary Blinken underlined their unequivocal support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russia’s unacceptable war and reaffirmed their support to find a solution to end the war,” the joint statement read.

The two discussed methods to strengthen NATO “coordination and solidarity in the face of current threats and challenges,” the statement read.

Topics of discussion also included NATO’s open-door policy as well as letting Finland and Sweden join NATO. Turkey has been the only member that has voiced opposition to their membership, on the grounds of terror concerns.

UN nuclear watchdog finalizes deployment of permanent missions to Ukrainian power plants

The UN nuclear watchdog finalized the deployment of permanent missions to Ukrainian power plants — including the plants in Rivne, Chornobyl, and south Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian prime minister following his meeting with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Wednesday.

The IAEA mission at Khmelnytsky nuclear power plant will also be functioning soon, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said at a press conference, with all the missions’ work continuing during wartime and afterward to restore any damage.

The IAEA continues to expand its presence in Ukraine, Director General Rafael Grossi said.

Following the meeting, Shmyhal said, “For the first time in the history of mankind, nuclear facilities have become an element of an offensive military strategy,” adding that Grossi pledged the IAEA’s full support in “our efforts to ensure nuclear safety,” including at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Zaporizhzhia, with six reactors, is the largest nuclear power station in Europe. The area, and the nuclear complex, has been under Russian control since the beginning of the war. Grossi and other nuclear experts have been concerned about the threat of a nuclear accident amid shelling around the plant.

Shmyhal noted Ukraine has asked that the control of the Zaporizhzhia facility be returned to Ukrainian authorities and that there is a “complete withdrawal” of Russian troops and Rosatom personnel from the plant. Grossi assured Ukraine that the IAEA would never recognize Russia as the owner of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant., according to Shmyhal.

The prime minister added that Ukraine will “continue to insist on limiting Russia’s rights and privileges in the IAEA and terminating cooperation with Russia in the nuclear sphere.”

NATO chief is confident Turkey will finalize accession process for Finland and Sweden

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday expressed his confidence that Turkey would finalize the process for Nordic countries Finland and Sweden to join the US-led military alliance.

“I’m confident that Turkey will finalize the accession process for Finland and Sweden,” Stoltenberg said at a World Economic Forum panel in Davos, Switzerland, adding he did not know when this would be.

This would be the “fastest accession process in NATO’s modern history,” he noted, adding, “Normally, accession to NATO takes years. It’s less than a year since Finland and Sweden applied.”

NATO decisions are made by consensus, which means all 30 alliance member states must approve the two nations joining. Turkey is the only member that has voiced opposition to their membership, on the grounds of terror concerns.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in video remarks to the forum Wednesday again reiterated his desire for Ukraine to join NATO, saying that the alliance “is the best security guarantee for us, for our country, for our kids.”

British Foreign Office: “UK and US stand united against Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine”

Following the United Kingdom’s foreign secretary’s visit with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington, DC, Wednesday, the British Foreign Office tweeted a message of bilateral support to end the war in Ukraine.

“The UK and the US stand united against Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly met Secretary Blinken in Washington DC where they agreed to deepen our two countries’ diplomatic and security ties to ensure that, in the end, the Ukrainian people will win,” the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office tweeted.

NATO should prepare for the “long haul” as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues: Alliance’s deputy chief

NATO’s Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană on Wednesday warned that the alliance must be prepared “for the long haul” with regards to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Addressing defense chiefs at a NATO military committee meeting in Brussels, Geoană said allies should invest more in defense, ramp up their capacity to manufacture weapons and ammunition, and “prepare for potential future wars.”

Echoing a warning issued previously by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Geoană stated that “underestimating Russia is dangerous.” He noted Russian President Vladimir Putin had already mobilized more than 200,000 additional troops.

“We have no indication that Putin’s goals have changed. So we must be prepared for the long haul. 2023 will be a difficult year. And we need to support Ukraine for as long as it takes,” he added.

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