Saturday, February 4, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 332

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 adviser tells allies ‘think faster’ on military support

A senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Kyiv’s allies on Saturday to “think faster” about stepping up their military support, a day after they failed to agree on sending battle tanks coveted by Kyiv.

“You’ll help Ukraine with the necessary weapons anyway and realize that there is no other option to end the war except the defeat of Russia,” Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter.

“But today’s indecision is killing more of our people. Every day of delay is the death of Ukrainians. Think faster,” he added.


Western states agree to two price caps on Russian oil products

The US-led price cap coalition will place two separate price limits on Russian oil products depending on their category, the US Treasury Department announced in a statement.

According to the statement, following a meeting between Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo and deputy ministers representing other G7 countries, EU states, and Australia, the sides also decided to review the price ceiling for Russian crude oil, which came into force last month, in March.

“The Deputies agreed to an approach for refined products that will institute two distinct caps, in addition to the crude cap: one cap for products that generally trade at a premium to crude, such as diesel or gasoil, and one for products that trade at a discount to crude, such as fuel oil. The Deputies agreed that this approach will better calibrate the price cap policy for refined products, given the wide range of market prices at which these products trade,” the statement read.

In December, the coalition introduced a price cap on Russian seaborne oil exports which bans Western companies from providing insurance and other services to ships transporting Russian oil unless the cargo is purchased at or below the set price of $60 per barrel. The price cap on Russian oil products is now due to come into force on February 5.

Moscow has been firmly opposed to all initiatives to cap prices on its exports. Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree prohibiting deliveries of Russian oil and petroleum products to countries that directly or indirectly mention the price cap in their contracts.


US releases images of North Korea supplying Wagner Group weapons

The US has released photographs showing North Korea supplying weapons to Russia’s Wagner Group for use in Ukraine.

Images from November showed Russian rail cars entering North Korea, picking up a load of infantry rockets and missiles, and returning to Russia.

White House spokesman John Kirby stated, “On Nov 19, North Korea loaded the railcars with shipping containers, and the train returned to Russia.”

It came as the US designated Wagner a “transnational criminal organisation,” raising pressure on the private Russian army. Mr Kirby said it has about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, 80 per cent of them drawn from prisons.


“No alternative” to sending tanks to Ukraine: Zelensky

After allies failed to agree on equipment supply at a summit in Ramstein, Germany, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated there is “no alternative” to sending main battle tanks to Ukraine.

“We will still have to fight for the supply of modern tanks, but every day, we make it more obvious there is no alternative to making the decision on tanks,” Zelensky said in his nightly address on Friday.

“The partners are firm in their attitude. They will support Ukraine as much as necessary for our victory,” he continued.

Ukraine was strengthened after what he called a “diplomatic marathon” since his trip to Washington late in 2022, with allies supplying additional artillery, “several hundred” armored vehicles, rockets for multiple launch rocket systems and anti-aircraft weapons, Zelensky added, thanking the US for announcing its biggest defense packages yet.

“I thank President [Joe] Biden, all the congressmen, all Americans who know that freedom cannot lose,” he noted, also thanking European allies and Canada for stepping up their efforts to arm Ukraine this week.

Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov called the Ramstein meeting “great” despite lack of agreement among western allies on supplying Ukraine with the Leopard 2 tanks.

He expressed confidence that Ukraine will secure more weapons and ammunition.

“The Ukrainian army will receive more weapons and ammo. We will win. Evil will be defeated,” Reznikov stated.


NATO’s Bauer says countries must make own decisions on giving Ukraine tanks

The head of NATO’s Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, said any decision to supply tanks to Ukraine must be taken by each nation supporting the country’s efforts to fend off Russia’s invasion.

“It is a sovereign decision by a sovereign state, which Germany is,” he told a news conference in Lisbon.

“It is important that Ukraine wins this war … we need to seriously look at what Ukraine requires and if possible give them what they ask for,” he continued, adding that had to be done in a timely fashion.

No decision on supplying German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine was reached at the meeting of allies at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base, Poland’s defence minister said, though he remained optimistic that efforts to provide them would end in success.


Senators urge both US and Germany to send tanks after meeting with Zelensky in Ukraine

Sens. Lindsey Graham, Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse met with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other government officials in Ukraine Friday, according to Graham’s office.

“All three of us, one Republican and two Democrats, share the same goal – for Ukraine to drive the Russians out of Ukraine. To achieve that goal, the Ukrainian military needs tanks. I am tired of the s*** show surrounding who is going to send tanks and when are they going to send them. Putin is trying to rewrite the map of Europe by force of arms. World order is at stake,” Graham said at a media availability according to a statement.

The meeting comes as Germany failed to reach agreement with its key Western allies on sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine after days of negotiations.

Leopard 2 tanks are seen as a vital, modern military vehicle that would bolster Kyiv’s forces as the war with Russia approaches the one-year mark.

“To the Germans: Send tanks to Ukraine because they need them. It is in your own national interest that Putin loses in Ukraine. To the Biden Administration: Send American tanks so that others will follow our lead,” Graham added, according to the statement.


Biden pledges that Ukraine will get all help it needs

US President Joe Biden responded to a shouted question about whether he supports sending Leopard tanks to Ukraine, saying that the country will receive “all the help” it needs to fight against Russian troops.

As he was leaving a White House event, Biden said, “Ukraine is going to get all the help they need” when a reporter asked if he supports Poland’s goal to send the German-made tanks to Ukraine.

In recent days, German officials have indicated they won’t send their Leopard tanks to Ukraine — or allow any other country with the German-made tanks in their inventory to do so — unless the US also agrees to send its M1 Abrams tanks to Kyiv, something the Pentagon has said for months it has no intention of doing given the logistical costs of maintaining them.

“They have us over a barrel,” a senior Biden administration official told CNN on Thursday, adding that the Germans are demanding tanks for tanks, and not budging on considering any other offers the US has made to spur Berlin to send the Leopards.

But on Friday, defense ministers from the US and Germany denied any “linkage” between the US potentially sending the M1 Abrams tanks and Germany sending or allowing the transfer of the Leopard tanks to Ukraine.


Ex-US Navy SEAL killed while fighting in Ukraine

A former US Navy SEAL, who deserted the military nearly four years ago, was killed fighting in Ukraine, according to a military spokesperson.

Daniel W. Swift, who was a Special Warfare Operator 1st Class, was killed Wednesday in Ukraine, the Navy said in a statement. Swift deserted the military on March 11, 2019.

The statement did not provide specifics on how Swift found himself involved in the combat.

“We cannot speculate as to why the former Sailor was in Ukraine,” the Navy announced.

Swift had his Trident pin removed, a Navy official said, a severe step taken after a Trident Review Board determines a sailor no longer lives up to the requirements of being a Navy SEAL.

The US State Department confirmed the recent death of a US citizen fighting in Ukraine but offered no further details on the circumstances.

“We are in touch with his family and providing all possible consular assistance,” a State Department spokesperson stated, adding, “Out of respect for the privacy of the family during this difficult time, we have nothing further to add.”

Swift joined the Navy in 2005 and completed Navy SEAL training in 2006, according to his service record provided by the Navy. During his time in the military, he earned awards and decorations for service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His record also contains an unexplained break in service from the beginning of 2014 to the end of 2015. His last assignment was a West Coast Special Warfare Unit, which started in August 2016.


Netherlands to send Patriot system launchers to Ukraine

The Netherlands will send two launchers and rockets for Patriot air defense systems to Ukraine, the country’s Ministry of Defense said in a Friday statement.

It comes after Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the country’s plans to join the US and Germany in sending the Patriot system to Ukraine in a meeting with US President Joe Biden on Tuesday.

Arrangements were made to accelerate the process during the Ukraine Defense Contact Group that took place at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Friday, according to the statement.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday that Ukrainian troops would begin training on the Patriot missile system this week at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where the US conducts its own training on operating and maintaining the advanced air defense system. Fort Sill is one of the Army’s four basic training locations and home to the field artillery school, which has been training service members for more than a century.


Germany announces $1.08 billion military aid package for Ukraine

Newly appointed German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius on Friday announced a $1.08 billion military aid package for Ukraine.

Pistorius made the announcement on the sidelines of the Ukraine contact group meeting at Ramstein air base in Germany, a spokesperson for the German Ministry of Defense confirmed to CNN. The spokesperson did not give details on what the aid package would include.

The frustration felt by some NATO members toward Germany has bolstered a narrative in some corners that Berlin has been slower than its Western counterparts in offering support to Ukraine.

Germany failed to reach agreement with its key Western allies on sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine Friday, calling on the US to send its own M1 Abrams tanks.


US Treasury will designate Wagner Group as a “transnational criminal organization”: White House

The US Treasury Department will designate the Russian mercenary organization Wagner Group as a “transnational criminal organization,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby announced Friday.

The Treasury will also impose new sanctions next week against the group and its global allies, the White House said.

“These actions recognize the transcontinental threat that Wagner poses, including through its ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity,” Kirby told reporters at the White House, ahead of the Treasury Department announcement.


Top US general says it is difficult to eject Russian forces from Ukraine this year

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley reiterated Friday that Russia’s war in Ukraine will likely “end in a negotiation” and not on the battlefield.

“From a military standpoint, I still maintain that for this year it would be very, very difficult to militarily eject the Russian forces from every inch of Russian-occupied Ukraine,” Milley said at a news conference after a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base.

“What can happen is a continued defense, stabilizing the front,” Milley added.

“I think it’s possible to clearly do that. I think depending on the delivery and training of all of this equipment. I do think it’s very, very possible for the Ukrainians to run a significant tactical or even operational level offensive operation to liberate as much Ukrainian territory as possible,” he continued.

Prior to the key meeting on military aid for Ukraine, the Pentagon announced a $2.5 billion Ukraine security package, including for the first time Stryker armored vehicles and more Bradley fighting vehicles that could be used against any potential Russian offensive in Ukraine this spring.


US defense secretary denies any link between US and German tanks in possible deal for Ukraine

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin denied there was any “linkage” between the US potentially sending M1 Abrams tanks and Germany sending or allowing the transfer of Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

“I think you heard the German minister of defense say earlier today that there’s no linkage between providing M1’s [Abrams] and providing Leopards, and I think he was pretty clear about that,” Austin said at a press conference after the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein, Germany.

“So this notion of unlocking, you know, in my mind, it’s not an issue,” he added.

Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius on Friday denied any tie between the two countries’ tanks. When asked about the issue during an interview with German public broadcaster ARD Thursday, Pistorius noted he was “not aware of such an arrangement.”


Ukrainian presidential official expresses confidence that Ukraine will receive more military aid

The head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Yermak, is bullish that his country will receive all the military aid it has not yet gotten.

“We are getting stronger,” Yermak wrote in a Telegram post on Friday, adding, “And we will get everything we have not yet received.”

Yermak’s remarks come after Germany’s defense minister said there has been no decision about green-lighting German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to be sent to Ukraine during a meeting of Western allies at Ramstein Air Base.

Other support packages were agreed to in the days leading up to and during the meeting.


Turkey’s Erdogan repeats offer to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv during a call with Zelensky

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated the offer of mediating between Moscow and Kyiv during a phone call with the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday, according to the Turkish Presidency’s Directorate of Communications statement.

The developments in the Russia-Ukraine war were discussed during the call, the statement said.

President Erdogan reiterated that they are ready to make a strong diplomatic contribution to the establishment of a lasting peace between Russia and Ukraine and to take on the role of facilitator and mediator.

In a recent phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Erdogan told him that calls for peace and negotiations should be supported by a unilateral declaration of ceasefire and a vision of “a fair solution.”

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