Saturday, February 24, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 338

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:

Allegations that China provides ‘aid’ to Russia has no ‘factual basis’: Beijing

There is no basis for allegations that China provides aid to Russia, China’s embassy in Washington said on Friday.

The US Treasury sanctioned on Thursday the China-based Changsha Tianyi Space Science and Technology Research Institute Co Ltd, known as Spacety China, accusing it of providing radar satellite imagery over locations in Ukraine to a Russia-based technology firm.

Chinese embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu stated China opposed unilateral sanctions and that Beijing is committed to dialogue for peace.

“The allegation that China provides ‘aid’ to Russia has no factual basis, but is purely speculative and deliberately hyped up,” he continued, adding, “The US must not undermine China’s legitimate rights and interests in any form when handling the Ukraine issue and the US-Russia relations.”

Pushing Moscow out of sports is ‘doomed’: Russian spokesperson

Any attempt to push Moscow out of international sports is “doomed to fail”, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says.

Ukraine announced it does not rule out boycotting the Olympic Games if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete in the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.

The International Olympic Committee, which is eager to see Russia and Belarus back in international competitions, has said the Olympic Council of Asia has offered Russian and Belarusian athletes the chance to compete in Asia, giving them a qualification pathway for the Paris Olympics.

Poland to send 60 tanks to Ukraine

Poland will send an additional 60 tanks to Ukraine on top of the 14 German-made Leopard 2 tanks it has already pledged, the Polish prime minister said in an interview with Canadian television.

Warsaw, which has positioned itself as one of Kyiv’s staunchest allies, had pressed hard for Germany to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and to allow other countries to do so as well, a demand which Berlin agreed on Wednesday.

President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the Polish prime minister on Twitter; in polish, he wrote, “Thank you, Andrzej Duda, Mateusz Morawiecki, Mariusz Błaszczak, Jacek Siewiera and the nation of Poland for such important decisions to hand over 60 Polish tanks to Ukraine, 30 of which are the famous PT-91 Twardy and 14 Leopard-2 tanks. Like 160 years ago, we are together, but this time the enemy doesn’t stand a chance. Together we will win!”

PM says Hungary will veto any EU sanctions on Russian energy

Hungary will veto any EU sanctions against Russia’s nuclear energy sector, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on state radio.

Ukraine has called on the 27-nation bloc to include the Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom in its sanctions, but Hungary, which has a Russian-built atomic plant that it plans to expand with Rosatom, has blocked that.

“We will not allow the plan to include nuclear energy in the sanctions to be implemented,” Orban stated in the interview, adding, “This is out of the question.”

IAEA reports blasts near Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

The UN’s nuclear watchdog has reported explosions near Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia atomic power station.

“Yesterday, eight strong detonations were heard at around 10 am local time [08:00 GMT], causing office windows at the plant to vibrate, and more were audible today,” Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in a statement late on Friday.

However, Renat Karchaa – an adviser to the head of Rosenergoatom, the company operating Russia’s nuclear plants – announced Grossi’s comments were unfounded.

“I can only describe this as a provocation,” the Tass news agency quoted him as saying.

“Before you provide such information, you need to check it and establish that it is not based on rumour,” he added.

“On the one hand, they want to show that they are doing something useful. On the other, they are again sowing doubt in Western public opinion that somehow Russia cannot cope with upholding nuclear safety,” he continued.

US has the ‘key’ to ending the war: Kremlin

US President Joe Biden has the key to ending the conflict in Ukraine by directing Kyiv, but  Washington does not want to use it, says the Kremlin.

“The key to the Kyiv regime is largely in the hands of Washington,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a daily briefing.

“Now we see that the current White House leader … does not want to use this key. On the contrary, he chooses the path of further pumping weapons into Ukraine,” he added.

Moscow has often accused Washington of giving Ukraine orders and prolonging the conflict by supplying Kyiv with weapons.

Japan imposes personal sanctions on 36 Russian individuals

The government of Japan added 36 individuals and three organizations from Russia to its list of personal sanctions, which entail asset freezes, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

Blacklisted individuals and organizations are divided in two lists. The first one designates Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, Justice Minister Konstantin Chuichenko, Deputy Defense Minister Mikhail Mizintsev, Central Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova, children’s rights ombudswoman Maria Lvova-Belova and individuals, who are said to be residents of businessman Suleiman Kerimov.

The other blacklist mentions individuals from Crimea, the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk (DPR and LPR) and the regions of Kherson and Zaporozhye. It blacklists Kherson Region Deputy Governor Vladimir Bespalov, DPR Deputy Prime Minister Yevgeny Solntsev, head of the Kakhovka military-civilian administration Pavel Filipchuk, deputy head of the region’s military-civilian administration Andrey Trofimov and ten other individuals.

Japan has so far imposed several sets of anti-Russian sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, which target more than 900 individuals and over 50 entities. Tokyo has also frozen the assets of Otkritie Bank, Novikombank, Sovcombank, VTB, Rossiya Bank, Promsvyazbank, VEB.RF, Sberbank and Alfa-Bank as well as of about 40 Russian organizations and companies.

The list of goods and technologies prohibited for export includes some 500 items. Among them are semiconductors, communications equipment, software, oil refining equipment, cargo vehicles, and processing machines. Exports of luxury items to Russia, as well as Russian gold imports, were also banned. In addition, some chemicals, such as chlorine, methanol, acetone, ethylene, and sodium hypochlorite, were prohibited for export to Russia.

The country’s foreign ministry also announced on Friday Japan imposed export restrictions on 49 Russian organizations as part of the new package of anti-Russian sanctions over the situation around Ukraine,

The blacklist includes Russia’s Zvezdochka Ship Repair Center, the Moscow Aviation Institute and Tula Arms Plant.

Besides, it mentions the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology, the Zhukovsky Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute, the Baranov Central Institute of Aviation Motor Development, the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute and the Aviaagregat enterprise.

Europeans should decide their future for themselves, Russia cannot help them: FM

The European Union should decide what kind of future it sees for itself, and Russia cannot help in this regard, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters at a news conference after talks with his Eritrean counterpart Osman Saleh.

When asked by a reporter about reasons behind the European Union’s inaction over the situation surrounding Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the Russian top diplomat replied: “As for reasons behind the European Union’s actions or inaction, they are hard for me to comment.”

“At the moment, it is very hard to grasp the European Union’s policies, especially after it signed a declaration on full cooperation with NATO a few days ago,” he continued.

“They just need to make their minds on what kind of future they see for themselves. We cannot help them in that regard, but we are not going to stand in their way either,” the minister noted.

UN refugee chief warns more will flee Ukraine fighting

As Russian forces push forward in eastern Ukraine, Kyiv and European governments should prepare for a possible wave of people fleeing the fighting, the chief of the United Nations refugee agency has told the AFP news agency.

Moreover, he said that despite repeated offers of assistance, Moscow was still only granting the agency limited access to Ukrainians in Russia.

“I cannot make military predictions, this is not my expertise,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi stated in Kyiv.

“But one thing I can say is, of course, any exacerbation of war risks causing further displacement, one way or another, and we need to be ready for that,” he continued.

“As we have seen everywhere, in Mariupol, in Kherson, every time fighting increases, people naturally will try to seek safety,” he added, referring to two of the fiercest battles of Russia’s nearly year-long invasion of Ukraine.

Trump criticises Biden over sending tanks to Ukraine

Former US President Donald Trump has slammed the decision to send top-of-the-line tanks to Ukraine, calling the effort to repel the Russian invasion a “crazy war”.

In his latest criticism of aid to Ukraine, Trump said that sending the Abrams M1 tanks amounts to an escalation that could lead to nuclear war.

“FIRST COME THE TANKS, THEN COME THE NUKES,” Trump wrote on his social media site.

“Get this crazy war ended, NOW. So easy to do!” he added.

Zelensky calls for more Western weapons after latest Russian missile strikes

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the West for further weapons supplies after another wave of Russian missile strikes targeted Kyiv and other cities across the country.

“This evil, this Russian aggression can and should be stopped only with adequate weapons,” Zelensky told Ukrainians in his nightly address Thursday.

“Weapons on the battlefield. Weapons that protect our skies,” he added.

Ukraine announced it was able to shoot down most of the 55 missiles fired by Russia, a feat Zelensky attributed to Western-donated air defense systems.

“Today, thanks to the air defense systems provided to Ukraine and the professionalism of our warriors, we managed to shoot down most of the Russian missiles and Shaheds,” he said, referring to Iranian-made drones.

“These are at least hundreds of lives saved and dozens of infrastructure facilities preserved,” the Ukrainian president added.

Zelensky then shifted focus to the eastern Donbas region, where fighting remains the fiercest. Ukrainian troops are suffering heavy attrition in the east.

“We need a new movement of our forces at the front. We need to ensure the defeat of the terrorists’ ground forces. Whatever the Russian occupiers are planning, our preparation must be stronger,” Zelensky said, noting, “I am grateful to all our units who demonstrate the resilience Ukraine needs, exhausting the occupier and destroying it.”

“The more Russia loses in this battle for Donbas, the less its overall potential will be,” he added.

Zelensky stated his government is aware of Russian plans for future operations in Ukraine and assured his countrymen they were working to counter Moscow’s moves.

US will send the more modern and lethal version of the Abrams tank to Ukraine: Pentagon

The US will send the M1A2 Abrams tank to Ukraine, which has significantly upgraded capabilities compared to the earlier M1A1 model.

Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh confirmed Thursday that the M1A2 would be the version of the Abrams provided to the Ukrainians.

She said that the US does not “have these tanks available in excess in our US stocks,” and it will take “months to transfer” the tanks to Ukraine.

The M1A2 is a significant upgrade from the older M1A1, mostly due to the fact that the A2 runs on a digital system, as opposed to the analog system of the A1.

It’s “the difference between a plug-in phone – a rotary phone – and that iPhone you’ve got in your hand,” explained retired Army Gen. Robert Abrams, the former commander of US Forces Korea, whose father was the namesake for the 70-ton tank.

US officials announced this week that 31 Abrams tanks would be sent to Ukraine after days of back and forth between the US and its allies. Officials had not yet disclosed which tank variant they would choose, and Army acquisitions chief Doug Bush told reporters on Tuesday that the decision was still being deliberated.

US President Joe Biden stated from the White House on Wednesday that the tanks would “enhance Ukraine’s capacity to defend its territory and achieve its strategic objectives.”

In addition to the digital change with the A2, the newer version of the tank is “significantly” more lethal than the A1, Abrams added. It includes a commander’s independent thermal viewer. Whereas before, only the gunner had a thermal site, now the tank commander has one as well, allowing them to help scan for and identify targets. The digital system also allows the tank crew to run their own onboard diagnostics, Abrams continued, instead of waiting for mechanics to run tests to determine any issues that arise.

When it comes down to it, Abrams said, the M1A2 is “far superior in lethality and survivability and mobility” to anything that Russia has on the battlefield.

It’s unclear which variant of the A2 tank, of which there are three, will be chosen. Singh declined to say during the Pentagon briefing Thursday, and Bush declined to say Wednesday.

Bush added that concerns over logistics and maintenance for each variant – which had frequently been cited as a reason the US was hesitant to send the Abrams at all – would not weigh heavily on the decision.

He also explained that the Army does not produce brand new tanks from scratch and has instead been modifying existing older models.

“That doesn’t mean it’s easy or fast necessarily,” he added, but they don’t currently have to be built from scratch.

Council of Europe calls for special tribunal to probe Russia and Belarus’ “crime of aggression” in Ukraine

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has voted unanimously to demand the creation of a special international tribunal to prosecute Russian and Belarusian political and military leaders “for the crime of aggression in Ukraine,” according to a statement published Thursday.

PACE, composed of members appointed by the national parliaments of the Council’s 46 member states, proposes a tribunal in The Hague “to prosecute Russian and Belarusian political and military leaders who planned, prepared, initiated or executed Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.”

PACE recommends policies for adoption, which are then submitted to national governments for action.

The demand for an international tribunal echoes a similar call from UK lawmakers who last week expressed support for “the creation of a special tribunal with a limited focus on the crime of aggression” to complement the investigation being carried out by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine.

The UN has defined aggression as “the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.”

“No other international criminal tribunal is competent to prosecute and punish the crime of aggression against Ukraine, the Assembly pointed out,” the PACE statement added.

The ICC is unable to probe the crime of aggression unless the UN Security Council refers the matter to it, which is “highly implausible,” as Russia would likely use its status as a Security Council member to veto a referral. Russia was excluded from the Council of Europe — founded after World War II to uphold human rights — in March 2022 following its invasion of Ukraine.

In December, a bipartisan resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Bill Keating, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, to call for creation of a special tribunal on the crime of aggression. Administration officials have neither committed to nor rejected the idea.

US targets Chinese firm for helping Russian group in Ukraine

The United States has imposed sanctions on a Chinese company for allegedly providing satellite imagery in Ukraine to help Russia’s Wagner mercenary group.

The US Treasury Department and State Department announced a slew of actions as they formally designated the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organisation, a move previewed last week by the White House.

The new sanctions “will further impede the Kremlin’s ability to arm its war machine that is engaged in a war of aggression against Ukraine, and which has caused unconscionable death and destruction,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Among the firms targeted was Changsha Tianyi Space Science and Technology Research Institute Co, a Chinese firm that the Treasury Department said has provided satellite imagery over Ukraine to the Wagner Group.

“These images were gathered in order to enable Wagner combat operations in Ukraine,” said a statement by the Treasury Department, which also announced sanctions on a Luxembourg-based subsidiary of the Chinese company.

France, Italy close to deal on supplying air defence system to Ukraine

France and Italy are close to finalising the technical details to supply an SAMP/T air defence system to Ukraine, two diplomatic sources said on according to the Reuters news agency.

Kyiv has asked its Western allies for more air defence systems and specifically requested the SAMP/T, known as Mamba, in November.

France’s defence minister, Sebastien Lecornu, will travel to Italy on Friday to meet his Italian counterpart, Guido Crosetto, with both sides wanting to push ahead with the SAMP/T talks.

“We are finalising it with the Italians. It’s not very far off,” said a French diplomatic source.

US designates the Wagner Group as a ‘criminal organisation’

The United States has formally designated the Wagner Group as a “transnational criminal organisation”.

The shadowy paramilitary group is closely aligned with the Kremlin and has been heavily involved in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The US Department of the Treasury announced it had taken the move as part of action targeting dozens of people and entities in an effort to degrade Russia’s ability to wage the war.

The declaration freezes any US assets that the Wagner Group may have and prohibits US nationals from providing funds, goods, or services to the group.

Washington also designated other entities it accused of supporting the Wagner Group’s military operations, including Russia-based Joint Stock Company Terra Tech and China-based Changsha Tianyi Space Science and Technology Research Institute Co LTD, and targeted entities and individuals linked to Russia’s defence industry.

“Today’s expanded sanctions on Wagner, as well as new sanctions on their associates and other companies enabling the Russian military complex, will further impede Putin’s ability to arm and equip his war machine,” Treasury secretary Janet Yellen noted.

Russian attacks kill 11, injure 11 others: Ukrainian emergency service

At least 11 people have been killed by Russia’s latest wave of missile attacks, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine (SESU) says.

The raids, which targeted several different areas including the capital Kyiv and the southern region of Odesa, wounded 11 others, SESU said in a Telegram post.

It added more than 100 personnel were taking part in search and rescue operations in the aftermath of the shelling.

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