Sunday, April 14, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 339

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:

EU president says Ukraine has unconditional support ahead of summit

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said ahead of an EU-Ukraine summit next week that Ukraine had unconditional support from the bloc and that the country needed to prevail against Russian attacks to defend European values.

“We stand by Ukraine’s side without any ifs and buts,” von der Leyen stated in a speech on Saturday at an event of her party, the Christian Democrat CDU, in Duesseldorf, Germany.

Ukraine “is fighting for our shared values, it is fighting for the respect of international law and for the principles of democracy and that is why Ukraine has to win this war”, she added.

US fuelling proxy war: North Korea

North Korea has slammed Washington’s decision to supply Ukraine with tanks, claiming the US is “further expanding the proxy war” to destroy Russia.

Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden promised 31 Abrams tanks, one of the most powerful and sophisticated weapons in the US army, to help Kyiv fight off Moscow’s invasion.

Along with China, Russia is one of the North’s few international friends and has previously come to Pyongyang‘s aid.

“Lurking behind this is the US sinister intention to realise its hegemonic aim by further expanding the proxy war for destroying Russia,” said Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

IOC promotes ‘Russian anti-human policy’: Zelensky adviser

A senior Ukrainian presidential aide has slammed the International Olympic Committee accusing it of siding with Russia days after it said the Olympic Council of Asia had offered Russian and Belarusian athletes a chance to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

IOC “proposes to the world promotion of violence, mass murders, destruction”, Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter,

He added that is why “it insists Russian athletes should participate in contests as real ‘ambassadors of death’”.

Earlier, President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Ukraine would launch an international campaign to prevent Russian athletes from being allowed to compete in the 2024 Games.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova responded by saying any attempt to squeeze Moscow out of international sport was “doomed to fail”.

West to deliver 321 tanks to Ukraine: Diplomat

Western countries will deliver more than 300 tanks to Ukraine, Kyiv’s ambassador to France stated Saturday.

“As of today, numerous countries have officially confirmed their agreement to deliver 321 heavy tanks to Ukraine,” Vadym Omelchenko told French TV station and CNN affiliate BFM television.

He did not specify which countries would provide the tanks or provide a breakdown of which models.

The figure from Omelchenko comes after the US this week pledged to provide 31 M1 Abrams tanks and Germany agreed to send 14 Leopard 2 A6s. Previously the United Kingdom has pledged 14 Challenger 2 tanks

German DM rules out sending fighter jets to Ukraine

Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has ruled out Germany sending fighter jets to Ukraine, according to an interview with German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung on Friday.

”This is out of the question,” Pistorius is quoted as saying when asked whether Germany would send fighter jets to Kyiv.

It follows renewed public appeals by Ukraine’s government for Western fighter jets after Germany approved the delivery of Leopard 2 battle tanks earlier this week.

“Fighter aircrafts are much more complex systems than main battle tanks and have a completely different range and firepower. We would venture into dimensions that I would currently warn against,” Pistorius said in the interview.

Pistorius, who took office last week following his predecessor’s resignation, also told the newspaper that Germany’s 100 billion euro ($108 billion) special defense fund, which was set up last year, is no longer enough to cover its requirements.

“The 100 billion will not be enough,” Pistorius stated, adding that he believes Germany would also need to increase its annual regular defense budget, which is currently set at around 50 billion euros (about $54 billion).

Pistorius also noted that Germany’s decision to suspend compulsory military service in 2011 “was a mistake,” adding that he was open to discussing a new model to strengthen the relationship between citizens and the state.

Belgium announces nearly $100 million in Ukraine military aid as part of its largest assistance package yet

The Belgian government has announced its largest ever assistance package for Ukraine, including $97.5 million in military aid.

“Today the ministerial council has decided to add a new package of 90 million euros ( $97.5 million) in military aid. That is the largest military aid package for Ukraine that our country has decided to date,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told journalists on Friday.

“This new package is on top of the 146 million euros (around $158 million) Belgium has already donated in military assistance,” he added.

The military aid is part of a larger package that also contains humanitarian and civilian assistance.

The military aide will include anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank missiles, grenades and munitions, which will enable Ukraine to continue to “protect its citizens,” Belgian Defense Minister Ludivine Dedonder said, adding that Belgium will also deliver military vehicles, trucks and light armored vehicles to Ukraine in the “coming weeks.”

Separate from the military aid, the package also contains 86 million euros ($93.3 million) in civilian aid, including 69 million euros ($74.9 million) dedicated towards humanitarian aid and 10.6 million euros ($11.5 million) dedicated towards the reconstruction of Ukraine.

This civilian aid will include medical supplies and ambulance, De Croo continued.

Satellite pictures reveal rapidly expanding cemetery of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group

Satellite images of an area near a village in Russia show a rapidly expanding cemetery where many of those killed fighting for the Wagner Group — a Russian private mercenary organization heavily involved in the war in Ukraine — are buried.

Pictures of rows of fresh graves near the village of Bakinskaya in the Krasnodar region first started emerging on social media in December. And on Jan. 2, Russian State News Agency RIA Novosti showed Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin visiting the site and laying a wreath on one of the graves.

“Here we bury fighters who indicated in their will that they want to be buried here,” Prigozhin explained, according to RIA.

“Or orphans and those whose bodies, for some reason, relatives do not want to take,” Prigozhin added.

Satellite pictures taken by on Nov. 24, 2022, show three rows of graves on a new plot. When Prigozhin visited in early January, he told RIA Novosti that 93 graves had been dug. Another Maxar satellite picture taken on Jan. 24 shows the plot already virtually full, with 14 additional rows.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, the Bakinskaya cemetery seen in satellite pictures, as well as a nearby secondary location in the nearby town of Goryachy Klyuch, may hold around 1,000 dead Wagner soldiers.

Local activists reported the mercenary group began using the Bakinskaya cemetery after it ran out of space at a Wagner-affiliated chapel in Goryachy Klyuch.

“The majority of the Wagner Group personnel buried at these sites were reportedly prisoners, a result of the Wagner Group‘s overwhelming reliance on prison recruitment and its operational use of these personnel in costly assaults,” the ISW said in its analysis on Friday.

“The high number of casualties is likely constraining the Wagner Group’s ability to continue offensive operations at a high pace and will likely prompt further prison recruitment efforts,” it added.

Wagner fighters have been locked in a long battle of attrition with Ukrainian forces as they’ve taken the town of Soledar and are now engaged in the assault on Bakhmut and surrounding villages. Ukrainian officials say Wagner has sent waves of infantry toward their positions and have suffered heavy losses in the process.

The high number of casualties earned the area the nickname of “meat grinder,” and the rapidly expanding graveyard in Bakinskaya illustrates the high death toll.

According to Wagner founder Yevgeny Prighozin, only some of the group’s fighters are buried there.

The US Treasury Department on Thursday designated Wagner a significant transnational criminal organization and imposed a slew of sanctions on a transnational network that supports it.

Moscow orders Latvian ambassador to leave Russia within 2 weeks

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday that it has ordered Latvian Ambassador to Moscow Maris Riekstins to leave Russia within two weeks in a tit-for-tat move.

“Ambassador of Latvia M. Riekstins was ordered to leave the Russian Federation within two weeks,” according to a statement from the ministry.

Earlier this week, Latvia expelled Russia’s ambassador in Riga, citing solidarity with Estonia.

Moscow has blamed Riga for the deterioration of bilateral relations between the two countries.

“It is emphasized that the provocative démarche of the Latvian authorities to lower the level of diplomatic relations will have consequences,” according to the statement.

It will take “many months” for Abrams tanks to be on the ground in Ukraine: White House spokesperson

John Kirby, a White House national security spokesperson, told CNN Friday the newly announced tranche of Abrams tanks announced by the US as part of this week’s aid to Ukraine “will take many months before they can get on the ground.”

Despite this timeline, Kirby said the Joe Biden administration is “not going to waste time” in providing training and shoring up supply chains to ensure Ukrainian forces are best equipped to use them when they eventually arrive in Ukraine.

Pressed by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, however, Kirby declined to say if he believes they’ll arrive by the end of 2023.

“I don’t want to get too specific, because we’re still working the plans out, but it’ll be many months,” Kirby told Kaitlan, but that in the meantime, a shipment of Leopard tanks courtesy of Germany will arrive on the ground in Ukraine “in short order.”

Kirby also wouldn’t say whether US President Joe Biden is considering a trip to the region to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion, but told CNN Biden is “in close contact with President Volodymyr Zelensky — they speak quite frequently, quite often.”

“I think that, you know, the President would certainly, at whatever appropriate time, would be willing to do [travel] to Ukraine. But we’re not at that point right now,” he added.

First Ukrainian soldiers have arrived in Germany for tank training: Defense ministry

Germany’s defense ministry on Friday confirmed Ukrainian soldiers have arrived in the country for training on the Marder infantry fighting vehicles Berlin has agreed to provide to the war-torn nation.

“Ukrainian soldiers have arrived in Germany for training on the Marder infantry fighting vehicle,” a spokesperson from the country’s defense ministry told reporters at a press briefing.

Earlier this month, Germany said it would provide Ukraine with 40 of the Marder vehicles and an additional Patriot anti-aircraft missile battery.

Germany’s defense ministry told CNN Friday that the training would take place in Munster, Lower Saxony, and is expected to be completed by the end of March.

The Marder is an infantry fighting vehicle used by the German military since the early 1970’s but continuously upgraded. While the German military is in the process of phasing the vehicle out, hundreds are still in service.

An infantry fighting vehicle is a heavily armed armored vehicle used to move soldiers around the battlefield. It’s usually deployed together with main battle tanks.

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the additional delivery of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks to Ukraine. Training for Ukrainian soldiers on how to use the advanced battle tanks is set to begin “soon” in Germany, according to the defense ministry.

Chief of UN refugee agency says Russia is violating “fundamental principles of child protection” in Ukraine

The United Nations’ refugee agency chief on Friday accused Russia of violating the “fundamental principles of child protection in situations of war” by giving Ukrainian children Russian passports and putting them up for adoption.

“In a situation of war, you cannot determine if children have families or guardianship. And therefore, until that is clarified, you cannot give them another nationality or having them adopted by another family,” said Filippo Grandi, high commissioner of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“This is something that is happening in Russia and must not happen,” he added.

Due to limited access in Russia, Grandi stated he could not provide statistics because it was “difficult to pinpoint the concrete aspects” to determine the number of children who had been given passports or put up for adoption.

“We are seeking access all the time, and access has been rather rare, sporadic and not unfettered,” he continued.

Russia had previously dismissed accusations that Ukrainian children have been abducted.

“We categorically reject unfounded allegations that the Russian authorities are kidnapping children,” Russian diplomat at the United Nations Dmitry Polyansky noted last year, Russian state media TASS reported.

Following a meeting with UNHCR’s Grandi on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for a mechanism to return children and adults “forcibly deported to Russia” and “to bring to justice all those responsible for deportation.”

Annexed Ukrainian regions to be put on Moscow time

The occupied parts of four Ukrainian regions which Russia declared it had annexed in September will be ordered to use Moscow time, according to a post on the Ministry of Industry and Trade’s Telegram channel.

The Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions will become part of Russia’s second time zone. “A draft law… has already been submitted to the government,” the post read.

In September, President Vladimir Putin announced Russia would seize of nearly a fifth of Ukraine, declaring that the millions of people living there would be Russian citizens “forever.”

Under the annexation process, which is illegal under international law, Moscow said it would recognize four Ukrainian regions as Russian territory: Luhansk and Donetsk — home to two Russian-backed breakaway republics where fighting has been ongoing since 2014 — as well as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, much of which have been occupied by Russian forces since shortly after the invasion began.

Putin’s announcement followed so-called referendums in the regions that were universally dismissed as “shams” by Ukraine and Western nations.

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