Friday, April 12, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 341

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:

Norway to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine ‘as soon as possible’

Norway will send part of its fleet of German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine “as soon as possible”, indicating perhaps late March, its defence minister said.

Norway was among several European countries that promised last week to deliver the tanks long sought by Ukraine in its battle against Russian forces, after Berlin gave its blessing despite fears of retaliation by Moscow.

The country has 36 Leopard 2 tanks, but has not said how many it will provide to Kyiv.

“We haven’t yet determined the number,” Defence Minister Bjorn Arild Gram told AFP, adding, “Of course we hope this will be done as quickly as possible.”


Croatian president slams West for supplying arms to Ukraine

Croatia’s president has criticised Western nations for supplying Ukraine with heavy tanks and other weapons, saying such arms deliveries will only prolong the war.

“I am against sending any lethal arms there,” Zoran Milanovic told reporters in the Croatian capital.

“It prolongs the war,” he continued, adding it was “mad” to believe that Russia could be defeated in a conventional war.


Ukraine to invest $550m on drones in 2023: DM

Ukraine’s military will spend nearly $550m on drones this year, and 16 supply deals have already been signed with Ukrainian manufacturers, the defence minister says.

Both Ukrainian and Russian forces have used a wide array of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, for attacks and reconnaissance during 11 months of war.

“In 2023, we are increasing the procurement of UAVs for the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Oleksii Reznikov said in a Facebook post.

Ukraine has received significant supplies of drones from its partners, from Turkey’s missile-equipped Bayraktar TB2 to the Norwegian-made Black Hornet reconnaissance drone, which weighs less than 33g. Kyiv is now seeking to boost domestic production to build what officials describe as an “army of drones”.


Putin and Saudi crown prince hold talks on oil price stability: Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have held talks by phone on cooperation within the OPEC+ group of oil-producing countries to maintain oil price stability, the Kremlin says.

The pair held the discussions as ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies led by Russia, a group known collectively as OPEC+, prepare to hold a virtual meeting on Wednesday.

Russian oil production has so far shown resilience in the face of Western sanctions imposed after Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February and price caps introduced by Western countries in December.


Finland says it plans to stick with Sweden in NATO bid

Finland’s foreign minister says it is maintaining its plan to join NATO at the same time as Nordic neighbour Sweden despite a potential Turkish block on the latter’s bid.

“Our strong wish is still to join NATO together with Sweden,” Pekka Haavisto told a news conference in Helsinki.

“I still see the NATO summit in Vilnius in July as an important milestone when I hope that both counties will be accepted as NATO members at the latest,” Haavisto added.

His remarks came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signalled on Sunday that Ankara could agree to Finland joining NATO ahead of Sweden, amid growing tensions with Stockholm.

Last week, Turkey suspended NATO talks with Sweden and Finland over protests in Stockholm that included the burning of a Quran.


Polish PM announces plan to boost defence spending

Poland’s prime minister has set out a plan to increase defence spending, saying the country needs to arm itself “faster” in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The country’s defence budget will amount to 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year, Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters.

Poland’s military spending in 2022 equalled 2.4 percent of its GDP, the third highest percentage among NATO countries, according to figures from the transatlantic alliance.


More Russian forces moved to region bordering Ukraine: Governor

Russia has moved additional forces and equipment to its western Kursk region on the border with Ukraine, according to the region’s governor.

Roman Starovoit was quoted by Russia’s Interfax news agency as telling a regional government meeting that it was “necessary to provide comprehensive support for the reception, deployment and arrangement of additional forces” in the area.

Local authorities say that Kursk has repeatedly been subjected to Ukrainian shelling since Russia invaded its neighbour almost a year ago.

Some of Russia’s troops entered from the Kursk region, although the areas of northeastern Ukraine that they seized have since been retaken by Kyiv’s forces.

Kyiv has repeatedly warned that Russia could make a new attempt to seize parts of northeastern Ukraine, pointing to increased joint military activity in Russia’s close ally Belarus, another of the staging points for last February’s invasion.


Kremlin says Johnson lied about missile threat

The Kremlin has accused Boris Johnson of lying after the former British prime minister said President Vladimir Putin had threatened the United Kingdom with a missile strike during a phone call in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that what Johnson said was not true, or “more precisely, a lie”.

Johnson, speaking to the BBC for a documentary, claimed the Russian leader had threatened him with a missile strike that would “only take a minute”.


Ukraine wants to join EU within two years: PM

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has told the Politico website that he wants the country to join the European Union within two years. It is a tight timetable that the EU is likely to find over-ambitious.

He told the website, “We have a very ambitious plan to join the European Union within the next two years. So we expect that this year, in 2023, we can already have this pre-entry stage of negotiations.”

Shmyhal addressed the issue of corruption in Ukraine, which has been a key concern for the EU.

Shmyhal insisted that the Volodymyr Zelensky government is taking corruption seriously.

“We have a zero-tolerance approach to corruption,” he said, pointing to the “lightning speed” with which officials were removed this month.

“Unfortunately, corruption was not born yesterday, but we are certain that we will uproot corruption,” he added, openly saying that it’s key to the country’s EU accession path.

EU commissioners will be travelling to Kyiv later this week for a summit with Ukraine’s president.


NATO chief urges South Korea to step up military support for Ukraine

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has urged South Korea to increase military support to Ukraine, citing other countries that have changed their policy of not providing weapons to countries in conflict following Russia’s invasion.

“At the end of the day, it’s a decision for you to make, but I’ll say that several NATO allies who have had as a policy to never export weapons to countries in a conflict have changed that policy now,” Stoltenberg said during a visit to Seoul.

“If we don’t want autocracy and tyranny to win, then they [Ukrainians] need weapons, that’s the reality,” he added.

The NATO chief’s appearance in the South Korean capital marked the first stop on a trip that will also see him visit Japan and is aimed at strengthening ties with Western allies in Asia in the face of the war in Ukraine and rising competition with China.


Ukrainian official slams IOC as a ‘promoter of war’

An adviser to Ukraine’s president has accused the International Olympic Committee (IOC) of being a “promoter of war” after the body said it would “explore a pathway” for athletes from Russia and Belarus to participate in international competitions as neutrals.

“[The] IOC is a promoter of war, murder and destruction. The IOC watches with pleasure Russia destroying Ukraine and then offers Russia a platform to promote genocide and encourages their further killings,” Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted.

“Obviously Russian money that buys Olympic hypocrisy doesn’t have a smell of Ukrainian blood. Right, Mr. Bach?” he added, referring to IOC President Thomas Bach.

Ukraine warned last week that it may boycott the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris if Russian and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete.


Putin ‘threatened me’ with missile strike: Johnson

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened him with a missile strike during a phone call in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine.

Johnson, speaking to the BBC for a documentary, said Putin had asked him about the prospects of Ukraine joining NATO, to which he had responded it would not be “for the foreseeable future”.

“He threatened me at one point, and he said, ‘Boris, I don’t want to hurt you but, with a missile, it would only take a minute’ or something like that. Jolly,” Johnson added, recalling the “very long” and “most extraordinary” call in February 2022 which followed a visit by the then-prime minister to Kyiv.


Ukraine needs more weapons faster: Zelensky

Ukraine needs new weapons and faster deliveries to confront a “very tough” situation of constant attacks by Russian forces in the eastern Donetsk region, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday

“The situation is very tough. Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other sectors in Donetsk region — there are constant Russian attacks. There are constant attempts to break through our defences,” he stated in his nightly video address.

“Russia wants the war to drag on and exhaust our forces. So we have to make time our weapon. We have to speed up events, speed up supplies and open up new weapons options for Ukraine,” the president added.

In spite of Ukraine’s current difficulties on the battlefront, Zelensky noted he is confident his country can defeat Russia this year.

“2023 must and will definitely be the year of our victory,” Zelensky wrote in a public message on Telegram on Sunday.


Ukraine hopes to start using Western tanks in spring: DM

The Ukrainian armed forces are likely to start using Western tanks on the battlefield in the spring, the country’s Defense Minister Alexey Reznikov said in an interview with the Canadian CBC television channel on Sunday.

“I hope we will start using them probably in the spring,” he stated.

According to the minister, the Ukrainian military intend to form at least two tank battalions from the supplies promised by Western countries, which will be used “to continue the counteroffensive.”

Reznikov expressed hope that Western countries would continue to supply tanks to Kiev in the future. He added the promises of tanks are “not the end of the story, it’s just the start of the story.”

On January 25, the US authorities announced their intention to deliver 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Kiev. In turn, Germany announced that it would send 14 Leopard 2 tanks from the country’s inventories and will allow other nations to re-export the armored military vehicles. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius noted, according to a Focus Online report on January 26, that Leopard 2 tanks would be sent to Ukraine before the end of March.


Erdogan says Turkey’s response to Finland’s, Sweden’s NATO bids may be different

Turkey may consider Finland’s application for NATO membership independently from that of Sweden, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated on Sunday.

“If necessary, we may send a different message to Finland if it doesn’t repeat the same mistakes [as Sweden with the Quran desecration],” he said t a meeting with the youth that was televised by the TRT channel.

“Sweden will be shock when it happens,” the president added.

The Turkish president warned Finland against “the same wrong steps” that provoked a scandal in relations between Turkey and Sweden.

“We explained to the Swedish prime minister [what is to be done]. We said that they must extradite terrorists to us to be admitted to NATO. We handed over a list of 120 names. If you don’t do it, don’t take it amiss,” Erdogan continued.

On January 21, leader of the far-right Straight Course party Rasmus Paludan publicly burned a copy of the Quran in front of the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.

Erdogan stressed that Sweden should not expect any support from Ankara for its NATO membership bid following anti-Turkish rallies in Stockholm. Earlier, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar made similar statements.

Following this incident, the process of considering Sweden’s bid for NATO’s membership has been suspended. The approval of the Turkish parliament is needed for the two countries’ admission to NATO.

Germany warns against ‘competition’ over Ukraine aid

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has voiced discontent over constant debates about Western arms deliveries for Ukraine, claiming that they undermine authorities’ credibility in the eyes of ordinary citizens.

In an interview published by Tagesspiegel newspaper, Scholz was asked to comment on Ukraine’s demand for Western warplanes, which came after the US and Germany approved the delivery of M1 Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks, respectively.

Despite France and the US not ruling out such assistance, the chancellor stated that for Germany “the question of combat aircraft does not arise at all.”

“I can only advise against entering into a constant outbidding competition when it comes to weapon systems,” Scholz added.

According to him, as soon as Berlin makes a decision on a weapons shipment to Ukraine, “the next debate begins in Germany.”

These kinds of public deliberations “do not seem serious and shake the confidence of the citizens in government decisions,” the chancellor stated, arguing that “such debates should not be conducted for reasons of domestic political profiling.”

He also pushed back on the notion that Germany would eventually cave in to pressure to deliver fighter planes, as it did with tanks.

“It wasn’t like that, I expressly don’t share your account. We are always guided by what Ukraine needs on the one hand and what our most important allies can provide on the other hand,” Scholz stressed, reiterating Germany’s position that when it comes to helping Ukraine, Berlin does not act alone, but “together with its allies and partners.”

Ukraine has repeatedly called on Western countries to support it with modern Western-made jets, but no country has so far indulged the request.


Moscow accuses Kiev of ‘war crime’ in Donbass

Kiev and its Western backers bear responsibility for the deadly destruction of a civilian hospital in Donbass, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Sunday. The perpetrators of the “war crime” will not escape punishment, it added.

On Saturday morning, Ukrainian troops fired rockets from a US-made HIMARS system which hit a hospital in the city of Novoaydar, killing 14 people and injuring 24, the Russian Defense Minitry announced. According to the military, the facility was treating local residents, as well as Russian soldiers.

The Foreign Ministry claimed that Ukraine used Western intelligence and satellites operated by NATO members to target the hospital.

“The deliberate shelling of functioning civilian medical facilities and the purposeful killing of civilians are grave war crimes committed by the Kiev regime and its Western handlers,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The lack of reaction from the US and other NATO countries … once again serves as proof of their direct involvement in the conflict and the culpability for the crimes,” the statement added.

The ministry added that it has been thoroughly documenting attacks on civilians.

“The criminal acts … will not be left unpunished,” it said.


NATO ready for clash with Russia: Top official

NATO is prepared to fight Russia if a direct conflict erupts between the two, Rob Bauer, the chairman of the alliance’s Military Committee, said.

In an interview with Portuguese RTP TV, when asked whether the US-led military bloc is ready for a direct confrontation with Russia, Bauer unequivocally stated, “We are.”

The official noted that when hostilities broke out in Ukraine in February 2022, NATO already had a number of battle groups along its eastern flank. The bloc’s leaders decided to create four more during a June 2022 summit in Madrid, in Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, Bauer added.

“I think that’s an important message for the Russians, that our posture has changed, to show them that we are ready if they would have an idea to come to NATO,” the official continued.

He pointed out that if there is any red line regarding relations between Moscow and the military bloc, “it is the Russians crossing the line of our territory in NATO.”

Bauer went on to say that for decades, many NATO nations thought they were the ones who decided when and where to deploy their forces, but the Ukraine conflict had been a gamechanger. Russia launched its military operation “at the moment of their choosing, so we have to be much more ready, we have no time to prepare, because it’s up to them when they come,” the official stated.

He also described Western shipments of modern arms to Ukraine as “not escalatory.”

“The fact that your enemy has better weapons, it’s not the problem of the enemy, that’s your problem,” he said, adding that the West and Russia both face the need to ramp up efforts to manufacture weapons and equipment – and NATO countries need to have a debate on military production priorities. This means “talking about a war-time economy, but in peacetime,” which, he acknowledged, will be difficult.

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