Saturday, March 2, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 342

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 to receive 120 – 140 tanks in ‘first-wave’ of deliveries

Ukraine will receive 120 to 140 tanks in the “first wave” of deliveries from a coalition of 12 countries, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.

Earlier this month, Ukraine secured pledges from a group of Western countries to supply main battle tanks to help Kyiv’s forces fight back against Russia.

“The tank coalition now has 12 members. I can note that in the first wave of contributions, the Ukrainian armed forces will receive between 120 and 140 Western-model tanks,” Kuleba stated during an online briefing.

Russia claims control over Blahodatne village

Russia says its forces have taken control of Blahodatne, a village north of Bakhmut.

Blahodatne, about five kilometres (three miles) north of Bakhmut, was captured with the help of aerial support, Moscow’s defence ministry announced.

On Saturday, the Wagner Group said its forces had taken control of Blahodatne, but Kyiv said it had repelled an attack on the village.

‘Not practical’ to send Ukraine fighter jets: UK

Britain does not believe it is practical to send its fighter jets to Ukraine, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

“The UK’s … fighter jets are extremely sophisticated and take months to learn how to fly. Given that, we believe it is not practical to send those jets into Ukraine,” the spokesperson told reporters.

“We will continue to discuss with our allies about what we think what is the right approach,” he noted.

Kyiv has indicated it would push for fighter jets to help its war efforts.

Ukrainian forces turned Russian trenches into “grave” near Bakhmut: Ukraine’s Border Guard

As the battle for the key eastern city of Bakhmut continues, Ukrainian forces managed to destroy Russian trenches on the outskirts of the city, turning them into a “grave,” the Ukrainian Border Guard said Tuesday on its official Telegram channel.

“The rifle unit of the Russian Federation set up an improvised dugout in the forest strip. Our fighters tracked down the hiding place of the enemy infantry and hit it with mortars,” the Ukrainian Border Guard added.

The Border Guard reported that five “invaders” were buried under rubble and another four occupants were wounded after the attack destroyed the structure.

The city of Bakhmut has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in recent days, as Russian forces try to take control of the Kostiantynivka-Bakhmut highway and disrupt supplies to Bakhmut. Keeping the city under Ukrainian control would represent a symbolic victory for Kyiv but if the city is taken by Russian forces it would give them an opportunity to advance further to the strategically important cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk.

Fighters from the Russian mercenary company Wagner have been leading the fight against Ukrainian forces in and around Bakhmut but on Monday, Volodymyr Nazarenko, deputy commander of the “Svoboda” battalion of the 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade of Ukraine’s National Guard, stated in an interview on Ukrainian television that it seemed Wagner fighters have now been replaced by Russian paratroopers.

A post published Tuesday on the official Telegram channel of Dmytro Kukharchuk, commander of the 2nd assault battalion of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, says the claimed invincibility of the Wagner military unit is now a “myth.”

“I have to admit that in some areas they do manage to carry out the tactics of a creeping offensive. In their opinion, it is successful, in my opinion – absolutely not, because the round-the-clock bombardment of our positions with corpses, which results in rare cases in advancement of 50 meters, can hardly be called a success,” the post reads.

“Ultimately, the war is not about territories, but about people who will then liberate even more territories, as it happened in Kharkiv or Kherson. Their attitude towards people has not changed since [Red Army General] Zhukov’s time,” the post continues.

Ankara will not approve Sweden, Finland NATO membership under current conditions: Turkish FM

The Turkish parliament will not ratify the protocol on the NATO membership of Sweden and Finland under the current conditions, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Tuesday.

“Swedish Foreign Minister [Tobias Billstrom] came to visit us. He was in the parliament, met with parties. He heard that all parties are equally declaring that without the fulfillment of the obligations assumed to us, the ratification of the protocol is impossible. Therefore, in the current conditions, it is not necessary to talk about the approval of this document,” Cavusoglu stated at a joint press conference with his Hungarian counterpart.

Ankara may “look positively” at Finland’s membership in NATO if Helsinki and the alliance decide on a separate application from Sweden, the minister added.

Japan and NATO pledge ‘firm’ response to China, Russia threats

Japan and NATO must “remain united and firm” in the face of security threats posed by China, North Korea and Russia’s war in Ukraine, Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday in Tokyo.

Stoltenberg, secretary general of the European and North American military alliance, warned that Beijing was keeping a close eye on developments in Ukraine and “learning lessons that may influence its future decisions”.

He spoke alongside Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida after the pair held talks as part of a trip to Asia by Stoltenberg aiming to boost ties with democratic allies.

“What is happening in Europe today could happen in East Asia tomorrow. So we must remain united and firm, standing together for freedom and democracy,” he added.

Stoltenberg and Kishida stated they were worried by the increasing cooperation they saw between China and Russia.

Gazprom gas exports to Europe via Ukraine hit historic low

Russia’s Gazprom’s gas exports to the European Union via Ukraine have reached a record low of 951.4 million cubic metres in the first 30 days of January, Russian business newspaper Vedomosti has reported, citing Gazprom figures.

Gazprom had shipped between 41-43 million cubic metres via Ukraine daily during the second half of 2022. However, from January 5, daily volumes began to fall sharply, with only 24.4 million cubic metres shipped daily by January 19.

The decline is primarily the result of reduced demand for Russian gas in Europe amid an unusually warm and windy winter, Vedomosti reported.

Putin’s former speechwriter says a military coup is becoming a possibility in Russia

A military coup is becoming a possibility in Russia as the war in Ukraine continues, President Vladimir Putin’s former speechwriter stated.

Speaking to CNN’s Erin Burnett, speechwriter turned political analyst Abbas Gallyamov said that as Russian losses mount in Ukraine and the country experiences hardship brought by Western sanctions, Russians will look for someone to blame.

“The Russian economy is deteriorating. The war is lost. There are more and more dead bodies returning to Russia, so Russians will be coming across more difficulties and they’ll be trying to find explanation why this is happening, looking around to the political process and they’ll be answering themselves: ‘Well, this is because our country is governed by an old tyrant, an old dictator,'” Gallyamov noted, referring to Putin.

“At this moment, I think a military coup will become possible,” Gallyamov continued, adding, “That moment may come in the next 12 months.”

“So in one year when the political situation changes and there’s a really hated unpopular president at the head of the country and the war is really unpopular, and they need to shed blood for this, at this moment, a coup becomes a real possibility,” he added.

Gallyamov also said he believes Putin may cancel presidential elections scheduled to be held in March 2024.

“Judging by his actions, when he is escalating on something without necessity, he might really cancel the elections. Without victory over Ukraine, he’ll face difficulty with the Russians. Russians don’t need him if he’s not strong. He might really declare the martial law and cancel the elections,” Gallyamov stated.

NATO to strengthen partnership with Japan: Chief

NATO will continue to strengthen its partnership with Japan amid the ongoing Ukraine war, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

“The war in Ukraine also demonstrates that our security is closely interconnected,” Stoltenberg stated during a visit at the Iruma Air Base north of Tokyo.

“If President [Vladimir] Putin wins in Ukraine it will be a tragedy for the Ukrainians, but it will also send a very dangerous message to authoritarian leaders all over the world because then the message will be that when they use military force they can achieve their goals,” he added.

Zelensky calls for timely implementation of “strong decisions”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on allies for “timely” implementation of “strong decisions.”

“There’s no time for continued reflections, we need to make decisions,” Zelensky said, adding, “The key issue is efficiency.”

“Decisions were good, but it is crucial that strong decisions are timely. It is of great importance for us to react quickly,” he said while speaking alongside Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

Zelensky also added that Ukraine shared “all the intelligence information we get” with partners.

“There can be no secrets,” the president continued.

He thanked Denmark for its donation of Caesar howitzers, and said that he is confident that Russia’s offensive will not have a positive outcome.

“I am confident in our army. I think we will be gradually stopping [Russians], fighting them and will be preparing our own big counter-offensive,” Zelensky added.

White House defends decision not to send fighter jets to Ukraine

White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby on Monday defended the Joe Biden administration’s decision not to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, pointing instead to the aid the US is providing, including Abrams tanks.

“What I can tell you is that there’s a lot of capability that is being sent, and will be sent in the coming weeks and months,” Kirby told CNN.

“The kinds of capabilities that we know will be critical to helping Ukrainians again in the fighting now in the wintertime, as well as the kind of fighting that we expect that they’re going to be doing in the spring,” he added.

Kirby stated he believes the decision, announced last week, to send Abrams tanks to the region wasn’t one that was made too late, even amid reports of Russia gaining territory in eastern Ukraine.

“The decision on the tanks — and it wasn’t just the US, it was the Germans as well, and the Brits before that — was really designed to help Ukraine get ahead of the fighting that we think … everybody’s going to see come spring,” he said.

“So, this was actually one of those cases where we are trying to forecast the kinds of needs that Ukraine is going to require when the weather turns better – and we can expect that the Russians will try to go on the offensive then,” he added.

President Joe Biden answered, “No,” when asked by a reporter whether he would send the jets to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has sought fighter jets to help sustain his war effort against Russia. Biden has consistently noted the planes aren’t on the table, even as he has given aid in other areas.

Olympics: IOC rejects ‘defamatory’ criticism from Ukraine

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has rejected fierce criticism from Ukrainian officials, who have accused it of promoting war after the body said Russians could potentially be given the opportunity to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak at the weekend described the Lausanne-based body as promoting “violence, mass murders, destruction” and said a Russian presence at the games would constitute giving the country “a platform to promote genocide”.

“The IOC rejects in the strongest possible terms this and other defamatory statements,” the IOC said in a statement.

“They cannot serve as a basis for any constructive discussion,” it added.

In his nightly video address, President Volodymyr Zelensky pledged to “protect sports structures and the international Olympic movement from being discredited through the efforts of some representatives of sports bureaucracy to allow Russian athletes at international competitions”.

Biden says he won’t send F16 jets to Ukraine

President Joe Biden said Monday he wouldn’t send American fighter jets to Ukraine, even as the United States ramps up military assistance in the form of artillery and tanks.

“No,” Biden stated when asked by a reporter whether he would send F16 jets to Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has sought fighter jets to help sustain his war effort against Russia. Biden has consistently said the planes aren’t on the table, even as he has given aid in other areas.

Last week, for example, Biden announced he would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, despite top US officials saying previously the heavy-duty vehicles were a poor fit for the country’s military.

Speaking on the White House South Lawn, Biden also noted he wasn’t sure whether he would visit Europe next month for the one-year anniversary of the start of the war in Ukraine.

In response to a separate question, Biden said he was planning to visit Poland, but wasn’t sure when.

Ukrainian leaders have renewed their appeals for Western fighter jets.

“I sent a wish list card to Santa Claus last year, and fighter jets also [were] including in this wish list,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told CNN last week.

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged Friday that Zelensky had asked for fighter jets.

“We are constantly talking to the Ukrainians about their needs, and want to make sure that we’re doing the best we can to meet them – and if we can’t, that some of our allies and partners can,” Kirby added.

British tanks will reach Ukraine before the summer: Defense secretary

The 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks pledged to Ukraine by the United Kingdom should reach that country “this side of the summer,” the British Defense Secretary said on Monday.

“It starts with training on the individual operation of the platforms, then on training on being able to join together with formation units to be able to fight as a formed unit, because that’s important,” Ben Wallace stated in parliament.

“And then from there, those tanks will be put in,”he added.

“What I can say is it will be this side of the summer or May, it will be probably towards Easter time,” he continued.

France doesn’t rule out sending warplanes to Ukraine

President Emmanuel Macron has said France doesn’t exclude sending fighter jets to Ukraine, but he has laid out multiple conditions before such a significant step might be taken.

France has sent Ukraine air defence systems, rocket launcher units, cannon and other military equipment and has pledged to send armored surveillance and combat vehicles, but it has stopped short of sending battle tanks or heavier weaponry.

Asked at a news conference in The Hague if France is considering sending warplanes, Macron stated “nothing is excluded” as long as certain conditions are met.

The president added providing such equipment should not lead to an escalation of tensions, be used “to touch Russian soil” or “weaken the capacities of the French army”.

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