Saturday, July 13, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 343

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:

US targets global sanctions evasion network supporting Russia

The United States has imposed sanctions on 22 individuals and entities in multiple countries that Washington accused of being tied to a global sanctions evasion network supporting Russia’s military-industrial complex.

The move, which comes as Washington looks to increase pressure on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, is part of US efforts to target sanctions evasion around the world and limit Russia’s access to revenue it needs for the war, the US Department of the Treasury said in a statement.

The action targeted a sanctions evasion network that the Treasury said is led by Russia and Cyprus-based arms dealer Igor Zimenkov, who – along with his son, Jonatan – were hit with the new measures.

The network has engaged in projects connected to Russian defence capabilities, including supplying high-technology devices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Treasury added. Washington also accused certain members of the network of supporting state-owned Russian defence entities under sanctions.

Ukraine says ‘lives will be saved’ by air-defence radar supplied by France

Ukraine’s defence minister has said that Ukrainian lives will be saved by a sophisticated air-defence radar that France is supplying to Kyiv.

Speaking through an interpreter at a handover ceremony for the radar with his French counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov described the French-made GM200 as a “very effective” improvement for Ukraine’s network of about 300 different types of air-defence radars.

Thales, the manufacturer, says the radar detects and tracks rockets, artillery and mortar shells, missiles, aircraft, drones and other threats.

“Because of your support, Ukrainian lives will be saved,” Reznikov stated at the ceremony in Limours, where Thales makes the equipment.

“This radar will be the cherry on the cake,” he added.

German minister highlights need for quick replacement of Leopard tanks

Germany needs to quickly order new Leopard tanks to replace those going to Ukraine, Defence Minister Boris Pistorius has said, adding he did not care where the money came from.

“For me, the crucial fact is that we have to order new tanks, not in a year but swiftly so that production can begin,” he told reporters on a visit to a tank battalion in the western town of Augustdorf that was chosen to supply 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv.

“Where the money will come from? Let me casually put it like this: Frankly, I don’t care. It is essential that we can provide them (the tanks) quickly,” Pistorius continued.

Putin says shelling of Crimea, Russian regions must be stopped

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told a government meeting that shelling of Russian regions from Ukraine must not be permitted, according to reports by state media outlets.

“The priority task is to eliminate the very possibility of shelling, but this is the business of the military department,” Putin was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency.

The meeting was due to address the restoration of residential infrastructure in the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in early 2014, and the border regions of Belgorod, Bryansk and Kursk.

Hungarian official says Sweden should ‘act differently’ to join NATO

Sweden’s government should “act differently” if it wants to clinch Turkish support for its bid to join NATO, Hungary’s foreign minister has said, adding that a recent Quran-burning protest outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm was “unacceptable”.

Peter Szijjarto made the remark at a news conference following talks with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Hungary’s capital Budapest. Both diplomats addressed a January 21 anti-Turkish protest in Sweden that increased tensions between Ankara and Stockholm.

“As a Christian and as a Catholic, I must say that burning of a holy book of another religion is an unacceptable act,” Szijjarto stated.

He also criticised a statement by Sweden’s prime minister that while the burning of the Quran was inappropriate and “deeply disrespectful”, it fell under Swedish freedom of speech protections.

“Stating that the burning of a sacred book is part of freedom of speech is just plain stupidity,” Szijjarto continued, noting that “perhaps they [Sweden] should act differently than that” if they want to secure Ankara’s backing.

Ukraine’s gas stocks to see it through winter: Energy minister

Ukraine’s energy minister says the country has sufficient gas reserves to see it through the winter despite a months-long Russian campaign of drone and missile strikes on its critical infrastructure.

“These are sufficient volumes to get through and complete this very difficult heating season for our country,” German Galushchenko announced in a statement.

About 11 billion cubic metres of gas was in storage as of Wednesday, and Ukraine also has 1.2 million tonnes of coal for its power plants, Galushchenko added.

Kremlin says longer-range US rockets will escalate war

The Kremlin announced the US will escalate the war in Ukraine, albeit not change its course, if it supplies Ukraine with longer-range rockets as part of a new package of military aid reportedly being readied.

“Yes, this is a direct way to escalate tensions, to increase the level of escalation, we can see that,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“It requires us to make additional efforts, but – once again – it will not change the course of events. The special military operation will continue,” he added, using the Kremlin’s phrase for its offensive in Ukraine.

Biden may visit central Europe in February: Polish president

Polish President Andrzej Duda says his US counterpart Joe Biden will likely visit central Europe in February as the war in Ukraine nears the one-year mark.

“The president will most likely be coming to our part of Europe in February,” Duda stated during a press conference in Riga, Estonia.

“Our part of Europe means Central Europe … this is an area stretching from Romania to Estonia. It is very difficult for us to answer where the president will be coming in detail, we do not have such information,” he added.

Top Ukrainian security official says Russia preparing for “maximum escalation” in war

“These will be defining months in the war,” Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told Sky News in an interview.

“I’m conscious the main fights are yet to come and they will happen this year, within two to three months,” he said.

“Russia is preparing for maximum escalation. It is gathering everything possible, doing drills and training. When it comes to an offensive from different directions, as of now, I can say that we are not excluding any scenario in the next two to three weeks,” he added.

Ukrainian officials have warned for some time of a renewed Russian offensive and have asked for more powerful weaponry from Western allies to counter the threat.

Following Danilov’s comments, a Ukrainian military spokesperson said Wednesday that there a signs Russia is preparing for a renewed offensive in southern Ukraine.

“Not just on land, but on the sea and in air as well,” Natalia Humeniuk, head of the United Coordinating Press Center of Security and Defense Forces of the South of Ukraine, stated on national television.

Ukrainian intelligence had noted changes to activity of Russian naval forces in the Black Sea, she continued, adding, “It increases and decreases rapidly, and the missile carriers are moving back and forth.”

Turkey supports Finland’s NATO bid, but not Sweden’s: Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan has said Ankara looks positively on Finland’s application for NATO membership, but does not support Sweden’s bid.

“Sweden should not bother to try at this point. We will not say ‘yes’ to their NATO application as long as they allow burning of the Koran,” Erdogan stated in a speech to his AK Party deputies in parliament.

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

The Nordic nations moved to join the transatlantic military alliance last year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, dropping their longstanding military nonalignment. Any decision on NATO enlargement requires unanimous approval by all 30 member states.

Talks under way on long-range missiles, attack aircraft for Kiev: Ukrainian Official

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak stated that Ukraine is “in talks” with its allies over the supply of “longer-range missiles and attack aircraft” to help repel Russian forces.

“Each war stage requires certain weapons. The concentration of RF’s [the Russian Federation’s] reserves in the occupied territories requires specifics from Ukraine and its partners,” Podolyak said in a post on Twitter.

“So: 1. There is already a tank coalition (logistics, training, supply). 2. There are already talks on longer-range missiles & attack aircraft supply,” he added.

Russian spy chief says NATO ‘raising stakes’ in Ukraine

Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s SVR Foreign Intelligence Service, has accused NATO of “raising the stakes” in Ukraine by supplying Kyiv with additional military support, including more advanced weapons.

“They still have dreams of a strategic defeat over Russia,” Naryshkin said in a televised interview with the state-run RIA news agency.

“But this will not happen,” he added.

NATO allies have sent billions of dollars worth of weapons and military hardware to Ukraine in a bid to help it fend off Russia’s full-scale invasion.

Naryshkin’s comments come as the US is readying its latest package of military aid for Ukraine. Supplies are expected to include rockets with a range of up to 150 kilometres (94 miles) for the first time.

Austrian President arrives in Kyiv for talks with Zelensky

Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen has arrived in Kyiv ahead of expected talks with his Ukrainian counterpart.

“After almost one year of war, Ukraine is not forgotten. Together with President ؤخمخیغئغق Zelensky and the brave people of Ukraine – we stand for European values,” Van der Bellen said in a post on Twitter.

He also posted photographs of him being greeted by Ukrainian officials at Kyiv’s central railway station.

Russian forces are encircling Ukrainian city of Bakhmut: Moscow-installed official

Yan Gagin, an aide to senior Russian-installed official Denis Pushilin, says that Russian forces are encircling Bakhmut and are battling to take control of the highway that connects the city to the nearby town of Chasiv Yar.

“Bakhmut is now operationally surrounded, our forces are closing the ring around the city,” Gagin said on state television.

“Fighting for control of the Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut highway is now underway,” he added.

Russia claims to have taken control of several locations around Bakhmut, where its troops and mercenaries from the Wagner group have been locked in a battle of attrition with Ukrainian forces for months.

Spain to send up to six Leopard tanks to Ukraine: Report

Spain plans to send between four and six German-built Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine, El Pais newspaper reported, citing unidentified government sources.

The actual number will depend on the condition of the battle tanks in storage and how many other countries will eventually supply to Ukraine, the sources told El Pais.

The news comes after Kyiv secured Western allies’ pledges to dispatch heavy tanks to help repel Russian forces that are making incremental gains in the east of the country.

Israel willing to take up mediator role in Ukraine war if asked

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he was willing to serve as a mediator in the Ukraine war, following US calls for more active involvement.

“I’ve been around long enough to know that there has to be a right time and the right circumstances. If they arise, I’ll certainly consider it,” Netanyahu told CNN.

The Israeli leader stated he believed the Ukraine war was of “monumental importance” but added: “We have our own back yard to deal with.”

He also noted that Israel was “certainly looking into” providing military assistance to Ukraine.

So far, Netanyahu made no firm commitments to Kyiv, while preserving a relationship with Russia, which controls the skies in neighbouring Syria and has turned a blind eye to Israeli attacks on targets of Iran.

Russia struggling to replace its losses in Ukraine ahead of possible spring offensive: Western officials

Russia is unlikely to see strategic success in any potential offensive in Ukraine this spring due to limited support on force ratios, equipment and logistics, according to Western officials speaking to media on background.

These limitations might not prevent Russia “from trying to launch an offensive,” but their “ability to change the course of the conflict at the moment is constrained,” the officials said.

Moscow is struggling to replace its losses, they added.

“There are severe constraints to their ability to really backfill the losses that they have suffered in Ukraine, which is why you see them reach out to international partners to try to fill the gap,” they stated, noting Russia and Ukraine were fundamentally in “a race” as to “who can maintain the supply of weapons.”

Moscow’s current offensive is more about “the existing manpower and equipment being deployed and redeployed locally. You’re seeing people kind of taking offensive action, but I don’t think you’re seeing the beginning of the offensive in big strategic terms. It’s unlikely that hundreds of thousands of mobilized reservists have been formed into cohesive formations capable of major offensive, maneuver operations,” the officials explained.

Meanwhile, the officials expressed doubt in Russia using its neighboring ally Belarus to launch an offensive in the coming months.

“Belarus is providing a useful training ground for Russian forces where they can outsource for training and then siphon them back round into the front line in Ukraine,” the officials said, adding, “We do see Russian forces in Belarus. We don’t see them deployed to the border, and at the moment, they don’t have the kind of capability in the logistics to project and threaten Kyiv.”

But the Russian troops presence does prompt Ukraine from stationing its troops in that direction to “offset that potential risk,” the officials stated, even though they stressed that it is “hugely unlikely” that Belarus “will be an axis of advance in the next several months.”

US likely to announce another Ukrainian security assistance package soon: White House

The US will likely announce further security assistance for Ukraine “soon,” according to White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton.

“I expect we’re going to have more security assistance to announce soon,” Dalton told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Asked about whether the US would send F16 jets to Ukraine, Dalton reiterated President Joe Biden’s comments on Monday and pointed to the billions of dollars in aid provided so far.

Biden said “no” when asked by a reporter Monday on whether he would send the jets to Ukraine. His answer comes as 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, including providing Abrams tanks.

Dalton also emphasized that the US remains in “regular contact” with Ukrainian officials about their needs.

As of Jan. 19, the United States has committed $26.7 billion to Ukraine in security aid since the beginning of the war nearly a year ago.

Zelenskyy adviser: If Ukraine doesn’t get weapons, war will spread to EU

Mykhailo Podolyak, Zelenskyy’s chief adviser, has urged western allies to provide more military support amid renewed calls from top Ukrainian officials for fighter jets.

Podolyak said on Twitter that some EU representatives “believe Ukraine shouldn’t be given weapons as the war will spread to Europe”. But, he added, “War is already in the center of Europe.”

He also warned that if Ukraine does not get weapons, the war will spread to the EU because Russia “won’t stop the expansion”.

Blinken to discuss Russia’s war on Ukraine with Chinese officials

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will discuss Russia’s war in Ukraine with Chinese officials during a Feb. 5-6 trip to China, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Tuesday.

Kirby told reporters that talks on a number of issues, such as the two countries’ militaries and climate change, were sidelined when China protested a visit to Taiwan last August by then-US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Blinken will seek to get talks on these issues “restored and/or revitalized,” Kirby added.

“I know he’s looking forward to being able to addressing all of those issues and of course the war in Ukraine will be among those issues that we can expect the secretary to bring up while he’s there,” Kirby continued.

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