Saturday, February 24, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 344

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 plans new Russia sanctions by war anniversary

The European Union plans to slap Russia with fresh sanctions by the anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on a visit to Kyiv Thursday.

“We will introduce with our G7 partners an additional price cap on Russian petroleum products, and by the 24th of February — exactly one year since the invasion started — we aim to have the 10th package of sanctions in place,” von der Leyen stated during a press conference with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Existing sanctions are “eroding” Russia’s economy, she added, and “throwing it back by a generation,” estimating that an existing oil price cap alone is costing Moscow around 160 million euros every day.

Zelensky calls for more EU sanctions against Russia

President Volodymyr Zelensky calls for more sanctions against Russia and said he had discussed a new EU package of measures with the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

At a joint news conference in Kyiv with von der Leyen, Zelensky said the speed of the EU sanctions campaign against Russia had “slightly slowed down” and should be stepped up.

EU to train 15,000 additional Ukrainian soldiers: Foreign policy chief

The European Union (EU) will train an additional 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers as part of its Military Assistance Mission, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced on Thursday.

“Russia brought war back to Europe, but Ukraine keeps fighting back,” tweeted Borrell.

“Glad to announce to [Ukraine’s Prime Minister] Denys Shmyhal that EU Military Assistance Mission #EUMAM will train additional 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers, taking the total number of EUMAM trained personnel to 30,000,” he added.

Borrell also announced the EU would provide €25 million ($27.5 million) in equipment and training for mine-clearing operations in Ukraine.

“Protecting civilians and their livelihood is a priority,” he stated.

Ukraine expects Russia to mark invasion anniversary with renewed offensive: DM

Ukraine’s defense minister said Thursday that Kyiv believes Russia will mark the first anniversary of its invasion next month with a renewed offensive.

“We think since they believe in symbols, they will attempt something around Feb. 24,” Oleksii Reznikov stated in an interview with French channel BFM.

“They can attempt a push on two axes,” Reznikov continued, adding, “It can be the Donbas, it can be in the south. And we tell our partners we must also ourselves be ready as soon as possible, and that’s why we need weapons, to contain the enemy. Wars are all about initiative, and we can’t lose the initiative.”

Reznikov was echoing repeated warnings from Ukrainian officials in recent weeks about an anticipated spring offensive from Moscow’s forces. Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said Tuesday that the coming months of the war will be “defining.”

Ukraine’s General Staff, in its daily morning update on Thursday, announced Russian forces were “active in reconnaissance and preparing for an offensive.”

Borrell says sending fighter jets to Ukraine not on EU’s agenda

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell dismissed the idea of sending fighter jets to Ukraine, calling it a “highly controversial” issue.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said that after the West green lit supplying modern tanks to Ukraine, among Kyiv’s new tasks ahead was getting Western-type fighter jets.

There have been no high-level talks between Ukraine and the US about providing F-16 fighter jets, but the delivery of such aircraft to Kyiv cannot be ruled out in the future, Politico reported, citing US officials.

US President Joe Biden said in late January that he wouldn’t send American fighter jets to Ukraine, even though the US is ramping up military assistance in the form of artillery and tanks.

Austria to expel 4 Russian diplomats

Austria has revoked the diplomatic status of four Russian diplomats, labeling them “personae non gratae” and giving them a week to leave the country.

Austria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that two Russian diplomats at the embassy in Vienna had “engaged in acts incompatible with their diplomatic status.”

A further two Russian diplomats at the country’s permanent mission to the United Nations must also leave Austria after “committing acts incompatible with the Headquarters Agreement,” the statement added.

The ministry did not specify in the statement what the acts were.

Russia claims US involved in Nord Stream explosions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the United States of direct involvement in the explosions that severely damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines linking Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea in September.

Lavrov provided no evidence for his claim during an interview on state TV. President Vladimir Putin has previously accused Britain of blowing up the pipelines, which London denied.

Swedish prosecutors found traces of explosives at the site of the damaged pipelines, confirming that gross sabotage had taken place.

European commission president arrives in Kyiv in show of support

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has arrived in Kyiv for meetings intended to highlight support for Ukraine as the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion nears.

“We are here together to show that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever. And to deepen further our support and cooperation,” she wrote on Twitter under a photo of her arriving at a Kyiv railway station.

Von der Leyen and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, are scheduled to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday.

Russia’s role as arms exporter likely undermined by war in Ukraine: UK

Russia’s role as a reliable arms exporter is highly likely being undermined by its invasion of Ukraine and international sanctions, the British defence ministry has said.

“Russia will almost certainly prioritise deploying newly produced weapons with its own forces in Ukraine over supplying export partners,” it announced in its latest intelligence update.

Its ability to sustain support services for existing export contracts, such as providing spare parts and maintenance, will likely be disrupted for at least three to five years, it added.

Rescue operation underway in Kramatorsk after missile strike kills at least 3 people

More than 100 police officers are working to rescue people from the rubble after a missile attack in Kramatorsk, Ukraine, according to Donetsk region police.

The strike killed at least 3 people, police confirmed.

“Russian troops targeted the residential area of the city with an ‘Iskander-K’ missile. At least 8 apartment buildings were damaged, one of them was completely destroyed. Preliminarily, it is known about 3 dead civilians and 20 wounded. People may remain under the rubble,” the police said on Telegram.

The attack happened at 9:45 p.m. local time Wednesday. A search and rescue operation is underway.

Authorities are evacuating people to a local school for shelter.

Fierce fighting unabated in eastern Ukraine

Russian troops are trying to gain ground near the strategic town of Lyman as fierce fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar has stated.

Malyar, writing on the Telegram messaging app, noted that despite heavy losses, the Russians are also pressing ahead with an offensive near the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka.

British DM: It’s not the right approach “for now” to send fighter jets to Ukraine

Britain’s Defense Minister Ben Wallace on Wednesday said that it’s the correct decision “for now” not to send fighter jets to Ukraine.

“What they need right now is armor and tanks,” Wallace told reporters when asked why the UK would not send jets, pointing to the UK’s commitment to send Challenger 2 tanks to support Kyiv’s troops.

“I’ve been involved in this for a pretty long time and I’ve learned two things: never rule anything in and never rule anything out,” he added.

Wallace acknowledged this was “not a solid decision,” but added, “for now, I don’t think that’s the right approach.”

“What’s going to move on this conflict this year is going to be the ability for the Ukrainians to deploy Western armor against Russia,” he continued.

Top Ukrainian officials have been jockeying for US-made F-16 fighter jets, arguing they need them urgently to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks.

The defense minister’s comments come after a Downing Street spokesperson told journalists Tuesday that fighter jets are “extremely sophisticated and take months to learn how to fly,” adding it was “not practical” to supply them to Ukraine.

On Wednesday, former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined Kyiv in its calls for the jets to be sent to Ukraine during a visit to Washington, DC.

“All I will say is that every time we have said it will be a mistake to give such and such an item of weaponry, we end up doing it and it ends up being the right thing for Ukraine,” Johnson told Fox News.

“Save time, save money, save lives. Give the Ukrainians what they need as fast as possible,” he stated.

Following Johnson’s comments, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s official spokesperson noted Johnson was “acting in his own capacity and not on behalf of the UK government,” Britain’s PA news agency reported.

Italy’s DM: New aid to Ukraine will probably include weapons to defend against missile attacks

Italy’s upcoming package of military aid to Ukraine will probably include weapons of defense against Russian missile attacks, a press officer of the Italian Ministry of Defense confirmed to CNN on Wednesday.

Earlier Italy’s Defense Minister Guido Crosetto told the Financial Times that Italy was committed to fulfilling Ukraine’s requests for weapons to shore up its defenses but declined to offer any specifics.

Crosetto also said that any decision on air defenses would be taken in conjunction with the French government.

The Italian government is working on the sixth package of military support to the war-torn country, the press officer told CNN.

Italy has so far approved five military support packages for Ukraine’s defense, including both lethal and nonlethal equipment, based on the needs of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

It contributes approximately 390 million euros to the assistance measures provided for by the European Peace Facility, for a total of 3 billion euros.

French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu announced on Tuesday that France will send an additional 12 Caesar howitzers to Ukraine on top of the 18 howitzers Paris has already delivered to Kyiv.

Speaking at a press conference in Paris alongside his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov, Lecornu noted that Denmark has also committed to giving their 19 of French-made howitzers to Ukraine.

The French minister added another priority was the training of Ukrainian troops and that 2,000 of them would be trained in France by the summer.


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