Sunday, June 23, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 345

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:

Tenth package of Russia sanctions on way: EU president

The head of the European Commission has announced that the EU is working on a 10th sanctions package against Russia.

“The 10th package is on its way,” Ursula von der Leyen said in a recorded joint press conference with President Volodymyr Zelensky and European Council President Charles Michel.

“We have the aim to have it in place by the 24th of February,” she continued.

Von der Leyen added the new package was worth about 10 billion euros ($10.8bn).

“The plan is to focus once more on technology that can and should not be used by Russia’s war machine,” she said, adding, “In other words, we look deeper into components that were found, for example, in drones to make sure that there’s zero availability for Russia of these technologies or the drones’ production, for example, in Iran.”

Number of Russian missile launching ships in Black Sea has increased: Ukraine

The number of Russian ships capable of launching missiles on Ukrainian territory from the Black Sea has increased, the Ukrainian military’s Operational Command South said in Facebook post Friday.

“Among the 10 ships are 2 Kalibr surface carriers. The total volley of missiles can be 16,” reads the post.

“Against the backdrop of intensified enemy reconnaissance drones, preparations for missile strikes are evident,” it added.

“A massive missile attack with the use of aircraft is not excluded. Do not ignore air raid warning signals, be vigilant and attentive,” Operational Command South warns.

‘Russia must be banned from all international sports’: Denmark

Denmark opposes Russian athletes participating in the Paris Olympics next year even under a neutral flag, its culture minister says, according to the local news agency Ritzau.

“It is Denmark’s official position that we must not waver in relation to Russia,” Jakob Engel-Schmidt stated.

“The government’s line is clear. Russia must be banned from all international sports as long as their attacks on Ukraine continue,” he added.

The International Olympic Committee announced last week that athletes from Russia might be allowed to qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games.

EU’s chief says there are ‘no rigid timelines’ for Ukraine’s accession

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said there are no rigid timelines for Ukraine to join the EU.

“There are no rigid timelines, but there are goals that you [Ukraine] have to reach,” Von der Leyen told a news conference following a summit in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Von der Leyen also added the EU’s next sanctions package against Russia would target components in Russian drones used in Ukraine.

NATO calls on Russia to abide by nuclear arms reduction treaty

NATO’s secretary general has called on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the New START nuclear arms control accord.

“We note with concern that Russia has failed to comply with legally binding obligations, including on inspection and call on Russia to fulfill its obligations under the Treaty,” Jens Stoltenberg said in a post on Twitter.

He made the remarks after the United States on Tuesday accused Russia of violating the treaty by refusing to allow inspections on its territory. Moscow denies those allegations and has accused Washington of having “destroyed the legal framework for arms control and security”.

New START came into force in 2011 and was extended in 2021 for five more years. It caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the US and Russia may deploy and the deployment of land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.

Sanctions push Russia’s energy revenues to lowest level since 2020

Russia’s monthly budget revenues from oil and gas fell in January under the impact of Western sanctions on Russian exports, reaching their lowest levels since August 2020 , finance ministry data shows.

Monthly tax and customs revenue from energy sales was down 46 percent in the space of a year, according to the ministry.

Moscow relies on its multibillion-dollar earnings from oil and gas sales to fund its budget spending, and has been forced to start selling down some international reserves to cover the shortfall.

Ukraine will not ‘give away’ Bakhmut: Zelensky

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukraine will fight to hold on to the “fortress” city of Bakhmut for as long as possible, urging allies to supply long-range weapons to help push back Russian forces.

“Nobody will give away Bakhmut. We will fight for as long as we can. We consider Bakhmut our fortress,” Zelensky told a news conference in Kyiv with top EU officials following a summit.

“Ukraine would be able to hold Bakhmut and liberate occupied Donbas if it received long-range weapons,” he added.

Ukrainian intelligence official says he believes Putin aims to “capture Donbas by March”

A Ukrainian intelligence official said he thinks fighting in eastern Ukraine will intensify over the next few months, as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is “to capture Donbas by March.”

“We expect very active events in February-March. Putin’s task is to capture Donbas by March,” Andriy Yusov, a representative of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, stated in remarks published Friday on its website.

Yusov went on to say that this alleged plan “will not work” and that “these dates have already been postponed many times.”

“The intensity that we are seeing in Donbas now is an attempt to implement these plans. Not counting the losses in manpower and equipment. The enemy is trying to fulfil the dictator’s task,” Yusov added.

“So yes, there will be active events in the near future. The Ukrainian Defense Forces are not waiting around,” he continued.

Andrii Chernyak, another representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, noted earlier there are signs that Russia is preparing for a big offensive aimed at seizing eastern parts of the country.

“We observe that the Russian occupation forces are redeploying additional assault groups, units, weapons and military equipment to the east. According to Ukraine’s military intelligence, Putin has ordered to seize the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions by March,” Cherniak stated in commentary published in the Kyiv Post Wednesday.

The comments came as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and senior Ukrainian officials warned Russia is planning a major new offensive in the coming months, repeatedly asking Western allies for more weapons, tanks and fighter jets.

EU to provide additional $27 million to support Ukraine’s de-mining of the liberated territories

The European Union will provide an additional $27 million to support Ukraine’s de-mining of the liberated territories that were temporarily occupied by Russian armed forces, EU top diplomat Josep Borrell announced Friday.

“A large spread of mines and other explosive ordnances is being found in territories liberated by Ukrainian Armed Forces. We will provide up to 25 million euros to support de-mining efforts in these endangered areas. Protecting civilians and their livelihood is a priority,” Borrell said on the sidelines of the EU-Ukraine summit taking place in Kyiv.

These funds are on top of the $18 million allocated in 2022 for this purpose, a spokesman of the EU Commission told CNN.

The funding will include essential equipment for Ukrainian state mine action operators and support the capacities of the Ukrainian authorities to effectively manage the national mine action sector, the diplomatic service of the EU announced Friday.

CIA director says next 6 months will be critical for outcome of war in Ukraine

The CIA assesses that the next six months will be “absolutely crucial” in determining the final outcome of the war in Ukraine, agency Director Bill Burns stated.

“I think what’s going to be the key — because we do not assess that (Russian President Vladimir Putin) is serious about negotiations — the key is going to be on the battlefield in the next six months, it seems to us,” Burns noted, addressing an audience at Georgetown University.

That includes “puncturing Putin’s hubris, making clear that he’s not only not going to be able to advance further in Ukraine, but as every month goes by, he runs a greater and greater risk of losing the territory he’s illegally seized so far.”

The Russian leader, Burns said, is “betting that he can make time work for him.”

Putin believes that he can “grind down” Ukraine, while political fatigue will grip Europe and the United States will become distracted, Burns continued.

But Burns added he told one of his Russian counterparts, Sergey Naryshkin, in November that “that Russian calculation is as deeply flawed as the original decision to go to war last Feb. 24 was.”

Ukraine forming assault brigades to liberate territory: Minister of internal affairs

Ukraine has started putting together assault brigades with the goal of liberating territory taken by Russia, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine announced in a statement.

“The decision to create assault brigades was made by our workers who have enough fury to beat the enemy. Many of our servicemen, who defended and defend our country, took the initiative to recruit people into such units. Therefore, it was decided that all those who have the desire, who are patriots, who lost their homes or relatives due to the war, should be united in such brigades. We have already begun to form units aimed at liberating our territories,” Ihor Klymenko, acting Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, said in the statement Thursday.

According to Klymenko, the units will consist of “active policemen, border guards, and national guardsmen.”

“The units will consist exclusively of volunteers who are motivated by patriotism and there are a lot of such people in our country,” he added. The candidate must pass a military medical board and psychological and physical test, the statement said, and the training will last several months.

“At first it will be individual, later — as part of a unit. When the commander sees that the unit is ready, they will proceed to combat missions,” the statement read.

US expected to include longer-range missiles in new $2.2 billion Ukraine aid package: Sources

US is expected to include longer-range missiles in a new Ukraine security package worth approximately $2.2 billion, according to a senior administration official and multiple US officials.

The package will include a commitment to provide Ukraine with the Ground-launched Small Diameter Bomb, a guided missile with a range of 90 miles, two officials said.

Though the missiles will effectively double the range of Ukrainian weaponry, the package won’t include the long sought-after ATACMS missile with a range in excess of 200 miles. The US has constantly rebuffed Ukraine’s requests for that system over concerns they may be used to hit targets deep inside Russia.

This is the first security package since the US committed to providing Ukraine with advanced M-1 Abrams tanks in January — a decision made in concert with European countries providing German-made Leopard 2 tanks.

The package, which could be announced as early as Friday, will be split between $500 million in weapons and equipment pulled directly from US inventories and approximately $1.7 billion in supplies purchased from military contractors, known as the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI).

On Tuesday, White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton said there would be another announcement of security assistance to Ukraine “soon” without providing further details.

The Ground-launched Small Diameter Bomb, which is fired from a HIMARS rocket launcher, has an effective range of some 90 miles, according to Saab, the company that developed the weapon in conjunction with Boeing.

That’s more than twice the range of the GMLRS munitions that Ukraine currently launches from the HIMARS rocket launchers. The long-range missile then unfolds small wings and uses a rocket engine to fly toward its target.

But the new weapon will not arrive in Ukraine immediately, since it will not come directly out of US inventories. Instead, the US will contract with the weapons manufacturers to provide the long-range missile to Ukraine, a process which could take weeks or months.

The package also includes ammunition for artillery and HIMARS, as well as support systems and equipment for the Patriot missile system, one official said. Ukrainian forces have not completed training on the Patriot system at Fort Sill, Oklahoma – but the US is making sure the logistics and maintenance are in place well before the first Patriot battery is operational in Ukraine, the official stated.

Within the last month, the US has announced three of the largest aid packages to Ukraine in a sign of ongoing support as the war nears its one-year mark.

Senators call on Biden to delay F-16 jet sale to Turkey until Finland and Sweden allowed into NATO

A bipartisan group of senators urged President Joe Biden to delay the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey until Ankara agrees to allow Sweden and Finland to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Sweden and Finland are waiting for Turkey to approve their admission to NATO, of which Turkey is a member.

Congressional sources previously told CNN that the Biden administration was preparing to ask lawmakers to approve the sale of F-16s to Turkey, which would be among the largest arms sales in years.

The group of 27 senators wrote in their letter on Thursday, however, that Congress “cannot consider future support for [Turkey],” including the sale of the F-16 jets, until Turkey “completes ratification of the accession protocols.”

“Failure to ratify the protocols or present a timeline for ratification threatens the Alliance’s unity at a key moment in history, as Russia continues its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” the letter says.

“A productive and mutually beneficial bilateral security relationship with [Turkey] is in the interest of the United States, and we are awaiting the government’s ratification of the NATO accession protocols for Sweden and Finland,” it added.

Finland and Sweden formally applied to join NATO last summer, just months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said at the time that he would reject the effort, accusing the two countries of being “like guesthouses for terror organizations.”

Those tensions have continued. Just last week, Turkey called for a meeting between the three countries to be postponed after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the Swedish government was complicit in the burning of the Quran during a protest in Stockholm.

Zelensky says Ukraine deserves to start EU integration talks this year

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he reached “important mutual understandings” with the president of the European Commission regarding Ukraine’s bid for accession into the European Union.

Zelensky stated he had productive talks with the commission leader, Ursula von der Leyen, and members of the College of the European Commission Thursday.

The talks showed that all parties understood “the fact that Ukraine needs constant and full support in defense against Russia,” the Ukrainian president noted in his evening address Thursday.

“And about the fact that our further integration should give energy and motivation to our people to fight despite any obstacles and threats. I believe that Ukraine deserves to start negotiations on EU membership already this year,” he added.

Zelensky thanked von der Leyen and her colleagues in the EU for the military, financial and social support of Ukraine “on the path of integration.”

Kyiv will host the 24th EU-Ukraine summit Friday. European leaders plan to discuss financial and military support for the Ukrainian resistance against Russian aggression.
More background: The European Commission is the EU’s executive arm, made up of one leader from each member state, which is responsible for proposing and enforcing legislation.

Leaders of the 27 EU member states have given Ukraine candidate status, starting the process for formally considering granting the country membership.

It is still likely to be years before Ukraine is able to join the EU. The process is lengthy and requires agreement from all the member states at almost every stage. This means that there are multiple opportunities for member states to use their veto as a political bargaining chip. The average time it takes to join the EU is just under five years, according to the think tank UK in a Changing Europe. However, some member states in eastern Europe have had to wait as long as 10 years.

Zelensky has said his government is working on new reforms that will make Ukraine “more human, transparent and effective” as he prepares for further talks on the country’s possible addition to the bloc. That includes a push to tackle corruption.

A spokesperson for the commission said last month that anti-corruption measures are “an important dimension of the EU accession process.

Russia must withdrawal troops for peace: Germany

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz sees no chance of a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine until Russia agrees to withdraw from occupied territories.

“The moment they let it be known that troop withdrawal is happening, the way is clear for talks with Ukraine – I’m pretty sure of that,” Scholz said, adding, “But we still have to work a bit towards that.”

Ukraine rejects negotiations until Russian troops have fully withdrawn from Ukrainian territory – including Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014.

‘Not ruling out’ fighter jets for Ukraine: UK

The United Kingdom is not ruling out supplying Ukraine with fighter jets, the defence minister noted.

But Ben Wallace cautioned such aircraft would not be a “magic wand” in Ukraine’s defence against Russia.

“On the process of jets, I’ve been pretty clear. One thing I’ve learned over the last year is don’t rule anything in, don’t rule anything out,” stated Wallace.

Kyiv has requested American-made F-16 warplanes and other high-end fighters to help repel the Russian invasion.

‘Until the end’, pledges Putin on Ukraine conflict

President Vladimir Putin has whipped up support for his army’s invasion of Ukraine, comparing the fighting with Nazi Germany and issuing threats.

Arriving in the southern city of Volgograd – formerly known as Stalingrad – for commemorations to mark the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad, Putin sought to boost support for his war.

He compared Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine to the battle against Nazi Germany in 1941-1945 and claimed Russians were ready to go “until the end”.

“Again and again we are forced to repel the aggression of the collective West. We aren’t sending tanks to their borders but we have something to respond with, and it won’t be just about using armoured vehicles. Everyone should understand this. A modern war with Russia will be completely different,” he said.

He added that Russia again confronted Germany as he criticised its decision to deliver Leopard 2 tanks to support Ukraine’s war efforts.

Ukraine’s defense chief pledges not to strike Russian territory if given long-range missiles by allies

Ukraine’s minister of defense said the country will provide guarantees that it would not strike Russia should it receive the long-range missiles it has been asking its allies for.

“As Ukraine needs long-range missiles that will not allow the enemy to maintain defenses and force them to lose, it is ready to coordinate targets with partners,” Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov said at a meeting with the European Commission Thursday, state media Ukriniform reports.

Reznikov called on other countries to help Ukraine establish anti-missile defense capabilities.

He emphasized the need to get Patriot and SAMP/T systems at the first opportunity, along with more IRIS-T and NASAMS, which are both air defense systems.

“If we had the opportunity to strike at a range of 300 kilometers (about 186 miles), the Russian army would not be able to maintain defenses and would be forced to lose. Ukraine is ready to provide any guarantees that your weapons will not be involved in attacks on Russian territory. We have enough targets in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine and are ready to coordinate targets with our partners,” he continued.

Ukraine also needs to increase the amount of artillery, shells and weapons capable of surpassing and destroying Russian e-warfare and air defense systems, he added.

Ukraine will receive Western battle tanks after a long negotiation and is seeking fighter jets to push back against Russian and pro-Moscow forces.

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