Saturday, March 2, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 349

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:

Sweden looks to restart NATO talks with Turkey

Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said he was ready to restart negotiations over its application to join NATO as soon as Turkey was.

Finland and Sweden sought NATO membership shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine last year, but Turkey has yet to approve what must be a unanimous process.

Ankara suspended talks last month as tensions rose following protests in Stockholm, where a far-right politician burned a copy of the Quran in front of its embassy.

“The first thing we need to do is calm down the situation. It is hard to have good talks when things are literally burning around you,” Kristersson told a news conference during a visit to Estonia’s capital.

He added the preconditions for restarting talks were good.

Last week, Turkey announced it looks positive on Finland’s application but does not support Sweden’s.

Britain must boost military support to help Ukraine: Labour defence chief

The Labour party’s defence policy chief says Britain must set out a new strategy to boost military production to support Ukraine better.

John Healey stated the country needs to step up its defence production, end cuts to its armed forces, and fulfil its commitments to NATO.

“What is required now from the British government … is not just the ad hoc announcements of military help … but a longer term plan that takes us through 2023 and beyond for the military, diplomatic, the economic, the humanitarian help that we are willing to provide Ukraine,” Healey told Reuters.

“These are decisions for now. These are decisions for next month in the new Integrated Review and in the spring budget,” he added in an interview, referring to a review of Britain’s foreign and defence policy.

Ukraine official hints at ability to strike Russian territory

Ukraine’s top national security official, Oleksiy Danilov, hinted at his country’s ability to strike Russia on its own territory, beyond occupied Ukraine, in his interview with CNN.

“Regarding Russian territory, nobody prohibits us to destroy targets with weapons produced in Ukraine. Do we have such weapons? Yes, we do,” Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said Monday.

Western nations have restricted Ukraine from striking Russian territory with Western-donated weapons. Though there have consistently been unexplained explosions at strategic sites in Russia over the course of the war, Ukraine has never publicly admitted being responsible for the strikes.

Major General Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Agency, last month predicted attacks “deeper and deeper” inside Russia, away from the frontlines, without acknowledging any Ukrainian role.

Budanov told ABC News in January that he was “very glad to see” attacks inside Russia, but that he was unable to “give you [an] answer” until after the war about whether Ukraine has played a role in such strikes.

“Do you think there will be more?” the reporter asked Budanov. “I think so,” he replied.

“Inside Russia? Deep inside Russia?” the reporter asked. “Deeper and deeper,” he added.

Western arms are ‘dragging NATO’ into the war: Russian DM

Russia’s defence minister says Western arms shipments to Ukraine are effectively dragging NATO into the conflict and warn this could lead to an “unpredictable” level of escalation.

“The US and its allies are trying to prolong the conflict as much as possible,” defence minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

“To do this, they have started supplying heavy offensive weapons, openly urging Ukraine to seize our territories. In fact, such steps are dragging NATO countries into the conflict and could lead to an unpredictable level of escalation,” he added.

It’s “only a matter of time” before Ukraine gets US fighter jets: Official

Ukraine’s top national security official told CNN that he is confident Ukraine will eventually receive American-made F-16 fighter jets.

“It’s only a matter of time before we get F-16s,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told CNN in Kyiv on Monday.

“They will definitely come. Unfortunately, in the meantime we’re losing our people while fighting for our independence,” he added.

The F-16, first developed in the 1970s, is a highly maneuverable fighter jet, capable of carrying six air-to-air or air-to-surface missiles under its wings.

F-16s would give Ukraine the capability, should it overcome air defenses, to strike Russia with an American-made weapon far behind the frontlines, even outside of territory considered internationally to be Ukrainian.

There have been pledges from the West for main battle tanks to Ukraine in recent days, which has led to renewed calls from Kyiv for fighter jets. Publicly, however, Western leaders have eschewed discussion of fighter jets going to Ukraine.

In an interview with CNN last month, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov stated, “I sent a wish list card to Santa Claus last year, and fighter jets also [were] including in this wish list.”

EU invites Zelensky to summit in Brussels

The European Union said President Volodymyr Zelensky has been invited to take part in a summit of EU leaders, amid reports he could be in Brussels as soon as this week, in what would be only his second known foreign trip since the invasion began.

Zelensky’s office has not commented on the meeting, which comes soon after EU leaders met in Kyiv.

Ukraine, which has candidate status, is keen to join the bloc quickly, but is unlikely to be granted membership soon.

Despite a recent Ukrainian crackdown on high-level graft, EU leaders say Ukraine needs further anti-corruption measures.

Ukrainian official claims Russia plans to mobilize up to half a million extra soldiers this year

Ukraine expects Russia to mobilize up to half a million additional soldiers in the coming months, according to a senior intelligence official.

Vadym Skibitskyi, deputy head of Ukrainian Defense Intelligence, asserted in an interview that “Russia is going to mobilize 300,000 to 500,000 people in order to carry out offensive operations in the south and east of Ukraine in spring and summer of 2023.”

“Those 500,000 are in addition to the 300,000 mobilized in October 2022,” Skibitskyi said, adding, “This proves that Putin’s Kremlin has no intention of ending this war. The Russian offensive may happen in Donetsk and Luhansk regions and possibly in Zaporizhzhia region. Russian troops will go on the defensive in Kherson region and in Crimea. This new mobilization wave will last up to two months.”

Russian officials have consistently denied that another mobilization is planned. But at a conference in December of Russia’s military chiefs, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu proposed beefing up the armed forces to 1.5 million combat personnel from the current 1.15 million over a period of three years.

This was required “to guarantee the solving of problems related to Russia’s military security”, Shoigu said.

Skibytskyi also added that at the beginning of 2022, Defense Intelligence was aware that a “full-scale invasion was to begin in early February or a bit later….In January we saw troops from Russia’s Eastern Military District begin arriving in Belarus,” as well as preparations in Crimea.

At the time Ukraine publicly played down the prospect of a Russian invasion.

In the interview with “Ukrainian Technologies and Strategies,” Skibytskyi said that “the first days into the war were unfavorable for us, the enemy had advanced right up to Mariupol. But it is the resilience of Mariupol that ruined the Russian plans in the south of the country.”

He added that the defense of Mariupol had bogged down 10,000 to 12,000 enemy troops that had been earmarked for a push northwards to encircle Ukrainian forces defending the Donbas region.

“Mariupol had played its part 100 percent,” Skibytskyi continued.

He also claimed that the Russians were now “having considerable troubles with missiles. They used to produce not more than 200 missiles per year depending on a type. Now they can only produce four Iskander missiles per month. As for the Kh-101 missiles, it can be something like 20-30 depending on the stocks of imported components.”

The Iskander is a powerful and relatively accurate cruise missile.

Western analysts have also said they estimate that Russia is running low on inventories of some missiles.

Skibytskyi also provided a Ukrainian analysis of Russia’s offensive drone program. “As of today. they have used about 660 Shahed drones. The contract provides for 1,750 units. Delivery and preparation also takes some time. According to our data, they are about to have another batch for delivery.”

Russia’s revenue falls sharply in January from year earlier

Russia’s Ministry of Finance says budget revenue in January was 35 percent lower compared with the same month in 2022, the last month before Russia sent troops into Ukraine.

The budget deficit for January was 1.77 trillion roubles ($23.9bn), about 60 percent of the shortfall that had been planned for the entire year, the ministry said.

Oil and gas revenue, the backbone of Russia’s economy, was down 46 percent compared with January 2022.

The country has been hit with an array of Western sanctions since the start of the Ukraine war, and many Western companies have stopped doing business in Russia.

Russia investigating alleged Ukrainian chemical weapons use

Russia’s state Investigative Committee says it is examining the alleged use of chemical weapons by Ukrainian forces near the towns of Soledar and Bakhmut.

The Donetsk People’s Republic, one of Russia’s proxies in the territories it has seized and occupied in eastern Ukraine, reported the use of chemical weapons by Ukrainian drones near the two locations.

“As a result, servicemen of the Russian armed forces are experiencing a deterioration in their health and characteristic symptoms of poisoning,” it announced without providing details or naming the alleged substance.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence did not reply to requests for comment on the allegation, which was not accompanied by any publicly released evidence.

Ukrainian soldiers arrive in UK for howitzer training

Ukrainian soldiers have arrived in the United Kingdom for military training on AS90 howitzers, the British Ministry of Defence announced.

The ministry said on Twitter: “A warm welcome to Ukrainian personnel who have arrived in the UK this weekend to get to grips with the AS90.

“The AS90 is an armoured self-propelled artillery weapon which the UK is providing to help Ukraine defend its homeland and retake territory,” it added.

UN chief’s somber warning: Prospects for peace in Ukraine are diminishing as world faces a wider war

United Nations head António Guterres on Monday struck a somber tone as he warned leaders convened in New York at the organization’s General Assembly that the world is knowingly marching into a “wider war.”

“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is inflicting untold suffering on the Ukrainian people with profound global implications. The prospects for peace keep diminishing,” he said.

“The chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing. I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. I fear it’s doing so with its eyes wide open,” he added.

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