Thursday, June 20, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 351

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:

Russia may take ‘legal action’ over Nord Stream investigation

Russia may take political or “legal action” in response to a report claiming that the US was involved in the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines last year, the TASS news agency reported, citing a foreign ministry official.

In a blog post, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh cited an unidentified source as saying that US navy divers had destroyed the pipelines with explosives on the orders of President Joe Biden.

The White House dismissed the report as “utterly false and complete fiction”.


Zelensky says he discussed Ukraine’s military capabilities with France, Germany

President Volodymyr Zelensky tells reporters that he has discussed enhancing Ukraine’s military capabilities during a meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz but he could not release details.

“There are certain agreements which are not public but which are positive. I don’t want to prepare the Russian Federation, which is constantly threatening us with new aggressions,” Zelensky stated during a joint press conference in Brussels with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.


Italy: Russia’s offensive is about to ‘intensify today’

Russia is looking to step up its offensive against Ukraine as the first anniversary of its invasion on February 24 approaches, Italian Defence Minister Guido Crosetto says.

“We are working with Ukraine to help it to defend itself from this attack, which it seems is about to intensify today and in the coming days,” Crosetto said at a news conference in Rome.


Germany provides most aid to Ukraine among EU countries: Chancellor

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has claimed that Germany provides the most aid to Ukraine of any European Union country.

”Among the EU countries, we are the country that provides the most financial humanitarian and humanitarian aid, but also with the most concrete support when it comes to arms deliveries,” Scholz told reporters as he arrived at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday.

The EU leader’s meeting will be an occasion to “send this signal of unity, of solidarity once again and show that we will continue our support for Ukraine in defending its independence and integrity for as long as necessary,” Scholz added.

On Wednesday night, Scholz met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris to discuss further military aid for Ukraine.

The meeting between the two leaders came after German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said in a news conference that the first battalion of Leopard 2 tanks delivered by Western allies could reach Ukraine by March or April of this year.

Later Thursday, Zelensky will attend the EU summit as a guest.

Earlier today, Zelensky addressed lawmakers at the European Parliament, where he was greeted with a standing ovation as he arrived on his first visit to Brussels since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


US has “hostile attitude” toward Russia and perceives it as an “adversary”: Kremlin spokesman

The Kremlin accused Washington of having a “hostile attitude” towards Russia saying it perceives Moscow as an “adversary” and provokes further escalation.

“The United States remains hostile towards our country, perceives us as an adversary, states the political will to further expand its involvement in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Peskov referred to US President Joe Biden’s address State of the Union address, in which he spoke of a need to protect the country from Chinese threats while simultaneously confronting Russia and supporting Ukraine.

Peskov accused Washington of refusing to “express readiness to recognize the legitimate concerns of the Russian Federation,” and said that the speech “on the contrary, provokes further escalation.”


“We want to come home to Europe”: Zelensky pushes for EU membership

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has made a heartfelt appeal for his country to become part of the European Union during an address to EU lawmakers.

“We want to come home to Europe,” Zelensky said on Thursday.

The Ukrainian President underlined that Ukraine shares values with Europe, rather than with Russia, which he stated is trying to take Ukraine back in time.

It was an emotional message designed to try to connect with EU parliamentarians.

Zelensky told European lawmakers that Russia wants to return Europe to the xenophobia of the 1930s and 1940s.

“The answer for us to that is no,” he underscored, adding, “We are defending ourselves. We must defend ourselves.”

“I’m here in order to defend our people’s way home,” he told EU lawmakers.

Zelensky said Russia wants to destroy the Ukrainian and European way of life, adding, “We will not allow that.”


At least 1,000 Russian tanks destroyed in Ukraine: Monitoring group

At least 1,000 Russian tanks have been destroyed in Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a war monitoring group says, a number that, when coupled with Russian tanks captured or abandoned, could represent half of all operational tanks available to Moscow at the start of the war.

Oryx, an open source intelligence website, has been collecting visual evidence of military equipment losses in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began on February 24, 2022.

The group announced it has verified 1,000 distinct Russian tank losses in the war. It said a further 544 Russian tanks had been captured by Ukrainian forces, 79 damaged and 65 abandoned.

That toll does not include losses Oryx has not been able to visually confirm, stated Jakub Janovsky, a military analyst who contributes to the Oryx blog. He estimated the actual toll could be nearer 2,000 tanks.

“Russia started the war with around 3,000 operational tanks … so there is a good chance that Russia has lost one half of (its) usable tanks” Janovsky added.


No “red line” on fighter jet supplies to Ukraine: Portuguese PM

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said his country did not have a red line when it came to providing fighter jets to Ukraine, but cautioned his country did not have the means to relinquish any of its own aircraft.

“It’s not a red line,” Costa told journalists as he arrived in Brussels for a special European Council meeting on Thursday.

Portugal operates a total of 27 F-16 AM fighter jets but Costa says they are already tied to several NATO commitments.

“That’s an area where we simply don’t have the possibility [of giving to Ukraine], given that the means we have are all allocated to missions that we cannot do without,” he added.

Costa went on to say Portugal had done its best to support Ukraine since the beginning of the war, highlighting the recent commitment to send three of its Leopard 2 tanks.

He noted that supplies to Ukraine had the ultimate goal of achieving peace, but only on Ukrainian terms.

“Peace is our objective,” he continued, stating, “War is a means to achieve peace and this war, it should be reminded, was not started by Ukraine, Ukraine is the victim of war.

“The moment, the terms and conditions for peace can only be defined by Ukraine,” he stressed.


Kremlin says possible transfer of UK fighter jets to Ukraine will escalate and prolong conflict

Possible UK deliveries of fighter jets to Ukraine will not change the outcome of the war, but will only “escalate and prolong it and will make it more painful” for Ukraine, according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

During a surprise visit to the UK on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a plea for more heavy weaponry, including fighter jets.

And British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to providing military equipment to Ukraine.

The development testifies to the “growing involvement of the UK, Germany, and France in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” stated Peskov on Thursday.

“We can only express regret and state that such actions lead to escalation, prolong the conflict, and make this conflict more painful for Ukraine,” he added.

“Fundamentally, these actions of countries will not change the outcome of the conflict and will not change the trajectory that our country is following in terms of achieving its goals within the framework of the special military operation,” he continued.

Interestingly, Zelensky took a different approach during a speech to the EU Parliament on Thursday.

The Ukrainian President focused on the values that Ukraine shares with Europe, but didn’t specifically ask for more weapons as he did in London on Wednesday.


Russia warns of ‘consequences’ following Nord Stream report

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov stated there will be consequences for the United States after a blog by a US investigative journalist alleged Washington was behind the blast that damaged the Nord Stream gas pipelines.

Ryabkov also told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency that Seymour Hersh’s report was not a surprise for Russia, who has repeatedly said the West was behind the explosions.

Earlier on Thursday, Vyacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the Russian State Duma, stated that the report should become the basis for an international investigation.

The White House on Wednesday dismissed the Hersh report, which said an attack on the pipelines was carried out last September at the direction of President Joe Biden.


Zelensky arrives in Brussels to rally EU leaders

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has arrived in Brussels to rally EU leaders to step up support for his war-ravaged country on the third leg of his European tour, officials said.

Zelensky flew into the seat of the European Union with French President Emmanuel Macron to address the bloc’s parliament and attend a summit.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell reaffirmed to reporters the bloc will deliver more military support to Ukraine.


Olympics president calls on Ukraine to drop boycott threats

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach calls on Ukraine to drop threats to boycott the 2024 Olympics over the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes.

In a letter to Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee (NOC) president Vadym Huttsait, seen by the Reuters news agency, Bach said claims that allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes back into the Games would promote the invasion were “defamatory”.

The IOC has announced a boycott would violate the Olympic Charter and that its inclusion of Russian and Belarusians is based on a UN resolution against discrimination within the Olympic movement.

“The participation of neutral athletes with a Russian or Belarusian passport at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 has not even been discussed in concrete terms yet,” Bach added.


US arms makers use Ukraine as testing ground as lives are lost: Russia’s UN envoy

Russia’s UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya has stated US arms makers had turned Ukraine into a testing ground as Russians and Ukrainians get killed.

“The problem is that the levers that can influence the search for a peaceful solution to the conflict over Ukraine have ended up in the hands of Western arms companies and corporations. And they, as you understand perfectly well, are the last ones to be interested in peace,” he said at a UN Security meeting that was convened by Russia.

“The invitation cards that the Embassy of Ukraine to the US issued for the reception in December 2022 on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of the founding of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, featured the logos of four US military-industrial complex companies as sponsors of the reception: Northtrop Grumann, Raytheon, Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin. What is it for which the state of Ukraine is so grateful to these private companies that sell weapons? One sells artillery ammunition, another Stinger MANPADS, and the third the infamous HIMARS. Thanks to the nonstop shipments and new orders, the shares of these corporations jumped by more than 20% in the last three months of 2022 alone,” he added.

According to the diplomat, “American dealers now have a genuine testing ground for weapons, where at the cost of the lives of Russians and Ukrainians, new types of weapons are tested, modified and improved.”

“How can gunsmiths give up such opportunities and such profits?” he continued.

The official stated that the billions of dollars that the US earmarks for Ukraine “don’t even leave the US, but are sent directly to defense contractors.”

“Things are about the same for other major arms suppliers. That means Western countries have found a pretext for a significant increase in their defense budgets and revenues of their own defense companies,” Nebenzya said.

“As a result, Ukraine receives, as a rule, obsolete weapons, which are mowed down by the Russian army, and the armies of NATO countries get modernized, and Western defense enterprises receive excess profits, lulling taxpayers to sleep with the need to help Ukraine. And Poland and the Czech Republic are becoming military repair centers for it and, according to the Wall Street Journal, also receive huge revenues from this,” the diplomat added.


Biden says Putin ‘already lost Ukraine’

President Joe Biden said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has “already lost Ukraine,” adding that aid to Ukraine during the Russian invasion is open-ended.

“There’s no way that Putin is going to be able to — he’s already lost Ukraine,” Biden stated.

“He thought that if he invaded Ukraine, first of all, he’d get a welcome by every Russian speaker, they’d say, ‘Come on in.’ Secondly, he thought what would happen is that NATO would collapse, NATO would not to do anything, they’d be afraid to act,” he added.

“Go down the line, none of that’s happening,” he noted in a PBS NewsHour interview the day after he delivered the State of the Union address.

Biden stated NATO is coordinating in support of Ukraine, despite Putin thinking it wouldn’t.


Zelensky says Macron changed his Ukraine stance

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron has undergone significant change on his stance towards Ukraine after seeking to keep channels open to Russia in the early phase of the conflict.

“I believe he has changed,” Zelensky stated in an interview with Le Figaro daily.

“And that he changed for real this time. After all, he [Macron] opened the door to tank deliveries,” he continued.

“He also supported Ukraine’s candidacy for the EU. I believe it was a real signal. We had a lot of conversations with France, Germany and other countries. I believe that confidence is real today,” the president added.


Macron tells Zelensky that France is determined to help Ukraine to victory

French President Emmanuel Macron told his visiting Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky that France is “determined” to assist Ukraine in its war against Russia.

“We stand by Ukraine, determined to help it to victory,” Macron said, adding, “Ukraine can count on France and its allies to win the war, Russia should not and will not win the war.”

Macron affirmed to Zelensky that France will continue to provide military support to Ukraine and Paris will “adapt and re-adapt” to Kyiv’s needs.

“Ukraine can count on us to build peace,” the French leader stated, speaking alongside Zelensky and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Paris.

After arriving in Paris, Zelensky noted he is “thankful for the spontaneous idea for us to meet and talk” in a joint news conference with Macron and Scholz.

“France and Germany have the potential to be game changers” Zelensky said in his opening remarks, adding that “the sooner Ukraine manages to get long range weapons and modern planes, the stronger our coalitions will be.”

Scholz said Germany will continue to provide military aid to Ukraine “as long as it needs.”

“Russia should not win this war,” Scholz continued, adding that Zelensky going to an EU summit taking place in Brussels, Belgium on Thursday as “a strong signal” of solidarity.


Blinken: Putin has no interest to end Ukraine war through diplomacy

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Russian President Vladimir Putin has no interest in resolving the Ukraine conflict through diplomatic means.

“As President Volodymyr Zelensky said, ‘Diplomacy is the only way to definitively end Russia’s war of aggression and to create a path to peace that is both just and durable. Clearly, President Putin has no genuine interest in diplomacy right now,” Blinken stated to reporters after a meeting with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg.

“The best way to hasten prospects for real diplomacy is to keep tilting the battlefield in Ukraine’s favour,” he added.


Zelensky says Ukraine and UK have agreed on “a powerful defense package”

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine and the United Kingdom have reached an agreement on a “powerful defense package.”

“We have agreed on a significant number of armored vehicles and the supply of long-range weapons,” Zelensky stated on his official Telegram account, adding, “And we agreed to start training Ukrainian pilots.”

The announcement comes after Zelensky made his first visit to the United Kingdom since the Russian invasion of his country.

“I believe that this is our clear signal – of Ukraine and the UK – that together we are not only going, but will go all the way to our common victory,” he continued.


Zelensky says he will intensify diplomacy in quest to get Typhoon fighter jets

Ukraine will be “intensifying our diplomacy” in regard to the request for Eurofighter typhoon jets, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Zelensky suggested that the decision was not solely in the UK’s hands.

“Once again, I heard from Mr. Prime Minister the desire to provide fighter jets, and officially he declared they can begin training our pilots,” Zelensky stated in the joint news conference at Lulworth Camp in Dorset, England.

“When it comes to Typhoons, not everything depends just on the decision of Great Britain,” he added.

“I will be working in that direction because, again, this is how we have been able to change many things,” said Zelensky, adding that he will be meeting with a dozen EU leaders in the coming days.

Zelensky also emphasized the need to have these diplomatic conversations regarding fighter jets “quickly.”

Sunak noted that it takes three years to train a Typhoon fighter pilot from scratch, to which Zelensky responded, “I didn’t even know it takes three years to train a pilot like that. You know, come on, we will be sending you pilots who have already trained for two and a half years.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the prime minister’s official spokesperson announced the UK is “actively” considering whether to send British jets to Ukraine. Downing Street maintained no decision has yet been taken on whether to supply the jets, though.


NATO chief: Alliance needs to be prepared to provide long haul support to Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg ahead of a meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday afternoon said the alliance needs to be prepared to provide Ukraine with military assistance for a long term.

“We need to be prepared for long haul to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Stoltenberg stated at the start of his meeting with Austin at the Pentagon.

To date, the US and NATO countries have delivered billions in weapons packages to Ukraine amid the ongoing conflict, with the combined assistance including over two dozen different types of hardware.


Blinken, asked about fighter jets, says US “will continue to make judgments” on Ukraine’s military needs

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the US “will continue to make judgments about what we think Ukraine needs and what it can be most effective in using.”

He was responding to a question about whether Washington would be prepared to provide fighter jets to Kyiv.

“What’s vital is not just a particular weapons system or piece of equipment,” Blinken stated at a news conference Wednesday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

“Equally important is the ability of Ukrainians to use it effectively,” he added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been asking for fighter aircraft from Western allies.

On Wednesday, the United Kingdom announced it would provide training for NATO-standard fighter jets for Ukrainian pilots and is considering providing such aircraft.


UK PM confirms Challenger 2 tanks will arrive in Ukraine next month

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the first Challenger 2 battle tanks will arrive in Ukraine “next month.”

Speaking alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Dorset, England, on Wednesday, Sunak stated that “the challenge of tanks are going to be on the battlefield,” adding that “Ukrainian soldiers are being trained on them as fast as we can.”

Britain has pledged to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. In late January, British Defence Procurement Minister Alex Chalk noted the UK was aiming to complete those deliveries by the end of March.


Russia warns UK against providing Ukraine with fighter jets

The Russian embassy in London warned the United Kingdom against providing Ukraine with fighter jets, saying that such a move would have “military and political ramifications” for the whole world, Russian state media RIA Novosti reported on Wednesday.

“I would like to remind officials in London: such a scenario as the ‘bloody harvest’ of the next wave of escalation, as well as the resulting military and political ramifications for the European continent and the entire world, should weigh heavy on its conscience,” the embassy announced, according to the state media.

Earlier Britain’s PA media reported that the UK is “actively” considering whether to send British jets to Ukraine, citing the British prime minister’s official spokesperson.

“We’ve confirmed there will be a training program for Ukrainian pilots and the Defence Secretary is actively looking at whether we send jets,” the spokesperson stated.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak noted “when it comes to the provision of military assistance to Ukraine, nothing is off the table” when asked whether the UK will provide fighter jets to Ukraine.

Sunak said, “when it comes to fighter combat aircrafts, of course they are part of the conversation,” adding that he had discussed the topic with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday.

The two leaders were visiting a British military facility where Ukrainian troops were being trained on Challenger 2 tanks.


Zelensky reiterates Ukraine’s requests for armored vehicles, longer-range missiles and jets

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said during a news conference at a British military facility that his battlefield priorities are for Ukraine to obtain more armored vehicles, longer-range missiles and fighter jets.

“We have no way out. We have to stand firm. We need armored vehicles, we need tanks, we need fighter jets, and obviously, we spent a lot of time talking about this together,” said Zelensky, speaking alongside British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Lulworth Camp in Dorset, England.

The Ukrainian president also confirmed he will meet with European Union leaders on Wednesday night and Thursday.

“Today and tomorrow we will be meeting with the EU leaders and discussing these issues and also longer-range missiles,” Zelensky continued, adding, “I’m very grateful that Britain has finally heard us in that regard, and I do hope that other countries will also hear us when it comes to longer-range missiles.”

“When we talk about the battlefield, what are our priorities — of course, armored vehicles. We know our enemy has got thousands of units of armored vehicles, back from the Soviet Union heritage,” Zelensky added.

“And of course, NATO armored vehicles are the best, and yet there are only a few of them. When you only have 10 NATO armored vehicles against a thousand Soviet armored vehicles — well, what are the chances?” he said.


Ukrainian air force says it needs “squadrons” of western jets

Ukraine’s air force spokesperson, Yurii Ihnat, welcomed the United Kingdom’s offer of training for air force pilots and said that Ukraine will need dozens of western combat aircraft to prevail in the war against Russia.

“We can start with a few squadrons, each includes 12 jets. If we have one, two or more squadrons it would be the first step for pilots to adapt to this transition,” Ihnat told CNN.

Ihnat added the newest combat plane currently in Ukraine’s possession is more than 30 years old.

“We have SU-25 attack aircraft, Su-24 bomber aircraft and Mig-29 and Su-27 fighter jets. They have even been adapted for use of American Anti-Radiation Missiles HARM that everyday hit enemy’s air defense systems. But these HARM missiles don’t have the functionality and efficiency they would if they were on American aircraft or other aircraft of our partners,” Ihnat continued.

Ihnat said that Ukraine would welcome any type of western combat jet. He said the F16 had been through several stages of deep modernization.

“What Ukraine currently needs is a western type of platform … Besides the platform, it’s important what range of armaments is possible to be carried, what it (jet) can take under the wings, what kind of missiles, what is their flight range …This is Ukraine’s main need,” Ihnat added.


Russia bans entry to 77 US nationals implicated in arms supplies to Kiev: Moscow

Russia permanently bans entry to 77 US nationals implicated in arms supplies to the neo-Nazi regime in Kiev, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

“As retaliation to Washington’s ongoing expansion of the list of Russian nationals that are subjected to personal sanctions, entry to the Russian Federation will be permanently banned for 77 Americans,” the ministry said.

“Based on the principle of reciprocity, the ‘stop list’ will now include US nationals that are in charge of state-level government agencies, some federal agencies and companies that are implicated in arms supplies to the neo-Nazi regime in Kiev. The sanctions affect not only politicians and officials that are involved in shaping up and executing anti-Russian policies, but also some members of their families,” the statement said.

The list includes some US governors and state representatives, the military, top executives and their relatives. For example, governors Jay Inslee of Washington state, Michelle Lujan-Grisham of New Mexico, Laura Kelly of Kansas, Andy Beshear of Kentucky, Michael Dunleavy of Alaska, the daughter of Republican Senator from Kentucky Mitchell McConnell, Eleanor McConnell; wife of California Governor Gavin Newsom, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and some others. The full list of US nationals subjected to sanctions is published on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

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