Friday, May 24, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 353

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:

Talks are out of question: Ukraine

Ukraine’s presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, who headed the country’s negotiating team in the early phases of the conflict, has stated “talks are out of the question”.

Podolyak posted to Twitter that Moscow was refusing to withdraw from occupied Ukrainian territories and to admit to “crimes’.

Russia ready for talks with Ukraine, but with no preconditions: Diplomat

Russia is ready to engage with Ukraine, but there should not be any preconditions for talks that should be based on the existing reality, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin said in an interview with Zvezda television.

“Yes, according to the classics, any hostilities end up in talks, and, naturally, as we have said before, we will be ready for such talks, but only if those are talks with no preconditions, talks that would be based on the existing reality,” the senior Russian diplomat stated, according to a fragment of the interview posted on the TV channel’s website.

However, it is not Kiev, but Washington and Brussels who make the decision on talks with Moscow, Vershinin continued.

“First of all, there have been [talks] before – you remember Minsk and you remember Istanbul. And you remember that those were broken off by Ukraine, but you are well aware that decisions are being made not in Kiev, decisions are being made in other capitals, primarily in Washington and Brussels. So, inquiries should be sent there,” he added.

Commenting on whether such talks could be held under the current US President, Joe Biden, Vershinin noted, “This does not depend on us, we have made our position clear, and if only Mr. Biden were cautious and wise enough, I mean him and his entourage.”

Russia lost half its battle tanks in Ukraine: US

Half of Russia’s main battle tanks have likely been destroyed in combat or captured by Ukraine, a senior US defence official has stated.

Celeste Wallander, assistant defence secretary for international security affairs, made the comments at a virtual event at the Centre for a New American Security thinktank.

Wallander did not provide an exact figure for the number of tanks lost since Russia invaded last February but her estimate comes as Ukraine is set to receive an influx of heavy western tanks from its supporters.

Biden to visit Poland near one-year anniversary of war in Ukraine

President Joe Biden will visit Poland this month to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, returning to the region as the war enters a volatile new phase without a clear path to peace.

The president is planning to visit Poland from February 20 to 22. The White House announced he would meet Poland’s President Duda and other leaders from the region. He’ll deliver remarks ahead of the official anniversary on February 24.

Biden’s aides have been planning for several weeks how they will mark the anniversary of the invasion, including potentially a major address. They hope to emphasize the resilience of the Ukrainian people while stressing the importance of unity in the uncertain months ahead.

The US president hopes to reiterate American support for Ukraine on his upcoming trip to the region, a top White House official said, including making clear additional assistance would be forthcoming.

“He wants to talk about the importance of the international community’s resolve and unity in supporting Ukraine for now going on a year,” said John Kirby, the strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council.

Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky is currently preparing for an expected Russian offensive in the spring, appealing to Western governments for additional assistance and weaponry — including fighter jets and tanks — to help sustain the fight. He visited London, Paris and Brussels this week to deliver his requests in person, a rare trip outside his country that lent his appeals new urgency.

Polish President Andrzej Duda noted allied relations are “stronger than ever” after the White House’s announcement.

Biden last visited Poland, a key NATO ally, in April, traveling near the Ukraine border to visit with US and Polish troops. He also met with refugees fleeing Ukraine after the invasion.

In a speech delivered from the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Biden stated for the first time that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” edging toward calling for regime change in Moscow.

Brazilian president says he and Biden discussed potential coalition on Ukraine peace negotiations

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told reporters at the White House he thinks world leaders should create a coalition aimed at ending the war in Ukraine — and that he expressed the idea to US President Joe Biden during their meeting at the White House Friday.

Lula said he’d also mentioned the idea to French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

He suggested the world leaders “create a group of countries that are not involved directly in the war between Ukraine and Russia, so that we can find a possibility for us to build peace.”

“I am convinced that it’s necessary to find a way out, to put an end to this war. And I felt from the side of President Biden the same concern,” he added.

In an interview with CNN Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour Friday, Lula said if a country is invaded, “of course it has the right to defend itself,” but that he wants to “fix the error” Russia made.

“I don’t want to join the war,” the Brazilian leader continued, adding, “I want to end the war.”

Lula has sought to be a global statesman who could broker a truce between Russia and Ukraine, telling CNN that he began this work by speaking to Scholz, who visited Brazil in January.

Lula reiterated that hope Friday evening, telling reporters he’d like to see, “a partnership capable of building a group of negotiators which both sides believe in.”

The Biden administration has repeatedly deferred to Ukraine on the decision to open peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.

Pressed on Lula’s earlier comments around Ukraine during Friday’s press briefing, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that while the administration “would like to see this war end today,” Russia’s attacks on civilian infrastructure would appear to belie that hope.

“We’re going to have to stay at the task of supporting Ukraine so it can succeed at the battlefield, so that if and when President Volodymyr Zelensky has determined it’s time to negotiate and sit down at the table to solve this diplomatically, he can do it with the wind at his back,” Kirby said.

“So, it’s really up to President Zelensky to determine if and when negotiations are appropriate,” he added.

Zelensky says new Russian missile attack ‘challenge to NATO’

President Volodymyr Zelensky calls a new barrage of Russian missiles and drones a “challenge to NATO”.

The Ukrainian president stated several Russian missiles crossed the airspace of the former Soviet republic Moldova and NATO member Romania on their way to his country. Bucharest denied the overflight.

“This is terror that can and must be stopped,” Zelenskyy said in a statement, adding that there were “victims”.

Kyiv: Ukraine intercepted 61 of 71 Russian missile attacks

Kyiv says Russia used 71 cruise missiles in its massive air attack on Ukraine, of which 61 were intercepted.

The cruise missiles were launched from Russian ships and aircraft, the Ukrainian General Staff said in its evening situation report.

In addition, according to a preliminary count, Russia had fired 29 missiles of the S-300 system, which is actually intended for air defence, at ground targets in Ukraine.

Kyiv added that the target of the attacks was once again infrastructure.

35 countries call for Russia to be banned from 2024 Olympics

A group of 35 countries, including the United States, Germany and Australia, will demand that Russian and Belarusian athletes be banned from the 2024 Olympics, the Lithuanian sport minister has said.

“We are going in the direction that we would not need a boycott because all countries are unanimous,” Jurgita Siugzdiniene stated.

President Volodymyr Zelensky took part in the online meeting attended by 35 ministers to discuss the call for the ban, pointing out 228 Ukrainian athletes and coaches have died as a result of Russia’s invasion.

“If there’s an Olympics sport with killings and missile strikes, you know which national team would take the first place,” he told the ministers, adding, “Terror and Olympism are two opposites, they cannot be combined.”

US says ‘no indication’ of Russian military threat to Moldova or Romania

Washington has “no indication” of a direct military threat by Russia to Moldova or Romania at this time, US Department of State spokesperson Vedant Patel said.

Patel’s comment came after Ukraine announced several Russian missiles flew over the two countries.

“We maintain close contact and communication with our Moldovan partners and Romanian allies,” Patel added.

Western efforts to ‘isolate’ Russia have been a ‘fiasco’: FM

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the West’s efforts to “isolate” Russia have failed and Moscow is building stronger relations worldwide.

“Today we can affirm that the West’s plans to isolate Russia by surrounding us with a sanitary cordon have been a fiasco,” Lavrov told Russian diplomats after returning from a nearly week-long tour of Africa.

“Despite the anti-Russian orgy orchestrated by Washington, London and Brussels, we are strengthening good neighbourly relations in the widest sense of this concept with the international majority,” he added.

Four thermal plants damaged in missile attacks: Ukraine

Ukraine’s leading electricity producer DTEK announced four thermal power plants were damaged in Russian missile attacks.

In a statement, it said that, according to preliminary information, two employees had been wounded.

Ukraine’s energy minister stated earlier on Friday that Russia had hit power facilities in six Ukrainian regions, forcing authorities to launch emergency electricity shutdowns across most of the country.

Italian PM dismisses critics over arms to Ukraine

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni dismissed the complaints of those who have criticised her decision to continue sending arms to Ukraine.

“Those who say Ukraine should not be helped are working against the sovereignty and freedom of a nation,” Meloni told a news conference at the end of an EU summit.

She said she hoped Italy would be able to announce that it was ready to supply Ukraine with a SAMP/T missile defence system in the coming days.

Channels between Russia and NATO remain open: Russian official

Channels between Russia and NATO remain open, but normal diplomatic relations between the two sides are out of the question, Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko said.

Relations between Moscow and the US-led Atlantic alliance are at post-Cold War lows following Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine last year.

“Military channels have remained open to date – in particular a telephone communication line between Russia’s chief of the General Staff and the commander of NATO troops in Europe,” Grushko stated in an interview on state TV.

But he added that “normal diplomatic contacts and dialogue are out of the question”.

Germany: Sending fighter jets is ‘not an issue’

A spokesperson for the German defence ministry said that sending fighter jets to Ukraine is not an issue for Germany.

“That is not an issue for us,” a defence ministry spokesperson told a regular government news conference in Berlin.

A foreign ministry spokesperson added that “this is not a debate at the moment.”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked Western allies to provide Kyiv with fighter jets to defeat Russia’s invasion. However, it is not yet clear how many countries are willing to do so.

IEA calls special meeting as gas crisis ‘not over’

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has convoked a special meeting of energy ministers for urgent consultations on natural gas supplies, to be held on Wednesday by video conference.

IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said the measures taken following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine helped European nations weather Russia cutting off most of its gas supplies.

“But the crisis is not over and more needs to be done, particularly to get ready for next winter,” he added.

“We are convening this ministerial because there is a continued need for our members and other partners to show solidarity with one another and to take concrete steps to ensure security of supply,” he continued.

Russia to reduce oil production by 500,000 barrels per day next month following Western price caps

Russia plans to voluntarily reduce oil production by 500,000 barrels per day – around 5% of output – in March, following a string of price limits on products such as gasoline and fuel oil imposed by the United States and its allies amid the war in Ukraine.

“Russia believes that the price ceiling mechanism for the sale of Russian oil and oil products is an interference in market relations and a continuation of the destructive energy policy of the countries of the collective West,” Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said in a statement published on the government’s website Friday.

“To date, we have been able to sell the entire volume of oil produced; however, as stated earlier, we will not sell oil to those who directly or indirectly adhere to the principles of the price ceiling,” he continued, adding, “In relation to this, Russia will voluntarily reduce production by 500,000 barrels per day in March. This will contribute to the restoration of market relations.”

Novak stated the price ceiling mechanism, in the future, “may not only lead to a decrease in investment in the oil sector and, accordingly, an oil shortage, but also be extended to other sectors of the world economy with similar consequences.”

“When making further decisions, we will act on the basis of the current market situation,” he added.

Novak’s statement comes after the introduction of additional sanctions from the West over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Oil production is a vital source of revenue for the Russian government.

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