Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 357

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:

Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine “more aspirational than realistic”: Western officials

As Russia is expected to carry out a new offensive in eastern Ukraine, the US and its allies are skeptical that Russia has amassed the manpower and resources to make significant gains, according to US, UK and Ukrainian officials.

“It’s likely more aspirational than realistic,” a senior US military official told CNN.

Russia has been increasing the number of forces situated on its border and inside Russian-held territory in Ukraine, some of the forces drawn from a partial mobilization ordered in September last year. Despite the increased numbers, Western allies have not seen evidence of sufficient changes to those forces’ ability to carry out combined arms operations needed to take and hold new territory.

“It’s unlikely Russian forces will be particularly better organized and so unlikely they’ll be particularly more successful, though they do seem willing to send more troops into the meat grinder,” a senior British official told CNN.

Even the head of Russia’s Wagner private military company on Tuesday warned that the capture of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut was far from imminent.

“Bakhmut will not be taken tomorrow, because there is heavy resistance and grinding, the meat grinder is working,” Yevgeniy Prigozhin said in a statement distributed on a Wagner Telegram channel.

“For the meat grinder to work properly, it is impossible to suddenly start festivities. There won’t be any festivities anytime soon,” Prigozhin added.

The US military had assessed it would take as long as until May for the Russian military to regenerate enough power for a sustained offensive, but Russian leaders wanted action sooner. The US now sees it as likely that Russian forces are moving before they are ready due to political pressure from the Kremlin, the senior US military official told CNN.

Though Ukrainian officials have been sounding the alarm about new Russian attacks in the east, there is also skepticism on the Ukrainian side about Russian capabilities as those forces currently stand.

“They massed enough manpower to take one or two small cities in Donbas, but that’s it,” a senior Ukrainian diplomat told CNN, noting, “Underwhelming, compared to the sense of panic they were trying to build in Ukraine.”

There is also no indication of any pending massive aerial assault. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated Tuesday that the US is not seeing Russia “massing its aircraft” ahead of an aerial operation against Ukraine.

War in Ukraine is now “a war of attrition”: NATO chief

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the conflict in Ukraine is now becoming a “grinding war of attrition,” adding that it now focused on logistics.

“Things are happening, but we need to continue, and we need to step up even more because there is a big need out there to provide Ukraine with ammunition,” Stoltenberg stated at a NATO defense ministers press conference in Brussels.

“This is now becoming a grinding war of attrition — and a war of attrition is a war of logistics,” he added.

Stoltenberg noted that it is crucial that Ukraine is “able to retake territory and launch offensives” to ensure that it is able to defeat Russia and continue as an independent nation.

The NATO chief’s comments were in response to a reporter’s question on whether he was worried that Ukraine could run out of ammunition in the coming months and whether there were more countries that are ramping up their production capacity to Ukraine.

“Now we see that things are actually moving in the right direction,” he said, adding, “And there are also others who have already signed contracts with the defense industry, meaning that production is now ramping up.”

Stoltenberg added that NATO countries adding more production has enabled them to replenish depleted supplies.

“We see no signs that Russia is preparing for peace; on the contrary, Russia is launching new offensives,” Stoltenberg said.

“This is critical. Ukraine has a window of opportunity to tip the balance and time is of the essence,” he stated.

Ukrainian air defense engaged in Kyiv: Authorities

Ukrainian air defense systems are engaging a Russian attack in the capital city, Kyiv, authorities stated Wednesday.

“An enemy air target was detected in the skies over Kyiv city,” the Kyiv city military administration said on Telegram, adding, “Due to this the air defence and aircraft may be in action. Please stay calm and remain in shelters.”

Ukrainians still defending Luhansk

Russia is pouring heavy equipment and mobilised troops into the Luhansk region in eastern Ukraine but Ukrainian forces are still defending the region, regional governor Serhiy Haidai said on Wednesday.

Earlier today, Volodymr Zelensky stated that Ukrainian forces have repelled some Russian attacks in the eastern region of Luhansk but the situation there remains difficult.

It comes after Russia claimed its troops had broken through the defences of Ukrainian forces in part of the Luhansk region.

NATO DMs took steps to further strengthen its alliance’s deterrence and defence: Chief

NATO defence ministers have taken steps to further strengthen its the alliance’s deterrence and defence, Jens Stoltenberg said.

The move “reflects the reality that we live in a more dangerous world with Russia’s aggressive behaviour, persistent terrorism and the challenges posed by China”, he stated.

He added NATO will coordinate improvements in protection of critical under-sea infrastructure, referring to the sabotage of the North Stream pipelines last September.

Allied support for Ukraine is consuming an “enormous quantity” of ammunition and depleting its stocks, Stoltenberg said, adding that ministers have therefore agreed on the need to increase production of 155mm artillery rounds.

NATO allies have not reached conclusions on a new pledge for defence spending, he told reporters following a meeting with defence ministers in Brussels.

He added that it was “obvious that we need to spend more”, and that member states should commit to spend a minimum of 2& of GDP on defence.

Russia’s new foreign policy approach to focus on ending Western ‘monopoly’: FM

Russia’s foreign minister has said Moscow will focus on ending what he called a Western “monopoly” over global affairs as part of a new foreign policy approach.

“The Anglo-Saxons – and the rest of the collective West, unquestioningly submitting to them – seek to impose their dictates on world affairs at any cost,” Sergey Lavrov told legislators in Russia’s State Duma.

“Our renewed foreign policy concept will focus on the need to end the West’s monopoly on shaping the framework of international life, which in the future must be determined not in its egoistic interests but on a fair, universal balance of interests,” he added.

The Kremlin has often accused Western countries, led by the “Anglo-Saxon” United States and Britain, of trying to dominate global politics and meddle in others’ affairs, while seeking to suppress rising powers in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Tank delivery for Ukraine came ‘a bit too late’: German vice chancellor

The delivery of German-made Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine came “a bit too late”, the country’s vice chancellor has said.

“With the decision to send the tanks we are doing what we can,” Robert Habeck told newspaper Die Zeit in comments published on Wednesday.

“A bit too late, but it’s done… Everyone is expecting a terrible Russian offensive… Time is pressing,” he added.

Habeck also stated that Germany was not up for a debate on sending warplanes, which Ukraine says it needs to repel Russia’s offensive.

Western intelligence shows Russia gathering aircraft at Ukraine border: Report

Western intelligence shows that Russia is amassing aircraft near its border with Ukraine in an apparent attempt to bolster its faltering land offensive with jets and helicopters, the Financial Times reported, citing two officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence shared among NATO members showed that Russia has been accumulating fixed-wing and rotary aircraft close to its border with Ukraine, the two officials reportedly told the Financial Times.

In a news conference following the meeting with NATO defense ministers on Tuesday, US defense secretary Lloyd Austin said they did not see an immediate threat but underscored the potential danger of Russian air forces.

“In terms of whether or not Russia is massing its aircraft for some massive aerial attack, we don’t currently see that. We do know that Russia has a substantial number of aircraft in its inventory and a lot of capability left,” Austin stated, adding, “That’s why we’ve emphasized that we need to do everything that we can to get Ukraine as much air defense capability as we possibly can.”

A senior administration reportedly told the Financial Times that Russia would likely turn to an air offensive now as its land forces are depleted.

“The Russian land forces are pretty depleted so it’s the best indication that they will turn this into an air fight. If the Ukrainians are going to survive . . . they need to have as many air defense capabilities and as much ammunition . . . as possible,” the official added.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that allies in the alliance, working closely with the EU, will continue supporting Ukraine “for as long as it takes” so that Kyiv can “uphold its right to self-defense.”

UN launches $5.6bn Ukraine aid appeal for 2023

The UN’s humanitarian aid and refugee agencies have said they are seeking $5.6bn this year to provide help to millions of people in need of support in Ukraine as well as countries that have taken in Ukrainians who have fled the war.

The bulk of the joint appeal – $3.9bn – is for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which aims to help more than 11 million people by funneling funds through more than 650 partner organisations.

Refugee agency UNHCR is seeking $1.7bn to help some 4.2 million refugees who have fled to 10 host countries in eastern and central Europe.

Russia dismisses US report on camps housing Ukrainian children as “absurd”

Russia’s Embassy in Washington has dismissed a US report that alleges Moscow is operating a network of camps holding thousands of Ukrainian children as “absurd.”

“We took notice of the absurd statements of State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, who had accused our country of ‘forced transfer and deportation of Ukrainian children’ to the territory of the Russian Federation,” the embassy said in a statement on Telegram.

“Russia accepted children who had been forced to flee with their families from the shelling and atrocities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. We do our best to keep minors in families, and in case of absence or death of parents and relatives – to transfer orphans under guardianship. We ensure the protection of their lives and well-being,” it added.

The embassy also accused the United States of being complicit in the alleged deaths of children in Russian-occupied parts of eastern Ukraine.

The report says more than 6,000 children have been in Russian custody at some point during the course of the nearly year-long war, although the “total number of children is not known and is likely significantly higher than 6,000.”

The report was produced as a part of the work of the US State Department-backed Conflict Observatory by the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab established last year to gather evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

“All levels of Russia’s government are involved,” Yale Humanitarian Research Lab’s Nathaniel Raymond told reporters Tuesday.

“The primary purpose of the camps appears to be political reeducation,” he added, noting that at least 32 of the facilities identified in the report “appear to be engaged in systematic re-education efforts that expose children from Ukraine to Russia-centric academic, cultural, patriotic, and in two cases, specifically military education.

The findings could provide evidence that Russia’s actions amount to genocide, according to the report.

Ukraine accuses Russia of grain deal ‘obstruction’

Ukraine has accused Russia of “obstructing” the Black Sea grain deal and appealed to the UN and Turkey to press Moscow to immediately stop doing so.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said in a joint statement that Russia had intentionally slowed down inspections and demanded unregulated documentation to hamper the agreement.

“Ukraine is deeply concerned about the destructive actions of Russia”, which result in the delay of the work of the grain corridor and “obstructing the Black Sea Grain Initiative in general”, the ministers stated.

“Such a destructive Russian policy has resulted in a systematic decrease of the freight turnover within the Grain Initiative,” they added, noting that the world did not receive 10 million tonnes of Ukrainian food in the last three months.

The agreement, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey and signed in July last year, was extended by another 120 days in November and is up for renewal again next month. Russia has signalled that it is unhappy with some aspects of the deal and with sanctions imposed on it since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.

UK training Ukrainians to fight in ‘Western way’ with less ammunition

Britain is training Ukrainian soldiers to fight in a more “Western way” and use less ammunition than the traditional Soviet way of fighting, Ben Wallace, the British Defence Secretary, said on Wednesday.

Britain along with other Western allies has been training Ukrainian soldiers and providing weapons and ammunition to support Kyiv in its battle with Russia.

“Ukraine uses huge amounts of ammunition to defend itself, partly that’s why we’re training them to fight in a Western way,” Wallace told Times Radio.

Wallace stated Britain had been buying and trading ammunition “that is Soviet” in standard while also helping the Ukrainian military convert to unlock “access to our ammunition stocks”.

“At the same time we’re training to make sure it’s used in a way that’s very productive and accurate,” he added.

“The Russian or the Soviet way of fighting is very ammunition heavy, massive artillery barrages, and that’s never how we have organised ourselves to fight in NATO,” he continued.

Wallace also told Sky News that Western allies could help Ukraine more quickly by supporting their position on the ground rather than focusing on the provision of jets.

Wallace has argued that fighter jets require a “very substantial pit crew” and that Britain could provide more immediate support through the provision of long range weapons and anti-aircraft missiles.

“I think we can help Ukraine sooner by delivering the effects they need on the battlefield rather than the platform specific request,” he noted.

Over 8 million forced to flee Ukraine since Russian invasion

More than eight million Ukrainians have been forced to flee Ukraine since the war broke out, the UN refugee agency says, the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

Neighbouring Poland hosts the largest share of these refugees, with more than 1.5 million of them.

More than five million people have been displaced inside the country.

Moscow announced another five million people have sought refuge in Russia, though Kyiv has accused the Russians of conducting “forced evacuations”.

British citizen dies in Ukraine: UK foreign ministry

A British citizen has died in Ukraine, the foreign ministry confirmed, the eighth to die in the country since Russia invaded last year.

“We are supporting the family of a British national who died in Ukraine, and are in contact with the local authorities,” the ministry announced in a statement.

The identity of the individual is not yet known.

Many British citizens have travelled to Ukraine to fight or provide humanitarian assistance.

The bodies of another two Britons killed while trying to help people evacuate from fierce fighting in Ukraine were recovered last month in a prisoner swap.

Chris Parry, 28, and Andrew Bagshaw, 47, were in Soledar, in the Donetsk region of Ukraine, when their vehicle was reportedly hit by a shell.

Russia holds 6,000 Ukrainian children for ‘re-education’: Report

Moscow has held at least 6,000 Ukrainian children, likely many more, in sites in Russian-held Crimea and Russia whose primary purpose appears to be political re-education, according to a US-backed report published on Tuesday.

The report said Yale University researchers had identified at least 43 camps and other facilities where Ukrainian children have been held that were part of a “large-scale systematic network” operated by Moscow since its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The children included those with parents or clear familial guardianship, those Russia deemed orphans, others who were in the care of Ukrainian state institutions before the invasion and those whose custody was unclear or uncertain due to the war, it added.

“The primary purpose of the camp facilities we’ve identified appears to be political re-education,” Nathaniel Raymond, one of the researchers, stated in a briefing to reporters.

Some of the children were moved through the system and adopted by Russian families, or moved into foster care in Russia, according to the report.

The youngest child identified in the Russian programme was just four months old, and some camps were giving military training to children as young as 14, Raymond said, adding that researchers had not found evidence those children were later deployed in combat.

The report was the latest produced by the Yale University School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab as part of a Department of State-backed project that has examined human rights violations and war crimes allegedly committed by Russia.

180,000 Russian soldiers dead in Ukraine invasion

According to the latest estimates from Norway, the conflict has wounded or killed 180,000 Russian soldiers and 100,000 Ukrainian troops.

Other Western sources estimate the war has caused 150,000 casualties on each side.

Zelensky meets with Canadian foreign minister, discusses defence

President Volodymyr Zelensky met the Canadian foreign affairs minister, Melanie Joly, about the support Ukraine’s forces need.

On Telegram, the Ukrainian president wrote that “further cooperation in the field of security and defence was discussed in detail. Canada’s support of the Ukrainian army is invaluable in these turbulent times for us.”

“I am grateful to the Government of Canada and all the Canadian people for their warm attitude towards our people and powerful assistance to Ukraine,” he added.

Russia is living under pressure of “endless sanctions”: Putin

Russia is currently under pressure of endless sanctions of unfriendly countries but is coping with them unnervingly, President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday at the meeting of judges of arbitration, military, and common jurisdiction courts.

“We are living under the constant pressure from abroad – I mean all these endless sanctions,” the President noted.

“As we all see, we are passing through all these sanctions with a cool head,” Putin stated.

The response to unfriendly acts of foreign countries and their attempts to ruin the Russian economy “can only be the expansion of the sphere of freedom and protection from the side of law enforcement authorities on the whole and the judicial system in particular,” the head of state added.

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