Friday, April 19, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 360

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 has committed crimes against humanity: Kamala Harris

The Joe Biden administration has formally concluded that Russia committed crimes against humanity during its nearly year-long invasion of Ukraine, Kamala Harris has stated.

“In the case of Russia’s actions in Ukraine we have examined the evidence, we know the legal standards, and there is no doubt: these are crimes against humanity,” the US vice-president and former prosecutor said in prepared remarks delivered in a speech at the Munich security conference on Saturday.

“And I say to all those who have perpetrated these crimes, and to their superiors who are complicit in those crimes, you will be held to account,” she added.

‘Now is time to double down on our support to Ukraine’: UK PM

Now is the time for the west to “double down” on its support for Ukraine, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has told the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

In a speech early this afternoon, Sunak said that the west’s “collective efforts are making a difference”, but that “with every day that passes, Russia’s forces are inflicting yet more pain and suffering”.

“The only way to change that is for Ukraine to win,” he continued, adding, “So we need a military strategy for Ukraine to gain a decisive advantage on the battlefield to win the war, and a political strategy to win the peace.”

“Now is the moment to double down on our military support. When Putin started this war, he gambled that our resolve would falter. But we proved him wrong then, and we will prove him wrong now,” the PM noted.

EU wants to work with defence industry to increase supply of ammunition to Ukraine and armed forces of member states: Chief

The European Union wants to work with its defence industry to increase the supply of ammunition to both Ukraine and the armed forces of its member states, the bloc’s chief has said.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen suggested that the EU’s delivery of the Covid vaccine could serve as a model for how to up production.

“We could think of, for example, advanced purchase agreements that give the defence industry the possibility to invest in production lines now to be faster and to increase the amount they can deliver,” she stated.

Recent months have seen repeated warnings that Ukraine is currently using ammunition faster than Western countries are able to produce and supply it.

“It is now the time to speed up the production and to scale up the production of standardised products [such as ammunition] that Ukraine needs desperately,” von der Leyen added.

Ukraine claims over 142,000 Russian soldiers killed

More than 142,000 Russian soldiers have now been killed since the invasion of Ukraine, according to the Ukrainian military.

In its daily update on combat losses, the general staff of the Ukrainian armed forces estimated the death toll on the Russian side to be 142,270, up by 1,010 since Friday.

It added that 3,303 tanks and 6,533 armoured vehicles had also been destroyed, increases on yesterday of five and 13 respectively.

IMF, Ukraine reach lending program deal, paving way for Kyiv’s EU bid

The International Monetary Fund has announced it reached a staff-level agreement with Ukraine, paving the way for discussions on a full-fledged lending program that would support Kyiv’s bid to join the European Union.

The IMF, in a statement, said inflation in Ukraine has begun to decelerate while gradual economic recovery is expected this year.

US is monitoring Russian efforts to circumvent sanctions, treasury official

US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo plans to put Russia and its intelligence services on notice next week: The US is monitoring their efforts to circumvent US sanctions and is cracking down.

“As we look forward, one of the centerpieces of our strategy will be to counter attempts to evade our sanctions,” Adeyemo is set to say Tuesday at the Council on Foreign Relations, according to excerpts of his speech obtained by CNN.

“We know Russia is actively seeking ways to circumvent these sanctions. … In fact, one of the ways we know our sanctions are working is that Russia has tasked its intelligence services — the FSB and GRU — to find ways to get around them,” Adeyemo will add.

Adeyemo will deliver the remarks ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, reflecting on the US-led efforts to destabilize the Russian economy and push crushing sanctions to undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ability to wage war.
His remarks also come as the Kremlin increasingly turns to its clandestine services to avoid Western sanctions.

Since Russia launched its bloody war against Ukraine, the US has imposed thousands of sanctions against Russian politicians, oligarchs and companies, cut off the Russian central bank from its dollar-denominated reserves as well as the global financial messaging system, undermined Russia’s defense-industrial base and imposed a price cap on Russian oil and petroleum products.

“The thing that we are doing with our colleagues at Commerce is we’re slowing Russia down and our colleagues at the Defense Department are speeding the Ukrainians up. So they’re getting them the arms they need to fight off Russia in their country while Commerce and Treasury are slowing down Russia’s ability to rearm. We’re already seeing a big impact,” Adeyemo told CNN in an interview ahead of his speech.

Despite the impact sanctions have had on the Russian economy, some observers have pointed to concerns over Moscow’s ability to evade sanctions and re-orient trade routes to continue to acquire some of the technologies and financing needed to fund its war machine through countries like Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and India

Wagner chief claims capture of village near Bakhmut

The head of Russia’s mercenary group Wagner has claimed the capture of the village of Paraskoviivka just north of Bakhmut, an eastern Ukraine city that’s the scene of the longest-running battle of Moscow’s offensive.

“The settlement of Paraskoviivka is completely under the control of Wagner PMC units. Despite the blockade of ammunition, despite heavy losses and bloody battles, the guys completely occupied the entire territory of Paraskoviivka,” Yevgeny Prigozhin said as quoted by his news service.

Ukraine claims Russian meddling with reservoir could leave a million people without drinking water

More than a million Ukrainians are at risk of losing access to drinking water because Russian forces are meddling with a reservoir in southeast Ukraine, according to Ruslan Strilets, the country’s environment minister.

Speaking at a media briefing in Kyiv, Strilets accused Russia of deliberately spilling water at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant.

His comments echo Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, who on Tuesday accused Russian forces of damaging and intentionally reopening floodgates at the power plant.

Strilets said there has been a “huge drop” in water levels at the Kakhovka reservoir, which is now sitting at 13.83 meters, compared to the average level of 16 meters. He warned that a drop below 12 meters would be devastating for surrounding habitats.

The environment minister said meddling with the reservoir could also endanger the ability to cool reactors at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

Russia’s persistent attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid have, at least temporarily, left millions of civilians without electricity, heat, water and other critical services in the bitter winter months.

US estimates over 30,000 Wagner fighters have been wounded or killed in Ukraine

The US government estimates the private military company Wagner Group has suffered more than 30,000 casualties, including roughly 9,000 fighters killed, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

About half of those 9,000 have been killed since mid-December, US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said. And about 90% of those killed in December were recruited from Russian prisons.

The group has relied heavily on convicts to fill out its ranks.

“That doesn’t show any signs of abating,” Kirby stated Friday, though Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed last week that he will no longer recruit from prisons.

“They’re treating their recruits, largely convicts, as basically cannon fodder, throwing them into a literal meat grinder here, inhuman ways without a second thought,” Kirby continued, adding, “Men that he just plucked out of prisons and threw on the battlefield with no training, no equipping, no organizational command, just throw them into the fight.”

Recently, Wagner suffered heavy casualties in the intense fight for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

Kirby added Russia made “incremental gains” in and around the city as the fighting intensified over the last several days. He said the US cannot predict whether Russia will break through.

Even if they do, Kirby said the city holds “no real strategic value,” because the US believes Ukraine would maintain its strong defensive lines across the broader Donbas region.

Biden will meet with Polish president and other NATO leaders in Warsaw next week: White House

President Joe Biden will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda during his trip next week to thank him for the military and humanitarian assistance Warsaw has provided to Ukraine, the White House said.

The president will also deliver remarks and meet with the Bucharest Nine, the group of Eastern flank NATO allies, John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, stated.

The trip “comes at an important moment” as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reaches the one-year mark, Kirby added.

“President Biden will thank President Duda and, in fact, the Polish people for the $3.8 billion in military and humanitarian assistance that they have provided to Ukraine over the past year. And for all the efforts that the Polish people have done to generously welcome more than one and a half million refugees from Ukraine,” Kirby noted.

During his meeting with leaders of the Bucharest Nine on Wednesday, Biden will “reaffirm the United States’ unwavering support,” according to Kirby.

Pentagon says first group of Ukrainians completed training at US base in Germany

The first group of Ukrainian soldiers completed training at a United States base in Germany, the Pentagon said. A second group is already underway in the five-week course that will teach the troops maneuver, medical and basic soldier training.

The first group of 635 Ukrainians wrapped up the course at Grafenwoehr Training Area, according to a statement from Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, where the US conducts its own combined arms and maneuver training. The Ukrainian battalion also trained on the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

The training began in mid-January, part of an expanded US program to prepare Ukrainian forces to fight. Previously, the US had offered smaller-scale training on individual weapons systems, such as HIMARS rocket launchers. The transition to battalion-level training marked a significant expansion of the US effort to train and prepare Ukrainians for a long-term war.

A second group of 710 Ukrainian forces has already begun training at Grafenwoehr, Ryder said. The troops will train on the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle and the M109 Paladin, a self-propelled howitzer that the US recently announced it will send to Ukraine.

In addition, another 890 Ukrainian troops will begin training on Stryker fighting vehicles next week.

Bipartisan group of US lawmakers urges Biden to send fighter jets to Ukraine

A group of five bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to US President Joe Biden, requesting his administration send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.

The effort by members likely won’t change anything or impact the administration’s decisions in what it sends to Ukraine, but it comes just ahead of the one-year anniversary of the war’s start and President Joe Biden’s trip to Poland.

The letter was signed by Reps. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine; Tony Gonzales, a Republican from Texas; Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado; Chrissy Houlahan, a Democrat from Pennsylvania; and Mike Gallagher, a Republican from Wisconsin.

“It is in that spirit of leadership and support that we write to respectfully request that your Administration provide Ukraine with increased air superiority capability, including the F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft requested by Kiev, or similar fourth-generation aircraft, as soon as possible. The provision of such aircraft is necessary to help Ukraine protect its airspace, particularly in light of renewed Russian offensives and considering the expected increase in large-scale combat operations,” the letter says.

Since securing pledges for hundreds of modern battle tanks from Western allies, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has turned his attention to modern fighting planes.

It was a key element of his pitches during visits to London, Paris and a European Union summit last week.

Asked last month whether the US would be providing the US-made F-16 to Ukraine, Biden responded with a flat “no,” though he later said talks with Kyiv about weapon supplies are ongoing

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