Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 361

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:

Borrell backs joint EU arms plan but says Kyiv needs help now

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has backed a call for the bloc’s members to buy arms jointly to help Ukraine but warned it would not solve Kyiv’s urgent need for more ammunition now.

Borrell was responding to an Estonian proposal for the EU to place large ammunition orders on behalf of multiple member states to speed up procurement and encourage European arms firms to invest in increasing their production capacities.

EU officials and diplomats say they are urgently exploring the possibility of joint procurement of 155 millimetre artillery shells to help Kyiv defend itself against Russia. EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the Estonian plan in Brussels on Monday.

In a panel discussion with Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas in Munich on Sunday, Borrell stated: “I completely agree with the Estonian prime minister’s proposal, we are working on that and it will work.”

But in a speech before the discussion, Borrell said joint procurement could only bear fruit in the medium term. Right now, Ukraine’s supporters must quickly send supplies from existing stocks, he said.

“This [shortage] cannot be solved by going into joint procurement … because any procurement that comes to the market will come at the end of a queue of a long list of orders already passed by the member states,” he added.


US plans fresh round of sanctions on Russia: Report

The Joe Biden administration is planning to impose new export controls and a fresh round of sanctions on Russia, targeting key industries, Bloomberg News reports.

The new sanctions will target Russia’s defence and energy sectors, financial institutions and several individuals, the report added.


Three killed by Russian shelling on village in Kherson

Russian shelling has killed three adult members of a family in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson on Sunday, regional authorities said.

Four others — including two children — were injured when a shell flew into the yard of a house in the village of Burgunka, officials stated.

“The Russian occupiers killed a family in the region of Kherson,” the regional administration said in a statement, adding, “Three people died at the scene of the tragedy — the father, mother and uncle.”

Separately, an 8-year-old boy was injured by the shelling in the same village, the regional authorities said.

In September, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of four Ukrainian regions including Kherson.

In November, Moscow ordered its troops to withdraw from the city of Kherson in a humiliating defeat for the Russian army.


Russia says Ukraine is planning to stage nuclear incident

Russia says Ukraine is planning to stage a nuclear incident on its territory to pin the blame on Moscow ahead of a UN meeting. It did not provide evidence for the accusation.

Since the start of its invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, Russia has repeatedly accused Kyiv of planning “false flag” operations with non-conventional weapons, using biological or radioactive materials. No such attack has materialised.

Russia’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement that radioactive substances had been transported to Ukraine from a European country and Kyiv was preparing a large-scale “provocation”.

“The aim of the provocation is to accuse Russia’s army of allegedly carrying out indiscriminate strikes on hazardous radioactive facilities in Ukraine, leading to the leakage of radioactive substances and contamination of the area,” it added.

Ukraine and its allies have dismissed such accusations as cynical attempts to spread disinformation and has accused Moscow of planning such incidents itself in a bid to blame Ukraine.


UK intelligence: Russia likely using information-gathering balloons in Ukraine

Russia is likely using balloons to gather information about Ukraine’s defence systems and force it to use up ammunition by shooting them down, the latest UK intelligence update on the war says.

The UK Ministry of Defence said that on February 12, Ukraine’s air force sighted a number of balloons near the eastern city of Dnipro.

Ukrainian armed forces also added that on Wednesday, they spotted and shot down several balloons over Kyiv.

“It is likely that the balloons were Russian,” the UK update said, adding, “They likely represent a new tactic by Russia to gain information about Ukrainian air defence systems and compel the Ukrainians to expend valuable stocks of surface to air missiles and ammunition.”


War over ‘in weeks’ unless EU provides more ammunition: EU

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says the West must provide more military aid to Ukraine and speed up its deliveries, otherwise the war in Ukraine will be over.

“Much more has to be done and much quicker. There is still a lot to be done. We have to increase and accelerate our military support,” Borrell stated in a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

“We are in urgent war mode,” he continued, adding, “This shortage of ammunition has to be solved quickly. It is a matter of weeks.”


Ukraine war expected to cost Germany $171bn by year’s end

The Ukraine war will have cost the German economy around $171bn, or about 4 percent of its gross domestic output, in lost value creation by the end of the year, the head of the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce estimates.

That means GDP per capita in Europe’s largest economy would be $2,143 lower than it otherwise would have been, Peter Adrian told the Rheinische Post.

German industry is set to pay about 40 percent more for energy in 2023 than in 2021 before the crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 last year, a study by Allianz Trade said last month.

Germany, which for decades relied on relatively cheap Russian pipeline gas, now has especially high energy prices compared with the US, which has its own natural gas reserves, while France has abundant nuclear power.

“The gas price is around three to five times higher than in the United States,” he said, adding electricity was four times as expensive as in France.


Moscow slams US for casting Crimea as legitimate target

The Kremlin says the US is a “major provocateur” of international tensions for condoning attacks on Crimea, warning that the remarks about the Russian-occupied Ukrainian peninsula underscored the depth of disagreement between the two countries.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to comments by US Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, who said the US considers Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, should be demilitarised and Washington supports Ukrainian attacks on military targets on the peninsula.

“Nuland belongs to a very broad camp of the most aggressive ‘hawks’ in American politics,” Peskov said in comments published by the TASS news agency.

“This is a point of view we know well,” he added.


Moscow scolds Macron over remarks wishing for Russia’s defeat in Ukraine

Russia has criticised French President Emmanuel Macron over remarks about wanting to see Russia defeated. It says Moscow still remembers the fate of Napoleon Bonaparte and accuses the French president of duplicitous diplomacy with the Kremlin.

Macron said in an interview with broadcaster France Inter and newspapers Le Figaro and Le Journal du Dimanche that France wanted Russia to be defeated in Ukraine but had never wanted to “crush” it.

“France did not begin with Macron, and the remains of Napoleon, revered at the state level, rest in the centre of Paris. France – and Russia – should understand,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated.

Macron has drawn criticism from some NATO allies for delivering mixed messages regarding his policy on the war between Ukraine and Russia.


Almost 143,000 Russians casualties: Ukraine

Russia has sustained almost 143,000 casualties since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Ukrainian military claimed on Sunday.

The latest update from Ukraine’s ministry of defence said the number of casualties on the Russian side had reached 142,860, up by 590 since yesterday.

It also added that 3,310 tanks and 6,545 armoured combat vehicles had been destroyed, increases of seven and 12 respectively.

Tweeting the figures, the ministry included a quote from the Beatles’ 1968 song Back in the USSR: “Let me hear your balalaikas [a Russian instrument] ringing out.”


Blinken was “quite blunt” in warning against China’s support for Russia during meeting with top diplomat

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke about the Joe Biden administration’s “deepening concern” over Beijing’s support of Russia’s war during his meeting Saturday with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, a senior State Department official told reporters.

“The secretary was quite blunt in warning about the implications and consequences of China providing material support to Russia or assisting Russia with systematic sanctions evasion,” the official said.

Wang Yi told the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that China would be publishing a paper on how to find a political solution to the Ukraine war. While no formal proposal has been made public, the US official cast doubt on China leading this effort.

“It would appear to us that the Chinese are trying to have it both ways,” the official continued, adding, “On the one hand, claiming that they would like to contribute to peace and stability in Ukraine, and yet on the other hand, taking these concerning steps to support Russia’s war of aggression there.”

US officials told CNN that the US is beginning to see “disturbing” trends in China’s support for Russia’s military. The officials stated there are signs that Beijing wants to “creep up to the line” of providing lethal military aid to Russia without getting caught.

The officials would not describe in detail what intelligence the US has seen to suggest a recent shift in China’s posture, but they’ve been concerned enough that they have been sharing the intelligence with allies and partners at the Munich conference over the last several days, the officials added.


Moscow-backed leader claims Russia is making progress around embattled city of Bakhmut

Denis Pushilin, the Russian-installed head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine, claims there has been an “improvement of Russian positions” around the fiercely contested city of Bakhmut.

Pushilin repeated the Wagner mercenary group’s claim that it has taken control of Paraskoviivka, a village on the north end of the city, for Russia.

“In the vicinity of Artemovsk (the Soviet-era name for Bakhmut) there is already information about the improvement of positions — Paraskoviivka has been liberated, which makes it possible to get closer to blocking the remainder of the road to Chasiv Yar,” Pushilin said on his website Saturday.

That road is the only one that functions as a supply route for Ukrainian troops in the area, the DPR head claimed, and fully blocking the route would bring Russian control over Bakhmut “many times closer.”

Pushilin added each position in the city “is being conquered through tough fighting.”

Additionally, the pro-Wagner Telegram channel Pozyvnoy Brus claimed Saturday that after taking control of Paraskoviivka, Wagner units began to storm Berkhivka, a northwestern suburb of Bakhmut.

“Several roads that are important for supplying the Bakhmut group of the Armed Forces of Ukraine go through this settlement,” the pro-Wagner channel stated.

Despite claims by Pushilin and the Wagner Group about controlling Paraskoviivka, the Ukrainian military claimed it was still repelling Russian attacks on the settlement as of Saturday morning.


DM says he expected more tank pledges after Germany’s decision on Leopards

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told CNN he expected more countries to come forward with battle tanks for Ukraine after Germany pledged Leopard 2 tanks in late January, but he is buoyed by the total number pledged so far.

“I wasn’t really frustrated; I was a little bit disappointed, I would say, because the voices we heard before (the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein) were louder. And therefore I expected more afterwards, after our decision,” Pistorius told CNN’s Nic Robertson at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

But adding up the German tanks, the Abrams tanks from the US and the Challenger tanks from the UK, “it is a lot” that will be provided to assist Ukraine in its battles against Russia.

“We have a huge number, but still we are working on more (Leopards),” he added.

Germany expects to deliver the Leopard 2A6 tanks in the last week of March, Pistorius confirmed, with “sustainable delivery of tanks during the following month.”

He added that the German and Polish defense industries will work together to produce ammunition and spare parts for the tanks, as well as repair mechanisms.

Addressing frustrations from countries like Lithuania about shoring up NATO’s eastern flank, Pistorius said officials are “working on it,” but it takes some time because “we have to reconstruct our forces,” ramp up infrastructure and wait for NATO plans.

In addition, “the threat we have to face as the eastern flank is not only at one point; it might appear at any point,” he continued.

Pistorius stated the unity he has witnessed at the Munich Security Conference gives him hope about the current situation.

“What I see is a very, very strong unity, the very strong commitment in joint commitment that we want, and we will support Ukraine as long as it takes. And this is very important, a very important signal for the Ukrainian people, which really fights a very, very admirable fight against Russian aggression,” he told Robertson.


Russia’s war in Ukraine emboldens North Korea: South Korean FM

South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin warned Saturday that Russia’s attack on Ukraine has emboldened North Korea.

“Russia’s armed attack on Ukraine and the global attention on the war in Europe are, as we witnessed, emboldening Kim Jong Un regime in North Korea through the precipitation of aggressive missile launches, including the (intercontinental ballistic missiles),” Park said during a discussion panel in Munich.

Park added North Korea has “resumed ballistic missile testing, probably an ICBM, after a break lasting almost 50 days, clearly signaling its intent to conduct additional provocations.”

The US government also announced North Korea had test-launched a presumed long-range ballistic missile Saturday, calling it “a flagrant violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.”

On Friday, North Korea had warned of “continuous and unprecedented strong responses” if the US and South Korea go ahead with planned military exercises, according to a statement by North Korea’s foreign ministry.


Blinken says US wants to ensure lasting peace in Ukraine by guarding against future Russian aggression

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday that his government has a “profound stake” in a “just and durable” peace in Ukraine.

“Any peace has to be consistent with the principles of the United Nations Charter,” Blinken stated during a discussion panel at the Munich Security Conference.

And, the top US diplomat said, it’s in the best interest of countries around the world to make sure the outcome doesn’t somehow validate Russia’s move to seize territory by force.

“If we do that, we will open a Pandora’s box around the world, and every would-be aggressor will conclude that, ‘If Russia got away with it, we can get away with it,'” Blinken continued, adding, “And that’s not in anyone’s interest, because it’s a recipe for a world of conflict.”

Joined in a debate panel by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Blinken went on to assert that a durable peace means Ukraine will have the tools to stop aggression before it escalates in the future.

“We have to do everything in our power to make sure that Russia won’t simply repeat the exercise a year, five years later,” Blinken said.

“So even as we’re doing everything we can to provide Ukraine with the assistance it needs now to deal with the Russian aggression, we have to be thinking — and we are — about what the post-war future looks like to ensure that we have security and stability for Ukrainians, and security and stability in Europe,” he added.

Later during the discussion, the US Secretary of State reiterated his country’s commitment to helping Ukraine during the war against Russia, noting “the unprecedented assistance” that’s been provided and “an enduring commitment” to help Ukraine’s defense long term.

Blinken added that the US has “no doubt at all about Ukraine’s victory and success.”

“And there’s a simple, powerful reason for that — irrespective of anything else, including the support that we’re providing,” he said, stressing, “The biggest single difference is that Ukrainians are fighting for their own country, for their future, for their land. The Russians are not, and that will be the biggest thing.”


CIA director says intelligence sharing on Russia has been “essential” in coalition to support Ukraine

CIA Director Bill Burns said intelligence sharing with NATO allies has been critical to holding together a coalition in support of Ukraine over the past year.

“I think the intelligence sharing that we engage in — and it’s a two-way street; we’ve learned a lot from our NATO partners, we learn a lot from the Ukrainians as well — I think has been the kind of essential cement in the coalition that (US President Joe Biden) has organized,” Burns said during a panel at a Saturday session of the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

“It’s a constant day-by-day challenge, to be able to work as hard as we can across the US intelligence community with (NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Christopher Cavoli) and our partners in Europe to make sure that we have the clearest picture possible across the alliance,” the CIA director stated.

The US puts a premium on sharing with its partners “in a very quick and systematic way,” Burns added.

Republican Rep. Mike Turner, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, also offered praise for Burns and the intelligence community for ensuring intel on Russia is up to date.

“I just want to give … Director Burns credit for the fact that we had sort of taken our eye off the ball with respect to Russia, we had sort of moved on, and we didn’t have as much resources directed toward Russia as the Ukraine issue was unfolding,” Turner said, adding, “And Director Burns, along with the Department of Defense and the director of National Intelligence had to really pull together, including our allies, new information and new critical analytical scrutiny of what we could find.”


EU chief urges allies to speed up production lines to help Ukraine stop Putin’s “imperialistic plans”

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said allies need to “double down” on military support for Ukraine in order for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goals in Ukraine to fail.

“We absolutely have to double down and we have to continue the really massive support that is necessary (so) that these imperialistic plans of Putin will completely fail — this is one goal — and that Ukraine is able to win,” von der Leyen stated in a panel discussion with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at the Munich Security Conference Saturday.

The EU chief appealed to allies to work together and speed up production of items that Ukraine has said it needs, such as ammunition.

“It cannot be that we have to wait months and years til we are able to replenish, until we are able to deliver that to Ukraine,” von der Leyen added.

The European Commission president suggested using production approaches similar to those seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, when governments worked with pharmaceutical companies to scale up supply.

“We could think of, for example, advanced purchase agreements that gives the defense industry the possibility to invest in production lines now to be faster and to increase the amount they can deliver,” von der Leyen noted.


FM expresses confidence that Ukraine will receive planes from allies

Ukraine’s foreign minister said Saturday that he was certain the country’s allies would eventually supply fighter jets to help it fend off the Russian invasion.

“I will take a risk of saying that Ukraine will receive planes, it’s a matter of time and procedure,” Dmytro Kuleba stated during a press conference at the Munich Security Conference.

“It will take more time than tanks. We understand that, but the very kind of logic, the basic sense of how the situation evolves, will take all of us to the decision on planes,” the Ukrainian foreign minister added.

Kuleba asked allies that may potentially send fighter jets to first prioritize pilot training.

“First, the decision was made to provide Ukraine with certain weapons and then training began, which led us to what? A waste of time. So we propose to kind of turn the tables and begin with training,” he said, adding, “This is our request to all our friends who can potentially share planes with us, begin training as soon as possible without undertaking at this very moment any additional commitments.”

Near the end of his press conference, Kuleba asked those in the room to show more faith in Ukraine when talking about its lack of resources.

“A year ago, people here in Munich were telling me that we are not going to stand for more than 24, 48 hours — that we know you are not going to make it, you’re not going to survive. You have to be rational. We’ve been there. We’ve seen it. Have trust in us, be with us, and we will win,” Kuleba said, adding, “Impossible is nothing. We proved it so many times over the last year of the year.”

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 and a European Union summit last week.

The United Kingdom will soon begin training Ukrainian pilots on NATO-standard fighter jets, though the country’s defense secretary has cautioned that any move to send British jets to Ukraine is likely years away.

Other Kyiv allies, while signaling openness to discussing the possibility, have also cautioned a decision to supply the military planes would not come quickly.


China says it will propose peace plan for Ukraine, as chief diplomat refers to conflict as “warfare”

Beijing is ready to present its peace proposition for Ukraine, its top diplomat announced Saturday at the Munich Security Conference, in a rare remark that referred to the Ukraine conflict as a war.

“This warfare cannot continue to rage on,” said Wang Yi, top foreign policy adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Territorial and sovereignty integrity of all countries will be respected in China’s proposal, Wang stated, adding that Beijing will continue to work for peace.

“We can of course continue to shout out our positions at international conferences like this one, but I suggest that we should also begin to think calmly, especially for my friends in Europe,” he said.

“We need to think about what efforts we can make to bring this warfare to an end,” Wang added.

Many European Union leaders in Munich remain wary of Beijing’s intentions, as Wang called on European countries to change their approach to the war.

China has repeatedly refused to condemn Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. In late 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that their partnership was more important than ever in the face of “unprecedented pressure” from the West. Xi echoed Putin’s message of unity, saying that the two countries should “strengthen strategic coordination” and “inject more stability into the world,” according to Chinese state media Xinhua.

In September 2022, Putin conceded Beijing had “questions and concerns” over the invasion, in what appeared to be a veiled admission of diverging views on the war.

China’s top diplomat will also visit Russia this month, according to its foreign ministry, in the first visit to the country from a Chinese official in that role since the war began.

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