Saturday, April 13, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 369

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24, 2022 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:

‘The most massive violations of human rights’: UN chief

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered “the most massive violations of human rights” in the world today, the head of the United Nations said.

The invasion “has unleashed widespread death, destruction and displacement,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Guterres added, “attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure have caused many casualties and terrible suffering.”

Guterres’ remarks came as the Ukrainian military said that Russia launched attacks with exploding drones on several regions of the country from late Sunday until Monday morning.

NATO bid talks to resume on March 9: Turkey

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said talks with Sweden and Finland over their NATO membership bids would resume on March 9, but claimed Sweden had still not fulfilled its obligations under a memorandum signed last year.

“My colleagues will attend the meeting that will be held on March 9,” Cavusoglu told a news conference in Ankara, adding that the meeting would be held in Brussels.

“Unfortunately, we have not seen satisfactory steps from Sweden on the implementation of the Madrid memorandum,” he continued, adding, “It is not possible for us to say “yes” to Sweden’s NATO bid before we see these steps.”

In January, Turkey cancelled talks with Sweden and Finland on their applications after a Danish far-right political politician burned a copy of the Quran outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.

Crimea integral part of Russia, cannot return to Ukraine: Moscow

Crimea is an integral part of Russia and its return to Ukraine is impossible, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday.

When asked if Moscow could imagine a situation where Crimea would become part of Ukraine again, he answered in the negative.

“It is an integral part of the Russian Federation,” the presidential spokesman stressed.

US President Joe Biden assumed earlier that potential agreements on the Ukraine issue could include a provision on Kiev taking control of Crimea and some other territories in the future.

Russian forces escalating shelling in Luhansk region: Governor

The governor of the Luhansk region, the largely Russian-occupied northern half of the Donbas, says Moscow has escalated shelling and infantry assaults in the Bilohoryvka, Svatove-Kupiansk and Kreminna areas for “several weeks”.

“There is no fleeing, our units do not leave territory … Of course, everything can change at any moment,” Serhiy Haidai told state television.

“On the other hand, Western offensive heavy equipment is on the way and therefore in any week the military command can conduct an operation following the same plan as they did in the Kharkiv region.” he added, referring to Ukraine’s recapture of a northeastern sector from Russian forces last year.

Kremlin says Chinese peace plan should be analysed

The Kremlin announced that China’s peace plan that urges both sides to agree to a gradual de-escalation should be examined in detail.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said any initiatives that might bring peace closer were worthy of attention.

“We are paying a great deal of attention to the plan of our Chinese friends,” Peskov told reporters.

“Of course, the details need to be painstakingly analysed taking into account the interests of all the different sides. This is a very long and intense process,” he added.

Peskov declined to comment on a US media report that China was considering transferring drones to Russia.

Russia reversing global progress on human rights: UN official

The United Nations Human Rights chief Volker Turk has warned that human rights gains made in recent decades were being reversed, citing Russia’s “senseless” invasion of Ukraine as a current example of oppression.

“Much of the progress made over decades is being reined back and even reversed in some parts…,” High Commissioner Turk said in a speech on the opening day of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

He called for countries to work to overcome their differences and create a “new world-wide consensus on human rights”.

China maintains communication with Russia, Ukraine: Spokesperson

A foreign ministry spokesperson has stated that China had maintained communication with all sides in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, including Kyiv.

“China’s position on the Ukraine crisis is consistent and very clear,” Mao Ning said.

“The core is to call for peace and promote dialogue and promote a political solution to the crisis. We have always maintained communication with the sides involved including Ukraine,” Mao added.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday he plans to meet Xi but did not say when such a meeting might occur.

Putin’s key aide warns of ‘apocalypse’ if West doesn’t halt arms supply to Ukraine

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has warned that the continued influx of Western weaponry to Ukraine amid the raging war risks a global nuclear catastrophe.

In his remarks published on Monday, Medvedev, a key aide to President Vladimir Putin and deputy chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, urged an immediate halt to the Western supply of heavy weaponry to the embattled government in Kiev.

The Russian official reiterated his threat of nuclear war over Ukraine if Western countries continue to arm Ukraine despite repeated warnings from Moscow.

“Of course, the pumping in of weapons can continue …. and prevent any possibility of reviving negotiations,” Medvedev said in remarks published in the daily Izvestia.

“Our enemies are doing just that, not wanting to understand that their goals will certainly lead to a total fiasco. Loss for everyone. A collapse. Apocalypse. Where you forget for centuries about your former life, until the rubble ceases to emit radiation,” he added.

Zelensky fires Ukraine’s commander of joint forces

Ukraine’s commander of joint forces operation has been dismissed from his post, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced in a decree Sunday.

Major Gen. Eduard Mykhailovich Moskalov had been appointed to the position last March when Lt. Gen. Oleksandr Pavliuk was appointed head of the Kyiv region military administration.

Zelensky did not provide an explanation for Moskalov’s dismissal, but it’s the latest in a long line of recent leadership changes made by his administration.

Ukrainian authorities have conducted a series of anti-corruption searches and crackdowns across the country, and a variety of high-profile firings have followed.

It is not yet clear if Moskalov’s firing was connected to the recent corruption purge.

CIA director: Putin too confident he can grind down Ukraine

As the war in Ukraine enters its second year, CIA Director William Burns has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is being “too confident” in his military’s ability to grind Ukraine into submission.

Burns, in a television interview, stated the head of Russia’s intelligence services had displayed in their November meeting “a sense of cockiness and hubris” that reflected Putin’s own beliefs “that he can make time work for him, that he believes he can grind down the Ukrainians, that he can wear down our European allies, that political fatigue will eventually set in.”

That conversation, in which Burns warned of the consequences if Russia were to deploy a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, was “pretty dispiriting”, Burns added.

CIA chief says US ‘confident’ China mulling arms for Russia

The US is “confident” that China is considering providing lethal equipment to support the Russian forces invading Ukraine, according to CIA Director William Burns.

Such a step by China would be “a very risky and unwise bet”, the intelligence chief said in an interview aired Sunday on the CBS network’s Face the Nation programme.

“I hope very much that they don’t,” Burns added.

His comments, along with others by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, constituted the latest blunt US warning to China to stop short of providing lethal weapons to Russia.

Ukraine says reconciliation with Russia not possible ‘in 100 years’

Ukraine’s prime minister says a reconciliation between Moscow and Kyiv is not possible within the next century.

“Reconciliation, cooperation – no, not in the next 100 years,” Denys Shmyhal said in an interview with the German weekly magazine Focus.

“Russia must first change, be democratised, demilitarised and denuclearised,” he added.

When asked about how Russia should be disarmed, Shmyhal listed further sanctions, a refusal to cooperate with Russia, confiscation of Russian assets and further military aid to Ukraine as prospects.

Saudi FM makes first visit to Kyiv in 30 years, signing off on $400 million aid package

For the first time since the two countries established diplomatic relations 30 years ago, a Saudi foreign minister has visited Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office released a video of him meeting Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on Sunday.

Zelensky said he expected the meeting would “provide a new impetus to further intensification of our mutually beneficial dialogue.”

“Thank you for supporting peace in Ukraine, our sovereignty, and territorial integrity,” he continued, adding, “This is very important for us and our society.”

Saudi Arabia has steered a neutral course in the conflict. The Kingdom mediated a prisoner exchange last year, in which two American and five British citizens were released from Russian detention.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian presidential office, called the meeting successful in a message on Telegram.

“Ukraine will receive real help from Saudi Arabia,” the Ukrainian official said, adding, “The Presidential Office signed two documents formalizing a $400 million aid package to Ukraine: $100 million in humanitarian aid and $300 million in oil products.”

“Ukraine and Saudi Arabia have common challenges and experiences in dealing with them. We are talking about Iranian UAVs that were supplied to certain ‘rebels’ and attacked Saudi oil facilities,” Yermak stated.

“Since last year, the same Iranian UAVs have been in possession of Russian terrorists and have been attacking Ukraine’s energy infrastructure,” he continued.

US Congress will prioritize advanced weapons systems for Ukraine: House Foreign Affairs chairman

In an interview Sunday, US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul urged President Joe Biden’s administration to provide more advanced weapons systems to Ukraine, and said Congress would take steps to move the process along.

McCaul warned critics of US support for Ukraine that “we can’t put our head in the sand.”

“We can certainly write into our appropriations bills, prioritizing weapons systems. We intend to do that,” McCaul said on “ABC This Week,” when asked what Congress can do to push the Biden administration on providing longer-range missile systems or fighter jets.

“I know the administration says, ‘As long as it takes,'” the Texas Republican said, regarding how long US support would last.

“I think with the right weapons, it shouldn’t take so long,” he added.

McCaul stated he believed the US could have already been doing more to speed up a conclusion to the conflict.

Biden and senior administration officials have said “for now” Ukraine doesn’t require advanced fighter jets, and the US has rebuffed Ukrainian entreaties for long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems over concerns they could be used by Ukraine to hit targets deep inside Russia.

McCaul noted he recently spoke with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and that nothing is off the table right now.

“I think with enough pressure from Congress on both sides of the aisle, we can get into Ukraine what they really need to win this fight,” the lawmaker added.

As far-right Republican criticism grows over the US’ continued support of Ukraine, and some saying the White House should be spending more energy on domestic crises like the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, McCaul said the US can walk and chew gum at the same time.

“I think that’s a false choice. I think the president should have gone to (East) Palestine where we have this major chemical spill, but it doesn’t mean we disregard what’s happening — this struggle for the global balance of power that we’re facing right now,” McCaul continued, adding, “We can’t put our head in the sand and ignore this. Otherwise, the Russians will be at the Polish border and Chairman Xi [Jinping] will invade Taiwan. I think we can do both. We’re a great nation.”

White House official won’t say whether the US will support Ukraine retaking Crimea

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan would not say whether the Joe Biden administration would support Ukraine if it decides victory against Russia requires retaking Crimea.

Sunday marks the ninth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.

“What ultimately happens with Crimea, in the context of this war and a settlement of this war, is something for the Ukrainians to determine with the support of the United States,” Sullivan told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”

“But I’m just not going to get into hypothetical questions. Because what we’re facing today is a counteroffensive in the east, in the south, that we need to give them the tools to fight. And we are doing that,” he added.

Asked directly if the US would help Ukraine take back Crimea, Sullivan punted again on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” repeating that the most critical thing right now is supplying Ukraine with the tools to take back territory in the south and east.

Asked by Bash on CNN to level with the American people on how long the war will last, Sullivan said: “War is unpredictable.”

He reiterated US President Biden’s Friday statement that the administration was ruling out providing F-16 fighter jets “for now.” Sullivan would not say whether the US would provide jets down the line.

On China, Sullivan told Bash that the US has still not seen Beijing make a final decision on whether to provide Russia lethal aid for the war. He also declined to detail what consequences China would face if they made such a move.

“President Biden has said previously, we’re not just making direct threats. We’re just laying out both the stakes and the consequences, how things would unfold and we are doing that clearly — and specifically behind closed doors,” he stressed.

US State Department reaffirms “Crimea is Ukraine” to mark annexation anniversary

The US State Department reasserted that “Crimea is Ukraine,” in a statement from spokesperson Ned Price to mark the nine-year anniversary of Russia’s occupation of the territory.

The statement also comes after the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine earlier this month.

“The United States does not and never will recognize Russia’s purported annexation of the peninsula,” Price stated.

He called Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea “a clear violation of international law and of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“The United States welcomes the efforts of Ukraine’s Crimea Platform to focus global attention on Russia’s continued occupation,” said Price, referring to the Ukrainian government entity that coordinates Ukrainian efforts to recover the peninsula.

German DM: Judge China “by its actions and not its words” as it calls for Ukraine peace talks

Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius has reacted with skepticism to China’s plans on how to end the Ukraine conflict.

“When I hear reports – and I don’t know whether they are true – according to which China may be planning to supply kamikaze drones to Russia while at the same time presenting a peace plan, then I suggest we judge China by its actions and not its words,” he told German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.

On Friday, China’s foreign ministry issued a position paper calling for a resumption of peace talks and an end to unilateral sanctions, and stressing its opposition to the use of nuclear weapons.

But Beijing’s claim to neutrality has been severely undermined by its refusal to acknowledge the nature of the conflict – it has so far avoided calling it an “invasion” – and its diplomatic and economic support for Moscow.

Western officials have also raised concerns that China may be considering providing Russia with lethal military assistance, an accusation denied by Beijing.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian politician who advises President Volodymyr Zelensky, on Saturday hit out at China for “betting on an aggressor” after Beijing repeated its call for a political settlement to the Ukraine war.

“If you claim to be a global player, you don’t offer an unrealistic plan,” he tweeted, adding, “You don’t bet on an aggressor who broke international law and will lose the war.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has stated it is a “good thing” that China is engaging in peace efforts, as he announced plans to visit Beijing in April.

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