Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 370

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:

Kyiv urges the UN and Turkey to extend Black Sea grain deal

Ukraine has appealed to the UN and Turkey to start negotiations on extending a grain export deal, but a Ukrainian government source said there had been no response.

Yuriy Vaskov, Ukraine’s deputy minister of restoration, told the Reuters news agency last week that Kyiv would seek an extension of at least one year, including Mykolaiv’s ports.

“We have sent a letter requesting that we start dealing with this issue as March 18 is very soon, but we have not had any feedback so far,” a source said.

Last July, the Black Sea Grain Initiative brokered by the UN and Turkey allowed grain to be exported from three Ukrainian ports.

The agreement was extended in November and will expire on March 18 unless an extension is agreed upon.

Russia to discuss lifting capital restrictions

The finance ministry said that Russian officials are discussing lifting some capital restrictions on foreign investment to encourage inflows from so-called “friendly” jurisdictions.

“This is still under discussion, but there is a request both from friendly investors and Russian businessmen about freeing new money being brought in to the country from the restrictions, so to speak,” Ivan Chebeskov, head of the finance ministry’s financial policy department, told a business forum.

According to the finance ministry, many Russian investors who are storing capital abroad would like to invest in Russia but are seeking guarantees that they can freely take money abroad again.

After the West imposed sweeping sanctions against Russia, Moscow imposed capital restrictions in late February and early March last year to prevent the capital flight from the economy.

Washington will not hesitate to target Chinese companies: Blinken

The US will not hesitate to target Chinese companies and individuals if Beijing violates US sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine war, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

If China provides lethal aid to Moscow, it will be a severe problem for Beijing’s relationship with countries worldwide, Blinken told reporters during a trip to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

Blinken stated the US had warned China about giving material support to Russia, including targeting Chinese individuals/companies for violating sanctions.

“China can’t have it both ways when it comes to the Russian aggression in Ukraine. You can’t be putting forward these proposals on the one hand while actually feeding the flames of the fire that Russia has started with the other hand,” he continued.

“So I hope that China will take what we said very seriously but not only what we said, what many other countries around the world are saying, and refrain from any further consideration,” he added.

Putin tells security agency to step up counter intelligence

Russian President Vladimir Putin told the FSB security agency to increase its activity to counter operations by Ukraine and the West.

In a speech to FSB officials, Putin said the agency had to stop “sabotage groups” entering Russia from Ukraine, step up protection of key infrastructure, and prevent any attempts by Western security services to revive what he called “terrorist” or “extremist cells” on Russian territory.

“Western intelligence services have traditionally always been actively working in Russia, and now they have thrown additional personnel, technical and other resources against us. We need to respond accordingly,” Putin added.

He instructed the FSB to prevent illegal weapons from flowing into the country and to strengthen security in the four regions of Ukraine that Moscow seized.

Drone downed outside Moscow: Regional official

A drone that was likely targeting civilian infrastructure has crashed near Moscow, the regional governor says, after Russia’s Ministry of Defence reported downing two Ukrainian drones.

“As for the incident with the crash of a UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] in the district of Kolomna, … the target was probably a civilian infrastructure facility, which was not damaged,” Andrei Vorobyov said in a statement, adding, “There are no casualties or damage on the ground.”

He stated authorities were investigating the incident.

Kolomna lies 110km (70 miles) southeast of the Russian capital.

Sanctions against Russia dubbed ‘poison’ for EU: Moscow

EU sanctions against Russia are missing the mark and instead chipping away at the bloc’s economic independence, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Tuesday.

She slammed the tenth package of EU sanctions, which was unveiled on Saturday to mark the one-year anniversary of Moscow’s military campaign against Ukraine. The measures targeted Russia’s banking sector and sought to curb its access to dual-use and advanced technologies.

Zakharova stated she agreed with Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, who earlier this month described the restrictions as “slow-acting but certain poison”.

“The only thing is that they, first of all, ‘kill’ the economic sovereignty of the European Union. The EU can slap itself with any number of restrictions regarding trade with Russia; this will only increase its dependence on its direct competitors,” she explained.

Zakharova also blasted the bloc’s crackdown on Russian media, noting that Brussels was “deliberately destroying the foundations of democratic society, undermining the principles and values the EU was built on in the first place”.

The spokeswoman also offered a reminder that “the EU, the US and their satellites found themselves alone” in imposing sanctions on Russia.

“The rest of the world… did not join any of the ‘packages’, rejecting restrictions as illegal, hurting the global economy and undermining food and energy security,” she continued, adding that the EU’s threats to punish those who refuse to comply with the sanctions would only strengthen global opposition to what “essentially is the neo-colonial dictatorial policy of the West”.

Poland to receive almost no Russian oil in February, March: PM

Poland will cut its oil imports from Russia to close to zero in February and March, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says, as Warsaw continues reducing its dependence on Russia.

On Saturday, Polish refiner PKN Orlen announced that Russia had halted supplies of oil to Poland via the Druzhba pipeline.

PKN Orlen added it would tap other sources to plug the shortfall.

Ukraine will join NATO in ‘long term’: Chief

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Ukraine will become a member of the transatlantic military alliance in the “long term”.

He, however, stressed that the immediate issue is Ukraine remaining an independent nation in the face of the Russian invasion.

“NATO allies have agreed that Ukraine will become a member of our alliance, but at the same time that is a long-term perspective,” Stoltenberg told reporters during a visit to Finland’s capital Helsinki.

Prior to launching Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24 last year, President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was intent on preventing NATO from expanding further eastwards and gaining a “military foothold” in Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union prior to its collapse in 1991.

US preparing ‘false flag’ chemical attacks in Ukraine: Russia

The United States is planning a “false flag” operation in Ukraine using highly toxic and banned substances to blame it on Moscow, a Russian commander revealed on Tuesday.

Lieutenant General Igor Kirillov, Commander of Russia’s Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Troops, cited remarks by former US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan claiming that Russian troops “plan to use chemical weapons in the area of the special military operation.”

The statement was made last week at a conference held by a non-governmental American organization on the events of the Ukraine conflict.

“We regard this information as the intention of the US itself and its accomplices to conduct a provocation in Ukraine using toxic chemicals,” noted Kirillov.

He warned that the Russian Defense Ministry will identify and punish the true culprits in case of incitement from the Americans to use chemical weapons in the Ukraine war in hope that amid the hostilities it will not be possible to properly investigate the chemical attack provocations.

“We warn that in case of provocations with the use of toxic chemicals, we will identify and punish the true culprits,” he continued.

“They assume that, given there was a combat operation underway, the international community would not manage to organize an efficient investigation. As a result, the real organizers and perpetrators would be able to avoid responsibility and the blame would be put on Russia,” the Russian commander added.

According to Kirillov, earlier this month, a train carrying a cargo of poisonous chemicals arrived in the city of Kramatorsk in the Ukraine-controlled area of Donbas consisting of eight sealed boxes in-scripted with the sign “BZ” along with a chemical hazard sign.

BZ, short for 3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate, is an odorless and bitter-tasting military incapacitating agent which can remain in the air for three weeks and is extremely persistent in soil and water and on most surfaces.

“The cargo was placed on US-made armored vehicles, which, as part of the convoy, left for the line of contact,” said the general.

“The fact that toxic chemicals and protective means were delivered simultaneously demonstrates an attempt to perform large-scale provocations with the use of BZ combat psychoactive substances in the course of the conflict (in Ukraine),” he added.

Zelensky says situation in Bakhmut is getting more challenging for Ukraine

The situation in the eastern city of Bakhmut is “getting more and more challenging,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday.

“The enemy is constantly destroying everything that can be used to protect our positions, to secure and defend it,” Zelensky stated, soon after military commanders spoke of hundreds of Russian strikes in the area.

“Our soldiers defending the Bakhmut direction are true heroes,” Zelesnky added.

Serhii Cherevatyi, the spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of the Armed Forces, told Ukrainian television, “Bakhmut remains the epicenter of the enemy’s attack, where they are focusing on breaking through our defense. In particular, in the area of such settlements as Dubovo-Vasylivka, Yahidne, Ivankivske, and Pivnichne.”

The named places are all to the west of Bakhmut.

Russian transfer of Ukrainian children is a ‘genocidal crime’: Ukraine

Russia’s alleged forced transfer of thousands of children from Ukraine is “probably the largest forced deportation in modern history”, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.

“The most chilling crime is that Russia steals Ukrainian children,” Kuleba stated in a video message to a packed room on the opening day of the five-week session, which will take up Russia’s alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

“This is a genocidal crime,” Kuleba charged.

US sending Ukraine another $1.2bn: Treasury secretary

The United States is transferring an additional $1.2bn to Ukraine as it fights to resist Russia’s invasion, according to US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

On a trip to Kyiv following US President Joe Biden’s surprise visit last week, Yellen met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and announced the transfer of “an additional amount of over $1.2bn” to his government.

This would be the first tranche of about $10bn the US will provide in the coming months, she said in a speech.

“Our economic support is helping keep the Ukrainian government and critical service providers operational under extraordinary circumstances,” including by paying civil servants, firefighters and teachers, she added.

Ukraine expects the US will provide more than $10 billion in budget support: PM

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal stated the country’s budget deficit this year is expected to amount to $38 billion, but that the US is committing to provide more than $10 billion in budget support by September.

Shmyhal was speaking after talks in Kyiv with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

“In 2022, the United States was the leader among all partner countries in terms of financial assistance provided,” Shmyhal said, providing $13 billion in grant support for the budget.

“These funds were allocated for healthcare, education, social and humanitarian aid programs,” he added.

This year, he said, “The United States has committed to provide Ukraine with more than $10 billion by September. In addition, the United States supports Ukraine in its rapid recovery. Namely, they have allocated $1.5 billion for this purpose, and another $1.1 billion to support the rapid recovery of the energy sector of Ukraine and Moldova.”

Shmyhal noted a new platform was being introduced to help coordinate the work of the G7 countries and international financial organizations, including the IMF and the World Bank, with regard to financial support for Ukraine.”

Shmyhal added he and Yellen had also discussed the financial and sanctions impact on the Russian budget.

“We also discussed the continuation and effectiveness of sanctions on the supply of high-tech items to be used in the military sphere of Russia,” he continued.

US Treasury secretary says she expects to see “an increasing toll on Russia’s economic trajectory over time”

While the Russian economy has not yet buckled under the wide array of sanctions from the United States and other Western countries, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Monday she expects it to grow weaker over time as the country loses foreign investment and runs through its reserves and rainy-day funds.

“We will see an increasing toll on Russia’s economic trajectory over time,” she told CNN in an exclusive interview during her unannounced visit to Kyiv.

“And their ability to replenish the military equipment that’s been destroyed in their attacks on Ukraine — that’s been very greatly jeopardized,” she added.

Still, recent US intelligence has shown that China is considering increasing its support of the Russian economy and war efforts, including supplying drones and ammunition.
Such a move would bring “severe” consequences, Yellen stated.

“We have been extremely clear that we will not tolerate systematic violations by any country of the sanctions that we have put in place that are intended to deprive Russia of access to military equipment to wage this war,” she continued.

“And we have been very clear with the Chinese government and have made clear to Chinese firms and financial institutions that the consequences of violating those sanctions would be very severe,” she noted.

US Treasury Secretary makes surprise visit to Kyiv

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has made a surprise visit to Kyiv to reaffirm US support for Ukraine and promote economic aid.

Yellen met with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top government officials days after the first anniversary of the war, repeating US assurances delivered by President Joe Biden a week ago.

UN human rights chief slams ‘senseless’ Russian invasion of Ukraine

The United Nations rights chief has condemned Russia’s “senseless” invasion of Ukraine at the start of a Human Rights Council session at which countries want to strengthen scrutiny of Moscow’s alleged war crimes.

Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, in one of his first speeches to the 47-member council, warned that human rights gains were being reined back and even reversed, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an example of oppression.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated in a separate speech that the war had triggered “massive violations” of rights.

China has ‘very clearly’ taken Russia’s side in Ukraine war: US

China has been “anything but an honest broker” in efforts to bring peace to Ukraine and “very clearly” has taken Russia’s side, US Department of State spokesman Ned Price says.

China has provided Russia with “diplomatic support, political support, with economic support, with rhetorical support,” Price stated at a news briefing.

Zelensky: Ukraine can only defend skies if partners lift ‘aviation taboo’

President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that Ukraine can only defend its skies if an “aviation taboo” is ended by its allies.

“Our pilots and anti-aircraft units and other experts of our air force are doing a great job,” he said in a speech.

“But we will be able to completely protect our skies when the aviation taboo is fully lifted in relations with our partners,” he added.

The president has been lobbying his allies to send fighter jets to Ukraine.

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