Thursday, June 13, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 374

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:

Bakhmut is still controlled by Ukraine and there’s been no “mass withdrawal”: Military spokesperson

Russia has not taken control of the eastern city of Bakhmut, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Armed Forces told CNN Saturday.

“The fighting in Bakhmut is more on the outskirts, with the city controlled by Ukrainian defense forces: the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the Border Guard and the National Guard,” according to Serhiy Cherevatyi, the spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the armed forces.

Ukrainian troops are rotating positions in Bakhmut in controlled, planned rotations, he said in response to reports of the withdrawal of some units.

“There is also no mass withdrawal of Ukrainian troops,” he added.

So far on Saturday, he stated there have been hostilities surrounding Bakhmut, in the villages of Vasiukivka and Dubovo-Vasylivka to the north of the city, and in the villages of Ivanivske and Bohdanivka to the west.

“There were 21 enemy attacks with the use of various artillery systems and MLRS near Bakhmut alone, and 9 combat engagements. 131 attacks and 38 combat engagements took place on this front in total,” Cherevatyi continued.

Over 150 Russian soldiers were killed and 239 were wounded, and three were taken prisoner, he noted.

EU parliament chief urges Ukraine entry into bloc

The president of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola called on Saturday, during a visit to Ukraine, for the country to be allowed to begin EU membership negotiations this year.

“I am hopeful that accession negotiations can begin already this year,” Metsola said in the western city of Lviv.

“Ukraine’s future is in the European Union,” she continued.

Brussels granted Kyiv formal candidate status in June last year, four months after Russia launched an all-out invasion, but the process of joining the European Union usually takes several years.

“The pace with which the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine Parliament) and the government is making progress on the EU application impresses me,” she said.

Russian DM pays rare visit to troops in Ukraine

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a rare visit to Russia’s forces deployed in Ukraine, the country’s defense ministry announced on Saturday.

In a statement, the ministry said Shoigu “inspected the forward command post of one of the formations of the Vostok forces in the South Donetsk direction.”

In a video from the ministry, Shoigu is seen handing out medals to Russian military personnel and inspecting damaged buildings with the Eastern Military District’s commander, Colonel-General Rustam Muradov.

“Awards deserved, earned. You fight with dignity! There is still a lot of work ahead. I really hope that you will continue to faithfully serve our country,” Shoigu told the military.

Shoigu and other members of Russia’s defence establishment have faced criticism from the head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, and military bloggers.

Prigozhin has since the start of the Ukraine war been openly taking credit for Wagner’s efforts to secure some territorial gains, particularly in the battles raging around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut.

His unexpected rise prompted speculation about possible infighting among Moscow’s elite as Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine sputtered.

Russia ‘must pay’ for crimes in Ukraine: European Commission president

Ursula von der Leyen says Russia “must pay” for its crimes, adding she was “proud” of the agreement to start an international centre for prosecuting the crime of aggression in Ukraine.

“We must do everything in our power to bring the perpetrators to justice,” she tweeted.

UK says Ukraine forces under increasingly severe pressure defending Bakhmut

Ukrainian forces in the eastern city of Bakhmut are facing increasingly strong pressure from Russian forces, British military intelligence has reported.

Kyiv is reinforcing the area with elite units, while regular Russian soldiers and forces of the Russian private military Wagner group have made further advances into Bakhmut’s northern suburbs, the British defence ministry said in its daily intelligence bulletin on Twitter.

Scholz stresses support for Ukraine at White House meeting

In a meeting with US President Joe Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has stressed the importance of maintaining Western support for Ukraine.

“This is a very, very important year because of the dangerous threat to peace that comes from Russia invading Ukraine,” he said.

The German leader lauded the transatlantic cooperation between the US and Europe in providing the “necessary support” for Kyiv.

“I think it is very important that we give the message that we will continue to do so as long as it takes and as long as it is necessary,” Scholz added.

Biden say US and Germany worked in lockstep to support Ukraine

US President Joe Biden said that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s support for Ukraine has “made a world of difference” during the war, as the two leaders met at the White House on Friday.

“You stepped up and provided critical military support and you know, I would argue that beyond your military support, the moral support you gave to Ukrainians has been profound. And you’ve driven historic changes at home — increase in defense spending and diversifying away from Russian energy sources — I know that has not been easy, very difficult for you,” Biden stated, noting they had moved in “lockstep” in supporting Kyiv.

“As NATO allies, we’re making the alliance stronger and more capable,” he added.

Scholz said Germany will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

“This is a very, very important year because of the very dangerous threat to peace that comes from Russia invading Ukraine, and it’s really important that we acted together, that we organized in lockstep, and that we made it feasible that we can give the necessary support to Ukraine during all this time,” noted Scholz, who added he felt the transatlantic partnership was in “very good shape.”

Germany and the US were in a standoff earlier this year over sending tanks to Ukraine, but both countries announced plans to send the vehicles after intense pressure on Berlin and prolonged diplomacy between Germany, the United States and other European allies.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland makes unannounced trip to Ukraine

US Attorney General Merrick Garland made an unannounced trip to Ukraine on Friday, his second trip to the country since Russia invaded a little more than a year ago.

The trip was not announced for security reasons, according to a Justice Department official.

Garland was invited to Lviv by the Ukrainian prosecutor general, the official said, and joined President Volodymyr Zelensky at the “United for Justice Conference.”

The attorney general “held several meetings and reaffirmed our determination to hold Russia accountable for crimes committed in its unjust and unprovoked invasion against its sovereign neighbor,” the official said.

The trip comes nearly two weeks after President Joe Biden made his first trip to Ukraine since the war began and is one of several trips made by members of Biden’s Cabinet. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also recently made a trip to Ukraine to meet with Zelensky.

The Justice Department has taken several steps to hold the Russian government and its supporters accountable since the invasion began.

On Wednesday, Garland testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he believed the Russian government was committing crimes against humanity and stated the Justice Department supports efforts by The Hague to investigate and prosecute those crimes.

“The United States supports what is now being developed in The Hague, sponsored by Eurojust, looking into the possibility of creating that court [to charge crimes of aggression],” Garland testified.

“There are concerns that we have to take into account with respect to how that might deal with our own service members and other circumstances,” he continued, adding, “We have to be sure that the appropriate guardrails are up. But we support any number of different ways in which war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the potential for crimes against aggression are investigated.”

US will send rockets, ammunition and other equipment to Ukraine in new $400 million aid package

The United States announced a new security assistance package for Ukraine on Friday that is valued at up to $400 million.

This is the thirty-third presidential drawdown on US inventories, totaling more than $32 billion, used to aid Ukraine since Russian’s full-scale invasion began more than one year ago.

In a drawdown, the Defense Department pulls weapons and equipment from US inventories to send abroad, rather than purchasing new weapons from manufacturers.

“This package features more ammunition and support equipment for Ukraine’s precision fires, artillery, and armored vehicle operations,” the Defense Department wrote in a statement.

Here’s a look at the weapons, munitions and equipment included in the package:

  • Additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS)
  • Additional 155mm artillery rounds
  • Additional 105mm artillery rounds
  • Additional 25mm ammunition
  • Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges
  • Demolition munitions and equipment for obstacle clearing
  • Testing and diagnostic equipment to support vehicle maintenance and repair
  • Spare parts and other field equipment

Last week, the US announced $2 billion in aid under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which contracts with the industry to procure the supplies and takes more time.

Ukrainian officials have also been pushing to obtain US F-16 fighter jets, which President Joe Biden and other Western leaders have opposed so far.

China is still considering providing lethal aid to Russia: White House

China could still take the escalatory step of providing lethal military aid to Russia, US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Friday.

“We don’t believe they’ve taken it off the table,” Kirby told CNN’s Abby Phillip, while noting that the administration still doesn’t “believe that they’ve made the decision to move forward.”

Asked about detained American Paul Whelan, Kirby said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “absolutely” brought it up with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, despite Russian claims otherwise.

“Paul Whelan needs to be home with his family and with his friends,” Kirby stated, adding, “We’re going to keep working to get him released and get him back home.”

Russia deploying most experienced units to Bakhmut amid intense fighting “in and around” city: Ukraine

The Ukrainian military announced that “intense fighting is taking place in and around the city” of Bakhmut in the east, with Russian forces deploying their more experienced units.

“The Russian occupiers have sent the most trained units of the PMC Wagner and other regular units of the Russian army to capture the city. Intense fighting is taking place in and around the city,” the Ukrainian Army Land Forces said in a post highlighting the visit to the front line by the commander of the Eastern Group of Forces, Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi.

“In Bakhmut, the commander listened to the reports of the commanders on the situation in their subordinate units, and was informed about the problematic issues of improving the defense capability of our units on the front line,” the post read.

According to the Ukrainian military, Russia continues to press in the hopes of “capturing Bakhmut and continues to accumulate forces to occupy the city.”

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russia’s mercenary group Wagner, has stated that Bakhmut was “surrounded,” and called on President Volodymyr Zelensky to order his forces to withdraw.

Ukraine dismissed Prigozhin’s remarks, calling it a “disinformation campaign.”

Putin tells security council to increase ‘anti-terrorism’ measures

President Vladimir Putin told his Security Council they needed to discuss additional “anti-terrorism measures” to safeguard facilities controlled by law enforcement bodies.

He stated Russia had been hit by a “terrorist attack” in the southern Bryansk region and pledged to crush a sabotage group that fired at civilians.

Ukraine has accused Russia of staging a false “provocation”.

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