Saturday, April 20, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 376

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

Ukraine says ‘fulfils’ EU accession reforms

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said Monday that Kyiv had fulfilled all the recommendations of the European Union as his war-battered nation pushes to begin talks to join the bloc.

Shmygal stated Ukraine had appointed a new head of its National Anti-Corruption Bureau, thereby completing a set of reforms required by the EU.

“Ukraine has fulfilled all seven EU recommendations,” he tweeted, adding, “This demonstrates our determination to move on to the start of accession negotiations this year.”

He announced that Semen Kryvonos, 40, was the new chief of the anti-corruption agency.

Brussels granted Kyiv formal candidate status in June last year, four months after Russia launched an all-out invasion.

But the EU said at the time that Kyiv must implement seven reforms including ramping up the fight against corruption and limiting “the excessive influence of oligarchs.”

Ukraine’s grain exports down as war continues

Ukraine’s grain exports are down 26.6 percent at 32.9 million tonnes in the 2022/23 season, hit by a smaller harvest caused by Russia’s invasion, agriculture ministry data showed.

The volume so far in the July to June season included about 11.4 million tonnes of wheat, 19.1 million tonnes of corn and about 2.1 million tonnes of barley.

Exports during the same time in the previous season were almost 44.8 million tonnes.

The ministry said grain exports so far in March had reached 641,000 tonnes as of March 6, down from 1.33 million tonnes in the same period last year.

As a significant global grain grower and exporter, Ukraine’s output is likely to have dropped to about 54 million tonnes in clean weight in the 2022 calendar year, down from 86 million tonnes in 2021.

Ukrainian leadership vows to defend Bakhmut as Russian forces continue efforts to encircle city

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and senior military commanders have vowed to continue to defend the eastern city of Bakhmut, according to a statement from the president’s office.

“They spoke in favor of continuing the defense operation and further strengthening our positions in Bakhmut,” reads the statement.

The meeting “considered the situation in Bakhmut in detail,” it adds.

The meeting was also attended by other senior figures in the government, including the Head of the Presidential Office Andriy Yermak, Chief of Defense Intelligence Kyrylo Budanov, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksii Danilov.

Russia is reportedly making progress in its attempts to take Bakhmut, with intense fighting reported on Monday.

Putin discussed alleged border attack at security council meeting: Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the alleged border attack in the Bryansk region of Russia “in detail” during a meeting of the country’s security council on Friday, the Kremlin has said.

The council discussed ways of ensuring the security of strategic facilities guarded by special services during the weekly meeting, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated on a conference call Monday.

On Thursday, Russian security officials claimed that a small Ukrainian armed group had crossed the Russian border into the southern Bryansk region. The allegations were dismissed by Kyiv as a “classic deliberate provocation” by the Kremlin.

“The situation connected with the terrorist act in Bryansk was discussed in detail,” Peskov continued, adding that Moscow would “take measures” to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Peskov reiterated that the Kremlin classifies the Bryansk raid as “nothing else but a terrorist attack.”

“Fall of Bakhmut” wouldn’t be a “strategic setback” for Ukraine: US defense secretary

Should Russian forces take the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, it wouldn’t constitute a “an operational or strategic setback” for the Ukrainian military, according to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

“I certainly don’t want to discount the tremendous work that the Ukrainian soldiers and leaders have put into defending Bakhmut, but I think its more of a symbolic value than it is strategic and operational value,” said Austin during a visit to Amman, Jordan.

“So the fall of Bakhmut won’t necessarily mean that the Russians have changed the tide of this fight. I think it will continue to be contested,” he added.

“What I do see is the Russians continuing to pour in a lot of ill-trained and ill-equipped troops,” Austin continued, stating, “And those troops are very quickly meeting their demise.”

Russian forces continue efforts to encircle Bakhmut

Intense fighting is raging around the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, where analysts assess that Russian forces are making gradual gains as they seek to encircle Ukrainian units.

In its Monday operational note, the Ukrainian military said Russia “continues its attempts to assault the city of Bakhmut” and surrounding settlements. It lists about six nearby settlements that came under fire.

On Sunday, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War announced that geolocated video footage suggests that “Wagner Group forces continued to make advances in northeastern Bakhmut and advanced near the Stupky railway station,” which is north of the city.

The ISW added “Ukrainian forces are unlikely to withdraw from Bakhmut all at once and may pursue a gradual fighting withdrawal to exhaust Russian forces through continued urban warfare.”

However, as yet, Russian forces do not appear to have crossed the Bakhmutka River — which runs along the eastern outskirts of the city — into central Bakhmut.

Russian DM visits Mariupol

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspected infrastructure projects on a visit to the occupied southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, Moscow’s Defense Ministry said on its official Telegram channel Monday.

Shoigu also toured a medical center, a new residential district constructed by the military, and was briefed on the construction of a pipeline that will “supply water to many settlements in the region,” the post added.

The ministry did not confirm when Shoigu’s visit took place, or if he was still in the city.

On Saturday, the ministry released a video of Shoigu meeting with Russian troops serving in occupied Ukraine. It was unclear where the video was shot.

The ministry said Shoigu “inspected the forward command post of one of the formations of the Vostok [Eastern] forces in the South Donetsk direction.”

Mariupol, located on the Sea of Azov in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, was captured by Russian forces last year after months of intense bombardment and thousands of reported deaths.

It was the scene of some of the most intense fighting since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine; it was there that Russia carried out deadly strikes on a maternity ward and the bombing of a theater where hundreds of civilians had sought refuge.

Mariupol also became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the weeks leading up to its fall, with the city’s last defenders holding out inside a steel plant alongside as many as 1,000 civilians taking shelter as stocks of food and water dwindled.

Ukrainian prosecutors investigating more than 2,600 war crimes against children

Ukraine’s deputy prosecutor general has told an international conference that Russia is using children as spies and telling them to assist in the construction of checkpoints.

Hromadske reports that Viktoria Lytvynova stated that the Office of the Prosecutor General is investigating 2,600 criminal cases against children, including rape, abduction and recruitment of children.

Ukrainian pilots in US for flying ability assessment

Two Ukrainian pilots are at a military base in Tucson, Arizona, to be evaluated on their ability to fly advanced fighter jets like the F-16.

Reports suggested they are currently using simulators and will shortly be joined by 10 of their colleagues.

“The programme is about assessing their abilities as pilots so we can better advise them on how to use [the] capabilities they have and we have given them,” an administration official told NBC News.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, has been pleading for the West to send advanced aircraft to supplement the Ukrainian air force, which is currently largely relying on Soviet-era MiG-29s.

Ukraine pledges to defend ‘fortress Bakhmut’ as battle rages

Kyiv has announced it is holding off attacks from Russian forces still attempting to surround Bakhmut, a near-destroyed eastern Ukrainian city that Moscow has been trying to capture for months.

Ukraine has pledged to defend “fortress Bakhmut” but has faced Russian troops determined to take the city that has become a political prize as the battle drags on.

Bakhmut has been mostly reduced to rubble during the longest and bloodiest battle of the invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday said Kyiv’s forces were in a “painful and difficult” battle in the eastern Donbas region, which includes Bakhmut.

“I would like to pay special tribute to the bravery, strength and resilience of the soldiers fighting in the Donbas,” Zelensky stated in his daily address, adding “this is one of the hardest battles. Painful and difficult.”

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