Friday, March 1, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 377

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:

UN chief en route to Kyiv to meet Zelensky

UN chief Antonio Guterres was travelling to Ukraine on Tuesday to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his third trip since Russia’s full-scale invasion, his spokesman said.

“The Secretary-General has just arrived in Poland on his way to Ukraine,” Stephane Dujarric stated in a statement.

Guterres was due to arrive in Kyiv later on Tuesday before meeting the Ukrainian President on Wednesday morning “to discuss the continuation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative in all its aspects, as well as other pertinent issues,” the spokesman added.

EU sanctions Russian officials for violence against women

The European Union on Tuesday imposed sanctions ahead of International Women’s Day against officials from six countries, including Russia and Afghanistan, for violence and rights abuses against women.

According to a document seen by AFP, nine individuals and three official entities have been added to sanctions lists, subject to visa bans and the freezing of any assets held in the EU.

The sanctions target two Moscow police officers, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Fedorinov and his subordinate Ivan Ryabov, who are accused of ordering the arrest and torture of female anti-war protesters.

Also named are Russian special forces commander Major General Nikolai Kuznetsov and tank commander Colonel Ramil Ibatullin, whose units are accused of systematic acts of rape and sexual violence in Ukraine.

Kremlin says it does not recognise the Western oil price cap

The Kremlin said it did not recognise the price cap introduced by Western countries on its oil exports after the United States said that the cap was “working well”.

“We do not and will not recognise any cap. We are working so that this system does not harm our own interests,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russia’s economy has proved resilient despite tough Western sanctions, but the price cap has complicated its efforts to sell oil globally.

Last month, Moscow announced it would cut output by 500,000 barrels per day in March in response to the price cap.

Ukraine begins online talks on grain deal renewal

Ukraine has started online talks with partners on extending the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a senior Ukrainian government source told the Reuters news agency.

The source added that Ukraine had not held discussions with Russia but that it was Kyiv’s understanding that its partners were talking to Moscow.

The Black Sea Grain Initiative was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last July and was extended in November.

It will expire on March 18 unless an extension is agreed upon.

Poland to send 10 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine

A further 10 Leopard 2 tanks from Poland will be sent to Ukraine this week, the Polish defence minister said.

“Four (tanks) are already in Ukraine, another 10 will go to Ukraine this week,” Mariusz Blaszczak told a news conference.

Poland had promised to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks in total.

Russian DM says victory in Bakhmut will lead to further advances

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says that capturing Bakhmut will allow Russian forces to advance further into Ukraine.

“This city is an important defense hub of Ukrainian troops in the Donbas,” stated Shoigu at a military conference in Moscow.

“Taking it under control will allow further offensive actions deep into the defense of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” he continued, adding several settlements around Bakhmut had already been captured.

Shoigu also accused the United States of having a strategy to “break Russia by force of arms.”

“Western countries are increasing the supply of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, expanding training programs for the personnel of the Ukrainian army,” he said.

Even so, he added, such assistance was not leading to the success of Ukrainian forces.

“On the contrary, there is a significant increase in losses among the personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” Shoigu stated.

“In February alone, they increased by more than 40% compared to January and amounted to more than 11,000 troops,” the minister continued.

Ukraine wants US to send cluster bombs so it can take them apart to drop from drones

Ukraine has broadened a request for controversial cluster bombs from the United States to include a weapon that it wants to cannibalise to drop the anti-armor bomblets it contains on Russian forces from drones, according to two US politicians.

Kyiv has urged members of Congress to press the White House to approve sending the weapons but it is by no means certain that the Joe Biden administration will sign off on that.

Cluster munitions, banned by more than 120 countries, normally release large numbers of smaller bomblets that can kill indiscriminately over a wide area, threatening civilians if they fail to detonate and remain on the ground.

Ukraine is seeking the MK-20, an air-delivered cluster bomb, to release its individual explosives from drones, said US Representatives Jason Crow and Adam Smith, who both serve on the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee. That is in addition to 155 mm artillery cluster shells that Ukraine already has requested, they said.

“No part of Ukraine can be abandoned”: Zelensky orders reinforcement of Bakhmut

President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he ordered the reinforcement of positions inside the city of Bakhmut, explaining that there was no part of Ukraine that could be abandoned.

The president stated he took the decision after consulting with the military leadership.

“I told the chief of staff to find the appropriate forces to help the guys in Bakhmut. There is no such part of Ukraine that can be abandoned,” Zelensky continued, adding, “There is no Ukrainian trench in which the resilience and heroism of our soldiers would not be valuable.”

Zelensky also seemed to address rumors of a Ukrainian withdrawal from the eastern city, referring to those as “disinformation messages,” coming from those who didn’t have access to the confidential decision-making briefings where such a decision would have to be taken.

He noted that Ukraine would defend every inch of its country.

“We are defending and will continue to defend every part of Ukraine,” he continued, stating, “When the time comes, we will liberate every city and village in our country. And we will make the occupier answer for every shot against Ukraine, for every vile act against Ukrainians.”

China’s FM equates possible supply of weapons to Russia with US military support for Taiwan

China’s foreign minister on Tuesday equated any possible future military support from Beijing for Russia’s war in Ukraine with US weapons sales to the self-ruled island of Taiwan.

“Why does the US ask China not to provide weapons to Russia while it keeps selling arms to Taiwan?” Foreign Minister Qin Gang asked during a news conference.

Qin said it was “absurd” for “senior US officials” to be interjecting in the issue of Taiwan, which he said is a “matter for the Chinese people.”

“No other country has the right to interfere in it,” he added.

China’s ruling Communist Party sees democratic Taiwan as part of its territory, despite never having controlled it, and Chinese leader Xi Jinping has repeatedly refused to rule out the use of force in “reunifying” it with the Chinese mainland.

Qin reiterated Beijing’s long held stance on Tuesday, refusing to rule out the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.

“We will continue to work with the greatest sincerity and utmost efforts to pursue peaceful reunification,” he said, adding, “Meanwhile, we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures.”

In terms of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Qin stated Tuesday that “China did not create the crisis, it is not a party to the crisis and has not provided weapons to either side.”

“China always makes its own judgment and decides on this position independently based on the merit of the issue,” Qin said, adding, “Between war and peace, we have chosen peace; between sanctions and dialogue, we have chosen dialogue; between fanning the flames and lowering the temperature, we have chosen the latter.”

Beijing’s efforts to present itself as peacemaker in the Ukraine war have 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.

NATO estimates Russia lost 5 times more soldiers in Bakhmut than Ukraine

NATO intelligence estimates that for every Ukrainian soldier killed defending Bakhmut, Russian forces have lost at least five, a military official with the North Atlantic alliance told CNN on Monday.

The official cautioned the five to one ratio was an informed estimate based on intelligence.

The official spoke to CNN on the condition they remain anonymous because they are not allowed to discuss this intelligence. Despite the favorable ratio, they also said Ukraine was suffering significant losses defending the city.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly claimed they were inflicting heavy losses on Russia as Moscow tried to take Bakhmut.

“Our defenders inflicted significant losses on the enemy, destroyed a large number of vehicles, forced Wagner’s best assault units to fight and reduced the enemy’s offensive potential,” Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of the Ukraine’s land forces said after a visit to Bakhmut on Sunday.

The Institute for the Study of War also reported Russia’s efforts to capture Bakhmut had significantly deteriorated its capacity for additional offensives.

“The Russian military will likely struggle to maintain any subsequent offensive operations for some months, giving Ukraine a chance to seize the initiative;” it added.

Defense of Bakhmut has been a “great strategic success” for Ukraine: Presidential advisor

The Ukrainian defense of the city of Bakhmut has “achieved its goals” and has been “a great strategic success” for the Ukrainian army, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said.

Ukraine had two main goals in defending Bakmut: buying time to replenish its forces and inflicting heavy losses on Russian armies, Polodyak stated. The decision to make the defense of the key area a priority was a joint strategy devised by the country’s military branches with the approval of the Ukrainian president, he added.

“As for the defense of Bakhmut, it achieved its goals by 1000%. The military implemented the plan to destroy the enemy’s main combat-ready grouping on the one hand and enabled the training and training of tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops to prepare for a counterattack on the other,” Podolyak said.

“Even if the military leadership at some point decides to retreat to more favorable positions, the case of defending Bakhmut will be a great strategic success for the Ukrainian Armed Forces as a foundation for future victory,” he added.

Podolyak cautioned that a decision to withdraw has not been made yet, rather that there has been a consensus among military leaders to continue defending the city.

“This is an advantage of the democratic model, which allows us to choose and make the best decisions. A lot of critical questions are asked by the president himself. Since the final decision, as commander-in-chief, is made by the head of state, the president feels very personally responsible,” he continued.

Arizona Air National Guard conducting evaluation of Ukrainian pilots for possible F-16 training: Officials

A group of Ukrainian pilots are in the United States for evaluations being conducted by the Arizona Air National Guard, according to two United States officials.

The 162nd Fighter Wing, which flies F-16 fighter jets, is based at Tucson International Airport and trains international aircrews on the fourth-generation aircraft, according to the officials. The Wing’s website said it has trained pilots from 25 countries that currently operate the F-16.

One of the officials said 10 more Ukrainian pilots may come to the US for the same evaluation and assessment.

The pilots are in the US for a “familiarization event” and “a routine activity” between the US Air Force and the Ukrainian pilots, a US military official said over the weekend. However, the official stated “there are no updates to provide regarding F-16’s to Ukraine” and there are no immediate plans to increase the number of Ukrainian pilots in the US.

“This event allows us to better help Ukrainian pilots become more effective pilots and better advise them on how to develop their own capabilities,” the official added.

Top Ukrainian officials have been asking for fighter jets from the US, arguing they need them urgently to defend against Russian missile and drone attacks. But that push is being met with skepticism by US and allied officials who say the jets would be impractical, both because they require considerable training and because Russia has extensive anti-aircraft systems that could easily shoot them down.

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