Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 380

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:

Talk with Blinken was ‘constructive’: Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says a conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in New Delhi last week was “constructive”, the TASS news agency reported.

In an interview on Russian state TV, Lavrov stated the pair spoke for 10 minutes and discussed nuclear arms issues and the conflict in Ukraine.

“We spoke constructively, without emotions, we shook hands,” he continued.

“Everything I heard was a position that has already been expressed and underlined in public many times before. I gave my honest, detailed assessment about the New START treaty, and why we saw it necessary to suspend it,” the minister added.

British PM will discuss China-Russia relations in meeting with France

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he would raise China’s approach to Russia and the war in Ukraine when he meets French President Emmanuel Macron.

Asked whether he was concerned that China may step up cooperation with Russia, Sunak told reporters, “Yeah, that’s definitely something that I’m planning to spend some time talking to Emmanuel about later.”

“We’d urge all countries not to be providing support to Russia, or trying to circumvent sanctions,” he said.

The US has announced China is considering supplying arms to Russia and warned Beijing against such a move. But China has denied the US claims and said that “sending weapons will not bring peace”.

Nearly half a million people without power in Ukraine’s second-largest city

Nearly half a million people are without power in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, after Thursday’s Russian missile strike, according to regional governor Oleh Syniehubov.

“The power supply is still cut off to 470,000 consumers in Kharkiv city and 50,000 in the region,” said Syniehubov in a Telegram post Friday.

However “critical infrastructure and some consumers have been powered,” he added.

In the wider Kharkiv region, more than 90% of consumers have had their electricity supply restored, Syniehubov stated.

Russia has launched a total of 95 missiles of various types over the past day, and 34 of them were intercepted, the Ukrainian military said on Friday.

Russian current account surplus shrank in January-February

The central bank said Russia’s current account surplus fell to $12.9bn in January-February from $37.7bn in the same period last year.

The country’s current account surplus hit a record high in 2022, which was helped by a fall in imports and robust oil and gas exports that kept foreign money flowing despite Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has been capturing some US-provided weapons to Ukraine and sending them to Iran: Sources

Russia has been capturing some of the US and NATO-provided weapons and equipment left on the battlefield in Ukraine and sending them to Iran, where the US believes Tehran will try to reverse-engineer the systems, four sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

Over the last year, US, NATO and other Western officials have seen several instances of Russian forces seizing smaller, shoulder-fired weapons equipment, including Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft systems that Ukrainian forces have at times been forced to leave behind on the battlefield, the sources told CNN.

In many of those cases, Russia has then flown the equipment to Iran to dismantle and analyze, likely so the Iranian military can attempt to make their own version of the weapons, sources said.

Russia believes that continuing to provide captured Western weapons to Iran will incentivize Tehran to maintain its support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, the sources added.

US officials don’t believe that the issue is widespread or systematic, and the Ukrainian military has made it a habit since the beginning of the war to report to the Pentagon any losses of US-provided equipment to Russian forces, officials stated. Still, US officials acknowledge that the issue is difficult to track.

It’s not clear if Iran has successfully reverse-engineered any US weapons taken in Ukraine, but Tehran has proven highly adept at developing weapons systems based on US equipment seized in the past.

Kyiv’s power and water supplies have been restored

Kyiv’s power and water supplies were restored on Friday morning following a barrage of Russian missile attacks on Thursday, according to Serhii Popko, the head of the Kyiv city military administration.

“There are no power outages. Water supply is in regular mode. Heat supply is being restored,” he said, adding, “As of 7:50 a.m., 30% of consumers are without heat. The restoration work lasted all night and continues now.”

On Thursday, Russia launched one of its biggest aerial assaults with more than 80 missiles targeted at Ukrainian infrastructure. President Volodymyr Zelensky said it was a difficult night, with six people killed directly in the strikes.

Following the strikes, 15% of the capital went without electricity temporarily, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said earlier on Telegram

Data show Putin’s war in Ukraine has not changed China and Russia’s deep defense sector ties

Chinese state-owned defense firms have maintained trade relationships with sanctioned Russian defense companies during the past year, even as many of the world’s leading economies cut ties with Moscow and the companies driving its continued assault on Ukraine.

Customs records reviewed by CNN show that throughout 2022, through at least mid-November, Beijing-based defense contractor Poly Technologies sent at least a dozen shipments – including helicopter parts and air-to-ground radio equipment – to a state-backed Russian firm sanctioned by the US for its connection to leader Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Poly Technology’s long-term trade partner – Ulan Ude Aviation Plant, a purveyor of military-grade helicopters – also continued to send parts and several helicopters to the Beijing-based company last year, trade data show.

Most of the helicopter parts included in the shipments to Russia were labeled for use in the multipurpose Mi-171E helicopter, designed for transport and search and rescue. China began importing this model of chopper from Russia more than 10 years ago, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Three shipments from Poly Technologies were labeled as including products for the operation or service of the Russian-made Mi-171SH, a military transport helicopter that can be equipped with weapons and has been used in Moscow’s operations in Ukraine.

The customs records came from two data sets. The first was provided by trade data firm Import Genius, whose information is collated by secondary sources from official Russian customs and shipment records. Washington-based think tank C4ADS, which collates official customs records aggregated from multiple third-party providers, provided the second set

War in Ukraine driven by interests of ’empires’: Pope

Pope Francis stated the war in Ukraine is driven by the interests of several “empires” and not just Russia’s.

In interview excerpts published by Italian dailies La Repubblica, La Stampa and Corriere della Sera, Francis said the conflict was fuelled by “imperial interests, not just of the Russian empire, but of empires from elsewhere”.

The Pope also expressed a readiness to talk to Putin to call for peace.

Russia, US in contact over nuclear treaty: Moscow

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia and the United States remained in contact over the New START nuclear arms treaty despite suspending participation in the deal, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Ryabkov stated that he had no expectations for significant progress.

The 2010 nuclear agreement limits the number of strategic warheads each side can deploy.

President Vladimir Putin announced last month that Moscow was suspending it, accusing the US of trying to inflict a “strategic defeat” on Russia in Ukraine.

CIA chief: Next four to six months to be crucial on battlefield in Ukraine

The US intelligence assessment is that the next four to six months will be crucial on the battlefield in Ukraine, CIA chief William Burns said on Thursday.

“I would say as a matter of intelligence assessment that the next several months, the next four or five, six months are going to be crucial on the battlefield in Ukraine,” Burns told a House committee hearing.

Burns pointed out that any prospect for a serious negotiation between Russia and Ukraine will depend on progress on the battlefield, stating that Russian President Vladimir Putin is currently not ready to engage in any peace talks.

Ukraine’s air defense systems “not coping well enough” against Russian hypersonic missiles: Adviser

Ukraine’s air defense systems didn’t withstand some of Russia’s Kinzhal missiles, according to an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, following a widespread attack from Moscow on Thursday.

A total of 84 missiles were fired on Ukrainian infrastructure, including six Kinzhal ballistic missiles that have the ability to elude Kyiv’s air defenses, the Ukrainian military said.

“They are using hypersonic missiles. They are using new types of weapons, and they are seeing how our air defense systems can cope with it,” Alexander Rodnyansky, an economic adviser to Zelensky, stated, adding, “They are not coping well enough.”

Rodnyansky outlined what he saw as the Kremlin’s tactical, economic and political objectives for Thursday’s strikes, including what he described as “economic terrorism.”

“They’re sending a very strong signal to everyone in Ukraine — and to perhaps some of our refugees outside of Ukraine — that life is very far from returning to normal despite the fact that over recent weeks there was more quiet,” he said.

This could cause refugees to stay away and businesses to withhold investing in the country, Rodnyansky continued.

“It is a question of managing expectations and showing this is a long game and that they are trying to plan this war for years,” Rodnyansky added.

Russia used the Kinzhal missile, which it has described as a hypersonic weapon, on a few occasions in the first weeks of its invasion last year. But the powerful weapon has rarely been seen over the country’s skies. Its first known use was last March, and then again in May, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Russian missile barrage on Ukraine ‘brutal, unjustified’: White House

The White House has called the latest barrage of Russian missile attacks targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine “brutal” and “unjustified”.

It is “devastating to see these brutal, unjustified attacks on civilian infrastructure across Ukraine”, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Olivia Dalton told reporters on board Air Force One.

US sanctions ‘China-based network helping Iran procure drones’

The United States has imposed sanctions on an alleged China-based network over, claiming it is helping Iran procure unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) slapped the sanctions on Thursday against “a network of five companies and one individual for supporting Iran’s UAV procurement efforts,” the Treasury said in a statement.

The network “is responsible for the sale and shipment of thousands of aerospace components, including components that can be used for UAV applications,” it added.

Washington targeted Iran’s UAV industry last time in January, imposing sanctions against an Iranian drone manufacturer under the unsubstantiated and disproven pretext that the Islamic Republic had provided Russia with the UAVs to be used by Moscow against Ukraine.

Tehran has, on repeated occasions, roundly rejected Washington’s allegations.

Russia imposes sanctions on 144 citizens of Baltic states

Russia has introduced personal sanctions against 144 government officials, journalists, lawmakers and other public figures from the three Baltic states who are deemed “most hostile” to Moscow, the Russian foreign ministry has said.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – ruled from Moscow during the Cold War but now members of the European Union and NATO – have been among the strongest critics of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The ministry added the move was a response to what it called active lobbying by the three Baltic republics for more sanctions against Russia and to their “interference in our internal affairs, inciting Russophobic sentiments”.

Last year, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania began restricting the entry of Russian citizens travelling from Russia and Belarus in response to what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Power restored in most areas after Russia’s latest assault on infrastructure: Ukraine’s energy minister

Engineers have restored electricity supply in most regions where energy facilities were damaged by Thursday’s massive Russian bombardment, Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said in a statement.

Halushchenko stated Russia used a new tactic in its latest large-scale assault, launching different types of missiles and drones at the same time.

“Unfortunately, there are hits to both generation and transmission facilities, i.e. power substations. The situation is not easy, but we can already say that the power supply, which was limited in 14 regions on March 9, has been restored. Repair work is ongoing and will continue around the clock until the power supply is fully restored,” the minister added.

Halushchenko noted that this was Russia’s 15th massive shelling of Ukraine’s battered energy system.

Putin not ready to negotiate on Ukraine: Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz can detect no willingness on the part of President Vladimir Putin to negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine, he has told the NBR group of German newspapers.

“Unfortunately, I see no willingness at the moment,” Scholz was quoted by NBR as saying, adding Ukraine must decide what conditions it is ready to accept for peace.

Scholz added that the energy supply in Europe’s biggest economy would be sufficient next winter and that the German economy was heading for growth rates last seen in the 1950s and 1960s due to heavy investment in climate protection

US privately urging traders to move Russian oil: Report

The Financial Times reported that the US has privately urged some commodity traders to let go of concerns about shipping price-capped Russian oil to keep supplies stable.

Treasury officials met executives and traders at Trafigura and Gunvor, among others, and offered reassurances over expanding their role in Russian crude and fuels trade without breaching Western restrictions, FT reported, citing people familiar with the meeting.

Russia’s “deliberate targeting” of civilians and energy grid is a war crime: EU chief

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen condemned the latest Russian missile barrage on Ukraine during a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In a tweet, von der Leyen said, “Russia’s deliberate targeting of civilians and energy grid is a war crime.”

Zelensky said that during the call, “we welcomed the new package of EU sanctions and agreed on further pressure on the aggressor. We also discussed in detail Ukraine’s progress in implementing the recommendations of the European Commission to start negotiations on Ukraine’s accession this year.”

Russia launched one of its biggest aerial assaults of the year on Thursday, with 84 missiles targeted at Ukrainian infrastructure across the country. This included six Kinzhal ballistic missiles that eluded Kyiv’s air defenses, the Ukrainian military announced. At least 11 people were killed.

Biden budget requests specific funding for Ukraine

The 2024 fiscal year budget presented by US President Joe Biden’s administration requests $63.1 billion for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development, including specific funding for the war in Ukraine and countering China – a nearly $5 billion increase from the fiscal year 2023 adjusted enacted budget.

The request includes $1.7 billion “that will help Ukraine win the war and lay the reform and recovery foundation for winning the peace and help other partners impacted by the war stabilize their economies and prepare for recovery,” according to a State Department fact sheet.

In addition, the new budget requests a $1.5 million increase to funding for the Global Engagement Center, which would support programs countering propaganda and disinformation by Russia.

It also seeks $8.9 million “to support a priority US strategic objective of increasing NATO common funding starting in 2023 as agreed to by the North Atlantic Council in December 2022.”

“Increased funding for the NATO civil budget will enable the organization to maintain its technological and operational edge in the evolving strategic and security environment that includes threats and challenges such as a more aggressive and assertive Russia and China, the need for strengthened cybersecurity, and threats posed by emerging and destructive technologies,” according to the budget justification document.

The Biden administration also requested $842 billion for the Defense Department, including $753 million for Ukraine to counter Russian influence and to help Kyiv with its security, energy and cybersecurity needs.

With the war in Ukraine in its second year, the latest budget requests $6 billion to support Ukraine, NATO and other European partners.

EU ‘ignoring’ talks on Nord Stream investigation: Russia

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated the EU is ignoring any talks on investigating the Nord Stream gas pipeline blasts.

Russia has repeatedly asked to be allowed to join the investigations into the blasts, which occurred last year and ruptured three of the four pipelines of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas links that connect Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

A New York Times report published Tuesday said that US intelligence reviewed by United States officials suggested that a pro-Kyiv group may have been behind the attacks.

Ukraine says it intercepted 34 of 84 missiles in massive bombardment

Russia launched a total of 84 missiles over the last 24 hours, and Ukraine’s air defenses intercepted 34 of them, the Ukrainian military announced in a Thursday night update.
An additional eight missiles in the assault did not reach their targets, according to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

“The enemy also carried out 12 air strikes, in particular, using 8 UAVs,” the General Staff said.

“Half of them were shot down,” the military continued, adding, “The level of missile threat throughout Ukraine remains high.”

Initially, Ukrainian authorities had said Russia fired 81 missiles in the barrage.

“Having no significant successes on the battlefield, the enemy continues to use terror tactics, thereby grossly violating the norms of International Humanitarian Law,” Ukraine’s military added.

CIA director: No one is watching Ukraine war “more intently” than China

CIA Director William Burns on Thursday emphasized the extent to which Russia’s war in Ukraine could color China’s thinking when it comes to Taiwan, telling lawmakers that “nobody has watched more intently” what’s happened in Ukraine than Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I do think that nobody has watched more intently Vladimir Putin’s experience in Ukraine than Xi Jinping has, and I think he’s been sobered to some extent at least it’s our analysis by the extent to which the West was able to maintain solidarity and absorb some short-term economic costs in the interest of imposing even greater long term economic costs on Russia,” Burns said at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats.

“That’s something that President Xi has to weigh as he comes out of zero-Covid, tries to restore Chinese economic growth, tries to engage with, you know, the rest of the global economy,” Burns added.

Congressional advocates of continued US support for Ukraine have echoed Burns’ comments about China, arguing to their skeptical colleagues that countering China is one of the key reasons to continue helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia.

Holding Bakhmut becomes more important each day: Top Ukrainian general

The importance of Ukraine holding on to the eastern city of Bakhmut is “constantly growing,” as every day of sustained resistance allows Kyiv’s forces to chip away at Russia’s offensive capabilities, one of Ukraine’s top military leaders stated Thursday.

“The importance of holding Bakhmut is constantly growing. Every day of the city’s defense allows us to gain time to prepare reserves and to prepare for future offensive operations,” Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s land forces, said in a statement.

“In the battles for this fortress, the enemy loses the most trained and combat-ready part of its army, the Wagner (private military company) assault units,” noted Syrskyi, who is Ukraine’s second highest-ranking general.

According to the Ukrainian commander, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin has said if Bakhmut is captured by his fighters, Russia will be able to launch a “large-scale offensive” using army and airborne units.

“This once again proves the very important role of Bakhmut in the overall defense system of our grouping,” Syrskyi continued, adding, “Thousands of enemies who died during the assault on the town are a vivid confirmation of this.”

“Fighting in the Bakhmut sector continues,” he said, adding, “I am proud of the courage and heroism of our soldiers who are disrupting the aggressor’s plans with their resilience.”

Russian forces have kept up their assaults near the invasion’s eastern front in Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Shakhtarsk, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces announced Thursday.

Ukraine’s military said its forces had recently repelled attacks in the villages of Orikhovo-Vasylivka and Dubovo-Vasylivka to the northwest of Bakhmut, in Ivanivske to the west of the city and in Oleksandro-Shultine to the southwest.

“The enemy continues to violate the norms of International Humanitarian Law, continues to carry out strikes, shell civilian objects and civilian homes, and tries to destroy the critical infrastructure of our country,” the General Staff added.

The US and its allies have frozen more than $58 billion from Russian oligarchs

The US and its allies have blocked or seized more than $58 billion worth of assets owned or controlled by sanctioned Russians in the past year as Western governments continue to dial up the pressure over the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a joint statement from a multinational sanctions enforcement task force.

The Russian Elites, Proxies and Oligarchs (REPO) Task Force held its sixth multilateral deputies meeting Thursday morning to discuss the group’s continued work and pledge to “redouble” their efforts to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin and his associates. The task force is a joint effort between the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, the UK and the European Commission.

“REPO will redouble efforts to hold Russia accountable for its unjust war, countering Russian efforts to undermine, circumvent, or evade REPO’s collective sanctions,” according to a joint statement released following the meeting and obtained first by CNN.

“REPO will continue to identify, locate, and freeze the assets of sanctioned Russians, with the aim of depriving the Kremlin of the funds it needs to fight its illegal war,” it continued.

The task force, which was formed last March, is also taking further steps to crack down on sanctions evasion as the US and its allies work to seal the cracks in a sanctions regime that has weakened but not crippled the Russian economy.

Following Thursday’s meeting, REPO also issued a joint global advisory to help the private sector spot and prevent common sanctions evasion methods, like using family members to maintain access to sanctioned assets, creating complex ownership structures and using third-party jurisdictions and false trade information to ship controlled goods, including those that support the Kremlin’s war machine.

The task force has blocked financial assets and seized luxury yachts, high-end real estate and even priceless art, with US officials recovering a possible Fabergé egg from one Russian oligarch’s seized yacht last summer.

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