Saturday, April 20, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 384

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:

Russia is fighting for its very existence: Putin

The ongoing conflict with Ukraine – and the West – is a fight for Russia’s very existence, rather than a mere geopolitical game, President Vladimir Putin has said.

“For our Western so-called ‘partners’ – for, actually, our adversaries, we can say that openly today – the matter is about improving their geopolitical stance,” Putin stated, adding that the situation is very different for Moscow.

“For us, this is not a struggle for some geopolitical stance, but a struggle for the very existence of Russian statehood,” he stressed.

Destabilization and “tearing apart” Russia have long been among the top goals of the country’s adversaries, Putin said, urging everyone to show unity amid the ongoing hardships.

“In order to bring peace and stability closer, we, of course, need to show the consolidation of our society, composure. When the enemy sees that our society is strong, internally sound, consolidated, then, without any doubt, what we are striving for will happen: both success and victory,” Putin declared.

Protecting Russians living in Ukraine from persecution by the Kiev regime remains among the top goals of Moscow, Putin reiterated, adding that he has repeatedly met people from Donbass who “are exactly the same as us.” Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow tried to build up solid and mutually beneficial ties with Kiev, but the efforts ultimately flopped, the president admitted.

“Russia has been patiently trying for decades to mend relations with the modern Ukrainian state, but the situation changed in 2014, when a Western-prompted coup d’etat took place,” he said. Even after that, Moscow spent years trying to peacefully resolve the civil conflict in then-Ukrainian Donbass, he concluded.

Russian economic sovereignty has increased: Putin

The Russian economy hasn’t collapsed due to sweeping Western restrictions, on the contrary, its sovereignty has grown many times over, President Vladimir Putin has stated.

Putin, who made the comment while meeting with aircraft factory employees in Ulan-Ude, Buryatia, on Tuesday, noted the country had passed a significant stage in its development, which could be the most important result of 2022.

“We have exponentially increased our economic sovereignty. After all, what did our adversary count on? That we would collapse in two or three weeks or in a month,” the Russian leader added.

“The expectation was that enterprises would cease due to our partners refusing to work with us, the financial system would collapse, tens of thousands of people would be left without work, take to the streets, protest, Russia would be shaken from the inside and collapse. That was their intention, but this did not happen,” Putin declared.

He pointed out that the Russian financial system has survived, growing stronger and becoming more independent, thanks to the actions of the central bank.

Putin also indicated that the unemployment rate in the country was currently at historically low 3.6%, while gross domestic product has fallen by only 1.2%.

According to the Russian president, the fundamental foundations of Russia’s stability are now “much stronger than anyone could previously imagine.”

Russia agreed to extend grain deal out of ‘goodwill’: Kremlin

Russia announced it had agreed to extend the Black Sea grain deal out of “goodwill”.

Asked why Russia had extended the deal for 60 days, as opposed to the 120-day extension period set out in the agreement, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow’s decision was “a gesture of goodwill … in the hope that after such a long time, the obligations that have been assumed will be fulfilled.”

Peskov criticised the West for not doing enough to remove obstacles to Russia’s agricultural and fertiliser exports and said contacts over the deal would continue.

He added: “It is obvious that the second part of the deal, which concerns us, has not yet been fulfilled … The deal cannot stand on (only) one leg.”

Ukraine to stick to 120-day grain deal extension

A senior Ukrainian government official said that Ukraine would stick to an agreement signed last year on a 120-day extension of the Black Sea grain deal.

“We will follow the agreement strictly,” the official anonymously told the Reuters news agency.

Russia’s TASS news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko as saying the deal had been extended for 60 days.

But Ukraine argues the July agreement clearly states that extensions are possible for a minimum of 120 days, and the original contract should be changed if parties want shortened terms.

“The Russians realised that 60 days (extension) is not legally possible, so they are trying to find a way out,” the senior Ukrainian government official stated.

Peace not possible without accepting ‘new realities’: Kremlin

The Kremlin says a peaceful resolution in Ukraine is impossible without considering the war’s “new realities”.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated Russia’s position regarding ending hostilities was “well known”.

Moscow has repeatedly said Ukraine would need to accept the four regions it claims to have annexed as Russian territory, a move rejected as illegal by Kyiv and the West.

Consultations continue on future of grain deal: UN

Informal dialogue between the United Nations and parties to the Black Sea grains deal continues over an extension, a UN spokesperson said, adding that talks with Russia have ended.

“The talks completed yesterday as agreed, but consultations continue with all parties,” a spokesperson for the humanitarian office of the UN said in an emailed response to Reuters questions.

Griffiths and top UN trade official Rebeca Grynspan met Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin in Geneva on Monday.

Vershinin suggested renewing the deal for 60 days, or half the term of the last extension.

Russia does not recognise ICC’s jurisdiction: Kremlin

Russia does not recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, the TASS news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

“We do not recognise this court, we do not recognise its jurisdiction,” Peskov noted.

Peskov had been asked about reports on Monday that the ICC prosecutor was expected to ask a pre-trial judge to approve issuing warrants against several Russians for the alleged abduction of children from Ukraine to Russia and the alleged targeting of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s future being decided in east of country, where fighting is “very tough”: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky stated his country’s future is being decided in eastern Ukraine, where the fighting is “very tough.”

“The situation in the east is very tough and very painful. We need to destroy the enemy’s military power, and we will,” he said in his nightly address Monday.

“Bilohorivka and Maryinka, Avdiivka and Bakhmut, Vuhledar and Kamyanka — and all other places where our future is being decided. Where our future, the future of all Ukrainians, is being fought for,” the president added.

Zelensky went on to say he was grateful to every soldier putting their lives on the line in these battles.

“I thank everyone who is defending their positions and fighting for Ukraine and their brothers,” he said, adding, “Thank you to everyone who never lets down those who are next to them on the line!”

“Today, I would like to recognize the soldiers of the 92nd Separate Mechanized Brigade for their successful actions in the area of Bakhmut,” the Ukrainian president noted.

US State Department official: Russia and China have “clearly” aligned on propaganda about the war in Ukraine

Russia and China have “clearly” aligned themselves on propaganda and disinformation regarding the war in Ukraine, and the United States and the West have not invested enough over the years in countering such disinformation, a senior State Department official said Monday.

“The United States as a country, the West as a society, has been slow to accept and realize the extent to which China and Russia have made operations in the information space part and parcel of their national objectives,” the official told reporters.

The official added that China and Russia “have spent tens of billions of dollars” on disinformation over the years, and “we, I believe, are just coming to grips as a country and as a society.”

“I think it’s been talked about, but I don’t think that we have yet put the resources and energy behind it that we should. And that doesn’t mean that people haven’t tried,” the official said, adding that it’s only in “recent years that we’ve all come to see the dark side of the communications revolutions in digital technology.”

“Meanwhile, the Russians and the Chinese in particular have been working that dark side,” the official said.

The US official noted that the war in Ukraine has helped awaken the West to the issue, adding, “when democracies are aroused, as they have been from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the democracies have shown their power this last year.”

“The autocracies are weaker as a result of the last year. So I believe that when aroused that we will succeed, but we have not been sufficiently aroused,” the official said.

The official described Moscow and Beijing as having “an echo chamber” and “a feedback loop” of spreading the false narratives about the war, and stated, “they try to get more and more attention by sharing narratives.”

The official suggested these disinformation efforts were de facto state-sponsored, because “in Russia and China, we generally believe that the major media operations are well aligned by their governments.”

The official added that the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, which is tasked with countering foreign disinformation, put out a report several years ago that found the Russian government “operates disinformation at the highest levels of government” and the “Chinese propaganda system is operated at the highest levels of government.”

The official said that the head of the Global Engagement Center (GEC) at the State Department would be traveling to Eastern Europe “where there are operations that repeat and promulgate Russian disinformation,” and will engage with governments there on how to “shut it down or mitigate it or limit it,” instead of “waiting for these people to repeat it and promulgate it.”

International Criminal Court will open war crimes cases against Russia over Ukraine invasion

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is planning to open two war crimes cases related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and issue arrest warrants against “several people,” according to the New York Times (NYT) and Reuters, citing current and former officials with knowledge of the decision who were not authorized to speak publicly.

According to the NYT, the cases would represent the first international charges to be brought since the start of Russia’s war and come after months of work by special ICC investigation teams.

The first case the ICC is set to open is about Russia’s alleged abduction of Ukrainian children. The second is on Russia’s “unrelentingly” targeting civilian infrastructure, including water supplies and gas tanks, according to the NYT.

ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan’s first step is to present his charges to a panel of pretrial judges, who will decide whether legal standards have been met for issuing arrest warrants or whether investigators need more evidence, the NYT reported.

In a response to a request from CNN on the NYT’s reporting, the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor said that they “provide no comment on this report.”

The ICC chief visited Ukraine last month to probe Russia’s attacks on power and other infrastructure.

Khan told reporters during the visit that “we see clearly a pattern, I think, in terms of the number, scale and breadth of attacks against the power grids of Ukraine. And we need to look at why that’s taking place; are they legitimate targets or not; and whether or not they are targeted for other reasons.”

“There seems to be a lot of damage in Ukraine, and it may well be it is part of a policy and part of a plan and we need to get to the bottom of it and see whether or not there is criminal responsibility and if there is we have an International Criminal Court that has jurisdiction to look into it,” he added.

When asked whether the court’s process may be too slow to meet the expectations of the Ukrainians, the top prosecutor stated: “What people want are not Pyrrhic victories.”

“As a prosecutor we are officers of the court. We are not here to get a round of applause by a conjuring trick. Whenever we do move, (people) should have confidence that this is not a political process,” he continued.

Russia remains the “most acute threat” to UK’s security: British government

Russia continues to be the “most acute threat” to the UK’s security, Britain’s government said in a review of its security approach published on Monday.

The report, called the “Integrated Review Refresh 2023,” announced an expansion in defense investment by 5 billion pounds (around $6 billion) over the next two years.

“What has changed is that our collective security now is intrinsically linked to the outcome of the conflict in Ukraine,” the review – which is an update on one published in 2021 – said.

In the long term, the UK would aim to increase its “baseline commitment of spending” on defense from 2% of GDP to 2.5%, the review added.

It noted that China “poses an epoch-defining challenge to the type of international order we want to see,” and identified China’s “deepening partnership with Russia and Russia’s growing cooperation with Iran” as two developments of “particular concern.”

Regarding Russia, the review said that the UK’s objective would be “to contain and challenge Russia’s ability and intent to disrupt the security of the UK, the Euro-Atlantic and the wider international order.”

On China, the report announced a doubling of funding “to build China capabilities across government to better understand China and allow us to engage confidently where it is in our interests to do so.”

In response to the increase in defense spending, Tobias Ellwood, chair of the UK’s Defense Select Committee, told Sky News on Monday that Russia and China “would be breathing a sigh of relief that we have not invested further in our armed forces at this time.”

Speaking to UK parliament about the report, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly stressed that “on every continent of the world, the United Kingdom walks taller today than it has done for many years.”

US is encouraging Chinese president to speak with Ukraine’s Zelensky: White House

The US has been encouraging Chinese President Xi Jinping to speak directly with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the White House said Monday, amid reports the Chinese leader would hold a call with Zelensky.

“We have been encouraging President Xi to reach out to President Zelensky because we believe that PRC and President Xi himself should hear directly the Ukrainian perspective and not just the Russian perspective on this,” National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One.

“We have, in fact, advocated to Beijing that that connection take place,” he added.

He stated the US had encouraged that conversation “publicly” as well as “privately to the PRC.”

Sullivan said American officials have “spoken with our Ukrainian counterparts today,” and that Ukrainians had not officially gotten confirmation there would be a phone call or a video conference with Xi.

“We hope there will be. That would be a good thing because it would potentially bring more balance and perspective to the way that the PRC is approaching this, and we hope it would continue to dissuade them from choosing to provide legal assistance to Russia,” Sullivan added.

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