Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 393: Russia warns Germany any attempt to arrest Putin declaration of war

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:

Mass destruction of health facilities in Ukraine: Report

International medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reveals in a new report the widespread destruction of health facilities in Ukraine as a result of Russia’s assault.

MSF has warned the warring countries to uphold “international humanitarian law and their obligations to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure”.

“Despite requests to work on both sides of the frontline, MSF is only able to operate in areas under Ukrainian control, and our observations are limited to those areas,” MSF said in a statement.

“The use of landmines is widespread in frontline areas, but to see them placed in medical facilities is shocking: a remarkable act of inhumanity. It sends a clear message to those who come in search of medicines or treatments: hospitals are not a safe place”, stated Vincenzo Porpiglia, Project Coordinator for MSF activities in the Donetsk region

Slovakia delivers four MiG-29 jets to Ukraine

Slovakia has delivered the first four MiG-29 jets it pledged to donate to Ukraine, with the remaining planes to be delivered in the coming weeks, the Slovak Defence Ministry said.

Slovakia last week joined fellow NATO member Poland in announcing the delivery of jets to Ukraine.

In total, Slovakia said it would donate 13 of the Soviet-made planes.

Wagner Group forces are deporting residents in Bakhmut: Ukraine

According to the Ukrainian government, forces from Russia’s Wagner Group of mercenaries are allegedly deporting residents from the suburbs of Bakhmut.

The Special Operations Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said, “Militants forcefully take local residents to captured areas of [the] Luhansk region, where they are filtered. After that, they are deported to Perm and other remote regions of the Russian Federation.”

The statement added that this is a “typical story” where Ukrainians are deported under evacuation and “assimilated” in Russian areas.

Finland will not send Hornet jets to Ukraine

Finland’s defence minister said he did not want to donate Hornet fighter jets to Ukraine, despite Kyiv’s request.

“My view as Finland’s defence minister is that we need these Hornets to secure our own country,” Antti Kaikkonen told a news conference in Helsinki.

“I view negatively the idea that they would be donated during the next few years. And if we look even further, my understanding is that they begin to be worn out and will have little use value left,” he added.

Finland is replacing its old Hornet fleet with F-35 fighters it ordered in 2021, but the delivery is still two to three years away.

Finland will, however, send three more Leopard 2 tanks, Kaikkonen told a news conference.

Hungary says it will not arrest Putin despite ICC warrant

Hungary would not arrest Putin if he enters the country, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff says.

Gergely Gulyas said the Rome Statute, which established the ICC, has not been built into the Hungarian legal system.

“We can refer to the Hungarian law, and based on that, we cannot arrest the Russian president … as the ICC’s statute has not been promulgated in Hungary,” Gulyas stated.

He added Hungary’s government “had not formed a stance” on the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin on war crimes charges.

“These decisions are not the most fortunate as they take things towards further escalation and not towards peace,” Gulyas said, adding, “This is my personal subjective opinion.”

Orban has been a longtime ally of Putin’s. Since the start of the Ukraine war, he has condemned Russian aggression but not Putin. Hungary has also not sent weapons to Ukraine and has insisted on maintaining economic and diplomatic ties with Russia.

Western sanctions target ordinary people: Russian PM

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Western sanctions against Moscow target ordinary people.

“At the very beginning, the West tried to assure us that the sanctions were not directed against our citizens. And then there were no illusions about this, but now even a person far from global politics understands that the main goal was the Russian people,” Mishustin stated in an address to the State Duma.

He added Moscow was hit by sanctions of unprecedented scale that, as a result, provoked mass unemployment.

“Russia’s opponents were unscrupulous in means. Blasted Nord Stream gas pipelines. Froze our accounts, switched off [the] system of international payments, tried to block all banks and other economic activities,” he continued.

Turkey approves Finland’s NATO bid

The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee approved a bill ratifying Finland’s bid to join NATO, state broadcaster TRT Haber reported.

The bill still needs to be approved by the parliament’s general assembly.

Sweden, which applied to join the bloc simultaneously with Finland, has yet to be approved by Turkey.

NATO chief dismisses complaints over uranium ammunition

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg dismissed Russian complaints about Britain’s announcement that it will send Ukraine ammunition containing depleted uranium.

On Wednesday, Moscow warned of a “serious” escalation of the Ukraine crisis if London sends Kyiv armour-piercing rounds.

“NATO allies are following international rules and international law in everything they do in their support for Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told AFP when asked about the British plans and Russian complaints.

“The dangerous thing is the war, which is taking thousands of lives,” he said at the operational launch of a new fleet of NATO-EU air-refuelling planes at a Dutch airbase.

“The most important thing that can be done to reduce risks is for President Putin to stop the war,” he added.

Russian leaders should be tried in absentia: Ukraine

Russian leaders should be put on trial for the invasion of Ukraine even if they cannot be arrested and brought to court in person, Kyiv’s top prosecutor said.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin spoke to the Reuters news agency during a stopover in The Hague after meeting with the chief ICC prosecutor last week, which issued an arrest warrant for Putin.

International support is growing for creating a special tribunal that would prosecute Russian leaders for the invasion.

The special tribunal should go after “the highest political and military leadership, including Putin, for the crime of aggression,” Kostin stated, adding, “I believe that it could be (held) in absentia, because it’s important to deliver a matter of justice for international crimes even if perpetrators are not in the dock.”

Zelensky visits the front lines in the region of Kherson

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is visiting the front line region of Kherson — months after parts of it were freed from Russian occupation.

“A working trip to the Kherson region. The village of Posad Pokrovske, where many houses and social infrastructure facilities were damaged as a result of Russia’s full-scale aggression,” he said in a Telegram post on Thursday.

“Electricity and water supply are being restored, a medical outpatient clinic is being rebuilt, and people are returning,” he continued, adding, “I talked to the locals about their current issues and needs. We will restore and rebuild everything.”

Russian forces destroyed much of the energy infrastructure in Kherson before they pulled out to the eastern bank of the Dnipro river. Months later, the two sides continue to exchange artillery strikes, from side to side, which have hindered repair work and power outages remain frequent.

Zelensky visited one of the energy facilities in the region.

“We considered the restoration of electricity supply in the de-occupied territories and the repair of equipment destroyed as a result of Russian shelling,” he said, adding, “We have to ensure full restoration and protection of our energy sector.”

Moscow does not expect transparent Nord Stream investigation: FM

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow did not expect an investigation into the Nord Stream gas pipelines to be transparent.

Moscow has repeatedly complained that it has not been informed about Denmark, Germany and Sweden’s investigation into the unsolved explosions, which Moscow has called an act of “international terrorism”.

EU leaders and UN chief to discuss war in Ukraine

European Union leaders will discuss the war in Ukraine, including food security and sanctions, with UN chief Antonio Guterres, diplomats and officials said.

Guterres will be a guest at an EU summit in Brussels, days after the renewal of a deal brokered by the UN and Turkey on the safe export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.

President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to provide diplomats with an update on the situation on the ground via video link.

“We will, as always, reaffirm our unwavering commitment to assist Ukraine,” declared Charles Michel, president of the European Council of EU leaders.

The leaders will also announce a plan agreed upon by foreign ministers on Monday to send a million artillery shells to Ukraine over the next year to aid its defence efforts.

Russia regains control over Kreminna approaches: British MoD

According to a daily British Ministry of Defence update, “heavy fighting” has continued on the Luhansk front line since the beginning of March.

“Russia has partially regained control over the immediate approaches to Kremina town, which was under immediate Ukrainian threat earlier in the year,” the ministry’s update said.

“In places, Russia has made gains of up to several kilometres. Russian commanders are likely trying to expand a security zone west from the defence lines they have prepared along the higher ground and integrate the natural obstacle of the Oskil River,” it added.

The ministry also found that in the northeast of Ukraine, Russian forces are keeping a defensive position as commanders “probably fear” that it’s a place where Ukraine could launch a counterattack.

Death toll rises to 9 after Kyiv drone attack

At least nine people have now been confirmed dead as a result of a Russian drone attack on the Kyiv region on Tuesday night, Ukraine’s state emergency service said in a statement Thursday.

The service added it has completed rescue and recovery efforts after recovering nine bodies from the destroyed building.

On Tuesday, a wave of Russian attacks with Iran-made Shahed drones hit a residential building in the town of Rzhyshchiv, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of the capital.

Ukraine will be able to go on offensive in Bakhmut “very soon”: Top commander

The ongoing depletion of Russian forces fighting for Bakhmut will allow Ukraine go on the counteroffensive in the eastern city “very soon,” a top Ukrainian general said in a Telegram post on Thursday.

“[Russians] are losing significant forces [in Bakhmut] and are running out of energy,” stated Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s land forces.

“Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did in the past near Kyin Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupyansk,” he added, referring to instances where Russian troops have previously retreated in the face of Ukrainian counteroffensives.

Syrskyi said Russian forces — made up mostly of fighters from the Wagner private military company — continue to try and take Bakhmut “at any cost, despite losses in both manpower and equipment.”

The commander, who has paid frequent visits to soldiers close to the front line in and around Bakhmut, also paid tribute to Ukrainian soldiers defending the city.

“Under continuous fire from enemy artillery and aircraft, our soldiers at the front demonstrate superhuman resilience, courage and bravery,” he continued, adding, “In particular, the units of the 93rd, 10th, 57th and 5th Brigades who are now defending our homeland in the east of the country.”

If Germany decides to arrest Putin, it will mean declaring war on Russia: Moscow

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said that if Germany decides to implement the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the “arrest” of Russian President Vladimir Putin, this will be equal to declaring war on Russia.

Earlier, German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said that the warrant for Putin’s “arrest” would be valid in Germany after a request from the ICC. The order was also supported by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who, during his visit to Japan, said that “no one is above the law.”

“Some idiots, halfwits like the German justice minister, say, ‘Well, if he comes, we’ll arrest him.’.. Does he understand what that means? Let’s imagine… the incumbent head of a nuclear state arrives on the territory of, say, Germany and is arrested. What is this? A declaration of war on the Russian Federation!” Medvedev stated in an interview with major Russian media.

He noted Russia in such a situation would use all available means to target “the Bundestag, the chancellor’s office, and so on.”

Medvedev added such decisions like the one the ICC made create a huge negative potential.

On March 17, the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of Putin and Russian Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova, citing “unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.”

The Kremlin said Russia is not party to the ICC and the court’s decision is legally null and void for the country.

Zelensky promises to ‘respond to every blow’ after Russian attacks

President Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukraine will “respond to every blow” after Russian attacks kill at least six people in the Kyiv region and one person in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia.

“We will certainly respond to every blow of the occupier on our cities,” Zelensky stated in a video statement.

“Today’s Russian strikes on Zaporizhzhia, the night attack on the Kyiv region, … all Russian strikes will receive a military, political and legal response,” the president added.

China’s top diplomat praises Xi’s trip to Russia, rejecting “unilateralism and hegemonism”

China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang said his country’s relationship with Russia could be “even more precious in the face of rampant unilateralism and hegemonism” as he praised President Xi Jinping’s trip to Moscow.

Qin described the relations between China and Russia as representing “the correct direction of historical development” and having “world significance beyond the scope of the two sides,” according to a statement released after Xi’s state visit.

China and Russia will continue to uphold “good-neighborliness and mutual trust,” as Xi’s decision to choose Russia as his first foreign visit in his new presidency was a political decision made after careful consideration, Qin stated.

In addition to praising the cooperation and friendship with Russia, Qin reiterated China’s stance on what the statement describes as the “Ukrainian crisis.”

“Certain countries deliberately obstruct peace talks for their own geopolitical interests, and even concocted all kinds of rumors and fallacies to attack and discredit China,” Qin continued.

He added that China is “neither the maker nor the party” involved in the crisis but “an advocate” that supports a political settlement and promotes peace talks.

The statement did not name the country obstructing peace talks.

8 killed in Kyiv region after drone strike on residential building: Ukrainian officials

At least eight people were killed in a Russian drone strike in the Kyiv region, Ukraine’s state emergency service said in a statement on Wednesday.

“As of 18:00 (6:00 p.m.), 8 people died, 7 people were injured and 1 person was rescued,” the statement read, adding, “Four people are likely to be under the rubble.”

Earlier in the day, the state emergency service announced a Russian drone strike hit a residential building in the town of Rzhyshchiv, which is about 50 miles (85 km) southeast of the capital of Kyiv.

Andrii Niebytov, the Kyiv region police chief, previously said that a drone had struck a dormitory building.

Police and emergency services evacuated more than 200 people after the strike, Niebytov added.

Ukraine reconstruction and recovery to cost $411bn: World Bank

Ukraine’s reconstruction and recovery needs have grown to $411bn, the World Bank has said.

The assessment, made jointly by Ukraine’s government, the World Bank, the European Commission and the United Nations, is an increase from the $349bn estimated in a report released in September.

The latest evaluation expects Kyiv to require $14bn for critical and priority reconstruction and recovery investments in 2023.

“Energy infrastructure, housing, critical infrastructure, economy and humanitarian demining are our five priorities for this year,” Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in a statement on Wednesday.

He added that part of the reconstruction work has already been done.

But Shmyhal warned that “the amount of damage and recovery needs currently does not include data on the loss of infrastructure, housing and businesses in the occupied territories.”

When the defence forces release them, authorities will start restoration work in these territories, he stated.

The report said that estimates “should be considered as minimums as needs will continue to rise as long as the war continues”.

Direct damage to buildings and infrastructure comes to more than $135bn, it added.

At least 1 dead and 34 injured in Zaporizhzhia missile strikes

At least one person was killed and 34 were injured by missile strikes in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine’s State Emergency Service announced on Wednesday.

Among the injured are three children, it said.

According to the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, Russian forces fired at least six missiles at Zaporizhzhia and the strikes caused significant damage to civilian infrastructure.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior Ukrainian official and adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, previously noted the strikes deliberately targeted civilians.

Blinken: European countries who are party to the International Criminal Court should arrest Putin if he visits

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated Wednesday that any European country that is a party to the International Criminal Court (ICC) should arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he visits.

“I think that anyone who is a party to the court and has obligations should fulfill their obligations,” Blinken said in response to a question from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.

Blinken would not say whether the US authorities would turn the Russian president over to the ICC if he were to come to this country, noting that the US is not a party to the court.

“I don’t think he has any plans to travel here soon,” Blinken added.

Putin has scarcely left Russia in recent years, and he has not traveled to the US since 2015.

Last week, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Putin for his role in a vast Kremlin-wide effort to forcibly deport Ukrainian children into Russia.

A report released in mid-February from the US State Department-backed Conflict Observatory by the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab found that more than 6,000 children — ranging in age from mere months old to 17 — have been in Russian custody at some point during the course of the war, although the “total number of children is not known and is likely significantly higher than 6,000.”

It identified 43 facilities that are a part of the vast network where the children were sent, stretching “from one end of Russia to the other,” including Russian-occupied Crimea, the “eastern Pacific Coast — closer to Alaska than it is to Moscow,” and Siberia, Yale Humanitarian Research Lab’s Nathaniel Raymond said.

“The primary purpose of the camps appears to be political reeducation,” he stated, noting that at least 32 of the facilities identified in the report “appear to be engaged in systematic re-education efforts that expose children from Ukraine to Russia-centric academic, cultural, patriotic, and in two cases, specifically military education.”

Risk of nuclear conflict at highest level in decades: Russia

The risk of a nuclear conflict is now at its highest level in decades, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday, according to state news agency TASS.

“I would not like to indulge in a discussion whether the probability of a nuclear conflict is high today, but in any case it is higher than anything that we have seen over the past decades, let’s put it this way,” Ryabkov stated during a discussion on the platform of the Valdai discussion club, according to TASS.

Ryabkov reiterated that Moscow is not departing “from the key provisions, doctrinal and political ones.”

He added non-nuclear states, especially those not aligned with the United States, should “more loudly to call to order politicians in the Western capitals, including Washington, who have absolutely lost their sense of reality.”

President Vladimir Putin said he was suspending his country’s participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States during his much-delayed annual State of the Nation Address to the Federal Assembly last month.

Russian “offensive capacity” in Bakhmut is decreasing but fierce fighting continues: Ukrainian military

Ukraine says the offensive capacity of Russian forces in and around Bakhmut is diminishing, but cautions that it remains one of the areas where the fiercest fighting is ongoing.

“The Russian Federation continues its armed aggression against Ukraine, focusing its main efforts on attempts to completely seize Donetsk and Luhansk regions within the administrative borders,” the Ukrainian military’s General Staff said in an evening update on Wednesday.

“The fiercest fighting is taking place in the southern and northern parts of Bakhmut,” it noted.

“In the Bakhmut direction, the enemy continues to conduct offensive actions, but its offensive potential is decreasing,” it added.

According to the Ukrainian military, Russian forces are continuing to expend large numbers of men trying to re-take the city.

“The enemy keeps trying to take the city, losing a significant amount of manpower, weapons and military equipment,” it said on Wednesday, adding, “Our defenders have been repelling numerous enemy attacks around the clock in the areas of Bakhmut, Bohdanivka and Predtechyne.”

The Ukrainian military went on to say Moscow’s armies were on the defensive in some areas in the southern part of Ukraine.

“The enemy is conducting defensive actions in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson directions. Areas near the contact line came under fire,” it stated.

NATO must prepare for a long confrontation in Ukraine: Estonia PM

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said NATO countries must prepare for a long war in Ukraine, calling on allies to increase defense spending.

“Russia has prepared for a long confrontation and so must we,” Kallas tweeted on Wednesday.

The Estonian prime minister urged NATO countries to increase defense spending beyond the 2% threshold.

“Estonia has increased its defence budget significantly, it will reach 3% of GDP by 2024,” she continued, adding, “2% of GDP on defence spending must be the floor, not the ceiling.”

Moscow will respond to UK supplying Ukraine with depleted uranium ammunition

Moscow will not leave unanswered the UK’s intention to supply Ukraine with shells that include depleted uranium, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

“This decision will not remain without serious consequences both for Russian-British bilateral relations and at the international level, where the initial reaction from multilateral structures already indicates the complete rejection of London’s plans. We will not leave such actions unanswered,” the statement read.

“Violating the fundamental norms of international law, London must not forget that it will have to bear full responsibility for this,” the statement added.

On Tuesday, the UK defense minister said Russia is “deliberately trying to disinform” since depleted uranium “is a standard component” for shells and has nothing to do with nuclear weapons. The comment from the ministry came after Putin warned the UK against supplying the ammunition.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated on Wednesday that the UK’s shipment of depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine would be a step toward further escalation of the conflict.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, depleted uranium is used in ammunition designed to pierce armor plating because it becomes sharper on impact with a target.

It is “considerably less radioactive than natural uranium,” according to the agency.

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