Sunday, April 21, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 394

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:

Russian forces may advance as far as Kyiv: Ex-president

Russian forces may have to advance as far as Kyiv or Lviv in Ukraine, Russia’s ex-president Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview with Russian news agencies.

“Nothing can be ruled out here. If you need to get to Kyiv, then you need to go to Kyiv, if to Lviv, then you need to go to Lviv in order to destroy this infection,” RIA Novosti quoted Medvedev as saying.

Medvedev, deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, has issued a barrage of strongly worded statements in the past, blasting the United States and its NATO allies for what he described as their efforts to break up and destroy Russia.

Medvedev stated that Moscow is not planning to enter into a direct conflict with NATO and is interested in resolving the crisis through talks.

However, he warned any Ukrainian attempt to take the Crimean Peninsula would be grounds for Moscow to use “absolutely any weapon” against Kyiv.

Wagner is deporting Bakhmut residents to Russian-occupied areas of Luhansk region: Ukraine

Wagner mercenaries have begun deporting residents of the Bakhmut suburbs they control, the Ukrainian National Resistance Center (NRC) – an official body – said on Friday.

“Militants forcefully take local residents to captured areas of Luhansk region, where they are filtered. After that, they are deported to Perm (Russia) and other remote regions of the Russian Federation,” the center noted.

“Locals are deported under the intention of evacuation. After that, they are assimilated in remote areas of the empire, because they are now dependent on the occupiers,” the NRC added.

Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of the Armed Forces, addressed these claims on Ukrainian television Friday.

“This is one of the regular crimes of the Russian Federation. There is nothing to be surprised at, because the entire military structure of the Russian Federation is a criminal … All of this will be recorded, documented and handed over to the relevant national and international jurisdictions,” he stated.

Depleted uranium shells will harm Ukrainians: Russia

Russia’s defence ministry said that using depleted uranium shells would harm Ukrainian troops, the population and negatively affect the country’s agriculture sector, the Interfax news agency reported.

“The West is well aware of the negative consequences of using depleted uranium ammunition,” Igor Kirillov, head of the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Protection Forces of Russia’s defence ministry, said in a statement.

Ukraine’s agricultural industry could suffer “for decades, if not centuries, into the future,” he added.

Earlier this week, Britain announced it would send shells containing depleted uranium to Ukraine to aid its war efforts.

However, Russia has responded to the news angrily, with President Vladimir Putin warning that Moscow would “respond accordingly given that the collective West is starting to use weapons with a ‘nuclear component’”.

Russian troops play greater role around Bakhmut as Wagner loses fighters: Ukraine

Russian airborne troops are playing a greater role in the fighting around Bakhmut because of the growing losses of the Wagner private military company, the Ukrainian military says.

“It is not that [Wagner] are withdrawing, but that due to heavy losses they have to be reinforced by units of the regular army of the Russian Federation, primarily by airborne troops,” Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of the Armed Forces, told Ukrainian television Friday.

Russian forces in the area are “making several dozen attacks every day. There were 32 firefights over the last day” in and around Bakhmut, Cherevatyi continued, adding that there were also air strikes launched by both fixed-wing planes and attack helicopters.

“Artillery is a much bigger factor of influence on military operations there than aviation,” he noted.

Crucial that Nord Stream investigation is transparent: Kremlin

The Kremlin announced it was essential to identify an object discovered next to one of the Nord Stream pipelines and the ongoing investigation into the blasts must be transparent.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told reporters it was a positive sign that Denmark had invited the Russian-controlled operator of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to help salvage an unidentified object found last week close to the Baltic Sea pipelines.

“It’s certainly positive news when the owner of the pipeline is invited to take part in very important phases of the investigation,” Peskov said.

“It is critically important to determine what kind of object it is, whether it is related to this terrorist act – apparently it is – and to continue this investigation. And this investigation must be transparent,” Peskov added.

Indian Air Force says Russia can’t meet arms deliveries due to Ukraine war

Russia is unable to honor its arms delivery commitments to India because of the war in Ukraine, the Indian Air Force (IAF) said, placing a potential strain on New Delhi’s relationship with its largest defense supplier as Moscow attempts to ramp up weapons production.

An IAF representative told an Indian parliamentary committee that due to the Ukraine war a “major delivery” from Moscow “is not going to take place.”

The admission, published in a report by India’s lower house of parliament on Tuesday, is the first official confirmation by Indian authorities amid swirling rumors and reports in local media suggesting shortcomings in Russian capacity.

“They have given us in writing that they are not able to deliver it,” the representative said, according to the report.”

The report did not mention the specifics of the delivery.

The biggest ongoing delivery is the S-400 Triumf air defense system units India bought in 2018 for $5.4 billion. Three of these systems have been delivered and two more are awaited, Reuters reported.

IAF also depends on Russia for spares for its Su-30MKI and MiG-29 fighter jets, the mainstay of the service branch, according to Reuters.

Russia is the world’s second-largest arms exporter, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a large-scale effort to build up capacity to produce more weapons for the war in a move he stated was “urgently needed.”

New Delhi has strong ties with Moscow dating back to the Cold War, and remains heavily dependent on the Kremlin for its military equipment — a vital link given the ongoing tensions along India’s shared Himalayan border with an increasingly assertive China.

The admission by the IAF is “very serious,” according to Harsh V. Pant, vice president of studies and foreign policy at the New Delhi-based think thank Observer Research Foundation.

“I think it underscores the problems that (India) has been bedeviling this relationship for quite some time,” he continued, adding, “And the Ukraine crisis has accelerated the trend that India, for a very long time, has been trying to diversify, and was concerned about its overdependence on Russia.”

ICC concerned by Russia’s ‘threats’ over Putin warrant

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has expressed concern over “threats” from Russia following its issuing of a war crimes arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin.

The ICC’s statement of concern on Wednesday came after former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened to hit the war crimes court in The Hague with hypersonic missiles.

It also followed Russia’s top investigative body opening a criminal case against ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan as well as the judges who issued the warrant for Putin.

EU leaders endorse supply of more ammunition to Ukraine

European Union leaders have endorsed a plan to supply a million artillery shells to Ukraine over the next year.

“We need to support Ukraine to defend itself, we need to continue to show solidarity and avoid any sign of fatigue,” European Parliament head Roberta Metsola said during the EU summit in which UN chief Antonio Guterres also participated.

Officials say Ukraine is burning through shells at a faster rate than its allies can produce them, prompting a renewed search for ammunition and ways to boost production, which requires more money.

The EU earmarked 1 billion euros for the swift supply of shells – and possibly missiles – from existing stocks and another 1 billion euros for joint orders by EU countries for more rounds.

Zelensky says victory possible this year but warns allies of inadequate cooperation in several areas

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had an optimistic view on the end of the war for his European allies, while also warning of some areas that he believes need improvement.

He said, “if our joint efforts are resolutely focused on Ukraine’s victory, the victory will be gained already this year.”

“No one knows for sure how long the war will last and which battles will bring us success faster and which ones will require more effort. But what is clear is that if there are no delays or stagnation in our cooperation, that if our joint efforts are resolutely focused on Ukraine’s victory, the victory will be gained already this year,” Zelensky told a meeting of the European Council.

The Ukrainian president added he appreciated European support for the work of the International Criminal Court and efforts to launch a compensation scheme that would use billions in seized Russian assets to rehabilitate Ukraine.

But he said there were several areas where cooperation was still lacking:

  • Delays in supplying long-range missiles. Zelensky referred to the Russian missile attack on Wednesday against Zaporizhzhia.
  • Ukraine’s need for modern combat planes. Zelensky stated he was grateful to Poland and Slovakia for sending MiG 29s to Ukraine – “but we need modern aircraft.”
  • Delays to a new sanctions package. Zelensky noted “global efforts are not yet sufficient to prevent Russia from adapting to the sanctions and from circumventing them through third countries.”
  • International support for Ukraine’s peace formula. Zelensky said he was ready for a summit to discuss what he called “the only realistic and comprehensive plan to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and guarantee security for our people and for the whole of Europe.”

Zelensky added Ukraine was progressing in developing its institutions to European standards and its “transformation into a modern, fully accountable to society, corruption-free and institutionally stable” state. It was critical that its accession path to the European Union not be impeded.

“Ukraine is ready for a decision to start accession negotiations on EU membership already this year. The same readiness is needed from all of you – every leader in Europe,” he continued.

Zelensky ended his speech by warning that “If Europe hesitates, evil may have time to regroup and prepare itself for years of war.”

Warmer weather conditions right for Russians to start rolling heavy equipment: Wagner chief

Warming spring weather is creating ideal conditions for Russia to begin rolling heavy military equipment through Ukraine, said Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian private military group Wagner.

“Spring is coming. The soil is drying,” Prigozhhin stated, which means “everything is in place for us to start rolling heavy equipment through the fields.”

Prigozhin, in an interview shared on Telegram, acknowledged Ukraine also had received a large amount of support from NATO countries, including military equipment, armored vehicles and Leopard tanks, as well as around 200,000 trained reserves.

Officials in Kyiv have long warned of a spring offensive amid ramped-up military attacks from the Kremlin.

Ukrainian officials say Russians sustaining heavy losses in three hotspots along the front lines

Ukrainian officials say Russian forces have kept up their bombardments across Donetsk region, with more than 200 strikes against the Bakhmut area alone in the past 24 hours — but they claim the Russians are losing hundreds of men a day across the front lines.

The eastern city of Bakhmut remains “the focus of the enemy’s main attack,” according to Serhii Cherevatyi, the spokesman for the Eastern Grouping of the armed forces.

Cherevatyi said it was difficult to tell whether the intensity of Russian attacks around Bakhmut was waning because of factors such as weather, the rotation of units or reserves being brought forward by the Russians.

However, he stated Russian tactics have remained the same with small tactical groups “trying to deplete our defenses.”

He added soldiers from the Wagner mercenary group are near Bakhmut, with Russian troops providing reinforcements where necessary.

“We knock them out. In fact, there will be no more Wagner fighters in a little while if they continue the same dynamics,” Cherevatyi continued.

Cherevatyi drew a distinction between the battle for Bakhmut and fighting elsewhere. He said further north, Wagner was less in evidence around Lyman and Kupyansk, where regular Russian forces, supported by the Luhansk militia, had made more than 400 attacks over the past day.

“The main task now is to withstand, to deplete the enemy’s forces, while units are being trained both in Ukraine and abroad, equipped with new defense equipment, and coordinated,” Cherevatyi said.

In and around the town of Avdiivka, in the Donetsk region, intense Russian bombardments and air strikes continue against Ukrainian defenses.

“All the time we were in the city, there were explosions. We did not see a single building that was not damaged. Unfortunately, there are still civilians in Avdiivka. People live in basements,” military spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskyi stated.

But he noted many of the civilians were unwilling to leave, especially the elderly, and there has been no electricity in the city since May last year.

Dmytrashkivskyi added that the Russians were trying to bypass the town “and these attacks are constantly accompanied by shelling. Yesterday the enemy managed 26 attacks and suffered quite significant losses. More than 100 people were killed and more than 240 wounded.”

“During the day, they attack with the help of aircraft, artillery and manpower. They are suffering heavy losses in manpower and equipment,” he continued.

Russia condemns Finland’s NATO bid as it moves closer to joining alliance

The Russian Foreign Ministry again condemned Finland’s bid to join NATO, calling it “unbalanced” and “counterproductive” in comments reported by state news agency RIA Novosti Thursday.

“As for Finland’s decision to join NATO, it can hardly be considered balanced,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said during a briefing in Moscow.

She claimed the decision was taken “under the influence of an unprecedented anti-Russian media campaign” and without proper public debate.

“We understand that the United States of America and a number of its allies are behind this political campaign,” she added, without providing evidence.

Zakharova stated the move would only exacerbate the military and political situation in Europe. Russia has repeatedly asserted Helsinki’s decision will be counterproductive, and that it has already negatively impacted Russian-Finnish relations.

Finland and Sweden announced their intention to join NATO in May 2022, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused the Nordic countries to abandon their long-held non-aligned status.

The move was a setback for Moscow, with the war triggering the kind of NATO enlargement that Russia invaded Ukraine to prevent.

Finland and Sweden’s applications were welcomed by almost all NATO leaders, but under the alliance’s rules, just one member state can veto a new applicant’s membership.

Finland’s bid took a major step forward when Turkey and Hungary, which had to that point been the key holdouts, agreed to start the process of ratifying Finland’s membership last week.

On Thursday, Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö signed legislation that approves the country’s bid to join NATO.

Sweden’s parliament approved its own bid to join NATO Wednesday, but the Swedish government still awaits Turkey and Hungary’s go-ahead.

Spain will send its first 6 modern battle tanks to Ukraine by end of next week: Defense ministry

Spain is expected to send its first shipment of modern battle tanks to Ukraine by the end of next week, once officials have completed final firing tests in the field, the Spanish Defense Ministry said in a statement Thursday.

The six Leopard 2A4 tanks have been undergoing final checks at a weapons factory near Seville in southern Spain, the statement read.

Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles visited the factory Thursday and said four more Leopard tanks due for Ukraine will arrive there soon for inspection and testing.

The first group of Ukrainian troops to learn how to operate the Spanish tanks are wrapping up training at a military base in northern Spain, the Defense Ministry announced last week.

Robles initially told Spain’s parliament last month that the country would send six Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

A day later, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez made a surprise visit to Kyiv on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion. He met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and announced Spain would bump its commitment to 10 fighting vehicles.

Slovakia hands 4 MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine

Slovakia has handed four of its Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets over to Ukraine, the country’s Defense Minister Jaro Nad said in a Facebook post on Thursday.

This comes days after the country pledged 13 Mig-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, along with Poland which pledged four.

On the question of a military advantage, Russia has been dismissive, claiming the gift of more Soviet-era MiGs to Ukraine will not alter the course of the conflict. Which might be why it is F-16s – and not MiGs – that are in fact at the top of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s wish list.

MiG-29s are analog aircraft, using older flight technology. Zelensky’s sought-after F-16s are digital. MiGs can be used for short combat missions, they can deploy weaponry and shoot down Russian aircraft with good maneuverability at short range. But F-16s can fly for longer, are more versatile, possess integrated weapons systems and have dramatically better long range and radar capability, therefore providing improved early warning.

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