Sunday, April 21, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 395

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:

Putin: Russia has deal with Belarus to station nuclear weapons

Russia has struck a deal with neighbouring Belarus to station tactical nuclear weapons on its territory, Tass news agency quoted President Vladimir Putin as saying on Saturday.

Such a move would not violate nuclear nonproliferation agreements, Putin stated, adding that the United States had stationed nuclear weapons on the territory of European allies.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has long raised the issue of stationing tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, which borders Poland, Putin continued.

“We agreed with Lukashenko that we would place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus without violating the nonproliferation regime,” he said.

Putin: West’s weapons supply to Ukraine won’t be enough to outgun Russia

Erdogan tells Putin he praises Russia’s readiness to extend grain deal: Kremlin

In a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he understood Russia’s intentions to remove obstacles to Russian food exports as part of the grain deal, the Kremlin announced.

“The Turkish leader praised Russia’s readiness to extend the Istanbul agreements regarding the export of Ukrainian grain from Black Sea ports and unblock Russian food and fertilizer exports,” the Kremlin said in a statement following the telephone call.

Ukrainian forces ‘stabilising’ the situation in Bakhmut: General

The top commander of Ukraine’s military has stated that his forces are pushing back against Russian troops in the long and grinding battle for the town of Bakhmut.

“The Bakhmut direction is the most difficult. Thanks to the titanic efforts of the defence forces, the situation is being stabilised,” said Gen Valerii Zaluzhnyi in a post on Telegram, giving a synopsis of a telephone call with Adm Sir Tony Radakin, Britain’s chief of defence staff.

The seven-month battle for Bakhmut, where Russian forces have closed in on three sides, is the longest clash of the war, with Russia deploying regular soldiers and fighters of the mercenary Wagner group.

Russian assault on Bakhmut has ‘largely stalled’: UK MoD

Russia’s assault on the fiercely contested eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut has “largely stalled”, the UK’s Ministry of Defence has announced.

It said in its latest intelligence update: “This is likely primarily a result of extreme attrition of the Russian force. Ukraine has also suffered heavy casualties during its defence.”

The ministry added Russia’s situation had likely been worsened by “tensions between the Russian ministry of defence and Wagner Group, both of whom contribute troops in the sector”.

The battle over Bakhmut has been the longest and bloodiest of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The UK ministry said Russia had probably shifted its operational focus towards Avdiivka, south of Bakhmut, and to the Kremina-Svatove sector in the north – “areas where Russia likely only aspires to stabilise its frontline”.

“This suggests an overall return to a more defensive operational design after inconclusive results from its attempts to conduct a general offensive since January 2023,” it added.

“I think we vastly exaggerate it”: Biden downplays strength of Russia-China alliance

President Joe Biden said Friday he’s not alarmed following the high-profile meetings earlier this week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Instead, Biden said “we’re the ones expanding the alliances.”

“Look, I don’t take China lightly. I don’t take Russia lightly, but I think we vastly exaggerate it,” Biden told reporters during a news conference in Ottawa, Canada.

The president noted that while US officials have recently warned of signs that China could be considering increasing its military support for Russia, “they haven’t yet.”

“Doesn’t mean they won’t, but they haven’t yet,” Biden continued, adding, “And if anything’s happened, the West has coalesced significantly more.”

Biden went on to cite increased cooperation across alliances, including through the G7, the Quad Alliance, ASEAN and AUKUS. He added he has now met with 80% of the world’s leaders.

“So, I just want to put it in perspective, I don’t take it lightly … what China and Russia are doing, and it could get significantly worse,” Biden said, adding, “But let’s put it into perspective. We are united coalitions — we, we the United States and Canada.

‘Not easy’ to seize Russia assets: EU task-force head

European Union Plans to seize Russian assets prioritising state assets of about $350bn are unprecedented and tricky, the head of the EU task force has told AFP.

“Nothing is simple” when it comes to finding the massive sums intended to be diverted to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction, Swedish diplomat Anders Ahnlid said in an interview in Stockholm. But Europe plans to be “innovative”, he added.

From oligarchs’ yachts to the Russian central bank’s foreign reserves, there is a mountain of wealth to be had, but seizing it in a legal manner is easier said than done.

“It is a challenge to find legal means that are acceptable,” Ahnlid stated, a week after the EU working group’s first meeting.

Bipartisan group of senators urge Biden to support ICC by providing evidence of Russian war crimes

A bipartisan group of senators want the Joe Biden administration to continue to support international investigations into alleged Russian war crimes, they wrote in a letter to US President Joe Biden.

The lawmakers stated they “welcome the significant assistance” the administration has provided to document potential crimes during Russia’s war in Ukraine, the letter read.

However, the letter said they acknowledge the role of the International Criminal Court in investigating such incidents and urged the Biden administration to support the ICC and to share evidence with prosecutors.

“Last year’s bipartisan congressional action to enhance that support was done in collaboration with your administration to balance all perspectives on the US relationship with the ICC. Yet, months later, as the ICC is working to build cases against Russian officials, including Putin himself, the United States reportedly has not yet shared key evidence that could aid in these prosecutions,” the letter read.

Having international investigations move forward are important so that “Putin and others around him know in no uncertain terms that accountability and justice for their crimes are forthcoming,” the senators wrote in the letter.

Last week, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

The day before the announcement of the warrant, the United Nations found in a report that Russia has “committed a wide range of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law” in Ukraine.

The report claims that the war crimes perpetrated by the Russians included “attacks on civilians and energy-related infrastructure, willful killings, unlawful confinement, torture, rape and other sexual violence, as well as unlawful transfers and deportations of children.

Nordic countries to create a unified air force

Air force commanders from Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark say they had signed a letter of intent to create a unified Nordic air defence force to counter Russia.

According to statements by the four countries’ armed forces, they plan joint operations based on already known ways of working under NATO.

The move to integrate the air forces was triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the commander of the Danish air force, Major General Jan Dam, told the Reuters news agency.

“Our combined fleet can be compared to a large European country,” Dam said.

Norway has 57 F-16 fighter jets and 37 F-35 fighter jets. Finland has 62 F/A-18 Hornet jets and 64 F-35s on order while Denmark has 58 F-16s and 27 F-35s on order. Sweden has more than 90 Gripens jets.

Ukrainian general says battle for Bakhmut remains the most difficult fighting on front lines

The commander in chief of Ukraine’s military emphasized the difficulty of the battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut during a call Friday with the head of the British Armed Forces.

Ukrainian Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi shared a Telegram post outlining his conversation with Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff Adm. Sir Tony Radakin.

“I informed my colleague about the operational situation along the entire front line. The situation in the Bakhmut direction is the most difficult,” Zaluzhnyi wrote, adding, “Due to the titanic efforts of the Defense Forces, the situation has been stabilized.”

“We also discussed the issue of strengthening Ukrainian air defense,” he continued.

Zaluzhnyi thanked Radakin, the United Kingdom and other allies for their support.

“Thanks to the help of our partners, we are holding on and will definitely win,” he stated.

The battle for Bakhmut: The besieged city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s Donetsk region has been a focal point of the frontline fighting between Russia and Ukraine for months.

One of Kyiv’s top generals this week said that Russian forces are depleted in Bakhmut, and a Ukrainian counteroffensive could soon be launched. It raised the prospect of an unlikely turnaround for Ukraine.

While experts say that capturing Bakhmut is unlikely to dramatically alter the overall picture of the war in eastern Ukraine — where little territory has changed hands in 2023 — it would hand Russia a symbolic victory and mark the first Ukrainian city it has captured in eight months.

US and Canada pledge to stand alongside Ukraine as reliable partners

Ukraine can rely on the United States and Canada as partners, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in an address to parliament in Ottawa alongside US President Joe Biden on Friday.

Trudeau stated like the US, Canada has provided “significant military support” to Ukraine, such as artillery, ammunition, armor and tanks.

He added the Canadian armed forces have been training Ukrainian military members since 2015.

“As you well know, Mr. President, Canada will continue to stand strong with Ukraine, with whatever it takes,” Trudeau continued, noting, “Together, both of us are partners that Ukraine — and the world —can count on.”

The prime minister pointed to sanctions and other economic measures put in place by the US, Canada and other allies “to continue to deplete the Kremlin’s war chest.”

Trudeau called Biden a ‘’true friend to Canada,” saying that the alliance “matters more than ever in this consequential moment.

Addressing parliament after Trudeau, Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin has failed to meet his goals with the Ukraine invasion.

“Guess what? His lust for land and power has failed thus far,” the US leader said of Putin, adding, “The Ukrainian people’s love of their country is going to prevail.”

Biden echoed Trudeau’s remarks about the US and Canada standing in support of Ukraine.

“Let’s once more affirm that we’re going keep that torch of liberty burning brightly and support the Ukrainian people,” Biden said.

The president also added Moscow has failed to shake the resolve of the NATO alliance.

“Putin was certain he would have been able to break NATO by now,” Biden told the assembled lawmakers.

But, he stressed, the US and Canada will “keep our alliance strong and united, and we’ll defend every inch of NATO territory. An attack against one is an attack against all.

UN documents hundreds of disappearances and arbitrary detentions by Russian and Ukrainian forces

The United Nations has documented hundreds of cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions by both Ukrainian and Russian forces since the beginning of the invasion, according to the Head of the UN Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

The UN has documented more than 600 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions carried out by Russian forces, and 91 by Ukrainian forces, since the war began on February 24 of last year up until the end of January 2023.

“Unfortunately, we found that there have been significant violations on both sides,” Matilda Bogner said, referring to prisoners of war being subjected to “summary executions,” torture, “ill treatment” and “horrific conditions” while being detained.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued Friday its latest report, which cataloged cases of civilian casualties, torture, rape, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention.

UN report details dozens of cases of summary executions of Ukrainian and Russian POWs

The United Nations says it has documented dozens of cases of summary executions of prisoners of war (POWs) carried out by both Russian and Ukrainian forces since February 2022, but admits it is far harder to get information from Russia, or territories under Russian control than it is from Ukrainian authorities.

In a new report, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says it has documented the summary execution of 15 Ukrainian POWs by Russian forces, in addition to the use of Ukrainian POWs as human shields, the death of two wounded POWs due to lack of medical care, as well as torture.

Among the cases documented in the report is that of an officer of the Ukrainian National Guard tortured and then executed after refusing to hand over a password for entry to a radio station in Mariupol in April 2022. In another case, in September, a wounded Ukrainian serviceman was shot three times in the chest and once in the head after being captured by fighters from the Wagner mercenary group in a village south of Bakhmut.

“Summary executions and attacks against POWs and persons hors de combat are prohibited under international law, and where deliberate, constitute war crimes,” the report notes.

The report also highlights the lack of cooperation UN investigators have received from Russian and Russian-occupying authorities, saying it has been unable to gain any access to POWs interned by the Russian Federation, despite repeated such requests. It mentions one occasion only, in August, when a UN team was allowed to meet, but not interview, 13 Ukrainian POWs held in Russian-occupied Luhansk.

On the other side, the report says it has documented – through open-source information, in situ visits and witness interviews – the summary execution of at least 25 Russian POWs being held by Ukrainian forces.

In one incident in March 2022 in the Luhansk region, the UN report suggests some members of Russian-affiliated armed groups were killed by Ukrainian servicemen after refusing to pronounce their intent to surrender. The UN report says the Russian fighters, some possibly injured or dead, were lying on the ground in the wake of an artillery attack.

In contrast to the lack of cooperation from Russian authorities, the report says UN teams have been given “full and confidential access” to Russian POWs held in official places of internment by Ukraine, “which OHCHR acknowledges with great appreciation.

UN agency reports “dire” human rights situation in Ukraine conflict as it documents torture

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has catalogued thousands of cases of civilian casualties along with cases of torture, rape and arbitrary detention in the Ukraine conflict over six months — August to January.

“The human rights situation across the country remains dire amid the ongoing armed attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine,” the OHCHR said in its latest report issued Friday.

OHCHR reported the following numbers it has recorded since August:

  • At least 1,605 persons have been killed and 4,382 persons injured, but noted that actual numbers “are likely considerably higher, since these figures only include the cases that OHCHR has been able to verify.” Numbers in places like Mariupol and Lysychansk were still to be verified, it added.
  • It documented 214 cases — 185 men, 24 women and 5 boys — of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions of civilians in territory of Ukraine that was or remains under the occupation of the Russian Federation. Russian armed forces arrested victims in their homes, workplaces, in the street, or at checkpoints during so-called “filtration” processes.
  • Among those subsequently released, OCHCR had been able to interview 89 people, the vast majority of whom reported torture and ill-treatment while in detention. It said this was aimed at forcing them “to confess to providing assistance to Ukrainian armed forces, to compel them to cooperate with the occupying authorities or to intimidate those with pro-Ukrainian views.”
  • The abuse included beatings with batons and rifle butts, threats to shoot their hands and legs, mutilate or execute them; sleep deprivation and exposure to freezing temperatures, sometimes after pouring water on them, according to the victims. Some were threatened with being raped.

The OHCHR highlighted the case of a woman subjected to repeated rape while being held by members of the Russian armed forces and the Security Service of Russia (FSB).

According to her testimony, she and her husband had been blindfolded and taken to the men’s base. “A man who introduced himself as the commander told her: ‘Tell me how you love Ukraine now. We’ll beat Ukraine out of you’,” the report added.

Russia wants demilitarised zones around annexed regions: Ex-president

Russia wants to create demilitarised buffer zones inside Ukraine around areas it has annexed, former President Dmitry Medvedev stated.

“We need to achieve all the goals that have been set to protect our territories, that is, the territories of the Russian Federation,” Medvedev, who is deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council, said in an interview.

We need to “throw out all the foreigners who are there in the broad sense of the word, create a buffer zone which would not allow the use of any types of weapons that work at medium and short distances, that is 70-100km, to demilitarise it”, Medvedev continued.

Russia would have to push further into Ukraine if such zones were not established, he added, taking Kyiv or even Lviv.

We must listen to China: Spanish PM

The world should listen to China to find a way out of the war in Ukraine, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez says.

“China is a global actor, so obviously we must listen to its voice to see if between all of us, we can put an end to this war and Ukraine can recover its territorial integrity,” Sanchez told a news conference in Brussels following a meeting of the European Council.

The Spanish leader is expected to visit Beijing on March 31 for talks with President Xi Jinping. The meeting between the two leaders is expected to focus mainly on the war in Ukraine.

Xi has described China as “impartial” and proposed a 12-point peace plan while calling for a comprehensive ceasefire.

EU Ukraine fund to amount to $3.76bn in coming years

The European Peace Facility, which is used to fund arms for Ukraine, will amount to at least 3.5 billion euros ($3.76bn) in the coming years, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels.

“Poland’s compensation from the facility for transferring arms to Ukraine will amount to some 300 million euros next month and 500-600 million in the following months,” Morawiecki told reporters.

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