Friday, March 1, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 405: Finland becomes NATO member in a historic blow to Russia

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:

US to send about $500m of ammunition to Kyiv

US officials say the US will send Ukraine about $500m in ammunition and equipment and will spend more than $2bn to buy munitions, radar and other weapons in the future.

The officials said the ammunition rounds and grenade launchers, and vehicles will be taken from military stockpiles so they can be used in the warzone.

The $2.1bn in longer-term aid, provided under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, will buy missiles for the National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS, as well as radar and other weapons, according to the officials, who spoke anonymously.

The latest package, with its mix of short-term and long-term aid, includes various types of ammunition from Pentagon stocks and funding for more high-tech weapons, including counter-drone rocket systems and air surveillance radar.

Lithuania offers new Russia sanction plan to EU sceptics: Report

A new Lithuanian bid to push the European Union to impose sanctions on Russia’s nuclear energy industry includes proposed exemptions for Hungary and a two-year period to phase out existing contracts, Reuters reports.

The latest plan from Vilnius includes a nuanced approach, an apparent attempt to win over sceptics in Budapest and elsewhere.

“It is proposed to introduce individual restrictive measures for Rosatom,” says the policy proposal dated March 17, which has not been released publicly.

“In addition, it is appropriate to introduce a derogation on the basis of which operations, contracts or other agreements concluded with Rosatom could be still executed for a fixed period of time allowing European Union member states to complete the execution of these contracts or other agreements,” it added.

The document proposed setting that at two years.

Zelensky congratulates Finland on joining NATO

President Volodymyr Zelensky has offered his congratulations to Finland on the country’s accession to NATO.

In a post on Telegram, Ukraine’s president said, “My sincere congratulations to Finland and President Sauli Niinistö on joining NATO on the 74th anniversary of its founding.

“Amid Russian aggression, the alliance became the only effective guarantee of security in the region. We expect that the Vilnius NATO Summit will bring Ukraine closer to our Euro-Atlantic goal,” he added.

Finland’s accession is ‘great news’: Germany

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomed Finland’s accession to NATO and supported Sweden’s efforts to join the alliance.

On Twitter, the German leader said, “Effective immediately, Finland is a member of NATO – this is great news and a boost to transatlantic security.”

“A strong ally is joining our Alliance. Sweden’s accession, which is still pending, has our full support!” he added.

‘Today, we are more united than ever’: US president

US President Joe Biden has welcomed Finland into the NATO alliance and says, “Today, we are more united than ever.”

“When Vladimir Putin launched his brutal war of aggression against the people of Ukraine, he thought he could divide Europe and NATO. He was wrong,” Biden stated.

“Today, we are more united than ever, and together – strengthened by our newest ally, Finland – we will continue to preserve transatlantic security, defend every inch of NATO territory, and meet any and all challenges we face,” he added.

The US secretary of state also hailed Finland joining the alliance as a “historic day” and said its decision to end decades of military non-alignment was due to Putin’s war on Ukraine.

“I’m tempted to say this is maybe the one thing we can thank Mr Putin for because he once again here has precipitated something he claims to want to prevent by Russia’s aggression,” Antony Blinken said, referring to the Russian president’s opposition to the expansion of NATO.

British PM praises Finland’s NATO accession

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak praised Finland’s NATO accessions and urged the alliance to admit Sweden next.

Finland’s formal accession as the 31st member of NATO “has made our Alliance stronger and every one of us safer”, Sunak said.

“All NATO members now need to take the steps necessary to admit Sweden too, so we can stand together as one Alliance to defend freedom in Europe and across the world,” he added.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who attended the NATO meeting in Brussels, announced a further £12 million ($16 million) in “non-lethal” military aid to Ukraine.

“Russia thought its aggression would divide us. Instead, we are bound tighter together, resolute in our defence of the principles of freedom and the rule of law,” Cleverly said.

“Let us be clear that our door remains open. We will welcome further allies with open arms and we continue to push for Sweden’s swift accession,” he added.

Ukrainian soldier pleads ‘partly guilty’ at Russia’s first trial for war crimes

A Ukrainian soldier pleaded “partly guilty” on Tuesday at Russia’s first trial for war crimes in connection with its military campaign in Ukraine.

Anton Cherednik, a member of Ukraine’s naval infantry, faced charges in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don of trying to seize power by force, of using prohibited methods of warfare and of murdering a civilian in Mariupol in March last year in the conflict’s early days.

It was the first time Russia had accused a member of Ukraine’s armed forces of war crimes, according to Russian news outlets and the court’s press service.

Outside the court, his lawyer Vladimir Bakulov said Cherednik had pleaded “partly guilty” and had requested a meeting with the judge to explain his position. The case will resume next week.

Prosecutors say Cherednik detained two men in Mariupol, ordering them to speak Ukrainian, and shot one of them who did not use correct pronunciation, the Tass news agency reported.

Russian forces seized Mariupol last May after weeks of attritional fighting.

Ukraine has already tried and sentenced a number of Russian soldiers for killing unarmed civilians.

UN votes in favour of extending war crimes investigation

The United Nations Human Rights Council overwhelmingly voted in favour of extending an investigative body looking into possible war crimes committed since Russia’s invasion.

Twenty-eight countries voted in favour, 17 abstained and two voted against the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, which Ukraine says is crucial for holding Russia accountable.

“The scope and brutality of Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine are simply beyond any human comprehension,” Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Yevheniia Filipenko, told the Council ahead of the vote.

“We strongly believe that the continued work of the Commission in further investigating, documenting and reporting of human rights violations and international crimes committed against the people in Ukraine could save more innocent lives [and] could contribute to accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims,” Filipenko added.

Russia, which refused to address the Human Rights Council on Tuesday, has vigorously denied committing atrocities or targeting civilians in Ukraine.

Finland will work ‘relentlessly’ to ensure Sweden joins NATO: President

Finland will work “relentlessly” to secure Sweden’s membership of NATO, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto stated shortly after Helsinki formally became the 31st country to join the alliance.

“Finland’s membership is not complete without Swedish membership. The work for Sweden’s early membership continues relentlessly,” Niinisto said in a statement.

Finland and Sweden applied together to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

However, Hungary and Turkey still have to ratify Sweden’s membership application before it can join the military alliance.

Finland’s NATO membership to harm Moscow-Helsinki relations: Russia

Finland’s accession to NATO cannot but adversely affect relations between Moscow and Helsinki, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced in a statement on Tuesday in connection with the completion of the process of Finland’s accession to the North Atlantic bloc.

“We are certain that this hasty move by Finland’s authorities, taken without due consideration of the public’s opinion by means of calling a referendum and conducting thorough analysis of the consequences NATO membership will entail will be judged by history. Finland’s accession to NATO cannot but adversely affect Russian-Finnish bilateral relations as well,” the foreign ministry said.

In response to this move by Finland Russia “will be forced to take retaliatory measures, both military-technical and other, in order to ward off threats” to national security.

“Concrete steps in the field of creating defense infrastructure on Russia’s northwestern borders will depend on the specific conditions of that country’s integration into the North Atlantic Alliance, including the deployment of NATO’s military infrastructure and attack weapon systems on its territory,” the statement reads.

The foreign ministry also drew attention to the fact that the line of NATO’s contact with the Russian border has more than doubled. As a result of this “there has been a radical change in the situation in the North European region, which used to be one of the most stable ones in the world.”

“The North Atlantic Alliance has taken another step to approach Russian territory,” the ministry stressed.

It recalled that in the wake of World War II Finland opted for military non-alignment. By doing so the “Finnish leaders displayed wisdom to place the national policy on the basis of pragmatic and mutually beneficial cooperation with neighbors and of non-alignment.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry added that by joining NATO Finland “unequivocally relinquished its identity and independence that had distinguished it in international affairs for decades.”

“Helsinki’s previous policy of military non-alignment had served Finland’s national interests for a long time and was one of the important factors for trust and confidence in the Baltic Sea region and in Europe in general. Now this is a thing of the past. Finland has become one of the small member-states of the alliance that decide nothing. It has lost its special say in international affairs,” the statement reads.

Sweden ready to strengthen NATO’s eastern flank as bloc’s member: Top diplomat

Stockholm is ready to contribute to strengthening NATO’s eastern flank as part of the bloc, Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom stated.

“We are ready to send our troops to strengthen the eastern flank of the North Atlantic Alliance, particularly in the Baltic countries,” he said in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Billstrom expressed hope that Hungarian and Turkish lawmakers would soon ratify Sweden’s application to join NATO.

He also pointed out that Sweden’s joint military projects with Finland, Norway and Denmark would not affect its commitments to NATO.

NATO welcomes Finland as a member in a power shift spurred by Ukraine war

Finland’s flag is being raised on Tuesday afternoon at NATO headquarters, a deeply symbolic moment marking the Nordic nation’s official welcome into the alliance and the shifting power calculations as the West strengthens its allegiances in response to the war in Ukraine.

The President of Finland, Sauli Niinisto, is expected to attend the ceremony, on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 74th anniversary, in what amounts to a strategic defeat for President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who has made blocking NATO expansion a goal of his leadership.

FM signs document on Finland’s accession to NATO

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto signed a document on Finland’s accession to NATO at the alliance’s headquarters, the Finnish Broadcasting Company reported Tuesday.

According to the report, the document will now be handed over to US representatives. After that, the republic will become a full member of the alliance.

The Finnish Foreign Minister called the signing moment a “historic one.”

According to the diplomat, Turkish representatives simultaneously handed over papers on ratification of Finland’’ membership in the alliance to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The official ceremony of admission of Finland to NATO will take place in the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday. The ceremony will be attended by President of Finland Sauli Niinisto, Haavisto and Defense Minister Antti Kaikkonen.

The republic will become the 31st NATO member state.

Finland filed its membership application together with Sweden in May of 2022, but Sweden’s admission is still blocked by Turkey, because Stockholm has not yet fulfilled all Ankara’s demands on extradition of Kurdish refugees, whom Ankara accuses of terrorism.

Russia ‘likely’ looking for alternative military groups: British MoD

According to the British Ministry of Defence, the Russian government is “likely” looking to develop alternative private military groups (PMCs) to replace the Wagner Group.

“This takes place in the context of the high-profile feud between the Russian Ministry of Defence and [the] Wagner Group. Russia’s military leadership likely wants a replacement PMC that it has more control over,” the ministry said in its daily intelligence report.

The British MoD added that while the Russian government is seeking to do this, currently no other known Russian group “approaches Wagner’s size or combat power”.

“Russia likely sees continued utility for PMCs in Ukraine because they are less constrained by the limited pay levels and inefficiency which hamper the effectiveness of the regular army,” the ministry said.

“Russia’s leadership probably believe heavy casualties amongst PMCs will be better tolerated by Russian society compared to regular military losses,” it added.

Poland wants to take parts of Ukraine: Russian spy chief

Russian state news agencies reported that the head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service, Sergey Naryshkin, said Poland wanted to seize parts of western Ukraine and that the West was encouraging Georgia to engage in a military conflict with Moscow.

“Getting control over the western territories of modern Ukraine, the so-called former eastern kreses [borderlands], Poland is a longed-for dream of Polish nationalists. And this becomes an element of national ideology, so the Polish leadership cannot refuse this idea,” Naryskin stated.

“The Polish leadership believes that a condition for the implementation of this idea is the collapse of Ukrainian statehood as a result of a military defeat,” he continued.

The intelligence chief added Warsaw opposed a peace settlement because the “Polish leadership is literally waiting for the right moment to exercise control over these territories.”

Putin is getting opposite of what he wanted with NATO enlargement due to Ukraine war: Chief

Finland’s accession to NATO on Tuesday will be a historic event and direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg, has said, adding the alliance would ensure that Sweden will also become a full-fledged member.

“President Vladimir Putin had as a declared goal of the invasion of Ukraine to get less NATO,” he told reporters ahead of a meeting of the alliance’s foreign ministers.

“He is getting exactly the opposite … Finland today, and soon also Sweden will become a full-fledged member of the alliance,” he added.

NATO expansion forces Russia to take countermeasures to ensure its security: Moscow

Finland’s accession to NATO is another aggravation of the situation, and Moscow considers the expansion of the alliance an infringement on its security, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.

“The Kremlin believes that this is another aggravation of the situation. The expansion of NATO is an infringement on our security and Russia’s national interests,” Peskov told a briefing.

The expansion of NATO forces Russia to take countermeasures to ensure its own security, the spokesman continued, adding, “Naturally, this forces us to take countermeasures to ensure our own security both tactically and strategically.”

The situation with Finland’s accession to NATO is fundamentally different from the problem with Ukraine, as this country has never had an anti-Russian rhetoric, Peskov said.

“The situation with Finland, of course, is radically different from the situation with Ukraine, because, firstly, Finland has never had anti-Russian rhetoric, and we have had no disputes with Finland. With Ukraine, the situation is the opposite and potentially much more dangerous,” he continued.

Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu has also warned that Finland’s accession to the NATO military alliance and its move to increase its combat readiness increased the risk of conflict.

China has a ‘duty’ to contribute to peace in Ukraine: EU

China has a moral duty to contribute to the establishment of peace in Ukraine and must not support the aggressor in the war started by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU foreign policy chief said.

“China has a moral duty to contribute to a fair peace, they cannot be siding with the aggressor,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stated after a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Brussels.

Kiev, Western puppeteers do everything to prolong conflict: Moscow

The Kiev regime and its Western puppeteers do everything they can in order to prolong hostilities, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview for, published on the Foreign Ministry website Tuesday.

Commenting on peace plan for Ukraine, proposed by China, Lavrov noted that it is consonant for key Russian approaches.

“Especially regarding the need to ensure equal and indivisible security for all countries in Europe and in the world in general,” the minister continued, noting, “So far, the peace process has been hindered by Kiev and its Western puppeteers who exert all efforts in order to prolong the hostilities.”

Lavrov stated that Russian and Chinese leaders Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping stated “the importance for further close coordination on foreign policy.”

“We see the causes of main challenges in the international security area in a similar way. We note the West’s unwillingness to engage in an inter-state dialogue based on principles of equality. We oppose the use of sanctions pressure methods and other instruments of unscrupulous competition,” the foreign minister continued.

“Meanwhile, our strategic cooperation is not aimed against third countries. It contributes to balanced development of the entire international system,” he underlined

The diplomat underscored that the Chinese side reaffirmed its “weighted position on the Ukrainian issue.”

“We welcome Beijing’s readiness to play a constructive role in political and diplomatic resolution of the conflict,” he concluded.

West not ready to constructive dialogue with Russia: FM

The Western nations are not ready to a dialogue with Russia and are looking for new ways to deter it, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website on Tuesday.

Russia remains open for cooperation on an equal basis and with Russian interests addressed “for the purpose of normalizing the situation in Europe and the Euro-Atlantic region and long-term lowering of nuclear risks,” the minister noted.

“However, [the West] is not ready to this and to the constructive dialogue, being busy with the search for new methods of deterring Russia twenty four hours a day,” Lavrov added.

Russia is viewing the European Union as an unfriendly association now, the senior diplomat stressed.

“The European Union has ‘lost’ Russia. However, it is its own making. Exactly the EU member-states and leaders of the Union openly state the need of inflicting the strategic defeat to Russia, as they say. They are filling the criminal Kiev regime with weapons and munitions and send instructors and mercenaries to Ukraine. These are the reasons why we consider the EU to be the unfriendly association,” he said.

The Russian side made necessary conclusions from this situation, the minister stressed. Moscow will act in response to hostile steps “decidedly if necessary, being governed by national interests of Russia and the reciprocity principle commonly adopted in the diplomatic practice,” he added.

Germany mulls reducing diplomatic presence in Russia: Report

Germany is likely considering reducing the size of its diplomatic mission to Russia as a pre-emptive move against Moscow’s reaction should Russian diplomats be expelled from Berlin, Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) radio and Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) television reported on Tuesday.

According to the broadcasters’ information, the German authorities are looking at “dramatically reducing” the number of accredited diplomats in Berlin who may be involved in espionage.

At the same time, they are also considering a reduction in the number of German diplomats posted to Moscow. In this way, the German government hopes to preclude any Russian move to “simply replace” the “spies” expelled from Berlin.

Such a step is aimed at “pre-empting Russia’s [likely] reaction, that is the expulsion of German diplomats from Moscow.” However, the German Foreign Ministry told NDR radio and WDR television that it had not been considering such actions at this time.

On March 25, German magazine Focus, citing sources in the German Foreign Ministry, reported that Foreign Affairs Minister Annalena Baerbock planned to declare over 30 Russian diplomats accredited in Berlin personae non gratae.

According to the publication, German security forces allege that these Russian diplomats use their diplomatic status to obtain information illegally.

On the same day, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that a tough response to the diplomats’ expulsion had already been prepared. Later, German Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Andrea Sasse did not confirm media reports about the alleged expulsion of diplomats.

US will not be able to blockade Russia: Intelligence chief

The US will not be able to organize an international blockade around Russia despite enormous pressure that Washington is putting on Latin American, Asian and African countries, Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergey Naryshkin said after a meeting with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday.

“We see enormous pressure being put by the US on our partners and allies, Latin American, Asian and African countries. And it will not be able to achieve its goal, to organize a blockade around Russia,” he stated.

The US’ actions “severely breach the basic, fundamental norms of international law,” Naryshkin added, noting that Washington uses such actions “to try to interfere into domestic affairs of sovereign countries.”

ICC allegations ‘false and unclear’: Russian commissioner

Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) alongside President Vladimir Putin of war crimes in Ukraine, says the court’s allegations are false and unclear.

Maria Lvova-Belova stated at a news conference in Moscow that the consent of children’s parents was always sought before taking them from Ukraine to Russia and that the commission always acted in the children’s best interests.

“It is unclear to the presidential commissioner for children’s rights what the International Criminal Court’s allegations specifically consist of and what they are based on,” her commission said in a separate statement about its work.

“The use of the formulation ‘unlawful deportation of population (children)’ in the ICC’s official statement causes bewilderment,” it added.

On March 17, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova, for the war crime of unlawfully deporting children from areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces.

US, EU exploring ways to cut dependence on Russian energy

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States and the European Union are exploring ways to further reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.

“Russia’s weaponisation of energy is underscoring the urgency of that task and an opportunity to accelerate our progress (in the global clean energy transition),” Blinken told reporters after a meeting with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Brussels.

“We will focus on how we can further reduce European dependence on Russian energy and boost the Euro-Atlantic region’s clean energy production,” he added.

US ambassador to UN describes Russia running UNSC as an “April Fool’s joke”

The US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Monday described Russia assuming the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) presidency this month as “an April Fool’s joke.”

“But the truth of the matter is, it’s a rotating seat. We expect that they will behave professionally. But we also expect that they will use their seat to spread disinformation and to promote their own agenda as it relates to Ukraine, and we will stand ready to call them out at every single moment that they attempt to do that,” Greenfield added.

Greenfield stated she is not surprised if the Russians asked the foreign minister to come to UNSC headquarters in New York but also said council does work beyond Ukraine.

“We haven’t decided yet on what our attendance levels will be, but we intend to carry out the business of the Security Council during this month. The Security Council does more than Ukraine. We work on many issues, and we again expect that Russia will carry their presidency in a professional way, but when they don’t, we will stand ready to call them out,” Greenfield added.

Russia’s UN ambassador derides suggestion country cannot hold UNSC presidency during Ukraine war

Russian ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya on Monday scoffed at concerns that his country could fairly be the president of the Security Council for April during the war in Ukraine.

Nebenzya pointed out that the US was president of the council in 2003 — the year Iraq was invaded.

He said there were no complaints in February 2022 when Russia was last president of the council, while Russia invaded.

The ambassador added as long as world order is maintained, there will not be any change in UN procedures that might lead to a change in Russia’s status.

Russia took over presidency on Saturday of the UN’s top security body, which rotates every month.

Czechs, Slovaks urge EU to enforce sanctions on Russia

The Czech and Slovak prime ministers have urged the European Union to exert “targeted pressure” on the Kremlin by sticking to sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded Ukraine last year.

“It is important for the EU and its partners to continue targeted pressure on the Russian Federation and thoroughly implement the sanctions,” the premiers said in a statement.

Allies should also “prevent bypassing the sanctions and create mechanisms to punish those responsible for crimes related to this aggression”, they added.

The Czech and Slovak governments, led by Petr Fiala and Eduard Heger, respectively, met in the western Slovak city of Trencin.

Finland not asking NATO to deploy troops: Top commander

Finland has not asked for NATO members to station troops on its territory, a senior alliance commander has said, as Helsinki readies to join.

“Whether we will station troops in Finland is a question that starts with Finland,” said Admiral Rob Bauer, the chair of NATO’s military committee.

“For now, there is no such request. But of course, it might come in the future and then we will have to look at it when that occurs,” Bauer told the AFP news agency in an interview.

Ukraine receives first tranche of $2.7 billion from new IMF program: Finance minister

Ukraine has received the first tranche of $2.7 billion from a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) program, Ukrainian Finance Minister Sergii Marchenko said in a tweet Monday.

The IMF, which regularly makes emergency loans to countries in crisis, on Friday approved a new four-year extended arrangement under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) of around $15.6 billion as part of a $115 billion total support package for Ukraine.

The program aims to “anchor policies that sustain fiscal, external, price and financial stability and support economic recovery, while enhancing governance and strengthening institutions to promote long-term growth in the context of post-war reconstruction and Ukraine’s path to EU accession,” the IMF said in a statement.

The program also helps Ukraine to carry out “more ambitious structural reforms,” it said.

The Extended Fund Facility (EFF) loan is the first major conventional financing program approved by the IMF for a country involved in a large-scale war, Reuters reported.

The risks to the arrangement are “exceptionally high,” stated Gita Gopinath, first deputy managing director of the global lender.

“The success of the program depends on the size, composition, and timing of external financing on concessional terms to help close fiscal and external financing gaps and restore debt sustainability on a forward-looking basis under the baseline and downside scenarios,” she added.

Ukraine still fighting hard for Bakhmut, more aid coming: White House official

Ukraine is still fighting hard for Bakhmut and the battle is not over, according to a White House official.

Ukrainians have not been repulsed from the city, John Kirby, a spokesperson for the United States National Security Council, told reporters, adding that an additional assistance package for Ukraine could be expected this week.

Western allies have delivered more than $70 billion in military aid to Ukraine: NATO chief

NATO’s chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that Western allies have delivered more than $70 billion in military aid to Ukraine over the last year since the Russian invasion started.

“There are no signs that President Putin is preparing for peace. He is preparing for more war,” Stoltenberg warned, speaking at a news conference in Brussels.

“We do not know when this war will end. But when it does, we will need to put in place arrangements so that Ukraine can deter future aggression. And history does not repeat itself. We cannot allow Russia to continue to chip away at European security,” he said.

Stoltenberg added that allies have delivered 65 billion euros (around $70.7 billion) in military aid, and said he welcomed the recent arrival of modern battle tanks and other armored vehicles in Ukraine.

“This can make a real difference on the front lines and allow the Ukrainian forces to liberate more territory,” he continued.

The NATO head affirmed that the alliance’s support is for the “long haul” and said, “we will discuss how we can step up our support, including by continuing to strengthen Ukraine’s armed forces and supporting the transition from Soviet-era to NATO equipment and doctrine.”

Stoltenberg also added allies must address other threats and challenges, citing instability, terrorism, and the growing influence of Iran, Russia, and China. He urged allies to invest more in defense to tackle all these wide range of issues.

Ukraine war has cost $2.6 billion in damage to heritage and cultural sites: UNESCO

The war in Ukraine has cost an estimated $2.6 billion of damage to heritage and cultural sites in the country, the UN cultural body UNESCO said in a recently published report.

The report, which covers one year of war in Ukraine between February 24, 2022, and February 24, 2023, was a joint assessment conducted by the Ukrainian government, the World Bank, the European Commission, and the United Nations.

UNESCO was in charge of the part of the report dedicated to culture and tourism.

“As of February 24, 2023, the total damage cost from identified assets is estimated at $2.6 billion,” the report said in its assessment of damage related to culture and tourism.

Some $1.7 billion of that cost was distributed to “historic cities, buildings, and sites imbued with recognized cultural/social values,” $650 million to tourism facilities, $143 million to “movable cultural properties and collections, repositories of culture,” and $150 million to “buildings/workshops/ateliers dedicated to cultural and creative industries,” according to UNESCO.

The most impacted region in Ukraine was Kharkivska, which has suffered 30% of the total damage to its cultural assets, the report added.

UNESCO stated that losses are estimated at around $15.2 billion, which includes revenue losses from tourism, art, sports, entertainment, recreation, cultural education, and creative and cultural industries.

“The war has significantly impacted the diversity and richness of culture and cultural heritage in Ukraine, causing damage to cultural infrastructure and assets, reducing livelihoods for cultural creators, bearers and practitioners, limiting access to culture, and impeding the exercise of cultural rights,” the report added.

More than 500 children have been killed in Ukraine since war began: UNICEF

At least 501 children have been killed in Ukraine since February 2022, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion, said Catherine Russell, executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“Another tragic milestone for Ukraine’s children and families,” Russell said in a tweet on Monday.

Russell warned the real figure is “likely far higher” than the numbers verified by the UN agency.

Additionally, almost 1,000 Ukrainian children have been injured, “leaving them with wounds and scars – both visible and invisible – that could last for life,” she added.

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