Monday, June 17, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 407

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:

Ukraine sends conflicting signals on Crimea talks idea

A top Ukrainian official has ruled out talks with Moscow about territory until it withdraws all troops, pushing back at a colleague who had touted the idea of negotiations to resolve the Russian occupation of the Crimean Peninsula.

Andriy Sybiha, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, told the Financial Times that Kyiv would be willing to discuss the future of Crimea with Moscow if Ukraine’s counteroffensive were to reach the peninsula.

On Thursday, Mykhailo Podolyak, a presidential adviser, appeared to directly contradict Sybiha’s remarks on Twitter.

“The basis for real negotiations with [Russia] is the complete withdrawal of Russian armed groups beyond the internationally recognised borders of Ukraine in 1991. Including #Crimea,” he said.

“There is no question of any territorial concessions or bargaining of our sovereign rights,” he added.

F-16 jets ‘four or five times’ more effective than MiG-29s: Ukraine

A Ukrainian air commander says Kyiv is in dire need of F-16 fighter jets, which he described as “four or five times” more effective than the Soviet-era planes the country is currently using.

Serhiy Holubtsov, one of the most senior commanders in the air force, said that while donations of Soviet-era MiG-29 fighter jets by Ukraine’s allies were an “important step”, the planes did not fully meet Ukraine’s battlefield requirements.

“The F-16 is a fighter that has become a multirole aircraft, which can fulfil the entire spectrum of airborne tasks,” he said on national television, adding, “The MiG-29, unfortunately, is [an aircraft] from the last century.”

Poland and Slovakia recently began to hand over MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine.

Any coalition of F-16 donors would likely rely on backing from the US, which is by far the largest operator and builder of the planes. However, Washington has ruled out sending F-16 jets to Ukraine for now.

EU foreign policy chief to visit China next week

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell plans to visit China next week, continuing a flurry of trips to Beijing by senior European officials.

Borrell will visit from April 13 to 15, EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said.

French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are currently in China, urging Beijing to use its influence with Russia to help end the war in Ukraine.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited Beijing last week.

Borrell, the head of the EU’s diplomatic service, said last month that he would visit China “soon” and that Beijing’s partnership with Moscow has limits despite the two countries’ “no limits” partnership.

EU warns China not to send arms to Russia

China is willing to enhance strategic mutual trust with the EU, President Xi Jinping said on Thursday.

China and the EU should establish correct mutual understanding and avoid misunderstanding and misjudgment, Xi stated while meeting the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, in Beijing, Reuters reported, citing CCTV.

For her part, Von der Leyen said she warned China that any arms shipments to Russia would “significantly harm” relations.

China is ready to push peace talks: French official

China is ready to work with France to “push hard” to obtain a negotiation to end the war in Ukraine, a French diplomatic source said after President Emmanuel Macron held talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

The source stated that Xi had also indicated he was ready to call President Vladimir Zelensky in his own time and that Macron urged China not to deliver anything that Russia could use “in its war in Ukraine”.

Xi also said China’s policy on Ukraine could be summed up in one sentence – “promote peace and dialogue”, state media quoted Xi as saying, adding that the top priority is to encourage a ceasefire and to end the war.

Moscow court to consider appeal from jailed WSJ reporter

A Moscow court will consider an appeal by lawyers of jailed Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich to lift his pre-trial detention on April 18, the Interfax news agency reported.

Gershkovich was arrested last week in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on espionage charges.

Shortly after his arrest, a court in Moscow ordered Gershkovich be held in pre-trial detention at the capital’s Lefortovo prison until at least May. 29.

At that hearing, Gershkovich was not allowed to meet his lawyer, and prosecutors did not share any case materials.

The hearing on April 18 will also be held behind closed doors since Russia considers information related to the charges as classified, Interfax reported.

Gershkovich’s arrest triggered an outcry from Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, who urged Russia to “let him go” and has further strained US-Russia relations.

More help needed from the Russian military: Wagner chief

The head of Russia’s private Wagner militia says he needs more support from the regular military before advancing further.

On Telegram, Yevgeny Prigozhin said that Ukrainian troops were “not going anywhere” and had organised staunch defences inside the city, that, if they fell back, they would take up new positions in the outskirts and in Chasiv Yar to the west.

“That’s why, in my opinion, there’s no talk for now of any offensive,” he added.

Prigozhin made clear that he was not yet satisfied with the support he received from Russia’s mainstream forces, including those attacking adjacent front areas.

He raised three complaints – flank protection, command structure, and ammunition supplies.

Prigozhin also stated it was long since he had seen General Sergey Surovikin, who commanded Russia’s Ukraine campaign, before the chief of the general staff, Army General Valery Gerasimov, was given the position.

“I don’t know what he’s up to,” he added.

Ukrainian forces not leaving Bakhmut: Wagner boss

The head of Russia’s Wagner Group said that Ukrainian forces were not leaving the city of Bakhmut, and fighting was continuing in the western part of the city.

“It must be said clearly that the enemy is not going anywhere,” Yevgeny Prigozhin said on his Telegram channel.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky raised the prospect of a possible withdrawal from the city, saying Kyiv would take the “corresponding” decisions if its forces in the city risked being encircled by Russian troops.

But Pavlo Narozhniy, a Ukrainian military analyst, told NV Radio that Ukrainian forces were exhausting Russian troops to prepare for a counterattack.

“Bakhmut is performing the key task of inflicting as many losses on Russia as possible and, most importantly, to prepare for a counterattack to take place in late April-May,” Narozhniy added.

China has mediator potential but situation is ‘difficult’: Kremlin

The Kremlin says while China has mediator potential, the situation in Ukraine is “still complicated”, the TASS news agency reported.

Dmitry Peskov stated, “China has a very effective and impressive capacity to provide mediation services, and China’s recent diplomatic success has eloquently demonstrated this.”

“But the situation with Ukraine is still complicated and does not show any prospects for a peaceful settlement,” he added.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Beijing to discuss the war in Ukraine and possible pathways to peace.

Russia’s FM begins two-day visit to Turkey

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov starts a two-day visit to Turkey.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Lavrov are expected to discuss the war in Ukraine, the Black Sea grain deal, and energy cooperation.

Turkey has repeatedly urged Kyiv and Moscow to end the more than a year-old war in Ukraine through negotiations.

‘Difficult’ to determine who blew up Nord Stream pipelines: Sweden

Sweden’s prosecution authority says it will likely be challenging to determine who blew up the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia and Germany in the Baltic Sea last year.

“Our hope is to be able to confirm who has committed this crime, but it should be noted that it likely will be difficult given the circumstances,” prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist said.

“We are working unconditionally and turning over every stone and leaving nothing to chance. There is a variety of information and reports about the sabotage against the gas pipes. The incident has obviously become an open arena for different influence attempts,” Ljungqvist added.

“These speculations do not have an impact on the ongoing investigation, which is grounded in facts and the information which has emerged from analyses, crime scene investigations, and collaboration with authorities in Sweden and other countries,” he continued.

Leaders of France and China meet in Beijing

President Emmanuel Macron met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing as the French leader seeks to dissuade China from supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Macron told Xi he knows he can count on China to reason with Russia and bring everyone back to the negotiating table.

“The Russian aggression in Ukraine has dealt a blow to [international] stability,” Macron told Xi.

“I know I can count on you to bring back Russia to reason and everyone back to the negotiating table,” he continued.

Xi also hailed ties between the two countries with CCTV reporting China’s leader said relations were “positive and steady”, adding: “The world today is undergoing profound historical changes.”

Ukraine says situation at the front is completely under control

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar stated that the situation at the front was “completely under control” despite repeated Russian attempts to take Bakhmut and other cities in eastern Ukraine.

Malyar wrote on Telegram that Ukrainian soldiers were repelling dozens of attacks a day around Bakhmut, Lyman, Avdiivka and Marinka.

Poland says Russia committed war crimes in Ukraine

Polish President Andrzej Duda says Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine which must be punished.

“[Ukraine] could not be intimidated even though the targets of attacks are civilian facilities, hospitals, kindergartens … these are war crimes that must be brought to justice and the criminals must be punished,” Andrzej Duda stated.

The Polish leader made the claim during a visit to Warsaw by his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

Russia needs to “continue to support” its US relations: FM

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded to a reporter’s question Wednesday regarding Russia’s relationship with the United States while it continues to supply aid to Ukraine.

“We really are in a hot phase of the war, because Ukrainian Nazis are using American weapons, first and foremost. And the American administration keeps threatening to deliver longer-range and more deadly weapons systems,” Lavrov said.

“But nevertheless, I think we should continue to support our relations and we hope that the Americans will wake up at once and return to the negotiating table. We’ll see, we won’t have to wait much longer,” he added.

White House: US doesn’t “enable or encourage” Ukrainians to strike outside of Ukraine

White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby responded to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent allegation that “Western intelligence services” are involved in “terrorist attacks” carried out within Russia, saying Wednesday that the United States does not “enable or encourage Ukrainians to strike outside of Ukraine.”

During a meeting of Russia’s Security Council on Wednesday, Putin alleged without evidence that “terrorist attacks are regularly carried out against government officials and law enforcement agencies, journalists, public figures, school and university teachers. … Moreover, neo-Nazis and their accomplices operate not only on the territory of the new subjects of the Federation, but also commit crimes in other regions” – references to the Ukrainian regions Russia claims to have annexed, and the rest of the Russian regions.

“There is reason to believe that the potential of third countries of Western intelligence services is involved in the preparation of such sabotage and terrorist attacks,” Putin added.

Vladlen Tatarsky, a pro-Kremlin Russian military blogger, was killed by an explosion at a St. Petersburg café on Sunday. Russia’s National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAC) announced Monday that the explosion that killed him involved agents of the Ukrainian special services and associates of the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Kirby underscored that American intelligence involvement has been aimed at helping Ukrainians defend their territory.

“(F)rom the early days of this war, we have been providing intelligence and information support to the Ukrainian armed forces to enable them to better defend themselves, to conduct operations and to continue to try to claw back territory that the Russians illegally took from them when they invaded – actually, even since 2014. And I won’t get into the details of what that intelligence is or how it’s delivered, but it is very much intended to help … them defend their territory,” Kirby stated.

“We do not enable nor do we encourage the Ukrainians to strike outside of Ukraine. And I really just – I’m going to leave it at that,” he added

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