Saturday, May 18, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 409

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 marks anniversary of Kramatorsk station attack

Ukrainians have been marking the one-year anniversary of a missile strike on a Kramatorsk railway station in eastern Ukraine, which killed at least 58 people, including several children.

The attack took place on 8 April 2022, when the station was packed with women, children and elderly waiting to be evacuated. The authorities had urged residents to leave the region before an expected Russian military assault.

More than 100 people were wounded in the strike, Human Rights Watch announced. Many lost limbs.

President Volodymyr Zelensky stated at the time that it was a deliberate attack on civilians using a Tochka U short-range ballistic missile. The US also blamed Russia, saying it believes it used a short range ballistic missile. Russia has denied responsibility.

Ukrainian missile downed over Crimea: Authorities

Russian air defenses have shot down a Ukrainian missile over Crimea, local authorities said on Saturday, adding that the strike did not result in any casualties or damage to infrastructure.

In a Telegram post, Sergey Aksenov, the head of the Republic of Crimea, stated “a missile launched from Ukraine’s side” had been destroyed over the coastal town of Feodosia in the southeastern part of the peninsula.

Later, Oleg Kryuchkov, a senior adviser to Aksenov, issued an update on the incident, claiming that “the debris of a Ukrainian missile downed by air defenses fell in one of the Crimean settlements. There are no casualties or destruction.”

Russian bid to degrade Ukraine’s energy system ‘likely failed’: UK’s MoD

Russia’s campaign to break down Ukraine’s unified energy system within the past winter period has “highly likely failed”, the UK’s Ministry of Defence says in its latest intelligence update.

Large-scale long-range attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure have become rare since early March 2023, it added.

The report goes on to say that Ukraine’s energy situation “will likely improve” with the arrival of warmer weather.

Zelensky hosts iftar, slams Russian ‘repression’ of Crimea Muslims

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has criticised Russia’s treatment of the Muslim-minority Tatar community in Kremlin-controlled Crimea and pledged to recapture the peninsula from Russia during a first official state iftar.

“Russia’s attempt to enslave Ukraine … began exactly with the occupation of Crimea, exactly with repressions against Crimean, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar freedom and of Crimean Muslims,” he told Ukrainian Muslim leaders and ambassadors from Muslim countries.

The Tatar community, which accounted for 12-15 percent of the 2 million Crimea residents, largely boycotted the 2014 vote.

“There is no alternative for Ukraine, or for the world, other than the de-occupation of Crimea. We will return to Crimea,” Zelensky stated, before handing out awards to several Muslim-Ukrainian servicemen.

Zelenskyy, speaking at a mosque outside the centre of the capital, announced that Ukraine was beginning a new tradition of hosting an official iftar, the meal breaking the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

US making a global push to crack down on Russia’s efforts to evade sanctions: Treasury officials

The United States and its allies are working constantly to keep Russia from getting around Western sanctions and obtaining the technology and financing it needs to fund its war machine in Ukraine, according to senior US Treasury officials.

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, the US has imposed thousands of sanctions. They have, among other things:

  • Targeted Russian politicians, oligarchs and companies;
  • sought to isolate the Russian central bank from the global economy;
  • targeted a key Russian mercenary group, Wagner;
  • undermined Moscow’s defense-industrial base, and;
  • imposed a price cap on Russian oil and petroleum products.

Despite the sanctions’ impact, some observers note concerns over Russia’s ability to re-orient trade routes and acquire what it needs through neighboring countries or more permissive jurisdictions, such as the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

The Treasury says Russia has even tasked its intelligence services with finding sanction workarounds — a sign, in the US view, that they are keeping the pressure on.

The US has made major efforts to share information with allied countries and businesses on how the Kremlin is trying to evade the sanctions regime, according to senior US officials.

In recent months, the US has seen some encouraging results from its public and private efforts. The Turkish government told the US last month it has taken further action to block shipments of sanctioned goods directly to Russia, according to a source familiar with the discussion.

Leaders of the global financial system will attend the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington, D.C. next week, providing the Treasury another opportunity to ramp up pressure on countries key to Russia’s attempts to evade sanctions.

Over the next month, senior officials will also fan out across the world to strategize with other governments. Two of the Treasury’s top sanctions officials – Brian Nelson and Liz Rosenberg – will play a part in this effort.

Nelson will meet with Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Germany to compare notes with counterparts. Rosenberg will travel to Kazakhstan in Central Asia, a region with a long history of ties to Russia, where officials worry Russia has been sourcing materials

Russia rejects Muslim POW exchange for Ramadan: Report

Ukraine announced that Russia has refused an “all-for-all Muslim prisoner of war (POW) exchange for Ramadan”, The Kyiv Independent has reported.

“Russian authorities rebuffed Ukraine’s offer to exchange all Muslim POWs from both sides at the beginning of the Ramadan month, according to the President’s Office,” it said.

US Treasury: Despite closer ties, China has not provided major assistance to Russia’s war effort

While China and Russia have strengthened ties since the Kremlin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the US has not yet seen evidence of Beijing providing systemic, material support for Moscow’s war effort, according to senior US Treasury officials.

The US assessment comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government look for avenues to evade Western sanctions and backfill its military.

One senior Treasury official said China is, as of now, unwilling to provide material support to Russia at a significant scale, pointing instead to Russian efforts to source material from North Korea and Iran.

Senior US officials credit the efforts of their sanctions coalition — including public US comments and direct messages delivered by European allies — for prompting China to hold off from providing more substantive support to Russia.

The Joe Biden administration has worked to plug the gaps of the sanctions regime, broadening intelligence sharing with allies and targeting areas where Russia hopes to sidestep sanctions and export controls.

The US and its allies have also taken more direct action, sanctioning a Chinese satellite company providing intelligence to Russian forces in January and putting some Chinese companies on the US export control list

Russia hits illegally annexed Ukraine areas from ground, air

Russian forces have used ground- and air-fired missiles, rocket launchers and weaponised drones to bombard the provinces of Ukraine that Moscow has illegally annexed but does not fully control, causing casualties, building damage and power outages.

The Ukrainian military said Russian forces launched 18 air raids, five missile attacks and 53 attacks from multiple rocket launchers between Thursday and Friday mornings.

According to the military’s statement, Russia was concentrating the bulk of its offensive operations in Ukraine’s industrial east, focusing on the cities and towns of Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Marinka in the Donetsk province.

Most of Friday’s battlefield reports concerned the four Ukrainian provinces Russia annexed in September: Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson.

US official: Coalition found effective way to communicate with China on Russia sanctions

A senior US Treasury Department official said the coalition of partners that has imposed sanctions on Russia over the invasion of Ukraine have found an effective way to communicate with China about not providing material support to Russia.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that the communication has meant that though China and Russia have signaled an open partnership of sorts, the US has not seen Beijing to be willing to provide Russia with the type of material support at a scale that would matter in this regard.

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