Friday, June 21, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 414

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:

Kremlin doubts reports of Russian government infighting

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said he doubts the “reliability” of reports of broad infighting between Russian officials.

“I don’t know what these reports (of infighting) are based on, but I’m doubting their reliability and the author’s understanding of the essence of what is happening inside Russia,” he said in response to a CNN question about a New York Times report on a new batch of classified US intelligence documents.

The NYT says the documents, which it reports were posted on a Discord server, show infighting between the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Defense Ministry over Russia’s casualty count for the war in Ukraine.

Peskov was also asked specifically about a reported meeting on February 22 between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, likely to resolve a public dispute over ammunition supply.

“I know nothing about it,” he added.


Ukraine reports Russian mine explosion near Zaporizhzhia plant

A Russian mine exploded near the generator room of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, Ukraine’s state operator Energoatom announced.

“According to sources, an explosion happened near the engine room of the fourth (reactor) power unit,” Energoatom said in a statement.

The statement added that Russian troops, who last year seized control of the plant, told workers that it was “their own mine that detonated”.


Norway expels 15 Russian embassy officials

Norway’s foreign ministry expelled 15 Russian embassy officials, saying they were intelligence officers operating under cover of diplomatic positions.

“The measures the government has now decided mean that 15 Russian intelligence officers, who have been under diplomatic cover in Norway, will now be declared undesirable. They must leave Norway within a short time. We will not grant visas to intelligence officers who apply for a visa to Norway.” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Russia is the biggest intelligence threat in Norway,” it added.

The Russian foreign ministry announced it would respond to Norway’s expulsion of 15 Russian diplomats, state-owned news agency TASS reported.


Ukraine’s borders must be restored to bring real peace: FM

Real peace will only be achieved in Ukraine by restoring the country’s borders and it taking back Crimea, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated Thursday.

“Real peace means restoring the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine. Real peace means a safe homeland for the targeted people in the Ukrainian Crimea,” Kuleba said via video link in an address to the Black Sea Security Conference in Bucharest.

“Real peace means grain ships in the Black Sea, not warships. The world under the rule of international law, rather than force is what real peace means. That is what we’re fighting for,” Kuleba added.

“If Russia keeps Crimea once it has revealed its strengths, it will use it as a launchpad to invade Ukraine once again and take full control of the Black Sea. We will not allow this to happen. This is why we will liberate every inch of our territory and every last one of our fellow citizens,” the Ukrainian minister continued.

“And that is why we are today calling for a demilitarization of the Black Sea so that peaceful law-abiding countries can once again use the shared sea to trade travel and live freely without fear of Russian warships,” Kuleba stated.

Kuleba reiterated the impact of Russia’s aggression, saying it has left “a bleeding wound in the middle of Europe,” while adding it was time to turn the Black Sea into “a sea of NATO.”


Ukraine launches investigation into alleged beheading video

Ukraine launched an investigation into a video that allegedly shows the beheading of a Ukrainian soldier.

The video, which spread quickly online, drew outrage from officials in Kyiv, including President Volodymyr Zelensky and international organisations.

The Kremlin has called the footage “horrible” but said it needed to be verified.

In the video, a man wearing a yellow armband, typically worn by Ukrainian fighters, is apparently decapitated by another person.


Over 77,000 alleged incidents of war crimes registered by Ukraine: Chief prosecutor

There have been more than 77,000 alleged war crimes registered by Ukraine, the country’s Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin told The Washington Post.

He said the alleged war crime incidents “include not only murder, not only humiliation and rape, they also include the destroying of private property. They include forced deportation. They include forced detention of Ukrainians on occupied territories. They include looting on massive scale on the occupied territories and many other war crimes.”

The chief prosecutor told the newspaper he has 305 alleged perpetrators “who are notified of suspicion,” along with 150 indictments ready and 30 convictions “by Ukrainian courts with regard to Russian war criminals” who committed alleged crimes on Ukrainian soil. He added that “99-plus percent of all cases of war crimes committed against Ukrainians will be prosecuted and tried in Ukraine.”

“We are investigating war crimes in course of ongoing aggression,” Kostin continued, adding, “We are not only investigating them, but also, we are making Russians accountable for the war crimes committed on Ukrainian soil.”

According to Kostin, there are four elements contributing to the criminal accountability documented throughout the war in Ukraine: National efforts, assistance from the International Criminal Court, international coordination and the creation of a special international tribunal for the alleged “crime of aggression.”

“These four layers of criminal responsibility create full web of accountability on (a) criminal level for Russia and its perpetrators,” Kostin told the daily.


US treasury secretary calls for continued aid to Ukraine

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has called for continued significant aid to Ukraine as it battles against Russia’s invasion, and lauded Ukrainian authorities for their focus on good governance and anti-corruption.

Yellen spoke at the start of a meeting on Ukraine during the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal also spoke.

“Supporting Ukraine is a collective effort. We welcome the efforts by our allies and partners to provide significant, predictable, and timely assistance, and urge all of us to continue doing so,” Yellen said.

Shmyhal and Zelensky thanked donor countries for their support and initial investments in reconstruction projects.

“This assistance is unprecedented and we greatly appreciate it. But Ukraine’s losses and expenses are unprecedented, too,” Shmyhal told the meeting, citing a recent report estimating it would cost $411bn to rebuild Ukraine’s economy, or 2.6 times its expected 2022 gross domestic product.

Shmyhal added Ukraine needed to attract $14bn in donor aid by the end of 2023.


EU says those committing war crimes in Ukraine must be held accountable

The European Union Delegation at the United Nations said those who are committing war crimes in Ukraine must be held accountable after a video appears to show beheadings of Ukrainian soldiers.

“The EU supports investigations on all war crimes committed in Ukraine. We will work tirelessly to ensure accountability,” the EU wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

A video was posted to a pro-Russian social media channel on April 8, which appears to show the beheaded corpses of two Ukrainian soldiers lying on the ground next to a destroyed military vehicle.

Russian social media accounts said the video was shot near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which has been the scene of the war’s fiercest fighting for many months, with Wagner fighters very heavily involved.

A second video, which was posted on Twitter and is heavily blurred, looks to have been filmed during the summer because of the amount of plant life on the ground. It purports to show a Russian fighter using a knife to cut off the head of a Ukrainian soldier. A voice at the beginning of the video suggests the victim might have still been alive when the attack began.


Russia warns Black Sea grain deal ‘is not working so far’

The Kremlin has warned that the outlook for extending a deal beyond May 18 that allows the safe wartime export of grain and fertiliser from several Ukrainian Black Sea ports was not great.

Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this export deal deal “has not worked and is not working so far”.

Ukraine’s Black Sea Grain Initiative was brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in July last year to help tackle a global food crisis that United Nations officials said had been worsened by the most deadly war in Europe since World War II.

To help persuade Russia to allow Ukraine to resume its Black Sea grain exports last year, a separate three-year agreement was also struck in July in which the UN agreed to help Russia with its food and fertiliser exports.

Western powers have imposed tough sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Its food and fertiliser exports are not sanctioned, but Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance are a barrier to shipments.

Last month, Russia only agreed to renew the Ukraine Black Sea grain export deal for at least 60 days, half the intended period. Moscow announced it would only consider a further extension if several demands in relation to its own exports were met.

Those include allowing the Russian Agricultural Bank to return to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) payment system; allowing Russia to import agricultural machinery; the removal of insurance restrictions; port access for Russian ships and cargo; and an unblocking of the financial activities of Russian fertiliser companies.

Moscow also wants a pipeline that delivers Russian ammonia to a Ukrainian Black Sea port to be restarted.


Ukraine’s prime minister signs $200 million agreement with World Bank to rebuild energy sector

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has secured a $200 million loan from the World Bank to help rebuild the country’s energy sector.

“Today we signed the agreement with World Bank VP Anna Bjerde to provide an additional $200 million to restore power system in #Ukraine,” he tweeted Wednesday, after a meeting in Washington. “We are also preparing to implement a military risk insurance project for foreign investors.”

“Grateful for the support for Ukraine’s recovery,” he added.

Shmyhal said Ukraine would begin rebuilding damaged areas this year.

“The funds attracted from the World Bank will be used to rebuild the power grid and heat supply systems in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv, Sumy and the cities of Chernihiv region,” he stated, according to his office.

“This winter, we have defeated Russia in the battle for light and are already preparing for the next heating season,” he added.


Ukrainian prime minister thanks US for military support in Pentagon meeting with defense secretary

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal thanked the United States for its continued military support as he met with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

“Denys Shmyhal thanked the United States and the Secretary personally for their significant military support, as well as for their efforts to establish the Contact Group on Ukraine’s Defense, which currently includes more than 50 countries,” his office said in a readout of the meeting.

The pair discussed Ukraine’s further needs, with Shmyhal asking Austin to supply Ukraine with more weapons.

“Ukrainian soldiers have proven that they can master the latest equipment in a short time and use it effectively on the battlefield,” he stated, according to his office.

“For a quicker victory, Ukraine also needs more weapons: Air defense, heavy artillery and equipment, mortars and ammunition,” he added.


Wagner founder calls on Russian society to be fully mobilized for war

Wagner private military company founder and financier Yevgeny Prigozhin has called for the entire Russian society to be mobilized, saying people are ready to contribute to Moscow’s war effort in Ukraine.

“It is not only the mobilized who should be mobilized, those who go to the front, but all the society should be mobilized,” Prigozhin said in an audio posted on his Telegram channel, in reaction to Russia’s new electronic conscription bill.

“Starting from simple workers who are actually ready for this process,” he continued.

“When we travel to the regions, our recruiters see that people are ready to be mobilized and understand that there is a war going on for the very existence of Russia,” he added.

Unlike Prigozhin, the Russian government continues to deny it is waging a war in Ukraine, referring to the conflict as a “special military operation.”

The new bill put forward by the Kremlin, which is set to be signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, would tighten the rules for Russians drafted into the conflict to prevent them from leaving the country — as many did in droves during last year’s “partial mobilization.” The Wagner leader criticized Russian officials who fled the country with their wealth and said the whole “system” needs to be shaken.

“Why don’t we want to clean out this anthill that has been created over the years and which over the years has turned from a community of people who are ready to develop something in this country into a community of people who are only interested in their own well-being?” he questioned, noting, “The system requires global sanitation and a reduction in the number of participants in this bureaucratic community.”


US imposes large tranche of new sanctions on over 100 people or entities for ties to Russia’s war

The United States imposed a large tranche of sanctions on more than 100 people and entities around the world for their ties to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Wednesday’s sanctions are the latest action meant to diminish Moscow’s abilities in its war in Ukraine and punish those who are supporting it, including through helping Russia to evade existing sanctions.

The latest sanctions target a wide network tied to Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov, who is already under sanction in multiple countries, and were taken in coordination with the United Kingdom.

According to the US Treasury Department, Usmanov “is one of Russia’s wealthiest billionaires” who “holds significant interests in the metals and mining, telecommunications, and information technology sectors.”

He is “known to be close to multiple U.S.-designated, senior Russian officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as Dmitry Medvedev, current Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of Russia and former President and Prime Minister of Russia,” according to a statement.

The US also imposed sanctions on companies based in China, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, which the US Treasury Department said is supporting Russia’s military industrial complex in defiance of existing sanctions.

The Treasury also sanctioned the International Investment Bank, “a Russia-controlled financial institution” in Budapest, as well as its Moscow-based subsidiary and several former and current executives.

“The IIB’s presence in Budapest enables Russia to increase its intelligence presence in Europe, opens the door for the Kremlin’s malign influence activities in Central Europe and the Western Balkans, and could serve as a mechanism for corruption and illicit finance, including sanctions violations,” according to the Treasury Department.

In addition, the US State Department is sanctioning two Russian entities “that support Russia’s efforts to undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine through the militarization and indoctrination of schoolchildren: The All Russian Children’s And Youth Military Patriotic Public Movement Youth Army, and the State Budgetary Educational Institution of Additional Education of the Republic of Crimea Crimea Patriot Center,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

According to the State Department, the so-called youth army was created by Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and is “responsible for militarizing and propagandizing schoolchildren in occupied areas of Ukraine.”

The “Crimea Patriot Center” is “an organization whose objective is to provide youth with a ‘military-patriotic education’ in order to prepare them for service in the Russia’s Armed Forces,” it added.


Russia’s defense ministry claims its forces struck Ukrainian reserves trying to enter Bakhmut

Russia’s Ministry of Defense on Wednesday claimed its forces hit Ukrainian army reserves attempting to get into the battered city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

According to the ministry, Russian forces hit “reserves of the enemy that tried to break into Bakhmut from the settlements of Chasiv Yar and Bohdanivka, as well as the units of the 28th Mechanised Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine close to Kostiantynivka.”

The ministry also said Wagner private military company fighters had captured three more blocks in their attempt to seize control of the embattled city.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian officials denied Wagner founder and financier Yevgeny Prigozhin’s claim that Russian forces now control 80% of the city.

“I’ve just been in touch with the commander of one of the brigades that are defending the city. I can confidently state that the Ukrainian defense forces control a much larger percentage of the territory of Bakhmut,” Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces told CNN on Tuesday.

Western officials have conceded Russia had been able to make some progress in Bakhmut, but added it could be “measured in meters.”

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