Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 415

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:

Ukrainian forces report Chinese-made parts on battleground

Ukrainian forces say they are finding China-made components in Russian weapons used in the battleground, a senior adviser in President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office told the Reuters news agency.

In “the weapons recovered from the battlefield we continue to find different electronics,” said Vladyslav Vlasiuk, who advises the president’s chief of staff on sanctions policy.

“The trend is now that there is less Western-made components but more – not hard (to) guess which country – made components. Of course, China,” he added.

Intelligence gathered by Ukrainian experts and shared with Reuters found that Chinese-made components were seen in a navigation system in Orlan aerial drones that had previously used a Swiss design.

China has repeatedly denied sending military equipment to Russia.

Russia builds up provisions at Zaporizhzhia plant

Kyiv’s state atomic agency says Russian forces have brought large amounts of provisions and water supplies to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

Energoatom said the move might indicate Russia is preparing to barricade employees inside because of a shortage of qualified staff at the nuclear plant and Ukraine’s expected counter-offensive.

“Given the intense shortage of nuclear specialists needed to operate the temporarily occupied Zaporizhzhia NPP, and fearing a Ukrainian offensive, the (Russians) are preparing for the long-term holding of ZNPP employees as hostages,” Energoatom announced.

“The invaders have already brought a lot of provisions and water to the station,” it added in a statement.

“The occupiers will probably not allow the station staff to leave after one of the regular work shifts, forcibly blocking them at the ZNPP,” it noted.

Ukraine bans sports teams from competing with Russia, Belarus

Ukrainian Sports Ministry has said that Ukraine has banned its national sports teams from competing in Olympic, non-Olympic and Paralympic events that include athletes from Russia and Belarus.

Criticised by some Ukrainian athletes, the decision comes after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals.

Deputy Sports Minister Matviy Bidnyi signed the decree published on the Sports Ministry’s website overnight.

Some Ukrainian athletes, including Olympic skeleton racer Vladyslav Heraskevych, criticised the ban, saying it would destroy Ukrainian sports.

“If Ukrainian representatives are not present at competitions, then we completely vacate the international sports grounds and give the Russian/Belarusian representatives the opportunity to promote their narratives and propaganda,” he wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine will ‘test and use’ non-banned weapons to liberate Crimea

Ukraine will “test and use” any non-banned weapons to liberate its territory, including Russian-occupied Crimea, the head of its National Security and Defense Council said.

Oleksiy Danilov tweeted, “Crimea is the territory of Ukraine, and we will test and use there any weapons not prohibited by international laws, that will help liberate our territories.”

Russia ‘re-energised’ its efforts in Bakhmut, Kyiv forced to withdraw

According to the British Ministry of Defence, Russia has “re-energised” its efforts in Bakhmut due to better relations between the Wagner Group and the Russian army.

“The Ukrainian defence still holds the western districts of the town but has been subjected to particularly intense Russian artillery fire over the previous 48 hours,” the intelligence update said.

The update added that Wagner troops continued to advance through the centre of Bakhmut while Russia’s airborne forces “relieved some Wagner units securing the northern and southern flanks of the operation”.

“Ukrainian forces face significant resupply issues but have made orderly withdrawals from the positions they have been forced to concede,” according to the report.

Germany urges China to pressure Russia

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has urged Beijing to ask “the Russian aggressor to stop the war” in Ukraine, adding, “no other country has more influence on Russia than China”.

Baerbock spoke after a meeting with her Chinese counterpart Qin Gang in Beijing.

“It is good that China has signalled its commitment to a solution but I have to say frankly that I wonder why the Chinese position so far does not include a call on the aggressor Russia to stop the war,” Baerbock stated.

The German minister’s visit to Beijing comes a week after French President Emmanuel Macron and the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, urged Beijing to play a more significant role in ending the conflict.

After the meeting, China announced that Defence Minister Li Shangfu would be on a four-day Russia visit from Sunday at the invitation of his counterpart, Sergey Shoigu.

Russian Pacific naval fleet on high alert amid inspection

Russia places its Pacific naval fleet on high alert as part of an inspection to build its defensive capabilities, state media reported, citing Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu.

“The main objective of this inspection is to increase the ability of the armed forces to repel the aggression of a probable enemy from the direction of ocean and sea,” Shoigu stated, according to the RIA news agency.

‘Difficult’ to trust China if it fails to find solution to war: EU

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Europe to trust China if it did not try to find a political solution to the war.

The comments, published on the EU’s website, were due to be delivered at a think tank in Beijing on Friday, but Borrell had to cancel his trip to China because he tested positive for COVID-19.

Russian attacks grip Ukraine’s eastern front: Kyiv

Russia pressed on with attacks on Bakhmut and shelled the southern city of Kherson on Thursday, officials in Kyiv say.

Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar said on the Telegram app that heavy fighting gripped all parts of the eastern front.

“Most of the enemy’s offensive efforts are occurring in the Bakhmut sector,” she wrote, adding that Russian commanders had redirected troops there from other areas.

“The enemy is using its most professional units there and resorting to a significant amount of artillery and aviation. Every day, the enemy carries out in Bakhmut from 40 to 50 storming operations and 500 shelling episodes,” she continued.

The head of Russia’s Wagner Group stated this week that his forces held 80 percent of Bakhmut, but the Ukrainian military said that figure was exaggerated.

Up to a third of Ukraine’s territory could be contaminated with explosives: Emergency service

One-third of Ukraine’s territory “is potentially contaminated with explosive devices,” a spokesperson for the country’s State Emergency Service said in a statement Thursday.

The regions with the most potential danger are Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, Donetsk in the east, and Kherson and Mykolaiv in the south, according to Oleksandr Khorunzhyi, SES spokesperson.

Khorunzhyi stated that the service’s pyrotechnic units are working to defuse and clear the explosives, having already removed more than 316,000 remnants of war since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

The official added crews are taking particular care to remove mines around energy infrastructure.

The area described by Khorunzhyi — one-third of Ukraine’s territory — amounts to about 174,000 square kilometers (over 67,000 square miles).

UN nuclear chief: Ukraine plant ‘living on borrowed time’

United Nations nuclear chief Rafael Grossi says “we are living on borrowed time” following two recent landmine explosions near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia plant.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly expressed fears over the safety of the plant, which is Europe’s largest atomic power station. Russian forces took control of the six-reactor plant in embattled southern Ukraine in March last year.

“We are living on borrowed time when it comes to nuclear safety and security at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant,” IAEA Director-General Grossi said in a statement.

“Unless we take action to protect the plant, our luck will sooner or later run out, with potentially severe consequences for human health and the environment,” he added.

European Union targets Russia’s Wagner Group in latest round of sanctions

The European Union added Russia’s Wagner private military group and Russian news agency RIA FAN to a list of organizations it is sanctioning, a statement from the European Council said Thursday.

The EU sanctioned the two organizations for “undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine,” the statement read.

“Russia must stop its aggression and immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces and proxies from the entire territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders,” the statement added.

“The EU stands firmly and fully with Ukraine and will continue to provide strong political, economic, military, financial and humanitarian support to Ukraine and its people for as long as it takes,” it noted.

RIA FAN is part of the Patriot Media Group, a Russian organization whose Board of Trustees is headed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to the EU.

Prigozhin is also the head of the Wagner Group, which has been previously sanctioned for what the EU describes as serious human rights violations.

The EU has now sanctioned a total of 1,473 individuals and 207 entities in connection with their actions in Ukraine, the statement read. Those designated are subject to an asset freeze and EU citizens and companies are forbidden from making funds available to them, the statement read.

EU approves $1.1 billion fund to reimburse member states for ammunition donations to Ukraine

European Union will establish a 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) fund to reimburse member states for ammunition donated to Ukraine, according to the Council of the EU’s website.

The decision, approved Thursday, is part of the alliance’s efforts to speed up the procurement and delivery of artillery ammunition, which Ukraine is burning through rapidly in its defense against Russia’s invasion.

The measure covers existing stocks and ammunition reprioritized from existing orders between February 9 and May 31, 2023, according to the council.

The fund is the first step in a program agreed to by EU capitals on March 20.

“There is no better demonstration of the EU’s united resolve and determination to continue supporting Ukraine’s legitimate right of self-defence against the brutal Russian aggressor,” Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, is quoted as saying in a news release.

Fiercest and heaviest fighting continues in Bakhmut: Ukrainian officials

The fiercest and heaviest fighting continues in the embattled eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Thursday.

At a news conference in Kyiv, Maliar stated, “Despite the fact that the enemy has concentrated its most professional units in Bakhmut, including Wagner fighters, airborne assault units, and special forces, the Russians cannot achieve their goals there, i.e. take full control of Bakhmut.

“As of today, the Russians are suffering huge losses there, and despite these losses, they are not stopping and still want to achieve their goal of taking control of the city,” he added.

Recent social media videos show how buildings have been flattened to ruins in the beleaguered city, while drone footage reveals the scale of the decimation wreaked by the months-long battle.

Oleksii Hromov, deputy chief of the General Staff’s Main Operational Directorate, said the Bakhmut area remains the most difficult and “the enemy continues offensive actions in the central part of Bakhmut, as well as in the directions of Bohdanivka and Ivanivske to surround the city from the north and south.”

“In order to strengthen the offensive potential, some of the enemy’s forces and means were moved to the Bakhmut area from the Avdiivka direction,” he continued, adding, “Every day in the area of Bakhmut, the enemy makes 40 to 50 attempts at offensive assaults, conducting more than 500 attacks using the full range of available weapons.”

“At the same time, the military and political leadership of the Russian Federation does not take into account the losses of personnel. For example, in the last two weeks alone, the enemy has lost nearly 4,500 Wagner fighters and regular Russian Armed Forces servicemen killed and wounded in the area of Bakhmut,” Hromov added.

The founder and head of the Wagner private military company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, last month said Bakhmut “has already practically destroyed the Ukrainian army,” adding that “unfortunately” Wagner has “been pretty battered” as well.

The city of Bakhmut sits towards the northeast of the Donetsk region, about 13 miles from Luhansk region, and has been a target for Russian forces for months. Since last summer the city has been a stone’s throw from the front lines, so its capture would represent a long sought-after success for Moscow’s forces — and bring some limited strategic value. The city has important road connections to other parts of the Donetsk region; eastwards to the border with Luhansk, north-west to Sloviansk and south-west to Kostiantynivka.

Polish PM says relationship with Hungary ‘changed a lot’

Poland’s previously close relationship with Hungary has “changed a lot” over Budapest’s position on Ukraine, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said.

“Our relationship with Hungary changed a lot because of the position of Hungary towards Ukraine and Russia, that’s a fact. We had once very strong cooperation on the level of the Visegrad group, now it’s much less so,” Morawiecki stated at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

The Visegrad group comprises the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

“Instead of Hungary, we cooperate very very closely with Romania and the Baltics, this is why I said that Eastern European countries, minus Hungary, have the same opinion on what’s going on in Ukraine,” he added.

The Polish prime minister did not say the consequences of weakened relations, but the two EU members used to be strong allies in their rows with Brussels over the rule of law, immigration and LGBT rights.

Joining NATO is only option for security: Ukraine

Ukraine’s membership in the NATO military alliance is the only option for the country’s future security, Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said

“We need a system of guarantees that would make aggression from Russia impossible,” he told a Black Sea security conference in Bucharest.

“There is no alternative to Ukraine’s accession to NATO,” he added.

China, Russia ministers discuss Ukraine in Samarkand

Chinese and Russian foreign ministers discussed the conflict in Ukraine during a meeting in Uzbekistan’s Samarkand, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

There is no “panacea” for resolving the crisis, China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang told his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, adding that China will continue to play a constructive role in promoting a political settlement and restarting peace talks, the ministry said.

Representatives from Iran and Pakistan also attended the meeting in Samarkand.

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