Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 416

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:

EU teases 11th round of Russia sanctions

The EU is putting together the 11th package of anti-Russian sanctions in response to the Ukraine conflict, EU commissioner for financial stability, financial services and capital markets Mairead McGuinness has confirmed.

“We will have another package,” McGuinness told CNBC while attending an International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington, DC.

She insisted that the previous ten rounds of sanctions were having an impact on Moscow’s “war machine” but that more was needed.

“Our information is that the sanctions are working, and we will be doing more but we need to look at full implementation,” McGuinness explained, adding, “What Russia is being deprived of is both the finance and the technologies to reinvent their war machine, and they are having problems on the battlefield.”

The EU also intends to look at ways to prevent Russia from circumventing the embargo “with its pals globally,” said McGuinness. Rather than finger-pointing at entire countries, as the US has done, the bloc wants to pressure “individuals and entities” instead. To that end the EU has been working with the US, Canada and Japan to gather intelligence on Russian “evasion” efforts, she continued.

Report: Ukraine’s EU backers skeptical of counteroffensive

Some EU nations supporting Ukraine have started to doubt whether Kiev will be able to recapture large swathes of territory this year, Bloomberg has reported. Even a modest advance would likely result in heavy casualties among Ukrainian personnel and require considerable amounts of ammunition and hardware, the outlet claimed, citing anonymous EU officials.

In an article, Bloomberg alleged that the high hopes prevalent among Ukraine’s backers late last year, after Kiev’s troops managed to regain a large area, have now mostly dissipated. Fewer people in Western capitals are counting on a decisive push in 2023, with the fighting expected to continue well into next year.

The news agency quoted unnamed European officials “involved in efforts to support Ukraine’s military” as predicting that a realistic goal for Kiev would be a 30 km (20 mile) advance. This, if successful, should set the stage for a deeper counteroffensive in 2024, the sources predicted.

To support such a push, Ukraine’s Western backers would need to step up their military production capacity, Bloomberg reported. According to the outlet, further large-scale deliveries could, however, run into political opposition in some countries.

An unnamed European official cited in the report also warned that any such operation would be a costly endeavor, both in terms of manpower and weapons, as Russian forces have had time to dig in, with minefields, ditches, and concrete anti-tank pyramids in place.

Nevertheless, several European defense officials have told reporters that the counteroffensive, which the Ukrainian leadership has been hyping up for several months now, is likely to get underway by mid-May. Strikes may be expected from multiple directions, potentially including diversionary ones, the sources alleged.

Speaking to The Hill on Tuesday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmigal suggested that the counteroffensive may actually begin in the summer. He insisted that Western backers were not putting any pressure on Kiev to force it into action without due preparation.

The official also called on the West to provide Ukraine with more artillery, ammunition, middle- and long-range missiles, tanks, and fighter jets.

On the same day, the Washington Post, citing a trove of recently leaked classified documents, reported that US intelligence did not hold out much hope back in February as to Ukraine’s ability to make significant territorial gains during the anticipated counteroffensive.

Among the problems supposedly faced by Kiev at the time were “force generation and sustainment shortfalls.”

8 killed in Russian missile strikes in Sloviansk: Ukrainian official

Ukrainian authorities have updated the death toll for Russian missile strikes in the eastern city of Sloviansk, with the head of the Donetsk region military administration saying eight people were killed and 21 injured.

At least seven locations were hit by S-300 surface-to-air missiles, which Russia has often used to hit ground targets, Pavlo Kyrylenko told Ukrainian national television.

“It is confirmed that seven S-300 missiles were launched on the multi-apartment buildings,” he said.

“A little boy was pulled out of rubble in front of my eyes, while he was still alive,” Kyrylenko continued, adding, “Unfortunately, he died in the ambulance.”

“Today’s attack on Sloviansk was one of the most massive since the beginning of this year,” the head of the Sloviansk city military administration, Vadym Liakh, said, adding, “There were several strikes on different districts of the city.”

The missiles hit residential areas and “ordinary civilian buildings,” according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“People are under the rubble. Everything is done to save them, everything is done to save the wounded,” Zelensky said in his nightly address.

The president said on his official Telegram that the attack is just another example of Russia’s brutality during its invasion.

“The evil state once again demonstrates its essence. Just killing people in broad daylight. Ruining, destroying all life,” Zelensky wrote, adding, “There will be fair accountability for every manifestation of terrorism. We will not leave a single trace of Russia on our land. And we will not leave any enemy unpunished either.”

Kyrylenko said these incidents were not uncommon, calling on civilians to evacuate to parts of the country further away from the front line.

“The evacuation is provided; the place for temporary location is provided,” he added.

According to Kyrylenko, Kramatorsk was also hit by an S-300 missile, and Kostianynivka was struck by multiple launch rocket system artillery.

UN chief raises concerns with Russia about Ukraine grain deal

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has written to Russia, Ukraine and Turkey to raise concerns about the implementation of a deal that allows the safe wartime export of grain from several Ukrainian Black Sea ports, a UN spokesman has said.

The move comes after the United Nations said no ships were inspected on Tuesday under the deal “as the parties needed more time to reach an agreement on operational priorities”. Inspections resumed on Wednesday.

“The secretary-general has written letters to the parties and we are diligently working in close collaboration with Turkey to maintain the continuation of the vital agreement,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

Ukraine secures $5bn in more funds: PM

Ukraine has secured promises of $5bn in additional funding to support its continuing fight against Russia amid “fruitful meetings” in Washington this week, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has told reporters.

Shmyhal met with representatives of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Investment Bank as well as top US officials, on the sidelines of the spring meetings of the IMF and the World Bank.

He said Ukraine received new pledges of additional support from Switzerland, Denmark and a number of other countries during the meetings, as well as an agreement from US aircraft maker Boeing Co to relieve Ukrainian companies of $200m in previous commitments. Kyiv expected to receive more support during an upcoming conference in London, he added.

“The international partners have reassured us of their long-term support,” Shmyhal added, describing his meetings in Washington, and referring to total financing of $115bn over the next four years that was leveraged by the IMF’s approval of a $15.6bn loan.

China promises not to sell arms to any party in Ukraine war

China will not sell weapons to either side in the war in Ukraine, the country’s foreign minister has said, responding to Western concerns that Beijing could provide military assistance to Russia.

China has maintained that it is neutral in the conflict, while backing Russia politically, rhetorically and economically at a time when Western nations have imposed punishing sanctions and sought to isolate Moscow for its invasion of its neighbour.

Qin Gang is the highest-level Chinese official to make such an explicit statement about arms sales to Russia. He added that China would also regulate the export of items with dual civilian and military use.

“Regarding the export of military items, China adopts a prudent and responsible attitude,” Qin stated at a news conference alongside visiting German counterpart Annalena Baerbock.

“China will not provide weapons to relevant parties of the conflict, and manage and control the exports of dual-use items in accordance with laws and regulations,” he continued.

The minister also reiterated China’s willingness to help find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Ukrainian PM: Kyiv and Washington remain united despite leaks controversy

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on Friday declined to say if he had discussed the mass leak of classified documents in meetings with US officials in Washington this week –but emphasized that the two countries are united.

“We discussed many very important questions and challenges and issues with all officials with whom we have meetings during this three days,” he said at a press conference at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington.

In his meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Shmyhal stated that they discussed “many very important strategic issues.”

“We are crucially united and absolutely united with Americans and other international partners in preparation of our counteroffensive and we are sure that we will win this war. We will liberate our territories,” he continued.

He elaborated that Ukraine and the US are united on issues such as training soldiers, ammunition and weapons supplies, including long-range missiles.

Shmyhal suggested without evidence that the leak of the documents was tied to Russia, but said, “I’m sure that the investigation will demonstrate all the conclusions.”

Some of the leaked documents divulged key weaknesses in Ukrainian weaponry, air defense, and battalion sizes and readiness at a critical point in the war just as the US and Ukraine have begun to develop a more mutually trusting relationship over intelligence-sharing.

One document reveals that the US has been spying on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. That is unsurprising, stated a source close to Zelensky, but Ukrainian officials are deeply frustrated about the leak.

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