Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 427

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:

Chinese president speaks with Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping by phone for the first time since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“I had a long and meaningful phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations,” Zelensky stated.

In the phone call, Xi and Zelensky exchanged views on the Ukraine crisis, with Xi reaffirming China’s support for peace talks, according to the Chinese government.

Xi said China will send a special envoy to Ukraine and other countries to help conduct “in-depth communication” with all parties for a political settlement of the Ukrainian crisis, the government said, adding that Xi also said China is willing to continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

China “will neither watch the fire from the other side, nor add fuel to the fire, let alone take advantage of the opportunity to profit,” Xi stated, acknowledging that the crisis has had a “major impact” internationally and that the “only feasible way out” is “dialogue and negotiation.”

The call was “an important dialogue,” the head of the Ukrainian Presidential Office Andriy Yermak said in a Telegram post.

In March, Xi met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

China has claimed neutrality in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, with Beijing calling for peace in the conflict. But it has also refused to condemn Russia’s invasion or make any public call for Russia to withdraw its troops. Its officials have instead repeatedly said that the “legitimate” security concerns of all countries must be taken into account and accused NATO and the US of fueling the conflict.

Russia must be stopped from using nuclear power to blackmail world: Zelensky says on Chernobyl anniversary

The Chernobyl disaster has left a “huge scar” and Russia must be prevented from using nuclear power to blackmail the world, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday on the 37th anniversary of the worst nuclear disaster in history.

“We must do everything to prevent the terrorist state from using nuclear power facilities to blackmail Ukraine and the world,” Zelensky tweeted.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov stated “the silence and lies of the Soviet totalitarian regime about the tragedy led to terrible consequences that went far beyond the borders of modern Ukraine.”

“Today, Russia’s barbaric attacks near Ukraine’s nuclear facilities, the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia NPP [Nuclear Power Plant] and its transformation into a military base put the world at risk of a new disaster, the scale of which may exceed the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant,” he added.

Russian forces continue to control the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, which is the largest nuclear power station in Europe. The plant has frequently been disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid due to intense Russian shelling in the area, raising fears across Europe of a nuclear accident.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA], said Wednesday he spoke with Zelensky to mark the anniversary, adding the organization continues its efforts to protect the Zaporizhzhia NPP.

What happened at Chernobyl? When an explosion tore through Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor on April 26, 1986, more than 30 people were killed near Pripyat, Ukraine. Countless others have died from radiation symptoms since, according to the IAEA and the World Health Organization.

The disaster sent a cloud of radioactive fallout over hundreds of thousands of square miles of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. The radioactive effects of the explosion were about 400 times more potent than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.

Russia expels 10 Norwegian diplomats

Ten Norwegian diplomats have been expelled from the embassy in Moscow and have been demanded to leave the country, Norway’s foreign minister has said.

“Our ambassador…has today been informed by the Russian foreign ministry that 10 of our diplomats in Moscow have been declared unwanted,” the Norwegian foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Russian authorities say that this is in reaction to Norway’s decision,” the Norwegian ministry added.

Russia described today’s move as a “retaliatory measure”, following Norway expelling 15 Russian embassy officials accused of being intelligence officers operating under the cover of diplomatic positions on April 13.

“(Norway’s ambassador to Russia) Robert Kvile was handed a note declaring ‘persona non grata’ 10 representatives of the Norwegian embassy in Moscow,” Russia’s foreign ministry confirmed.

Zelensky says over 60 Ukrainian cultural sites have been destroyed by the Russians

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that “more than 60 museums and galleries in different regions of our country have also been destroyed or damaged by the occupiers” since the invasion began.

He stated two women were killed in a Russian attack using S-300 missiles on the Kupyansk museum in the Kharkiv region. The town is about 10 kilometers from the front lines.

The president also added that a church was destroyed by a Russian strike in the southern Kherson region.

“This church became one of hundreds of churches and prayer houses destroyed by Russian strikes,” Zelensky continued.

Zelensky alleged that Russian forces had broken into the house of a Tatar activist, Abduresheet Dzhepparov, in Crimea.

“He is one of the representatives of the Crimean Tatar national movement, a human rights activist, a citizen of Ukraine. It is unknown where he is now, what is happening to him,” he stated.

Ukrainian military says Russia is concentrating its forces on Bakhmut assault

The Ukrainian military announced that Moscow is concentrating its forces on the assault in the battered eastern city of Bakhmut — and consequently reducing offensive operations in some other areas.

Serhii Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the eastern grouping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said on Ukrainian television that the situation in Bakhmut “changes from time to time, and there is a positional war going on.”

“The enemy is concentrating all its forces on Bakhmut, and in fact is not conducting such powerful combat operations anywhere else in our operational area of responsibility,” Cherevatyi added.

In Bakhmut over the past day, he said, the Russians “attacked our positions 23 times, fired 280 times with various types of artillery, and carried out four air raids. There were 85 attacks and 20 firefights in the Bakhmut area alone. One-hundred-and-seventy-five occupiers were killed in action, 213 were wounded.”

He added that Wagner fighters were no longer carrying out independent missions in Bakhmut.

“Both airborne units of the occupying army and special forces are increasingly being used. Therefore, we realize that the enemy’s losses are very significant,” he continued.

Cherevatyi stated that Ukrainian artillery was constantly engaged in protecting supply routes into Bakhmut, while engineers were doing all they could “to ensure that there are several routes of communication.”

Unofficial pro-Russian Telegram channels claim that the Ukrainians are continuing to retreat from parts of Bakhmut and have destroyed the communications tower on the western side of Bakhmut.

Medvedev calls Biden a ‘desperate grandfather’

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and prime minister, has called Joe Biden a “desperate grandfather” after the United States President officially launched his campaign for re-election in 2024.

“In the place of the US military, I would immediately create a fake suitcase with fake nuclear codes in case he wins, in order to avoid irreparable consequences,” Medvedev said, according to Russia’s RIA state news agency.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Biden’s government has played a key role in supporting Kyiv and denouncing Russia’s actions.

At a speech in Poland earlier this year, Biden said that “the war in Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia”.

Sweden expels five Russian diplomats

Sweden is expelling five Russian diplomats who have allegedly breached the rules on diplomatic ties.

According to Swedish national broadcaster SVT, Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom said the employees of the Russian embassy in Sweden have been asked to leave “as a result of activities that are incompatible with the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations”.

The UN’s Vienna Convention is an international agreement introduced in 1961 with regulations to help independent countries maintain relations.

EU launches scheme for countries to place joint gas orders

The EU has launched a scheme for European companies to place joint orders to buy gas to ensure Europe has enough fuel in advance of a winter surge.

Companies will have until May 2 to register how much gas they want to buy through the scheme, excluding Russian gas.

The platform will then collect offers from global suppliers to match the companies’ demands.

The joint buying scheme was created due to the reduction in Russian gas shipments that have seen energy prices rise to eye-watering levels.

EU gas storage is already more than half full as mild weather curbed demand.

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