Thursday, May 23, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 428

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:

Zelensky-Xi call is opening a “new stage” of cooperation: Ukrainian prime minister

The conversation between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping was “very fruitful” and could open a “new stage” of cooperation between the two countries, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said during a Thursday news conference in Rome.

“This conversation I’m sure is opening a new stage of our cooperation and relations with the Chinese Republic,” Shmyhal stated.

“I’m sure this is a very good start for the development of our future relations,” he added.
“We have our own way to peace, Zelensky’s formula,” Shmyhal said when asked to comment on China being a mediator in possible peace talks with Russia.

“We fully understand what the liberation of Ukraine is. All the territories within the 1991 borders must be free. Security must be guaranteed by international structures. Only in this case we can be sure of having a stable, just and lasting peace,” he added.

Xi and Zelensky spoke by phone on Wednesday, in their first known conversation since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Moscow reacted to the conversation by saying it welcomes all contacts that can bring an end to the conflict.

“We are ready to welcome everything that can hasten the end of the conflict in Ukraine and the achievement by Russia of all its goals,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists Thursday, when asked about the call.

He added that communication between the two leaders is a “sovereign matter” for China and Ukraine.

Russia says it will prevent nuclear escalation

Russia will prevent a nuclear escalation with the West over Ukraine, but its patience should not be tested, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

“We will do everything to prevent the development of events according to the worst scenario, but not at the cost of infringing on our vital interests,” Zakharova told a regular news conference.

“I do not recommend that anybody doubt our determination and put it to the test in practice,” she added.

Her comments follow a series of warnings by senior Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, that Western military support increases the risks of a nuclear conflict.

“They (the United States) continue to deliberately infringe on our fundamental interests, deliberately generate risks and raise the stakes in the confrontation with Russia…,” stated Zakharova.

NATO allies have delivered almost all combat vehicles promised to Ukraine

Ukraine’s NATO allies have delivered almost all the combat vehicles they promised Kyiv, the head of the alliance said Thursday.

“More than 98% of the combat vehicles promised to Ukraine have already been delivered,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated.

“That means over 1,550 armored vehicles, 230 tanks and other equipment, including vast amounts of ammunition. In total, we have trained and equipped more than nine new Ukrainian armored brigades. This will put Ukraine in a strong position to continue to retake occupied territory,” he added.

Top US and Ukrainian generals speak on phone: Kyiv

The US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, has spoken to Ukraine’s most senior military commander, Valerii Zaluzhny, in a telephone call, the government in Kyiv said in a Thursday statement.

The call also included US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, Andriy Yermak, according to the statement.

Yermak and Zaluzhny “emphasized the importance of continuing active support of the Ukrainian army by partners, including the supply of weapons and ammunition,” it added.

Expectations of Ukrainian counteroffensive “overheated”: DM

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov has spoken about public expectations of a counteroffensive against Russian forces, in an interview with news outlet RBC Ukraine.

Asked whether “the public’s expectations of a counteroffensive are somewhat overheated” he said: “I agree… They are definitely overheated. Everyone wants another victory.”

Reznikov stated that Ukrainian successes in the Kharkiv region, and in the city of Kherson, meant that the public now believed a victory for Ukraine’s troops was possible.

“They want the next victory. It’s normal… (these) expectations of success,” he added.

Ukraine has made efforts to conceal the start of any counteroffensive, as CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh wrote earlier this week. Reznikov’s deputy, Hanna Maliar, has previously said that the counteroffensive will not be announced.

Later in the interview, Reznikov said Ukraine’s priority was to bolster its Soviet-era air defenses, noting, “The country must survive, and for this purpose, air defense is number one. We have a Soviet system that is running out of missiles.”

“This is not a sprint distance… We are running a marathon. I can’t say how many kilometers we are from the finish line,” he added.

Russian troops are fortifying defenses around Mariupol: Ukrainian official

An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol has reported that Russian troops are fortifying their defenses around the city.

“The occupiers continue to dig in and build echelon defenses around Mariupol,” Petro Andriushchenko said in a Telegram post.

“Now they are getting wood to build dugouts. Yesterday, for the first time, military trucks went in large numbers to the Mangush district and partially in the direction of Berdiansk. They were full of wood for the construction of fortifications,”he continued, adding, “The number of fortifications is growing in all directions.”

Andriushchenko also claimed that, this week, Russian-backed troops had “begun resettling in empty houses in villages north of Mariupol” in order to defend it.

Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of Azov, is located in Ukraine’s Donetsk region and has been under direct Russian control since May 2022.

1 police officer dead, 1 injured in Melitopol blast

One police officer was killed and another injured in an explosion at an apartment building in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol on Thursday, local authorities confirmed.

“At about 5:15 a.m. in Melitopol, there was an explosion near the entrance of an apartment building on Kirova Street. An improvised explosive device went off,” the Russian-backed city administration said on its Telegram channel.

“The circumstances of the incident are being investigated. Operational services are working at the site,” the administration added.

According to the Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, who is not currently in the city himself, the explosion occurred at a residential building where individuals who worked at Russian-backed law-enforcement agencies lived.

Fatal Russian strikes on Mykolaiv targeted civilians: Ukraine authorities

The Russian missile attack on Mykolaiv in the early hours of Thursday was launched from the Black Sea and targeted civilian buildings, Ukrainian authorities said on social media.

One person was killed, and 23 were injured, including a child, Vitaliy Kim, the head of the Mykolaiv regional military administration, said on Telegram.

“At night, the enemy attacked Mykolaiv with Kalibr from the Black Sea. 4 missiles were launched using terrain features and trajectory changes to complicate detection. Given that this is a high-precision weapon that works on targeting coordinates, it is an obvious fact of terrorizing civilians,” the Ukrainian Army’s Operational Command “South” said on Facebook.

“As a result of the missile strikes, private houses were destroyed and severely damaged, a residential high-rise and a historic building were damaged,” Kim added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the attack on his Telegram channel, calling it “yet another crime against humanity.”

“We will find all the culprits. There will be accountability for everything,” Zelensky wrote, adding that “the terrorists will not get away.”

2 dead after Zaporizhzhia region hit with over 80 Russian attacks: Official

Zaporizhzhia’s regional military administration said it has recorded more than 80 Russian attacks on the region in the past day, according to a statement released on Thursday.

Yurii Malashko, head of the Zaporizhzhia region military administration, stated there were “83 attacks on peaceful towns and villages,” consisting of 69 artillery attacks, seven air attacks, five UAV drone attacks and two attacks from a Multiple Launch Rocket System, or MLRS.

Malashko described “chaotic shelling” in Orikhiv, Preobrazhenka, and Novodanylivka, which resulted in the deaths of two men in their forties.

“Unfortunately, two men born in 1976 and 1979 were killed,” the statement added.

Aerial strikes also hit residential buildings in the Huliaipole district, a town in the Zaporizhzhia region on the front lines in eastern Ukraine, but no casualties or injuries have been recorded there.

Satellite imagery shows Russia emptied out a base in northern Crimea

Russian forces have emptied out a key base in northern Crimea, recent satellite imagery reviewed by CNN shows. The facility, near the village of Medvedivka and close to the border of Kherson, housed a significant number of Russian armor.

Imagery from the European Union’s Sentinel 2 satellite from January 21 shows a large footprint of Russian equipment. Higher resolution Maxar images from February 11 reveals dozens of armored vehicles, including tanks and artillery pieces.

Newer imagery taken by the EU’s Sentinel 2 satellite reveals most of those vehicles are no longer present at the base.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Moscow relocated the equipment or where to, but earlier in the month, Russian-installed officials in Crimea signaled that they expected a Ukrainian counteroffensive to target the peninsula.

“I think the decision to build defensive structures in Crimea and on the approaches to the peninsula was correct and justified,” the Russian-appointed Crimean governor Sergei Aksyonov said on April 11.

Maxar imagery from February 11 to February 16 shows a large concentration of defensive structures near Medvedivka, including a network of trenches and wedge-shaped anti-tank concrete barriers known as dragon’s teeth. One Maxar image from January 3 shows the fortifications were much smaller at the beginning of the year.

“In general, I can say that our armed forces have built a modern, deeply echeloned defense,” Aksyonov stated, adding, “This does not mean that they will necessarily be used for their intended purpose.”

“We had to prepare for any scenario, and we did,” he continued.

In light of Aksyonov’s comments, experts have suggested the withdrawal of Russian military equipment from the base in Medvedivka may be related to defensive operations ahead of a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Ukraine is “in a good position” for a counteroffensive: Senior US military official

The Ukrainians are “in a good position” for a counteroffensive against the Russian military, the senior US military commander in Europe told a congressional committee on Wednesday.

“According to the modeling that we’ve very carefully done with them, the Ukrainians are in a good position,” United States European Command head Gen. Christopher Cavoli said, adding that the US has worked with them on a possible surprise attack.

Cavoli also said Russia’s ground force today is larger “than it was at the beginning of the conflict,” despite suffering numerous losses in its war against Ukraine.

“The Russian ground force has been has been degenerated somewhat by this conflict, although it is bigger today than it was at the beginning of the conflict,” Cavoli told the House Armed Services Committee.

Aside from its ground forces, Russia has a number of options left to them, he added.

The Air Force “has lost very little; they’ve lost 80 planes,” he continued, stating, “They have another 1,000 fighters and fighter bombers.”

“So they still use all of that conventional power as well, and they mix them all together,” Cavoli noted.

Ukraine and Russia exchange POWs

Ukraine and Russia have exchanged dozens of prisoners of war in the latest swap.

Kyiv said 44 people were repatriated from Russian custody, while Moscow said 40 had returned.

In a post on Telegram, Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, stated that 42 POWs were soldiers and two were civilians.

Russia’s defence ministry added, “All those released are being provided with the necessary medical and psychological assistance.”

No territorial compromises for peace: Zelensky after Xi call

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky says that during an hour-long call with Xi Jinping, he discussed “possible cooperation to reach a fair and sustainable peace deal for Ukraine” but stressed there can be “no peace at the expense of territorial compromises”.

“The territorial integrity of Ukraine must be restored within the 1991 borders,” Zelensky said in a statement on Telegram.

Zelensky has also appointed Pavlo Riabikin, a former minister of strategic industries, as Kyiv’s new ambassador to China.

White House says it remains to be seen if Xi-Zelensky call leads to any “meaningful peace movement”

The White House welcomed the news that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping Wednesday for the first time since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, but expressed caution about whether the call could lead to “some sort of meaningful peace movement or plan.”

“We welcome the news that there was a phone call between President Xi and President Zelensky. We think that’s a good thing. We’ve been saying for quite some time that we believe it’s important for President Xi and PRC officials to avail themselves of the Ukrainian perspective on this illegal and unprovoked invasion by Russia,” John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, told reporters.

“Whether that’s gonna lead to some sort of meaningful peace movement or plan or proposal, I just don’t think we know that right now,” Kirby added.

Asked whether China can help broker a peace deal, Kirby reiterated that it has to be on Zelensky’s terms, saying an agreement won’t be “sustainable or credible unless the Ukrainians and President Zelensky personally is invested and supportive of it.”

Kirby stated the White House did not have advanced knowledge that the call between Xi and Zelensky would take place, adding “nor would we necessarily expect to.”

Wednesday’s phone call is the first time Xi has spoken to Zelensky since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year. In comparison, Xi has spoken to Russian leader Vladimir Putin five times since the invasion – including a face-to-face meeting at the Kremlin when the Chinese leader visited Moscow last month and another in-person meeting at a regional summit in Central Asia last September.

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.

France “encourages all dialogue” over Ukraine

France “encourages all dialogue that contributes to a resolution of the conflict [in Ukraine] in accordance with the fundamental interests of Ukraine and international law,” the Elysee Palace said Wednesday, following a call between the Ukrainian and Chinese presidents.

The Elysee added that this was the same message French President Emmanuel Macron conveyed to his Chinese counterpart during his visit to China this month.

During this visit, Macron told Chinese President Xi Jinping he was counting on him to “reason” with Russia and help end the war in Ukraine.

At the time, Macron said Russia had “put an end to decades of peace in Europe” and that finding a “lasting peace” that respected internationally recognized borders was “an important issue for China, as much as it is for France and for Europe.”

Macron also stressed a need for discussion “with everyone” including Russia.

“We do not simply want an end to the conflict, but respect for Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is the only condition for lasting peace,” he added.

Speaking to reporters alongside Macron, Xi stated China was ready to “issue a joint call” with France for the international community to “exercise restraint” and “avoid taking actions that might cause the crisis to further deteriorate.”

Moscow says it has noticed China’s negotiation efforts following Xi and Zelensky call

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that Moscow has taken notice of China’s willingness to facilitate negotiations with Ukraine following the phone conversation between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“We note the readiness of the Chinese side to make efforts to establish the negotiation process,” Zakharova stated during a news conference on Wednesday.

However, she also noted that under current conditions negotiations are unlikely and blamed Kyiv for rejecting Moscow’s initiatives.

Ukraine has repeatedly announced peace in the conflict will only be achieved if Russia restores the country’s borders and Kyiv takes back Crimea.

Earlier on Wednesday, Xi and Zelensky held their first phone conversation since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Zelensky said he had a “long and meaningful phone call.

Three Russian military planes intercepted: German air force

Three Russian military planes have been intercepted over the Baltic Sea, according to Germany’s air force.

According to it, German and British air forces identified two Su-27 flankers and one IL-20 from Russia, which flew without a transponder signal – a wireless communication device that picks up signals – in the international airspace over the Baltic Sea.

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