Thursday, April 18, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 436

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:

Ukraine downs Russian hypersonic missile with US Patriot system

Ukraine has claimed it downed a Russian hypersonic missile over the capital Kyiv using a newly acquired US Patriot defence system in what would be a first in its ability to intercept one of Moscow’s most modern weapons.

The Kinzhal missile is one of the latest and most advanced Russian weapons. Its military says the air-launched ballistic missile has a range of up to 2,000km (1,250 miles) and flies at 10 times the speed of sound, making it hard to intercept.

A combination of hypersonic speed and a heavy warhead allows the Kinzhal to destroy heavily fortified targets, such as underground bunkers or mountain tunnels.

“I congratulate the Ukrainian people on the historic event. Yes, we shot down the ‘unique’ Kinzhal,” Ukrainian Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk stated on Saturday, adding, “It happened during the nighttime attack on May 4 in the skies of the Kyiv region.”

It was the first time Ukraine is known to have used the Patriot missile defence system.

Oleshchuk noted that the Kh-47 was launched by a MiG-31K aircraft from Russian territory and was shot down with a single Patriot missile.

The Ukrainian military has previously admitted lacking assets to intercept the supersonic weapon.

The Kinzhal, which means “dagger” in Russian, is one of six “next generation” weapons unveiled by President Vladimir Putin in 2018 when the Russian leader boasted it cannot be shot down by any of the world’s air defence systems.

The air-launched ballistic missile can reach speeds of up to Mach 10 (12,350 kilometres per hour) and is capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads.


We won ‘powerful reinforcement of weapons’: Zelensky says upon return from visits to allies

Speaking on return from visits to Helsinki and The Hague, President Volodymyr Zelensky has said in an address he had won “a powerful reinforcement of weapons for our soldiers – on land, in the air and at sea” as a result of talks with allies there.

“I’m happy to say that, as a result of our meetings in Helsinki and The Hague, we have a powerful reinforcement of weapons for our troops – on land, in the air, and at sea,” stated Zelensky.

“I thank our partners! This is a significant reinforcement. We have made more progress towards NATO and the European Union. We have made more progress towards holding Russia responsible for its aggression against our state,” he added.


Countries fail to agree to authorize new ships for Ukrainian Black Sea grain exports: UN

Officials overseeing Ukrainian grain and fertilizer exports through the Black Sea have failed to reach an agreement to authorize any new ships, a United Nations spokesperson said Friday.

Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials are part of the group known as the Joint Coordination Center. For now, the group said it is continuing to inspect previously approved vessels but is encouraging the countries to keep negotiating on new ships.

“As you will recall, the Secretary-General has communicated to all parties his proposal on the way forward aimed at the improvement, extension and expansion of the Initiative, taking into account positions expressed by the parties. We urge all parties to continue their discussions, overcome operational challenges and work towards the full implementation and continuation of the Initiative,” stated Farhan Haq, deputy UN spokesperson.

The export deal was brokered by the UN and Turkey and was signed by representatives from Russia and Ukraine last July.

It promised to unblock ports on the Black Sea to allow the safe passage of grain and oilseeds, following routes identified by Ukrainian maritime pilots to avoid mines, and with stops in Istanbul to ensure weapons are not being smuggled back into the country.


Amid Wagner feud, Russian DM inspects troops and promises military supplies

ussian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspected troops and military equipment in Russia’s southern military district on Friday, the Russian military said, amid a very public feud with the head of the Wagner private military company.

The statement said Shoigu has instructed “to keep under special control the issues of continuous and rhythmic supply of the groups of troops in the areas of the special military operation with all the necessary weapons and military equipment.”

“Deputy Minister of Defense Colonel General A. Kuzmenkov, who is responsible for the material and technical support of the Russian Armed Forces, presented General of the Army Sergei Shoigu with new batches of modern tanks, armored fighting vehicles, special equipment and motor vehicles supplied by enterprises of the military-industrial complex to supply the groups of Russian troops,” the defense ministry said.

Shoigu’s visit followed a flurry of angry statements by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has directly accused Shoigu and the Russian military leadership of responsibility for tens of thousands of Wagner casualties due to a lack of ammunition supply


Ukrainian defense official backs Wagner claim of ammunition deficit

A representative of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency has backed a claim by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin that Russia’s defense establishment is blocking their supply of artillery shells.

Andriy Yusov told CNN: “It is true Wagner group is experiencing artillery shells deficit due to [Russian Defense Minister Sergei] Shoigu and [chief of the Russian armed forces Gen. Valery] Gerasimov blocking the supply.”

“When [Sergey] Surovikin was in command of the Russian occupying forces in Ukraine, the situation was more favorable for Wagner,” he added.

Yusov told CNN that Wagner fighters lead most land offensives around Bakhmut while the regular Russian military conduct air strikes.

He said there was “internal competition” within the area of Russian defense, with “ different Kremlin towers backing up both parties.”

Wagner chief Prigozhin said in a Telegram post Friday that his fighters would withdraw from Bakhmut in five days’ time, having taken heavy casualties in the fight for the city. He laid the blame on Russia’s defense establishment for not providing the private military group with enough ammunition and called for the regular army to step in.

Prigozhin has long complained that the Russian government has not provided his fighters with sufficient ammunition in their attempt to take Bakhmut. This week, he posted an expletive-laden video to social media in which he pointed at what he stated were dozens of bodies of Wagner fighters and renewed his appeal for supplies


‘I’m pulling Wagner units out of Bakhmut’ on May 10: Wagner boss

In a sudden announcement, the Wagner chief says his forces will leave Bakhmut on May 10 after posting a video slamming top Russian generals.

Yevgeny Prigozhin stated they were leaving due to heavy losses and a lack of ammunition.

“I declare on behalf of the Wagner fighters, on behalf of the Wagner command, that on May 10, 2023, we are obliged to transfer positions in the settlement of Bakhmut to units of the defence ministry and withdraw the remains of Wagner to logistics camps to lick our wounds,” Prigozhin said in a statement.

“I’m pulling Wagner units out of Bakhmut because in the absence of ammunition they’re doomed to perish senselessly,” he added.

Wagner fighters have spearheaded Russia’s attempt to capture Bakhmut and have continuously complained to Russian defence ministers over the lack of weapons deliveries.


Russia will respond to Kremlin attack with ‘concrete actions’: FM

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday’s alleged drone attack at the Kremlin was a “hostile act” and Russia would respond with “concrete actions”.

Russia accused Ukraine of firing drones at the Kremlin in an attempt to kill President Vladimir Putin and said the United States was behind it.

But both Ukraine and the US have denied the allegations.

“It was clearly a hostile act, it is clear that the Kyiv terrorists could not have committed it without the knowledge of their masters,” Lavrov told a press conference in India.

“We will not respond by talking about ‘casus belli’ or not, we will respond with concrete actions,” he added.

“Casus belli” is a Latin phrase for an action that provides justification for war.

The negotiations to resolve the current crisis do not concern Ukraine alone, they will take place sooner or later, but not with Volodymyr Zelensky – he is a Western puppet – but with his masters, Lavrov stressed.

Second drone attack reported at Russia’s IIsky oil refinery

A drone attack on the Ilsky oil refinery in southern Russia, the second in two days, has caused a fire, the TASS news agency reported.

Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency reported that there were no casualties following the incident but that the fire had been put out.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the incident.

The Ilsky refinery, near the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk in the Krasnodar region, has a processing capacity of around 6.6 million tonnes per year.


China to “maintain communication and coordination with Russia”: FM

China’s foreign minister told his Russian counterpart on Thursday that Beijing would “maintain communication and coordination” with Moscow during efforts to reach a “political settlement” to the Ukraine conflict.

“China is willing to maintain communication and coordination with Russia to make tangible political contributions to the political settlement of the crisis,” Qin Gang told Sergei Lavrov at the SCO Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Goa, India, according to a statement released by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Beijing has so far refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or call for a withdrawal of its troops, instead urging restraint by “all parties” and accusing NATO of fueling the conflict. It has also continued to deepen diplomatic and economic ties with Moscow.

A vaguely-worded “political settlement” to the conflict released by China on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion has been widely viewed in the West and Kyiv as being far more favorable to Russia than Ukraine. It calls for a ceasefire but includes no provision that Moscow first withdraw its troops from Ukrainian land, which Ukrainian officials have suggested is necessary for them to engage in negotiations.

During the previous meeting between the two foreign ministers on April 13, Qin told Lavrov that all parties need to take action to build mutual trust and create conditions for peace talks.


US intelligence chief: Russia unlikely to be able to mount a “significant offensive” this year in Ukraine

Russia will likely not be able to mount a “significant offensive operation this year” due to munitions and manpower shortages — whether or not the Ukrainian counteroffensive is successful, according to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

“In fact, if Russia does not initiate a mandatory mobilization and secure substantial third-party ammunition supplies beyond existing deliveries from Iran and others, it will be increasingly challenging for them to sustain even modest offensive operations,” Haines testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

President Vladimir Putin “probably” has scaled back his near-term ambitions in Ukraine to consider a victory “to consolidate control of the occupied territory in eastern and southern Ukraine, and ensuring that Ukraine will never become a NATO ally,” Haines added.

Despite this assessment, Haines added it wasn’t very likely that Russia negotiates a pause this year unless political factors “alter his thinking.”

Haines also noted that Russian forces are preparing “new defensive positions” for the Ukrainian counteroffensive, and have “gained less territory in April than during any of the three previous months.”


The blood is still fresh. Film all of them!”: Wagner chief slams Kremlin officials

The head of Russian private military company Wagner has launched an expletive-filled verbal attack on Kremlin officials in a graphic new video in which he appears beside what he says are the bodies of his mercenaries killed fighting in Ukraine.

“These guys here are Wagner PMC [men] who died today. The blood is still fresh. Film all of them!” Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin says in the video posted to social media.

Prigozhin last month threatened to withdraw his mercenaries from the embattled eastern city of Bakhmut if they don’t receive more munitions to continue the fight.

In the new video, he reiterated his call for munitions, urging Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed forces Valery Gerasimov to look at the bodies.

“These are someone’s fking fathers and someone’s sons. And you fkers who aren’t giving [us] ammunition, you b*tches, will have your guts eaten out in hell!”, Prigozhin stated in the video.

“You sit there in your luxury clubs, your kids are addicted to shooting clips for YouTube. You think you are the masters of this life? You think you can dispose of their lives? If you have warehouses full of ammunition, then you do,” he added.

Prigozhin, whose forces have played a key role in Russian assaults on Ukrainian territory, has often clashed with Putin’s generals and other defense officials in Moscow. He has complained for well over a month of receiving insufficient support from the Kremlin in the grueling fight for Bakhmut.

“This is simple math,” he says in the video.

“If you give the normal amount of ammunition, there would be five times less [dead]. They came here as volunteers and are dying so you can sit like fat cats in your luxury offices,” he adds.


NATO official warns of “significant risk” Russia could target undersea internet cables as part Ukraine war

There is a “persistent and significant risk” that Russia could target critical allied infrastructure, including undersea internet cables, as part of its war on Ukraine, David Cattler, NATO’s assistant secretary general for intelligence and security, stated.

“There are heightened concerns that Russia may target undersea cables and other critical infrastructure in an effort to disrupt Western life and gain leverage against those nations that are providing support to Ukraine,” Cattler told reporters.

According to Cattler, more than 95% of international internet traffic is transmitted through roughly 400 undersea cables. These cables “carry an estimated 10 trillion US dollars worth of financial transactions every day,” he said, adding that they are an “economic linchpin.”

While Russia is “actively mapping” this infrastructure, Cattler said, “China is another significant actor on the seabed.” Beijing, Cattler added, is working towards developing its own undersea infrastructure rather than “extensively testing the vulnerabilities of other nations’.”

NATO allies are monitoring the situation closely, Cattler stated.

“This is really a holistic, multi-spectrum, multi-domain threat set when it comes to critical infrastructure. Cooperation between the private sector and NATO and allied governance is really crucial in order to have a clear threat picture,” he continued.


US doesn’t have information it needs to assess alleged Kremlin drone attack: Top intelligence official

The United States still does not have information needed to provide an assessment on this week’s alleged drone attack on the Kremlin, according to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

“You’ve seen the Ukrainian government deny their having engaged in this. And, at this stage we don’t have information that would allow us to provide an independent assessment on this,” Haines said.

In an exchange with Sen. Tom Cotton at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Haines confirmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not “spend the night at the Kremlin all that much” and that Ukraine denied the attack, whereas in past attacks against Russia, Ukraine has been “ambiguous or silent about responsibility for the attacks.”

“Perhaps some grounds to think that maybe these claims are exaggerated,” Cotton said.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier stated that Russia’s claim that Ukraine tried to assassinate Putin with American assistance was likely “misinformation.”


Russia denies deploying military equipment and explosives at Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant

Russia has dismissed claims that it deployed military equipment and explosives at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate accused Russia of placing weapons, explosives and military equipment in one of the power plant’s units. The Inspectorate said it received the information during its weekly meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency representatives a day earlier.

“In the event of an emergency situation at the Zaporizhzhia NPP with a potentially possible release of radioactive substances into the environment, the consequences will be felt not only by Ukraine — but they will also have a cross-border nature,” the inspectorate said.

It called on the international community “for a consolidated and decisive response to the actions of the aggressor country.”

Vladimir Rogov, a member of the Russian-appointed military-civilian administration in occupied Zaporizhzhia, called the claims “a lie.”

“We do not use the nuclear power plant as a military facility — this has already been proven by everyone and confirmed more than once,” Rogov told Russian state news agency TASS.

Russian forces continue to control the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, but the plant is still physically operated by Ukrainian staff. The plant has frequently been disconnected from Ukraine’s power grid due to intense shelling in the area, raising fears of a nuclear accident.


Zelensky reiterates Ukraine’s calls to join NATO, saying country’s message is to join alliance after war ends

Ukraine’s message is that it will be a NATO member after the war has ended, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on Thursday.

“We are realistic and know that we will not be in NATO during the war. But during the war we want to get a very clear message that we will be in NATO after the war,” Zelensky said in a joint news conference in the Netherlands with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

Zelensky noted that while Ukraine has received “some positive messages” from countries who support it, “we need something more.”

“I think that our friends will support us and see us in NATO,” the Ukrainian president added.

Part of Russia’s premise for its invasion of Ukraine was to fend off NATO from expanding close to its borders. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said, “Ukraine’s future is in NATO.” Even though Ukraine is not a member of the alliance, and NATO has insisted that it is not a party to the conflict, the bloc has played a critical role in supporting Kyiv, donating billions in military aid and other support.

At the news conference, Zelensky also appealed for its allies to deliver their promised weapons to Kyiv as quickly as possible, stating, “The most important thing now is to deliver what was promised to our soldiers as quickly as possible.”

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