Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 438

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:

Russian forces evacuating town near occupied nuclear plant: Ukraine

Russian forces are evacuating residents from the town that serves the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, the Ukrainanian military has announced.

Ukraine is expected to start soon a much-anticipated counteroffensive to retake Moscow-held territory, including in the Zaporizhzhia region.

In its morning update, Ukraine’s General staff said Russian forces were evacuating local Russian passport-holders to the port city of Berdyansk and the town Prymorsk, both on the coast of the Sea of Azov.

“The first to be evacuated are those who accepted Russian citizenship in the first months of the occupation,” it said in a statement.

Turkey rejects US proposal to send Russian S-400 defense system to Ukraine

Ankara has refused calls from Washington to send Russian S-400 missile defense system to Ukraine, said the Turkish foreign minister.

“The US asked us to send the S-400s to Ukraine, and we said no,” Mevlut Cavusoglu stated.

Russia ‘destroys’ 22 Ukrainian drones over Black Sea

Russia’s air defences detected and destroyed 22 Ukrainian drones over the Black Sea overnight, the country’s defence ministry has said in a daily briefing.

Reuters was not able to independently verify Russia’s claim. A Russian-installed official stated earlier that Ukraine had launched drones at Crimea overnight, without providing details.

Separately, the defence ministry added its forces had gained more ground in the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, claiming two “blocks” in the northwestern and western parts of the city.

Russia’s FSB says it foiled Ukrainian plan to attack airfield

Russian security forces have foiled an attempt by Ukrainian intelligence to attack a military airfield in central Russia with drones stuffed with explosives, the Federal Security Service (FSB) has announced.

The FSB said in a statement on its website that the target of the attack was an A-50 radar detection plane at the Severnyy aerodrome in the Ivanovo region, some 700 km (435 miles) from the Ukrainian border. It said its agents had foiled the attack in collaboration with the interior ministry.

The pilot of a light aircraft and other members of what the FSB called a “sabotage group” were detained in Tula region after flying in from Ukraine, the statement added.

Wagner boss suggests his forces may stay in Bakhmut area after being promised more munitions

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary group, has apparently backtracked on a threat to pull his forces from the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut after being promised more ammunition.

In an explosive, expletive-laden rant this week, Prigozhin had previously declared that his men would leave the area by May 10 because of heavy casualties and inadequate supplies.

But a new audio message posted Sunday on Telegram suggests he has changed his mind after concessions from the Russian government.

“The bottom line is the following: they promise to give us ammunition and weapons, as much as we need to continue further actions. They swear to us that everything that is necessary will be on the flank so the enemy сan’t cut us off. We are told that we can act in Bakhmut as we see fit,” Prigozhin said.

The Russian Ministry of Defence did not immediately comment on Prigozhin’s latest claim.

The Wagner boss had stated Wagner positions in and around Bakhmut would be transferred to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s forces from May 10.

Prigozhin had also floated the possibility that Wagner might be disbanded, but appeared to also ow back from these suggestions in the audio message.

“I specifically asked a question to all junior commanders, who immediately brought it to the attention of the fighters: if someone wants, they can go to other military formations. Everyone unequivocally answered ‘No’,” he added.

Ukraine says no sign of Russia’s Wagner force Bakhmut withdrawal

The Ukrainian military has brushed aside claims by the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary force that he will withdraw his fighters from the battle for the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, saying the mercenaries were holding firm and receiving reinforcements.

Ukraine’s military announced on Friday that Wagner fighters were reinforcing positions in Bakhmut with the likely intention to try and seize the destroyed city before Russia marks the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II on May 9.

“We are now seeing them pulling (fighters) from the entire offensive line where the Wagner fighters were, they are pulling (them) to the Bakhmut direction,” Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar stated on Ukrainian television.

In a video statement, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin noted his men had been starved of ammunition by Russia’s defence ministry and that he would withdraw his men and expected the Russian army to take their place in Bakhmut by May 10.

“My lads will not suffer useless and unjustified losses in Bakhmut without ammunition,” Prigozhin said in the video accompanying a written withdrawal announcement addressed to the head of the Russian general staff, the defence ministry and President Vladimir Putin as supreme commander.

The announcement added “bureaucrats” had held back supplies despite knowing that Wagner’s target date to capture the city was May 9 when Moscow holds its Victory Day parade.

The battle for Bakhmut, which Russia sees as a stepping stone to other cities in Ukraine’s Donbas region, has been the most intense of the war, costing thousands of lives on both sides in months of bloody urban warfare.

Despite Prigozhin’s claims of withdrawal, the Ukrainian military has not seen any signs of an imminent withdrawal of Wagner forces from Bakhmut, Ukraine’s military intelligence representative Andriy Chernyak told the RBK-Ukraine news agency.

Ukraine’s military also contradicted Prigozhin’s claim that Russian forces in Bakhmut lacked ammunition.

“Today alone, 520 rounds were fired from artillery of various types in Bakhmut and the surrounding area,” Ukrainian army spokesman Serhii Cherevatyi stated.

He added Prigozhin was trying to explain away the deaths of his forces, which were more than 100 a day, through a lack of ammunition.

Gas pipeline, power lines damaged in Ukraine attacks on Russia’s Belgorod

Overnight Ukrainian shelling of the Belgorod region on Russia’s border with Ukraine damaged a gas pipeline and power lines as well as a house in the village of Spodaryushino, the region’s governor has said.

“Most importantly, there were no casualties,” Vyacheslav Gladkov wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Blasts rock Russia-annexed Crimea as sirens blare across Ukraine

Multiple blasts have rocked Russian-annexed Crimea with a pro-Moscow official accusing Kyiv of launching more than 10 drone attacks, as air raid sirens also blared for several hours overnight across most of Ukraine.

The alleged drone attacks on Sunday came as the United Nations nuclear chief warned of “dangerous” conditions around the Russian-held Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, and the head of the Wagner paramilitary force called on Moscow to let Chechen fighters relieve his forces at the front-line city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

Officials and media reported Russian air defence systems had repelled the Ukrainian drone attacks and that at least three of the uncrewed vehicles were downed over the port city of Sevastopol in Crimea.

In Ukraine, air raid alerts blared for several hours overnight into early Sunday over roughly two-thirds of the country, with officials saying that air defence systems shot down a number of drones, including one over Kyiv’s airspace.

Chechen leader invites Wagner fighters to join his forces in Bakhmut

Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen leader and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has invited fighters from the Wagner Private Military Company to join the forces of his Akhmat battalion in Bakhmut.

“The Wagner PMC has very good, courageous, necessary, necessary people, necessary to us, because they know the area,” Kadyrov said in a video message Saturday.

“If you stay with us, I promise you that we will give you more, create better conditions, than you have today. We will try to make everything top notch for you,” he added.

Kadyrov also posted an image of his letter to Putin “to issue combat orders on the removal of Akhmat units from other directions in order to hand Wagner positions in Bakhmut over to them.”

The head of Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed he will hand over Bakhmut positions to the Chechen leader on May 10. He cited a lack of ammunition supplies, which Prigozhin blames on Russia’s military command.

The Chechen leader stated online Friday that he will be happy to take over “older brother” Prigozhin’s positions if Wagner decides to leave Bakhmut, and he reiterated that sentiment in another post Saturday.

Kadyrov’s sizable paramilitary forces, while formally a part of Russian security structures, have personal loyalty to him.

They have been accused by international and independent observers of gross human rights violations.

Wagner boss says he will transfer Bakhmut positions to Chechen leader’s forces

The head of the private Russian military company Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed he will hand over Bakhmut positions to the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s forces on May 10.

“I thank Ramzan Akhmatovich for agreeing to take our positions in Bakhmut and having, most likely, the opportunity to obtain everything necessary and all the needed resources. I am already contacting his representatives in order to start transferring positions immediately, so that on May 10, at 00.00, exactly at the moment when, according to our calculations, we will completely exhaust our combat potential, our comrades will take our places and continue the assault of Bakhmut,” Prigozhin said on Telegram Saturday.

It was not immediately clear how serious Prigozhin, who often speaks sarcastically, is about the transfer to Kadyrov.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and leads sizable paramilitary forces that — while formally a part of Russian security structures — have personal loyalty to him.

Kadyrov has been accused by international and independent observers of gross human rights violations.

The Chechen leader stated online Friday that he will be happy to take over “older brother” Prigozhin’s positions if Wagner decides to leave Bakhmut, and he reiterated that claim in another post Saturday.

“The fighters are on alert; we are only waiting for the order,” Kadyrov said in a video message, adding, “We have already begun to develop our strategy of action in this area together with the Russian Ministry of Defense, taking into account the enemy’s tactics and the resources at our disposal. And believe me, the tactics will yield positive results.”

Prigozhin noted Friday that Wagner will leave the besieged eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, citing a lack of ammunition supplies that Prigozhin blames on Russia’s military command.

He also claimed that “a little more than two square kilometers” (less than 1 square mile) in Bakhmut remain to be taken by Russian fighters.

Ukraine announced earlier Saturday that Russian troops have not made any breakthrough in Bakhmut, waving off Prigozhin’s ammunition shortage claims as a “bluff.”

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