Monday, June 17, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 446

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 needs more time – but “not too much” – before counteroffensive: Zelensky

Ukraine is “preparing very important counteroffensive steps,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, but added that the country needs more time.

“We really need some more time. Not too much,” before launching the much-anticipated counteroffensive, Zelensky told journalists after he met with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the Chequers estate in southeast England.

He declined to share dates.

Russia’s war in Ukraine is at “a pivotal moment,” Sunak said.

“Russia has conducted an unprovoked and illegal attack on Ukrainian people. It is carrying out horrific war crimes… The UK will remain steadfast in supporting Ukraine and its people to defend itself against that aggressions,” he added.

Earlier on Monday, the British government announced a new package of military support for Ukraine, which will include “hundreds of air defense missiles” and “hundreds of new long-range attack drones,” according to a statement.

Putin signs decree to make it easier for foreigners signing military service to gain Russian citizenship

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree which makes easier the process of obtaining Russian citizenship for foreign citizens who have signed military service contracts with the Russian Armed Forces since the beginning of the war.

Those who signed “for a period of one year” can apply for citizenship through a simplified procedure, according to the decree published on the official website.

This new decree amends the previous decree issued by Putin last September, which required foreigners to serve for at least one year and be actively involved in combat for at least six months to qualify for a simplified citizenship procedure.

The new version of the decree does not imply direct participation in hostilities.

The updated rules also extend the eligibility for simplified citizenship to family members of military personnel.

Ukraine “positive” about prospect of creating a fighter jet “coalition”: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he feels “positive” about the prospect of Western allies providing Kyiv with more fighter jets.

Zelensky spoke at a brief press conference alongside Rishi Sunak after the two leaders met at the British prime minister’s country retreat Chequers on Monday.

“Today we talked about the jets – a very important topic for us,” Zelensky continued, adding, “We want to create this jet coalition and I’m very positive about it. We spoke about it. And I see that in the closest time you will hear some, I think, very important decisions, but we have to work a little bit more about it.”

However, Sunak struck a more cautious tone, saying, “We are going to be a key part of the coalition of countries that provides that support to Volodymr and Ukraine. It is not a straightforward thing … to build up that fighter combat aircraft capability.”

Sunak announced in February that the UK would start training Ukrainian pilots on NATO-standard fighter jets.

For months, Ukraine has made pleas to its Western allies to supply more military hardware. More than just ammunition and artillery, Ukraine wants tanks and jets.

In January, Ukraine secured a major breakthrough after Germany announced it would permit the supply of Leopard 2 tanks to aid the country’s defense efforts. The United States also pledged to send Abrams tanks.

Yet many of Kyiv’s Western allies have been reluctant to provide Ukraine with fighter jets, with the notable exception of Poland.

However, Monday’s discussion of a fighter jet “coalition” shows that Ukraine has not abandoned its demands — and that its allies are still listening.

Wagner chief denies reports of being in contact with Ukrainian military

Russia’s Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, has denied reports of offering to reveal positions of Russian forces to the Ukrainian military and also denied that he was not in touch with Ukrainian representatives in Africa, in an audio message released by his press service.

Earlier, citing US intelligence documents, the Washington Post reported that in late January, Prigozhin was in contact with Ukraine’s military.

According to the report, Prigozhin tried to bribe Ukrainian commanders by offering information about Russian troop positions if Ukrainian forces withdrew from an area around Bakhmut.

Top Chinese envoy expected to visit Ukraine

Top Chinese official Li Hui is expected to visit Ukraine this week, according to a Reuters report.

A Ukrainian government official told Reuters that the Chinese envoy will be in the country on May 16 and 17.

Li Hui, China’s special representative for Eurasian affairs since 2019 and former ambassador to Russia, will also visit Poland, France and Germany as part of his trip, according to China’s foreign ministry.

His multiday trip is “for in-depth communications with different parties for a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis”, according to the foreign ministry.

Zelensky says he’ll discuss “urgent support for Ukraine” with British PM

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that he would discuss the need for “urgent support for Ukraine” with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as the two leaders met at Chequers on Monday.

“You did a lot, you, your government, and His Majesty the King, and of course your people, your society [for Ukraine]. We are thankful,” Zelensky said, standing alongside Sunak at Chequers, the official countryside home of the sitting British prime minister.

He added that the two leaders would discuss “very important issues, urgent support for Ukraine.”

Sunak praised Zelensky, saying that his leadership was “an inspiration to us all.”

“I look forward to us discussing what more we can do to support you and your country,” Sunak added.

The UK is the latest stop on Zelensky’s tour of Ukraine’s European allies. He met the Italian prime minister in Rome on Saturday, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Sunday.

Zelensky arrives in Britain to meet with UK leader: Downing Street

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has arrived in the United Kingdom to meet with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, 10 Downing Street said in a statement Monday.

Zelensky arrived at Chequers, the official countryside home of the sitting British prime minister, at around 9:30 a.m. local time (4:30 a.m. ET). Chequers is in Buckinghamshire, about 40 miles west of London.

The two leaders will hold discussions “on Ukraine’s ongoing military resistance to Putin’s brutal invasion,” according to the statement.

The United Kingdom has delivered multiple “Storm Shadow” cruise missiles to Ukraine, giving the nation a new long-range strike capability in advance of a highly anticipated counteroffensive against Russian forces, multiple senior Western officials told CNN last week.

UK to provide “hundreds” of air defense missiles to Ukraine: PM’s office

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will announce a new package of military support for Ukraine as he meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday, Downing Street said in a statement.

Sunak “will confirm the further UK provision of hundreds of air defense missiles and further unmanned aerial systems including hundreds of new long-range attack drones with a range of over 200km,” the statement read.

The package will be delivered over the coming months as Ukraine prepares to intensify its resistance against Russia’s invasion, it added.

The two leaders will meet at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence in Buckinghamshire, according to the statement. Zelensky will be the first world leader Sunak has hosted at Chequers, it added.

“This is a crucial moment in Ukraine’s resistance to a terrible war of aggression they did not choose or provoke,” Sunak was quoted as saying.

“They need the sustained support of the international community to defend against the barrage of unrelenting and indiscriminate attacks that have been their daily reality for over a year,” he stated.

Zelensky’s trip to the UK follows an announcement by the British Defense Ministry that Britain has delivered “Storm Shadow” long-range cruise missiles to Ukraine ahead of the highly anticipated counteroffensive.

Zelensky meets with Macron in Paris

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Sunday — his latest stop on a tour of European capitals providing his country with weapons.

“Paris. With each visit, the defensive and offensive capabilities of Ukraine increase,” Zelensky tweeted after his arrival in France.

“The connection with Europe is getting stronger, and the pressure on Russia is increasing. I will meet my friend Emmanuel. Let’s discuss the most important points of bilateral relations,” he added.

In a statement, the Elysee Palace said the two leaders would hold a working dinner, during which Macron would “reaffirm the unfailing support of France and Europe to restore Ukraine’s legitimate rights and defend its fundamental interests.”

“This evening’s discussion will therefore focus on the support that France continues to provide in response to Ukraine’s urgent military and humanitarian needs,” the statement read, adding, “The two Presidents will also discuss the longer-term prospects for the return of peace in Europe, notably on the basis of the Peace Plan proposed by President Zelensky, which France supports.”

In Germany on Sunday, the Ukrainian leader thanked Berlin for a $3 billion military aid package — its largest yet — and said Kyiv is concentrating on a highly-anticipated counteroffensive against Russian forces. It comes after he told reporters in Rome on Saturday that “the first important steps” of the military action “will be taken soon.”

Ukraine sees first success of Bakhmut offensive: Senior military official

The advance of troops in Bakhmut has shown that Ukraine can counter Russian force, demonstrating the “first success of the offensive” in a city that has seen months of fighting, the commander of Ukrainian Land Forces said Monday.

“Last few days have shown that we can move forward and destroy the enemy even in such extremely difficult conditions. We are fighting with fewer resources than the enemy,” Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi said in a message on Ukraine’s Military Media Center Telegram channel.

“At the same time, we manage to ruin their plans. All thanks to our fighters who are fighting the aggressor, overcoming the highest limit of human capabilities,” he continued.

The commander added: “This is only a partial success. And this is how it should be perceived. The operation to defend Bakhmut continues.”

In recent months, Ukraine has seen some of its biggest battlefield gains around Bakhmut since it forced Russian troops out of Kherson last November.

It has been the site of a months-long assault by Russian forces that has driven thousands from their homes and left the area devastated.

Zelensky arrives in Paris to discuss important bilateral relations

Upon his arrival in France Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted that he plans to discuss “important points of bilateral relations.”

“Paris. With each visit, the defensive and offensive capabilities of Ukraine increase. The connection with Europe is getting stronger, and the pressure on Russia is increasing. I will meet my friend Emmanuel. Let’s discuss the most important points of bilateral relations,” President Zelensky tweeted.

Zelensky is expected to hold a working dinner with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace.

Ukrainian deputy DM says forces captured over 10 Russian positions near Bakhmut

Ukrainian forces have been able to capture more than ten Russian positions near Bakhmut, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said in a Telegram post on Sunday.

“Today our units captured more than ten enemy positions in the north and south of Bakhmut’s outskirts and cleared a large area of forest near Ivanivske,” Maliar stated.

The minister also noted Ukraine “continues to move forward in the suburbs of Bakhmut.”

Maliar called the situation in Bakhmut “very hot.”

“The enemy has gathered all its forces there and is trying to advance, destroying everything in its path. Fierce fighting continues,” she added.

Bakhmut is the site of a months-long assault by Russian forces, including Wagner mercenaries, that has driven thousands from their homes and left the area devastated. But despite the vast amounts of manpower Russia has poured into capturing the city, they have been unable to take total control, and this week suffered heavy losses in the area.

Ukrainian forces have been able to push the Russians back 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) around the eastern city of Bakhmut over the past week, Maliar said Friday.

Macron to “reaffirm the unfailing support” for Ukraine in meeting with Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will visit Paris on Sunday for a working dinner with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace, the palace said in a statement.

“This exchange will allow them to continue and deepen their dialogue of trust after their meeting last February 8 in Paris and their regular telephone exchanges since then,” it added.

During the meeting, Macron will “reaffirm the unfailing support of France and Europe to restore Ukraine’s legitimate rights and defend its fundamental interests,” according to the statement.

“This evening’s discussion will therefore focus on the support that France continues to provide in response to Ukraine’s urgent military and humanitarian needs. The two Presidents will also discuss the longer-term prospects for the return of peace in Europe, notably on the basis of the Peace Plan proposed by President Zelensky, which France supports,” it further said.

Zelensky was in Germany on Sunday as his first visit to the country since Russia’s invasion began last year.

Senior Russian officers killed in action: MOD

Two senior officers have been killed near the city of Bakhmut, the Defense Ministry said on Sunday. The two colonels received mortal wounds while leading the troops against a major assault by Kiev’s forces.

One of the officers, the commander of the 4th motorized rifle brigade, Colonel Vyacheslav Makarov, was killed near the village of Krasnoye, the ministry announced in its daily briefing. The brigade’s positions were attacked by a major Ukrainian battalion-sized unit. The brigade successfully repelled two waves of attackers, but during the third assault, Makarov was mortally wounded and died during the evacuation effort.

Colonel Evgeniy Brovko, a deputy army corps commander, was killed in another sector near Bakhmut, according to the Russian military.

“During the battle to repel one of the attacks, Colonel Evgeny Brovko died heroically, having received multiple shrapnel wounds,” the ministry announced.

Ukraine now de-facto ‘state-sponsor of terrorism’: Kremlin

Ukraine has de-facto turned into a “state-sponsor of terrorism,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said. The official made the remarks in an interview with journalist Pavel Zarubin that aired on Sunday.

The spokesman was asked for comments about a recent pledge by Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kirill Budanov, who vowed to “keep killing Russians anywhere” across the globe. Despite their explosive nature, the remarks did not face any criticism from Kiev’s Western sponsors, Peskov noted.

“The statement is unprecedented in its essence. And of course, it will be strange not to hear any words of condemnation from European capitals and from Washington. Logic says it’s impossible to do without condemnation,” he added.

Budanov’s admission was yet further proof that Kiev has been directly orchestrating terrorist attacks against Russians, Peskov added. The spokesman said that Russia’s “special services know what to do after such statements,” but did not elaborate on the potential countermeasures against such activities.

“It’s evident that the Kiev regime is behind the killings, not only sponsoring them, but organizes, incites and carries them out. De-facto, we’re talking about a state-sponsor of terrorism,” he stated.

The controversial remarks were made last week by the boss of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) in an interview with Yahoo News. Budanov boasted that “we’ve been killing Russians” and will “keep killing Russians anywhere on the face of this world until the complete victory of Ukraine.”

EU and G7 will ‘ban restarting Russian gas pipelines’

The G7 and EU are planning to ban Russian gas imports on routes where Moscow has cut supplies, according to a report in the Financial Times, which cited officials involved in the negotiations.

If correct, it would be the first time pipeline gas trade has been blocked by Western powers since the start of the war in Ukraine.

Moscow cut off gas supplies via some routes last year in retaliation for European sanctions. The decision would prevent the resumption of gas exports via those routes, to increase the economic pressure on Russia.

Zelensky says Ukraine and its allies can make Russia’s defeat “irreversible”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated on Sunday that Ukraine and its allies can make Russia’s defeat “irreversible” this year.

“Now is the time for us to determine the end of this war this year. This year we can make the aggressor’s defeat irreversible,” he said at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin.

“The time for action is now. We all want this war to finally end, but to end in a just and fair peace. Ukraine and the whole of Europe must be free. Our territorial integrity and security, as well as the territorial integrity and security of all European nations, must be guaranteed,” Zelensky added.

Zelensky said he will be talking to Scholz about his quest for fighter jets, while admitting that “it’s not an easy question.” He added Ukraine is working to create a “fighter jet coalition” and is asking Germany to join.

In March, Poland became the first NATO member to pledge MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Slovakia completed the transfer of its 13 MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine in April.

The Ukrainian leader thanked Germany for providing Ukraine with defense and financial support.

“German assistance is the protection of life. The lives of our people in cities and villages, which are reliably protected, in particular, by the air defense systems you have provided. The lives of our soldiers on the battlefield, which are protected by the armored vehicles you have provided. Social life in Ukraine, which is protected by your financial support,” the president continued.

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