Sunday, May 26, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 454

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:

NATO says F-16 training for Ukrainians does not make it a party to conflict

Training Ukrainian pilots in flying US-built F-16 fighter jets does not make Nato a party to the conflict, the alliance’s chief Jens Stoltenberg said.

“Ukraine has the right of self-defence…We help Ukraine to uphold that right,” he told reporters.

“That doesn’t make NATO and NATO allies a party to the conflict,” he added.

All remaining cross-border attackers have been driven back into Ukraine: Russian defense ministry

The fighters who crossed from Ukraine into Russia’s western Belgorod region on Monday have been pushed back into Ukrainian territory, the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a daily briefing on Tuesday.

The ministry said on Monday, “after intensive artillery shelling of the Kozinka international checkpoint, as well as a number of other civilian facilities in the Graivoronsky district of the Belgorod region, a unit of the Ukrainian nationalist formation invaded the territory of the Russian Federation.”

Russia repelled the attackers using air strikes, artillery fire and military units, it said, adding: “The remnants of the nationalists were driven back to the territory of Ukraine, where they continued to be hit by fire until they were completely eliminated.”

While Russia has referred to the group or groups that crossed into Russia as “Ukrainian,” the attack has been claimed by the Freedom of Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps – two groups of anti-Putin Russian nationals who are fighting in Ukraine as part of Kyiv’s defense forces. Ukrainian officials have acknowledged that the groups crossed into Russia but say they were acting independently.

Around two hours before the ministry’s briefing, the Freedom of Legion posted on Telegram: “The Legion and the RDK [Russian Volunteer Corps] continue to liberate the Belgorod region!”

Russian authorities still “clearing the territory” after Belgorod attack: Governor

Residents of the settlements under attack in Russia’s Belgorod region have been resettled in other areas as authorities continue “clearing the territory” after a cross-border incursion from Ukraine, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov has stated.

“The clearing of the territory from the aftermath (of the attack) continues,” Gladkov said on his Telegram channel, without specifying what the operation involved.

Gladkov also claimed that the Ukrainian Armed Forces had fired mortar and artillery shells at the Belgorod region dozens of times on Monday, and dropped explosive devices from drones.

Twelve civilians had been wounded, he said, and a number of houses and cars damaged.

The Freedom of Russia Legion said on Telegram early on Tuesday that it and the Russian Volunteer Corps, “continue to liberate the Belgorod region!” These groups are made up of anti-Putin Russian nationals and are aligned with the Ukrainian army.

The Telegram post described them as “patriot volunteers” and claimed that Russia is vulnerable to attack.

“Russia has no reserves to respond to military crises. All military personnel are dead, wounded or in Ukraine,” it added.

Russia says Belgorod cross-border attack is cause of “deep concern”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has stated the cross-border attack on the Russian region of Belgorod on Monday is a cause of “deep concern.”

“Certainly, what happened yesterday causes deep concern,” Peskov said in his regular briefing with journalists on Tuesday.

“This once again confirms that Ukrainian militants continue their activities against our country. This requires great effort from us. These efforts are continuing, as is the special military operation which is ongoing in order to prevent such infiltrations in the future,” he added.

While Peskov referred to the group or groups that crossed into Russia as “Ukrainian militants,” the attack has been claimed by the “Freedom for Russia Legion” and “Russian Volunteer Corps” – a group of anti-Putin Russian nationals aligned with the Ukrainian army.

“These are Ukrainian militants, from Ukraine. There are many ethnic Russians living in Ukraine. All the same, they are Ukrainian militants,” said Peskov.

Peskov added he could not confirm whether the counter-terrorism operation mounted by the Russian authorities in Belgorod is still in progress, or how many of the saboteur groups entered and remained on Russian territory.

“Our special services are dealing with this now, they are finding out their identities, their number,” he continued.

Russia opens criminal proceedings into attack on Belgorod region

Russia’s Investigative Committee has opened criminal proceedings after the cross-border attack on settlements in the Belgorod regions.

In a statement posted on the Telegram messaging app, the committee said that they had initiated a case under multiple articles of the Russian Criminal Code, including, “an act of terrorism, an attempt on the life of law enforcement officers, attempted murder, intentional destruction or damage to property and trafficking in weapons and explosives.”

“Representatives of the Ukrainian armed formations attacked the Grayvoron district of the Belgorod region,” investigators claimed in a statement released Monday,” it said.

“Residential and administrative buildings and civilian infrastructure were subjected to mortar and artillery fire. As a result of these criminal actions, several civilians were wounded,” it noted.

“Investigative and operational measures are currently being taken to establish the identity of the attackers and all the circumstances of what happened,” it added.

Who attacked Belgorod? A group of anti-Putin Russians aligned with the Ukrainian army claimed responsibility for an attack in Russia’s southwestern Belgorod region, launched on Monday.

The group called itself the “Freedom for Russia Legion.”

The Russian region’s governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, referred to the attackers as “a sabotage and reconnaissance group” of the Ukrainian army. But a Ukrainian official said the group was made up of Russian nationals and insisted they were acting independently.

Gladkov stated Tuesday that a “counter-terrorist operation” was ongoing in the region, following Monday’s attack and further drone attacks overnight.

Supply of jets to Ukraine to have no effect on special operation: Kremlin spokesman

The supplies of new weapons, including aircraft to Kiev, are unable to fundamentally change the course of the special military operation, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the media on Tuesday.

Western countries have recently been discussing the supply of F-16 fighter jets to Kiev.

“It is clear that the supplies of various more advanced weapon systems and types of armaments to Ukraine are spiraling up. Obviously, the decision has been made to send aircraft, too. But, just like all other types of weapons, this is unable to fundamentally change the situation on the frontline,” the Kremlin spokesman stressed, when asked for a comment.

The risks of such actions by the West are obvious, Peskov warned. He refrained from speculating when the fighter jets might be handed over to Kiev.

“The timing is not for us to judge,” he added.

The more weapons the more risk of ‘apocalypse’: Moscow

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev says that the more destructive the weapons Ukraine receives from its Western allies, the higher the risk of a “nuclear apocalypse”, RIA news agency reported.

RIA cited the deputy chairman of Russia’s Security Council as saying that Kyiv’s denial of involvement in an armed incursion in Belgorod was all “lies”.

Zelensky visits Ukraine’s frontline troops in east

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has visited troops on his country’s eastern frontline to mark the Day of Marines – an annual national holiday to celebrate the Ukrainian Navy.

A post on the presidency’s website said Zelensky visited service personnel on the Vuhledar-Maryinka defense line in the Donetsk region and presented several state awards for courage and bravery to fighters there.

“Every day on the battlefield, the Ukrainian marines prove that they are a powerful force that destroys the enemy, liberates Ukrainian lands, and performs the most difficult tasks in the most difficult conditions,” Zelensky said.

Zelensky’s trip to Ukraine’s east comes after a series of whirlwind trips abroad last week, when he secured pledges to boost Ukraine’s military arsenal during stops in Italy, Germany, France and the United Kingdom and travelled to the G7 summit in Japan to appeal to the world’s major industrial democracies to remain united against Russian aggression.

The Donetsk region is also home to the embattled city of Bakhmut, which Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed on Saturday to have captured in its entirety. However, his claims have been contested by Ukrainian officials – including Zelensky, who told the G7 summit on Sunday that “we are keeping on, we are fighting” in Bakhmut.

Russian governor says “counter-terrorist operation” ongoing in Belgorod

A “counter-terrorist operation” was ongoing in southwestern Russia’s Belgorod region, its governor said Tuesday, a day after a town bordering Ukraine was attacked in an incursion claimed by pro-Ukraine Russian nationals.

“The Defense Ministry continues to sweep the territory with the help of law enforcement agencies,” Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram.

“All the necessary actions are being taken by the security forces. We are waiting for the completion of the counter-terrorist operation that was announced yesterday. I will try to update the information for you as quickly as possible,” he added.

Earlier, Gladkov stated Belgorod was hit by drone attacks overnight, following an incursion Monday claimed by Russians partisans aligned with the Ukrainian army.

The Freedom of Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps earlier said they had “fully liberated the settlement of Kozinka” and “entered Grayvoron,” after crossing from Ukraine into Belgorod on Monday.

On Tuesday, Gladkov urged Grayvoron residents not to return to their homes until the operation was completed.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister reports “decreased” fighting in Bakhmut

Fighting in Bakhmut has “decreased,” and Ukraine’s forces retain a small foothold in the flashpoint eastern city, Kyiv’s deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar claimed on Telegram.

“Our troops control the southwestern outskirts of the city in the ‘airplane’ area,” she said, referring to the remains of a MiG-17 monument in Druzhba Square in the southwest of Bakhmut.

Ukrainian troops had made “a slight advance” on the flanks to the north and south of the city, she claimed.

“Fighting continues in the suburbs. The enemy is trying to take advantageous positions, but fails. In certain areas, the enemy is on the defensive. It suffers heavy losses,” she added.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly claimed that Bakhmut has not fallen entirely into Russian hands after private military group Wagner and Moscow officials said they had seized the eastern city at the weekend.

Germany is considering options for F-16 jet training

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius says Germany is looking into options to support a coalition of countries that plan to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets.

However, he added that any potential German contribution could be minor only as Germany itself does not own the US-built jet.

Number of countries start training Ukrainian pilots for F-16s: EU

A number of countries, including Poland, have begun training Ukrainian pilots in flying F-16 fighter jets, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday.

“I am happy that finally the training of the pilots of the F16s has started in several countries, it will take time but the sooner the better,” Borrell told reporters ahead of a Foreign Affairs Council meeting, noting that the training started, for example, in Poland.

Bakhmut remains the “epicenter of fighting”: Ukraine’s armed forces

The eastern Ukrainian cities of Bakhmut and Marinka continue to be the “epicenter of fighting,” according to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine on Monday.

Twenty five “combat engagements” took place around Kupyansk, Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Marinka, the update said.

“Fighting for the city of Bakhmut continues. The occupiers carried out air strikes near Bakhmut and Ivanivske,” the General Staff announced.

“Ukrainian defense forces repelled numerous enemy attacks near the town of Marinka. In addition, Pobieda village in Donetsk region was shelled by the enemy,” it added.

Russian attacks hit residential apartment buildings, private houses, a kindergarten and other civilian infrastructure facilities, injuring some civilians, according to Ukraine’s Armed Forces.

Earlier on Monday, President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the Ukrainian forces who are defending the country’s skies.

“From last night to this morning, they have shot down 25 Shaheds (drones). 25 out of 25. An excellent result,” Zelensky said in his daily address, adding, “Each such downing means saved lives, saved infrastructure.”

F-16s arriving in Ukraine will take “several months at best”: US Air Force Secretary

It will take “several months at best” to get F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Monday.

The administration has provided few details of the plan to equip the Ukrainian Air Force with the US-made jets or other fourth-generation aircraft after President Joe Biden announced on Friday the US would support a joint training effort, such as who will provide the aircraft or where it will take place. US personnel will participate in the training alongside allies and partners in Europe.

“It’s been in the works, and there’s obviously been interest from Ukraine in getting that kind of capability,” Kendall told reporters at the Defense Writers Group.

He added there are “a lot of open possibilities, including our partners.”

Kendall said it would take at least “several months” before Ukraine would have the capability to operate F-16s, and a number of details have to be worked out before Ukraine’s air force will be able to fly Western jets in large numbers.

“We are not under any circumstances going to get F-16s or another Western fighter in significant numbers into the hands of the Ukrainian Air Force in something less than at least several months,” Kendall continued.

But it’s still a relatively rapid timeline, since it normally takes more than two years to train a new US pilot on the aircraft, according to an Air Force official. Even a refresher course for an F-16 pilot who has stepped away from flying the jet for a period can take up to five months.

Publicly, the US had argued for months that fighter jets were not at the top of the priority list and would quickly drain the available funding for Ukraine aid instead of more important weapons like Abrams tanks and Patriot missiles. Kendall described what appeared to be a sudden about-face for the Biden administration as a decision that it was the right time to begin preparing Ukraine’s military for the future.

“Ukraine is going to remain an independent nation,” Kendall stated, adding, “It’s going to need a full suite of military capabilities for its requirements, and so it’s time to start thinking longer term about what that military might look like and what it will include.”

US says Wagner seeking to transit material acquisitions through Mali

The US State Department has announced that Russian mercenary force Wagner Group is trying to obscure its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine.

It added that Washington has been informed that Wagner is seeking to transit material acquisitions to aid Russia in the war through Mali.

“There are indications that Wagner has been attempting to purchase military systems from foreign suppliers and route these weapons through Mali as a third party,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters.

We have not seen as of yet any indications that these acquisitions have been finalized or executed, but we are monitoring the situation closely,” Miller continued.

African leaders seek to persuade Russia, Ukraine to cease hostilities

Six African leaders propose that Ukraine accept opening peace talks with Russia even as Russian troops remain on its soil, South Africa’s presidency has said, as South African officials prepare to visit both countries to sell the idea.

“First is the cessation of hostilities. Second is a framework for lasting peace,” South African presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the initiative on May 16. President Macky Sall of Senegal, last year’s African Union chairperson whose country was not present at the latest UN vote condemning Russia in February, leads the initiative.

It includes presidents Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt and Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia — which both voted for the resolution — and Republic of the Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, which both abstained.

The peace mission is expected to travel to Moscow and Kiyv in early June.

“My President made it very clear … [There will be] no talks between Ukraine and Russia unless Russians leave our territory within its internationally recognised borders,” Ukraine’s Ambassador to South Africa Liubov Abravitova said in a text message.

But she added: “We will receive all delegates and speak to them.”

Governor: Situation in Russia’s Belgorod region “remains extremely tense” as evacuations continue

The situation in Russia’s Belgorod region “remains extremely tense” Monday following an attack from what Russia has called a group of saboteurs that crossed into its territory from Ukraine, the governor of the region said.

“A sabotage and reconnaissance group, the Ministry of Defense and all law enforcement agencies have entered the territory to carry out combat missions to protect our country,” regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a live-streamed address from the Graivoron district.

Gladkov stated that the Belgorod government is “completing a house tour of the border villages” and in the town of Graivoron to ensure the safety of the local population.

He added that “most of the population left the territory” with personal transportation and the local government is providing transportation for those who do not have the opportunity to leave on their own.

The head of the district Gennady Ivanovich Bondarev is working with the Ministry of Emergency Situations and the police to evacuate people, according to Gladkov.

The governor previously said eight people were injured in the attack.

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