Friday, May 17, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 455

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:

UN criticises Russia over civilian deaths in Ukraine and other countries

The number of civilians killed in armed conflict and their humanitarian aftershocks has skyrocketed, with the United Nations calculating nearly 17,000 recorded deaths last year in war zones — including almost 8,000 people killed in Ukraine alone — marking a steep 53 percent increase in civilian killings compared with 2021.

The meeting of the UN Security Council saw condemnation traded between Ukraine’s Western supporters and Russia, a dynamic which has played out regularly at council sessions since Moscow’s invasion of its neighbour last year.

UK’s defence minister visits Kyiv

UK’s defence minister Ben Wallace made a surprise visit to Kyiv to meet his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov.

“We discussed Ukraine’s NATO perspective in the context of the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius. Including the vision of Ukraine regarding the stabilization of peace in Europe, using the peace formula of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyi,” Reznikov stated, according to a statement from Ukraine’s defence ministry.

Russia using units of Zaporizhzhia plant as military base: Ukraine

Ukraine’s defence ministry’s intelligence unit says Russian troops are still using three units of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) as a military base.

“Currently, the territory of power units No. 1, 2, 4 is actually used as a logistics and military base,” Ukrainian intelligence officials said in a statement.

“The actions of the occupiers have already led to a number of emergency situations during which the ZNPP was disconnected from the power supply,” they added.

UN report finds Ukraine war disproportionately affecting older people

The war in Ukraine is disproportionately affecting older people, especially elderly women and people with disabilities, and undermining their human rights, according to a new UN report published Wednesday.

“The hostilities, the destruction of civilian infrastructure and Ukraine’s ravaged economy have severely undermined the human rights of older people,” the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights finds in the report, which is based on the work of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).

“It was so scary for me to hear old people crying and moaning at night not from pain, but because they were hungry,” a resident of the city of Hostomel is quoted as saying in the report about the situation in the city in 2022.

“Older persons in areas directly affected by hostilities, on both sides of the front line, have not only faced direct threats to their life, but also suffered from food shortages, inadequate living conditions, electricity blackouts, water cuts, and lack of access to health services, medication and pensions (often their only form of income),” the report finds.

“All these factors have drastically increased their vulnerability and undermined their right to life with dignity, especially during winter. Those with slower reaction times and restricted mobility have been particularly affected,” it added.

A quarter of Ukraine’s population is more than 60 years old and over 1.7 million people are above the age of 80, according to the UN.

While older persons were already facing vulnerabilities before the start of the war, “the armed attack by the Russian Federation has led to a grave deterioration of their human rights, in particular their rights to life, social security, adequate housing, and health,” the UN said.

The UN called on Russia “to immediately cease its armed attack and withdraw its armed forces from Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders,” as well as to take measures to ensure that “the rights to life, health, and an adequate standard of living” are fulfilled and respected of all residents, including older persons, in the areas that are under Russian control.

The UN also urged the international community to “take steps to ensure that older persons are fully taken into account and supported through assistance and reconstruction programs,” according to the report.

NATO members’ direct engagement in Ukraine crisis increases nuclear conflict risk: Lavrov

The direct involvement of the NATO member states in the Ukrainian crisis increases the risk of a nuclear conflict, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday.

“De jure, NATO countries are directly involved in the conflict on the side of Kiev,” he stated at an international meeting of high representatives in charge of security issues taking place in the Moscow region.

Such an irresponsible line significantly increases the threat of a direct military clash between nuclear powers,” Lavrov added.

Russia calls on the US and the EU to abandon unilateral forceful decisions to reduce tensions in the world, Lavrov stressed.

“In the interest of reducing international tension, we call on Washington and Brussels to renounce unilateral forceful decisions, to renounce attempts to marginalize the UN and create structures of a limited composition outside it that do not have legitimacy, but claim to rule over all the rest,” he continued.

Fair multipolar world will be achieved: Putin

Russia and its international partners will build a fair multipolar world together, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.

Moscow is ready to cooperate with all interested nations to tackle joint threats and challenges, Putin stated in his video address to participants of the 11th International Meeting of High Representatives for Security Issues on Wednesday.

“I am confident that together we’ll achieve the formation of a more just, multipolar world, and that the ideology of exclusivity, as well as the neo-colonial system, which made it possible to exploit the resources of the whole world, will inevitably become a thing of the past,” the Russian leader told the foreign security officials.

Russia has partners in many different regions and continents, and the country’s authorities “highly appreciate” those relationships, he stated.

“We value historically strong, friendly, truly trusting ties with the states of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and we will strengthen them in every possible way,” Putin added.

According to the Russian leader, the efforts by the US and its allies to maintain their dominant role include the “build-up of military potential, blatant interference in internal affairs of other countries, as well as attempts to extract unilateral advantages from the energy and food crises, provoked by a number of Western states.”

As a result of those actions, the level of instability is growing on the international scene, Putin noted.

“In different regions, old hotspots are expanding and new ones emerge… The people in many nations are experiencing dramatic consequences of coups, organized from the outside,” he said.

However, the president insisted that Russia is confident there is an alternative to the Western policy “of blackmail and illegal sanctions.”

Countries should jointly work towards “strengthening stability in the world, the consistent construction of a system of unified indivisible security, solving major tasks of ensuring economic, technological and social development,” Putin stressed.

Kremlin spokesperson rules out freezing Ukraine conflict

Dmitry Peskov, the Russian president’s spokesperson, has stated he believes the conflict in Ukraine should not be allowed to freeze.

Peskov was asked in an interview with Russia state media outlet TASS whether he agreed with the West’s viewpoint that the conflict should not be frozen. He replied “Russia is in solidarity” with this view.

The spokesperson was quoted as saying: “Russia is only considering the possibility of completing a special military operation: ensuring its interests, achieving Russia’s goals either through a special military operation, or by other available means.”

The comments come as Ukraine is expected to launch an imminent spring counter offensive which would spark more intense fighting and could prove to be a pivotal moment in the war.

Meanwhile, Russians have been shocked by an attack on the country’s southwestern Belgorod region, claimed by a Russian anti-Putin group that says its goal is the “complete liberation of Russia.” The region’s governor said Tuesday’s incursion was followed by multiple drone attacks overnight which left nine people injured.

Russia says ‘not considering’ takeover of other foreign company assets

Russia’s first deputy economy minister Ilya Torosov tells Reuters that Moscow is not considering taking over other foreign companies’ has not considered taking control of other foreign companies’ Russian assets after placing those of Finland’s Fortum and Germany’s Uniper under temporary management.

Speaking on the sidelines of an economic forum in Moscow, he stated that the Kremlin’s government commission that monitors foreign investment was not looking at that possibility.

UK says Russian military ‘struggles to enforce discipline in its ranks’

UK’s defence ministry claims Russia’s military “has struggled to enforce discipline in its ranks throughout its operations in Ukraine, but its issues have highly likely worsened following the forced mobilisation of reservists since October 2022.”

“Court data suggests that most of those found guilty of going AWOL are now punished with suspended sentences, meaning they can be redeployed to the ‘special military operation’,” the ministry said in a tweet and added that Moscow’s efforts to enforce discipline have not focussed on the root causes of soldiers’ disillusionment.

“Highly organized, highly trained” Ukrainian army is one of the world’s “strongest”: Wagner chief

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russian mercenary group Wagner, claimed Tuesday that his men are the strongest fighters but acknowledged the Ukrainian army has also put up a fierce fight, particularly in the eastern city of Bakhmut.

In an interview with pro-Moscow blogger Konstantin Dolgov, Prigozhin said the Ukrainians are “highly organized, highly trained and their intelligence is on the highest level, they can operate any military system with equal success, a Soviet or a NATO one.”

“Now I can judge it according to my own experience, I know how different countries fight [..] today Wagner PMC is the best army in the world, and after it of course I have to say it should be Russian army in order to be politically correct, but I believe Ukrainians today are one of the strongest armies in the world,” Prigozhin added.

Over the weekend, Wagner claimed it had taken all the territories they had planned to and would leave the front line in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, leaving the fighting to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Prigozhin has criticized Russia’s military leadership several times in the past, including earlier this month when he blamed Russian defense chiefs for “tens of thousands” of Wagner casualties because they didn’t have enough ammunition.

In the interview, Prigozhin stated more than 10,000 Wagner troops had died in the battle for Bakhmut. And he admitted that Russia hadn’t achieved much success in its goal of “demilitarizing Ukraine.”

“In the beginning of the special military operation they (Ukrainians) had, say 500 tanks and now they have 5,000 tanks, and if only 20,000 people knew how to fight then, right now there are 400,000 people who know how to fight. So how did we demilitarize it (Ukraine)? It looks like we did the other way around, we militarized it,” he told Dolgov.

Separately, when asked about cross-border incursions in Belgorod claimed by anti-Putin Russians this week, Prigozhin said: “Russian Volunteer Corps groups are shamelessly entering Belgorod region,” and Russian defense forces are “absolutely not ready to resist them in any shape or form.”

Governor says ‘not a quiet night’ for Belgorod,

Nine people were hospitalized following drone attacks on Russia’s southwestern Belgorod region overnight, its governor stated Wednesday — a day after a group of anti-Putin Russians claimed to have launched an attack there.

Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said Tuesday was “not a calm night” for Belgorod, which borders Ukraine, as cars, homes and buildings sustained damage in the drone attacks.

Gladkov noted Russian air defenses had repelled “most” of the drones, however.

He added that 500 people were now in temporary accommodation centers across the region and power had still not been fully restored to some districts, including the town of Graivoron — the scene of an incursion Tuesday claimed by Russian volunteers aligned with Ukraine.

On Telegram Tuesday, the Freedom for Russia Legion called Tuesday’s attack on Belgorod a “peacekeeping operation.”

It said the goal was to create a “demilitarized zone between Russia and Ukraine, to destroy the security forces that serve the Putin regime and to demonstrate to the people of Russia that it is possible to create pockets of resistance and successfully fight against the Putin regime.”

“These goals of the operation were successfully achieved,” it added.

Wagner chief says Russian troops aren’t prepared to fight off Ukrainians even in their own territories

Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said his men are the strongest fighters but acknowledged that the Ukrainian army has also put up a fierce fight, particularly in Bakhmut.

“Now I can judge it according to my own experience, I know how different countries fight [..] today Wagner PMC is the best army in the world, and after it of course I have to say it should be Russian army in order to be politically correct, but I believe Ukrainians today are one of the strongest armies in the world,” Prigozhin said Tuesday in an interview with Konstantin Dolgov, a pro-Russian blogger, for his Telegram Channel blog “Dolgov speaks.”

Over the weekend the private military Wagner group claimed they had taken all the territories they planned on and would leave the frontline in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, leaving the fighting to the Russian Defense Ministry.

But Prigozhin stated Tuesday that the Ukrainians are “highly organized, highly trained and their intelligence is on the highest level, they can operate any military system with equal success, a Soviet or a NATO one.”

Separately, when asked about the recent cross-border incursions in Belgorod claimed by anti-Putin Russians, Prigozhin said “Russian Volunteer Corps groups are shamelessly entering Belgorod region” and Russian defense forces are “absolutely not ready to resist them in any shape or form.”

Part of Bakhmut still under Ukrainian control: Top national security official

Part of the beleaguered city of Bakhmut remains under Ukrainian control, the country’s national security adviser Oleksiy Danilov told CNN on Tuesday.

“If they [Russians] believe they have taken Bakhmut, I can say that this is not true. As of today, part of Bakhmut is under our control,” Danilov told CNN Senior International Correspondent Frederik Pleitgen in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

“I can’t say that all of it, but part of Bakhmut is still under our fire,” he added

Danilov went on to defend Kyiv’s decision to hold on to the city for as long as possible.

“When it came to Bakhmut, these were decisions made at the strategic level. The defense operation was constantly under control at the meetings of the Commander-in-Chief’s staff. We understood why we were doing it,” he explained.

“In the Bakhmut direction, a large number of Russian soldiers were killed, not only the Wagner troops, but also special forces, airborne troops and representatives of other branches of the Russian army. A huge amount of equipment was destroyed, and they spent a huge amount of ammunition there,” he continued.

“It was our strategic defense operation, which was successful for us, given that we held the territory for 10 months, where we were destroying them every day,” he added, noting, “They could not take Bakhmut for 10 months. What can they boast about?”

Wagner group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed this weekend that his troops had captured “all the territories they promised to capture, to the last square centimeter.” But Ukraine’s deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian forces still occupy “a small part of the city,” but that fighting had “decreased” on Tuesday.

On the timing of Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive, Danilov said President Volodymyr Zelensky will have the final say.

“We are working according to our plan, we have it. We are clearly aware of when, where, how and what should start,” he continued, adding, “The final decision is up to the President, meeting of (the Commander-in-Chief’s) staff.”

“When the decision is made, Russia will definitely feel it,” he concluded.

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