Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 463

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:

Pentagon to buy Starlink for Ukraine

The US Department of Defense will buy Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite service for Ukraine, the Pentagon said in a statement.

“We continue to work with a range of global partners to ensure Ukraine has the resilient satellite and communication capabilities they need. Satellite communications constitute a vital layer in Ukraine’s overall communications network and the department contracts with Starlink for services of this type,” the statement added.

Zelensky discusses peace plan with EU’s von der Leyen

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky says he spoke to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen about Ukraine’s peace plan and the security guarantees Kyiv needs before joining the NATO military alliance.

On Twitter, the Ukrainian leader said: “As part of my participation in the European Political Community Summit, I met with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

“We discussed specific ways to implement the Ukrainian Peace Formula and consolidate global support for Ukraine’s peace initiative. We also touched upon the topic of security guarantees that our country seeks to receive before becoming a full member of NATO,” he continued.

“In addition, I emphasized the need to unconditionally lift export restrictions on agricultural products,” he added.

NATO chief calls for “credible arrangements” to guarantee Ukraine’s security after war ends

NATO needs to make sure there are “credible arrangements” in place to guarantee Ukraine’s security after the war ends, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.

Speaking during a news conference in Oslo, Norway, Stoltenberg stated that the focus of the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting was “bringing Ukraine closer to NATO, where it belongs.”

However, the NATO chief has previously said that he expects Ukraine will join the alliance when the war is over — effectively ruling out the country joining in the near future.

On Thursday, the ministers discussed updating the NATO Ukraine Commission to council status, which Stoltenberg said would be an “important step” in ensuring that Ukraine has a seat at the table “as equals.”

“We don’t know when the war ends, but we must make sure that when it does, we have credible arrangements to guarantee Ukraine’s security in the future,” Stoltenberg added.

When asked by a journalist if changing status from a commission to a council will matter much to Ukrainians fighting a war, Stoltenberg reiterated that NATO’s focus remains on “stepping up” military aid so Ukraine can win the conflict.

“If President [Vladimir] Putin wins in Ukraine, it will make the world more dangerous, it will send the message that when authoritarian forces use military force, they get what they want,” Stoltenberg emphasized.

“Ukraine can anticipate a very robust package” of support at NATO Summit: Top US diplomat

Ukraine “can anticipate a very robust package of both political and practical support” from NATO when the US-led military alliance meets in Vilnius in July, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday.

“Everyone here stands behind the Bucharest commitment. That hasn’t changed. We’re focused intensely on what we can do to strengthen even more the relationship between Ukraine and NATO, and to continue to bring Ukraine up to NATO standards, interoperability,” Blinken said at a press conference in Oslo after a meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers.

Discussions in Oslo were an opportunity to “compare notes” on support for Ukraine, posturing for Russian aggression and other challenges, to ensure that allies can move forward “united, together,” when they meet at the summit, the top US diplomat said.

Ukraine says Russia has blocked Black Sea grain export deal again

Ukraine’s ministry of renovation and infrastructure claimed the UN-brokered Black Sea grain export deal had been halted again because Russia had blocked registration of ships to all Ukrainian ports.

“The Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul has announced that it is impossible to draw up an inspection plan for June 1 due to another unjustified refusal of the Russian delegation to register the incoming fleet for participation in the Initiative,” the ministry said on Facebook.

Russia did not immediately comment on the status of the wartime initiative, intended to provide safe Black Sea grain exports.

No set date on peace summit: Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelensky says he has not fixed a date for a peace summit because Kyiv is still working to bring as many nations as possible to the table.

“We are organising a summit – we want to involve as many countries as possible; that’s why we did not set the date yet,” Zelensky told reporters on Thursday.

The president laid out Kyiv’s plan to end the war and proposed a global summit for July while attending the G7 summit in Japan and the Arab League summit.

China will closely monitor new EU sanctions on Russia

China will closely follow European Union discussions on an 11th Russian sanctions package, which could result in trade restrictions, Shu Jueting, a commerce ministry spokesperson, says.

“China firmly opposes unilateral sanctions that have no basis in international law and are not authorised by the [UN] Security Council as well as long-arm jurisdiction,” Shu stated, calling on the EU to “act prudently and to not set a bad precedent”.

The European Commission has proposed a tool to limit trade with third countries deemed to be bypassing sanctions already in place.

Ukraine needs “clear” and “positive” decisions on NATO and EU accession: Zelensky

Ukraine needs “clear” and “positive” decisions on its bid for joining both NATO and the European Union, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Thursday at a summit of European leaders in Moldova’s capital Chisinau.

“This year is for decisions,” Zelensky said.

“In [the] summer in Vilnius at the NATO summit, a clear invitation for membership of Ukraine is needed and the security guarantees on the way to NATO membership are needed,” he added.

“Positive decisions for Ukraine will be positive decisions for everyone,” he continued.

Zelensky also restated his calls to not allow the war in Ukraine to become a frozen conflict.

“There should be no place for any frozen conflict and cold war on our continent,” Zelensky said, adding “when there are no security guarantees, there are only war guarantees.”

Zelensky also said coalitions of Patriot air defenses and fighter jets would “accelerate peace,” and that “every step in air defense enforcement is literally saving lives.”

Moldova is hosting a summit of the EU’s 27 member states and 20 other European countries at a castle deep in Moldova’s wine region just 12 miles (20 km) from Ukrainian territory, according to Reuters.

Kiev and EU chief “condemn illegal deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children” in joint statement

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issued a joint statement on International Children’s Day to highlight the “plight of Ukrainian children,” saying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is depriving children of their right to be “free, protected and kept safe.”

“We vehemently condemn illegal deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children, adding to the list of Russia’s war crimes,” the statement said, adding, “We urgently call upon Russia to immediately stop these deportations, to put an end to the practice of so-called ‘expedited adoptions’ and return these children.”

“We are committed to do all that is needed to establish the whereabouts of deported Ukrainian children, facilitate their safe return, and provide them with essential social, medical, and educational support upon their return,” the joint statement continued.

Noting that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for perpetrators of war crimes, Zelensky and von der Leyen said “time will come” to bring them to justice.

In March, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

The Kremlin labeled the ICC’s actions as “outrageous and unacceptable” and said Russia does not recognize the jurisdiction of the court.

Belgorod border incursion attempt was prevented: Russian Ministry of Defense

The Russian defense ministry claimed Thursday that, together with the Federal Security Service (FSB), it had prevented an incursion across its border by Ukrainian forces, saying tanks and two motorized infantry companies attempted to enter the Belgorod region.

“After intensive shelling of civilian targets in the Belgorod region, Ukrainian terrorist formations with up to two motorized infantry companies, reinforced with tanks, attempted to invade the territory of the Russian Federation near the settlement of Novaya Tavolzhanka and the Shebekino international automobile checkpoint,” according to the daily briefing by the Russian ministry of defense.

The attempted incursion began at around 3 a.m. Moscow time (8 p.m. ET), spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said.

The Russian military repelled three attacks by Ukrainian terrorist groups, Konashenkov stated, adding that “terrorists of the Kyiv regime were pushed back, suffering significant losses.”

“Violations of the state border were not allowed,” he continued.

Governor of Russia’s Belgorod region denies latest border incursion claims

The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, has denied the latest border incursion claims by a group of anti-Putin Russian nationals.

“There was no enemy on the territory of the Belgorod region and there is none,” Gladkov said in a Telegram video message Thursday.

“There is massive shelling. Of course the lives of civilians, the population is under threat. Mainly in Shebekino and in the surrounding villages,” he added.

It comes after the Russian Volunteer Corps, a group of anti-Putin Russian nationals aligned with the Ukrainian army, claimed Thursday that its members were fighting on Russian territory but did not provide any evidence.

In a separate Telegram post, Gladkov said he had reported to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation at the border.

“It was decided that schoolchildren from the Shebekino urban district will not take exams,” Gladkov added.

Last week, two groups of pro-Ukrainian Russian nationals – the Freedom for Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps – launched a cross-border raid on their motherland, in the neighboring Belgorod region.

One civilian from the village of Kozinka died as a result of the fighting, Gladkov stated at the time. He added that six districts of the Belgorod region, as well as the city itself, were targeted, and that a counter-terror operation was launched in response.

Belgorod has also been targeted by a number of drone strikes in recent weeks, as fighting intensified around Ukraine’s eastern border.

Inflation in Europe drops to lowest level since Russian invasion of Ukraine

Inflation in Europe has fallen to its slowest pace since Russia invaded Ukraine, bolstering the case for the region’s central bank to bring interest rate hikes to an end soon.

Consumer prices in the 20 countries that use the euro rose 6.1% last month compared with a year ago, easing from 7% in April, according to an initial estimate Thursday from the European Union’s statistics agency.

That’s the lowest rate of inflation since February 2022, when Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor, sending global energy prices soaring.

The pace of food price rises eased for the second month running in May, while energy prices actually fell. Core inflation, which strips out food and energy, slowed to 5.3% — a four-month low.

Inflation has fallen sharply in Germany, France, Italy and Spain, national data published Wednesday showed. Price rises eased across a broad range of product categories in Europe’s biggest economies.

That could give the European Central Bank reason to pause interest rate hikes soon, although ECB President Christine Lagarde said Thursday that policymakers still had “ground to cover to bring interest rates to sufficiently restrictive levels.”

“Today, inflation is too high and it is set to remain so for too long,” Lagarde said at a banking conference in Germany.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has profoundly altered Europe’s economy, causing food and energy prices to spike dramatically. In an attempt to slow inflation, the ECB has hiked interest rates several times.

Before the war, Europe imported vast quantities of natural gas and oil from Russia. Weaning itself off this cheap supply of energy was a painful and initially sluggish process for many European countries.

While there was a huge outpouring of sympathy for Ukraine in the early months of the war, some analysts feared that European support might dwindle as the conflict dragged on and inflicted heavy costs on consumers – especially during winter, when high energy costs were expected to bite hardest.

But, due both to Europe’s ability to replenish its gas reserves during the more temperate months and to a raft of support measures implemented by governments, consumers did not have to shoulder costs as severe as first feared.

Today’s news of falling inflation will come as welcome relief to governments and consumers across the continent.

NATO needs to think about security guarantees for Ukraine: France

The NATO alliance needs to think about what kind of security guarantees it can give Ukraine, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said on Thursday during a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo.

While that meeting is being held in Moldova, there is also a flurry of Nato diplomacy taking place in Oslo, where NATO’s foreign ministers are meeting.

Three people killed in strikes on Kyiv tried to enter closed bomb shelter: Ukraine’s internal affairs minister

A child, her mother and another woman were killed in a Russian missile strike on Kyiv after trying to enter a bomb shelter that was closed, Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs Ihor Klymenko said in a statement.

Klymenko stated that Kyiv police have launched an investigation into the incident regarding “negligence that caused grave consequences.”

Ukraine’s national police confirmed earlier that a 9-year-old girl, her 34-year-old mother, and a 33-year-old woman were killed in Kyiv on Thursday after missiles that targeted the capital were shot down. Twelve others were injured.

The husband of one of the women told Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspline that when they heard the air raid alarm, people ran to the shelter but found it locked.

“People knocked… They knocked for a very long time… There were women, children. No one opened. My wife and child [were there]. The child is fine, but my wife died,” the man — named Yaroslav — said.

“I just ran to the other side, calling for them to open. And just at that moment everything happened, at that moment something flew – I don’t know, fragments or something,” he added.

Another eyewitness named Kateryna Didukh stated, “They ran here to hide but unfortunately it was closed. This is the largest bomb shelter. They were all standing at the entrance. There is a polyclinic and a kindergarten here, and it fell right between them.”

Klymenko said that after “the 16th month of full-scale war,” he believes “responsible officials should have identified and fixed all the flaws in the issue of people’s safety. The enemy continues large-scale shelling of cities. But some shelters still remain closed during the air raid alarm.”

“Closed bomb shelters during the war are not just indifference. It is a crime,” he added, calling for shelters to be kept open around the clock.”

“As part of the investigation, we will find and bring to justice all those responsible. In addition, the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, together with the National Police, will regularly inspect the accessibility and condition of bomb shelters in all settlements of the country,” he continued.

484 children killed in Ukraine and 992 injured since war began: Ukraine prosecutor general’s office

At least 484 children have been killed and 992 injured since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced Thursday as Ukraine marked International Children’s Day.

“The Office of the Prosecutor General provides procedural guidance in proceedings on more than 2,900 war-related crimes against children: murder and injury, sexual violence, attacks on institutions and facilities for children, deportation, forced displacement, abduction,” it said in a statement.

Ukraine and most other eastern European post-Communist countries mark June 1 as International Children’s Day. Towns, schools and community groups often organize children-focused events like sports days and fun fairs.

Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska tweeted Thursday: “Children’s Day has to be about safe childhood, summer, life… But today it is about new crimes of [Russian Federation] against Ukrainian children. A 9-year-old girl was killed in the shelling of Kyiv, and another is now in hospital.”

More than 2,500 educational institutions were damaged, including 256 completely destroyed, the Prosecutor General’s Office also said in its Thursday statement.

It added that more than 19,500 Ukrainian children have been forcibly deported to Russia or temporarily occupied territories.

“But these are only the cases that are officially registered,” it noted, warning the number could be higher.

In March, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

The ICC charges, which relate to an alleged practice that CNN and others have reported on, were the first to be formally lodged against officials in Moscow since it began its unprovoked attack on Ukraine last year.

ICC President Judge Piotr Hofmanski told CNN in March that all signatory countries are “obliged to execute arrest warrants issued by the court,” meaning that “there are 123 states — two thirds of the states in the world — in which he (Putin) will not be saved.”

The Kremlin labeled the ICC’s actions as “outrageous and unacceptable” and said Russia does not recognize the jurisdiction of the court.

Zelensky calls for membership of EU, NATO

President Volodymyr Zelensky has reiterated his case for Ukraine to be part of the NATO military alliance as he joined European leaders for a summit in Moldova.

“We support Moldova and its people who are integrating into the EU,” said Zelenskyy.

“You supported our people, our refugees who fled in the first days of the war, and we will never forget it. Our future is in the EU. Ukraine is ready to join NATO,” he added.

NATO’s “extraordinary” solidarity a main reason Ukraine has been able to fend off Russia: Blinken

The “extraordinary” solidarity of NATO members is one of the main reasons for Ukraine’s success in pushing back Russian aggression, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.

Blinken spoke as he arrived in Oslo for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, standing beside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

“We have said from day one what we would do in terms of supporting Ukraine, in terms of putting pressure on Russia, and in terms of strengthening our own alliance. We’ve done what we’ve said. We’ll continue to do that,” Blinken said.

He added that support for Ukraine, as well as strengthening the NATO alliance further, would be the focus of the meetings.

Part of Russia’s premise for its invasion of Ukraine was to fend off NATO from expanding close to its borders.

Stoltenberg said Thursday that it is not for Moscow to decide when the alliance expands, adding that NATO allies and Ukraine will decide “when the time is right” for Ukraine to join. Last month, he had said he expects Ukraine will join the alliance when the war is over.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is in Modolva attending another summit of European leaders, stated on Thursday that Ukraine “is ready to be in NATO.”

German FM says NATO can’t accept new members while they are at war

NATO cannot accept new members that are currently embroiled in war, Germany’s foreign minister said Thursday, as foreign ministers from member nations of the military alliance meet in Oslo.

“NATO’s open door policy remains in place, but at the same time it is clear that we cannot talk about accepting new members (who are) in the midst of a war,” Annalena Baerbock told reporters ahead of the informal talks.

Her remarks came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that his country is ready to join the defense alliance.

Baerbock stated the meeting in Oslo is another step ahead of the NATO leaders’ summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, scheduled for July, which aims to foster agreement on how to strengthen relations with Kyiv.

Baerbock also added NATO expects to welcome Sweden as a new member at the Vilnius summit. Sweden’s application for membership, though supported by most NATO members, has been so far been held up by Turkey and Hungary.

Sweden’s membership will be a key topic at the foreign ministers meeting this week, the UK foreign secretary said earlier Thursday.

NATO meetings will discuss Sweden’s membership and Ukraine war: UK foreign secretary

The war in Ukraine and Sweden’s NATO membership will be key topics during informal meetings between NATO foreign ministers this week in Oslo, said UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Thursday.

“We will continue to focus on the issues that we’ve been discussing recently — how we ensure that Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine is unsuccessful, how we strengthen our alliance, how we work to welcome Sweden into our numbers in the very near future, whist also ensuring that NATO remains a strong defensive alliance to support all the members within it,” Cleverly stated as he arrived for the meetings.

The meeting will be chaired by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said on Thursday that all the bloc’s allies agree Ukraine will become a member — and that he would travel to Turkey to discuss Sweden’s application for membership, which remains in limbo.

All NATO allies agree “Ukraine will become a member”: Head of military alliance

All NATO allies agree that “Ukraine will become a member of the alliance,” its chief Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

“All allies agree that the NATO’s door is open for new members,” Stoltenberg told reporters ahead of an informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo.

“It’s not for Moscow to have a veto against the NATO enlargement,” he added.

Part of Russia’s premise for its invasion of Ukraine was to fend off NATO from expanding close to its borders.

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.

On Thursday, Stoltenberg said NATO’s most important task was to ensure that Ukraine prevails in the war against Russia — and to prevent the conflict from spilling over beyond Ukraine’s borders.

“That’s the reason why we have increased our major presence in Eastern lines on NATO territory,” he added.

Finland’s accession to the alliance earlier this month marked a major shift in the security landscape in northeastern Europe, more than doubling NATO’s frontier with Russia.

Finnish public support for accession snowballed following the invasion of Ukraine, and also reignited calls from Kyiv to join.

Sweden also applied to join the bloc shortly after Russia’s full-scale invasion began, with the support of an overwhelming majority of NATO members — but its membership has so far been held up by Turkey and Hungary.

Turkey has accused Sweden of harboring members of terrorist groups, which Stockholm denies, while Hungary has claimed Sweden behaved hostilely toward its government.

Stoltenberg said Thursday he would soon travel to the Turkish capital of Ankara to discuss Sweden’s NATO membership, though did not specify the timing.

“My message is that Swedish membership, full-fledged membership of NATO, is good for Sweden, it is good for the Nordic countries, it is good for Norway, for the Baltic region, but it is also good for the whole of NATO,” he added.

Zelensky arrives for European leaders’ summit in Moldova

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has arrived in Moldova for the European Political Community summit, according to his official Telegram account on Thursday.

“We are developing a coalition of fighter jets and offering a coalition of Patriots. EU, NATO, peace formula. Everything to protect our future,” the Telegram post said.

Dozens of leaders from across Europe are gathering for the meeting, where they will discuss security issues and areas of cooperation across the continent.

The first meeting of the European Political Community was held in October 2022, with the leaders primarily discussing the war in Ukraine and global energy crisis.

‘Not worth penny’: ambassador on US words about non-support of Ukrainian attacks on Russia

US statements that Washington does not support Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory are just empty words, Russian Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov believes.

“Public statements by the White House that they allegedly do not support the attacks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the very heart of our Motherland are not worth a penny,” Antonov said.

White House Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday that the US administration opposes Ukrainian strikes on Russian territory to “avoid World War III.”

On Tuesday, eight drones were intercepted in and near Moscow in what the Russian Defense Ministry said was an attack carried out by Ukraine. Five drones were shot down and three diverted off course, failing to cause any significant damage or casualties.

The Kremlin said this was likely Kiev’s retaliation for earlier Russian strikes against a military decision-making center in Kiev. Earlier in May, two drones unsuccessfully tried to attack one of the Kremlin’s buildings.

Kyiv’s air defenses shot down all 10 missiles fired by Russia overnight: Military

Ukraine’s air force destroyed all 10 missiles launched at Kyiv overnight, the General Staff of the Armed Forces said on Thursday.

Russian forces had targeted “civilian and critical infrastructure” with Iskander short-range missiles, the General Staff announced.

Falling debris from the missiles damaged a children’s clinic, two schools and a police station, according to the Kyiv city military administration in a Telegram post. A residential building was also damaged from the blast wave.

At least three people, including two children — ages 5 or 6 and 12 or 13 — were killed by falling debris, officials confirmed.

Earlier Thursday, the head of Kyiv’s military administration said the strikes were from ground-based tactical missile systems and did not come from planes.

Kyiv targeted with ground-launched missiles overnight: Ukrainian military

Russian forces used ground-based tactical missile systems to target Kyiv in early Thursday morning strikes, according to a Ukrainian military official.

Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration, said the missiles were not fired from planes. Preliminary information showed cruise and ballistic missiles were used, he added.

All identified air targets were shot down by Ukrainian forces, but falling debris resulted in casualties and damage, according to Popko, with three people — including two children — killed and at least 10 people injured.

“Strictly abide by the safety protocol when the air raid alarm is active!” Popko continued, adding, “And be especially careful — ballistic missiles fly very fast. The time between the air raid alert and a missile’s approach is only seconds! Therefore, prepare what you need in advance to minimize the time for preparing and going to the shelter!”

Earlier, Kyiv’s Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least 14 people were injured in the strikes.

At least 2 people injured in early morning strikes in Russia’s Belgorod region: Governor

At least two people were injured early Thursday in the town of Shebekino in Russia’s Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine, a top official said.

Shelling by Ukrainian forces lasted an hour, according to Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov.

One of the injured men is in critical condition after having his left arm amputated. The other suffered a concussion and went to the hospital and is in stable condition, according to the governor.

“Emergency services are on site. Door-to-door rounds will be carried out in the area during daylight hours,” Gladkov added.

Some background: On Wednesday, there was a “massive” shelling attack that injured four people in Shebekino, Russian officials said.

Eight apartment buildings, four homes, a school and two administrative buildings were damaged during the shelling, they added.

Wagner Group boss wants prosecutors to investigate Russia’s military leadership

The chief of the Wagner mercenary force said on Wednesday he is requesting that Russia’s Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office investigate top officials at the Ministry of Defense for “committing a crime during the preparation and during the conduct of the special military operation.”

“Today I sent letters to the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation with a request to investigate a number of top officials of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation on the fact of committing a crime during the preparation and during the conduct of the special military operation,” Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Telegram.

“These letters will not be published, due to the fact that this will be dealt with by the investigating authorities,” stated Prigozhin, who has been a persistent critic of the Russian military’s handling of the war in Ukraine, which Moscow refers to as a “special military operation.”

Earlier this month he blamed Russian defense chiefs for “tens of thousands” of Wagner casualties because they didn’t have enough ammunition.

There was no immediate reaction from the Ministry of Defense. CNN is reaching out to the ministry for a response.

Heavy artillery fire continues around Bakhmut as on-the-ground clashes ease: Ukrainian officials

There has been a significant drop in hostilities on the ground around the city of Bakhmut as Russian forces rotate in and out of the area, but shelling continues incessantly, Ukrainian officials say.

Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the Eastern Grouping of the Ukrainian military, said Wednesday there had been only two or three clashes in the area over the last two days. But he stated the Russians were covering their rotation of forces with artillery fire, and Ukrainian positions had been shelled 343 times Wednesday. In turn, Ukrainian fire killed 78 Russians and destroyed a variety of weapons and ammunition dumps, he said.

The departure of Wagner units and their replacement with Russian regular forces continued, Cherevatyi added.

“They are trying to deploy those among the best units that are left. The units which have already taken part in battles: units of the occupier’s airborne troops, motorized rifle units. However, they arrive not in their best moral-psychological state,” Cherevatyi said, adding, “The rotation process is still ongoing. Whether this has strengthened or weakened them we will see in the coming days.”

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar told Ukrainian television the south-western outskirts of Bakhmut remain under the control of the Ukrainians.

“In fact, the enemy’s offensive activity in the Bakhmut sector has been stopped. [But] the enemy has increased the number of artillery attacks … The number of attacks today is equal to the times of the heaviest battles for Bakhmut,” Maliar continued.

Maliar added Ukrainian troops, for now, were not trying to advance on the Russians’ flanks but said “the fight for this direction continues.”

One soldier in the Bakhmut area, Yurii Syrotiuk of the 5th separate assault brigade, said that heavy thunderstorms had interrupted air strikes but that “enemy artillery is actively working,” as were mortars and rockets.

Syrotiuk added Russian forces tried to counterattack in the past days, but not successfully.

“The famous Donbas mud does not allow the movement of people nor equipment,” he said, adding that this was impeding the Ukrainians’ own efforts to push forward.

He also drew a distinction between the Wagner fighters and Russian regular units, which he said “do not fight like Wagnerites, as they are not being sent as cannon fodder under the threat of execution. So they make very languid attempts of attacks, which we repel and then the enemy artillery starts working.”

More evacuations from Russian border to take place this week: Governor

More evacuations of women and children are set to take place this week as the Russian border experiences shelling, Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, some 300 children were already evacuated from Belgorod to the Voronezh area.

Gladkov added that 200 people, including mothers with small children and grandmothers, would be evacuated to Penza on Thursday.

On Saturday, 300 children will be sent from the Grayvoron district to Yaroslavl and 300 from Shebekino district will be sent to Kaluga, Gladkov said.

Gladkov also added he spoke with the governors of the Lipetsk and Tomsk oblasts who agreed to take 200 evacuees each, consisting of families with small children.

Biden administration announces new $300 million security package for Ukraine

The Joe Biden administration announced Wednesday that it will send an estimated $300 million worth of additional weaponry and equipment to Ukraine, focusing the latest military aid package on air defense systems to help Kyiv fend off Russian aerial attacks.

As part of the package, the US will be providing Ukraine with radar-guided, air-to-air AIM-7 missiles for the first time. It’s unclear if the older air-to-air missiles have been adapted to Ukraine’s Soviet-era fighter jets or if they will be used in conjunction with a ground-based system.

The package will also include munitions for unmanned aerial systems, which a US official described as mortar-like ammunition that can be dropped from drones. Ukraine has used smaller commercial drones to drop grenades and mortar rounds on Russian troops and positions from above, often posting videos of such jerry-rigged attacks on social media.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the US in a tweet and said the newest assistance is “extremely important and timely” and the latest example of “unflagging American support.”

The latest package will protect Ukraine’s skies “from Russian missile and drone terror, as well as to bolster the capabilities of the Ukrainian Defense Forces,” the tweet said.

White House says it supports Ukraine peace summit even without Russia

The White House voiced support Wednesday for a proposed summit to work toward peace in Ukraine, even if Russia is not involved.

“We’ve been talking to the Ukrainians for many, many months now,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said.

“President Volodymyr Zelensky has a 10-point proposal for what he calls a just peace – and we’re helping trying to work with his team to help actualize that,” he added.

The United States supports “moves toward peace,” but any proposal must have the support of the Ukrainian president to be “credible and sustainable,” he said. Russia’s current assault on Ukraine was “not the act of the nation that has any serious design on diplomacy right now,” he added.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Ukraine and its allies were planning a peace summit for global leaders without Russian involvement. Asked what the value was in a summit like that without Russia’s participation, Kirby responded that “you’ve got to work with Ukrainians” before anything else.

“But where and when, or even if the Russians can be brought to the table, that’s got to be President Zelensky, his decision,” Kirby said.

“He has to be ready to sit down and talk and the conditions have to be amenable to him, and then you can move forward with seeing whether the Russians can be a part of that,” Kirby continued.

He added that Putin “has shown absolutely zero inclination” for peace, calling whether Russia should be at the table a “great academic question.”

Ukraine has “legitimate” right to defend itself against Russian attacks under international law: Germany

Under international law Ukraine has a “legitimate” right to defend itself against Russian attacks, German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said.

His comments come in reference to Tuesday’s drone attacks that took place in Moscow that injured two people and damaged several buildings, according to Russian state media. Ukraine has denied any involvement.

The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call on Tuesday, Hebestreit added. “The air defense worked well there and reacted well, but there was also damage, he said at a news conference in Berlin.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also acknowledged Tuesday Ukraine has the right to “project force” beyond its own borders for self-defense.

“Legitimate military targets beyond its own border are part of Ukraine’s self-defense. And we should recognise that,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, John Kirby, the White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, reiterated that the Biden administration has “been clear, privately and publicly, with the Ukrainians that we don’t support attacks on Russian soil.”

Macron calls on NATO to build Israel-like security for Kyiv

French President Emmanuel Macron has called on the West to offer Ukraine “tangible and credible” security guarantees as it battles Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine “is today protecting Europe”, Macron said at the GLOBSEC Bratislava Global Security Forum.

“We have to build something between the security provided to Israel and full-fledged membership,” he continued, adding that Ukraine must be helped with “all means” possible.

EU wants to sanction Russians involved in child abductions: Dutch PM

The European Union is looking to broaden sanctions against Russia to target people involved in the abduction of children from Ukraine, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said.

“The 11th package of sanctions we are working on includes the option to go after those responsible for child abductions,” Rutte said at a joint news conference with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in The Hague.

“That’s something we are working on. The other point of focus is sanction circumvention. Making it possible to go after the people responsible,” he added.

The International Criminal Court in March said children had been taken from orphanages and children’s homes to Russia, with many alleged to have been given up for adoption there. Moscow has repeatedly denied these accusations.

Moscow will get no say on Kyiv’s NATO membership: Norway

NATO will not allow Russia to decide when Ukraine can join the Western alliance, Norway has said as it hosted NATO foreign ministers.

“It is for Ukraine and NATO allies to decide when Ukraine becomes a NATO member, it’s not up to Moscow to decide,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt told reporters on the eve of a two-day meeting with her NATO counterparts.

The alliance has not acceded to Ukraine’s request for fast-track membership. Last week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Ukraine would not be able to join while the war with Russia raged but said that would be different when the conflict was over.

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