Thursday, June 20, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 465: Zelensky says Ukraine ready to launch long-awaited counteroffensive

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’s counteroffensive remains on track: Deputy DM

Ukraine’s plans for a counteroffensive against Russian occupation remain on track, its deputy defence minister told Reuters on Saturday, despite an “unprecedented” wave of missile and drone attacks across the country in recent weeks.

Ukraine will “start the counter-offensive, with the ambition to liberate our territories this year,” he added.

Volodymyr V Havrylov stated that alongside cruise missile strikes, Ukraine had faced repeated volleys of ballistic missiles in May, especially in urban centres including the capital, Kyiv.

“Their primary goal is to stop our counter-offensive and target decision-making centres,” he said on the sidelines of the security conference, the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

Havrylov called Russia’s heavy use of ballistic missiles in May a “last strategic resort” and noted that his country’s air defence systems had been “more than 90% effective” against the attacks, Reuters reports.

For Russia “it was a huge surprise to find that the effectiveness of (their ballistic missiles) was almost zero against modern air defence systems, which we received from our partners,” he added.

Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, said on Saturday his country was ready to launch a much-awaited counter-offensive. Havrylov said the missile barrages had not affected the timing.

He added, “Nothing can stop our efforts, our desire, and our confidence that we’ll win this war.”

Havrylov declined to comment about recent drone attacks and border incursions into Russian territory, including some strikes that reached near Moscow.

Havrylov stressed, “They (Russia) have a lot of internal events that are of course linked to this war. We have a lot of people inside Russia who support Ukraine.”

Havrylov said Ukraine expects NATO allies to provide a detailed roadmap to membership at the defence pact’s summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, next month.

“We want to see a clear … set of steps to be taken by both sides. Not just an indication that the door is open,” he continued.

He added that Ukraine also expected guarantees of security to be provided while the country is in a “transition period” on the way to membership.

He dismissed a proposal by Indonesia’s defence minister at the Singapore meetings to establish a demilitarised zone to halt the fighting in Ukraine, saying:

“We are not going to negotiate any deal related to loss of our territory, including Crimea,” the official continued.

Zelensky says Ukraine ready to launch counteroffensive

Ukraine is ready to launch its long-awaited counteroffensive to recapture Russian-occupied territory, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy stated in an interview published on Saturday.

The Ukrainian president told the Wall Street Journal, “We strongly believe that we will succeed. I don’t know how long it will take. To be honest, it can go a variety of ways, completely different. But we are going to do it, and we are ready.”

Zelensky said last month that Ukraine needed to wait for more western armoured vehicles arrived before launching the counteroffensive.

He has been on a diplomatic push to maintain Western support, seeking more military aid and weapons, which is key for Ukraine to succeed in its plans.

Wagner chief claims Russian defense ministry placed mines on group’s exit routes from Bakhmut

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner private military company, claimed in a Telegram post on Friday that the representatives of the Russian defense ministry had placed mines on Wagner Group’s fighters’ exit routes from Bakhmut.

Prigozhin didn’t provide any evidence that supports his claim.

“Shortly before our departure, we detected suspicious activity along our exit route. […] we called law enforcement and began to investigate our exit routes along the roads,” Prigozhin said.

“We found about a dozen places where various explosive devices were placed, ranging from hundreds of anti-tank mines to tonnes of plastic explosives […] Those who rigged those areas with explosives were representatives of the Ministry of Defense,” he added.

“When asked why they did it, they point their fingers up,” Prigozhin said referring to pointing at the Russian leadership.

Prigozhin noted that “there was no need to place those devices to hold the enemy forces back, as it was located in the rear zone.”

“We can therefore assume that those explosives were destined to meet the Wagner’s units, although we do not walk in columns,” he added.

The Wagner chief said, as of Friday, “almost all, 99% of the Wagner PMC units left Bakhmut.”

“All positions have been handed over to the Ministry of Defense at the appropriate time,” he continued.

Four people detained in connection with closed shelter deaths

Ukrainian police have detained four people in an investigation into the deaths of three civilians locked out on the street during a Russian attack.

Three of the people detained may be charged with official negligence, the interior ministry said in a statement on Telegram.

A nine-year-old girl, her mother and another woman were killed by falling debris after rushing to a Kyiv shelter on Thursday and finding it was shut.

“There can be no excuses for this level of negligence in the city,” Zelensky said in an evening video address, adding he had told the strategic industries minister and the interior minister to conduct a “full audit of bomb shelters”.

At least 2 people killed and 6 injured following shelling in Belgorod: Governor

At least two people were killed and six others were injured in shelling in Russia’s Belgorod region on Friday, its governor stated.

Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a Telegram post that the people killed were in the yards of their homes when the attack came. Two children were among those injured, he said, adding that they were hurt by shrapnel.

Gladkov added that the two injured children were “a 13-year-old boy [who] suffered a closed fracture of the left shoulder and an 11-year-old girl [who] sustained shrapnel wounds to the left eye.”

The Belgorod region, which is located near the border with Ukraine, has seen intensified violence in the last several days, the governor previously said.

“A direct hit from a shell set an outbuilding and a garage in two private residences on fire” and there is damage to four more houses in the area, according to Gladkov.

Zelensky orders nationwide inspection of bomb shelters after Kyiv deaths

Ukraine will be inspecting civilian bomb shelters across the country after three people died in Kyiv earlier this week when they were unable to access a shelter during a Russian missile barrage.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said the deaths have caused an “obviously strong reaction” and orders are in place to check shelters in the capital and elsewhere.

“Unfortunately, even today, after all this, Kyiv residents are still publishing information about the inaccessibility of shelters,” Zelesnksy stated.

“Not just about closed shelters, but about welded entrances to shelters, about the absence of shelters in some parts of the city. This level of negligence in the city cannot be justified by any excuses,” he added.

Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said on Facebook he’d been instructed to commence nationwide inspections and that the State Emergency Service of Ukraine and the National Police are already working.

“Any violations found must be properly recorded, and those responsible must be brought to justice,” he added.

After a month of regular night-time Russian attacks on Kyiv, the city’s authorities have disclosed that 92,000 people used the city’s metro stations as shelters in May. They said that 46 underground stations operate as shelters around the clock

Ukraine knows NATO membership has to wait: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he understands that Ukraine cannot become a member of NATO while it is still at war.

“We understand we will not be a NATO member, while the war is waging. Not because we don’t want [that], but because it’s impossible,” he said at a news conference in Kyiv.

The alliance’s treaty includes Article 5, a collective defense provision that pledges members to come to the assistance of any state that is under attack.

“Give me an example of one NATO country which is in a state of war with Russia right now; or which NATO country has Russian troops on its territory,” Zelensky added.

Ukraine claims Russia has deployed special forces unit to its Belgorod region

A Russian special forces unit has been deployed to Russia’s Belgorod border region because of “partisan” activity, Ukraine’s National Resistance Center – an official body — announced Friday.

“Because of the need to fight the partisan movement, the detachment of the 322nd center of the Russian SOF ‘Senezh’ arrived on the territory of the Belgorod region,” the centre said.

“The Russians are so afraid of partisans that they urgently stopped all operations of this elite unit and instead placed it in the border settlements of the Belgorod region. The task of the unit is to conduct anti-sabotage activities on the Russian border,” they added.

It comes after the Russian Ministry of Defense released a video showing Russian forces purportedly hitting targets in Belgorod. Russian combat aircraft “delivered nine strikes against retreating Ukrainian formations and enemy reserves,” the ministry added. Earlier, this week the Kremlin said it is concerned about the situation in Belgorod.

Shelling in the Belgorod region, killed two women, the region’s governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a Telegram post Friday.

He blamed Ukrainian forces for the shelling, saying they had fired at a road in the village of Maslova Pristan, in the Shebekino district. Ukraine has not commented on the claim.

Chechen forces begin offensive in eastern Ukraine

Russia’s Ministry of Defence has announced that the Akhmat group of Chechen special forces are waging an offensive near the town of Mariinka in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

On Thursday, Akhmat commander Apti Alaudinov said his forces were being moved to “another area” in preparation for a counteroffensive but did not say where.

Along with the Wagner mercenary group, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, troops from Russia’s Chechen Republic have been one of the main forces fighting for Moscow in Ukraine.

However, the two groups have openly argued, and on Thursday, one of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s close allies cast Prigozhin as a blogger who constantly yells about problems.

US says no ceasefire until Ukraine gains upper hand in war

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the US won’t support peace talks in the war in Ukraine until Kyiv holds the upper hand, possibly after a Ukrainian counteroffensive that appears to be taking shape.

Blinken stated heeding calls from Russia and others, including China, for a ceasefire and negotiations to end the war now would result in a “Potemkin peace” that wouldn’t secure Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity or enhance European security.

“Potemkin Village” was a tactic Russia’s 18th century government minister Grigory Potemkin used to build brightly painted village fronts to create an illusion of prosperity for Russia’s empress.

Putin says ‘ill-wishers’ are trying to destabilise Russia

President Vladimir Putin says “ill-wishers” are increasing efforts to destabilise Russia and urges members of his cabinet not to allow this “under any circumstances”.

Putin stated that Russia’s Security Council would discuss ensuring security between the country’s 190 ethnic groups.

“Today, we will also be addressing these issues in terms of ensuring Russia’s security, in this case domestic political security,” he added.

Putin has repeatedly called on Russia to unite in the face of “existential threats” from the West but has occasionally faced backlash from ethnic groups who feel targeted by Moscow’s mobilisation drive.

Britain backs Ukraine’s NATO aims but says impossible to join bloc during war

British Defence Minister Ben Wallace says Ukraine’s path to NATO is “open” but political realities may slow the process.

Wallace added that it is impossible to add members in the middle of a war.

“The best thing we can do to help Ukraine is now to help them defeat Russia,” Wallace said in an interview, adding, “After that is to make sure they’re ready and capable and resilient.”

Ukraine’s membership in NATO is on the agenda for the group’s July summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Kyiv wants “a clear decision” on its accession at the summit.

The Kremlin spokesperson says many European countries are aware of the problems that could arise if Ukraine joins NATO but the United States “calls the tunes” for the alliance.

Dmitry Peskov was asked about Ukraine’s push to join the military alliance, which he said underscored Kyiv’s unwillingness to resolve problems at the negotiating table.

He added that Ukrainian membership in NATO would cause problems for many years and that Moscow would protect its security and interests.

Two people killed in Kharkiv Oblast: Report

Russian forces have bombed Kharkiv Oblast, killing two people and injuring four, according to The Kyiv Independent.

“Russian forces launched two guided bombs at the village of Kivsharivka, killing two people and injuring four others, Kharkiv Oblast Governor Oleh Syniehubov reported on June 2,” it reported.

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