Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 471

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:

‘Everything indicates’ Russia behind dam blast: EU

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrel says “everything indicates” to Russia as being behind the Kakhovka dam breach.

“The dam was not bombed. It was destroyed by explosives installed in the areas where the turbines are located. This area is under Russian control,” Borrell told Spanish public television.

“I wasn’t there to find out who did it. But everything seems to indicate that if it took place in an area under Russian control, it is difficult to believe it could have been someone else,” he added.

At least five people died, and 13 are missing in flooding after the breach, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Igor Klymenko said earlier on Friday.

Russia to begin deploying tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus in July

Russia will begin deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus after the facilities are ready on July 7-8, President Vladimir Putin told his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, in a meeting in Sochi.

“So everything is according to plan, everything is stable,” Putin said, according to a readout from the Kremlin.

Russian governor enacts state of emergency after drone attack

The Russian governor of Voronezh has imposed a state of emergency after a drone hit an apartment building.

Three people were hurt by broken glass but did not need hospital treatment, Alexander Gusev said.

Russia’s state Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against “persons acting in the interests of the military-political leadership of Ukraine”.

There was no official reaction from Kyiv.

Drone strikes inside Russia have become a frequent occurrence in areas close to the Ukrainian border.

Iceland to suspend Russia’s embassy operations from August 1

Iceland will suspend its embassy operations in Moscow from August 1 and has asked Russia to scale back its diplomatic activities in Reykjavik, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Iceland’s embassy operations are being suspended due to an ‘all-time low’ level of commercial, cultural and political relations between the two countries, the ministry said.

“The current situation simply does not make it viable for the small foreign service of Iceland to operate an embassy in Russia,” Foreign Minister Thordis Gylfadottir stated.

But diplomatic relations between the two nations have not been severed, the ministry said, adding that the embassy will be reopened once relations normalise.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, thanked Iceland’s foreign minister for the decision and said, “Russia must see that barbarism leads to complete isolation.”

‘Situation is tense in all areas of front’: Ukraine

Ukrainian deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar stated that the situation on the frontline was tense and heavy fighting was concentrated in the Donetsk region.

“The situation is tense in all areas of the front. The enemy continues to focus its main efforts on the Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiiv and Marin directions, heavy fighting continues,” Maliar said on Telegram.

“In the Bakhmut direction, the enemy is withdrawing reserves and trying to hold the occupied positions. Makes attempts to attack but fails. Now our defenders are conducting active combat operations in several areas of the Bakhmut direction,” she added.

Ukraine says intercepted phone call proves Russia was behind dam blast

Ukraine’s security service says it has intercepted a telephone call proving a Russian sabotage group blew up the Kakhovka dam.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) posted a short audio clip on its Telegram channel of the alleged conversation, which featured two men discussing the dam.

“They [the Ukrainians] didn’t strike it. That was our sabotage group,” said one of the men, who the SBU described as a Russian soldier.

“They wanted to, like, scare [people] with that dam,” the soldier continued, adding, “It didn’t go according to plan, and [they did] more than what they planned for.”

The SBU did not offer any further details of the conversation.

Kremlin accuses Ukraine of ‘barbaric shelling’ in Kherson

The Kremlin accuses Ukrainian forces of killing citizens affected by the dam flood in repeated shelling attacks.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the attacks “barbaric.”

Peskov said Russian rescue workers were doing their best to help people in flooded areas but were being constantly shelled by Ukrainian forces.

“All the work is taking place under the shelling of the Ukrainian armed forces. This shelling does not stop. This is more than barbaric shelling,” Peskov told reporters.

“As a result of this shelling there are dead among the flood victims, there was even a pregnant woman,” he added.

On Thursday, Ukraine accused Russian forces of shelling civilians in the flooded territory it controls.

Sweden to allow NATO to station troops in country

The Swedish prime minister and defence minister say NATO troops will be allowed to be based in the country despite not having been approved to join the military alliance.

“The government has decided that the Swedish Armed Forces may undertake preparations with NATO and NATO countries to enable future joint operations,” Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and Defence Minister Pal Jonson said in an opinion piece in the  Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

“The preparations may consist of temporary basing of foreign equipment and personnel on Swedish territory. The decision sends a clear signal to Russia and strengthens Sweden’s defence,” they added.

Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But while Finland joined the bloc in April, Sweden’s membership is being held up by Turkey and Hungary. All member states must agree before a country joins the military alliance.

Ukraine counteroffensive against Russia under way: Think tank

Kyiv’s counteroffensive against Russian forces has started, a Washington, DC-based think tank monitoring the war in Ukraine has said, though Ukrainian officials continue to deny or decline confirmation that their long-awaited campaign to retake territory occupied by Russian forces is under way.

“The Ukrainian counteroffensive has begun. Activity throughout Ukraine is consistent with a variety of indicators that Ukrainian counteroffensive operations are under way across the theater,” the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in a series of tweets late on Thursday.

Russia reports heavy fighting in Zaporizhia region of Ukraine

Russia has reported heavy fighting in the Zaporizhia region of southern Ukraine after saying it repelled repeated attempts by the Ukrainian army this week to smash through the front line and drive a wedge through Russian forces.

Russia’s top military brass briefed President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that Russia had successfully repelled the attacks, which Moscow says are part of an attempted major counteroffensive by Ukraine since Sunday.

A spokesman for Russia’s Vostok group of forces said 13 Ukrainian tanks were destroyed in battles in the Zaporizhia region and eight in the Donetsk region. It reported artillery, drone and infantry battles.

“Disaster is Putin”: Zelensky says while addressing catastrophic dam collapse

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in the Kherson region was not a natural disaster or evidence of climate change.

Instead, he stated, “The disaster is [Vladimir] Putin,” referring to the Russian president.

“Russian troops do not stop artillery strikes at the very territory where people are being evacuated. Unfortunately, there are wounded from these terrorist attacks. People who are rescuing and evacuating from the Russian ecocide are also forced to flee from Russian fire,” he continued.

The collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine is one of the biggest industrial and ecological disasters in Europe for decades. The catastrophe has destroyed entire villages, flooded farmland, deprived tens of thousands of people of power and clean water, and caused massive environmental damage.

In the Russian-occupied part of the territory, where about a dozen settlements are flooded, “no evacuation is carried out at all,” Zelensky claimed in a video address to representatives of the world environmental protection community. People have been stuck on rooftops, “trapped in water” for days without drinking water, food, or medical care, he said.

“We do not know the number of dead and injured yet,” he continued, adding, “In more than 30 settlements, life is ruined. For hundreds of thousands of people in many towns and villages, access to drinking water has been greatly impeded.”

Both Russia and Ukraine are accusing each other of shelling during the evacuations. Also, Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other of causing the breach in the first place, although it is unclear whether the dam was deliberately attacked, or whether the collapse was the result of structural failure

Satellite images show Kherson province flooding

ICEYE’s flood data analysis details the flood extent and depth and shows that several towns and villages along the Dnipro river (Nova Kakhovka, Antonivka, Oleshky, Solontsi, and other areas) have been either partially or completely flooded.

ICEYE owns and operates the largest constellation of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites. By combining satellite imagery with auxiliary ground-level information, the company delivers accurate insight into the extent and depth of major flood events around the world, in near real time.

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 471 Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 471 Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 471 Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 471

Ukraine needs deadlier weapons: US lawmakers

Members of Congress have urged US President Joe Biden to provide even more advanced weaponry to Ukraine, including longer-range missiles that the White House previously warned could trigger World War III.

Kiev must be given Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to strike distant targets in Russia’s supply lines, nine lawmakers said in a letter to Biden on Thursday. The bipartisan group, led by Colorado Democrat Jason Crow, dismissed concerns that such weapons could escalate the conflict or leave US missile supplies too depleted.

“We also understand the administration’s stated desire to maintain US stockpiles for future fights, but Ukraine is currently on the front lines in a fight for freedom in a war with immediate and long-term US national security implications,” the lawmakers said.

“The fight for global peace and security is playing out in Ukraine, and we believe this merits a drawdown from our existing stocks of this important capability,” they added.

“Helping Ukraine fight and win is a US national security imperative and signals to the world that thee US will stand by our fellow democracies,” the nine lawmakers continued.

They called on Biden to do everything in his power, including using his authority under the Defense Production Act to accelerate weapons output, to give Ukrainian troops everything they need to mount a counteroffensive.

Ukraine sees “stiff resistance” and losses in attempt to breach Russian lines: US officials

Ukrainian forces have suffered losses in heavy equipment and soldiers as they met greater-than-expected resistance from Russian forces in their first attempt to breach Russian lines in the east of the country in recent days, two senior US officials tell CNN.

One US official described the losses — which include US-supplied MRAP armored personnel vehicles — as “significant.”

Ukrainian forces managed to overrun some Russian forces in the east around Bakhmut.

However, Russian forces, armed with anti-tank missiles, grenades and mortars, have put up “stiff resistance,” with their forces dug into defensive lines that are several layers deep in some areas and marked by minefields that have taken a heavy toll on Ukrainian armored vehicles.

US and Western officials have been bracing for an expected counteroffensive for months, moving to shore up Ukraine’s defenses ahead of its start. This week, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said an offensive was “taking place in several directions.”

Both US officials say the losses are not expected to impact the larger planned Ukrainian counteroffensive. US and Western officials long expected the counteroffensive to take time and put Ukrainian personnel and equipment, including Western-supplied systems, at high risk.

NATO chief urges speedy Ukraine aid after dam breach

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has urged members of the military alliance to speed up humanitarian assistance to Ukraine after the destruction of a major dam.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba briefed NATO ambassadors via video link on the devastation caused by the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam.

Stoltenberg told the meeting that “the consequences for thousands of people and for the environment are dramatic, and he urged Allies to provide support expeditiously,” NATO said in a statement.

“Allies expressed strong solidarity with Ukraine, and many are already providing critical aid, including water filters, pumps, generators, and shelter equipment,” it added.

US preparing another $2 billion in arms for Ukraine: Report

The Pentagon is set to unveil another $2 billion in military aid for Ukraine, hoping to bolster the country’s air defenses as it launched its much-touted counteroffensive against Russian forces, Bloomberg News reported.

The announcement is likely to come later this week, the outlet said, citing unnamed US officials. The arms will be provided under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which has furnished billions of dollars in American weapons to Kiev since fighting erupted with Moscow last year.

The new aid package will include two types of Patriot missiles: the Patriot Advanced Capability Missile-3 (PAC-3) and the Guidance Enhanced Missile. Produced by Raytheon, the latter munitions are said to provide “improved ability to defeat tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles or enemy aircraft in complement to the PAC-3 missile,” according to the US weapons-maker.

Washington will also reportedly send MIM-23 Hawk surface-to-air missile launchers, an aging system whose first variant entered service in 1960. Officials initially said the platform would be provided last November, but noted they would require refurbishing and repairs using funds from the USAI project.

WHO rushes emergency supplies to Ukraine

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has rushed emergency supplies to Ukraine after the breach of the Kakhovka dam, which led to widespread flooding.

“The impact of the region’s water supply sanitation systems and public health services cannot be underestimated,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing.

“The WHO has rushed in to support the authorities and healthcare workers in preventive measures against waterborne diseases and to improve disease surveillance,” he added.

Asked specifically about cholera, WHO technical officer Teresa Zakaria said the risk of an outbreak was present because the pathogen exists in the environment, adding that the WHO was working with Ukraine’s health ministry to ensure that vaccines can be imported if needed.

No Western troops will enter Ukraine: Kiev

Kiev has refuted suggestions by former NATO Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen that Poland could lead a “coalition of the willing” and send troops into Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has never asked for such a step, its top diplomat claimed.

“Until the armed conflict on Ukrainian territory is over, foreign nations will not send their troops into our nation. Moreover, we are not requesting that. We say: ‘give us weapons,’” Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said in an interview on Thursday, commenting on Rasmussen’s remarks.

The former NATO chief suggested that an intervention scenario could materialize, should the US-led military bloc fail to offer formal security guarantees to Ukraine during a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania next month. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky has reportedly threatened to boycott the event unless his nation is given a concrete roadmap to membership.

Kuleba expressed certainty that Ukraine will become part of NATO, insisting that Kiev would then deploy military units to other allies to defend them. The aspiration to join the bloc is enshrined in the Ukrainian constitution.

Flooding in Kherson has forced Russians to retreat: Ukraine

Flooding due to the Kakhovka dam breach has forced Russian troops to retreat by 5 to 15km (3 to 9 miles) in the Kherson region, Ukraine’s military announced.

A spokeswoman for its southern command, Natalia Humeniuk, told Ukrainian television the redeployment had “practically halved” Russian shelling in the region.

Russian lawmakers address world over Ukrainian ‘terrorism’

The upper chamber of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, placed the blame for the destruction of the Kakhovka dam on Ukraine and its Western backers and called on legislatures in other countries to give their assessment of the incident

In an open letter to the “parliaments and peoples of the World” published on Thursday, the Russian senators condemned what they described as a “terrorist act by the Kiev regime.”

The lawmakers pointed out that the rupture of the dam has led to a “major ecological catastrophe” along the path of the Dnieper River.

According to the document, Moscow warned the UN last October that the Ukrainian leadership might carry out “such a terrorist act.”

Officials cited as proof the repeated shelling of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant by Ukrainian forces in 2022. They went on to claim that the Ukrainian authorities had deliberately opened the floodgates at a similar facility upstream, thereby filling the Kakhovka reservoir to the brim.

The alleged Ukrainian act of sabotage was aided and abetted by Kiev’s Western backers, making the latter complicit, the letter insisted.

The Russian senators went on to accuse the West of launching a “disinformation campaign” aimed at shifting the blame for the dam’s destruction to Moscow.

The letter called on parliaments of other countries to respond to “yet another crime of the Kiev regime” and do everything within their power to prevent further similar “acts of international terrorism.”

Ukraine rejects Turkey’s Kakhovka dam proposal

Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmitry Kuleba has vehemently dismissed Turkey’s proposal for an international investigation into the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam, calling the initiative a “game to indulge the Russians.”

This comes after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held phone conversations with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts on Wednesday, offering to organize an international commission to investigate the attack on the dam, which would include experts from all three countries, as well as the UN.

Speaking on the Ukrainian 1+1 news channel, Kuleba stated that was sick and tired of the UN and others who were proposing to investigate the explosion and accused them of playing a “game of quasi-justice.”

“It’s absolutely clear who’s who,” Kuleba said, dismissing any suggestions that Ukraine could have been responsible for blowing anything up.

“Take it easy, gentlemen,” he continued, adding, “We’ve already been there. It’s all just a game to indulge the Russians.”

Later in the interview, the minister admitted that some sort of investigation into the dam’s destruction would take place eventually, but that it would not be anytime soon.

West has done everything for Ukraine: Biden

Washington and its allies have exhausted their efforts to arm and prepare Ukraine for its counteroffensive against Russian forces, US President Joe Biden has claimed after meeting with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the White House.

“We’ve done everything we could, collectively but individually in the United States, to make them ready, to support ..,” Biden told reporters on Thursday in a joint press briefing with Sunak in Washington.

He called Kiev’s faltering attempts to mount an attack “an evolving situation where we’re very optimistic.”

Asked whether he expected to get new funding approvals from the Republican-controlled Congress to continue providing aid to Ukraine, Biden vowed “unwavering support” for Kiev.

Lawmakers have approved $113 billion in Ukraine aid since February 2022. NATO members plan to discuss long-term security commitments for Kiev at a summit next month in Vilnius.

“Long-term security to deter future aggression after this war ends is the goal, and we’re advancing this goal by providing the support Ukraine needs now on the battlefield and helping them strengthen their military over the long term,” Biden said, adding, “I believe we’ll have the funding necessary to support Ukraine as long as it takes.”

He argued that while some lawmakers have begun to question whether the US should continue to provide aid to Ukraine, he sees broad agreement on the consequences of failing to do so.

Sunak: We must show Putin that Ukraine support won’t wane

Rishi Sunak says Ukraine’s supporters needed to send a strong signal to President Vladimir Putin that their backing for Kyiv will not weaken as the war goes on.

“The more we can put in place support for Ukraine, not just in the here and now, that support that will last for a time and for years to come, I think it sends a strong signal to [Putin] that there is no point in trying to wait us out,” the UK prime minister said at a joint press conference with President Joe Biden.

“We’re not going anywhere. We will be here for as long as it takes. And hopefully that will speed up the calculation in his mind that he should withdraw his forces,” he added.

Rescuers in Kherson face shortage of equipment amid Russian shelling: Official

Rescuers are facing resource challenges while carrying out evacuations in Ukraine-controlled Kherson due to the scale of the flooding caused by the dam collapse, an emergency services officer told CNN.

There is a shortage of resources as Russians continue shelling the western bank of the Dnipro river, stated Maksym Trykur, an officer at Ukraine’s State Special Transport Service.

The catastrophe is “unprecedented and the challenge is it’s impossible to accumulate all the resources in such a short time,” Trykur told CNN.

The State Special Transport Service has been working along with the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in evacuating civilians.

“There’s a great shortage of the equipment. To put it simply — we need everything: boats, motor pumps, radio walkie-talkies, lights — all the equipment that comes in handy when a humanitarian catastrophe such as this occurs,” he said.

“People there are not in a position to stay. The place is unlivable, the houses are flooded, lots of cattle have been killed, the public transport doesn’t work obviously,” he added.

Trykur said most territories are flooded with 5 meters of water, or about 16 feet, and that “it’s impossible to predict the time frame that will allow people to come back to their homes.”

He added his colleagues on the ground have not encountered any humanitarian aid offices or assistance provided by any international organizations, such as the United Nations or the International Committee of the Red Cross

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