Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 480

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:

EU says accelerating arms shipments to Ukraine

European Union industry chief Thierry Breton stated that the bloc is speeding up arms deliveries to Ukraine in support of the country’s counteroffensive against Russian forces.

“We are going to step up our efforts to deliver arms and ammunition, this is a war of high intensity in which they play a crucial role,” Breton said in an interview with the French daily Le Parisien.

“We are preparing for the war to last several more months, or even longer,” he added.

Ukrainian attacks on three sections of frontline repelled: Russia

Russia’s defence ministry says its forces have repelled a series of Ukrainian attacks across three sections of the frontline.

The ministry added Kyiv was pressing most actively in the Zaporizhzhia region.

The statement did not mention the settlement of Piatykhatky in Zaporizhzhia region, which a Russian-installed official said earlier had been taken by Ukraine.

Ukraine: 14 airstrikes launched on Russian positions

Ukraine says it launched 14 airstrikes on areas where Russian forces are concentrated.

The air force carried out 14 airstrikes over the past day, hitting areas where enemy personnel are stationed, Ukraine’s General Staff said in a statement on Facebook, adding: “Our defenders also destroyed two anti-aircraft missile systems.”

The statement also claimed that Ukrainian missiles and artillery struck three control points, five ammunition depots and three artillery units in the past day.

Russia is concentrating its war effort in the directions of Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Marinka, the statement read.

Russia, Ukraine suffering heavy military casualties: UK

The UK says Russia and Ukraine are suffering high numbers of military casualties as Kyiv fights to dislodge the Kremlin’s forces from occupied areas in the early stages of its counteroffensive.

Russian losses are probably at their highest level since the peak of the battle for Bakhmut in March, UK military officials said in their regular assessment.

According to British intelligence, the most intense fighting has centered on the southeastern Zaporizhzhia province, around Bakhmut and further west in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province.

While the update reported that Ukraine was on the offensive in these areas and had “made small advances,” it said that Russian forces were conducting “relatively effective defensive operations” in Ukraine’s south.

Toll rises to at least 45 in flooding from Kakhovka dam collapse

The toll from the collapse of a major dam in Russian occupied Ukraine is now at least 45, after authorities on both sides gave updates.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said Saturday at least 16 people died and 31 are missing from the flooding, while on the same day a Russian-backed Kherson official Andrey Alekseenko posted on Telegram that the toll had risen to 29 people

The Ukrainian ministry also said 3,614 people had been evacuated from the flooded areas “including 474 children and 80 people with reduced mobility.”

The Nova Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine collapsed on June 6. As the largest reservoir of water in Ukraine, it holds a volume equal to the Great Salt Lake in the US state of Utah.

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of destroying the Nova Kakhovka dam in the Russian-controlled part of the Kherson region

The dam collapse has repercussions for both nations.

For Ukraine, it has destroyed villages, flooded farmland, deprived thousands of power and clean water, and caused massive environmental damage. For Russian forces, it has washed up troops, flooded trenches and removed natural defenses they relied on along the Dnipro river.

US secretary of state will raise war in Ukraine and other “real concerns” with Chinese officials during visit

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is en route to Beijing for a high-stakes visit meant to steer relations between the United States and China back on course after months of inflamed tensions between the two nations.

Officials from both governments have signaled low expectations for the visit, but Blinken has vowed to raise “our very real concerns on a range of issues,” including the war in Ukraine.

While Beijing has sought to play the part of peacemaker between Moscow and Kyiv, China’s messaging has been met with significant skepticism by US officials and other Western leaders.

China has released a vaguely worded position paper on a “political settlement” to the conflict, but it has been criticized for not calling on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory, as Kyiv and more than 100 governments around the world have done.

And Western officials raised concerns earlier this year that China could be considering providing Russia with lethal military assistance, an accusation denied by Beijing.

In April, senior US Treasury officials said they had not seen evidence China is providing extensive assistance to Russia for its war in Ukraine, but officials remain wary as the two countries forge closer ties.

Ahead of his visit Saturday, Blinken spoke by phone separately with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin. A US State Department spokesperson said Blinken discussed regional priorities with both leaders, as well as reaffirming each country’s continued support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Putin tells African leaders Russia is open to “constructive dialogue” about conflict in Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow is “open to a constructive dialogue” and praised African countries’ diplomatic approach to the war in Ukraine during a meeting he held with several leaders from the continent in St. Petersburg on Saturday.

“We salute the balanced approach of our African friends to the Ukrainian crisis. … We are open to a constructive dialogue with all those who want peace based on the principles of justice and consideration of the legitimate interests of the parties,” Putin stated.

He maintained that “Russia is ready to consider any African proposals for conflict settlement in Ukraine,” but blamed Kyiv for refusing to negotiate.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday after meeting with the African leaders that any peace talks with Russia are possible only after the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from occupied territories.

Putin also claimed “the crisis on the global food market is not a consequence of conflict in Ukraine.”

“Ukrainian grain supply to the world’s markets doesn’t solve the problem of world hunger,” he added.

After invading Ukraine in February 2022, Russia initially blockaded vital grain exports from key Ukrainian Black Sea ports, including Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi, which meant that millions of tons of Ukrainian grain were not exported to the many countries that rely on the country’s production. Last summer, Turkey and the United Nations helped broker an agreement to enable the safe passage of ships from Ukraine in the Black Sea grain deal.

“Exports of Ukrainian grain under the deal ensuring its safe passage through the Black Sea are not helping to resolve Africa’s problems with high global food prices, as only 3% have gone to the poorest countries,” Putin stated.

Data from the United Nations shows that about 802,000 metric tons of cargo has gone to low-income countries, and three of those five countries are located in Africa. Other African countries receiving cargo are classified as lower-middle income.

“Countries in need should not suffer, so Moscow went to great lengths to ensure the supply of Ukrainian grain to African countries,” Putin continued.

A June 15 update from the Office of the UN coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative said that, “In 2022, Ukraine supplied more than half of (the World Food Programme’s) global wheat grain procurement, as was the case in 2021. The volume of food exported by the Initiative in May was the lowest since the start of the Initiative and well below shipping demand and Ukraine’s export capacity.”

On Saturday, the leaders offered to be a mediator in the Ukrainian war and encouraged “dialogue and compromise” as well as “de-escalation on both sides.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called for “the war to be ended.”

Ramaphosa also pushed for “opening up of the movement of the grains across the Black Sea so whatever blockages there are should be released.”

He also called for “all children who have been caught up in this conflict to be returned to their homes.”

Putin told African leaders that “the Russian authorities absolutely legally took children out of the conflict zone in Ukraine and have never been against their reunification with their families.”

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

Biden says he wouldn’t ease barriers for Ukraine’s membership into NATO

When US President Joe Biden was asked whether he would ease barriers for Ukraine’s addition to NATO, he flatly said “no.”

“No. Because they gotta meet the same standards. So I’m not gonna make it easier,” he told reporters Saturday ahead of his departure to Philadelphia for his first official presidential campaign event.

“I think they’ve done everything related to demonstrating the ability to coordinate militarily, but there’s a whole issue of, is their system secure? Is it non-corrupt? Does it meet all the standards everyone, every other nation in NATO, does? I think it will. I think it can. But it’s not automatic,” he added.

Biden and his team are in the midst of a high-stakes conversation with fellow NATO members on how and when Ukraine may join – a debate that could expose strains in the alliance ahead of a key summit next month in Vilnius, Lithuania.

A source familiar with the situation told CNN Biden is comfortable with removing one of the hurdles for Ukraine to join NATO. According to the source, Biden would be willing to drop the Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine, which was described in a 2008 agreement as “the next step for Ukraine … on their direct way to membership.” The MAP, characterized as “the program of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance,” is a process that other nations have had to undertake to join NATO.

Its removal would represent a small step in easing Ukraine’s accession into the defensive alliance. It is part of a proposal from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and was discussed when he met with Biden in Washington earlier this week, the source added.

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

Biden also stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim about the arrival of the first tactical nuclear weapons to be stored in Belarus is “totally irresponsible.”

On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration is closely monitoring the situation between Russia and Belarus, but the US has “no reason to adjust” its nuclear posture and doesn’t “see any indications” that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.

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