Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 490: At least 10 killed in Russia attack on crowded restaurant in Ukraine

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:

Biden says hard to tell if Putin has been weakened by recent events

US President Joe Biden said that Russian President Vladimir Putin has become “a pariah” around the world but it is hard to say if he has been weakened by recent events involving the head of the mercenary Wagner Group.

Biden, speaking to reporters at the White House prior to departing on a trip to Chicago, said Putin was clearly losing the war in Ukraine and “he’s losing the war at home, and he has become a bit of a pariah around the world.”

Ukraine wants signal from NATO summit that it can join alliance after war

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine understood it could not join NATO while war was raging on its soil, but that Kyiv wanted to receive a signal that it can join the military alliance after the war ends.

Reiterating Kyiv’s stance before a NATO summit next month, he said Ukraine also wanted security guarantees for the period until it can join the alliance.

Kremlin rejects UN report on child detentions in Ukraine

The Kremlin has dismissed allegations by the UN that Russia had violated children’s rights in Ukraine and said that, on the contrary, its armed forces were rescuing children from conflict zones.

One report accused Russia of detaining more than 800 civilians, some of them children, and of executing 77 civilians since the conflict began in February of last year.

In another report, commissioned by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Russia stands accused of having killed 136 children in 2022.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a regular briefing that Moscow “firmly rejects” such accusations.

“Our military, repeatedly risking their own lives, took measures to save children, to take them out from under shelling, which, by the way, was carried out by the armed forces of Ukraine against civilian infrastructure,” he said.

Zelensky says Russia’s war on Ukraine must not become frozen conflict

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said Ukraine would not accept any peace “variant” that allows Russia’s war on his country to become a frozen conflict.

He made his remarks in a speech to parliament on Ukraine’s Constitution Day.

Lithuanian and Polish presidents visit Kyiv, back Ukraine’s path to NATO

The Lithuanian and Polish presidents are visiting Kyiv to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and show support for Ukraine’s bids to join NATO and the EU before the summits of both bodies.

The presidents will discuss “the NATO summit agenda”, Ukraine’s EU membership negotiations and European support for Ukraine, the office of Lithuania’s Gitanas Nauseda said in a statement.

The office of Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said: “The talks … are related to … the current situation at the front, including the threat of a Russian attack behind the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.”

“Preparations for the July NATO Summit will also be discussed.”

NATO members are close to agreeing to incremental steps to strengthen ties with Ukraine by the Vilnius summit but have yet to resolve differences over how to address Ukraine’s desire for membership.

Kramatorsk strike another demonstration of Russia targeting civilians: EU’s foreign policy chief

The Russian missile strike on the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk on Tuesday, which killed at least 10 people and injured dozens, is another example of Russia’s use of terror on civilians, EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday.

“In another demonstration of the terror Russia is imposing on Ukrainian civilians, a Russian cruise missile hit a restaurant and shopping center in Kramatorsk,” Borrell wrote on Twitter.

“This was a well-known meeting point for international press. Yet again, Russia continues to violate international law and commit war crimes,” he added.

Ukrainian officials detain alleged “Russian intelligence agent” linked to Kramatorsk restaurant strike

The Ukrainian Security Service says it has detained a man who allegedly scouted the Kramatorsk pizzeria and sent a video of the site to the Russian Armed Forces prior to the strike Tuesday.

They described the man as a “Russian intelligence agent.”

“It has been established that the detained adjuster of the strike on Kramatorsk was an agent of the main department of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces (better known as GRU). On June 27, he was tasked with finding out whether the aforementioned cafe was open and recording visitors are present there,” it said on Telegram.

“To execute the enemy’s instructions, the GRU agent took a covert video recording of the establishment and vehicles parked nearby. Then the suspect forwarded the footage to Russian military intelligence,” it added.

“Having received this information, Russian invaders fired on the cafe with people inside,” the Ukrainian Security Service alleges.

At least 10 people were killed in the strike on the Kramatorsk city center on Tuesday.

Kremlin says only hits ‘military’ targets after Ukraine restaurant strike

The Kremlin has announced that it only hits targets in Ukraine that are somehow “linked” to the military, after the strike on a restaurant in Kramatorsk.

“Strikes are only carried out on objects that are in one way or another linked to military infrastructure,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Switzerland steps up sanctions on Russia

Switzerland imposes more sanctions against Russian entities and individuals falling in line with the most recent economic restrictions imposed by the European Union on Moscow after the invasion of Ukraine.

Among those targeted are people, companies and organisations that support the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia, according to a statement.

They also include members of the Russian armed forces, leading representatives of state-controlled Russian media and members of the Wagner mercenary group that staged an aborted mutiny last weekend. The sanctions include asset freezes and a ban to travel to and transit through Switzerland.

Russian shelling kills three in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region: Governor

The governor of Kharkiv stated at least three people have been killed in Russian shelling.

“Unfortunately, as a result of this shelling, three civilians in the village of Vovchanski Khutory were killed near their homes,” Governor Oleh Synehubov wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

He added the victims were men aged 45, 48 and 57.

Death toll from missile strike in Kramatorsk rises to 10: Ukrainian officials

The death toll from Russia’s missile strike on the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk on Tuesday has risen to 10, including three children, the Ukrainian national police said on Telegram.

There were 61 people injured, police added.

Among those killed was a 17-year-old girl and twin sisters aged 14, according to Ukraine’s emergency services.

The missile strike targeted Kramatorsk’s busy city center Tuesday evening, hitting an area lined with apartment buildings, stores and cars, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office said.

NATO has increased presence and readiness on eastern front: Chief

NATO has increased its preparedness and military presence along the eastern front of the alliance – where its member states share borders with Russia and Belarus – Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.

“We are of course closely monitoring developments and we have already increased our preparedness and our military presence in the eastern part of the alliance,” he stated during a press conference in The Hague, alongside the leaders of seven NATO countries.

Stoltenberg reiterated that “we must not underestimate Russia, so it’s even more important that we continue to provide Ukraine with our support.”

The NATO chief also added Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine had deepened divisions within Moscow.

“What is clear is President Vladimir Putin’s illegal war against Ukraine has deepened divisions and created new tensions in Russia,” Stoltenberg continued, referring to Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s aborted mutiny.

Death toll rises to nine in Kramatorsk attack

The body of a boy was pulled out of the rubble of a building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, taking the death toll from a Russian missile strike to nine, the city mayor has said.

“Rescuers pulled a boy’s body from the rubble,” mayor Oleksandr Goncharenko wrote on the Telegram messaging app on Wednesday morning as search and rescue operations continued. He did not give the boy’s age.

The prosecutor general confirmed that 60 people were also wounded in the attack on Tuesday evening, when a missile slammed into a busy restaurant, and officials stated two girls aged 14 and a girl aged 17 were among the dead.

Pope’s peace envoy to visit Moscow

Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Pope Francis’s peace envoy, is set to start a two-day visit to Moscow “to find ways to reach a just peace.”

The visit comes after Zuppi went to Ukraine in early June where he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the behest of the pontiff.

Francis has repeatedly offered himself as a broker between the two warring sides, saying he is willing to visit Kyiv and Moscow.

“I am willing to do everything that has to be done. There is a mission in course now but it is not yet public. When it is public, I will reveal it,” the pope told reporters in April after visiting Hungary.

Death toll from missile strike in Kramatorsk rises to 8: Ukrainian officials

As rescuers sift through rubble at the scene of Tuesday’s missile strike on the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, the death toll from that attack has risen to eight, including three children, Ukraine’s state emergency service announced Wednesday.

Ukrainian officials previously reported four deaths.

At least 56 others were injured in the strike, including an infant, the emergency service said.

A Russian missile struck Kramatorsk’s busy city center Tuesday evening, Ukrainian authorities confirmed. The missile struck an area lined with apartment buildings, stores and cars, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office said. Restaurants in the targeted plaza are popular gathering spots for residents and military personnel.

“The rescuers are dismantling the rubble of the ruined building and searching for people who possibly remain under the rubble,” the emergency service added.

Wagner troops are still inside Ukraine: Pentagon

Wagner troops are still inside Ukraine after the weekend mutiny, according to the US Defense Department.

“But in terms of their specific disposition and whether they may or may not move be moving, I’m not going to speculate on that,” said Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder at a press briefing.

Ryder added that the US did not make any changes to US force posture in response to the events in Russia.

“[W]e’ve not seen anything that would, from our perspective, require us to make any type of forced posture adjustments,” he continued.

US imposes sanctions on 4 companies and an individual tied to Wagner Group

The US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on four companies involved in “gold dealing” and one person they say made “weapons deals” tied to the Wagner Group.

The announcement of the sanctions comes days after the short-lived mutiny led by the head of the mercenary group’s leader, Yevegny Prigozhin.

They target companies in Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Central African Republic that “have engaged in illicit gold dealings to fund the Wagner Group to sustain and expand its armed forces, including in Ukraine and Africa.”

The targeted individual, Andrey Nikolayevich Ivanov (Ivanov), is a Russian executive in the Wagner Group who “worked closely with Prigozhin’s entity Africa Politology and senior Malian government officials on weapons deals, mining concerns, and other Wagner Group activities in Mali,” according to a Treasury Department release.

“The Wagner Group funds its brutal operations in part by exploiting natural resources in countries like the Central African Republic and Mali. The United States will continue to target the Wagner Group’s revenue streams to degrade its expansion and violence in Africa, Ukraine, and anywhere else,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in a statement.

UN report: Over 800 civilians detained by Russia in Ukraine, with many tortured and executed

Almost 900 Ukrainian civilians have been detained by Russia — with 77 executed — in the first 10 months of the war in Ukraine, according to a United Nations report released on Tuesday.

Russian forces “engaged in widespread torture and ill-treatment of civilian detainees” and, in some cases “subjected (them) to sexual violence,” the head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, Matilda Bogner, said in a statement.

The report covers 15 months of the war, from February 2022 to May 2023.

“Torture was used to force victims to confess to helping Ukrainian armed forces, compel them to cooperate with the occupying authorities or intimidate those with pro-Ukrainian views,” Bogner added.

Civilians who were detained included local public officials, humanitarian volunteers, priests and teachers.

“Many civilian detainees were held incommunicado, in unofficial places of detention, often in deplorable conditions. In about a quarter of the documented cases, civilian detainees were transferred to other locations within occupied territory or deported to the Russian Federation. Often, no information was disclosed to their families for prolonged periods of time,” according to the report.

The UN also found evidence of civilian detentions by Ukraine, reporting a total of 75 arrests, mostly of people suspected of “conflict-related” offenses. Over half of those arbitrarily detained by Ukrainian forces also reported being tortured or mistreated, usually while they were being interrogated or immediately after arrest, Bogner said.

According to Bogner, Ukraine offered “unimpeded confidential access to official places of detention and detainees” with the exception of a group of 87 Russian sailors, while Russia did not grant similar access, despite the UN’s requests.

NATO is ready to defend against Belarus and Russia: Chief

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said a clear message was sent to Moscow and Minsk that “NATO is there to protect every ally, every inch of NATO territory.”

Stoltenberg made the remarks at a joint news conference at The Hague on Tuesday, alongside the leaders of seven NATO countries.

The NATO chief stated the alliance is ready to defend members against Belarus and Russia, and that the events involving the Wagner rebellion were “internal Russian matters.”

When asked by journalists about any security issues that may come up with Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and his forces being transferred to Belarus, all officials stated that it is too early to make any final judgments.

Risk of Zaporizhzhia attack is real as long as Russia is in charge: Ukraine

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant remains at risk of attack so long as it is controlled by Russia.

He told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Tuesday that he thinks Russia is trying to attack the power plant without being blamed for it.

“I think they’re struggling to find a way to perform it as a false flag operation or as something else that would not be directly attributable to them,” he stated.

Kuleba also added he believes the threat of nuclear weapons to be “the last argument [President Vladimir] Putin has in his pocket.”

“I think it’s nothing more than a fear game because Putin loves life too much,” he said, adding that “the West will make a big mistake if it decides to play the nuclear fear game with Putin.”

Zelensky calls Kramatorsk strike “a manifestation of terror”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called a Russian strike on eastern Ukraine’s Kramatorsk “a manifestation of terror.”

“Each such manifestation of terror proves over and over again to us and to the whole world that Russia deserves only one thing as a result of everything it has done — defeat and a tribunal, fair and legal trials against all Russian murderers and terrorists,” Zelensky stated during his nightly address Tuesday.

At least four people and dozens of others were injured after a Russian missile struck a busy area in the center of Kramatorsk on Tuesday evening. A 17-year-old girl was among those killed and an 8-month-old baby was among those injured, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Zelensky noted Russians “brutally shelled Kramatorsk with S-300 missiles.”

The Ukrainian president also added he is “sincerely grateful” to President Joe Biden for a new defense package. Earlier on Tuesday, the US Department of Defense announced additional security assistance to Ukraine, worth up to $500 million.

4 killed, including a child, after Russian missile strikes center of Kramatorsk: Ukrainian authorities

A Russian missile struck a busy area in the center of Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday evening, killing at least four people, including a child, and injuring dozens of others, according to authorities.

A second missile hit a village on the outskirts of the city, officials said.

“Russia deliberately targeted crowded areas,” Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Ihor Klymenko said in comments on Telegram.

The strikes happened at around 7:30 p.m. local time, Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of the Donetsk region military administration, told Ukrainian state TV. He later said in a Telegram post that the injured included three foreigners and one child.

A 17-year-old girl was among those killed and an 8-month-old baby was among those injured, according to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

“At the epicenter of the explosion were also apartment buildings, commercial premises, cars, a post office and other buildings, in which windows, glass and doors were blown out,” the Prosecutor General announced in a statement, adding that there may be additional people under the rubble.

An eyewitness described up to a dozen people being pulled from the rubble. It was not clear if these people were dead or alive, the man told CNN teams on the ground.

The restaurants on the plaza that was hit are popular with residents and the military, according to CNN teams familiar with the area. RIA Pizza, one of the businesses in the plaza, is especially popular with the military.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs said rescuers extinguished a fire in the building of a destroyed restaurant and the search for additional victims was underway as rubble was being cleared.

“The rubble of the destroyed cafe is being dismantled with the help of two cranes and the victims are being searched for,” the State Emergency Services said.

A second strike struck the village of Bilenke, according to Andriy Yermak, adviser to the Office of President Volodymyr Zelensky.

US secretary of state announces $500 million security assistance package for Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a $500 million security assistance package for Ukraine Tuesday.

According to a statement, the package includes:

  • Bradley and Stryker vehicles
  • Additional munitions for air defense systems
  • Artillery
  • Multiple launch rocket systems
  • Anti-tank weapons
  • Anti-radiation missiles
  • Precision aerial munitions

“The enduring courage and solidarity of the people of Ukraine continues to inspire the world. Russia started this unprovoked war against Ukraine,” Blinken said in his statement.

Blinken went on to reaffirm US commitment to Ukraine.

“Russia could end it at any time by withdrawing its forces from Ukraine and stopping its brutal attacks against Ukraine’s cities and people. Until Russia does so, the United States and our allies and partners will stand united with Ukraine, for as long as it takes,” he added.

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