Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 496

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:

Kremlin says all drones in Moscow attack ‘destroyed or neutralized’

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that all drones involved in an attack on Moscow on Tuesday were either “destroyed or neutralized.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced earlier it intercepted five Ukrainian drones near Moscow on Tuesday, calling the incident a “terrorist” attack in.

Asked to comment on the attack during a regular conference call with journalists, Peskov stated he “cannot give a professional assessment of the defense system’s performance.”

“We can only state that all these drones were either destroyed or neutralized using the appropriate systems,” he added.

Ukraine welcomes NATO chief’s extended term

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he looks forward to working with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, whose leadership term was extended by one year on Tuesday.

“Excellent news on the extension of Jens Stoltenberg’s mandate as NATO Secretary General. Tough times demand strong leadership. Jens Stoltenberg has demonstrated just that,” Kuleba tweeted.

“I look forward to furthering our cooperation,” he added.

Stoltenberg said he was “honored” by the transatlantic military alliance’s decision to prolong his leadership for another year, until 1 October 2024.

“The Transatlantic bond between Europe and North America has ensured our freedom and security for nearly 75 years and in a more dangerous world, our Alliance is more important than ever,” Stoltenberg tweeted.

The former prime minister of Norway and UN special envoy on climate change became NATO secretary general in October 2014.

Members of NATO have staunchly supported Ukraine throughout the conflict, distributing billions of dollars worth of military aid and imposing sanctions on Russia to squeeze its economy.

Finland’s accession in April 2022 doubled NATO’s border with Russia and changed the security landscape in northeastern Europe, in a major blow to President Vladimir Putin’s agenda.

But the war in Ukraine has also exposed cracks in the alliance amid tensions over Kyiv’s bid for NATO membership, with some members voicing concerns that such a move could cause tensions with Moscow to boil over.

Putin thanks allies for support during Wagner mutiny

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday thanked allies who expressed solidarity with Moscow after last month’s short-lived rebellion led by the Wagner private military company.

Speaking at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference, Putin thanked the leaders attending the summit for “coming out as a united front.”

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko were all attending the virtual gathering of Eurasian leaders hosted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The summit marked Putin’s first appearance on the world stage since the attempted rebellion in June.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation countries who have expressed support for the actions of the Russian leadership in protecting the constitutional order, the life and security of citizens,” he stated.

“We highly appreciate it,” he continued.

Putin added that Russia was “withstanding all “sanctions and provocations” and that the country was “steadily developing.”

The attempted insurrection steered by Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin marked the biggest threat to Putin’s tenure since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. The long-time Russian leader has since stepped up his public appearances, working hard to reassert his authority.

Putin claimed in his address that the Russian people came out against the Wagner rebellion.

“The solidarity and high responsibility for the fate of the Fatherland was clearly demonstrated by Russian political circles and the entire society by coming out as a united front against the attempted armed rebellion,” he continued.

While many of Russia’s top officials rushed in to express support for Putin, there were no large scale protests or other shows of unity.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson claims drones targeted Moscow civilian infrastructure

An alleged Ukrainian drone attack targeted civilian infrastructure in Moscow on Tuesday, a spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed.

Spokesperson Maria Zakharova’s remarks came after Russian authorities said air defenses intercepted five Ukrainian drones that forced a number of flights to be diverted from the Vnukovo airport serving the capital.

The alleged drone attack near Moscow was an “attempt to attack an area where civilian infrastructure is located, including the airport,” Zakharova said in a Telegram post.

Ukraine rarely comments on attacks on Russian soil, which have ramped up in recent months.

In her statement, Zakharova stated Vnukovo airport receives overseas flights and called the alleged attack “yet another act of terrorism.”

“Considering that Volodymyr Zelensky carries out these attacks with weapons supplied by the West or purchased with Western funds, this is international terrorism,” she added.

No casualties or damage occurred as a result of the drone interceptions, Russia’s Defense Ministry announced earlier.

Death toll rises to 3 in Sumy drone attack: Mayor

Three people have now been confirmed dead following a Russian drone attack on the northeastern Ukrainian city of Sumy Monday, the city’s mayor confirmed Tuesday.

Four Russian drones struck the center of the city on Monday, hitting two apartment blocks and an administrative building, according to local officials.

The number of people wounded has also increased, from 19 to 21, Mayor Oleksandr Lysenko stated.

“My condolences to all the families, friends and relatives of the victims. Eternal memory. We will never forgive,” Lysenko said in a Telegram post.

The Sumy regional military administration called the strike “another terrorist act of the Russian Federation” and declared Tuesday a day of mourning in the city.

Russian military says it shot down 5 drones in attempted “terrorist” attack near Moscow

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced it intercepted five Ukrainian drones near Moscow on Tuesday in what it called a “terrorist” attack in a statement on Telegram.

“This morning, an attempt by the Kyiv regime to carry out a terrorist attack using five UAVs against targets in Moscow region and New Moscow was foiled,” the ministry said.

Four of the drones were intercepted by air defenses in the New Moscow region, it added.

The fifth drone was “suppressed by electronic warfare and crashed on the territory of the Odintsovo district of the Moscow region,” the ministry said.

There were no casualties as a result of the drone interceptions, the ministry said.

Moscow mayor says attempted Ukrainian drone attack forced airport to divert flights

An attempted Ukrainian drone attack forced an airport serving Moscow to divert “some flights” on Tuesday, the Russian capital’s mayor said.

“For security reasons, some flights from Vnukovo airport have been temporarily rerouted,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote on Telegram.

All drones detected were eliminated by air defense forces and there were no casualties or injuries, he added.

Russian aviation authorities announced earlier that six flights were diverted from Vnukovo airport — one of four airports that serve the capital — due to “technical issues.”

All flight restrictions at the airport were lifted at 8 a.m. local time, according to Russian authorities.

Ukraine rarely comments on attacks on Russian soil, which have ramped up in recent months as the war increasingly comes home to the Russian people.

2 drones intercepted near Moscow

Two drones were shot down near Moscow early Tuesday morning, according to Russian state media.

State-run TASS news agency reported one drone was intercepted in Novaya Moskva (New Moscow) and the other in Kaluga Oblast southwest of the capital.

There were no injuries or damage after the drones were intercepted, state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Zelensky calls on Biden to invite Ukraine into NATO now – even if membership doesn’t happen until after war

President Volodymyr Zelensky called on US President Joe Biden to invite Ukraine into NATO “now” – even if membership does not come until after the war.

Speaking in English to CNN, Zelensky said that Biden was “the decision maker” about whether Ukraine would be in NATO or not.

“He supports our future in NATO,” but an invitation now would be a huge motivator for Ukrainian soldiers, Zelensky stated in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett.

Ukraine’s aspiration to join is enshrined in its constitution and its relationship with NATO dates back to the early 1990s, according to the alliance. NATO is due to hold a summit in Lithuania on July 11 and 12 where leaders are expected to discuss Ukraine’s membership.

“Now,” Zelensky said in response to a question about why not wait for an invitation.

“It’s very important,” he stressed, adding, “It’s so important to feel that you are really being around allies in the future.”

The president noted that he understood that Ukraine would “never be in NATO before war finishes.”

NATO stipulates that the settlement of territorial disputes is “a factor in determining whether to invite a state to join the Alliance.”

“We understand everything,” he stated, adding, “But this signal is really very important. And depends on Biden’s decision.”

Russia has deployed over 180,000 troops to 2 major battlefronts” Ukrainian military

Russia has deployed over 180,000 troops to the two major eastern battlefronts, according to Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the eastern grouping of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

“More than 180,000 (Russian troops have been deployed) across the area of responsibility (of the Eastern Group of Forces) … The Lyman-Kupyansk front is longer, which is why the enemy is concentrating their forces there,” Cherevatyi said in an interview with Ukrainian media Monday, adding there are “more than 120,000 enemy troops” on Lyman-Kupyansk direction at the moment.

Cherevatyi called it “a pretty powerful grouping.” He said it included “air assault and mechanized units, units of the Bars combat army reserve, territorial forces” and new Storm Z assault companies, that he said recruited people with criminal records.

Cherevatyi stated that there are around 50,000 Russian troops on the Bakhmut front.

The cities of Lyman and Kupyansk are about 100 kilometers apart, north of Bakhmut on Ukraine’s eastern front.

Meanwhile, Hanna Maliar, deputy defense minister of Ukraine, reported frequent clashes near Bakhmut.

“The situation is changing very rapidly,” Maliar said in a Telegram post. “Control over the same positions can be lost and regained twice a day.”

General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukrainian Land Forces, echoed Maliar’s comments in an interview with Ukrainska Pravda, a Ukrainian online newspaper, on Monday.

“The enemy is trying to transfer units to the most threatening directions for counterattacks, trying to destabilize the situation, cause losses to Ukraine and disrupt the logistics of the defense forces,” Syrskyi stated, adding that “the threat of the enemy offensive actions from the side of Bakhmut in the direction of Chasiv Yar remains.”

Chasiv Yar is about 15 kilometers west of Bakhmut.

Syrskyi noted that Russians are “desperately clinging to the positions and strongholds that were once occupied by the Wagnerites,” a reference to the mercenary force that led the Russian offensive around Bakhmut.

Ukrainian forces have been able to stop Russian troops from moving within Bakhmut, he continued.

Ukraine hopes for international tribunal into Russia’s crimes of aggression

Ukraine hopes an international tribunal into alleged Russia’s crimes of aggression can be held based on the work of a new evidence-gathering centre launched Monday.

Speaking during a news conference marking the centre’s launch in the Hague on Monday, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General, Andriy Kostin, said he anticipated prosecutors working at the centre will not only gather evidence but also begin building a “prosecutorial strategy” which could be used by a future tribunal.

“I hope that this tribunal to prosecute the crime of aggression would be international because the crime of aggression committed by Russia against Ukraine is the crime against global peace and security. And to fill in the gaps in international law we need an international response,” Kostin stressed.

Ukraine has already launched criminal proceedings in domestic courts for Russian crimes of aggression, according to Kostin, adding that 312 indictments have already been issued.

The EU also expressed support for an international tribunal despite the bloc’s Justice Commissioner, Didier Reynders, telling journalists that the first preference remains to amend existing treaty, the Rome Statute so that Russia’s crimes of aggression in Ukraine could be tried before the International Criminal Court.

“We are open to work on all the possible solutions to have a dedicated tribunal to organize a trial by the crime of aggression…We want to be sure that we will have a very large, very broad support from the international community,” Reynders added.

United States Assistant Attorney General, Kenneth A Polite Jr., told the news conference that the US “supports an international tribunal,” stressing its commitment to finding a “proper forum to ensure justice and accountability” for Russian crimes of aggression.

As it stands, the newly launched International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine (ICPA) will not have direct investigative powers, EU criminal justice agency chief, Ladislav Harman told the news conference. Although unable to issue arrest warrants and indictments, the centre will focus on centralizing evidence of Russian crimes of aggression in Ukraine in one database with a view towards identifying evidentiary gaps “as early as possible.”

Ukraine says it has retaken more than 14 square miles of territory from Russia in past week

Ukraine claims to have taken back 9 square kilometers of territory in the east of the country and 28.4 square kilometers in the south in the past week, totalling about 14 square miles, according to Hanna Maliar, the deputy defense minister of Ukraine.

Heavy fighting is ongoing in the east with Ukrainian forces advancing in the Bakhmut direction, and Russia attacking the Lyman, Avdiivka and Maryinka directions, she said in her latest update Monday.

“The enemy is trying to force our troops out of their positions, but is receiving a worthy rebuff,” added Maliar.

Russia has stepped up attacks in the east, she added, while Ukraine continues to push its offensive in the south, in the Melitopol and Berdiansk sectors.

According to Maliar, “they conducted offensive operations in the areas of Novodarivka, Pryiutne; Novodanylivka, Robotyne; Novosilka, Staromayorske, and were successful.”

The total area liberated in the south is 158.4 square kilometers, she said.

Turkey will continue to oppose Sweden’s NATO bid until “demands are met”: Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey “will not back down” on its opposition to Sweden joining NATO until all of its “demands are met.”

Erdogan stated his country’s expectations were made clear and that “we defend the same principles that we defended last year.”

“We do want them to harbor the separatist organizations and FETO rascals. And I want it to be known that we are not going to back down until all of those demands are met,” Erdogan told journalists Monday.

Russia will hold local elections in 4 annexed regions in September: Authorities

Russia is set to hold local elections in the four Ukrainian regions controlled by Moscow, the head of the Central Election Commission (CEC) said Monday.

Voters will elect local governors and other officials in September, Ella Pamfilova told Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting.

The date for those elections is set for September 10, the CEC said on Telegram.

Russia-appointed governors of the four annexed regions, that the West regards as illegal, had put forth an initiative to hold local elections, according to Pamfilova, who added that the initiative was approved after consideration together with the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Russian defense ministry.

“The leaders of all four new subjects — the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions — came to us with an initiative [suggesting] that the need to hold these elections has emerged,” she stated.

In September, 41 other regional elections will take place to elect governors, members of legislative assemblies or both across Russia, Pamfilova added.

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