Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 497

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:

Russia accuses EU of proposing ‘deliberate infeasible arrangement’ to allow SWIFT transactions

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova says the European Union considering the possibility of allowing Rosselkhozbank (Russian Agricultural Bank) to create a subsidiary to service agricultural exports with access to SWIFT, the international financial transaction communications network, is a “deliberate infeasible arrangement”.

The Financial Times and other media outlets reported that the EU is considering a proposal to allow a sanctioned Russian bank to create a subsidiary that could reconnect to the global financial network.

“This story follows a high-profile media campaign launched by the Westerners, Ukrainians and the UN amid the upcoming expiry of the Black Sea Initiative for the export of Ukrainian food on July 17,” Zakharova told reporters in Russia.

“It is their way of creating a semblance of some breakthrough results in the normalisation of Russian agricultural exports as stipulated in the Russia-UN memorandum,” she continued, adding: “There has been no progress on the implementation of this agreement.”

Putin will try to consolidate power after Wagner insurrection: Zelensky

As Russian President Vladimir Putin navigates the aftermath of last month’s stunning Wagner insurrection, he will be trying to “consolidate his society,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an exclusive CNN interview.

“He will (do) everything in order to break and nullify the Wagnerites’ fame and everything they were doing. He will be distancing himself from all that and will be communicating extensively in order to unify the society,” Zelensky stated.

He added that Putin had been notably out of public sight since a secretive Kremlin deal ended the mercenary group’s brief, chaotic rebellion.

“After all these events, where did Putin go?” Zelensky continued, adding, “He rarely comes outside to the street. We see him in his offices, etc., but we never see him out and about.”

UN official may visit Russia before grain deal expires

Rebeca Grynspan, secretary general of the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development, has said that she may visit Russia before the Black Sea grain deal expires.

“We will consider going to Moscow in the days that are left, but that has not been confirmed yet,” she told reporters in Geneva.

Grynspan also added that the UN is “making every effort” to ensure that the Black Sea grain deal and a memorandum of understanding to facilitate access of Russian fertiliser and other products to global markets are extended.

Kremlin spokesperson Dimitry Peskov has told reporters that Russia will announce its decision on extending the Black Sea grain deal with Ukraine, in a “timely manner”.

But he told reporters that parts of the deal which concern Russia “are still not fulfilled” and added that “there is still time for the West to fullfill those parts”.

Ukraine says ‘particularly fruitful’ few days in counteroffensive

A Ukrainian counteroffensive against Russian forces has been “particularly fruitful” in recent days, according to a senior security official.

The comments by Oleksiy Danilov, who heads Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, were Kyiv’s latest positive assessment of the month-old counterattack, although Moscow has not acknowledged advances by Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar also reported gains around the ruined eastern city of Bakhmut amid fierce Russian resistance. Russian forces captured the city in May after 10 months of fighting.

“At this stage of active hostilities, Ukraine’s Defense Forces are fulfilling the number one task – the maximum destruction of manpower, equipment, fuel depots, military vehicles, command posts, artillery and air defense forces of the Russian army,” Danilov wrote on Twitter.

Ukraine says it is prepared for possible Russian attack on Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

Ukrainian officials said they have procedures in place for a potential Russian assault on the Zaporizhzhia power plant, as Kyiv warned of a provocation from the Kremlin at the facility.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar warned Moscow is capable of “completely reckless actions” that could it try to pass off as sabotage by Ukraine. At the same time, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said there is a “great threat of sabotage by Kyiv” at the plant, which could have “catastrophic consequences.”

Maliar stated on Wednesday: “In order to minimize potential negative consequences, emergency services have been training for several days in four Ukrainian regions — Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson and Mykolaiv — to overcome the consequences of a possible terrorist attack on the ZNPP.”

Russia could attack the plant, she warned, to turn the momentum of the war in its favor and “achieve its military goals,” she added.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused the Kremlin on Tuesday of possibly planting explosives on the roof of the Zaporizhzhia plant, an assertion based on military intelligence.

Radiation levels are “within normal limits” and in the 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) zone around impacted power plants and areas around Chernobyl are “within monthly average values,” according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials in Nikopol in southern Ukraine announced the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia plant is operating normally and there have been no “significant movements of occupiers’ manpower and equipment.”

Local military official Yurii Malashko echoed Maliar and stressed that while Russian forces are “unpredictable,” Ukrainian special forces are ready for any dangerous development and have “checked the necessary equipment and worked out response plans.”

The Ukrainian state energy company Energoatom said the water level in the cooling pond is “stable and under control,” despite a Russian attack on the Kakhovka dam, which provides water for cooling the plant, causing extensive flooding in the nearby Kherson region.

Russian-installed officials in Zaporizhzhia rebuffed concerns raised by Ukrainian authorities, saying “everything is normal,” and the plant is operational.

NATO must offer ‘real security guarantees to Ukraine’: Italian PM

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has said that next week’s NATO summit should offer “real security guarantees to Ukraine”.

Speaking at a press conference alongside her Polish counterpart in Warsaw, Meloni also told reporters that Poland and Italy are “in perfect agreement on this issue”.

NATO leaders will meet at a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania next week.

Kremlin says it can’t confirm report that Xi warned Putin against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine

The Kremlin says it could not confirm a Financial Times report that Chinese President Xi Jinping had personally warned Putin against using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

The newspaper said Xi delivered the message when he visited Moscow in March.

“No, I can’t confirm it,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about the report.

He added the two countries had issued statements at the time on the content of their talks and “everything else is fiction.”

Putin says Russian economy doing better than expected

President Vladimir Putin has said the Russian economy was performing better than expected after Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin reported to him that gross domestic product growth and inflation have been surprisingly positive.

GDP growth may exceed 2 percent this year and consumer price inflation may not rise above 5 percent in annual terms, Mishustin told Putin at a meeting at the Kremlin. The International Monetary Fund expects the Russian economy to grow 0.7 percent this year.

“Our results, at least for the time being, let’s say, cautiously, are better than previously expected, better than predicted,” Putin added, according to a transcript on the Kremlin’s website.

Russia’s economy contracted 2.1 percent in 2022 and was under particular pressure in spring of last year when Kyiv’s allies imposed sweeping sanctions against Moscow over its military campaign in Ukraine.

Ukraine claims advances south of Bakhmut

Ukraine keeps making gains south of Bakhmut while facing stiff resistance to the north of the embattled eastern city, according to Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar.

Russia is “throwing all its forces” to try and stop Kyiv’s advance in the area, Maliar claimed, adding that Moscow’s soldiers are pushing in the direction of Lyman, Svatove and Bakhmut, and had set up a three-tiered defense in those areas “to gain a foothold.”

“But they are still not succeeding,” she said Tuesday.

Lyman and Svatore are cities north of Bakhmut.

In its daily update, the Ukrainian Military’s General Staff also announced Ukraine was consolidating positions around Bakhmut.

“Ukrainian soldiers continue to conduct offensive operations to the south and north of Bakhmut, strengthening on the achieved lines,” it noted.

Neither Maliar nor the General Staff reported any advances along the southern front, where Ukraine’s counteroffensive is meeting stiff resistance.

“At the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson directions, the enemy is focusing its main efforts on preventing the advance of our troops,” the general staff update said.

“At the same time, the Ukrainian Defence Forces continue to conduct offensive operations in the Melitopol and Berdiansk directions, securing the achieved positions, inflicting artillery fire on the identified enemy targets, and carrying out counter-battery measures,” it added.

Ukraine has launched more than 84,000 criminal cases on war crimes during Russia’s invasion: Zelensky

The Ukrainian National Police investigations into war crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have led to the launch of more than 84,000 criminal cases and an additional 1,838 notices of suspicion, according to President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The body has also created a special database called “War Criminal,” which now includes the records of more than 200,000 Russian service members and mercenaries, Zelensky stated.

During a speech commemorating the National Police Day, Zelensky thanked law enforcement for its work, saying it will bring Russia “to full accountability for its aggression and terror against Ukraine.”

Zelensky and NATO chief discuss upcoming alliance summit in Lithuania

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg held a phone call to coordinate their positions ahead of the alliance’s upcoming summit in Vilnius.

A former prime minister of Norway and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, Stoltenberg became NATO’s Secretary General in October 2014. On Tuesday, he announced his term was extended for a further year.

Ukraine is expected to be at the top of the agenda when the leaders of the military alliance meet in the Lithuanian capital next week.

Zelenskyy tells Macron of Russian ‘dangerous provocations’ at nuclear plant

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that Russia was planning “dangerous provocations” at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

“I warned Emmanuel Macron that the occupation troops are preparing dangerous provocations at the Zaporizhzhia plant,” Zelensky said in a statement.

“We agreed to keep the situation under maximum control together with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency],” he added.

Ukraine has “proceeded in a very precise and well-organized way so far”: German chancellor

The Ukrainian forces have “proceeded in a very precise and well-organized way so far” in the war, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Tuesday.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu, Scholz said he “never expected that everything would change from one day to the next,” but added the Ukrainian defense forces had been planning operations “in a very targeted way.”

Meanwhile, Ciolacu stated Romania had expected the conflict to end with the Ukrainian counteroffensive, but has had to reckon with a longer-lasting conflict.

While Ukraine remains in a state of war, it cannot become a NATO member, Scholz continued, adding that the criteria for NATO membership included “no open border conflicts.“

However, the important thing, he said, was NATO’s “great practical support for Ukraine,” which will continue.

Germany has “created the conditions to support Ukraine even for a long time if the war lasts for a long time,” he added, noting that many countries will be able to support Kyiv “for one, two, three, and if need be, more years, because we don’t know how long the military conflict will last.”

There are no grounds to continue Black Sea grain deal: Russia

Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said it sees no basis for renewing the UN-brokered Black Sea grain deal, which is set to expire on July 17.

“The ‘Black Sea Initiative,’ the purpose of which was to provide assistance to needy countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, has turned into a purely commercial export of Ukrainian food to ‘well-fed’ countries,” the foreign ministry claimed in a statement, also criticizing the West’s refusal to ease sanctions on Russia.

“It is obvious that there are no grounds for further continuation of the ‘Black Sea Initiative,'” the foreign ministry added.

The deal, which was first brokered by the United Nations and Turkey last July to guarantee safe passage for ships carrying vital grain exports from Ukraine, was most recently extended in May.

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