Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 498: At least 5 killed, dozens injured in Russia missile strike on Ukraine’s Lviv

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:

Ukraine attacked Crimea more than 70 times this year: Russia

Ukraine targeted Crimea with more than 70 drone attacks this year and also attacked southern Russia’s Krasnodar and Rostov regions, the Russian RIA Novosti news agency quoted the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, as saying.

“The targets, as a rule, are energy and industrial infrastructure facilities, the destruction or damage of which threatens peaceful life and human health,” Patrushev was quoted as saying during a security meeting in Krasnodar.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.


At least 5 dead and more than 30 injured in Lviv attack: Officials

The death toll in Thursday’s Russian attack on a residential building in Lviv has risen to at least five people, with at least 36 people injured, according to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.

The State Emergency Service also said that seven people were rescued without injuries and 64 people were evacuated at the scene.

Earlier Thursday, the Lviv military administration announced the missile attack was “the most devastating attack on civilians in the Lviv region since the beginning of the full-scale war.”

Officials stated the missile attack destroyed more than 30 houses, over 250 apartments, 10 dormitories, two university buildings, an orphanage and a school. It also damaged one substation in Lviv.


Zelensky to visit Turkey on Friday

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday will pay a working visit to Istanbul and meet his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

During one-on-one and interdelegation meetings, Erdogan and Zelensky are set to discuss relations between the two countries, as well as regional and international issues, including the latest developments in the Russia-Ukraine war, the Black Sea grain deal which is set to expire on July 17, and ensuring peace and stability in the Black Sea region.


US to announce cluster munitions for Ukraine: Report

The New York Times reports that the US is expected to announce it will give cluster munitions to Ukraine to fight back against Russian forces, according to an unnamed senior Biden administration official.

Last month, a senior Pentagon official said the US military believes cluster munitions would be useful for Ukraine but they had not been approved for delivery due to congressional restrictions and concerns among allies.

More than 120 countries have banned cluster munitions, which release large numbers of bomblets that can kill indiscriminately over a wide area and pose a threat to civilians.

Earlier in the day, Human Rights Watch said both Russian and Ukrainian forces had used cluster munitions that have killed Ukrainian civilians.


Zelensky’s visit to Sofia is proof it wants to expand conflict: Kremlin

The Kremlin says Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Bulgaria shows that Kyiv is doing all it can to drag as many countries as possible into the conflict.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said discussions, like those Zelensky was having in Bulgaria, would not affect the outcome of its “special military operation” in a big way and pointed to the situation on the frontline as evidence.

Earlier, Zelensky stated he was in the Bulgarian capital Sofia for talks with the country’s president and prime minister on security and next week’s NATO summit.


Russia is not tracking Wagner’s leader: Kremlin

The Kremlin announced it is not tracking the movements of Wagner Group’s leader after Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said Yevgeny Prigozhin was no longer in Belarus.

Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters that no date had been set for a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and Lukashenko and said he could not yet confirm discussion details.

Lukashenko had earlier said Prigozhin would be discussed.


Prigozhin is “free”: Lukashenko

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said he did not believe Russian President Vladimir Putin would seek vengeance on Yevgeny Prigozhin.

“I know for certain that Prigozhin is free. And right now, as well, he is free. We spoke several times on the phone. Yesterday after lunch, we talked with him on the phone and just discussed … further actions of Wagner [private military company].”

Lukashenko stated earlier that Prigozhin, who has not been seen in public since June 24, was now in Russia, despite an earlier claim that he would be exiled to Belarus.

Speaking at a news conference in Minsk on Tuesday, he added, “What will happen to Prigozhin next? Well, everything happens in life. But if you think that Putin is so malicious and vindictive that he will ‘kill’ Prigozhin tomorrow – no, this will not happen.”

Putin knows Prigozhin “much better than I do,” Lukashenko said.

“You have to understand that Putin knows Prigozhin much better than I do and knows him longer than I do, about 30 years, as they both lived and worked in St Petersburg. They had very good relations with each other, maybe even more than that,” he continued.

In the wake of Prigozhin’s aborted insurrection and Lukashenko’s intervention, the Kremlin touted Lukashenko’s relationship with Prigozhin.

“The fact is that Alexander Grigoryevich [Lukashenko] has known Prigozhin personally for a long time, for about 20 years,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on June 24, adding, “And it was his personal proposal, which was agreed with Putin. We are grateful to the President of Belarus for these efforts.”


Problem of relocating Wagner fighters has not been resolved: Belarus

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko says the issue of relocating forces from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has not yet been resolved, the TASS news agency reported.

Last month, Lukashenko brokered a deal to end an armed mutiny in Russia by allowing the Wagner Group’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin to come to Belarus, but on Thursday, he said Prigozhin was still in Russia.

Lukashenko added his offer to accommodate some of Wagner’s fighters in Belarus still stood.

The fighters, Russia announced, can go to Belarus and sign up with its regular armed forces or demobilise.


Belarus president says Wagner chief is back in Russia

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who last month brokered a deal to end an armed mutiny in Russia, says Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was no longer in Belarus.

Lukashenko stated on June 27 that Prigozhin had arrived in Belarus as part of the deal.

“As for Prigozhin, he’s in St Petersburg. He is not on the territory of Belarus,” Lukashenko told reporters.


Lviv missile strike “another tragedy and terrorist act”: Ukrainian official

The deadly Russian missile strike on an apartment building in western Ukraine Thursday was “another tragedy and terrorist act,” a senior Ukrainian official stated as rescue efforts were ongoing in the city of Lviv.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Ukrainian President’s Office, said preliminary information shows the attack was carried out with a Kalibr cruise missile.

“Russia manufactures missiles, uses Western components, and circumvents sanctions. It can only be stopped by force,” Yermak continued, adding, “We need more air and missile defense than we have now.”

Lviv Mayor Andrii Sadovyi said at least four people were killed.

Sadovyi added nearly 100 houses and 50 cars were damaged in the attack. Authorities have already allocated funding to restore the homes, and all residents who lost their houses have been offered temporary accommodation, he continued.

Prior to Thursday’s attack Lviv had largely been spared from the relentless bombardment seen across much of Ukraine during the Russian invasion.

The city is located close to the Polish border and Yermak warned there are “no guarantees” that Russian missiles “will not accidentally hit neighboring countries during the terror of Ukraine.”

He also urged NATO members to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the defense alliance.

“Of course, the security guarantees and Ukraine’s membership in NATO are the real signals that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is afraid of. Inviting our country to join NATO and strengthening our defense capabilities will help us defeat the Russians,” Yermak noted.


UN wants more access to Ukraine nuclear plant amid sabotage warnings

The United Nations’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is seeking increased access to the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine as Moscow and Kyiv accused each other of planning acts of sabotage at what is Europe’s largest nuclear power facility.

The IAEA said it wants additional access to the Zaporizhzhia plant to “confirm the absence of mines or explosives at the site”.

“With military tension and activities increasing in the region where this major nuclear power plant is located, our experts must be able to verify the facts on the ground,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi said in a statement.

Recent inspections at the site by IAEA staff had not found “any visible indications of mines or explosives”, but additional access “would help clarify the current situation at the site” at a time when “unconfirmed allegations and counter allegations” are circulating, Grossi added.


Number injured in Lviv strike attack rises to 34

At least four people have been killed, and 34 others injured, in a Russian missile strike on a residential building in Lviv early on Thursday morning, according to Ukrainian authorities.

The Russian missile struck at around 2:46 a.m. local time on Thursday (7:46 p.m. on Wednesday ET), according to the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The Lviv Regional Prosecutor’s Office has opened a pre-trial investigation into the violation of the laws and customs of war in relation to the attack.

“Search and rescue operations are underway to dismantle the collapsed building,” the Prosecutor General’s Office said in a statement.

“Priority measures are being taken to document the crime committed by the army of the aggressor country,” it added.


At least 3 killed in Russian missile attack on Lviv city

At least three people have been killed in a Russian missile attack on a residential apartment block in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, one of the largest attacks on the city’s civilian infrastructure since the start of Russia’s invasion last year, officials said.

“Three people have been killed,” Lviv’s Mayor Andriy Sadovyi said on his Telegram channel on Thursday morning.

Emergency workers were continuing to “clear debris and pull out all the dead”, he added.

Sadovyi stated in an earlier post that eight people had been wounded, but it was unclear if the three who died were among those first reported with injuries.

President Volodymyr Zelensky offered his condolences to the victims’ families and vowed to respond to the attack.

“There will definitely be a response to the enemy. A tangible one,” Zelensky said in a Telegram post.


Ukrainian president signs bill adopting sanctions against 18 legal entities

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has signed a bill that adopts sanctions against 18 entities which he claimed are linked to Russia.

“Our principle is clear: the activity of all individuals and legal entities, which is the foundation of the Russian regime’s ability to terrorize Ukraine and the rules-based international order, must be blocked,” Zelensky said in a statement on Telegram.

The statement, which was shared by the Ukrainian presidency, noted 18 legal entities registered in Russia, Luxembourg and the Republic of Cyprus.

The presidency announced Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, will be responsible for monitoring the implementation of the decision.


Zelensky says Russia uses Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as a cover for shelling nearby areas

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky claims that Russia has been using the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as a cover for shelling neighboring cities.

Zaporizhzhia NPP, with six reactors, is the largest nuclear power station in Europe. It was mostly built in the Soviet era and became Ukrainian property after its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Russia captured the plant in March 2022. Since then, international and local experts have voiced grave warnings, not only for the safety of the plant’s workers but also for fear of a nuclear disaster that could affect thousands of people in the surrounding area.

Russian forces have “set up artillery on the territory of the plant or near it and fire,” Zelensky said in a virtual address to students and professors from several universities in Argentina on Wednesday.

“Moscow is considering various scenarios, including those similar to the man-made disaster at the Kakhovka hydroelectric power station. That is, for cynical military purposes. But we should not even think about which scenario is most likely. We should only think about how to prevent any disaster scenario,” Zelensky added.

It’s not yet clear whether the Russian-occupied Nova Kakhovka dam collapsed in June because it was deliberately targeted or if the breach was caused by structural failure. Dozens of people died in the flooding, according to officials, while it also caused widespread damage to homes and farmland. Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for the collapse.

Ukrainian officials earlier on Wednesday said that they are well prepared for a Russian attack at the Zaporizhzhia power plant, though they warned that Moscow is capable of anything, even “completely reckless actions” that it could try to pass off as sabotage by Ukraine.

Russia claimed to be taking precautionary measures to counter a threat at the plant by Ukraine amid increasing rhetoric. According to Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman, the situation at Europe’s largest nuclear station is “quite tense,” and the potential for “sabotage by the Kyiv regime” is “high,” which could have “catastrophic consequences.”

The UN’s nuclear watchdog said in an update on Wednesday that there are no visible indications of mines or explosives at the power plant, although it requested additional access to the site.


Ukraine’s military says Russia continues to focus main efforts in eastern areas, including Bakhmut

Russia continues to focus “its main efforts” on the areas of Lyman, Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Marinka in eastern Ukraine, with more than 30 combat engagements taking place there within the last day, according to Ukraine’s General Staff.

In the Lyman sector, more than 10 villages came under artillery fire as Russian forces unsuccessfully tried to force Ukrainian troops out of their positions near Novoyehorivka in the Luhansk region, the General Staff said in an update.

A further 10 localities were shelled in the Avdiivka sector, where Ukrainian defense forces claim to be continually holding back the Russian offensive in the city of Avdiivka.

“The enemy launched air strikes in the areas of Bohdanivka and Toretsk,” the General Staff said, adding, “More than 10 localities suffered from enemy artillery shelling, including Vasyukivka, Khromove, Oleksandr-Shultine and Pivnichne, in the Donetsk region.”

According to the General Staff, Ukrainian defenders “successfully repelled enemy attacks in the areas south of Berkhivka and Bohdanivka in the Donetsk region.”

“At the same time, they continue to conduct offensive operations south and north of the city of Bakhmut, strengthening their positions,” the update continued.

The commander of Ukraine’s “Terra” reconnaissance unit, Mykola Volokhov, described the situation in the Bakhmut area as “quite positive and optimistic.”

“Over the last month (in the Bakhmut sector) we have been making steady progress in moving forward: liberating Ukrainian land from the enemy, regaining what was lost. We are starting to enter the territories that we did not initially control,” Volokhov stated.

“The nature of the fighting is a lot of infantry battles, but lately, both our side and the enemy have been using a lot of tanks,” he continued, adding, “Previously, it was just infantry, but now the enemy is actively showing off their equipment. For us, this is a good sign, because it means that they are not able to cope and need to pull out reserves.”

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military announced it also repelled all attacks around the town of Marinka.

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

Ukraine’s General Staff also noted that Russia launched five drones within the last day, two of which were destroyed by Ukrainian air defense.


US secretary of state calls on Turkey to support Sweden’s bid to join NATO

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Turkey to support Sweden’s membership in NATO ahead of the alliance’s summit next week.

Blinken, on a call with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on Wednesday, emphasized the “importance of NATO unity in such a critical time” and asked Turkey to allow Sweden to join, according to state department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

The secretary of state said the United States and Turkey have “longstanding and deep bilateral defense ties” and that Turkey’s ability to work with NATO is a priority, the spokesperson said in a statement.

President Joe Biden stated Wednesday that the US “fully supports” Sweden’s membership in NATO after meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

Turkey has been blocking Sweden’s accession for a number of reasons.

Among them is the claim that Sweden allows members of recognized Kurdish terror groups to operate in the country, most notably the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Sweden changed its terrorism laws earlier this year, making it a crime to be part of these groups, but it is not clear whether this will convince Turkey to allow the country to join NATO.

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