Monday, September 25, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 505

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 could withdraw from Black Sea grain deal: Putin

President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia could withdraw from the Black Sea grain deal until other sides fulfil their promises.

The deal, which allows for the safe export of Ukrainian grain and fertiliser from Black Sea ports, is due to expire on Monday. Moscow has repeatedly threatened to block its extension over aspects of its implementation affecting Russia’s own exports.

Putin, speaking on state television on Thursday, stated that Russia was in contact with the United Nations on the matter but said he had not seen a message addressed to him from the UN Secretary General suggesting a compromise to salvage the deal.

New weapons supply to Ukraine only escalates conflict: Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that supplies of new weapons to Ukraine would change nothing on the battlefield, but would only further escalate the conflict there.

Putin, speaking on state television on Thursday, also stated tanks provided by Western powers to Ukraine would be a “priority target” for Russian forces fighting there.

He reiterated his opposition to Ukraine joining NATO, saying this would threaten Russia’s own security.

Lavrov discusses Ukraine with Chinese diplomat

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says he discussed Ukraine with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Indonesia.

“An exchange of views took place on the current situation around the Ukrainian crisis. Attention was paid to assessing the efforts of the international community to launch a peaceful negotiation process on Ukraine,” the ministry said in a statement.

EU to help UN and Turkey in brokering grain deal

The European Commission is helping the United Nations and Turkey try to extend the Black Sea grain export deal, which could expire on Monday unless an agreement is negotiated.

Anonymous sources familiar with the discussions told the Reuters news agency that the EU is considering connecting a subsidiary of the Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to the international payment network SWIFT to allow for grain and fertilizer transactions.

An EU spokesperson said the commission’s priority is to ensure that Ukrainian grain can reach the world market and it calls on all parties to extend the deal. Heavily sanctioned Russia has baulked at renewing it.

“We are, of course, open to explore all solutions that contribute to our objective whilst continuing to ensure that Russia’s ability to wage war in Ukraine is hampered as much as possible,” the EU spokesperson said.

Biden: ‘No one can join NATO while a war is going on’

US President Joe Biden predicts Ukraine will join NATO and Putin will eventually decide it is not in the interests of Russia to continue the war.

Ukraine’s NATO membership, though, must be timed right, he said.

“No one can join NATO while a war is going on” because it would guarantee a third world war, Biden added.

Biden made the comments at a news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in Helsinki after a US-Nordic summit.

Ukraine’s allies pledge $1.68bn in military aid: Defence minister

Ukraine’s allies have pledged more than 1.5 billion euros ($1.68bn) in military aid for Kyiv during a two-day NATO summit this week, Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov says.

“Meetings in Vilnius were very productive,” Reznikov wrote on Twitter.

“Ukraine will receive over €1.5 billion in military aid from its international partners,” he added.

Among those that pledged aid was Germany, which plans to send a 700-million-euro ($785m) aid package, which he said included 25 Leopard 1A5 tanks.

Reznikov also hailed aid packages from France, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and Norway and from non-NATO member Australia.

NATO leaders said Ukraine should be able to join the military alliance at some point in the future.

US President Biden to meet Nordic alliance after NATO summit

US President Joe Biden held talks with Nordic leaders at Finland’s presidential palace, visiting NATO’s newest member a day after a summit in Lithuania.

Biden travelled to Finland to participate in a US-Nordic summit with the leaders of Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Norway.

Finland’s decision to join NATO broke with seven decades of military non-alignment after Russia invaded Ukraine last year.

Ahead of a bilateral meeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Biden hailed Finland as an “incredible asset”.

“I don’t think NATO has ever been stronger,” he told reporters at the palace, adding, “Together we’re standing for shared democratic values.”

Niinisto said Finland’s NATO membership heralded “a new era in our security”, and applauded Biden for “creating unity” at the Vilnius summit.

Ukrainian general confirms that Kyiv has received cluster munitions from US

A Ukrainian general confirmed to CNN Thursday that Ukraine has received controversial cluster munitions from the US, after President Joe Biden said last week that he had taken the “difficult decision” to approve their transfer to Ukraine.

“We just got them, we haven’t used them yet, but they can radically change [the battlefield],” Brig. Gen. Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, commander of the Tavria Joint Forces Operation, said in an interview Thursday with CNN’s Alex Marquardt.

“The enemy also understands that with getting this ammunition, we will have an advantage. The enemy will give up that part of the terrain where it is possible to use this,” he added.

The arrival of the American clusters has not been previously reported.

Senior leadership will decide on the “areas of territory where it can be used,” Tarnavskyi said, noting that “this is a very powerful weapon.”

Tarnavskyi emphasized the restrictions on the use of clusters, saying their use is prohibited in heavily populated areas, even if occupied by Russian forces. The US has said they have written assurances from Ukraine that they will not be used in areas with civilians and that their use will be tracked for eventual de-mining operations.

“The Russians think that we will use it on all areas of the front,” he continued, adding, “This is very wrong. But they are very worried.”

The US said the decision to provide Ukraine with cluster munitions is due to Kyiv’s low supply of standard artillery rounds. The supply of clusters is “temporary,” according to US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

“Once [production] hits a level where unitary round production can satisfy Ukraine’s needs, then there will be no need to continue giving cluster munitions,” he said Tuesday, declining to provide a timeline.

Cluster munitions are canisters that carry tens to hundreds of smaller bomblets, which break open above an intended target, dispersing the bomblets over that area. They are fused by a timer to explode closer to or on the ground, spreading shrapnel that is designed to kill troops or take out armoured vehicles such as tanks.

The weapons have been banned by more than 100 nations, because the bomblets they disperse fall over a wide area, posing a risk to non-combatants. Russia has, however, used these munitions during its invasion of Ukraine.

“No doubt” Ukraine will join NATO after war: US defense chief

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Thursday he has “no doubt” Ukraine will join NATO once its war with Russia is over.

“We heard just about every country in the room say as much,” Austin said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in Vilnius following the NATO summit in the Lithuanian capital.

Austin stated that there is “still work to be done” in bringing Ukraine’s equipment and training up to NATO standards.

While “we are doing this work now as they fight this war,” he added, “there is more that will need to be done to ensure that they have a full complement of capabilities.”

1 person dead and 2 injured as Ukraine intercepts Russian UAVs over Kyiv region: Local officials

One person was killed in Kyiv after Ukrainian air defenses intercepted unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over the region early Thursday morning, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.

According to Klitschko, the body of a man was found while responders were extinguishing an apartment building fire in Kyiv’s Podil district.

Air defense systems intercepted Russian airstrikes launched early on Thursday morning, the Kyiv Regional Military Administration wrote on Telegram.

“Air defense is operating in the region, on the outskirts of Kyiv city. Stay in shelters until the air raid is over!” stated Serhii Popko, the head of the Kyiv city military administration.

Klitschko reported damage in several parts of the capital and said two injured people in the Darnytsia district have been hospitalized.

“We have removed any doubts” that Ukraine will join NATO: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has expressed optimism about Ukraine’s path to becoming a member of NATO.

“It is very important that during these two days of the summit we have removed any doubts and ambiguities about whether Ukraine will be in NATO. It will be! For the first time, not only do all allies agree on this, but a significant majority in the alliance is vigorously pushing for it,” he said in his nightly address on Wednesday following the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

At the summit, US President Joe Biden and G7 leaders unveiled a substantial show of support for Ukraine, offering a joint declaration of support for Ukraine aimed at bolstering the war-torn country’s military capability.

“These are concrete security guarantees that are confirmed by the top 7 democracies in the world. Never before have we had such a security foundation,” Zelensky added.

In his address, he also thanked the countries that are set to begin training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 combat aircraft.

Russia says NATO has returned to its “Cold War schemes” following summit in Lithuania

The Russian foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that the results of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, demonstrate that the military alliance has “finally returned to the Cold War schemes.”

“The ‘collective West’ led by the United States is not ready to put up with the formation of a multipolar world and intends to defend its hegemony by all available means, including military ones,” the ministry said in a statement.

“NATO’s attempts to cover up their aggressive aspirations and actions with the UN Charter do not stand up to scrutiny. The Alliance and the world organization have nothing in common,” it added.

In the same statement, the foreign ministry stressed Moscow will carefully analyze the results of the summit in Vilnius and respond in a timely manner “using all means and methods at our disposal.”

The ministry also vowed that Russia would continue to strengthen its military and defense system.

Biden: “Our commitment to Ukraine will not weaken”

Speaking at the end of the two-day NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, US President Joe Biden reaffirmed US support for Ukraine.

“We will not waiver. I mean that. Our commitment to Ukraine will not weaken. We will stand for liberty and freedom today, tomorrow, and for as long as it takes,” he said Wednesday.

“The United States has built a coalition of more than 50 nations to make sure Ukraine defends itself, both now and is able to do it in the future as well,” he added.

Biden remarked that despite nearly a year and a half of war, Ukraine remains free and independent. He also emphasized that everyone wants the war to end on just terms which withhold the basic principles of the United Nations charter — sovereignty and territorial integrity.

NATO has remained unified throughout the war in Ukraine, while Russian President Vladimir Putin was betting the conflict would break the alliance apart, Biden stressed.

BHe emphasized that the alliance is “more vital to our shared future”, adding Putin “thought our unity would shatter at the first testing. He thought democratic leaders would be weak. But he thought wrong”.

The US and NATO “stepped up” together, Biden said, pointing to the beginning of the war when he said he was in constant contact with other world leaders in the alliance and the European Union. He added from then on, allied countries have continued to support Ukraine as they “defend their integrity and sovereignty.”

Russia is militarily and politically fragile: French president

Russia is currently “fragile, militarily and politically,” French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday in a speech at the NATO summit in Lithuania.

He said there are “signs of division in Russia,” seemingly referring to the recent short-lived rebellion led by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner group.

The French president pledged to “be there” for Ukraine, even if the war is a “war of attrition,” adding that the support for Kyiv is sustainable.

However, the French leader said NATO allies must do more for Ukraine, adding that the time to do so is now, during the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

UK is not “Amazon” for weapons deliveries: British defense secretary says he told Ukraine last year

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said on Wednesday that Kyiv’s allies “want to see gratitude” from Ukraine for their support while recalling how he told Ukrainian officials during a visit to Kyiv in June of 2022 that the UK was not “Amazon,” the global retail site, when he was given a list of weapons demands.

“There is a slight word of caution here which is that, whether we like it or not, people want to see gratitude,” Wallace told reporters on the sidelines of the NATO summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.

“I said to the Ukrainians last June, when I drove 11 hours to be given a list, I’m not Amazon,” he said.

Wallace stated ally countries are helping Ukraine, not just for their sovereignty, but also for wider freedoms. He added Ukrainian officials sometimes need to persuade officials to authorize that aid, like lawmakers on Capitol Hill in the United States, for example.

“You’ve got to persuade doubting politicians in other countries that it’s worth it and it’s worthwhile and they’re getting something for it,” Wallace continued, adding, “And you will sometimes hear grumbles not from the administration in the American system, but you’ll hear from lawmakers on the Hill: ‘We’ve given $83 billion worth or whatever, you know, we’re not Amazon,'” again referring to the online store.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, in response to the defense secretary’s comments, said, “We have always been very grateful to the United Kingdom, always grateful to the prime minister, or perhaps I should say prime ministers, and to the defense minister, Mr. Wallace.”

“I just don’t really understand what the issue is. We are grateful, Britain is our partner. Maybe the minister wants something special?” he added.

Ukrainian official says G7 declaration is an “important victory” for country

The head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, Andriy Yermak, described the NATO summit in Lithuania as successful for Ukraine, stressing that the Group of 7 declaration of support is an “important victory.”

Yermak stated in a Telegram post that the NATO summit had been “not easy, but successful.”

“We have powerful defense agreements and a Joint Declaration of Support for Ukraine agreed by the G7 countries. It is an important step towards the conclusion of a system of bilateral security agreements between Ukraine and individual guarantor countries on security guarantees for our country,” he said.

The G7 declaration was “an important victory for Ukraine on its way to NATO … that takes into account both the needs of Ukraine and the capabilities of the Allies,” Yermak added.

“The next step is to conclude a system of bilateral security agreements between Ukraine and individual guarantor countries,” he added.

Yermak also pointed to the creation of mechanisms for collecting reparations and prosecution of those responsible for alleged war crimes against Ukraine.

“It is important that we win the war and sign security guarantees for our country before the NATO summit in Washington in 2024. They will be valid until we join NATO,” he concluded.

What’s in the G7 declaration: The document outlined that G7 countries will work with Ukraine on “bilateral, long-term security commitments and arrangements” toward three goals, including:

  • “Ensuring a sustainable force capable of defending Ukraine now and deterring Russian aggression in the future”
  • “Strengthening Ukraine’s economic stability and resilience”
  • “Providing technical and financial support for Ukraine’s immediate needs stemming from Russia’s war as well as to enable Ukraine to continue implementing the effective reform agenda”
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