Friday, June 21, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 514

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:

Kiev strikes ammunition depot in Crimea: Official

A Ukrainian drone strike has resulted in an explosion at an ammunition depot in the central part of the Crimean peninsula, Governor Sergey Aksyonov stated on Saturday. According to preliminary information, the incident has not resulted in any casualties, he added.

Writing on Telegram, Aksyonov said the detonation had taken place in the Krasnogvardeysky district.

“A decision has been made to evacuate the population within a 5km radius from the site of the emergency and place them in temporary accommodation facilities,” he added.

The governor stated that the authorities had also suspended rail traffic in the area in order to “minimize risks,” while expressing hope that the emergency would be dealt with quickly.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces have confirmed the strikes, claiming that they “had destroyed an oil depot and Russian military warehouses” in the area.

Ukraine attacks Russia’s Belgorod region with cluster munitions: Governor

Ukraine has targeted a village in Russia’s Belgorod Region with cluster munitions, governor Vyacheslav Gladkov has said.

At least three cluster munitions were employed by the Kiev forces during a large-scale attack on the settlement of Zhuravlevka, Gladkov wrote on Telegram on Saturday.

According to the governor, 21 artillery shells and ten mortar rounds were also fired at the village. It was also targeted with a single kamikaze drone.

There were no casualties or damage in Zhuravlevka as a result of the shelling, he added.

Smaller artillery, mortar and drone attacks targeted at least a dozen other settlements in Belgorod Region on the same day, Gladkov wrote.

In the village of Ilek-Penkovka, 12 households were affected by an explosion, with the facades of buildings being damaged and windows shattered, he said, adding that injuries had been avoided.

The US announced the delivery of cluster munitions to Ukraine earlier this month, with President Joe Biden describing it as a stopgap measure that was necessary due to a shortage of regular artillery rounds among Kiev’s Western backers.

The controversial shells, which contain multiple bomblets that are dispersed over a large area, have been banned in more than 100 countries. However, neither Ukraine, the US, nor Russia are signatories of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM).

Russian President Vladimir Putin noted last week that the US itself had earlier branded the use of cluster munitions “a crime,” saying this was exactly how he regarded the delivery of such weapons to Kiev by Washington.

Ukraine says slower pace of counteroffensive due to later-than-expected start

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenky says his country’s counteroffensive is progressing slower than anticipated because the operation started later than initially expected.

“We did have plans to start it in spring, but we didn’t, because frankly, we had not enough munitions and armaments and not enough properly trained brigades — I mean, properly trained in these weapons,” Zelensky told the Aspen Security Forum via video on Friday.

“Because we started a bit late, it can be said — and it’s the truth, shared by all experts — that it provided Russia was the time to mine all our land and build several lines of defense,” he added.

“Definitely they had a bit more time than they needed; because of that, they built all of those lines. And really, they had a lot of mines on our fields. Because of that, a slower pace of our counteroffensive actions,” Zelensky stated.

The Ukrainian president said despite the difficulties, his country was making progress.

“We didn’t want to lose our people, our personnel and our servicemen, we didn’t want to lose equipment and because of that, they were quite careful about the offensive actions,” he continued, adding, “I would say that we are approaching a moment when relevant actions can gain pace because we are already going through some mine locations and we are demining these areas

US to send Ukraine another package of military aid worth $400mn

The United States is planning to announce a new package of military assistance for Ukraine worth up to $400 million as soon as early next week, Reuters reported on Friday, citing three Joe Biden administration officials.

The new package will include artillery munitions, air defense missiles and ground vehicles for Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive, the report said.

More specifically, the Biden administration is planning to send several Stryker armored personnel carriers, mine clearing equipment, munitions for National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS), munitions for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), anti-tank weapons and munitions for Patriot and Stinger anti-aircraft systems, the report added.

At the same time, the new assistance package will not include cluster munitions, according to the report.

Earlier this week, the US Defense Department announced a new security assistance package worth $1.3 billion that for the first time included 155mm cluster artillery rounds.

Zelensky says Ukraine must neutralize Crimean bridge that was target of recent attack

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that the Kerch Bridge connecting Russia to Crimea serves as a lifeline for Moscow’s invasion and must be neutralized.

“The Crimean bridge, this is not just a logistical road, this is the road used to feed the war with ammunition, and this is being done on a daily basis,” Zelensky told the Aspen Security Forum, where he appeared by video.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 in a move that Ukraine, its allies and various international bodies condemned as illegal. Zelensky characterized the bridge as an extension of that Russian offense, calling it “an enemy facility built outside the law, outside international laws and all applicable norms.”

“So understandably this is our objective,” he continued, adding, “Any target that is bringing war, not peace, must be neutralized.”

The Ukrainian president also reiterated his government’s objective is to “reclaim the whole of the Crimea.”

“It’s our sovereign territory, an unalienable part of our nation,” he continued.

Ukraine has claimed responsibility for an attack that killed two people and wounded a third on the Crimean bridge earlier this week.

The nearly 12-mile crossing is the longest in Europe and holds huge strategic and symbolic importance for Moscow.

Monday’s attack was the second on the bridge since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, after a fuel tanker exploded while crossing it in October.

US seeking to accelerate F-16 training of Ukrainian pilots

The United States is trying to accelerate the training of Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, but this process takes time, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Friday.

“The typical training for F-16 pilots takes a very long time, and we are trying to accelerate it, but that requires technical adjustments,” Sullivan stated at the Aspen Security Forum.

Washington is cooperating with its allies in the Netherlands, Romania, Denmark, Norway and other countries to establish the locations, to identify the pilots, and to begin the training, and this process has been going on over the past weeks, he added.

“I cannot give you a precise date, but I can tell you this is a matter of weeks, it is not a matter of months,” Sullivan said on the timeline for the training.

Sullivan also pointed out that there are several issues in the training process, including translating manuals into the Ukrainian language and creating technical platforms to conduct the process “as rapidly as possible.”

The US will not stop these efforts until Ukrainian pilots can work with F-16s, he added.

Earlier this month, Pentagon’s Joint Staff Director for Operations Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims II said that the conditions on the battlefield in Ukraine were not “ideal” for using F-16 fighter jets given that Russia continues to possess air defense capabilities.

US intelligence officials see no reason to doubt Putin’s claim that he has nuclear weapons in Belarus

US intelligence officials have no reason to doubt Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that he has moved a batch of tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, senior officials with a division of the US Defense Department said Friday.

Putin said last month at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum that “the first (Russian) nuclear warheads were delivered to the territory of Belarus,” adding that they were placed there for “deterrence.”

Russia has about 4,477 deployed and reserve nuclear warheads, including around 1,900 tactical nuclear weapons, according to the Federation of American Scientists.

It is not clear how much of that arsenal Putin intends to move, and Western officials have never publicly confirmed that any weapons have been transferred to Belarus.

But senior officials with the US Defense Intelligence Agency told a small group of reporters Friday that analysts have “no reason to doubt” Putin’s claims about the transfer.

The officials would not disclose why they believe that. They acknowledged that the weapons are difficult for the US intelligence community to track, even through satellite imagery.

US and Western officials told CNN earlier this month that it did not appear Belarus had finished upgrading the necessary storage facilities to house tactical nuclear weapons, and that available satellite imagery had not shown any signs of the kind of preparations and security that would be standard at a Russian nuclear facility.

Other sources told CNN, however, that there are various facilities in Belarus, dating back to the Soviet era, that could feasibly house some of the weapons.

Asked last week whether he had seen signs that Russia had moved the weapons, UK Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace told CNN that the UK had “seen signs of this progressing,” and noted that Putin “doesn’t always lie.” When pressed, however, Wallace also declined to elaborate on the signs he had seen.

US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller similarly declined to answer questions earlier this month about where the weapons actually are located.

Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said last month that in the face of aggression, he would show “no hesitation” in using the Russian tactical nuclear weapons stationed on his country’s soil.

But the senior DIA officials said they do not believe Lukashenko would have any control over the arsenal. It would most likely be entirely controlled by Russia, the official said.

They also added that DIA does not believe the movement of the weapons to Belarus would alter the global nuclear landscape or increase the risk of a nuclear incident, because they would be in storage rather than forward deployed, and because they will be controlled by Russian forces.

Miller stated the US has “not seen any reason to adjust our own nuclear posture nor any indication Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon

US to push as fast as possible to deliver F-16 capability to Ukraine: Senior official

The United States will push “as fast as possible” to deliver F-16 capability to Ukraine, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Friday.

“We are going to push as fast as possible to be able to deliver that capability to Ukraine,” Sullivan stated at the Aspen Security Forum.

Russia’s intelligence service says it can forgive MI6 for its plea to Russian spies

The leadership of the British foreign intelligence service “can be forgiven” for making a plea to Russian spies to share secrets and work with MI6, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) said Friday, according to state news agency TASS.

The SVR was responding to remarks by MI6 chief Richard Moore on Wednesday, in which he appealed to Russians “wrestling with their conscience” to take a stand against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime and “share secrets with MI6.”

“The current head of the British foreign intelligence service, the MI6, Richard Moore, has publicly urged Russians to start working for the United Kingdom’s intelligence services and promised protection for traitors. He thinks this will put an end to the conflict in Ukraine,” the SVR said in a news release made available to TASS.

The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service went on to say that “anyone who knows a little bit about this subject can remember that the Anglo-Saxons’ long-standing tradition is to eliminate well-worn traitors and defectors,” adding “this has not been done professionally for a long time, as there would be a clear trail.”

The SVR said during World War II, British intelligence officers sacrificed many lives and dedicated a lot of effort to the fight against Nazism, and that they did it in a courageous, professional, and subtle manner while fighting alongside their Russian allies, according to TASS.

The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service made a reference to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, saying the mysterious M., who is James Bond’s boss in the series, “commands beautifully” and “intelligently.”

The SVR also referenced the Cambridge Five spy ring and George Blake — a double agent who used his position as an MI6 officer to spy for the Soviet Union.

“Take heed, colleagues,” the SVR urged their British counterparts. However, “given some staff circumstances, it could be said that the current MI6 leadership can be forgiven for such mistakes,” the SVR added.

Speaking in Prague on Wednesday, Moore said “there are many Russians today who are silently appalled” by the actions of the Russian military in Ukraine.

“They are watching in horror as their soldiers ravage a kindred country. They know in their hearts that Putin’s case for attacking a fellow Slavic nation is fraudulent,” Moore stated.

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