Monday, June 24, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 515

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:

Ukrainian defense minister eyes next year for country’s accession to NATO

Ukraine’s defense minister says he is eyeing next year’s NATO summit as possible timing for Ukraine to be admitted to the alliance.

Oleskii Reznikov noted that next July’s summit in Washington, DC, will be the 75th anniversary of the alliance.

“Who knows, maybe it will be very important day for Ukraine,” Reznikov told CNN, adding, “It is just my forecast.”

The United States and other NATO countries have said it is impossible to admit Ukraine now because of the ongoing war. The alliance’s Article 5 says allies will come to the aid of a member if attacked.

Reznikov acknowledged that Ukraine will only be able to join the alliance once the war is over, referencing Article 5 and saying “we have no options to have a unanimous vote” while the conflict is ongoing.

When asked if he thought the war would be over by next summer he quickly answered, “Yes. We will win this war.”

Reznikov downplayed the Biden administration’s refusal to commit to Ukraine getting admitted immediately after the war’s end.

“I think it’s not necessary,” he said. Ukraine will have a streamlined admission process and in the meantime will continue to work on the necessary reforms, Reznikov added.

The defense minister emphasized that the benefits of admitting Ukraine to the alliance have only grown given its fight against Russia.

“After the victory, after then, it will be in the interest of NATO because we became a real eastern shield of NATO or eastern shield of Europe,” he said. Ukraine has gained “real combat experience — how to deter Russians, to defeat them, to beat them with using NATO standard weaponry,” he continued.

Russia’s goal to eliminate Ukraine from map “failed a long time ago”: US secretary of state

Russia has “already lost the war” in Ukraine in terms of what Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to achieve, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN.

“The objective was to erase Ukraine from the map, to eliminate its independence, its sovereignty, to subsume it into Russia. That failed a long time ago,” the secretary said in an exclusive interview that aired Sunday.

Blinken acknowledged that Ukraine’s mission to regain territory captured by Moscow — which has gotten off to a slow start, by its own estimation — would be “a very hard fight.” He predicted that the war, which recently surpassed the 500 days mark, would continue for “several months.”

However, he said, along with the aid, military equipment and training Ukraine is receiving from various countries, Kyiv’s cause represents “the decisive element.”

“Unlike the Russians, Ukrainians are fighting for their land, for their future, for their country, for their freedom,” Blinken continued.

Ukraine needs “full-fledged sky shield” to defeat Russian attacks: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated his call for more air defense systems following another Russian attack on the port city of Odesa overnight, saying Sunday that “a full-fledged sky shield” is “the only way to defeat Russian missile terror.”

“We have already shown that we can shoot down even the Russian missiles that the terrorists boasted about. Thanks to the help of our partners and the air defense systems provided to Ukraine, our defenders of the sky have saved thousands of lives,” he said in a post on Telegram.

“But we need more air defense systems for our entire territory, for all our cities and communities,” he added.

Toll in Odesa strike rises to two killed, 22 wounded

The death toll from overnight strikes on the port of Odesa rose has risen to two, with 22 people wounded, including four children.

“A man born in 1974 was killed in the nighttime shelling,” Igor Klymenko, Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs, said on Telegram, bringing the toll to two.

“Twenty-two people were injured. Among them are four children: 11, 12, and two 17-year-olds.”

Lukashenko tells Putin Wagner forces ‘are asking to go West’

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko stated he was “keeping” Russian Wagner mercenaries in central Belarus and that Minsk was “controlling” the situation with the group’s fighters on its territory.

“They are asking to go West, ask me for permission… to go on a trip to Warsaw, to Rzeszow,” Lukashenko said to Vladimir Putin, who smiled.

“But of course, I am keeping them in central Belarus, like we agreed.”

“We are controlling what is happening (with Wagner),” he continued, adding: “They are in a bad mood.”

Putin claims Ukrainian counteroffensive ‘failed’: Russian news agencies

President Vladimir Putin told his Belarus counterpart Alexander Lukashenko that an ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive to push back Russian forces from Ukraine has “failed”, according to Russian news agencies.

“There is no counteroffensive,” Lukashenko said, according to the TASS news agency, before being interrupted by Putin: “There is one, but it has failed.”

Lukashenko is currently on a working visit to Russia.

‘Wagner Group’s footprint in Belarus is likely expanding’: ISW

The Institute for the Study of War has stated that the Wagner Group’s footprint in Belarus is likely expanding.

The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported on July 22 that approximately 50 Wagner personnel are in Sosnovy, Belarus.

The Center also reported that a field camp for approximately 300 Wagner personnel appeared at the Domanovo Training Ground in Ivatsevitsky Raion, Brest Oblast and that up to 30 Wagner instructors are training Belarusian forces across Belarus.

Two killed in Russian shelling on Kharkiv, houses pounded in Zaporizhzhia

Deadly Russian shelling continued overnight, striking targets in Ukraine’s Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia regions.

At least 2 people were killed in northeastern Kharkiv, according to local military commanders. Two others were injured including a 60-year-old man and 72-year-old woman.

“Over the past day, the enemy has been massively shelling settlements in Kharkiv, Chuhuiv, Kupyansk and Izium districts with artillery, mortars and aircraft,” Oleh Syniehubov, head of Kharkiv region military administration, said on Telegram.

“Our defenders are holding their positions in the Kupyansk sector. The enemy has made no progress,” Syniehubov added.

Elsewhere, Russian forces struck 20 civilian settlements in Ukraine’s southern Zaporizhzhia region 69 times overnight into Sunday, the head of the Zaporizhzhia region military admiration Yurii Malashko said in a statement on Sunday.

Russian troops also attacked the outskirts of Zaporizhzhia city and the district with four missiles overnight, causing no casualties, according to Malashko.

Zaporizhzhia is a key front in Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

Zelensky condemns Russian strikes on Odesa: “No excuse for Russian evil”

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has said there is “no excuse for Russian evil” following a fifth night of Russian strikes on the city of Odesa.

“Missiles against peaceful cities, against residential buildings, a cathedral… There can be no excuse for Russian evil,” the Ukrainian leader wrote in a statement on Telegram Sunday.

“As always, this evil will lose. And there will definitely be a retaliation to Russian terrorists for Odesa. They will feel this retaliation,” he added.

“All those who suffered from this latest terrorist attack are being provided with assistance. I am grateful to everyone who is helping people and to everyone who is with Odesa in their thoughts and emotions,” he continued, noting, “We will get through this. We will restore peace. And for this, we must defeat the Russian evil.”

Ukraine has been struggling in the past week to repel a wave of Russian strikes against Odesa – with its air defenses unable to cope with the types of missiles that Moscow has used to pummel the region.

Saturday’s strikes damaged a Ukrainian Orthodox Church and several “architectural monuments.”

Cathedral hit as Russia launches fresh strikes on Odesa

Ukraine’s Air Force said on its Telegram messaging app that Russia launched high-precision Onyx missiles and sea-to-shore Kalibr cruise missiles on Odesa after midnight on Sunday.

Odesa governor Oleh Kiper said on Telegram besides killing one and injuring 19 people including four children, it also damaged residential and religious infrastructure.

The RBC-Ukraine news agency also reported that the city’s largest Orthodox church, the Spaso-Preobrazhenskyi Cathedral consecrated in 1809, had been severely damaged in the attacks.

Social media videos showed rubble inside a dark church-like structure lit up by a fire and a distressed man walking and repeating, “The church is no longer.”

Odesa has been bombed several times since the start of the invasion, and in January the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO designated the historic centre of the city as a World Heritage in Danger site.

Moscow had described the attacks as revenge for a Ukrainian strike on a Russian-built bridge to Crimea – the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014.

The city has come under repeated attack since Moscow pulled out of a grain export deal last week.

Ukraine has accused Russia of targeting grain supplies and infrastructure vital to the Black Sea deal.

Moscow slams Kiev’s ‘practice of terror’ following journalist’s death

Ukrainian shelling that claimed the life of a Russian journalist and left several others injured was not a coincidence, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday.

Earlier the same day, a war correspondent from Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Rostislav Zhuravlev, was killed in an artillery strike in Zaporozhye Region.

The reporter, along with his colleagues, who also suffered injuries in the strike, was collecting information on Ukrainian cluster bomb strikes on settlements in the region, Zakharova explained.

“The Kiev regime is continuing its practice of criminal terror,” she said in a statement on Telegram.

The spokeswoman also accused Kiev’s Western backers of tacitly condoning these actions.

The US, UK, and France express their concerns over the security of journalists “in words only,” she stated.

Moscow also has “no illusions” regarding the “relevant international bodies,” Zakharova added, claiming that they are likely to “turn a blind eye to this heinous crime.”

This only shows the “political bias and dysfunctionality” of these organizations, she said, adding that their silence makes them “accomplices to the terrorist rampage of Kiev.”

Zakharova vowed there would be “well-deserved punishment” for those behind the killing of the Russian journalist, and that those who supply the Ukrainian military with cluster bombs “will share full responsibility” for his death.

Earlier this month, the administration of US President Joe Biden decided to provide Kiev with cluster munitions – a move that sparked criticism even among Washington’s NATO allies, including Canada, Germany, and the UK.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in July that the use of cluster bombs should be regarded as a war crime. These weapons were banned by more than 110 nations under a UN convention in 2008 due to the grave danger they pose to civilians. Cluster munitions release small bomblets that scatter around a wide area and can remain unexploded for years, effectively acting as landmines.

Zelensky calls for Ukraine-NATO council after Russia’s withdrawal from Black Sea Grain deal

In their phone call Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he asked NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg “to urgently convene” a meeting between Kyiv and members of the military alliance, due to Russia’s “aggressive steps” in the Black Sea.

Moscow has pulled out of a deal that allowed for the safe passage of Ukrainian grain exports during the war, throwing the near-future of the global food market into question.

“Any destabilization in this region and the disruption of our export routes will mean problems with corresponding consequences for everyone in the world,” Zelensky stated in his nightly address Saturday.

Zelensky noted a Ukraine-NATO council is urgently needed “for appropriate crisis consultations” and to decide on steps “to unblock and ensure the stable operation of the grain corridor.”

The Ukrainian leader added he expects the meeting to occur in a few days.

Number of Wagner fighters in Belarus “may reach about 5,000”: Ukraine’s Border Guard

The number of Wagner fighters in Belarus “may reach about 5,000,” according to Andrii Demchenko, a spokesperson for the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine.

“At the beginning, when mercenary groups began to enter Belarus, their number was estimated in the hundreds. However, now, given the available information about representatives of private military companies, their number is certainly different and may reach about 5,000,” Demchenko said in a media briefing with Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform on Saturday.

He noted that such a number of Russian mercenaries does not pose a direct threat to Ukraine, but the border guards are ready for any situation.

“The situation on the border is fully under control,” he added.

Serhiy Naiev, the commander of the combined forces, commented on the situation on the border with Belarus in a Facebook update Saturday. He said “the steps that the members of the “Wagner” PMC in Belarus are taking aim to put psychological pressure and intimidate the population of Ukraine.”

Naiev added that “in order to prevent enemy actions, five sections of roads leading to the state border with Belarus were destroyed over the last week.”

He stated Ukrainian fighters created and mined more than 60 forest landslides, adding that “more than two and a half thousand anti-tank mines were laid.”

Wagner fighters arrived in Belarus following a short-lived mutiny by the private military group against the Kremlin last month. On Wednesday, its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was apparently seen in a video greeting his fighters in the country.

The paramilitary group had served as a key cog in Russia’s war on Ukraine, but the future of its relationship with Moscow is now unclear.

Meanwhile, Belarusian forces will soon hold joint military exercises with Wagner fighters near the border with Poland, according to the country’s defense ministry.

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