Sunday, September 24, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 517

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:

Moscow declares it is “impossible” to re-join grain deal until all conditions are met

The Kremlin announced it is “impossible” for Russia to return to the expired Black Sea Grain Initiative until all conditions are met, snubbing suggestions by UN Secretary General António Guterres to rejoin the crucial deal.

“Mr. Guterres’ letter [to Russian President Vladimir Putin] once again outlined a certain plan of action and a promise that one day it would be possible to fulfil the Russian part of these agreements,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, at the moment it is impossible to return to this deal because it is not being implemented. At the same time, President Putin conveyed clearly Russia’s willingness to swiftly reinstate the agreement once the conditions are fulfilled,” he added.

Moscow has repeatedly insisted that the agreement in place does not allow for Russia to adequately export its own foodstuffs.

Commenting on the Kremlin’s attitude to the proposal of the Kyiv authorities to export grain through the ports of the Baltic, Peskov said: “It is the sovereign right of these states.”

Moscow will fight attempts to use any supply channels of Ukrainian grain for “military purposes and terrorist attacks” against Russia, Peskov added.

The Black Sea grain deal, first brokered last summer, allowed for the safe export of Ukrainian wheat from ports after Russia initially barricaded docks in the southern region and exacerbated a global food crisis.

Western allies of Kyiv have accused Russia of weaponizing the deal, the collapse of which prompted a rapid increase in global wheat prices and threatened food security in Global South countries that rely on Ukrainian grain.

Black Sea Fleet ships destroyed Ukrainian naval drones: Moscow

The Russian defence ministry says one of its Black Sea Fleet ships destroyed two unmanned Ukrainian naval drones that had attempted to attack it overnight.

In a statement, the ministry announced its patrol ship, Sergei Kotov, had been monitoring shipping in the southwest of the Black Sea at the time.

The ministry added that the fleet ships had opened fire on and destroyed the naval drones, and there had been no casualties.

Ukraine claims advances along southern front

Ukrainian forces have made gains along the southern front, according to Kyiv military officials and battlefield reports.

Andrii Kovalov, spokesperson for the Ukrainian military’s general staff said Tuesday that Kyiv’s forces “had success in the direction of Staromaiorske,” in the Berdiansk front, south of Velyka Novosilka.

Ukrainian forces are “entrenching themselves in the reached positions,” he continued, adding that Russian troops were “resisting strongly.”

In an update Tuesday, the general staff said Russian forces continued to focus on preventing Ukraine’s advances along the southern front, indicating stiff resistance.

“At the same time, the Ukrainian Defense Forces continue to conduct the offensive operation, on Melitopol and Berdiansk axes, consolidating their positions,” it added.

Some of those offensive operations toward Melitopol are taking place just south of the town of Orikhiv, with some advances reported over the past 24 hours.

The Institute for the Study of War said Ukraine was reportedly able to advance 1.7 kilometers (just over a mile) toward the northeastern outskirts of the village of Robotyne.

The advancement was documented by several Russian military bloggers.

Some reported Ukraine had shifted the vector of its attack in the area by going around Russian fortifications with the support of its artillery, driving Moscow’s troops back.

“They managed to force units of the armed forces of the Russian Federation to retreat to more advantageous positions,” Russian military blogger War Gonzo stated.

The Melitopol axis was one of the main thrusts of the early stages of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, where Kyiv first employed some of the Western equipment it received specifically for the push forward — meeting with notorious Russian resistance.

In the east, Ukrainian forces drove back the Russians near Andriivka, just south of the embattled city of Bakhmut, spokesperson Kovalov also claimed. The advance comes as Ukrainian troops continue offensive operations north and south of Bakhmut, he said.

US says it does not support attacks inside Russia

The White House announced it did not support attacks inside Russia after being asked about two drones from Ukraine that damaged buildings in Moscow.

“As a general matter, we do not support attacks inside of Russia,” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters in a press briefing.

Russia spoke of taking harsh retaliatory measures against Ukraine after the two drone attacks, including one close to the defence ministry’s headquarters, in what it called a brazen act of “terror”.

Ukraine will keep attacking targets in Crimea and Kerch Bridge: DM

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov says that Ukraine will continue carrying out attacks on Russian-occupied Crimea and the Kerch Bridge that connects it to the Russian mainland, while also admitting that Ukraine’s plan for its sluggish counteroffensive is behind schedule.

As Russia has pummeled the southern port city of Odesa and the surrounding region over the past week, Ukraine has continued to carry out strikes inside Crimea. On Tuesday, Ukrainian drones hit an ammunition depot, just a week after seaborne drones struck the Kerch Bridge.

“All these targets are official targets because it will reduce their capacity to fight against us (and) will help to save the lives of Ukrainians,” Reznikov said in an interview with CNN.

Asked if Ukraine’s goal is to permanently disable the bridge, Reznikov responded: “It’s normal tactics to ruin the logistic lines of your enemy to stop the options to get more ammunition, to get more fuel, to get more food, etcetera. That’s why we will use these tactics against them.”

Reznikov also accused Russia of operating as “a terrorist state.”

The fifth night of Russian strikes in Odesa badly damaged more than two dozen landmarks in the historic city center. Drones meanwhile pounded the region’s port infrastructure, targeting crucial grain stocks days.

UN nuclear watchdog chief says agency discovered mines at Zaporizhzhia plant site

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) discovered mines at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (NPP) site, agency chief Rafael Grossi stated Monday —after previous claims by Kyiv that it had been mined.

“IAEA experts have observed directional anti-personnel mines on the periphery of the site of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia NPP,” Grossi said in a statement, adding that the mines were spotted during a walkdown on Sunday.

Zaporizhzhia NPP is currently occupied by Russian forces. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly called on world leaders to put pressure on Russia to hand the station over to the IAEA and for Russian fighters to leave the territory of the station.

Grossi added that the IAEA team has been aware of the previous placement of mines outside and inside of the plant and they have been told that it was “a military decision, and in an area controlled by military.”

“IAEA team saw some mines located in a buffer zone between the site’s internal and external perimeter barriers,” Grossi said, noting that the mines were “situated in a restricted area that operating plant personnel cannot access and were facing away from the site,” he continued.

Grossi called having explosives on the site “inconsistent with the IAEA safety standards and nuclear security guidance.”

Ukrainian counteroffensive is behind schedule but is going according to plan

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleskii Reznikov admitted that Kyiv’s counteroffensive is behind schedule, but insisted he is “not worried” because it is going according to plan, adding that it was a “misconception that every counteroffensive should be quick.”

Reznikov listed a few reasons why the counteroffensive may be slower than anticipated, including ammunition, artillery shells and artillery systems. “It’s a question of air defense. It’s a question that we have a very long battlefield line also. And we have against us big quantity of enemies. So it’s war, it’s not a computer game,” the defense minister said in an interview with CNN over the weekend in Kyiv.

The official stated, “our generals, our commanders, they see the real situation on the battlefield. And again, I have to repeat the main value for us is the life of for our soldiers.”

The situation on the southern front in Ukraine has been slowed largely due to intricate minefields laid by Russian forces who were given time to build up defenses. Ukrainian forces have had to resort to clearing, by hand, paths through the fields, Reznikov continued.

The minister added the Russians have “serious security zones with the mines” and that it “very difficult to break through.”

“We need to use our soldiers, sappers, deminers very slowly, and very slowly preparing the corridors for the real offensive movement,” Reznikov said, adding this activity in different places would confuse Russians on the main direction that Ukraine would take.

Zelensky appeals for an end to restrictions on Ukrainian grain exports through neighboring states

With Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea at severe risk, President Volodymyr Zelensky is arguing for a lifting of European restrictions on exports via land.

The restrictions were introduced in five European states bordering Ukraine in May to protect their markets against being flooded with cheaper Ukrainian grain. They are due to expire in September.

The European Commission stated when it introduced the measures: “Wheat, maize, rapeseed and sunflower seed originating in Ukraine can continue to be released for free circulation in all the Member States of the European Union other than the five frontline Member States: Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. The products can continue to circulate in or transit via these five Member States by means of a common customs transit procedure or go to a country or territory outside the EU.”

The European Commission introduced the relief “given the exceptional circumstances of serious logistical bottlenecks experienced in five Member States.”

The restrictions have made it more difficult for Ukraine to export its grain using overland routes.

“We believe in the agreement with the European Commission, but we are preparing for any scenario. Our position is clear: blocking exports by land after September 15, when the relevant restrictions expire, is unacceptable in any form. We are in touch with all stakeholders to find a solution that suits everyone,” Zelensky stated Monday.

Zelensky’s remarks come as Russia has repeatedly struck the southern port city of Odesa, damaging grain warehouses and further threatening Ukraine’s ability to export food after the Black Sea grain deal collapsed.

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