Sunday, June 23, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 525

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:

Putin says Russia will return to grain deal if expectations are met

President Vladimir Putin has told Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Moscow is ready to return to the Black Sea grain deal as soon as the West meets its obligations to Russia’s grain exports, the Kremlin said.

In a phone call with Erdogan, Putin also listed its reasons for exiting the deal last month.

According to a statement by the Turkish presidency, the two leaders also agreed that Putin would visit Turkey.

A senior Turkish official added that discussions between Ankara and Moscow are ongoing for a visit in late August.

Ukraine’s military adds another drone model to its arsenal: DM

A new model of First Person View (FPV) drones is being adopted by the Ukrainian military, the defense minister announced on Wednesday, as Kyiv increasingly deploys unmanned aerial vehicles aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the front lines.

“This FPV drone, like other models, is manufactured in Ukraine, but mostly from foreign components. The next level is to produce major components in Ukraine and provide diversification to guarantee the independence and stability of the army supply under any circumstances,” defense minister Oleksii Reznikov stated.

In a Facebook post, Reznikov said over the last 15 months the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has already adopted into service more than 30 UAV models of different types — “reconnaissance, attack, kamikaze drones and barrage ammunition.”

UAVs were first deployed to help artillery locate Russian targets and now, many believe they are being used to hit targets well inside Russian territory.

A recent government initiative called “Army of Drones” relaxed import restrictions and taxes for drone technology, spurring the development of a local industry to better supply the country’s military.

In September, Reznikov said the procedures to accept weapons and military equipment were simplified. “Formalities that used to take up to two years, we now perform in a few weeks,” he said.

Mykhailo Fedorov, deputy prime minister and minister for digital transformation, explained during a drone competition event in June that “FPV drones are becoming more and more relevant on the front line because it’s an opportunity to do a targeted strike, helping narrow the focus of artillery.”

The military needs “tens of thousands of FPV drones every month,” he added.

Russia ready to return to grain deal if it is performed in full: Kremlin

Russia is ready to promptly return to the grain deal but it should be implemented in part pertaining to Moscow, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“Russia, and President Vladimir Putin has already repeated that one hundred times, is ready to promptly return to the deal proper. Not only to talks but to the deal itself. [It] is ready to do [this] immediately. The deal should be simply implemented in part pertaining to Russia. This has not been done up to now,” Peskov said.

The grain deal ended on July 17.

The agreement can be resumed “in a new format” but specific actions of Western countries will be required to this end, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin said earlier.

Ukraine claims small advances in the east, says Russian forces remain mostly on defensive

Ukrainian forces have been able to drive Russian troops from their positions in the eastern part of the country, while elsewhere Moscow’s armies remain mostly on the defensive, Kyiv officials have said.

“In the course of the offensive assault by the Defense Forces, the enemy was forced to withdraw from its positions in the area south of Avdiivka,” the spokesman for the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Pavlo Kovalchuk, said on Wednesday.

Also in the east, Ukrainian troops continue their offensive around the embattled city of Bakhmut.

“[Russia] made unsuccessful attempts to regain the lost positions north and west of Klishchiivka, as well as northwest of Kurdiumivka,” Kovalchuk continued, adding that Ukrainian defense forces continue to hold back the Russian offensive at the Kupyansk and Lyman directions.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Russian forces are mostly on the defense, but, according to the Ukrainian military, they have tried to recover some of the lost territory on the Velyka Novosilka – Berdiansk axis.

“The adversary launched air strikes in the vicinities of Blahodatne and Staromaiorske (Donetsk oblast),” it said on Wednesday, noting, “The enemy made unsuccessful attempts to regain lost ground east of Staromaiorske.”

“[In Zaporizhzhia] the adversary focuses its main efforts on preventing further advance of Ukrainian troops,” it added.

Moscow calls US reaction to drone attack justification of Kiev’s terrorist methods

The United States pretty much officially justified Kiev’s terrorist methods with it’s reaction to a recent drone attack on Moscow, Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, stated on Wednesday.

“The Kiev regime is doing all this with money and with technical support, weapons, technical information, and so on, precisely from the West. This is how they now reacted to Russia, to Moscow residents who work in the office center. In fact, the United States officially justified terrorist methods and confirmed that civilian objects can be destroyed, endangering the lives of civilians. No words of condemnation,” Zakharova told a briefing.

Moscow calls summits on Zelensky’s peace plan attempt to create coalition against Russia

Meetings on a peace resolution to the Ukraine conflict based on the peace plan of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky are Kiev’s attempt to create a coalition against Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday.

“Meetings initiated by the Kiev regime and its Western curators to promote Zelenskyy’s (peace) formula is a trick. It is an attempt to take advantage of sincere intentions of a number of countries to create an anti-Russian coalition,” Zakharova told a briefing.

The diplomat added that these meetings are aimed at monopolizing Kiev’s right to present peace initiatives, while diminishing the importance of peace plans of other countries.

Ukrainian official praises air defences in latest attack

The head of Ukraine’s president’s office has praised air defences for protecting civilians from Russian air attacks but stresses the need for tougher sanctions.

On Telegram, Andriy Yermak said, “Heroic work by the air defence tonight. The Russians again tried to attack civilians, our ports, elevators. They do everything to circumvent sanctions and obtain components for the production of weapons.

“They want to increase its quantity in order to kill people, destroy infrastructure, and cause famine in the countries of the Global South,” he continued.

“It is possible to stop this with tougher sanctions, which will constantly increase and affect the military industry of the Russian Federation. Also, everyone can do more if they block the chains through which Russia receives sanctioned components. Every country can do more,” he added.

Nearly half of those held in Russian detention centers in Ukraine’s Kherson were tortured, subjected to sexual violence: Report

Nearly half of Ukrainians held in detention centers in Kherson by Russian forces were subjected to widespread torture including sexual violence, according to a new report published Wednesday.

The report, compiled by the Mobile Justice Team, part of the UK, EU and US-sponsored Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group (ACA), and was set up by international human rights law firm and foundation, Global Rights Compliance, in April 2022, and is led by world-renowned British Barrister, Wayne Jordash KC. The team’s work is primarily funded by the EU.

The new report reveals analysis of an initial pool of 320 cases of detention in Kherson, across more than 35 identified detention centers.

Of those victims, both male and female, at least 43% explicitly mentioned practices of torture in the detention centers, citing sexual violence as a common tactic imposed on them by Russian guards, with preliminary results showing military personnel were most likely to experience torture.

One of the authors of the report says those with families in the military were also targeted.

“A lot is just punishment, and in, in addition to punishment for [their family member’s] actual military service, it’s also punishment, it seems for the being a Ukrainian citizen really,” Anna Mykytenko, senior legal adviser and Ukraine country manager for Global Rights Compliance told CNN.

At least 36 victims from the pool analyzed mentioned the use of electrocution during interrogations, often genital electrocution by Russian guards. Other victims mentioned threats of genital mutilation, and at least one victim was forced to witness the rape of another detainee by a foreign object covered in a condom.

“In relation to men, it’s more the majority of crimes is sexualized torture, and that’s usually torture of genitalia so that’s a form of punishment [for being Ukrainian] and kind of precludes them from having children,” Mykytenko adds.

The report adds that suffocation, waterboarding, severe beatings and threats of rape were other techniques commonly used against victims by Russian guards in the Kherson torture chambers, according to the specialist unit. Mykytenko says these patterns of rape and torture point to a Russian intent to eradicate Ukrainian identity.

“There is sort of an intent to destroy or eliminate Ukrainian identity because in some cases, it can be seen that those caught or, sometimes almost hunted for, had Ukrainian flags or other state symbols,” she said.

Barrister Wayne Jordash, managing partner and co-founder of Global Rights Compliance, shared a similar view, saying the sexual violence tactics being uncovered underscore Putin’s plan to extinguish Ukrainian identity and include a range of crimes evocative of genocide.

“At the very least, the pattern that we are observing is consistent with a cynical and calculated plan to humiliate and terrorize millions of Ukrainian citizens in order to subjugate them to the diktat of the Kremlin,” he stated in a statement accompanying the report.

Mykytenko does believe some of the patterns seen in Kherson could eventually be considered genocidal, though she acknowledges it is difficult to prove.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations of torture and human rights abuses in Ukraine despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, investigated, compiled and shared by international human rights and news organizations.

Russian officials have not yet commented on the report.

Russian drone strike “deliberately” targeted infrastructure on Danube River: Ukraine

Overnight drone strikes in Odesa targeted the Danube port of Izmail, causing damage to some of its structures, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has announced.

The military did not specify which of the Danube ports had been targeted but said “the multi-story administrative buildings suffered significant damage.”

Ukrainian air defenses managed to shoot down 11 attack drones over Odesa, which the country’s Southern Command said “deliberately” targeted infrastructure on the Danube River.

“During a night attack in the south of Odesa region, air defense forces destroyed 11 attack UAV,” it added.

“The enemy deliberately tried to destroy the port infrastructure on the Danube. Continuing to terrorize the grain initiative issue, it attacked both the elevator and the grain storage facility,” it noted.

Ukraine’s Southern Command said in a post on Twitter Wednesday: “Ukrainian grain has the potential to feed millions of people worldwide. However, Russia chose the path of killing, starvation, and terrorism.”

Since Russia terminated the grain deal on July 17, Moscow has unleashed a flurry of attacks on grain supplies in key Ukrainian cities and the Danube River has become the latest target.

Latest drone strike in Odesa an attack on “global food security”: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated the latest drone strike on the Odesa port infrastructure by Russia was an attack on “global food security” and called on the international community to intervene.

“Russian terrorists have once again attacked ports, grain, and global food security,” Zelensky said in a Telegram post on Wednesday.

“The world must react,” he stressed.

Zelensky added that “Russia can and must be stopped” in face of attacks that deliberately destroyed Ukrainian grain elevators in Odesa.

Zelensky also commended Ukraine’s air defense units for another “heroic” night, after the Ukrainian air force shot down 23 attack drones that were aimed at Odesa.

“Another night of war, another night of our heroic air defense. We are defending ourselves to the maximum of our capabilities,” he continued.

Since pulling out from the Black Sea grain deal on July 17, Russia has unleashed a flurry of attacks on grain supplies in key Ukrainian cities, including the port city of Odesa. At least 60,000 tons of grain, enough to feed 270,000 people for a year, had been wiped out by Russia’s ramped up assault, British Ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward said last month.

Ukrainian Air Force says it downed 23 Russian drones that targeted Odesa

The Ukrainian Air Force says antiaircraft units shot down 23 Russian attack drones overnight but admitted that some were able to get through and hit port infrastructure in the Odesa region.

Russian forces attacked with drones over Odesa that were launched from three directions, Russia’s Kursk and Primorsko-Akhtarsk and Chauda in the Russian-occupied Crimea region, the Air Force announced in a statement on Wednesday.

“The forces and means of the Air Force, in cooperation with the air defense of other components of the Ukrainian Defense Forces, destroyed 23 attack UAVs,” it said.

“Most of the ‘Shaheds’ were destroyed in Kyiv and Odesa regions. Unfortunately, some of the drones launched by the enemy hit the port infrastructure in Odesa region,” it added.

Fires broke out after port facilities were struck, including grain infrastructure, according to the head of the military administration in Odesa.

Russian drone strike damages port infrastructure in Odesa region: Ukrainian military official

A Russian drone strike damaged the port and industrial infrastructure of the Odesa region, the head the regional military administration, Oleh Kiper, said on Wednesday.

“At night, the enemy directed attack UAVs to the south of Odesa region. As a result of the attack, fires broke out at the facilities of the port and industrial infrastructure of the region, and a grain elevator was damaged. All response teams are at the scene,” Kiper posted on Telegram.

As of 5:30 a.m. local time, there were no reports of casualties, according to Kiper, though he added that the military command will provide the final data and results of combat work.

The strikes come not long after Ukraine shot down more than 10 drones over Kyiv early Wednesday.

Ukraine shoots down more than 10 drones over Kyiv: military official

Ukraine shot down more than 10 drones over Kyiv, according to Serhiy Popko, head of the Kyiv City Military Administration, in a Telegram post early Wednesday.

Initial information indicates that Russian forces used Shahed barrage munitions in the barrage of attacks, Popko said.

“Drone groups approached Kyiv simultaneously from several directions. However, the air defense forces detected and destroyed all aerial targets – over 10 UAVs – in a timely manner,” Popko stated.

He added debris from the drones has fallen in the districts of Solomianskyi, Holosiivskyi, and Sviatoshynskyi in Kyiv and that some non-residential buildings and road surfaces were damaged, but no serious damage or fires.

He said there is no information on casualties so far.

Early Wednesday, the head of Odesa regional military administration, Oleh Kiper also warned of possible drone attacks on the Odesa region.

Kiper asked people in the Odesa to take shelter while its air defenses were at work, according to a Telegram post.

Both Ukraine and Russia reported cross-border attacks Tuesday. Moscow said Kyiv again attempted a drone strike in Moscow, targeting the exact same building that was hit on Sunday. Kyiv accused Russia of shelling a medical facility in the southern port city of Kherson, killing a doctor and wounding a nurse.

US says signals Russia prepared to return to Black Sea grain deal talks

The United States has been told that Russia is prepared to return to talks on a deal that had allowed the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine grain, but “we haven’t seen any evidence of that yet,” the US envoy to the United Nations stated.

Russia quit the deal in mid-July.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that if Russia wants to get its fertiliser to global markets and facilitate agricultural transactions, “they’re going to have to return to this deal.”

“We have seen indications that they might be interested in returning to discussions. So we will wait to see whether that actually happens,” she added, without giving further details.

F-16 questions linger as Ukrainian pilots set to start training this month

The US is still waiting for European officials to submit a final plan for training Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets, which the US will have to authorize before the program can actually begin, officials familiar with the matter told CNN.

The training is supposed to start this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and European officials have said publicly. But two months after President Joe Biden announced US support for training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s, there remain a number of critical details to work out.

It is also still unclear which countries will commit F-16s to the training program—and to Ukraine itself once the program is finished. Transferring the planes to Ukraine will require separate US approval.

US defense officials told CNN that the US is still deciding whether to send American pilots to help train the Ukrainians, but that no decisions will be made until a final training plan is authorized.

The training program is being supported by a coalition of 11 NATO countries and requires official US approval because the F16 is an American technology.

The course itself is expected to be conducted in Denmark and Romania, with help from the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and the UK, officials have stated.

But the details, including the dates, locations, and length of the syllabus “are still being worked out,” National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said during a briefing last week.

Economy to see growth of 5 percent in 2024: Ukraine

Ukraine expects its economy to grow by about 5 percent next year, driven by investment in reconstruction and stronger consumer demand, a senior Economy Ministry official has said.

The ministry expects gross domestic product to grow by around 2.8 percent this year, said Natalia Horshkova, head of the ministry’s department for strategic planning and macroeconomic forecasting.

“We expect 5 percent growth in 2024. The driver will be investment dynamics,” she told a roundtable on the economy.

Ukraine’s economy shrank by about a third last year after Russia’s invasion. The annual fall was the largest since independence more than 30 years ago.

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