Friday, June 14, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 526: Ukraine says over 10,000 civilians killed since Russia’s invasion began

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:

Blinken calls for end to food blockades

Food blockades must never be used in conflict, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says after Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain export deal with Ukraine.

“Hunger must not be weaponised,” Blinken told the UN Security Council in New York.

He presented a joint declaration that more than 80 countries had signed. They pledged to take action to end the use of civilian starvation as a tactic in war.

“I urge all member states to join this communique,” Blinken added.

EU targets drones in new Belarus sanctions

The EU has banned drone sales to Belarus while adding several prominent state TV presenters to its sanctions list over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Minsk’s crackdown on the opposition.

The latest measures target a further 38 figures and three state-owned entities, including leading “propagandists” on state television, prosecutors and prison officials.

To try to reduce the flow of goods to Russia that could be used on the battlefield in Ukraine, the EU banned the export of aircraft engines and drones to Belarus.

The 27-nation bloc also tightened restrictions on the sale of semiconductors, camera equipment and other technology that could help Moscow’s war effort.

Kyiv to investigate attacks on grain ports as possible war crimes

Ukraine is investigating Russian attacks on agricultural infrastructure as possible war crimes, the prosecutor general’s office told the Reuters news agency.

Since Russia quit the Black Sea grain deal on July 17, Moscow has intensified attacks on port and grain infrastructure.

In a statement, the prosecutor general’s office said, “Overall, since the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Russian forces have conducted more than 100 attacks on Ukraine’s grain and port infrastructure”.

“Ukraine is investigating these acts as potential war crimes,” it added.

Ukrainian authorities are already reviewing more than 97,000 reports of suspected war crimes and have filed charges against 220 suspects in domestic courts.

With the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Ukraine is investigating the winter campaign of air raids on national energy and utilities infrastructure and the attack on the Nova Kakhovka hydroelectric dam as possible war crimes.

Germany rules out sending Taurus missiles to Ukraine

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius has ruled out supplying Ukraine with long-range Taurus missiles, saying it is “not a top priority”.

In May, Ukraine asked Germany to provide it with air-to-surface cruise missiles, but the government has previously ruled out the request.

“We continue to believe that this is not our top priority right now,” Pistorius said during a visit to a mountain infantry brigade in Bavaria.

Pistorius stated the concerns about sending “special range” missiles to Ukraine “are obvious”.

“Our American allies are not delivering these cruise missiles, either,” he added.

Despite initial hesitation, Germany has drastically ramped up its support for Ukraine and is now the second-biggest supplier of military assistance to Kyiv after the United States.

More than 230,000 people enlist in Russian army: Medvedev

Since the start of the year, Russia has enlisted more than 230,000 additional personnel into the army, Moscow’s Deputy Security Council Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said.

This year, Moscow has ramped up military recruitment to beat back an ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive and hold previously captured territories.

“According to the Ministry of Defence, from 1 January to 3 August… a total of more than 231,000 people have been accepted for contract service,” stated Medvedev.

Moscow hopes to lure Russians to join the army with financial incentives instead of beginning a formal mobilisation drive.

While authorities have not disclosed their targets, various estimates say Moscow could be trying to recruit about 400,000 people.

More than 75 countries pledge to end the use of food as a weapon

More than 75 countries will “commit to take action to end the use of food as a weapon of war and the starvation of civilians as a tactic of warfare”, senior US officials said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will release the communique later on Thursday when he chairs a UN Security Council meeting on famine and food insecurity.

Blinken will also announce about $362m in new US funding to “tackle the drivers of food insecurity and enhance resilience” in nearly a dozen African countries and Haiti, a second US official said.

“We’re not seeking to turn this into a showdown in Russia or any other country,” the second senior official stated.

The United States, the EU and others have previously accused Russia of using food as a weapon by worsening a global food crisis when it invaded Ukraine and, more recently, leaving the Black Sea grain deal.

At least 100 Adidas stores remain in Russia: CEO

The sportswear company Adidas says it is still in the process of pulling its stores from Russia, CEO Bjorn Gulden said.

Gulden told reporters, “We have about 100 stores that are not operational, and of course, they have been offered on the market.”

“They can be sold to individuals or they can be sub-leased,” Gulden stated, adding, “There is no timeline for that but right now, we are paying the lease, so the earlier it happens the better.”

In October, Adidas decided to permanently halt business in Russia, having closed all its stores and suspended online sales in March last year following the invasion of Ukraine.

India to particpate in Saudi Arabia talks on Ukraine on August 5-6

India will participate in Ukraine peace talks to be hosted by Saudi Arabia on August 5 and 6, a foreign ministry spokesperson said.

Saudi Arabia has invited Western nations, Ukraine and some major developing countries to discuss Volodymyr Zelensky’s peace plan, which calls for withdrawing Russian troops and restoring Ukraine’s post-Soviet borders.

“India will participate in this event. Our participation is in consonance with our longstanding position that dialogue and diplomacy is the way forward,” said Arindam Bagchi, a spokesperson for India’s foreign ministry.

On Monday, Russia, which was not invited, said it would follow the discussions.

New Delhi has previously refused to condemn Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine and increased its trade with Russia by buying discounted oil.

Russia adds Norway to list of countries committing “unfriendly actions”

Russia has added Norway to its list of countries “committing unfriendly actions directed against Russian diplomatic and consular missions abroad,” the Russian government’s press service announced Thursday.

The list of countries committing “unfriendly actions” sets restrictions on embassies, consulates, and representative offices hiring people who are residing in Russian territory.

The decree can amount to a complete ban — or it can assign a specific number of Russian residents those countries can hire.

According to the new decree, Norway is assigned a limit of 27 employees.

“We adopted the Russian presidential decree ‘On the application of measures against the unfriendly actions of foreign states’,” reads the government statement.

The list is not final, and “taking into account the ongoing hostile actions of foreign states directed against Russian missions abroad, may be expanded,” the government statement added.

Other states on the countries committing “unfriendly actions” list include: The United States, the Czech Republic, Greece, Denmark, Slovenia, Croatia and Slovakia.

In addition to this list of countries committing “unfriendly actions,” Russia also has another list, which is a list of “unfriendly countries.”

Norway was included in the list of “unfriendly countries” back in March 2022, shortly after the start of the war in Ukraine — but has now been added to the “unfriendly actions” list.

The “unfriendly countries” list also includes Australia, Albania, Andorra, the United States, the United Kingdom, Iceland, Canada, Liechtenstein, Micronesia, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, San Marino, North Macedonia, Singapore, Taiwan, Ukraine, Montenegro, Switzerland and Japan.

US remains confident in Russian price cap

The United States remains confident that the price cap on Russian oil is working despite a recent upturn in prices, a senior US Treasury official said.

Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy Eric Van Nostrand hailed the price cap as a successful part of the sanctions regime and said Washington and allies were working to curb any evasion.

“Our approach has struck at the heart of the Kremlin’s most important cash cow. Before the war, oil revenues constituted about a third of the total Russian budget, but in 2023 that number has fallen to just 25 percent,” he stated in the prepared remarks.

This week, Russia’s Finance Ministry announced Urals crude oil blend traded at $64.37 per barrel on average in July, up from $55.28 per barrel in June.

The G7, the European Union and Australia imposed the $60 per barrel cap last December on seaborne exports of Russian crude in retaliation for the war.

Kremlin dismisses accusations of “creating new dependencies” with cheap grain

The Kremlin has dismissed allegations that Russia is trying to create “new dependencies” among developing nations through providing discounted grain.

“That is not true. Russia has always been and remains a reliable supplier,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday.

“[Russia] fulfills all its obligations. And [it] could do it even better, satisfying the growing demand, if it were not for illegal sanctions restrictions,” he added.

In a letter obtained by Reuters on Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell raised concerns about Russian plans to offer developing countries discounted and free grain supplies.

In the letter, sent to G20 members and developing countries, Borrell reportedly said: “As the world deals with disrupted supplies and higher prices, Russia is now approaching vulnerable countries with bilateral offers of grain shipments at discounted prices, pretending to solve a problem it created itself.”

Russia sparked fears of global food insecurity last month, after it allowed the Black Sea grain deal to lapse. It has since resumed its blockade of Ukraine’s ports and launched a prolonged bombardment of its infrastructure and grain storage facilities.

Under ordinary circumstances, much of the grain from these ports would be exported to developing countries — particularly in Africa. Ukraine has long been referred to as the “breadbasket of Europe,” but Russia’s latest tactic has tried to weaponize food.

At the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin advanced Russia’s plan to cut Ukraine out of the global food network, by pledging thousands of tons of free grain shipments to six African nations, and stressing that Russia will always remain a “reliable” food supplier.

Wagner troops moving closer to NATO’s eastern flank: Poland

Wagner mercenary fighters are moving closer to NATO’s eastern flank to destabilise the military alliance, Poland’s prime minister said, as troops begin training Belarusian soldiers.

“We need to be aware that the number of provocations will rise,” Mateusz Morawiecki said after meeting Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda in eastern Poland.

“The Wagner group is extremely dangerous, and they are being moved to the eastern flank to destabilise it,” he added.

The Lithuanian leader said the number of Wagner fighters in Belarus could be higher than 4,000.

“We must not only talk about measures at the national level but also … what should be done if this situation becomes even more complicated, including the closure of the border with Belarus,” Nauseda stated.

Russia says it downed 7 Ukrainian drones near Moscow

Seven Ukrainian drones were shot down overnight in the Kaluga region, southwest of Moscow, Russian officials stated Thursday.

Russia’s defense ministry said early Thursday that it had shot down six drones overnight. Vladislav Shapsha, governor of Kaluga region south-west of Moscow, later said that an air defense system had detected and downed another drone on Thursday.

“Last night, an attempt by the Kyiv regime to carry out a terrorist attack by unmanned aerial vehicles was foiled over the territory of Kaluga region,” the ministry said in a statement on Telegram.

No casualties or damage were reported, it added.

Shapsha also claimed there were “no consequences for people or infrastructure.”

Ukraine is yet to comment on the alleged attack. It comes after Russia said Ukraine launched three drones toward Moscow on Tuesday. A Ukrainian presidential adviser said those strikes were a sign the Russian capital is becoming “used to a full-fledged war.”

Ukraine repels over 20 drones over Kyiv

More than 20 Russian drones were destroyed during a three-hour air raid alert in and around Kyiv overnight, the Ukrainian air force said Thursday.

The Kyiv city military administration said it was the eighth day in a row that Russia had launched attack drones at the capital.

No casualties or damage were reported.

Russia intent on causing ‘global catastrophe’: Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated that Russia’s attacks on port infrastructure showed Moscow was intent on creating a “global catastrophe,” with a crisis in food markets, prices and supplies.

“For the Russian state, this is not just a battle against our freedom and against our country,” Zelensky said in his nightly video address on Wednesday.

“Moscow is waging a battle for a global catastrophe. In their madness, they need world food markets to collapse, they need a price crisis, they need disruptions in supplies,” he added.

Over 10,000 civilians killed since Russia’s invasion: Ukraine’s war crimes office

Approximately 10,749 civilians have been killed and 15,599 have been wounded in Ukraine since Russia invaded the country in February 2022, according to Ukraine’s War Crimes Department in the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The death toll includes 499 children, Yuriy Belousov, the head of the War Crimes Department of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office, said in an interview with the news agency Interfax-Ukraine.

Once Ukraine’s occupied territories are liberated, the number of those killed is expected to “increase many times,” he stated.

“I think that there will be tens of thousands of dead in Mariupol alone,” Belousov continued.

The figures of the Prosecutor General’s Office are similar to those of international organizations like the United Nations, he added.

On July 7, the UN reported that it had confirmed the deaths of “more than 9,000 civilians, including over 500 children,” but that the real number is expected to be higher.

Belousov also noted his team had recorded 98,000 war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine since the invasion.

Pope Francis questions West amid Russia’s war in Ukraine: “What course are you sailing?”

Pope Francis posed several questions to the West about its efforts to end Russia’s war in Ukraine while speaking at an event in Portugal on Wednesday.

The Pope is in Lisbon as part of a five-day visit during which he will join celebrations to mark World Youth Day, a global gathering of young Catholics.

“We might ask her (Europe): Where are you sailing, if you are not offering the world paths of peace, creative ways for bringing an end to the war in Ukraine and to the many other conflicts in the world causing so much bloodshed? Or again, to widen the scope: West, on what course are you sailing?” the Pope said during a speech at the Cultural Centre of Belém.

Earlier in the year, the Pope announced that the Vatican was part of a peace mission to end the war in Ukraine. While on a trip to Rome to meet with Italian leaders in May, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Pope Francis, where the two spoke about the humanitarian and political situation in Ukraine caused by the ongoing war, the Vatican said.

During the meeting, the Pope assured “his constant prayer” for peace and stressed the need for “human gestures” toward victims of the war.

Ukraine is preparing for peace summit in Saudi Arabia: Presidential aide

The head of the Ukrainian President’s office, Andrii Yermak, says his team is preparing for an upcoming peace summit in Saudi Arabia.

“We continue to prepare the second meeting at the level of national security advisers and political advisers to the leaders of states in Saudi Arabia,” he wrote on Telegram.

“It will be devoted to the key principles of peace based on President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Peace Formula,” he continued.

“We are in constant communication with our partners,” he added.

Kyiv’s goal was to expand on the first summit held in Copenhagen in June, increasing the number of participants to include countries from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, Yermak said.

“Our goal in Saudi Arabia is to develop a unified vision of the Formula and to work out the possibilities of holding the future Global Peace Summit,” he stated, adding, “We need to restore world order, international law and establish a just peace based on the UN Charter and on Ukraine’s terms.”

Zelensky presented Ukraine’s 10-point peace formula to world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, last year.

The steps include a path to nuclear safety, food security, a special tribunal for alleged Russian war crimes, and a final peace treaty with Moscow. He also urged G20 leaders to use all their power to “make Russia abandon nuclear threats” and implement a price cap on energy imported from Moscow.

US frustrated with Zelensky: Report

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s conduct is a source of annoyance in Washington, CNBC reported on Wednesday.

Zelensky angers his American backers by ignoring their orders and issuing ever-greater demands, anonymous officials told the network.

Zelensky lashed out at NATO leadership before the bloc’s summit in Lithuania last month, claiming it was “unprecedented and absurd” that the US-led bloc hadn’t offered Ukraine a timeline for membership. His outburst “did not really resonate well in Washington,” an anonymous source “with knowledge of the matter” told the American broadcaster.

“The US administration was very annoyed,” the source stated.

The incident drew sharp criticism from the normally-supportive UK, and left Washington so “furious” that it considered withdrawing its support for Ukraine’s eventual membership.

CNBC’s source said that the pre-summit incident was one of several clashes between Washington and Kiev that have taken place since the conflict with Russia began last year.

“So the US is strongly advising Ukraine not to do certain things, but Kiev does them anyway, brushing aside or not addressing US concerns,” the source continued, adding, “And [then] they come at the United States, or Washington or the Biden administration, complaining about not being involved in NATO talks.”

150,000 Ukrainian troops fighting in ‘new counteroffensive’: Report

Ukraine has deployed 150,000 troops to bolster its renewed counteroffensive, Politico reported on Wednesday, citing Pentagon officials. While multiple Western-trained brigades are attempting to breach Russian lines, the surge in manpower has achieved little, and reportedly left Washington disappointed.

Kiev has spread the 150,000 servicemen acrtoss three attack axes, with the best NATO-trained units attempting to penetrate Russia’s multi-layered network of defensive fortifications near the village of Orekhov in Zaporozhye Region, the officials told the outlet.

The Russian entrenchments have proven formidable, with the Pentagon noting that Ukraine’s “gains are being measured in the hundreds of meters,” Politico paraphrased.

“They are making mostly small, incremental gains,” an anonymous official said, adding, “They are still facing stiff Russian resistance — second and third layers of defenses.”

“If Ukraine’s supporters were hoping for a breakthrough…they were sorely disappointed,” Politico surmised.

Kiev launched its long-anticipated counteroffensive against Russian forces in early June, with one US adviser promising that the operation would “shock the world” by severing Russia’s land bridge to Crimea. It soon became apparent that this would not be the case. Bogged down in minefields and hammered by Russian air and artillery power, Ukrainian forces have reportedly suffered tens of thousands of casualties, and Western media outlets have proclaimed the counteroffensive a dud.

Ukrainian officials first blamed their lack of success on the West, arguing that they had not been given enough weapons and ammunition to ensure victory. However, they soon switched tack, claiming by late June that their assaults thus far had been “probing” attacks, and that the true counteroffensive had yet to begin.

Kiev has no ‘counteroffensive schedule’: Security chief

There is no timetable for making progress in Ukraine’s much-touted counteroffensive, Aleksey Danilov, the head of its National Security and Defense Council, has said.

His comments come amid reports that the country’s Western backers are frustrated by Kiev’s failure to make substantial battlefield gains.

Speaking on national TV on Wednesday, Danilov stressed that “no one but us can impose deadlines” and “there is no schedule” for the counteroffensive which Moscow says has not managed to gain any ground.

He also lashed out at those who raise the issue in the first place, insisting that only “those who don’t understand what war means” indulge in such speculation.

According to Danilov, he has never used the word “counteroffensive” to describe the ongoing fighting in Ukraine.

“There are military actions, they are complex, difficult, [and] depend on many factors,” the official explained.

He added that Kiev’s troops have adopted a NATO system which he said means that it is up to local commanders to choose a particular tactic to accomplish a greater objective.

He also pointed out that Russian troops prepared formidable defenses to meet the counteroffensive.

“The number of mines that… our military has to overcome is simply insane,” Danilov acknowledged, adding that while some believed Western equipment would help Ukraine advance, those hopes have been dashed, as in many areas progress can only be made on foot.

UK may kick out 100,000 Ukrainians: Report

More than half of the Ukrainians who went to Britain on a refugee resettlement scheme will have to leave by September 2025 unless the government acts now to give them long-term “clarity,” several Conservative members of Parliament and NGOs said on Wednesday.

An estimated 182,100 Ukrainians have arrived in the UK since February 2022, using the Ukraine Family Scheme and Homes for Ukraine, set up to allow them a three-year stay. With no end in sight to the conflict and most of those displaced unwilling to return, parliamentarians are urging Rishi Sunak’s government to do something, the Daily Telegraph reported.

“With some having kids in school, we need to be able to allow them to plan,” said Bob Seely, a Tory MP who co-chairs the all-party parliamentary group on Ukraine, urging 10 Downing Street to give the Ukrainians “important clarity.”

Sir Robert Buckland, who was justice secretary in Boris Johnson’s cabinet, urged granting Ukrainians a more permanent status. He said the “bespoke” schemes created for a “particularly urgent and unprecedented situation” required a “further bespoke response.”

Buckland said there could be some kind of arrangement with a “higher degree of certainty” that stops short of full citizenship.

A survey by the Office for National Statistics in July showed that about half of Ukrainian adults intended to remain UK residents even if it becomes safe to go back, matching the sentiments of their compatriots currently in Germany.

Kate Brown, head of the charity Reset, pointed out that the displaced Ukrainians have “started to rebuild their lives here,” learning English and getting jobs. Reset has worked with the government on the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

“The infrastructure in Ukraine has completely been destroyed,” stated Stan Benesh, managing director of Opora, a UK-based charity supporting Ukrainian immigration.

Even if Ukraine wins, he added, “there wouldn’t be enough resources to go around” if everyone returns.

“So in a way, it’s almost a better thing if it’s a slower or more targeted return of those that, once it is safe, do want to go back,” he said.

A Home Office spokesperson told The Telegraph that the government will keep the schemes “under review” should they need to be extended “in line with developments of the situation in Ukraine.”

Around 8.6 million Ukrainians who left the country due to the conflict do not intend to return, the nonprofit Ukrainian Institute for the Future (UIF), said in June. The UIF’s latest report noted that Ukraine had been on a downward demographic spiral by the time of the 2014 Maidan coup, having lost almost 7 million residents since declaring independence in 1991.

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