Friday, June 21, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 531: Double Russian strike on Ukraine’s Pokrovsk kills at least seven, injures dozens

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:

Poor weather conditions affecting Ukrainian milling wheat

Ukraine’s 2023 milling wheat harvest could fall to 40 percent from 70 percent in previous years due to poor weather, the Ukrainian Agrarian Council (UAC) has announced.

While Ukraine is a traditional wheat grower, the volume of wheat with sufficient protein content for milling depends largely on weather conditions.

“The key problem with the new harvest was its poor quality: due to weather conditions, the grain has a low protein content,” the UAC said in a statement.

It added that other European states also had large volumes of feed wheat, and the current 2023/24 season “will be problematic with the supply of food grains worldwide”.

As of August 4, Ukraine had harvested 12.5 million metric tonnes of wheat.

The traders union said this month that Ukraine is able to harvest 20.2 million tonnes of wheat this year, the same as in 2022.

Western officials: Significant Ukrainian breakthrough is unlikely in face of heavily mined Russian defenses

Weeks into Ukraine’s highly anticipated counteroffensive, Western officials describe increasingly “sobering” assessments about Ukrainian forces’ ability to retake significant territory, four senior US and Western officials briefed on the latest intelligence told CNN.

“They’re still going to see, for the next couple of weeks, if there is a chance of making some progress. But for them to really make progress that would change the balance of this conflict, I think, it’s extremely, highly unlikely,” a senior Western diplomat told CNN.

“Our briefings are sobering. We’re reminded of the challenges they face,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat who recently returned from meetings in Europe with US commanders training Ukrainian armored forces.

“This is the most difficult time of the war,” he added.

The primary challenge for Ukrainian forces is the continued difficulty of breaking through Russia’s multi-layered defensive lines in the eastern and southern parts of the country, which are marked by tens of thousands of mines and vast networks of trenches. Ukrainian forces have incurred staggering losses there, leading Ukrainian commanders to hold back some units to regroup and reduce casualties.

“Russians have a number of defensive lines and they (Ukrainian forces) haven’t really gone through the first line,” said a senior Western diplomat.

“Even if they would keep on fighting for the next several weeks, if they haven’t been able to make more breakthroughs throughout these last seven, eight weeks, what is the likelihood that they will suddenly, with more depleted forces, make them? Because the conditions are so hard,” the diplomat continued.

A senior US official stated the US recognizes the difficulties Ukrainian forces are facing, though retains hope for renewed progress.

“We all recognize this is going harder and slower than anyone would like – including the Ukrainians – but we still believe there’s time and space for them to be able make progress,” this official added.

Multiple officials say the approach of fall, when weather and fighting conditions are expected to worsen, gives Ukrainian forces a limited window to push forward.

These latest assessments represent a marked change from the optimism at the start of the counteroffensive. These officials say those expectations were “unrealistic” and are now contributing to pressure on Ukraine from some in the West to begin peace negotiations, including considering the possibility of territorial concessions.

“Vladimir Putin is waiting for this. He can sacrifice bodies and buy time,” Quigley noted.

Ukrainian official says support for Zelensky’s peace deal is growing

The head of Volodymyr Zelensky’s office, Andriy Yermak, says the meeting in Saudi Arabia over the weekend brought Ukraine closer to implementing its peace deal.

“With each step, the number of countries that unconditionally respect Ukraine’s independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty and are ready to work on a part or the whole of the peace formula is growing. And the isolation of Russia is growing as well,” he stated.

Yermak also noted that the involvement of China during the talks was “important” and thanked officials and Saudi Arabia for making it possible.

“The representative of China took an active part in the conversations and expressed his opinion. The main thing we heard from the Chinese representative is that China is ready to continue participating in this format,” he added.

UK unveils fresh package of sanctions against Moscow and Minsk

The United Kingdom has added new designations under its sanctions regimes against Russia and Belarus, it announced on Tuesday.

Six of the new designations target Belarus-affiliated individuals and institutions; 19 target those affiliated with Russia. They include sanctions against individuals and businesses based in Russia, Turkey, Dubai, Slovakia and Switzerland.

The companies sanctioned include electronics and defense equipment producers who have exported microelectronics and drones to Russia to help in its war against Ukraine. Also sanctioned were Slovakian national Ashot Mkrtychev, who was involved in an attempted arms deal between North Korea and Russia, and Swiss national Anselm Oskar Schmucki for working in Russia’s financial services sector.

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement Tuesday that the sanctions will “further diminish Russia’s arsenal and close the net on supply chains propping up Putin’s now struggling defense industry.”

“There is nowhere for those sustaining Russia’s military machine to hide,” he continued.

“Alongside our G7 partners, the UK has repeatedly called on third parties to immediately cease providing material support to Russia’s aggression or face severe costs,” he added.

Ukraine trying to regain positions in Kupiansk: Russia

The Russian defence ministry says Ukrainian troops are trying to regain positions in the Kupiansk direction, but forces repelled five attacks, the state news agency Tass reported.

Sergey Zybinsky, the head of the ‘West’ group’s press centre, said, “In the Kupiansk direction, the enemy is putting up stubborn resistance, striving to regain lost positions.

“During the day, units of the 14th separate mechanised brigade carried out five counterattacks on the positions of our troops in the area of ​​​​the village of Sinkovka [Sinvivka], the Mankovka tract, the Usy forest,” Zybinsky stated.

He added that all counterattacks were repelled.

“The losses of the enemy amounted to more than a platoon of manpower, one infantry fighting vehicle, one pick-up truck,” he continued.

US to announce $200m weapons aid to Ukraine

US President Joe Biden’s administration is expected to announce $200m of new weapons aid for Ukraine on Tuesday, officials told the Reuters news agency.

The additional aid comes as Washington distributes $6.2bn of funds discovered after a Pentagon accounting error over-valued billions of Ukraine aid.

The discovered funds represent the last of the previously congressionally authorised $25.5bn in Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA) the administration can utilise to ship weapons from US stocks in an emergency, officials stated.

The officials added that Tuesday’s expected announcement of $200m would be the first tranche of the $6.2bn windfall of previously authorised PDA.

US lying about Russia’s position on Ukraine peace talks: Moscow

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova lashed out at Washington over claims that Moscow has rejected peace negotiations with Kiev.

On Monday, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said at a press briefing that “There are no peace negotiations going on with Russia right now, because Russia has refused to engage in meaningful peace negotiations.”

Zakharova wrote on Telegram: “They know perfectly well that they told [Ukrainian President Vladimir] Zelensky to withdraw from peace talks in April 2022, they caused Kiev’s ban on talks with Russia, adopted in September 2022, they have been declaring all year that it’s not the right time for talks, but they still blame Russia anyway.”

Zakharova also advised Miller to read an interview of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that he gave in April. She was apparently referring to comments Blinken gave to the Funke Media Group, in which he said he did not support the idea of beginning negotiations, while hailing Kiev’s counteroffensive.

Second missile hit Pokrovsk as emergency services worked at the scene: Local official

Two Russian Iskander missiles hit the eastern Ukrainian city of Pokrovsk within 30-40 minutes of each other, with the second missile injuring and killing emergency service workers responding to the first hit, according to Serhii Dobriak, head of Pokrovsk City Military Administration.

“The first missile hit at 19:15, the second at 19:52. This is a standard Russo-fascist scenario – 30-40 minutes between missiles. When the State Emergency Service and rescuers arrive to save people, the second missile hits and so the number of victims increases,” Dobriak said on Telegram.

“The blast radius was very large – windows in many buildings were smashed, at least 2,000 windows,” he added.

Local officials stated a residential building, hotel, shops and administrative buildings were damaged. The Druzhba (Friendship) Hotel and Corleone pizzeria, both popular with journalists, were damaged in the attack according to geolocated footage from the scene.

Pavlo Kyrylenko, head of Donetsk Regional Military Administration, said in an update that among the seven people killed were five civilians, a rescuer and a serviceman.

He added there were 81 people injured, including 39 civilians, two children, 31 police officers, seven rescuers and four military personnel.

“As of 11:00 a.m., 12 multi-story buildings were damaged, as well as a hotel, a prosecutor’s office, a pension fund, a pharmacy, two shops, two cafes and two civilian cars,” Kyrylenko continued.

Ukraine’s National Police said that the deputy head of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service in the Donetsk region, Andrii Omelchenko, was killed, and confirmed that 31 police officers were injured.

“All of them were there when they were needed, putting their efforts into rescuing people after the first incoming,” the police said on Telegram, adding, “They knew there were victims under the rubble — so one had to react, dismantle, get them out and save them. And the enemy struck again.”

Rescue operations are continuing at the scene.

Injuries rise following Russian strikes on Pokrovsk: Ukrainian minister

Ten more people have been confirmed wounded following deadly Russian missile strikes on residential buildings in the Donetsk city of Pokrovsk, a senior Ukrainian official said Tuesday.

Minister of Internal Affairs Ihor Klymenko stated at least seven people were killed and 67 others injured, including 29 police officers, seven rescue workers and two children.

The removal of debris has resumed after work was suspended overnight “due to the high threat of repeated shelling,” he added.

The Russian strikes come after the United Nations warned last week about the impact of a “new wave of attacks” on civilians in Ukraine, including aid workers.

After attending Saudi peace talks, Beijing assures Moscow it remains “impartial” on Ukraine war

China’s top diplomat Wang Yi told his Russian counterpart that Beijing remains “impartial” on the war in Ukraine, a day after a Chinese delegation participated in international talks on ending the conflict that included Kyiv, but not Moscow.

In a call Monday, Wang stressed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that China and Russia are “trustworthy and reliable good friends and partners.”

“On the Ukraine crisis, China will uphold an independent and impartial position, sound an objective and rational voice, actively promote peace talks, and strive to seek a political solution on any international multilateral occasion,” Wang said, according to a readout of the call released by China’s Foreign Ministry.

The call followed two-day talks hosted by Saudi Arabia, where around 40 nations including key Ukraine allies the United States, Britain and Germany, as well as India and a number of Middle Eastern nations, met to discuss the resolution of the conflict, nearly 18 months since Moscow’s invasion began.

The group agreed on the importance of international dialogue to find “common ground that will pave the way for peace,” according to official Saudi media.

Lavrov “appreciates and welcomes the constructive role played by China” toward a political resolution of the “Ukraine crisis,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in their readout of Monday’s call.

Zelensky warns Russia “they may be left without vessels” if attacks on Ukrainian ports don’t stop

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned Russia it may be left without ships if Moscow’s forces continue to attack Ukrainian ports.

Speaking to Latin American media in a news conference Sunday, Zelensky said “we don’t have as​ many weapons, but if they continue to shoot, they may be left without vessels by the end of the war,” Argentina’s La Nacion newspaper reported.

“And this is what we want to show them,” he continued, adding, “Ukraine will definitely respond to any attacks on the civilian population and grain corridors.”

Zelensky’s remarks come after Ukrainian sea drones hit a Russian oil tanker and a warship in recent days.

“If Russia continues to dominate the Black Sea and block it with firing missiles, then Ukraine will do the same, which is a fair defense of Ukraine’s capabilities,” he added.

The United Nations has condemned Russia’s recent attacks on Ukrainian grain storage. Moscow’s decision to pull out of the Black Sea grain deal and its repeated attacks on Ukrainian ports and infrastructure “are causing insurmountable damage to the agricultural sector in Ukraine and may further accentuate hunger for the world’s poorest people,” Denise Brown, a UN humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, said in a statement Saturday.

Biden administration working on supplemental Ukraine funding request: US Army official

The Joe Biden administration is working on a supplemental funding request for Ukraine that will likely be ready for Congress to consider by this fall, Army acquisition chief Doug Bush said on Monday.

The administration “is working on a package for Congress to consider this fall,” Bush stated, adding that the details still have to be determined by the Office of Management Budget. “But I think we’ll have a very strong case, and hopefully garner congressional support for continued funding­—in particular for munitions production increases and munitions buys to support Ukraine.”

The White House is not planning to ask Congress for new Ukraine funding before the end of the fiscal year at the end of September, pitting administration officials against some lawmakers and congressional staffers who were concerned that the funds could run out by mid-summer.

That funding shortfall does not appear to have happened, largely because the Pentagon previously overvalued the amount it had spent on weaponry to Ukraine by $6.2 billion.

More about the US’ funding for Ukraine: In December, Congress approved the administration’s request for an additional $48 billion to help arm Ukraine and combat the Covid-19 pandemic, $36 billion of which was specifically allocated for Ukraine.

The supplemental was meant to last through September 30, 2023. The administration requested this kind of additional funding to help support Ukraine four times last year, in March, May, September and December.

22 Ukrainian POWs released from Russia: Ukrainian official

After being held as prisoners of war, 22 Ukrainian military service members were released Monday, according to Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President.

“Today, 22 more Ukrainian soldiers were returned home from captivity,” Yermak said in a Telegram message. Among them are two officers, privates and non-commissioned officers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. They participated in battles in different areas, and there are wounded among the released.

The oldest of the soldiers is 54-years-old and the youngest is 23-years-old, Yermak stated.

“Each of the liberated soldiers will undergo physical and psychological rehabilitation, reintegration and be provided with the necessary treatment with the support of medical specialists,” he continued.

Yermak thanked the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War and their team for assisting.

“We have to fulfill the President’s task and return all of our people,” he added.

At least 5 killed after Russian missiles strike a residential building in Pokrovsk

At least five people were killed and more than two dozen injured after Russian missiles struck a residential building in Pokrovsk, a city in the eastern Donetsk region, Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Ihor Klymenko said Monday.

Among the injured are 19 police officers, five rescuers and one child, Klymenko said in a Telegram message. “The rubble is being cleared,” he added.

“Search and rescue operations are ongoing. We are clearing rubble, rescuing people from Russian terror,” Klymenko said.

Earlier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Russia had launched two missiles that struck a residential building in the city.

A video accompanying his post showed residents and emergency teams trying to clear some of the rubble. A person on a stretcher was being moved into an ambulance.

Zelensky vowed to hold Russia accountable for the attack.

“We have to stop the Russian terror. Everyone who fights for the freedom of Ukraine saves lives. Everyone in the world who helps Ukraine will defeat the terrorists together with us,” Zelensky continued.

“Russia will be held accountable for everything it has done in this terrible war,” he added.

Washington approves first Abrams tank delivery to Kiev

Kiev will receive its first batch of US-made Abrams tanks by early autumn, a senior Pentagon official told journalists on Monday. President Joe Biden initially promised the heavy equipment to Ukraine in January.

The tanks are ready for delivery, US Army Acquisition Chief Doug Bush told a news briefing. The equipment pieces still have to first “get to Europe, and then to Ukraine, along with all of the things that go with them,” he added, as cited by CNN.

Washington plans to provide the Ukrainian forces with ammunition, spare parts, and fuel equipment for the tanks, which are all to be sent within the same delivery, Bush said. “So you know, it’s not just the tanks, it’s the full package that goes with it. That’s still on track,” he added.

The US has pledged a total of 31 tanks, or the equivalent of a Ukrainian battalion. In late July, Politico reported that only between six and eight heavy equipment pieces might make it to Ukraine by September.

According to Western media outlets, the US military began training Ukrainian tank crews on Abrams vehicles in Germany in May. The ten-week training course should wrap up in August, a Pentagon official told reporters.

Originally, the Pentagon intended to use the more modern M1A2 variants, but changed its plans in March, opting for the older M1A1. Newsweek and Politico previously reported that the US-made tanks are to be stripped of any “sensitive” technology first before they can be handed over to Kiev.

The tanks might “lose some of their most sophisticated electronics before seeing combat in Ukraine,” according to Newsweek. The advanced equipment, which is due to be removed, reportedly includes systems that offer “some advantages” to the gunner and the commander, as well as depleted uranium armor.

Washington has already supplied Kiev with around half of the 190 promised Bradley infantry fighting vehicles (IFV). Many of them have since been destroyed or captured by Russian forces during a largely unsuccessful Ukrainian counteroffensive that was launched in early June.

‘No compromise’ with Moscow: Kiev

The government in Kiev has not given up on its “peace formula” and rejects all compromise positions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s adviser Mikhail Podoliak announced on Monday.

His comments came after the Wall Street Journal suggested Ukraine had softened its stance during the peace conference in Saudi Arabia.

“The only basic ‘foundation for negotiations’ is President Zelensky’s Peace Formula,” Podoliak tweeted.

“There can be no compromise positions such as ‘immediate ceasefires’ and ‘negotiations here and now’ that give Russia time to stay in the occupied territories. Only the withdrawal of Russian troops to the 1991 border,” he added.

“Any scenario of a ceasefire and freezing of the war in Ukraine in the current disposition will mean only one thing – Russia’s actual victory and [President Vladimir] Putin’s personal triumph,” Podoliak added several hours later.

“This would be a great defeat for the Western world and the end of the current global security order,” he continued.

He also claimed that Moscow would use a “Minsk 3” to rearm and prepare for the “next round” of war, which would return “bigger, bloodier, and better prepared” as soon as “political leaders in key Western countries change.”

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