Thursday, June 13, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 542

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:

Toll rises again from Chernihiv missile attack, with 7 confirmed dead and 90 injured

Seven people are now confirmed dead from the Russian missile strike on the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv on Saturday, Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Ihor Klymenko said.

“The body of one more victim was discovered in Chernihiv. An unidentified woman. The death toll has risen to 7,” he wrote on Telegram.

“90 injured people applied for medical assistance. Among them are 10 police officers and 12 children. 25 people have been hospitalised. A 12-year-old girl is being urgently transferred by ambulance to Kyiv city. The child is in grave condition,” he added.

The missile hit the city center, where people were leaving church. It struck a theater and a university.

Russia says thwarted Ukraine drone attack on Moscow area

The Russian army announced it has thwarted a Ukrainian drone attack on Moscow and its region, hours after other drone raids on Moscow-annexed Crimea and a military airfield.

“An attempt was thwarted this afternoon by the Kyiv regime to carry out a terrorist attack with an aircraft-type drone on objects on the territory of Moscow and the Moscow region,” the Russian army said.

It added that air defence had detected a drone, which crashed in a “deserted area near the village of Putilkovo”, causing no damage.

Death toll in Chernihiv rises to six after death of six-year-old girl: Ukrainian official

The death toll following a Russian missile strike on the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv has risen to at least six after a six-year-old girl died in hospital, according to Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Ihor Klymenko.

“Her mother is in grave condition. The police officers provided first aid to the girl. Unfortunately, doctors were unable to save her upon arrival at the hospital due to a heavy blood loss,” Klymenko said.

He added hospitals are operating at full capacity, with 36 people wounded, including police officers and court security officers. “These are civilians who were either on Chernihiv central square or returning from church,” he explained.

“The Security Service and the Prosecutor’s Office are documenting the crime. The missile hit the Palace of Culture in the city center. There were also people in the nearby cafes. Buildings in the old part of the city were destroyed,” he continued.

An air raid alert had sounded a few minutes before the missile struck, meaning most of the people inside the theater and outside were able to take shelter. “That’s what saved a lot of people’s lives,” Klymenko stated.

Acting mayor of Chernihiv, Oleksandr Lomako, told national TV: ”There is a park right behind the drama theater, many children and their parents usually spend time there. There are numerous restaurants with outdoor terraces located nearby as well. It all happened in the middle of the day when obviously there are many people in the city center.”

“This crime cannot be interpreted except as a war crime against civilians,” he added.

Lomako said a lot of buildings around the drama theater in Krasna Square were damaged, with “rocket fragments and broken windows.”

Russian missile attack kills five in Chernihiv: Interior minister

A Russian missile attack has killed five people and wounded 37 others in the city centre of Chernihiv, the regional capital of the northern province of the same name, Ukraine’s Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said.

The attack hit a theater and university in the city centre and 11 children are among the injured, he added.

President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned Saturday’s attack on the northern city, which he said hit buildings including a theatre and a university.

Moscow says warplane damaged in Ukrainian drone attack on airfield

A Ukrainian drone has targeted a military airfield in Russia’s Novgorod region, causing a fire and damaging one warplane, Russia’s Defence Ministry says.

The ministry announced nobody was hurt and the fire was quickly extinguished. The Novgorod region lies northwest of Moscow, hundreds of kilometres from Russia’s border with Ukraine.

“As a result of the terrorist attack on the territory of the airfield, a fire broke out in the parking lot of aircraft, which was quickly eliminated by fire fighters. One aircraft was damaged,” the ministry added.

Drone air attacks deep inside Russia have increased in recent months. One smashed into a building in central Moscow on Friday after Russian air defences shot it down, disrupting air traffic at all civilian airports of the Russian capital.

Deaths reported as Russian missile hits university and theater in Chernihiv

A Russian missile strike has hit the center of the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, turning “an ordinary Saturday… into a day of pain and loss,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Telegram.

“There are dead, there are wounded,” Zelensky stated, adding, “A Russian missile hit right in the center of the city, in our Chernihiv. A square, the polytechnic university, a theater.”

Oleksandr Lomako, acting mayor of Chernihiv city, said the number of victims is being clarified.

Emergency services are working at the scene, Lomako added.

Putin visits Ukraine military operation headquarters

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the head of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, and other high-ranking military commanders during an unannounced visit to the headquarters of Russia’s Southern Military District, the Kremlin said on Saturday morning.

The president received classified briefings from Gerasimov and other senior commanding officers involved in the military operation in Ukraine, the brief statement added.

Russian state media shared a video of the rare visit, which shows the head of the General Staff greeting Putin at the headquarters ahead of the closed-door meeting. However, it remains unclear when exactly the meeting took place.

Ukraine attempts to attack Crimea with S-200 missile, Russian air defense intercepts it

Kiev attempted to attack Crimea with an S-200 surface-to-air missile re-equipped into a strike weapon during the night, while Russia’s air defense capabilities intercepted it, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported on Saturday.

“During the night on August 19, the Kiev regime attempted to carry out a terrorist attack using an S-200 surface-to-air missile re-equipped into a strike weapon on the Crimean territory. Russia’s air defense capabilities timely detected and intercepted it in the air,” the ministry said, adding that no casualties or damage on the ground were reported.

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced earlier that on August 12, Kiev attempted to attack the Crimean bridge with S-200 surface-to-air missiles re-equipped into strike weapons twice. They were detected and intercepted by the Russian air defense systems.

Western calls for Ukraine peace talks a ‘tactical ploy’: Russia

The US and its allies do not want the Ukraine conflict to end and their purported peace initiatives are merely attempts to buy Kiev time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview published on Saturday.

Negotiating directly with the Americans would make sense, he told the magazine International Affairs when asked about the idea.

“The problem, however, is that the United States has no intention of ending the conflict,” Lavrov explained, noting that “their officially declared objective is to inflict a ‘strategic defeat’ on Russia.”

Prospects for negotiations between Russia and the West “are non-existent at this stage,” Lavrov added, while Kiev “Western sponsors are constantly pushing them to up the ante.”

Insisting on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s so-called ‘peace formula’ at meetings in Copenhagen and Jeddah – to which Russia was not invited – “hardly demonstrates an intention by the West to negotiate with Russia,” Lavrov continued. Moscow has dismissed Zelensky’s ten-point list of demands as an unacceptable ultimatum unrelated to reality.

“We regard the Westerners’ hypocritical calls for talks as a tactical ploy to buy time once again giving the exhausted Ukrainian troops a respite and the opportunity to regroup, and to send in more weapons and ammunition,” Lavrov said, adding that “this is the path of war, not a peaceful settlement process.”

Scholz says there are no Germany soldiers in Ukraine

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated that he sees his government’s task in not letting Germany be dragged into the conflict in Ukraine.

“I am doing my best to prevent this,” he said during a discussion organized by the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper when asked about the risk that Germany could be drawn into the conflict.

“That is why, for instance, there are no German soldiers in Ukraine and there will not be any,” he pledged.

“We will support Ukraine and we are supplying weapons, which is a violation of the taboo – in recent decades Germany has never supplied any weapons to conflict zones, with rare exceptions,” he continued, adding however that he thinks that it was a right decision to provide Kiev with weapons because “Russia invaded the neighboring country to seize its territory, which is unacceptable.”

At the same time, in his words, while making decisions the German government has been keeping a close eye on what its allies are doing to avoid a possible confrontation between Russia and NATO. “And this has always been our principle,” he stressed.

“We have always been weighing our decisions and will continue to do so.”

According to Scholz, it was the right decision to supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine only is the Americans send their combat vehicles as well.

Germany is second after the United States in terms of military assistance to Kiev. he Russian side has repeatedly stressed that the West’s weapons supplies to Kiev and its assistance in training Ukrainian troops only prolong the conflict and will not change the situation on the battlefield.

Biden: Consequences of war in Ukraine “extend well beyond Europe”

In remarks after a trilateral summit with Japanese Prime Minster Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, US President Joe Biden commended the Japanese leader on his response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Answering questions from a Japanese reporter at Camp David in Maryland, Biden said Japan has “showed strong leadership through the G7 as well and contributed to a significant amount of financial and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine as well as nonlethal military equipment. And they’ve joined so many other nations in holding Russia accountable through international sanctions.”

Biden stated when he called up Kishida about Ukraine, he didn’t have to convince him “of anything.”

Calling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rationale over the invasion “ridiculous,” Biden stressed, “Imagine if we’d done nothing. And the point was immediately recognized if I’m not mistaken by you, Mr. Prime Minister, that we’re in a situation where it could happen anywhere. If we stood still, what statement would that send to China about Taiwan? What signal would that send around the world?”

“Russia has already lost. It cannot meet its original objective which it stated. It’s not possible. … Japan’s leadership from day one, it has been critical making it clear that the consequences for war extend well beyond Europe,” he continued.

The invasion is not “only a European problem; there hasn’t been that kind of invasion since World War II,” Biden added.

Russia bars dozens of British citizens from entering the country, including journalists and ministers

Russia has barred 54 more British citizens from entering the country, according to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the latest update to its sanctions policy, Russia accused the individuals and entities of involvement in “propaganda support of the activities of the [Ukrainian] Zelensky regime” and of being “Russophobic.”

The sanctions list includes several government ministers as well as journalists from public broadcaster the BBC, the Guardian newspaper and the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“We would like to emphasize again that any efforts by London to further spin the anti-Russian sanctions flywheel will inevitably receive a decisive response from our side,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, adding, “Work on expanding the Russian ‘stop list’ in response to the actions of the British authorities will continue.”

The updated list includes British cabinet minister Lucy Frazer, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Russian authorities claimed that Frazer is “actively lobbying for the international sports isolation of Russia.”

Earlier this year, Frazer said in a social media post that she asked sponsors of the Olympic Games “to join 35 like-minded nations and press the IOC for a continued ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes competing in international sporting competitions,” adding that “we must continue to ensure that Russia and Belarus cannot use sport for their propaganda purposes.”

The new sanctions also include a Minister of State at the British Ministry of Defence, Baroness Goldie DL, who Russia has accused of being “responsible for the supply of weapons to Ukraine, including depleted uranium shells.”

British prosecutor Karim A. A. Khan KC, who is an elected official on the International Criminal Court, will also be barred from Russia due to his involvement “in issuing a warrant for the arrest of the Russian leadership,” according to the Russian foreign ministry statement.

In February, Khan submitted applications to the ICC for warrants of arrest for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova.

Russia says west needs continual reminder of risks of nuclear war

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that possession of nuclear weapons protects Russia from security threats and that Moscow continually reminded the West of the risk of a nuclear conflict.

Lavrov’s comments are the latest reference by Russian officials to their country’s nuclear weapons arsenal, a rhetoric of military escalation by Moscow that has gained tempo and frequency since Russian forces invaded Ukraine last year.

“The possession of nuclear arms is today the only possible response to some of the significant external threats to the security of our country,” Lavrov said in an interview for the state-owned magazine, The International Affairs, published early on Saturday on the foreign ministry website.

The minister stated that the United States and NATO military alliance members risk ending up in “a situation of direct armed confrontation of nuclear powers”.

“We believe such a development should be prevented. That’s why we have to remind about the existence of high military and political risks and send sobering signals to our opponents,” he added.

Turkey’s foreign minister to visit Kyiv as Ukraine pushes for a new grain corridor

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan is scheduled to visit Ukraine next week to explore options for revitalising the grain deal suspended by Russia, according to informed sources.

The move comes as Kyiv proposes an alternative route for the transportation of agricultural products, one which would circumvent international waters.

Two sources familiar with the visit told Middle East Eye that Fidan will use his first ever visit to Kyiv as foreign minister, on 25 August, to exchange views on bilateral issues as well as the ongoing Ukrainian offensive and Ukraine’s own peace plan.

The visit comes as Turkey and the UN have intensified their efforts to convince Russia to revive the landmark Black Sea grain deal, which ensured the safe passage of 33m tonnes of grain between August 2022 and July 2023. Moscow terminated the deal last month, over written promises that it says have not been met.

Moscow says western powers could not facilitate the export of Russian ammonium and insurance for the Russian ships that carry crops, as well as payment for these deliveries in foreign currencies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly announced that he hopes to meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at the end of this month to make progress on resolving Moscow’s grievances with a set of proposals, as well as expanding the deal into a wider attempt to declare a ceasefire.

However, the Ukrainian government believes there is no time to lose, as the harvest season is approaching.

US has given Denmark approval for F-16 instructional materials for Ukraine

The US has approved the transfer of F-16 instructional materials to Ukraine, according to a Biden administration official and a US official, as the program to train Ukrainian pilots on the American jets is set to begin.

“We can confirm the Department has recently approved a request from F-16 training partner Denmark related to their effort to stand up pilot and maintenance training programs,” said the official in President Joe Biden’s administration.

The approval includes training modules, documentation, and classroom training materials, the official said, which contains information about sensitive US technology.

The approval of the third-party transfer request from Denmark was one of the critical steps before Ukrainian fighter pilots could begin training to fly the fourth-generation jets, which Kyiv has requested for months. Earlier Friday, the Danish defense ministry said Ukrainian pilots would begin training on F-16 jets later this month, part of a coalition of 11 countries that will be involved in the training program.

On Thursday, the US said it had committed to approving the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine as soon as training is complete.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent letters to his counterparts in Denmark and the Netherlands assuring them that the transfer of the jets would have the “full support” of the Biden administration and would move quickly when training on the advanced aircraft is complete.

“You have my assurances that we will expedite approval of the requisite Third Party Transfer requests in time to enable delivery when the training is completed, including required notification to our Congress,” wrote Blinken in the letters.

On Friday, the commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa said the Ukrainian pilots who will learn to fly the F-16 fighter jet are getting language instruction in the United Kingdom, since all of the materials and the instruments in the jet itself are in English, before they start flying training aircraft.

“They’re going to get a little bit more training on (propellor aircraft) and then go down to France and fly in the Alpha jet for a little bit,” said Gen. James Hecker, speaking to a roundtable of reporters as part of the Defense Writers Group. The Alpha jet used by the French is an advanced jet trainer.

“That all is going to take time, and that’s probably not going to happen before the end of the year, so that takes a while to make that happen,” Hecker continued, adding, “So that’s why it’s going to be at least until next year until you see F-16s in Ukraine.”

Hecker stated the Ukrainian pilots taking part in the F-16 training program are younger pilots who “barely have any hours at all” and are not currently taking part in the war.

The Ukrainians also announced on Wednesday that they didn’t expect to receive the F-16s until next year.

Ukrainian pilots will start F-16 training in Denmark later this month

Ukrainian pilots will begin training on F-16 fighter jets in Denmark later in August, the Danish defense ministry said Friday.

A coalition of 11 countries will be involved in the training, it added.

The US has committed to approving the transfer of F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine as soon as training is complete, according to a US official.

Denmark and the Netherlands have taken the lead in preparing a program to train Ukrainian pilots on the American jet, but the US is still working with other countries to see who may provide F-16s to the Ukrainian Air Force.

Ukraine said Wednesday that it didn’t expect to receive F-16s until some time next year.

German army trains “highly motivated” Ukrainian soldiers on Leopard tanks

Germany’s army trained Ukrainian troops on Leopard 1 battle tanks Thursday in the eastern town of Klietz, outside Berlin.

The Ukrainian army needs to train more soldiers after many have either been wounded or killed during the fight against Russia’s invasion, German Lt. Gen. Andreas Marlow told reporters at the training site.

“I think the most important concern for Ukraine is the training of officers, because it’s obvious that the professional soldiers have been at war for a year and a half now,” Marlow said, adding, “Many have been killed or wounded, and now they need supplies, including leaders and sub-leaders. And there is quite a demand for that.”

The Ukrainian soldiers are “highly motivated,” said Marco Maulbecker, a German armed forces commander and trainer.

“They have to be. After all, if you want to learn the basic skills of the main battle tank, the instruction manual is a good 700 pages long. And you can see the motivation above all in the fact that they also deal with the system after duty and are really willing to learn the system in a really short time,” he added.

Ukrainian soldiers also spoke to journalists at the training site.

“The training is very important for us because we receive (new) tanks with technical (systems), and the soldiers have to learn to use this equipment. Therefore, it is very important for us, so that our soldiers can use it efficiently during battles,” one service member said, adding, “We are very motivated to fight for our home country and that’s the best remedy against fear.”

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