Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 549

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:

2 people killed in Russian attack on Ukraine’s Kharkiv region

At least two people have died and another wounded in Russian shelling on Ukraine’s eastern Kharkiv region, according to Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv region military administration.

Syniehubov said the attacks happened in the frontline Kupiansk district, an area that has seen significant shelling and the first major Ukrainian evacuation in months. In recent weeks, Russia has been attacking near Kupiansk.

According to the preliminary information, the two people died in the village of Podoly, Syniehubov said in a post on Telegram Friday.

The attacks hit a café where residents were, he said, adding law enforcement and emergency services are working at the scene.

Six civilians injured in Belgorod shelling: Governor

Six civilians have been injured as a result of Ukrainian shelling in Russia’s Belgorod region, the region’s governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said, adding that they received “shrapnel wounds.

“One injured is in extremely serious condition – a man has shrapnel wounds in the lumbar area, and internal organs have been damaged,” Gladkov said in a Telegram post Saturday, adding the man is undergoing surgery.

The governor added over a dozen houses and several cars have been damaged as a result of the shelling.

US lawmakers rail against more Ukraine aid: Report

At least two US lawmakers have objected to earmarking additional funds to support Ukraine, arguing that Washington has failed to articulate a clear strategy in the conflict, Politico reported, citing a draft letter.

Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden asked Congress to approve an additional $24 billion in security, economic, and humanitarian assistance to Kiev despite growing skepticism among Republicans about further support for the embattled country.

Politico obtained a draft copy of a letter compiled by Senator JD Vance (R-Ohio) and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and addressed to Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young. It is dated September 5 and has been left unsigned as the Republican duo is attempting to gain the support of other lawmakers, according to Politico.

The letter chides the Biden administration for failing to provide Congress with a detailed account of US government-wide expenditures related to the Ukraine conflict.

The lawmakers also stressed that the need for a cross-cutting report on the matter had become even more pressing after the Pentagon recently acknowledged a $6.2 billion “accounting error” in Ukraine aid.

While White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan argued that the error did not suggest a lack of oversight of Ukraine assistance, the admission galvanized calls among Republicans to audit the aid. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene claimed that Americans “ha[d] no idea where all this money is going.”

Vance and Roy pointed out that Biden’s assertion that the US would back Ukraine “as long as it takes” implies “an open-ended commitment to supporting the war in Ukraine of an indeterminate nature,” arguing that both the American public and Congress have been left in the dark as to the administration’s ultimate goal.

“What is our strategy, and what is the president’s exit plan?” the lawmakers asked, stressing that it would be “an absurd abdication” of congressional responsibility to approve the $24 billion aid package until these questions are answered.

“For these reasons, and others, we oppose the additional expenditure for the war in Ukraine included in your supplemental request,” they concluded.

Since the start of the Ukraine conflict in February 2022, the US has provided Kiev with more than $113 billion, a significant portion of which is military assistance. Russia has repeatedly warned Washington and its allies that weapons deliveries would only prolong the hostilities but fail to change the outcome.

1 killed, 1 wounded in Russian attacks on Zaporizhzhia region

At least one person was killed and another wounded in Russian attacks on Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region in the past day, according to Yurii Malashko, head of the Zaporizhzhia military administration.

“Over the past day, the enemy fired 85 times at 26 settlements in Zaporizhzhia region,” Malashko said in a post on Telegram Friday.

“Unfortunately, a 58-year-old resident of Mala Tokmachka was killed,” he stated, and added that a 59-year-old man was also injured during shelling on the village.

Signs are growing that Ukrainian forces have penetrated Russian defenses along part of the southern front lines in Zaporizhzhia region and are expanding a wedge toward the strategic town of Tokmak, while stepping up attacks on Russian-occupied Crimea, as part of a slow moving counteroffensive.

The Ukrainian General Staff announced Friday there had been further success in two areas – towards the village of Novoprokopivka and further east in the direction of another small settlement, Ocheretuvate.

Ukrainian drone attacks in Russia are ‘morale booster’: Report

Ukraine has ramped up its drone attacks on targets inside Russia in an effort to encourage its population and military amid lackluster progress on the battlefield, the New York Times reported, citing US officials.

While Kiev has stopped short of claiming responsibility for the recurring drone raids on Moscow and neighboring regions, Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, have described the attacks as a signal to people in Russia that they cannot avoid being affected by the conflict.

However, according to US officials interviewed by the newspaper, the raids have “a more important audience.” One of their strategic goals, they say, is “to bolster the morale of Ukraine’s population and troops,” and show that Kiev “can strike back.”

The ‘inspiration campaign’ coincided with the much-hyped Ukrainian ‘counteroffensive’ that kicked off in the early days of June. Despite being reinforced with hundreds of Western-supplied tanks and other equipment, Ukrainian troops failed to make any substantial progress, with officials in Kiev blaming the formidable Russian defenses and delays in arms deliveries from the West. According to Moscow, Ukraine has lost more than 43,000 service members and nearly 5,000 pieces of military equipment since the start of the counteroffensive.

Unnamed officials in Kiev told the daily that they hope the drone strikes in Russia will force Moscow to reconsider its missile and drone attacks within Ukraine. Russia intensified its strikes on energy and military infrastructure in the neighboring country in response to the “terrorist attack” on the Crimean Bridge last year.

Belarusian president says he warned Wagner boss Prigozhin twice to watch out

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said he warned Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin twice to watch out for threats to his life.

Wagner warlord Prigozhin, who led a failed uprising against the Kremlin two months ago, was on board a plane that crashed on Wednesday. The cause of the crash remains unclear.

“The first time was when I phoned him and negotiations (were taking) place while they were marching on Moscow,” Lukashenko told reporters in comments carried by Belarusian state news agency Belta.

“I told him: ‘Yevgeny, do you understand that you will doom your people and will perish yourself?’ He had just come back from the front. On an impulse he said: ‘I will die then, damn it!”

Lukashenko stated the second time he warned him was when Prigozhin and Dmitriy Utkin, a long-term lieutenant of Prigozhin’s, had come to see him and he “warned them in no uncertain terms to watch it.” Lukashenko did not say when the meeting took place.

The Belarusian president added he suggested to Prigozhin that he could talk with Putin and “guarantee full security” in Belarus if he was concerned for his security, Belta reported.

“I said: ‘If you are afraid of something, I will talk to President (Vladimir) Putin and we will extract you to Belarus. We guarantee full security to you in Belarus.’ And credit where credit is due, Yevgeny Prigozhin has never asked me to separately pay attention to security matters,” Lukashenko continued.

Russia says it thwarted drone attack near Moscow

Russia’s air defenses thwarted a new drone attack near Moscow early Saturday, the country’s defense ministry announced in a post on Telegram.

The drone was destroyed over the Istrinsky district’s territory in the Moscow region around 3 a.m. local time, it said.

“Preliminarily, there are no casualties or damage. Response teams are working at the scene,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote on Telegram.

Europeans fear Biden will push Ukraine to peace: Report

European officials are concerned that US President Joe Biden could “nudge” Ukraine toward peace talks next year, Bloomberg reported on Friday, citing anonymous sources.

According to the US news site, European leaders worry that Ukraine’s lack of “significant battlefield progress,” coupled with pressure from the anti-interventionist wing of the Republican Party, could lead to Biden pressing Kiev to the negotiating table.

The US has supplied more than $43 billion worth of arms to Ukraine since Russia’s military operation began last year, but the Biden administration is out of money for more aid packages. The president has asked Congress to pass a $40 billion emergency spending bill, half of which would be allocated to Kiev, but the bill will likely face stiff opposition from a growing number of Republicans opposed to Biden’s blank-check policy.

With Ukraine’s odds of success dwindling, Biden will also enter 2024 having to campaign for reelection, likely against former President Donald Trump. The former president has repeatedly promised to force Kiev into a peace deal if elected.

American officials believe that the US will not give Ukraine “anywhere near the same level” of military aid in 2024 compared to this year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. According to the paper’s sources, Washington would not be able to give Kiev the same amount of arms and ammo again, and American military planners are advising their Ukrainian counterparts to use what they already have more effectively.

Publicly, the Biden administration insists that the weapons will keep flowing to Ukraine. According to a report by Axios on Wednesday, “senior US officials” have been in contact with European leaders to reassure them that the aid will continue, while National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday that key Republicans still back the administration’s policy of arming Kiev “for as long as it takes.”

US to reduce military aid to Ukraine in 2024: Report

The US is unlikely to give Ukraine “anywhere near the same level” of military aid in 2024 compared to this year, the Wall Street Journal has reported, citing officials in Washington. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden and his administration insist that they will continue to back Kiev to the hilt.

The US has supplied more than $43 billion worth of arms to Ukraine since Russia’s military operation began last year, while leaked Pentagon documents indicate that NATO countries trained and equipped nine Ukrainian brigades to take part in the ongoing counteroffensive against Russian forces.

With the Ukrainian military failing to penetrate Russia’s defensive lines after nearly three months of fighting, American military planners are advising their Ukrainian counterparts to stick to their NATO training and use what they’ve been given more effectively, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

“The American advice is based on the calculation that the surge of equipment the US has funneled to Ukraine…is enough for this offensive and is unlikely to be repeated at anywhere near the same level in 2024,” the newspaper explained.

Washington’s continued bankrolling of the Ukrainian military is a matter of political contention in the US. While almost all Democratic members of Congress back Biden’s policy of arming Kiev “for as long as it takes,” a group of more than two dozen Republicans are vehemently opposed. Moreover, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has promised to force Kiev into a peace deal if elected president next November, as has Vivek Ramaswamy, who is currently polling third for the GOP’s nomination.

The Biden administration has spent all of its money set aside for Ukraine, and the president is now pushing Congress to pass a $40 billion emergency spending bill, half of which would be allocated to Ukraine. With Republican anti-interventionists up in arms, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has suggested that he won’t give the bill his unconditional support.

“You don’t get to just throw money [away],” he said earlier this summer.

“What about the money we have already spent? What is the money for and what is victory?” he asked.

Biden’s top officials have downplayed the growing divisions in Washington.

“We believe that the support will be there and will be sustained,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday.

Sullivan added that despite the “dissonant voices” on the right, Republicans in “key leadership positions” will ensure that weapons keep flowing to Kiev.

According to a report by Axios on Wednesday, “senior US officials” have been in contact with European leaders to reassure them that the supply of military aid will not dry up.

Zelensky says he discussed US training of Ukrainian F-16 pilots with Biden

The United States will help train Ukrainian pilots and engineers on F-16 fighter jets, President Volodymyr Zelensky stated Friday.

The Ukrainian president said he talked to US President Joe Biden on Thursday to discuss plans around the jets.

“It was a good conversation,” Zelensky added in his nightly address.

“We discussed how to further strengthen freedom. And we have a new important agreement: America will join the training of F-16 pilots and engineers,” he continued.

On Thursday night, the White House confirmed that Biden and Zelensky had discussed the commencement of training Ukrainian fighter pilots. That training is expected to start in October, Pentagon Spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Thursday.

Zelensky has repeatedly called for support in bolstering Ukraine’s air defense system through F-16 jets and training for pilots to operate the aircraft.

In Friday’s address, Zelensky said the next steps for Ukraine are clear.

“For the international team, it is to maximize the expansion of training missions. For the military, it is to accelerate the preparation of the infrastructure as much as possible, to send pilots and engineers to ensure Ukraine’s full readiness. And all together, it is about bringing closer the moment when F-16s will help us keep Russian terrorists away,” Zelensky said.

The F-16 training program is being supported by a coalition of 11 NATO countries and requires official US approval because the jets are American technology. Last Friday, the US approved the transfer of instructional materials from Denmark to Ukraine — an important step in starting these programs.

Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov stated last week that Ukrainian pilots have already begun training on F-16 aircraft. Reznikov added the “minimal term” for the training is six months, though it would be up to the instructors to decide how long the course will run.

Flight recorders have been recovered from plane crash that apparently killed Prigozhin: Investigators

Russian investigators say they’ve recovered 10 bodies and the flight recorders from a plane crash that is believed to have killed Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin this week. DNA analysis is also being conducted on the victims to confirm their identities.

“The Russian Investigative Committee continues to investigate the criminal case of the aviation accident in Tver Oblast,” the committee said in a statement posted to Telegram Friday.

Flight recorders and other materials are being processed and handed over for forensic examination.

“During the investigation flight recorders have been recovered. A detailed examination of the scene continues. At the moment, items and documentation relevant to establishing all the circumstances of the plane crash are being seized and handed over for forensic examination,” the post continued.

The committee said all possible scenarios for the cause of the incident are being thoroughly reviewed.

Deploying F-16 jets will change counteroffensive “radically”: Ukrainian official

The lack of aerial combat power is hurting Ukraine as it continues its counteroffensive to liberate its territories, but the deployment of F-16 fighter jets would “radically” change the situation, a Ukrainian official said Friday.

“There is no parity in the air. And this complicates many of the issues that exist at the front today. As soon as the F-16s appear and are used by our Armed Forces to the fullest extent possible, believe me, the situation will change radically before our eyes,” stated Oleksii Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, in an interview with Radio Liberty.

Norway, along with Denmark and the Netherlands, have pledged to provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, but they are unlikely to be in service with the Ukrainian Air Force until some time next year, according to US and NATO officials. The US announced Thursday that it will start training Ukrainian pilots on the advanced aircraft in October.

At the moment, however, Ukraine continues its “complex operation” on the ground, maintaining its approach to keep casualties to a minimum, Danilov said.

“If anyone thought that it was a cakewalk and that we could achieve the goals we set for ourselves — the liberation of all our territories — very quickly, keep in mind that the enemy is powerful. The enemy has a certain system of defenses and protective structures that it has been able to build there,” he added.

Ukrainian forces appear to be making headway on front lines in Zaporizhzhia

Signs are growing that Ukrainian forces have penetrated the first line of Russian defenses along part of the southern front lines in Zaporizhzhia region, and are expanding a wedge in the direction of the strategic town of Tokmak.

“At the cost of colossal losses yesterday the [Ukrainians] were able to reach the first defensive line of engineering barriers, but they move mostly even without artillery support,” Russian appointed governor of occupied areas of Zaporizhzhia, Yevgeniy Balitskiy, said Friday.

“As a consequence, [Ukraine’s] assault groups, which yesterday managed to reach the first defensive line, were completely destroyed overnight,” he added.

Other Russian sources have made similar claims about substantial Ukrainian losses inflicted by Russian airpower and artillery.

However, the Ukrainians do appear to have brought in additional elements in an effort to break Russian resistance in this area.

The Ukrainian General Staff announced Friday there had been further success in two areas – towards the village of Novoprokopivka and further east in the direction of another small settlement, Ocheretuvate.

Earlier this week, the Ukrainians said they had secured the village of Robotyne. Fighting continues to the south of that village.

The General Staff said units “are consolidating their positions, inflicting artillery fire on the identified enemy targets, and conducting counter-battery operations.”

Several Russian military bloggers have painted a gloomy picture of the front line situation in parts of the south.

One of the best-known of these, “WarGonzo,” said the Ukrainians had gained a foothold in Robotyne “and are attacking Novoprokopivka, which is under heavy shelling.”

Ukrainian drone attacks appear to have reached a Russian military base in Crimea

Ukrainian drone attacks early Friday against targets in Russian-occupied Crimea appear to have caused some damage, according to both Ukrainian officials and Russian military bloggers.

Ivan Fedorov, the Ukrainian mayor of the Russian-held city of Melitopol, claimed that explosions had occurred at a military base in Perevalne near the Crimean city of Simferopol.

Federov said on the messaging app Telegram that 300 injured Russian troops were sent to a hospital in Simferopol as a result of the attack.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced earlier that 42 Ukrainian drones had been destroyed while attempting to attack Crimea.

Boris Rozhin, a Russian military blogger, stated most drones had been shot down or immobilized by electronic warfare.

However, he said that nine “managed to fly to the Perevalne training ground, where they were jammed by the electronic warfare. But several of these UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) landed on the site, damaging two KamAZ trucks. There is no data on casualties or damage to infrastructure.”

When asked about the rising number of Ukrainian drone attacks — including those on Crimea — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “relevant air defense systems work quite effectively.”

He described the drone attacks as “terrorist activity — because for the most part, it is aimed at residential buildings.”

“Obviously the same terrorist activity is also relevant for Crimea. And all necessary measures are being taken there,” he added.

Kyiv has recently ramped up drone strikes on Crimea in a push to disrupt Russian logistics and resupply efforts, a shift in focus that has been met with skepticism in parts of the West.

Friday marked the third day in a row of Ukrainian assaults on the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in violation of international law in 2014.

The Ukrainians said Wednesday they had destroyed an S-400 missile defense battery in the area. The day after, Kyiv landed troops on the shores of Crimea in what was the Ukrainian military’s most complex and ambitious operations to date against Russian military facilities on the peninsula.

Rozhin stated the attack Friday morning was “the most massive drone raid on Crimea in recent months.”

“The choice of targets for the strike is quite understandable: important airfields, air defense position areas, training camps. And the attempted raid on the thermal power plant near Simferopol indicates a desire to inflict damage not only on the Russian army, but also on the civilian population of Crimea,” he added.

Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate, said on Ukrainian television that he hopes the increasing focus on Crimea will remind people that both victory and liberation are “not far off.”

“It will not end there — there will be a ground operation, there will be the return of our territories,” he added.

Kremlin: Claims of involvement in plane crash that may have killed Prigozhin “an absolute lie”

The Kremlin has for the first time denied any involvement in the plane crash that is believed to have killed Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said any assertions that the Russian government was somehow involved in the crash are “an absolute lie.”

“There is a lot of speculation around this catastrophe and the tragic death of the passengers of the plane, including Yevgeny Prigozhin,” Peskov continued.

“Of course, in the West, all these speculations are presented from a certain angle. All this is an absolute lie,” he added.

Prominent critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, including US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, were quick to blame the Russian leader, whose domestic opponents often end up dying mysteriously.

Some have theorized that Prigozhin was targeted for his insurrection against Russia’s defense establishment in June, the greatest challenge to Putin’s authority since he was first elected president in 2000.

No evidence, however, has been presented that points to the involvement of the Kremlin or Russian security services in the crash.

The cause of the incident remains unknown and Russian authorities have launched a criminal investigation.

Peskov also said that genetic testing and other necessary examinations are underway to determine whether Prigozhin was in fact killed in Wednesday’s crash.

Prigozhin, the head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, was reported on the plane’s flight manifest, and thus has been presumed dead. His death has not yet been officially confirmed.

Peskov added that official results will be made available “as soon as they are ready for publication.”

Asked about the possibility of Putin attending Prigozhin’s funeral, should it be confirmed, Peskov noted uncertainty about the timeline for required identification procedures and said that the president had a busy work schedule.

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