Monday, June 17, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 552

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:

One killed in Kherson by explosion caused by Russian landmine: Ukraine

An explosion caused by a Russian landmine in Kherson, has killed a farmer, according to the regional administration.

“In the Novopetrivka area, the farmer was driving a tractor and working on the field. The tractor ran over a mine left by the Russian army,” Kherson’s regional authorities said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.

“Many fields of the Kherson region are mined,” Kherson’s regional authorities added and reminded people to remain safe until every spot in the region has been inspected.

Wagner chief buried in private funeral: Prigozhin’s press service

Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian mercenary Wagner’s chief, has been buried privately at a funeral near St Petersburg, according to his press service.

“Those wishing to say goodbye can visit the Porokhovskoe cemetery,” Prigozhin’s press service added in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.

The Wagner chief was killed in a plane crash near Moscow last week.

Kremlin says schedule for Russo-Chinese contacts is being coordinated

The Kremlin has announced that a schedule for “bilateral Russian-Chinese contacts” was being worked out and that it would give more details on any concrete events and dates in due course.

Asked about a Bloomberg report that President Vladimir Putin is preparing to visit China for the Belt and Road forum in October, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “The schedule of bilateral Russian-Chinese contacts at various levels, including at the highest level, is being coordinated.”

“We will inform you about specific events and deadlines in a timely manner,” he added.

German company under investigation for aiding Russia militarily

Investigators in Germany suspect that a company there is selling electronic components used to produce Russia’s Orlan-10 drones, according to a report by the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

The Orlan drones have enabled Russia’s precise targeting of Ukrainian soldiers.

The head of the Saarbruecken-based company, identified only as Waldemar W, has been arrested, Der Spiegel reported.

South Korea increases aid to Ukraine

South Korea has unveiled a new financial aid package of 520 billion won ($394 million) for Ukraine next year, an eightfold increase from this year.

The aid package includes support for reconstruction and humanitarian aid.

In July, President Yoon Suk Yeol also announced that his country would provide a “large scale of military supplies” to Ukraine this year.

Ukraine invites Japan to join the Global Peace Summit

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky says that he has invited Japan to join the Global Peace Summit, which Kyiv intends to hold in second half of the year.

“We appreciate the G7 declaration on security guarantees for Ukraine adopted during the Japanese Presidency. It is time to conclude relevant bilateral agreements in the framework of this declaration. We are ready to start this negotiation process with Japan as soon as possible,” he added.

Russia says the EU does not consider ‘real problems’ of people in Western Balkans

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said that the European Union “does not take the real problems and aspirations of people living in Western Balkan countries,” into consideration.

Commenting on a recent summit between the leaders of the EU, Western Balkans and Ukraine in Athens, Zakharova added, “To continue its confrontation with Russia, the EU is ready to sacrifice the Western Balkan region’s true development and security interests in violation of one of the fundamental principles of the UN Charter.”

Ukraine wants to believe west supports destruction of ‘everything Russian’: Moscow

Kiev wants to believe that the West supports Ukraine in its desire to destroy “everything Russian,” including in Crimea, but does not understand risks of dragging others into the conflict, and therefore different points of view clash, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, has said that the West supports Ukraine in everything, including Kiev’s strikes on Crimea.

“The representatives of the Kiev regime want to believe in this, and, of course, they want to do everything possible and impossible in order to drag Western countries into this conflict as deeply as possible. We understand that the countries of the West are aware of the danger of this and are aware that the costs of such involvement are inevitable. Therefore, now there is this clash of points of view, we are watching this very carefully,” Peskov told reporters when asked about Podolyak’s statement.

Zelensky aide’s claim raises ‘apocalyptic’ risks: Medvedev

A recent claim by a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Western nations support Kiev’s attempts to “destroy everything Russian” increases the risk of all-out war between Moscow and NATO, former president Dmitry Medvedev has said.

Commenting on Mikhail Podoliak’s statement, the former Russian leader wrote on his Telegram channel: “If this is true, and we have no reason to doubt that it is, then it constitutes direct, legally significant proof of Western involvement in a war against Russia” and serves as a reasonable casus belli to justify corresponding actions by Moscow against “everyone in NATO states.”

Medevedev went on to warn that “the predictions of the Apocalypse are getting closer.”

Podoliak made his claims in an interview on Ukrainian TV on Monday, stating that foreign backers were increasingly supportive of all actions Kiev deem necessary in its fight against Moscow.

“A year ago, even when there were some strikes on Crimea, everyone said: ‘No, no, let’s just do without it’. Today, the absolute consensus among the countries that support us is that we can destroy everything Russian in the occupied territories,” he declared.

He further pledged to ramp up strikes deep inside Russia by “unknown drones.” Kiev does not formally claim credit for regular kamikaze drone attacks on Moscow and other Russian cities.

The campaign was detailed by The Economist on Sunday, described as partially “intended to have a psychological impact” on the Russian population, and facilitated by Western intelligence regarding Russian air defenses.

According to the British magazine, Kiev supports competing drone operators, both private and state-run. Some of the strikes “appear to be PR projects designed to bring a prototype to the attention of procurement bosses, rather than having military value,” the outlet noted.

Senior Russian officials have accused the US and its allies of waging a proxy war against their nation, with Ukraine providing “cannon fodder.” Kiev relies on the West for weapons, funding, training and intelligence in the conflict, and some in Washington have declared the “strategic defeat” of Russia their goal.

Putin never discussed West’s anti-Russian sanctions with Scholz, Macron: Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has never brought up the subject of anti-Russian sanctions with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron or the leaders of other countries that introduced these restrictions, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

“On my part, I can only confirm that indeed, President Putin has never touched on the subject of sanctions in his interaction with the leaders of the countries that had introduced these sanctions,” the Kremlin official said, commenting on an article in the Bild newspaper quoting a dialogue between Macron and Scholz following their March 2022 talks with Putin. The two were surprised that the Russian leader had never mentioned any anti-Moscow sanctions.

Peskov noted that not only “verbal” but also factual confirmation of ineffectiveness of Western sanctions is now obvious.

“I mean the data on the growth of our economy, on its expansion, and the World Bank’s data on Russia emerging among Europe’s leading economies,” he stated.

Ukrainian military claims further gains in south

The Ukrainian military announced that its forces have made further progress in a part of the southern front.

The armed forces had succeeded in the Novodanylivka-Verbove direction “and [are] consolidating their positions, inflicting artillery fire on the identified enemy targets, and conducting counter-battery operations,” the General Staff said in its daily briefing.

If successful in the Verbove area, the Ukrainians would widen a wedge of territory they have taken as they push south towards the strategic hub of Tokmak, which is occupied by the Russians.

The Ukrainian military added it is continuing offensive operations south of the city of Bakhmut, consolidating their positions, while resisting Russian efforts to advance in other parts of the Donetsk region. Kyiv repelled a Russian counterattack near the village of Klishchivka, south of Bakhmut, where heavy fighting continued.

In the past 24 hours, there have been 32 battles between Russian and Ukrainian forces on the ground.

Lt. Gen. Serhii Naev, commander of the Joint Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, stated on Telegram that Russian forces had also strengthened their reserves in the Donetsk and Kharkiv regions.

No plan for Putin to attend Prigozhin’s funeral: Kremlin

The Kremlin has confirmed there are no plans for Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the funeral of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner chief who died in a plane crash months after he led a failed insurrection against Moscow.

“The presence of the president (at the funeral) is not planned,” Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a regular conference call Tuesday.

Peskov cited a lack of specific details regarding the funeral arrangements, emphasizing that such decisions are entirely at the discretion of Prigozhin’s family.

“After all, the decision on this matter is made by relatives and friends, and we cannot say anything about this,” he added.

There has been no official confirmation of the date or location of Prigozhin’s funeral, despite speculation on local Telegram channels that he may be laid to rest at Serafimovskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg.

US hamstrung in formulating viable security guarantees for Ukraine: Report

The Joe Biden administration may be forced to give weaker-than-hoped-for or overly vague pledges in providing security guarantees for Ukraine, as Washington may not be able to ensure the required levels of military spending earmarked for Kiev in future years, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

According to the newspaper, Washington hopes to hold a second meeting with Kiev in the coming weeks, building on commitments made at a G7 meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius. However, there is no consensus in the White House on how detailed the pledges should be, given that a successor administration, should President Joe Biden not be re-elected in 2024, could easily rescind any pledges made, the daily said, citing anonymous officials.

Under US law, binding international agreements must be approved by a two-thirds supermajority in the Senate, which can later be revoked by another supermajority vote. Although the president can sign any international agreement, a future White House administration could terminate it on a unilateral basis. European capitals are concerned that ex-President Donald Trump could overturn any pledges Biden may make should his comeback bid to retake the White House succeed in the November 2024 US presidential election, the newspaper writes.

As a result, the Biden administration is considering a memorandum of understanding that would not require congressional approval for the United States and Ukraine to agree on. However, without credible packages of support, Russia is unlikely to be deterred from continuing the special military operation, the WSJ maintains.

Should Trump or any other future Republican president reduce US aid to Ukraine after the 2024 US presidential election, European countries would not be able to pick up the slack, according to the newspaper. Hence, concern is growing among European leaders, who are looking for ways to ensure allied defense industries can manufacture the promised military assistance to Ukraine.

Russia destroys 2 drones south of Moscow

Russian air defenses destroyed two Ukrainian drones in the Tula region south of Moscow early Tuesday, Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement.

“The Kyiv regime’s attempt to carry out a terrorist attack using two aircraft-type UAVs on Russian Federation facilities was thwarted this morning,” the statement read.

Ukraine has not yet commented on the alleged attack.

In recent weeks, Russian officials have reported almost daily Ukrainian drone attacks and attempted attacks on Russian soil.

Kyiv often declines to take explicit credit for assaults across the border, though last month, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky said the war is “returning to Russia.”

EU summit to discuss membership of Ukraine

The European Union intends to begin discussions on admitting Ukraine and several other countries as early as October, European Council President Charles Michel announced on Monday.

Enlargement “is no longer a dream,” Michel told the officials from Albania, Bulgaria and former Yugoslav states gathered at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia.

“As we prepare the EU’s next strategic agenda, we must set ourselves a clear goal. I believe we must be ready, on both sides, by 2030 to enlarge,” Michel stated, adding, “This is ambitious, but necessary. It shows that we are serious.”

The bloc’s leaders will discuss enlargement at the next European Council meeting, said Michel, where they “will take a stand on the opening of negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova.” That meeting is scheduled for October.

Russian troops in Kherson region lack artillery and ammunition: Russian military bloggers

Moscow’s forces in the Kherson region lack artillery and ammunition support, according to several prominent Russian military bloggers.

Roman Saponkov, a Russian blogger who has over 70,000 subscribers, wrote Friday that troops in the Kherson region messaged him about their lack of artillery support.

“The brigade commander and the chief of the reconnaissance battalion are sending our guys in without artillery support, without drones — poor guys are being killed in packs,” Saponkov posted.

Visioner’s Channel, another Russian blog, posted Sunday that Russia’s 205th brigade is facing “an alarming signal of crisis in the army and the country.”

“The main problem of the Russian Ministry of Defense is well known,” the blog noted, referencing the lack of ammunition.

“After the disaster with Prigozhin, there was confidence that now, at any rate, things would start to move forward and that changes would begin. But the third month has gone by, yet there is still nothing,” the blog noted, referencing the incident when late Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin slammed Russian officials over the lack of ammunition months before his death.

Another Russian blog, Republic, discussed “the growing problems in the Russian army” in a telegram post on Monday.

“The 205th brigade of the Russian Armed Forces that is fighting in the Kherson region was ordered to occupy islands on the Dnipro River; the servicemen responded by saying that they lacked ammunition, food, artillery support and reconnaissance,” the blog post said.

The Russian Ataman Fund, a charitable foundation that provides financial support for soldiers on the frontline, wrote in a Telegram post Sunday it hopes the supply problem in Kherson will be sorted out so the Russian service members “will be able to defend their homeland with everything they need.”

“Otherwise, there will be trouble,” it added.

Ukraine’s defense minister welcomes expected arrival of “powerful players” to arms market

“Powerful players” are expected to arrive on Ukraine’s arms market, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in a news conference on Monday, according to Ukrainian-state news agency Ukrinform.

“By the end of this month or at the beginning of September, there will be good news about powerful players arriving on Ukraine’s arms market. Several agreements will be signed,” Reznikov stated.

Ukraine plans to hold an industrial defense forum around the end of September or the beginning of October, he continued, adding, “The participation of about 50 powerful players of the arms market is planned.”

Reznikov said that Ukraine has “significantly increased the production of domestic weapons,” such as 155 mm artillery shells that have already passed tests.

“The contract is being executed. The first orders are already in place, we will immediately transfer them (artillery shells) to the Armed Forces. And we plan to increase the number for their production,” he added.

Reznikov noted that while the 125 mm artillery shells are still currently being tested, there are difficulties with producing 122 mm artillery shells.

Ukraine has several missile and anti-missile programs and is discussing “how to use the funds more appropriately in this direction,” Reznikov said.

“A lot of money is needed so that these programs can be put into effect in 2024-2025. That’s why we are having a discussion: whether to spend money and buy shells now from foreign manufacturers or invest it (at home) and have missiles approximately in a year,” he explained.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky echoed Reznikov’s comments in his nightly address on Monday, noting that Ukraine is “maximizing production capacity” of domestic weapons.

“Artillery made in Ukraine. Shells made in Ukraine. Drones, missiles, armored vehicles. We are maximizing production capacity. Ukraine can do it. Funding is available. Our defense industry will yield better results,” Zelensky stated.

Ukrainian commander stresses need to prevent Russians from developing defenses around Bakhmut

A Ukrainian commander in the Bakhmut area has stated it is critical to prevent the Russians from establishing proper defenses in the area.

Maksym Zhorin, deputy commander of the 3rd Assault Brigade, said on his Telegram channel that “one of the most important tasks in the Bakhmut sector is to keep up the momentum of advance in order to prevent the enemy from taking measures to create its own defense system. The kind of efforts the enemy has already made, for example, in the Zaporizhzhia sector,” where Ukrainian forces are struggling to break down layers of Russian fortifications and minefields.

“Naturally, there are mines in our sector, and we hit them almost every time during assault operations. There are also fortifications that they have time to construct,” Zhorin continued, adding, “However, we still do not allow them to build a strong system here, as we constantly either knock them out of their positions or inflict damage, preventing them from taking the required actions.”

“It will be a significant problem if we provide the enemy with time and opportunity to dig in and plant mines,” he added.

Ukrainian forces have made slight progress to the south and north-west of Bakhmut in recent weeks, but are yet to threaten Russian supply lines into the ruined city.

On Sunday, Ukrainian officials announced its military is still on the offensive in the Bakhmut direction, and continues to advance “meter by meter”. Illya Yevlash, head of the press service of the Eastern Military Grouping said over the past day, Russian forces shelled Ukrainian positions 590 times, using multiple rocket launchers and cannon artillery of various calibers.

A total of 14 combat engagements took place on Saturday, Yevlash continued, adding, “The enemy is resorting to counterattacks, trying in vain to regain lost ground.”

“Enemy tactics remain virtually unchanged” in the Bakhmut area, he said.

“First come the assault units, consisting of convicts who try to storm the positions, sometimes even without the cover of heavy equipment; followed by regular army soldiers, who are taken better care of by the Russian army,” he stated.

Russian Defense Ministry says it intercepted US drones near Crimea

The Russian Ministry of Defense says it deployed two fighter jets to intercept a United States Air Force MQ-9 “Reaper” and RQ-4 “Global Hawk” unmanned aerial vehicles near the Crimean peninsula.

The drones were detected by Russian forces that were monitoring equipment flying over the southwestern part of the Black Sea, the Russian defense ministry said on Telegram.

Two Russian fighter jets were deployed to avert a “possible violation of the state border” and to “counter any radio-technical reconnaissance,” the defense ministry noted.

“As a result of the actions of on-duty air defense forces, the United States Air Force reconnaissance UAVs changed their flight path and left the areas where air reconnaissance was being conducted,” the defense ministry added.

Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Garron Garn told CNN the US “will continue to fly routine missions over the Black Sea as permitted by international law to ensure freedom of navigation and maneuver in the region.”

Ukrainian authorities order more mandatory evacuations of children from front line communities

Ukrainian authorities have ordered a mandatory evacuation of children from two districts of the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region that are under persistent shelling by the Russians.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told Ukrainian television that the evacuation of children from the Vasylivskyi and Pologivskyi districts is now mandatory. Altogether more than 50 children are still thought to live in the districts.

There was also a compulsory evacuation of a community in the Kupiansk district of Kharkiv region, which has seen intense Russian bombardments in recent weeks.

More than 1,400 civilians, including over 340 children, have been evacuated from the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kupiansk and its surrounding areas this month, Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv region military administration, said Monday.

Ukraine says it liberated strategic southeastern settlement

Ukraine announced its troops have liberated the southeastern settlement of Robotyne and are trying to push further south in their counteroffensive against Russian forces.

Ukraine’s military says it has broken through the most difficult line of Russian defences in the south and will now start advancing more quickly, a commander who led troops into Robotyne told Reuters last week.

“Robotyne has been liberated,” Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar was quoted as saying by the military.

The settlement is 10km (6 miles) south of the front-line town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhia region. It is on an important road leading to Tokmak, a Russian-occupied road and rail hub.

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