Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 553

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:

Turkish foreign minister to visit Russia on Thursday

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will host his Turkish counterpart for a two-day visit beginning Thursday.

Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, told reporters that Lavrov and Hakan Fidan would discuss “the situation in the region, particularly in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Transcaucasia”.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is also due to visit Russia soon for talks with President Vladimir Putin on reviving a deal allowing safe grain shipments across the Black Sea.

Hungary says the only way to end war is if Trump is re-elected

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the only way to end the war in Ukraine was if former US President Donald Trump was re-elected.

In an interview with Fox News, Orban praised Trump’s foreign policy while blasting the Biden administration for its approach to the war.

He stated that Trump’s return to office would be “the only way out” of the conflict and that any suggestion that Kyiv could win against Russia was “a lie.”

“The Russians are far stronger, far more numerous than the Ukrainians,” Orban continued, adding, “Call back Trump. … Trump is the man who can save the Western world.”

Lithuania summons Vatican diplomat over Pope Francis comments

Lithuania has summoned the Vatican’s top diplomat after Pope Francis told Russian youths to remember they are the heirs of “the great Russian empire”.

In response to remarks Francis made on Friday, the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs invited the apostolic nuncio for “a talk” after the archbishop returns from holidays.

On Tuesday, the Vatican said Pope Francis did not intend to glorify Russian imperialism in the speech, where he also praised emperors Peter the Great and Catherine II who expanded the empire.

Francis’s intent was “to preserve and promote all that is positive in the great Russian cultural and spiritual heritage”, added the Vatican.

Ukraine, once part of the same empire, stated the comments were “deeply regrettable”, while the Kremlin described them as “very gratifying”.

No plan of international investigation into Wagner crash: Kremlin

The Kremlin says there is no question of an international investigation into the plane crash that killed Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin and that the Russian probe included the possibility that it was deliberate.

“It is obvious that different versions are being considered, including the version – you know what we are talking about – let’s say, a deliberate atrocity,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Peskov added that the probe into the plane crash was a Russian investigation and that there could be no question of an international investigation.

Last week, a private jet on which Prigozhin was travelling to St Petersburg from Moscow crashed north of Moscow, killing all 10 people on board, including top Wagner commanders, his bodyguards and a crew of three.

More than 20 thousand troops trained in Britain: Ukraine

The Ukrainian Defence Ministry announced more than 20 thousand troops have been trained in Britain.

In a post on Facebook, the ministry said, “Each of them received all the necessary and useful ammunition and physical support. Ukrainian soldiers are given everything they need during training and at the front.”

“Great Britain provides effective and significant support to Ukraine in its struggle against the unprovoked invasion of the Russian forces. And so far, support has already exceeded £2.3 billion ($2.9 bn),” it added.

Ukrainian drones ‘will not go unpunished’: Russia

Russia’s foreign ministry announced a wave of Ukrainian drone attacks on Russian territory overnight “will not go unpunished”.

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated that the drones, some of which struck an airbase in Pskov, 600km (400 miles) from Ukraine, could not have covered such distances without information from Western countries.

Ukrainian drones swept across Russia in overnight attacks that destroyed military aircraft and disrupted air traffic, Russian officials said.

Moscow announced the drones targeted six Russian regions, including an attack on an airport in the western city of Pskov – located near the borders of Latvia and Estonia – where military transport aircraft were reported damaged amid explosions and a huge fire.

The Kremlin has also announced that Russia is working out where Ukrainian drone attacks are launched from in order to prevent further such strikes, after a wave of overnight attacks saw six separate Russian regions struck.

In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russian President Vladimir Putin receives constant updates about such strikes.

‘Deliberate attack on the civilian population’: Ukraine

Ukrainian presidential advisor, Mikhail Podolyak, said the attack on Kyiv is a “deliberate attack on the civilian population”.

On X, the social media platform formally known as Twitter, he wrote: “Today’s large-scale combined attack of the RF [Russian Federation] (cruise missiles+Shaheds) on Kyiv is an unquestionably deliberate attack on the civilian population.

“The motive: revenge for the growing accidents in the RF itself; failures on the frontline; ethnic hatred and attempt of psychological intimidation. Undoubtedly, an attack of this kind is qualified as an act of demonstrative terrorism, thought out, premeditated and committed by a group of persons in prior conspiracy,” he added.

Ukraine’s top general says Russia launched more than 40 aerial attacks overnight

Russia fired 28 cruise missiles at Ukraine overnight, all of which were intercepted by Ukrainian air defenses, Kyiv’s top general stated Wednesday.

Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander in Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, said Ukraine additionally destroyed 15 of 16 drones launched by Russia.

“Overnight, the enemy attacked the territory of Ukraine with cruise missiles and attack UAVs. A total of 44 enemy air targets were recorded,” he added.

Earlier, Ukrainian officials said Russia had conducted a “massive” drone and missile attack on Kyiv that killed at least two people.

Russia launched a “massive” attack on Kyiv overnight: Ukrainian official

Russia conducted a “massive” attack on Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on Tuesday night using drones and missiles, said Serhii Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration, on Wednesday.

“Kyiv has not experienced such a powerful attack since spring,” Popko wrote on Telegram.

Popko stated several groups of drones traveled towards Kyiv “from different directions,” and later missiles were launched toward the city from Tu-95MS strategic bombers.

Air defense forces destroyed more than 20 “enemy targets,” he added.

Two men ages 26 and 36 were killed, while three others sustained injuries of varying severity from falling debris, according to the Kyiv city military administration. Two of those injured were hospitalized.

Earlier Wednesday, Kyiv mayor’s said fire and rescue services were working at wreckage sites in the Darnitsky and Shevchenkivskiy districts.

Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilnehas also reported explosions in the southern city of Odesa early Wednesday after the head of its regional military administration, Oleh Kiper, warned of Russian rocket attacks and asked residents to stay in shelter.

Russian missile strikes kill at least 2 in Kyiv

At least two people were killed and two others injured following Russian missile attacks on Kyiv early Wednesday, Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said.

“Fire and rescue services continue to work at the wreckage sites. In particular, in the Darnitsky district and in four areas in the Shevchenkivskiy district of the capital,” Klitschko stated.

Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne reported explosions in the southern city of Odesa early Wednesday after the head of its regional military administration, Oleh Kiper, warned of Russian rocket attacks.

“Russian terrorists attack Odesa region with rockets,” he stressed, asking residents to stay in shelter.

Ukrainian military boats destroyed and several drones intercepted: Russian defense ministry

The Russian defense ministry claimed that four Ukrainian military high-speed boats were destroyed in the Black Sea with personnel on board.

It also announced several drones were intercepted over various Russian regions in the early hours of Wednesday.

“On August 30, at about 00.00 Moscow time, a naval aviation aircraft of the Black Sea Fleet in the Black Sea destroyed four high-speed military boats with landing groups of Ukrainian special operations forces with a total number of up to 50 people,” the Russian defense ministry claimed in a Telegram post.

The defense ministry also added three Ukrainian drones were intercepted over Bryansk region, one over Oryol region and one over Kaluga region in the early hours of Wednesday.

Sevastopol Gov. Mikhail Razvozhaev reported Russian air defense forces repelling Ukrainian drone attacks in the area of Sevastopol Bay in occupied Crimea in the early hours of Wednesday.

Over 1,300 schools in Ukraine destroyed

More than 1,300 schools have been totally destroyed in government-held Ukraine since the invasion began last year, UNICEF has said.

Others have also been seriously damaged, the UN agency added.

US announces additional $250 million security assistance package for Ukraine

The United States is providing an additional $250 million security assistance package to Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Tuesday.

Blinken said the assistance package includes air defense missiles, artillery ammunition, Javelin systems and rockets, and mine-clearing equipment

The US will also be supplying ambulances “spare parts, services, training, and transportation,” Blinken stated.

“This package of weapons and equipment, which are valued at $250 million, is being executed under drawdowns previously directed for Ukraine,” he added.

“Russia started this war and could end it at any time by withdrawing its forces from Ukraine and stopping its brutal attacks,” Blinken said, adding, “Until it does, the United States and our allies and partners will stand united with Ukraine, for as long as it takes.”

Ukrainian FM: Prigozhin’s fate shows possible peace negotiations with Russia would be futile

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba stated Tuesday the fate of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin proves the futility of possible peace negotiations with Russia.

“Prigozhin was in conflict with Putin,” Kuleba said during a press conference in Paris alongside his French counterpart Catherine Colonna.

“They agreed on security guarantees, and then Putin killed him. There’s no reason to believe that in other negotiations Putin would behave differently,” he added.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the plane crash that killed Prigozhin and other Wagner deputies.

While in Paris, Kuleba also met with a number of leading French military-industrial complex companies and discussed “specific Ukrainian-French cooperation and coproduction projects,” he said in a post on social media.

Ukraine blasts Pope Francis’ address to Russian youth as “imperialist propaganda”

Ukrainian officials have criticized Pope Francis’ address to Russian youth, calling it “imperialist propaganda.”

The pontiff made a video address to the 10th All-Russian Catholic Youth Assembly in St. Petersburg on Friday during which he urged them to view themselves as descendants of the Russian empire.

“Never forget your heritage. You are the descendants of great Russia: the great Russia of saints, rulers, the great Russia of Peter I, Catherine II, that empire — educated, great culture and great humanity. Never give up on this heritage,” the pope said.

“You are descendants of the great Mother Russia, step forward with it. And thank you — thank you for your way of being, for your way of being Russian.”

Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson Oleh Nikolenko called the pope’s speech “imperialist propaganda.”

“This is the kind of imperialist propaganda, ‘spiritual bonds’ and the ‘need’ to save ‘Great Mother Russia’ which the Kremlin uses to justify the murder of thousands of Ukrainians and the destruction of hundreds of Ukrainian towns and villages,” Nikolenko said in a Facebook post.

The pope’s mission should be “precisely to open the eyes of Russian youth to the devastating course of the current Russian leadership” and instead he is promoting “Russian great-power ideas, that are, in fact, the reason for Russia’s chronic aggression,” Nikolenko added.

Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin compared himself to Peter the Great during an exhibition dedicated to the first Russian emperor, using the comparison to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, said in a statement that Peter the Great and Catherine the Great are the “worst examples of imperialism and extreme Russian nationalism,” warning that the pope’s words “could be perceived as support for the nationalism and imperialism that has caused the war in Ukraine today.”

“As a Church, we want to state that in the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, such statements inspire the neocolonial ambitions of the aggressor country,” Shevchuk added.

The Vatican rejected the interpretation of the pope’s words as praise of imperialism.

“The Pope intended to encourage young people to preserve and promote all that is positive in the great cultural and Russian spirituality, and certainly not to exalt imperialist logic and government personalities, cited to indicate some historical periods of reference,” the Vatican statement announced.

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