Monday, June 24, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 554

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:

Ukraine can hit targets with missiles 700km away: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed Ukrainian missiles are capable of hitting targets 700km away.

He posted the message on Telegram and stated its Ministry of Strategy and Industry had successfully produced and tested the long-range weapons that hit a target 700km away.

Moscow is about 675km from Ukraine’s Kharkiv.

Ukraine’s FM tells critics of counter-offensive to ‘shut up’

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has hit out at critics of Kyiv’s tactics in its counter-offensive against Russia’s invasion.

Kuleba said they were spitting in the faces of Ukrainian soldiers and should “shut up”.

“Criticising the slow pace of the counter-offensive equals… spitting into the face of the Ukrainian soldier who sacrifices his life every day, moving forward and liberating one kilometre of Ukrainian soil after another,” Kuleba told reporters at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Toledo, Spain.

Erdogan, Putin to meet in Russia to discuss grain deal on September 4

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet counterpart Vladimir Putin in Russia’s resort of Sochi on September 4 to primarily discuss Black Sea grain exports, two Turkish sources told Reuters.

The leaders will discuss the fallout from the war in Ukraine as well as a deal that allowed the export of Ukrainian grain via the Black Sea, one of the sources said.

The Black Sea grain deal, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations in 2022, ended after Russia withdrew in July. Ankara has since sought to convince Moscow to return to the agreement.

Kremlin says no outcome yet on its Turkey-Qatar grain export plan

The Kremlin announced no specifics had been agreed yet on a proposal by Moscow to ship Russian grain via Turkey to poor countries with financial support from Qatar.

Earlier, Russian authorities had said it was proposing the plan as an alternative to the Turkish-brokered Black Sea grain deal that it quit in July, which allowed Ukrainian farm exports.

Ukraine says Russian troops ‘maintain presence’ by borders in north

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar has stated that Russia continues maintaining a military presence in the areas bordering Ukraine in the north.

“Three groups of troops covering the state border in the Bryansk, Kursk, and Belgorod regions have been kept with the aim of restraining our troops,” she said in a statement on the Telegram messaging app.

She added that while active hostilities and heavy fighting continues, Ukraine’s troops are achieving milestones not only in the north but also in the east and south.

Ukraine says Russia restricting food rations to military personnel in occupied areas

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Maliar, said the logistical support to Russia’s military personnel continues to deteriorate and food supplies to individual military units in occupied areas of Ukraine have been restricted.

She added that “the use of food restrictions to punish personnel has became one of the characteristic features of the so-called special military operation of the Soviet Union in Ukraine”.

Ukraine urges people in occupied areas to avoid voting in local elections planned by Russians

Ukrainian authorities have urged citizens in occupied areas not to vote in upcoming elections planned by Russian-appointed officials, adding they should “leave the region” if possible.

“Russians have started holding ‘elections’ to pseudo-local councils and ‘legislative bodies’ in the temporarily occupied territories,” Ukraine’s National Resistance Center (NRC), an official agency, said on Thursday.

Occupation authorities were planning “early voting” in the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions through September 8 at people’s homes, the NRC added.

The voting will begin in Kherson and Luhansk on September 2.

“We urge Ukrainians not to open their doors to the occupiers and, if possible, to leave the region or their homes for the period of ‘early voting.'”

Voting will then take place at polling stations between September 8 and 10.

“The Russians need this long scheme to hide the turnout and the lack of interest of the locals in the ‘expression of will,'” the NRC announced.

The NRC also alleged that “election commission members” accompanied by Russian soldiers are going around Ukrainians’ homes to identify those willing to vote, which happened in referendums last year on the status of the occupied regions in Ukraine universally dismissed as sham by Ukrainian and Western leaders.

Three drones shot down in Russia’s Bryansk region: Governor

Russia shot down three drones over its southwestern region of Bryansk on Thursday, a local governor said, as Kyiv continues to ramp up aerial assaults on Russian territory. The Bryansk region borders both Ukraine and Belarus.

“Thanks to the vigilance of our citizens, the call center for emergency operational services received a message about a suspicious aircraft over the city of Bryansk today,” Governor Alexander Bogomaz wrote on Telegram.

Defense forces downed “three aircraft-type UAVs” using anti-drone weapons and a special carbine, he added. There were no casualties or damage to infrastructure, Bogomaz added.

Several videos appeared on social media channels on Thursday purporting to show the drones in flight.

It came a day after Russia was hit by the biggest drone assault since it launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Ukraine says defence minister likely to be replaced: Local media

Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov, who has been leading the country’s war against Russia together with President Volodymyr Zelensky, could be replaced, according to a report by local news outlet Ukrainska Pravda.

Citing local government sources, the news outlet reported that Reznikov’s replacement could be Rustem Umerov, the chairman of Ukraine’s state property fund.

In February, journalists and activists uncovered that the Ministry of Defence bought food for soldiers at vastly inflated prices, putting Reznikov under the radar, as Ukraine tries to tackle corruption.

Ukraine FM in Spain to meet with EU foreign ministers

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymitro Kuleba met with Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs José Manuel Albares, according to posts from both diplomats on X.

Kuleba said he was in Spain to discuss “Ukraine’s EU accession talks” and “expanding Spain’s much-appreciated military aid to Ukraine.”

Albares stated they would address the “situation in Ukraine” at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers. He added that Ukraine has the firm support of Spain in its “defence of peace” and “territorial integrity”.

Russia downs another drone near Moscow: Mayor

Russian air defenses destroyed a drone flying toward Moscow Thursday morning, the city’s mayor said, a day after Russia came under the largest drone assault on its territory since it launched its war on Ukraine.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin stated the latest drone was downed over the Voskresensky district southeast of the capital.

No casualties or damage were reported, he added.

It comes after six Russian regions including Moscow came under attack early Wednesday, while in the city of Pskov, near the Estonian border, several transport planes were reportedly damaged when drones targeted an airport.

Russian officials did not report any casualties and claimed to have thwarted almost all of those strikes.

Ukrainian sabotage operation foiled in Russia’s Bryansk region: Governor

Russian authorities in the southwestern Bryansk region bordering Ukraine have thwarted a Ukrainian sabotage operation, killing two of the alleged saboteurs and detaining five others, a local official claimed.

In a Telegram post, Bryansk Gov. Alexander Bogomaz claimed the group were armed with Western-supplied weapons and planned to strike military and energy facilities.

“The activities of a Ukrainian sabotage and terrorist group consisting of staff employees of the SBU [Ukrainian security service], military personnel of the Main Intelligence Directorate and the special forces of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine were suppressed,” Bogomaz said.

“The goal of the saboteurs was to commit a series of high-profile terrorist attacks on military and energy infrastructure facilities,” he added.

Russian state news agency TASS also released a video showing weapons and equipment that authorities said were seized from the group.

Ukraine has not commented on the allegations.

The report comes after the pro-Ukraine Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) guerilla group on Wednesday claimed responsibility for a drone attack attack Sunday on the Russian region of Kursk, which neighbors Bryansk, saying it worked in tandem with the SBU.

Recent drone attacks show war is “increasingly moving” to Russian territory: Zelensky adviser

Mykhailo Podolyak, the adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said the recent drone attacks on Russia are an indication the “war is increasingly moving to Russia’s territory”. The official, however, stopped short of claiming responsibility for the attacks.

When referring specifically to drone attacks on the Russian northwestern region of Pskov that damaged aircrafts and grounded flights, Podolyak stated the increased movement of the war into Russia’s territory “cannot be stopped.”

Without directly claiming responsibility for the attacks, the adviser said Ukraine “strictly adheres to the obligation not to use the weapons of its partners to strike Russian territory and acts exclusively within the principles of defensive war.”

He dismissed calls to avoid strikes on Russian soil as “absurd.”

The attacks on Wednesday were the biggest drone assault on Russian soil since the war began. Six Russian regions including Moscow came under attack early Wednesday, while in the city of Pskov, near the Estonian border, several transport planes were reportedly damaged when drones targeted an airport. Russian officials haven’t reported any casualties, and claimed to have thwarted almost all of the strikes.

Ukraine has increasingly been emboldened to hit strategic targets inside Russia through the air in recent weeks, even as it suffers assaults on its own cities, setting up a new phase of the conflict defined by Kyiv’s apparent efforts to wear down domestic Russian support for the war.

Kyiv officials meanwhile said Russia hit the Ukrainian capital with a “massive” bombardment overnight.

US intel shows war in Ukraine caused “one of most disruptive periods” for global food security

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused deep disruptions in the global food supply, raising prices and increasing the risk of food insecurity in poorer nations in the Middle East and North Africa, America’s top spy agency said in an unclassified report released by Congress on Wednesday.

The direct and indirect effects of the war “were major drivers of one of the most disruptive periods in decades for global food security,” the eight-page report found — in large part because Ukraine and Russia were among the world’s largest pre-war exporters of grain and other agricultural products.

Although food security concerns have abated since the start of this year, according to the report, the future trajectory of global food prices likely will depend in part on what happens with the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which Russia ended in July. The deal, facilitated by the United Nations, had allowed Ukrainian agricultural shipments to safely exit Black Sea ports and reach the international market.

How much acreage Ukraine is able to cultivate as the war continues to rage and the cost and availability of fertilizers will also have an impact on global food prices, the report found. Global fertilizer prices reached near-record levels in mid-2022 as global oil and natural gas prices rose.

“The combination of high domestic food prices and historic levels of sovereign debt in many countries — largely caused by spending and recessionary effects of the COVID-19 pandemic — has weakened countries’ capacity to respond to heightened food insecurity risks,” the report added.

“These factors probably will undermine the capacity of many poor countries to provide sufficient and affordable food to their population through the end of the year.”

Droughts last year in Canada, the Middle East, South America and the United States also compounded the war-related stress on global food supplies, according to the report.

Intelligence officials have accused Russia in the past of weaponizing food supplies by blocking Ukrainian exports, destroying infrastructure and occupying Ukrainian agricultural land.

Citing satellite imagery and open-source reporting, the report said that Russia stole nearly 6 million tons of Ukrainian wheat harvested from occupied territories in 2022. Cargo ships used to transport the stolen grain out of Russian-occupied territories in 2022 would steer along the coast of Turkey to deliver shipments to ports in Syria, Israel, Iran, Georgia and Lebanon, the report said.

“We cannot confirm if the buyers of the Russian cargoes were aware of the grains’ Ukrainian origin,” the report noted.

Pskov airport to resume operations on Thursday: Russian authorities

Pskov airport will resume operations on Thursday, regional Gov. Mikhail Vedernikov said in a statement published Wednesday on his Telegram channel.

“The results of the inspection of the state of the civil infrastructure of Pskov airport have been summed up. In short: everything is in order! From tomorrow, the airport will resume normal operations,” Vedernikov said.

Late Tuesday night, Russian authorities reported drone attacks in Russia’s northwestern Pskov region, which caused damage to four IL-76 military aircraft at the airport. The airport is used for both civilian and military aircraft.

Six Russian regions, including Moscow, came under attack early Wednesday in the biggest drone assault on its territory since the full-scale invasion began last February. Russian officials haven’t reported any casualties and claimed to have thwarted almost all of the strikes.

Russia and North Korea “actively advancing” in negotiations to reach arms deal: US intelligence

Russia and North Korea are “actively advancing” their negotiations over a potential arms deal that would provide significant ammunition for different types of weapons systems, including artillery, in the latest indication that the Kremlin is desperate to obtain further materiel for its failing invasion of Ukraine, according to newly released US intelligence.

The news of the potential deal comes despite North Korea’s public claims to the contrary.

The Joe Biden administration said Wednesday that it remains concerned that the two states are in the middle of arms negotiations and that following Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s trip to North Korea last month a second delegation of Russian officials have visited Pyongyang for follow up discussions on a potential deal.

In addition to the second delegation, Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have exchanged letters “pledging to increase their bilateral cooperation,” according to John Kirby, National Security Council strategic communications coordinator.

“We remain concerned that the DPRK continues to consider providing military support to Russia’s military forces in Ukraine and we have new information which we are able to share today that arms negotiations between Russia and the DPRK are actively advancing,” Kirby said, adding, “Following these negotiations, high level discussion may continue in coming months.”

Meanwhile, Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US representative to the United Nations, accused Russia and North Korea of negotiating arms deals. Greenfield called it “shameful” and a violation of Security Council resolutions approved by Russia.

The public disclosure of the new intelligence is the latest example of how the Biden administration plans to continue to publicize Russia’s efforts to avoid Western sanctions and source weapons for its war, as well as put North Korea on notice that the US is closely monitoring these efforts. It is also the most detailed evidence provided in recent months of Russia’s outreach to North Korea to help fuel its invasion of Ukraine.

“Under these potential deals Russia would receive significant quantities and multiple types of munitions form the DPRK, which the Russian military plans to use in Ukraine. These potential deals could also include the provision of raw materials that would assist Russia’s defense industrial base,” Kirby continued, pledging that the US would take direct action to sanction any entities involved in a potential deal and urged Pyongyang to cease the negotiations.

Earlier this month, the US Treasury sanctioned a sanctions evasion network aimed at supporting arms deals between Russia and North Korea.

Kirby also said Russia’s attempts to source weapons from places like Iran and North Korea was a clear signal of Moscow’s distress.

“There is no other way to look at that than desperation and weakness, quite frankly,” the official added.

At the end of last year Pyongyang delivered infantry rockets and missiles to the Wagner private military company for their troops in Ukraine and Western officials have said that Iran has supplied Russia with weapons for use in Ukraine. Iran and North Korea have both denied these claims.

Kremlin says overnight drone attacks on Russia are “continued terrorist activity of Kyiv regime”

A Kremlin spokesman has attributed the biggest drone assault on Russian territory since the war in Ukraine began to the “continued terrorist activity of the Kyiv regime.”

The Russian President Vladimir Putin is receiving “timely and up-to-date information” on all developments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.

“Of course, with regard to such massive attacks, the information is also immediately brought to the attention of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief [Vladimir Putin],” Peskov added.

Journalists on the regular Kremlin call pressed Peksov on whether the drones that attacked the northwestern Pskov region could have been launched from the territory of neighboring Estonia or Latvia.

“I have no doubt that our military experts are currently working on these issues, figuring out the routes, analyzing how this was done in order to take appropriate measures to prevent such situations in the future,” Peskov stated.

Russia saw the largest drone assault on its territory since the start of the war on Wednesday after six regions including Moscow came under attack.

In the city of Pskov, drones attacked an airport some 35 miles away from the Estonian border late Tuesday night, causing a fire and damage to four IL-76 military aircraft which led to the cancellation of all flights.

Russian officials haven’t reported any casualties, and claimed to have thwarted almost all of the strikes.

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