Saturday, June 22, 2024

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 565

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:

Kremlin spokesman dismisses Blinken’s claims Putin not ready for talks on Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s allegations that Russian President Vladimir Putin is not ready for negotiations on Ukraine do not correspond to reality, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said.

“Blinken argued that Ukraine was ready for negotiations while there was no such readiness on Putin’s part. From our point of view, this does not correspond to reality,” Peskov stated on Monday.

He noted that it was Russia that exerted efforts for the sake of producing a peace plan in March 2022, and it was not the Russian side that left its seat at the negotiating table then. The presidential spokesman emphasized that it was Russia and its president that repeatedly declared their readiness to conduct such negotiations.

“But in discussing the readiness to negotiate one must be aware of the realities that have emerged since last March. Ukraine was unable to negotiate on the terms of last March. Now we cannot ignore the new conditions: we cannot brush aside the territories of Russia, we cannot brush aside the processes that took place in the new regions of Russia, and we cannot brush aside the will of the population of these new regions. These are all new conditions that cannot be ignored,” Peskov added.

He recalled that Putin had repeatedly declared the readiness of the Russian side to achieve its goals by political and diplomatic means.

Russia’s withdrawal from grain deal fueling global food insecurity: UN Human Rights Commissioner

The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk stated that Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative has put “the right to food far out of reach for many people.”

Speaking at the opening of the Human Rights Council session in Geneva, Switzerland on Monday, Türk said that global hunger levels have returned to as they were in 2005, with almost 600 million people projected to be “chronically undernourished” by 2030.

“A year and a half of horrific warfare has ravaged Ukraine, with a heart-wrenching toll on its people, and damage to vast areas of agricultural land,” Türk continued.

“The Russian Federation’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July, and attacks on grain facilities in Odesa and elsewhere, have again forced prices sky-high in many developing countries – taking the right to food far out of reach for many people.”

Türk added the planet has sufficient financial resources, technology, and land to provide “adequate food for all.”

Despite this, he continued, “climate change, the consequences of the pandemic, and Russia’s war on Ukraine” are some of the reasons behind the continued existence of global hunger and food insecurity.

“The world is betraying our promise to end hunger by 2030,” Türk said, adding, “The human rights cause in all its facets has the potential to unify us, at a time when we urgently need to come together to confront the existential challenges that face humanity.”

“All of us need to play our part,” he noted.

Ukraine, often referred to as the “breadbasket of Europe,” is a major exporter of grain, much of which is sent to developing countries in Africa. After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country, its navy blockaded Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, preventing Ukraine from exporting its crops to countries in need.

The blockade remained in place for several months, before Russia agreed to the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July 2022 – a major diplomatic breakthrough brokered by the United Nations and Turkey – which allowed the exports of grain to continue.

However, Russia allowed the deal to lapse in July of this year. It has since resumed its blockade of Ukraine’s ports – as well as launching a prolonged bombardment of Ukraine’s port infrastructure and grain storage facilities.

Ukrainian forces have won control of drilling platforms near Crimean coast: Military intelligence

Ukrainian forces have regained control of oil and gas drilling platforms off the north-west coast of Crimea, Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence (DI) said Monday.

The platforms, known as the Boyko Towers, have been controlled by Russia since soon after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Ukraine’s DI said the Towers had been used by the Russians as helicopter landing sites and for the deployment of radar equipment.

“A unique operation to establish control over Boyko’s towers was carried out by the Defence Intelligence units,” DI added.

“During the operation, the special forces managed to capture valuable trophies: a stockpile of helicopter munitions of the UAM type (unguided aircraft missiles), as well as the Neva radar, which can track the movement of ships in the Black Sea,” DI announced.

“During one phase of the operation, a battle took place between Ukrainian special forces on boats and a Russian Su-30 fighter jet. As a result of the battle, the Russian aircraft was hit and forced to retreat.”

Noting clashes for control of the Towers last month, the UK Defense Ministry said that they could serve “as advanced bases for force deployment, helicopter pads, and sites for the placement of long-range missile systems.”

Kremlin confirms North Korea leader will visit Russia “in the coming days”

The Kremlin has confirmed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia “in the coming days.”

“At the invitation of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, Chairman of State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kim Jong Un will pay an official visit to Russia in the coming days,” the Kremlin said in a statement Monday.

The statement did not specify an exact date for the visit.

North Korean state media KCNA reported on Monday that Kim will “meet and have a talk” with Putin during the visit.

It did not say when the meeting between Kim and Putin would take place.

Russian aggression in Ukraine “synonymous with torture”: UN official

Russia’s armed aggression “is becoming synonymous with torture and other inhuman cruelty,” according to the United Nations official responsible for investigating torture.

“The volume of credible allegations of torture and other inhumane acts that are being perpetrated against civilians and prisoners of war by Russian authorities appears to be unabating,” UN Special Rapporteur Alice Jill Edwards said at the end of her visit to Kyiv.

“These grievous acts appear neither random nor incidental, but rather orchestrated as part of a state policy to intimidate, instil fear, punish, or extract information and confessions,” Edwards continued.

Edwards added she had gathered “harrowing testimonies involving electric charges being applied to ears and genitals, beatings of all kinds, mock executions at gunpoint, simulated drowning, being required to hold stress positions, threats of rape or death, and various ceremonies of ridicule and humiliation.”

“Returned Ukrainian civilians and soldiers recounted being crowded in basements and cells, in congested conditions, and being poorly fed. Several lost dangerous levels of weight.”

Edwards also visited places in Ukraine where Russian prisoners of war are held.

“I found that sincere efforts have been made by the Ukrainian authorities to treat Russian prisoners of war respectfully. The barrack-style facilities I visited were hygienic and orderly. Prisoners were being well fed,” she said.

Edwards’ comments came days after Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Andrii Kostin claimed that roughly 90% of Ukrainian prisoners of war had been subjected to torture, rape and other forms of cruel treatment.

Ukraine found “evidence of these horrors in all the liberated territories,” Kostin said, during a meeting with Edwards last week.

According to Ukrainian government figures, over 103,000 war crimes proceedings have been registered so far.

“The work that the Ukrainian authorities are undertaking to document war crimes is all the more impressive given that it is being carried out ‘in real time.’ That early action is virtually unprecedented anywhere in the world,” Edwards stated at the conclusion of her visit to Ukraine.

However, Edwards warned that there are major obstacles to bringing the alleged perpetrators to justice. The inaccessibility of presently-occupied areas, the loss of crucial evidence due to deterioration and lapse of time between the crime and liberation when investigations can begin, and adapting the criminal justice system to be able to process and prosecute international atrocity crimes, will all pose challenges to Ukrainian prosecutors.

EU “strongly condemns” sham elections held in Russian-annexed parts of Ukraine

The European Union “strongly” condemned the “illegitimate” elections held over the weekend in Russian-annexed parts of Ukraine, adding that it will not recognize their results.

“These illegal so-called ‘elections’ in Ukraine took place amidst Russia’s forced and illegal granting of passports, including to children, forced transfer and deportation, widespread and systematic violations and abuses of human rights as well as intimidation and increasing repression of Ukrainian citizens by Russia and its illegitimately appointed authorities in the temporary occupied territories of Ukraine,” the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said Monday in a press release.

Borrell urged Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its troops and military equipment from the entire territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.”

Russia staged regional and local elections from September 8-10 in southern and eastern parts of Ukraine it has illegally annexed.

The elections represented another attempt by Moscow to enforce a narrative of Russian legitimacy in the parts of Ukraine it holds — areas of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson and Luhansk regions — even as Kyiv’s counteroffensive makes some progress towards liberating towns in the south.

The international community broadly dismissed the elections as a sham.

Ukraine claims limited gains on south and east fronts

Kyiv says its forces recaptured clutches of land in southern and eastern Ukraine, and fought their way into a village in the Donetsk region last week.

Ukraine launched a counteroffensive against entrenched Russian positions in June, but progress has been limited, spurring political debate in the West over support for Kyiv.

Deputy Defence Minister Ganna Malyar stated Ukrainian forces had pushed back around the war-battered city of Bakhmut in the east, which was captured by Russia in May.

Further south, Ukraine’s forces had battled their way into the village part of Opytne near the larger hub of Avdiivka, Malyar told state media.

Brazil’s President says it’s up to judiciary whether to arrest Putin if he visits country

It is the decision of Brazil’s judiciary whether to arrest Russian leader Vladimir Putin if he visits the country for next year’s G20 summit, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Monday.

“If Putin decides to join, it is the judiciary’s power to decide and not my government,” Lula told reporters in New Delhi, where he was attending this year’s G20 summit.

His latest statement deviated from his earlier stance made on Saturday when Lula stated that Putin would not be arrested if he were to come to Brazil for next year’s summit in Rio de Janeiro.

“I believe that Putin can go easily to Brazil,” Lula said in an on-camera interview with Indian news outlet Firstpost.

“What I can say to you is that if I’m president of Brazil, and he comes to Brazil, there’s no way he will be arrested,” he added.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in March issued an arrest warrant for Putin for an alleged scheme deporting Ukrainian children to Russia. The Kremlin has labeled the ICC’s actions as “outrageous and unacceptable.”

In late August, Putin did not attend the BRICS summit hosted by Johannesburg in person.

The ICC warrant put South Africa in a bind: As a signatory to the treaty governing the Hague court, South Africa is obliged to arrest individuals indicted by the ICC. Though the Kremlin bristled at any implication that Putin ducked out of the BRICS summit because of an ICC warrant.

Putin himself told journalists on July 29 that he didn’t think his presence at BRICS was “more important than my presence in Russia now,” according to state news agency TASS.

German foreign minister in surprise visit to Kyiv

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has made a surprise visit to Kyiv, promising unwavering support for Ukraine and praising its progress on the path towards European Union membership.

“With enormous courage and determination, Ukraine is also defending the freedom of all of us,” Baerbock said in a statement released by the Federal Foreign Office upon her arrival.

Ukraine can “count on us” in return, Baerbock added.

“We will not let up in our efforts to support Ukraine in its defence against Russia’s aggression: economically, militarily and in the humanitarian” sphere, Baerbock continued.

Regional governor says Russia’s air defense shot down 2 drones over Belgorod

Two drones were shot down by Russia’s air defense forces while flying over the Belgorod region early Monday morning, according to the regional governor.

 “Our air defense system was engaged over the Yakovlevo urban district. Two aircraft-type UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) were shot down. There were no casualties. Fragments of one of the drones fell on the roadway near a private residential house,” Belgorod regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a post on Telegram.

The Russian Ministry of Defense added the interceptions occurred at about 1:20 a.m. Moscow time.

Russia hails G20 a “success” but declaration riles Ukraine

Russia on Sunday deemed the G20 Summit in India’s capital New Delhi an “unconditional success,” a day after the meeting’s final declaration stopped short of explicitly condemning its invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking at a press conference at the end of the summit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the summit was a success not just for India but “for all of us.”

The final group statement said “all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition” without singling out Russia.

In a reflection of the deep fractures among the G20 nations, the statement acknowledged “there were different views and assessments of the situation.”

Diplomats had been working furiously to draft a final joint statement in the lead-up to the summit but hit snags on language to describe the Ukraine war.

The eventual compromise statement amounted to a coup for the summit’s host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but still reflected a position far softer those the United States and its Western allies have adopted individually.

Putin’s party wins landslide in elections held in occupied Ukrainian territories in poll widely condemned as a sham

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party unsurprisingly dominated the ballot box at home and in the occupied Ukrainian territories following regional elections, state-run news agency TASS reported Sunday.

The elections were held on Saturday, despite the international community widely dismissing them as a sham.

Incumbent and acting governors are leading in all the regional elections held in Russia, according to the data of the Central Election Commission, TASS reported.

The elections are seen as another attempt by Moscow to enforce a narrative of Russian legitimacy in the parts of Ukraine it holds – some but not all of Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Kherson and Luhansk regions – even as Kyiv’s counteroffensive makes some progress toward liberating towns in the south.

Kremlin-backed candidates, some of whom are running unopposed, are widely expected to be installed after the process.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday that the so-called elections further violated Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and the Council of Europe has labeled them “a flagrant violation of international law which Russia continues to disregard.”

“These territories are and will remain an integral part of Ukraine,” it added in a statement last Monday.

Top US general says Ukraine has weeks before weather hampers counteroffensive

The United States’ top general has warned Ukraine has just six weeks left before changing weather hampers its counteroffensive, even as Kyiv is signaling it could fight on into the winter.

“There is still a reasonable amount of time, about 30 to 45 days’ worth of fighting weather left,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told the BBC on Sunday.

After that, mud and rain would likely have an impact on battlefield maneuverability, he added.

In keeping with the “glass half full” messaging coming from Biden administration officials of late, Milley said the counteroffensive had achieved “very steady progress” since it began in early June.

“The Ukrainians aren’t done, this battle is not done, and they haven’t finished the fighting part of what they are trying to accomplish. It’s too early to say how this is going to end,” he contineud.

Reports on Sunday suggested only incremental gains around one of Ukraine’s main areas of attack, near the village of Robotyne in Zaporizhzhia region, which lies on the way to the strategic town of Tokmak.

An unofficial Telegram channel belonging to Ukraine’s 46th brigade, which has proved a reliable source of information, claimed troops had advanced to the east of a neighboring village, but cautioned Russian forces still held higher ground nearby, giving them an advantage.

An online update from the southern ‘Tavria’ command noted: “we continue to make small advances in the area of Robotyne. About 1.5 square kilometers of Ukrainian territory have been liberated,” though it did not say how long a period of time it was referring to.

Asked about his forces’ rate of advance on Friday, President Volodymyr Zelensky insisted Ukraine still had the initiative, but he urged a conference audience in Kyiv not to see the counteroffensive like a feature film that was all done in 90 minutes.

G20 stops short of condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in joint declaration

Leaders gathered for the annual Group of 20 summit showed the fractures within the group by stopping short of explicitly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a joint statement from the gathering.

Diplomats had been working furiously to draft a final joint statement in the lead-up to the summit but hit snags on language to describe the Ukraine war. The eventual compromise statement amounted to a coup for the summit’s host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but still reflected a position far softer those the United States and its Western allies have adopted individually.

US President Joe Biden was hoping to convince the world’s largest economies to rally behind Ukraine during his two-night stay in India for the summit. He also pressed his case for American investment in the developing world.

On Saturday, as the summit was still underway, the leaders agreed to the joint declaration acknowledging the situation in Ukraine while not papering over the group’s major divides.

“All states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition,” the declaration read, without explicitly singling out Russia for its invasion.

The document also stated opposition to the use of nuclear weapons and highlighted the economic effects of the war.

In a reflection of the deep fractures among the G20 nations, the statement acknowledged “there were different views and assessments of the situation.”

The declaration earned the praise of the United States. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan called the statement a “significant milestone for India’s chairmanship and a vote of confidence that the G20 can come together to address a pressing range of issues.”

Still, the language differed from last year’s G20 declaration, which stated “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine.”

Russia, as a member of the G20, would have to agree on any consensus statement on Ukraine. Russia and China had resisted stronger language in a final statement, making any kind of agreement difficult. No G20 summit has concluded without a joint declaration of some type.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko criticized the declaration.

“Ukraine is grateful to its partners who tried to include strong wording in the text,” he wrote on Facebook.

“At the same time, the G20 has nothing to be proud of in the part about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Obviously, the participation of the Ukrainian side would have allowed the participants to better understand the situation. The principle of ‘nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine’ remains as key as ever.”

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