Saturday, September 23, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 568

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:

Potential North Korea-Russia arms deal could violate UN resolutions: Japan

Japan warned Thursday that any arms deal between North Korea and Russia following the meeting of their two leaders on Wednesday could potentially violate UN Security Council resolutions.

Tokyo is “closely monitoring the situation with concern,” Japan’s new Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa, who took office on the day of the meeting, told a press conference.

She said that any deal between the two countries “could lead to violations of related Security Council resolutions,” and expressed concern that the summit between Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin could lead to North Korea giving weapons and other assistance to Russia.

She added that Japan would work closely with the international community, including the United States and South Korea, in monitoring for developments.


Pyongyang and Moscow appear to be pursuing “some kind of military deal”: South Korea

South Korea has expressed “deep concerns” over possible military cooperation between Pyongyang and Moscow following the meeting of Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin at a space center in Russia.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho said the two countries appeared to be pursuing “some kind of military deal,” pointing to Kim Jong Un’s recent visits to munitions factories in North Korea and his visit to Russia alongside top military officials.

The unification minister also referenced the recent visit by Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to Pyongyang and Moscow’s suggestion that it would support Pyongyang’s satellite development.

The comments come after US officials warned that Putin could use the summit with the North Korean leader to seek weapons after saying arms negotiations were “actively advancing” between the two countries.

“I cannot help but be deeply concerned about military cooperation and an arms deal,” Kim Yung-ho added.

The minister urged Pyongyang and Moscow to stop “illegal acts” that would lead the two countries to “isolation and regression on their own,” and to comply with international norms including the UN Security Council resolutions.

He warned that North Korea would face a “stronger response” from South Korea, the US and Japan, “the more it clings to its nuclear development.”

South Korea’s Defense Ministry spokesperson Jeon Ha-kyu stated Thursday the ministry was keeping “a close eye out” amid speculation that North Korea and Russia may hold a joint military drill in the future.


European Parliament adopts resolution calling Belarusian president “an accomplice” in Russia’s war crimes

The European Parliament called Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko “an accomplice” in the war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine in a resolution adopted Wednesday.

“By enabling Russia’s unjustified war of aggression against Ukraine, the Lukashenko regime has become an accomplice in the crimes committed by Russia, which implies responsibility for the destruction and damage caused to Ukraine,” the resolution reads, adding that “the special international tribunal on the crime of aggression perpetrated by Russia against Ukraine must have jurisdiction to investigate not only Vladimir Putin and the Russian political and military leadership but also the Belarusian leadership.”

The European Parliament urged European Union institutions and members “to enable the criminal prosecution of Belarusian officials who are complicit in the crime of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of genocide committed against Ukraine.”

It called for the establishment of an International Criminal Court country office in Ukraine and “to find legal pathways for seizing assets of the Belarusian leadership and related Belarusian entities involved in the Russian war effort” in order to support the reconstruction of Ukraine.

The European Parliament also called on EU member states to “broaden and strengthen the scope of their sanctions” against Russia. It suggested applying the same sanctions against Belarus as it currently does against Russia.

The parliament also called on Russia and Belarus to be put on “the EU’s high-risk third-country list with regard to combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism.”

The resolution urged the International Olympic Committee and other international sports federations “not to allow athletes from Belarus and Russia to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games or any other international sports events.”

It also labeled Belarus a “satellite state of Russia” and condemned “the deployment of Russian tactical nuclear weapons under Russian command on Belarusian territory,” which it said was made in violation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and may trigger further nuclear redeployments in the region.


Pentagon watchdog establishes new team in Ukraine to monitor how US aid is used

The Pentagon is establishing a new team in Ukraine to monitor US security assistance to Kyiv, as a growing number of Republican lawmakers are calling for more oversight into how the money is being used.

The Defense Department Inspector General said a senior US representative began work in Ukraine in late August, and additional personnel are expected to arrive by the end of September. The personnel, based at the US embassy in Kyiv, will monitor US aid, which has totaled more than $43.7 billion since the start of the Joe Biden administration.

It marks the first time the inspector general will have personnel based in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, said spokesperson Megan Reed.

The establishment of the new team comes at a critical time for Ukraine aid. The Biden administration recently asked Congress for $24 billion more in assistance, including $13 billion in security assistance, as the president and other senior administration officials have vowed to continue US aid for “as long as it takes.”

But some increasingly skeptical Republicans have raised questions about how much bipartisan support there is for such substantial sums of aid. A growing number of Republicans have begun questioning the wisdom of spending billions of dollars in Ukraine and have called for greater oversight.

Republican calls for more oversight are not unanimous. GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that there was already “unprecedented insight into how nearly 30 types of Western weapons systems and vehicles are being used by Ukraine, often down to the serial number.”

The Pentagon has improved its ability to monitor transfers of weapons and equipment to Ukraine through the defense attache in Kyiv and the establishment of the Security Assistance Group-Ukraine, but the military struggled to effectively oversee the shipments when the war began.

A Defense Department inspector general report warned that the ability of the US to monitor billions of dollars in aid flowing into Ukraine faced “challenges” because of the limited US presence. During the first six months of the war, the Office of Defense Cooperation-Kyiv “was unable to conduct required [end-use monitoring]” of military equipment provided to Ukraine.

The report, dated October 2022, underscored how difficult it was for the US to track the vast quantities of weapons, ammunition and equipment during the early months of the war. Criminals, volunteer fighters and arms traffickers in Ukraine attempted to steal some of the Western-provided weapons and equipment before it was recovered by Ukrainian intelligence, the report found.


Ukraine claims that North Korea is already supplying Russia with ammunition

Ukraine is claiming that North Korea is already supplying Russia with ammunition.

“We can say that cooperation continues between North Korea and Russia,” Andrii Yusov, representative of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine, said in an interview with Ukrainian state media on Wednesday. He added that such intel between the countries is being intercepted and recorded.

Russian requests are mainly for projectiles for artillery and MLRS, Yusov said, referring to rocket launchers.

“This is an important factor that will be felt on the battlefield, unfortunately,” he continued, adding that Ukraine is working on a proper reaction to such cooperation.

Yusof did not provide any evidence that North Korea is already supplying weapons to Russia.

The comments come after United States officials warned that Russia and North Korea could make a potential arms deal that could see Pyongyang provide weapons for Moscow.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Vladimir Putin met on Wednesday in Russia’s Far East.

Afterward, Putin was asked if he discussed military-technical cooperation with Kim.

The Russian leader acknowledged certain restrictions in place, which he said Moscow fully complies with, but admitted there are areas open for discussion and consideration.


Over 2,000 people evacuated in the Kupiansk district: Regional authorities

More than 2,000 people have left the Kupiansk district as of Wednesday, after a mandatory evacuation was ordered for 56 settlements on August 9, according to Kharkiv regional authorities.

Oleh Syniehubov, the head of the Kharkiv region military administration, said on Telegram that 2,339 people have evacuated so far, including 350 children. He added that another 1,438 evacuated on their own as well, including 164 children.

“The evacuation is ongoing,” Syniehubov continued, stating, “People are reluctant to leave, explaining that this is their house, their land, their home. However, we are working with the national police to evacuate as many people as possible.”

Syniehubov said 12,000 people were still living in the community as of Sunday, as opposed to the 57,000 people who lived there before Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Syniehubov added that the situation on the frontline in the Kupiansk sector remains “difficult.”

“The enemy is forming another ‘striking fist’ to intensify assault operations and try to break through our defenses,” he said, adding, “They carry out assault operations in waves and after suffering significant damage to their manpower and equipment from our military, they are forced to withdraw for renewal to form new assault forces.”

A video posted by Ukraine’s Offensive Guard on Wednesday appears to show an enemy position hit by an intense explosion in the distance. According to the caption, the Ukrainian border guard “used an automatic grenade launcher MK19 to hit the occupiers’ minefields.”


Russia says it destroyed 3 unmanned Ukrainian boats in Black Sea

The Russian defense ministry said it destroyed three Ukrainian unmanned boats in the Black Sea on Wednesday.

The news comes after Ukraine launched an extensive missile attack on the Sevastopol shipyard in occupied Crimea in the early hours of Wednesday.

The ministry claimed air defense forces shot down seven cruise missiles, and that the patrol ship Vasily Bykov destroyed all the unmanned boats. But the ministry acknowledged that “two ships under repair were damaged by enemy cruise missiles.”

The vessels will be fully repaired, the ministry added.


US says it “will not hesitate” to impose sanctions if weapons are transferred between North Korea and Russia

The United States “will not hesitate to impose sanctions” if the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un results in weapons transfers between the two countries, the US State Department announced.

“We have taken a number of actions already to sanction entities that have brokered arms sales between North Korea and Russia, and we won’t hesitate to impose additional actions if appropriate,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Wednesday.

Ahead of the Putin-Kim summit, US officials warned that Russia and North Korea are “actively advancing” in a potential arms deal that could see Pyongyang provide weapons for Moscow to use in its faltering Ukraine war in exchange for sanctioned ballistic missile technology.

Miller said that the US has not raised the issue of Russia potentially providing nuclear technology to North Korea with China, but that he anticipated they would.

“Secretary Antony Blinken raised North Korea’s nuclear program and North Korea’s ballistic missile program in his engagements with Chinese officials when we were in Beijing, and we’ve regularly raised that in our conversations with Chinese officials,” Miller added.

Miller also condemned North Korea’s overnight ballistic missile launches.


Russia shows desperation by engaging with North Korea: US ambassador to UN

The US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on Wednesday that Moscow’s engagement with North Korea “shows how desperate Russia is.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sat down for talks on Wednesday at Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome space center.

Putin signaled willingness to assist North Korea in developing its space and satellite program Wednesday, as he gave Kim Jong Un a tour of Russia’s vast Vostochny space launch site ahead of their expected arms talks. When asked by a reporter whether Russia would help North Korea launch its own satellites and rockets, Putin responded: “That’s exactly why we came here.”

US officials have warned North Korea it will “pay a price” if it strikes an arms deal with Russia, after saying that negotiations were “advancing” between the two nations.

If Pyongyang provides weapons to Moscow to use in the war against Ukraine, it is “not going to reflect well on North Korea and they will pay a price for this in the international community,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told a news briefing on Tuesday.


Ukraine calls for tougher sanctions after reports Russia has increased missile output

Ukraine announced that sanctions against Russia must be tougher and more sophisticated, after new reporting that Russia is evading international restrictions and increasing its missile production.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President, said on Telegram: “The more powerful the sanctions, the fewer missiles Russia will produce….If the Western media notice an increase in missile production, it means that sanctions need to be tougher and more sophisticated.”

Yermak was responding to a New York Times report that Russia has managed to overcome sanctions and export controls imposed by the West to expand its missile production beyond pre-war levels, citing US, European and Ukrainian officials.

The NYT reported that “Russia subverted American export controls using its intelligence services and ministry of defense to run illicit networks of people who smuggle key components by exporting them to other countries from which they can be shipped to Russia more easily.”

Yermak said that a special group appointed by the Ukrainian government had “provided detailed proposals to our partners, as well as evidence of foreign components in Russian weapons. The enemy’s military-industrial complex cannot produce missiles without these components.”

“We are working with the governments of our partners. We need to actively cut off oxygen to the Russians,” he added.

The Yermak-McFaul International Working Group last month made recommendations to tighten control over foreign-made components used by Russia in its unmanned aerial vehicle program.

China is the main supplier of critical components for Russian drones, accounting for 67% of shipments, with 17% of them going through Hong Kong, the group reported.

The group called for better international harmonization of sanctions lists and the unification of data on dual-use goods that can be used in both military and civilian applications.

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