Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 576

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 says strike on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet HQ killed and wounded dozens, including “senior leadership”

Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces claimed Saturday a strike on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters in Sevastopol left dozens dead and wounded, “including senior leadership.”

In a statement on Telegram, the forces said a special operation dubbed “Crab Trap” was timed to strike while senior members of Russia’s navy were meeting, and that the attack left dozens of dead and wounded, “including the senior leadership of the fleet.”

“The daring and painstaking work of the Special Operations Forces enabled them to hit the Black Sea Fleet headquarters ‘on time and with precision’ while the Russian Navy’s senior staff was meeting in the temporarily occupied city of Sevastopol,” it said in the statement.

No further details or any evidence as to specific casualties among Russia’s Black Sea Fleet have so far been provided by Ukraine.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense has to date only said that a Russian soldier was missing after Friday’s missile attack.

The strike was the latest and perhaps one of the most ambitious of Kyiv’s attacks on Russian military targets in Crimea.

Sevastopol, home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters, is one of the largest cities on the Crimean peninsula and was illegally annexed by Moscow’s forces in 2014.

Ukraine not discussing any Plan B for receiving fewer US weapons: Top security official

Authorities in Ukraine have not been discussing any plan of action in the event of reduced US assistance, Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Alexey Danilov stated in an interview with PBS.

“We cannot say that we have some sort of separate discussions about some Plan B. We have no desire to engage in some sidetrack discussions,” he said when asked to comment on what Ukraine is doing to prepare for the possibility of not having as many American weapons systems and ammunition as it has been using.

The senior Ukrainian security official also expressed his concern about the lack of consensus in the West about the future of Ukraine.

“They talk about assistance, but not about victory,” Danilov added.

Earlier, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky told US Senators at a meeting during his visit to Washington that Kiev would be defeated unless it received more aid from Washington.

New sanctions against Russia “cause more harm to Europe than Russia”: Hungarian minister

New sanctions against Russia are not needed because they “cause more harm to Europe than Russia,” Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said in an interview with Russian state media TASS.

Szijjártó stated he was speaking from a “pragmatic point of view,” according to TASS, adding that “the new packages of sanctions are not necessary.”

The foreign minister added supplies of Ukrainian grain to Central European countries will destroy their agricultural sector.

“If Ukrainian grain starts to spread into Central European countries, it will definitely destroy the agricultural markets of Central Europe. Not to mention our farmers, whom we obviously need to protect,” Szijjártó continued, as cited by TASS.

Poland and Slovakia have also imposed restrictions on Ukrainian grain exports, citing the same reasons, after the European Union decided not to extend its ban on imports into those countries and fellow EU states Romania and Bulgaria.

According to Szijjártó, Hungary is ready to provide free transit of Ukrainian grain through its territory. He also noted that initially, the agreement on lines of solidarity implied permission for the transit of Ukrainian agricultural products only.

“As I understand it, they (Ukraine) would prefer to distribute grain in Central Europe, but the original agreement on lines of solidarity was not about that,” he said, according to TASS, adding that the agreement implied “permission for transit, and not for bilateral trade.”

Ukraine to receive US long-range ATACMS missiles: Report

United States President Joe Biden has informed his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, that Washington will provide Kyiv with ATACMS long-range missiles, US broadcaster NBC News has reported.

Ukraine has repeatedly asked the Biden administration for the long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to help hit supply lines, airbases and rail networks deep behind Russia’s front lines in occupied regions of Ukraine.

But the White House has not announced a decision to provide Ukraine with the ATACMS system and the missiles were not publicly discussed when Zelensky visited Washington, DC on Thursday for talks with Biden, even as the US announced a new $325m military aid package for Kyiv.

The Pentagon has declined to say whether any promise of ATACMS was given to Zelensky during his meetings on Thursday at the Department of Defense.

“In regards to ATACMS, we have nothing to announce,” it said.

A date for delivery of the ATACMS was not revealed, according to NBC.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned earlier this month that the supply of longer-range missiles to Kyiv would cross a “red line” and the US would be viewed as “a party to the conflict” in Ukraine if it did provide such weapons.

Zelensky did not answer directly when asked about the NBC reports on ATACMS, but he noted that the US was the biggest single supplier of weaponry to Ukraine.

“We are discussing all the different types of weapons – long-range weapons and artillery, artillery shells with the calibre of 155mm, then air defence systems,” Zelensky stated, speaking through an interpreter.

“We have a comprehensive discussion and [we] work with the United States at different levels,” he added.

The Washington Post also reported that the US plans to provide Ukraine with a version of the ATACMS that will be armed with cluster bomblets rather than a single warhead, citing several unnamed sources familiar with the deliberations, and that can fly up to 306km (190 miles).

ATACMS is designed for “deep attack of enemy second-echelon forces”, a US Army website states, and could be used to attack command and control centres, air defences and logistics sites well behind the front line.

Only two options for Russia on Black Sea Fleet: Ukraine official

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s Security Council has said there were two options for the future of Russia’s Black Sea fleet – voluntary or forced “self-neutralisation”.

If it did not choose the voluntary option, it “will be sliced up like a salami”, he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Kyiv has claimed responsibility for an earlier strike on the headquarters of Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet on the Crimean Peninsula.

“On September 22, around 12:00 (09:00 GMT), Ukraine’s Defence Forces launched a successful attack on the headquarters of the command of the Black Sea Fleet of Russia in the temporarily occupied Sevastopol,” the communication department of Ukraine’s army has announced.

Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev says on the Telegram messaging app at least one Ukrainian missile has struck the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea navy in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

Razvozhayev added another strike was possible and urged locals to avoid the city centre, where the building is located.

Putin ‘governs with deception’: Trudeau

Canada Prime Minister Trudeau has said Russian President Putin’s war in Ukraine was a “break with civilization” and a violation of “our common humanity”.

“It is an attempt to disassemble the rules-based order that protects our freedom. It is a move to weaken democracy and assert autocracy,”he said in parliament on Friday.

“Putin governs with deception, violence and repression. He imprisons his own people, and stirs up ugly sentiments of xenophobia and racism,” he added.

Canada is set to provide Ukraine with 650 million Canadian dollars ($482m) over three years for armed vehicles.

“We’re making a longer term, multiyear commitment that provides predictable steady support to Ukraine. It will include 650 million [Canadian] dollars over three years for 50 armoured vehicles, including medical evacuation vehicles that will be built by Canadian workers in London, Ontario,” he stated in his address.

Canada has provided some C$8 billion ($5.9 billion)  in financial, humanitarian and military support to Ukraine since the war began.

Canada has helped save thousands of Ukrainians: Zelensky

Canada’s military support for Ukraine has allowed us to save thousands of lives, President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated.

“This includes air defence systems, armoured vehicles, artillery shells and very significant assistance in de-mining,” he noted.

“Canada’s leadership in sanctions against Russia … really encouraged others in the world to follow your lead.”

Moscow is bent on controlling Ukraine and makes use of all available means to do it, Zelensky said in his address to Canada’s parliament.

“It is genocide … what Russian occupiers are doing to Ukraine,” he continued, adding, “When we call on the world to support us, it is not just about an ordinary conflict. It is about saving lives of millions of people.”

“Moscow must lose once and for all, and it will lose.”

Poland says grain dispute won’t significantly affect Ukraine relations

Tensions between Poland and Ukraine over grain imports will not significantly affect the countries’ good bilateral relations, the Polish president has said.

“I have no doubt that the dispute over the supply of grain from Ukraine to the Polish market is an absolute fragment of the entire Polish-Ukrainian relations,” President Andrzej Duda told a business conference.

“I don’t believe that it can have a significant impact on them, so we need to solve this matter between us.”

‘Never insult Poles again’: Polish PM to Zelensky

Poland’s prime minister has told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky not to “insult” Poles, maintaining harsh rhetoric towards Kyiv.

“I … want to tell President Zelensky never to insult Poles again, as he did recently during his speech at the UN,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told an election rally.

Poland decided last week to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports, shaking Kyiv’s relationship with a neighbour that has been seen as one of its staunchest allies since Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year.

Zelensky angered his neighbours when he told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that Kyiv was working to preserve land routes for grain exports, but that the “political theatre” around grain imports was only helping Moscow.

Russia plans huge defence spending hike in 2024

Russia plans a huge hike in defence spending next year, swelling to 6% of gross domestic product (GDP), up from 3.9% in 2023 and 2.7% in 2021, Bloomberg News reported on Friday.

Reuters could not immediately verfiy the report.

Moscow doubled its target for defence spending in 2023 to more than $100 billion, Reuters reported exclusively in August, as the costs of the war in Ukraine spiral and place growing strain on Moscow’s finances.

Rising war costs are supporting Russia’s modest economic recovery this year with higher industrial production, but have already pushed budget finances to a deficit of around $24 billion – a figure compounded by falling export revenues.

The government was due to discuss draft budget proposals on Friday.

Russia repression ‘unprecedented in recent history’: UN expert

Repression in Russia has soared since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, reaching levels not seen since Stalinist times, a top United Nations expert has warned.

“The level of repression against the civil society independent media, and generally anybody with a dissenting voice … is unprecedented in recent history,” Mariana Katzarova told reporters in Geneva.

Presenting the findings of her first report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia lamented Moscow’s “enormous crackdown” on critics since launching its war.

Zelensky promises to liberate Bakhmut

President Volodymyr Zelensky has pledged that Ukrainian forces will liberate the eastern city of Bakhmut.

“We will de-occupy Bakhmut,” he said, according to broadcaster CNN.

“I think we will de-occupy two more towns,” he continued, adding, “We have the plan. Very, very comprehensive plan.”

Russia captured the city in May after a nearly yearlong assault. Fighting has continued to be focussed there, and Ukraine has recently announced the recapture of several nearby villages as it slowly advances to Bakhmut.

Kremlin says ‘friction’ between Ukraine, Europe ‘inevitable’

It is unavoidable that tensions would grow between Kyiv and its European allies, the Kremlin announced amid an escalating dispute between Ukraine and Poland sparked by disagreements over grain exports.

“There are certain frictions between Warsaw and Kyiv. We predict that these frictions between Warsaw and Kyiv will increase,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“Friction between Kyiv and other European capitals will also grow over time. This is inevitable,” he added.

Impact of Ukraine war on European economies to worsen: Swiss study

The war in Ukraine has reduced economic growth and “considerably” pushed up inflation across Europe, the Swiss National Bank says in a study, and it predicts worse effects still to come.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Europe has seen a surge in energy prices, financial market turmoil and a sharp contraction of Russia’s and Ukraine’s economies, the report added.

The study examined the impact of the war on Germany’s, the United Kingdom’s, France’s, Italy’s and Switzerland’s economies and found that output would have been 0.1 percent to 0.7 percent higher in the fourth quarter if Moscow had not attacked Kyiv.

Inflation in each of the countries would have been 0.2 percent to 0.4 percent lower, it said.

“The negative consequences of the war are likely to be far greater in the medium-to-long term, especially with regard to the real economy,” the study said. “In one to two years, this effect is likely to be approximately twice as large.”

Kremlin: No progress on Black Sea grain, no Putin-Erdogan talks scheduled

The Kremlin has said that no progress had been made on the Black Sea grain issue and that no talks between President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan were scheduled.

In July, Russia quit a Turkish-brokered deal that had allowed Ukraine to export grain via the Black Sea.

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