Saturday, December 2, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 580

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:

US and UK involved in attack on Crimea: Russia

Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, has asserted that US and British intelligence agencies supported Kiev during an attack on Sevastopol last Friday. The Ukrainian assault targeted the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Speaking at a weekly briefing on Wednesday, she said there was “no doubt that this attack was planned with the use of Western surveillance assets, NATO satellite equipment, and spy planes and conducted at the direction of and in close coordination with American and British special services.”

The Defense Ministry has reported that the missile strike on the fleet headquarters involved several Ukrainian missiles, with Russian air defenses successfully intercepting some of them. British media outlets have also disclosed that Kiev employed Storm Shadow missiles supplied by the UK in the attack, resulting in significant damage to the building.

Zakharova described the incident as one of many in which Kiev “targets Russian regions, using missiles and shells supplied by NATO states,” citing several other recent examples. The goals of the Ukrainian government, she added, are “to draw attention away from the Ukrainian military’s failed attempts at conducting a counteroffensive” and to destabilize Russian society.

The US and its allies have supplied tens of billions of dollars worth of military hardware to Ukraine to boost its summer charge against Russian defensive lines. The operation, however, has so far produced insignificant territorial gains at the cost of heavy losses in manpower and equipment.

Russia building a new rail link to Mariupol: Ukrainian official

Russia is constructing a new railway that will link the occupied cities of Mariupol, Volnovakha and Donetsk to Russia, according to a Ukrainian official.

Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the exiled mayor of Mariupol, said the Russians “have begun construction of a railroad bridge near the village of Hranitne over the Kalmius River. If successful, this will allow the existing Mariupol-Aslanove-Kalchyk-Volnovakha line to be connected directly to Taganrog and Rostov-on-Don.”

Andriushchenko stated if this railway is completed, it would allow Russia to transport military and civilian supplies to occupied territory in southern Ukraine without relying on the Crimea bridge.

The bridge connecting Crimea with the Russian mainland has come under increasing attacks by Ukrainian forces in recent months, as they try to cut supply lines to the peninsula.

The port city on the Sea of Azov is located in Ukraine’s Donetsk region and has been under direct Russian control since May 2022. It was in Mariupol that Russian forces carried out some of their most notorious strikes, including an attack on a maternity hospital and the bombing of a theater in which hundreds of civilians had sought refuge.

The city became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance during weeks of relentless Russian attacks last year. Famously, even when most of it had fallen, its defenders held out at the Azovstal steel plant for weeks before the stronghold finally fell.

Kremlin maintains Black Sea Fleet commander took part in meeting on Tuesday

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Admiral Viktor Sokolov — the Black Sea Fleet commander who Ukraine claimed to have killed — took part in a meeting of Russia’s military leaders on Tuesday.

“Yesterday we spoke about the fleet commander (Sokolov); he took part in the meeting,” Peskov told reporters Wednesday.

The Kremlin has so far refused to confirm directly whether or not Sokolov is dead or alive. Peskov refused to comment further, directing all questions to the Russian defense ministry.

Earlier Wednesday, a video of Sokolov giving an interview to Russian military media was posted on Telegram. CNN cannot confirm when it was filmed.

On Tuesday, Ukraine claimed it was “clarifying” information about Sokolov’s alleged death.

Ukraine detains two men accused of assisting Russia with strikes on Kyiv

Ukraine’s security service (SBU) announced it has detained two men accused of collaborating with Russia to strike targets in Kyiv last week.

“SBU cyber specialists detained two Russian agents who adjusted the Russian air attack on Kyiv on the night of September 21 this year,” the SBU said in a statement Wednesday.

“It has been established that on the eve of this date, the detainees sent the Russians coordinates for a strike on the city. The main targets of the enemy attack were the capital’s critical infrastructure, including energy generating enterprises,” the SBU added.

The SBU describes the men as “local residents” and accuses them of receiving money from the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded on Telegram Wednesday saying: “This is a good signal to all traitors: There will be retribution.”

Russia unleashed a barrage of missiles on September 21, injuring at least seven people including one child, according to the city military administration.

Ukrainian air defenses shot down 36 of 43 missiles launched by Russia across the country, according to Ukraine’s army chief.

Russia sanctions members from UK’s military, media and academia

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that in the context of the UK’s “anti-Russia policy, including its active use of the mechanism of personal sanctions and all-round support for the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv”, sanctions towards Britain will now include members of its military and political establishment, media and the academic community.

“The list of British nationals who will be denied entry into the Russian Federation includes, in part, Chief of the Defence Staff Antony Radakin, who is responsible for the training of Ukrainian service members in the UK; Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee Madeleine Alessandri, who is involved in shaping London’s strategy in Ukraine; and Cressida Hogg, Chair of the British defence company BAE Systems Plc,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Personal sanctions have been approved against the staff of British political analysis centres, which are collecting and analysing information for fighting Russia, such as the Royal United Services Institute (Justin Bronk, Sidharth Kaushaland, Nick Reynolds), the Henry Jackson Society (Alan Mendoza) and the Civitas Institute for the Study of Civil Society (Robert Clark),” it added.

Russian attacks target civilians and infrastructure across Ukraine: Officials

At least one person has been killed and five others injured across Ukraine over the past day as a result of Russian attacks, Ukrainian officials announced on Wednesday.

The attacks also damaged residential buildings and infrastructure, the officials stated.

Zaporizhzhia: Russian forces conducted 130 attacks on Zaporizhzhia over the past day, shelling 27 settlements, said Yurii Malashko, head of the southern region’s military administration.

A 66-year-old resident was killed by Russian artillery fire in the city of Orikhiv, while a man, 56, was wounded by shelling in the village of Prymorske, he stated.

Russian forces conducted four airstrikes, UAV attacks and Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) attacks on several villages, damaging residential buildings and infrastructure, he added.

Kharkiv: Russian forces attacked Kharkiv, Bohodukhiv, Chuhuiv, Kupiansk and Izium districts, said Oleh Syniehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional military administration.

Shelling injured a 65-year-old man in the town of Vovchansk, where buildings were damaged and a forest fire broke out, he added.

In the village of Borova, the shelling also sparked a forest fire, while in the village of Pidlyman, wheat crops were damaged, he said. A fire also broke out in the city of Kupiansk, damaging infrastructure, he added.

Dnipropetrovsk: Two men, ages 44 and 68, were injured in the region, said Serhii Lysak, head of the Dnipropetrovsk region military administration. Buildings were also damaged in the Russian attacks, he added.

Donetsk: At least one resident was injured in the village of Orlivka in the eastern region, according to its military administration.

US lawmakers propose major cut to Ukraine aid

The US Senate has reached a provisional deal on a spending bill needed to avert a federal budget crisis, with lawmakers agreeing to slash nearly $20 billion in proposed aid for Ukraine following push-back by some Republicans.

The upper chamber ended debate on the budget legislation on Tuesday night, garnering the support needed to advance to a final vote, officials from both parties stated.

“All through the weekend – night and day – Senate Democrats and Republicans worked in good faith to reach an agreement on a continuing resolution that will keep the government funded and avert a shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said in a statement.

The stop-gap bill will reportedly allocate $6.2 billion for assistance to Ukraine, a significant drop from the nearly $25 billion originally sought by Democrats. While a large number of Republicans appear to have accepted the more modest aid package, some GOP members have vowed to oppose any measure that includes funding for Kiev.

“It’s bad policy to bankrupt our own country to send money to Ukraine,” libertarian-leaning Senator Rand Paul wrote in a post on X (formerly Twitter).

“I will not consent to easy passage of any spending bill that includes funding for Ukraine. Those in charge of this bill need to either take it out or will have to fight me every step of the way,” he added.

In another missive, Paul mocked leaders in both parties, sharing a photo of Schumer and his GOP counterpart Mitch McConnell with the caption: “The look on their faces when they learned Ukrainian government workers would be paid during a shutdown, but not American government workers. Priceless? No, pathetic.”

However, while the Senate appears close to an agreement on the budget measure despite Paul’s opposition, the bill must be reconciled with a separate version advancing through the House. Lawmakers in both chambers have until September 30 to produce final legislation for President Joe Biden to sign, risking a shutdown otherwise.

It remains to be seen whether House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will accept the Senate’s alterations to the spending bill, given that congressional Republicans are seeking deeper budget cuts and have opposed aid to Ukraine more vocally. Earlier on Tuesday, the House leader said he would not speak in “hypotheticals” regarding the Senate bill, but suggested his party would look to boost border funding in their own version.

Though senior White House officials previously warned that a federal shutdown would hamper US military aid to Kiev, the Pentagon itself has appeared to contradict those claims.

Russia seeks to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council

Russia is seeking to rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council after it was expelled in April of last year following its invasion of Ukraine.

Russia is listed on the United Nations website as a candidate for the election of members of the Human Rights Council for the 2024-2026 term, which is due to take place on October 10.

Membership is based on equitable geographical distribution, with two vacant seats in the Eastern European States regional group, according to the United Nations. Russia, along with Albania and Bulgaria, are listed as having announced their candidacy for that region so far.

According to Russia’s position paper, which CNN obtained, Russia considers the Human Rights Council a “key body in the United Nations systems.”

The position paper, which Russia is circulating to UN members to drum up support, states that Russia “believes it is important to prevent the increasing trend of turning the Human Rights Council into the instrument, which serves political wills of one group of countries punishing non-loyal governments for their independent internal and external policy.”

“If elected, the Russian Federation will focus on this issue. We will firmly promote principles of cooperation and strengthening of constructive mutually respectful dialogue in the Council in order to find adequate solutions for human rights issues,” the position paper argued.

Ukrainian defense minister neither confirms nor denies alleged death of Russian admiral

If Russia’s Black Sea Fleet commander is dead, “it’s good news for everybody,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister Rustem Umerov told CNN Tuesday.

In an exclusive interview from Kyiv, he neither confirmed nor denied Admiral Viktor Sokolov had been killed in a Ukrainian strike last week on the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea.

Earlier Tuesday, the Russian defense ministry published a video appearing to show Sokolov participating by video conference in a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, calling into question Ukrainian claims that the admiral had died in the attack.

“He is in our temporary occupied territories … he should not be there at all. So, if he’s dead, it’s good news for everybody that we are continuing to de-occupy our territory,” Umerov told CNN.

Ukraine’s military has said it is “clarifying” information received about Sokolov.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier on Tuesday refused to comment on the Ukrainian claim that Sokolov had been killed.

Washington pushing Ukraine towards ‘self-destruction’: Moscow

Facing pressure from its Western backers to demonstrate tangible battleground results, Kiev continues to throw untrained soldiers into the meat grinder, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu stated at a meeting of ministry officials on Tuesday.

“Despite the absence of any significant results of the so-called counteroffensive, Ukraine’s Western handlers are not backing down from their inhuman principle of ‘arms as a path to peace,’” Shoigu said at a regular briefing of senior military officials.

Kiev does not disclose statistics about its military losses, but according to Moscow’s estimates, the number of Ukrainian servicemen killed since the counteroffensive began has now surpassed 83,000, with at least 17,000 killed in September alone.

“The United States and its allies continue to arm the Ukrainian armed forces, while the Kiev regime continues to throw untrained soldiers into senseless assaults and slaughter,” the defense minister continued, adding that these “cynical actions by the West and their henchmen in Kiev are only pushing Ukraine towards self-destruction.”

Washington and its allies sent billions of dollars in direct military aid to Kiev since fighting with Russia escalated in February 2022, including dozens of shipments of heavy weapons, vehicles, and munitions.

Russia has repeatedly warned the West that arms shipments to Ukraine will only prolong the conflict and inflict more civilian suffering, but will not change the outcome.

US slaps Ukraine with list of demands

US officials have circulated a list of “priority reforms” intended for Ukraine, suggesting that future aid could depend on whether the government complies. Sent out by the White House, the document was reportedly shared with other potential supporters of the Ukrainian war effort.

In a statement, the US Embassy in Kiev confirmed that it had “provided a proposed list of priority reforms” meant for “discussion and feedback” among Ukrainian officials and other possible donors.

“This list was provided as a basis for consultation with the Government of Ukraine and key partners as part of our enduring support to Ukraine and its efforts to integrate into Europe, a goal the United States strongly supports,” the embassy added.

It went on to cite previous remarks by President Joe Biden that his administration is “supporting reforms that are going to combat corruption” in Ukraine.

The embassy statement was issued after Ukrainian media outlets obtained a copy of the list of proposed policies, with some agencies stating that Kiev would need to implement the reforms “to receive aid” in the future.

According to the document, US officials have categorized the reforms based on their urgency, with some labeled as “0-3 month priorities,” while others are expected to be implemented over a longer period of time, up to 18 months down the road. The most immediate policies include measures to “strengthen” Ukraine’s Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, as well as bolster the staff of the separate National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine. Among the longer-range goals are a number of judicial and economic reforms, such as the “liberalization” of the country’s gas and electricity tariffs.

The document also called for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry to be overhauled, to put it in line with “NATO standards of transparency,” as well as a redesign of the military’s procurement process.

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