Sunday, December 3, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 586

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:

‘Must keep their word’: US president demands Ukraine aid passage

President Joe Biden has called on Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to rush through new aid saying US support for Kyiv as it battles Russia’s invasion could not be interrupted “under any circumstances”.

“Speaker McCarthy and the majority of House Republicans must keep their word and secure passage of the support needed to help Ukraine as it defends itself,” Biden said on X, formerly Twitter.

“We are the indispensable nation in the world – let’s act like it.”


Biden speaks to allies, NATO, EU over Ukraine support

US President Joe Biden spoke with allies, the European Union and the NATO military alliance about continuing support for Ukraine, the White House said.

In a statement, the White House added that Biden spoke to the leaders of Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Poland, Romania, Britain and France, as well as the heads of NATO, the European Commission and the European Council.

The call was reportedly scheduled as concerns grew that support for Kyiv’s war effort was fading, especially by the US after Congress excluded aid to Ukraine from an emergency budget bill on Sunday.


‘They are power’: Zelensky visits troops on the front line

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky visited troops in the northeast of the country and met commanders to discuss the battlefield situation on the front line.

While he did not give the exact location, he said he met soldiers fighting in the Kupiansk-Lyman sector where the Ukrainian military says Russian forces have been relentlessly attacking.

On X, Zelensky wrote: “Today, we are visiting our brigades that are fighting in one of the hot spots, the Kupiansk-Lyman direction where Russian occupiers constantly try to attack our positions. The 103rd Territorial Defence Brigade, the 68th ‘Oleksa Dovbush’ Jeager Brigade, and the 25th ‘Sicheslav’ Airborne Brigade.”

“We met with brigade and battalion commanders to discuss the battlefield situation, pressing issues, and needs. Each of our combat brigades, each warrior who destroys the occupiers with every step forward, asserts that the Ukrainian victory will surely come. They are the power. I thank them for their service!”


Ukraine must win war before joining NATO, EU: Slovakia

Ukraine must win its war against Russia before joining NATO and the European Union, Slovakia’s foreign minister says.

“Ukraine must first win the war. This is a necessary precondition,” Miroslaw Wachowski said at the Warsaw Security Forum.

“So we must do everything we can to help Ukraine win this war and regain its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Noting he just returned from Kyiv on Tuesday morning, Wachowski stated Ukrainians are doing “their best and we must help them”.


Russia summons Moldova’s envoy, blocks entry to several Molodovan citizens

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it had summoned the Moldovan ambassador.

The ministry said it had taken reciprocal measures after the expulsion of the head of Sputnik Moldova news agency from Moldova on Sept. 13.

The ministry added the Moldovan ambassador was informed that “a number of individuals directly involved in restricting freedom of speech and the rights of Russian journalists in Moldova, as well as inciting anti-Russian sentiments, were banned from entering Russia.”

The Ministry did not name the people who were banned from entering Russia.


UK tells G7 and NATO leaders: We will support Ukraine for as long as it takes

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tells G7 and NATO leaders that the UK was prepared to support Ukraine with military, humanitarian and economic assistance “for as long as it takes,” his office said in a readout of a call.

“He [Prime Minister Rishi Sunak] outlined the UK’s ongoing military, humanitarian and economic assistance to Ukraine and stressed that this support will continue for as long as it takes,” a Downing Street spokesperson announced in a statement.


Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania agree on plan to speed up grain exports

Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have agreed on a plan to help expedite Ukrainian grain exports, officials say.

According to a statement by the Ukrainian Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food, the deal would shift grain inspections from the Ukrainian-Polish border to a Lithuanian port on the Baltic Sea.

The statement added that the switch would help the transit of Ukrainian exports through Polish territory without providing further details.

Countries on Ukraine’s borders, including Poland, have protested against Ukraine’s agricultural exports, saying they have flooded their markets and pushed prices down for local farmers. Poland has said, however, that it wants to be a transit point so Ukrainian farm goods can get to countries suffering food shortages.


Kremlin says it has not abandoned moratorium on nuclear testing

The Kremlin says it has not abandoned a moratorium on nuclear testing and Russia is not preparing one.

On Monday, the New York Times published an investigation tracking possible nuclear-launch preparations in Russia.

Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the state-owned broadcaster RT, also suggested in an interview extract posted by digital broadcaster RTVI that Moscow should detonate a nuclear bomb over Siberia as a warning to the West.

Responding to Simonyan’s suggestions, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated, “I don’t think such discussions are possible now from an official point of view.”

Simonyan’s comments do not “always” reflect Moscow’s official position, he added.


US military ready to send ballistic missiles to Ukraine: Report

The United States military is reportedly getting ready to send tactical ballistic missiles armed with cluster munitions to Ukraine once approved by President Joe Biden, according to a Bloomberg News report.

In an interview, Army Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Doug Bush said the US “has been postured for this eventuality for a while”, adding it is “ready to go fast”.

The Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) is a long-range guided missile “that gives operational commanders the immediate firepower to win the deep battle”, according to its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin.

ATACMS missiles were first deployed in the US military operation against Iraq in 1991.


335,000 signed up for military service in Russia this year

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has stated that 335,000 people have entered military service by contract with the Russian armed forces or volunteer groups since the start of the year.

The state-backed Russian news agency, RIA, also quoted Shoigu as saying that 50,000 people signed up in September alone, adding that Moscow is not planning any additional mobilisation this year.


Ukraine to borrow $700m from World Bank to support agriculture

Ukraine’s farm ministry announced that Kyiv has started talks with the World Bank to borrow $700m for emergency support to the agricultural sector this year and next.

The ministry said in a message sent through Telegram that it needs additional funding for small farmers and agricultural and food producers, as the country continues to grapple with the economic effect of the Russian military invasion.

Agricultural products are Ukraine’s most important exports. In 2021 they totalled $27.8bn, accounting for 41 percent of the country’s $68bn in overall exports, according to data gathered by the US Department of Agriculture.


Europe short of natural gas, faces challenges: Gazprom

Russian energy giant Gazprom said that Europe, which used to be its main source of revenue, is short of natural gas and may face challenges, more than a year after the Nord Stream pipelines were damaged by mysterious blasts, Reuters news agency reported.

“The fact that the systemic deficit has not gone away is manifested not only by the higher price level in 2023 compared to the pre-Covid years, but also by the persistence of a stable contango in the natural gas market,” Sergei Komlev and Alexander Shapin, Gazprom’s senior managers, said in an inhouse magazine.

Gazprom’s gas exports almost halved last year to 100.9 billion cubic metres (bcm) due to political fallout with Europe over Ukraine and after the undersea Nord Stream pipelines, the largest gas exporting route for Russia to European market, were blown up in September 2022, Reuters added.


Zelenksy thanks Estonia for support in meeting with defence minister

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky met with the Estonian defence minister on Monday and discussed ways that Tallinn could help Kyiv’s defence needs and assistance.

On X, the Ukrainian leader said: “Yesterday, I received Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur. Estonia has helped Ukraine a lot since the onset of Russia’s full-scale war.”

“We will always be grateful. We discussed Estonia’s active role in the IT coalition, Ukraine’s defence needs, and ways to increase assistance.”


Russia allocates one-third of 2024 spending to defence

Draft plans from the Russian government show that defence spending will account for almost one-third of Moscow’s total budget expenditure in 2024.

Spending under the “national defence” section of Russia’s budget will total 10.78 trillion roubles ($109bn) next year, or 29.4 percent of total planned expenditure of 36.66 trillion roubles, according to the finance ministry’s budget documents that outline the government’s fiscal plans for 2024-26.

In 2021, the year before the start of the war, defence spending totalled 3.57 trillion roubles ($36bn), 14.4 percent of total spending.

Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu made comments last week suggesting he was prepared for the war to continue into 2025.


Ukraine arrests several suspected informants in intelligence operation

Ukraine’s main intelligence and security service, SBU, has announced the arrest of at least 13 people accused of being Russian informants.

The government noted the arrests were made in the southern city of Mykolaiv near Kherson.

The identities of the suspects were not immediately known.


Ukrainian commander says Kyiv boosting air defence in northern regions for winter

The commander the Ukrainian armed forces, Serhii Naiev, has announced that Kyiv is strengthening its air defence system in the country’s northern regions in preparation for potential Russian attacks on energy infrastructure during the winter months.

“In the northern operational zone, together with the heads of regional military administrations, measures are being taken to increase the number of mobile fire groups,” Naiev was quoted as saying by the Espreso TV news website.

Naiev’s statement was apparently in response to a warning issued by visiting German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who called for the creation of a winter strategy to insulate Ukraine from the fallout of intensified Russian air attacks on the country’s energy grid.

“We saw last winter the brutal way in which the Russian president wages this war with targeted attacks on critical infrastructure such as power plants,” Baerbock stated in Kyiv on Monday during an historic meeting of EU foreign ministers in the Ukrainian capital.


Ukraine says it downed 29 Russia-launched drones, one cruise missile

Ukraine’s air force has announced it destroyed 29 of 31 drones and one cruise missile launched by Russia, mostly towards the regions of Mykolaiv and Dnipropetrovsk.

The waves of overnight attacks lasted more than three hours, it added.

The falling debris in the southeastern city of Dnipro also reportedly caused a fire at a building, according to Serhiy Lysak, the governor of Dnipropetrovsk.

He also reported some damage to manufacturing facilities at an industrial enterprise in the city of Pavlohrad.


Russian regional governor accuses Ukraine of firing cluster munitions at a border village

The governor of Russia’s Bryansk region has accused Ukraine of firing cluster munitions at a Russian village near the Ukrainian border.

Alexander Bogomaz claimed that several houses in the village of Klimovo were damaged, although no casualties were reported.

His claim could not be immediately verified. The use of cluster munitions on civilian populations is prohibited by international law.

Ukraine had previously received US cluster munitions, but it pledged to use them only against soldiers.


European Union’s support for Ukraine doesn’t depend on one-day battlefield advances: Top diplomat

The European Union’s support for Ukraine doesn’t depend on one-day battlefield advances, the bloc’s foreign affairs chief stated.

“Our support does not depend on the advances of one day. It’s permanent, structured support because we are facing an existential threat for Europe,” Josep Borrell said during a news conference following a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in Kyiv, according to Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform.

He emphasized that EU support for Ukraine “does not depend on how the war is going on in the next days or weeks,” adding that “the Ukrainian soldiers are fighting with a lot of courage in front of impressive Russian defense fortifications.”

According to Borrell, the satellite images show that in some cases, Russian fortifications are “25 km (15.5 miles) deep,” Ukrinform reported.

The EU’s top diplomat also said that if the partners want Ukraine to be more successful, they must provide it “with better arms, and quicker,” Ukrinform added.

Borrell arrived in Ukraine on Saturday, and since then he has visited the city of Odesa, honored the fallen soldiers in Kyiv and held his first personal meeting with Ukraine’s Defense Minister Rustem Umerov, Ukrinform said.


Ukraine receives first batch of refurbished tanks from Poland

Ukraine has received the first batch of refurbished Leopard tanks from Poland, a Polish industrial partner announced Monday.

“While others are making declarations concerning the future, we are consulting with the Ukrainian side in our actions. The first Leopard tanks expressly refurbished at Bumar-Labędy have been received by the Ukrainian side,” the Polish Armaments Group (PGZ) announced on X, formerly known as Twitter.

PGZ is “the main industrial partner” of the Polish Armed Forces, conducted by the Ministry of National Defense, according to the group’s website.

The group also confirmed that they are working on repairing another batch of tanks for Ukraine.

In April 2023, Germany, Poland and Ukraine signed an agreement to set up a hub in Poland to repair Leopard 2 battle tanks used in Ukraine to fight against Russian forces.

The hub was supposed to start its operations at the end of May, according to Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius.


Biden “fully expects” new Ukraine funding but won’t answer questions about new assurances

US President Joe Biden said he “fully expects” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and a majority of Republicans to approve new funding for Ukraine but declined to say whether he’d received any specific assurances on the matter ahead of this week’s passage of a stopgap government funding measure.

“We cannot under any circumstances allow America’s support for Ukraine to be interrupted. Too many lives are at stake, too many children, too many people,” Biden said Monday afternoon during a meeting of his Cabinet.

“I fully expect the speaker and the majority of the Republicans in Congress to keep their commitment to secure the passage of the support needed to help Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian aggression and brutality,” Biden added.

Yet when pressed by reporters about the precise nature of that commitment, Biden remained silent.

He wouldn’t answer whether he’d received any new assurances from McCarthy about taking up new Ukraine funding — or even whether he trusted the Republican speaker.

A day earlier, Biden had told reporters “we just made” a deal on Ukraine with McCarthy, without elaborating. On Monday, the White House similarly declined to clarify the remark.

Multiple Democratic lawmakers serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee told CNN on Monday that they had no reason to believe that McCarthy had made a fresh commitment to the White House over the weekend on Ukraine funding.

And McCarthy himself denied to reporters he had made any side deals on promising to put Ukraine funding on the floor.

Still, Biden on Monday stressed it was essential Ukraine funding be approved to demonstrate American commitment to the country’s battle against Russia.


US State Department blasts Congress for not passing Ukraine aid funding

The State Department blasted Congress for not passing funding for “desperately needed” assistance to Ukraine.

“I’d like to echo the president’s disappointment that, despite longstanding and strong bipartisan support for Ukraine as it fights back against Russia’s invasion, that the continuing resolution that passed Congress on Saturday did not include desperately needed support,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said at a press briefing.

Miller added that “while we have the ability to continue to support Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the immediate term, we have already exhausted much of the existing security assistance funding.”

The US will still be able to send equipment from its own stockpiles under the Presidential Drawdown Authority, but funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and the Foreign Military Sales system will be running out.

Miller stressed the previous bipartisan support in Congress for aid to Ukraine.

“If we allow authoritarians like President (Vladimir) Putin to do whatever they want to other sovereign countries, then the whole UN charter will be shredded, and we are going to like in a world where this kind of aggression can happen anywhere, anytime,” Miller stated.

“That would be far more expensive for the American people, and far more dangerous for the American people.”


Ukrainian foreign minister expects talks on accession to EU to begin before end of year

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymytro Kuleba says that negotiations on Ukraine’s accession to the European Union should begin before the end of the year.

Speaking after meeting with European Foreign Ministers in Kyiv, Kuleba stated that “The topic that was a leitmotif in all the speeches was Ukraine’s membership in the EU. We are moving forward, we expect a decision to start negotiations on membership (in the EU) by the end of the year.”

Speaking alongside European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Kuleba noted: “The content and ambience of the discussion showed that we speak as a family… we have one goal and today in Kyiv it was powerfully demonstrated.”

Kuleba added: “We have not been offered anything, but Ukraine is a first-class state and we are not satisfied with anything but first-class membership.”

“It’s just a matter of time. Both Ukraine and the European side are determined to move forward as fast as possible, taking into account all the reforms that Ukraine has been, is and will be implementing.”

Kuleba said the Ukrainian side’s key message was that “we will accept the seven recommendations that the European Commission made for the opening of membership negotiations,” but expected “no additional requirements will be put forward.”

Those conditions include action on corruption and money laundering, media freedom and protection of minorities.

Borrell stressed Monday that European Union membership is the “strongest security commitment” that the bloc can give to Ukraine.

According to Borrell, the foreign ministers engaged in a “long debate” which managed to provide them with “a better idea of the security dimension of this situation” in Ukraine.

“We have been talking about the security commitments that we want to provide to Ukraine, showing our determination to stand by Ukraine in the long term,” Borrell added.

“And for sure the strongest security commitment that we can give to Ukraine is European Union membership. This is the strongest security commitment for Ukraine.Now Ukraine is a candidate country, and he is going further on his way.”


Germany says the future of Ukraine “lies in EU”

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Monday that the “future of Ukraine lies in the European Union” and praised Ukraine for its ongoing reforms.

Speaking on the sidelines of the EU-Ukraine foreign ministers’ meeting in Kyiv, Baerbock said that the EU would “soon stretch from Lisbon to Luhansk.”

“With every village, with every meter that Ukraine liberates, with every meter where it saves its people, it paves its path into the EU,” Baerbock added.

The German foreign minister praised Ukraine for initiating a reform process during the war. Besides changes in the justice sector, Baerbock specifically applauded Ukraine’s attempts to tackle corruption.

Baerbock told reporters that the EU would further support Ukraine “every day” and help it prepare for winter. Ukraine required a winter protection plan consisting of air defense, generators, and a strengthening of its energy supply systems, Baerbock added.


Zelensky tells EU foreign ministers that victory depends on cooperation

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has met with European Union foreign ministers visiting Kyiv and said that he is “confident that Ukraine and the entire free world are capable of winning this confrontation [with Russia.]”

“But our victory directly depends on our cooperation: the more strong and principled steps we take together, the sooner this war will end. It will end fairly. It will end with the restoration of our territorial integrity and reliable guarantee of peace for the whole of Europe,” Zelensky said.

He described the ministers’ presence in Kyiv as a “step towards strengthening Europe…We need to constantly take new defense and diplomatic, political and integration, economic and sanctions steps that will make our common positions stronger,” according to the Presidency’s website.

“The more active we are, our leadership, our initiatives, the less likely Russia will be to adapt to our joint pressure.”

He added that besides further military aid and joint production of weapons, Ukraine’s path to NATO membership and a fresh package of sanctions against Russia were among the important steps to be taken, as well as “the beginning of negotiations this year on Ukraine’s membership in the EU.”

In response, EU Foreign Policy chief Josep Borrell stated: “You can be sure of our determination to be by Ukraine’s side for as long as it takes.”

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