Friday, September 22, 2023

Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 556

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:

Zelensky says Ukraine’s counteroffensive is pushing forward despite “what anyone says”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday that Kyiv’s counteroffensive is “moving forward,” after making some small gains in its campaign to recapture territory seized by Russia.

“Ukrainian forces are moving forward. Despite everything and no matter what anyone says, we are advancing, and that is the most important thing. We are on the move,” Zelenksy said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

It’s unclear exactly who Zelensky is referring to, but the counteroffensive, which began earlier this year, is yet to make a significant breakthrough. Last month, Western officials described “sobering” updates on its progress. But this week, Kyiv’s forces described breaching the first line of Russian defenses in the south.

Zelensky’s statement echoes what Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Friday. Kuleba said Ukraine’s partners, including the United States, “understand that things are moving in the right direction” and there is no “slow down” in progress.

He added that those criticizing the pace of the counteroffensive should pay greater consideration to the soldiers leading it.

“How does it feel when you come back from your mission and you take back your phone, you open it, and you start reading all the smart people saying how slow you are and that you’re not doing well enough?” Kuleba stated.

Russia launches wave of attacks on central Ukraine

Explosions and air raid sirens sounded after Russia launched an attack on central Ukraine on Saturday.

Ukraine’s air force announced it had intercepted multiple missiles fired at the region.

No casualties have been reported.

Oleksandr Vilkul, the head of the city’s defence council, stated “air defence worked successfully. Target hit.”

Yevhen Sitnichenko, the head of the regional military administration wrote on Telegram app that “everything is okay” and thanked air defense troops.

US to send depleted uranium munitions to Ukraine: Report

The US is set to become the second country after the UK to greenlight shipments of depleted-uranium shells to Ukraine, according to Reuters, despite concerns that they could have a dramatic negative effect on public health and the environment.

The munitions are intended for US Abrams tanks, the first of which are expected to arrive in Ukraine in the coming weeks, the agency reported.

According to several unnamed US officials and a document cited by Reuters on Saturday, the depleted uranium shells will be part of the next multi-million-dollar arms donation expected to be announced next week.

The reported plan follows another highly controversial US move to supply cluster munitions to Ukraine, which was criticized even by some of Washington’s closest allies. Should the White House approve depleted-uranium shells for Ukraine, it would follow an earlier move by the UK, which announced similar shipments in March.

Russia’s new “Satan II” missile system is now operational in the war in Ukraine: Official

Russia says its newest nuclear weapons system, the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile, is now operational.

“The Sarmat strategic complex has been put on combat duty,” Yury Borisov, the director general of the state space corporation Roscosmos, said in a media appearance.

It had been due to go on combat duty at the end of 2022.

The Sarmat will replace Soviet-era Voevoda missiles, known by the NATO designation SS-18 “Satan,” in Russia’s strategic arsenal. As the SS-18’s successor, the Sarmat has been nicknamed “Satan II” in the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in April last year that the Sarmat would be capable of delivering multiple nuclear warheads as far as the continental United States – and would “give thought to those who are trying to threaten Russia.”

At the time, Western analysts stated the threat to the US and its allies from Satan II was “extremely low,” and that Putin’s high-profile testing of the weapon may have been intended to hide Russian military failures in its war in Ukraine.

Like the SS-18, the Sarmat could carry 10 and possibly more independently targeted nuclear warheads with a range of up to 18,000 kilometers (or about 11,185 miles), according to the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

It is expected to serve as a one-for-one replacement for the Voevoda missiles. Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, likened Satan II to a “facelift” for the Soviet-era SS-18, though he said there were “probably some enhancements under the hood.”

Russia claims it stopped an attack on the Crimean bridge from Ukrainian sea drones

Russia said it stopped an overnight Ukrainian attack on the Crimean Bridge, also known as the Kerch Bridge, that links the annexed Crimean peninsula to the Russian mainland.

The Russian Ministry of Defense announced Ukrainian forces attempted to attack the bridge with two unmanned explosive-laden boats.

The first “sea drone was detected in a timely manner and destroyed in the Black Sea,” at 11.15 p.m. local time (4.15 p.m. ET), the ministry added.

A second boat attack was thwarted three hours later early on Saturday morning and Russia said later Saturday that it stopped a third sea drone attack on the vital bridge, according to the defense ministry.

The third “sea drone was destroyed in the Black Sea,” at 02:20 am local time (7:20 pm ET), the ministry added.

Russian State Media RIA Novosti reported Friday that “the movement of vehicles on the bridge is temporarily restricted,” citing Russia’s operational headquarters.

Ukraine is yet to comment on the alleged attacks.

The latest attempt on the Kerch Bridge comes after a Ukrainian security official claimed Kyiv’s responsibility for a July 17 attack on the bridge that left two people dead and injured their daughter, according to Russian-appointed officials.

The nearly 12-mile crossing is the longest in Europe and holds huge strategic and symbolic importance for Moscow. July’s attack on the bridge was the second since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, after a fuel tanker exploded while crossing it in October.

Ukraine is “moving forward” in counteroffensive: FM

Ukraine is “not failing” but “moving forward” in its counteroffensive, the country’s foreign minister told CNN on Friday.

“If Ukraine was failing, I would probably be the first one just to speak the truth. But we are not failing — we are moving forward,” Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in Kyiv.

The foreign minister added that those criticizing the speed of Ukraine’s counteroffensive should consider the soldiers fighting at the heart of it.

“How does it feel when you come back from your mission and you take back your phone, you open it, and you start reading all the smart people saying how slow you are and that you’re not doing well enough?” Kuleba said.

“You just lost two of your buddies. You were almost killed. You crawled one kilometer on your belly demining the field. You sacrificed yourself – you took the damn Russian trench in a fierce fight. And then you read someone saying ‘Oh guys, you’re too slow’?” he asked.

“Our partners who are helping us, including the United States, they understand that things are moving in the right direction. And they understand that there’s no tragedy or no kind of slow down,” Kuleba continued.

“It’s just happening because it’s tough. It’s a tough fight.”

Kremlin confirms Putin will meet Erdogan as Black Sea grain deal negotiations continue

Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the southern Russian city of Sochi on Monday, the Kremlin confirmed.

“Indeed, the negotiations will take place on Monday in Sochi,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists Friday.

The meeting is to be held against the backdrop of Ankara’s efforts to convince Moscow to reconsider its withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal. Russia withdrew from the initiative in July, nearly a year after it was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations to guarantee safe passage of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea and help facilitate Russian exports of grain and fertilizer.

Following bilateral talks in Moscow with his Turkish counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated Thursday that Russia will be ready to rejoin the Black Sea initiative as soon as it sees guarantees that benefits promised to Russia will be implemented.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres later Thursday presented “a set of concrete proposals” in order to renew the deal in a letter to Lavrov.

More context on the grain deal: The Black Sea initiative has been significant in stabilizing global food markets since the war started in February last year, particularly for poorer countries relying more heavily on grain supplies from the region.

Murder, torture, sexual violence among thousands of Russian crimes against children: Ukraine

Ukraine has opened more than 3,000 criminal cases over Russia’s alleged crimes against children in the country, including dozens of torture cases, Ukrainian prosecutors said.

The allegations include “murders, mutilations, abduction of children, forced displacement, deportation, sexual violence against children and kidnapping,” Yulia Usenko, head of the Department for the Protection of Children’s Interests and Combating Violence of the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, told Interfax-Ukraine.

Usenko added these alleged crimes are “often combined with torture and illegal deprivation of liberty” and “pretrial investigation bodies and prosecutors document such crimes in more than 3,200 criminal proceedings.”

Since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Ukrainian authorities, rights groups, international bodies and news organizations have documented an overwhelming body of evidence of alleged Russian war crimes and human rights abuses.

Russia has repeatedly denied these accusations of torture and human rights abuses.

According to Usenko, prosecutors documented 75 children who suffered various forms of torture at the hands of Russian forces.

She said 69 of them were located in the village of Yahidne, in Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv region. The children were held in the basement of a school together with adults and their conditions and treatment, “is equated to torture,” Usenko said.

Isolated cases of child torture were also documented in the southern Kherson and northeastern Kharkiv regions, where children were “deprived of their freedom and subjected to physical torture,” Usenko added.

Russia is ‘absolutely invincible’: Putin

Russia has always been and remains “absolutely invincible,” President Vladimir Putin told a group of students at an open lesson marking the start of the academic year on Friday. The mentality of the Russian people makes it impossible for the country to be defeated by anyone, he added.

The president recalled the history of his own family, telling students about his ancestors who lived through World War II.

According to Putin, his grandmother was fatally shot by a Nazi soldier but, even as she was dying, she was still thinking about her husband and told Putin’s grandfather “not to cry” in order not to upset her in her final moments.

“Do you understand the depth of these relationships between the ordinary people, this love?” the president said, adding that, even in the face of death, his grandmother was caring for her loved one.

“How can we not take that for a model?” he added.

Putin also said that all members of his family felt deep respect for each other and had a “strong inner culture.”

Putin also stated he believes most families in Russia are like this.

“And here I understood why we won the Great Patriotic War,” the president said, referring to the Soviet struggle against Nazi Germany in World War II. “One cannot defeat a people with such a mentality,” he said, adding that “we have been absolutely invincible. And we remain as such now.”

His words came as Russia has been locked in a conflict with neighboring Ukraine for more than a year and a half. The latest developments have seen Kiev’s forces unable to breach Russian defenses in nearly three months since the start of the much-hyped Ukrainian counteroffensive.

EU’s top diplomat claims Russia is “losing ground in international community”

Russia is “losing ground in the international community” as Moscow’s attacks on Ukrainian grain supplies impact countries far away from the conflict, the European Union’s top diplomat claimed on Friday

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels following a meeting of European foreign ministers, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell cited the 2nd Russia-Africa Summit held in July as a “diplomatic failure,” for Moscow.

“The meeting between Russia and the African leaders was a complete diplomatic failure, and I think that Russia is losing ground in the international community,” Borrell said.

Global food prices ticked up after Russia pulled out of the Black Sea grain deal allowing the safe passage of ships carrying grain from Ukrainian ports in July. In the following weeks, Russian forces have repeatedly attacked the ports in what Kyiv officials say is a deliberate attempt to disrupt its vital grain exports, which are relied upon by many developing countries, including in Africa.

Borrell stated the EU ministers “coincide on the perception that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, with his aggression, is not only harming Ukraine, but [also] countries that are thousands of kilometers away.”

This is the first time, the EU sees “these countries blaming Russia for the consequences of its attitude by deliberately weaponizing food,” he added.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday presented “a set of concrete proposals” in order to renew the Black Sea grain deal in a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. It comes after Lavrov said Russia is ready to return to the deal as soon as what Moscow claims to be promises become concrete guarantees. Kyiv said any consideration of supporting Russian grain exports in the Black Sea without resuming exports from Ukrainian ports would bolster Moscow’s “sense of impunity” and “deal a severe blow to international obligations and international law.”

UN presents “concrete proposals” to Russia for Black Sea grain deal renewal

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres presented “a set of concrete proposals” in order to renew the Black Sea grain deal in a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

According to Guterres, it is “extremely important to renew” the grain deal.

He said the initiative “has given a very important contribution to make the food markets more adequate to the UN objectives of food security,” such as bringing down prices and creating “conditions for access to the global markets of many countries, namely the developing world.”

However, he stated, the UN “took into concern the Russian requests.”

“We have some concrete solutions for the concerns allowing for a more effective access of Russian food and fertilizers to global markets at adequate prices,” he added.

Guterres said he believes the UN “presented a proposal that could be the basis for a renewal, but a renewal that must be stable.”

“We cannot have a Black Sea Initiative that moves from crisis to crisis, from suspension to suspension. We need to have something that works, and that works to the benefit of everybody,” Guterres added.

Earlier Thursday, Lavrov said Russia is ready to return to the Black Sea Grain Initiative as soon as promises made to Moscow become guarantees.

Russia withdrew from the initiative in July, nearly a year after it was brokered by Turkey and the UN to guarantee the safe passage of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea and help facilitate Russian exports of grain and fertilizer.

Russia has persistently complained that benefits due under the agreement never materialized.

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