Tue. Apr 16th, 2024

•Hypersonic missiles add new phase to the war

•Mounting casualties and allegations of war crimes

•Russian troops advance with stiff rresistance from Ukraine

•Russia failed to achieve initial targets in Ukraine

Current position: what you need to know
  • Ukraine claims death of general: Ukrainian officials say that another Russian commander has died during fighting, which they say would be the fifth Russian general to have been killed since the invasion on February 24. Gen. Oleg Mityaev, of Russia’s 150th Motorized Rifle Division, and members of his unit were killed by Ukrainian forces near Mariupol last week, according to a Telegram post shared by Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister. CNN cannot independently verify the Ukrainian claims.
  • Russia claims use of hypersonic missiles: The Russian military claimed on Sunday that it had launched a series of strikes on military targets in Ukraine employing hypersonic and cruise missiles on Saturday night and Sunday morning. US officials have also confirmed to CNN that Russia launched hypersonic missiles against Ukraine last week, the first known use of such missiles in combat.
  • No air superiority: Britain’s military said Russian forces have still not managed to gain control over Ukraine’s airspace. An intelligence assessment provided by the UK’s Ministry of Defense said Russia has failed to gain air superiority and is largely depending on stand-off weapons, “launched from the relative safety of Russian airspace to strike targets within Ukraine.”
  • Australia announces aid: Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced additional military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, while also imposing an immediate ban on exports of alumina and aluminium ore to Russia. The package brings Australia’s total military assistance so far to A$91 million (US $66.3 million), the statement said.
  • Forced to go to Russia: Citizens of the battered city of Mariupol are being taken to Russian territory against their will by Russian forces, according to the Mariupol city council. Captured residents were taken to camps where Russian forces checked their phones and documents, the council said. They were then redirected to remote Russian cities. Mariupol is under almost constant bombardment, according to a major in Ukraine’s army, and residents are rationing food and water as bodies are left in the streets. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said what Russian forces have done to Mariupol is an “act of terror that will be remembered for centuries.”
News in details

Russia has fired scores of guided missiles into Ukraine, but on Saturday it claimed for the first time that it had launched one capable of hypersonic speed in an attack on an ammunition depot in western Ukraine. The report could not be independently verified, but if true could be the first use of a hypersonic weapon in combat.

Hypersonics, generally defined as weapons capable of flying at speeds over Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, are at the center of an arms race among the United States, Russia and China.

This is coming as Russian forces made significant gains in Ukraine on Saturday, advancing into the besieged port of Mariupol, destroying an underground weapons depot in the west and leaving a marine barracks in ruins following one of the deadliest rocket strikes on Ukraine’s military in the nearly month-old war.

As the fighting raged, Ukraine faced a worsening humanitarian crisis, and military losses mounted on both sides. A senior Ukrainian military official said on Saturday that the strike on the barracks, which happened Friday in the southern city of Mykolaiv, had killed more than 40 marines.

According to reports, the headquarters of the 36th Ukrainian Naval Infantry Brigade based in the southern city of Mykolaiv is no more. It is now a pile of rubble, where on Saturday rescuers continued to search for bodies of missing marines.

An early morning rocket attack a day earlier destroyed the base’s barracks where an unknown number of marines were sleeping. It killed more than 40 marines, according to a senior Ukrainian military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal sensitive military information.

Meanwhile, the mayor in the besieged city of Mariupol accused Russian troops on Saturday of transporting thousands of Ukrainians to Russia against their will after taking their passports. “What the occupiers are doing today is familiar to the older generation, who saw the horrific events of World War II, when the Nazis forcibly captured people,” the mayor, Vadym Boychenko, said in a statement. “It is hard to imagine that in the 21st-century people will be forcibly deported to another country.” Moscow officials say the Ukrainian refugees “expressed a desire to escape” to Russia.

Newly released satellite images by Maxar Technologies show extensive damage to the Mariupol Drama Theater, which was bombed on Wednesday. The word “children” can still be seen in white lettering outside the site. About 130 people have been rescued from the wreckage, according to Ukrainian officials, who have estimated that hundreds of people could still be trapped in the basement.

But even as the Russian ground advance on key targets including Kyiv and Odessa remains stalled, it has used long-range rockets in recent days to devastating effect against the Ukrainian military and infrastructure.

As the war grinds on, the strikes are a reminder of how Russia’s vastly superior armaments give it a distinct advantage, even as what was meant to be a lightning blitz to take out the Ukrainian government turns into a grueling war of attrition.

Amid the bloodshed, President Volodymyr Zelensky repeated his calls for meaningful peace negotiations with Russia. “I want everyone to hear me now, especially in Moscow. It’s time to meet. Time to talk,” Mr. Zelensky said in his nightly address.

The verdict from analysts is that the war in Ukraine has reached a stalemate after more than three weeks of fighting, with Russia making only marginal gains and increasingly targeting civilians, according to analysts and U.S. officials.

“Ukrainian forces have defeated the initial Russian campaign of this war,” the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research institute, said in an analysis. Russians do not have the manpower or the equipment to seize Kyiv, the capital, or other major cities like Kharkiv and Odessa, the study concluded.

Funerals, evacuations and scenes in Ukraine as Russian forces advance
  • A funeral in Kyiv on Saturday for a Ukrainian soldier, Serhiy Mashovets, who was killed by indirect Russian fire in the nearby village of Horenka.
  • In Kyiv, Nina, an 86-year-old resident of Chernihiv who had fled from her home alongside other Ukrainian families, was helped from a bus to the entrance of a train station.
  • Local residents and municipal workers joined together to clean up the courtyard of an apartment complex the day after the area was hit by a Russian strike
Ukraine’s leader warns war will cost Russia ‘for generations’
  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tells Russians to imagine ‘14,000 dead and tens of thousands maimed’ if the invasion of his nation continues.
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the nation in Kyiv [File: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP]

Ukraine’s president has warned Russians that continuing the invasion would exact a toll for “generations” after tens of thousands attended a nationalist event to hear a speech by President Vladimir Putin.

The remarks by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday came after a mass rally was held in support of Russian forces in Moscow the previous night.

Noting the 200,000 people reported to have attended the rally was similar to the number of Russian forces deployed to Ukraine, Zelenskyy said Friday’s event in Moscow illustrated the high stakes of the largest ground conflict in Europe since World War II.

“Picture for yourself that in that stadium in Moscow there are 14,000 dead bodies and tens of thousands more injured and maimed,” the Ukrainian leader said. “Those are the Russian costs throughout the invasion.”

Putin lavished praise on his country’s military forces during Friday’s flag-waving rally, which took place on the anniversary of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. The event included patriotic songs such as “Made in the USSR”, with the opening lines “Ukraine and Crimea, Belarus and Moldova, it’s all my country”.

“We have not had unity like this for a long time,” Putin told the cheering crowd.

Taking to the stage where a sign read “For a world without Nazism”, he railed against his foes in Ukraine with a claim they are “neo-Nazis” and insisted his actions were necessary to prevent “genocide”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets the audience.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets the audience as he attends a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea [Ramil Sitdikov via AFP]

The rally took place as Russia has faced heavier-than-expected losses on the battlefield and increasingly authoritarian rule at home. Russian police have detained thousands of antiwar protesters.

Fighting raged on multiple fronts in Ukraine more than three weeks after Russia’s February 24 invasion.

The northwest Kyiv suburbs of Bucha, Hostomel, Irpin and Moshchun were under fire on Saturday, the Kyiv regional administration reported. The city of Slavutich, 165km (103 miles) north of the capital, was “completely isolated”, the administration said.

In the besieged port city of Mariupol, the site of some of the war’s greatest suffering, Ukrainian and Russian forces battled over the Azovstal steel plant, one of the biggest in Europe, Vadym Denysenko, adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said on Saturday.

Ukrainian and Russian officials agreed to establish 10 humanitarian corridors for bringing aid in and residents out — one from Mariupol and several around Kyiv and in the eastern Luhansk region, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

She also announced plans to deliver humanitarian aid to the southern city of Kherson, which was seized by Russian forces.

‘Territorial integrity and justice’

In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy said Russian forces were blockading the largest cities with the goal of creating such miserable conditions that Ukrainians will surrender. But he warned Russia would pay the ultimate price.

“The time has come to restore territorial integrity and justice for Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia’s costs will be so high that you will not be able to rise again for several generations,” he said.

Vladimir Medinsky, who has led Russian negotiators in several rounds of talks with Ukraine, said on Friday the two sides have moved closer to an agreement on the issue of Ukraine dropping its bid to join NATO and adopting a neutral status.

In remarks carried by Russian media, he said the sides are now “halfway” on issues regarding the demilitarisation of Ukraine.

However, Mikhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Zelenskyy, alleged that Moscow’s characterisation was intended “to provoke tension in the media”.

“Our positions are unchanged. Ceasefire, withdrawal of troops & strong security guarantees with concrete formulas,” he tweeted.

Britain’s foreign minister accused Putin of using the talks as a “smokescreen” while his forces regroup. “We don’t see any serious withdrawal of Russian troops or any serious proposals on the table,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told The Times newspaper.

‘Not close enough’

In a phone call with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Putin laid out plans for ending the war, according to the Turkish presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin.

“President Putin thinks the positions on the Donbas and Crimea are not close enough to meet President Zelenskyy. What we need is a strategic-level meeting between the two leaders. There seems to be growing consensus … We are hoping there will be more convergence on these issues, and this meeting will take place sooner than later, because we all want this war to come to an end,” Kalin told Al Jazeera.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, during a Saturday visit to NATO ally Bulgaria, said the Russian invasion had “stalled on a number of fronts” but the United States had not yet seen signs that Putin was deploying additional forces.

Major General Oleksandr Pavlyuk, who is leading the defence of the region around Kyiv, said his forces are well-positioned to defend the city.

“We will never give up. We will fight until the end. To the last breath and to the last bullet,” said Pavlyuk.

Zelensky aide blames conflict with Russia on ex-president
  • Ingraining NATO aspirations in the country’s constitution is among the causes of the conflict, a presidential aide has claimed
Zelensky aide blames conflict with Russia on ex-president
FILE PHOTO. Former Ukraine President, Petro Poroshenko. © AP / Alik Keplicz

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Alexey Arestovich, said on Saturday that former president Petro Poroshenko is partly responsible for the ongoing conflict with Russia. The official pointed the finger at Poroshenko’s decision to write NATO aspirations into the country’s constitution.

The clause, outlining Kiev’s pathway to becoming a full-fledged member of the EU and US-led NATO alliance, was added into Ukraine’s constitution in February 2019 and shortly before presidential elections. While the move was a pure PR stunt for the former president, it turned out to have long-lasting consequences, Arestovich told local media.

“When Poroshenko introduced this, it was his personal pre-election PR technology. He knew beforehand that NATO would never accept us. Not the least share of the blame for what is happening now in Ukraine lies with those who adopted and promoted this constitutional provision,” he said, implying that those Ukrainian MPs who supported the clause share the blame for it as well. The constitutional change received overwhelming support back then with 334 out of 450 MPs voting for it.

Under Poroshenko, the desire to join NATO was also incorporated into the country’s military doctrine in 2015. That document also formally established Russia as a “military adversary” of Kiev.

Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, however, actually date well before the February 2019 constitutional reform. The country was cozying up to the US-led bloc since the late 1990s, sending a “peacekeeping unit” to Iraq in 2002, adopting legislation allowing military access of NATO forces onto its soil in 2004, and so on.

The bloc itself formally recognized Ukraine’s aspirations in 2008, when the alliance announced in the Bucharest Summit Declaration that it welcomed “Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO.” The summit participants agreed that eventually these countries would “become members of NATO.”

Moscow attacked the neighboring state following a seven-year standoff over Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk ceasefire agreements, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols were designed to regularize the status of the breakaway regions within the Ukrainian state.

Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join NATO military bloc. Kiev says the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it had been planning to retake the two rebellious republics by force.

Over 600 Russian soldiers captured in Ukraine
  • Prosecutor General in Kiev has said camps for captured Russian soldiers have been set up in her country
Ukraine makes claim about number of captured Russian troops
Smoke rises from a Russian tank destroyed by the Ukrainian forces on the side of a road in Lugansk region on February 26, 2022. © AFP / Anatolii Stepanov

Ukraine has captured hundreds of Russian soldiers since the beginning of the military conflict with Russia, its Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk claimed on Saturday.

“At present, we officially have 562 prisoners of war of the Russian Federation,” she alleged in an interview with the television channel TSN. The Russian Ministry of Defense hasn’t confirmed the information, and she offered no evidence to support her assertion. 

All of the captured Russians have been listed on a special register, Vereshchuk maintained.

Earlier, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General told British state broadcaster BBC that camps for Russian prisoners of war had been set up in her country. Irina Venediktova claimed that all the troops are treated according to the Geneva Convention and medical care is available in the camps. However, numerous Russian prisoners of war have been filmed in “confession” videos, since the start of the conflict. READ MORE: Russia fires hypersonic missiles in Ukraine

As for Ukrainian captives, Vereshchuk asserted that Ukraine has not yet managed to distinguish more recent ones from those held since 2014, when the conflict in Donbass region broke out. “There are several hundreds of them,” the deputy prime minister said. “But, if we roughly separate it, we roughly know that there are about 270 of our prisoners. The ones that are recorded, the ones that we have in the register. In total [since 2014] there are about 650 of them.”

Credits | CNN, NYT, Al Jazeera, RT

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