Russian troops have ceased making advances on the ground toward the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and appear to have refocused their aims in eastern Ukraine, a senior US Defense official said Monday.
The Russians appear intent on cutting off Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region, according to the official who discussed intelligence assessments on condition of anonymity. The Russian move could also be aimed at establishing authority there to gain leverage in negotiations for a cease-fire or peace deal, the official said.
Russia has been backing separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine since 2014. Last week, a high-ranking Russian military official claimed the “main tasks” of the invasion that began Feb. 24 was successfully completed.
“The combat capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces have been substantially reduced, which allows us to concentrate our main efforts on achieving the main goal – the liberation of Donbas,” Sergei Rudskoy said.
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The Pentagon official, however, said Ukrainian forces continue to wart Russian efforts to dominate the country’s airspace. Russian pilots continue to show risk-averse behavior, fearing attacks from Ukrainian air defenses. Most of Russia’s air-launched cruise missile attacks have come from aircraft operating from the safety of airspace over Russia or Belarus, the official said.
Ukrainian resistance has held in most major cities against the Russian invasion, the official said. The city of Mariupol in the south, however, continues to face heavy bombardment from Russian forces, and the mayor of Mariupol on Monday called for evacuation of the remaining 160,000 residents.
►Retaliatory visa measures against “unfriendly countries” is being developed in Russia, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
►Irpin, a sprawling Kyiv suburban city of 60,000, has been liberated from Russian forces, Major Alexander Markushin said. “We understand that our city will be attacked more, we will protect it. Irpen is Ukraine,” he said..
►Kyiv schools reopened for online learning Monday. Teachers were told not to overwhelm students already under strain from the war.
►Russia, releasing information on its losses in Ukraine for the first time in weeks, says 1,351 servicemen have been killed and 3,825 have been injured as of Friday. NATO has estimated Russian deaths at several thousands while acknowledging the true number is difficult to determine.
►The Oscars took 30 seconds of silence for Ukraine, beginning with a tribute from Ukrainian-born Mila Kunis.
The Kremlin tamped down expectations Monday that face-to-face talks with Ukraine negotiators scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday would result in a deal to end Russia’s deadly, destructive invasion.
“Regrettably, we cannot say there have been any significant achievements or breakthroughs so far,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday. But he said the face-to-face meeting in Turkey could allow for “more focused, tighter and meaningful” talks.
The talks come as the mayor of Mariupol called for evacuation of the remaining 160,000 residents, saying the city is virtually without food, water, power and other supplies.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov rejected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s latest appeal for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, saying it would be counterproductive until Ukraine and Russia are close to agreeing on key issues.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told independent Russian journalists that his government would consider declaring neutrality and offering security guarantees to Russia. That pact would include keeping Ukraine nuclear-free, he said. But Zelenskyy said adopting a neutral status would need to be guaranteed by third parties and put to Ukrainian voters in a referendum after Russian troops withdraw – within a few months once Russian troops leave.
Russia almost immediately banned Zelenskyy’s remarks from being published. Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal agency regulating communications for Moscow, issued the ban Sunday and said there could be action taken against the Russian media outlets that took part, including “those that are foreign media outlets acting as foreign agents.”
Russia recently passed a law threatening up to 15 years of prison time for anyone publishing information that goes against Moscow’s narrative about the war.
The Pentagon is sending six Navy jets that specialize in suppressing enemy air defense to bolster NATO’s eastern flank, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Monday. The Navy EA-18 Growlers are based at Whidbey Island, Washington, and will be sent to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, Kirby said. They will not fly missions in Ukraine against Russian forces. The deployment will include about 240 pilots, crews and maintainers.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin deployed the warplanes to keep “options open,” Kirby said.
“They’re not being sent because of some sort of acute threat that was perceived or some specific incident that happened,” Kirby said.
– Tom Vanden Brook
The independent Russian publication Novaya Gazeta shut down Monday after getting its second warning from the state censoring agency Roskomnadzor. The publication was called out Monday after conducting the banned interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“After that, we suspended the publication of the newspaper in the networks and on paper until the end of the“ special operation on the territory of Ukraine,” the publication said on Twitter. The Kremlin refers to its invasion of Ukraine as a special operation. Novaya Gazeta was previously ordered to remove articles about the war from its website.
Dmitry Muratov, the publication’s founder and editor, was a co-winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. Muratov was singled out for his “efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace.”
Russian shelling of the southern port city of Mariupol has made living there impossible and the remaining 160,000 civilians should be evacuated, Major Vadym Boychenko said. He said the city, home to more than 400,000 people before the war began, has virtually no water, heat, electricity, supplies or communication. The Ukraine government estimates that 5,000 civilians have been killed by Russia’s siege of the city that began March 1. Over 200 of those killed were children, the government says.
Boychenko told the local UNIAN news agency that 40% Mariupol’s residential buildings are now uninhabitable.
“The city is encircled and that circle is of course shrinking,” he said.
The Ukraine Foreign Ministry tweeted: “While #Mariupol besieged and bombed, people fight to survive. The humanitarian situation in the city is catastrophic. #Russian Armed Forces is turning the city into dust.”
The Moscow Exchange dipped 2.2% on Monday, the first day that trading of all stocks was allowed since the war began. Some breakers were in place to limit volatility.
The war started Feb. 24 and Russian stocks crashed about one-third the next day. Since then trading has been nonexistent or limited. Foreigners remain prohibited from trading until Friday.
On Monday, shares of Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, fell almost 5%. CEO Herman Gref, a close adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin for decades, was added to the US sanctions list last week. Lukoil, Russia’s largest oil company, was down 1.7%.
The Group of Seven countries have agreed to reject Russia’s demand to pay for Russian energy imports in rubles, Germany’s energy minister said Monday. Robert Habeck told reporters Monday that “all G-7 ministers completely agreed that this (would be) a one-sided and clear breach of the existing contracts.”
Russia supplies about two-thirds of Germany’s natural gas, half of its coal and one-third of its oil.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the demand for payment in rubles remained and warned that “we clearly aren’t going to supply gas for free.”
Ukraine’s priorities at the talks in Turkey this week will be “sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelneskyy said.
“We are looking for peace, really, without delay,” Zelenskyy said. “There is an opportunity and a need for a face-to-face meeting in Turkey. This is not bad. Let’s see the outcome.”
Davyd Arakhamia, the leader in parliament of the faction of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party, said on Facebook that the in-person talks were agreed upon in a video consultation. The two sides have met multiple times without reaching a deal.
– Celina Tebor
Contributing: The Associated Press
From Lebanon, Iraq and Syria to Sudan and Yemen, millions of people in the Middle East whose lives were already upended by conflict, displacement and poverty are now wondering where their next meals will come from.
Ukraine and Russia account for a third of global wheat and barley exports, which countries in the Middle East rely on to feed millions of people who subsist on subsidized bread and bargain noodles. They are also top exporters of other grains and the sunflower seed oil that is used for cooking.
Even before the war in Ukraine, people in countries across the Middle East and North Africa were not getting enough food to eat. Now with trade disruptions spurred by the conflict, more commodities are becoming either unaffordable or unavailable.
“Put simply, people cannot afford food of the quality or quantity that they need, with those in conflict- and crisis-affected countries… at greatest risk,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East and North Africa Director at Human Rights Watch.
Just one month since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, more than 3.6 million refugees have been forced to flee the country, making this the fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
An additional 6.5 million people have been displaced internally within Ukraine and over 12 million more have been affected in the areas hardest hit by the war.
Humanitarian needs are increasing exponentially.
“Many people remain trapped in areas of escalating conflict and, with essential services disrupted, are unable to meet their basic needs including food, water and medicines,” the agency announced in a bulletin. “The delivery of lifesaving aid remains challenging, with a lack of safe humanitarian access.”
–Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism