War in Ukraine: Are Putin and Zelensky ready for peace talks?
The Ukrainian port of Odesa has been left without power after Russia targeted two energy facilities using Iranian-made drones.
The attack left around 1.5 million people with no power during a brutal winter.
“The situation in the Odesa region is very difficult,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly video address. “Unfortunately the hits were critical, so it takes more than just time to restore electricity. It doesn’t take hours, but a few days.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s army advanced on occupied Melitopol, a strategically located city in the country’s southeast, on Saturday evening. The Russian-installed authorities said a missile attack killed two people and injured 10, while the exiled mayor of the city said scores of “invaders” were killed.
Yevgeny Balitsky, the Moscow-appointed governor of the occupied part of the Zaporizhzhia region, said air defence systems destroyed two missiles, while four reached their targets. At least 10 people sustained injuries in the attack.
He said a “recreation centre” where people were dining was destroyed in the attack with HIMARS missiles.
Ukraine attacks occupied Melitopol, Russian side says two killed
Ukraine attacked occupied Melitopol in the country’s southeast on Saturday evening, the Russian-installed and exiled Ukrainian authorities of the strategically located city said.
The pro-Moscow authorities said a missile attack killed two people and injured 10, while the exiled mayor said scores of “invaders” were killed.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports of the attacks or deaths.
“Air defence systems destroyed two missiles, four reached their targets,” Yevgeny Balitsky, the Moscow-appointed governor of the occupied part of the Zaporizhzhia region, said on the Telegram messaging app.
He said a “recreation centre” where people were dining was destroyed in the Ukrainian attack with HIMARS missiles.
The exiled mayor, Ivan Fedorov, said on his Telegram channel that the attack hit a church that Russians had turned into a gathering place.
Vladimir Rogov, another Moscow-installed official in the Russian-controlled part of Zaporizhzhia, said a big fire caused by the strike engulfed the recreation centre. He posted a video of a structure in flames.
HIMARS multiple rocket launchers have been among Ukraine‘s most effective weapons in the war, delivering precision fire on hundreds of targets, including Russian command posts. On Friday, the United States said it was sending more aid to Kyiv to strengthen its air defences and defeat drones.
An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Oleksiy Arestovych, said Melitopol, a major industrial and transport centre occupied by Russia since March, is key to the defence of the south.
“All logistics linking the Russian forces on the eastern part of the Kherson region and all the way to the Russian border near Mariupol is carried out through it,” Arestovych said in a video interview on social media.
“If Melitopol falls, the entire defence line all the way to Kherson collapses. Ukrainian forces gain a direct route to Crimea.”
There was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian army about the attacks. Earlier in the day, the central command of the Ukraine‘s Armed Forces said it had been conducting strikes on Melitopol.
Maryam Zakir-Hussain11 December 2022 15:11
Europe is simply switching gas dependency from Russia to US, Kremlin says
Europe is simply switching from dependency on Russian gas to dependency on liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States, the RIA news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying on Sunday.
European Union countries held emergency negotiations on Saturday as they attempt to line up a deal to cap prices at a Dec. 13 meeting of their energy ministers, but states remain split over the plan.
Peskov called the European desire to shake off dependency on Russian gas “absurd” and “frenzied”.
“They have changed dependency on Russia to dependency on American liquefied natural gas,” RIA quoted Peskov as saying on state television, noting that the dependence was the same, just with “much less reciprocity”.
“And now, when the Europeans are losing billions of euros every day, Washington is already earning these billions of dollars,” Peskov said.
Maryam Zakir-Hussain11 December 2022 14:45
Erdogan and Putin discuss grain corridor and gas hub in phone call
Presidents Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Vladimir Putin of Russia discussed grain supplies and a potential regional gas hub in Turkey on Sunday, both countries said.
Relations with NATO member Turkey are vital to Russia at a time when the West has hit it with waves of economic sanctions, which Ankara has refrained from joining.
Turkey has, however, rejected Russia‘s move to annex four Ukrainian regions as a “grave violation” of international law. Ankara has acted as a mediator with the United Nations on an agreement that guarantees grain exports from both Ukraine and Russia, two of the world’s biggest producers.
“President Erdogan expressed his sincere wish for the termination of the Russia-Ukraine war as soon as possible,” the Turkish presidency said on Sunday.
In the call, Erdogan said Ankara and Moscow could start work on exporting other food products and commodities through the Black Sea grain corridor, Erdogan’s office said.
Russia has urged the United Nations to push the West to lift some sanctions to ensure Moscow can freely export its fertiliser and agricultural products – a part of the Black Sea grain deal that Moscow says has not been implemented.
“The deal is of complex character, which requires the removal of obstacles for the relevant supplies from Russia in order to meet the demands of the countries most in need,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
The Kremlin said the two also discussed an initiative to create a base in Turkey for exports of Russian natural gas.
Putin proposed the idea in October as a means to redirect supplies from Russia‘s Nord Stream pipelines to Europe, which were damaged in explosions in September. Erdogan has supported the concept.
“The special importance of joint energy projects, primarily in the gas industry, was emphasized,” the Kremlin said.
Gazprom chief Alexei Miller held talks with Erdogan in Istanbul in the past week.
Maryam Zakir-Hussain11 December 2022 14:00
Some Russian soldiers in Ukraine unhappy with top brass , nationalist blogger says
Some Russian officers fighting in Ukraine are unhappy with the military top brass and President Vladimir Putin because of the poor execution of the war, an influential nationalist Russian blogger said after visiting the conflict zone.
Nearly 10 months since Putin ordered troops into Ukraine, there is no end in sight to the deadliest conflict in Europe since World War Two.
In modern Russia, direct public criticism of Putin is rare though nationalist bloggers have been outspoken about the conduct of the war, especially the costly Russian defeats in Ukraine‘s Kharkiv region in September.
Igor Girkin, a nationalist and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer who helped Russia annex Crimea in 2014 and then organise pro-Russian militias in eastern Ukraine, said there was some discontent with the top brass.
In a scathing 90-minute video analysing Russia‘s execution of the war, Girkin said the “fish’s head is completely rotten” and that the Russian military needed reform and an intake of competent people who could lead a successful military campaign.
Some at the mid-levels of the military, Girkin said, were open about their dissatisfaction with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and even Putin.
“It is not just me… people are not blind and deaf at all: people at the mid-level there do not even hide their views which, how do I put it, are not fully complimentary about the president or the defence minister,” Girkin said.
Russia‘s defence ministry did not comment on the remarks from Girkin who has repeatedly criticised Shoigu, a close Putin ally, for the battlefield defeats Russia has suffered in the war.
Both Ukraine and Russia say the other side has sustained devastatingly high casualties, though neither give clear data on their own losses.
The United States’ top general estimated on Nov. 9 that Russia and Ukraine had each seen more than 100,000 of their soldiers killed or wounded. The civilian death toll is unknown.
Russia passed laws shortly after the invasion which allow prison terms of up to five years for actions interpreted as discrediting the armed forces, or up to 15 years for disseminating deliberately false information.
Maryam Zakir-Hussain11 December 2022 13:15
Ukraine port of Odesa not operating after Russian drone attack on energy facilities, minister says
The Ukrainian port of Odesa was not operating on Sunday after the latest Russian attack on the region’s energy system, Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky said, but added that grains traders were not expected to suspend exports.
Two other ports – Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi – authorised to export grains from Ukraine under a deal between Russia and Ukraine were partially operating, he said.
“Chornomorsk port is now operating at about 80% of capacity,” Solsky told Reuters in a phone call.
More than 1.5 million people in the southern Odesa region were without power after Russian drone strikes hit two energy facilities, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address late on Saturday.
Solsky said that Odesa port was not operating at the moment because the power generators had not been switched on yet. Grains traders continued to ship grains via the two other ports, he said.
“There are problems, but none of the traders are talking about any suspension of shipments. Ports use alternative energy sources,” Solsky said.
Since October, Moscow has been targeting Ukraine‘s energy infrastructure with large waves of missile and drone strikes.
Odesa regional authorities said electricity for the city’s population will be restored “in the coming days,” while complete restoration of the networks may take two to three months.
Maryam Zakir-Hussain11 December 2022 12:45
Kremlin says Minsk deals failure led to Russia’s Ukraine offensive
Russia launched what it calls a special military operation in Ukraine because its concerns around peace accords between Kyiv and Russian-backed separatists were ignored, Russian news agencies quoted the Kremlin spokesman as saying on Sunday.
President Vladimir Putin this week bemoaned the failure to implement the Minsk agreements – ceasefire and constitutional reform deals between Kyiv and Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine brokered in 2014 and 2015 by Russia, France and Germany, at the outset of the conflict with Ukraine.
Both Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of violating the deal.
Asked by a journalist whether Russia understood that it was being “deceived” over the Minsk accords, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Over time, of course, it became obvious.
“And, again, President Putin and our other representatives constantly kept saying this,” the TASS news agency quoted Peskov as saying. “But this was all ignored by the other participants of the negotiation process.
“This is all precisely the precursor to the special military operation.”
Putin was asked on Friday about remarks by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the agreements’ sponsors, who told the Zeit magazine in an interview published on Wednesday that the 2014 agreement had been “an attempt to give Ukraine time” – which it had used to become more able to defend itself.
Russian media and politicians have quickly construed this as a betrayal on Merkel’s part.
Maryam Zakir-Hussain11 December 2022 12:15
Russia shells maternity ward in Kherson, governor says
Russia shelled a maternity ward in Kherson, the city’s governor said on Sunday.
“The enemy again attacked the residential quarters of Kherson,” Yaroslav Yanushevich, said on messaging app Telegram. A cafe and an apartment building were also hit in the strike.
Two people were killed in the attack and five others were wounded, he said.
Maryam Zakir-Hussain11 December 2022 11:32
U.S. bars Russian diplomats from Soviet graves on Alaska base
U.S. officials barred Russian diplomats from visiting the graves of Soviet servicemen at a cemetery on a military base in Alaska, Russian state agency TASS said on Sunday.
Russia‘s embassy in Washington said on the Telegram messaging app late on Saturday that a group of Russian diplomats had visited Anchorage on Friday and Saturday.
“Unfortunately, the local American authorities, without explanation, did not allow embassy diplomats to visit the Fort Richardson National Cemetery and kneel before the graves of Soviet pilots and sailors who died in Alaska in 1942-1945,” TASS cited Russian diplomat Nadezhda Shumova as saying.
“Attempts to obtain access to the memorials through the State Department were unsuccessful, the diplomatic note of the (Russian) embassy in this regard was ignored.”
The State Department did not immediately respond to an email request for comment outside business hours.
A permit is required to access the cemetery on the Fort Richardson U.S. Army installation, according to the cemetery’s website.
Russian diplomats have visited the cemetery in the past, the embassy said on Twitter.
Nine Soviet pilots and two other military personnel are buried at the cemetery, TASS said. They died while flying planes from the United States to the Soviet Union as part World War Two Lend-Lease programme.
Lend-Lease was an effort, begun before the United States joined the war, to supply allies with materiel deemed vital to the defence of the United States.
Maryam Zakir-Hussain11 December 2022 11:25
Russian politician jailed for eight years for criticising Ukraine war
A prominent Russian opposition figure was sentenced to 8.5 years in prison on Friday after being convicted on charges stemming from his criticism of the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine.
The sentence handed to Ilya Yashin, one of the few Kremlin critics to have stayed in Russia, offered the latest indication of an intensified crackdown on dissent by Russian authorities.
“With that hysterical sentence, the authorities want to scare us all but it effectively shows their weakness,” Yashin said in a statement through his lawyers after the judge passed the sentence.
“Only the weak want to shut everyone’s mouth and eradicate any dissent.”
Maryam Zakir-Hussain11 December 2022 10:55
UK foreign secretary says Putin must be held accountable for Russian war crimes
Foreign secretary James Cleverly has said there needed to be “accountability” for Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine, but did not give a definitive answer on whether the Russian leader could be tried at the International Criminal Court.
Asked on BBC’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme if Mr Putin should be tried at The Hague, he said: “There has to be accountability and that means the soldiers on the ground who are perpetrating these atrocities, but accountability right up to the very top.
“There has to be accountability, including Vladimir Putin. The mechanism by which we’re doing that is one of these things that we will look at.”
He indicated that the UK and others were looking at an “effective accountability framework”.
Maryam Zakir-Hussain11 December 2022 10:19