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Day 409 of the invasion of Ukraine. Summary of key events in the last 24 hours:
- 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers are ready for the offensive, the battles for Bakhmut and Avdiivka continue
- Russia advances in Bakhmut
- “Nightmare for the countries of the Five Eyes“: New secret documents about the war in Ukraine leaked on the Internet
- US: We figured out how to convince China and Turkey about the sanctions against Russia
- The Russian ruble depreciated to its lowest value in a year
- Russia – with the most journalists killed in Europe
- Blinken: It is too early to negotiate a ceasefire in Ukraine
40,000 Ukrainian soldiers are ready for the offensive, the battles for Bakhmut and Avdiivka continue
Ukraine‘s armed forces said 40,000 troops were ready for an offensive. Fierce fighting continues around Bakhmut and Avdiivka, as well as in the area of Mariinka and Lyman. The Ukrainian military has repelled over 40 enemy attacks in the last 24 hours.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported two missile, 35 air and more than 40 strikes by Russian rocket systems for salvo fire during the past 24 hours. Several areas, including Kherson and Kupiansk, were shelled, one civilian was killed, eight people were injured, including two children. During shootings in Donetsk in the last 24 hours, four people were killed, one was injured.
Ukraine‘s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told local television that in the next package of sanctions against Russia, which are expected to affect Rosatom, the European Union may make an exception for some countries that are critically dependent on Russian nuclear technology :
“Now we will actively work on the 11th package of European sanctions. We will already raise the issue of the so-called nuclear restrictions, but the situation here is very simple. There are some countries that are critically dependent on Rosatom’s nuclear technologies , so they will block them at all costs. So when these sanctions are passed, I can assume that there will be exceptions for those countries.”
Earlier this week, Reuters reported that the new package provides for a two-year derogation for member countries that still have valid contracts with Rosatom.
Bulgaria has already expressed reservations about the restrictions against the company. In February, President Rumen Radev warned that he would veto any proposal for sanctions affecting Russian nuclear energy.
Ukraine will resume electricity exports to Europe after a half-year interruption due to devastating Russian missile attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure, Herman Halushchenko announced. An export of a maximum of 400 megawatts for the European energy grid has been agreed.
And yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that Ukraine will have to use land and river routes to export its agricultural products if the West does not remove obstacles to the export of Russian grain and artificial fertilizers.
Last month, Moscow agreed not to interfere with Ukrainian exports through Odesa, but only until mid-May, and demanded that the United States and its allies ease insurance and banking services for Russian exporters.
During his visit to Ankara yesterday, Lavrov stated that the restrictions have not only not been lifted, but are being tightened more and more.
Russia advances in Bakhmut
Mercenaries from Russia‘s Wagner paramilitary group have already advanced into the center of Bakhmut, according to geolocation photos cited in the latest briefing by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.
Russian “voenkors” (military bloggers) note that the “Wagnerites” have taken over several other sites in the city – a hotel, a stadium and a church.
While in March the Russian forces were losing a lot of strength and funds to make minimal progress, today they seem to have renewed their attacks with renewed vigour. British intelligence believes that it is likely that the cadre military and the mercenaries were able to coordinate their actions.
At the same time, Ukrainian media reported that a loud explosion was heard in Feodosia in the Russian-occupied Crimea. The occupying authorities announced that they had shot down a missile fired from Ukraine.
“Nightmare for the countries of the Five Eyes“: New secret documents about the war in Ukraine leaked on the Internet
A new batch of classified US documents dealing with Ukraine, the Middle East and China have been leaked online, the New York Times reported on Friday.
Previously, US documents were leaked a month ago and concerned the Ukrainian offensive.
The data includes more than 100 documents. The scale of the leak, along with the secrecy of the documents themselves, could potentially cause enormous damage, US officials told the NYT.
A senior intelligence official called the leak “a nightmare for the Five Eyes,” referring to an alliance of countries that actively share intelligence (the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada).
According to the NYT, one of the documents posted on an anonymous forum included a map showing the course of hostilities in Ukraine‘s Bakhmut. However, the leaked documents apparently refer to more than classified information about Ukraine‘s military plans.
Analysts say the new data set contains sensitive material from meetings on China, the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East and terrorism.
A Pentagon statement Thursday said the Defense Department is investigating information about a possible leak. On Friday, when the new batch of documents was opened, representatives of the department were adamant that they had nothing to add.
In private conversations, however, officials from several national security agencies acknowledged both the authorities’ rush to find the source of the leak and the fear that more documents would be leaked.
One of the officials said the leak most likely did not come from Ukraine, as Kyiv did not have access to some of the leaked documents.
One slide, dated Feb. 23, is marked “Secret/NoForn,” meaning it is not intended to be shared with foreign countries. Michael Mulroy, a former senior Pentagon official, explained to the publication that the leak of classified documents represented a “significant security breach” that could hamper Ukrainian military planning.
“Since many of them (of the leaked date) were photographs of documents, it appears that this was a deliberate leak made by someone who wanted to harm the efforts of Ukraine, the US and NATO,” he said.
Meanwhile, another analyst described what has emerged so far as “the tip of the iceberg.”
“While Pentagon officials and national security agencies were investigating the source of the documents that appeared on Twitter and Telegram, a map purporting to show the state of the war in the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut also emerged. But the leaked documents appear to go beyond highly classified material about Ukraine‘s military plans,” the NYT wrote.
A national security official explained that determining how the documents were leaked will begin with identifying which officials had access to them.
The first leaked documents were posted in early March on Discord, a social media chat platform popular among video gamers, explained Aric Toler, an analyst at Bellingcat.
In Ukraine, Lt. Col. Yuriy Bereza, a battalion commander in the National Guard of Ukraine whose forces have been fighting in the east of the country in recent months, dismissed news of the leak. He noted that the information war has become so intense that “we can no longer determine where the truth is and where the lie is.“
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, believed the “leaked” materials were “photoshopped” and joked about the deterioration of Russian intelligence.
Anonymous US officials told Reuters that Russia or pro-Russian elements were behind the leaking of several classified US military documents that were posted on social media and purportedly show Ukraine‘s preparations for a spring counteroffensive.
The latest report by the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW) also addressed the leak of classified US documents and the reaction of Russian propagandists and bloggers.
According to the ISW report, mostly supporters of the war reacted to the leak with dismay, indicating continued fear in the Russian media about a planned Ukrainian counter-offensive.
The authors note that they do not want to judge the authenticity of the published documents and that they are only assessing the reaction to them in Russia. While several prominent Russian military bloggers called the documents fake, they immediately focused on the version that they were disinformation planted to confuse the Russian military command.
One of them explained that the leaked documents may be part of Ukraine‘s larger disinformation campaign ahead of a counter-offensive. Another recalled historical precedents for spreading false information before a surprise offensive.
Thus, ISW experts conclude, the New York Times article on the leak showed the scale of nervous tension in the Russian information space. The reaction to the published documents shows that bloggers writing about the war are increasingly reconsidering the validity of their own assessments and assumptions about the Ukrainian counter-offensive and their ability to predict the actions of the Ukrainian military in general.
Meanwhile, the intelligence of the British Ministry of Defense devotes today’s report to the state of energy in Ukraine.
British military analysts note that Russia‘s campaign to disable Ukraine‘s Unified Energy System (UES) in the winter of 2022/23 is highly likely to have failed.
They recall that Russia began a massive shelling of Ukraine‘s energy infrastructure with long-range missiles in October 2022. Since the beginning of March, such large-scale attacks have become rare, and smaller attacks (fewer than 25 rounds), which are still going will probably do less damage to UES.
According to them, the main logistical puzzle now is the transportation and installation of critical elements of the energy facilities to replace the damaged ones. In particular, high voltage transformers that weigh around 100 tons.
The agency adds that Ukraine‘s energy situation should improve during the warmer months of the year, and preparations for next winter have likely already begun.
US: We figured out how to convince China and Turkey about the sanctions against Russia
A senior US Treasury Department official said on Friday that the coalition of partners that has sanctioned Russia over its invasion of Ukraine has found effective ways to communicate with China that Beijing will not provide material support to Russia, Reuters reported. .
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the communication meant that while China and Russia have sent signals of a no-holds-barred partnership, the US has not yet seen Beijing provide Russia with material support on a scale that would be relevant in that regard.
As a result, Russia is still focusing on support from North Korea and Iran, the official said.
The United States and its allies, including the European Union and the United Kingdom, imposed sanctions on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago and have continued to increase the pressure. Washington has recently begun a push to combat sanctions evasion and circumvention.
Washington’s approach to China has so far been to communicate directly with Beijing and countries around the world about the risks of providing material support to Russia, the official said. Although travel by US officials to China is limited, their European counterparts are in active communication and visiting, the official said.
US relations with China are at what some analysts see as the lowest point since Washington normalized ties in 1979 and transferred diplomatic recognition for state representatives from authorities in Taipei to those in Beijing. The United States expressed concern earlier this year that China was considering providing lethal support to Russia.
The US is warning countries around the world that it is prepared to take action against companies and individuals in any jurisdiction that provide material support to Russia for its military efforts in Ukraine, the official said.
Senior US economic officials will travel abroad this month to talk with a number of countries and their businesses about the continued risk of providing material support to Russia, the official said.
Brian Nelson, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, will travel to Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Germany, a second senior Treasury official said. Elizabeth Rosenberg, Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, will travel to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
At the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank next week, the United States will provide opportunities for partners and businesses to meet with senior US intelligence officials to learn about how Russia uses its military intelligence agency, the GRU, and the Federal Intelligence Service (FSB) to try to avoid sanctions and export controls.
Yesterday, James O’Brien, head of the US State Department’s Office of Sanctions Coordination, told Reuters that Turkish officials had been “very clear” that through various authorities and agencies they had imposed a ban on re-exports of sanctioned goods to Russia.
Turkey agreed to stop the transit of sanctioned Western goods to Russia after pressure from the G7, O’Brien said, warning that Washington would monitor Ankara’s trade figures with Moscow in anticipation of a decline.
But Washington has not yet seen the effect of the change, added O’Brien, who was in Bulgaria weeks ago in connection with another wave of US sanctions against Bulgarian politicians, former ministers and senior officials.
“It will take us a while to see it, but we will be looking at the trade data from March and April and we would expect that trade to drop dramatically,” O’Brien said. “We’re talking numbers. That’s all I care about.”
The United States and its allies imposed broad sanctions on Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, but supply channels remained open from Black Sea neighbor Turkey and other trading hubs, including Hong Kong.
The Turkish government handed companies a list of banned foreign goods and instructed them not to transfer them to Russia from March 1, the Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals Exporters Association in Istanbul said last month.
Several high-ranking US officials, including US Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo, have traveled to Turkey since the invasion and issued warnings to Turkish firms and banks to enforce US sanctions against Russia.
O’Brien said Kazakhstan has also announced a policy to review and identify trade that may violate sanctions, adding that Washington expects to see improvements there as well.
The United Arab Emirates has also said it will review its trade with Russia, but has not committed to action, O’Brien said. Washington previously said there was “weak compliance” with the United Arab Emirates.
“We’re making it clear that this is a very high priority for the G7 — Russia is using these goods to make weapons,” O’Brien said. He added that because the items were ultimately destined for the Russian military, anyone associated with the transactions in the UAE could be in violation of the sanctions.
“So they are gambling with the future of their business if they continue to support this trade.“
The Russian ruble depreciated to its lowest value in a year
The Russian ruble depreciated to a one-year low. The last day of trading was the worst since the beginning of 2023. The exchange rate reached 83 rubles per US dollar.
Thus, in one week, the Russian ruble lost 5% of its value. Despite the significant decline, the exchange rate is still far from the crisis-hit 113 rubles to the dollar in the first days after Russia started the war in Ukraine. For now, the Russians are in no hurry to stock up. In addition, there are also limits on how much currency can be purchased.
“On the black market, the dollar rate is even higher. I think 82 to the dollar,” explained Nikolai Selsky, a resident of Moscow.
There are several reasons for the depreciation. One is lower revenues from the sale of oil and gas, which have been affected by international sanctions. And the specific reason for the current decline was a payment of more than one billion and 200 million dollars to the oil giant Shell. They sold their stakes in the major Sakhalin 2 project to withdraw from the Russian market. For citizens, it’s confusing.
“We directly work with currency in the service. But I’m still not an economist. My experience shows that you never know what these changes will lead to,” explained Yulia from Moscow, who is a lawyer.
Somewhat paradoxically, Russia‘s finance ministry benefits from the ruble depreciating. They have an unexpectedly large budget hole for this year. It is in rubles and can be more easily filled if the national currency is significantly cheaper than the current around 80 rubles to the dollar. The ministry has the tools and can devalue the ruble further. But that would have another negative effect. More than 40 percent of goods on the Russian market are imports. If the ruble is devalued to fill the budget, it will be a direct blow to citizens’ purchasing power.
Russia – with the most journalists killed in Europe
Russia is the country in Europe where the most journalists die while performing their duties, according to a report by the organization “Reporters Without Borders”.
The most dangerous country in the world for media representatives is Iraq, followed by several countries in the Middle East.
Since the inauguration of Russian President Vladimir Putin, 37 journalists have been killed in his country, the report says. The most striking case was the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, who was covering the war in Chechnya, on the ground floor of her apartment block. The murderers stood before the court, but the ones who ordered the murder were not found.
20 media representatives have died on the battlefields in Ukraine, with eight of them killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Since then, a total of 32 journalists from different countries have died in Ukraine, according to the country’s culture minister Oleksandr Tkachenko.
Since 2003, 300 media workers have died in Iraq, 280 of their colleagues have been killed in Syria, the report says. After them, Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine and Somalia were the most dangerous for journalists.
Blinken: It is too early to negotiate a ceasefire in Ukraine
The US believes that it is too early to talk about ceasefire negotiations in Ukraine. This was confirmed by the Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the coordinator of the National Security Council of the White House, John Kirby, commenting on media reports that, under certain conditions, Kyiv would talk with Moscow about the occupied Crimea.
“For some, a ceasefire can be tempting, and I understand that. But if it means de facto ratification of Russia‘s seizure of significant Ukrainian territories, it will not be a just and lasting peace,” Blinken said.
“Only (Ukrainian President Volodymyr) Zelensky can determine if and when he is ready to negotiate, in what context and for what. We believe that there can be no negotiations on Ukraine without Ukraine,” Kirby said at a briefing in Washington.
In his latest statement on Crimea, Zelensky stated that the liberation of the peninsula from Russian occupation remains “a goal without an alternative” for his country.
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