Russia Ukraine War News Highlights: US, Russian defense chiefs speak for first time since invasion; India abstains in UNHRC resolution on Ukraine – The Indian Express

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Russia Ukraine War Highlights: Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu spoke with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday after months of refusing direct contact with his American counterpart. But officials said the call didn’t appear to signal any change in Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, India abstained in the UN Human Rights Council on a resolution on the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression, in which the Council reiterated its demand for an immediate cessation of military hostilities. The Geneva-based Council on Thursday closed its 34th special session after adopting the resolution. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 33 in favour, China and Eritrea voting against and 12 abstentions, including India, Armenia, Bolivia, Cameroon, Cuba, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Pakistan, Senegal, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Friday that the bloc would provide another 500 millions euros worth of military support to Ukraine and that he was confident a deal could be reached in the coming days to agree an embargo on Russian oil. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials say their forces took out another Russian ship in the Black Sea.
Portugal has blocked the sale of a 10 million euro ($10.4 million) mansion belonging to sanctions-hit Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, Publico newspaper said on Saturday, without citing its sources.
The property registry of the mansion in the luxury Quinta do Lago resort in the Algarve was frozen – meaning it cannot be changed – on March 25 at the request of the foreign ministry, a month after Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine, Publico said. The ministry did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment. A spokesperson for Abramovich did not respond to phone calls and messages seeking comment.
According to Publico, the former Chelsea soccer club owner tried to sell the property 15 days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started through the Delaware-based Millhouse Views LLC, owned by Millhouse LLC, which manages his assets. Portugal’s largest bank, Caixa Geral de Depositos, noticed the move and alerted authorities, the newspaper said. The bank declined to comment. (Reuters)
The foreign ministers of Finland and Turkey will meet in Berlin later on Saturday to try and solve disagreements over Finland’s and Sweden’s plan to join NATO, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavesto said.
“I am sure we will find a solution,” he told reporters as he arrived for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Berlin, adding he had spoken to his “good colleague” Mevlut Cavusoglu by phone on Friday. (Reuters)
Hungary’s President Katalin Novak at her inauguration ceremony on Saturday condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said her first trip would take her to Poland, in an apparent gesture to mend relations with Warsaw.
Novak, a former Fidesz party lawmaker and ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, was elected to the largely ceremonial post of president in March, shortly before Orban won another landslide victory in elections on April 3.
Hungary’s first woman president, Novak has served as deputy chair of Fidesz and was family affairs minister in Orban’s previous government.
‘On Tuesday, 17 May, I am travelling to Warsaw to meet the President of the Polish people. Mr. President, dear Andrzej (Duda), I thank you for the opportunity to talk as befits friends!,’ Novak said in her inauguration speech. ‘We condemn Putin’s aggression, the armed invasion of a sovereign state. We say eternally no to every effort aiming at the restoration of the Soviet Union,’ she added. She said the war in Ukraine was also ‘fought against us peace -loving Hungarians’, adding that Hungary demanded that war crimes be investigated and punished. (Reuters)
NATO member Turkey has proposed carrying out a sea evacuation of wounded fighters holed up in a steel works in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, President Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman said on Saturday.
Ibrahim Kalin told Reuters in an interview that he had personally discussed the proposal with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv two weeks ago and that it remains “on the table” although Moscow has not agreed to it.
Under the plan, people evacuated from the vast Azovstal steel plant would be taken by land to the port of Berdyansk, which like Mariupol is on the Sea of Azov, and a Turkish vessel would take them across the Black Sea to Istanbul, he said. “If it can be done that way, we are happy to do it. We are ready. In fact our ship is ready to go and bring the injured soldiers and other civilians to Turkey,” said Kalin, who is also Erdogan’s top foreign policy adviser. (Reuters)
The Group of Seven leading economies warned on Saturday that the war in Ukraine is stoking a global food and energy crisis that threatens poor countries, and urgent measures are needed to unblock stores of grain that Russia is preventing from leaving Ukraine.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who hosted a meeting of top G-7 diplomats, said the war had become a “global crisis”. Baerbock said up to 50 million people, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, would face hunger in the coming months unless ways are found to release Ukrainian grain, which accounts for a sizeable share of the worldwide supply.
In statements released at the end of the three-day meeting on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast, the G-7 pledged to provide further humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable. (AP)
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin Saturday that the militarily non-aligned Nordic country that shares a long border and history with Russia “will decide to apply for NATO membership in the coming days”.
Niinisto’s office said in a statement that the Finnish head of state told Putin in a phone conversation how thoroughly Finland’s security environment had changed after Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion on Ukraine, and pointed to Russia’s demands on Finland refraining from seeking membership in NATO, the 30-member Western military alliance.
“The discussion (with Putin) was straightforward and unambiguous and was held without exaggeration. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” said Niinisto, Finland’s president since 2012 and one of few Western leaders who has held regular dialogue with Putin over the past ten years.
Niinisto pointed out that had already told Putin at their first meeting in 2012 that “each independent nation would maximize its own security.” “That is still the case. By joining NATO, Finland will strengthen its own security and assume its responsibilities. It is not something away from anybody,” Niinisto said. (AP)
Ukrainian forces are on the counteroffensive near the Russian-held town of Izyum, the governor of Kharkiv region said on Saturday, striking at a key axis of Russia’s assault on eastern Ukraine.
A major and successful counteroffensive on that Russian line of advance would deal a serious setback for Moscow in the Battle for the Donbas, a region in Ukraine’s east that Russia has said it wants to capture completely.
Moscow’s forces have been trying to fight their way south from the town of Izyum, the northern part of a Russian pincer movement aimed at outflanking battle-hardened Ukrainian forces dug in to defend the eastern front line.
“The hottest spot remains the Izyum direction,” regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said in comments aired on social media. “Our armed forces have switched to a counteroffensive there. The enemy is retreating on some fronts and this is the result of the character of our armed forces,” he said. (Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Finnish counterpart Sauli Niinisto on Saturday it would be a mistake for Helsinki to abandon its neutral status and join NATO, the Kremlin said. Putin said there were no security threats to Finland, and the potential change in its foreign policy stance could be negative for bilateral relations. (Reuters)
Russian Su-27 fighter jets have taken part in drills to repel a mock air strike on Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, Interfax news agency reported on Saturday, citing the Baltic Sea fleet.
The drills took place two days after Finland announced plans to apply to join NATO, with Sweden likely to follow – moves that would bring about the expansion of the Western military alliance that Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he aims to prevent.
The Russian Baltic Sea fleet’s press service said Su-27 fighter jets “destroyed” the planes of the simulated adversary during the drills, Interfax reported. According to the report, more than 10 crews of the Baltic Sea fleet’s Su-27 were involved in the exercises. (Reuters)
Group of Seven foreign ministers vowed on Saturday to reinforce Russia’s economic and political isolation, continue supplying weapons to Ukraine and work to ease global food shortages stemming from the war. 
After meeting at a 400-year-old castle estate in the Baltic Sea resort of Weissenhaus, senior diplomats from Britain, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the United States and the European Union also pledged to continue their military and defence assistance for “as long as necessary”.
They would also tackle what they called Russian misinformation aimed at blaming the West for food supply issues around the world due to economic sanctions on Moscow and urged China to not assist Moscow or justify Russia’s war, according to a joint statement.
Key to putting more pressure on Russia is to ban or phase out buying Russian oil with EU member states expected next week to reach an agreement on the issue even if it remains opposed by Hungary. “We will expedite our efforts to reduce and end reliance on Russian energy supplies and as quickly as possible, building on g7 commitments to phase out or ban imports of Russian coal and oil,” the statement said. (Reuters)
Ukraine’s president said very difficult talks were underway on evacuating “a large number” of wounded soldiers from a besieged steelworks in the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol in return for the release of Russian prisoners of war.
Mariupol, which has seen the heaviest fighting in nearly three months of war, is now in Russian hands but hundreds of Ukrainian defenders are still holding out at the Azovstal steelworks despite weeks of heavy Russian bombardment.
Fierce Ukrainian resistance, which military analysts say President Vladimir Putin and his generals failed to anticipate when they launched the invasion on Feb. 24, has also slowed and in some places reversed Russian advances around Ukraine. “At the moment very complex negotiations are under way on the next phase of the evacuation mission – the removal of the badly wounded, medics,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a late night address.
Moscow will take adequate precautionary measures if NATO deploys nuclear forces and infrastructure closer to Russia’s border, Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko as saying on Saturday.
“It will be necessary to respond … by taking adequate precautionary measures that would ensure the viability of deterrence,” Interfax agency quoted Grushko as saying. Moscow has no hostile intentions towards Finland and Sweden and does not see “real” reasons for those two countries to be joining the NATO alliance, Grushko added.
He also reiterated the Kremlin’s earlier statement that Moscow’s response to NATO’s possible expansion will depend on how close the alliance moves military assets towards Russia and what infrastructure it deploys. (Reuters)
Russian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine’s second-largest city after weeks of heavy bombardment, the Ukrainian military said Saturday as Kyiv and Moscow’s forces engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s east.
The #Russian military has likely decided to withdraw fully from its positions around #Kharkiv City in the face of #Ukrainian counteroffensives and the limited availability of reinforcements.

Read the latest from @TheStudyofWar and @criticalthreats: https://t.co/M2uwx2QAJv pic.twitter.com/Cc87erHibb

Ukraine’s general staff said the Russians were pulling back from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and focusing on guarding supply routes, while launching mortar, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern Donetsk region in order to “deplete Ukrainian forces and destroy fortifications.” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine was “entering a new – long-term – phase of the war.” (AP)
Journalists packed a small courtroom in Kyiv for the trial of a captured Russian soldier accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian in the early days of the war — the first of dozens of war crimes cases that Ukraine’s top prosecutor said her office is pursuing.
In the first war crimes case brought to trial,  21-year-old Russian Sgt. Vadim Shyshimarin could get life in prison if convicted of shooting a 62-year-old Ukrainian man in the head through an open car window in a village in the northeastern Sumy region on February 28, four days into the invasion.
Vadim #Shyshimarin, un soldado ruso de 21 años, es el primero en ser enjuiciado por crímenes de guerra en #Ucrania. La Fiscalía ucraniana lo acusa de disparar con un rifle automático desde la ventana de un vehículo y asesinar a un civil de 62. #TL2 pic.twitter.com/JKAguonq5f

The defendant, dressed in a blue and gray hoodie and gray sweatpants, sat in a small glass cage during the proceedings, which lasted about 15 minutes and will resume on Wednesday. The trial will be closely watched by international observers to ensure its fairness. Shyshimarin was asked various questions, including whether he understood his rights and whether he wanted a jury trial. He declined the latter. (AP)
Russian gas producer Gazprom said it is continuing to ship gas to Europe through Ukraine via the Sudzha entry point, with volumes on Saturday seen at 64.9 million cubic metres (mcm), up from 61.97 mcm on Friday.
An application to supply gas via the main Sokhranovka entry point was rejected by Ukraine, Gazprom said. Russian gas flows to Europe via Ukraine fell by a quarter on Wednesday after Kyiv halted the use of the Sokhranovka route. (Reuters)
The Russian-imposed military-civilian administration in Ukraine’s Kherson region said it will ask Russia to include it in the Russian federation, the British defence ministry said on Saturday.

If Russia carries out an accession referendum in Kherson, it will almost certainly manipulate the results to show a clear majority in favour of leaving Ukraine, Britain said in a regular Twitter bulletin. (Reuters)
Senior Russian lawmaker Anna Kuznetsova visited the Russian-occupied region of Kherson in Ukraine to discuss social and healthcare needs of the local population, the state RIA news agency reported on Saturday.
Kherson is the first region set to be annexed after Moscow said in April it had gained full control of the region, which has seen sporadic anti-Russian protests.
Kuznetsova, deputy head of Russia’s Duma or lower house of parliament, discussed the supply of foodstuffs as well as medical and other products needed for children, RIA reported. “We are here ready to provide all kinds of assistance,” Kuznetsova, the wife of an Orthodox priest and mother of seven was quoted saying. (Reuters)
More than 7,00,000 people fleeing the war in Ukraine have been recorded in Germany thus far, Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported on Saturday, citing Interior Ministry data.
More than 100,000 people have left their homes in Ukraine amidst the conflict. Their only option is overland, heading west and south-west.

Their western neighbors, including Germany, are preparing for an influx of Ukrainian refugees. pic.twitter.com/C0HIjPzuV5

Since the start of the war on February 24 until May 1,17,27,205 people have registered in Germany’s Central Register of Foreigners (AZR), of which 93% hold Ukrainian citizenship, Welt reported. A significant number may have travelled on to other European Union countries or returned to Ukraine, it said.
Around 40% of Ukrainian refugees were minors and women make 81% of the adult refugees registered, Welt added. (Reuters)
Citizens in Zaporizhzhia step out of their homes to stock up on food and go about their daily tasks even as reports emerge of Russian forces firing artillery on Ukrainian troops in the direction of Zaporizhzhia. The major industrial city in south-eastern Ukraine has become a haven for refugees fleeing Mariupol.
Russian forces suffered heavy losses in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross a river in the east, Ukrainian and British officials said in another sign of Moscow’s struggle to salvage a war gone awry.
On May 12, the 🇷🇺military failed to evacuate its trapped troops stranded near Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast, after 🇺🇦troops destroyed most of the assault party and their pontoon bridges a day before.https://t.co/KodLLCAyPY pic.twitter.com/0OZjGMCIAL


Ukraine’s airborne command released photos and video of what it said was a damaged Russian pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River in Bilohorivka and several destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby — the Ukrainians said they destroyed at least 73 tanks and other military equipment during the two-day battle earlier this week. The command said its troops “drowned the Russian occupiers.” (AP)
Finland’s 1,300-km border will more than double the length of the frontier between the US-led alliance and Russia, putting Nato guards a few hours’ drive from the northern outskirts of St Petersburg.
“Finland must apply for Nato membership without delay,” President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said in a joint statement. Asked on Wednesday if Finland would provoke Russia by joining Nato, Niinisto said: “My response would be that you caused this. Look at the mirror.”
Five diplomats and officials told Reuters that Nato allies expect both countries to be granted membership quickly, paving the way for an increased troop presence in the Nordic region to defend them during a one-year ratification period.
Putin cited Nato’s potential expansion as one of the main reasons he launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine in February. Nato describes itself as a defensive alliance, built around a treaty declaring that an attack on one member is an attack on all, granting US allies the protection of Washington’s superpower might including its nuclear arsenal.
Moscow regards that as a threat to its security. But Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has changed Nordic public opinion, with many now embracing the view that Russia is a menace. Finland in particular has centuries of uneasy history in Russia’s shadow.
Thursday also saw an intensification of disputes over Russian supplies of energy to Europe – still Moscow’s biggest source of funds and Europe’s biggest source of heat and power. Moscow said it would halt gas flows to Germany through the main pipeline over Poland, while Kyiv said it would not reopen a pipeline route it shut this week unless it regains control of areas from pro-Russian fighters. Prices for gas in Europe surged.

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