Live Updates: Russia’s “Special Operation” In Ukraine; Day 72

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Belarus and Russia have shifted to Russian rubles in mutual trade payments, including for supplies of Russian energy resources to the country, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said in an interview with the Associated Press news agency.

“We are trading smoothly in Russian rubles, selling our goods there, receiving Russian rubles and buying gas and oil for Russian rubles. There would be no fortune, but misfortune helped. We purchased energy resources in Russia for dollars early. Now they agree to the Russian ruble,” Lukashenko stated, cited by BelTA news agency.

Lukashenko has called on the West to put an end to the conflict in Ukraine and give up confrontation with Russia.

“I’m saying this to you right now: This conflict needs to be stopped. No one needs it. People are dying. It needs to stop,” he continued, adding, “I know Russia’s position 100%. I can imagine the West’s position. The interests have clashed and you don’t even deny it.”

“I’d like the West to hear. Bad [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, good Putin. Russia’s right or wrong. I repeat: Now is not the time to discuss this question. We need to stop the war now. We’ll figure out things later,” the Belarusian president went on to say.

“Make a conciliatory gesture to ‘bad’ Putin, make it. No one needs war,” Lukashenko added.


Austria has no plans to pay for Russian gas in rubles, Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Schallenberg told Al Jazeera in an interview.

“Our position is clear. We are committed to the already existing agreements [with Russia] and will not pay in rubles, we have no such intention,” Schallenberg addedAn.

In late march, Russian President Vladimir Putin requested moving payments for gas supplies to unfriendly countries to rubles, saying that Moscow would refuse accepting payments on such contracts in discredited currencies, including dollars and euros. He also tasked the government with giving Gazprom an instruction on amending present contracts. On March 31, Putin signed a decree on rules of gas trade with unfriendly countries, which stipulates a new system of contract payment.


Russian diplomat: Moscow has questions about UN rights commissioner’s view of events in Ukraine

Moscow has lots of questions regarding the unilateral assessment of the situation in Ukraine by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya told the UN Security Council.

“Without touching upon what she actually said and the unilateral assessments that she made, to which we have lots of questions, I must remind both our colleagues and the High Commissioner herself that under UNGA resolution 48/141 that stipulated the mandate of the High Commissioner, this UN official bears principal responsibility for United Nations human rights activities under the direction and authority of the Secretary-General within the framework of the overall competence, authority and decisions of the General Assembly, ECOSOC, and HRC,” he noted.

“Their competence does not cover any other issues relating to maintenance of international peace and security or protection of civilians,” he continued.

Speaking before the UN Security Council, Bachelet announced that cases of arbitrary arrest and forced disappearance have taken place on territories controlled by the Russian troops and militia forces supporting them.

The West is already waging a proxy war on Russia, Nebenzya stated.

“We repeatedly raised our security concerns. The West dismissed it, never took it seriously, assured themselves of NATO’s defensive nature, while simultaneously shifting its boundaries close to our borders. Today you already speak of NATO’s global role, including in Asia,” he added.

“We made our proposals regarding global and indivisible security architecture. You waived them off arrogantly. So do not seek to convince us that you never planned to drag Ukraine into NATO. You did. Tomorrow, if not today. We had no illusions about that,” he continued, saying, “The West does not need Ukraine as such. It did and does need it only as an arena of confrontation with Russia. Ukraine should have no illusions either. The West will not help it, except with supplying more weapons and attempting to protract the conflict.”

“And the West is already waging a proxy war on Russia. Hypocrisy of our Western partners keeps surprising us,” Nebenzya added.

The situation in Ukraine allowed the West to launch a series of repressive economic measures against Russia, prepared a while ago, Nebenzya noted.

“You seem to have waited for this moment to spin this flywheel of repression against Russia. If speak of a world war, then beyond any doubt, such war is being waged in the economic area. We are sure that you prepared for it well in advance, because the speed that this flywheel reached does not let this be doubted,” he said.

“Apart from countless sanctions and bans, misappropriation of Russian citizens’ private property (even those of them who have nothing to do with the special military operation), Western states froze Russian accounts worth 300 billion dollars. What international law are you talking about?” he continued.


Russia’s invasion devastated 400 medical sites: Zelensky

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has devastated 400 hospitals and other institutions and left doctors without drugs to tackle cancer or the ability to perform surgery, President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed.

In a video address to a medical charity group, he stated in the areas occupied by Russian forces, the situation was catastrophic.

“This amounts to a complete lack of medication for cancer patients. It means extreme difficulties or a complete lack of insulin for diabetes. It is impossible to carry out surgery. It even means, quite simply, a lack of antibiotics,” he continued.

Zelensky described a “catastrophic” lack of access to medical services and medicine in areas of the country under Russian occupation.

In those areas, he said almost no treatment was available for those suffering from cancer, while insulin for people with diabetes was difficult to find or non-existent. He said antibiotics were in short supply, as well.

Zelensky also added that during the course of the war, the Russian military has already fired 2,014 missiles on Ukraine, while 2,682 flights of Russian warplanes have been recorded in Ukrainian skies.


UN chief urges reintegrating food from Russia and Ukraine into global market

UN chief Antonio Guterres has again called for an end to the war in Ukraine, warning of “limitless” global harm, including to international food supplies.

“The war in Ukraine is senseless in its scope, ruthless in its dimensions and limitless in its potential for global harm. The cycle of destruction, dislocation and disruption must stop. It is time to unite and end this war,” he told the Security Council.

“A meaningful solution to global food insecurity requires reintegrating Ukraine’s agricultural production and the food and fertiliser production of Russia and Belarus into world markets despite the war. I will do my best to help facilitate the dialogue to help make these reality,” Guterres stated.


UN reports 6,731 civilian casualties in Ukraine

The United Nations’ top human rights official has said the UN has recorded 6,731 civilian casualties in Ukraine since the war began.

“It pains me to say that all our concerns remain valid and the situation keeps deteriorating,” Michelle Bachelet told the Security Council.

Bachelet stated her office is documenting forced disappearances of representatives of local authorities, journalists and civil society activists. She added the office investigated 180 cases, with five of the individuals found dead.

“Grim evidence of torture, ill-treatment and summary executions of prisoners of war committed by both parties to the conflict is surfacing,” she continued.


Russian forces readying Kherson for May 9 celebrations: Official

The chairman of the Kherson Regional Council has said that the Russians occupying the area are making plans for May 9 celebrations.

They are making citizens “study slogans, songs, dances”, Oleksandr Samoylenko told Kyiv news agency Unian.

“But today they even have to import actors from the Crimea or from other regions. Because Kherson actors do not agree to participate in these phantasmagories,” he continued.

Samoylenko also stated that while the situation in the city of Kherson “remains more or less calm”, the same can’t be said for the rest of the region.

“We even have completely blocked villages that are located on the line of demarcation of hostilities, and the inability to bring there even by volunteering some food, medicines, other things,” he added.


Scholz, Biden agree to not recognise Russian territorial gains

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and United States President Joe Biden have agreed in a call that they will not recognise any Russian territorial gains in Ukraine, a German government spokesperson has said.

“They agreed that Ukraine needed to be further substantially and continuously supported in the practice of its legitimate right to self defence,” the spokesperson added.


Japan’s PM announces additional sanctions on Russia

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced additional sanctions on Russia, as he wrapped up his Southeast Asia and Europe tour.

The sanctions include freezing assets of about 140 additional individuals and some Russian banks. Seventy military entities will be added to the export ban to Russia as well as quantum computers and high-tech products, according to the Prime Minister.

“Japan with other G7 nations will not tolerate Russia’s outrage, and Japan stands with Ukraine,” the Prime Minister stated.

Japan’s new sanctions on Russia come after Russia sanctioned 63 Japanese officials, including Kishida himself, on Wednesday.


Most Russian forces left Mariupol: Pentagon

The Pentagon says the majority of Russian forces that had been around the port city of Mariupol have left and headed north, leaving roughly the equivalent of two battalion tactical groups there, or about 2,000 troops.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby stated that even as Russian air strikes continue to bombard Mariupol, Moscow’s forces are still making only “plodding” and incremental progress as the main fight presses on in the eastern Donbas region.

He added he has seen no change in Russian behaviour or momentum as May 9 draws near.


UN chief says 500 Mariupol civilians rescued

The UN chief announced that 500 people have now been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant, Mariupol and surrounding areas.

Antonio Guterres said in a tweet that the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross operation involved two safe passage convoys.

Martin Griffiths, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, has hailed the recent evacuations of hundreds of civilians from a besieged steel plant in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol as a “glimmer of hope”, calling for more safe passages.

“We’re making some progress; we’re building relations and we’re building experience, which we hope we can then broaden to more such operations,” Griffiths told the Security Council.

Late on Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address that more than 150 people from Azovstal and more than 300 people from Mariupol and its suburbs had been evacuated this week.

Evacuations are hoped to continue on Friday.

The spokesperson of the United Nations secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, has also noted it’s not clear how many civilians remain in the Azovstal plant in Mariupol.

Speaking to reporters at a briefing at the UN headquarters in New York on Thursday, Dujarric referred to the gathering of information out of the region as “extremely challenging.”


No indications Belarus plans to get involved in Ukraine war: Pentagon

The Pentagon’s press secretary has said there are no indications that Belarus plans to get involved in the war in Ukraine.

Speaking on the drills being conducted by Belarusian armed forces, John Kirby told journalists, “I’ll let them speak to their exercises. But … we’re not tracking indications that they’re planning to or intend to get involved directly in the war in Ukraine.”

Kirby also confirmed the US is not seeing a change in the behaviour of Russian forces or “aggressive momentum” in the lead up to May 9. He added that “the Russians have not made the progress that we believe they expected to make by this point,” in the Donbas.


WHO to consider shutting Europe office in Moscow

World Health Organization states will consider a resolution against Russia next week, including the possible closure of a major regional office in Moscow, a document obtained by Reuters news agency shows.

The draft, prepared largely by EU diplomats and submitted to the WHO’s regional office for Europe this week, follows a request by Ukraine, signed by at least 38 other members including Turkey, France and Germany.

The text refers to a health emergency in Ukraine and is set to condemn Russia’s military actions which it said had resulted in mass casualties, disruptions to health services, increased risks of death from chronic diseases, increased risks of infectious diseases and of radiological and chemical events in Ukraine, the region and beyond.

The resolution, to be considered on Tuesday, calls for a possible suspension of all meetings in Russia, Reuters adds.


Nuclear war ‘should never happen’: Moscow diplomat

Russia’s ambassador to the US has said that NATO is not taking the threat of nuclear war seriously enough and there would be “no winners” if it happened.

In an interview with Newsweek, Anatoly Antonov stated that talk of Russia’s sabre-rattling and threat of using nuclear weapons was “a flurry of blatant misrepresentation of Russian officials’ statements on our country’s nuclear policy”.

“It is our country that in recent years has persistently proposed to American colleagues to affirm that there can be no winners in a nuclear war, thus it should never happen,” Antonov added.

He then noted the “conditions under which the use of nuclear weapons is possible”.

Russia’s doctrine states that nuclear weapons “can be used in response to the use of WMD against Russia and its allies, or in the event of aggression against our country, when the very existence of the state is jeopardised,” Antonov told Newsweek.

Russia does not threaten the United States and its European allies and is doing its best to prevent further escalation of the Ukrainian crisis, he said.

“Our country does not threaten the United States and its European allies, but, on the contrary, is making every effort to prevent the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis,” he continued, adding, “We are compelled to warn of the emerging risks associated with the intervention of NATO states into the Russian special military operation.”

The US administration is refusing to admit that its actions, including anti-Russian sanctions, are provoking a food crisis worldwide, Antonov said.

“The Americans are misinterpreting once again. They refuse to recognize the effects that the miscalculations and systemic errors in the macroeconomic, energy and climate policies of the United States and its allies have had on the situation,” the ambassador stated, commenting on the Department of State’s claims that the Russian special military operation in Ukraine was the main factor that aggravated the global food crisis.

“Accusing us of provoking the looming food crisis is extremely destructive. The colleagues want to make the rest of the world forget how measures, that were intended to put pressure on Russia, directly influenced its opportunities for exporting various goods,” Antonov continued, adding, “This applies primarily to disconnecting some Russian banks from the SWIFT system and the sanctions targeting our transport sector.”.


Russia’s war ‘designed to terrorise and kill’ Ukrainians: UK diplomat

Britain’s ambassador the United Nations has told the Security Council that Russia is deliberately targeting civilians in clear violation of international humanitarian law.

“The truth is, that it’s not just that civilians are dying in Russia’s illegal war of aggression, but that Russia is deliberately waging a war designed to terrorise and kill Ukrainian people,” Barbara Woodward said.

She added that Russia’s propaganda campaign that accompanies this war is “designed to dehumanise and demonise Ukrainians by labelling them as neo-Nazis”.

“This hate speech is extremely dangerous. And, as we near the anniversary of the end of WWII, it disrespects the sacrifices of those Russians, Ukrainians and many other nationalities who fought to end Nazism,” Woodward continued.


‘Just imagine this hell’: Zelensky says of Azovstal

President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that Russian forces will not stop shelling the Azovstal steel plant but that civilians still need to be rescued.

“Many children are still there. Just imagine this hell!” he stated in a video address.

He added that his team is doing everything to find a solution to save some of the 2,000 fighters believed to be in the plant.

“Heroes who defend Mariupol against the occupiers prevailing in the number of troops. There are different units there. They have many wounded. But they do not give up. They are holding positions,” Zelensky continued.


US denies helping Ukraine sink Russian warship

The Pentagon’s press secretary has dismissed an earlier NBC News report that US intelligence helped Ukraine sink Russia’s Moskva flagship.

”We did not provide Ukraine with specific targeting information for the Moskva. We were not involved in the Ukrainians’ decision to strike the ship or in the operation they carried out,” several journalists on Twitter quoted John Kirby as having said.

“We had no prior knowledge of Ukraine’s intent to target the ship. The Ukrainians have their own intelligence capabilities to track and target Russian naval vessels, as they did in this case,” Kirby reportedly added.


UN agency appeals to reopen Ukraine ports to ship food

The United Nations’ food aid agency is appealing for Black Sea ports in Ukraine reopen to permit shipping of wheat and corn exports, which many poor nations depend on.

The Rome-based World Food Programme noted in its appeal that 98 percent of Ukraine’s grain exports had moved through those ports before Russia launched its invasion.

The UN agency says the ports in Ukraine’s south, which have suffered heavy shelling, must resume operations “to protect Ukrainian agricultural production and enable exports that are critical to Ukraine’s economy and global food security”.


EU chief says seized Russian assets should be sold

The European Union should confiscate and sell Russian assets it seizes and use the proceeds to rebuild Ukraine, EU chief Charles Michel has said, echoing an idea already floated in the United States.

The EU announced early last month it had frozen 30 billion euros ($31.5bn) in assets linked to blacklisted Russian and Belarusian individuals.


EU countries ‘almost’ have agreement on new sanctions: Top diplomat

European Union countries are “almost there” in agreeing the bloc’s proposed new package of sanctions against Russia, including an oil embargo, the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has stated.

“I hope that they will get an agreement. They are almost there. And we need this agreement because we have to push still more our economic and financial pressure on Russia,” Borrell told an event in Italy.


UK sanctions Russian steelmaker Evraz

The British government says it has sanctioned steel manufacturing and mining company Evraz in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The steel manufacturing and mining company operates in sectors of strategic significance to the government of Russia,” the government announced.

“Today’s asset freeze means no UK citizen or company can do business with them,” it added.


Ukrainian official says evacuations from Mariupol will take place on Friday

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says civilians will be evacuated from the besieged port city of Mariupol on Friday at 12:00 local time (09:00 GMT).

Vereshchuk made the announcement in a social media post. She added people would gather at the “Port City” shopping centre but gave no further details.


At least 25 civilians wounded in Kramatorsk as eastern assault continues

The governor of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, claimed at least 25 civilians have been wounded in an overnight Russian strike on the city of Kramatorsk.

The Ukrainian army announced it has retaken control of “several settlements on the border of Mykolaiv and Kherson regions”.


West slowing, not hindering advance in Ukraine: Kremlin

The Kremlin has accused the West of preventing a “quick” end to Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine by supplying weapons and intelligence to the country.

Its spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the West is “incapable of hindering the achievement” of the goals of Russia’s military operation.

“The United States, Britain, NATO as a whole hand over intelligence … to Ukraine’s armed forces on a permanent basis,” Peskov told reporters.

“Coupled with the flow of weapons that these countries are sending to Ukraine, these are all actions that do not contribute to the quick completion of the operation,” he added.


Report: US intelligence helped Ukraine sink Moskva

US intelligence helped Ukraine sink the Russian warship Moskva, NBC News has reported, citing US officials.

The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet sank on April 14 after having been struck by two Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles, the US officials confirmed.

According to the officials, the attack happened after Ukrainian forces asked the Americans about a ship sailing in the Black Sea south of Odesa. The US identified it as the Moskva and helped confirm its location, after which the Ukrainians targeted the ship, the NBC report added.

The officials stated that the US did not know in advance that Ukraine was going to target the Moskva.

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