Day 211 of the Invasion of Ukraine: The World Reacts to Putin’s Mobilization
Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
Huge jump in the prices of plane tickets from Russia after the announced mobilization
Many Russians rushed to book one-way tickets to leave the country while they still could after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of military reservists for the war in Ukraine.
The flights filled up quickly and prices for the rest soared, apparently on fears that Russia's borders might soon be closed or that Putin might later announce a wider mobilization that would send many Russians to the front lines.
Tickets for the Moscow-Belgrade flights operated by Air Serbia, the only European carrier besides Turkish Airlines to maintain flights to Russia despite the European Union's embargo on the flights, were sold out quickly for the next few days, Serbia's “Danas” reported. The price of flights from Moscow to Istanbul or Dubai rose in minutes and reached 9,200 euros for a one-way ticket in economy class.
It notes that there has been a "significant exodus of citizens" from Russia since Putin ordered his troops to attack Ukraine. Following the announced partial mobilization and the "veiled nuclear threat to Russia's enemies in the West," reports of growing panic appeared on social media.
Opponents of the war groups said the limited airfares from Russia had reached exorbitant prices due to high demand and were quickly becoming unaffordable.
Russian-language social networks were flooded with advice on how to avoid mobilization or leave the country.
Some of the reports claimed that people had already been turned back from Russia's land border with Georgia and that the website of Russian state railways had been blocked because too many people were searching for tickets to travel abroad at once.
Russian officials have tried to reassure the public by stressing that the call for mobilization will affect a limited number of people who meet certain criteria. However, the conflicting statements and lack of details fueled the panic.
The Serbia-based group “Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians and Serbs Together Against War” announced on Twitter that no flights from Russia to Belgrade would be available until mid-October. Flights to Turkey, Georgia or Armenia are also sold out, the group said.
"All the Russians who wanted to go to war are already at war," the group said, adding that "Nobody else wants to go there!".
It noted that Belgrade had become a popular destination for Russians during the war and since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, "up to 50,000 Russians have fled to Serbia, many of them setting up self-employed businesses, particularly in the IT sector".
Citizens of Russia do not need visas to enter Serbia. Belgrade has not joined Western sanctions against Russia, and the country's president, Aleksandar Vucic, often boasts of his friendly relationship with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
Nevertheless, the price of the plane ticket Moscow - Belgrade reached 9,000 euros.
Kyiv arranged the return from captivity of 215 defenders of Mariupol, among the released are five commanders and 108 fighters from the Azov battalion
Ukraine has exchanged more than 200 Ukrainian soldiers in Russian captivity for former MP and oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk. The head of the president's office Andriy Yermak reported on the operation of the president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, supporting his words with video recordings of the exchange.
"Today we managed to free 215 of our people from captivity. Among them are 124 officers. This is the most large-scale result we have since the beginning of the invasion," Yermak said, addressing Zelensky. "Among those we managed to free are 108 Azov citizens, as well as those serving from other formations - the National Guard, the Ground Forces, the Navy, border guards, policemen," the head of the presidential office specified. He confirmed the release of the five Azov commanders who were in captivity. In addition, Yermak noted that at the request of Ukraine's foreign partners, ten foreigners who fought in the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were released from Russian captivity.
Yermak provided Zelensky with a video report from the army's Main Intelligence Directorate in which intelligence officials confirmed the exchange of Ukrainians for Medvedchuk. Besides him, Ukraine has given 55 Russian prisoners as its fighters. A total of 56 Russians were exchanged for 215 Ukrainians. Among those released are five of the most famous commanders from Azovstal. In particular, Hero of Ukraine Denis Prokopenko (Redis) - Azov commander, Sergey Volinsky (Volyn) of the 36th Marine Brigade, Svyatoslav Palamar – Kalina (Azov), Oleg Khomenko (Azov), Denis Shlega of the National Guard of Ukraine, Hero of Ukraine Yevgeny Bova. Three pregnant servicewomen were also released - Maryana Mamonova, Yana Shumovetskaya and Anastasia Chernenkaya.
According to the agreements reached, the specified five Azov commanders will remain in Turkey under the personal protection of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan until the end of the war in Ukraine. Shortly before midnight on Thursday, President Zelensky also spoke with the released Ukrainian defenders and noted that he was proud of them.
Accepting the intelligence report, Zelensky noted: "We agreed to exchange Medvedchuk for any Azov fighter, and the fact that we managed to exchange so many people is certainly a big victory," he commented after accepting the intelligence report. The Ukrainian president could not hold back his tears as he spoke to the freed soldiers.
Ukrainian social networks also emphasized the release of the paramedic Kateryna ("Bird") Polishchuk, the "photographer" of "Azov" Dmitry Kazatsky - Orest, the senior sergeant of the 36th brigade Mykhailo Dianov (known from the photos of Orest in Azovstal with the characteristic his beard and with his injured hand), the head of the Mariupol patrol police Mykhailo Vershinin, who has a birthday today, Thursday. David Kasatkin - Chemist - has also returned home. A few hours ago, Ukrainian intelligence published a list of the names of all 215 people freed from Russian captivity and a video with moments of the exchange, which took place somewhere in the Chernihiv region.
During the night, the head of Ukrainian intelligence, Vasyl Malyuk, who participated in the operation organized under the leadership of the office of the Ukrainian president, told the first details of it.
"Azovstal" defenders returned home. There are currently no information about the number of war prisoners exchanged, but the first photos (these ones made by Volodymyr Zolkin) are already appearing. In particular, with the military Kateryna Polishchuk with the call sign "Ptashka". pic.twitter.com/6sP0kK2wuU— Babel.ua: Ukraine at war (@UaBabel) September 21, 2022
"Medvedchuk is not just a henchman of Putin, but a high-ranking state traitor documented by us. His guilt is fully reflected in the relevant materials collected by the SBU. In addition, while working on the Medvedchuk case, we neutralized more than one intelligence network, detained many state traitors, and obtained a large amount of important information that we use in counterintelligence activities. And now, thanks to the exchange, we managed to extract from Russian captivity the heroes who are expected at home," said Vasil Malyuk.
He emphasized that the exchange of Viktor Medvedchuk for Ukrainian defenders does not interfere with the consideration of his cases in court: "This applies to decision-making, sentencing and confiscation of seized property. In such a case, the order of the special judicial investigation is applied in the absence of the accused".
Vasil Malyuk added that the exchange became possible thanks to the changes in the current legislation that regulate the relevant legal mechanisms.
"In order to save the lives and health of our defenders, the Coordination Headquarters for the Rescue of Prisoners of War decided to carry out the exchange. Medvedchuk himself also agreed to this. Thus, the court granted the prosecutor's request." - explained Malyuk.
EU foreign ministers agreed on new sanctions against Russia
At an extraordinary meeting in New York, the foreign ministers of the countries of the European Union agreed on a new package of sanctions against Russia and the delivery of more weapons to Kyiv. A final decision on this will be taken at an official session, said the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell.
"Through the threat of using nuclear weapons, Russian President Putin is trying to intimidate Ukraine and all countries that support Ukraine," Josep Borrell said, calling the threat that Russia would use all its weapons sources "unacceptable". Borrell also said:
"The whole world is suffering. Ukraine is bombarded by missiles, and the rest of the world is bombarded by high electricity, fuel and food prices. This creates inflation, which causes the central bank to respond by raising interest rates, which creates financial problems, which leads to low growth, which creates unemployment. And it's a vicious circle. The whole world is paying the consequences of this war."
President Putin's announced partial mobilization reflects the Kremlin's difficulties on the battlefield, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. “President Putin does not act from a position of strength. Rather, this is another sign of its failure”, Blinken points out.
Earlier, US President Joe Biden said that the war in Ukraine is the responsibility of one person - Vladimir Putin. In a speech to the UN General Assembly, Biden emphasized that no one threatened Russia and Moscow unilaterally started the conflict in violation of all international conventions.
“Britain will continue to provide military aid to Ukraine until its victory against Russia”. British Prime Minister Liz Truss said. According to her, Russian President Vladimir Putin was "trying to justify his catastrophic failure" in Ukraine.
"Canada condemns Putin's irresponsible escalation of war, his partial military mobilization, nuclear threats, as well as Russia's hasty referendums in an attempt to annex parts of Ukraine are unacceptable... Putin's behavior only shows that his invasion will fail." Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in New York.
Turkey also condemned Russia's annexation referendums planned in four regions under its control in Ukraine, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
"Such an illegitimate fait accompli will not be recognized by the international community," the ministry warned in a statement.
Australia and New Zealand described Putin's threats as unthinkable and irresponsible.
Zelensky: The world must punish Russia
Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky called on the world to punish Russia in a dramatic video address to the UN General Assembly.
Presenting what he called his terms for peace, Zelensky - the only leader allowed to speak virtually at the summit - called 15 times for Russia to be "punished" for its invasion. "Ukraine demands punishment for attempting to steal our territory. Punishment for the murders of thousands of people. Punishment for the torture and humiliation of women and men," Zelensky said in English in a pre-recorded video.
Wearing his trademark green military T-shirt, Zelensky received a rare standing ovation in the General Assembly, which returned to office after two years of pandemic restrictions.
Zelensky called for a special tribunal for Russia, adding that it would be "a signal to all future aggressors". He also called for a compensation fund and said Russia "must pay for this war with its own assets."
Zelensky made it clear that he saw no point in immediate negotiations, saying that Russia was only using diplomacy to buy time on the battlefield. "Russia is afraid of real negotiations and does not want to fulfill any honest international obligations," he said.
Zelensky also called for Russia to be stripped of its veto power in the UN Security Council.
Biden: Putin threatens Europe
The United States views Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement that Russia will be ready to use all means at its disposal to defend its territorial integrity and its people as a threat to Europe in violation of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. This was stated on Wednesday by US President Joe Biden, speaking from the rostrum at the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.
"A permanent member of the UN Security Council invaded the territory of a neighboring country, trying to wipe a sovereign state off the map. Russia has shamelessly violated the basic provisions of the UN Charter... Today, President Putin issued an outright threat to use nuclear weapons against Europe and a reckless disregard for the non-proliferation (of nuclear weapons) regime. Now Russia is mobilizing more and more military personnel to go into battle, and the Kremlin is organizing a fake referendum to try to annex part of Ukraine - an extremely serious violation of the UN Charter," the president stressed.
"Putin claims he had to act because Russia was threatened. But no one has threatened Russia and no one but Russia has sought conflict. In fact, we warned of its approach. And along with many of you, we worked to try to prevent that," Biden said.
The US is working closely with allies to prevent a potential Russian attack on NATO territory, Biden also said.
“The United States is also working closely with our allies and partners to make it difficult for Russia to deter attacks on NATO territory, to hold Russia accountable for atrocities and war crimes. Because if countries can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequence, then we are jeopardizing everything that this institution [of the United Nations] is built on," Biden added.
Truss pledges military aid “as long as Ukraine prevails”
British Prime Minister Liz Truss has pledged to the United Nations that her country will continue to provide military aid to war-torn Ukraine until it prevails over Russia.
Truss became the latest Western leader at the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York to defy Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hours earlier had mobilized reserves in a clear sign he was in no rush to end the conflict.
Putin's move only underscored the "disastrous failure" of Russia's invasion of its neighbor and strengthened the determination of Western allies to support Kyiv, she said. "We will not rest until Ukraine prevails," Truss told the UN General Assembly on his first trip since taking office. She noted that "as I speak, new UK weapons are arriving in Ukraine".
"At this crucial moment in the conflict, I pledge that we will maintain or increase our military support for Ukraine for as long as necessary."
The Conservative leader also said the UK had committed to spending 3% of its GDP on defense by 2030, significantly more than the 2% defense spending commitment by NATO members.
Her comments come amid growing discontent in some developing world countries over the West's massive arms spending on Ukraine.
Truss also called for economic unity as a powerful tool against aggression. "The G7 and our like-minded people must act as an economic NATO, collectively protecting our prosperity," she said in her address. "If a partner's economy is attacked by an aggressive regime, we must act to support them - all for one and one for all," she stressed.
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