Day 391 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Explosions in Crimea
Day 391 of the invasion of Ukraine. Summary of key events in the last 24 hours:
- Russia: We will return Ukrainian children when conditions become safe
- Meloni will arm Ukraine regardless of her government's rating
- Explosions in Crimea, Kyiv claims Russian Kalibr missiles were destroyed
- Putin and Xi discuss economic and military-technical cooperation between Russia and China
- The Japanese Prime Minister will visit Kyiv
- Ukraine: Avdiivka can become a "second Bakhmut"
- After US tests: Ukrainian pilots need less than 6 months to upgrade to F-16
- "Bloomberg": Hungary blocks EU declaration on Putin's arrest warrant
- Europe gives Ukraine 1 million shells, Bulgaria - nothing
Russia: We will return Ukrainian children when conditions become safe
"We will return the Ukrainian children when conditions become safe."
This was announced by the permanent representative of Russia to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia, reported "RIA Novosti", quoted by "Gordon".
According to him, the Russians took the children "to protect them from the danger that military actions could create".
"When the conditions become safe - of course, why not?" he said when asked if Moscow intended to return the kidnapped citizens to Ukraine.
The permanent representative to the UN added that the problem of deported children is "absolutely exaggerated" and Russian authorities want to hold an informal meeting of the UN Security Council to "shed light on this situation".
On March 17, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Children's Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova on suspicion of illegally deporting children from the occupied regions of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
On September 7, 2022, the United States accused Russia of forcibly deporting up to 1.6 million Ukrainians and conducting the so-called filtering, including invasive security checks, interrogations, family separations and detentions. According to the US, 1,800 Ukrainian children were taken to Russia in July alone.
According to Ukrainian Ombudsman Dmitry Lubinets, as of March 2023, at least 16,200 cases of Ukrainian children deported to Russia are known. In a commentary published on February 17, he said that up to 150,000 illegally abducted Ukrainian children may be in the territory of the Russian Federation.
Lvova-Belova illegally adopted into her family a 15-year-old child kidnapped from Mariupol by the Russian army last fall. Then the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry opened a criminal investigation against her.
Meloni will arm Ukraine regardless of her government's rating
Italy will continue to support Ukraine against Russia, even if it prevents the approval of the government in Rome, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Tuesday. Polls show that military aid to Kyiv has been unpopular with voters recently.
"We will continue to do it because it is right in terms of national values and interests," Meloni said in a speech to the Senate ahead of a European Council summit on March 23-24.
The issue of supporting Ukraine's military effort is proving to be a headache for her, a staunch supporter of Kyiv whose conservative allies in the coalition government are much more ambivalent about their actions on the issue.
The leader of Forza Italia, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and an old friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, last month accused Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of provoking the conflict. However, Forza Italia voted in favor of arms supplies to Ukraine, as did the League party of Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, another former admirer of the Kremlin ruler.
A poll published in late February by the daily Corriere della Sera showed that around 45% of Italians were against sending weapons to Ukraine, compared to 34% in favor. About 21% of the respondents did not answer the question. Even supporters of Meloni's "Brothers" party had concerns, with 47% saying they were opposed to arms supplies.
However, in her speech in the Senate, Meloni stood firm on her position, adds "Reuters".
"The Ukrainian people defend the values of freedom and democracy on which our civilization is based, as well as the very foundations of international law," she said, adding that military aid was needed to shore up the embattled country.
Italy sent several military aid packages to Ukraine under the previous national unity government of Mario Draghi, and the Meloni administration is working with France to supply the SAMP/T-MAMBA air defense system.
Meloni told lawmakers that Italy would continue to push for a just peace in Ukraine, but added that the conditions for such an outcome were not yet in place.
Explosions in Crimea, Kyiv claims Russian Kalibr missiles were destroyed
Explosions shook Crimea. Ukraine claims that Russian Kalibr cruise missiles were destroyed, and local authorities insist that civilian targets were attacked.
Ukraine's Defense Ministry said an explosion in the town of Dzhankoi, located in the northern part of the Crimean peninsula, destroyed the Russian Black Sea Fleet's Kalibr cruise missiles being transported by rail.
However, authorities in Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014, said there had been a drone strike from the Ukrainian side, but no damage had been done to the railway line and infrastructure in the northern part of the peninsula.
The air defense system has been activated in the vicinity of Dzhankoi. According to preliminary data, the debris damaged a house and a shop, one person was injured, reported the governor of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov. His adviser, Oleg Kryuchkov, wrote in Telegram that all the drones shot down over Crimea were aimed at civilian objects, as there were no military facilities nearby, while each drone contained explosives and shrapnel.
Russian cruise missiles "Kalibr NK" were destroyed in #Dzhankoi, temporarily occupied #Crimea, during their transportation by rail, Ukrainian intelligence reported.— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) March 20, 2023
"The mystery clap continues the process of demilitarization of #Russia and prepares the Ukrainian peninsula of… https://t.co/JrOuzRC98o pic.twitter.com/gA0b7sCds1
Over the past 24 hours, Russian forces have fired nearly 400 projectiles in the Kherson region. As a result of the attack, one person was killed and seven others were injured. Shells hit residential areas and buildings.
The Ukrainian military's summary of the war also said that in the past 24 hours, Ukrainian forces had repulsed more than 120 attacks by the invaders in five directions. The main objective of the enemy remains attempts to enter the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
In his evening video message, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky commented on the European Union's decision to provide Ukraine with 1 million 155 mm artillery shells within a year.
"This is a strategic step. It gives us confidence in our unity, in the unalterable movement towards defeating the terrorist state. I am grateful to all our partners in Europe! To everyone who is truly interested in making Europe strong and free."
Zelensky also expressed gratitude to the United States for the announced new aid package worth 0 million, which includes ammunition for HIMARS rocket launchers, howitzers, Bradley armored vehicles, and anti-tank systems.
Meanwhile, information has emerged that Norway has delivered eight Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to help repel the Russian offensive.
Putin and Xi discuss economic and military-technical cooperation between Russia and China
The state visit of the President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping to Russia continues for the second day. Official Russian-Chinese negotiations begin today, first in narrow, and then in extended composition.
The two delegations are expected to discuss economic and military-technical cooperation, as well as to sign a number of bilateral documents. Yesterday, Putin and Xi had an informal meeting in the Kremlin that lasted more than four hours. One of the topics discussed was the "Position of China on the Political Regulation of the Ukrainian Crisis" published at the end of February.
"We have carefully studied your proposals for regulating the acute crisis in Ukraine. You also know that we are always open to negotiations. We will undoubtedly discuss all these issues, including your initiative, which we respect," Putin said.
He congratulated his colleague on his re-election as President of the People's Republic of China, and Xi responded.
"I know that the next presidential election will be held in your country next year. I am convinced that the Russian people will support you in your good endeavors."
The Japanese Prime Minister will visit Kyiv
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to arrive in Kyiv. He is likely to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, NHK TV reported.
Kishida has already traveled from India where he met his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.
In January, Ukraine invited Kishida, but he said at the time that he would consider the visit based on different situations.
Ukraine: Avdiivka can become a "second Bakhmut"
The small eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka may soon become a "second Bakhmut", where Ukrainian forces have been fighting against Russian troops for eight months, but risk being completely surrounded, Reuters reported, quoted by BTA.
This was announced by the spokesman of the command of the operational-strategic group "Tavria", who agreed with the assessment of the British military intelligence that Russia is intensifying the pressure on the supply lines to Avdiivka.
"The enemy is constantly trying to surround Avdiivka. I largely agree with my colleagues from Great Britain that Avdiivka could soon become a second Bakhmut," spokesman Oleksii Dmitrashkivsky said. "I would like to say, however, that all is not well with the Russian units attacking in this direction," he added.
In peacetime, the population of Avdiivka was over 30,000 inhabitants. Unlike Bakhmut, it has been a front-line city for years. Ukrainian forces dug in there long before Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine, holding the line against Russian-backed militants who have taken control of large swathes of eastern Ukraine after annexing Crimea.
Avdiivka is located immediately north of the Russian-held city of Donetsk, which Kyiv lost control of in 2014.
British military intelligence announced today on Twitter that Russian forces are gradually advancing in the Avdiivka area and noted that the large Avdiivka coke plant "may prove to be a key defensive terrain as the fighting develops."
Prigozhin: We control 70% of Bakhmut
Russian forces control about 70 percent of the city of Bakhmut, but the Ukrainian army is planning a large-scale offensive, the head of the private military company "Wagner" Yevgeny Prigozhin said in a letter to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, TASS and Reuters reported, quoted by BTA.
In the letter released by Prigozhin's press office, he said the offensive, aimed at cutting Wagner's forces off from the main body of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, was planned for late March or early April.
Prigozhin urged Shoigu to take all necessary measures to prevent what he said could lead to "negative consequences" for Russia's military efforts in Ukraine.
After US tests: Ukrainian pilots need less than 6 months to upgrade to F-16
Ukrainian fighter pilots will need less than half a year to switch to American F-16s. These are the first American assessments of the skills of the two Ukrainians who passed tests in the USA, the pilots from the VSU "flew" F-16 simulators. "They would be ready to fly F-16 fighters after less than six months of training," announced the commander of the Ukrainian Air Force, General Serhii Holubtsov to “The Times”.
The two Ukrainians who were on "trials" in the United States returned to Ukraine last week and the test results are encouraging for Kyiv.
“They spent three weeks there and were trained in an F-16 simulator how to fly together as two armed pilots. The results turned out to be very good: Ukrainian pilots can learn to fly and operate the weapons systems of the F-16 in less than six months," said Gen. Holubtsov.
Among NATO allies, there were earlier speculation that it would take years to train Ukrainian pilots to fly and fight in Western aircraft. Last week, Poland and Slovakia agreed to send Warsaw Pact-era MiG-29s to Ukraine. Pressure on NATO member states to supply more advanced aircraft is mounting.
“I'm losing some of my best people because of the lack of proper equipment. The sooner we get all the help we need, the sooner we win this war, the more lives we will save. I am grateful to everyone in Britain who cares, for every bit of help provided," said Holubtsov.
Currently, the Russians have newer and more advanced fighter jets that are superior to the small number of aging MiG-29 and Su-27 aircraft used by the Ukrainian Air Force.
“The Russians have much longer-range radars and munitions on their newer aircraft. They use a missile with a range of 200 km to destroy our S-300 air defenses, which have a range of 150 km, plus 1,500 kg of guided bombs to attack front-line cities such as Vuhledar, Bakhmut and Mariinka. If we had F-16s with AIM 120 missiles and a range of 180 km, we could push the Russian planes much further back," General Sergey Holubtsov told “The Times.”
"Bloomberg": Hungary blocks EU declaration on Putin's arrest warrant
Hungarian authorities have blocked a joint statement by the European Union on the issuance of the arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin by the International Criminal Court.
This is reported by "Bloomberg", citing their sources.
The only document that appeared on Monday was from the justice ministers in support of the ICC, but without Hungary's signature.
This is also the reason why the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, issued a separate statement that the Union has paid attention to the decision and perceives it as "the beginning of holding the Russian leaders accountable for crimes and atrocities in Ukraine, committed on their orders, with their permission, or committed by them themselves".
According to Bloomberg, Hungary - which is also opposed to the expansion of sanctions against Russia because of the war in Ukraine and wants to remove the existing ones - can express its position at the next European Council in Brussels on May 23-24. Then it is expected that the topic will also be present in the council's conclusions. The agency's sources note that some countries are calling for stronger language to be used.
Europe gives Ukraine 1 million shells, Bulgaria - nothing
Bulgaria is not and cannot be part of the deal to provide Ukraine with 155 mm projectiles, said Defense Minister Dimitar Stoyanov in Brussels.
He participates in a council with his colleagues and with the foreign ministers of the EU member states. At it, the member countries reached an agreement to provide Ukraine with 1 million such projectiles within 12 months, it became clear after the end of the Council. The news was announced by the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell. He added that he was very happy with what he had achieved.
Why can't the Bulgarians help
There is a simple reason why Bulgaria did not give 155 mm shells to Ukraine. And it is that ammunition of such a caliber is not used in the country, said Stoyanov. The Bulgarian army cannot use 155 mm projectiles.
The minister did not answer the question whether such projectiles are produced in our country. The question is rather to the Minister of Economy, to whom the military-industrial complex is subordinate.
Dimitar Stoyanov said such munitions are not produced at the TEREM factories under the Ministry of Defense. As far as he knows, VMZ, EMKO and Transmobil have such capabilities.
In Bulgaria, however, projectiles of caliber 122 millimeters and 152 millimeters are produced, the minister said.
At the Defense Council on March 8, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell mentioned the possibility of supplying Ukraine with 152mm projectiles from the production requests.
"The Bulgarian army has provided what can be provided. We are under the norm with stocks. So there is no way to provide military aid and, accordingly, ammunition, which is in demand," said Stoyanov.
General public ones are preferable. Bulgaria also prefers this option, the Acting Minister of Defense stated. The reason, according to him, is that it achieves uniformity, and probably a lower price due to the fact that the volume being ordered is quite large.
There is also an option for other countries to buy from the military-industrial complex, without official Sofia being involved.
What did the member states decide?
The decision to provide aid to Ukraine was made very quickly, Josep Borrell pointed out. It all started at the last Foreign Affairs Council a month ago with the Estonian proposal.
The package approved yesterday is worth 2 billion euros. The approach will be based on three strands, or tracks, that Borrell outlined on March 8. However, he has now shared some additional details.
- One billion euros from the European Peace Support Mechanism. They will be used to reimburse member countries, which will immediately provide 155mm shells and rockets if requested by Ukraine. This ammunition will either be from national stocks or from orders that have already been placed;
- Another 1 billion euros to reimburse costs for joint procurement of said munitions. This will come from European industry and from Norway. The initiative will be spearheaded by the European Defense Agency (EDA) or a framework outlined by the leading countries. The goal is to get the ammunition delivered, and quickly. For now, 17 EU member states and Norway will be involved in the project. Bulgaria is not among these countries, it is clear from the announcement. However, Borrell clarified that not every country was able to sign yesterday. He expects the number of participants to increase to more than 20. Contracts with the industrial sector must be signed by the end of May;
- Increasing the capacity of European industry, demand, restocking national armies, more production, reducing production time. The European Commission will have to play its role here.
Borrell pointed out that over the past 20 years, the Europeans have steadily reduced their military capacity. Expenditure for military purposes has halved, and ammunition production has quadrupled.
"We will work with very tight deadlines. Because the goal is to provide 1 million rounds of ammunition in one year. We will combine supplies from existing stocks and joint orders for new production,” said the EU's No. 1 diplomat.
He recalled that reimbursement covers at most 55-60 percent of the price.
"That's why we're talking about costs that are more or less double the figure of 2 billion," Borrell pointed out.
At the same time, the Council will consider a further increase in the financial ceiling of the European Peace Support Mechanism by €3.5 billion in 2018 prices.
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