Day 288 of the Invasion of Ukraine: International pressure has reduced the Nuclear Threat from Russia

Ukraine | December 8, 2022, Thursday // 12:03|  views

Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:

An explosion rocked Russia's Belgorod, a glowing flying object and a fire explosion in Sevastopol

New explosions on Russian territory caused anxiety in the population of Russian Belgorod and Sevastopol located in the occupied Crimea. The local administrations of the two cities reported an attack by Ukrainian drones and explosions. Reuters quoted a source from the local administration in Sevastopol as saying that a missile fired from a ship of the Black Sea Fleet shot down a drone over the city. The first reports of thunder in Sevastopol on social networks are from 7 o'clock local time on Thursday. In the local Telegram channels, they write that something is noisy in the city, as the "24 channel" portal notes, with such euphemisms, the Russians are trying to calm down after the latest Ukrainian attacks. A little later, the administration in Sevastopol announced that it had activated air defense on the fifth kilometer. It is probably near the Gagarin area of the occupied city, where the Kazakh Bay is located and where there were explosions at the end of August. Social media users were relieved that the sound seemed like something had been taken down. Other subscribers describe what they saw with their own eyes - at 6:50 a.m. a "glowing thing" flew across the sky of Sevastopol. The unknown object was chased by a shot, after which sparks fell from the sky. Footage later emerged of smoke balls over Sevastopol, but no explanation of what exactly was burning. A large-scale fire, preceded by strong explosions, was also reported by Belgorod located near the border with Ukraine. Local residents write about a Ukrainian attack. There are pictures on social media of a fire with thick black clouds of smoke above it. High voltage lines are down. A third explosion took place on the territory of the Yakovlev city district north of Belgorod, about 50 kilometers from the border with Ukraine.

Siberia should be worried. Ukrainian drone attacks show that Russia has no safe zones

Ukrainian drone strikes on targets in the rear of the Russian Federation show that Russia has no safe zones, writes the Financial Times on the occasion of the latest Ukrainian attacks on air bases in Saratov, Ryazan and Kursk.

"Ukraine has been insisting for months that its Western allies supply it with long-range missiles to strike Russian military bases far behind the front lines," the paper said, citing unnamed government sources in Kyiv, who said the Ukrainian military would soon be able to strike any Russian targets in any territory, including in Siberia.

"We have no limits on range and will soon be able to hit any target in Russia, including Siberia. We in Ukraine know how difficult it is to defend yourself against such air attacks. Soon there will be no safe zones in Russia either," says a defense adviser to the government of Ukraine, speaking on condition of anonymity.

On December 6, a Ukrainian drone attacked the Kursk airport, causing the oil tank to catch fire. On December 5, two more military airfields were attacked - near Saratov and Ryazan. Three people died and two bombers were destroyed, according to the official Russian data. Unofficially, military bloggers and analysts indicate that such strikes may have more casualties, and analysis of satellite images show that 10 planes are missing from airports.

The Financial Times quoted Ukrainian defense ministry officials and analysts as saying the attacks were part of a new tactic designed to disrupt Russian military planning and "confuse" the public by showing that Russia is not safe either.

Ukrainian Defense Ministry officials believe that one of the long-term results of such attacks could be a dispersion of Russian military forces inside the country, which would help protect them but make it difficult to maneuver with available military forces.

Military observers have already noted that Russian air defenses are being exposed due to the deployment of S-300 systems to Ukraine, where the installations are used to strike Ukrainian ground targets. Thus, for these strikes, for example, S-300 batteries from the St. Petersburg area were taken off duty and transferred to Ukraine.

Ukraine has so far not publicly claimed responsibility for the strikes on Russian rear lines, and many details remain secret, as with other such special operations by Kyiv, such as the combined air and sea drone attack on the Black Sea Fleet naval base in Sevastopol in October. On Wednesday, the United States officially announced that it has not provided Ukraine with weapons of increased range and does not encourage it to strike targets on Russian territory, but at the same time in no way prevents Kyiv from acquiring longer-range weapons on its own .

Scholz: International pressure has reduced the nuclear threat from Russia

The risk of using nuclear weapons in the conflict in Ukraine has decreased thanks to international pressure on Russia, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an interview.

"One thing has changed for the time being: Russia has stopped threatening to use nuclear weapons. In response, the international community has drawn a red line," Scholz said in an interview with the German media group Funke.

Asked if the threat of nuclear escalation had been averted, Scholz said: "We have ended it for now."

The German leader praised his recent visit to China for contributing to this development.

"During my visit to Beijing, Chinese President Xi (Jinping) and I jointly expressed the view that nuclear weapons should not be used. Shortly thereafter, the G20 countries confirmed this position," he said.

Scholz was also asked about French President Emmanuel Macron's controversial comments that it would be necessary to provide "guarantees for Russia's own security, the day it comes back to the table" at the talks.

"The priority now is for Russia to immediately end the war and withdraw its troops," he said.

"It is true that after that the question is how we can achieve security for Europe. Of course we are ready to talk with Russia about arms control in Europe. We proposed this before the war and this position has not changed."

Threatening language from Putin himself, as well as the military stalemate, have raised concerns that Russia may resort to its nuclear arsenal to achieve a military breakthrough.

But speaking at a meeting of his human rights council, Putin suggested Moscow would only use nuclear weapons in response to such an attack.

"When they hit us, we hit back," he said, stressing that his country's strategy is based on the "so-called counter-strike" policy.

Uzbekistan poured cold water on Russia for the idea of a gas union

The Minister of Energy of Uzbekistan Zhurabek Mirzamakhmudov “poured cold water” on the authors of the Russian proposal for a gas union with the Russian Federation, which was proposed by the President of Russia Vladimir Putin, reported Reuters. The minister announced that Tashkent would not agree to political conditions that would endanger its national interests.

According to Reuters, Uzbekistan has not yet received a concrete offer, but there have been Russian statements since last month that a gas alliance with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan is being discussed to strengthen supplies between the three countries and other buyers, including China. It is part of Moscow's changed strategy since its invasion of Ukraine, which has seen the European Union sharply reduce its dependence on Russian energy.

"Even if a gas contract is signed with Russia, it does not mean an alliance," Mirzamakhmudov said. Negotiations are underway for Russian gas supplies via the Kazakhstan pipeline, but this will be a "technical agreement" rather than an alliance.

If we import gas from another country, we only cooperate on the basis of a commercial sales contract. We will never agree to political terms in exchange for gas. In short, we will get our proposed gas contract only if we agree with it, otherwise not,” the minister emphasized.

Reuters explained Tashkent's lukewarm attitude to the Russian proposal as a manifestation of Moscow's growing difficulty in imposing its will on other former Soviet republics amid the war in Ukraine.

Despite this position of the former Soviet republic, Uzbekistan remains dependent on foreign gas supplies. The country, including the capital Tashkent, has been experiencing shortages of the blue fuel in recent days due to increased consumption during the cold winter days. Mirzamakhmudov announced that the cold has forced Uzbekistan to reduce by 6 million cubic meters of gas per day exports to China.

In total, the country produces about 52 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, imports 4 billion and exports 2.7 billion, Reuters recalls.

ISW: Discontent is brewing in the army of Belarus

Russia's attempts to force Belarus to join the war in Ukraine may cause internal conflicts in the republic's army.

As noted by the analysts of the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW), this was also confirmed by the Ukrainian General Staff.

In particular, on December 7, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported growing dissatisfaction with the activities of the Belarusian military and political leadership in connection with the threats of Belarus to join the war in Ukraine among the servicemen of the Belarusian border service and the armed forces.

ISW analysts previously suggested that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu traveled to Belarus to meet with Alexander Lukashenko and Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin to continue to pressure Minsk into backing Russia offensive campaign in Ukraine. At the same time, Belarusian officials, especially Lukashenko and Khrenin, use this rhetoric to support the ongoing Russian information operation aimed at strengthening Ukrainian forces on the Belarusian-Ukrainian border with the threat of Belarus joining the war.

"Pressure from Russia and the involvement of Belarusian officials in the ongoing Russian information operation may cause concern among the Belarusian military. ISW continues to believe that Belarus is unlikely to start a war in Ukraine due to domestic factors that limit Lukashenko's willingness to did," the report said.

Package #9: Ban on import of engines for Russian drones and three more banks under sanctions

New package - the ninth in a row, of sanctions against Russia because of the war in Ukraine was presented by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

According to the proposals, which must receive the blessing of all 27 EU members to become sanctions, are to cut off Russia's access to unmanned aerial vehicles, ban the direct export of drone engines to Russia and other countries such as Iran , which could supply it with drones, BTA reported.

It is proposed to add nearly 200 more individuals and legal entities to the list of those sanctioned. This includes employees of the Russian Armed Forces, as well as individual officers and companies from the defense industry, deputies of the State Duma and the Federation Council, ministers, governors and political parties.

The EC proposes that three more Russian banks fall under the sanctions and that a complete ban on transactions of the Russian Bank for Regional Development be introduced. An extension of export restrictions is envisaged, especially for dual-use goods, including chemicals and electronics.

The commission proposes that four more Russian TV stations be taken off the European airwaves and all other distribution platforms. The proposed sanctions include measures against Russia's energy and mining sectors.

Experts have shown how Russia can circumvent oil sanctions by 'hiding' its tankers

A ship-tracking NGO has managed to show how a Russian tanker in the Mediterranean falsified its location data. Experts believe this may be evidence of preparations to circumvent oil sanctions against Russia, the BBC reported.

Commissioned by the US Department of Defense, Global Fishing Watch tracked and verified the transponder signals and satellite images of the Russian tanker “Captain Shchemilkin” and found that in May and August the tanker's crew twice tried to hide their true location by has submitted incorrect coordinates to the Maritime Automatic Identification System (AIS).

This was reported by the Financial Times, which independently verified the findings of Global Fishing Watch.

The FT notes that this technique has been used before by ships secretly carrying oil from Iran and Venezuela. In addition, the newspaper recalls that according to maritime brokers, Russia bought an entire "shadow fleet" of more than 100 tankers before the embargo and price ceiling on its oil.

The EU embargo on Russian oil tankers came into effect on December 5, the same day the G7 countries, the EU and Australia imposed a -a-barrel cap on Russian crude supplies, a price above which it cannot insures itself in the companies in these countries and which practically controls the entire world market.

Global Fishing Watch found that the "Captain Shchemilkin" was anchored off the coast of Malta from May 28 to July 12, but throughout that time it gave the appearance of being much further east in Greek waters. The tanker then returned to the Black Sea before re-entering the Mediterranean in August, this time heading for northern Cyprus, the port and the Technesik power station - but AIS reported it was again circling Greek waters.

"In recent months we have seen Russian tankers doing something similar to training voyages (to circumvent sanctions)," Samir Madani, head of the service, told the FT.

To prove that "Captain Shchemilkin" falsified its location data, Global Fishing Watch compared AIS data with satellite images from the European Space Agency and Planet Labs.

In addition, it found that sometimes the signals of the Russian tanker were not picked up by the satellites in the areas where it should have been according to the signals in question.

The same operation was done by the Financial Times, obtaining the raw data itself.

"Captain Shchemilkin" is owned by the Rostov-based company "Rechmortrans". The company did not respond to the FT's request for comment.

Klitschko warned of an "apocalyptic scenario" in Kyiv

Kyiv's mayor warned on Wednesday of an "apocalypse" scenario for the Ukrainian capital this winter if Russian airstrikes on infrastructure continue, and said that while there was no need for people to evacuate yet, they should be prepared to do so.

"Kyiv may lose electricity, water and heat supply. An apocalypse may happen, like in Hollywood movies, when it is not possible to live in homes because of the low temperature," Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said in an interview with Reuters.

"But we are fighting and doing everything in our power to make sure that doesn't happen," said the former world heavyweight boxing champion, who is now a politician.

According to Klitschko, 152 Kyiv civilians have been killed and 678 buildings destroyed since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24, but the city faces new tests this winter because of the relentless Russian strikes on Ukraine's energy grid.

The picture is grim:

Kyiv does not have enough heated shelters to accommodate all 3.6 million residents in the event of a total blackout, and people should be prepared to evacuate if the situation worsens, Klitschko said. Nearly 500 autonomous heating centers have been prepared, "but for a city of 3 million, 500 points are nothing," he admitted, after days ago President Volodymyr Zelensky criticized him for failing to provide heating for the city's residents.

Klitschko outlined as a realistic possibility that Kyiv would be left without central heating at a time when temperatures could drop to minus 15 degrees Celsius.

"If the electricity supply continues to be absent while the outside temperatures remain low, we will be forced to drain the water from the buildings. Otherwise, the water may freeze and cut off the entire water supply network, and then the buildings will be completely unfit for further use," said the mayor.

Klitschko urged residents to stock up on food and water, as well as prepare clothes and documents for a quick exit if the heating is shut off.

However, he said there was no need for evacuations at this time as the city had only a 20% power deficit and conditions remained stable.

"At the moment there is heating in Kyiv, there is electricity... everything is working. There is no need (for evacuation) at the moment," Klitschko said, but added that residents should be prepared for "different scenarios".

Asked what the city needs most, the mayor said - a "new air defense system". He added that "tens of thousands" of generators and industrial fan heaters are also needed.

Klitschko dismissed criticism from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky over preparations for the winter, saying he believed they were politically motivated and causing astonishment among supporters of Ukraine.

Klitschko, now in his ninth year as mayor, was considered one of Zelenskiy's most prominent political opponents before the Russian invasion.

"I am convinced that politics is behind it because representatives of a political group started running around trying to find fault (in Kyiv)," Klitschko said.

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Tags: Ukraine, Russia, Zelensky, Putin


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