Day 427 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Xi Jinping talked with ZelenskyUkraine |Author: Nikola Danailov | April 26, 2023, Wednesday // 11:35| views
Day 427 of the invasion of Ukraine. Summary of key events in the last 24 hours:
- After a conversation with Zelensky, the Chinese president sends a special envoy to Ukraine
- A Ukrainian counter-offensive is inevitable, Prigozhin said
- NATO fighter jets intercepted Russian warplanes over the Baltic Sea
- ISW: The Kremlin fears for the stability of the Putin regime
- Kyiv wants more sanctions against Moscow and the transit of Russian gas
- Lavrov accused the West of creating an impasse over the grain deal
- The Kremlin has denied claims that Putin has doppelgangers and that he is hiding in a bunker
- Putin's safety not guaranteed in South Africa
- The EU will deploy a mission in Moldova to combat threats from Russia
- Navalny announced that he was being investigated for terrorism
- The FBI is working with US companies to gather evidence of war crimes in Ukraine
After a conversation with Zelensky, the Chinese president sends a special envoy to Ukraine
"China will send a special envoy to Ukraine and talk to all countries to resolve the crisis in the country. We will focus on promoting peace talks and make efforts to cease fire as soon as possible".
This was stated by President Xi Jinping to his colleague Volodymyr Zelensky in a telephone conversation today, Chinese national television CCTV reported.
This conversation has long been expected, and earlier this month the Chinese head of state said he wanted it to take place. Zelensky has called on Jinping to meet with him several times, including after his visit to Moscow in March.
From Kyiv, the message is without such details, for now. In his Twitter profile, Zelensky wrote that he had a "long and significant" telephone conversation with the Chinese leader and that he hopes that, together with the appointment of a Ukrainian ambassador to China, he will give a boost to relations with Beijing.
"China has always stood on the side of peace in the Ukraine crisis, and our fundamental position is to insist on peace and help peace negotiations", Xi Jinping said during the conversation.
According to the foreign ministry in Beijing, the two countries are strategic partners, and a Chinese delegation will soon leave for Kyiv, which will also visit other countries in search of a political settlement to the crisis. China has made extraordinary efforts to help resolve this crisis, Reuters quoted the statement.
A Ukrainian counter-offensive is inevitable, Prigozhin said
The head of Russia's private Wagner army, Yevgeny Prigozhin, said Ukraine was preparing for an "inevitable" counteroffensive and was sending well-prepared units to the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut, for many months the center of fierce fighting, Reuters reported.
In an audio message posted on his Telegram channel, Prigozhin also said his troops were still not receiving much-needed ammunition shipments from the Russian Defense Ministry and were suffering five times more casualties as a result.
The Wagner chief indicated that his troops will use all possible means to continue their attempts to take full control of the city, destroy the Ukrainian army and stop the Kyiv offensive.
Prigozhin also renewed his criticism of Russian security services, saying "treason" was being committed in Russia. He criticized the Ministry of Defense for not sending much-needed shipments of ammunition to his fighters.
He also questioned why Russian forces had not launched an offensive against the nearby towns of Sloviansk or Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine to relieve pressure on Bakhmut.
Late last week, Russia announced that its forces had advanced into Bakhmut, while a senior Ukrainian commander said his forces were holding the front in the city.
The city, which had a population of around 70,000 before the war, is the main target of Russia in its winter offensive, which has yielded few victories.
The capture of Bakhmut could open the way for Russia to attack two larger cities in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region - Kramatorsk and Sloviansk.
Prigozhin said earlier this month that Wagner fighters controlled more than 80 percent of the city.
NATO fighter jets intercepted Russian warplanes over the Baltic Sea
German and British fighter jets intercepted three Russian reconnaissance planes in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, the German Air Force reported, as quoted by DPA and BTA.
The three planes - two Su-27 fighters and an "Ilyushin Il-20" - were flying with transmitters (transponders) turned off. They were intercepted by Eurofighter planes of the two NATO allies.
The three members of the alliance, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, do not have their own fighter jets, therefore, since 2004, security in the Baltic airspace in North-Eastern Europe has been guaranteed by NATO.
Allies regularly deploy fighter jets and troops to the Baltic states, which border Russia.
Earlier this month, the German military handed over rotating command of NATO's air surveillance mission to Britain after heading it for eight months.
Nevertheless, the German air force will continue to support the British until the end of the month.
ISW: The Kremlin fears for the stability of the Putin regime
The Kremlin fears for the stability of the Putin regime, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) claims, writes UNIAN.
The ultranationalists in the country insist on strengthening the repressive measures against the "traitor Russians", but the authorities still do not give in to their calls.
The country's leadership has avoided taking open repressive measures because of concerns about the stability of Vladimir Putin, say analysts at the Institute for the Study of War.
They note that the ultranationalists are proposing the Kremlin's return to Stalinist repression and expect Putin to step it up. The Kremlin still refrains from such measures because of concerns that it could shake the stability of the government.
The government of the Russian Federation even withdrew from the State Duma a bill that provided for higher taxes for Russians who fled the country. The planned increase was from 13 to 30%.
The far-right also declared for the nationalization of the property of "traitors" compatriots. ISW believes that the Kremlin is hesitant to introduce such unpopular measures.
Ultranationalists have repeatedly openly called for the return of Stalinist repressions. Unconditional devotion to war and support for repressive policies were expected of Putin.
Not long ago, United Russia deputy Andrey Gurulev suggested that the term "enemy of the people" be returned. At the same time, Gurulev openly admitted that he himself supports the revival of the Stalinist regime.
Kyiv wants more sanctions against Moscow and the transit of Russian gas
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for tougher sanctions against Moscow after Russian forces again attacked civilian targets in Ukraine. A working group of American and Ukrainian experts proposes that in the future, Russian blue fuel for Europe will be passed only through the Ukrainian gas transmission network.
The transit of Russian gas only through Ukraine in practice means the cessation of supplies of Russian natural gas to the European Union via the Turkish Stream gas pipeline.
The plan, posted on the website of the Ukrainian president, also provides for sanctions against Lukoil, Gazprom and other Russian energy companies, as well as against the management of Rosatom, and an end to the use of uranium by Russia.
The recommendations of the expert group, headed by the head of the office of the Ukrainian president Andriy Yermak and the former US ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, are mainly directed against Russian energy. "We are talking about the most painful points of the Russian economy in order to reduce the ability of Russia to finance military actions," explained McFaul.
The package of sanctions provides further restrictions on the defense industry, on the use of financial instruments, the confiscation of assets of the Central Bank of Russia and their subsequent transfer to Ukraine. The head of the Ukrainian president's office, Andriy Yermak, added that the proposals would be presented to the leaders of Ukraine's allies.
Meanwhile, authorities in Kherson banned all navigation on the Dnieper River. The ban applies to all vessels except vessels of the armed forces and is valid until the declaration of the end of martial law in Ukraine. Kherson Oblast borders the Black Sea, and the Dnieper is currently the front line. Ukrainian forces have taken positions on the eastern bank of the river. However, the scale and goals of this Ukrainian advance are not clear, commented the American Institute for the Study of War.
Lavrov accused the West of creating an impasse over the grain deal
Moscow sees "practically no results" from the pact with the United Nations, which was intended to support Russian exports of grain and fertilizers, and accused Western countries of creating an impasse, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said yesterday, Reuters reported.
Russia has signaled that unless a list of demands to remove obstacles to those exports is met, it will not agree to an extension beyond May 18 of a related agreement that allows for safe grain exports from Ukraine's Black Sea ports.
At a press conference at the United Nations in New York, Lavrov praised the work of UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Martin Griffiths, in their efforts "to reach an agreement with the countries that announced illegitimate sanctions against the Russian Federation."
"But there is practically no result," Lavrov said.
In July last year, Russia signed a three-year agreement in which the UN agreed to help try to remove all obstacles to Russian grain and fertilizer exports. While those exports are not subject to Western sanctions imposed after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Moscow says restrictions on payments, logistics and insurance are a hindrance to supplies.
One of Russia's demands is for the Russian Agricultural Bank (Rosselkhozbank) to return to the SWIFT banking system. Lavrov has said there are no plans for that to happen, and as an alternative, Guterres has suggested that US banks help the Russian Agricultural Bank with the transactions.
The Russian foreign minister said a bank had "kindly agreed to finance an operation" but it was not a long-term solution.
"If you want every time we and the Secretary General of the United Nations are running back and forth, asking a certain financial structure of the United States to be generous, then you understand that it cannot work and it will not work," he said.
A source familiar with the transaction said the US State Department and the US Treasury have asked JPMorgan Chase & Co to carry out a "very limited and highly controlled" transaction in connection with the export of agricultural materials, which took place this month.
The Kremlin has denied claims that Putin has doppelgangers and that he is hiding in a bunker
The Kremlin has denied claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin has doppelgangers who look like him and pose as the 70-year-old Russian leader, and that he spends much of his time hiding in a bunker, Reuters reported.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov listed the claims about Russia, which he said were "lies," in a statement about the country's history since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, the causes of the war in Ukraine, and the so-called from him “cunning of Western society”.
"You've probably heard that Putin has a lot of doubles who work for him while he's in the bunker," Peskov told a conference in Moscow. The Kremlin spokesman said it was "another lie".
"You see for yourself what our president is like: he has always been and is still very active - those who work side by side with him can barely keep up with him," said Peskov.
"One can only envy his energy. About his health, thank God, one can only dream. Of course he is not in a bunker. This is also a lie," he added.
The Kremlin has repeatedly dismissed rumors that Putin, Russia's leader since late 1999, is ill.
During a state visit last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Putin he was confident Russia's 2024 presidential election would see voters back the Russian leader again.
Putin has not yet announced whether he will run for another term. When he came to power, Putin wanted to end the chaos that has reigned in Russia since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. But now the conflict in Ukraine is the most serious military crisis since the war in Afghanistan in the period 1979-1989, notes Reuters.
Putin's safety not guaranteed in South Africa
Russian President Vladimir Putin's safety during a possible visit to South Africa is not guaranteed, despite South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement that his African National Congress (ANC) party has decided to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.
Just hours after Ramaphosa's statement, his office issued an official denial that the Republic of South Africa was not planning to leave the ICC, as the president had previously stated. A communication error on the part of the ruling ANC is cited as the reason for the misunderstanding.
"The Presidency would like to clarify that the SA remains among the signatories to the ICC treaty," Cyril Ramaphosa's office said late on Tuesday, as quoted by SANEWS. The communiqué adds that "the clarification is the result of an error in the comment made during a press conference organized by the ruling ANC."
Just a few hours earlier, Ramaphosa announced that his ruling ANC had decided to withdraw South Africa from the criminal court in The Hague, which a month ago issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The order would mean that authorities in Pretoria, which will host this year's BRICS summit, the bloc comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South East Asia, would have to detain Putin after he enters the country.
This is not the first attempt by South Africa to withdraw from the ICC. The country attempted to do so in 2016, when then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was scheduled to attend an African Union summit there. The ICC also issued an arrest warrant for him for war crimes. South Africa refused to arrest al-Bashir, and a controversial decision to withdraw from the ICC was overturned when a national court ruled such a move would be unconstitutional.
South Africa has so far not condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying it wants to remain neutral and prefers dialogue to end the war. Against the background of declared neutrality, earlier this year Pretoria held joint military exercises with Russia and China, which observers consider evidence of the pro-Kremlin sympathies of the country's authorities. The statements of the general secretary of the congress, Fikile Mbalula, who announced earlier that "Putin can come to this country at any time" speak for the pro-Kremlin policy of the ANC.
The EU will deploy a mission in Moldova to combat threats from Russia
The European Union will send a civilian mission to Moldova to help the eastern European nation fight growing threats from abroad, officials have confirmed, following a series of reports that the Kremlin is working to destabilize the former Soviet republic, Politico reported.
In a statement, the bloc's top diplomat Josep Borrell said the mission, under the Common Security and Defense Policy, would increase "EU support for Moldova in defense of its security, territorial integrity and sovereignty" against Russia.
Officials confirmed the mission will focus on crisis management and hybrid threats, including cybersecurity and countering foreign information manipulation and interference.
According to a statement from the Council of the EU (Member States), the mission will provide strategic-level advice on the development of strategies and policies and identify capacity-building needs for early warning, detection, identification, sourcing and countering hybrid threats.
In February, the president of neighboring Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, said that Kyiv’s security services had intercepted Russian plans to "smash democracy in Moldova and establish control over Moldova.”
The country's pro-EU leader, President Maia Sandu, later said "the plan involved sabotage and military-trained people masquerading as civilians to carry out acts of violence, attacks on government buildings and hostage-taking".
According to Vlad Lupan, a former Moldovan ambassador to the United Nations and a professor at New York University, Brussels' move comes after "numerous signals that Moldova will not be able to deal with Russian influence operations alone."
Navalny announced that he was being investigated for terrorism
Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said today that he is being investigated on terrorism charges for which he could face up to 30 years behind bars, Reuters reported.
In comments posted on Twitter by those close to him, the Kremlin critic, who is serving a total of 11-and-a-half-year sentences on fraud charges, said: "They presented absurd charges threatening me with 30 years in prison... that I, while I'm in prison, I committed terrorist acts".
Navalny was poisoned in Siberia in August 2020, and Western laboratories determined that it was a nerve agent, Reuters recalls. The Kremlin denies trying to kill him. The following year, he was sentenced to prison after returning to Russia after treatment in Germany.
TASS reported today that 11 people have been declared internationally wanted in an extremism case related to Navalny.
The FBI is working with US companies to gather evidence of war crimes in Ukraine
Ukraine is working with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and US companies to gather evidence of war crimes committed by Russians, such as geolocation data and cellphone information, senior officials said on Tuesday, cited by Reuters and BTA.
Ukrainian authorities are collecting digital information from the battlefield and from cities across Ukraine devastated by the war that began last February, said Alex Kobzanets, an FBI special agent who previously served as the legal attaché in the Ukraine office.
"Collecting that kind of data, analyzing it and processing it is something the FBI has experience with," Kobzanets said at a cybersecurity conference in San Francisco.
The work includes analyzing information from cell phones, forensic analyzes of DNA samples, as well as examining body parts taken from the battlefield, he said.
"The next step is to work with the national American operators and transfer the information, get geolocation information when possible," added Kobzanets.
The work reflects deepening cooperation between the US and Ukraine on the cyber front, where Russia is often an adversary for both countries.
The Russian government has not yet commented on the issue.
The agent added that over the past year and a half, the FBI has been working with Ukraine to identify Russian collaborators and spies in Ukraine, as well as representatives of Russian forces operating in the vicinity of Kyiv at the time of the invasion.
US officials and security companies have been Ukraine's main partner in trying to deal with Russian cyberattacks, which it has battled since at least 2015. Ilya Vityuk, head of the cyber-information and cyber-defense department of the Security Service of Ukraine, said that while the number of Russian attacks against Ukraine has increased over the past few years, they have become more targeted in recent months.
"It is very difficult to prove who is responsible for any crime," Vityuk said. "It's very important for us to get as much information as we can about Russian cybercrime because we collect all that data and put it into the criminal files."
"We believe this case of military cybercrime is something new, he added. This is the first time we are dealing with full-scale cyberwarfare."
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