Thursday, 07 December 2023 04:41

What to know after Day 651 of Russia-Ukraine war

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Zelenskiy assures Ukrainians of victory with US aid in the balance

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Ukrainians on Wednesday that Kyiv would defeat Russia and win a fair peace "against all odds" as the future of vital U.S. military and financial aid hung in the balance.

Zelenskiy delivered his defiant message in an unusual early-morning video that showed him walking through Kyiv on his way to pay his respects to fallen soldiers on what Ukraine marks as Armed Forces Day.

"It has been difficult, but we have persevered," said Zelenskiy, who filmed himself on a mobile phone as he walked from his office down the central Hrushevskoho street towards central Kyiv's "wall of remembrance".

"It is not easy now, but we are moving. No matter how difficult it is, we will get there. To our borders, to our people. To our peace. Fair peace. Free peace. Against all odds."

His remarks appeared to respond to uncertainty over the future of a $60-billion aid package being debated in U.S. Congress that has been stuck for weeks.

On the streets of Kyiv, residents said they were worried and already felt the pain from delays in Western military aid.

"I'm scared that if Ukraine is left without help, the war will drag on longer and longer and it will be difficult to say when it could end,” Olha Starostenko, a 33-year-old economist, told Reuters TV.

"A friend of mine recently died fighting. We need to get the help as soon as possible, every day of delay means loss of human lives," said Tymur Dushko, 51, who works as an adviser on labour security.

"These are power games that are going on... But I’m convinced that we will receive aid," he added.

Kyiv has relied heavily on assistance from its Western allies against Russia's much bigger army in the biggest war in Europe since World War Two, now in its 22nd month.

A proposed European Union military aid package has also run into resistance from some members of the bloc.


On Tuesday, Zelenskiy cancelled plans to address U.S. lawmakers to appeal directly for the aid as Congress wrangles over Republican demands to tie the assistance to a revamp of U.S. immigration and border policies.

In one of the bleakest assessments yet by a senior Ukrainian official, Zelenskiy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said on Tuesday that postponement of the U.S. aid created a "big risk" that Ukraine would lose the war.

Moscow controls about 17.5% of Ukraine's territory, and Ukrainian forces are now facing a new Russian offensive on the eastern front, with especially fierce fighting around the towns of Avdiivka and Mariinka.

In his video, Zelenskiy greeted people as he walked down the slippery, winter streets. He said Ukraine had no alternative except to liberate its territories occupied by Russia.

"These are our lands. These are our people. Is there an alternative? No. Nine years and 651 days of the war are behind us. Victory is ahead. And how else? Could there be an alternative? We all know: no," Zelenskiy said.

He was later shown paying his respects at the wall of remembrance created in 2014 to commemorate victims of Russia's war against Ukraine. Moscow seized the peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backed a militant insurgency in the east.

While the original panels were neatly structured with orderly military pictures, that changed after Russia's invasion in February 2022. Grieving families placed hundreds of personal photos there.

Zelenskiy said the wall would help strengthen Ukrainians' spirit against "fear, mistrust, despair, discord and thoughts of giving up."



UK special forces secretly operated in Ukraine – media

British special forces operators were embedded with Ukrainian troops in the early days of the conflict, Declassified UK reported on Wednesday, citing the newly published book by Polish journalist Zbigniew Parafianowicz.

Parafianowicz is the Ukraine correspondent for the Polish daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna (DGP). His latest work, ‘Polska na Wojnie’ (Poland at War), examines Warsaw’s role in the neighboring conflict. 

According to Declassified, at one point, a Polish government minister – who is not named – told Parafianowicz about a time in March 2022 when he was traveling from Kiev to Zhitomir. 

“It was a time when the Russians were still standing in Bucha, and the route was a gray zone. It was possible to run into Russians. We passed the last checkpoint. The Ukrainians told us that we continue at our own risk,”the unnamed minister reportedly said. “Well, and who did we meet next? Ukrainian soldiers and … British special forces. Uniformed. With weapons.”

According to Parafianowicz’s source, the British and the Ukrainians worked together, driving around the countryside with artillery tracking radars, “learning about this war.”

The same official also said that Polish special forces based in Lublin had been in Brovary, a suburb of Kiev, “on the first day” of the hostilities. Poles – along with Brits and Americans – had been training the Ukrainian special forces since 2014, the minister said. According to Parafianowicz, Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS) had trained President Vladimir Zelensky’s security detail as well.

Another source, identified only as a high-ranking Polish officer, said that these commandos did not return to Poland, but “went in the opposite direction” – to Kharkov and parts of Donbass controlled by Ukrainians.

“They cooperated with the British,” the officer said. “Later, we worked out a formula for our presence in Ukraine … we were simply sent on paid leave. Politicians pretended not to see this.”

According to Declassified, some of these Polish commandos may have trained members of the neo-Nazi ‘Azov’ movement – specifically the ‘Kraken’ unit based in Kharkov – in the use of British-supplied NLAW rocket launchers. Social media posts identified them only as “instructors from NATO countries.”

Parafianowicz’s book appears to confirm previous media reports about NATO commandos fighting alongside Ukrainian troops. In April 2022, the French daily Le Figaro claimed that SAS and Delta Force operators had waged a “secret war” on behalf of Ukraine since the beginning of Russia’s military operation. Shortly after those revelations, The Times said a number of SAS operators had returned to Ukraine to teach Kiev’s soldiers how to operate British-made anti-tank rockets. Last December, a British military publication admitted that up to 300 Royal Marines had been deployed to Ukraine for “discrete operations.”

Classified Pentagon documents that were leaked in April this year also showed at least 50 British special forces operators were still active in Ukraine as of March.

** Zelensky critic shot dead near Moscow

The body of a former Ukrainian opposition lawmaker, Ilya Kiva, has been found in Moscow Region, Russian media reported on Wednesday. The politician was known as a staunch critic of President Vladimir Zelensky.

Kiva’s body was reportedly found on the grounds of the ‘Velich Country Club’ hotel near a cottage where he was residing. He was allegedly lying face down in a pool of blood in deep snow, several Russian media outlets reported, citing law enforcement sources. The man suffered a wound to the head according to TASS, citing its source.

Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman, Andrey Yusov, later stated that Ukrainian security services were behind the attack, news outlet 'Strana' reported. Other media claimed that country's domestic security service, the SBU, orchestrated the assault.

Russian officials have not commented on the incident so far.

Kiva was a Ukrainian MP from 2019 to 2022 and a member of the ‘Opposition Platform – For Life’ party, which was officially banned by Kiev in June 2022. Kiva himself was a fierce critic of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky and the government’s pro-NATO policies. In a 2022 interview, he slammed the US and NATO for, as he said, using Ukraine as “bait” to provoke Russia into a conflict.

The politician left Ukraine not long before the start of Russian military action in February 2022, moving first to Spain and then to Russia. Ukraine stripped him of his mandate in mid-March 2022, less than a month after the start of Moscow’s operation. Ukrainian law enforcement also charged him with state treason the same month, accusing him of “doing everything” to invite the “Russian aggressors” to the country.

He was eventually sentenced in absentia to 14 years behind bars in Ukraine. In his last social media post, dated Wednesday morning, Kiva accused Zelensky of “drowning the [Ukrainian] people in blood,” adding that fleeing abroad or committing suicide would be the only two options for him since the US Senate has yet to approve a bill to fund further Ukraine military aid.

Russia’s Investigative Committee has opened a probe into the murder of the former Ukrainian legislator, the law enforcement agency said in a statement on Wednesday. The committee confirmed the identity of the politician and said he had been killed on Tuesday evening by an unknown assailant, who shot him with a gun. It did not name any suspects in the case and said that all possible avenues of inquiry were being pursued.




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