Russia lowers invasion aims
In a sign that Russia might be scaling back its invasion goals in Ukraine, Moscow has declared the first phase of what it calls its “military operation” mostly complete and will focus on “liberating” the breakaway Donbas region. The Russian military has run into stiff resistance, having failed to take any major city in Ukraine and fallen short on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv. The one city Russians had managed to occupy, Kherson, is now no longer under Moscow’s control, the Pentagon said on Friday evening. This week, a Russian advance to cut Ukrainians off in the city of Mykolaiv in the south was reportedly pushed back, forcing the invading army to leave behind old equipment dating back to 1978. Observers said Friday’s announcement appears to indicate the Kremlin may be switching to more limited objectives a month on from the start of the invasion.
‘Stakes of Ukraine war go well beyond its borders’ – Biden
President Joe Biden told American troops on a deterrence mission near the border with Ukraine that the consequences of the raging conflict 50 miles away could extend around the world. “What’s at stake (is) not just what we’re doing here in Ukraine to help the Ukrainian people and keep the massacre from continuing, but beyond that what’s at stake is what are your kids and grandkids going to look like in terms of their freedom,” Biden told US service members from the 82nd Airborne Division, who have been deployed along NATO’s eastern edge as a visible deterrent to Russian President Vladimir Putin. He is set to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and deliver a “major address” on Saturday. As Biden was arriving, anti-aircraft missiles could be seen on the grounds of the airport. Later, he met with aid workers to hear their accounts of helping alleviate the humanitarian crisis, which he said was put in motion by a leader, Putin, whom he again described as a war criminal.
‘Existence of mass graves in Mariupol’ – UN
According to CNN, the United Nations has received “increasing information” corroborating the existence of mass graves in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, and it has been able to get “satellite information” on one such grave. Matilda Bogner, head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, told a media briefing on Friday, “We estimate that one of those mass graves holds about 200 people.” She added one caveat: It is not guaranteed that all of the people buried in the graves “are civilian casualties, because when we document civilian casualties, we do not include both military casualties and we do not include people who die for other reasons apart from direct hostilities.” “People are dying in the city who are not just civilian casualties,” she stressed.
Russia not responding to International Criminal Court
There has been “no response” from Russia to the International Criminal Court’s investigation into allegations of war crimes, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan tells ITV News. Karim Khan has requested contributions from Moscow but has received “no response”. Ukraine, on the other hand, has been more forthcoming: Khan has been able to meet President Zelensky, foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba and various other top officials. The ICC launched its investigation earlier this month, amid Ukraine’s rising civilian death toll and a widespread destruction of property. The probe could target senior officials believed to be responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.
US, EU to reduce European reliance on Russian energy
The US and EU have announced a partnership to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy that will increase shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe by 15 billion cubic metres this year. “Today we’ve agreed on a joint gameplan toward” reducing European reliance on Russian gas, US President Joe Biden said at a joint press conference with Ursula von der Leyen. “This will replace the LNG supply we currently receive from Russia, and looking ahead, the United States and Europe will ensure stable demand and supply for an additional at least 50 billion cubic metres of US LNG until 2030,” European Commission President von der Leyen added, saying that amount would replace one-third of Russian gas imports. Russian energy is a key source of income and political leverage for Moscow with almost 40% of the EU’s natural gas comes from Russia to heat homes, generate electricity and power industry. At the end of the Eurosummit, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said a detailed regasification plan would be presented “within a couple of weeks.
In other developments:
- The Ukrainian military said in a statement Friday that Russian forces launched six cruise-missile strikes on the Ukrainian Air Force command centre in west-central Ukraine, causing “significant destruction” to infrastructure. The statement said the consequences of the missile strike were being examined.
- About 600 people are believed to have survived Mariupol theatre attack nine days ago, an adviser to Mariupol’s mayor has said. City council official had earlier said around 300 fatalities had been recorded. The city’s “almost official” figures put about 900 people in the theatre on the day of the bombing.
- Fighting on the ground: Ukrainian forces have retaken towns and defensive positions on the eastern outskirts of Kyiv, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Friday in its latest intelligence update.
- Meanwhile, Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed Friday that Russian forces destroyed “the largest of the remaining fuel depots” near Kyiv, with a strike carried out with sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles.
- The Russian military said in a briefing on Friday that more than 1,300 military personnel had been killed in Ukraine and over 3,800 had been wounded, in the first major casualty update since March 2. US, Ukrainian and NATO estimates put Russian troop losses drastically higher: NATO estimates the number between 7,000 and 15,000 and the US between 7,000 and 14,000. Ukrainian forces also said they had killed a Russian general in the Kherson region.
- Will Hollywood go political about Ukraine at the Oscars on Sunday? Host Amy Schumer pitched for Ukrainian President Zelensky to speak at the ceremony via video. At a media conference, the show’s producer Will Packer declined to “definitively say one way or another”, while co-host Wanda Sykes quipped: “Isn’t he busy right now?” Still, AFP says the show will address Ukraine in an “organic” and “thoughtful” way, Sykes added…and Oscar winners are almost certain to mention Russia’s invasion throughout the night in their acceptance speeches. New Zealand director Jane Campion. who has already won a Directors Guild award for “The Power of the Dog”, is tipped to win the best director Oscar
North Korea’s tests prompts new UN sanctions
The US is calling for new sanctions against North Korea after the country tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 on Thursday. US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the UN needs to “update and strengthen” sanctions against North Korea. She did not say what the sanctions should be, while Russia and China pushed back on the idea, according to the Associated Press.
Egypt: first female judge to sit at top court
Radwa Helmi has become the first woman to take a seat on Egypt’s judicial bench as an acting judge. She is one of 98 women who were appointed last year to the State Council, one of Egypt’s main judicial bodies. Reem Mousa, one of the judges appointed last year to the State Council, said it was a historic day for “all Egyptian women and for the Egyptian judiciary in general”.