Condemnation of Russia’s strike on the Ukrainian port of Odesa just one day after an agreement was signed with Ukraine that allows the resumption of grain exports from the country. According to city officials in the port city two Russian cruise missiles struck the port infrastructure while another pair was allegedly downed by air defenses. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken led the charge against Russia’s attack and released the following statement on Twitter. “The United States strongly condemns Russia’s attack on the port of Odesa today. It undermines the effort to bring food to the hungry and the credibility of Russia’s commitments to the deal finalized yesterday to allow Ukrainian exports.” Other diplomats and world leaders mirrored Blinken’s words in their own statements. ‘Striking a target crucial for grain export a day after the signature of Istanbul agreements is particularly reprehensible & again demonstrates Russia’s total disregard for international law & commitments,” European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said.
The agreement reached by Ukraine and Russia was set to unblock ports on the Black Sea to allow the safe passage of grain and oilseeds, two of Ukraine’s biggest exports. The fate of that agreement is up in the air following the strike against Odesa.
This is only a short update, but I will be posting another Ukraine entry around mid-week.
Protests broke out in different areas of India on Friday as crowds protested anti-Muslim remarks made earlier this month by officials of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The two officials were disciplined by the party, however, that has not quelled the anger brewing inside of India’s Muslim community. The remarks are seen as another example of the pressure being placed on them by the BJP party. Indian Muslims have complained about the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP restricting aspects of their lives from religious worship to the wearing of hijabs. On Friday, protests grew violent in the cities of Prayagraj and Ranchi. Over 100 protesters were arrested in clashes with riot police. The situations in both cities are now reportedly under control. In the Kashmir region protests and demonstrations were calm and peaceful for the most part.
India has faced backlash over the comments on the geopolitical front as well. A number of Gulf states criticized the weak response of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the offensive remarks made by members of his party. Earlier in June, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke against the decline of religious freedom in India. The Indian government called his comments ‘ill informed’ and suggested the United States get its own house in order.
The incident, as well as India’s handling of it, marks a shift of India’s strategy back to Cold War times as it attempts to maintain a closer relationship with Russia at the cost of its close ties with the US. India’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its continued purchase of Russian oil does not sit well with Washington. Indian government officials claim they are simply acting in their national interests with regards to Russia even though their long term strategic interests remain tied to the United States.
Following a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin were expressive in declaring that the United States is committed to assisting Ukraine win the war and repel Russian forces from its territory entirely. Austin also said that along with preserving Ukraine, another US desire is to see Russia “weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.” Blinken also confirmed the US will be opening its embassy back in Kiev within the coming weeks.
Russia is continuing to focus on attacking Ukraine’s infrastructure. Today, a number of rail stations and facilities in central and western Ukraine were attacked, as well as other targets labeled by Ukrainian officials as ‘critical infrastructure.’ Civilian casualties were reported.
Following a fairly quiet Orthodox Easter Sunday, the tempo of fighting in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian positions on the eastern outskirts of Kharkov began taking artillery fire early Monday morning and there are indications of fighting taking place in other areas of the east. This fighting is responsible for the destruction of a substation in the town of Kreminna which has knocked out power for the entire province of Luhansk.
The British government today has said Russian combat losses in the Ukraine War have topped 15,000. U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace also informed Parliament that over 2,000 Russian armored vehicles were destroyed or captured, including 530 tanks, 530 armored personnel carriers and 560 infantry fighting vehicles, as well as 60 helicopters and fighter jets.
With the focus of the world locked directly on Ukraine for the last forty-eight hours, awaiting the start of a Russian invasion labeled ‘imminent’ unheeded warnings and frustrations are starting to appear. The United States is attempting to plug the dikes with fresh batches of information intermingled with predictions. Today it was President Biden’s turn to keep the heat maintained. He said indications continue to point towards a Russian invasion in the next few days and claims Russia is preparing a pretext to justify military action. Biden’s remarks came after Ukrainian forces and separatists exchanged fire in eastern Ukraine earlier Thursday. The Kremlin responded by accusing the US of ignoring Russia’s security concerns and threatened unspecified “military-technical measures.” The Russian Foreign Ministry followed up by expelling the US Deputy Chief of Mission from Moscow.
The latest fighting in eastern Ukraine is raising alarm bells, as it could very well be the first sign of Russia’s justification for military action starting to take form. Intent to offset a pretext or justification from gaining steam, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke at a UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine. He outlined a number of scenarios where Russia could construct to justify military action. Russia’s response was unusually sharp. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin distributed a letter to the Security Council accusing Ukrainian authorities of “exterminating” civilians in the east. This comes on the heels of Vladimir Putin’s comments earlier in the week about alleged genocide taking place in Donbass. Vershinin also called Blinken’s remarks ‘regrettable’ and repeated the Russian government’s claims that military units are beginning to withdraw from the border areas, something the US and other countries dispute.
Author’s Note: I’ve been out of the loop for much of the day and will try and post a second update this evening.
Although Russia claims to have started withdrawing forces from the Ukrainian border in the past 24 hours, no proof of this has yet been presented. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. NATO’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said this morning “We have not seen any withdrawal of Russian forces. And of course, that contradicts the message of diplomatic efforts. What we see is that they have increased the number of troops and more troops are on their way. So, so far, no de-escalation.” Russia’s Ministry of Defense has published video of tanks, self-propelled artillery and other armored vehicles leaving Crimea. However, it was not made clear if the equipment was permanently departing the peninsula or simply being repositioned elsewhere. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken supported the NATO claim, saying the United States has yet to see concrete evidence of a Russian withdrawal in progress.
In Kiev and around the rest of the country, Ukrainians are celebrating Unity Day. The holiday was created by Ukraine’s leader Volodymir Zelenskiy to mark the day US intelligence believes a Russian invasion will begin. Ukrainian flags are flying from nearly all government buildings today, the national anthem was performed in cities and towns at 10 AM and the day is being marked by a number of speeches and rallies. Even though the true intent of the holiday remains unclear to many citizens, Ukrainians appear enthusiastic to take part. The threat of war did not appear to deter them from partaking in holiday events.
Ukraine will enjoy at least one more day of peace it seems.