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Battle Rages In Ukraine Town; Russia Shakes Up Its Military

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Kyiv, Ukraine In one of Russia’s bloodiest battles on Wednesday, the fate of a destroyed salt-mining town in eastern Ukraine hung in the balance. At the same time, Ukraine’s stubborn resistance and other problems forced Moscow to shuffle its military command.

Russian soldiers launched an unremitting attack on Soledar, employing jets, mortars, and rockets.

Even though the fall of Solar isn’t likely to be a turning point in the almost 11-month-long war, it would be a relief for the Kremlin, which hasn’t heard much good news from the battlefield in recent months. It would also serve as a springboard for Russian troops to take other sections of Donetsk province still under Ukrainian control, such as the nearby key city of Bakhmut.

Moscow’s stated territorial goals when it invaded Ukraine were to get Donetsk and the nearby province of Luhansk, both of which are in the Donbas region, which borders Russia. Most of the fighting has stopped, though.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said that the commander of Russian forces in Ukraine was fired after only three months on the job, which shows that battlefield losses were taken into account. Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the military’s General Staff, was appointed to replace Gen. Sergei Surovikin, who was demoted to the deputy.

During his short time as commander of troops in Ukraine, Surovikin was praised for making coordination better and making control stronger. But, in November, he ordered a humiliating pullout from Kherson, the lone regional hub Russian forces had occupied just weeks before the Kremlin unlawfully annexed the province. His dismissal indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin was dissatisfied with his performance.

On the other hand, Gerasimov was seen as the main person behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and critics held him responsible for Moscow’s military losses.

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Leadership Changes In Ranks

The Defense Ministry said that the leadership changes were needed because the military had more jobs to do and needed “closer contact between branches of the military” and “better supplies and more efficient direction of units of forces.”

On the battlefield, a Ukrainian officer near Soledar said that the Russians send one or two waves of men, many of them from the private Russian military contractor Wagner Group, who suffer high casualties as they probe Ukrainian lines. The Ukrainian officer, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, said that when Ukrainian troops are tired and have lost people, the Russians send in a new wave of highly skilled soldiers, paratroopers, or special forces.

Serhiy Cherevaty, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Eastern Group of Forces, and Hanna Malyar, Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister, both said that Russian claims that Soledar had fallen were false.

The Wagner Group’s owner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces had been defeated in Soledar, a claim he had made the day before.

“Once again, I want to confirm the entire liberation and cleansing of Soledar area from Ukrainian armed units,” Prigozhin said on his Russian social media site. “Civilians were removed. Ukrainian units that refused to surrender were annihilated.” According to him, 500 people were killed, and “the entire city is littered with the remains of Ukrainian forces.”

The Associated Press was unable to independently verify his statements.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, stopped short of saying that the settlement had been taken. Instead, he told reporters that Russian forces had made “good progress” in Soledar. “Let us not hurry and await official comments,” he continued.

“Now the terrorist state and its propagandists are trying to pretend that some part of our city of Soledar – a city that the occupiers almost destroyed – is allegedly some kind of Russia’s achievement,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Wednesday. He stated that Ukrainian forces in the area are resisting the Russians.

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Soledar is Known for Mining

Soledar is known for mining and processing salt, but that is all it is good for. However, it is 10 kilometers (six miles) north of Bakhmut, which Russian forces want to encircle.

Taking Bakhmut would hamper Ukraine’s supply lines and allow the Russians to advance on Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, two vital Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk province.

The fall of Soledar would make “keeping Bakhmut considerably more hazardous for Ukraine,” according to Michael Kofman, head of Russia Studies at the CAN nonprofit research group in Arlington, Virginia.

Due to the high number of deaths in the attrition battle, a Russian victory may be just as dangerous as a loss.

“I don’t think the outcome at Bakhmut is that big compared to what it costs Russia to achieve,” Kofman tweeted.

The Wagner Group, which now comprises a sizable force of criminals recruited in Russian jails, led the assault on Soledar and Bakhmut.

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Warner Group Accounts For A Quater Of All Troops

According to Western intelligence, the Wagner Group accounts for up to a quarter of all Russian troops in Ukraine.

Success in Soledar and Bakhmut would boost Prigozhin’s clout in the Kremlin, as he has openly challenged Russia’s military leadership, including Gerasimov.

Russian troops have battled to regain control of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and another Ukrainian province that the Kremlin illegally took in September. In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. After Russian soldiers retreated from Kherson, the fighting intensified around Bakhmut.

Putin designated the Donbas region as a focal point for the war, and Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting there since 2014. During the summer, Russia seized nearly all of Luhansk. Donetsk dodged the same fate, and the Russian military put resources and troops around Bakhmut.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, Russian forces were facing “concerted Ukrainian resistance” around Bakhmut.

“The dynamic nature of urban battle obscures the reality of block-by-block control of territory in Soledar… and Russian troops have mainly struggled to make meaningful tactical gains in the Soledar area for months,” the Washington-based think tank stated.

According to Western intelligence assessments, some of the fightings in Bakhmut has taken place around the entrances to disused salt mine tunnels that stretch for 200 kilometers (120 miles).

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Advances Made

Other recent advances include:

Putin said on Wednesday that Russia had been able to stand up to pressure from the West, especially sanctions, over its invasion of Ukraine. He also said that his country has enough money to strengthen its military, keep social programs going, and reach other development goals. “Nothing of what our adversaries predicted has occurred,” Putin said during a video call with his Cabinet. Using the Kremlin’s name for the conflict, he added, “We will improve our ability to defend ourselves and, without a doubt, solve all worries about supplying military forces taking part in the special military operation.” According to reports, Russia is straining to provide enough weapons, equipment, and clothes for its forces fighting in Ukraine.

— Polish President Andrzej Duda has stated that his country is willing to supply German-made Leopard tanks to Ukraine as part of a bigger multinational tank aid alliance. Duda commented after he and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausda met with Zelenskyy in Lviv, who stated that Ukraine requires tanks to win the conflict. In Britain, another close Ukraine friend, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office, said no final decision on sending tanks had been taken. The United Kingdom has been debating whether to supply Challenger 2 combat tanks.

— According to a Russian official reported by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency, the Russian and Ukrainian human rights commissioners agreed to swap more than 40 military captives. In one of the few instances of collaboration, the two opposing parties have exchanged detainees several times. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, said that his government had proposed making a corridor so that injured people could get medical care in Turkey. “We can ensure they get medical attention and send them back,” Erdogan added. “This is our humanitarian and moral obligation.

SOURCE – (AP)

 

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Norway Looks To Donate $7.3 Billion In Aid To Ukraine

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark – The Norwegian government announced Monday that it plans to donate 75 billion kroner ($7.3 billion) to Kyiv as part of a five-year aid package, making the Scandinavian country one of the world’s largest donors to war-torn Ukraine.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stre said the money would be divided evenly between military and humanitarian aid over five years, each year receiving 15 billion kroner ($1.5 billion). Parliament will vote on the proposed aid package.

Last week, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that the European Union has given Ukraine nearly 50 billion euros in economic, humanitarian, and military aid. The EU said earlier this month that on the 24th anniversary of the war, it would release its tenth set of sanctions against Russia. It will, among other things, target Russian military technology.

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Norway Has Provided Ukraine With 10 Billion Kroner

Norway, which is not a member of the EU, provided Ukraine with more than 10 billion kroner ($1 billion) in civilian and military assistance last year.

“It will result in increased use of oil money,” Gahr Stre said, adding that he hopes the aid package will be approved by a “large majority” of the Norwegian parliament. The proposal is expected to be approved by a parliamentary majority.

“Supporting Ukraine means supporting a people in conflict, but supporting our fundamental security,” Gahr Stre said at a press conference.

“We are showing the Ukrainians that we will support them for a long time,” he said, adding that it would allow “better planning so that the money is used where the needs are greatest.”

Gahr Sre discussed a new Iron Curtain dividing east and west earlier Monday in Oslo.

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Norway Says Oil Money Should Be Used To Support Ukraine

“The implications for Europe are difficult to overstate. A Russia in self-imposed exile is bad news for all of us.” He also stated, “Ukraine’s needs are enormous.”

The Norwegian government also proposed increasing aid to Ukraine-affected countries by 5 billion kroner ($490 million), with the money going toward humanitarian aid and food.

Last week, the Norwegian government said that oil money should be used to help Ukraine more.

Norway is one of the biggest fossil fuel exporters in Europe, and Ukraine’s conflict has increased its gas sales. However, Norway has refuted accusations of profiting from the Ukraine conflict.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago, European countries rushed to secure alternative energy sources, dramatically increasing demand — and price — for Norway’s oil and gas.

SOURCE – (AP)

 

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China Accuses US Of Indiscriminate Use Of Force Over Balloon

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BEIJING, China — China said on Monday that the U.S. used indiscriminate force when it shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon. It said that the incident “seriously affected and hurt both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-US relations.”

The balloon was shot down off the coast of Carolina after passing over sensitive military sites across North America. China maintained that the flyover was an accident involving a civilian plane.

On Sunday, Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said that he filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Embassy regarding the “U.S. military attack on a Chinese civilian unmanned airship.”

“However, the U.S. turned a deaf ear and insisted on indiscriminate use of force against the civilian airship about to leave U.S. airspace, clearly overreacted, and seriously violated the spirit of international law and international practice,” Xie said.

The presence of the balloon in the skies above the United States dealt a severe blow to already strained US-Chinese relations, which have been declining for years. It prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel an important trip to Beijing aimed at defusing tensions.

Xie reiterated China’s claim that the balloon was a Chinese civil unmanned airship that erroneously entered U.S. airspace, calling it an “accidental incident caused by force majeure.”

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U.S. Officials Shoot DownThe Balloon Over The Ocean

China will “resolutely safeguard Chinese companies’ legitimate rights and interests, resolutely safeguard China’s interests and dignity and reserve the right to make further necessary responses,” he said.

According to U.S. officials, U.S. President Joe Biden issued the shootdown order after being advised that the best time for the operation would be over water. Military officials determined that bringing the balloon down over land from a height of 60,000 feet (18,000 meters) would endanger people on the ground.

“What the United States has done has seriously impacted and harmed both sides’ efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-US relations since the Bali meeting,” Xie said, referring to a recent meeting in Indonesia between Biden and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, that many hoped would create positive momentum for improving ties that have fallen to their lowest level in years.

On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning provided no new information, reiterating China’s insistence that the object was a civilian balloon intended for meteorological research, needed more ability to steer and entered U.S. airspace, accidentally diverging from its course. She also didn’t say what other steps China planned to take in response to Washington’s handling of the issue and the cancellation of Blinken’s trip, which would have made him the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“We have stated that this is a completely isolated and accidental incident caused by force majeure, but the U.S. deliberately hyped up the incident and even used force to attack,” Mao said during a daily briefing. “This is a reckless and unacceptable action.”

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Balloons Spotted Over Latin America And Japan

From Latin America to Japan, balloons thought to be Chinese have been spotted. Yoshihiko Isozaki, Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, told reporters on Monday that a flying object similar to the one shot down by the U.S. had been spotted twice over northern Japan since 2020.

“We’re still looking into them about the latest case in the United States,” he said.

Mao confirmed the identity of a Chinese balloon recently spotted over Latin America, describing it as a civilian airship used for flight tests.

“Due to weather and its limited self-control ability, the airship deviated significantly from its planned route and accidentally entered the space of Latin America and the Caribbean,” Mao explained.

Washington and Beijing disagree on things like trade and human rights, but China is especially upset about what it says are violations of its sovereignty and territorial integrity by the US and others.

Beijing is very against the U.S. selling weapons to Taiwan and against foreign politicians visiting the island, which it claims as Chinese territory and plans to take back by force if it has to.

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Bejing Halted Talks With The U.S. Over The Balloon

It reacted to then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island in 2022 by firing missiles over it and staging threatening military drills seen as a practice for an invasion or blockade. Beijing also halted talks with the U.S. on issues unrelated to military tensions, such as climate change.

Last week, Mao warned Pelosi’s successor, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, not to visit Taiwan, implying that China would respond in kind.

“China will tenaciously defend its sovereignty, security, and development interests,” Mao declared. McCarthy claimed that China had no right to tell him where and when he could travel.

China also doesn’t like it when foreign military surveillance planes fly in international airspace near its coast or when U.S. and other foreign warships pass through the Taiwan Strait, which it says is a deliberate act of provocation.

A US Navy plane conducting routine surveillance near the Chinese coast collided with a Chinese fighter plane in 2001, killing the Chinese fighter pilot and damaging the American plane, forcing it to make an emergency landing at a Chinese naval airbase on the southern Chinese island province of Hainan. China detained the 24-member U.S. Navy aircrew for ten days until the U.S. expressed regret for the death of the Chinese pilot and for landing without permission at the base.

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South China Sea Continues To Hold Tension

Another major source of contention is the South China Sea. China claims virtually the entire strategically important sea and protests when U.S. Navy ships sail past Chinese military installations there.

“The presence of this surveillance balloon over the United States in our skies is a clear violation of our sovereignty, a clear violation of international law, and unacceptable,” Blinken said at a news conference with his South Korean counterpart on Friday. And we’ve made that clear to China.”

“I believe that any country that has its airspace violated in this manner would respond similarly, and I can only imagine what the reaction would be in China if they were on the other end,” Blinken said.

According to Oriana Skylar Mastro, a Stanford University expert on Chinese military affairs and foreign policy, China’s weather balloon explanation should be rejected outright.

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China May Have Lost Control Over The Balloon

“This is something that countries frequently say about surveillance assets,” Mastro said.

China may have made a mistake and lost control of the balloon, but Mastro believes it was unlikely to be a deliberate attempt to disrupt Blinken’s visit.

The decision by the U.S. administration to go public and then shoot down the balloon represents a departure from its usual approach of dealing with Beijing on such matters privately, possibly in the hope of changing China’s future behavior.

However, Mastro believes that Beijing will respond negatively.

“They’re probably going to dismiss that and continue as things have been. So I don’t see a clear path to improved relations shortly.”

SOURCE – (AP)

 

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Powerful Quake Rocks Turkey And Syria, Kills More Than 5,000

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ADANA, Turkey: On Monday, a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook wide swaths of Turkey and neighboring Syria, killing over 5,000 people and injuring thousands more as it toppled thousands of buildings and trapped residents beneath mounds of rubble.

Authorities were worried that the number of deaths would go up as rescuers searched through twisted metal and concrete for survivors in a region already struggling with Syria’s 12-year civil war and a refugee crisis.

Residents startled awake by the pre-dawn quake rushed outside in the rain and snow to avoid falling debris while those trapped cried out for help. Throughout the day, major aftershocks shook the area, including one nearly as powerful as the initial quake. Workers were still sawing away slabs and pulling bodies after nightfall as desperate families awaited word on trapped loved ones.

“My grandson is one and a half years old. Please, please assist them. We haven’t been able to hear or communicate with them since the morning. Please, they were on the 12th floor,” Imran Bahur sobbed outside her destroyed apartment building in Adana, Turkey. Her daughter and family have yet to be found.

Tens of thousands of people who were left homeless in Turkey and Syria had to spend the night outside in the cold. People in Gaziantep, Turkey, a provincial capital about 33 kilometers (20 miles) from the epicenter, took shelter in shopping malls, stadiums, and community centers. Mosques were opened throughout the region to provide shelter.

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The Quake Prompted Seven days Or National Mourning.

Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, declared seven days of national mourning.

The earthquake, centered in Turkey’s southeastern province of Kahramanmaras, sent residents of Damascus and Beirut fleeing into the streets and was felt as far away as Cairo.

The quake added to the misery in a region that has suffered greatly over the last decade. On the Syrian side, the area is split between government-held land and the country’s last opposition stronghold, which is surrounded by government forces with help from Russia. Meanwhile, Turkey is home to millions of civil war refugees.

According to the White Helmets, an opposition emergency organization, hundreds of families remained trapped in rubble in the rebel-held enclave. The area is densely populated, with approximately 4 million people displaced from other parts of the country due to the war. Many of them live in buildings that previous bombardments have already destroyed.

According to rescue workers, strained health facilities quickly filled with injured. According to the SAMS medical organization, others, including a maternity hospital, had to be emptied.

According to Orhan Tatar, a disaster management official in Turkey, over 6,400 people were rescued across ten provinces.

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Earth Quakes Frequently shake Up the Area.

The area is situated on major fault lines and is frequently shaken by earthquakes. In 1999, similar powerful earthquakes struck northwest Turkey, killing 18,000 people.

The US Geological Survey assigned a magnitude of 7.8 to Monday’s quake, which occurred at a depth of 18 kilometers (11 miles). A 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) away hours later.

The second jolt in the afternoon caused a multistory apartment building in the Turkish city of Sanliurfa to topple face-forward onto the street. According to a video of the scene, the structure disintegrated into rubble and created a cloud of dust as bystanders screamed.

There were reports that thousands of buildings had fallen down in a large area that went from Aleppo and Hama in Syria to Diyarbakir in Turkey quake, which is more than 330 kilometers (200 miles) to the northeast.

Authorities reported that over 5,600 buildings were destroyed in Turkey alone. Hospitals in the Turkish city of Iskenderun were damaged, and one collapsed.

Dr. Steven Godby, an expert on natural disasters at Nottingham Trent University, thinks that the rescuers may have less time to save trapped people if it is very cold. He said that working in war-torn civil areas would complicate rescue efforts even more.

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Countries Around The World Are Offering Their Assistance

Hundreds of countries, the European Union, and NATO all offered help, like search-and-rescue teams, money, and medical supplies. Most of them were going to Turkey. Russia and even Israel had promised to help the Syrian government, but it was not clear if any would make it to the rebel-held pocket in the northwest, which was in ruins.

Syrian Civil Defense, which is part of the opposition, has said that the situation in the enclave is “disastrous.”

The government and Russia have been bombing the area held by the opposition in Idlib province for years. Everything the territory needs, from food to medicine, comes from neighboring Turkey.

Osama Abdel Hamid told a hospital in Idlib that most of his neighbors died. He claimed their four-story shared building collapsed as he, his wife, and three children ran for the exit. A wooden door fell on them, serving as a shield.

“God gave me a fresh start,” he said.

The bodies of several dead children, wrapped in blankets, were brought to a hospital in the small Syrian rebel-held town of Azmarin in the mountains near the Turkish border.

Four or five TV screens in Turkey showed live coverage of rescue efforts in the provinces that were hit the hardest.

Rescuers pulled two children alive from the rubble in Kahramanmaras, and one could be seen lying on a stretcher on the snowy ground. CNN Turk says that a rescue dog found a woman who was still alive and brought her to safety in Gaziantep.

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Over 12.000 Injured In Ten Different Turkish Provinces

In Adana, about 20 people, some wearing emergency rescue jackets, used power saws to saw out space for survivors to climb out or be rescued from a collapsed building’s cement mountain.

“I don’t have the strength anymore,” one survivor could be heard saying from beneath the rubble of another building in Adana earlier in the day as rescue workers tried to reach him, according to a resident, Muhammet Fatih Yavuz, a journalism student.

Hundreds of rescue workers and civilians formed lines across a mountain of wreckage in Diyarbakir. They passed down pieces of broken concrete, household items, and other debris as they looked for people who were trapped under the wreckage.

According to Turkish authorities, at least 1,762 people were killed, and over 12,000 were injured in ten Turkish provinces. According to the Health Ministry, the death toll in government-held areas of Syria has risen to 593, with 1,400 injured. At least 450 people have died and hundreds have been hurt, according to groups that work in the rebel-held northwest of the country.

Huseyin Yayman, a legislator from Turkey’s Hatay province, said several family members were trapped beneath the rubble of their collapsed homes.

“There are so many other people trapped,” he told Haber Turk television over the phone. “So many buildings have been damaged. There are people on the streets. It’s winter; it’s raining.”

SOURCE – (AP)

 

 

 

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