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Ukraine says fighting rages in Mariupol, blasts rattle Kyiv

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(Last Updated On: April 16, 2022)

Ukraine said on Friday it was trying to break Russia’s siege of Mariupol as fighting raged around the city’s massive steel works and port, and the capital Kyiv was rocked by some of the most powerful explosions in two weeks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the military situation in the south and east of the country was “still very difficult,” while praising the work of his armed forces.

“The successes of our military on the battlefield are really significant, historically significant. But they are still not enough to clean our land of the occupiers. We will beat them some more,” Zelenskiy said in a late-night video address, calling again for allies to send heavier weapons and for an international embargo on Russian oil.

Russia said it struck what it described as a factory on the outskirts of Kyiv that made and repaired anti-ship missiles, in apparent retaliation for the sinking on Thursday of the Moskva, the flagship of Moscow’s Black Sea fleet.

Ukraine said one of its missiles had caused the Moskva to sink, a powerful symbol of its resistance to a better-armed foe. Moscow said the ship sank while being towed in stormy seas after a fire caused by an explosion of ammunition.

The United States believes the Moskva was hit by two Ukrainian missiles and that there were Russian casualties, although numbers were unclear, a senior U.S. official said.

Russia has said more than 500 sailors on board the Moskva were evacuated after the blast. Neither that assertion nor the U.S. assessment could be independently verified.

MARIUPOL REDUCED TO RUBBLE

Mariupol, on the Sea of Azov in southeastern Ukraine, has seen the worst fighting of the seven-week-long war. Home to 400,000 people before Russia’s invasion, the city has been reduced to rubble. Thousands of civilians have died and tens of thousands remain trapped in the city.

“The situation in Mariupol is difficult and hard. Fighting is happening right now. The Russian army is constantly calling on additional units to storm the city,” defence ministry spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told a televised briefing, although he said the Russians have not completely captured it.

Motuzyanyk said Russia had used long-range bombers to attack Mariupol for the first time since its Feb. 24 invasion.

In his address, Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s allies have the power to make the war much shorter, by sending the weapons his government needs. “I always tell all our partners … that the amount of support for Ukraine directly affects the restoration of peace. It literally defines how many more Ukrainians the occupiers will manage to kill,” he said.

Moscow has said its main war aim is to capture the Donbas, an eastern region already partly held by Russian-backed separatists, after its invasion force was driven from the outskirts of Kyiv this month.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 2,864 people were evacuated from conflict areas on Friday, including 363 people from Mariupol who used their own transport.

Zelenskiy recently made a direct appeal to U.S. President Joe Biden for the United States to designate Russia a “state sponsor of terrorism,” the Washington Post reported on Friday, citing people familiar with their conversation.

The list currently includes four countries: North Korea, Cuba, Iran and Syria.

A White House spokesperson declined to respond specifically to the report, adding, “We will continue to consider all options to increase the pressure on Putin.”

RUSSIA THREATENS STRIKES ON KYIV

If Moscow captures Mariupol, it would be the only big city to fall to the Russians so far.

Russia’s defence ministry said it had captured the city’s Illich steel works. The report could not be confirmed.

Ukrainian defenders are mainly believed to be holding out in Azovstal, another huge steel works.

Both plants are owned by Metinvest – the empire of Ukraine’s richest businessman and backbone of Ukraine’s industrial east – which told Reuters on Friday it would never let its enterprises operate under Russian occupation.

The Moskva was by far Russia’s largest vessel in the Black Sea fleet, equipped with guided missiles to shoot down planes and attack the shore. It had radar to provide air defence cover for the fleet.

Moscow has used its naval power to blockade Ukrainian ports and threaten a potential amphibious landing along the coast. Without its flagship, the largest warship sunk during conflict since Argentina’s General Belgrano in the 1982 Falklands war, its ability to menace Ukraine from the sea could be crippled.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said its forces would step up strikes on Kyiv.

“The number and scale of missile strikes on targets in Kyiv will increase in response to any terrorist attacks or acts of sabotage on Russian territory committed by the Kyiv nationalist regime,” the ministry said.

Kirill Kyrylo, 38, a worker at a car repair shop in the Ukrainian capital, said he had seen three impacts on an industrial building, causing a blaze that was put out by firefighters.

“The building was on fire and I had to hide behind my car,” he said, pointing out the shattered glass of the repair shop and bits of metal that had flown from the burning building.

Russia initially described its aims in Ukraine as disarming its neighbour and defeating nationalists there.

Kyiv and its Western allies say those are bogus justifications for an unprovoked war of aggression that has driven a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes and led to the deaths of thousands.

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Estonia to buy US rocket artillery system in $200 million deal

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(Last Updated On: December 3, 2022)

NATO member and Russia’s neighbor Estonia is boosting its defense capabilities by acquiring an advanced US rocket artillery system in the Baltic country’s largest arms procurement project ever, defense officials said Saturday.

A deal signed Friday for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is worth more than $200 million and includes equipment such as ammunition and rockets as well as training, Associated Press reported.

The package includes HIMARS rockets with ranges of 70-300 kilometers, the Estonian Center Defense Investment said in a statement. Lockheed Martin Corp. is expected to make the first deliveries in 2024.

“The HIMARS multiple rocket launchers are a new important step in the development of Estonia’s defense capabilities,” Lt. Col. Kaarel Mäesalu, head of the capability development department at the Estonian Defense Forces. “This makes it possible to decisively influence the enemy even before coming into contact with our infantry units.”

Estonia’s Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania either have or are currently in the process of acquiring their own HIMARS.

Washington has provided Ukraine with the rocket launchers during Russia’s invasion of the country. The Estonian Defense Ministry said the HIMARS systems “have helped to destroy Russian military ammunition warehouses, transport nodes, and command and control centers with pinpoint accuracy beyond the range of the howitzers Ukraine has been using.”

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Ukraine, Russia swap 50 prisoners in PoW exchange

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(Last Updated On: December 2, 2022)

Russia’s Defence Ministry and the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration said the two countries had swapped 50 service personnel on Thursday in the latest prisoner exchange between the two sides, Reuters reported.

Earlier on Thursday, the top Russian-installed official in Ukraine’s partly-occupied Donetsk region said Moscow and Kyiv would each hand over 50 prisoners of war.

Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, reported the release of 50 “protectors of Ukraine” and said that the exchanges of prisoners of war would continue “until the liberation of the last Ukrainian”.

“The defenders of Mariupol and Azovstal have returned, also those captured … in the battles in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia directions,” Yermak wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Russia said it would fly its released prisoners to Moscow for medical checks and rehabilitation, read the report.

Yermak also said an unspecified number of Ukrainian prisoners of war who were released on Thursday had been kept in the Olenivka detention centre.

According to Reuters dozens of Ukrainian prisoners held by Moscow-backed separatists in the eastern frontline town of Olenivka, near Donetsk, were killed in an attack in July.

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Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin dies at 96

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(Last Updated On: November 30, 2022)

Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who led the country for a decade of rapid economic growth after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, died on Wednesday at the age of 96, Chinese state media reported.

Jiang died in his home city of Shanghai just after noon on Wednesday of leukaemia and multiple organ failure, Xinhua news agency said, publishing a letter to the Chinese people by the ruling Communist Party, parliament, Cabinet and the military, Reuters reported.

“Comrade Jiang Zemin’s death is an incalculable loss to our Party and our military and our people of all ethnic groups,” the letter read, saying its announcement was with “profound grief”.

According to Reuters Jiang’s death comes at a tumultuous time in China, where authorities are grappling with rare widespread street protests among residents fed up with heavy-handed COVID-19 curbs nearly three years into the pandemic.

The zero-COVID policy is a hallmark or President Xi Jinping, who recently secured a third leadership term that cements his place as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong and has taken China in an increasingly authoritarian direction since replacing Jiang’s immediate successor, Hu Jintao.

China is also in the midst of a sharp economic slowdown exacerbated by zero-COVID, read the report.

Numerous users of China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform described the death of Jiang, who remained influential after finally retiring in 2004, as the end of an era.

“I’m very sad, not only for his departure, but also because I really feel that an era is over,” a Henan province-based user wrote.

“As if what has happened wasn’t enough, 2022 tells people in a more brutal way that an era is over,” a Beijing Weibo user posted.

The online pages of state media sites including People’s Daily and Xinhua turned to black and white in mourning, read the report.

Wednesday’s letter described “our beloved Comrade Jiang Zemin” as an outstanding leader of high prestige, a great Marxist, statesman, military strategist and diplomat and a long-tested communist fighter.

Jiang was plucked from obscurity to head China’s ruling Communist Party after the bloody Tiananmen crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 1989, but broke the country out of its subsequent diplomatic isolation, mending fences with the United States and overseeing an unprecedented economic boom.

He served as president from 1993 to 2003 but held China’s top job, as head of the ruling Communist Party, from 1989 and handed over that role to Hu in 2002. He only gave up the position as head of the military in 2004, which he also assumed in 1989.

According to Reuters when Jiang retired, it was said by sources close to the leadership at the time that everywhere Hu looked he would see the supporters of his predecessor.

Jiang had stacked China’s most powerful leadership body, the Politburo Standing Committee, with his own protégées, many of them from the so-called “Shanghai Gang”.

But in the years after Jiang retired from his final post, the military commission chairmanship in 2004, Hu consolidated his grip, neutralised the Shanghai Gang and successfully anointed Xi as a successor, Reuters reported.

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