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Putin warns against escalation in first comments on Iran-Israel conflict

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi hold a meeting in Tehran on July 19, 2022.

Sergei Savostyanov | AFP | Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first comments on Tuesday on the Iranian attack on Israel, calling on all sides to exercise restraint.

The Kremlin published details of a telephone conversation between Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, stating that the presidents had “discussed in detail the situation in the Middle East, escalated by Israel’s air strike at the Iranian diplomatic mission in Damascus and Iran’s retaliation measures,” referring to Tehran’s drone and missile strike on Israel last Saturday.

As the world awaits Israel’s reaction to the attack, the Kremlin said “Putin expressed hope that all sides will exercise sensible restraint and will not allow a new round of confrontation that may be fraught with disastrous consequences for the entire region.”

The Kremlin said that Putin believed that the “unresolved Palestinian-Israeli conflict was the root cause of the current developments in the Middle East” and that Russia’s stance remained “in favour of immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, alleviation of the grievous humanitarian situation and creation of conditions for a political and diplomatic settlement of the crisis.”

Russia and Iran have become close allies as their relations with the West have frayed, and particularly since Russia invaded Ukraine in early 2022. Iran has provided Moscow with thousands of one-way attack drones and has reportedly sent hundreds of ballistic missiles to Russia, for use in Ukraine, although Moscow and Tehran have not confirmed the weapons deliveries.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian military death toll passes 50,000, BBC says

Russia’s military death toll in Ukraine has passed the 50,000 mark, the BBC reported Wednesday.

In the second year of the conflict, more than 27,300 Russian soldiers died in the war, according to the BBC’s findings, noting that it was “a reflection of how territorial gains have come at a huge human cost.”

A freshly dug grave sits near tombs of Russian soldiers at a cemetery in the town of Yefremov in the Tula region on March 24, 2023. 

Natalia Kolesnikova | Afp | Getty Images

The British broadcaster said its BBC Russian department, independent media group Mediazona and volunteers have been counting deaths in the conflict since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

The teams also used open-source information from official reports, newspapers and social media to compile the data, with new graves in cemeteries helping to provide the names of many soldiers. Russia has declined to comment on the findings.

The BBC noted that the overall death toll of more than 50,000 is eight times higher than the only official public acknowledgement Russia has made of its fatalities, published in September 2022.

Moscow and Kyiv are both reluctant to publish data on the number of dead and wounded soldiers they’ve recorded, while both claim to have inflicted significant losses on each other. Russia’s losses are likely to be higher than the 50,000 recorded by the BBC as the figures do not include deaths of fighters within separatist militias in eastern Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

Yellen says U.S. debate about Ukraine aid could encourage Russia

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Tuesday said that Russia could be encouraged by the U.S. debate over aid for Ukraine and called on the House of Representatives to pass a Ukraine aid bill.

“I do fear that Russia is beginning to see signs that the U.S. and our allies are tiring and finding it more difficult to find ways to support Ukraine and that gives them the hope that they can outlast us and wait for our resolve to crumble,” Yellen said in a news conference ahead of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s spring meetings.

Yellen said that there was “no substitute” for the U.S. Congress providing military and budget support to Ukraine.

A bill that would see the U.S. support Ukraine with fresh aid has been stuck in the House of Representatives for months. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson on Monday said he planned to separate the aid package into four individual bills that would each cover one aspect of the overall package.

Yellen on Monday reiterated that it was important to find a way to unlock the value stored in Russian assets that have been frozen by the U.S. and and its allies.

A debate about whether or not there is a legal way to use these funds to support Ukraine has engulfed Western leaders in recent months. A key concern is that frozen assets are by definition only temporarily retained rather than fully seized, so it is unclear whether they can be redistributed.

Yellen on Tuesday said she believed the risks were manageable, especially if the G7 acted as a united group.

— Sophie Kiderlin

Moscow terrorist attackers linked to ‘Ukrainian nationalists,’ Russian security chief claims

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev and President Vladimir Putin during a meeting with the BRICS countries’ senior officials in charge of security matters at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 26, 2015.

Sergei Karpukhin | AFP | Getty Images

The perpetrators of March the terrorist attack on the Crocus City Hall concert venue in Moscow were connected with Ukrainian nationalists, the head of the Russian Security Council said Tuesday.

“During the investigation, the connection between the direct perpetrators of this terrorist attack and Ukrainian nationalists was confirmed and procedurally established,” Nikolai Patrushev, a high-profile Russian hawk and ultranationalist close to Putin, commented Tuesday, according to news agency Interfax.

“The perpetrators, accomplices, organizers of this monstrous bloody terrorist attack, and other affiliated persons, no matter where they hide and no matter how they try to confuse the traces of the crime, will suffer a well-deserved punishment,” Patrushev added.

He did not present proof to substantiate his claims.

A law enforcement officer stands guard outside the burning Crocus City Hall concert hall following the shooting incident in Krasnogorsk, outside Moscow, on March 23, 2024. Gunmen opened fire at a concert hall in a Moscow suburb on March 22, 2024 leaving dead and wounded before a major fire spread through the building, Moscow’s mayor and Russian news agencies reported. (Photo by Olga MALTSEVA / AFP) (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)

Olga Maltseva | Afp | Getty Images

Patrushev and other prominent Kremlin officials have been keen to pin the blame for the Crocus City Hall attack, in which gunmen killed 145 people, on Ukraine and several of its Western allies despite the Islamic State terrorist group claiming responsibility.

A number of men from Tajikistan were charged with terrorism offences following the attack.

Kyiv and its partners describe Russia’s claims that they were involved in the attack as nonsense, and Russia has yet to present any proof for its claims. Ukraine’s military intelligence chief said Russia was aware that a terrorist attack was being planned weeks before the massacre, also not substantiating this claim.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine ‘ran out of missiles’ to stop Russian strike on power plant

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukraine “ran out of missiles” to stop a Russian strike destroying a Ukrainian thermal power plant near the capital Kyiv last week.

“I will give you one example, a very simple example, the Trypilska power plant. Electricity in the Kyiv region depends on it. Eleven missiles were headed towards it. The first seven, we took down. Four destroyed Trypilska,” Zelenskyy said in an interview with PBS.

“Why? Because we had zero missiles. We ran out of all missiles,” he said. CNBC was unable to verify Zelenskyy’s account.

The Trypilska thermal power plant, the biggest energy supplier for the Kyiv, Cherkasy and Zhytomyr regions, was completely destroyed last Thursday, marking one of the more impactful strikes for Russian forces, who have significantly increased their attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure recently.

: An aerial view of the destroyed engine room of Trypilska Thermal Power Plant (TPP) after rocket fire on April 11, 2024 in Ukrainka, Kiev district, Ukraine. After a Russian missile attack on Thursday night, Trypilska Thermal Power Plant (TPP), Ukraine’s largest power-generating plant in the Kyiv region, was reported completely destroyed. It supplied electricity to the regions of Kyiv, Cherkasy, and Zhytomyr. No power cuts occurred in Kyiv or other supplied regions. Trypilska TPP was a 1800 MW thermal power station in Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine, built by the USSR in 1969 and completed in 1977. During the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the station was permanently disabled on April 11, 2024 after Russian missiles set fire to the main turbine hall. (Photo by Kostiantyn Liberov/Libkos/Getty Images)

Libkos | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Zelenskyy’s comments come as Ukraine’s pleas for more air defenses become more desperate.

Ukraine’s military leadership is also warning that the country’s armed forces are facing such shortages of artillery ammunition that some units on the frontlines are rationing their use of artillery shells.

Ukraine is waiting for a major U.S. aid package worth $61 billion to be approved, and there are concerns that supplies are dwindling in the meantime.

Zelenskyy told PBS that NATO members’ military assistance for Israel when it was attacked by Iran’s drone and missile strike showed it also had the capacity to defend and protect Ukraine.

“When someone says that our allies cannot provide us with this or that weapon or they cannot be in Ukraine with this or that force, because that would be perceived as if Ukraine is engaging NATO in the war, well, after [Saturday’s] attack, I want to ask you a question, is Israel part of NATO or not?” he said.

“Israel is not a NATO country. The NATO allies, including NATO countries, have been defending Israel. They showed the Iranian forces that Israel was not alone.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Xi lays out four priorities to resolve Ukraine ‘crisis’

Chinese President Xi Jinping laid out four priorities that he said would prevent the “crisis” in Ukraine from deteriorating.

China, a close geopolitical ally and economic partner of Russia, has repeatedly described the war as a “crisis” and has refused to condemn Moscow’s invasion.

“First, we must prioritize maintaining peace and stability and refrain from seeking selfish gain,” he said, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported, according to a Google translation.

“Second, we must cool the situation rather than adding fuel to the fire. Third, we must create conditions for restoring peace and refrain from further escalating tensions,” he said.

“Fourth, we must reduce the negative impact on the global economy and refrain from undermining the stability of global industrial and supply chains,” Xi added.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is received by Xi Jinping, the president of China, at the State Guest House. The visit to Xi is the highlight of Scholz’s three-day trip through China.

Picture Alliance | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Xi’s comments followed talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, as the German leader concluded a three-day trip to China to strengthen trade ties with the world’s second-largest economy.

Last year, China put forward a 12-point peace plan regarding Ukraine, which was criticized for lacking substance and introducing no concrete measures to bring about an end to the fighting.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian forces pummel east Ukraine in bid to advance on Chasiv Yar, officials say

Russian forces continue to pummel eastern Ukraine in a bid to advance farther into the Donetsk region while Ukraine continues to suffer shortages of manpower and materiel.

The commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said Monday that Russian forces were aiming to capture the town of Chasiv Yar in Donetsk by May 9, the date on which Russia commemorates Soviet victory in World War II.

Chasiv Yar lies west of Bakhmut, which was captured by Russian forces last May. Capturing Chasiv Yar would give Russia another strategic gain in Donetsk and could allow it to advance on industrial hub Kramatorsk. Syrskyi did not present evidence for his claim.

Syrskyi said he had responded to Russian operations to seize Chasiv Yar by strengthening defensive positions and strengthening brigades with ammunition, drones, and electronic warfare devices. On Saturday, Syrskyi warned the situation on the eastern front had “significantly worsened in recent days.”

57th Brigade Artillery Regiment of the Ukrainian Army in the second front line during a field firefight while the Russia-Ukraine war continues in Chasiv Yar, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on May 15, 2023.

Vincenzo Circosta | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Ukraine’s military said Tuesday that Russian forces had launched 16 missile attacks, 31 airstrikes and 79 MLRS (multiple-launch rocket systems) attacks on the positions of Ukrainian forces and settlements in the past 24 hours. In the Lyman, Avdiivka and Bakhmut area of Donetsk, Ukrainian forces repelled 56 attacks in the past day, the military said.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said Monday that Ukrainian forces’ ability to repel intensified Russian offensive operations in eastern Ukraine has “degraded due to materiel shortages and will likely continue to degrade in the near future should delays in U.S. security assistance continue.”

The ISW said Russian forces are “capitalizing on Ukrainian materiel shortages … to make marginal tactical advances but that future Russian assaults may be able to achieve more significant and threatening gains, particularly west of Bakhmut, should the U.S. continue to withhold assistance to Ukraine.”

— Holly Ellyatt

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