Russian missile strike on Chernihiv kills 17; US Speaker Johnson moves ahead with aid plan

Russian missile strike on Chernihiv kills 17; US Speaker Johnson moves ahead with aid plan
Ukrainian rescuers work at the site of a missile strike in Chernihiv, northern Ukraine, 17 April 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / SERHII OLEXANDROV)

Ukraine said the death toll in a Russian missile attack on a northern city had risen to 17 as President Volodymyr Zelensky criticised his country’s partners for failing to provide sufficient protection against such strikes.

US House Speaker Mike Johnson was moving ahead with new assistance for Ukraine and Israel in the face of threats from Republican hardliners to oust him, notifying legislators he would circulate details of the plan shortly.

Ukraine faces “dire” battlefield conditions as delays to US military aid drag on, the top US military officer warned on Wednesday. 

Death toll at 17 after Russian missile strike – Ukraine

Ukraine said the death toll in a Russian missile attack on a northern city had risen to 17 as Volodymyr Zelensky criticised his country’s partners for failing to provide sufficient protection against such strikes.

The Ukrainian president has stepped up calls for more air defence as Kremlin troops exploit Ukraine’s weakness to hit targets across the country. At least 61 people were wounded in Wednesday’s attack on the city of Chernihiv, the Interior Ministry said on Telegram.

“This wouldn’t have happened, if Ukraine had received enough air defence equipment and if the world’s resolve to counter the Russian terror had also been sufficient,” Zelensky said on Telegram.

Ukraine is struggling to fend off military pressure from Russia in the face of a lack of ammunition with a US aid package stuck in Congress amid internal political manoeuvring in Washington. Kyiv also faces an increasing manpower shortage at the front. 

Zelensky said later on Wednesday he had spoken with Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, stressing that Ukraine needed “immediate steps to strengthen its air defence”. A meeting of the Ukraine-Nato Council on the level of defence ministers would be held on Friday, he said on social media platform X.

Three Russian missiles hit close to the centre of Chernihiv on Wednesday morning, damaging apartment buildings and dozens of cars, regional Governor Vyacheslav Chaus said on local television. The strike occurred close to a busy intersection, which is usually full of traffic and pedestrians, according to Oleksandr Lomako, the acting mayor of the city of nearly 300,000 people.

While Vladimir Putin’s forces regularly shell the surrounding region that borders Russia, missile barrages against the provincial capital, about 127km north of Kyiv, have been rare. Ukraine has been reinforcing its fortifications in the area to frustrate any potential new Russian invasion.  

US Speaker Johnson presses ahead on Ukraine, Israel aid plan

US House Speaker Mike Johnson was moving ahead with new assistance for Ukraine and Israel in the face of threats from Republican hardliners to oust him, notifying legislators he would circulate details of the plan shortly.

The Republican leader outlined the aid package to Republican legislators after intense discussions with ultra-conservatives that dragged on into the night on Tuesday. He said he expected to bring it to a vote on Saturday.

Johnson plans to split the foreign aid package into four pieces of legislation, allowing legislators to vote separately on assistance for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. 

The measures would also contain a provision for humanitarian aid to Ukraine through loans, taking up an idea Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump floated to seek repayment of some assistance when the nation is able to do so.

A fourth Bill calls for seizing Russian assets to help defray aid costs. Johnson said it would also include a provision to force ByteDance to divest itself of the video-sharing app TikTok to continue operating in the US.  

He told members that a border security Bill would be brought up for a vote separately, a move that was immediately denounced by conservative critics.

The plan is an attempt to break a six-month-long Republican blockade of aid that has left Ukraine increasingly vulnerable to Russian assaults. It’s also intended to respond quickly to Iran’s drone and missile attack against Israel over the weekend.  

The gambit, however, has put Johnson’s job in new peril from the right flank of his own party. Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky said on Tuesday he would join Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia in seeking the speaker’s ouster. If a third Republican joins them, Johnson would have to rely on the votes of Democrats to remain in power. 

House Democrats on Wednesday made clear they would only help Johnson keep his job if the aid package has the same amount of funding as in the $95 billion Senate-passed combination measure. They are demanding $9-billion in humanitarian aid for Ukraine and Gaza.

“Appeasement will not work with Russia. Appeasement will not work with Marjorie Taylor Greene,” number two House Democrat Katherine Clark told reporters.

President Joe Biden first requested aid to Ukraine in October and Republicans quickly conditioned passage on changes to US immigration policy. A bipartisan Senate deal intended to reduce illegal migration across the US-Mexico border collapsed in February after Johnson and former president Donald Trump denounced it.  

US general warns of Ukraine’s ‘dire’ situation after aid delayed

Ukraine faces “dire” battlefield conditions as delays to US military aid drag on, the top US military officer warned on Wednesday.

“Ukraine right now is facing some dire battlefield conditions,” General Charles Brown, chair of the US Joint Chiefs, told the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee. Brown said Ukraine’s gains since the start of the conflict “could be lost without our support”. 

“It’s partly because of their capability from a resourcing standpoint — whether it’s munitions, whether it’s vehicles, whether it’s platforms — they’re being outmatched by the Russians,” Brown said. 

Russia’s continuing military operations have exploited Ukraine’s dwindling artillery supplies and air defence as well as a disadvantage in manpower. Putin’s troops are also mounting a sustained attack on Ukraine’s energy system nationwide and making some advances across parts of the front line as Western officials indicated they feared Kyiv’s military may be nearing a breaking point. 

Although Russia may be short of the manpower needed for a decisive breakthrough in the war, its defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said it plans to form two new combined armies by the end of this year. So far, the military has been expanding its ranks by attracting recruits with the promise of generous pay and aims to enlist at least 250,000 more soldiers in 2024. 

Swiss Parliament rejects joining Russia sanctions task force

Switzerland’s Parliament rejected a proposal for the government to join a US-led sanctions task force against Russia, saying cooperation with the body as an independent party was sufficient.

The Group of Seven committee is tasked with freezing and seizing Russian assets that have fallen under sanctions imposed by the European Union and the US over the invasion of Ukraine. Switzerland has so far resisted pressure to formally join the task force, saying it’s already in regular contact with the group and cooperation is working well.

Legislators on Wednesday voted 101-80 against the proposal by the Green party, parliament said in a statement. The Bill said that “as a custodian of Russian assets and the main centre of the Russian commodities trade”, Switzerland bears a special responsibility for the effectiveness of the sanctions. 

A spokesperson for the economy ministry told Bloomberg that the government welcomed parliament’s decision as it reaffirmed the executive’s stance. 

Microsoft sees slowdown in Russia, China efforts to sway US vote

Russia is working to undermine US support for Ukraine ahead of the 2024 election, while Chinese influence campaigns aim to divide Americans and undercut their faith in democracy, according to new research from Microsoft.

But both countries’ persistent efforts to shape US politics through propaganda and cyberattacks have been less pronounced during this year’s election cycle than they were in 2016 and 2020, the company said in a report published on Wednesday. It also found that widespread fears of voters being influenced by deepfake videos made with artificial intelligence hadn’t yet happened, while simpler efforts had been more persuasive.  

Microsoft researchers found several “Russia-affiliated” efforts to push disinformation to hurt  Zelensky or cause Americans to question their government’s support for Ukraine as it continues to battle Russia’s 2022 invasion. These campaigns have been conducted in English and Spanish, and they often take the form of purported whistle-blowers or amateur journalists posting disinformation that is then covered by seemingly unaffiliated websites, the report states. 

Microsoft found that the most prolific pushers of these narratives “are backed by or affiliated with” the administration of Putin and that the disinformation gets taken up by Americans who are probably unaware of its source. The company also said it had observed an uptick in recent months of a hacking group affiliated with the Russian military targeting Western policy think tanks.

China has made greater use of AI to create and enhance images, memes and videos meant to stoke controversy in the US and deepen existing social divisions, Microsoft found. For instance, social media accounts linked to China have pushed conspiratorial content, such as posts with AI-generated images of burning coastal roads that blame the US government for the summer of 2023 wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

The researchers concluded that this sort of relatively simple digital forgery drew attention while there have been few signs of people being broadly swayed by sophisticated deepfake videos made with AI. 

“Rarely have nation-states’ employments of generative AI-enabled content achieved much reach across social media, and in only a few cases have we seen any genuine audience deception from such content,” the report states. 

It also concluded that faked audio has been more effective as propaganda, as it’s easier to make and harder to debunk than video. 

This sort of deception caused alarm in January when a doctored audio message of US President Joe Biden circulated discouraging voters in New Hampshire from casting ballots in the state’s Democratic primary. In that case, the audio was traced back not to a foreign government but rather to a US political operative.

Russia pulls troops from Karabakh region 

Russia is pulling out troops deployed as peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, more than six months after the region’s Armenian population fled in the wake of a lightning military attack by Azerbaijan.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday said Russian forces had started to withdraw from the region, according to the Interfax news service, confirming an earlier Azerbaijani media report.

Putin sent almost 2,000 troops to the long-disputed region to maintain security as part of a truce he brokered in November 2020 to halt a 44-day war between Azerbaijan and Armenia that killed thousands on both sides.

Azerbaijan took over part of Nagorno-Karabakh in that fighting and regained seven surrounding districts that had been occupied by Armenian troops for nearly a quarter of a century. 

It mounted a military attack in September last year to take control of the rest of the region, prompting an exodus of more than 100,000 Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh in the course of a few days.

The assault followed a lengthy Azerbaijani blockade of a road linking Nagorno-Karabakh’s main city Stepanakert to Armenia, even though the Russian forces were mandated to control the so-called Lachin corridor as part of their deployment. 

The peacekeeping troops were meant to remain in the region for five years under the deal brokered by Putin. But with the territory emptied of its Armenian population, who feared for their security and fled to neighbouring Armenia despite appeals from Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev for them to remain, the Russian forces were left with nothing to do. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Trevor Smit says:

    Very disturbing to see that Minister Pandor and her acolytes are silent on this and have not condemned same. Then again one doesn’t bite the hand ………..

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      Ok Trevor let’s look at protocol, Pandor’s boss presented a peace plan that was accepted by Zelensky and presented to Russia, Zelensky through Pandor’s office is coming to SA to discuss the peace initiative further.
      On Zelensky adopting the initiative a way will be open for negotiations to start.
      This is made possible by the faltering weapon support from the west.
      It was always difficult to bring negotiations whilst the west was presenting a fueling the war solution.
      Pandor deserves credit for her job not blame for the ANC corruption which she has never been proven to participate in.

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