Ukraine war: Kherson 'shelled 258 times in a week'; Pope slams 'Russian cruelty'; and NATO meeting

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By Euronews  with AFP, AP, Reuters
A house in downtown Kherson destroyed by a Russian shell on 25 November
A house in downtown Kherson destroyed by a Russian shell on 25 November   -   Copyright  Reuters

1. Russia shelled Kherson region 258 times in a week, says Zelenskyy

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russian forces have shelled settlements in the southern Kherson region 258 times in the last week.

In his nightly video address on Monday, Zelenskyy also accused Moscow of damaging a water pumping station near the city of Mykolaiv, northwest of Kherson.

Russian forces retreated from Kherson city and the western bank of the Dnipro River earlier this month, but troops have dug in on the eastern bank of the river and have continued to shell around 30 towns and villages in the region.

The UK Defence Ministry reported that the strikes reached a record high, 54, on Sunday.

Zelenskyy has warned his Ukrainians that new Russian attacks on the country's energy infrastructure are expected this week and air raid alerts were issued across all of Ukraine on Tuesday.

Millions have been left without power and water after missile strikes on power stations and grids ahead of the winter. Power supply has been restored to around 17% of residents in Kherson city.

National grid operator Ukrenergo said on Monday it had been forced to impose regular emergency blackouts in areas across the country after a setback in its race to repair its energy infrastructure.

The national system's power capacity deficit had fallen to around 27%, Ukrenergo said.

Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said some of the city’s 3 million people might have to be evacuated to where essential services would be less prone to shutdowns.

Russia acknowledges attacking Ukrainian infrastructure but denies targeting civilians.

On Monday, Ukraine’s presidential office said at least four civilians were killed and 11 others wounded in the latest Russian attacks, while intense fighting raged in the east, with the Russians shelling Bakhmut and Toretsk.

2. NATO ministers meet to discuss more aid and arms for Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has reaffirmed that Ukraine will one day become a member of the military alliance.

“NATO’s door is open,” Stoltenberg said, adding that "Russia does not have a veto [on countries] joining".

His remarks come as NATO foreign ministers meet in Romania to discuss urgently needed support for Ukraine.

"The main focus now is on supporting Ukraine, ensuring that President Putin doesn’t win, but that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign nation in Europe," Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.

At a previous NATO meeting in Bucharest in 2008, the alliance had pledged that both Ukraine and Georgia would one day become members.

Some analysts have argued that this declaration helped fuel Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

“President Putin cannot deny sovereign nations to make their own sovereign decisions that are not a threat to Russia,” Stoltenberg said. “I think what he’s afraid of is democracy and freedom, and that’s the main challenge for him.”

During the two-day meeting in Romania, the US is expected to announce substantial aid for Ukraine’s energy grid, which has been bombarded by Russian missile strikes.

NATO countries are also likely to make fresh pledges of supplies to Ukraine, including fuel, generators, medical supplies, winter equipment, and drone-jamming devices.

“We are all paying a price for Russia’s war against Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said Tuesday. "The price we pay is in money, while the price Ukrainians pay is a price paid in blood.”

On Wednesday, NATO will also address ways to step up support for partners who officials have said are facing Russian pressure, such as Bosnia, Georgia, and Moldova.

AP Photo/Andrew Medichini
Pope Francis singled out Russian minority troops as the "cruellest" in Ukraine.AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

3. Moscow protests after Pope Francis condemns Russian 'cruelty'

Russia has formally protested to the Vatican after Pope Francis condemned the "cruelty" of Moscow's actions in Ukraine.

Speaking to the America magazine, Francis expressed his strongest criticism so far of Russia's invasion.

"When I speak about Ukraine, I speak about the cruelty because I have much information about the cruelty of the troops that come in," he told the Christian magazine.

"Certainly, the one who invades is the Russian state, this is very clear," he added.

Pope Francis singled out Chechen and Buryat minority soldiers as the "cruellest" troops, seemingly to spare ethnic Russian troops from criticism. He also labelled the 1930s Holodomor famine in Ukraine a genocide.

Russia was accused in September of disproportionately mobilising men for Ukraine from ethnic minorities in Siberia and the Caucasus.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova condemned the comments, according to state media.

"This is no longer Russophobia, it's a perversion on a level I can't even name," she said.

On Monday, the Kremlin welcomed a Vatican offer to provide a negotiating table to resolve the "special military operation" in Ukraine.

"Of course, we welcome such political will, but given the situation on the Ukrainian side, such platforms cannot be in demand," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Pope Francis reiterated that the Vatican was ready to do anything possible to mediate and put an end to the war.

Last month, Francis for the first time directly implored Putin to stop the "spiral of violence and death" in Ukraine.

Francis, for fear of antagonising the Russian Orthodox Church, has previously blamed “mercenaries” for the atrocities being committed in Ukraine, drawing criticism from the Kyiv government.

4. G7 justice ministers agree to coordinate Ukraine war crime probes

Justice ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) countries have agreed to set up a network to coordinate investigations into war crimes in Ukraine.

German justice minister Marco Buschmann -- who holds the G7 presidency -- said Russia's "systematic" destruction of Ukraine's energy infrastructure was an example of a "war crime".

"Judicial examination of the atrocities committed in Ukraine will take years, perhaps even decades," Buschmann said in a statement on Tuesday.

"But we will be well prepared – and we will persist for as long as it takes."

The ministers' meeting in Berlin -- a first of its kind -- was also attended by special prosecutors from the International Criminal Court, Germany's federal prosecutor, and Ukrainian Justice Minister Denys Maliuska.

Kyiv has repeatedly called for a special tribunal to try crimes committed by Russia since its invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian authorities have so far documented some 50,000 cases of alleged war crimes, Buschmann said.

The German minister added that the G7 group has a "responsibility to cooperate much more closely in the fight against war crimes".

"This is a clear message to the world that war criminals should not and cannot feel safe anywhere. No war crime should go unpunished."

In a joint declaration, the ministers said G7 countries would ensure there is a central national contact point in each state for the prosecution of international crimes.

Buschmann told reporters this would ensure that information on evidence and legal requirements can be shared among states and international organisations.

He added that statements from victims of sexual assault should be recorded in such a way that is admissible in court without being repeated.

Buschmann also acknowledged that Germany bears responsibility for the Russian war in Ukraine because it backed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

5. US officials still discussing prisoner swap with Russia

The United States has said it is still talking to Russia about a deal to free jailed Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

A senior US diplomat said on Monday that Moscow has not yet provided a "serious response" to any of its proposals

Basketball star Griner is serving a nine-year jail sentence for drug trafficking after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were found in her luggage at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport.

The 32-year-old says she had no criminal intent and had been prescribed cannabis to treat pain. The US has said the case is politically motivated, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Whelan is currently serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for espionage. The former marine denies the charges.

"We want them both home as fast as possible, and this administration is going to stay committed to that task," said US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.

Elizabeth Rood, the US chargée d'affaires in Moscow, also told Russia's state-owned RIA news agency that talks about a prisoner swap were continuing through the "designated channel".

“The United States, as we have said, has put a significant proposal on the table,” Rood said. “We have followed up on that proposal and we have proposed alternatives.

“Unfortunately, so far the Russian Federation has not provided a serious response to those proposals.”

Russia had suggested that a prisoner swap involving Griner and Whelan could also see the release of convicted Russian weapons trafficker Viktor Bout.

Nicknamed the "merchant of death", Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States.

Moscow has reiterated calls for the US to discuss the issue of prisoner swaps discreetly and refrain from making public statements.