Friday, January 27, 2023

Ukraine war: Battle for Bakhmut continues; Russia keeps shelling Kherson: Kyiv makes military plans

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1. Kherson bombarded again while fighting intensified around Bakhmut

Russian forces fired 33 rockets at civilian targets in the Ukrainian city of Kherson in the 24 hours leading up to early Wednesday, Ukraine’s military said. 

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in its morning report that Russian forces were attacking populated areas on the right bank of the Dnipro river near Kherson with mortars and artillery.

Russian forces abandoned Kherson last month in one of Ukraine’s most significant gains in the 11-month war, but fighting has entered a slow, grinding phase as bitter winter weather has set in.

“There has been very little change in terms of the front line but pressure from the enemy has intensified, both in terms of the numbers of men and the type and quantity of equipment,” said Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov.

The heaviest fighting has been around the eastern city of Bakhmut, a bombed-out ghost town, which Russia has been trying for months to storm at a huge cost in lives, and further north in the cities of Svatove and Kreminna, where Ukraine is trying to break Russian defensive lines.

In Bakhmut, home to 70,000 people before the war and now in ruins, Reuters reporters saw fires burning in a large residential building. Debris littered the streets, and the windows of most buildings were blown out.

“Our building is destroyed. There was a shop in our building, now it’s not there anymore,” said Oleksandr, 85, adding he was the only remaining resident there.

Nearby, 73-year-old Pilaheia said she had long gotten used to the “constant explosions”.

Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

Russia set out to subdue Ukraine within days, but its forces were defeated on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv, in the spring and forced to withdraw from other areas in the autumn.

Putin responded by summoning hundreds of thousands of reservists for the first time since World War II.

2. Putin bans oil sales to countries participating in price cap

Putin retaliated on Tuesday against a price cap on its oil imposed by Western countries, saying Russia would ban oil sales to countries that abide by the cap imposed on 5 December.

The cap, unseen even in the times of the Cold War between the West and the Soviet Union, is aimed at crippling Russia’s military efforts in Ukraine – without upsetting markets by actually blocking its supply of oil.

Under the cap, oil traders who want to retain access to Western financing for such crucial aspects of global shipping as insurance must promise not to pay more than $60 per barrel for Russian seaborne oil.

That is close to the current price for Russian oil, but far below the prices at which Russia was able to sell it for much of the past year, when windfall energy profits helped it offset the impact of financial sanctions.

The oil ban decree from Putin was presented as a direct response to “actions that are unfriendly and contradictory to international law by the United States and foreign states and international organisations joining them”.

The ban would halt crude oil sales to countries participating in the price cap from 1 February — 1 July 2023. A separate ban on refined oil products such as gasoline and diesel would take effect on a date to be set by the government. Putin would have the authority to overrule the measures in special cases.

Russia is the world’s second-largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia, and any actual disruption to its sales would have far-reaching consequences for global energy supplies.

3. ‘We know what must be done,’ Zelenskyy says, promising to oust Russian troops

Putin has repeatedly spoken of a desire for peace talks in recent days.

But his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov made clear Russia has preconditions, including that Ukraine recognises the conquest by force of around a fifth of Ukrainian territory, which Russia says it has annexed.

Ukraine says it would never agree to relinquish land.

Zelenskyy has been promoting a 10-point peace plan, discussing it with US President Joe Biden, among others, and urging world leaders to hold a Global Peace Summit.

In a late-night address on Tuesday, Zelenskyy said a meeting of the military command had “established the steps to be taken in the near future”.

“We will continue preparing the armed forces and Ukraine’s security for next year. This will be a decisive year. We understand the risks of winter. We understand what needs to be done in the spring,” he said.

4. Italy cautious on supplying air defence systems to Ukraine

Italy’s defence minister struck a cautious tone on whether Italy would be able to supply Ukraine with air defence systems, as requested by President Zelenskyy.

The systems would be provided “if possible”, Guido Crosetto told Il Messaggero newspaper in an article published on Wednesday.

However, “if we give air defence missiles to Ukraine, we must take them from our stocks and we have to do that without depleting them, and being sure about the quality,” he added.

Crosetto told Reuters this month that the Franco-Italian SAMP/T air defence system was among the military aid that Kyiv had requested from Rome.

His remarks to Il Messaggero follow a Tuesday call between Zelenskyy and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, after which Zelenskyy tweeted that Rome was considering supplying air defences.

He is pressing Ukraine’s Western allies to step up military aid to help counter three months of a Russian missile and drone strikes on civilian infrastructure.

Numisteamone

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