Friday, 21 July 2023 04:46

What to know after Day 512 of Russia-Ukraine war

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Russia bombs Ukraine ports, threatens ships, as Kyiv deploys cluster munitions

Russia jolted world grain markets with an escalation in the Black Sea, mounting a third straight night of air strikes on Ukrainian ports and issuing a threat against Ukraine-bound vessels to which Kyiv responded in kind.

At least 27 civilians were reported hurt in the air strikes on the ports, which set buildings ablaze and damaged China's consulate in Odesa.

The United States said Russia's warning to ships indicated Moscow might attack vessels at sea following Moscow's withdrawal on Monday from a U.N.-brokered deal to let Ukraine export grain. The signal that Russia was willing to use force to reimpose its blockade on one of the world's biggest food exporters set global prices soaring.

Moscow says it will not participate in the year-old grain deal without better terms for its own food and fertiliser sales.

The U.N. Security Council will meet on Friday over "the humanitarian consequences" of Russia's withdrawal, said Britain's U.N mission.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the Russian attacks on Ukraine's Black Sea ports and warned the "destruction of civilian infrastructure may constitute a violation of international humanitarian law."

"These attacks are also having an impact well beyond Ukraine," said U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, adding higher wheat and corn prices hurt everyone, especially vulnerable people in the global south.

Kyiv is hoping to resume exports without Russia's participation. But no ships have sailed from its ports since Moscow pulled out of the deal, and insurers have had doubts about whether to underwrite policies for trade in a war zone.

Since quitting the deal, Moscow has rained missiles down nightly on Ukraine's two biggest port cities, Odesa and Mykolaiv. Thursday's strikes appeared to be the worst yet.

Odesa regional governor Oleh Kiper posted an image online of China's consulate building with broken windows. It is located in Odesa's city centre just across railway tracks from the port.

"The aggressor is deliberately hitting the port infrastructure - administrative and residential buildings nearby were damaged," Kiper said on Telegram.

The Chinese foreign ministry said the shock wave of the explosion "knocked down parts of the walls and window panes of the consulate."

In Mykolaiv, firefighters battled a huge blaze at a pink stucco residential building, blasted into a ruin. Several other residential buildings there were also damaged.

Moscow has described the port attacks as revenge for a Ukrainian strike on Russia's bridge to Crimea on Monday. It said on Thursday its retaliatory strikes were continuing and it had hit all its targets in Odesa and Mykolaiv.

In its most explicit threat yet, Russia's military announced it would deem all ships heading for Ukrainian waters from Thursday morning to be potentially carrying weapons, and their flag countries as parties to the war on the Ukrainian side. It said it was declaring parts of the Black Sea to be unsafe.

Kyiv responded on Thursday by announcing similar measures, saying it would consider vessels bound for Russia or Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory also to be carrying arms.

Washington called Russia's threat a signal that Moscow might attack civilian shipping. Russia's ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, said his country was not preparing to do so.


The Black Sea escalation comes as Kyiv reports a new attempt by Russia to return to the offensive in the northeast of Ukraine, where it says Moscow has massed 100,000 troops and hundreds of tanks.

U.S.-supplied cluster munitions are being deployed in the field as part of Kyiv's battle against Russia, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.

"We have gotten some initial feedback from the Ukrainians, and they're using them quite effectively," Kirby said at a news briefing. He added the cluster munitions are having an impact on Russian defensive formations and maneuvering.

Ukraine has pledged to use the cluster bombs only to dislodge concentrations of Russian enemy soldiers. Many countries have banned the munitions, which contain scores of small bomblets that rain shrapnel over an area, as a potential danger to civilians.

Since last month, Ukrainian forces have been on the march in the east and the south, recapturing small amounts of territory in their first big counteroffensive since last year. But the going has been slow, and they are yet to take on Russia's main defensive lines.

The Black Sea escalation pushed U.S. wheat futures up on Thursday, after they jumped 8.5% on Wednesday, their fastest single-day rise since the initial days of Russia's invasion in February last year.

Major grain importers in the Middle East and North Africa have reacted calmly however to the end of the safe shipping corridor, European commodity traders said, and there was no panic buying.



Russia launches more ‘retaliatory strikes’ on Ukraine – MOD

The Russian Defense Ministry has reported conducting “retaliatory strikes”on targets in Ukrainian port cities for a third consecutive day. It comes in response to a naval drone attack on the Crimean Bridge, which killed two civilians on Monday morning.

In its latest briefing on Thursday, the Russian ministry identified “manufacturing workshops and storage locations of naval drones” in the Black Sea port of Odessa and its satellite port of Ilyichevsk, which Ukraine calls Chornomorsk, as the targets of the latest attacks.

The Russian military also hit fuel infrastructure and ammunition depots in the city of Nikolaev, another major Ukrainian port, the statement added. The ministry said the strikes had achieved their intended goals.

Earlier in the day, the Ukrainian military claimed to have intercepted five cruise missiles and 13 kamikaze drones out of 19 missiles and an equal number of UAVs, which it claimed were launched by Russian forces at Odessa and Nikolaev. The Russian ministry offered few details about the munitions used, only stating that they were “precision naval-launched and air-launched weapons.”

Russia has been targeting Ukrainian port cities every night since Monday. Odessa Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov described the barrage on Wednesday morning as the largest he had seen since hostilities between the two nations broke out in February last year.

The drone attack on the Crimean Bridge on Monday, which Russia called a Ukrainian terrorist attack, killed a couple and seriously injured their 14-year-old daughter, who was traveling in the same car. Investigators claim the key transport link was attacked by naval drones.

Ukrainian media cited government sources as confirming that the strike had been launched by Kiev. The SBU, the security service that allegedly co-organized the operation with the Ukrainian military, reacted by promising to release details about the incident after the conflict with Russia is over.

** Russian forces wipe out signal center, command post of two Ukrainian army brigades

Russian forces struck a signal center and a command post of two Ukrainian army brigades over the past day in the special military operation in Ukraine, Defense Ministry Spokesman Lieutenant-General Igor Konashenkov reported on Thursday.

"In areas near the settlements of Avdeyevka and Torskoye in the Donetsk People’s Republic, a signal center of the Ukrainian army’s 110th mechanized brigade and a command post of the Ukrainian army’s 63rd mechanized brigade were destroyed," the spokesman said.

** West to shift Ukraine weapons strategy

The US and its allies are pivoting from delivering more weapons to Ukraine to fixing Western hardware that has already been sent to Kiev and damaged during the conflict with Russia, Politico has reported.

Ukraine has been having problems with maintaining the “international hodgepodge of equipment” provided to it by the US, Germany, UK, Poland and many other countries since the start of the fighting in February 2022, the US news website noted in an article on Wednesday.

The ability to quickly fix the damaged hardware has become even more crucial since the launch of the counteroffensive in early June, which has proven “difficult” for Kiev’s forces and “led to some well-publicized losses of US-made Bradley fighting vehicles and hulking mine-resistant troop carriers, along with some damaged German Leopard tanks,” it said.

The Pentagon’s acquisition and sustainment chief, William LaPlante, told Politico that in order to assist Ukraine, the US and its allies are “setting up repair facilities in Europe, we’re translating [training and repair] manuals, we have to do much more together so there’s going to be more of a focus on that.”

Politico described LaPlante as leading a “22-nation working group, led by the US, Poland and the UK,” tasked with making sure that Western-supplied weapons remain in working order during Ukraine’s conflict with Russia.

“We have regular conversations” with Kiev, the Pentagon official said. “What more do they need? Are there more parts we can send? We’re actually tracking what’s called the availability rate of each one of these systems,” in near real-time.

The group has already assisted Ukraine in setting up a support effort to track over 4,000 supply lines for high-demand spare parts for foreign hardware, according to the report. The US has also translated into Ukrainian over 700 technical manuals for the weapons sent to Kiev, so that local technicians can fix them on the spot.

“We’re making sure that they [the Ukrainians] have everything that they need. And if the parts have to come from a country halfway around the world, we make sure we get it to them. So the sustainment is actually most of the work going on right now,” LaPlante said.

However, at the moment “much of the most serious repair work still needs to be shipped to places such as Poland or Czechia before making the long trip back to Ukraine,” Politico added.

Russia has repeatedly condemned Western arms deliveries to Ukraine, arguing that they will only prolong the fighting, but not prevent Moscow from achieving the goals of its military operation. The Kremlin argues that the provision of weapons, intelligence sharing, and training to Kiev’s troops already means that the US and its allies are de facto parties to the conflict.



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