Sunday, 31 March 2024 04:50

What to know after Day 766 of Russia-Ukraine war

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Zelenskiy says without US aid, Ukraine forces will have to retreat

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview published on Friday that if Ukraine does not get promised U.S. military aid blocked by disputes in Congress, its forces will have to retreat "in small steps".

"If there is no U.S. support, it means that we have no air defence, no Patriot missiles, no jammers for electronic warfare, no 155-milimetre artillery rounds," Zelenskiy told the Washington Post.

"It means we will go back, retreat, step by step, in small steps," he said. "We are trying to find some way not to retreat."

Shortages of munitions, he said, meant "you have to do with less. How? Of course, to go back. Make the front line shorter. If it breaks, the Russians could go to the big cities."

Democratic President Joe Biden has urged the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives to endorse the military and financial aid package, but House Speaker Mike Johnson has held up the matter for months, citing domestic priorities.

Zelenskiy told Johnson in a telephone conversation on Thursday that approval of the package was vital.

Russian forces captured the eastern town of Avdiivka last month and have made small gains since, but the front lines have changed little in months.

In his interview, the Ukrainian president said Ukraine was making up for shortages of missiles with home-produced weaponry and air defence systems, "but it is not enough".

More than two years into the war, Russia has intensified attacks on energy and other infrastructure in recent weeks. Ukrainian troops have been unable to advance, and Zelenskiy said Kyiv intended to pursue attacks on targets in Russia, including oil refineries.

He said Washington's reaction to the wave of Ukrainian attacks was "not positive", but Kyiv was using its own drones.

"We used our drones. Nobody can say to us you can't," he told the newspaper. If there is no air defence to protect our energy system and Russians attack it, my question is: Why can't we answer them?" he said.

"Their society has to learn to live without petrol, without diesel, without electricity. When Russia will stop these steps, we will stop."

** Ukraine power firm hit by Russian attacks warns repairs could take 18 months

The head of Ukraine's largest private energy firm, DTEK, said on Saturday that five of its six plants had been damaged or destroyed with 80% of its generating capacity lost after two weeks of Russian attacks and that repairs could take up to 18 months.

Russian missile and drone attacks hit thermal and hydro power plants in central and western Ukraine overnight on Friday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in his nightly video address on Saturday, said Russia was carrying out "vile strikes" designed to cause the "bleeding" of Ukrainian energy.

"America, Europe, our other partners, everyone knows what we need," he said. "Everyone knows how important it is right now to help us protect ourselves from these strikes."

DTEK, which meets about a quarter of the country's needs, has seen its thermal power stations and other facilities repeatedly hit by Russian missiles, drones and artillery in more than two years of war.

DTEK Executive Director Dmytro Sakharuk said in remarks shown on national television that waves of attacks on March 22 and March 29 had hit thermal and hydro production "in almost all regions" and that distribution facilities were destroyed.

"To be specific, five out of six of our stations were severely damaged, some units were destroyed, some were damaged by 50% or more," he said.

"This applies to both the western regions and the central regions, and both the equipment necessary for the production of electricity and for transmission from the station to the grid were damaged," he said.

His company suffered losses amounting to $300 million for equipment alone, he said, while labour costs would require as much as half as much again. "We have determined that 80% of the available generating capacity is not working now," he added.

A senior official at the Centrenergo generating company said the 10-unit Zmiivska thermal plant in northeastern Kharkiv region had been destroyed in the March 22 attacks.

DTEK spent $110 million restoring 10 blocks hit by Russian attacks last year, Sakharuk said, with two-thirds of those now destroyed again.

It will require months of repairs, he said, and in some cases as long as a year and half.

"It takes time to manufacture a turbine or a generator or a transformer, so you need be prepared for the fact that the power will return gradually," he said.



‘Odessa will fall’, Musk warns Ukraine

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has reiterated his belief that Ukraine’s position is weakening with each passing day of the hostilities, warning that the “real question” is how much territory Kiev will lose and how many lives it will waste before sitting for talks with Moscow.

The entrepreneur claimed in a post on his X platform on Saturday that “any fool could have predicted” that Kiev’s much-touted counteroffensive last year would fail, adding that even if Kiev had followed his recommendation to “entrench and apply all resources to defense,” it would be “tough to hold land that doesn’t have strong natural barriers.”

“It was a tragic waste of life for Ukraine to attack a larger army that had defense in depth, minefields and stronger artillery when Ukraine lacked armor or air superiority!,” Musk wrote.

Kiev has lost over 444,000 troops killed and wounded in two years of hostilities against Moscow, including more than 166,000 during last year’s counteroffensive, according to last month’s estimates from the Russian Defense Ministry. However, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky claimed in February that Kiev’s forces lost only 31,000 soldiers killed since the start of the conflict.

The billionaire went on to argue that “the longer the war goes on, the more territory Russia will gain until they hit the Dnepr, which is tough to overcome.”

However, if the war lasts long enough, Odessa will fall too… Whether Ukraine loses all access to the Black Sea or not is, in my view, the real remaining question. I recommend a negotiated settlement before that happens.

Elon Musk has shifted his position on Ukraine several times since the conflict began in early 2022. He initially supplied Kiev with free Starlink internet terminals and access to the satellite-based network, but declined to activate the service near Crimea for fear that Ukraine would use it to guide drone attacks on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. If this had happened, he explained last year, SpaceX would have been “complicit in a major act of war and conflict escalation.”

Musk has also used his X account to speak extensively about the trajectory of the conflict. More than a year ago, he proposed that Kiev abandon its claim to Crimea, declare neutrality, and allow the four new Russian regions – Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, and Zaporozhye – to hold fresh referendums on joining the Russian Federation. This proposal is similar to the terms offered by Russia to Kiev and the Western powers before the conflict began, except Moscow initially called only for autonomy in Donetsk and Lugansk.

Moscow has stressed that it remains open to meaningful talks with Kiev and has blamed the lack of a diplomatic breakthrough on the Ukrainian authorities, who refuse to accept the “reality on the ground.” Ukraine must take into account the fact that its borders have changed drastically since 2022, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday, commenting on Zelensky’s suggestion that a return to 1991 borders was no longer a precondition for negotiations.



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