Wednesday, 03 April 2024 04:44

What to know after Day 769 of Russia-Ukraine war

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Ukraine lowers army draft age to 25 to generate more fighting power

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed a bill on Tuesday to lower the mobilisation age for combat duty from 27 to 25, a move that should help Ukraine generate more fighting power in its war with Russia.

The bill had been on Zelenskiy's table since it was approved by lawmakers in May 2023, and it was not immediately clear what prompted him to sign it. Parliament has been discussing a separate bill to broadly tighten draft rules for months.

The move expands the number of civilians the army can mobilise into its ranks to fight under martial law, which has been in place since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Ukrainian troops are on the back foot on the battlefield, facing a shortage of ammunition supplies with vital funding from the U.S. blocked by Republicans in Congress for months and the European Union failing to deliver promised ammunition on time.

The signing of the legislation was not immediately announced by the president's office. Parliament merely updated the entry for the bill on its website to read: "returned with the signature of the president of Ukraine".

Zelenskiy said last winter that he would only sign the bill if he was given a strong enough argument of the need to do so.

The Ukrainian leader said in December that the military had proposed mobilising up to 500,000 more Ukrainians into the armed forces, something he said then-commander of the armed forces had asked for.

Since then, Ukraine has changed the head of the armed forces and the new chief, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said last week that the figure was no longer up-to-date and that it had been "significantly reduced" after a review of resources.

Zelenskiy separately signed a second bill requiring men given waivers from some military service on disability grounds to undergo another medical assessment.

A third bill he also signed aimed to create an online database of those eligible for military service. Both those bills could potentially help the military draft more fighters.

A string of strict measures set out in an earlier draft of that bill were gutted following a public outcry.

Zelenskiy has warned that Russia may plan another offensive later this spring or in summer, and Kyiv's troops have been scaling up their efforts to build up strong defensive fortifications along a sprawling front line.

With the initial shock of the invasion long gone, Ukraine has faced a significant reduction in the flow of volunteer fighters and numerous cases of draft evasion have been reported.

** Ukrainian drone hits Russia's third-biggest refinery, damage not critical

A Ukrainian drone struck Russia's third-largest oil refinery on Tuesday about 1,300 km (800 miles) from the front lines, hitting a unit that processes about 155,000 barrels of crude per day, though an industry source said strike caused no critical damage.

A Ukrainian intelligence source said Ukraine hit the primary refining unit at the oil refinery in Russia's highly industrialised Tatarstan region and caused a fire. Such attacks are intended to reduce Russia's oil revenue, the source said.

Russian officials said jamming devices locked onto a Ukrainian drone near Tatneft's Taneco refinery, which has an annual production capacity of more than 17 million tons (340,000 barrels per day).

Pictures from the scene showed the drone hit the primary refining unit, CDU-7, though it did not appear to have caused serious damage.

The industry source, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said personnel was returning to the plant.

A fire was extinguished within 20 minutes, the state news agency RIA said, adding that output had not been disrupted.

The affected unit accounts for around a half of the plant's total annual production capacity. The refinery represents about 6.2% of Russia's refining capacity.

Brent briefly rose above $89 a barrel for the first time since October amid concern over the Ukrainian drone attacks and the escalating conflict in the Middle East.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made no direct reference to the Tatarstan attack, but said Kyiv's long-distance military action against Russia was important.

"Equally important is that the Russian terrorists are receiving responses to their strikes," he said in his nightly video address. "Each time, longer-range responses."


Another Ukrainian intelligence source said Ukrainian-made drones had also hit a Russian plant producing long-range Shahed attack drones, causing "significant damage".

The Washington Post reported last year that Russia was mass-producing drones at a plant in Tatarstan.

Ukraine has in recent months begun attacking the oil refineries of Russia, the world's second-largest oil exporter, impacting Moscow's highly lucrative trade in refined products, amid extensive Russian missile strikes on Ukraine's energy grid.

According to Reuters calculations, around 14% of Russia's refining capacity has been shut down by drone attacks. There is more demand for refined oil products than for Russian crude.

The attacks on Russian refineries have raised concern in Washington about the potential for escalation with Russia.

Ukraine says its drone attacks on Russia are justified because it is fighting for survival and has suffered damage to its infrastructure from Russian air strikes.

Ukraine, which says it has been attacked by more than 4,630 Russian long-range Shahed drones during the 25-month-old war, regards its own drone production push as a way to hit back at a much better armed and larger enemy.

Since President Vladimir Putin sent Russian forces into Ukraine in 2022, drones have played a big part in the war - either as "kamikaze" attackers or as eyes in the sky that guide other weaponry to kill soldiers or destroy equipment.

Ukraine has carried out a series of high-profile attacks deep inside Russia meant to either undermine Russia's war machine or, as with a 2023 drone strike on the Kremlin, bring the reality of war to the very heart of Russia.

A powerful ally of Putin said on Tuesday that NATO was essentially fighting Russia in Ukraine and that the U.S.-led alliance had helped organise strikes on Russian territory.

When asked if Russia thought the United States was involved in the attacks on Russian refineries, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday the question was better addressed to the defence ministry and security services.

"The Kyiv regime continues its terrorist activity," Peskov said. "We and our military are primarily working to minimise this threat, and subsequently to eliminate it."

Ukrainian sources say Kyiv alone is responsible for the planning and execution of drone attacks in Russia. The United States says it does not support Ukrainian strikes inside Russia.

Tuesday's attacks also hit enterprises in Yelabuga and Nizhnekamsk and some people were injured, Tatarstan's regional governor Rustam Minnikhanov said.

Two drones struck a dormitory on the territory of the Alabuga Special Economic Zone and at least seven people were injured, Russian media reported.



West helping Ukraine attack deep inside Russia – CNN

Western countries are helping Ukraine to fly kamikaze drones deep inside Russian territory, CNN reported on Tuesday, citing a Ukrainian source close to Kiev’s drone program. 

An unnamed official who spoke to CNN described how Kiev uses UAVs with longer ranges and “more advanced capabilities” to strike targets located more than 1,000 km (621 miles) from the border. 

“The flights are determined in advance with our allies, and the aircraft follow the flight plan to enable us to strike targets with meters of precision,” the source said.

The admission of receiving guidance from abroad follows multiple reports that Western personnel are providing Ukrainian troops with intelligence and information about specific targets. 

The Washington Post cited a senior Ukrainian official last year as saying that Ukrainian soldiers “almost never” use advanced weapons, including the US-made HIMARS rocket launchers, without receiving coordinates from the Pentagon.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian drones targeted Russia’s Tatarstan, a region 650 km east of Moscow (400 miles), which had not previously been attacked by UAVs. One drone was aiming to hit an oil refinery in Nizhnekamsk, a city located roughly 1,100 km (680 miles) from the border. Mayor Ramil Mullin said that the aircraft was disabled by air defenses and caused no damage. 

Another drone struck a student dormitory inside the industrial zone in Elabuga, injuring 13 people. The hub hosts several companies that make high-tech equipment, including drones, according to Russian media. 

Moscow has repeatedly warned that the delivery of weapons and other military aid to Kiev makes Western countries de facto direct participants in the conflict. The Russian Defense Ministry and local authorities have said that Kiev uses Western-supplied arms to indiscriminately fire at civilians.



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