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WESTERN PERSPECTIVE

Ukraine struggles to hold eastern front as Russians advance on cities

For Ukrainian gun commander Oleksandr Kozachenko, the long-awaited U.S. ammunition can't come fast enough as he and his comrades struggle to hold off relentless Russian attacks.

His unit's U.S.-supplied M777 howitzer, which once hurled 100 shells a day at the encroaching enemy, is now often reduced to fewer than 10.

"It's a luxury if we can fire 30 shells."

America says it's rushing ammunition and weapons to Ukraine following the delayed approval of a $61 billion aid package by Congress last month. As of early May, though, two artillery units visited by Reuters on the eastern frontline said they were still waiting for a boost in deliveries and operating at a fraction of the rate they need to hold back the Russians.

Gunners with Kozachenko's 148th Separate Artillery Brigade and the 43rd Artillery Brigade, both in the Donetsk region, said they were desperate for more 155mm rounds for their Western cannons, which had given them an edge over Russia earlier in the war.

Resurgent Russian forces, which significantly outnumber and outgun the Ukrainian defenders, have been mounting multiple attacks across the eastern Donbas region in recent months and along the country's northeastern border last week.

The drive has marked an inflection point in the conflict spawned by Russia's full-scale invasion more than two years ago.

Russia has gained more territory in 2024 than it lost control of during Ukraine's much-hyped counteroffensive in the summer of 2023, according to Pasi Paroinen, an analyst with Black Bird Group, a Finnish-based volunteer group that analyses satellite imagery and social media content from the war.

Moscow's forces have claimed 654 sq km since the beginning of this year, outstripping the 414 sq km lost to Ukraine between June 1 and Oct. 1 last year, Paroinen said. Russia has gained 222 sq km of territory since only May 2, he added.

Russia's defence ministry didn't respond to a request for comment for this article, while Ukraine's military didn't immediately respond.

Colonel Pavlo Palisa, whose 93rd Mechanised Brigade is fighting near the key strategic city of Chasiv Yar, said he believed Russia was preparing a major push to break Ukrainian lines in the east. This echoed the commander of Ukraine's ground forces who said last week he expected the war to enter a critical phase over the next two months as Moscow tries to exploit persistent delays in weapons supplies to Kyiv.

"Without a doubt, this will be a difficult period for the armed forces," said Palisa, adding that he believes the Kremlin wants to capture the entire Donbas industrial region by the end of this year.

CITIES BRACE FOR RUSSIAN ADVANCE

Russian forces are gradually making inroads that could come to threaten several big cities in the east including Kostiantynivka, Druzhkivka, Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, which serve as key military hubs for Kyiv's war effort.

Some gains are striking fear in the heart of the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians living in those Donetsk region cities as the enemy grinds ever closer.

"We live only for today," said 31-year-old school teacher Nina Shyshymarieva, standing with her young daughter outside a church in Kostiantynivka as artillery thundered in the distance.

"We don't know what will happen tomorrow."

Russian cannons are now easily within range of Kostiantynivka; the closest Russian position at the start of 2024 was about 20 km away, according to open-source maps that show shifting positions along the frontline. Now it is 14 km.

Shyshymarieva and the fighters on the frontline were among more than a dozen soldiers, commanders, residents and evacuation volunteers interviewed by Reuters in eastern Ukraine over the last two weeks. They painted a picture of deep uncertainty.

Much of the Donetsk region, which along with Luhansk makes up the greater Donbas area, is under daily bombardment, typically targeted at least a dozen times a day by Russian artillery or air strikes, according to regional governor Vadym Filashkin.

Ruins of homes, apartment blocks and administrative buildings are common sights in towns and cities.

Oleksandr Stasenko, a volunteer rescuer, said his team was receiving more evacuation requests particularly from Kostiantynivka and Kurakhove, another town further south, among other settlements.

Russian forces have encroached toward Kurakhove, too, advancing 2-3 km along the road running east from the town so far this year.

"Wherever the front line is approaching, people in those places are trying to leave as soon as possible," said Stasenko, adding that his group, East SOS, evacuates around two dozen a week, many of them elderly or infirm.

'TIME IS NOT ON OUR SIDE'

Ukraine has roughly 1,000 km of frontlines to defend in the east, north and south.

Some of the fiercest fighting in 2024 has centred on Chasiv Yar, which commands important high ground 12 km away from Kostiantynivka. It lies west of the devastated city of Bakhmut that Moscow seized last year after months of costly combat.

Russian advances near Chasiv Yar, and further south around the village of Ocheretyne, could drive wedges into territory relied upon by Ukraine's war planners for logistics, analysts said, because they would expose key roads to Russian fire.

A major highway leading west out of Kostiantynivka is already under threat. Cutting it off entirely would mean transit hubs further north, including Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, both numbering well over 100,000 people before the war, would lose a crucial supply line.

Russia's fresh assault on the northeastern Kharkiv region, which began on Friday, also risks diverting stretched Ukrainian forces from the eastern front, further compromising their ability to hold the line, according to said Emil Kastehelmi, another analyst at Black Bird Group.

"At the moment, it seems the goal of the (Kharkiv) operation is to cause confusion and tie remaining Ukrainian reserves to areas of lesser importance," he said.

Jack Watling, a senior research fellow at the London-based RUSI think-tank, said Russian forces would likely mount further attacks on northern and southern points of the frontline in order to stretch Kyiv's defences.

"Once Ukraine commits its reserves in these directions, the main effort will see the expansion of the Russian push in Donbas," he wrote in a May 14 commentary.

A new law strengthening Kyiv's mobilisation effort, which has been hobbled by public scepticism, takes effect on May 18. Experts and commanders say it could take several months before fresh recruits reach the front and reinforce exhausted troops there.

Even if Ukrainian forces can hold out until all the American ammunition and weapons get through to the front, the challenge ahead remains daunting, according to many of those fighting.

"I would say that it is unlikely that time is on our side, since a long war requires more resources," said Palisa, the colonel with the 93rd Mechanised Brigade, speaking hours after Russia launched its ground incursion in Kharkiv.

He added that it would be critical to impose as heavy a cost on Russia as quickly as possible.

"The enemy's resources, whether in terms of manpower or the materiel, cannot be compared with ours. It's extraordinarily large. That is why a long war, I think, is not in our favour."

 

RUSSIAN PERSPECTIVE

 

Zelensky blasts West for wanting conflict to end

Ukraine’s president has claimed Kiev’s forces would be more successful on the battlefield if they were not banned from using Western-supplied weapons to hit targets in Russia.

Russia’s ability to strike Ukraine from its own soil is giving Moscow the edge in the conflict, Vladimir Zelensky said during an interview with AFP news agency on Friday.

"They can fire any weapons from their territory at ours. This is the biggest advantage that Russia has. We can’t do anything to their systems, which are located on the territory of Russia, with Western weapons,” he explained.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who visited Kiev earlier this week, said Washington has “not encouraged or enabled strikes outside of Ukraine, but ultimately Ukraine has to make decisions for itself about how it’s going to conduct this war.”

However, on Thursday Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh clarified that Washington’s position that Kiev should not target Russia with US-supplied weapons remains unchanged. Such arms can only be used to “take back Ukrainian sovereign territory,” Singh stressed.

Earlier this month, UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron insisted Ukraine has the “right” to use UK-supplied weapons to strike targets deep inside Russia, if it decides to do so. Moscow reacted to the statement by warning that if such an attack were to take place it could target British military facilities “on the territory of Ukraine and beyond” in response.

The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Kiev has urged Washington to provide intelligence on targets on Russian soil amid setbacks in Donbass and Kharkov Region. According to the NYT, US officials are currently reviewing those requests, despite previously turning them down.

Zelensky said Kiev now finds itself in a “nonsensical situation” due to the stance of the West, which “is afraid that Russia will lose the war. And it does not want Ukraine to lose it.”

“Ukraine’s final victory will lead to Russia’s defeat. And the final victory of Russia will lead to Ukraine’s defeat,” he added.

The Ukrainian authorities “want the war to end with a fair peace for us. Of course, the West wants the war to end. Period. As soon as possible. And, for them, this is a fair peace,” the president stated.

On Friday, Russia President Vladimir Putin reiterated that Moscow “never rejected negotiations unlike the Ukrainian side,” referring to a 2022 decree by Zelensky, which officially forbade him from talks with his Russian counterpart.

However, Putin stressed that Russia will not yield to “ultimatums” from Kiev and its Western backers as they try to gain through diplomacy what they have failed to gain on the battlefield.

 

Reuters/RT

Have you noticed that in the last two weeks, Governor Siminalayi Fubara of Rivers State seems to have acquired an inexplicably large dose of boldness and courage? Conversely, you must have equally observed that, in the last couple of days, FCT Minister, the very loquacious Nyesom Wike, has taken an uncharacteristically large overdose of meekness and humility. The thawing of the ice of Wike’s flippancy baffles watchers of the combustive politics of the oil-rich state. To many students of the semiotics of Nigerian power struggle, Fubara’s sudden temerity can be found in a robust wise-saying of the Yoruba. They say, the moment a child is decorated with the costume (agò) of a masquerade, he becomes the Old One (Tí wón bá gbé agò wo omodé, ó ti di baba àgbà). Fubara seems to have suddenly worn the “agò of a masquerade. He now talks with the boldness of an Old One. What is responsible for this transition? What could have made the coy Fubara of few months ago transit into King Cobra? Known as the most aggressive snake in the world, king cobra is Janus. In one breath, he is shy. In another, his aggression against the enemy is unrivalled as he furiously spits his lethal venom.

Apart from a recently acquired boldness, Fubara’s lingo has transmuted, too. It is either “the jungle has matured” or there is an invasion of rats. Fubara said he had found the rat troubling Rivers State’s sack of gari and promised to kill it with Otapiapia, the local rat poison. While receiving the Ijaw Youth Council, (IYC) which paid him a courtesy visit at Government House, Port-Harcourt, last Thursday, Fubara proclaimed that he had already defeated ‘them’. “I am happy that you’ve told me this morning that when I call on you, you will respond. But there is nothing to call on you for because we have already defeated them,” he said. Defeat “them” with a seemingly bad case in the courts?

Fubara has also started speaking in the language of the forest. Anyone who wanders into the jungle is bound to see spirits. Only those who just returned from the ancestral grove, the “Igbó Ìgbàlè” speak with such Fubara boldness. Igbó Ìgbàlè is where the uninitiated are taken to be sacralized. When a sacral is put on a child, he is sanctified as having acquired the power of the spirit. 

It may be worth one’s while to find out the invisible and invincible drummer beating the drum to which the Fubara water bug is dancing on the river. Convinced there is an invisible underwater genie, Yoruba translate this to say, “Ìròmi t’ó ńjó l’ójú omi, onílù rẹ̀ wà nì’sàlẹ̀ odò.” Before now, the meek Fubara apparently didn’t want to see spirits that reside in the ancestral grove. His case was analogous to that of the proverbial man who wanted the head of a tortoise, its legs and arms but didn’t want its full body. The elders counsel that Fubara must purchase the whole tortoise in its entirety. So, if he seeks to find spirits in Rivers, Fubara must go the whole hog. Recently, the governor is beginning to show that he does not desire the half measure of the tortoise. If they are seized by the awesome behemoth powers of the African ruler and want to find spirits, the Fubaras must be prepared to encounter demons.

It was same way Ògbólú, sixteenth century Aláàfin of Ọ̀yọ́, was seized by the awesome powers of his throne and became a ghost-catcher. Toying with the possibility of relocating the capital of Oyo Empire from Ìgbòho back to its initial site of Katunga, the Aláàfin’s proposal met stiff resistance from even his council and palace courtiers. This bred a gang-up by the dissenters who got paid agents to go into Katunga masked as ghosts. So, when Aláàfin Ògbólú sent emissaries to Katunga, they reported back to him that the land was infested with venial ghosts. D. O. Fagunwa called any hunter brave enough to confront such demons Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole. Hunters are regarded in traditional Africa as the third eye that could penetrate opaque scenes to reveal otherwise mysterious beings. The troubled Ògbólú then assembled six of the hunters to reconnoitred this ‘ghost-laden’ Katunga. The hunters unmasked the troublous ‘ghosts’ who were then dragged down to Ìgbòho in chains.

African governments are powerful ghost-catchers. They are Duppy – ghost or spirit – conquerors. ‘Duppy’ is a word with African origin, used commonly in the Caribbean Island among Bahamans, Barbadians and Jamaicans. So, when the trio reggae music singers of Bob Marley, Neville O'Riley Livingston and Winston Hubert McIntosh of the Wailers fame majestically proclaimed themselves ‘Duppy Conqueror’ in their April, 1973 album, they meant that they were ghost-catchers. A huge percentage of Caribbean folklore is built around Duppies. Last week, Fubara, like one who was looking for Duppies, publicly proclaimed that his administration would probe the Nyesom Wike immediate past government as the jungle has matured. But, Ex-Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose, in the early days of the Fubara government, warned him against wandering into the Igbó Ìgbàlè because, in that forest of a thousand demons, he would find ghosts. Fayose must have known that governors leave Duppies behind while exiting Government House. At a public forum, Fayose warned Fubara not to attempt to “see more than what you are supposed to see” because the moment he does this, he “will begin to see spirits.”

If you see the recent boldness of Fubara, you will conclude that his hands have firmly gripped the sword (Èèkù Idà). Yoruba say that until the son’s hands have firmly gripped the sword, he must never ask who killed his father. “Any man who cocks a gun, shoots it,” Fubara said last week. If, for one reason or the other, the gun refuses to shoot, the man should know that he is a dead man. “So, if we have a way to bury that person, we will bury them!” he proclaimed with maniacal emphasis.

In an earlier piece I did on this crisis (As Fubara presses the nuclear button, December 17, 2023) I cited Percy Amoury Talbot, an early 20th century British historian and colonial administrator’s unflattering description of Fubara’s stock, the Ijaw. In that highly authoritative 1926 book, Peoples of Southern Nigeria: A Sketch of their History, Ethnology, and Languages, with an Abstract of the 1921 Census, Talbot described the no-nonsense Ijaw race on page 333, as “Up the various creeks and branches, the waters are infested by a wild piratical set who live almost entirely in their canoes, and who subsist by plundering traders while on their way to the markets, often adding murder to their other crimes.” Did Wike not investigate the roots of his erstwhile Accountant General before making him governor? You can connect Talbot’s thesis with the maniacal semiotics of killing and burying in Fubara’s words last week.

Wole Soyinka, in his A dance of the forests, gave an inkling into the composition of spirits who live in Igbó Ìgbàlè. According to the Crier in the play, living in the forest are: “Rock devils, Earth imps, Tree demons, ghomids, dewilds, genie Incubi, succubi, windhorls, bits and halves and such Sons and subjects of Forest Father, and all That dwell in his domain.”

What is however not in doubt in Rivers is that war has begun. What you hear from both sides of wardom is akin to the shrill cry of the pied crow, a bird the Yoruba call Kannakánná

Though it feeds mostly on ants, the Kannakánná’s most cherished meal is the hatchling of a sparrow (eye ègà). The sparrow itself is a social, homely, very small, seed-eating bird with conical bills. It will fight its assailant to a standstill if provoked. That is why when a spat is in the offing between two giants, the Yoruba say that they smell a fight in the proportion of what happens when the crow attempts to beat the hatchling of a sparrow – “Kannakánná na omo ègà…” When you look carefully at the anger on both sides of the Rivers state conflict, you will conclude that the Kannakánná has indeed beaten the sparrow’s hatchling.

In the jungle, the language is deconstruction. Recently, on my favourite Animal Channel, I saw a lion devouring its dead child. That is the nature of the jungle. Not only does a cackle of hyenas eat the zebra’s flesh and bone, big snakes swallow one another and fishes swallow fishes. One artist famously known for using his pen to deconstruct is South African influential political cartoonist, Jonathan Shapiro, who goes by the pen name, Zapiro. Then leader of the African National Congress, (ANC) who was to later become South African president, Jacob Zuma, got deconstructed by Zapiro serially through series of cartoons. With his strokes, Zapiro depicted, humourized and escalated the implications of Zuma’s trials and tribulations. Two of such stood out. The first was a cartoon in the Mail & Guardian edition of June 28, 2012. Employing the satire form, Zapiro drew a Zuma who was presenting a speech, naked. Such leadership nakedness is a taboo in African tradition and also in contemporary ethics. Even in Zuma’s nakedness, he was oblivious. Zapiro says with his strokes that the naked Zuma was presenting untruth to the people. On the head of the Zuma figure drawn by Zapiro, was a shower tap.

To explain the shower tap on Zuma’s head, in my piece (Buhari’s serial abuse of Nigeria’s Lady Justice, March 6, 2022), I made elaborate use of the second of Zapiro’s cartoons where I tried an explanation. Recall that Zuma was, in late 2005, accused of raping an HIV-positive family friend. Swiveling from denial to qualified acceptance when arrested, Zuma later admitted that though he had consensual sex with the lady, he took his bath immediately. In South Africa, it is widely believed that taking bath immediately after a sexual encounter reduces the probability of infection with the virus. So in his Sunday Times cartoon of September 8, 2008, apparently taking his cue from the rape trial, Zapiro triggered a huge ball of fire with his cartoon named “Rape of Lady Justice”. He had Jacob Zuma, loosening his trousers’ zipper for a sexual romp. He had a shower tap placed on his head. An impish but salacious smile lit his face. Before him, flung on the bare floor, was a blindfolded lady and a lapel hung on her chest on which was inscribed, “Justice System”. The scale of justice had fallen down beside the Lady Justice.

Four hefty and menacing-looking men knelt by the Lady Justice’s side, holding down the “wench” whose skirt was half peeled. They were political surrogates of Zuma in the ANC which included Julius Malema, Gwede Mantashe, Blade Nzimande and Zwelinzima Vavi. Mantashe smilingly beckoned on Zuma to rape Justice by saying, “Go for it, boss!” That cartoon shot Zuma into a fit. He immediately sued Zapiro for the sum of £700,000.

Last Tuesday, Fubara, like Zapiro, drew a naked portrait of Wike. Like Zapiro’s second cartoon, too, Wike ran a dictatorial government as Rivers governor that you can compare to the Zuma binge. There, the Lady Justice lay prostrate on the floor, with the Rivers Leviathan attempting to play Zuma. Wike was egged on in the binge by his own Malema, Mantashe, Nzimande and Vavi. He was the biblical Leviathan whose strut and gruff loomed large as the frightening image of the rule of might. In a revelation that amounted to a deconstruction of the image Wike built for himself in eight years, Fubara revealed that his administration inherited a huge debt burden on projects handled by the Wike government. So much for “Mr. Projects”!

To the Wike group, however, Fubara’s dog has eaten the entrails of the Pouch rat – Òkété. The Yoruba believe that the day the hunter’s dog eats the entrails of the Òkété, it will run mad. Many people believe that Wike may have been stung by the deadly venom of Lagos power vipers. Lagos politicians play deadly politics that is blind to kindred, friendship, blood or pleasant past affinity. From 1999, whoever was the Rivers state governor has always been a Big Masquerade in Nigerian political calculus. Even though the Lagos politico tries to dud memories of hurt, as Nawal El Saadawi wrote in her Children of Isis, to the politico, memory, like wine, grows mellow with time. Wike is a rebellious and petulant character who, in the long run, may be unreliable, a trait the Lagos people in the Villa must have factored into their analysis. He is at war with every Rivers leader since 1999. From his abandonment and betrayal of Peter Odili and wife; Rotimi Amaechi; Iyorchia Ayu and Uche Secondus, it should be obvious to any calculating person that Wike will ditch anybody once he has a full dosage of his favourite lovely drink. You don’t use such ants-infested faggot to cook a broth as huge as the 2027 presidential election. Yes, Wike was instrumental to the coming into office of the Lagos Boys but it may be time to begin to build a power base outside of him. The moment the bellicose character no longer has access to the Rivers till, he is like a castrated dog.

Now, in his speeches, Fubara has begun to interweave his government with the Tinubu self-acclaimed Renewed Hope. He refers to Tinubu as “our father” and Rivers’ recent developmental strides similar to Tinubu’s. He has acquired balls of one who has been to the Igbó Ìgbàlè. He is giving ultimatum to local government chairmen and the 27 lost cats of the Rivers parliament. In talking to IYC, Fubara urged the Ijaw to key into the ongoing liberation. “By the special grace of God, what they thought that they would have done to us while we were celebrating our one year in office, they are the ones sleeping with their two eyes open. It shows that we have the Ijaw blood,” he said.

Fubara critics who said he didn’t know how to use power must have found out otherwise. His dog is not alone and the Yoruba say that when a dog has backers, it can kill a troop of monkeys. The Lagos Boys seem to have worn on Fubara, that erstwhile child, the costume of a masquerade. He has become the Old One. It appears as though whoever beats Fubara now will pay with a heavy propitiation of a fat cat to the Olú Igbó, the king of the forest. What Wike does not know is that, even the person who costumed the Egúngún is subject to the masquerade’s whiplashes once the masquerade returns from the grove.

Wike’s silence may also be that he has understood that ancient counsel of my musical idol, Ayinla Omowura. Omowura counseled that it is not every forest that the herbalist forages for herbs, nor is every palm tree a resort for every palmwine tapper. Some forests are reptiles-laden while some palm trees have hung around them poisonous mambas. The Fubara forest and palm tree may, for now, be beyond the Wike herbalist and tapper’s ken. Could it be as a result of Fubara’s quest to seek the spirits inside Wike’s eight-year government or the Lagos Boys’ resolve do “business” with Fubara in the quest for 2027? When asked for comment on Rivers about two days ago, the Wike who, only a few days earlier, vowed to redress his mistakes apparently by sacking Fubara, told the press that he was too busy in Abuja to bother about Rivers politics. A wise elder runs away from the monstrous cow by stealth!

As it is now, Fubara could be the proverbial child of the Gaboon viper (Omo inú oká) whose birth is said to ultimately lead to the death of its mother. For Wike, an Edan may be on its way to dying. The Edan, a ritual tool, signifies deep cultural significance for the Ogboni fraternity. In this Yoruba fraternity, the Edan is a two-metal staff crafted from copper, brass, or bronze. It is believed that whoever sights the Edan will be mesmerized. To reinforce this myth, the Ogboni made the Edan immortal. So, they say that the Edan never dies (a kìí gbó ikú edan). If the suspected furtive romance between Fubara and the Lagos Landlord does not flounder, then it means that the spinal cord of Wike’s Edan may have been broken. But, can the Edan die?

But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day ~ Proverbs 4:18.

Introduction:

Life remains petty, unalluring and insipid until it is beautified with progress. However, pettiness and tastelessness are inconsistent with our status as God’s children. It would be an unusual degree of dissonance for our Father-God to be the Most High God and we, His children, to be left to struggle like the most low on earth. Certainly, it is very ungodly for us to be unlike God.

Progress in life is not what God wants us to beg Him for, but one of those precious gifts He's always ready and willing to give to His covenant children (Deuteronomy 1:5-8). He is never happy seeing our destinies rot or stagnate. Hence, He always seeks to empower us for constant progress in life (Deuteronomy 8:18; Psalms 35:27).

The Bible is replete with passionate prophetic promises, which God made regarding covenant progress, and I am sure that these promises are very much applicable to His people till today (Ezekiel 36:35-36; 3 John 2).

Generally speaking, to progress means to advance, to increase,  and to break forth. Thus, covenant progress signifies gaining higher heights, doing better and getting to the next level of accomplishment by the help of the Lord.

Covenant progress also connotes a sense of excelling increasingly in your life's assignment and soaring to the top by the grace of God (Deuteronomy 28:13). Indeed, it is God’s primordial passion that those who are connected to Him by covenant should grow up and move forward in all ramifications of life and godliness (Malachi 4:2).

We are Christ’s ambassadors on earth, and His end-time agenda for us encloses supernatural enlargement, enviable strides and strange advancements. He delights in presenting us to the world as living testimonies of His redeeming power and love, and He is never done with us, not even when our heads touch the top (Psalm 118:15).

Dress up, Fight On and Keep Moving

You are a great soul of unquestionable dominion, created to matter to your generation (Genesis 1:26-27). You were not designed to be colourless, but to be distinguished, to excel and be majestic in life (Psalm 8:4). You were destined to grow and wax very great (Genesis 26:12-13). Thus, to reject covenant progress is a high spiritual crime of personal injury.

In this regard, it is required of us all to fully cooperate with God in the interests of God’s kingdom and of our own destinies on earth. If you want something badly enough, then quitting is simply not an option. You either find a way or make one, leaving nothing undone till you get it.

Similarly, when you have the true reason to embrace covenant progress, viz, to influence the world for Christ, you won’t let down in believing God for it. You’ll work passionately, praying all prayers until you’re empowered to find it in your trails (Ephesians 6:18).

In his classic book, “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu notes that warriors will fight more ferociously when they believe they are fighting to the death, and that there is no escape route. He also observed they would do otherwise if they believe there are other options or means of escape in case of failure.

Extrapolating this principle, when you find the inescapable heavenly goals that you must achieve in life, you will fully determine to pay the price and cheerfully burn all your get-out-clauses, the bridges, and the escape routes. You will also readily neutralize the excuses, the blame-shifting games, the small-goat mentality, the mediocrity, and the complacency, which easily limit our progress in life.

Friends, we must “cross the rubicon”, intentionally committing ourselves to courses with irreversible consequences to make it impossible for us to return to low-living, and prayerfully gun to reach and stay at the top. That’s the "I can do all things through Christ" mentality that always wins through, and that’s the irreducible minimum for those who will ever become the best that God wants them to be (Philippians 4:13).

The Holy Spirit and Divine Enablement

Satan will always try to contest with you every time you want to move to a new phase. Every time beauty wants to emerge, darkness struggles to fight it. At a point in the history of creation, God wanted to bring beauty out of chaos, and Satan came and introduced darkness (Genesis 1:1-3).

Happily, in spite of the global cast of wickedness, the Holy Ghost is always there with limitless capabilities to help those who desire to make significant progress here on earth, especially those in the purpose of God for their lives (1 John 5:18-19). It is the anointing of the Holy Ghost that brings forth beauty out of ruins, silencing the enemy and restoring dignity, progress and advancement.

Meanwhile, every form or level of advancement is traceable to the quality of information received and the readiness to align or make necessary adjustments. We already have all that’s required for our progress in God’s Word, but it is when we honestly engage them that the anointing is released to open up a floodgate of testimonies of continuous progress to us (Isaiah 14:24).

Undoubtedly, the covenant has settled it for believers in Christ to advance (Genesis 12:1-3; 22:16-17). We are affirmed as Abraham’s seed by our faith position in Christ, and this especially puts us in the spiritual place of covenant progress and all-round increase (Romans 4:13-18; Galatians 3:13-14,16).

However, there are yet some covenant demands that give the traction and keep us moving forward. These include: implicit obedience to God’s Voice (Jeremiah 11:2-5), cheerful kingdom services (Psalms 89:3-4) and a lifestyle of faith (Hebrews 4:1-3).

In conclusion, beloved, please note that progress may sometimes come in phases, but it will certainly come for God’s covenant practitioners. It is not a crime to begin small, but you must always keep in mind that God created you for covenant advancement, and you can still command supernatural strides that will catch the attention of whole nations.

I prophesy that no force from the pits of hell will be able to hold you down any more. Every obstacle on your path, and every discomfort in your life is ending today! God is destroying sicknesses, failure, delays and diseases, and a Holy Ghost rain is washing away the shame of desolation from your life, right now!

No doubt, we are still in the midst of foes, but we also carry the "touch not" anointing (Psalm 105:15). Anyone that wants to arrest your progress must go for it. Your head must touch the top; and when you get to the top, you won’t forget God. You will begin to eat in plenty, as of Eden! You were created great, you shall not die uncelebrated, in Jesus Name. Amen. Happy Sunday!

____________________

Bishop Taiwo Akinola,

Rhema Christian Church,

Otta, Ogun State, Nigeria.

Connect with Bishop Akinola via these channels:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/bishopakinola

SMS/WhatsApp: +234 802 318 4987

Solomon says God operates in times and seasons: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).

But Jesus conflates the future with the present. He says:

“The hour is coming, and has already come.” (John 4:23).

The time is coming and has come already when true worshippers will neither worship God on the mountains nor in Jerusalem. They will worship Him in spirit and truth. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24).

But some people are already worshipping God in spirit and truth today. With the things of the kingdom of God, there are forerunners.

Solomon is right, God operates in times and seasons. But He also operates out of time and out of season. He sometimes violates the times and the seasons by His grace and sovereignty.

We saw this, for example when Jesus turned water into wine:

“When they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.’” (John 2:3-4).

His hour had not yet come, nevertheless, He turned water into wine.

“The time is coming and has already come.”

A Gentile woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter. He replied:

“‘I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ Then she came and worshipped Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’ But He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.’” (Matthew 15:24-26).

It was not the time of the Gentiles. Nevertheless, the daughter of this Gentile lady received healing. “The time is coming and has already come.”

Similarly, Jesus dealt with demons before the time:

“When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way. And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?’” (Matthew 8:28-29).

Jesus delivered these two demon-possessed men. Yes, indeed! “The time is coming and has already come.”

The Prophets

The prophets were born again before the time prophesied by Joel. The Spirit of the Lord was upon Isaiah in the same way it was upon Jesus. Accordingly, Isaiah made a declaration that Jesus repeated at the inauguration of His ministry 700 years later:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” (Isaiah 61:1).

Some insist the Holy Spirit was only upon the prophets of old and not in them, as it is now in born-again believers. This is not true. The Holy Spirit was in them. They were in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Peter says:

“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” (1 Peter 1:10-11).

In the same way that the prophets of old received the Holy Spirit before the time, even so, we believers today are receiving so many things of the kingdom of God before the time. Indeed, since we have eternal life, we must not operate anymore in time but in eternity.

Thus, Paul admonished Timothy: “Preach the word! Be ready in season, and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Believers As Watchmen

Born-again believers are the forerunners. By the grace of God, we operate many things before the appointed time. We have a foretaste of things to come. Isaiah says:

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7).

Born-again believers are those with beautiful feet. The Holy Spirit is given to us before time as God’s down payment. Paul says:

“It is God who establishes us together with you in Christ and who anointed us, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment.” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).

“When you heard the word of truth (the gospel of your salvation) – when you believed in Christ – you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit, who is the down payment of our inheritance, until the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-15).

The fullness of the Holy Spirit is promised in the future. But those of us who have Him now can have a foretaste of the future in the present. The kingdom of God is not yet, but we are already experiencing some of the benefits of the future kingdom now.

First Fruits

Pentecost was an Old Testament festival where the Jews offered their first fruits to God in appreciation of their harvest. But now it has become God’s day of offering His first fruits to us. Believers are the privileged ones who have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:23).

Failing to understand this novel meaning of the first fruits in the scriptures, mercenary pastors use it to defraud Christians of their hard-earned funds.

But we are the first fruits of the Holy Spirit because we talk directly to God and He talks to us. We walk in the power of God. We walk in miracles. We receive and minister healing. We cast out demons. We have the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We have the joy of the Lord. We have the peace that surpasses all understanding. We have abundant life in Christ. We have the love of God. We have fellowship with God.

Moreover, we have the hope of glory. Paul describes us as those to whom: “God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27).

We have some experience of the age to come. “(We) have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.” (Hebrews 6:4-5).

We have been delivered from the Nigerian economy: “Christ, gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age.” (Galatians 1:3-4).

Therefore, some of us are already living with the benefits of the coming kingdom of God.

“But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

We do not belong to this world any longer. We are in this world as ambassadors for Christ. We are strangers and sojourners in this world. We belong to the kingdom of God.

Living in the Future Tense

We have already received a foretaste of the future. We can live NOW in the future because, for us, the time that is coming is already here.

So, what should we like, material blessings or spiritual blessings? We have to choose one: we cannot choose both. If we choose material blessings, we will die. If we choose spiritual blessings we will live.

Thus, Peter blesses the Lord our God:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

This makes the Christian life today a life of eager anticipation. The new life has begun but is yet to be perfected.  The old life is about to pass away but has yet to go. The future has broken in on the present. We are already enjoying some of the powers and blessings of the Holy Spirit. But it is only in the age to come that we shall experience the fullness of the Spirit.

“The time is coming and has already come:”

“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3).

If we do not purify ourselves and are not determined to live holy lives, then it is eloquent testimony that we are not appointed to this glorious future. Christians to whom this has been revealed should not go back into ignorance. We must rejoice that our names are written in the Book of Life, and continue to rejoice. We must not allow the gospel to become powerless in our lives.

Jesus says:

“I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.” (Luke 10:21). CONCLUDED.

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  • Experts have developed a device that can detect when someone is sarcastic
  • It works by examining the pitch, talking rate and energy in speech 

Our friends from across the pond have been known to struggle with British sarcasm on occasion.

But improved Anglo-American relations may be on the horizon, as experts have developed a device that can detect when someone is being sarcastic.

A team from the University of Groningen have created an algorithm that analyses someone's speech to work out if they are using irony.

It works by examining the pitch, talking rate and energy in speech, and then transcribing the speech into text for it to be analysed further for language cues.

'We extracted acoustic parameters such as pitch, speaking rate, and energy from speech, then used Automatic Speech Recognition to transcribe the speech into text for sentiment analysis,' author Xiyuan Gao said.

'Next, we assigned emoticons to each speech segment, reflecting its emotional content.

'By integrating these multimodal cues into a machine learning algorithm, our approach leverages the combined strengths of auditory and textual information along with emoticons for a comprehensive analysis.'

Sarcasm – which Oscar Wilde once described as the lowest form of wit but the highest form of intelligence – is notoriously tricky to convey through text and, even in person, it can be easily misinterpreted.

The team said they are optimistic about the performance of their algorithm, but are already looking for ways to improve it further.

'There are a rage of expressions and gestures people use to highlight sarcastic elements in speech,' Ms Gao added.

These need to be better integrated into our project. In addition, we would like to include more languages and adopt developing sarcasm recognition techniques.'

Sentiment analysis, which focuses on text, is already used for detecting online hate speech and gathering online customer opinions.

Meanwhile emotion recognition, based on speech, can be applied to AI-assisted healthcare, the team said.

 

MailOnline

Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar met with Peter Obi, thepresidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 general elections in Abuja, earlier in the week.

The meeting sparked speculations about a merger of some opposition political parties ahead of the 2027 general elections.

In an interview with BBC Hausa Service monitored by FRED EZEH, Atiku Abubakar explained the reasons for the meeting.

You had a meeting with Peter Obi, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the last general elections. What was the reason for the meeting?

It’s just a normal friendly meeting that we often had, particularly we in the opposition parties. Such meetings are healthy for Nigeria’s democracy and for the country’s interest.

People are saying the meeting was to form a merger or alliance between your party, PDP, and Labour Party. Is that possible?

Yes, it’s very much possible. We can merge to achieve a common goal. So, it’s possible and nothing can stop it if we so wish to achieve that.

But the choice of presidential candidate might frustrate the effort?

That’s not true. That challenge will not arise. I can tell you that the choice of who will fly the flag of the party won’t arise.

Why do you think so?

I don’t think so, I know so. Believe me, the challenge will not arise. Or are you expecting it to arise? Just believe me that it won’t arise.

What if it’s required that both you and Peter Obi drop your ambition and support someone else? Will you and others support that?

I have said repeatedly and I even said it before the 2023 general elections that if PDP decides to zone the presidential ticket to the South or South-East specifically, I won’t contest it. As long as it’s the decision of the party, I will abide by it. But I contested the 2023 presidential ticket because it was thrown open to all members of the party.

So if Peter Obi, being from the South-East, is the choice, will you support him?

If the party decides that it’s the turn of the South-East and Peter Obi is chosen, I won’t hesitate to support him.

How is the merger talk going?

We are still discussing the issue, and in the right time we would make our position known.

When will you conclude the discussion?

I can’t disclose that for now because it’s not yet the right time to do that.

After the 2023 elections you were expected to be quiet and observe, but you are still playing the opposition?

Yes, we can’t keep quiet and watch things go wrong. People are suffering and we are committed to making Nigeria a better place.

It means you are not tired of politics of Nigeria?

Not at all. I am still in active politics in Nigeria, at least, as long as God permits.

People are expecting you to give space to younger ones considering your age.

My age doesn’t stop the young ones from testing their fate. Everybody, irrespective of age, is allowed to aspire to be anybody in the society, politically or otherwise.

So, there’s the possibility of you contesting 2027 elections?

But that would depend on the decision of my party. I can’t make any categorical statement on that. It’s the duty of the party to decide on the way to go in the next election.

But your interest is still there?

Until that time comes. Let’s just wait and see how it will turn out.

People are interpreting your recent meetings with various people as watering the ground for the next election.

It must not be interpreted like that. I must not be eyeing elections to have meetings with political friends and associates. Currently, we are practising democracy in this country which we fought for with our blood.

Many people lost their lives in the struggle. As a result, we would continue to ensure that democracy is strengthened in the country. We can’t watch from the sidelines as things are getting bad.

 

Sun

Adebayo Adelabu, the Minister of Power, announced the federal government's decision to suspend the transfer of regulatory authority over electricity to state governments. This was revealed during the 8th Africa Energy Market Place (AEMP) conference held in Abuja on Friday.

Earlier in April, the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) had transferred oversight of the electricity markets in Ondo, Ekiti, and Enugu to the states' electricity regulatory bureaus (OSERB). However, Adelabu stated that the suspension was necessary to ensure state governments and power sector stakeholders fully understand the requirements for operating an electricity market.

Adelabu emphasized that a thorough understanding of regulatory oversight transfer is crucial for the power sector's sustainability. "We must proceed with caution and not rush this process. Our market is not mature enough. Centralizing regulation under one body has presented numerous challenges. Now, creating a regulatory framework across 36 states must be done methodically and strategically," he said.

He proposed using a few states as pilot programs, which led to halting further regulatory autonomy grants. The transfer will be tested in selected states across Nigeria's geopolitical zones. "By running the pilot for three to six months, or up to a year, we can identify and address potential issues before extending regulatory autonomy further," Adelabu explained.

Adelabu clarified that granting regulatory autonomy to a state encompasses the entire electricity value chain—generation, transmission, and distribution within the state's territory, including tariff setting. He stressed the importance of understanding the financial responsibilities involved, particularly concerning tariffs and subsidies.

"We need comprehensive discussions to ensure everyone understands the implications of regulatory autonomy. This will determine whether we are ready for full autonomy or need to implement it gradually until our electricity market matures," he said.

The minister also highlighted the underestimated capacity required for regulatory authorities in 36 states and the FCT. Each state must establish a framework to protect assets, address vandalism, ensure consumer protection, and secure sufficient capital for continuous investment and infrastructure maintenance.

TotalEnergies, the French energy giant, has finalized its first supply deal with Dangote Refinery in Nigeria, as announced by Chief Executive Patrick Pouyanne on Friday. This development follows a meeting with Africa's wealthiest individual, Aliko Dangote.

Speaking at the Africa CEO Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, Pouyanne stated, "We met this morning and reached our first agreement. The two CEOs, along with our head of trading, collaborated to finalize the deal."

Dangote has been seeking crude supplies for his 650,000 barrels per day (bpd) refinery, which will be the largest in Africa and Europe once fully operational. In May, Dangote issued a tender for two million barrels of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) Midland crude each month for a year, starting in July, according to a document seen by Reuters.

The $20 billion refinery, which commenced production in January, is part of Dangote's strategy to reduce Nigeria's dependence on imported fuel and refined products, despite the country being Africa's leading oil producer.

Dangote revealed that the refinery has sufficient gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel to meet the demands of the African continent and export to Brazil. "We have started producing jet fuel and diesel, and by next month, we will begin gasoline production. This will enable us to process most African crudes," he explained.

"Our refinery's capacity exceeds Nigeria's needs, allowing us to supply West, Central, and Southern Africa," he added. The next phase of the refinery is scheduled to commence early next year.

TotalEnergies is a significant crude producer in Nigeria, alongside other major companies such as Shell, Exxon, and Chevron.

 

Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south militants attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armour had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza's eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.

"Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world," Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.

Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent Islamist militants re-grouping there.

In southern Gaza bordering Egypt, thick smoke rose over Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge.

"People are terrified and they're trying to get away," Jens Laerke, U.N. humanitarian office spokesperson, said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north towards the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.

As the fighting raged, the U.S. military said trucks started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.

The World Food Programme, which expects food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

The United Nations earlier reiterated that truck convoys by land - disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah - were still the most efficient way of getting aid in.

"To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now," deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said.

U.S. aid was arriving in Cyprus for delivery to Gaza via the new pier, Washington said.

Hamas demanded an end to Israel's siege and accused Washington of complicity with an Israeli policy of "starvation and blockade".

The White House said U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit Israel on Sunday and stress the need for a targeted offensive against Hamas militants rather than a full-scale assault on Rafah.

A group of U.S. medical workers left the Gaza Strip after getting stuck at the hospital where they were providing care, the White House said.

HUMANITARIAN FEARS

The Israel Defense Forces said troops killed more than 60 militants in Jabalia in recent days and located a weapons warehouse in a "divisional-level offensive".

A divisional operation would typically involve several brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.

"The 7th Brigade's fire control centre directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure," the IDF said.

At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave's health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.

Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country's safety. In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 128 hostages are still being held in Gaza.

Israel said on Friday that its forces retrieved the bodies of three people killed at the Nova music festival in Israel on Oct. 7 and taken into Gaza.

In response, Hamas said negotiations were the only way for Israel to retrieve hostages alive: "The enemy will not get its prisoners except as lifeless corpses or through an honourable exchange deal for our people and our resistance."

Talks on a ceasefire have been at an impasse.

'TRAGIC WAR'

Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

UNRWA, the main U.N. aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6.

"They're moving to areas where there is no water - we've got to truck it in - and people aren't getting enough food," Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA, told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.

At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.

The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.

 

Reuters

RUSSIAN PERSPECTIVE

Putin raises issue of Zelensky’s legitimacy

Vladimir Zelensky’s legitimacy as president of Ukraine is an important question not only to his own country, but to Moscow as well, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said. He explained that Zelensky’s status will have a bearing on any potential agreement between the two belligerent countries.

Zelensky’s five-year term in office comes to an end on May 20. Ukrainians were scheduled to head to the polls to elect a new leader on March 31; however, he announced in December 2023 that no presidential or parliamentary elections would be held as long as martial law remains in force. It was imposed after the start of the conflict with Russia in February 2022, and has been repeatedly extended by the Ukrainian parliament since. Last Wednesday, lawmakers prolonged martial law by another three months.

Speaking at a press conference while on a state visit in China on Friday, President Putin said the issue of Zelensky’s legitimacy is something that “Ukraine’s own political and legal system” must address, “first of all the Constitutional Court.” He noted that the country’s constitution foresees “different variants.”

“But to us this does matter because if it comes to the signing of any documents, surely, we should sign documents in such a momentous area with the legitimate authorities,” Putin explained. He added that the Kremlin had regularly stayed in touch with President Zelensky before the hostilities broke out.

The Ukrainian constitution explicitly forbids holding presidential or parliamentary elections in times of war. In March, a senior official from Ukraine’s central election commission clarified to the media that Zelensky’s term would be prolonged automatically until conditions were right to hold an election. This month, Justice Minister Denis Maliuska confirmed this to the BBC.

In late April, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that a “moment will come soon when many people, including those inside Ukraine, will question [President Zelensky’s]legitimacy.

A survey conducted by Ukrainian pollster SOCIS in early March showed that the incumbent president would have lost to the former top Ukrainian commander, General Valery Zaluzhny, had they both run. The following month, German newspaper Tagesspiegel reported that public support for an “authoritarian” Zelensky had “sunk to 61%.”

In March, Ukrainskaya Pravda claimed, citing MPs, that Zelensky had virtually stripped parliament of its powers and established de facto personal rule. Around the same time, a lawmaker from the president’s own party openly suggested that Ukraine needs a dictatorship to survive the conflict with Russia.

 

WESTERN PERSPECTIVE

Ukraine braces for heavy battles as Putin says Russia carving out 'buffer zone'

Ukraine's top commander warned on Friday of "heavy battles" looming on the war's new front in the northeastern Kharkiv region as Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was carving out a "buffer zone" in the area.

Russian forces attacked the Kharkiv region's north last Friday, making inroads of up to 10 kilometres (6 miles) and unbalancing Kyiv's outnumbered troops who are trying to hold the line over a sprawling front nearly 27 months since the invasion.

Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi said the attack had expanded the combat zone by around 70km and that Russia had launched its incursion ahead of schedule after "it noticed the deployment of our forces".

"We understand there will be heavy battles and that the enemy is preparing for that," the head of the Ukrainian armed forces wrote in a statement on the Telegram app.

Russian forces have the initiative on the battlefield and are slowly advancing in the east, exploiting Ukrainian shortages of manpower and months of delays in arms supplies from the West.

Speaking during a state visit to China, Putin said Russia was creating a "buffer zone" in Ukraine's northeast to protect its own border regions, but said capturing the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest, was not part of the current plan.

Faced with Russian airstrikes throughout the war, Kyiv has scrambled to develop drones and missiles and staged strikes on facilities in Russia it says are being used to support the war and bomb Ukrainian towns, cities and power facilities.

Kharkiv's mayor said a Russian missile strike on Friday had killed two people and injured 25 more in the city.

Putin told a news conference in China that the assault on Kharkiv region was a response to Kyiv's shelling of Russian border regions such as Belgorod where he said civilians were dying.

"They are shooting directly at the city centre, at residential areas. And I said publicly that if this continues, we will be forced to create a security zone, a buffer zone. That is what we are doing," he said.

Russian forces were able to advance 10 kilometres in one place in Kharkiv region, although Ukrainian forces have "stabilised" the front, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told Ukrainian media outlets in comments published on Friday.

Moscow's troops have captured 12 villages during the current incursion, Russia's defence ministry said.

EASTERN FRONT

Russia is staging its heaviest assaults in the eastern Donetsk region, according to data compiled by the Ukrainian General Staff, which said the Pokrovsk front had faced the most regular assaults in recent days.

Syrskyi said Ukrainian forces were also preparing defensive lines for a possible Russian assault on the Sumy region, which would mark another front more than 100 km to the north of Kharkiv.

Kyiv says Russia has small units of forces near the Sumy region.

"We note that the actions (of Russian forces) are systematic," said Volodymyr Artiukh, head of the Sumy region's military administration.

"Shelling continues, in fact, along the entire border, with an intensity of 200-400 explosions per day... The intensity of enemy sabotage groups has increased," he said.

An expanding front is particularly challenging for Ukraine at a time when its military is in need of replenishment.

Zelenskiy signed a law on Friday allowing some categories of convicts to serve in the army, parliament's website showed.

The move provides only a potential maximum 20,000 people who could join the army, Kyiv officials say. Zelenskiy also signed into law tougher fines for draft dodging.

Russian officials said on Friday that Ukraine had mounted an unusually large wave of overnight drone attacks, killing two people in Belgorod region and setting fire to an oil refinery at Tuapse on the Black Sea.

The attacks, a Ukrainian intelligence source said, targeted an electricity substation in occupied Crimea, an oil depot and railway station in Russia's Black Sea port of Novorossiysk as well as the Tuapse refinery.

Russia conducted its own long-range attack on Ukraine overnight, but Kyiv's military said it shot down all 20 incoming drones over the regions of Kharkiv, Poltava, Vinnytsia, Odesa and Mykolaiv.

Separately, U.S. commercial satellite company Maxar said imagery showed that a long-range Ukrainian strike on the Moscow-controlled Belbek airbase in Crimea destroyed three Russian warplanes and a fuel facility near its main runway this week.

 

RT/Reuters

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