Fighting intensifying in south of Ukraine, says UK

Fighting in southern Ukraine has intensified in the past two days, according to the UK Ministry of Defence, with mixed success for Ukrainian forces.

“Over the last 48 hours there has been an uptick of fighting in two sectors in southern Ukraine,” the MoD said in its latest intelligence update on Saturday.

“South of Orikhiv, fighting is focused near the village of Robotyne, in the area of responsibility for Russia’s 58th Combined Arms Army.

“80km to the east, Ukrainian forces defeated elements of Russian airborne forces’ (VDV) 247th Guards Air Assault Regiment to capture the village of Staromaiorske.

“Meanwhile, in the north, other VDV units continue offensive operations in the Serebriansk Forest west of Kremina but have achieved little ground.”

Key events

A Zaporizhia nuclear power plant engineer has been held illegally by Russia since his “abduction” last month and is being subjected to torture, the Ukrainian state nuclear energy company has claimed.

Energoatom said on Telegram:

More than a month ago, on June 23, 2023, invaders abducted Serhiy Potinga, an occupational safety engineer of the Central Aviation Safety Agency of the temporarily occupied Zaporizhzhia NPP, who was staying in Energodar and working at the station. He was seen in the police station, where the Russians are holding the city’s residents and the workers of the ZANP.

Serhiy, being in real captivity of the Rashists, is regularly subjected to torture and physical violence. And after the torture, the invaders send the engineer to the hospital every time so that he does not die. At the same time, they have not brought any charges against the man, but they continue to harass and repress him.

The Eritrean president, Isaias Afwerki, has launched a blistering attack on Nato at the Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg, accusing the military alliance of stoking the conflict in Ukraine – a classic Russian talking point used to deflect from its war of aggression.

Video of a meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, shows Afwerki – who has ruled the east African country since the 1991 independence war – sat alongside several other African leaders yesterday, claiming in a rambling speech that the conflict was reminiscent of a cold war proxy campaign.

[Nato] came up with this fantasy of containing Russia, any power – small, big – that challenged them; technologically, economically, socially, culturally. They have to contain everybody: it’s a defunct ideology.

Thirty years ago, when they decided to contain Russia, they thought it was the major threat for them, China was not considered a threat at that time. Now they know, they missed the point … Ukraine is a sacrifice. It’s a price they have to pay. They will not pay it on their own, they will provide billions and billions, even trillions, to continue this war … They have to defeat Russia so they can hegemonise everything.

We need a new financial architecture globally, not controlled by the dollar or other currencies … We are being punished by their sanctions because we are not bowing to their conditionalities. We are not even a threat to them.

The Eritrean president, Isaias Afwerki, is pictured second-left at the forum in St Petersburg. Photograph: Kirill Kukhmar/TASS HOST PHOTO AGENCY/EPA

The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, has criticised Russia’s “handful of donations [of grain] to some countries” which he said does not offset the consequences of the end of the Black Sea initiative.

He said yesterday at the UN in New York:

It is clear that when taking out of the market millions and millions of tons of grain, it is clear that, based on economic laws, that it will lead to higher prices than the ones that would exist with the normal access of Ukrainian grain to international markets. And these increases of prices will be paid by everybody, everywhere, and namely, by developing countries and by the vulnerable people in middle-income and even developed countries.

Guterres added that efforts to restart the deal are ongoing that he has “had contacts with the Russian Federation”.

The US senator Bernie Sanders has been criticised for voting against an audit of the billions of dollars provided for Ukraine’s war effort, less than a day after criticising the defence department for lagging on audits.

On Wednesday night, Democrats in the senate – along with Sanders, fellow independent Angus King and the Republican senator Rand Paul – voted down a GOP proposal to establish an “Office of the Lead Inspector General for Ukraine Assistance”.

It would have allotted $10m from the National Defense Authorization Act’s near $900bn budget to fund the staffing of a 30-person oversight office, the New York Post reported, amid questions over whether some US-provided arms were falling into the wrong hands.

The Republican senator Roger Wicker said:

I am dismayed that my Democrat colleagues withheld support for this reasonable, effective effort to conduct additional oversight of US aid to Ukraine. Lawmakers are far better positioned to support Ukraine when taxpayers feel confident that their money is spent on a transparent and effective basis. I will continue promoting rigorous oversight of Ukrainian military aid as I also push the Biden administration to provide Ukraine the weapons it needs to win this war.

Lol within about 15 hours from this tweet Bernie Sanders voted against a special inspector general audit of $117 billion in Ukraine war money/contractors.

— Lee Fang (@lhfang) July 28, 2023

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, yesterday claimed that his country was prepared to negotiate a peace agreement – though this would certainly demand Ukraine give up the approximately 20% of its territory occupied by Russia.

He said at the meeting with African leaders yesterday, according to the BBC:

In fact, a draft of this treaty was agreed upon, but after the withdrawal of our troops from Kiev – and we were asked to do this in order to create conditions for concluding a final treaty – the Kiev authorities abandoned all previous agreements … Of course, I won’t talk about the details of what we agreed on now, probably, this will not be very correct.

Moscow claimed its retreat from the Ukrainian capital was a “goodwill gesture” but observers said Russia had been forced into the move and had to concentrate its forces closer to its border.

Four African heads of state will attend Russia’s annual Navy Day parade in St Petersburg tomorrow, the Kremlin has said, with five more African countries also sending other representation.

African leaders pressed Putin yesterday to move ahead with their plan to end the Ukraine conflict and to renew a deal crucial to Africa on the safe export of Ukrainian grain.

Global humanitarian needs have been “going through the roof” since 2021 because of the pandemic and then the war in Ukraine.

“Those needs continue to grow, those drivers are still there,” said Carl Skau, deputy executive director of the World Food Program (WFP). “But the funding is drying up. So we’re looking at 2024 [being] even more dire.”

The UN has been forced to cut food, cash payments and assistance to millions of people in many countries because of “a crippling funding crisis” that has seen its donations plummet by about half as acute hunger is hitting record levels, Skau said.

At least 38 of the 86 countries where WFP operates have already seen cuts or plan to cut assistance soon, including Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and West Africa, he said, according to AP.

He said WFP’s operating requirement is $20bn to deliver aid to everyone in need, but it was aiming for between $10bn and $14bn, which was what the agency had received in the past few years. “We’re still aiming at that, but we have only so far this year gotten to about half of that, around $5bn,” Skau said.

“It’s clear that aid budgets, humanitarian budgets, both in Europe and the US, [are] not where they were in 2021-22,” he said.

The Russia-Africa summit marks a renewed Kremlin effort to bolster ties with a continent of 1.3 billion people that is increasingly assertive on the global stage.

Africa’s 54 nations make up the largest voting bloc at the UN and have been more divided than any other region on general assembly resolutions criticising Russia’s actions in Ukraine, AP reported.

Only 17 heads of state were at the summit, compared to 43 at the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019, a sharp drop in attendance that the Kremlin has attributed to what it described as “outrageous” western pressure to discourage African countries from showing up.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, hailed Africa’s role in the emerging “multipolar world order”:

The era of hegemony of one or several countries is receding into the past, albeit not without resistance on the part of those who got used to their own uniqueness and monopoly in global affairs.

Russia and Africa are united by an innate desire to defend true sovereignty and the right to their own distinctive path of development in the political, economic, social, cultural and other spheres.

Putin noted that Moscow also stands ready to bolster defence ties with African countries by helping to train their military and expanding supplies of military equipment, some of them on a no-cost basis.

South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has called for the reopening of the Black Sea grain initiative at a summit with Russian president, Vladimir Putin.

According to the BBC, he welcomed the offer to send up to 50,000 tons of free grain to six African countries, but said it was necessary to “open” the Black Sea for food supplies.

We proposed to implement the Black Sea Grain Initiative, we talked about the need to open the Black Sea, we said that we would like the Black Sea to be open to world markets. And we did not come here to ask for some ‘gifts’ for the African continent.

Of course, we understand that out of generosity you have decided to donate grain to some African countries that are facing certain difficulties. We treat this with great respect and celebrate it. However, this is not our main goal here, this is not our main task – to achieve some kind of supplies of this nature.

The African Union commission chair, Faki Mahamat, also said yesterday:

The disruptions of energy and grain supplies must end immediately. The grain deal must be extended for the benefit of all the peoples of the world, Africans in particular.

Ramaphosa greeting Putin at the summit in St Petersburg. Photograph: Sergei Bobylev/AP

Ukrainian soldiers have been observed firing North Korean rockets that they said were seized by a “friendly” country before being delivered to Ukraine, the Financial Times has reported.

Ukraine’s defence ministry suggested the arms were captured from the Russians. “We capture their tanks, we capture their equipment and it is very possible that this is also the result of the Ukrainian army successfully conducting a military operation,” Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s defence minister, told the FT. “Russia has been shopping around for different types of munitions in all kinds of tyrannies, including North Korea and Iran.”

Ukrainian soldiers prepare to fire grad missiles in the direction of Bakhmut, Ukraine on 21 July. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The US has accused North Korea of providing arms to Russia, including alleged shipments by sea, but has not offered proof and North Korean weapons have not been widely observed on the battlefields in Ukraine. North Korea and Russia deny conducting arms transactions.

The North Korean weapons, manufactured mostly in the 1980s and 90s, are being used by Ukrainian troops operating Soviet-era Grad multiple-launch rocket systems near the destroyed eastern city of Bakhmut, site of lengthy brutal fighting, the report said.

Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, made a rare visit to Pyongyang this week to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean war, the first visit by Moscow’s top defence official since the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union.

During the visit, Shoigu was photographed viewing banned North Korean ballistic missiles with the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, at a military expo in Pyongyang.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presides over a military parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Korean War on 27 July. Russian general and minister of defence Sergei Shoigu stands on his left. Photograph: KCNA/UPI/Shutterstock

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