Ukraine war: Wagner pullout, Zaporizhzhia scare and ‘saboteurs’

Here’s everything you need to know about the war in Ukraine for Monday 22 May 2023.

Russia’s mercenary group Wagner announced plans on Monday to leave Bakhmut by 1 June, less than two weeks after the leader of the group Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Russian army claimed victory over the eastern Ukrainian city on Saturday.

“In the western outskirts [of Bakhmout], the lines of defence are in place. So the Wagner group will leave Artiomovsk [the Soviet name of the Ukrainian city] between May 25 and June 1,” Prigozhin said on Monday in an audio recording released by Wagner’s press service.

The group said it will now leave the city in the hands of the Russian troops.

Despite the claimed victory, the rift between the mercenary group a the Russian army’s leadership continues. Concluding his message, Prigozhin accused the army’s leaders of leaving his men without ammunition and remaining too far back from the battlefront.

“If there are not enough units of the Ministry of Defence (to occupy Bakhmut), there are thousands of generals [to do it], you have to form a regiment of generals, give them all guns, and everything will be fine,” he said.

The claims follow months of bloody fighting in the city, which Ukraine claim hasn’t come to a close yet. Ukrainian authorities have not recognised the loss of Bakhmut, and claim that its troops still hold part of the city.

Ukraine hits back at Russia’s claims of victory over Bakhmut

Ukrainian officials acknowledge they now control only a small part of Bakhmut.

But, Ukraine says, their fighters’ presence has played a key role in their strategy of exhausting the Russian military. And they say their current positions in the areas surrounding Bakhmut will let them strike back inside the 400-year-old city.

“Despite the fact that we now control a small part of Bakhmut, the importance of its defense does not lose its relevance,” said General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of ground forces for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. “This gives us the opportunity to enter the city in case of a change in the situation. And it will definitely happen.”

The fog of war makes it impossible to confirm the situation on the ground in Bakhmut. Russia’s defense ministry said Wagner mercenaries backed by Russian troops had seized the city, but Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Bakhmut was not being fully occupied.

In a video posted on Telegram, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed the city came under complete Russian control at about midday Saturday. Holding a Russian flag before a group of at least nine masked fighters in body army who were toting heavy weapons, Prigozhin proclaimed: “This afternoon at 12:00, Bakhmut was completely taken.”

More important for Ukraine has been the high numbers of Russian casualties and sapping of the morale of enemy troops for the the small patch of the 1,500-kilometre front line as Ukraine gears up for a major counteroffensive in the 15-month-old war.

Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant scare

Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, Europe’s largest atomic power station, spent hours operating on emergency diesel generators Monday after losing its external power supply for the seventh time since Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said.

“The nuclear safety situation at the plant (is) extremely vulnerable,” Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a tweet.

Hours later, national energy company Ukrenergo said on Telegram that it had restored the power line that feeds the plant.

But for Grossi, it was another reminder of what’s at stake at the Russian-occupied plant which has seen shelling close by.

“We must agree to protect (the) plant now; this situation cannot continue,” Grossi said, in his latest appeal for the area to be spared from the fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces. IAEA staff are deployed at the plant, which is occupied by Russian troops.

The plant’s six nuclear reactors, which are protected by a reinforced shelter able to withstand an errant shell or rocket, have been shut down. But a disruption in the electrical supply could disable cooling systems that are essential for the reactors’ safety even when they are shut down. Emergency diesel generators, which officials say can keep the plant operational for 10 days, can be unreliable.

Fighting, especially artillery fire, around the plant has fueled fears of a disaster like the one at Chernobyl, in northern Ukraine, in 1986. Then, a reactor exploded and spewed deadly radiation, contaminating a vast area in the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe.

Russian missiles and drones target Dnipro

Ukraine said on Monday that it had countered an unprecedented Russian attack overnight targeting the city of Dnipro, in the center-east of the country, with missiles and explosive drones.

According to regional authorities, seven people were injured.

During this “night attack”, Russia launched “16 missiles of various types and 20 Shahed drones”, the Ukrainian military said in a statement posted on Facebook.

A total of four “Kh-101/Kh-555 cruise missiles” and all 20 drones “were destroyed by anti-aircraft defense”, she said.

The Ukrainian army, however, did not give details on the consequences of the 12 missiles that passed through its defences.

Earlier Monday morning, she said the Russians had launched “a massive missile and drone attack”, without saying where exactly and adding that “details will be released after clarification”.

Ukraine ensures that its anti-aircraft defense, reinforced by Western military aid, shoots down most drones and missiles.

Are Ukrainian ‘saboteurs’ operating in Russia?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has apparently been briefed on an ongoing incursion into Russian territory by “saboteurs” from Ukraine , an attack that aims to “divert attention” from Moscow’s claimed conquest of Bakhmut, his spokesperson has said.

“The Ministry of Defense, the FSB and the border guards have informed the President (…), work is underway to drive out this sabotage group from Russian territory and to eliminate it,” Russian agencies told Dmitry Peskov.

According to the Kremlin official, Ukraine launched this attack on the Belgorod region, bordering Ukrainian territory, to “divert attention” from the situation in Bakhmut, the epicenter of Russian-Ukrainian fighting for months and a city that Moscow claimed to have conquered this weekend.

“We fully understand that the purpose of this act of sabotage is to divert attention from Bakhmut, to minimise the effect of the loss by the Ukrainian side” of this city, he said.

Kyiv says for its part that it still controls a few sites in Bakhmut, but above all that it is attacking the Russian flanks in the suburbs, in order to surround Moscow’s forces in the city.

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Is China ready to replace Russian influence in Central Asia?

The focus of the upcoming China-Central Asia Summit summit in Xi’an is the promotion of Beijing’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. But according to analysts, the summit is less about the transit of goods and more about Russia’s loss of influence in the region and whether China is ready to take over.

A summit involving the leaders of China and the heads of the five Central Asian states – all former Soviet republics – has been called by Beijing “a milestone on the way to building a RingCentral (China in the centre) Asian community with a common destiny”. It is the first-ever face-to-face meeting between leaders in this format.

The summit’s venue is highly significant: the city of Xi’an, one of the oldest in the world, and where one of the stages of the Great Silk Road once started. Promoting China’s modern take on the ancient trade route – the Belt and Road project – is the official theme of the meeting.

However, for Swedish academic and Russia expert, Stefan Hedlund, it is less about product transit routes than about Russia’s dwindling influence in the region, with China ready to take its place: “It’s the first time that Russia, which for decades, if not a couple of centuries, has been the hegemon in Central Asia, is excluded. And this follows in the wake of Russia losing friendships across the region and China pouncing on the opportunity to become the new hegemon.”

What is the “Belt and Road Initiative”?

The project was launched in 2013 as an amalgamation of strategic concepts that already existed at that time.

The Chinese economy had been declining for years, saturated – like Western markets – with Chinese goods. It needed to look elsewhere to stimulate development.

Formally, the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) was a mechanism for China to partner with countries around the world, to create reliable strategic routes for Chinese exports and strengthen the economies of partner countries.

The so-called New Silk Road has several routes to the West. Some through Russia, some through Kazakhstan and others through Mongolia. But, in the face of Western sanctions on Russia, these routes were virtually frozen.

One option to the south was via Central Asian countries to the Caspian Sea, and then either by sea or southwards via Iran. This became the main route. Before the summit, the media were talking about the possible expansion of the ports of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

“There is supposed to be a northern spur, going through Russia. But after the war in Ukraine, that is now dead. So the BRI is totally focused on the middle road, which is good news for Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and it’s good news for Azerbaijan and Turkey, and it’s very bad news for Russia,” believes Hedlund.

Collision between China and Russia?

The Central Asian states in question – all former Soviet republics – have been considered a zone of Russian influence. However, Beijing stresses that the region is also of crucial importance to China. Beijing has declared Central Asia to be “the only strategic partnership zone around China”, with its ties with Kazakhstan officially designated “perpetual”.

Russia (and the CSTO mechanism) was to some extent a guarantor of security in the region, where traditional economic ties also played a major role. But after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, this role has been called into question. And the Russian economy, which has been subjected to unprecedented sanctions, no longer looks so attractive.

In addition, China is likely to act prospectively, seeking to influence not only the current leadership of the Central Asian nations but also those who will replace them:

“There is a generational issue as well, in the sense that most of the old guard of leaders in central Asia have gone to universities in Russia. They have Russian networks. They speak Russian. I mean, they’re heavily invested in that network economically,” explains Hedlund. “Whereas the younger generation don’t have that link to Russia. I mean, they’re very nationalistic in many cases. They speak their own native languages and they’re probably more interested in listening to pan-Turkic ambitions of Turkey and President Erdogan than they are in maintaining any form of relations with Russia.”

The competition for influence in Central Asia is no longer with Russia, but quite possibly with Turkey. Turkey has far more cultural and religious clout than China, which has been accused of persecuting Muslims, particularly the Uighurs. China, on the other hand, has incomparably greater financial and economic leverage.

“You can construct a scenario where the Central Asian countries, the big ones, in particular Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, really try to play their own game and do so skilfully,” says Hedlund. “And I mean the fact that four of the five regional leaders did go to the victory parade in Moscow. So they’re playing a little bit of all sides here, probably sensing to what extent they can become a player in their own right and play with China and with Turkey without antagonising either side.”

Impact of sanctions

For Moscow, Central Asia has become one of the ways of circumnavigating sanctions. In 2022, countries in the region dramatically increased their imports of Western goods and their trade with Russia. Both have almost doubled, according to reports.

Now a new 11th EU package is expected to include measures against third countries that help Russia circumvent sanctions, in particular those which re-export banned goods. The list includes companies from countries whose leaders are meeting in Xi’an – including China itself.

There is no doubt that the parties will discuss the issue during the summit.

Beijing is ambivalent about Western sanctions against Russia. At the political level, at the level of statements from the top leadership, there may be an impression that China actually supports Russia.

But in practice, Chinese entrepreneurs are choosing the West. China is heavily dependent on the US in terms of technology. And experts are highly sceptical that Beijing would opt to aggravate relations already tense relations with Washington for the sake of Moscow.

Can Russia maintain its influence in the region?

According to Stefan Hedlund, Russia is now being to forced to watch the situation develop from the sidelines: “To my mind, it’s the end of Russia’s pivot to Asia that was launched by Vladimir Putin at the APEC meeting in Vladivostok in 2012 when he said that the purpose of this is for the Russian economy to catch Chinese winds in the sails of the Russian economy. Now, I would say that the Russian economy is a dismasted and drifting wreck in the sea. And the Chinese don’t give favours. If Russia ever believed that China was going to do something for them without getting more in return, they have now learned that it was wrong. They hadn’t done their homework on China the way China had done their homework on Russia.”

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Ukraine war: Six-nation Africa peace plan, and frozen Russian assets

Here’s everything you need to know about the latest developments in the Ukraine war for Tuesday 16 May 2023.

Ukrainian air defenses, bolstered by sophisticated Western-supplied systems, thwarted an intense Russian air attack on Kyiv early Tuesday, shooting down all 18 missiles aimed at the capital, officials said.

The bombardment included six Russian “Kinzhal” aero-ballistic hypersonic missiles — the most fired in a single attack in the war so far — according to air force spokesman Yurii Ihnat.

The attack came as Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy returned from a whirlwind weekend tour of Europe where he held talks with leaders in Italy, Germany, France and the UK – extracting promises of missiles, tanks and drones to replenish Ukraine’s depleted weapons supplies ahead of a long-anticipated spring offensive aimed at turning the tide of the war.

The trip was also about shoring up European political and military support for the longer term, to ensure Ukraine can hold any ground it takes back and press for a favorable peace.

“They’ve got to show … they’re in this conflict for the long term and that they’re able to keep sustaining this effort,” said Justin Crump, a former British tank commander who heads security consultancy Sibylline. “It’s not going to be one shot and done.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have agreed to separate meetings with a delegation of leaders from six African countries to discuss a possible plan to end the war in Ukraine, South Africa’s president said Tuesday.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he spoke with Putin and Zelenskyy by phone over the weekend and they each agreed to host “an African leaders peace mission” in Moscow and Kyiv, respectively.

“Principal to our discussions are efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the devastating conflict in the Ukraine,” Ramaphosa said.

The leaders of Zambia, Senegal, Congo, Uganda and Egypt would make up the delegation along with Ramaphosa, he said in a statement. Putin and Zelenskyy gave him the go-ahead to “commence the preparations,” the South African leader said.

Four of those six African countries — South Africa, Congo, Senegal and Uganda — abstained from a UN vote last year on condemning Russia’s invasion. Zambia and Egypt voted in favor of the motion.

Ramaphosa did not give a time frame or outline any parameters for the possible peace talks. Zelenskyy has previously said he would not consider a peace deal to end the 15-month war until Russian forces withdraw completely from Ukrainian territory.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres also was briefed on the African delegation’s planned meetings and “welcomed the initiative,” Ramaphosa said.

South Africa’s leading position in the African delegation is bound to draw scrutiny. Ramaphosa’s announcement came days after the US ambassador accused South Africa of siding with Russia in the war in Ukraine and even providing weapons to help Moscow.

US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety alleged last week that weapons and ammunition were loaded onto a Russian-flagged cargo ship at a South African naval base in December and taken to Russia. The South African government has denied it sent any weapons to Russia.

Ramaphosa has said the matter is under investigation. South Africa has claimed its position on the war is neutral.

Cyprus freezes €1.2 billion in Russian assets

The finance ministry in Cyprus revealed on Tuesday that some €1.2 billion in Russian-owned assets, managed by Cyprus-registered companies, were frozen in compliance with sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

The ministry said “the vast majority” of those assets were held in European Union credit institutions and the entire amount came on top of €105 million frozen by banks in Cyprus.

The ministry provided the information in response to European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders saying last week that Cyprus appeared to be falling behind on freezing Russian-owned assets.

Reynders said that while other EU member nations each froze 2-4 billion euros worth of Russian assets, Cyprus’ reported sum of around €100 million “seems to be a little low.”

The Finance Ministry said this was an error caused by the European Commission receiving incomplete information – an error since rectified by updating a relevant database.

Meanwhile, the Cypriot government is stepping up its supervisory capacity to ensure compliance with international sanctions by setting up a specialized unit modeled after the UK’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI), according to the ministry.

The Cyprus government is also keen on joining a European Commission program on supporting “the effective and uniform implementation of sanctions.”

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol vowed to expand the country’s non-lethal aid to Kyiv when he met with Ukraine’s first lady Tuesday in Seoul.

Olena Zelenska visited South Korea as a special envoy of President Volodymyr Zelensky. During her meeting with Yoon, Zelenska requested South Korea expand its support of non-lethal military supplies, including equipment for detecting and removing mines and ambulance vehicles, according to Yoon’s office.

Yoon replied that his government would closely coordinate with NATO and other international partners to “actively support the Ukrainian people,” his spokesperson Lee Do Woon said during a briefing.

Yoon also condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying the “horrific losses of innocent lives, especially women and children, are unacceptable under any circumstances,” according to remarks shared by his office.

Lee said Zelenska made no request for South Korean weapons supplies during her conversation with Yoon.

South Korea, a growing arms exporter with a well-equipped military backed by the United States, has provided humanitarian aid and other support to Ukraine while joining economic sanctions against Moscow. But it has not directly provided arms to Ukraine, citing a long-standing policy of not supplying weapons to countries actively engaged in conflict.

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Ukrainian counteroffensive: What is President Zelenskyy waiting for?

The Ukrainian armed forces still need supplies of equipment and weapons to avoid heavy losses, says President Zelenskyy.

The Ukrainian troops’ counteroffensive is delayed indefinitely as, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “more time is needed.”

The president stressed members of new brigades were fully ready, with some units having received training abroad. But the Ukrainian armed forces still need supplies of equipment and weapons to avoid heavy losses.

What is Kyiv waiting for?

Since the end of last year, there has been talk of a large-scale Ukrainian counteroffensive. For security reasons, Kyiv stopped short of announcing specific dates, but experts in the West have previously suggested the start of the operation could take place any time from the end of April to the first two weeks of June.

“I think the reason why he announced it now is that expectations for this counteroffensive have quite clearly got out of hand in many circles,” says Simon Schlegel, a senior Ukraine Analyst at the International Crisis Group. “Anticipation has been very, very high. And the reason for that is probably because there is a narrative going around, especially in Russia, that Ukraine only has ‘one punch one try’ at this very complicated counteroffensive. And therefore, it’s probably a good thing right now that from the very top, that Zelenskyy himself, tries to also tone down expectations a bit.”

The Ukrainian president says his armed forces need more equipment. On 9th May, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Kyiv already had everything it needed for the operation, including equipment and soldiers trained in the West, and stressed it was up to the armed forces command to draw up a plan for success.

Some experts believe the delay is because Kyiv wants to be as sure as possible of the success of any counteroffensive.

“In this situation, you cannot have enough. Simply put, it’s always better to have more especially ammunition,” says Schlegel. And both sides have been running quite low. It’s become not just a military supply issue, but an industrial issue, a production issue. And it’s possible that ammunition is currently the bottleneck that Zelenskyy wants to widen before actually risking the lives of his soldiers.”

Max Bergmann, Director of the Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies agrees.

“We know the Ukrainians have obtained a number of tanks and they’ve obtained a number of other armoured personnel carriers and transport vehicles,” he explains. “But I’m sure they’re still waiting for more deliveries. So the question for Ukraine is, do you wait and wait for more deliveries to arrive but potentially give Russia more time to prepare for the potential counteroffensive?”

However, some Western observers believe the Ukrainian president’s statement is calculated to dupe Moscow into believing the counteroffensive has been delayed – when in fact it has already begun.

Dr Neil Melvin, Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) says it’s important to understand what the word ‘counteroffensive’ actually means:

“I think often the images are kind of a shock and awe moment where all of the tanks roll forward. But actually, the counteroffensive itself is a long term process,” he says. “And I would argue that, in fact, the counteroffensive by Ukraine has already started. What they’re trying to do is shape the battlefield at the moment and they’re pulling the Russian forces in different directions. They’re trying to find gaps by probing and they’re moving their forces around.”

What kind of weapons does Ukraine need?

According to Bloomberg, since December (i.e. in preparation for a perceived counteroffensive) Ukraine has received the equivalent of $30bn of Western equipment and supplies – more than the annual military budget of any NATO country (except the US). For the entire period, the amount of aid has exceeded $67bn.

Kyiv is now talking about the need for long-range weapons, aviation and air defence systems.

On 11 May, London announced it was sending Storm Shadow tactical missiles with an estimated range of 560 km to Kiev (however, the export versions are limited to 250 km). According to experts, this is not simply just another weapons delivery, but one that could play an important role in the upcoming operation.

Melvin explains why these weapons are a potential game changer.

“Actually what they do is strike at Russia’s ability to coordinate its own defence, so what we saw earlier in the war where the United States provided Ukraine with HIMARS artillery, that was very damaging to the Russians because with this artillery the Ukrainians could destroy logistical hubs at headquarters,” he explains. “The Russians have adapted. They’ve pushed those facilities out of range of HIMARS. With these new missiles, suddenly they’re back in range.”

What some believe the success or failure of a Ukrainian counteroffensive boils down to is the ability of the Ukrainian armed forces to coordinate as accurately and quickly as possible between different units and government agencies.

“What Ukraine has to do is what’s called combined arms warfare which means linking the air force, the ground forces, the intelligence community, the political leadership and keeping in contact with this very complicated set of actors as the armed forces move forward,” Melvin continues. “So it’s not just about breaking through the Russian lines, but actually sustaining that.”

Air warfare

But there are difficulties ahead. Storm Shadow missiles are airborne and can be launched from a range of European-made aircraft – Tornado, Typhoon, Mirage 2000 and Rafale.

According to available information, Ukraine does not yet have these planes. In February, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the transfer of Typhoons to Kyiv was not impossible, and it was even reported that training of Ukrainian pilots had begun.

The Ukrainian air force already has experience of using Western missiles from Soviet aircraft. Many of these machines, adapted to NATO standards, were supplied to Ukraine by the former Warsaw Pact countries.

However, Kyiv is demanding modern Western-made fighter jets – first and foremost, the American F-16s.

According to experts, these planes simply will not make it before the spring-summer campaign and it will take too much time to train Ukrainian pilots and adapt the country’s airfield and technical infrastructure.

Secondly, it’s unlikely they would play a significant offensive role in the war, as Bergmann outlines:

“We have to realise that Russia’s advanced fighter jets and other aircraft are not operating to the same degree as expected in this war because of Ukraine’s air defences. Russia also has substantial air defence capabilities, which would pose a threat to any Western fighters that Ukraine obtains.

“I think it’s essential that Ukraine receives fighter jets. It’s an additional form of air defence which can be used to protect Ukrainian skies, both from missiles, drones and Russian fighter jets. But here, it appears  they will play more of a defensive rather than offensive role.”

Before the full-scale invasion, the West believed that Kyiv would hold out for days or at best weeks because of the superiority of the Russian air force. But as early as 5 March, after just 10 days of war, Moscow reported that Ukraine’s air force and air defences had been suppressed and destroyed.

This was not the case. Ukraine’s air and air defence forces not only retained combat effectiveness but ultimately prevented Russia from gaining air superiority.

However, any Ukrainian counteroffensive will also face a number of other serious obstacles.

According to experts, for the first time in modern history, countries of an equal technical level have faced each other on the battlefield. Moreover, both Russia and Ukraine built their air defence system on Soviet principles. During the Cold War, the USSR created a large number of very different, ground-based air defence systems. Together they were supposed to create a theoretically impenetrable multi-levelled barrier at all altitudes and speeds. This means the Soviet pilot training school focused more on operating against a “Western” system than its own.

As a result, air defence activity at high altitudes has forced aircraft on both sides to switch to operations at ultra-low altitudes, literally just a few metres above the ground. But there, for a variety of reasons, it has proved more effective to use drones.

Will the counteroffensive prove decisive?

Many Western political analysts have not ruled out the possibility that the failure of a Ukrainian counteroffensive could lead to a reduction in Western assistance – simply because it has almost exhausted its ability to supply equipment and gear without compromising its own security. This would put pressure on Kyiv to reach a ceasefire on the terms of the status quo.

“I think there are other aspects beyond military success that will influence how supportive Western audiences and Western governments will be in the next phase. How well Ukraine manages to reintegrate the territories they liberate. Will this create a refugee crisis, for example, in Crimea? How they treat prisoners of war, and how well they manage the dangers of escalation. I think these factors are almost as important as a pure military success that is measured in liberated territory,” Schlegel adds.

But now, alongside the readiness of Ukraine’s armed forces for a counter-offensive, there are increasing calls for long-term, strategic support for the country. Even if the armed forces fail to achieve the goals of the spring and summer campaign, the West is being called on not abandon its support for Kyiv.

Back in March, EU leaders began to seriously consider increasing the production of weapons and ammunition – especially for Ukraine.

“While it’s right to focus on the counteroffensive and making sure Ukraine has everything, I think there also needs to be a political message,” says Melvin. “In most scenarios, the counteroffensive will not end the war by the summer. So the Western community needs now to factor in that this war is going to be a long war and that Ukraine is going to need resources to continue to fight to bring it to an end. But even beyond that, even if Russia is defeated in Ukraine, Russia is likely to remain a major threat to Ukraine, but also to the wider Europe.”

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Ukraine special forces footage appears to show Bakhmut battle

Ukraine has released what it says is helmet-camera footage from its special forces clearing a Russian position in Bakhmut. Kyiv says it has stopped the enemy and pushed it back, with President Zelenskyy telling his people the Russians are mentally prepared for defeat.

Ukrainian military commanders said on Friday that their troops had recaptured more territory from Russian forces at the scene of the war’s longest and bloodiest battle, for the eastern city of Bakhmut, but it wasn’t clear if this marked the start of Kyiv’s long-expected counteroffensive.

In a separate incident, two-long range Ukrainian rockets hit what Russian described as administrative buildings of two defunct enterprises in Russian-occupied Luhansk in the east.

Russia’s Defence Ministry, meanwhile, said Ukrainian forces had stepped up attacks north of the Bakhmut region while denying speculation by Russian military bloggers that the Kyiv forces had achieved “defence breakthroughs.”

The two kilometres of territory that Ukrainian forces south of Bakhmut retook this week represent a significant gain and will protect an important supply chain, according to commanders of Ukraine’s 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, a special forces unit that led the attack, releasing what it said was helmet camera footage from one its soldiers.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he met with the top military commanders on Friday, noting that Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi reported his forces “stopped the enemy and even pushed him back in some directions.”

In his nightly address to the Ukrainian people, Zelenskyy praised his troops and noted the low morale of the Russian forces.

“The occupiers are already mentally prepared for defeat. They have already lost this war in their minds,” he said. “We must push them every day so that their sense of defeat turns into their retreat, their mistakes, their losses.”

In a statement on Telegram on Friday, Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar confirmed that Ukrainian forces gained ground around Bakhmut, reiterating statements from military commanders earlier this week.

In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US has assessed that Bakhmut remains contested territory.

“Ukrainians have not given up their defence of Bakhmut and the Russians haven’t given up their attempts to take Bakhmut,” Kirby said. “Every single day, the lines change back and forth. I mean, sometimes block by block.”

The US maintains that Bakhmut has limited strategic value but that Russia has absorbed an enormous loss of troops and weaponry in the battle for the former salt-mining town that has been grinding on for eight months.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the millionaire owner of Russia’s private military contractor Wagner who is a frequent critic of the Russian military, slammed it again for losing ground around Bakhmut and exposing his forces battling for the city.

In a video statement Friday, Prigozhin mocked the Russian Defence Ministry’s report claiming that its forces regrouped to take more favourable positions, saying they effectively fled and “our flanks are crumbling.”

He warned that the Ukrainian forces have reclaimed key heights around the city and effectively unblocked the key supply link to Bakhmut. Prigozhin again accused the military leadership of refusing to provide sufficient ammunition to Wagner.

“You must immediately stop lying,” Prigozhin said, addressing Russia’s military leaders. “If you fled, you must prepare new defensive lines.”

Prigozhin – who seems to use harsh criticism to pressure the Kremlin for more support and improve his stature – alleged the Defence Ministry’s failure to protect Wagner’s flanks amounted to high treason and could result in a “great tragedy” for Russia.

Apparently denying Prigozhin’s claim of abandonment, Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russian airborne units are still supporting ground forces to “stop the attempts of the Ukrainian armed forces to counterattack on the flanks.”

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, explained the spat as being “reflective of increased panic in the Russian information space over speculations about planned Ukrainian counter-offensives.” This indicates increased concern among leaders of Wagner and the Russian Defense Ministry as well as “reflecting Kremlin guidance to avoid downplaying Ukrainian successes,” it said.

Ukrainian military officials have dismissed speculation that the fighting and forward movement in Bakhmut signalled that its anticipated counteroffensive was underway. Zelenskyy said in remarks broadcast Thursday that Kyiv was delaying the campaign because it lacks enough Western weapons. Some saw the comments as designed to keep Russia guessing about Ukraine’s next move.

Addressing the nation Friday evening, Zelenskyy said more arms were coming “to defeat the aggressor and restore peace.”

The territorial gains occurred near the Siversky-Donets canal, between the villages of Ivanivske and Kurdiumivka, according to a commander of the 1st Assault Battalion of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade. He spoke on condition he be referred to only by his call sign of “Rollo,” in line with Ukrainian military protocol.

“This was the enemy’s bridgehead, which they intended to use in their future attacks along the canal, in the direction of Kostiantynivka,” he said. “We had to neutralise the enemy and push them to the other side of the canal.”

Another commander and a military spokesman corroborated his account.

Kostiantynivka is part of an important logistics chain that leads to the city of Kramatorsk.

Rollo said the gains followed other successes, including one that secured an access road near Khromove, north of Bakhmut, and another that allowed Ukrainian forces to reclaim lost positions in the Industrial College inside Bakhmut city.

The assault south of Bakhmut was followed by a reported increase in Ukrainian offensive actions near the city of Soledar on Thursday, Russia’s Defence Ministry said. Russia repelled 26 Ukrainian attacks carried out by over 1,000 soldiers, the ministry said, adding that up to 40 tanks were involved.

The slow and grinding fight for Bakhmut has been costly for both sides, with Ukraine seeking to deny Russia any territorial gains despite its marginal strategic significance. Ukrainian forces are stationed in the city, while Russian troops are attacking from the north, east and south.

In other fighting, at least two people were killed and 22 injured elsewhere in the country since Thursday, according to figures from the Ukrainian President’s Office.

Donetsk Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said a Russian strike hit Kramatorsk, where some Ukrainian military units are based, destroying a school and residential building. Russian shelling hit 11 cities and villages in the region, killing 12 civilians, he said.

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All the latest from the Ukraine war this Monday

These are the latest developments from the Ukraine war today.

Russia Batters Ukraine ahead of Victory Day celebrations

Moscow launched dozens of missiles and drones towards Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities on Sunday night, injuring at least five people.

Russian missiles caused a huge fire at a foodstuff warehouse in the Black Sea city of Odesa, with blasts reported in several other Ukrainian regions early on Monday morning.

Ukraine’s top military brass said it shot down all 35 Iranian-made Shahed drones that were launched during the night.

Five people were hurt in Kyiv, according to the city’s major Vitali Klitschko. Two of these injuries were caused by drone wreckage falling in the west of the capital.

The strikes came as Russia prepares for its annual Victory Day celebrations, which mark the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has played on Russia’s victory in the Second World War in his narrative around the Ukraine invasion, calling leaders in Kyiv Nazis.

“Unfortunately, there are dead and wounded civilians, high-rise buildings, private homes and other civilian infrastructure were damaged,” the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in its daily update.

Air raid alerts blared for hours over roughly two-thirds of Ukraine on Sunday.

Anxiety grows about Ukraine nuclear plant

Worries over Europe’s largest nuclear power plant grew on Sunday after local authorities ordered civilians living nearby to evacuate.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has spent months trying to persuade Russian and Ukrainian officials to avert disaster at Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, located in southeastern Ukraine.

The facility was captured by Moscow early in the war but has been caught in the crossfire ever since.

Evacuations were ordered by Yegeny Balitsky the Russia-backed governor of Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia province, raising fears that fighting in the area would intensify.

Balitsky on Friday ordered civilians to leave 18 Russian-occupied communities, including Enerhodar, home to most of the staff at the plant.

More than 1,500 people had been evacuated from two unspecified cities in the region as of Sunday, Balitsky said.

Moscow’s troops seized the plant soon after invading Ukraine last year, but Ukrainian employees have continued to run it during the occupation, at times under extreme duress.

Ukraine has regularly fired at the Russian side of the lines, while Russia has repeatedly shelled Ukrainian-held communities across the Dnieper River.

The fighting has intensified as Ukraine prepares to launch a long-promised counteroffensive to reclaim ground taken by Russia.

“The general situation in the area near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is becoming increasingly unpredictable and potentially dangerous,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi warned on Saturday.

“We must act now to prevent the threat of a severe nuclear accident and its associated consequences for the population and the environment. This major nuclear facility must be protected,” he said.

Analysts have for months pointed to the southern Zaporizhzhia region as one of the possible targets of Ukraine’s expected spring counteroffensive, speculating that Kyiv’s forces might try to choke off Russia’s “land corridor” to the Crimean Peninsula.

Moscow thwarts Ukrainian drone attack in Crimea

Russia says it has shot down Ukrainian drones attacking the Crimea peninsula on Sunday.

The Russian administration in Crimea said it had repelled a night attack by a dozen Ukrainian drones, though Ukraine has not confined this.

The unmanned ariel vehicles were launched on the port city of Sevastopol, capital of the peninsula and home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

According to Moscow, the drones were neutralised by anti-aircraft defences and electronic jamming.

“No infrastructure in the city was damaged,” said Mikhail Razvojayev, the city governor.

Since the summer of 2022, the peninsula – annexed by Moscow in 2014 – has been regularly hit by drone attacks and alleged Ukrainian sabotage.

At the end of April, one drone strike caused a huge fire in an oil depot in Sevastopol.

Wagner stays put in Bakhmut

The boss of the Wagner mercenary group said on Sunday that Moscow had “promised” more support, allowing it to continue fighting in Bakhmut.

On Friday, Yevgeny Prigozhin released an inflammatory video attacking the Russian military. In it, he vowed to withdraw his mercenary force from Bakhmut, the epicentre of fighting in the east, if they were not given more ammo.

“Last night, we received a combat order. They promise to give us all the ammunition and armaments we need to continue operations,” he said on Sunday in an audio message.

Fighting over Bakhmut has raged since summer, with the small salt mining city town gaining a huge symbolic value.

Russia is eager for a clear battlefield victory, especially on the eve of the Victory Day celebrations.

Wagner’s troops have played a key part in Russia’s deadly assault on Bakhmut, which had ground the city to a ruin.

Their forces are in control of 95% of the city, according to Prigozhin.

But the Ukrainian army says it is clinging on, defending itself fiercely. It is hoping to exhaust Russian forces in Bakhmut, which has been likened to a meat grinder.

“The enemy is not going to change its objectives and is doing everything to control Bakhmut,” said General Oleksandr Syrsky of the Ukrainian land forces.

Russia accused of using phosphorus in Ukraine

Ukraine accused Russia of using phosphorus on Saturday, releasing a video that purported to show the telltale white fire of the destructive munitions.

International law prohibits the use of white phosphorus or other incendiary weapons in areas where there could be concentrations of civilians, though it can also be used for illumination or to create smoke screens.

Phosphorus munitions are designed to set fire to objects and cause horrific burn injuries.

Euronews could not independently verify where the video was shot or when, but chemical weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former British army colonel, said it was clearly white phosphorus.

“This is being fired directly at Ukraine positions and this would be a war crime,” he said.

“I expect because the Russians have failed to take Bakmut conventionally, they are now using unconventional tactics to burn the Ukrainian soldiers to death or to get them to flee.”

Russian forces haven’t commented on the claim.

They have rejected previous accusations from Ukraine they had used phosphorus munitions.

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The anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive: When, where and how?

The Ukrainian military has been talking since late last year about plans for a major counter-offensive.

The Pentagon documents, if they are to be believed, indicated that the offensive was planned to start on 30 April.

In late March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted that the Ukrainian Armed Forces were not yet ready for large-scale operations. And Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal indicated in mid-April that a counteroffensive could be expected in the summer.

When will the operation start?

Western experts are more inclined to the prime minister’s position: late autumn, or even early summer.

“They want good weather conditions so that they can conduct offensive manoeuvre operations,” said Robert Cullum, Lecturer in Defence Studies, King’s College London.

“They’ll be trying to generate and sustain their own forces, but they’ll also be trying to get ahead of Russian attempts to dig in and fortify their own position. So they’ll be trying to balance those three things off. And I think the kind of window of opportunity is within the next one to two months. So April, May, into early June.”

But even before that, there is no doubt that the Armed Forces of Ukraine will conduct battlefield reconnaissance and limited-scale operations to identify weaknesses in the Russian defence.

Possible plans by Kyiv

Ukrainian politicians and military officials say the ultimate goal should be the liberation of all Ukrainian territory, including the annexed Crimea and the territory of the separatist republics in the east of the country. But this is unlikely to be done in a single operation in the near future.


The most obvious target of a Ukrainian offensive, according to experts, could be a strike in the direction of the Sea of Azov, in the Zaporizhzhia region, around Melitopol. This could split the occupied territories in two, cut the land routes to Crimea and the Kherson region, and allow artillery to bombard the Crimean peninsula, the naval base in Sevastopol and the Crimean bridge. This is the scenario most often discussed by politicians, the military and experts alike.

But the problem here for Kyiv is that this strike direction is also obvious for Moscow. It has been repeatedly reported that Russian troops are seriously reinforcing their positions in the region.

“The problem then is the availability of forces because they have then two open flanks, one in the west towards Crimea, one in the east towards the Donbas, and they have to cover these two open flanks against Russian counter-attacks against both sides,” said Gustav Gressel, Senior Policy Fellow, European Council on Foreign Relations.

“So the deeper they go, the more forces they will need to just cover the flanks and push the offensive forward that might slow them down and that might also sort of swallow a considerable amount of forces.”

Experts consider a more realistic objective for Kyiv would be to advance 30 kilometres into the Melitopol area, so that Russian supply routes are in the range of Ukrainian artillery.

Flanks: Kherson and Luhansk

Vladimir Putin’s visit to the occupied regions of Kherson and Luhansk, which was announced on 18 April, is also linked by many experts to the preparation of defence in these directions, the flanks of the Russian grouping.

In the event of an offensive in these directions, Kyiv will have to worry less about securing its flanks, but in each case there are disadvantages.

In the Luhansk region, Kremenna, Svatove, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk could be the focus of Ukrainian strikes. Fighting in this area has been going on with varying success for a long time. However, the terrain there is wooded and rugged. Heavy Western equipment would be difficult to use in these conditions.

An offensive in the Kherson region could be the shortest route to Crimea for Ukrainian troops. But in order to do so they would have to cross the Dnieper River. The most difficult aspect, according to experts, will not be the formation operation itself, but the need to preserve and hold the crossings and bridges – which will undoubtedly become the most important target for Russian aviation and tactical missiles. Russian strikes against them could cut off and isolate the advancing Ukrainian grouping.

Air and artillery superiority

In theory, one important factor in a successful offensive should be air superiority. The advancing group, and its supply lines, must be protected during the operation.

Kyiv has repeatedly spoken of a shortage of both combat and air defence aircraft. If the same Pentagon documents that have surfaced online are to be believed, Ukraine will run out of missiles for “Soviet” long- and medium-range air defence systems by May, that is if used at the current rate, even without taking into account a possible offensive.

But this is about protection against Russian strikes on cities. For the front, according to experts, it is not such a serious problem.

“Yes, they don’t have air superiority, which is, of course, not ideal. But on the other hand, most of their reconnaissance is not done by aircraft,” said Gustav Gressel. “And also most of their strike missions are not done by aircraft like it’s done in NATO. It’s done by artillery, just like in the Russian army.”

“It’s been a very artillery intensive war,” said Robert Cullum. “Both sides have used artillery and artillery ammunition in enormous quantities, both on the attack and the defence. So another problem they have to overcome is the supply of artillery ammunition, which is a key enabler of military success in this war.”

Still, the lack of “frontline” air defence assets could significantly reduce the chances of the AFU if the Russian army makes extensive use of aircraft to counter the Ukrainian offensive, and here the West will not be able to provide significant support.

On the intelligence side, Kyiv has the advantage of access to U.S. and NATO information, as well as information from guerrillas in the occupied territories.

Pentagon leaks

However, the leaks of secret Pentagon documents could be a disadvantage for Kyiv.

“The American point of view is that the Russians now know how deep and with what means the American intelligence services can look into the Russian planning and Russian command and control structure, and they might adjust, for example, their codes or the encryption to prevent that,” said Gustav Gressel.

“ If that happens, and if Western intelligence at a time of the counter-offensive is less precise than it used to be, that would be a bad thing for Ukrainians.”

How can Russia counter the Ukrainian counter-offensive?

According to Western intelligence, Russia is fortifying almost the entire front line on Ukrainian territory, some 800 km long. These strips, according to media reports, consist of several lines of anti-tank trenches, trenches, barbed wire, obstacles and all sorts of fortified firing points.

The quality of these barriers has been questioned by Western experts; nevertheless, even in this form they will be a serious obstacle for the attackers if they do not have sufficient artillery and engineering support.

As stated above, Kyiv will need many forces to support its flanks to develop deep breaks; these forces will inevitably be redeployed from other directions, which the Russian army can take advantage of to launch counterstrikes in weakened areas.

Nuclear defence

The Kremlin has increasingly resorted to nuclear rhetoric in recent months, and at the end of March a decision was taken to deploy Russian nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus. Experts doubt Russia would resort to a nuclear strike if the Ukrainian push proved successful.

Will the Kremlin decide to use nuclear weapons if the Ukrainian offensive is successful?

“Putin will definitely think twice or three times,” said Gustave Gressel. “To be honest, I don’t believe that he will do it for any region, maybe except for Crimea, because the price is very high and the recipe for success is dubious.”

Will the counter-offensive bring a decisive result?

Ukrainian politicians periodically claim that a decisive counter-offensive in the spring and summer could bring the war to an end before the end of the year. Western experts are very cautious about this, while paying tribute to the high morale of Ukrainians.

“If they’ve achieved significant success, and I think there will be, they’ll be in a position to force the Russians to the table and perhaps extract some kind of concessions, particularly if Crimea is threatened,” said Robert Cullum.

“Putin really won’t want to lose Crimea because it’s such a symbol of his regime’s success. If the Ukrainians haven’t achieved much success, then I think they’ll be facing a lot more pressure from their allies who are really at the limit of what they’re willing to give in terms of assistance and equipment. And so Ukraine will probably face a lot more pressure to find some kind of status quo ceasefire.”

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Tucker Spreading Fake Doctored Russian Propaganda About Ukraine Losing? Would Fox News Even ALLOW That?

Yes, we know, Tucker Carlson has been playing his interview with Elon Musk the past two nights, and it has been overstuffed with loser divorced dad incel moments to make fun of, like when Elon got that look on his face that says “Is my hand in my pants right now?” while he talked about how abortion and birth control interfere with his weird breeding desires. Or when Elon said, “I’m very familiar with space and stuff.” We will make fun of those things very soon.

First we want to talk about another story related to Tucker and the Discord leaker and Russia’s war in Ukraine, where Tucker openly takes the side of the vile, genocidal, amoral aggressors. (Russia.)

Tucker has been lying and misleading his viewers about the latest accused leaker of classified information pretty much since the get-go, trying to turn the loser into some hero for the (Russian) cause of revealing the TRUTH about what’s going on in in Ukraine. (Not the truth.) He’s also been using facts and figures from the documents to convince his very idiot viewers that the presence of 14 US special forces attached to the embassy in Kyiv means Joe Biden has been lying and America is in a HOT WAR with Ukraine.

Tucker So Mad Nobody Talking About How Leaker Exposed Secret HOT WAR Between Russia And 14 US Troops

But, you see, certain things in those documents had themselves been altered while they were making the rounds on the dork nerd Discord/4Chan/Reddit internet. Certain things had been altered in a specifically Russian propaganda direction, to make it look like, for example, seven Ukrainians were dying for every Russian killed.

The Wall Street Journalreported this weekend on an American spreader of Russian propaganda named Sarah Bils, who ran and/or participated in a network of spreaders of Russian propaganda who posed as a Russian blogger named “Donbass Devushka.” (Translation: “Donbas Girl.” You’ll note that “Donbas” is the name of one of the regions in eastern Ukraine the Russians want to claim as their own and where at the beginning of the war they wanted the world to believe the people would greet them with flowers and blowjobs. It’s where Putin declared “independence” for the two republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, so that he might liberate them from their Ukrainian Nazi occupiers. “Donbass” is the Russian spelling.)

Bils is a former NCO from the US Navy, and the WSJ reports she was stationed at Whidbey Island in Washington state up until last year. Meanwhile, she’s doing this pro-Russian shit online. She says 15 people people all over the world control the “Donbass Devushka” account.

Indeed, it sounds like this account’s dissemination of some of the materials allegedly leaked by Jack Teixeira — shit that had been on the nerd internet for a while and hardly noticed — was what got the attention of Russian social media, which in turn got the attention of the Defense Department. Nobody cared about these documents until April 5, when this network of Russian propagandists that was actively supporting “our men on the front” — Russians — started putting them up on Telegram. Bils says she was not the member who posted this stuff, but rather that she took it down some days later.

But somewhere between Teixeira trying to impress his nerd friends on Discord by posting these documents and these Kremlin mouthpieces posting them on Telegram, some of the information on the documents got tweaked:

Some of the slides reposted on the Telegram account overseen by Ms. Bils had been altered from the otherwise identical photographs allegedly posted by Airman Teixeira on Discord—changed to inflate Ukrainian losses and play down Russian casualties. A subsequent post on the Donbass Devushka Telegram channel, on April 12, denied that the image had been doctored by the administrators.

“We would never edit content for our viewers,” the post said.

Take that as you will.

So that’s where the claim came from that SEVEN UKRAINIANS were dying for every Russian casualty. Have a heart, people! How could you want the Ukrainians to keep fighting if Russia is just massacring them? It’s not a fair fight! We should probably all get behind some kind of “peace plan” for Ukraine that involves giving Vladimir Putin as much of sovereign Ukraine as he wants while we all tongue all over Putin’s taint.

It’s the only humane solution, right?

Tucker Carlson sure thought so, when he started spreading the doctored Russian propaganda on Thursday night. Mediaite summarizes:

Malcontent News first reported on Sunday that Tucker Carlson used the “edited version” of the documents posted by Donbass Devushka’s Telegram channel to “claim Ukraine was suffering a 7-1 troop loss ratio and was ‘losing the war.’”

Indeed, last Thursday in an angry rant in which Carlson accused both President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin of committing “crimes” related to supporting Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion, Carlson cited that statistic.

“The second thing we learned from these slides is that despite direct U.S. involvement, Ukraine is in fact losing the war. Seven Ukrainians are being killed for every Russian. Ukrainian air defenses have been utterly degraded. Ukraine is losing. The Biden administration is perfectly aware of this,” Carlson declared. Carlson has long claimed Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is going far better than the media has reported, all while remaining a fierce critic of Ukraine’s leadership.

Here is a tweet from an investigative journo about it:

And here is Rachel Maddow talking about Tucker:

Oh yes, weep for the poor Ukrainians, who are totally losing the war, for whom all hope is lost! Why would you force them to keep fighting like this if seven of them are dying for every Russian? Are you some kind of MONSTER?

Only Tucker Carlson and his ideological pals truly care about the plight of the desperate Ukrainians. And he read some stuff a fake Russian propaganda blogger posted that’s just really concerning him right now.

As far as what’s really going on in Ukraine, Cathy Young writes at The Bulwark that most of the people pushing the narrative that we really should be reeling over the information in these leaks are indeed propagandists for Russia, the Putin apologists who have a fundamental and sick need to believe Ukraine is losing.

But Young says even some more mainstream media is taking the bait, and should cut that shit out. She argues that from the perspectives of the Ukrainians and their supporters, the leaks “[contain] essentially nothing new, at least as far as the war in Ukraine is concerned.” She goes through all the things that are supposed to be sorts of shattering revelations and shows the receipts on how people have been talking about them for months.

And, she notes, the leaks contain a hell of a lot that’s embarrassing for Russia, stuff that’s clearly driving some of their propaganda-spreaders quite batshit. (She’s got the receipts on that too.)

So, you know, chill the fuck out.

Read the whole thing, as they say in internet circles.

And don’t listen to Tucker Carlson.

Y’all hear his employer is paying out $787.5 million to a voting machine company as a penalty for brazenly and knowing lying to its gullible idiot viewers about that company after the 2020 election? And that a lot of those lies came from his show?

And here we all thought they were so credible and above reproach.


Follow Evan Hurst on Twitter right here

And once that doesn’t exist, I’m also giving things a go at the Mastodon (@[email protected]) and at Post!

Have you heard that Wonkette DOES NOT EXIST without your donations? Please hear it now, and if you have ever enjoyed a Wonkette article, throw us some bucks, or better yet, SUBSCRIBE!

Do your Amazon shopping through this link, because reasons.

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Volodymyr Zelenskyy boosts ties with Poland, warns of peril in Bakhmut

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy won new pledges of military and economic cooperation Wednesday on a state visit to staunch ally Poland, and he also said that Kyiv’s troops battling in the eastern city of Bakhmut could pull out if they face a threat of being encircled by Russian forces.

Polish President Andrzej Duda said Warsaw has provided four Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, with four more in the process of being handed over and another six being prepared.

At a news conference with his Polish counterpart, Zelenskyy described the perils in the grinding siege of Bakhmut, which has been all but destroyed by eight months of fighting that also has cost many lives on both sides.

“For me, the most important issue is our military,” he said. “And certainly, if there is a moment of even hotter events and the danger that we may lose personnel due to the encirclement, there will certainly be corresponding correct decisions of the general on the ground.”

In a recent interview, Zelenskyy underscored the importance of defending Bakhmut, saying its fall could allow Russia to rally international support for a deal that could require Ukraine to make unacceptable compromises.

During his visit to Warsaw – a rare wartime foray out of Ukraine for Zelenskyy – both countries sought to forge a tighter relationship in defiance of Russia’s full-scale war against Kyiv that has reshaped international alliances.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, said Moscow’s relations with Washington are “in deep crisis” as the US has led its allies in supplying aid and weapons to Ukraine. Speaking at a ceremony where he accepted diplomatic credentials from ambassadors of 17 nations, including the US, Putin alleged that Washington’s support for the 2014 protests in Kyiv that ousted a pro-Kremlin president led to Russia’s sending troops into Ukraine.

Zelenskyy said at his news conference with Duda that his government would “extend a hearty welcome” to Polish businesses seeking to help Ukraine’s postwar rebuilding, which the World Bank has estimated could cost €377 billion. He met later with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and signed agreements on developing Ukrainian infrastructure that opens a door for hundreds of Polish companies.

Poland heaped military honours and praise on Zelenskyy as it welcomed him and his wife on a joint visit, during which they thanked the country for its crucial military support and being a haven for Ukrainian refugees. The former Soviet satellite that is now a member of the European Union and NATO feels especially threatened by Russia and has been a leading advocate for aid to Kyiv.

Zelenskyy said the countries signed a new defence package to deliver Polish weaponry. They will also set up joint manufacturing plants for weapons and ammunition, he said.

Morawiecki said Zelenskyy’s visit was “extremely important because we are shaping the picture of Europe for the future. The Kremlin and Putin, Moscow wanted an end to Ukraine, but today we can see that this war initiates the end of an aggressive Russia, of the Russia that we know, and (marks) a start of a completely new Europe. This is the beginning of a completely new Europe.”

Earlier, Zelenskyy and Duda said they wanted to leave behind any World War II-era grievances that linger in Ukraine and Poland.

“There are no taboo topics between us,” Duda said. “There are still open wounds in the memory of many people.”

While Zelenskyy also travelled to the US, Britain, France and Belgium, the trip to Poland stood out because it was announced in advance and undertaken without the secrecy of past foreign trips. It also was the first time Zelenskyy and first lady Olena Zelenska travelled abroad together since the war began in February last year, said Marcin Przydacz, head of Duda’s foreign policy office.

Duda awarded Zelenskyy Poland’s oldest and highest civilian distinction, The Order of the White Eagle.

“We have no doubt that your attitude, together with the nation’s bravery, has saved Ukraine,” the Polish president told Zelenskyy.

At a ceremony in the courtyard of the presidential palace, Duda and the two countries’ first ladies were dressed in formal attire, while Zelenskyy wore the military-style sweatshirt and khaki trousers that have become his uniform since the invasion. His trips to London, Paris and Brussels in February were part of his push for warplanes and for his country’s admission to the EU and NATO, and his visit to Washington in December was intended to shore up US support.

Both presidents addressed a cheering and flag-waving crowd of Poles and Ukrainians gathered in the Royal Castle yard in Warsaw. A larger gathering watched on screens outside the castle.

Duda and Zelenskyy took on a personal tone as they quoted words from each other’s national anthems and stressed their unity.

“Volodymyr, you are a hero of the free world,” Duda said. “We’re sending a clear message to Moscow, you won’t be able to divide us.”

Duda added that Ukraine alone will decide the conditions on which it would enter any peace talks.

“The only conditions that world leaders should be demanding from Russia are the complete pullout of Russian troops from Ukraine’s territory,” he said. “There is no question of any negotiations above the Ukrainians’ heads.”

Zelenskyy said the war has brought the two nations together.

“The same way that we are standing together, Poland, in this war, we will be rejoicing together in peace, arm in arm, in everything, together in the European Union, together in NATO,” Zelenskyy said to cheer.

Zelenskyy travelled through Poland on his previous foreign trips, but until now had not made it his sole destination. The country has been a major cheerleader for Kyiv, a transit hub for weapons and humanitarian aid, and a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the war.

The visit highlighted Poland’s rising role in a new international security order emerging from the war. Warsaw wants to modernise its military by purchasing tanks and other equipment from US and South Korean producers. The US has also bolstered its military presence in Poland.

Zelenskyy’s visit came at a delicate time, when Polish farmers are increasingly angry over Ukrainian grain that has entered the country and created a glut, causing prices to fall.

The grain is only meant to be stored temporarily before being sent to markets in North Africa and the Middle East, but farmers say it is taking up space in silos and entering Polish markets, causing local prices to fall. Romanian and Bulgarian farmers have the same complaint.

Zelenskyy and Morawiecki said they had reached a deal to resolve the problem but gave no details.

The issue has been a headache for Morawiecki’s government ahead of fall elections, particularly since his conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, gets much of its support in rural areas. Agriculture Minister Henryk Kowalczyk, the focus of the farmers’ anger, resigned Wednesday.

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Ukraine war: Missile tests, German funding, and Jedi air raid warnings

Moscow: Ukraine has already deployed US long-range GLSDB rockets

The Russian defence ministry said on Tuesday it had shot down a long-range rocket, promised to Ukraine by the US.

“The anti-aircraft defence shot down 18 rockets of the Himars system and a GLSDB guided rocket,” the ministry said in its daily statement, hinting the activity to be the first confirmation that the ammunition had been delivered to Kyiv.

The GLSDBs (for “Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb” in English) are small-diameter, high-precision devices manufactured by the American Boeing and the Swedish Saab. They can fly up to 150 km and thus threaten Russian positions, in particular ammunition warehouses, far behind the front lines.

Ukraine has hammered home the need for such munitions to destroy Russian supply lines and thus overcome its shortage of men and ammunition in preparation for its announced counter-offensive to push back the Russian forces occupying large parts of southern and eastern Ukraine.

The United States finally announced on 3 February that it would provide Ukraine with GLSDBs, but the delivery schedule had not been announced, with some sources saying that several months were needed before they could be deployed on the ground.

The West has been reluctant to provide longer-range systems, fearing they could be used to strike Russian territory and provoke an escalation.

Kyiv, for its part, has repeatedly promised that it would only use them to attack targets in occupied territory.

Russian navy fires missiles in Sea of Japan

Moscow test-fired anti-ship missiles in the Sea of Japan, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday, with two boats launching a simulated missile attack on a mock enemy warship about 100 kilometres away.

The ministry said the target was successfully hit by two Moskit cruise missiles.

The Moskit, whose NATO reporting name is the SS-N-22 Sunburn, is a supersonic anti-ship cruise missile that has conventional and nuclear warhead capacity. The Soviet-built cruise missile is capable of flying at a speed three times the speed of sound and has a range of up to 250 kilometres.

The ministry said the exercise, which included other warships and naval aircraft, took place in the Peter the Great Gulf in the Sea of Japan but did not give more precise coordinates. The gulf borders the Russian Pacific Fleet headquarters at Fokino and is about 700 kilometres from Japan’s northern Hokkaido island.

The Russian military has conducted regular drills across the country and Russian warships have continued maneuvers as the fighting in Ukraine has entered a second year — exercises that were intended to train the troops and showcase the country’s military capability.

The US Navy’s 7th Fleet did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Japan reacted calmly to the missile exercise, which was conducted near Vladivostok, rather than directly into the waters between the two countries.

Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki told a news conference later Tuesday that Tokyo will continue to monitor Russia’s military operations, as it has been stepping up activity in the region.

Tokyo does not plan to lodge a protest to Russia over the missile exercise, said Tasuku Matsuki, Japanese Foreign Ministry official in charge of Russia, noting that its location — Peter the Great Bay — is considered Russian coast, though it is facing the water between the two countries.

“On the whole, Japan is concerned about Russia’s increasing military activities around the Japanese coasts and watching them with great interest,” Matsuki said.

He added that Russia has conducted missile drills in that area in the past and issued maritime advisories ahead of time.

Germany to vote on increasing military aid to Ukraine

The Bundestag’s budget committee is due to adopt a significant increase in German military aid to Ukraine on Wednesday.

The parliamentarians are expected to vote on a total of 12 billion euros in aid, both in the form of arms deliveries directly to Kyiv and in the form of re-supplies to the German army, which has offloaded a large part of its stocks to Ukraine over the past year.

If these funds are voted through, German aid will jump from around €3 billion so far to around €15 billion.

The German Finance Ministry will present several proposals to the parliament on Wednesday morning.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, Germany has been engaged in an ambitious rearmament policy.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had promised a fund of €100 billion a few days after the Russian attack to boost the German military. But the promised funds have not yet been released and the German army continues to suffer from years of underinvestment.

Berlin, on the other hand, is one of the main contributors to military support in Kyiv. The German government confirmed on Monday the delivery to Ukraine of 18 Leopard 2 type 2A6 tanks, which the Ukrainian army has been insisting on.

Feel the Force: Hamill carries ‘Star Wars’ voice to Ukraine

“Attention. Air raid alert,” the voice says with a Jedi knight’s gravitas. “Proceed to the nearest shelter.”

It’s a surreal moment in an already surreal war: the grave but calming baritone of actor Mark Hamill, Luke Skywalker of “Star Wars,” urging people to take cover whenever Russia unleashes another aerial bombardment on Ukraine.

The intrusion of Hollywood science-fiction fantasy into the grim daily realities of war in Ukraine is a consequence of Hamill’s decision to lend his famous voice to “Air Alert” — a downloadable app linked to Ukraine’s air defense system.

When air raid sirens start howling, the app also warns Ukrainians that Russian missiles, bombs and deadly exploding drones may be incoming.

“Don’t be careless,” Hamill’s voice advises. “Your overconfidence is your weakness.”

The actor says he’s admired — from afar, in California — how Ukraine has “shown such resilience … under such terrible circumstances.” Its fight against the Russian invasion, now in its second year, reminds him of the “Star Wars” saga, he says — of plucky rebels battling and ultimately defeating a vast, murderous empire. Voicing over the English-language version of the air-raid app and giving it his “Star Wars” touch was his way of helping out.

When the dangers from the skies pass, Hamill announces via the app that “the air alert is over.” He then signs off with an uplifting: “May the Force be with you.”

Hamill is also raising funds to buy reconnaissance drones for Ukrainian forces on the front lines. He autographed “Star Wars”-themed posters that are being raffled off.

“Here I sit in the comfort of my own home when in Ukraine there are power outages and food shortages and people are really suffering,” he said. “It motivates me to do as much as I can.”

Although the app also has a Ukrainian-language setting, voiced by a woman, some Ukrainians prefer to have Hamill breaking the bad news that yet another Russian bombardment might be imminent.

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