Counteroffensive, grain, corruption, and strategic alliances: the end of the summer for the governments of Russia and Ukraine is marked by a number of recurring themes, tied to the war but also to the future of the two countries. The backdrop to the moves being made by the two presidents is the balance of forces on the ground.
On the one hand, Kyiv announced that it has secured the recapture of the village of Robotyne, south of Zaporizhzhia, and has resumed advancing toward Melitopol, the stated target of the counteroffensive. According to Ukrainian General Staff spokesman Pavlo Kovalchuk, the army “is consolidating the lines reached” and is pushing forward in the direction of Novoprokopivka, a few kilometers to the southeast.
Zelensky’s team says that since the start of the counteroffensive (about three months ago), the Ukrainian armed forces have advanced seven kilometers in the Zaporizhzhia region, while Robotyne was the first tactically significant victory for the invaded country. This is of great importance, because, according to a number of military analysts, if the Ukrainians succeed in advancing just fifteen kilometers further from their current positions, they could be within range of Russia’s east-west transport routes and potentially weaken Moscow’s combat capabilities in the area – just as they had managed to do last fall in the Kharkiv area before recapturing the entire region.
On the other hot front, near Bakhmut, President Zelensky visited the wounded on Tuesday to award military honors. Almost at the same time, the Ukrainian Parliament ratified the dismissal of former Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, as announced by the president on Monday. On Wednesday, the parliamentarians voted in Rustem Umerov as the new minister.
On the other side, the Kremlin insists that the counteroffensive has been a failure and continues to try to delegitimize the Ukrainian government. On Tuesday, President Putin launched yet another invective against Volodymyr Zelensky, calling it “disgusting” that an ethnic Jew is covering up the glorification of Nazism,” which, in Putin’s view, is the same as “the anti-human beliefs that underlie the modern Ukrainian state.”
Regarding the situation on the battlefield, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that according to the information he had, Ukraine had lost 66,000 soldiers since the beginning of the counteroffensive, adding that the other side’s forces “have not achieved their goals on any front.” However, Shoigu acknowledged that “the most tense situation” was in the Zaporizhzhia area, where, he claimed, Kyiv had deployed the units trained by NATO countries in recent months. The Ukrainians have called the claims of their adversary “pure invention” and have denied both the claimed death toll and the presence of special units on the southern front.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the New York Times published a lengthy article in which it claimed Moscow’s armed forces were running out of ammunition and that President Putin was going to ask for more from his North Korean ally, Kim Jong-Un, who would be coming to meet him in Russia. The Kremlin did not confirm the news, and Washington was quick to stress that North Korea “will pay a price” if it provides weapons to Russia.
Pyongyang has also reportedly been invited by Moscow, along with China, for a joint military exercise in the Pacific in the near future. Meanwhile, Turkey has issued a denial that a meeting was set to take place between Putin and the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the upcoming UN General Assembly.
After Monday’s meeting between the two in Sochi, which ended in a deadlock over the reinstatement of the grain deal, President Erdogan clarified that Russia had two main demands: one concerning the reconnection of the Russian Agricultural Bank to the SWIFT system and another on obtaining insurance for the ships used in transportation.
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