Russia launched ‘largest drone attack’ on Ukrainian capital before Kyiv Day; 1 killed
Susie Blann and Elise Morton – May 28, 2023
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s capital was subjected to the largest drone attack since the start of Russia’s war, local officials said, as Kyiv prepared to mark the anniversary of its founding on Sunday. At least one person was killed, but officials said scores of drones were shot down, demonstrating Ukraine’s air defense capability.
Russia launched the “most massive attack” on the city overnight Saturday with Iranian-made Shahed drones, said Serhii Popko, a senior Kyiv military official. The attack lasted more than five hours, with air defense reportedly shooting down more than 40 drones.
A 41-year-old man was killed and a 35-year-old woman was hospitalized when debris fell on a seven-story nonresidential building and started a fire, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said.
Debris from a drone damaged the building of the Ukrainian Society of the Blind. On Sunday morning, organization member Volodymyr Golubenko came to pick up his things. He was helped by his son Mykola, who searched for his father’s belongings among the rubble and at the same time tried to describe to his father what his office looks like now.
“This wall on the right is destroyed and on left also,” said Mykola to his father.
Volodymyr Golubenko worked at this place for more than 40 years. He says it is a home for many blind people, because they come here to talk and support each other.
“If you don’t even have a job, it’s difficult to get a job now, because these events (war) have been going on since last year. At least people come here to chat,” said Volodymyr.
Like Golubenko, many people in his district heard the sound of Shahed drones for the first time. Among them was 36-year-old Yana, who has three boys. The family hid in a corridor all night.
“Something started to explode above us. The children ran here in fear,” said Yana.
Ukraine’s air force said that Saturday night was also record-breaking in terms of Shahed drone attacks across the country. Of the 54 drones launched, 52 were shot down by air defense systems.
Russia has repeatedly launched waves of drone attacks against Ukraine, but most are shot down. Ukraine has also claimed this month to have downed some of Russia’s hypersonic Kinzhal missiles, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has touted as providing a key competitive advantage.
In the northeastern Kharkiv province, regional Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said a 61-year-old woman and a 60-year-old man were killed in two separate shelling attacks.
Kyiv Day marks the anniversary of the city’s official founding. The day is usually celebrated with live concerts, street fairs, exhibitions and fireworks. Scaled-back festivities were planned for this year, the city’s 1,541st anniversary.
The timing of the drone attacks was likely not coincidental, Ukrainian officials said.
“The history of Ukraine is a long-standing irritant for the insecure Russians,” Ukraine’s chief presidential aide, Andriy Yermak, said on Telegram.
“Today, the enemy decided to ‘congratulate’ the people of Kyiv on Kyiv Day with the help of their deadly UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles),” Popko also wrote on the messaging app.
Local officials in Russia’s southern Krasnodar region said that air defense systems destroyed several drones as they approached the Ilsky oil refinery.
Russia’s southern Belgorod region, bordering Ukraine, also came under attack from Ukrainian forces on Saturday, local officials said. Regional Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov reported Sunday that a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy were wounded in the shelling.
Drone attacks against Russian border regions have been a regular occurrence since the start of the invasion in February 2022, with attacks increasing last month. Earlier this month, an oil refinery in Krasnodar was attacked by drones on two straight days.
Ukrainian air defenses, bolstered by sophisticated Western-supplied systems, have been adept at thwarting Russian air attacks — both drones and aircraft missiles.
Earlier in May, Ukraine prevented an intense Russian air attack on Kyiv, shooting down all missiles aimed at the capital. The bombardment, which additionally targeted locations across Ukraine, included six Russian Kinzhal aero-ballistic hypersonic missiles, repeatedly touted by Russian President Vladimir Putin as providing a key strategic competitive advantage and among the most advanced weapons in his country’s arsenal.
Sophisticated Western air defense systems, including American-made Patriot missiles, have helped spare Kyiv from the kind of destruction witnessed along the main front line in Ukraine’s east and south. While most of the ground fighting is stalemated along that front line, both sides are targeting other territory with long-range weapons.
Against the backdrop of Saturday night’s drone attacks, Russia’s ambassador to the U.K., Andrei Kelin, warned of an escalation in Ukraine. He told the BBC on Sunday his country had “enormous resources” and it was yet to “act very seriously,” cautioning that Western supplies of weapons to Ukraine risked escalating the war to a “new dimension.” The length of the conflict, he said, “depends on the efforts in escalation of war that is being undertaken by NATO countries, especially by the U.K.”
Kelin’s comments are typical of Russian officials’ rhetoric with regard to Moscow’s military might, but contradict regular reports from the battlefield of Russian troops being poorly equipped and trained.
Also on Sunday, the death toll from Friday’s missile attack on the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, the regional capital of the Dnipropetrovsk province, rose to four. Regional. Gov. Serhii Lysak said that three people who were considered missing were confirmed dead. There were 32 people, including two children, wounded in the attack, which struck a building containing psychology and veterinary clinics.
Mercenary Prigozhin warns Russia could face revolution unless elite gets serious about war
Guy Faulconbridge – May 24, 2023
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, warned that Russia could face a revolution similar to those of 1917 and lose the conflict in Ukraine unless the elite got serious about fighting the war.
Russia’s most powerful mercenary said his political outlook was dominated by love for the motherland and serving President Vladimir Putin, but cautioned that Russia was in danger of turmoil.
Prigozhin said there was a so-called optimistic view that the West would get tired of war and China would broker a peace deal, but that he did not really believe in that interpretation.
Instead, he said, Ukraine was preparing a counteroffensive aimed at pushing Russian troops back to its borders before 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea. Ukraine would try to encircle Bakhmut, the focus of intense fighting in the east, and attack Crimea, he added.
“Most likely of all, this scenario will not be good for Russia so we need to prepare for an arduous war,” he said in an interview posted on his Telegram channel.
“We are in such a condition that we could fucking lose Russia – that is the main problem … We need to impose martial law.”
Prigozhin said his nickname “Putin’s chef” was stupid as he could not cook and had never been a chef, quipping that “Putin’s butcher” might be a more apt nickname.
“They could have just given me a nickname right away — Putin’s butcher, and everything would have been fine,” he said.
If ordinary Russians continued getting their children back in zinc coffins while the children of the elite “shook their arses” in the sun, he said, Russia would face turmoil along the lines of the 1917 revolutions that ushered in a civil war.
“This divide can end as in 1917 with a revolution,” he said.
“First the soldiers will stand up, and after that – their loved ones will rise up,” he said. “There are already tens of thousands of them – relatives of those killed. And there will probably be hundreds of thousands – we cannot avoid that.”
The defence ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Prigozhin criticised Russia’s post-Soviet policy towards Ukraine and cast the implementation of what the Kremlin calls the “special military operation” as unclear, contradictory and confused.
Russia’s military leadership, he said, had “fucked up” repeatedly during the war. The stated aim of demilitarising Ukraine, he said, had failed.
Prigozhin said Soviet leader Josef Stalin would not have accepted such failure. A cross-border attack into Russia’s Belgorod region indicated the failures of the military leadership, he said, warning that Ukraine would seek to strike deeper into Russia.
Russia needed to mobilise more men and to gear the economy exclusively to war, Prigozhin said.
Wagner, he said, had recruited around 50,000 convicts during the war, of whom about 20% had perished. Around the same amount of his contract soldiers – 10,000 – had perished, he said.
In Bakhmut, Prigozhin said, Ukraine had suffered casualties of 50,000-70,000 wounded and 50,000 dead.
Reuters is unable to verify casualty claims from either side, and neither Russia nor Ukraine release figures on their own casualties. Ukraine has said Russian losses are far higher than its losses.
Prigozhin said Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu should be replaced by Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev while Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov should be replaced by Sergei Surovikin, nicknamed “General Armageddon” by the Russian media.
Asked about his political credo: “I love my motherland, I serve Putin, Shoigu should be judged and we will fight on.”
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alex Richardson)
Putin could have a ‘revolution’ on his hands because Russian elites refuse to send their kids to die in the Ukraine war, Wagner boss Prigozhin warns
Chris Panella – May 24, 2023
Putin could face a “revolution” because of outrage over war in Ukraine, Wagner boss Prigozhin said.
Russia’s elite not sending “fat, carefree” kids into war could spark public unrest, he added.
The Times reported that Prigozhin compared the current environment to the 1917 Russian Revolution.
Russian President Vladimir Putin could have a “revolution” on his hands over his botched war in Ukraine, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said.
In a profane rant during an interview with pro-Kremlin blogger Konstantin Dolgov, the head of the Wagner Group called out Russia’s elite for protecting their children from being drafted into the war, according to a translation from The Times.
“The children of the elite smear themselves with creams and show off on the internet, while ordinary people’s children come home in zinc [coffins], torn to pieces,” he said, according to The Times. “I recommend that the elite of the Russian Federation gathers up, bitch, its youth and send them to war.”
Prigozhin said their “fat, carefree” lives could spark outrage and a “revolution,” leading working-class citizens to storm the elite’s “villas” with “pitchforks.”
That revolution, he concluded, “might end as in 1917,” referencing the Russian Revolution of 1917, when citizens overthrew Tsar Nicholas II and his family.
The comments come as Russian forces, including Wagner Group members, claimed victory in Bakhmut over the weekend. Ukraine contested the victory, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy insisting to G7 leaders in Hiroshima that Kyiv’s soldiers were still fighting for control of the region.
Prigozhin’s volatile attitude and criticisms of Putin are increasingly shocking, but the Russian president is still too reliant on Wagner’s army to punish Prigozhin.
Ukraine-Russia war: One in five Wagner convicts killed in Ukraine, says Prigozhin
Maighna Nanu – May 24, 2023
One in five Wagner convicts have been killed in Ukraine, the chief of the Russian mercenary group has claimed.
Yevgeny Prigozhin said that around 10,000 prisoners he recruited to fight in Ukraine have been killed on the battlefield.
“I took 50,000 prisoners of which around 20 per cent were killed,” Prigozhin said in a video interview published late Tuesday.
Prigozhin said a similar percentage were killed among those who had signed a contract with Wagner, but did not give a precise figure.
Last year, Prigozhin toured Russian prisons in a bid to convince inmates to fight with Wagner in Ukraine, in exchange for a promised amnesty upon their return should they survive.
Convicts are believed to have been used as cannon fodder in Ukraine, accounting for most of Wagner’s losses in the pro-Western country.
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Ukraine’s main church to switch calendar in move away from Russia
Ukraine’s main Orthodox church said it had decided to switch to a calendar in which Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25, a move that distances it from Russia.
Ukrainian Christians, a majority of whom are Orthodox, have traditionally celebrated Christmas on Jan. 7 alongside other predominantly Orthodox Christian countries such as Russia, which invaded Ukraine last year.
“This question arose with new impetus as a result of Russian aggression,” the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) wrote in a Facebook post announcing the change away from the Julian calendar.
“Nowadays, the Julian calendar is perceived as connected with Russian church culture,” it said.
Ukraine’s main Catholic church, which considers about one in 10 Ukrainians to be worshippers, announced a similar change in February.
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Ukraine joining Nato in the midst of a war ‘not on the agenda’, says Stoltenberg
Ukraine will not be able to join Nato as long as the war is going on, the alliance’s chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday.
“I think that everyone realized that, to become a member in the midst of a war, is not on the agenda,” he said at an event organised by the German Marshall Fund of The United States in Brussels. “The issue is what happens when the war ends.”
Switzerland takes step towards sale of 25 Leopard 2 tanks back to Germany
The Swiss government backed the decommissioning of 25 advanced Leopard 2 battle tanks with a view to selling them back to Germany, a step that could allow Western countries to send more military aid to Ukraine.
Germany had in February asked Switzerland to sell some of the tanks back to arms maker Rheinmetall, which would allow the company to backfill gaps in the armaments of European Union and Nato members.
Germany, Poland, Portugal, Finland and Sweden are among countries sending Leopard tanks to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian attack, creating gaps in their own arsenals.
The issue is sensitive for the Swiss authorities. Under its neutrality laws and a separate arms embargo, Switzerland is prohibited from sending weapons directly to Ukraine.
The Swiss military currently has 134 Leopard 2 tanks in service and a further 96 in storage.
Russia risks revolution unless elite get serious about war, Wagner chief says
Russia could face a revolution and lose the conflict in Ukraine unless the elite get serious about fighting the war, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group has warned.
“We are in such a condition that we could f***ing lose Russia – that is the main problem … We need to impose martial law,” Yevgeny Prigozhin said on his Telegram channel.
With Russian families receiving the remains of their sons who have died in Ukraine even as the children of the country’s wealthiest oligarchs are pictured on lavish holidays, he said, Russia could face turmoil on a scale not seen since the 1917 revolution, when Russians rose up and overthrew the monarchy.
“This divide can end as in 1917 with a revolution – first the soldiers will stand up, and after that – their loved ones will rise up,” he said. “There are already tens of thousands of them – relatives of those killed – and there will probably be hundreds of thousands.”
Ukraine’s Defence Minister: ‘Glad to host Ben Wallace in Kyiv’
WHO condemns Russia’s aggression in Ukraine in vote
The World Health Organisation assembly passed a motion on Wednesday condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, including attacks on healthcare facilities.
The motion passed by 80 votes to 9, with 52 abstentions.
The Western-led motion, put forward at the UN agency’s annual meeting, also called for an assessment of the impact of Russia’s aggression on the health sector.
There was no immediate reaction from Russia. Moscow has consistently denied targeting civilians during what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Russia will respond to future incursions ‘extremely harshly’, says defence minister
Moscow will respond to attacks on Russian soil “extremely harshly”, Russia’s defence minister has warned, after Russian jets and artillery fought off an armed group that crossed from Ukraine.
“We will continue to respond promptly and extremely harshly to such actions by Ukrainian militants,” Sergei Shoigu told military officials, according to comments published by the defence ministry.
Russia to give Bakhmut Soviet-era name after capturing city from Ukraine
Bakhmut will be renamed with its former Soviet name, the acting head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic has claimed.
The small eastern city is believed to have fallen to Russia in recent days after a long and bloody siege that left it almost completely destroyed.
“Bakhmut had the misfortune to be Ukrainian. Now it’s not Ukraine, it’s Russia. And it’s not Bakhmut — it’s Artemovsk,” Denis Pushilin said in a video posted on Telegram.
It comes as Oleksiy Danilov, a Ukrainian national security adviser, claimed that part of Bakhmut is still under Ukrainian control.
“If they [Russians] believe they have taken Bakhmut, I can say that this is not true. As of today, part of Bakhmut is under our control,” he told CNN. “I can’t say that all of it, but part of Bakhmut is still under our fire.”
Ukraine in pictures:
Older people account for a third of Ukraine’s war victims
Older people have suffered and died at a disproportionately high rate since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a UN report has showed, with some perishing because they were barred from fetching medicines or leaving basements.
The report compiled by UN human rights monitors showed that about a third of the civilians killed in the first year of the war, or 1,346 of 4,187 documented victims, were over 60.
The toll only includes individuals whose age is known and the real number of victims is much higher, the UN says. About a quarter of Ukraine’s population is elderly.
Pictured: Ukrainian tankers ride along the road towards their positions near Bakhmut
Finland says Russia set to terminate agreement on military visits
Russia has informed neighbouring Finland that it will terminate a bilateral agreement on mutual visits to military installations, the Finnish defence ministry said late on Tuesday.
The bilateral agreement, signed in 2000, provided for one annual Russian assessment visit to Finland and a similar visit by Finland to the Leningrad Military District in north-west Russia, the Finnish ministry said in a statement.
Finland last month joined the Nato military alliance in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, drawing a threat from Moscow of “counter-measures.”
The bilateral agreement, last applied in 2019 before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, was among several post-Cold War measures taken to improve East-West relations.
West sees Russia and China as threat to its dominance, says Lavrov
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that the West saw Russia and China as “adversaries” that posed what he called an existential threat to the West’s “dominance”.
“As evidenced by statements made at the recently concluded G7 summit in Japan, the West views Russia and China as strategic adversaries posing almost an existential threat to its dominance,” Mr Lavrov said
Drone attacks overnight in Russian border region, claims governor
A Russian official in the southern Belgorod region bordering Ukraine claimed that the territory was targeted by numerous drones overnight, following an armed incursion into the territory from Ukraine.
“The night was not entirely calm. There were a large number of drone attacks. Air defence systems handled most of them,” governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a post on social media, adding: “The most important thing is that there are no casualties.”
Moscow shares ‘staged photos’ of US vehicles allegedly used to attack Russian territory
Moscow has claimed to have captured American vehicles used by anti-Kremlin paramilitary groups during a daring cross-border raid into Russia’s Belgorod region.
Images shared via Russia’s state controlled media outlets appeared to show two damaged US-made Humvees left abandoned in a crater.
They were pictured close to the Grayvoron border control point, the initial scene of the Belgorod raid.
Pro-Kremlin channels on the Telegram messaging app claimed that two battalions of anti-regime partisans had lost as many as five American vehicles.
However, analysis of the images shared by the Russian government suggests they were staged.
Comment: Belgorod attack: Ukraine has turned Putin’s little green men against him
Yesterday’s cross-border raid from Ukraine into Russia’s Belgorod province by anti-Kremlin partisans known as the Russian Freedom Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps is the largest offensive action inside Russia’s borders since Putin’s invasion began.
The group seems to have struck the frontier post at Kozinka, apparently killing a border guard, before crossing into Russian territory around Grayvoron with armoured vehicles, mortars and artillery support.
This action is unlikely to develop into a significant assault on Russian territory because the Ukrainian army itself remains constrained to operations within its own borders by agreements with military donor nations.
Russian Prime Minister says relations with China at an unprecedented high level
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said that ties with China are at an “unprecedented” high level, characterised by mutual respect of each other’s interests and the desire to jointly respond to challenges.
“As our Chinese friends say, unity makes it possible to move mountains,” Mishustin told Chinese Premier Li Qiang during a meeting in Beijing.
Mishustin was the highest ranking Russian official to visit the Chinese capital since the war began.
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Biden’s shift on F-16s for Ukraine came after months of internal debate
Aamer Madhani and Lolita C. Baldor – May 22, 2023
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s decision to allow allies to train Ukrainian forces on how to operate F-16 fighter jets — and eventually to provide the aircraft themselves — seemed like an abrupt change in position but was in fact one that came after months of internal debate and quiet talks with allies.
Long shadowing the administration’s calculation were worries that such a move could escalate tensions with Russia. U.S. officials also argued that learning to fly and logistically support the advanced F-16 would be difficult and time consuming.
But over the past three months, administration officials shifted toward the view that it was time to provide Ukraine’s pilots with the training and aircraft needed for the country’s long-term security needs, according to three officials familiar with the deliberations who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Still, the change in Biden’s position seemed rather sudden.
In February, Biden was insistent in an interview with ABC’s David Muir that Ukraine “doesn’t need F-16s now” and that “I am ruling it out for now.” And in March, a top Pentagon policy official, Colin Kahl, told U.S. lawmakers that even if the president approved F-16s for Ukraine, it could take as long as two years to get Ukrainian pilots trained and equipped.
But as the administration was publicly playing down the prospect of F-16s for Ukraine in the near term, an internal debate was heating up.
Quiet White House discussions stepped up in February, around the time that Biden visited Ukraine and Poland, according to the U.S. officials.
Following the trip, discussions that included senior White House National Security Council, Pentagon and State Department officials began on the pros and cons and the details of how such a transfer might work, officials said. Administration officials also got deeper into consultations with allies.
In April, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin heard from defense leaders from allied countries during a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group who were looking for U.S. permission to train the Ukrainians on F-16s, according to a Defense Department official who was not authorized to comment publicly. Austin raised the matter during the NSC policy discussions and there was agreement that it was time to start training.
Austin also raised the issue with Biden before the G7 summit with a recommendation “to proceed with approving allies” to train the Ukrainians and transfer the aircraft, the department official said. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also was a strong advocate for pushing forward with the plan during the U.S. policy talks and conveying to Biden increasing European urgency on the issue, officials said.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan traveled to London on May 8 for talks with British, French and German allies on Ukraine, and F-16s were high on the agenda. They got into the nitty gritty on how to go about provide training and which countries might be willing to transfer jets to Ukraine. It was agreed that the focus would be on training first, according to one of the officials.
Sullivan, before leaving London, spoke by phone with his counterparts from the Netherlands and Poland, both countries that have F-16s and “would be essential to any efforts to provide Ukraine jets for any future use.” Denmark also could potentially provide the jets, the official added.
Biden and Sullivan discussed how the upcoming G7 summit in Hiroshima could provide a good opportunity for him to make the case to key allies on the administration’s shifting stance on fighter jets.
They also discussed Biden backing allies providing jets to Ukraine — a line he had previously appeared not to want to cross out of concern that it could draw the West into what could be seen as direct confrontation with Moscow.
Biden, in private talks with fellow G7 leaders on Friday, confirmed that the U.S. would get behind a joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots on the F-16 and that as things went on, they would work together on who would provide them and how many would be sent.
State, Pentagon and NSC officials are now developing the training plan and “when, where and how to deliver F-16s” to Ukraine as part of the long-term security effort, the official said.
U.S. officials say it will take several months to iron out details, but the U.S. Air Force has quietly determined that the actual training could realistically be done in about four months. The Air Force based the far shorter estimate on a visit by two Ukrainian pilots to a U.S. air base in March, where they got to learn about the F-16 and fly simulators. The training, officials say, would take place in Europe.
White House officials have bristled at the notion that Biden’s decision amounted to a sea change.
The administration had been focused on providing Ukraine with weapons — including air defense systems, armored vehicles, bridging equipment and artillery — that were needed for a coming counteroffensive. There also were concerns that sending F-16s would eat up a significant portion of the money allocated for Ukraine.
What changed, the official added, is that other allies got to a point where they were willing to provide their own jets as part of a U.S.-based coalition.
The Biden administration is still examining whether it will directly provide its own F-16s to Ukraine. Regardless, it needed buy-in from other allies because the U.S. wouldn’t be able to provide the full fleet of jets Zelenskyy says is needed.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said the F-16 will give Ukraine a key capability for the long term but it won’t be a “game changer.”
Kendall told a gathering of reporters on Monday there has been an awareness that “we needed to go there at some point, but we didn’t have a sense of urgency about this. I think we’re at a reasonable place to make that decision now.”
Another potential wrinkle in the F-16 conversation involves Turkey.
Turkey wants to buy 40 new F-16s from the U.S., but some in Congress oppose the sale until Turkey approves NATO membership for Sweden, which applied to join the alliance in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has objected to Sweden’s perceived support of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, the leftist extremist group DHKP-C and followers of the U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara claims was behind a failed military coup attempt in 2016.
Erdogan is facing opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in a runoff election on Sunday. If Erdogan wins, as expected, White House officials are increasingly hopeful that the Turkish leader will withdraw his opposition to Sweden’s membership, according to the U.S. official.
If Erdogan drops opposition to Sweden joining NATO, it could lead to Turkey getting its long desired F-16s and may eventually add to the number of older F-16s in circulation, which could benefit Ukraine.
Associated Press White House correspondent Zeke Miller contributed reporting.
The Telegram video comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy conceded that Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine where Russian and Ukrainian forces have been waging a particularly brutal battle, had been completely destroyed.
“They’ve destroyed everything. There are no buildings. It’s a pity. It’s tragedy,” Zelenskyy said during a Sunday meeting with President Joe Biden at the G7 summit in Hiroshima.
“For today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts,” he added.
Zelenskyy’s office later made it clear that he had not meant that the city had fallen to Russian troops, the BBC reported.
Ukraine’s 3rd Separate Assault Brigade in action
Meanwhile, Ukraine said it had made advances on the flanks around Bakhmut, where Biletsky’s 3rd Separate Assault Brigade has seen action.
Insider’s Isobel Van Hagen reports the video depicts Ukrainian soldiers throwing grenades, firing their weapons, and advancing toward Russian positions.
In his video, Biletsky described battles earlier this week against Russia’s 72nd Brigade and the so-called “Storm Z. ” He called it “an analogue” of the Wagner Group units made up of released convicts, operated by the Russian Ministry of Defense.
He described hard-won victories that left “more than 50” Russians dead and the capture of “a lot of trophies: equipment, weapons, and prisoners.”
The British Ministry of Defence announced additional Russian troops had likely been deployed to Bakhmut to fight against Kyiv’s advances.
The intelligence briefing stated that Russia’s leadership will “likely continue to see capturing Bakhmut as the key immediate war aim,” which will “allow them to claim some degree of success in the conflict.”
Country-western music star Brad Paisley steps out of the ranks to support Ukraine | Opinion
Bob Kustra – May 21, 2023
Brad Paisley has always been one of my favorite country-western music stars. His songs have a way of grabbing your attention and holding on long after the song is over. He is not afraid to address social issues in his body of work as he did with songs like “Karate,” about a woman learning martial arts to fight back against a domestic abuser.
He sings one of his hits with Alison Kraus, the American bluegrass-country singer and fiddler, called “The Whiskey Lullaby.” It’s a song about the ravages of addiction and how it destroys relationships. It has one of the most haunting and evocative lines ever written for country music. “He put the bottle to his head and pulled the trigger.”
Then there’s “We Danced,” which features a woman returning to a bar that just closed to retrieve the purse she left behind. There’s a guy sweeping the dance floor, cleaning things up and as he holds the purse out for her, he says she must dance with him to get it back. They danced and if there is such a thing as love at first sight, chalk this song up to dance at first sight. They fall in love and live happily ever after, as the saying goes.
Country music fans can have a field day running through Paisley’s songs over his career that seem to set him apart from the guys and gals singing about how to sober up and get their lover back.
Paisley’s politics, like many country-western stars, is tough to nail down. With so much of their music purchased and enjoyed by that red belt of southern states who signed up with Trump, it was no surprise to find Paisley, who has performed at the Biden White House, along with other country western stars supporting Trump in 2016.
One tweet about a Paisley performance reported that he was playing at Jones Beach in New York with tailgaters sporting Trump and Confederate flags everywhere. No shock there. Given the caricature of the Southern Bubba as the archetypal country-western fan, don’t expect Paisley and others in his line of work to be out there challenging the politics of the paying customers of country-western music.
Or did Paisley step out of the red state ranks recently when he penned a song about Ukraine, “Same Here,” about how we share a set of common values with the people of Ukraine? Paisley sings about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, “I’ve got a friend across the ocean …A wife he loves and a bunch of dreams…for his country he holds so dear…he prays for peace and freedom.” The song also features Zelensky talking about how he appreciates “the same things — children, freedom, our flag, our soldiers, our people” as Americans.
That was just the first step in Paisley’s support of the war in Ukraine. He watched heart-breaking reports of a war that destroyed lives, demolished homes and sent remaining families into exile or temporary housing. Declaring that he would feel like a coward if he sang about it, but refused to visit the war-torn country, he joined a bipartisan delegation of Congress in Kyiv where he sang his song for the president and sat down for a chat with him.
Paisley also serves as an ambassador for United24, a program to Rebuild Ukraine, the largest rebuilding program in Ukraine since the Second World War. To date, it has raised $337.5 million to help the people of Ukraine rebuild their homes.
Brad Paisley sure seems to be pushing the envelope as he travels to a space in our politics that many of his country-western fans who listen to Trump have not visited. In his recent appearance on CNN’s disastrous town hall meeting, the former president was not exactly on the same page as Paisley when he told the audience that he would end the Ukraine war within 24 hours of taking office yet he would not say who should win the war. He cleared that up on Fox News when he predicted that Putin would eventually take all of Ukraine.
Trump’s Republican critics Sen. Mitt Romney and former Govs. Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson immediately challenged Trump’s confusing and pro-Putin comments. Hutchinson tweeted that Trump reminded everyone tonight of his support of Russia and his willingness to sell out Ukraine, and Romney said Vladimir Putin would be the only person celebrating Trump’s remarks. Given how Trump cozied up to Putin during his presidency, can there be any doubt that he would hand off Ukraine to the Russians overnight?
Paisley is not the first country music star to ride into the political arena. With his visit to Ukraine, his celebrity draws attention to the people of Ukraine fighting for their very existence at a moment when some Americans seem to have lost interest in supporting Ukrainians fighting for their freedom from the Russian autocracy of Putin.
A poll earlier this year by the Pew Research Center showed that the percentage of Republicans claiming we are giving too much to Ukraine increased from 9% in March 2022 to 40% in January 2023. The news last week that Patriot missiles provided by the U.S. knocked out supersonic Russian missiles headed for Kyiv demonstrates the importance of American support for the Ukrainian military.
Kudos to Paisley for his public display of support for Ukraine and Zelenskyy. When it comes to Ukraine’s future, the rise of autocratic governments and the despot Putin, we cannot afford to sit on the fence. Let’s hope Paisley’s message about the values Americans and Ukrainians share will register with the country western crowd, especially those who have been listening to Trump.
As Ukraine begins a counteroffensive against the Russians, this is no time for Americas to falter in support of the Ukrainian people. Perhaps Paisley can make some headway opening the minds and hearts of fans who have taken their cues from a fallen and disgraced leader.
Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Readers Corner on Boise State Public Radio and he writes a biweekly column for the Idaho Statesman. He served two terms as Illinois lieutenant governor and 10 years as a state legislator.
Russia adapted to the game-changing HIMARS, but Ukraine’s new Storm Shadow missiles could put the fear back into its commanders, warfare experts say
Jake Epstein – May 20, 2023
The UK recently outfitted Ukraine with its Storm Shadow long-range cruise missiles.
This new strike capability puts Russian positions far behind the front lines within Ukraine’s reach.
Experts say Russian commanders are now facing logistical headaches and a renewed sense of fear.
Ukraine’s military just got its hands on Storm Shadow missiles from the UK, and it is already making good use of the newly acquired weapon that significantly boosts Kyiv’s long-range strike capabilities.
Russian forces have already adapted to game-changing weapons that Ukraine introduced into the war last year, like the US-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). Warfare experts say Storm Shadow missiles could spark new logistical headaches for Russia, giving Kyiv a massive capability to put the fear back into Moscow’s commanders who thought they were safe and out of reach.
“It’s going to have a terrible effect on morale for the Russian forces, and officers and commanders who are going to be operating within Ukraine,” George Barros, a Russia analyst at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank, told Insider.
The UK announced earlier this month plans to provide Ukraine with the Storm Shadow, an air-launched cruise missile developed in partnership with France that has seen combat experience in various conflicts across the Middle East. When released from an aircraft, these missiles drop to fly at a low altitude and avoid detection.
Kyiv has long pushed its Western partners for extended-range missiles and munitions able to strike Russian positions behind the front liens and deep inside the occupied territories of eastern and southern Ukraine, but the US and its NATO allies, worried that the weapons will provoke an escalatory response from Moscow, have largely been reluctant to do so, until now.
With an operational range of 155 miles, Storm Shadow will more than triple the distance for Ukraine’s long-range strike capabilities. The much-celebrated HIMARS multiple-launch rocket system that Kyiv obtained from the US last summer can only hit targets up to 50 miles away. With the Storm Shadow, Russian-occupied territory that was previously out of Ukraine’s reach is now in range of its weapons.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told reporters on Thursday that he understands Storm Shadow missiles have been used since they were sent to Ukraine, but he declined to go into any further details. A recent strike in the eastern Luhansk region has reportedly been linked to the new missiles.
It’s going to ‘degrade’ Russia’s war effort
Since the early weeks of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and even now, the Kremlin’s forces have relied on a tactic of carrying out massive artillery barrages to destroy Ukrainian positions and then advancing through the rubble. When this wasn’t possible, they sent human waves into urban environments to make territorial gains at high costs.
When the HIMARS arrived in Ukraine nearly a year ago, they quickly became highly revered among Kyiv’s forces. These truck-mounted and highly mobile systems were used to carry out precision strikes targeting Russian command posts, ammunition depots, and bridges and have been hailed by experts as a “game-changing” weapon.
Ukraine used the HIMARS to degrade the effectiveness of Russia’s battlefield tactic, which depended heavily on Moscow’s ability to stage massive amounts of artillery shells near the front line to sustain a high rate of fire, Barros, the ISW analyst, said. To mitigate their new problem, Russian forces had to move their ammunition back outside the range of the HIMARS to prevent it from being destroyed.
Russia has also shifted key logistics hubs deep behind the front lines, relocated command and control to hardened structures in the rear, and reorganized air defense systems, Jack Watling, senior research fellow for land warfare at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, wrote in a recent analysis on the potential impact of Storm Shadow.
Introducing Storm Shadow to the battlefield will resolve “serious tactical challenges” that Ukraine currently faces, Watling wrote. Its warhead is designed to penetrate hardened targets and its stealth features will help it avoid detection and interception.
Barros said the implication is that Russia’s tactic “will be reduced even further” because it will require the Russians to undertake even more stringent sustainment and protection measures to avoid the missile’s long range. This means pushing ammunition depots and command and control efforts even deeper into occupied territory and away from the front lines.
“It’s just going to degrade the overall Russian war effort,” Barros said. “The Ukrainians are very capable of making the Russians pay.”
‘Afraid for their personal safety’
Beyond forcing the Russians to once again try to figure out how to protect key positions from a long-range strike capability, Ukraine could use its Storm Shadow missiles to instill a fresh sense of fear into Moscow’s commanders who previously thought they were out of range.
Higher-ranking Russian military officials like officers and commanders hanging out deep in Ukraine’s occupied territory might have previously enjoyed a feeling of safety knowing that they were far from the front lines and beyond the reach of Kyiv’s existing firepower range.
But in the blink of an eye, Russian commanders now understand that Ukraine has the potential capacity to deliver a warhead right to their location, Barros said. Needless to say, the Storm Shadow development poses a threat to these commanders, especially because Ukraine has already proven that it’s quite capable of eliminating them, thanks in part to Moscow’s poor command and control practices.
“So the more that these Russian commanders are exposed to Ukrainian fires, I expect their survivability to decrease,” Barros said.
Watling, meanwhile, noted that making Russian commanders “afraid for their personal safety” is an effective way to degrade their battlefield decision-making and priorities.
“Employed well, in conjunction with psychological operations and other capabilities, Storm Shadow offers myriad opportunities to cognitively attack the enemy,” he said. “In this sense, their existence in Ukraine’s arsenal may be as significant as their use.”
The delivery of Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine comes as the country gears up for its highly anticipated counteroffensive, which is expected to be aimed at liberating occupied territory in the eastern and southern regions. While there are speculations over when the offensive will actually begin, Kyiv’s forces have enjoyed some recent territorial gains through counterattacks around the war-torn city of Bakhmut, where intense and brutal fighting has raged for months.
The recent delivery of Storm Shadow missiles calls into question whether the Biden administration will provide Ukraine with surface-to-surface Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), a much-sought-after weapon that has an impressive range of nearly 200 miles and can be launched from Kyiv’s existing force of HIMARS.
Should the US eventually send ATACMS, it would not be the first time that Washington has moved to outfit Ukraine with notable military aid following the footsteps of European partners. Britain confirmed earlier this year that it would send Kyiv its Challenger main battle tanks, paving the way for Germany and the Biden administration to eventually do the same with Leopard and American M1 Abrams tanks.
The shortage of personnel in the country is a “deep and long-term problem” that is holding back industrial growth, concluded Sergey Tsukhlo, head of the institute’s business research department.
He said the shortage was most acute in light industry and engineering. And while the departure of Western brands such as McDonald’s and Starbucks has opened up opportunities for local entrepreneurs, the lack of workers now means that “there is simply no one to produce in their place,” Tsukhlo said.
Russia acknowledges retreat north of Bakhmut; mercenary boss calls it a ‘rout’
Olena Harmash and Ivan Lyubysh-Kirdey – May 12, 2023
KYIV/KOSTIANTYNIVKA, Ukraine (Reuters) -Moscow acknowledged on Friday that its forces had fallen back north of Ukraine’s battlefield city of Bakhmut after a new Ukrainian offensive, in a retreat that the head of Russia’s Wagner private army called a rout.
The setback for Russia, which follows similar reports of Ukrainian advances south of the city, suggests a coordinated push by Kyiv to encircle Russian forces in Bakhmut, Moscow’s main objective for months during the war’s bloodiest fighting.
It means both sides are now reporting the biggest Ukrainian gains in six months, although Ukraine has given few details and played down suggestions a huge, long-planned counteroffensive had officially begun.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Ukraine had launched an assault north of Bakhmut with more than 1,000 troops and up to 40 tanks, a scale that if confirmed would amount to the biggest Ukrainian offensive since November.
The Russians had repelled 26 attacks but troops in one area had fallen back to regroup in more favourable positions near the Berkhivka reservoir northwest of Bakhmut, Konashenkov said.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner forces that have led the campaign in the city, said in an audio message: “What Konashenkov described, unfortunately, is called ‘a rout’ and not a regrouping”.
In a separate video message, Prigozhin said the Ukrainians had seized high ground overlooking Bakhmut and opened the main highway leading into the city from the West.
“The loss of the Berkhivka reservoir – the loss of this territory they gave up – that’s 5 sq km, just today,” Prigozhin said.
“The enemy has completely freed up the Chasiv Yar-Bakhmut road which we had blocked. The enemy is now able to use this road, and secondly they have taken tactical high round under which Bakhmut is located,” said Prigozhin, who has repeatedly denounced Russia’s regular military over the past week for failing to supply his men in Bakhmut.
Reuters was not able to independently verify the situation in the area.
Ukraine typically withholds comment on its operations while they are under way, and the military command has said only that its troops have pushed forward about 2 km near Bakhmut.
A Ukrainian unit said two days ago it had defeated a Russian brigade southwest of the city recapturing a swathe of land, and Prigozhin also said the Russian brigade there had fled.
Prigozhin, whose troops have been fighting to push Ukrainian forces out of Bakhmut’s Western outskirts, has said the north and south flanks, guarded by regular Russian troops, were crumbling. Russia’s defence ministry denies this.
In Kostiantynivka, about 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Bakhmut, firefighters were battling a blaze at a house that went up in flames after it was struck by Russian shells.
“It hit the roof and the roof collapsed. My neighbour rushed outside and started shouting, asking for help,” said Oleksandr Lazorka, who lives next door. “We pulled out a blind woman – an elderly, blind woman – from under the rubble and then the fire erupted.”
The 15-month-old war in Ukraine is at a turning point, after six months during which Kyiv kept its troops on the defensive while Russia mounted a winter campaign that brought the bloodiest ground combat in Europe since World War Two but yielded scant gains.
Since the start of this year, Kyiv has received hundreds of new Western tanks and armoured vehicles, holding them back in preparation for a long-awaited counteroffensive to recapture occupied territory.
Ukrainian officials have played down the suggestion that their offensive is already under way: President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an interview this week Kyiv needed more time for equipment to arrive. Prigozhin called that deceptive and said the Bakhmut advances amounted to the start of Kyiv’s campaign.
Moscow has been preparing since last autumn for an expected onslaught, and has built lines of anti-tank fortifications along hundreds of miles of front.
It has begun evacuating civilians who have been living near the conflict zone in Ukraine’s partially occupied Zaporizhzhia province.
“We used to go out and watch (the shelling). Especially at night, you could see the flashes as they launch,” said Lyudmila, a 22-year-old from Kamianka-Dniprovska now in makeshift accommodation in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian port of Berdyansk.
“We’ve had shells land nearby and when it landed the entire sky was red,” she said.
In comments published on Friday, the commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet said its defences were also being tightened amid a flurry of Ukrainian drone strikes targeting its home base, the Crimean port of Sevastopol.
Zelenskiy, who has been rallying his country for the planned offensive, said in a social media post that “our path ahead is not easy”, but Ukraine was “much stronger now than last year or in any other year of this war for freedom and independence of our country”.
He spoke on Friday with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, thanking him for a promise of long-range cruise missiles. Britain announced the missiles on Thursday, breaking one of the last big Western taboos over weaponry previously deemed to carry too great a risk of provoking Russia.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux, Writing by Peter Graff and Kevin Liffey)