A Ukrainian counter-offensive has effectively cut off the Russian-occupied southern city of Kherson, leaving thousands of Russian troops stationed near the Dnipro River “vulnerable,” according to British defence and intelligence officials.
Ukraine has made it clear that it intends to retake Kherson, which fell to Russia in the early days of the February 24 invasion launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to the UK Defence Ministry, Ukrainian forces have most likely established a bridgehead south of the Ingulets River and have damaged at least three of the Dnipro bridges.
“Russia’s 49th Army, stationed on the west bank of the Dnipro River, now appears highly vulnerable,” it said in a regular intelligence bulletin on Twitter, adding that Kherson was effectively cut off from Russia’s other occupied territories.
“Its loss would seriously undercut Russia’s efforts to portray the occupation as a success.”
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, earlier tweeted that Russia was concentrating “the maximum number of troops” in the direction of the Kherson but gave no details.
The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, Oleksiy Danilov, earlier tweeted that Russia was concentrating “the maximum number of troops” in the direction of Kherson, but provided no further details.
According to Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russia is carrying out a “massive redeployment” of forces from the east to the south, implying a strategic shift from attack to defence.
Ukraine, according to Zelensky, will rebuild the Antonivsky bridge over the Dnipro and other crossings in the region.
“We are doing everything possible to ensure that the occupying forces have no logistical opportunities in our country,” he said in a speech delivered Wednesday evening (Thursday AEST).
Russian officials had previously stated that they would instead use pontoon bridges and ferries to transport forces across the river.
On Wednesday, Russian-backed forces announced the capture of Ukraine’s second-largest coal-fired power plant, Vuhlehirsk, in what was Moscow’s first significant victory in more than three weeks.
Unverified social media footage appeared to show fighters from Russia’s Wagner private military company posing in front of the power plant, which some Russian state media reported had been stormed, citing Russian-backed officials.
One of the Wagner fighters in front of the plant showed the camera his watch, which read 10:01 a.m. local time and the date July 26.
Reuters was unable to immediately confirm the video or whether the plant had been transferred to Russian control.
Russia invaded Ukraine in a “special military operation” to demilitarise and “denazify” its neighbour. Ukraine and its allies have described the invasion as an unprovoked act of aggression.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he planned to call Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the first phone call between the two diplomats since the war began.
The call in the coming days will not be “a negotiation about Ukraine,” Blinken said at a news conference, reiterating Washington’s position that any peace talks must take place between Kyiv and Moscow.
According to TASS, Russia has received no formal request from Washington regarding a phone call between Blinken and Lavrov.
The US has made “a substantial offer” to Russia in exchange for the release of US citizens WNBA star Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, according to Blinken, without specifying what the US is offering in return.
Blinken stated that he would put pressure on Lavrov to respond to the offer.
As part of a deal, a source familiar with the situation confirmed a CNN report that Washington was willing to exchange Russian arms trafficker Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the US.
Aside from discussing Americans detained by Russia, Blinken said he would discuss with Lavrov the tentative grain export agreement reached last week by Russia, the US, Turkey, and Ukraine.
Russia reduced gas flows to Europe on Wednesday, escalating an energy standoff with the EU that will make it more difficult and costly for the bloc to fill storage ahead of the winter heating season.
The supply disruption, announced by Gazprom earlier this week, has reduced the capacity of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, Russia’s main delivery route to Europe, to one-fifth of its capacity.
While Moscow blamed the supply cuts on the delayed return of a serviced turbine and sanctions, Brussels accused Russia of using energy as a weapon to blackmail the EU and retaliate for Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.
Since its invasion, Russia has blocked grain exports from Ukraine, but last week agreed to allow deliveries through the Black Sea to Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait and on to global markets.
The agreement was almost immediately called into question when Russia launched cruise missiles at Odesa, Ukraine’s largest port, just 12 hours after it was signed.
Russia and Ukraine accounted for nearly a third of global wheat exports prior to the invasion and subsequent sanctions.