Ukraine war: Kherson counter-offensive, Kharkiv shelled again, and visa ban proves divisive

·9-min read
Ukraine war: Kherson counter-offensive, Kharkiv shelled again, and visa ban proves divisive

1. Ukraine claims to have broken through Russian defences in Kherson counter-offensive

Ukrainian forces claimed to have 'broken through' Russian defences on Monday amid a new counter-offensive in the Kherson region.

The operation, launched yesterday, is aimed at pushing Russian troops back across the Dnipro river and retaking the occupied city of Kherson.

Intense battles are currently raging between Ukrainian and Russian forces across almost all of the southern region, according to the Ukrainian presidency.

"Powerful explosions" occurred all day Monday and all night in the Kherson region, and "almost all" of its territory is in the grip of violent clashes, the presidency said in the morning.

Ukrainian forces broke through Russia's first line of defence on the outskirts of Kherson, capturing an industrial site reportedly being used as an army base, Ukrainian local media reported on Monday.

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2. More civilians killed by Russian bombing in Kharkiv

At least five people were killed and seven others injured on Tuesday in Russian bombings targetting the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

The centre of Ukraine's second largest city was hit in the attack, the mayor and regional governor announced.

"The Russian occupiers have bombed the central districts of Kharkiv," said Oleg Synegubov on Telegram, adding that there was "damage."

An initial death toll of four dead and four wounded was revised this morning as regional authorities called on residents to take shelter. The mayor of Kharkiv, Igor Terekhov, reported on Telegram that there were at least five dead and seven injured in the bombardment.

The second largest city in Ukraine, with nearly 1.4 million inhabitants before the war, Kharkiv is regularly bombarded by Russian forces, yet they have not been able to seize it from Ukraine.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the Kharkiv region since the start of the war, with many fleeing elsewhere in Ukraine or to neighbouring countries.

3. 'Go home,' Zelenskyy tells Russian soldiers

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged Russian soldiers to flee for their lives after his forces launched an offensive to retake southern Ukraine, but Moscow said it had repulsed the attack and inflicted heavy losses on Kyiv's troops.

Ukraine said on Monday its ground forces had gone on the offensive in the south for the first time after a long period of striking Russian supply lines, in particular bridges across the strategically-important River Dnipro, and ammunition dumps.

"If they want to survive, it's time for the Russian military to run away. Go home," Zelenskyy said in a late-night address.

"Ukraine is taking back its own (land)," he said, adding that he would not disclose Kyiv's battle plans.

In response, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Russia was methodically pressing on with its plans in Ukraine, adding: "All of our goals will be reached."

The new Ukrainian offensive comes after several weeks of relative stalemate in a war that has killed thousands, displaced millions, destroyed cities and fuelled a global energy and food crisis amid unprecedented Western economic sanctions on Russia.

Russia captured swathes of southern Ukraine near the Black Sea coast in the early weeks of the war, including in the Kherson region, which lies north of the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula.

Ukraine, now armed with sophisticated Western-supplied weapons, sees retaking the region as crucial to preventing Russian attempts to seize more territory further to the west that could eventually cut off its access to the Black Sea.

4. Russia is having trouble with Iranian-made drones, says US administration

Russia has faced technical problems with Iranian-made drones acquired from Tehran this month for use in its war with Ukraine, according to Biden administration officials.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to the AP to discuss the US intelligence assessment, did not detail the “numerous failures".

They added that the US assessed that the delivery of Mohajer-6 and Shahed-series unmanned aerial vehicles over several days this month is likely part of a Russian plan to acquire hundreds of Iranian UAVs.

AP reported last week that Russia had recently obtained hundreds of Iranian drones capable of being used in its war against Ukraine despite US warnings to Tehran not to ship them.

The Washington Post first reported that Russia had faced technical problems with the Iranian drones.

Russian operators continue to receive training in Iran on how to use these systems, which can conduct air-to-surface attacks, electronic warfare and targeting, on the battlefield in Ukraine, the officials said.

The Biden administration last month released satellite imagery indicating that Russian officials visited Kashan Airfield on 8 June and 5 July to view the Iranian drones.

At the time, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan asserted that the administration had “information that the Iranian government is preparing to provide Russia with several hundred UAVs.”

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5. France accuses Russia of using gas as a 'weapon of war'

Russia is using energy supplies as a "weapon of war", France said on Tuesday after Russia's Gazprom cut deliveries to a major customer in the country while also planning to shut its main gas pipeline to Germany for three days this week.

Western nations fear that Moscow is deliberately driving up gas prices to try to weaken their opposition to its invasion of Ukraine, a tactic Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday dubbed "economic terrorism".

"Very clearly Russia is using gas as a weapon of war and we must prepare for the worst case scenario of a complete interruption of supplies," France's Energy Transition Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said.

Nord Stream 1, the main conduit for Russian gas into Europe, has become a flash point in the dispute. Europe faces a further squeeze on supplies this week as Gazprom shuts off the pipeline for maintenance from Wednesday till the early hours of Saturday.

Russia has been pumping gas via Nord Stream 1 at only 20% of capacity, and there are fears that this week's outage could be extended.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that technological problems caused by Western sanctions on Russia are the only thing standing in the way of supplying gas via Nord Stream 1.

European governments are trying to coordinate a response to soaring energy costs for businesses and households and to fill storage facilities ahead of peak demand in the winter.

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6. Moscow criticises destruction of Soviet monuments, says Russophobia on the rise

Russia condemned the destruction of Soviet war memorials in the three Baltic states and accused them on Tuesday of persecuting their Russian-speaking minorities.

In a forcefully worded statement, Moscow said Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were guilty of xenophobia, saying they were treating their ethnic Russian minorities as "second-class people". It said Russian-language media, kindergartens, and schools were being shut down.

"What is happening now in the Baltic states is unacceptable for us and will certainly affect the state of bilateral relations with these countries, which are already in complete decline," the foreign ministry said.

It complained of "Russophobic approaches" and "an unprecedented, in fact close to fascist, campaign by the authorities of the Baltic states to barbarically remove, en masse, memorials to the Soviet soldier-liberators".

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova had accused the Baltic states on 12 August of a "neo-Nazi bacchanalia".

The "neo-Nazi" charge is significant because President Vladimir Putin used the same accusation to justify his 24 February invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine and the West dismissed that as a false pretext for a war of conquest.

The Baltic states were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and then occupied by Nazi Germany before returning to Moscow's rule as part of the Soviet Communist bloc until they regained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

All three are members of the European Union and NATO, and their relations with Moscow have worsened sharply since the start of the war.

On 25 August, Latvian authorities demolished Riga's 80-metre high "Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders". Latvia's parliament had approved the demolition in May and cited Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a reason.

Estonia announced on 16 August that it would begin removing Soviet-era monuments, citing public order concerns.

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7. EU divided on visa ban against Russian citizens

Germany and France warned on Tuesday against a European Union ban on tourist visas for Russians, saying it would be counter-productive, highlighting divisions within the 27-nation bloc as foreign ministers prepared to discuss the measure.

Eastern and Nordic countries strongly back such a ban, saying travel to the EU is a privilege, not a right, and that allowing Russians to party on European beaches at a time when their country has invaded Ukraine is unacceptable.

The Kremlin slammed the proposed ban as "irrational," while Paris and Berlin argued that, six months into the war, the EU should avoid penalising ordinary Russians who might oppose their government's actions and harbour pro-Western sympathies.

"We caution against far-reaching restrictions on our visa policy, in order to prevent feeding the Russian narrative and trigger unintended rallying-around the flag effects and/or estranging future generations," France and Germany said in a joint memo.

One EU diplomat said divisions on the issue meant an agreement at the two-day meeting of ministers in Prague was unlikely.

As a temporary compromise, ministers might agree in principle on suspending a visa facilitation agreement, which would mean Russians facing a longer procedure and having to pay €80 instead of €35 for their EU visa, the diplomat said.

But that may well not be enough for pro-ban countries, especially those bordering Russia, some of which have already individually stopped issuing visas.

"I hope that we will be able to agree on a common European solution that will allow to significantly limit the flow of tourists from Russia to Europe," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said in a statement.

"If all 27 EU countries fail to reach an agreement, a regional solution for the countries most affected by the flow of Russian tourists may be sought in the future."

Finland, which has a long land border with Russia and says it does not want to become a hub for Russian tourists entering the EU, has sharply cut the number of visas it grants them.

Earlier this month, Estonia closed its border to more than 50,000 Russians with previously issued visas, the first EU country to do so.

"It is very provocative to me that you see Russian men on European beaches in southern Europe and at the same time Ukrainian men between 18 and 60 years cannot even leave their country but have to fight for their freedom," Denmark's Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said last week.

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