The battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut, which once favored Russia to the point Ukraine contemplated withdrawing its forces, may be turning.
A day after the British military assessed that Russia was losing its limited momentum in Bakhmut partly because it had reallocated troops elsewhere, Ukraine’s top ground forces commander said his country is about to launch a counteroffensive.
“Very soon, we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we did in the past near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balakliya and Kupiansk,” commander Oleksandr Syrskyi said Thursday on Telegram, naming locations where Ukraine reclaimed territory through counterattacks last year.
Also Thursday, Bloomberg reported that the founder of the mercenary Wagner Group, which has been spearheading the Russian offensive in Bakhmut and making incremental progress while taking huge casualties, is getting ready to reduce operations in Ukraine.
Yevgeny Prigozhin has been feuding with the Russian Defense Ministry, which barred Wagner from recruiting in prisons and, according to him, has deprived his outfit of ammunition.
►Russia is unable to deliver vital defense supplies it had committed to India’s military because of the war in Ukraine, Reuters reports, citing the Indian Air Force. Russia accounted for $8.5 billion of the $18.3 billion India has spent on arms imports since 2017, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
►In a video address to EU leaders, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy lobbied for a peace summit in Kyiv. He said any EU capital would also work.
►A Russian court on Thursday issued an arrest warrant for opposition blogger Maxim Katz, who has left the country, on charges of disparaging the military, as authorities declared other antiwar activists “foreign agents” amid efforts to muzzle criticism of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
►EU leaders endorsed Thursday a plan to send Ukraine 1 million rounds of artillery ammunition within the next 12 months. The proposal had been approved by foreign and defense ministers earlier in the week.
►Explosions reported Thursday in the Russian-occupied city of Melitopol were an attempt by Ukrainian partisans to blow up a Russian collaborator’s car, according to Russian media. An improvised explosive device was allegedly planted on the car of a police officer, who was hospitalized in stable condition.
Slovakia delivered four MiG-29 fighter jets to the Ukrainian military Thursday, the first Western nation to provide warplanes that Zelenskyy says he desperately needs to drive Russian troops out of his war-battered country.
Slovak Defense Minister Jaro Nad said nine more jets would be handed over in coming weeks but declined to give a specific timeline. Poland has also agreed to supply Ukraine with jets; the U.S. is among several Western nations supporting Ukraine that have declined to provide jets, citing concerns of expanding the war.
“Slovakia stands on the right side, and with this gesture we as a country have written ourselves in capital letters in modern world history,” Nad said on Facebook. “We are doing the right thing because it is Russia that invaded Ukraine, it is Russia that is in Ukraine and it is Russia that, when it withdraws troops, the war will end immediately.”
The Slovak Defense Ministry said the U.S. has offered Slovakia 12 new military helicopters as compensation for the fighter jets. Under the offer, Slovakia would pay $340 million for the Bell AH-1Z attack choppers in a deal worth about $1 billion. U.S. foreign military financing would cover the other $660 million.
The World Bank said Thursday it would cost $411 billion to rebuild Ukraine after one year of war. That’s more than twice Ukraine’s gross domestic product of $200 billion in 2021, the last year before the Russian invasion.
The new estimate is $60-plus billion higher than the World Bank’s $349 billion calculation in September, before Russia’s missile and drone campaign aimed at Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure.
Moscow’s attacks have caused $135 billion in direct damage to buildings and infrastructure so far, the World Bank said. In the process, they have undone 15 years of economic progress in Ukraine, cutting its GDP by 29% and spiking poverty from 5.5% to 24% of the population.
On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund put forth a $15.6 billion plan over four years to boost Ukraine’s economy and jump-start its reconstruction. The figure represents about 1/26th of the World Bank’s estimate.
On visit to Kherson province, Zelenskyy finds ‘life still prevails’
Zelenskyy got a first-hand look Thursday at some of the damage inflicted by Russian attacks in the southern province of Kherson, as he traveled to areas directly impacted by the war for the second day in a row.
In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy said that earlier in the day the Russians had shelled houses, the administration building and a museum in the river town of Beryslav. “Even the historical museum in Beryslav is a threat to Russia for some reason,” he said. “An absolutely mindless state, purely a terrorist state, which we will neutralize.”
He also noted that despite power and water service still being restored, and with the threat of violence in a province that remains partly controlled by the invading forces, some residents are coming back.
“In some places more than 90% of the buildings in the villages are ruined,” Zelenskyy said. “But even in such villages, people return, and this is proof that life still prevails.”
Russia honored two pilots involved in the crash of an American drone with Orders of Courage, while National Security Council spokesman John Kirby dismissed the pilot who apparently hit the drone as “at best just an idiot.” Remote U.S. handlers crash-landed the reconnaissance MQ-9 Reaper last week after a confrontation over the Black Sea. The Kremlin lauded the pilots for preventing the drone from “violating the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation.”
Kirby said video of the confrontation does not make clear whether the pilot was “intentionally trying to ram the drone, but he did.”
“I don’t know of another military in the world, another air force in the world, that would award a pilot for smashing into a drone,” Kirby said at a briefing. “I have no clue why they would give a bravery award to a pilot who was at worst maliciously putting himself and U.S. property at great risk and at best just an idiot.”
The board that oversees the International Criminal Court expressed support Thursday for its prosecutors and judges amid veiled threats made by Russia after the court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and another Russian official. The Assembly of State Parties issued a statement saying it “regrets these attempts to hinder international efforts to ensure accountability for acts that are prohibited under general international law.”
The court unveiled arrest warrants Friday for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian official overseeing the forced deportations of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia. Former Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev responded by saying it would ‘hypothetically” be possible for a Russian ship stationed in the North Sea to strategically strike the courthouse in The Hague with a missile. He warned court judges to “look carefully at the sky.”
Medvedev blasted a German minister for threatening Putin with arrest, saying such action could trigger a Russian strike on Germany. Medvedev, now deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said Russia’s relations with the West have hit an all-time low.
German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said last week that Putin would be arrested on the International Criminal Court ‘s warrant if he visits Germany.
“Let’s imagine … the leader of a nuclear power visits the territory of Germany and is arrested,” Medvedev said, adding that it would amount to a declaration of war against Russia. “In this case, our assets will fly to hit the Bundestag, the chancellor’s office and so on.”
Contributing: The Associated Press