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Russia cedes ground in Ukraine’s Kharkiv counteroffensive; Putin and Macron in nuclear plant talks

Russia cedes ground in Ukraine’s Kharkiv counteroffensive; Putin and Macron in nuclear plant talks
A still image taken from a handout video provided by the Russian defence ministry press service shows Russian army vehicles on the move in the Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on 9 September 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Russian Defence Ministry Press Service / Handout)

Kyiv’s forces continue to advance in the Kharkiv region, where they’ve rapidly expelled Moscow’s troops from several key cities in less than a week; Putin and Macron on Sunday discussed safety at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

A top Ukraine commander estimated land recaptured in the Kharkiv region so far this month at more than 3,000km2. Ukraine has taken the town of Izyum and surrounding areas, a national guard serviceman said on national television.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron spoke about safety at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in a call on Sunday. Putin continued to blame Ukraine for regular shelling around the plant; Kyiv says Russian forces are responsible. Macron asked Putin to withdraw Russian weaponry from the atomic site.

Ukraine and its European allies should brace for a difficult winter amid the energy shortages engineered by Putin and pressure to cut aid to Kyiv, Ukraine’s president said.

Key developments

On the ground

It’s Day 200 of Russia’s invasion. Kyiv’s forces are pushing back in the Kharkiv region in the north, and have recaptured at least 2,000km2 — possibly much more — in the past week. Izyum appears to be the latest city retaken by Ukraine. Ukrainian aviation delivered 23 strikes and destroyed Russian missile complexes, military bases, aeroplanes and other vehicles.

Russian forces continue shelling at territories liberated by the Ukrainian army along the contact line. In the southern Kherson region, Russian troops retreated from several settlements, Ukraine’s General Staff said on Sunday night: “As a result of successful counteroffensive in Kharkiv direction, Russian troops are hastily leaving their positions.”

Putin, Macron speak on nuclear plant safety

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron had “a detailed and frank exchange of views” by telephone on Sunday, including the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Russia and Ukraine continue to swap blame on who’s responsible for regular shelling around the atomic facility. Putin again blamed Ukraine, according to Sunday’s Kremlin readout, warning of potential “catastrophic” outcomes.

Macron “insisted on the need to ensure the safety” of the atomic facility. He told Putin that Russian forces should withdraw weapons from the site, and that safety recommendations from the UN’s nuclear agency be followed up on. Macron also vowed to speak to Putin again on the issue, as well as with the International Atomic Energy Agency and Ukraine’s president.




France, Romania to team up on Ukrainian grain exports

France and Romania will sign an agreement on additional exports of Ukrainian grain to Europe and developing countries, said French Transport Minister Clement Beaune.

“Tomorrow I will sign an agreement with Romania that will allow Ukraine to get even more cereals out of the country,” Beaune told France Inter radio.

Ukraine has shipped more than 2.6 million tons of agricultural commodities from three Black Sea ports since striking a safe-transit deal with Russia in June. Russia’s invasion had previously blocked the ports, forcing Ukraine to make smaller shipments by rail and river.

Read more: “Romania reopens Soviet-era rail line to aid Ukraine grain sales

Greece says gas supplies ready for winter

Greece has done what’s necessary to secure adequate energy supplies for the winter, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told reporters on Sunday. That includes a worst-case scenario under which Russia stops providing gas through the Turkstream pipeline, he said.

The premier also said that use of lignite coal for one or two years is a temporary measure, and that when gas prices stabilise it won’t make economic sense to continue with coal.

Politicians pile on pressure for more German weapons donations

Several German politicians lashed out at the country’s Social Democratic leadership for being too slow to support recent advances by Ukraine’s troops with additional weaponry.

“Ukraine needs weapons enabling its forces to liberate and defend areas occupied by Russia,” Michael Roth of the SPD, a foreign policy specialist in the federal parliament, told Funke media group.

His comments were echoed by the Green Party and the liberal FDP, who along with the SPD comprise Germany’s ruling coalition. Recent military advances by Ukraine should encourage more offers of vehicles, artillery and gear, the Greens’ Agnieszka Brugger said. The FDP’s Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann said Germany must act now and supply whatever’s easily at hand.

Russia holds first regional elections since invasion

Russia is holding its first regional elections since President Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded Ukraine in February.

The major parties don’t oppose the war, but voting against the ruling United Russia is one of few ways left to express disagreement with the Kremlin. Putin has stepped up efforts to crack down on dissent since the war started, with opponents jailed or driven into exile.

The independent monitoring group Golos, deemed a “foreign agent” by the Russian government, recorded possible violations at polling stations including in Moscow and Krasnodar region on Sunday.

Ukraine says it has retaken 3,000km2 this month

Commander-in-Chief Valery Zaluzhnyi said on Sunday that Ukraine’s army has returned more than 3,000km2 of land to the nation’s control since the beginning of September.

“We are starting to advance not only to the south and to the east in the Kharkiv areas, but also to the north. Fifty kilometres is left until we reach the state border,” Zaluzhnyi said on Telegram.

Separately, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine’s army had liberated another settlement in the region — Chkalovske, about 60km southeast of the city of Kharkiv. “We will expel occupants from every Ukrainian town and village,” he said.

Ukraine’s advance on Izyum is key, war study institute says

Ukrainian forces have advanced by up to 70km through Russian lines in the Kharkiv region, the Institute of the Study of War said on its website.

Russian forces “are hurriedly fleeing” to avoid encirclement around Izyum, which will likely be captured within 48 hours by the Ukrainian army, the US-based think tank said.

The liberation of Izyum “would be the most significant Ukrainian military achievement since winning the battle of Kyiv in March,” ISW said.

Zaporizhzhia nuclear reactor shut down safely

The last operating unit at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeast Ukraine, occupied by Russian troops since March, has been safely shut down after a power outage ended.

The No 6 generator will be cooled and preserved after the plant was reconnected to the grid, the Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom said. One of several transmission lines destroyed by recent shelling was restored late Saturday. The company used power from the national grid to cool the unit and put it in the safest possible mode.

The UN’s atomic agency on Friday warned of the dangers posed by the loss of power at the plant, now seen as a war prize for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for shelling in the vicinity of the plant.

Read more: “Russian-occupied reactor at increased safety risk, UN warns

Zelensky says Ukraine, allies face hardest winter

Ukraine and European allies should brace for a difficult winter amid the energy shortages engineered by Russian President Vladimir Putin and pressure to cut aid to Kyiv, Ukraine’s president said.

“It is the most difficult winter for the whole world,” Volodymyr Zelensky said at the Yalta European Strategy Conference in Kyiv organised by Ukrainian businessman Victor Pinchuk. He termed choking off energy to Europe Putin’s “last argument.”

Zelensky urged Ukraine’s allies to expand offers of anti-missile systems to protect the country’s energy infrastructure, which he predicted would be a target for Russian troops, and acknowledged the risk of foreign aid to Ukraine fading over time.

US concerned about Russia-China ties

The US is closely watching the deepening economic ties between Russia and China, said Jake Sullivan, National Security Adviser to President Joe Biden.

China hasn’t provided material support to Russia, “something we were concerned about,” Sullivan told the Yalta European Strategy Conference in Kyiv by video. The US hasn’t seen any major Chinese policy decision to “flatly violate US sanctions and export controls at systematic level,” he said.

Still, Washington is watching “steps that China is taking through market transactions to provide services to Russia,” he said.

Naftogaz warns of Russian gas transit risk

There’s a high risk Russia will fully stop natural gas shipments to the European Union through Ukraine, said Yuriy Vitrenko, chief executive officer of energy giant Naftogaz Ukrainy.

“I would estimate the likelihood at 70%,” Vitrenko said in an interview during the Yalta European Conference in Kyiv.

Russia has shut off gas supplies to Germany and other European customers via Nord Stream 1 after failing to restart the pipeline following maintenance.

Zelensky meets top commanders

Ukraine’s president had the latest in a series of meetings with his top military, intelligence and government officials on Saturday, according to a statement on his website.

The officials “listened to reports by military commanders of operative groups” on how the army is “de-occupying Ukrainian territories.” Decisions were taken on “security in the liberated settlements,” according to the statement.

Zelensky also spoke earlier to French President Emmanuel Macron, with much of the talk focused on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Russia confirms flight of troops from Ukraine’s Kharkiv region

Russian troops retreated in the face of a lightning Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv region that threatens to derail the Kremlin’s bid to cement control of Ukraine’s east.

A local Moscow-backed official said on Saturday that Kremlin forces had pulled out of Izyum, a staging post for the campaign in Donbas, to avoid being encircled. Russia’s defence ministry confirmed the pullout.

The news came hours after Ukrainian officials announced the seizure of Kupyansk, a logistical and transit hub for Russian troops fighting in the east, and the recapture of other occupied territory in the northern Kharkiv region earlier this week. DM


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