Top Kyiv aide questions counteroffensive readiness; Putin gains influence in oil-rich Libya

Top Kyiv aide questions counteroffensive readiness; Putin gains influence in oil-rich Libya
The aftermath of a Russian rocket strike in the Dnipro area, central Ukraine, on 4 June 2023. According to the Ukrainian State Emergency Service, a two-year-old girl died and 22 people were injured, including five children. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration Handout)

Preparations continue for Ukraine’s highly anticipated counteroffensive against Russian occupying forces in the south and southeast, and a top adviser warned that Kyiv is still short of weapons and ammunition — despite the president’s globe-trotting pursuit of military aid.

‘If you want to start a successful counteroffensive you need everything at your disposal, including artillery, armoured vehicles and tanks, so probably we don’t have enough,” Ihor Zhovkva, Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s chief foreign affairs adviser, told the Sunday Times.

The comments came a day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Wall Street Journal that Ukraine is ready for its counteroffensive while warning that “large number of soldiers will die”. Ukraine’s military asked on Sunday for discretion around the potential start of the campaign, using the slogan “plans love silence” in a video.

Latest developments




Putin gains influence in oil-rich Libya as US struggles to oust Wagner 

While the US ponders whether to reopen its embassy in Libya, Vladimir Putin’s new ambassador is preparing to take up his post in the capital, extending Russian influence across an oil-producing nation on the doorstep of Europe.

Russia’s Wagner group, a private military company controlled by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, already has access to key oil facilities and supported last year’s monthslong blockade that hit exports at the height of the energy crisis triggered by the invasion of Ukraine.

Read more: Libya’s political chaos is worsening a global oil supply crisis

Moscow’s decision to re-establish its diplomatic presence in Tripoli — the western seat of the United Nations-backed government — is the clearest sign yet that Putin is looking to make inroads beyond his traditional support for military commander Khalifa Haftar in the east.

The developments have prompted concern in the US, which has dispatched a slew of senior officials to counter Putin’s advances in an Opec member that European governments are courting as a potential alternative to Russian energy.

They include CIA chief William Burns, who visited Libya in January, speaking to rival governments in the east and west and later meeting officials in neighbouring Egypt, which has also supported Haftar.

Top of the US agenda is a bid to oust an estimated 2,000 Wagner mercenaries who supported Haftar’s failed 2019-2020 campaign to capture Tripoli and have since helped bolster his grip on oil supplies in a country that’s home to 40% of Africa’s reserves.

“The status quo is inherently unstable,” US Special Envoy to Libya, Richard Norland, said in a phone interview, warning of unspecified efforts to exploit internal divisions and thwart UN efforts to hold elections. “Our message is you’re only going to get legitimacy through elections.”

But the US is at a disadvantage in Libya, where it has no troops and no diplomatic presence. Though US officials say they’re working to re-establish their own embassy, the decision remains politically fraught for Joe Biden, who was vice-president during the Nato-backed rebellion that ousted longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 — and Libya’s subsequent descent into chaos.

Read more: Why Libya lurches from one crisis to the next

The US embassy was closed in 2014 as Libya slid into civil war. An attack on the US consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi had already killed ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in 2012, fuelling a domestic political uproar that complicates any potential decision to return.

That’s left the US with waning leverage as it tries to manage the situation from afar.

Ukraine’s envoy in Hungary protests over ‘Russian Crimea’ map

Ukraine’s Charge d’Affaires in Budapest officially protested at a video that labelled Crimea as a Russian territory — the latest move by Hungary that Kyiv sees as a sign of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s alignment with Moscow.

The video, on the Hungarian government’s official YouTube channel, which advocates for peace in Ukraine, designated the occupied peninsula as part of Russia on a map, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in an emailed statement on Saturday. That contradicts Hungary’s repeatedly declared position on the support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, the ministry said.

“Playing along with the aggressive policy of Russia does not contribute to the prompt restoration of peace in Europe, which the Hungarian government advocates in public,” and it contradicts Hungary’s obligations as a member of the EU, the UN and Nato, the ministry said. “Hungary has to stop the provocations.”

A day before, Orban called for a ceasefire — and a freezing of troop positions — ahead of Ukraine’s expected counteroffensive against Russian occupying forces in the nation’s southeast and east. A top aide to  Zelensky termed the comment an “insult” to the values of the European Union.

In May, Hungary said it would block further European Union financial assistance for Ukraine and would be reluctant to back additional sanctions against Russia, according to Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto. Hungary also requested that the EU extend import restrictions on some Ukrainian goods and keep them until year-end, according to state news service MTI.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded and subsequently annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014. DM


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