UKRAINE UPDATE: 8 JUNE 2023
Kyiv troops advance in Bakhmut; Kakhovka dam destruction ‘a war crime’, say allies
Ukrainian troops advanced by as much as a kilometre during fighting around the eastern city of Bakhmut, the Defence Ministry said, as Kyiv rushed to evacuate people from areas flooded by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam.
Kyiv and its allies were assessing the humanitarian, economic and ecological damage of the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, with President Joe Biden saying the US would continue to pour in assistance. His administration said it was investigating who was responsible for the destruction, which it said had probably resulted in “many deaths”. Kyiv has blamed Russia, which analysts said was most likely to benefit militarily because the flooding could block a potential avenue of attack for Ukrainian forces. The Kremlin denied responsibility.
The flooding — one of the largest human-made disasters in Europe in decades — inundated almost 2,000 buildings on the west bank of the wide Dnipro River, triggering power blackouts and cutting access to drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people, President Volodymyr Zelensky said. Authorities had evacuated about 1,500 people by Wednesday morning. A Chinese envoy voiced grave concern over the humanitarian, economic and ecological impact, Xinhua reported.
- Dam blast puts Ukraine’s allies on the spot: Balance of Power
- Dam destroyed in the dead of night upstages Ukraine’s offensive
- Here’s what to know about the Ukraine dam explosion: Q&A
Ukraine’s allies call destruction of dam a ‘war crime’
Germany blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine, and was joined by other European Nato members in denouncing it as a “war crime.”
The statements added to the rising outcry over the biggest man-made disaster in Europe in decades as Ukraine said it was mounting rescue efforts for tens of thousands of people affected by the floodwaters unleashed by the demolition of the dam on Tuesday.
“This is a crystal clear war crime,” German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius told reporters on Wednesday during a visit to Mumbai. “This is an unbelievable act of violence and destruction which I thought even Putin would not be capable of.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also directly blamed Russia for the suspected attack, saying Moscow destroyed the dam to stop Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive aimed at taking back territory from Putin’s invading forces. He said the incident was just the latest of “the many, many crimes which we have seen in Ukraine and which were committed by Russian soldiers”.
Other allies, including the US, were still assessing who is responsible, but were leaning towards Russia, a Western official said on Tuesday. Analysts say Moscow stood to benefit most militarily because the flooding would swamp a potential avenue for attack by Ukrainian troops, making it impassible.
The Kremlin denied responsibility and said Ukraine was behind the breach at the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant, which held back a reservoir that provided water to the cooling systems of one of Europe’s largest nuclear power stations, as well as irrigation for farms in Ukraine’s south.
Putin ordered his emergency situations minister to organise work to help people and eliminate the consequences of the disaster, the Interfax news service reported, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. He blamed the catastrophe on “sabotage from the Kyiv regime”.
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said British military and intelligence teams were working to establish who was responsible.
Dam destroyed in the dead of night upstages Ukraine’s counteroffensive
The 24 hours before Tuesday’s flooding of the Dnipro River basin were already dramatic, as Ukraine appeared on the cusp of a counteroffensive that many in Kyiv see as their best chance to defeat Russia’s invasion.
US President Joe Biden, just hours earlier, gave a fingers-crossed sign in response to a question on the Ukrainian campaign’s chances.
Russia, meanwhile, claimed without evidence it fended off a large armoured attack in the country’s eastern Donbas region. But the Kremlin had to dismiss as fake a putative address to the nation by President Vladimir Putin, in which he allegedly called on Russians to rally against an invasion by Ukraine in the wake of strikes across the border in recent days.
Nothing, however, compared to what appeared to be a horrific escalation of the war early on Tuesday, as up to 18 million cubic metres of water poured through a massive breach in the Kakhovka dam, swamping communities along the banks of the Dnipro River.
President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his nightly video address, called the dam’s destruction “an environmental bomb of mass destruction”.
The impact of the dam breach may be bigger off than on the battlefield, as the unfolding humanitarian and ecological disaster refocuses the attention of Ukraine’s international backers, after more than 15 months of war and tens of billions of dollars spent on the nation’s military and financial support.
“This is something that has a new dimension, but which fits with the way in which Putin wages this war,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told WDR television, adding that it underlined the need to support Ukraine.
International outrage could, if sustained, make the dam’s destruction just the latest in a series of alleged and proven Russian atrocities — from the mass graves of Bucha, to the bombed-out shelters and hospitals of Mariupol — that have at critical moments stiffened US and European resolve to cross red lines and give Ukraine more of what it wants to fight back.
On Wednesday, China’s permanent representative at the United Nations, Zhang Jun, expressed his nation’s “grave concern” over the disaster, portraying it as further evidence of the need for peace talks.
Putin and Ramaphosa talk about BRICS amid arrest fears
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa about the planned BRICS summit in Johannesburg amid uncertainty over whether he’ll be able to avoid arrest for alleged war crimes if he attends the meeting.
The two leaders “touched upon” preparations for the gathering in August as well as next month’s planned Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg in the phone call, according to a Kremlin statement on Wednesday that didn’t say whether Putin intended to go to South Africa.
The Russian president also agreed to receive a delegation of leaders from African states to discuss their initiative to resolve the war in Ukraine, it said.
South Africa has invited Putin, along with the leaders of Brazil, India and China to the BRICS summit, though people familiar with the matter said it’s weighing whether to switch the venue to another country to resolve the dilemma over the arrest warrant. As a signatory to the International Criminal Court, which in March accused Putin of war crimes linked to the invasion of Ukraine, South Africa would be obliged to execute the warrant if he travels to the country.
Increased Russian GPS jamming hits signals in Baltics, Finland
Increased Russian efforts to jam Global Positioning System (GPS) signals in the aftermath of a number of drone attacks have forced airline pilots flying in the Baltic region and Finland to resort to alternative navigation methods.
GPS signals across most of Estonia have been hit by interference in recent days, the country’s transportation agency said in an email.
Air traffic was affected but ground signals were still working despite the jamming, which appeared to come from Russia’s Leningrad region, Estonia’s consumer protection agency said in a separate email. That region surrounds Russia’s second-largest city, St Petersburg, and shares a border with Estonia.
The increased jamming comes after Russia was hit by drones several times in recent weeks, including a strike that caused a fire at an oil refinery in the country’s south and the biggest attack on Moscow since President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. The Kremlin has blamed Kyiv for the incidents, while Ukraine has denied responsibility for certain attacks and remained silent on others.
Ukraine plans to open 10 new embassies in Africa
Ukraine is seeking to restore and strengthen its relations with Africa and will open 10 new embassies on the continent, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.
Ukraine wants to build agricultural and military relations with Africa, Kuleba said on a conference call with African journalists on Wednesday.
Embassies will be opened in Rwanda and Mozambique and further announcements will be made, he said, adding that he plans further visits to Africa “this summer”.
Ukraine is seeking to counter a push by Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February last year, for influence in Africa.
Relief jet heads to Russia to ferry stranded travellers to US
Air India sent a replacement aircraft to pick up passengers stranded in Russia by engine trouble and ferry them from the sanctioned country to their original destination of San Francisco.
The incident is shaping into a multiday ordeal for the travellers, who settled in for a 15-and-a-half-hour trip from New Delhi on Tuesday.
Several hours in, the Boeing 777-200LR developed engine trouble and was forced to make an emergency landing in Magadan, a port city in the far east of Russia. The 216 passengers and 16 crew were placed in makeshift accommodation, Air India said.
A rescue aircraft carrying food and essentials left Mumbai and was expected to arrive in Magadan on Thursday morning, the airline said. Once ready, it would then transfer on to San Francisco, a journey likely to take more than seven hours, based on flights of similar distances.
“There would certainly be American passport holders” on board, said Mark Martin, a Dubai-based aviation consultant. While he didn’t expect problems exiting the country, “it does raise a whole lot of eyebrows because it’s Russia”. DM