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UKRAINE UPDATE: 16 JUNE 2023

Kakhovka dam destruction redraws battlefield map; Nato defence ministers meet in Brussels

Kakhovka dam destruction redraws battlefield map; Nato defence ministers meet in Brussels
Ukraine's Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov (left) speaks with Latvia's Defence Minister Ināra Mūrniece during the Nato-Ukraine Commission Meeting at the alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 15 June 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / OLIVIER MATTHYS)

As fighting continues in Ukraine, the battlefield map has been redrawn since the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, which flooded the countryside.

Defence ministers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) were meeting in Brussels to discuss the current situation in Ukraine as well as the country’s prospects for membership in the alliance. The minister from Sweden, a country that’s also seeking to join, will attend some of the meetings.  

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday that “some progress has been made” and work would continue to ensure ratification for Sweden “as soon as possible”. He added, however: “I am not in a position to give any exact timelines or guarantees.” Stoltenberg reiterated he had told Erdogan that “Sweden has delivered”.

Ukraine’s air force said on Telegram that it downed all 20 Shahed drones fired by Russia overnight as well as one of the four cruise missiles fired from bombers.  

Latest developments

Putin survival ‘improbable’ if Ukraine prevails, says Kissinger

President Vladimir Putin may struggle to hold on to power if the war in Ukraine forces Russia to abandon military aggression and accept a peace deal with Europe, said former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

“I would like a Russia that recognises that its relations to Europe have to be based on agreement and a kind of consensus and I believe that this war will, if it’s ended properly, may make it achievable,” Kissinger told Bloomberg’s Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait in an interview. 

Asked whether Putin could survive in power if the war ended on those terms, Kissinger replied: “It’s improbable.” 

The veteran diplomat said it was important that Ukraine emerges from the war as a strong democracy, and it was preferable to avoid “the dissolution of Russia or the reduction of Russia to resentful impotence” that risked stoking new tensions. He described Putin as a “Dostoevsky-type figure beset by ambivalences and unfulfillable aspirations”, who was very capable of wielding power as a leader and used it “excessively” in relation to Ukraine.  

Zelensky asks Swiss Parliament to allow re-export of weapons

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed Switzerland’s Parliament in a video speech to ask the country to allow the re-export of Swiss weapons, saying it would be “vital”. 

“If you support us, you protect the world from war,” he said in a video published by Swiss media. He also invited Switzerland to host a global peace summit and thanked the country for adopting the sanctions of the European Union against Russia.

Zelensky referred to the debate in Switzerland about the long-standing policy of barring countries that buy Swiss arms from re-exporting them to parties involved in conflict. Some Parliament members opposed his appearance, protesting against interference in Swiss politics, and the majority of the right-wing SVP didn’t attend, according to Swiss broadcaster SRF.  

War on Ukraine gets no mention at Putin’s forum feting economy

Top Russian officials used an appearance at Putin’s flagship business forum to paint a picture of an economy that’s adapting fast to unprecedented sanctions, while avoiding any mention of the war against Ukraine that triggered the penalties.

Technocrats including Bank of Russia Governor Elvira Nabiullina, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov and Economy Minister Maxim Reshetnikov addressed a depleted audience on Thursday at this year’s St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which drew global figures in politics and finance before the invasion of Ukraine.

“The structural transformation of the economy is happening faster than we expected,” Nabiullina said. “The worst predictions didn’t come true.”

During a more than an hour-long discussion on stage, the mood turned from ironic to jovial as speakers coalesced around a consensus that the economy is holding up so well that it even risks overheating. The central bank expects growth of as much as 2% this year, with output likely to reach pre-war levels by the end of 2024.  

European and US business leaders were all but absent from the forum, replaced for the most part by lower-level officials from countries that have stayed generally neutral on the war.

The event in Putin’s hometown has become a measure of Russia’s isolation but also an occasion to flaunt the resilience of an economy that was widely predicted would fall apart under pressure from the sanctions imposed by the US and its allies.  

 

 

 

Nato allies seek to resolve divisions on Ukraine membership

Nato countries are making progress on developing a set of security commitments for Ukraine following Russia’s war as members of the defence alliance remain divided over how to help Kyiv gain membership.

Allies agree Ukraine won’t become a member as long as the war continues. At issue is how to provide Kyiv with a more concrete promise that goes beyond what the North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreed in 2008 — that Ukraine will eventually join. 

Defence ministers from the bloc sought to project a united front as they started a two-day meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

“The one thing we have to avoid is exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin wants — that we are separated,” Estonian Defence Minister Hanno Pevkur told reporters ahead of the gathering. “Nato is united and will be united also in this decision,” he said referring to the membership discussions.  

Russia’s Arctic shipping dream stumbles on small ageing fleet

Russia will struggle to meet its strategic goal of more than quadrupling Arctic sea shipments by the end of the decade as the nation cannot increase and upgrade its small, ageing ice fleet fast enough, according to the Northern Sea Route operator Rosatom.

The Arctic route, stretching more than 3,000 nautical miles between the Barents Sea and the Bering Strait, is the shortest passage between Europe and Asia. Global warming has made the ice-bound waters increasingly more navigable, creating opportunities for Russian commodity exporters that are focusing on Asian markets amid the Kremlin’s standoff with the West over its invasion of Ukraine. 

Russia aims to send at least 150 million tonnes of crude oil, liquefied natural gas, coal and other cargo via its Northern Sea Route every year from 2030, a more than fourfold jump on the volumes shipped in 2022, according to the Northern Sea Route development plan approved by the nation’s government. 

Yet this goal requires the construction of a whole new commercial Arctic fleet, according to Vyacheslav Ruksha, head of the Northern Sea Route Directorate at state nuclear corporation Rosatom. 

In the next seven years, the number of Russia’s Arctic cargo vessels — from oil and LNG tankers to bulkers carriers and container ships — will need to grow to 160 from just 30 now, according to the presentation Ruksha made at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum on Thursday. Currently, only 33 more vessels are under construction. 

“I am afraid we are underestimating technological issues here,” the Rosatom official said. “We cannot bring in such capacities within this timeframe.”

Russia’s fleet of ice-class supply vessels, used for safe navigation in Arctic waters, is ageing, Ruksha added. More than 40% of the fleet is more than 30 years old now, and that proportion will grow to 75% by 2030, according to his presentation.  

EU set to scrap trade curbs to some Chinese firms 

The European Union is set to scrap plans to restrict trade with five Chinese companies with alleged ties to Russia, as the bloc gets closer to an agreement on a stalled sanctions package targeting Moscow.

The bloc had drawn up a proposal to restrict exports to eight companies for allegedly supplying Russian firms with banned technologies. Five of those firms were removed from the list after assurances from Chinese officials, according to a person familiar with the matter. The EU is still considering plans to curb trade with three Hong Kong-based firms, the person added.

Discussions on the EU’s 11th sanctions package in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been stalled for weeks, as member states continue to haggle over just how tough enforcement should be. 

The EU is seeking to adapt its China strategy, aiming to balance its trade relations with reducing its reliance on the Asian nation in key areas such as critical raw materials and technology. China had threatened to retaliate if its companies were targeted, but the EU’s move suggests that it takes Beijing’s assurances seriously.

Separately, the bloc has also watered down a proposed mechanism to target countries that aren’t doing enough to prevent Russia from evading export restrictions. The main aim of the tool would be to deter governments from helping Russia.  

Dam breach reshapes Ukraine battlefield as vast reservoir drains

Since the Kakhovka dam burst on June 6, the floods have cut off any chance Ukraine’s troops might have had of crossing the Dnipro River in support of their counteroffensive. Yet that benefit to the Kremlin may not last.

Below the dam, floodwaters already have begun to recede and eventually will return the river to its former state, if with new obstacles such as washed-up land mines and debris. Upstream, as the 230km Kakhovka reservoir basin empties, an entirely new landscape is emerging that could potentially create opportunities for Ukrainian forces. 

Already, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War is redrawing its battlefield maps to reflect the sudden shrinkage of the watercourse that separates Ukrainian forces from the occupied land on the eastern banks of the reservoir. 

The dam was destroyed just as Ukrainian forces began a counteroffensive, months in the planning, that seeks to recapture territory lost to Russia in the south and east of the country following last year’s invasion.

As Kyiv deploys billions of dollars of Western weaponry along a front stretching for 1,600km, the Dnipro is a crucial feature of the battlefield, offering protection to troops facing each other across much of its southern portion. DM

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