UKRAINE UPDATE: 17 JULY 2023
Putin downplays Kyiv’s counteroffensive efforts; Crimean city ‘repels air and sea drones’
President Vladimir Putin has discounted the success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, saying in a TV interview that ‘all attempts’ to break through Russia’s defences had failed.
Ukraine’s armed forces have claimed slow but tangible progress in its bid to push back Russian occupying forces, which continues in at least three areas of the south and east of the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the US provision of cluster munitions to Ukraine, saying Russia would retaliate if the bombs were used on its forces.
Moscow-appointed officials in the Crimean city of Sevastopol said air defence systems repelled multiple air and sea drones fired by Ukraine overnight at the peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014. Explosions were reported around Sevastopol overnight. Ukrainian drones were also shot down near Belgorod in southern Russia, about 80km north of Kharkiv.
Kremlin forces, meanwhile, attacked Kharkiv with S-300 missiles, regional governor Oleh Synyehubov said on Telegram. Kremlin troops also shelled the surrounding region with artillery and mortars, killing at least one civilian, he said.
Putin spoke to South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday and sounded a downbeat note on the Black Sea grain deal that expires on Monday. Vessels loading Ukrainian grain from Odesa on the Black Sea have dwindled to just one, the UN said.
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Russia takes ‘temporary’ control of Danone and Carlsberg assets
Russia seized control of the Russian subsidiaries of France’s Danone and Denmark’s Carlsberg under a decree by Putin aimed at companies from “unfriendly” countries.
According to Sunday’s decree, shares in Baltika Brewing Company, owned by Carlsberg, and in Danone Russia will be transferred to Russia’s Federal Property Management Agency for “temporary management”.
Putin signed a decree in April allowing for “temporary” state control over the assets of companies or individuals from “unfriendly” states – which include the US and its allies – in response to similar moves, or the threat of them, by those countries.
Sunday’s move is only the second time the Kremlin has used the decree to seize assets. Previously, Russia took control of utilities owned by Finland’s Fortum Oyj and Germany’s Uniper.
Danone, which makes yoghurt and baby food among other food products, had planned to sell most of its business in Russia but intended to keep 25% of shares and stay on the board of directors. It expected the sale could result in a write-off of up to €1-billion ($1.1 billion).
Carlsberg found a buyer for Baltica in June, the Russian unit said at the time, without disclosing details.
China intensifies military drills with Russia amid US sanctions
President Xi Jinping has resisted crossing Washington’s red lines over arming Russia’s war machine in Ukraine. But that hasn’t stopped China from edging closer to Moscow’s military in another way: direct engagement.
China and the armed forces of Vladimir Putin conducted six joint military exercises together last year, the most in data going back two decades.
That accounted for two-thirds of all China’s drills with foreign militaries in 2022, according to data compiled by the US National Defense University’s Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs.
Five of the exercises took place after Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, the data show. Four were bilateral, while two were held with US adversaries including Iran and Syria.
“Xi has every reason to preserve and enhance China’s strategic alignment with Russia,” said Alexander Korolev, a senior lecturer in politics and international relations at the University of New South Wales in Australia. “It’s the most effective way to counterbalance against US power.”
As China ramps up pressure on Taiwan, the self-ruled island Xi has vowed to claim, the US has expanded its military presence in Asia. It recently signed a defence pact with the Philippines and opened another base on Guam. China’s concerns over US military encirclement come as Russia protests against North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces inching up to its borders.
Against that backdrop, Xi has refused to condemn Putin’s war. Instead, China has provided economic and diplomatic shelter to Moscow by buying its cheap commodities and via political engagement. The Chinese leader’s sole trip abroad this year so far has been to Moscow.
Putin asserts ‘right’ to use cluster bombs
Putin said Russia would use cluster bombs if they’re used against his troops, while denying – despite evidence – that Kremlin forces had already used the controversial munitions in Ukraine.
“Russia has enough of various types of cluster munitions, of various kinds,” Putin said in an interview with the Russia-1 TV channel, part of which was posted on the Telegram channel by reporter Pavel Zarubin.
“Until now, we have not done this, we have not used it, and we have not had such a need,” Putin added. “But, of course, if they are used against us, we reserve the right for mirror actions.”
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe concluded last year that Kremlin forces had used cluster bombs during its invasion of Ukraine, which helped create “unnecessary and disproportionate harm to civilians”.
The US announced this month it would provide cluster munitions to Ukraine, several months after Kyiv requested the weapons. The bombs have started to arrive in Ukraine, the Pentagon said on Thursday.
More than 100 countries, including several Nato members and key allies to Ukraine, are signatories to a treaty that aims to ban the use and transfer of the weapons. Russia, the US and Ukraine are not signatories.
Cluster munitions are bombs that open in the air and release tens or hundreds of smaller “bomblets” that can spread over an area as wide as several football fields. Unexploded bomblets can pose a danger to civilians even years later.
Ukraine’s defence secretary said the weapons “will significantly help us to de-occupy our territories while saving the lives of the Ukrainian soldiers”. DM