Kyiv steps up counteroffensive in south; Putin rewards African allies with promise of free grain

Kyiv steps up counteroffensive in south; Putin rewards African allies with promise of free grain
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and President of the Republic of Burundi Évariste Ndayishimiye meet on the sidelines of the Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg, Russia, on 27 July 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Mikhail Metzel / TASS Host Photo Agency)

Ukraine kicked off a long-awaited armoured assault on Russian fortifications in a counteroffensive thrust potentially aimed at severing Moscow’s land link to occupied Crimea.

Wheat prices rose after Ukraine said a Russian submarine fired two Kalibr cruise missiles at port infrastructure in Odesa, killing one person and damaging equipment at a cargo terminal.

A reduced list of attendees at a summit with African leaders hosted by President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg highlighted the Kremlin’s diminishing power as his war drags on.

The central bank in Kyiv cut official borrowing costs for the first time since Russia sent tanks and troops across the border in early 2022, taking a step toward easing an emergency monetary regime erected to shield the economy from the war. Ukraine’s Parliament also extended martial law until 16 November.

Latest developments




Russian billionaire says cops used ‘kompromat’ to raid London mansion

Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman claimed that a police raid on his London mansion in December for alleged sanctions evasion was illegal and relied on “kompromat” including a 15-year-old report that made a series of unproven criminal allegations.

At a London court hearing on Thursday, Fridman’s lawyers argued the National Crime Agency (NCA) misled judges when it applied for a search warrant last year by overly relying on the 2007 report compiled by a private firm. The NCA’s lawyers have accepted that the warrant should be quashed but want to continue the agency’s investigation for sanctions evasion.

Stratfor, a private intelligence firm, alleged in the report that US investigators claimed Fridman’s Alfa Group made illegal payments to Saddam Hussein during its oil-for-food programme in Iraq, funded one of Russia’s largest organised crime networks and laundered money on behalf of Colombian drug cartels, among other unproven claims.

“None of the allegations of serious criminality had ever been substantiated by any reputable law enforcement agency,” Fridman’s lawyers argued in court filings. “The allegations were absolutely typical of classic kompromat — damaging and untrue information assembled and used to create negative publicity and to exert influence over the subject.”

Grain assault: Putin rewards African allies with a promise

Putin promised to send free grain to six African countries that have strong ties with Moscow.

Putin made the pledge at the Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg, which is taking place amid criticism in Africa of the impact on global food prices from Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Deal.

Wheat prices spiked after Russia left the pact and attacked key port infrastructure in Ukraine, abandoning a guarantee of safe passage for merchant ships exporting Ukraine’s crops.

Putin pledged 25,000-50,000 tonnes of grain each to Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Central African Republic and Eritrea. Most of those nations have refrained from criticising Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The shipments would make up a significant chunk of imports for the likes of Zimbabwe and Eritrea, but a tiny portion of Russia’s sales.

Wheat futures climbed on Thursday after Ukraine said Russia fired two Kalibr cruise missiles at port infrastructure in the Odesa region, damaging equipment at a cargo terminal and increasing concerns over Black Sea grain supplies. They later steadied, but have risen more than 3% this week after Russia targeted a key river port in Ukraine with drones on Monday. 

In contrast to the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019 when Putin met 43 African heads of state, the Kremlin said just 17 were due to attend the two-day event this time. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov blamed “unprecedented pressure” by the US and its allies for the low turnout, while Putin’s foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov highlighted participation by lower-level officials representing 49 countries.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who’s due to meet with Putin on Saturday, called the summit a chance to “foster mutually beneficial cooperation” between Russia and Africa.

Ukraine cuts key rate for first time since Russia’s invasion

Ukraine cut official borrowing costs for the first time since Russia sent tanks and troops across the border in early 2022, taking a step toward easing an emergency monetary regime erected to shield the economy from the war.

The central bank cut the key interest rate by three percentage points to 22% on Thursday, more than the median estimate of analysts in a Bloomberg survey.

It was the first reduction since rate setters froze monetary policy, imposed capital controls to prevent a currency selloff and executed an emergency hike after Russia’s full-scale invasion. The bank accompanied the decision with improved forecasts for inflation and economic growth this year and guidance that more monetary easing is coming.

“Favourable trends created the prerequisites for a faster start of the rate-reduction cycle,” the bank said in a statement after the decision. “At the same time, the reduction of the rate against the background of maintaining macro-financial stability will support the economic recovery.”

Ukraine steps up counteroffensive with big push in the south

Ukraine kicked off a long-awaited thrust in its counteroffensive with an armoured assault on Russian fortifications in the south that may be part of a push to cut Moscow’s land link to its strongholds in occupied Crimea.  

A US official, who asked not to be identified discussing details of military operations, said Ukrainian troops were making a significant push in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region. Russian officials also reported a major Ukrainian assault more than seven weeks after Kyiv launched attacks against invading forces across the front line.

“Glory to all who defend Ukraine! By the way, our boys at the front had very good results today,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his evening address on Wednesday, without elaborating. “Well done! Details later.”

Analysts with the Institute for the Study of War said overnight that “a significant mechanised counteroffensive operation” appeared “to have broken through certain pre-prepared Russian defensive positions.” A wide range of diverging claims from Russian military bloggers on the scale of the attack and Ukrainian losses had made the situation unclear, they added. 

Ukrainian officials have admitted in recent weeks that the counteroffensive has been more difficult than expected as their forces make slow progress fighting through Russian minefields, tank barriers and other defences without being able to provide air support.

At the same time, Kyiv and Western military officials have pointed to a strategy of wearing down undermanned Russian units across the 1,500km front.  

“The question on the table now is whether the Ukrainians are deploying some of the units that they’ve held back and putting all of those into the counteroffensive,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Wellington, New Zealand.




US to share evidence of Russian war crimes with The Hague’s ICC

US President Joe Biden has asked the federal government to share evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine with The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), US officials said on Wednesday, in a reversal of the administration’s stance.

The Biden administration said last year it was working to document war crimes and other atrocities carried out by Russian troops in Ukraine and was helping with various international efforts, but that the US didn’t intend to formally join the ICC’s investigation.

Pentagon officials had been reluctant to share intelligence on Russian war crimes in Ukraine directly with The Hague, arguing it could pave the way toward prosecution of US troops. The US is not a member of the ICC.

“We support the ICC’s investigation,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a news conference in Wellington, New Zealand. “We’ll be cooperating with that investigation.”

A joint investigations team comprising several European judicial authorities was set up in 2022 and deployed to Ukraine to gather evidence of alleged Russian crimes that fall within the court’s jurisdiction.

Russian forces have been accused of targeting civilians and committing atrocities in a number of Ukrainian towns, such as Bucha, where evidence of mass graves, torture and executions has been widely reported.

The New York Times, which was first to report the news about Biden’s order, said US intelligence agencies have gathered details about Russian officials deliberately striking civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and deporting Ukrainian children. Some details have already been shared with the ICC. DM


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