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UKRAINE UPDATE: 11 SEPTEMBER 2023

‘Fighting weather’ time is running out, warns US; Blinken says it’s Kyiv’s call on how to use weapons

‘Fighting weather’ time is running out, warns US; Blinken says it’s Kyiv’s call on how to use weapons
Cadets of the military institute Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv next to a tank painted in the colours of the Ukraine national flag, during an oath-swearing ceremony, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on 8 September 2023. (Photo: Andrew Kravchenko / Bloomberg via Getty Images) Bloomberg-Ukraine-Update11/09

Ukraine probably has just 30 to 45 days of ‘fighting weather’ left for its counteroffensive this year before conditions worsen, said General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. His comments to the BBC came as Ukraine’s southern commander pointed to further advances in the Zaporizhzhia region.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was Ukraine’s call on how to use weapons, including potential long-range missile systems, being provided by allies. “In terms of their targeting decisions, it’s their decision, not ours,” he said on ABC.  

In an interview with CNN, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky again rejected a suggestion that Ukraine would need to cede territory to Russia to end the war. “Did you see any compromises from Putin in other issues?” the Ukrainian leader said. 

Russia on Sunday wrapped up elections in the four Ukrainian regions — Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson — that Moscow annexed a year ago. The votes have been denounced by Kyiv and its allies. 

As the Group of 20 (G20) summit in New Delhi wound down, French President Emmanuel Macron said the annual gathering isn’t the right place to seek diplomatic progress on ending Russia’s war in Ukraine. “The G20 is not a forum for political discussion,” he said. The host of next year’s gathering, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said Russian President Vladimir Putin would be safe to travel to his country.  

Latest developments

Kremlin hones Putin re-election tactics in regional voting 

Russia’s ruling party headed for a resounding victory in local elections on Sunday, which represent a dry run for President Vladimir Putin’s re-election next year and an attempt to tighten the country’s grip on occupied areas of Ukraine.

Voters in 85 regions cast their ballots for a range of regional and municipal offices. Russian authorities also held elections in the four Ukrainian regions — Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, Luhansk and Kherson — which Moscow annexed a year ago in illegal referendums.

The election offers authorities an opportunity to hone voter turnout and messaging as they aim to deliver Putin a decisive victory when he’s on the ballot in March. A resounding win would demonstrate that he retains the full support of his country amid the ongoing war next door and after a mutiny that posed the biggest challenge to his almost 25-year rule.  

The Russian leader, who unleashed the worst armed conflict in Europe since World War II when he invaded neighbouring Ukraine in February 2022, will be poised to overtake Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s almost three-decade rule if he secures a new six-year mandate. While Putin hasn’t yet announced if he will stand for re-election, he has the right under the Constitution to two more terms, which would keep him in power until the age of 83. 

Read more: Russia holds early voting in occupied Ukrainian territories

In total, 65 million people out of Russia’s electorate of 108 million were eligible to vote on Sunday for 21 regional leaders, including Moscow mayor, four seats in the lower house of the country’s Parliament, and other offices. 

US launches new spy satellites to track Russian, Chinese threats 

The US Space Force conducted the first launch of a new constellation of early warning satellites designed to track Chinese or Russian spacecraft that could potentially disable or damage orbiting US systems.

The network, dubbed “Silent Barker”, is the latest step in the burgeoning extraterrestrial contest between superpowers. The satellites launched from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida are the first of their kind to complement US ground-based radar and low-earth orbit satellites, according to officials with the Space Force and the National Reconnaissance Office.

The satellites will be placed about 35,000km above Earth and at the speed it rotates, known as geosynchronous orbit. The Space Force and NRO wouldn’t detail how many satellites will make up the Silent Barker constellation or how many were launched on Sunday, except to say that the system will involve “multiple space vehicles”.  

Don’t look to G20 for progress on Ukraine, says Macron  

The Group of 20 (G20) isn’t the right place to seek diplomatic progress on ending Russia’s war in Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron said after Kyiv voiced frustration at the summit’s final communiqué this weekend. 

Ukraine saw the G20’s compromise on language describing the war as weaker than what leaders produced just 10 months ago at their summit in Bali, Indonesia. But Macron rejected the idea that it was a boost for Moscow. 

Read more: G20 hails compromise on war wording that angers Ukraine 

“I don’t feel this is a major diplomatic win or anything else other than isolation for Russia,” Macron told reporters at the end of the summit in New Delhi. “The G20 is not the place where you’ll have diplomatic progress on that topic.” 

The communique was “nothing to be proud of,” Oleg Nikolenko, a spokesperson at Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday. The phrasing of the document was hammered out in eleventh-hour negotiations and largely repeated the references used in last year’s text. But efforts by the US and its allies to retain a direct reference to Russia’s invasion ran into opposition from Moscow — and for a time — China.  

India to offer Russia chance to invest trapped rupees, says Lavrov 

India will offer Russia options to invest the billions in rupees it has accumulated for exports, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Sunday in New Delhi.

“Our Indian friends said they would propose promising areas they can be invested in,” Lavrov told reporters, citing talks with Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in Jakarta, Indonesia, on the sidelines of the East Asia summit prior to his arrival to India. “Right now our governments are talking about how to use and invest them to mutual benefit.”

He didn’t provide further details.

Lavrov also said Russian arms contracts with India remain in force, despite difficulties with payments caused by sanctions imposed by the US and its allies over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Read more: Russia’s rupee trap is adding to $147bn hoard abroad

Russia has emerged as a top supplier of oil to India over the past year, settling a greater share of trade in national currencies and redirecting shipments east as traditional customers in Europe shunned purchases after President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. But with imports from India stagnating, Russia is ending up with an excess of rupees, which its companies have trouble repatriating because of local currency restrictions.  

Ukraine vows to press on as US warns fighting time is running out 

The top-ranking US military officer said time is running short before bad weather hampers Ukraine’s ground operations for the rest of the year, even as Kyiv vowed to push on with its bid to liberate occupied territory from Russia.

There are “probably about 30 to 45 days’ worth of fighting weather left”, General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the BBC in an interview. 

For now, “there’s still heavy fighting going on,” Milley said. Ukraine is “progressing at a very steady pace through the Russian front lines.” 

Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, said on Saturday that the counteroffensive would continue as the weather worsens, although “it is harder to fight in the cold”.

Russia has more than 420,000 troops stationed in the areas of Ukraine it occupies, including Crimea, Ukraine’s military intelligence service estimated, without saying how it derived the figure.  

Kyiv’s ground counteroffensive started in early June. It has progressed slowly after Kremlin troops spent months building multilayered defence lines, including minefields, ditches and cement blockades known as dragon’s teeth.  

Lula says Putin can visit Brazil for G20 without fear of arrest 

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva risked a clash with fellow Group of 20 leaders after saying that Vladimir Putin would be safe to travel to next year’s G20 without fear of arrest.

The Russian leader, who is subject to an international arrest warrant over his invasion of Ukraine, skipped India’s G20 summit on its second and final day in New Delhi on Sunday. Lula, as the Brazilian president is known, said in a video interview with the Indian news platform Firstpost late on Saturday that Putin will get an invite to next year’s summit.

“I believe that Putin can easily go to Brazil,” Lula said. “What I can tell you is that if I am president of Brazil and he goes to Brazil there is no way he will be arrested.”

The International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest in March for war crimes.  

Lula said that Russia will host the BRICS Summit next year. “Everyone is going to the BRICS meeting and I hope they also come to the G20 in Brazil,” he said. 

Ukraine will complain to WTO if Poland enacts new grain ban 

Ukraine is prepared to file a complaint at the World Trade Organization (WTO) if Poland introduces a unilateral ban on Ukrainian grain, said Deputy Economy Minister Taras Kachka. 

“The Polish market is not critical for us. What is critically important is to remove restrictions,” Kachka said in an interview with Bloomberg. 

Kyiv sees the Polish government’s position as having been driven by domestic politics or as “simply a mistake”, and is prepared for an extended procedure at the WTO, he said. 

The main thing for Ukraine is to find its own routes to export commodities by sea, he added. 

Ukraine has become more reliant on export channels through its EU neighbours, especially after Putin in July pulled Russia out of a year-old deal that allowed exports via Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. 

Poland introduced a ban on incoming shipments from Ukraine in April which was followed by measures in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria in response to complaints from their own farmers. 

Read more: Poland, Hungary, Slovakia push for Ukraine grain ban extension

The European Union (EU) sought to diffuse the spat with a measure that allows Ukrainian grain to transit through the five countries. That arrangement expires on September 15. Poland has urged the EU to extend it — and, failing that, may impose its own new, unilateral ban. DM

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