UKRAINE UPDATE: 23 OCTOBER 2023
Six dead after Russian missile levels postal centre; Putin plays for time while US, EU focus on Middle East
Russia launched a missile attack on the village of Novyi Korotych in the Kharkiv region overnight, hitting a distribution facility of Nova Poshta, Ukraine’s largest private mail company. Six people were killed and 17 injured, all Nova Poshta employees, the interior ministry said. Kremlin forces fired eight S-300 missiles and several loitering drones from the north and from Crimea at Kharkiv and other regions. Several were shot down by Ukraine’s air defences.
Recent Russian assaults on Avdiivka “have contributed to a 90% increase in Russian casualties” recorded by Ukraine, according to the UK defence ministry. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that Kremlin troops had incurred “staggering” losses in a campaign to take the Donetsk town. Analysts at the US-based Institute for the Study of War said Ukraine had “inflicted further heavy personnel and equipment losses on troops in the area” in recent days.
Ukraine’s president spoke with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad after Qatar this month played a major role in returning four children to Ukraine who had been illegally deported to Russia. Qatar will attend the next Ukraine peace formula meeting, scheduled for next weekend in Malta, according to Zelensky.
- Putin plays for time in Ukraine with US, EU focused on Mideast
- EU is preparing to start work on a new Russia sanctions package
- Austin, Ukraine’s defence minister Umerov discussed US support
- Biden seeks $106bn for Ukraine, Israel, and US border
Gazprom will boost gas supplies to China, Hungary – CEO
Gazprom will send additional gas to China and Hungary this year, Alexey Miller, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview with Russia state television that aired on Sunday.
Gazprom and China National Petroleum Company have signed an addendum to their 2014 contract that envisions higher gas flows via the Power of Siberia pipeline through the end of this year, the Russian company said earlier on its Telegram channel. According to Miller, additional gas flows to China for the remainder of the year may reach 600 million cubic metres.
Those volumes aren’t significant given that estimated pipeline gas flows to China are expected to be 22 billion cubic metres this year and 30 billion cubic metres in 2024.
Russia and China may agree on raising Power of Siberia gas flows above the current nameplate capacity of 38bcm/year, Miller said. “We cannot rule out that such an agreement may be reached in the near future,” he said.
Nato admiral says growing China-Russia ties raise risk in Arctic
Nato is increasingly concerned about China’s shipping on Russia’s Northern Sea route, and the possibility that its commercial and scientific interests could be a precursor to a Chinese military presence in the Arctic, the alliance’s senior military officer said.
“We know there are military scientists on board these ships,” Admiral Rob Bauer, who chairs Nato’s Military Committee, said in an interview in Iceland on Saturday. “They haven’t said they won’t go there militarily.”
Nato is concerned about China’s aims given its increasingly close ties with Russia, including cooperation on energy and transportation that have caused a surge in Russian crude shipments to China through Arctic waters.
Bauer’s remarks followed a speech at the Arctic Circle Assembly conference in Reykjavik, during which he raised concern about stronger Russia-China ties. While Russia’s intentions in the Arctic have become increasingly clear, “China’s intentions for the region remain opaque,” he told the audience.
In what’s seen as a first step towards regular small-scale container shipping via the Northern Sea Route, a Chinese freighter used the passage for a three-month round trip from the Baltic Sea to China, while Russia’s realigning of commercial ties after its invasion of Ukraine has boosted oil shipments to China.
“We cannot be naive and expect these new routes to solely be used by commercial vessels,” Bauer told the conference.
Putin plays for time while US, EU are focused on Middle East
Vladimir Putin is increasingly confident Russia’s military can outlast Ukraine as a second winter of war approaches with Kyiv’s US and European allies distracted by the deepening conflict between Israel and Hamas.
The Kremlin is convinced developments are moving in Putin’s favour and that he’ll be able to hold on to territories in southern and eastern Ukraine that his army seized in the invasion, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.
Russia’s playing for time as Putin prepares for presidential elections in March, two of the people said. The aim is to secure territory Russia currently holds and, with neither side able to make a decisive breakthrough, wait for war fatigue in the US and Europe to mount and shift pressure on to Ukraine to seek a settlement.
Still, after returning from talks in China with President Xi Jinping, Putin travelled to Rostov-on-Don early on Friday for a briefing at Russia’s southern military headquarters by army Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov, who’s overseeing the war in Ukraine. That was after Russian military bloggers reported Ukrainian troops in the southern Kherson region had crossed the Dnipro River and taken back some occupied settlements in an apparent attempt to establish a bridgehead. The Defence Ministry in Moscow said Friday its forces had repelled the Ukrainians.
Ukraine intends to continue its counteroffensive through the autumn and into winter even as weather conditions on the battlefield deteriorate. After amassing billions of dollars of armaments including tanks, artillery and missiles from its US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, it made slow progress throughout the summer in pushing Russian troops out of heavily defended positions.
That has added to difficulties in holding together the coalition of support for Ukraine’s defence. The US stripped out funding for Ukraine in a political wrangle over short-term spending to avoid a government shutdown, while the election victory in Slovakia of Robert Fico, a candidate sympathetic to Russia, underscored growing challenges for the European Union.
Fierce fighting is taking place along parts of the front line in eastern and northeastern Ukraine after Russian forces went on the attack near the cities of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region and Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region. Ukrainian army chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, who visited the front on Thursday, said Russian forces continued to press on Avdiivka with new assault units, large numbers of tanks and support from aviation and artillery, though defending troops were repulsing the attacks.
Amid the spiralling crisis over the Israel-Hamas war, the US and other Nato allies say they remain committed to supplying weapons and aid to help Ukraine defeat Russia’s invasion that’s now lasted more than 600 days.
Russia considers extra gas tax to finance subsidies for oil refiners
Russian authorities are considering raising the tax burden on the nation’s natural gas industry to help finance a return to full subsidies for oil refiners, as the government seeks to support the domestic fuel market without straining the country’s budget.
The plan, if agreed upon, would raise the gas-production tax, also known as the MET, according to three people familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity as the discussions aren’t public.
It hasn’t been decided whether the move would apply only to gas giant Gazprom, or if it would include other Russian gas producers, two of the people said.
The hike could come on top of another MET increase for Gazprom that’s currently under consideration, according to two of the people. No final decision has been taken, and discussions on sources for the downstream payouts are still ongoing.
Russia’s budget is strained by the costly war in Ukraine, social spending and international sanctions that have dented its oil and gas revenues. With presidential elections scheduled for March, the Kremlin and the government want to make sure the domestic fuel market is stable, and that diesel and petrol don’t put additional inflationary pressure on the nation’s economy. DM