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UKRAINE UPDATE: 26 OCTOBER 2023

Russia strikes near nuclear power plant; Zelensky vows to hit back if Moscow renews attacks on energy grid

Russia strikes near nuclear power plant; Zelensky vows to hit back if Moscow renews attacks on energy grid
Slovakia's newly appointed pro-Russia Prime Minister Robert Fico at the new Cabinet’s inauguration at the Presidential Palace in Bratislava, Slovakia, on 25 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Jakub Gavlak)

Russian attacks overnight hit an area near the Khmelnytskyi nuclear power plant in western Ukraine, according to the country’s Energy Ministry, which cited damage to an office and laboratory facilities. The strike damaged a power grid, leaving customers in nearby Slavuta and Netishyn without power. The drone strike on Slavuta injured 20 people, Suspilne reported, citing Mayor Vasyl Sydor. All 22 educational facilities there, including schools and kindergartens, were hit.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his military would strike back if Russia renews attacks on energy infrastructure as the embattled nation braces for another season of missile barrages on its grid and power facilities.

“This year we will not only defend ourselves, but also respond,” Zelensky said in a statement on Telegram. He said Russia had moved its Black Sea fleet away from Crimea in anticipation and relocated aircraft farther away from Ukraine’s borders.

Latest developments

Pro-Russia Fico returns to Slovak premiership in challenge to EU

Slovakia’s Robert Fico returned to the nation’s premiership with a pledge to challenge European Union policies including migration and sanctions against Russia.

President Zuzana Caputova appointed Fico and his Cabinet at a ceremony in the capital, Bratislava, on Wednesday, less than a month after he won an election with pledges to boost social spending. Fico, who served as prime minister over three terms between 2006 and 2018, may make an appearance alongside EU peers in Brussels this week.

The 59-year-old premier, a Social Democrat who has become more vocal in opposing measures against the Kremlin, migration and LGBTQ rights, will join ally Viktor Orbán of Hungary in seeking to disrupt liberal European conventions. Taking a cue from Orbán, Fico has promised changes to Slovakia’s judiciary, police and the special prosecutor’s office.

While Fico wants to keep the eastern European nation of 5.4 million in the EU and Nato, he campaigned to stop Slovakia’s weapon shipments to Kyiv and to restore a “basic standardisation of relations” between the 27-member bloc and Russia.

Turkey’s Parliament may start debate on Sweden’s Nato bid next week

Turkey’s parliament may schedule a debate next week in the foreign relations committee over Sweden’s bid to join the Nato military alliance after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier this week asked legislators to start proceedings.

Still, a ratification of the Nordic country’s membership depends on Stockholm’s commitment to cooperate against terrorism, Fuat Oktay, the head of the committee, said on Wednesday.

The steps in Turkey bring Sweden closer to becoming a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, a process that’s been pending for almost a year and a half.

Turkey has been one of the two last holdouts — along with Hungary — standing in the way of Nato’s northern enlargement. It’s accused Stockholm of failing to adequately crack down on supporters of separatist Kurdish militants that Turkey regards as terrorists. Sweden insists it fulfils Nato’s membership criteria and has taken steps agreed with Turkey, such as ending an arms embargo and tightening anti-terror laws.

If approved by both countries, Sweden’s membership would realign the security dynamic in Europe following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Finland’s membership in the alliance already realised in April.

“We will intensely work on Sweden’s Nato membership. We have to be convinced and will look into whether the protocol was honoured,” Oktay, a member of Erdoğan’s ruling AK Party told Bloomberg in Ankara, referring to a document the countries signed at a Nato summit in Madrid in 2022.

Read more: Sweden’s new Cabinet pledges to deliver on Nato deal with Turkey

“We will come up with a schedule for meetings,” Oktay said. “It may happen next week or the week after. We have to make preparations first.”

Nato chief floats public funding for arms firms

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said governments may need to strip away regulations for the defence industry or pay for companies’ spare capacity to ensure manufacturing lines don’t go cold during peacetime.

“The challenge is that this industry has strange demand — when there’s peace, there’s a relatively low level of demand and then suddenly there’s a crisis and there’s an enormous need to boost,” Stoltenberg told the Nato Industry Forum in Stockholm.

The Nato secretary-general, with other US and allied officials, has been urging the defence industry to ramp up production since Russia invaded Ukraine last year. The war of attrition, which could drag on for years, has led the alliance to recalculate the stocks of ammunition it needs to defend itself against a possible attack.

“We either need huge stocks or big spare capacity which is not used in peacetime,” Stoltenberg said.

To finance these capacities, companies could relay those costs through the market, but that might require governments to adjust regulations so firms can price in a different way than they do today. The alternative is to have governments pay for “the service of spare capacity,” Stoltenberg said.

Ukraine’s army enlists Russians eager to fight and defeat Putin

Ukraine’s military has formed a battalion of soldiers made up entirely of Russian citizens who want to fight against President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

The Sibir (Siberia) battalion has brought together dozens of Russians and people from ethnic minorities in Russia who travelled via third countries because they wanted to join the Ukrainian army, according to officials at their training camp. Unlike volunteer groups such as the Freedom of Russia legion that have declared support for Ukraine, the soldiers are part of the regular Ukrainian army and expect to be sent into battle very soon.

They include people from groups such as Yakuts and Buryats in Russia’s vast eastern Siberian region who said they wanted independence from Russia and viewed Ukraine’s victory in the war as a step toward that goal.

Ukraine advertised the battalion’s existence as the war enters its 21st month with fierce fighting taking place in the country’s east and south. Russian forces attacking near the town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region were incurring “catastrophic losses”, Zelensky said on Friday. Putin told reporters last week that Ukraine’s monthslong counteroffensive to reclaim occupied territory had “completely failed,” and that Russia had switched to “active defence”.

Ukrainian officials said they expect to attract more Russian citizens, particularly from the country’s minorities, to join the war against Putin. DM

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