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UKRAINE UPDATE: 29 APRIL 2024

Russia ‘dominates several frontline areas’, warns Kyiv army chief; Australia pledges A$100m in aid

Russia ‘dominates several frontline areas’, warns Kyiv army chief; Australia pledges A$100m in aid
Commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces Oleksandr Syrskyi. (Photo: Yuriy Mate / Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)

Fighting has become more heated along the front line in eastern Ukraine, with Russia exploiting its advantage over Kyiv’s forces along several axes, Ukraine’s top soldier said.

Australia has ramped up military aid for Ukraine, with A$100-million ($65-million) in new funding to go toward short-range air defence systems, drone development and other equipment needed in the nation’s war against Russia.

Ukraine sustained a heavy Russian missile barrage overnight aimed at gas infrastructure and other targets while striking back at a Russian oil refinery with drones.

US intelligence agencies have found that Russian President Vladimir Putin probably didn’t order opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death at a prison camp in February, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Ukrainian army head says Russia dominates front in several areas

Fighting has become more heated along the front line in eastern Ukraine, with Russia exploiting its advantage over Kyiv’s forces along several axes, Ukraine’s top soldier said.

“In an attempt to seize the strategic initiative and break through the front line, the enemy has concentrated its main efforts on a number of directions,” army commander-in-chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Sunday in a long post on Telegram and Facebook. 

This happened as Russia had “created a significant advantage in forces and capabilities”, he added. “The situation on the front has escalated.” 

Kremlin forces had been attacking along the whole length of the front line, posting “tactical successes” in some areas, while Ukraine was still able to achieve some local gains in others, Syrskyi said. He described the situation as “dynamic,” with some positions changing hands several times per day. 

The assessment came as Ukraine expects the arrival of the long-expected batch of US military materiel. It also confirmed recent warnings from US and UK officials that Vladimir Putin’s troops have looked to press their advantage while Kyiv’s forces are underequipped and short on manpower. 

Read more: Russian forces advance, target railways as Kyiv awaits weapons

Syrskyi listed half a dozen areas where Russia was pushing forward with increased pressure. The most difficult situation was west of the Russia-held city of Donetsk, where Moscow’s troops forced Ukrainians to give up some positions near the towns of Kurakhove and Pokrovsk.

Russian forces expanded their control further north from Donetsk by capturing the town of Novobakhmutivka, the defence ministry in Moscow reported on Sunday. Ukraine hasn’t commented on the town’s status. 

Moscow’s troops also had some limited success near an important logistics hub of Kupyansk in the northeast, according to Syrskyi, as well as north of Bakhmut. Putin’s commanders were eyeing a potential offensive move toward Slovyansk, the Ukraine-held city that was the scene of heavy fighting as far back as 2014.

Ukrainian forces were able to improve their positions near Kupyansk and Lyman as well as liberate another island in the sprawling Dnipro River delta near Kherson, Syrskyi said. 

Military commanders were also monitoring the Russian buildup of forces near Kharkiv, not far from the border in Ukraine’s northeast, even as Kyiv sees no immediate threat of a major offensive in the north.

“Russian forces will likely make significant tactical gains in the coming weeks as Ukraine waits for US security assistance to arrive at the front, but remain unlikely to overwhelm Ukrainian defences,” the US-based Institute for the Study of War wrote in an overnight update.

Ukraine gets Australian funding pledge for air defence, drones

Australia has ramped up military aid for Ukraine, with A$100-million ($65-million) in new funding to go towards short-range air defence systems, drone development and other equipment needed in the nation’s war against Russia.

“While Ukraine is here fighting for its sovereignty and for its nation, it is also fighting for the maintenance of the global rules-based order and in that sense, it’s fighting for us,” Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Saturday in Lviv, Ukraine. “Ukraine need to be empowered to resolve this on their terms.” 

The latest funding brings the total amount Australia has contributed to Ukraine’s war efforts since the conflict began in February 2022 to A$1-billion. On Friday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed a $6-billion commitment for long-term contracts to provide Kyiv with weapons such as Patriot missiles, artillery ammunition and drones. 

Ukraine endures missile barrage, strikes Russian refinery

Ukraine sustained a heavy Russian missile barrage overnight aimed at gas infrastructure and other targets while striking back a Russian oil refinery with drones. 

Moscow reported a Ukrainian drone attack on the Slavyansk oil refinery in the Krasnodar region, the first such strike since early this month.

The state-run news agency Tass said the strike caused a fire, which partially suspended refinery operations. The plant was hit by 10 drones, Tass said, citing the refinery’s representative. Russia’s defence ministry said 66 drones were intercepted and downed over the Krasnodar region.   

Drones from the Security Service of Ukraine targeted the Kushchevsk military airfield and the Slavyansk and Ilsky refineries in the Krasnodar region, according to a person with knowledge of the operation who wasn’t authorised to speak publicly. Russian officials and media haven’t referred to the Ilsky facility.  

The Slavyansk refinery is capable of processing four million tonnes of oil a year and is one of the closest facilities to the war zone in eastern Ukraine. It was previously hit by drones in March along with many other large Russian refineries. Some of the affected facilities are still processing less than before the attacks. 

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, some 21 Russian missiles of various types were intercepted overnight out of 34 fired, the Ukrainian Air Force said on Telegram. Poland’s army scrambled jets twice when Russian missiles flew close to its border.

Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement that recent strikes, including the overnight barrage, had targeted energy and defence facilities and railway infrastructure in response to Kyiv’s attempts to “damage Russian energy and industrial facilities”.  

Targets fired at by Kremlin troops included energy facilities in the Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk regions in the west, and the Dnipropetrovsk region in central Ukraine, the national grid operator Ukrenergo said in a statement on Facebook.

State-run Naftogaz said gas infrastructure facilities came under attack but that service to clients and Ukrainian consumers wasn’t interrupted.

“Hits on power plants in Kryvyi Rih, Dnipro, Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk put thousands of Ukrainians in the dark,” Bridget Brink, the US ambassador to Ukraine, said on X. “Other cities were hit as well, including damage to a Kharkiv hospital.”

Russian forces advance as Kyiv awaits weapons

Russian forces pressed forward in eastern Ukraine and in some areas accelerated their advance as Kyiv’s depleted forces awaited badly needed US weaponry, according to US and UK officials.

Kremlin forces were moving against defensive lines west of the Russian-occupied city of Bakhmut in the embattled Donetsk region, according to the White House National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby. Farther south, Russian troops were accelerating an advance west of Avdiivka, a stronghold they captured in February, UK military intelligence said on Friday on social media platform X. 

“It’s slow progress, but they’re pushing back on the Ukrainian lines, the first, the second and even pushing on the third,” Kirby told NBC News on Friday. “And that’s dangerous.”

Putin’s troops made grinding progress along the 1,200km front as US officials said that ammunition, as well as long-range missiles capable of attacking deep behind Russian lines, were on their way. Kirby said they would arrive “very, very soon” and potentially shift momentum in the war that has tilted in Russia’s favour. 

President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged that the six months of waiting as US Republicans held up a $61-billion aid package had allowed Russia’s military to “seize the initiative.” But he said the fresh assistance would be enough to halt the Russian advance — and turn the tide.

For now, Moscow’s ground forces have built on their advance since they seized Avdiivka two months ago. Russia’s military entered the town of Ocheretyne, some 15km north of Avdiivka’s city centre, according to both UK military intelligence and DeepState, an open-source database maintained by volunteers in cooperation with Ukraine’s Defence Ministry. 

Analysts at the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW) called the advance “relatively quick”, if marginal, and attributed it to the rapid Ukrainian pullout from Avdiivka to weaker defensive positions. 

Still, that area holds less value compared with Russia’s approach to Chasiv Yar, a strategically located settlement west of Bakhmut where Moscow has mounted a furious offensive. 

“Seizure of the town would likely allow Russian forces to launch subsequent offensive operations against cities that form a significant Ukrainian defensive belt in Donetsk Oblast,” ISW analysts said, speculating that Moscow may be making a bid to seize territory before US aid arrives.  

Russia has escalated missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure in recent weeks and stepped up the bombardment of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, amid worries among Western officials that the Ukrainian military is near breaking point.  

US agencies say Putin didn’t order Navalny’s death – WSJ

US intelligence agencies have found that Putin probably didn’t order opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s death at a prison camp in February, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

While the assessment didn’t dispute Putin’s culpability for the death, it found that the timing possibly wasn’t as intended by Putin, the report said, citing people familiar with the matter. The finding is broadly accepted within the intelligence community and shared by several agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the State Department’s intelligence unit, according to the report.

The mysterious death of Navalny, an anti-corruption activist and Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, at an Arctic prison in February triggered a fresh round of tensions between Russia and the West at a time when relations were fractured by the Ukraine conflict. 

The latest assessment was based on a range of information such as classified intelligence and an analysis of public facts, including the timing of his death and how it overshadowed Putin’s re-election, the WSJ report said.

Navalny fell sick during a walk at the remote maximum-security prison camp in the Arctic where he was last held, and medical staff were unable to revive him, the prison authorities said on 16 February. DM

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