World

UKRAINE UPDATE: 10 JUNE 2024

Biden’s D-Day visit short on substance; Kyiv’s top reconstruction official to miss key German forum

Biden’s D-Day visit short on substance; Kyiv’s top reconstruction official to miss key German forum
US President Joe Biden’s visit to France for the D-Day commemoration on 6 June saw little movement on the policies that really matter to Emmanuel Macron and the rest of the European Union. (Photo: Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images)

Ukraine’s top bureaucrat tasked with reconstruction will miss this year’s showcase conference for donors because of internal political bickering, risking the impression that recovery is not a priority in Kyiv.

US President Joe Biden’s visit to France for the D-Day commemoration saw plenty of warm gestures but little movement on the policies that really matter to Emmanuel Macron and the rest of the European Union.

Ukraine struck Russia’s most advanced stealth jet for the first time ever in a drone attack aimed at limiting Moscow’s ability to fire missiles, a person familiar with the matter said.

The Kremlin has forced thousands of migrants and foreign students to fight alongside Russian troops in its war against Ukraine, adding extra manpower for its offensive in the Kharkiv region, according to assessments from European officials.

Ukraine’s top reconstruction official to miss key German forum

Ukraine’s top bureaucrat tasked with reconstruction will miss this year’s showcase conference for donors because of internal political bickering, risking the impression that recovery’s not a priority in Kyiv.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal blocked attendance by the head of the reconstruction agency and has yet to replace the infrastructure minister who was fired by parliament a month ago. The annual Ukraine Recovery Conference on 11 and 12 June in Berlin is designed to mobilise international support for rebuilding from the destruction of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

President Volodymyr Zelensky is expected to open the event along with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. But the State Infrastructure and Reconstruction Development Agency “won’t be present”, the agency’s head, Mustafa Nayyem, said in an email.

“The prime minister personally rejected my request for this business trip to Berlin without giving reasons,” he said. The prime minister’s office didn’t reply to a request for comment after business hours.

While more than 20 top Ukrainian officials are listed as participants — including ministers for the economy, finance, health and foreign affairs, and the acting infrastructure minister — the decision to block Nayyem’s attendance and failure to appoint a permanent minister could give the impression that Ukraine’s government doesn’t see reconstruction as an urgent issue.

Zelensky’s presence would compensate somewhat at a political level, but there would be discontent among bureaucrats as the situation was “not normal,” Hlib Vyshlinsky, the executive director at the Centre for Economic Strategy in Kyiv, said in a message.

“It shows that nobody is interested in recovery for the time being,” Vyshlinsky said. “There is no money for it and support for defence is more important, along with the summit on Ukraine’s peace formula and long-term budget financing.”

Ukraine’s reputation has been shaken by corruption scandals, complicating efforts to lure overseas support. The country needs at least $486-billion to rebuild, the World Bank estimated in February as the war entered its third year. The figure has surged as Russia stepped up missile attacks on Ukrainian power-generating network facilities since the end of March. The European Investment Bank has put the cost of reconstruction at more than $1-trillion.

Biden’s Europe visit puts pressure on Macron to fix Scholz ties

US President Joe Biden’s visit to France for the D-Day commemoration saw plenty of warm gestures but little movement on the policies that really matter to Emmanuel Macron and the rest of the European Union.

Biden refused to join a French initiative to deploy military trainers on the ground in Ukraine, skirted over their disagreements over the Israel-Hamas war and offered nothing but rhetoric on the trade disputes and subsidies that have soured economic relations between the transatlantic partners.

“We have shown the world once again the power of allies and what we can achieve when we stand together,” Biden said when they spoke together to reporters. “That’s what this relationship between France and the United States exemplifies.”

Macron was hosting the US leader barely a month after Chinese President Xi Jinping also visited France. While the French leader clearly has a better rapport with Biden, he gained nothing of substance from either meeting, underlining the tough choices facing France and the EU in an era of increasing geopolitical competition.

The timing is conspicuous for the French president, with about 360 million people eligible to vote in bloc-wide parliamentary elections that culminated on Sunday. Macron has presented the election as an existential fight for the continent and pivotal for Ukraine’s battle against Russia.

“It’s a perilous time for Europe, which faces a triple threat from China, from the possible return of Donald Trump, and from within, as voters across the bloc tilt to the far right, making political consensus more challenging,” said Noah Barkin, Europe-China expert at the German Marshall Fund and Rhodium Group.

One major handicap for Macron and the EU is the perennial struggle to establish a common strategy that the bloc’s major powers can all support wholeheartedly. Macron’s plans for training Ukrainian troops on Ukrainian soil is a classic case in point.

It has practical value for Zelensky because it’s more efficient to train new troops close to the frontlines rather than sending them to France or Germany. And there’s also a strategic rationale: It incrementally dials up the allies’ commitment to Ukraine and sends a signal to Russia.

But it also carries risks and for that reason Macron has struggled to win over additional members of his coalition — Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have both ruled out sending their own personnel.

So what could have been a signal of European strength risks looking more like another display of divisions and weakness.

Biden “fully respects President Macron’s prerogatives and his ability to express his views about what’s going on in Ukraine”, White House spokesperson John Kirby said Friday. “There’s not going to be US boots on the ground in combat in Ukraine. That has been the case and that will remain the case going forward.”

Ukraine drone strike damages Russia’s stealth fighter jet

Ukraine struck Russia’s most advanced stealth jet for the first time in a drone attack aimed at limiting Moscow’s ability to fire missiles, a person familiar with the matter said.

The Su-57 combat fighter was hit by Ukrainian-made drones at the Akhtubinsk airbase in Astrakhan, southern Russia, about 590km from the battlefield, the person said, asking not to be identified discussing sensitive Ukrainian military operations.

Ukrainian military intelligence released a statement on its website on Sunday with satellite images of Akhtubinsk airfield showing the damage, though it stopped short of taking responsibility for the attack.

Russia’s defence ministry on Saturday said three Ukrainian drones were shot down over the Astrakhan region, without commenting on reports of the jet’s damage. Russian military bloggers confirmed a drone attack at Akhtubinsk airbase had taken place.

Russia is sending young Africans to die in its war against Ukraine

The Kremlin has forced thousands of migrants and foreign students to fight alongside Russian troops in its war against Ukraine, adding extra manpower for its offensive in the Kharkiv region, according to assessments from European officials.

Using tactics first deployed by the Wagner mercenary group, Russian officials have with increasing frequency been threatening not to extend the visas of African students and young workers unless they agree to join the military, according to officials familiar with the matter.

Moscow has also been enlisting convicts from its prisons while some Africans in Russia on work visas have been detained and forced to decide between deportation or fighting, one European official said. Some of those people had been able to bribe officials to stay in the country and still avoid military service, said the official, who like other people cited spoke on condition of anonymity.

Russia’s practice of sending migrants and students into battle under duress dates back to earlier in the war, another European official said. Those troops suffer especially high casualty rates because they are increasingly deployed in risky offensive manoeuvres to protect more highly trained units, the official added. A spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to an email seeking comment.

According to reports citing Ukrainian intelligence, Russia has engaged in a global recruitment drive to enlist foreign mercenaries in at least 21 countries, including several nations in Africa. Army recruitment campaigns offer lucrative signing bonuses and salaries for those who’ll join up as contract soldiers. Recruiters have also targeted migrants and students who previously looked for employment in Russia, and in some cases have lured others over with promises of lucrative work before forcing them to train and deploy to the front.

Russia’s ability to mobilise far greater numbers of troops could become a significant factor in the war as President Vladimir Putin seeks to capitalise on a shift in momentum this year.

For now, though, his forces have been grinding forward only slowly in northeastern Ukraine and suffering heavy losses, despite a shortage of troops and ammunition on the Ukrainian side.

The Russian military lost more than 1,200 people a day during May, according to the UK Ministry of Defence, its highest casualty rate of the war. Since the beginning of the invasion, Russia has seen some 500,000 personnel killed or wounded, the UK estimates. Bloomberg is unable to independently verify these figures.

Putin running out of time to achieve breakthrough in Ukraine

For months, Russia’s army has made only limited gains on the battlefield against Ukrainian troops starved of weapons and ammunition. That’s a growing challenge for President Vladimir Putin as his military’s advantage starts to erode.

With Kyiv now taking delivery of billions of dollars in fresh arms from its US and European allies, the window for a Russian breakthrough is narrowing even as it continues to fire missiles and drones at Ukrainian cities including energy infrastructure.

A Russian attempt to open a new front in Ukraine’s northeast Kharkiv region already appears bogged down without achieving Putin’s goal of creating a buffer zone along the border. Ukraine claims to be inflicting “very high losses” on Russian troops in battles around the town of Vovchansk.

Russian forces advanced only marginally since taking the strategic eastern Ukrainian town of Avdiivka in February at the cost of huge casualties in months of fighting. They’ve been trying for weeks to take the key settlement of Chasiv Yar in the eastern Donetsk region.

Russia’s strategy of attrition to exhaust Ukraine’s forces was “very expensive and bloody for the Russian army itself”, said Ruslan Pukhov, the head of the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. “It can lead to excessive exhaustion of forces on the Russian side, which in turn, gives Ukrainians a chance to counterattack.”

While Russia is mounting attacks at several points along the front line, “we have chances to change the situation in our favour”, Ukrainian armed forces Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Wednesday on Telegram.

Putin insists his war goals are unchanged and that Russia will fight for as long as needed to win in Ukraine, regardless of mounting casualties in a war that’s in its third year with no end in sight. Ukraine and its allies face the challenge of sustaining resistance in a war that’s largely reached a stalemate.

While Ukrainian officials raised the alarm about the threat of a Russian breakthrough during months of delays over US arms deliveries, Kyiv’s troops mostly held the line despite being outgunned as much as 10-1 by Moscow’s invading army. With Biden’s administration rushing US arms to Ukraine after Congress finally approved $61-billion in funding in April, the balance of firepower is beginning to shift.

“Ukraine was in a deep hole due to the delay” in sending US weaponry “and they’ve been digging out of that hole”, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday on board Air Force One. “We have seen them withstand the Russian assault,” and in a situation that’s developing dynamically, “weapons arriving on the battlefield at scale and quantity in the last few days and weeks have made a difference,” he said.

European Union nations were also ramping up aid and weapons supplies to bolster Kyiv, even as Hungary’s Russia-friendly government continues to block billions of euros in wider military support.

Group of Seven leaders will meet next week in Italy to weigh plans to provide loans to Ukraine using windfall profits from about $280-billion in frozen Russian central bank assets.

“The prospects of Russia achieving victory this year have greatly reduced as a result” of the resumption of weapons supplies and aid, said Ben Barry, senior fellow for land warfare at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Russia might have the largest number of soldiers, but a lot of their first-rate armoured vehicles have been destroyed” and it would take years to rebuild the army to its 2022 level, he said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Paddy Ross says:

    Just think of all those Ukrainians killed, both on the battlefield and as victims of Russian missiles, all because of the US Republicans selfish myopia.

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