Ukraine reports ‘tactical successes’ as counteroffensive pushes south

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar confirmed troops were “engaged in active moves” to advance the counteroffensive in the country’s south.

Maliar said:

Practically in all sectors where our units are attacking in the south, they have registered tactical successes. They are gradually moving forward. At the moment, the advance is up to 2km in each direction.

Ukrainian forces around the devastated city of Bakhmut, captured by Russia last month, were trying to push Russian forces out from the outskirts of the town.

Russia has not officially acknowledged Ukrainian advances and said it had inflicted heavy losses on Kyiv’s forces in the previous 24 hours.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy praised the developments saying “every soldier, every new step we take, every metre of Ukrainian land freed from the enemy is of utmost importance.”

Key events

A delegation of African leaders seeking to mediate in the Ukraine conflict told Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, on Saturday that it was time to negotiate an end to fighting, which they said was harming the entire world.

Putin claims Russia is ready to consider any settlement but that Ukraine is refusing to enter into talks, Reuters reports.

US president Joe Biden has reiterated it is “totally irresponsible” for Russia to move nuclear weapons into Belarus.

Speaking as he left for Philadelphia, he told reporters: “I’ve commented on that many times – it’s totally irresponsible,” Sky News reported.

When asked whether he will make it easier for Ukraine to join Nato he replied: “No. Because they’ve got to meet the same standards.

“So I’m not going to make it easy. I think they’ve done everything related to demonstrating the ability to coordinate militarily. But there’s the whole issue of our system to secure. Is it non-corrupt? Does it meet all the standards that every other nation in Nato does? I think it will. I think it can. But it is not automatic.”

Vladimir Putin told African leaders on Saturday that Russia welcomed their balanced approach to the conflict in Ukraine and was open to discussions.

“We are open to a constructive dialogue with all those who want peace based on the principles of justice and consideration of the legitimate interests of the parties,” Putin said.

The leaders from South Africa, Senegal, Egypt, Zambia, Uganda, Congo Republic and the Comoro islands were meeting Putin at the government’s 18th-century Konstantinovsky Palace after visiting Kyiv on Friday.

The president of the Union of Comoros, Azali Assoumani, encouraged Putin to enter into negotiations to end the conflict with Ukraine, Reuters reports.

Azali Assoumani, Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Cyril Ramaphosa, the presidents of Comoros, Ukraine and South Africa, walk to a press conference following their meeting in Kyiv
Azali Assoumani, Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Cyril Ramaphosa, the presidents of Comoros, Ukraine and South Africa, walk to a press conference following their meeting in Kyiv. Photograph: Vladimir Sindeyeve/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

A child holding a Ukrainian flag runs past a cultural centre that was destroyed in a missile strike, during a graduation ceremony of art students in the town of Derhachi
A child holding a Ukrainian flag runs past a cultural centre that was destroyed in a missile strike, during a graduation ceremony of art students in the town of Derhachi. Photograph: Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images

Lyceum graduates dance in front of the destroyed cultural centre in Derhachi, Kharkiv region
Lyceum graduates dance in front of the destroyed cultural centre in Derhachi, Kharkiv region. Photograph: Reuters

Jon Ungoed-Thomas

Jon Ungoed-Thomas

Ministers should confiscate the mansions, country estates and UK assets of Russian oligarchs to help pay for the reconstruction of Ukraine, a senior adviser in President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said this weekend.

Vladyslav Vlasiuk, a sanctions expert working in the presidential office, said Ukraine’s government would like the UK to follow Canada in implementing new regulations that allow authorities to seize and redistribute assets belonging to sanctioned individuals and entities.

He said Russia should pay the hundreds of billions of dollars needed for reconstruction, rather than taxpayers in western countries. The UK government said in March it had frozen more than £18bn in Russian assets and was considering seizing them.

“It must be Russia which is held accountable and must pay,” said Vlasiuk. “Assets which are here in the UK and other jurisdictions are easily accessible. We would like to see those confiscated and sent to Ukraine for reconstruction.”

Vlasiuk spoke to the Observer as ministers and officials prepare to host governments, business leaders and non-governmental organisations in London this week for a Ukraine recovery conference.

Summary

It is coming up to 6pm in Kyiv. Here is what you might have missed:

  • Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Maliar, confirmed troops were “engaged in active moves” to advance the counteroffensive in the country’s south. Ukrainian forces around Bakhmut, captured by Russia last month, were trying to push Russian forces out from the outskirts of the devastated city. Russia has not officially acknowledged Ukrainian advances and said it had inflicted heavy losses on Kyiv’s forces in the previous 24 hours.

  • Two people have died after a Russian missile strike on a village in the Kharkiv region in the north-east of the country, the regional governor, Oleh Synehubov, has said. Synehubov said on Telegram that Russian forces shelled the village of Huryiv Kozachok. An anti-tank guided missile hit a car driving towards the village, which is near the border with Russia.

  • Vladimir Putin confirmed that Russia had deployed its first tranche of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. He said nuclear weapons would only be used in the event of a threat to the existence of the Russian state. Speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday, the Russian president also said there was a “serious danger” that the Nato military alliance could be pulled further into the Ukraine war. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Russia was ready for further talks on arms control. The US said there was no indication the Kremlin planned to use nuclear weapons to attack Ukraine.

  • Russia’s defence minister has called for more tanks to be manufactured “to meet the needs of Russian forces” in Ukraine after Kyiv launched a counteroffensive with western arms. Sergei Shoigu visited a military factory in western Siberia and stressed the need “to maintain the increased production of tanks”, the defence ministry said. Agence France-Presse reports that Shoigu said this was necessary “to satisfy the needs of Russian forces carrying out the special military operation” launched by Moscow in Ukraine in February last year.

  • Moscow has said it has destroyed three drones targeting an oil refinery in the southern border region of Bryansk. The regional governor, Alexander Bogomaz, said: “Russian air defence systems repelled an overnight attack by the Ukrainian armed forces on the Druzhba oil refinery in the district of Novozybkov. Thanks to the professionalism of our military … three aerial drones were destroyed.”

  • Jens Stoltenberg is expected to be asked to remain as Nato secretary general for another year, according to a source familiar with the discussions. Stoltenberg’s term has already been prolonged three times and he is due to step down in September after nine years as secretary general of the military alliance. The Norwegian has broad support among the alliance and continues to be an effective leader, the source, who requested anonymity, told Reuters. The chances of Stoltenberg being asked to extend his tenure for a fourth time have increased as its summit in Vilnius has neared, with allies fearing a show of disunity as Nato continues to respond to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

  • South Africa’s president has arrived in St Petersburg, Russia, ahead of talks headed by an African delegation pushing for negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s arrival in the country “follows constructive discussions with [Ukrainian] President Volodymyr Zelenskiy”, the South African presidency said. Agence France-Presse reports that the delegation will “meet [Russian] President Vladimir Putin to seek a road to peace to [end] the 16 months-long conflict [that has] caused devastating economic impact, loss of life and global instability”.

  • It comes just a day after the African leaders met with Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv and urged Russia and Ukraine to de-escalate and negotiate, hours after sheltering from missile strikes on the capital. The diplomatic team called their visit a “historic mission” and voiced the concerns of a continent suffering from the fallout of the war, including rising grain prices. The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said both sides needed to stop fighting and “this war must be settled and there should be peace through negotiations”. Zelenskiy rejected any negotiations with Moscow, saying he had made clear to the African leaders that “permitting any talks with Russia now, when the occupier is on our land, means freezing the war, freezing pain and suffering”.

  • The head of the UN atomic energy agency has said the situation at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine is “serious” and that ensuring water for cooling was a priority of his visit, adding that the station could operate safely for “some time”. Rafael Grossi, of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was inspecting the state of Europe’s largest nuclear plant following last week’s breach in the Kakhovka dam downstream on the Dnipro River. He said: “With the water that is here the plant can be kept safe for some time. The plant is going to be working to replenish the water so that safety functions can continue normally.”

  • The Ukrainian air force said it destroyed six Kinzhals, six Kalibr cruise missiles and two reconnaissance drones, with the chief of the Kyiv military administration stating they were all intercepted over the Kyiv region. Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said there was no damage in the capital and reported an explosion from air defence in the central Podil district.

  • The US has announced a further $205m (£163m) in humanitarian aid to Ukraine to help with shortages of food, drinking water and other needs. The aid, to be distributed via partner NGOs in the region, is also aimed at helping victims of the war maintain contact with family members who have been separated. The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said in a statement: “We continue to call for an immediate end to Russia’s war of aggression and for Russia to facilitate unhindered access to providers of humanitarian assistance in Ukraine and safe passage for those who seek to move to safer areas.”

  • Nato has launched a new centre for protecting undersea pipelines and cables after the unsolved Nord Stream attack. “The threat is developing,” said Lt Gen Hans-Werner Wiermann, who heads a special unit focused on the challenge, after Nato defence ministers gave the green light for the centre, located in Northwood, north-west London. “There are heightened concerns that Russia may target undersea cables and other critical infrastructure in an effort to disrupt western life.”

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Footage has been published showing the delegation of African leaders landing in Russia.

As we reported in a blog post below, the group will meet with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to discuss a peace plan.

South Africa’s president arrives in Russia for talks with Putin

South Africa’s president has arrived in St Petersburg, Russia, ahead of talks headed by an African delegation pushing for negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s arrival in the country “follows constructive discussions with [Ukrainian] President Volodymyr Zelenskiy”, the South African presidency said.

Agence France-Presse reports that the delegation will “meet [Russian] President Vladimir Putin to seek a road to peace to [end] the 16 months-long conflict [that has] caused devastating economic impact, loss of life and global instability”.

The mission includes four presidents: Ramaphosa, Senegal’s Macky Sall, Zambia’s Hakainde Hichilema and Comoros’s Azali Assoumani, who also currently heads the African Union.

The leaders of Uganda, Egypt and Congo-Brazzaville pulled out of the visit at the last moment and sent representatives instead.

“There must be de-escalation on both sides,” Ramaphosa said in a press conference in Kyiv the day before, calling for “peace through negotiations”.

But Zelenskiy ruled out that possibility during a joint press conference with the delegates on Friday:

I clearly said several times at our meeting that to allow any negotiations with Russia, now that the occupier is on our land, is to freeze … pain and suffering.

Jens Stoltenberg is expected to be asked to remain as Nato secretary general for another year, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

Stoltenberg’s term has already been prolonged three times and he is due to step down in September after nine years as secretary general of the military alliance.

The Norwegian has broad support among the alliance and continues to be an effective leader, the source, who requested anonymity, told Reuters.

The [Biden] administration is coming around [to] the idea of Stoltenberg staying on for another year.

It doesn’t look like there is consensus at the moment within the alliance on his replacement.

The chances of Stoltenberg being asked to extend his tenure for a fourth time have increased as the summit in Vilnius has neared, with allies fearing a show of disunity as Nato continues to respond to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Stoltenberg said in February that he was not seeking a further extension to his term. But he has declined to say what he would do if Nato members asked him to stay on.

Whoever is in the role faces the twin challenges of keeping allies together in supporting Ukraine while guarding against any escalation that would draw Nato directly into a war with Russia.

These are some of the latest images to be sent to us over the newswires from Ukraine and Russia.

A Ukrainian serviceman stands in front of a heavily damaged cultural centre with a gun
A Ukrainian serviceman stands in front of a heavily damaged cultural centre in the recently liberated village of Blagodatne, Donetsk region on 16 June 2023. Photograph: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images
A woman walks along a street after floodwaters receded following the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict, in the town of Hola Prystan in the Kherson region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, June 16, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
A woman walks along a street after flood waters receded following the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in the town of Hola Prystan in the Kherson region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, 16 June 2023. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
This handout picture taken and released by the Russian Defence Ministry press service on June 17, 2023 shows Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (2ndR) visiting the tank plant in the Omsk region. (Photo by Russian Defence Ministry / AFP)
This handout picture taken and released by the Russian Defence Ministry press service on 17 June 2023 shows defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, (second right) visiting the tank plant in the Omsk region. Photograph: Russian Defence Ministry/AFP/Getty Images

Patrick Wintour

Patrick Wintour

If a fire is raging in a house, discussion of the colour of the replacement carpets is not normally the first priority, so to convene a Ukraine reconstruction conference in the midst of Kyiv’s counteroffensive may seem premature, and even tempting fate. The EU staged a large number of Syria reconstruction conferences premised on the defeat of Bashar al-Assad and look how that turned out.

The UK’s two-day conference starting on 21 June is at least the sixth since Russia’s full-scale invasion. The first was held on 4 July 2022 in Lugano, Switzerland. Germany, holding the rotating chair of the G7, held an event in Berlin on 24 October, Paris got in on the act on 13 December, Warsaw on 13 February and the EU Committee of the Regions held an event just last month, on 25 May.

The proliferation of such symposiums raises questions about whether countries are competing or coordinating over a coherent plan to rebuild Ukraine, and, crucially, whether systems will be in place for when the billions in expected western aid is in Ukraine (ranked by Transparency International in 2021 as the second most corrupt country in Europe, behind only Russia) to stop members of the elite siphoning it off.

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Read more: As well as fighting Russia, Ukrainians are battling corruption at home

Russia will take into account the “behaviour” of western media and its attitudes to Russian reporters abroad when deciding whether to accredit their journalists for major forums in Russia, the state-owned Tass news agency quoted Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov as saying.

Journalists from countries that Russia calls “unfriendly” did not get accreditation for the ongoing St Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Reuters reports that when asked whether Moscow will allow western journalists to attend forums in Russia in the future, Peskov said:

Let’s see what the regime will be, how they [foreign media] will behave.

Peskov added that the issue of giving accreditations would also depend on how Russian journalists were treated in “unfriendly” countries.

Moscow uses that label for states that imposed sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine in February last year.

Daniel Boffey

Daniel Boffey

Russia’s forces are suffering from a shortage of tanks, the country’s defence minister has admitted, as Ukraine’s offensive in the south and east continued to push back the frontline with the help of western hardware.

Sergei Shoigu, on a visit to a military factory in western Siberia, said that production of armoured vehicles needed to be increased, as Kyiv talked up the heavy losses being inflicted on the occupying enemy.

An increase in the manufacture of tanks was said by Shoigu to be necessary “to satisfy the needs of Russian forces carrying out the special military operation”, in comments that echoed those of Vladimir Putin earlier in the week.

Russia’s president had said that his military was lacking sufficient “high-precision ammunition, communications equipment, aircraft, drones, and so on”, while insisting that Ukraine has faced “catastrophic losses” in the first two weeks of its counteroffensive.

Read more: Russian forces face shortage of tanks as counteroffensive creeps forward

Two dead after Russian missile strike on village in Kharkiv

Two people have died after a Russian missile strike on a village in the Kharkiv region in the north-east of the country, the regional governor, Oleh Synehubov, has said.

Synehubov said on Telegram that Russian forces shelled the village of Huryiv Kozachok.

An anti-tank guided missile hit a car driving towards the village, which is near the border with Russia.

Two civilians who were in the car died on the spot, he said.

Editor’s note: In any earlier Telegram message Synehubov said that four people died from the missile attack. This was later revised down to two. The blog post has been amended to reflect this.

Summary

It is coming up to 1pm in Kyiv. Here is what you might have missed:

  • Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Maliar, confirmed troops were “engaged in active moves” to advance the counteroffensive in the country’s south. Ukrainian forces around Bakhmut, captured by Russia last month, were trying to push Russian forces out from the outskirts of the devastated city. Russia has not officially acknowledged Ukrainian advances and said it had inflicted heavy losses on Kyiv’s forces in the previous 24 hours.

  • Vladimir Putin confirmed that Russia had deployed its first tranche of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. He said nuclear weapons would only be used in the event of a threat to the existence of the Russian state. Speaking at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday, the Russian president also said there was a “serious danger” that the Nato military alliance could be pulled further into the Ukraine war. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Russia was ready for further talks on arms control. The US said there was no indication the Kremlin planned to use nuclear weapons to attack Ukraine.

  • Russia’s defence minister has called for more tanks to be manufactured “to meet the needs of Russian forces” in Ukraine after Kyiv launched a counteroffensive with western arms. Sergei Shoigu visited a military factory in western Siberia and stressed the need “to maintain the increased production of tanks”, the defence ministry said. Agence France-Presse reports that Shoigu said this was necessary “to satisfy the needs of Russian forces carrying out the special military operation” launched by Moscow in Ukraine in February last year.

  • Moscow has said it has destroyed three drones targeting an oil refinery in the southern border region of Bryansk. The regional governor, Alexander Bogomaz, said: “Russian air defence systems repelled an overnight attack by the Ukrainian armed forces on the Druzhba oil refinery in the district of Novozybkov. Thanks to the professionalism of our military … three aerial drones were destroyed.”

  • A delegation of African leaders met with Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv and urged Russia and Ukraine to de-escalate and negotiate, hours after sheltering from missile strikes on the capital. The diplomatic team called their visit a “historic mission” and voiced the concerns of a continent suffering from the fallout of the war, including rising grain prices. The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said both sides needed to stop fighting and “this war must be settled and there should be peace through negotiations”. Zelenskiy rejected any negotiations with Moscow, saying he had made clear to the African leaders that “permitting any talks with Russia now, when the occupier is on our land, means freezing the war, freezing pain and suffering”.

  • The head of the UN atomic energy agency has said the situation at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in Ukraine is “serious” and that ensuring water for cooling was a priority of his visit, adding that the station could operate safely for “some time”. Rafael Grossi, of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was inspecting the state of Europe’s largest nuclear plant following last week’s breach in the Kakhovka dam downstream on the Dnipro River. He said: “With the water that is here the plant can be kept safe for some time. The plant is going to be working to replenish the water so that safety functions can continue normally.”

  • The Ukrainian air force said it destroyed six Kinzhals, six Kalibr cruise missiles and two reconnaissance drones, with the chief of the Kyiv military administration stating they were all intercepted over the Kyiv region. Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said there was no damage in the capital and reported an explosion from air defence in the central Podil district.

  • The US has announced a further $205m (£163m) in humanitarian aid to Ukraine to help with shortages of food, drinking water and other needs. The aid, to be distributed via partner NGOs in the region, is also aimed at helping victims of the war maintain contact with family members who have been separated. The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said in a statement: “We continue to call for an immediate end to Russia’s war of aggression and for Russia to facilitate unhindered access to providers of humanitarian assistance in Ukraine and safe passage for those who seek to move to safer areas.”

  • Nato has launched a new centre for protecting undersea pipelines and cables after the unsolved Nord Stream attack. “The threat is developing,” said Lt Gen Hans-Werner Wiermann, who heads a special unit focused on the challenge, after Nato defence ministers gave the green light for the centre, located in Northwood, north-west London. “There are heightened concerns that Russia may target undersea cables and other critical infrastructure in an effort to disrupt western life.”

Russia claims it repelled drone attack targeting oil refinery

Moscow has said it had destroyed three drones targeting an oil refinery in the southern border region of Bryansk, Agence France-Presse reports.

The governor of the Bryansk region, Alexander Bogomaz, said:

Russian air defence systems repelled an overnight attack by the Ukrainian armed forces on the Druzhba oil refinery in the district of Novozybkov.

Thanks to the professionalism of our military … three aerial drones were destroyed.

He did not mention any damage. Drone attacks have multiplied in recent months, with Kyiv and Moscow claiming to repel some several times a week.

A Ukrainian soldier carries a drone during training in Kyiv
A Ukrainian soldier carries a drone during training in Kyiv. Photograph: Andriy Zhyhaylo/Obozrevatel/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images

Ukraine’s interior ministry has claimed that Russia shelled the Kherson region on Friday, wounding 23 people.

It said that among the injured were three children: a 15-year-old boy, a 16-year-old girl and an 11-year-old girl.

In a post on Telegram the interior ministry added that a number of buildings were damaged and a car was set on fire.




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