Day 246 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Will Zelensky and Putin Negotiate?
Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
Air alert this morning in Ukraine, Russia threatens to review relations with UN Secretariat
An air alert was signaled this morning in several areas of Ukraine. According to the information from the local military administration, there were also strikes in the Kyiv region. There are currently no reports of casualties.
At the front, the situation near Bakhmut remains the most serious.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the tactics of the Russian command "madness" and Russia announced that it may review its relations with the UN Secretariat.
For months, the Russians have been trying to capture Bakhmut, a town in the Donetsk region that had a pre-war population of about 70,000. Bakhmut is located on the main road between Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, which are currently under Ukrainian control.
"The pressure here only shows the insanity of the Russian military command. Day after day, people are sent to certain death, the artillery fire is endless, and there is no result. In general, we are strengthening our positions along the entire front line. We are reducing the capabilities of the occupiers, destroying their logistics centers and we are preparing good news for Ukraine," Ukrainian President Zelensky said in his midnight address.
According to analysts, however, the big battle will be fought for Kherson. Russia strengthens its positions and prepares to defend the city.
"The Russians are changing their positions. Our intelligence has confirmed that they are reinforcing their ranks with recruits, strengthening the flanks, digging trenches. They are afraid of our air force, our artillery and our soldiers," said a Ukrainian serviceman.
Kyiv claims that the Ukrainian offensive has also been delayed due to unfavorable weather conditions. And according to sources in Moscow, within weeks, a Ukrainian attack will also begin in the Zaporizhzhia region.
Russia may reconsider its relationship with the UN Secretariat if it opens an investigation into the drone attacks on Ukraine. This was stated by the permanent representative of Mosva at the UN Vasiliy Nebenzya.
"It is not about a break, but there will be a revision of relations," he added.
Ukraine and a number of Western countries accuse Iran of supplying drones to Russia, which it uses in the war. And this is a violation of the sanctions imposed on Tehran because of its nuclear program.
Meanwhile, Poland's Senate passed a resolution declaring Russia a terrorist regime and calling on the international community to support an International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes in Ukraine.
Drone attack on a power plant in Crimea
The authorities of the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula reported that a power plant on the peninsula was attacked by a drone last night, but did not cause serious damage, reported AFP.
"Last night, an attack was carried out with an unmanned aircraft against the thermal power plant in Balaklava", the governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvityev, said in "Telegram". "The transformer suffered minimal damage. No one was injured," he explained.
The governor specified that "there is no threat to the electricity supply" and "the incident does not affect the electricity supply of Sevastopol and the peninsula". The transformer that caught fire "was undergoing maintenance and was not working," and "the workers at the plant quickly dealt with the fire," he said.
The Crimean authorities made this statement at a time when Ukrainian forces continue their counter-offensive in southern Ukraine, notes AFP.
Zelensky received a "message" from Putin from an African president and set conditions
Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo expressed the readiness of Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.
The response was a demand for an end to hostilities as a condition for dialogue - a month after Kyiv forbid talks with Moscow over its annexation of Ukrainian territories.
"Yesterday I was in Russia, I met with President Putin, who asked me to give you a message, to talk to you," Embalo told Zelensky (a recording of their press conference is available on President Volodymyr Zelensky's social media profiles). "He told me he is ready for negotiations with President Zelensky," the Guinea-Bissau leader said a day after visiting the Kremlin.
What did Zelensky answer?
Zelensky suggested that Russia stop shelling Ukrainian infrastructure, blocking Ukrainian Black Sea ports and threatening nuclear weapons. “Only then can we talk about anything in the future.”
"The second question is who to talk to," he said, referring to the rejection of dialogue while Putin is president after last month's escalation.
“The second issue that Russia has conveyed is that relations must be unblocked. Let's start the unblocking with the Black Sea... In order to talk about any dialogue, one side must respect the other, its territorial integrity, sovereignty, borders,” said Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine
In response, he drew attention to the fact that Russia has already used 400 Iranian drones in attacks against Ukraine.
“This is the dialogue that Mr. President is talking about. Instead of words, you have 400 rockets. In general, we, the Russians, are for the world, here is a dialogue”, said Zelensky.
What is behind Putin's words
According to Zelensky's version, this is "planned rhetoric" intended for a Russian audience and the audience of countries that have broken relations with Russia.
According to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Putin's rhetoric shows that he is not seriously interested in talks with Ukraine and actually intends to continue the war while pursuing maximalist goals.
The meetings with Embalo are not specifically mentioned, but the Russian leader's comments from a meeting with representatives of the services in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States that Ukraine has "lost its sovereignty" and is being used by the United States as a "batteing ram" against Russia are highlighted. Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin spoke of the loss of "the ability to exist as a country", "occupied by NATO" and "turned into a colony of the USA". Such language is incompatible with negotiations on equal footing for a cease-fire, much less with those to resolve the conflict, continued the think tank's analysis published hours ago.
On the contrary, it strongly suggests that the Kremlin is still looking for a military victory in Ukraine and a regime change in Kyiv to reorient Ukraine towards Russia and control its actions, ISW believes.
What's more, Putin's approach shows that the goals go beyond the Ukrainian territory he claims to be annexing, the analysis continued.
Despite the questioning of international norms and the sanctions imposed on his country over the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin remains under a deepening isolation where he cannot fully rely on either India (which has demanded an end to the conflict) or China.
African leaders along with Arabs became his main frequent interlocutors; in North Africa, one of the reasons is that the countries are heavily dependent on Russian imports, whether of grain or other goods. In the Persian Gulf, the rich Arab monarchies are trying to maneuver: the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, traveled to the Kremlin, but the messages addressed to Putin were moderate. Saudi Arabia is wary as the United States links its decision to support oil output cuts to support prices as linked to Moscow.
The fact that Guinea-Bissau is delivering a message from Putin is interesting for at least two reasons.
One is that he is the rotating chairman of ECOWAS, a regional economic bloc in West Africa whose countries have been rocked by a wave of instability in the past two years. There were successful coups in several countries - in Mali and Burkina Faso (two each in two years) and in Guinea, one failed - in Guinea-Bissau itself. Embalo emphasized this role at the head of ECOWAS at the meeting with Putin in the Kremlin, where he specified that he represents the association and conveys messages from "all members". The continuation of the war is a source of concern for African countries because of its effect on grain supplies and food and fuel prices. Russia cannot be "left behind" in this situation, is the ECOWAS message, which Embalo seems to have conveyed in Ukraine as well.
The other is that the former Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau is among the countries with which France has recently shown increased interest in deepening relations. Although its pre-independence history is unrelated to Paris, it became one of the few countries that French President Emmanuel Macron visited during his summer tour of Africa - coinciding with that of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russia was particularly active in dialogue with former French colonies, and the trend deepened as the war progressed; this also includes security cooperation, as the Russian private military company Wagner became the de facto reason for the withdrawal of French forces from Mali and is active in several other countries.
“I am conveying a message on behalf of all 15 countries representing ECOWAS to discuss today's situation of war between two sister nations - Russia and Ukraine, to discuss not only grain and wheat but also the world which is blocked”, said Umaro Sissoco Embalo, President of Guinea-Bissau, in conversation with Vladimir Putin.
ISW: Putin does not want negotiations with Kyiv, but wants the whole of Ukraine and with a new leadership
"Russian President Vladimir Putin's rhetoric shows that he is not interested in serious negotiations with Ukraine and maintains maximalist goals for the war," the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) said in its latest analysis. Analysts at the Washington-based international think-tank cited the Russian president's statement that the US was "using Ukraine as a battering ram against Russia, the Russian-Belarusian Union State, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the CIS."
Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin expanded on that Putin narrative on Wednesday, saying that “Ukraine has lost the ability to exist as a state,” “Ukraine is occupied by NATO” and “(Ukraine) has become a US colony.
"This language, ISW points out, is incompatible with negotiations on equal footing for a ceasefire, let alone a resolution of the conflict that Russia started. Instead, it strongly suggests that the Kremlin is still seeking a military victory in Ukraine and regime change in Kyiv, which would effect a permanent reorientation of Ukraine away from the West and under Russian control. It also shows that Putin's goals go beyond the territory he has declared annexed and the areas his forces de facto control."
A Reuters investigation into documents found at an abandoned Russian command post in Balaklia, Kharkiv Oblast, supports ISW's long-standing assessments of the poor state of Russian forces. ISW has long assessed that the conventional Russian military in Ukraine has been severely degraded and has largely lost offensive capabilities since the summer of 2022, that Russian strategic commanders have micro-managed operational commanders' decisions on tactical matters, and that Russian morale is very short. Russian units near Balaklia were severely understaffed, with a combat battalion at 19.6 percent capacity and reserves at 23 percent combat capability. The reporters also found that poor morale, poor logistics and overbearing commanders contributed to the poor performance of Russian forces. The report found that Russia's Western Military District specifically prohibited subordinates from withdrawing from an untenable position in the small village of Hrakov (which is less than three square kilometers in area). The VSU prevailed over Russian forces at Balaklia and routed the Russians in eastern Kharkiv Oblast around September 8-10.
Regarding the situation on the front line, the ISW notes the main directions in which both sides are concentrating forces:
- Ukrainian counteroffensives — Southern and Eastern Ukraine;
- Russian Main Effort — Eastern Ukraine (consisting of one subordinate and two supporting efforts);
- Russian subordinate main effort — Capture of entire Donetsk region;
- Russian supporting efforts — Southern Axis;
- Russian mobilization and force generation efforts;
- Activities in Russian-occupied areas.
Among those listed, Moscow's attempts to attract foreigners to support Russia's war in Ukraine are of interest. Foreign Policy reported on Oct. 25 that Russians—allegedly part of Russia's Wagner Group—were contacting members of the US-trained commando corps of the Afghan National Army to recruit them to join a Russian “foreign legion” to fight in Ukraine. The publication added that many of these well-trained ex-soldiers have been in hiding since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021 and are without stable jobs or personal security, meaning up to 10,000 of these commandos could be tempted by the Russians’ offers. The Ukrainian Resistance Center reported that Belarusian military commissariats in the Gomel region mobilized Belarusian drivers and mechanics to repair Russian military equipment in Belarus. The Kremlin is likely looking to bolster its military efforts with foreign elements as Russia's military continues to face acute personnel shortages.
Russian sources complain that the Russian Ministry of Defense does not maintain contact with Russian forces and prisoners of war in Ukraine. Russian journalist Anastasia Kashevarova wrote a public complaint on October 26 that an entire Russian company of mobilized men from the 55th motorized rifle brigade operating near Svatovo was without command.
Analysts' attention is focused on the ongoing evacuation of the civilian population of Kherson and the region by the occupation authorities. Kremlin collaborator Vladimir Saldo said on October 26 that Russian and occupation authorities had moved 70,000 residents from the west bank of the Dnieper River into Kherson Oblast in the past week. Saldo claims that 40,000 Kherson residents settled on the east bank of the Dnieper River, and an unspecified number settled in other Russian-occupied territories and the Russian Federation itself.
Russia will also mobilize those convicted of serious crimes
Russia's parliament passed a second reading of amendments to the mobilization law and lifted a ban on recruiting people with serious criminal convictions into the army.
While some exceptions - from those convicted of terrorism to treason - remain in place, the measure widens the range of those subject to mobilization at a time when, according to comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the process should be completed within days.
Over two-thirds of 300,000 people have already been mobilized, according to official data, because of the war in Ukraine. Several Russian media reported that the actual number of people who will receive call-ups and be sent to Ukraine exceeds a million.
The Duma voted on the amendment at a time when it has been known for months that the largest Russian private military company "Wagner" is recruiting prisoners, promising them amnesty and monetary compensation (the company's founder Yevgeny Prigozhin practically confirmed his participation in one such action).
There have also been reports that the Ministry of Defense has become involved in the process by recruiting colonies in which the prisoners are former employees of the security structures.
This week, Novaya Gazeta Europe reported that more than 40 foreigners and another 60 or so Russians serving time in a specific penal colony for drug trafficking, murder and rape have been sent to the front as part of Wagner. According to this information, they are citizens of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Moldova, Serbia and Egypt, there is also a citizen of Ukraine. We are talking about people convicted of drug dealing, murder and rape.
Australia will train Ukrainian soldiers
Australia announced today that it will send 70 of its military personnel to Britain to help train Ukrainian soldiers there. In addition, it will send 30 more armored vehicles to Kyiv to help it counter the Russian invasion, Reuters reported.
"We now expect the conflict to be protracted," Defense Secretary Richard Marles told ABC television.
The latest package will bring Australia's aid to Ukraine since the start of the conflict in February to about A5 million (US5 million).
"We are aware that Ukraine now needs to be supported in the longer term if we want it to be in a position to resolve this conflict on its own terms," Marles noted.
Australia, one of the largest non-NATO contributors to Western aid to Ukraine, has provided aid and defense equipment, and has also banned the export of aluminum and aluminum ores, including bauxite, to Russia. Canberra also imposed sanctions on hundreds of Russian individuals and entities.
Australian soldiers arriving in Britain in January next year will join UK-led international military training but will not enter the war zone in Ukraine, Marles said.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Dmytro Kuleba thanked Australia for the latest aid to his country.
"Bushmaster APCs performed excellently on the battlefield and we asked for more. We will always remember Australia's support!" Kuleba said on Twitter.
The US sanctions two Moldovan oligarchs for ties to Russia
The United States has imposed sanctions on two Moldovan oligarchs and others linked to corruption or alleged cooperation with Russia to undermine democracy in the country, AFP and Reuters reported.
The sanctions were announced at a time when Western powers are trying to boost their support for Moldova amid fears of an escalation of the war in neighboring Ukraine.
The United States freezes all American assets and criminalizes dealings with Ilan Shor. The Israeli-born businessman became a politician in Moldova, from where he fled in 2019. Shor was convicted of stealing billion from Moldovan banks in 2014, France Press recalls.
The US Treasury Department said the businessman worked with Russia to create an alliance before last year's election and later coordinated with Moscow to thwart Moldova's bid to join the European Union.
The list also includes former Moldovan parliament member Vladimir Plahotniuc, who manipulated "key areas of government, including the law enforcement, electoral and judicial sectors," the US Treasury Department said in a statement.
The US "encourages accountability for the systematic attempts to undermine democratic institutions and elections in Moldova," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. "The United States will continue to hold accountable those who threaten democracy abroad," he said in a statement.
The US Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on 7 more people as well as 12 organizations in connection with alleged Russian attempts to interfere in Moldovan politics.
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