Ukraine war: Five developments to know about today

1. Ukrainian army claims success near Kharkiv as Russian forces crumble

Ukrainian forces were charging through an expanding area of previously Russian-held territory in the east on Friday after bursting through the frontline in a surprise breakthrough that could mark a major turning point in the war.

After keeping silent for a day, Moscow effectively acknowledged that a section of its frontline had crumbled southeast of Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv.

“The very fact of a breach of our defences is already a substantial victory for the Ukrainian armed forces,” the head of the Moscow-installed administration for occupied areas in Kharkiv province, Vitaly Ganchev, said on Russian state TV.

The Russian defence ministry released video of military vehicles speeding along a highway, saying they showed reinforcements rushing to defend the area. The Kremlin declined to comment on the Ukrainian advance.

Ukrainian officials released a parade of videos showing soldiers raising flags and posing in front of street signs in villages and towns across a swath of previously Russian-held territory.

Western military analysts say the advance could shut the supply lines Moscow has relied on to sustain its force in eastern Ukraine and potentially leave thousands of Russian troops encircled.

Meanwhile, Moscow was said to be sending reinforcements to repel the counteroffensive and shelled the centre of Kharkiv on Friday, injuring at least ten people, according to Ukrainian officials.

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2. Blinken makes surprise visit to Kyiv, promises more aid

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken paid a surprise visit to Kyiv on Thursday, stating that the Biden administration increased military aid by more than US$ 2.8 billion (€2.77bn) to Ukraine and other European countries threatened by Russia.

The new assistance came as the US sought to boost momentum in Ukraine’s counter-offensive against Russia, especially amid growing concerns that the cost-of-living crisis and growing fatigue could dampen support for the Ukrainian war effort.

President Joe Biden, Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin all participated in meetings aimed at showing the US resolve to stand behind Ukraine.

In Kyiv, Blinken said the administration would provide $2.2bn (€2.18bn) in long-term military financing to Ukraine and 18 of its neighbours “potentially at risk of future Russian aggression”.

That’s on top of a $675 million (€671m) package of heavy weaponry, ammunition and armoured vehicles for Ukraine alone, announced by Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, earlier in the day.

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3. Situation at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant critical, warns UN watchdog

The current situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine is reaching a critical point and may result in the use of last-resort methods, a UN watchdog has reported.

In a video statement released by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said shelling at the plant has caused a blackout in the neighbouring city of Enerhodar and jeopardised the plant’s operational safety.

Grossi called for an “immediate cessation of all shelling in the entire area” to allow for necessary repairs.

Since power cables and safety backup systems had been damaged by the fighting, Grossi warned that emergency diesel generators would have to be used to avoid a nuclear incident.

The Zaporizhzhia plant has been subjected to shelling for weeks, which Russia and Ukraine blame each other for, and has had its reactors shut down as a consequence.

A recently released IAEA report fell short of blaming either side for the attacks.

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4. UN accuses Russia of preventing access to Ukrainian war prisoners

The head of the UN human rights mission in Ukraine said on Friday that Russia is not allowing access to prisoners of war, adding that the UN had evidence that they have been subjected to abuse that could amount to war crimes.

Matilda Bogner told a Geneva news briefing that UN monitors had unimpeded access to Ukrainian facilities and had documented incidents of torture and ill-treatment of POWs by Ukraine, which may also amount to war crimes.

“The Russian Federation has not provided access to prisoners of war held on its territory or in territory under its occupation…,” Bogner said.

“This is all the more worrying since we have documented that prisoners of war in the power of the Russian Federation and held by the Russian Federation’s armed forces or by affiliated armed groups have suffered torture and ill-treatment.”

“In terms of the treatment of prisoners of war, certainly some of the issues could rise to being war crimes — issues of torture and ill treatment of prisoners of war,” she said in response to a question about the Russian-held prisoners.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine on 24 February, denies torture or other forms of maltreatment of POWs.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he could not comment on the UN statement because Russian authorities did not have enough information. “We do not know who approached the military and whether they did,” he told a news briefing.

Ukraine’s General Staff did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kyiv has previously said it checks all information regarding the treatment of POWs and will investigate any violations and take appropriate legal action.

Ukrainian prisoners are being subject to a “welcoming process” whereby they are forced to walk or run between rows of Russian guards who take turns severely beating them as they enter the facilities, Bogner said. 

Her team had also received information about Ukrainian prisoners suffering from infectious diseases including hepatitis A and tuberculosis in a penal colony in Olenivka, she said.

At the same briefing, she also urged Russia to release on humanitarian grounds four pregnant prisoners of war being held in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine.

5. Zelenskyy to address US arms makers in appeal for more weapons

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is scheduled to speak to US arms makers and military leaders on 21 September, when he is expected to make an appeal for more weapons for his country’s defence against Russia, according to advance notice of the speech seen by Reuters.

Zelenskyy was set to speak by video link before a conference hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association in Austin, Texas, in his first-ever speech to the US defence industry.

Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s minister of defence, was also slated to appear at the Future Force Capabilities conference and appeal for support for the country’s fight against Russia’s invasion, now more than six months on.

The association’s members include Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin, which jointly produce Javelin anti-tank weapons that have been used by Ukraine.

Those companies and other top weapons makers, including Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics Corp, and L3Harris Technologies, were present at an April meeting called by the Pentagon to discuss Ukraine’s weapons needs.

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