September 24, 2023

War in Ukraine: Latest developments

Smoke and dirt rises after a strike on a factory in the city of Soledar in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas

Smoke and dirt rises after a strike on a factory in the city of Soledar in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas – Copyright AFP Andreas SOLARO

Here are the latest developments in the war in Ukraine:

– Offensive stepped up –

Russian forces are stepping up their offensive around Lugansk in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, as the conflict enters its fourth month.

Since Moscow’s invasion in late February, Western support has helped Ukraine hold off its neighbour’s advances in many areas — including the capital Kyiv — but Russia is now focused on securing and expanding its gains in Donbas and the southern coast.

“The coming weeks of the war will be difficult, and we must be aware of that,” Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky says in his latest nightly address, singling out fierce fighting in three Donbas towns.

– Russia ‘liberating’ Lugansk –

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu says Moscow is nearing full control of the separatist region of Lugansk in eastern Ukraine.

“The liberation of the Lugansk People’s Republic is nearing completion,” Shoigu says, having earlier revealed Moscow will create new military bases in western Russia in response to the expansion of NATO.

– Military age limit –

Russia’s parliament is to consider scrapping the upper age limit for signing up to join the army, in a sign Moscow may be looking to recruit more troops for its military campaign in Ukraine.

Under current legislation, only Russians aged 18 to 40 and foreign nationals aged 18 to 30 have the right to sign their first military service contract but a draft bill could raise the limit.

“Highly professional specialists are needed to use high-precision weapons and operate weapons and military equipment,” says a note accompanying the draft bill.

– European oil embargo possible –

A European agreement on a Russian oil embargo is possible “within a few days”, the German economy minister says, as the bloc struggles to reach a consensus on a boycott.

“There are only a few states left who have issues, Hungary above all,” Robert Habeck tells public broadcaster ZDF.

“I think we will achieve a breakthrough within the next few days,” Habeck predicts, insisting an embargo in response to the invasion of Ukraine is “within reach” despite opposition notably from Hungary, which fears the effect on the security of its energy supply.

– Bloggers arrests ordered –

A Moscow court orders the arrests in absentia of Russian bloggers Michael Nacke and Veronika Belotserkovskaya, accused of discrediting the army and its offensive in Ukraine. 

Nacke, a 28-year-old Kremlin critic who tells AFP he is currently in Lithuania, hosts a YouTube channel with more than 700,000 subscribers where he discusses Russia’s military actions in Ukraine.

He says he risks up to 10 years in prison if he returns to Russia, adding his arrest is “part of the massive pressure on journalists and analysts who objectively describe the course of the current war.”

– Western artillery aids defence –

Ukrainian forces are battering Russian positions with newly-provided Western artillery systems, according to a Ukrainian military spokesman.

For much of the war Ukraine has relied on their own Soviet-era howitzers but in recent weeks state of the art artillery systems from friendly nations, including the United States’ M777, have made their way to the frontline.

Some 20 countries have meanwhile offered new security assistance packages for Ukraine to battle invading Russian forces following a meeting of allies on Monday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin says.

– Russian soldier seeks acquittal –

The lawyer for the first Russian soldier to face trial in Kyiv says his client is “not guilty” of premeditated murder and war crimes and is urging his acquittal after the 21-year-old received a life sentence for killing a civilian days after the invasion.

Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, at the centre of the first war crimes trial held over the conflict, has said he is “truly sorry” and asked the widow of the Ukrainian civilian he killed for forgiveness.

But the court has given him a life term for what it deemed the premeditated killing of 62-year-old civilian, Oleksandr Shelipov. 

– Russia bans more UK MPs –

Russia’s foreign ministry announces it is imposing an entry ban on 154 members of the UK parliament’s House of Lords in retaliation for sanctions against Russian senators over Ukraine.

“In response to a decision taken in March by the British government to put almost all Russia’s Federation Council members on a sanctions list, on a reciprocal basis, personal sanctions are being introduced against 154 members of the House of Lords,” the ministry says.