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The U.S. warns of a Russian ruse while Zelenskyy fires an ambassador

Prigozhin said he won’t come back to Ukraine while Zelenskyy fired Prystaiko: highlights from the news

Prigozhin said he won’t come back to Ukraine while Zelenskyy fired Prystaiko: highlights from the news

Ukrainian forces started using U.S.-made cluster munitions, the White House warned of a possible Russian false-flag operation aimed at blaming Ukraine, while President Volodymyr Zelenskyy fired an ambassador to London who disapproved of his sarcasm. Meanwhile, the chief of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, made a speech in Belarus, saying his mercenaries will no longer fight in Ukraine.

The Page offers a digest of Western mass media at the end of the July 17–21, 2023, business week.

Russia prepares an attack against commercial vessels, says the White House

Kirby warned of Russia’s new provocation. Photo: Getty Images

Kirby warned of Russia’s new provocation. Photo: Getty Images

Russia on Thursday stepped up its aerial assaults on Ukrainian ports critical to the world’s food supply, The New York Times reports. Meanwhile, the White House warned that the Kremlin has mined sea routes and might be setting the stage for attacks on commercial transport ships.

After pulling out of the Grain Deal that had allowed Ukrainian grain to make it to the world market, Moscow has put shipping companies on notice that they now cross the Russian blockade in the Black Sea at their own peril, and could be treated as military targets. Ukraine on Thursday issued its own warning: Ships heading to Russian ports or to ports in occupied Ukraine, the Ministry of Defense said, will now be considered to be carrying "military cargo, with all the corresponding risks."

In Washington, a White House official, John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council accused Moscow of engaging in a false-flag operation. According to him, Russia placed mines in an area already mined by Ukraine to deter an amphibious assault.

Quote"We believe that this is rather a coordinated effort to justify any attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea, and then blame them on Ukraine," Mr. Kirby said.

Despite Moscow’s own warnings to shipping outfits, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, on Thursday denied that it had any intention of attacking civilian ships.

The grain agreement, reached last summer, eased the threat of famine in countries dependent on Ukrainian exports. With the deal’s apparent demise, wheat prices have soared, jumping 12 percent since Monday.

Quote"The primary goal for the Russians is to undercut the Ukrainian economy, and if they could do that without firing a shot, they would be delighted," said Sidharth Kaushal, a research fellow for sea power at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based defense and security research group.

The researcher argued that Russia’s effort to damage Ukraine’s economy and free itself from Western sanctions is a show of its inability to succeed militarily.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s top diplomat, said Russia had not only withdrawn from the grain agreement, "but they are burning the grain," too.

Quote"What we already know is that this is going to create a big, a huge food crisis in the world," he told reporters before an E.U. meeting in Brussels.

Ukraine has used cluster munitions. How will it make a difference on the frontline?

Ukraine has begun firing cluster munitions. Photo: Wikipedia

Ukraine has begun firing cluster munitions. Photo: Wikipedia

According to Ukrainian officials familiar with the matter, Ukraine has begun firing U.S.-provided cluster munitions against well-fortified Russian positions in southeastern Ukraine, The Washington Post reports.

The U.S.-made cluster munitions were delivered to Ukraine last week following President Joe Biden’s "difficult decision". Human rights groups, European allies, and some Democrats criticized it because of the risk of civilian casualties.

Biden circumvented the ban on the transfer of cluster munitions under the Foreign Assistance Act, which allows the president to provide aid, regardless of arms export restrictions, as long as he determines that doing so is a vital U.S. national security interest.

On Sunday, Putin threatened to retaliate against Ukraine’s use of the cluster munitions with the Kremlin’s own supply of the weapons. However, Russia has already used them in populated areas of Ukraine at least 24 times since the start of the full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022, according to the United Nations.

Earlier this week, Colonel Oleksandr Bakulin, commander of Ukraine’s 57th Brigade, told BBC News that cluster munitions were needed to "inflict maximum damage on enemy infantry," although he acknowledged they would not "solve all our problems on the battlefield." Meanwhile, Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, commander of the operational-strategic force "Tavria", told CNN last week that the munitions "can radically change" the battlefield.

In addition to front-line positions in southeast Ukraine, the cluster munitions are also expected to be used near the Russian-controlled city of Bakhmut.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Ukraine committed "in writing" not to use the munitions against population centers and that efforts would be made to try to clean up areas where the weapons are deployed. Austin promised that the United States would help Ukraine clean up areas where the weapons are deployed from duds.

An ambassador who reproved Zelenskyy for his "unhealthy sarcasm" was fired

Zelenskyy fired Prystaiko for his inappropriate words in an interview. Photo: Getty Images

Zelenskyy fired Prystaiko for his inappropriate words in an interview. Photo: Getty Images

According to The Guardian, Volodymyr Zelenskiy has dismissed Ukraine’s ambassador to London after a row over the Ukrainian president being asked to be more grateful for the military the west was providing to his country.

Vadym Prystaiko’s dismissal was announced in a presidential order, with no official reason being given. He has also been removed as Ukraine’s representative to the International Maritime Organization.

A row between the two men blew up after Prystaiko was asked on Sky News if there was a hint of sarcasm in Zelenskiy’s promise that "each and every morning we’ll wake up and call Ben Wallace to thank him". Zelenskyy’s words came out as a response to the remark made by the U.K. defense secretary, Ben Wallace, suggesting the Ukrainians were treating the west as though it was Amazon.

Quote"I don’t think that kind of sarcasm is healthy. We don’t have to show the Russians there is something between us. They have to know we are working together. If something happens, Ben can call me and tell me everything he wants," the ambassador answered.

Prystaiko apparently had a difficult phone call with his president on Thursday that ended with his dismissal. He had been ambassador since June 2020 and was previously a foreign minister.

In private he has always been skilled at conveying messages, often saying the biggest barrier he faced in seeking to secure more arms and support was western fear of Russian escalation.

His dismissal, alongside the expected departure of Wallace as defense secretary, means there will be major changes in a key part of the UK-Ukraine axis at a critical time for the offensive.

Wagner’s mercenaries won’t come back to Ukraine, says Prigozhin

Prigozhin promised that he won’t come back to Ukraine. Photo: Getty Images

Prigozhin promised that he won’t come back to Ukraine. Photo: Getty Images

According to Reuters, Russia's mutinous mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin was shown in a video on Wednesday welcoming his fighters to Belarus. The footage, reposted by his press service on Telegram, is the first video evidence of Prigozhin's whereabouts since the June 23–24 mutiny of the Wagner Group.

In the video, the authenticity of which Reuters could not immediately verify, a man whose voice and Russian sounded like Prigozhin's, is heard welcoming his men.

Quote"We fought honorably. You have done a great deal for Russia. What is going on at the front is a disgrace that we do not need to get involved in," said Prigozhin.

Belarus said last week that Wagner fighters were instructing its soldiers at a military range southeast of Minsk.

Prigozhin says in the video that his men should behave well towards the locals and orders them to train the Belarusian army and gather their strength for a "new journey to Africa."

Quote"And perhaps we will return to the SMO (special military operation in Ukraine) at some point, when we are sure that we will not be forced to shame ourselves," Prigozhin said.
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