Ukrainian troops have stepped up their counteroffensive in southern Ukraine, using tanks and other Western-provided equipment. Josep Borrell calls on the world to respond to Russia’s cynical policy of blocking the Grain Deal and bombing Ukraine’s civil infrastructure. Meanwhile, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki warns of a new threat from Belarus as the Russian Wagner Group might carry out "sabotage actions," and Donald Trump is presented with one more criminal case, which prompts his former allies to turn their backs on the ex-president.
Counteroffensive in the south: Kyiv throws in reserves
Russia’s main defensive line remains ahead of Ukrainian forces as they strive to drive south and sever Russia’s land bridge to Crimea, The Washington Post reports. Ukrainian troops have begun to make incremental gains toward that line after swapping out an approach that involved small movements of troops on foot for a larger influx of forces from Ukraine’s 10th Corps reserves using tanks and armored vehicles.
The decision to dedicate a substantial number of reserves to the battle represents the latest improvisation in Ukraine’s nearly two-month-old counteroffensive — made possible by the West’s investments of tens of billions of dollars in tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, long-range missile systems and other equipment aimed at shifting the balance of power in Ukraine’s favor.
The initial phase of the fighting in early June saw forces from Ukraine’s 9th Corps using a range of newly acquired Western equipment but incurring losses and making little progress in the face of well-prepared Russian defenses. The next phase, which relied on dismounted infantry, also failed to make significant inroads. Instead of waiting to deploy a large portion of 10th Corps reserves until Ukraine arrived at Russia’s main defensive line, Kyiv called them in last week, resulting in a major uptick in fighting.
"This last week of fighting has been important because they decided to commit their second echelon of forces in a greater way," said Rob Lee, a military analyst with the Foreign Policy Research Institute.
According to Lee, it's not yet clear if Russia has suffered enough losses to create the conditions for a breakthrough.
Ukraine also dislodged entrenched Russian forces in a village near the occupied eastern city of Bakhmut, the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Wednesday. Ukraine’s relatively better advance around Bakhmut could be due to Russian forces having had less time to dig trenches and plant mines than they did in long-occupied territories in southern Ukraine, analysts said.
Despite criticisms that Ukraine’s Western-trained forces are not performing as well as last fall around the cities of Kharkiv and Kherson, the Pentagon has projected confidence in the future success of the Ukrainian advance.
"We continue to see their counteroffensive move forward," Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon’s spokesman, said Tuesday. "This will be a marathon and not a sprint."
Meanwhile, Russian forces have stepped up attacks in northeastern Ukraine, including near the city of Kupyansk. Lee, the military analyst. suggests that, by doing this, Moscow tries to weaken the offensive of the Ukrainian forces by forcing Ukraine to take away some of the units they can commit to fighting in the south.
Josep Borrell: The world must respond to Russia’s cynical policy
On July 17, nearly one year after the agreement was signed in Istanbul, Russia decided not to renew the Black Sea grain initiative (BSGI) that allows Ukraine to continue exporting agricultural goods to global markets during the war, as EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell recapitulates in his opinion piece for The Guardian.
He notes that before the full-scale war, a fifth of the world’s barley came from Ukraine, as well as a sixth of the maize and an eighth of wheat. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, global food prices spiked to record levels and endangered much-needed food supply for many importer countries.
The BSGI aimed to re-establish a vital route for agricultural exports from Ukraine and to lower global food prices, and it achieved its key purpose, according to Borrell. Since August 2022, the export of almost 33 million tonnes of grains and food from Ukraine to 45 countries has played an instrumental role in reducing global food prices by 25%.
Over half of the grain, including two-thirds of the wheat, went to developing countries. In addition, Ukraine supplied 80% of the wheat procured in 2023 to support humanitarian operations in the most food insecure countries such as Afghanistan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Without the Black Sea route, the World Food Program has to get its grain elsewhere at higher prices and with a longer lead time at a moment when the world is facing an unprecedented food crisis.
In order to shift blame, Russia claims that its own agricultural exports were not sufficiently facilitated, but this is not true: according to publicly available trade data, they are thriving. Russia also gained important benefits from the memorandum of understanding with the UN on fertilizer exports, which had been brokered in parallel to the BSGI.
"Contrary to the lies spread by Russia, the EU has indeed ensured that our sanctions have no impact on global food security. There are no sanctions on Russian export of food and fertilizer to third countries," the EU High Representative emphasizes.
Despite these well-known and verifiable facts, Russia decided to pull out of the BSGI in July and immediately started to destroy Ukraine’s grain storage facilities and port infrastructure with daily targeted attacks, not only in the Black Sea itself but also in the Danube. As an immediate reaction, wholesale wheat and maize prices saw their biggest increase since the start of Russia’s war of aggression.
Meanwhile, Russia is approaching vulnerable countries, notably in Africa, with bilateral offers of limited grain shipments, pretending to solve a problem it created itself. This is a cynical policy to deliberately use food as a weapon.
In response to Russia’s irresponsible actions, the EU is active along three main lines, Josep Borrell says.
First, we will continue to support the tireless efforts of the UN and Turkey to resume the BSGI.
Second, we will continue to strengthen our "solidarity lanes" as alternative routes for Ukrainian agricultural exports to reach global markets through the EU. These lanes have allowed the export of more than 41 million tonnes of Ukraine’s agricultural goods so far, and we are increasing this as much as possible.
Third, we have increased our financial support to countries and people most in need, providing €18bn (£15.5bn) to address food security until 2024.
"We call on the international community and all countries to step up their own assistance in support of global food security. We ask all our partners to urge Russia to return to negotiations as the African Union already has, as well as to refrain from targeting Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure."
Poland and Lithuania warn of a threat to NATO from the Wagner Group
Russia’s Wagner Group might carry out "sabotage actions" and their threat should not be underestimated, said Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Thursday, according to Politico.
Morawiecki and Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nausėda met at the Suwałki Gap to discuss the threat posed by the Wagner forces, some of whom have relocated to Belarus.
"Our borders have been stopping various hybrid attacks for years. Russia and Belarus are increasing their numerous provocations and intrigues in order to destabilize the border of NATO’s eastern flank," Morawiecki said.
Morawiecki said that the number of Wagner mercenaries in Belarus could exceed 4,000.
Nausėda echoed the sentiment, saying the presence of Wagner mercenaries in Belarus is a security risk for Lithuania, Poland and other NATO allies. According to him, any closing of the border with Belarus is a decision that should be taken in a coordinated way between Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
Some Wagner troops have moved to Belarus from Russia under a deal to end the group’s 24-hour rebellion against Moscow led by Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin. The move immediately prompted Poland to re-station military units to the east of the country, closer to the frontier with Belarus.
Tensions escalated Tuesday when Poland moved troops to its border after accusing two Belarusian helicopters of breaching its airspace. Belarus denied the accusation, but Poland notified NATO and summoned Belarusian representatives to discuss the incident.
Trump proceeding: the ex-president pleads not guilty
Donald Trump pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges he orchestrated a plot to try to overturn his 2020 election loss, Reuters reports.
In a 45-page indictment on Tuesday, Special Counsel Jack Smith accused Trump and his allies of promoting false claims the election was rigged, pressuring state and federal officials and assembling fake slates of electors. The most serious charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.
The indictment contained both facts that had been well-documented in media reports and some new details, including several based on testimony from former Vice President Mike Pence, who is also running for the Republican presidential nomination.
According to Pence, he told Trump in a phone call there was no legal basis for the theory that Pence could block certification of the election in Congress.
"You're too honest," Trump responded, according to prosecutors.
Pence was one of the few Republicans to criticize Trump on Tuesday, saying that "anyone who puts himself over the Constitution should never be president."
Trump previously pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he retained classified documents after leaving office and New York state charges that he falsified documents in connection with hush money payments to a porn star. He may soon face more charges in Georgia, where a state prosecutor is investigating his attempts to overturn the election there.
How the Trump case affected his electoral support
"This is a very sad day for America. This is a persecution of a political opponent," Trump told reporters after the hearing.
However, Trump's first of two impeachments, in 2019, was for pressuring Ukraine. At that time, Trump demanded that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy investigate Joe Biden, his Democratic rival.
Trump's legal woes have done little to damage his status as Republican front-runner. Forty-seven percent of Republican voters said they would support him in a new Reuters/Ipsos poll taken after Tuesday's indictment, extending his lead over second-place Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at 13%. Three-quarters of Republicans said they agreed that the charges were "politically motivated."