Russia poses as peacemaker, stepping up attacks on Ukraine’s east | Russia-Ukraine war News

Russia has sought to paint itself as a peacemaker in the war it started in Ukraine, calling NATO and Ukraine warmongers and storming out of the Organization for Security and Co-pperation in Europe (OSCE).

Russia formally withdrew the country’s delegation from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on Wednesday, after citing “discriminatory approaches, double standards and total Russophobia”.

The last straw, it said, was Romania’s refusal to grant the Russian delegation visas to attend the OSCE’s annual session in Bucharest this week.

The diplomatic posture appeared designed to push back against Ukraine’s peace conference in Switzerland last month, part of a global diplomatic process in which Ukraine has tried to win countries over to its view of how the war should end.

Respecting Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” is key to that view, and was part of a statement at the end of the conference.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy followed up on the Swiss conference last Friday when he said his government was working on finalising aspects of a comprehensive peace formula by the end of the year.

(Al Jazeera)

“We are currently working on three detailed plans in energy, food security and [prisoner] exchanges,” Zelenskyy said during a live broadcast of a Ukrainian telethon, naming the three themes on which the Switzerland summit reached the greatest consensus.

On Wednesday, Ukraine said it would submit a draft resolution on nuclear safety to the United Nations General Assembly in the coming days. Ukraine and its allies have called on Russian troops to withdraw from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, saying their presence there risks turning it into a military target.

Russia seized upon Hungarian premier Viktor Orban’s unannounced visit to Kyiv on Tuesday to portray Zelenskyy as anything but a seeker of peace.

Orban, whose country assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union this month, met with Zelenskyy to propose “a ceasefire tied to a deadline, which could offer the opportunity to accelerate peace talks”.

Drone view shows destroyed buildings in the frontline town of Chasiv Yar in Donetsk region, Ukraine, in this screengrab obtained from social media video released on July 4, 2024. Special Purpose Battalion "Donbas" of the 18th Slavic Brigade of the NGU/via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. WATERMARK FROM SOURCE. BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE.
A drone view shows destroyed buildings in the front-line town of Chasiv Yar in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, in this screengrab obtained from social media video released on July 4, 2024 [Special Purpose Battalion ‘Donbas’ of the 18th Slavic Brigade of the NGU/via Reuters]

Zelenskyy did not accept that formula but seized on the chance to improve relations with Hungary, which has stood out in the European Union for its opposition to more assistance for Ukraine.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova held up Zelenskyy’s rejection as proof that Ukraine is not serious about peace.

“All that peace rhetoric is just a smokescreen, smoke and mirrors, cliches or memes. Abstract words that must be learned by heart and voiced, while there is only one goal, which was declared by the collective West, namely to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia,” she said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov sought to play on Hungary’s Euroscepticism, saying, “we don’t expect anything” from Orban’s visit to Kyiv,” adding that Orban would be obliged to serve “Brussels’ interests rather than Hungary’s national interests”.

Zelenskyy explained his opposition to a ceasefire in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. “A ceasefire is the best option for the Russians so they can prepare for taking even more,” he said.

His view of NATO was exactly the opposite of Zacharova’s.

As he has often said before, he felt Ukraine’s allies were deliberately holding back support to not embarrass Russian President Vladimir Putin with a rapid defeat: “Everybody is still afraid that Russia can split apart, everybody is afraid of what will happen to Russia without Putin and whether it will stay as it is or get worse.”

(Al Jazeera)

Throughout this war, Zelenskyy has asked for more than allies were willing to consider giving Ukraine, and in the case of tanks, armoured fighting vehicles, medium-range missiles and fighter planes, he eventually got it.

But he has not managed to get the United States to sign off on the use of long-range weapons anywhere in Russia, only in territories facing an imminent new invasion.

Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Goncharenko expressed some of Ukraine’s frustration with NATO’s self-restraint, saying the alliance should establish a no-fly zone over western Ukraine.

“I do not understand [why] NATO cannot deploy air defence systems along the Polish border,” Goncharenko told the AFP news agency. “This will make it possible to defend the border of Poland and Moldova and to establish a reliable no-fly zone in western and southern parts of Ukraine.”

NATO has said it does not wish to become directly part of the war in Ukraine, so as not to provoke a wider war with Russia.

Russia stalled on the ground

Russia’s diplomatic posturing as peacemaker has taken place against continued hostilities but a disappointing Russian military performance in the past week, as Ukrainian troops managed to defend their turf against any significant advances.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said Russian forces were making particular efforts to capture territory in Toretsk, in the Donetsk region. Toretsk lies between Chasiv Yar to the north and Avdiivka to the south, both areas Moscow has prioritised this year.

“The Russian military command may intend to leverage the ongoing Toretsk push to create operational opportunities for advances in either the Chasiv Yar or Avdiivka areas,” said the ISW.

Russia’s offensives have given it more than 500 square kilometres (193 square miles) of territory this year, but at a high cost.

(Al Jazeera)

Russian opposition news outlet Meduza analysed Russian Federal Statistics Service (Rosstat) mortality data to estimate that Russian war-related deaths in Ukraine doubled last year, relative to 2022.

After factoring in social trends and COVID-related deaths, it said at least 40,500 young Russian men died last year above trend levels, versus 24,000 in 2022.

The biggest increase over two years was in the 25-29 age group, the analysis found, whereas the highest excess mortality rate was in the 35-39 age group.

This would appear to confirm the suspicion expressed in Western think tank analyses that Russian casualties increased sharply in the second year of the war as experienced soldiers were replaced by young and inexperienced recruits.

Meduza collaborated with Mediazona and Tubingen University statistician Dmitry Kobak to obtain the results.

A report from the US intelligence community last December estimated Ukraine had destroyed nine-tenths of the force that invaded it in February last year, costing Russia 315,000 dead and injured troops from an original force of 360,000.

Ukraine now estimates Russian dead and wounded at more than half a million. Standard military estimates put deaths at one-third of casualties, suggesting the Meduza-Mediazona figure is, if anything, an underestimation.

Allies help Ukraine

Ukraine’s allies have been signing longterm bilateral military agreements with the embattled country to bolster its defence. The most recent came on June 27, when Lithuania and Estonia committed to spending 0.25 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on Ukraine’s defence.

Ukraine also signed a four-year military aid agreement with the European Union. The agreement provides support in weapons, training, defence industry investments, facing cyber-threats, de-mining, and energy security and the energy transition, among other things.

Last March, the EU established the Ukraine Assistance Fund, pledging 5bn euros ($5.4bn) in military assistance this year, and the same or more each year until 2027. This is separate from bilateral military agreements between Ukraine and other EU NATO members. It is also separate from the 50bn euros ($54bn) Ukraine Facility created in February, which offers non-military financial assistance over four years.

Ukraine’s allies were also working to provide eight Patriot air defence systems to Ukraine.

The Financial Times and Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed sources saying Ukraine was in negotiations to receive the systems from Israel, via the United States. Zelenskyy asked for at least seven Patriot systems last April, after devastating Russian air strikes destroyed power stations in Kharkiv, Kyiv and elsewhere.

Russia’s UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya said at a news conference that a transfer of Israeli Patriot systems to Ukraine “could … have certain political consequences”.

Ukraine also continued its policy of deep strikes against Russia using its own weapons.

Russian media outlet Baza reported that seven Ukrainian drones struck the Novolipetsk Metallurgical Plant in the Lipetsk region on June 30, damaging it. The Lipetsk governor said another nine drones were downed. The plant claims to be Russia’s leading producer of steel. The ISW said this was Ukraine’s fifth attack on the facility.

Ukraine’s air force also said it had struck a Russian drone warehouse near Flotske, in occupied Crimea, on Saturday.

INTERACTIVE Ukraine Refugees-1720013115
(Al Jazeera)

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