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BATTLE FOR SOUTHERN UKRAINE INTENSIFIES AS ZELENSKY CALLS FOR TOTAL VICTORY

By Brett Forrest and Bojan Pancevski

Aug. 9, 2022

The Wall Street Journal

KYIV, Ukraine—Ukraine is pressing on with a counteroffensive aimed at liberating its southern regions from Russian control, as the two countries continued to spar over a nuclear power plant and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stressed the importance for Ukraine of total victory.

Moscow has transferred forces into Ukraine’s south in recent days to bolster its positions and counter an offensive that Ukrainian officials privately say is already under way, with both sides trading blows.

Yevhen Yevtushenko, the Ukrainian military administration head in Nikopol, along the Dnipro River south of Zaporizhzhia, said Russia shelled the city early Tuesday. The strategic city of Mykolaiv continues to bear the brunt of Russian bombardments, with its military administration saying Tuesday that more than 9,000 civilian facilities have been destroyed or damaged in the region since the start of the war.

Ukraine, meanwhile, struck the crucial Antonivsky Bridge in the Russian-controlled Kherson region, frustrating Russia’s plans to reopen it after a series of attacks. Ukraine’s southern operations command reported killing two-dozen Russian soldiers and destroying antiaircraft batteries, tanks and artillery.

Ukraine’s ability to strike strategic targets with precision weapons is becoming an increasingly significant element in the war. Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of Melitopol, in the Ukrainian south, this week said Ukrainian forces had used U.S.-supplied Himars rocket systems to strike Russian troops and equipment at industrial facilities in the area. On Monday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl said the U.S. had previously sent anti-radar missiles to Ukraine. Kyiv has recently reported destroying Russian S-300 and Pantsir-S1 antiaircraft missile systems in the south, underlining its continued reliance on Western military aid in its fight against Moscow.

In a Monday-night video, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Ukraine must not be satisfied with a partial victory that would leave Russian troops on Ukrainian soil, citing frozen conflicts in Georgia and, previously, in Donbas, in Ukraine’s east. “Neither smoldering nor frozen conflict should remain after this Russian war against Ukraine,” Mr. Zelensky said. “This is an important conclusion. Ukraine must return everything that Russia temporarily seized, and the aggressor state must be punished for the crime of aggression.”

Russia, meanwhile, has cut the flow of crude oil through a pipeline to countries in central and eastern Europe, adding to the economic pressures building from the war. Transneft PJSC, the government-owned oil-pipeline operator, said Tuesday it had stopped pumping crude through Ukrainian territory on Aug. 4. The move stops supplies through the southern branch of the Druzhba pipeline that carries oil to Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic—all highly dependent on Russian oil and natural gas before the war, and among the most exposed economies now that Moscow is throttling supplies. Concern is also building over the safety of Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

Ukraine’s nuclear regulator Energoatom on Monday blamed Russia for bombing power lines to sever the Zaporizhzhia plant from the Ukrainian electrical grid and goading nearby Ukrainian forces into attacks. It said the plant’s staff were forced to close one of its six reactors over the weekend after an attack that severed a high-voltage power line, damaged three radiation monitors and shattered 800 square meters of window surfaces.

There has been no damage to the reactors and no radiological release, but the two sides are trading accusations over who is responsible, with the Kremlin blaming Ukraine for shelling the 5.7 gigawatt plant. Plant staff and Ukrainian officials and diplomats following the case said Russia appears to be trying to disconnect the plant from Ukraine’s national electrical grid with the goal of reconnecting it to Russia’s.

The Zaporizhzhia plant has been controlled by the Russians since the early days of the war, and has now been heavily fortified, but Ukrainian staff are still operating it. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday called for international nuclear inspectors to be given access to the site to assess its safety.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian law enforcement announced that it had foiled a Russian plot to assassinate the Ukrainian defense minister and military intelligence chief, arresting two men in western Ukraine who, it said, had been promised $100,000 and more by Russian handlers for each operation.

Russia launched Tuesday a surveillance satellite it produced for Iran, weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei agreed to form a united front against the West.

Some Western officials expressed concern that the satellite could be used by the Kremlin to enhance its monitoring of Ukraine, but Iran’s government denied that via the state-run IRNA news agency.

The Khayyám satellite was successfully put into orbit by a Soyuz rocket launched from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, according to Russia’s space agency.

The satellite—which was named after Omar Khayyám, an 11th-century Persian astronomer and polymath—has already started beaming data to Iran’s space agency, according to IRNA.

Tehran said the new satellite will be used for scientific purposes, but western officials fear it could be used to spy on targets inside Israel and across the Middle East.

 

Write to Brett Forrest at brett.forrest@wsj.com and Bojan Pancevski at bojan.pancevski@wsj.com