A Russian politician has blamed a culture of lying in its army for preventing victory in Ukraine, while admitting Kyiv’s forces have made use of ‘well-equipped’, abandoned Russian defences; Ukrainian authorities have found the body of a missing ex-British soldier, police have said.
Saturday 16 September 2023 15:58, UK
Earlier today, we reported on British intelligence which suggested Russia may be stockpiling missiles to attack Ukraine’s energy grid this winter.
Here, military expert Sean Bell gives his take on the reports…
By Sean Bell, military expert
Between October last year and March, Russia launched wave after wave of cruise missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure.
The Russians used the air-launched AS 23a Kodiak cruise missile for many of these attacks and since April this year, Russia has reduced dramatically its use of these missiles while ramping up production.
The UK MoD suggests that the Russians are increasing their stockpiles of these cruise missiles in preparation for a resumption of attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure this coming winter.
Russia knows where the key energy infrastructure nodes are as they were all built in the Soviet Union era. However, as a result of last year’s sustained attacks on the Ukrainian power grid, the locals have become more resilient and developed work-arounds.
And the increasingly effective Ukrainian air defence systems will undoubtedly be focused on protecting critical national infrastructure.
Despite the hardship, the sustained Russian attacks on the Ukrainian population have yet to undermine morale – indeed, evidence suggests that this has simply served to stiffen Ukrainian resolve.
But since the war looks unlikely to be concluded anytime soon, it looks increasingly likely that for many Ukrainians, this could be a very long cold winter.
Reports of Ukrainian success in Andriivka have gone unchallenged by Russia – until now.
Ukraine “unsuccessfully” tried to oust troops from the town, the Russian defence ministry said in its daily briefing.
It also denied “partial success” reported by Ukraine in nearby Klishchiivka – both south of Bakhmut.
This week, Ukraine has made no secret of what it said was victory in Andriivka, calling it a stepping stone to surround Bakhmut.
Even the president took to praising the brigade responsible in his nightly address.
Sky News is unable to verify these battlefield reports.
By Sean Bell, military expert
Following Yevgeny Prigozhin’s abortive coup in June this year, Russia has been systematically dismantling the Wagner Group and bringing key elements under Russian MoD control.
Although Wagner played a major role in the war in Ukraine – specifically in securing Bakhmut after months of attrition – their presence in Africa enables Russian influence well beyond the battlefields of Ukraine.
Wagner Group operations in North Africa are highly lucrative to Russian officials, and despite their betrayal of the Kremlin (dealt with summarily), Putin still needs their capability.
According to the Institute for the Study of War, the Russian defence ministry may have assigned former commander of the Aerospace Forces Sergei Surovikin to this task.
Russian sources posted pictures of the previously dismissed Wagner-affiliated general in Algeria on 15 September. Russian milbloggers claimed that Surovikin has a new formal position as Head of the Coordination Committee on Air Defence Issues and speculated that Surovikin may take over Wagner assets and operations in the region.
Surovikin may be involved in Russian efforts to subsume Wagner operations due to his affiliation with the mercenaries and his command experience, although it is unclear if the Russian MoD intends for Surovikin to assume direct command of these efforts.
The Russian deputy defence minister appears to have been heavily involved in efforts to subsume Wagner’s operations in the Middle East and Africa.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Russian officials met with Khalifa Haftar (commander of the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army) in recent weeks to request access to ports in Benghazi or Tobruk for Russian warships.
The Russian MoD reportedly visited Libya several times in the past months to replace private military companies with Russian MoD-controlled formations.
The Kremlin may be attempting to revive a longstanding campaign to secure access to a Mediterranean port in Libya in parallel with the effort to subsume Wagner’s operations in Libya.
Poland will ban the entry of passenger cars registered in Russia from Sunday, according to reports.
Interior minister Mariusz Kaminski said the move was another sanction against Russia for its “brutal war”, reported Polish news agency PAP.
“The Russian state today constitutes a threat to international security,” he said.
Russia-registered trucks are already banned from entering Poland.
Ukrainian soldiers battle to hold their positions in Andriivka.
Their capture of the town forms the eastern part of Kyiv’s multipronged counteroffensive.
Andriivka is located six miles from Bakhmut, a strategically unimportant city that has become symbolically significant over months of grinding attrition.
As we reported earlier today, Ukraine hopes to use Andriivka as a launch pad to encircle Bakhmut.
Police searching for a missing ex-British soldier have been informed by Ukrainian authorities that they have found a body.
Former paratrooper Daniel Burke, 36, from South Manchester was reported missing on 16 August by family who had not heard from him and believed he had travelled to Ukraine.
Greater Manchester Police said it was working with Mr Burke’s family and Ukrainian authorities to support a formal identification and bring his body back to the UK.
Detective Superintendent Lewis Hughes said: “This is an upsetting time for Daniel’s family, we have family liaison officers in contact with the family and offering support.
“My team and I are working with the Ukrainian authorities to make formal identification with a view to repatriating Daniel following that process.
“Daniel’s family have asked for privacy at this difficult time.”
Capturing Andriivka in eastern Ukraine was a necessary bridgehead to surround Bakhmut, a Ukrainian commander has said.
If you’re just joining us, Ukraine took the town in a devastating series of battles that defence analyst Michael Clarke called “something out of the First World War”.
Without Andriivka, it would be “impossible” to take back Bakhmut – Vladimir Putin’s single major victory in months of war – said Maksym Zhorin.
The deputy commander of the 3rd Assault Brigade said: “The battles for this settlement were very difficult.
“The enemy constantly transferred reserves, because for them even the thought of losing Bakhmut is a nightmare.
“They killed so many of their personnel here that it is logically impossible to explain it.”
Last night, Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised the brigade for a “significant and much-needed result for Ukraine”.
More attacks on Russian ships will be carried out, a Ukrainian minister has promised.
Drone production has increased 100-fold in 2023, and this will rise to up to 140-fold by the end of the year, said digital minister Mykhailo Fedorov, who played a key role in building the country’s drone industry.
Ukraine is testing AI systems that can locate targets several kilometres away and guide drones to them even if external communications are disrupted by electronic warfare measures, he said.
“There will be more drones, more attacks, and fewer Russian ships. That’s for sure,” said Mr Federov.
“At the moment it’s all at the testing stage, but some drones we are buying use AI to recognise targets. In a forest, it can detect a target and recognise whether it’s a person, tank, or a certain vehicle. These technologies are being used actively.”
His comments follow several attacks on Russia’s Black Sea fleet using missiles and sea drones around the Crimean peninsula.
Kim Jong Un inspects bombers, missiles and warships at Knevichi aerodrome near Vladivostok in the Primorsky region, Russia.
Russia may be gearing up to attack energy infrastructure again this winter, according to British intelligence.
Moscow has likely been stockpiling air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM) since April, which were at the heart of its attacks between October 2022 and March, said the UK defence ministry.
It said less ALCMs have been launched since the beginning of spring and Russian leaders have highlighted efforts to increase the rate of cruise missile production.
“Russia is therefore likely able to generate a significant stockpile of ALCMs,” said the UK MoD.
“There is a realistic possibility Russia will again focus these weapons against Ukrainian infrastructure targets over the winter.”
Last winter, Russian forces launched widespread and repeated attacks on Ukrainian energy to deprive civilians of heat, water and access to health services.
Average winter temperatures in Ukraine are approximately -3C and can plunge to -20C, according to Human Rights Watch.
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