In Bakhmut and Kherson, Ukrainian forces advance against Russian fighters

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Ukrainian forces continued their advance against the Russian military in the southern Kherson region on Tuesday, pushed back Russian mercenaries from Bakhmut in eastern Donetsk and gained renewed momentum in Luhansk, where they seized a key highway between the towns of Kreminna and Svatove.

In a day of heavy fighting and rapid developments in several combat zones, the Ukrainians appeared to extend their recent success by retaking occupied territories and pushing Moscow’s troops to retreat into areas which, according to the President Vladimir Putin, now belong to Russia.

Away from the battlefield, the Kremlin continued to claim, repeatedly without evidence, that Kyiv was preparing to use a “dirty bomb”, a weapon that combines conventional explosives with radioactive materials – a charge that was denied by the United States and other Western nations.

US officials said Moscow’s allegations raised the risk that Russia itself might consider carrying out a radioactive attack, potentially as a pretext to justify a further escalation of the war amid its continued territorial setbacks.

In a statement on Tuesday, Ukrainian nuclear power operator Energoatom issued a similar warning, citing Russian military control over the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Enerhodar. “Energoatom assumes that such actions by the occupants may indicate that they are preparing a terrorist act using nuclear materials and radioactive waste stored at the ZNPP site,” the statement said.

Renewed fears of some sort of radiation attack have added to the ominous feeling that Putin’s war in Ukraine is growing even more deadly and dangerous as each side seeks to redraw the facts on the ground ahead of winter. Russia this month launched a relentless bombing campaign against Ukraine’s energy system, using missiles and attack drones with the apparent aim of plunging the country into cold and darkness.

In Washington, President Biden has faced pressure from some liberal Democrats in Congress to push for negotiations with Russia alongside unprecedented US financial and military aid to Ukraine, although Putin has left little room for diplomacy by illegally annexing four Ukrainian regions, in addition to its 2014 invasion and seizure of Crimea.

Putin failed in his original plan to conquer Kyiv and overthrow the Ukrainian government, and Ukrainian officials say that given his refusal to withdraw his troops and end the war, there is no other alternative left. than defeating Russia on the battlefield.

Biden and Group of Seven leaders this month endorsed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for a “just peace” that involves restoring Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, future security guarantees, potentially financed by Russia and responsibility for Russian war crimes.

As Ukraine continued its military gains, pro-Kremlin bloggers and military analysts on Tuesday confirmed further setbacks for Russian forces, including in Luhansk, Ukraine’s easternmost occupied region, where the Russia has the strongest hold.

“The Ukrainian army has resumed its counter-offensive in the direction of Luhansk,” pro-Russian project WarGonzo said in its daily military update, adding that Ukrainian forces had taken control of a key highway between the towns. from Lugansk to Svatove and Kreminna.

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“Russian artillery is actively working on the left bank of the Zherebets river and is trying to stop the transfer of reinforcements to the enemy, but the situation is very difficult,” WarGonzo added.

In the Donetsk region, the Wagner paramilitary force, controlled by St. Petersburg businessman Yevgeniy Prigozhin, appeared to be repelled by Bakhmut, where the mercenaries had spent weeks battering the town and making small gains. Military experts said there was little strategic value in the attempt to seize Bakhmut, but Prigozhin seemed to see the fight as a chance to claim a political prize, while regular Russian military units lost ground in the fight. other combat zones.

Ukrainian forces have taken over a concrete plant on the eastern outskirts of Bakhmut, the Institute for the Study of Warfare, a Washington-based think tank, reported in an update Monday. On Sunday, Prigozhin had acknowledged Wagner’s slow progress, saying they were only gaining “100 to 200 meters a day”.

“Our units constantly come up against the fiercest enemy resistance, and I see that the enemy is well prepared, motivated and working confidently and harmoniously,” Prigozhin said in a statement released by his company’s press service. restoration. “It doesn’t stop our fighters from advancing, but I can’t comment on how long it will take.”

The Washington Post also reported that Prigozhin had recently confided in Putin personally about his army’s handling of the war in Ukraine, a sign of his growing assertiveness in Kremlin circles as he continued to build up his own controlled forces. by the private sector by recruiting volunteers and convicts.

In the southern region of Kherson, one of four that Moscow claimed to have annexed, Russian forces appeared to be preparing to defend the city of Kherson, amid speculation they would withdraw to the eastern side of the Dnieper, ceding crucial ground .

Ukraine’s military said in its operational update on Tuesday that Russian troops are establishing “defensive positions” along the east bank of the Dnieper and leaving small passages for a possible retreat from the west bank.

Speculation that Moscow is preparing to abandon the Kherson region has been circulating for weeks after Ukrainian forces made steady inroads to the south.

“I don’t know all the nuances and plans of the command, but I don’t rule out the surrender of Kherson because from a military point of view, its defense at this time could turn into a rout,” a military blogger said. popular Russian, who writes under the nickname Zapiski Veterana, wrote in a Telegram article. “But I think if the decision was made in Moscow to fight until victory, then there is nothing tragic about the surrender of Kherson because this war has been here for a long time.”

“The Russian position in Upper Kherson Oblast is nevertheless probably untenable,” the Institute for War Studies said, adding that Ukrainian forces are likely to retake the Upper Kherson region by the end of the month. year.

Kremlin-based officials have forced residents to evacuate from the west bank of the Dnieper while claiming without evidence that Kyiv is planning attacks on the Kakhovka hydroelectric plant, as well as the “dirty bomb” allegations.

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The United States, France and Britain have accused Moscow of using dirty bomb allegations as a pretext for escalation, and they have warned that Putin’s government will face further punitive measures from of the West.

“It would certainly be another example of his brutality if he used a so-called dirty bomb,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday. “There would be consequences for Russia. … We have been very clear about this.

On Tuesday, the Kremlin called Washington’s distrust of Russia’s claims “an unconscionable and frivolous approach.”

After a two-week bombing campaign on Ukrainian cities, during which Moscow systematically targeted energy infrastructure to cut off access to electricity and heating, Kyiv is increasingly concerned that civilians endure a harsh winter.

Ukrainian officials have spent the past several weeks pressuring European officials for more sophisticated weapons, particularly the advanced air defense systems needed to repel Russian air assaults.

The country also faces an urgent cash crunch, with officials raising questions about how Ukraine will secure enough funding to keep services running for the brutal days, weeks and months ahead. An early-October World Bank projection suggested that Ukraine’s economy would contract by 35% this year.

On Tuesday, Germany hosted a conference in Berlin in partnership with the European Union on reconstruction, although the conversation seemed particularly premature given the Russian bombing campaigns that are causing new damage and destruction every day.

Zelensky said Ukraine needs about $38 billion in emergency economic aid for the next year alone – a figure that does not include the hundreds of billions that will likely be needed once the fighting actually stops. .

Although senior officials regularly trumpet the European Union’s support for Ukraine, questions arise about the short and long-term follow-up.

Even as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has touted plans to help Ukraine until 2023, for example, EU officials acknowledge delays in Kyiv securing loans for 9 billion pledged earlier this year.

US Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen in recent weeks has pressed her European counterparts to increase financial aid to Kyiv and indirectly questioned the decision to offer loans rather than grants.

“We call on our partners and allies to join us in quickly disbursing their existing commitments to Ukraine and stepping up their efforts – both to help Ukraine continue its essential government services and to help Ukraine begin to build and recover,” Yellen said. this month.

In a video address to a European Council summit in Brussels last week, Zelensky called out European leaders for not delivering much-needed economic aid quickly enough.

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“Thank you for the funds that have already been allocated,” Zelensky said. “But a decision has not yet been taken on the remaining 6 billion of this package – which is absolutely necessary this year.”

“It is in your power,” he continued, “to reach an agreement in principle today on the provision of this assistance to our State.”

With existing needs unmet, some are wondering how to take seriously EU promises of an effort of Marshall Plan proportions, which is supposed to materialize at an unknown date.

A Q&A released by Germany’s Group of Seven presidency ahead of Tuesday’s conference noted that the event would not include an “engagement segment”. Instead, the aim is to “underline that the international community is united and resolute in its support for Ukraine”.

In private conversations, some EU diplomats have raised questions about whether the bloc should allocate resources to rebuilding a country that is still very much at war, especially given the energy and economic crises in the world. ‘Europe.

Indeed, as von der Leyen spoke in Berlin on Tuesday, the focus in Brussels was on efforts to find common ground among EU member states on emergency energy measures.