Russian-occupied Kherson minimize off by counterattack by Ukraine – Britain

  • Ukraine’s counter-offensive in Kherson gathers momentum – UK
  • Russia on “massive redeployment” in south, says Ukraine
  • Troops supported by Russia take over the plant in Vuhlehirsk
  • Blinken says he plans to call Lavrov of Russia

July 28 (Reuters) – A Ukrainian counter-offensive has virtually cut off the Russian-held southern city of Kherson and left thousands of Russian troops stationed near the Dnipro River “highly vulnerable”, British defense and intelligence officials said on Thursday.

Ukraine has made it clear that it intends to retake Kherson, which fell to Russia in the early days of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s February 24 invasion.

Britain’s MoD said Ukrainian forces were likely to establish a bridgehead south of the Ingulets River and used new long-range artillery to damage at least three of the bridges across the Dnipro.

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“Russia’s 49th Army, stationed on the west bank of the Dnipro River, now looks very vulnerable,” a regular intelligence bulletin said on Twitter, adding that Kherson is virtually cut off from the other Russian-held territories.

“His loss would seriously undermine Russia’s attempts to portray the occupation as a success.”

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, previously tweeted that Russia was concentrating “the maximum number of troops” towards Kherson, but gave no details.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Russia is conducting a “massive reallocation” of forces from east to south, which amounts to a strategic shift from attack to defense.

Zelenskyi said Ukraine will rebuild the Antonivskyi Bridge over the Dnipro and other crossings in the region.

“We are doing everything to ensure that the occupiers have no logistical options in our country,” he said in a speech on Wednesday evening.

Russian officials had previously said they would instead turn to pontoon bridges and ferries to ferry forces across the river.

Russian-backed forces said on Wednesday they had captured the Soviet-era Vuhlehirsk coal-fired power plant, Ukraine’s second-biggest, in what was Moscow’s first significant gain in more than three weeks. Continue reading

DIPLOMACY

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” its neighbor. Ukraine and its allies are calling the invasion an unprovoked war of aggression.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he plans to hold a phone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — the first between the two diplomats since the war began.

The call in the coming days is not a “negotiation on Ukraine,” Blinken said at a news conference, reaffirming Washington’s position that any talks to end the war must be between Kyiv and Moscow.

Russia has not received a formal request from Washington for a phone call between Blinken and Lavrov, the TASS news agency reported.

The United States has made “a substantial offer” to Russia to release US citizens WNBA star Brittney Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan, Blinken said, without giving details of what the United States is offering in return. Continue reading

Blinken said he would urge Lavrov to act on the offer.

A source familiar with the situation confirmed a CNN report that Washington is ready to swap Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is serving a 25-year sentence in the United States, as part of a deal.

Aside from discussing the Americans detained by Russia, Blinken said he will raise with Lavrov the tentative deal on grain exports reached last week between Russia, the United States, Turkey and Ukraine.

Russia cut gas supplies to Europe on Wednesday amid an energy dispute with the European Union. It has blocked grain exports from Ukraine since the invasion but agreed on Friday to allow shipments through the Black Sea to Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait and on to global markets. Continue reading

The deal was thrown into doubt almost immediately when Russia fired cruise missiles at Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port, on Saturday, just 12 hours after the deal was signed.

Before the invasion and subsequent sanctions, Russia and Ukraine accounted for nearly a third of world wheat exports.

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Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Grant McCool and Stephen Coates; Edited by Cynthia Osterman and Lincoln Feast.

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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