Zelenskyy cleans house for spies but corruption fears return; Europe mulls energy cuts in record heat wave; Putin travels to Tehran looking for friends and warns that US-supplied heavy weapons could force a return of the war to Kyiv’s doorstep .
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In case you missed WhoWhatWhy’s own Ukraine coverage: A “Little Mariupol” has appeared in Dnipro, one of the cities absorbing the flood of Ukrainians fleeing from their homes, now coalescing in other cities (which are so far handling the influx), and the US Congress’s only Ukraine-born member revived fears over corruption in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s government with public accusations against a top Ukrainian official — while also demonstrating what observers believe could be an attack tactic used during the 2024 US presidential campaign.
Russia claims a Ukraine armed with American heavy rockets now poses a legitimate threat to its border, while also threatening Europe with an interruption of its natural gas supply if they continue their support of Ukraine. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin travels abroad for the second time since the invasion, pro-Russian separatists force Ukrainian citizens to be conscripted into the Russian military and Volodymyr Zelenskyy tries to rid his country of Russian spies, sympathizers, and collaborators.
Russia Threatens to Push Ukrainian Forces Further West
Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, warned Wednesday that the war could expand past the eastern Donbas region as reprisal for the new heavy weapons Ukraine received from its western allies.
For the past several months, most of the fighting has been in the east, near the Russia-backed separatist republics. But more recently, as part of a recent aid package, Ukrainian forces received rocket launchers that the Russians say can strike targets well within its borders. Speaking to Russian state television, Lavrov indicated that the Russian military would push Ukrainian forces further west, away from the front line and closer to cities like Dnipro, to ensure the security of the Russian border and people. The BBC reports that Russia’s military focus has shifted and may not only be limited to the east of the country.
This contradicts Putin’s recent claims that the reason why troops and tanks were withdrawn from the middle of the country, including the region around Kyiv, was to facilitate a peace deal.
As for peace: Putin said he was initially interested in a deal but that it was Ukraine that declined to pursue a ceasefire. As a result, Putin has “no such desire” to pursue one now, he said.
A Perfect Storm: Energy Crisis During Global Heat Wave
Europe’s epic heat wave is being exacerbated by the disruption of Russian-sourced energy supplies. Energy demands are peaking as record heat melts runways and halts trains in the United Kingdom and sparks wildfires in France and Spain.
But rather than crank the air conditioning, the European Union proposed asking member countries to reduce their natural gas usage by 15 percent until next spring, a rationing plan eerily familiar to those who remember similar measures taken during the 1973 energy crisis — but this time in preparation for Russian cuts to gas deliveries via the Nord Stream pipeline.
Brussels’ proposal follows months of Russia warning Europe to halt its support of Ukraine, threatening to disrupt natural gas exports to the continent in reprisal.
It remains to be seen if Russia decides to resume the flow or cut it all together in the coming days or weeks, and if they will continue to use the energy weapon to discourage European support for Ukraine as part of a larger effort to deny Ukraine foreign aid. As it stands now, Russia has reduced its gas flows to Europe by roughly 60 percent, and shows no immediate signs of returning it to full capacity.
Spies Among Us
Simmering suspicions that Ukraine’s highest offices were compromised by Russian spies and collaborators boiled over on Sunday, when the Ukrainian parliament approved Zelenskyy’s removal of both Ukraine’s top prosecutor as well as the head of the country’s domestic intelligence agency.
A chief reason behind the sackings of Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova, whose office had been investigating war crimes, and Security Services of Ukraine Chief Ivan Bakanov, a close personal friend of Zelenskyy’s since childhood, was the large number of people who worked at both agencies who quickly switched over to the Russians, as well as their apparent failures to root out corruption, as The Telegraph reported.
#UPDATE Ukraine's army is putting up fierce frontline resistance, but President Volodymyr Zelensky's shock dismissal of two top law enforcement officials has revealed another front in the war closer to home – against spies and Kremlin sympathisers.https://t.co/uNHukymude
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) July 20, 2022
Accusations of treason have flown since the first weeks of the war, when Russian army columns managed to take key strategic points in the south virtually unopposed, seemingly aided by intimate details about Ukrainian minefields and by the failure of Ukrainian opposition to appear at key points.
On the same day Venediktova and Bakanov were fired, security services agents arrested Oleh Kulinich, the agency’s former head of Crimean affairs, on suspicions of treason.
Other former top Ukrainian defense and intelligence officials are in custody on similar charges.
More than 700 former Ukrainian prosecutors and law enforcement officials have been charged with treason.
Putin Travels to Grain Summit; What About Iran?
In only his second international visit since the invasion began February 24, Putin flew to Tehran on Tuesday to meet with Iranian and Turkish officials to hash out a deal to allow the resumption of grain exports from blockaded Ukrainian ports.
Putin claimed progress was made towards freeing the food stuck in Ukraine, which has stressed global food prices. But the trip was also an opportunity for Putin to demonstrate he still enjoys allies and international support beyond China and India.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that he believed Moscow and Tehran should strengthen ties and he echoed Russia’s sentiment that the West was ultimately responsible for the war in Ukraine. However, what is most interesting is the timing of the trip.
Putin’s venture to Tehran comes on the heels of US President Joe Biden’s four-day trip to Saudi Arabia and Israel. During his first Middle East trip of his presidency, Biden said he “wouldn’t wait forever” for a new Iranian nuclear deal and that he was running out of patience with the proceedings.
Iran continues to work towards enriching uranium and stabilizing a nuclear program that the US and Israel claim is cover for a weapons program. Yair Lapid, the prime minister of Israel, said he and Biden were in agreement, even with his tougher rhetoric toward Iran. “We cannot allow Iran to become nuclear,” he said.
Pro-Russian Separatists Force Conscription of Ukrainian Citizens
Due to heavy Russian losses, forced conscription of Ukrainian citizens living in annexed or captured territory into pro-Russian forces is becoming more prevalent.
It appears that Ukrainians who were issued Russian passports after remaining in these disputed areas are being targeted by pro-Russian separatists as key targets for conscription — meaning Russian citizenship is being thrust upon Ukrainian citizens in order to force them to join the Russian military and fight against other Ukrainians.
In a video, a Ukrainian woman tries desperately to free her husband, whose documents have been seized and has been forced by pro-Russian separatists to enlist. This is happening at a time when it has been reported that Russian forces have faced heavy losses, including infantry, armor, and munitions. As a result, Russia is trying to replenish its army where it can.
One Ukrainian man in Luhansk who has been hiding in his apartment to avoid the forced draft wrote in a letter published in the Guardian:
How can I make Russia accountable in court? This is a violation of my rights. Since February I haven’t been able to go out in the street because there are patrol cars in my town searching for men without exception. They are hunting us like stray cats. The Chechen [fighters] are helping them search for men on the list.
Pentagon Says Donbas Is ‘Not Lost Yet’
US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that he believes that the Donbas region is “not lost yet.”
“The Ukrainians are making the Russians pay for every inch of territory that they gain,” said Milley, in no small part because Ukraine is receiving a steady supply of weapons from the West.
In addition to howitzers and other artillery, Ukraine has received a number of HIMARS and ATACMS rocket systems that have greatly increased their strike capabilities.
The United States announced again that it would be resupplying additional rocket systems as part of a forthcoming package of military assistance. It is through this continued international support that Ukraine will be able to engage the Russian advance with a higher degree of effectiveness.