The slow start to Ukraine’s counteroffensive is by no means an indication it’s failing, the top US military officer said Tuesday, pointing out Kyiv’s forces have a “significant amount of combat power” they haven’t used yet, and their Russian opponents are not in great shape.
A month and a half into its counterattack, Ukraine can claim cracking several villages but no major victories. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it’s too early to make any judgments while Ukraine is still trying to clear mines laid by Russian troops over several months.
“Right now they are preserving their combat power,” Milley told reporters. “And they are slowly and deliberately and steadily working their way through all these minefields, and it’s a tough fight. It’s a very difficult fight.
“This is going to be long,” Milley said. “It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be bloody.”
Mine-clearing equipment is the top request by Ukrainian leaders of the US and Western allies, Milley said, adding that the Ukrainians have yet to commit the bulk of their Western-trained and equipped forces, which total 63,000 troops.
While the Ukrainian attack has been slowed down by Russia’s complex system of defenses, the troop manning those lines are poorly trained and equipped and suffers from poor leadership and morale, Milley said. The brief insurrection in June by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenary group has complicated the Russian’s muddled chain of command, he said.
“The Russian situation is not very good,” Milley said.
Warning from Russia: Calls for ‘quite inhumane’ retaliation after Crimean bridge blast: Live updates
◾ Ukrainian forces downed 31 of 36 attack drones, all six cruise missiles and a reconnaissance drone launched by Russia overnight, the Ukrainian Air Force reported.
◾ The Russian Defense Ministry said it thwarted a drone attack on Crimea, claiming air defenses destroyed 17 Ukrainian drones while another 11 were “suppressed by electronic warfare.”
◾ Ukraine plans to launch a two-year project to rebuild the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Tuesday, though the construction phase would not begin until after the areas around the plant have been liberated from Russian occupation. The Kakhovka dam collapsed June 6 for unknown reasons, though signs point to Russian operations blowing it up.
US to provide Ukraine with $1.3 billion more in military aid
The Biden administration will soon announce a new package of military aid for Ukraine worth $1.3 billion, Reuters reported Tuesday, adding that the security assistance will focus on air defense, anti-drone systems and explosive drones.
The weapons and ammunition will be purchased through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which allows for their acquisition from commercial enterprises instead of pulling from the US arsenal, Reuters reported. The latest tranche will raise the tally of Ukraine aid the Pentagon has supplied through the USAI program in the current fiscal year to more than $12 billion.
On Monday, the US had announced a $750 million contribution in humanitarian and agricultural aid to Ukraine through the United States Agency for International Development.
South Africa faces a dilemma of whether to arrest Putin at the August summit
After inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to next month’s BRICS summit, South Africa is desperately trying to dissuade him from coming. After all, nobody wants a guest whose presence might lead to war.
That’s the plight facing South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose country is a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court. In March, the ICC issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest based on alleged war crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. South Africa would be obligated to arrest Putin if he sets foot in its territory.
Invitations to the summit for developing economies that include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa − a group known as BRICS − were sent before the arrest warrant was issued, officials have said. In an affidavit to the High Court in Pretoria released Tuesday, Ramaphosa highlighted the country’s dilemma.
“South Africa has obvious problems with executing a request to arrest and surrender President Putin,” he said. “Russia has made it clear that arresting its sitting president would be a declaration of war. … It would be inconsistent with our Constitution to risk engaging in war with Russia.”
Declining to detain Putin may alienate Western countries already unhappy with South Africa’s failure to condemn the invasion. In addition, some opposition parties, rights groups, and legal activists have said he should be arrested and have threatened to do it themselves, raising security issues for the summit in Johannesburg.
Deputy President Paul Mashatile told a leading South African news outlet that Putin wants to attend the gathering, where he could reunite with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
“Of course, we cannot arrest him,” Mashatile said. “It’s almost like you invite your friend to your house, and then arrest them. That’s why for us, his not coming is the best solution. The Russians are not happy, though. They want him to come.”
Russia warns Ukraine against shipping grain
The Kremlin warned Ukraine against attempting to ship grain out of its Odesa port without an extension of the shipping deal with Russia, arguing that Kyiv uses the same lanes for military purposes. On Monday, Russia pulled out of an agreement that had allowed Ukraine to ship grain to Asian, African and European ports without interference from the Russian military. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded by saying his country could continue shipments, with Turkey and the UN inspecting the ships.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, however, warned that the Ukraine grain ships would sail “close to the combat area” coming out of Odesa and other ports.
“Without appropriate security guarantees, certain risks are there,” Peskov said. “This zone is used by the Kyiv regime for military purposes. This is a very important aspect that should not be forgotten.”
Russia said it targeted ‘terrorists’ in Odesa assault
Russian missiles and attack drones pounded Odesa on Tuesday in what the Russian military called a “mass retaliatory strike” for the bombing of a crucial Russian-built bridge to Crimea, which the Kremlin blamed on Ukrainian special forces.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said it targeted Odesa facilities where “terrorist acts” were being prepared, including a shipyard where the ministry said boats for the assaults were being manufactured. The attack also destroyed fuel storage facilities, the ministry said in a statement. “All the targets planned to strike have been hit,” the statement said. “Fires and detonation were recorded at the destroyed facilities.”
Ukraine’s military said Russia launched 36 attack drones to exhaust Odesa’s air defenses before firing six cruise missiles at the port city, a departure point for Ukrainian cargo ships carrying grain before Russia on Monday pulled out of a deal that allowed their safe passage.
“All the missiles were destroyed by anti-aircraft defense forces,” the Ukrainian military said. “Unfortunately, the fragments of hit rockets and the explosive wave from the hit damaged port infrastructure facilities.”
Russia promotes tourism in Crimea despite attacks
The Kremlin’s unwillingness to shift Russian society into war-time mode is having a significant impact as tourist traffic jams Russian military logistics in Crimea amid the ongoing Ukrainian counteroffensive, a Washington-based think tank says. The Kerch Strait Bridge, damaged in a bombing Monday , is crucial for supplying large numbers of mechanized Russian forces in southern Ukraine. The 12-mile-long bridge is an engineering marvel and a glittering symbol of Russian occupation.
“Russian occupation officials have continued to promote occupied Crimea as a tourist destination, however, urging Russian civilians to drive through and to a war zone rather than advising them to avoid it as a responsible government would,” the Institute for the Study of War says in its most recent assessment of the conflict.
Some Russian military bloggers are urging the government not to let the attack force reduce tourism in the region. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the use of Russian military assets to ferry tourists across the Kerch Strait.
European Court drops Russia’s claims of human rights violations
The European Court of Human Rights dismissed Moscow’s legal actions against the Kyiv government, rejecting claims of a pattern of abuse against ethnic Russians in Ukraine dating to the Kremlin’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. The court said Russia had stopped responding to inquiries concerning the case and that it overlaps with individual complaints still being questioned. The court is continuing to weigh Ukraine’s claims of human rights abuses against Russia.
The Kremlin accused Kyiv of killings, abductions, forced displacement, interference with the right to vote, restrictions on the use of the Russian language and attacks on Russian embassies and consulates.
Russia also complained that the water supply to Crimea via the North Crimean Canal was cut off after April 2014 and even alleged Ukraine had been responsible for the deaths of those on board Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, apparently shot down by Russian separatists in Ukraine in July 2014 because Kyiv had failed to close its airspace.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: War live updates: Milley says Ukraine has lots of unused combat power