What happened in the Russia-Ukraine war this week? Follow must-read news and analysis | Ukraine | Daily News Byte

What happened in the Russia-Ukraine war this week?  Follow must-read news and analysis |  Ukraine

 | Daily News Byte

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Each week, we round up the must-reads from our coverage of the war in Ukraine, from news and features to analysis and opinion.

Putin is preparing for a big new offensive in the new year

Ukrainian troops drive tanks on the outskirts of Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine
Ukrainian troops drive tanks on the outskirts of Bakhmut, the scene of fierce fighting, in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region. Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Senior Ukrainian officials say Vladimir Putin is preparing for a major new offensive in the new year. Isobel Koshiv and Peter Beaumont reported, despite a series of humiliating battlefield setbacks for Russia in recent months.

In an interview with the Guardian, Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov said that while Ukraine was now able to successfully defend itself against Russian missile attacks targeting key infrastructure, including the energy grid, evidence was emerging that the Kremlin was preparing a new broad offensive.

Reznikov’s comments echoed similar remarks made to The Economist this week – including by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, Armed Forces Chief General Valery Zaluzhnyi and Ground Forces Chief Lieutenant General Alexander Sirskyi.

The briefings appeared to be part of a broad, coordinated effort to warn against the complacency of Western allies and highlight the ongoing threat Russia poses to Ukraine.

Deadlocked enemy forces push him in a “Bahmut meat grinder”

A Ukrainian artilleryman stands inside a self-propelled howitzer along the front line near Bakhmut
A Ukrainian artilleryman stands inside a self-propelled howitzer along the front line near Bakhmut. Photo: Ihor Tkachev/AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine’s current decisive battle is taking place in the city of Bakhmut, east of Donetsk. Once home to 72,000, the civilian population has dwindled to 12,000 in the past six months, surviving in basements and supplied by mobile trucks that enter the city when they can.

The widespread assessment that Russian forces have until mid-December until the onset of full winter to force a slowdown in their efforts provides one motive for the sense of urgency, Peter Beaumont writes from the region.

A recent assessment by the Institute for the Study of War found that even if Russia succeeded in a controlled Ukrainian withdrawal from the city, Bakhmut itself offered them little operational benefit.

“The costs associated with six months of brutal, grinding and exhausting fighting around Bakhmut far outweigh any operational advantage the Russians may gain from taking Bakhmut.

The safety of the Zaporozhye nuclear power plant hangs in the balance

A Russian shell that fell in the night blew away the wall of the top-floor apartment, and in its place was only the icy air blowing from the Dnieper River – and a view of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant on the other bank.

The silhouette of the Zaporizhia Nuclear Power Plant – with its two thick cooling towers and row of six squat blocks – has become globally famous since it was dubbed the most dangerous place on Earth: six nuclear reactors on the front lines of a catastrophic war.

Factory in Zaporozhye from Nikopol, which is held by Ukraine
Factory in Zaporozhye from Nikopol, which is held by Ukraine. Photo: Alessio Mamo/The Guardian

On a fairly typical night last week, Russians from the left bank of the river fired 40 shells and rockets at Nikopol, a right bank city controlled by Ukraine, landing on its lines krushchevkifive-story buildings built for factory workers in the 1960s and named after the then Soviet leader.

After 10 months of war, the blocks are half empty, so there are fewer people to kill. The only reported casualty of the night was a 65-year-old man who was taken to hospital and whose apartment now had such a sweeping view of the plant.

The next morning the repair had already begun. Julian Borger had this report.

Was the deal to exchange Viktor Bout a victory for Moscow?

A Russian arms dealer has returned to Moscow after a prisoner swap for American women’s basketball star Brittney Griner. Kremlin officials say it’s “American capitulation” – but others believe Bout is a declining fortune. Was the deal to exchange Viktor Bout really a victory for Moscow? Andrew Roth he asked this week.

Victor Bout
Victor Bout: ‘We don’t abandon ours, do we?’ Photo: Alexander Sivov/Russian Liberal Democratic Party/AFP/Getty Images

Both Russia and Bout have long denied suspicions that he was an asset of Russian spy services, and in his first statements upon his arrival, Bout appeared to nod and wink at the belief that he had some secret value to the Kremlin. “I don’t think I’m somehow important to Russian politics,” he said, before adding a line now commonplace in Russian war movies and military circles: “We’re not abandoning our own, are we?”

Kremlin-linked Russians treated the replacement as highly favorable, but analysts gave a more careful assessment, noting that Bout had already served more than a decade in prison and that most of his contacts and knowledge would disappear over time.

Putin will not hold a press conference at the end of the year

Vladimir Putin will not hold a year-end press conference for the first time in at least a decade, Andrew Roth reports, which Kremlin watchers see as a break with protocol over its war in Ukraine. Marathon press conferences are traditionally an occasion for the Russian president to burnish his image, a spectacle that allows Putin to play populist on national television every December.

The Kremlin announced on Monday that it will not hold a press conference this year. There will also be no New Year’s Eve in the Kremlin, officials said, a decision likely influenced by a reluctance to celebrate as Russia’s war in Ukraine has not gone according to plan. Putin on Friday hinted at a potential solution to ending his war in Ukraine, while still insisting that his “special military operation” would be planned.

“The settlement process as a whole, yes, is likely to be difficult and take some time.” But, in one way or another, all participants in this process will have to agree with the reality that is being formed on the ground,” said the Russian president at a press conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. His remarks came just days after he appeared to be preparing the Russians for a prolonged war in Ukraine, saying his military operation could be a “long-term process”.

Crimea is the biggest bargaining chip for Vladimir Zelensky

Vladimir Putin, second left, visiting the bombed Kerch bridge connecting Crimea and Russia earlier this month
Vladimir Putin, second left, visiting the bombed Kerch bridge connecting Crimea and Russia earlier this month. The Russian president wants very much to stay on the Crimean peninsula. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/AP

This week, Patrick Wintour looked at different views on how Ukraine might approach the Crimea issue.

In a little-noticed intervention, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson – considered a close ally of Volodymyr Zelensky – made a stunning statement that if Russian troops were returned to the lands they held inside Ukraine before the invasion on the 24th, it would form the basis for reopening talks between Ukraine and Russia.

The statement implies that Ukraine would have to accept that the removal of Russian troops from Crimea would not be a precondition for the start of negotiations. In proposing this, in an op-ed last week in the Wall Street Journal, Johnson admitted in private to many diplomats that the military forced return of the Crimea peninsula – annexed by Russia in 2014 in a move rejected by the UN. – full Ukrainian control is risky.

Historically and ethnically, Crimea is different from the rest of Ukraine, the argument goes. There are also 30,000 Russian forces dug in with little available Ukrainian amphibious access. Holding on to Crimea in some form is so valuable to Vladimir Putin that, if he felt it slipping out of his hands, some fear he might follow through on his threat to deploy tactical nuclear weapons — an escalation that frightens and constrains Washington and Europe.

Map of Ukraine showing links to the Crimean Peninsula
Map of Ukraine showing links to the Crimean Peninsula

Moldovans are weighing their political future as the war in Ukraine hits the economy

Blackouts, stray missiles and 35% inflation: collateral damage from Russia’s war on Ukraine has plunged neighboring Moldova into a crisis that goes beyond higher energy bills. “I see old people crying in front of shop windows. It’s not that they can’t afford salami, they can’t even afford basic things like milk,” Karolina Untila, who works at a corner shop in the suburbs of the capital Chisinau, told the Guardian. Paul Erizano. Moldova’s dependence on energy imports is causing record inflation. The prices of some products have been doubled; at her store, grocery sales have halved, Untila says.

Protests against the Moldovan government on Thursday, accusing it of economic incompetence and responsibility for the sharp rise in prices
Protests against the Moldovan government on Thursday, accusing it of economic incompetence and responsibility for the sharp rise in prices. Photo: Dumitru Doru/EPA

To ease the winter’s burden, as the former Soviet republic weans itself from near-total energy dependence on Russia, the government has had to turn to its Western partners for urgent financial support. Russia’s state gas company Gazprom cut supplies to Moldova in October, while reliance on Ukrainian electricity interconnectors made the country an indirect victim of the violence, as Kiev stopped exporting power to Moldova in October following Russian airstrikes on its critical infrastructure.

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