The UK’s Ministry of Defence has issued its daily public intelligence briefing on the war, and today it concerns Ukraine’s natural environment. It writes:
Undergrowth regrowing across the battlefields of southern Ukraine is likely one factor contributing to the generally slow progress of combat in the area.
The predominately arable land in the combat zone has now been left fallow for 18 months, with the return of weeds and shrubs accelerating under the warm, damp summer conditions.
The extra cover helps camouflage Russian defensive positions and makes defensive mine fields harder to clear.
Although undergrowth can also provide cover for small stealthy infantry assaults, the net effect has been to make it harder for either side to make advances.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s security council, told Ukrainian national television on Wednesday that Russian forces had ample time in months of occupation to prepare defences and lay extensive minefields, Reuters reports.
“The enemy has prepared very thoroughly for these events,” he told national television.
“The number of mines on the territory that our troops have retaken is utterly mad. On average, there are three, four, five mines per square metre.”
Danilov restated assertions by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that the advances, while slower than hoped, could not be rushed as human lives were at stake.
“No one can set deadlines for us, except ourselves … there is no fixed schedule,” he said.
“I have never used the term counter-offensive. There are military operations and they are complex difficult and depend on many factors.”
Russian forces have made no headway along the front lines, but are entrenched in heavily mined areas they control, making it difficult for Ukrainian troops to move east and south, Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday.
Reuters: Russian accounts of the fighting on the frontline said 12 Ukrainian attacks had been repelled in Donetsk region – a focal point of Russian advances for months.
Much of Russian military activity focused on air attacks that damaged grain infrastructure in Ukraine’s Danube port of Izmail. Russia’s Defence Ministry also said its forces had destroyed a Ukrainian naval drone that tried to attack a Russian warship escorting a civilian vessel in the Black Sea.
Deputy Ukrainian Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said Russian forces had “tried quite persistently to halt our advance in the Bakhmut sector. Without success.”
Russian forces, she wrote on the Telegram messaging app, were beefing up reserves and equipment in three areas further north, where heavy fighting has also been reported in recent weeks.
Ukrainians living in Russian-occupied territory are being forced to assume Russian citizenship or face retaliation, including possible deportation or detention, a new US report has said.
Yale University researchers found that people in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions were being targeted by a systematic effort to strip them of Ukrainian identity.
Ukrainians who do not seek Russian citizenship “are subjected to threats, intimidation, restrictions on humanitarian aid and basic necessities, and possible detention or deportation, all designed to force them to become Russian citizens,” the report said:
Kyiv defended itself against the eighth consecutive nightly drone attack early on Thursday morning, the Kyiv Regional Military Admistration (KMVA) said on Telegram. No damage was recorded in preliminary reports.
Serhiy Popko, head of the KMVA wrote:
Eight consecutive attack of barrage ammunition ‘Shahed’ on Kyiv. And again, like yesterday – a massive attack. Air defense forces and means on the approach to Kyiv detected and destroyed almost one and a half dozen air targets. According to the information at this moment, there were no victims or destruction in the capital (data from the operational summary is being clarified, follow possible updates) […] this latest air alarm in the capital lasted exactly 3 hours. It became the 820th for Kyiv since the beginning of the full-scale invasion.”
The European Union has warned developing countries that Russia is offering cheap grain “to create new dependencies by exacerbating economic vulnerabilities and global food insecurity,” according to a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
Reuters reports that EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell wrote to developing and Group of 20 countries on Monday to urge them to speak “with a clear and unified voice” to push Moscow to return to a deal that allowed the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine grain and to stop targeting Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure.
“As the world deals with disrupted supplies and higher prices, Russia is now approaching vulnerable countries with bilateral offers of grain shipments at discounted prices, pretending to solve a problem it created itself,” Borrell said.
“This is a cynical policy of deliberately using food as a weapon to create new dependencies by exacerbating economic vulnerabilities and global food insecurity,” he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told African leaders last week that Russia was ready to replace Ukrainian grain exports to Africa on both a commercial and aid basis to fulfill what he said was Moscow’s critical role in global food security.
Hello and welcome back to the Guardian’s live coverage of the war in Ukraine. This is Helen Sullivan with the latest.
Our top stories this morning: The EU has warned developing countries that Russia is offering cheap grain “to create new dependencies by exacerbating economic vulnerabilities and global food insecurity”, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, wrote to developing and Group of 20 countries on Monday to urge them to speak “with a clear and unified voice” to push Moscow to return to a deal that allowed the safe Black Sea export of Ukraine grain and to stop targeting Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure.
And Kyiv defended itself against the eighth consecutive nightly drone attack early on Thursday morning, the Kyiv regional military admistration said on Telegram. No damage was recorded in preliminary reports.
Russia has attacked Ukraine’s main inland port across the Danube River from Romania, sending global food prices higher as it ramps up its use of force to prevent Ukraine from exporting grain. The attacks on Wednesday destroyed buildings in Izmail and halted ships as they prepared to arrive there to load up with Ukrainian grain in defiance of a de facto blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports that Russia reimposed in mid-July. The Izmail port has since served as the main alternative route out of Ukraine for grain exports. Kyiv reportedly said the attacks damaged 40,000 tonnes of food products.
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has said Russia’s attacks on port infrastructure show Moscow is intent on creating a “global catastrophe” with a crisis in food markets, prices and supplies. “For the Russian state, this is not just a battle against our freedom and against our country,” Zelenskiy said on Wednesday in his nightly video address. “Moscow is waging a battle for a global catastrophe. In their madness, they need world food markets to collapse, they need a price crisis, they need disruptions in supplies.”
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, urged Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to reopen talks on the failed Black Sea grain deal he helped broker last year.
More than 10 Russian drones were downed in an overnight attack on Kyiv, Ukrainian officials said early on Wednesday. “Groups of drones entered Kyiv simultaneously from several directions. However, all air targets – more than 10 unmanned aerial vehicles – were detected and destroyed in time by the forces and means of air defence,” said Sergiy Popko, head of the Kyiv city military administration.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said he hoped a Ukraine “peace summit” could be held this autumn, and that this weekend’s talks in Saudi Arabia were a stepping stone towards that goal. He told Ukrainian diplomats on Wednesday in a speech published on the president’s website that almost 40 countries would be represented at the meeting in Jeddah on 5 and 6 August.
Ukrainians living in Russian-occupied territory are being forced to assume Russian citizenship or face harsh retaliation, including possible deportation or detention, US-backed research published on Wednesday said. Yale University researchers said that as part of a plan by Moscow to assert authority over Ukrainians, people in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions were being targeted by a systematic effort to strip them of Ukrainian identity.
The Polish deputy foreign minister, Pawel Jabłoński, said relations with Ukraine had “not been the best” lately after an official was criticised by Kyiv after suggesting the embattled nation had been ungrateful despite the level of support it had received.
Poland adopted an amended version of a panel to investigate “Russian influence” after an avalanche of EU and US criticism of the move, widely seen as targeting the opposition.
Local militia groups in two Russian regions bordering Ukraine – Belgorod and Kursk – were provided with weapons to defend their territory from Ukrainian attacks, according to local officials.
Pope Francis urged Europe to find “courageous courses of peace” to end the war in Ukraine. He said: “Where are you sailing, if you are not showing the world paths of peace, creative ways for bringing an end to the war in Ukraine?”