Ukraine war: Belarus offensive 'threat', Russia attacks in Donetsk, Iran accused over drones

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By Euronews  with Reuters, AP
Ukrainian soldiers ride an APC in Donetsk region, 20 October 2022
Ukrainian soldiers ride an APC in Donetsk region, 20 October 2022   -   Copyright  AP Photo/LIBKOS

Here are five of the latest key developments in Russia's war in Ukraine.

1. Anxiety in Ukraine towards 'growing threat' of Belarus offensive

Ukraine's army said on Thursday it was worried about the "growing threat" of a new Russian offensive from Belarus.

"The aggressive rhetoric of the military and political leaders of Russia and Belarus is intensifying," Oleksiy Gromov, a Ukrainian military official, told reporters."The threat of a resumption of the offensive on the northern front by the Russian armed forces is growing."

Moscow and Minsk launched a joint military exercise this week, with thousands of Russian troops gathering in Belarus over the past few days.

Belarus, which is Ukraine's northern neighbour, served as a rear base for Russian forces during the first wave of their invasion in February. A joint training exercise preceded this.

Gromov suggested this time, the offensive could be launched from the west of Belarus "to cut off the main supply routes for foreign arms and military equipment" which are arriving from western Ukraine, particularly through Poland.

Earlier in the day, the Belarusian intelligence services (KGB) claimed that Ukrainian "intelligence activities" had increased, alongside "daily attempts to violate Belarusian airspace".

"Unfortunately, the situation is developing very seriously in our southern direction," said the head of the Belarusian KGB, Ivan Tertel, without giving further details.

On Monday, Belarus announced that “up to 9,000 Russian soldiers” and around 170 tanks would be deployed in Belarus, a staunch Russian ally.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the pair were intending to create a new military group, which is supposed to defend the borders of Belarus against Ukrainian attacks.

He launched the new force last week following a series of Russian military setbacks in Ukraine.

Lukashenko claimed at the time Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine were preparing "terrorist" attacks and an "uprising" in Belarus, raising fears of direct intervention by Minsk in the conflict in Ukraine.

However, Belarus has assured that the joint military force with Russia is purely "defensive".

2. Ukraine forces push towards Kherson

Ukraine's military said in an early Thursday update that 43 Russian servicemen had been killed and six tanks and other equipment destroyed in the Kherson region.

On Wednesday, the deputy head of the Russia-backed administration in Kherson said Ukraine had launched an offensive towards Novaya Kamianka and Berislav.

It comes as Russia began "evacuating" civilians from Kherson on Wednesday ahead of an expected Ukrainian attempt to retake the city. Ukraine has called the move "deportations".

Kherson is the only regional capital Russian forces have captured since their invasion eight months ago.

It controls the only land route to the Crimea peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014, and the mouth of the Dnipro river.

Footage of people fleeing by boat across the Dnipro river was broadcast by Russian state television, which portrayed the exodus as an attempt to evacuate civilians before it became a combat zone.

About 50,000 to 60,000 people would be moved out in the next six days, said Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed chief of Kherson, while maintaining that Russia had the resources to hold the city and even counter-attack if necessary.

The Ukrainian president's office accused Russia of trying to "scare" Kherson residents with "fake" information about Ukrainian shelling, calling the so-called evacuations a "propaganda show" that "will not work".

Russia's new military commander General Sergei Surovikin has admitted to a "difficult" situation in the Kherson area. 

The UK's intelligence update on Thursday said the unusual move "likely indicates that the Russian authorities are seriously considering a major withdrawal of their forces from the area west of the Dnipro river."

3. Kyiv orders power curbs and warns of blackouts after Russian attacks

The Ukrainian government placed restrictions on electricity usage nationwide on Thursday, for the first time since Russia's invasion following a barrage of attacks on power plants just before the winter sets in.

The power supply is being restricted between 7 am and 11 pm, government officials and the grid operator Ukrenergo said, and temporary blackouts were possible if people did not minimise their use of electricity, a presidential aide said.

"We do not exclude that with the onset of cold weather we will be asking for your help even more frequently", Ukrenergo said, referring to the restriction that is limited to Thursday.

Russia has intensified its missile and drone attacks on Ukraine's power and water infrastructure in recent days.

A Russian missile strike hit a major thermal power station in the city of Burshtyn in western Ukraine, the region's governor said on Wednesday, the latest in a wave of attacks on infrastructure ahead of winter.

"There is new damage to critical infrastructure. Three energy facilities were destroyed by the enemy today," President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his Wednesday night video address.

"We assume that Russian terror will be directed at energy facilities until, with the help of partners, we are able to shoot down 100% of enemy missiles and drones," said Zelenskyy, who earlier in the week said a third of power stations had been hit by Russian air strikes.

Zelenskyy was due to address an EU summit on Thursday. Leaders of the 27 member states will discuss options for more support to Ukraine, including energy equipment, helping restore the power supply and long-term financing to rebuild.

4. Russian forces attack Donetsk towns

Reuters witnesses said five drones hit the southern city of Mykolaiv on Thursday, but it was unclear where they had exploded or how much damage had been done.

In eastern Ukraine bordering Russia, Moscow's forces focused their main attempt to advance on the towns of Bakhmut and Avdiivka, the Ukrainian military said.

Bakhmut is the focus of Russia's slow advance through the Donetsk region. Forces trained tank and artillery fire on at least 10 towns in the area, including Bakhmut, Soledar and Bilohorivka, the Ukrainian military said.

Zelenskyy urged Ukrainian citizens in Russian-occupied territories on Wednesday to avoid being drafted into the Russian army.

In his nightly address, the Ukrainian president said that if Ukrainians were forced to join the Russian army, they should "lay down arms and come to Ukrainian positions."

Zelenskyy also ridiculed Russian President Vladimir Putin's move to declare martial law in four illegally annexed regions of Ukraine.

The declaration authorised the creation of civil defence forces; the potential imposition of curfews; restrictions on travel and public gatherings; tighter censorship; and broader law enforcement powers in Kherson and the other annexed regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia.

The president also commended Ukraine's air defence and claimed that 233 Iranian-made Shahed drones and dozens of missiles had been shot down over the past month.

STRINGER / AFP
A road sign reading "Kherson" at Armyansk in the north of Moscow-annexed Crimean peninsula bordering the Russian-controlled Kherson region in southern Ukraine, Oct. 19, 2022.STRINGER / AFP

5. Ukraine's allies accuse Russia and Iran of lying about drones

At the United Nations, Ukraine accused Iran of violating a UN Security Council ban on the transfer of drones capable of flying 300 kilometres.

The United States, Britain and France raised the issue of Iran's alleged transfer of drones to Russia at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Dmitry Polyansky cited the Kremlin in claiming that all drones used by the Russian army are "manufactured in Russia", describing the Western allegations as "baseless".

"There is no one in the world that believes" the Kremlin's statements any more, said France's ambassador to the UN, Nicolas De Riviere.

"Although Iran continues to lie, the world is aware that Russia uses Iranian drones to attack Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure," US State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted afterwards.

Polyansky told reporters Russia would reassess its cooperation with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his staff if he sends experts to Ukraine to inspect downed drones.

Iran has thus far rejected claims it was sending missiles and drones to Russia for Russian forces to use against Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Twitter Thursday that he has spoken on the phone with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on the issue.

Russia also accused the EU of interfering in the conflict by sending weapons to Ukraine, calling all arm-supplying countries “sponsors of terrorism”.