Ukraine Latest: Western Officials See War at Near Standstill (2022)

(Bloomberg) -- Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is at a near-operational standstill, with neither side currently able to launch an offensive that would materially affect the course of the conflict, Western officials said.

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In Moscow, Gazprom announced that it will stop delivering natural gas to Europe through its main pipeline for three days to perform maintenance, further squeezing energy supplies just as Germany is trying to build up stocks for the winter. European benchmark futures soared as much as 9%.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron by phone and said he was willing to assist an inspection mission to the Zaporizhzhie nuclear power plant. Putin is also slated to attend November’s Group of 20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, which may become a showdown between him and US President Joe Biden.

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Key Developments

  • Gazprom to Shut Pipeline for Three Days in New Shock to Europe

  • Putin’s War in Ukraine at a Standstill, Western Officials Say

  • Pentagon Announces $775m of Weapons in New Ukraine Package

  • Kremlin May Delay Annexation Moves as Invasion Progress Slows

  • Erdogan Says Discussed Ending War in Latest Bid to Mediate

  • Xi and Putin to Attend G-20 Summit in Indonesia, Jokowi Says

  • War-Hit Ukraine Atomic Plant Poses Risks to Europe’s Energy Grid

  • NATO Races to Counter Russia’s Threat in Europe’s Weak Spot

On the Ground

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears the six-month mark, explosions were reported at an ammunition depot in the Belgorod region of southwest Russia late Thursday. Ukraine’s air defense systems worked overnight in Kerch, close to key bridge between Crimea and Russia. A drone was shot down around Belbek Airbase, near Sevastopol in Crimea, Russian occupation authorities said. There were no claimed or assessed Russian territorial gains in Ukraine on Aug. 18, for the first time since July 6, the Institute for the Study of War said. Russian forces continued offensive operations north, west, and southwest of Donetsk City. The number of casualties after shelling of Kharkiv residential areas over the past two days rose to 20, Interfax reported, citing regional police.

(Video) Putin's war in Ukraine at a standstill, Western officials say

(All times CET)

Zelenskiy Accuses Russiaof Nuclear Blackmail, Warns of Tragedy (10:58 p.m.)

This summer may become the most tragic in the history of Europe history if Russia continues its nuclear blackmail at Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in his nightly address.

“Ukrainian diplomats, our partners, the UN and the IAEA specialists are elaborating the details of the mission to be sent to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,” Zelenskyi said. He said the mission will restore “full security” at the plant.

Zelenskyi also stressed that gas is another “energy weapon” of Russia.

Gazprom to Shut Pipeline for Three Days in New Shock to Europe (8:25 p.m.)

Gazprom PJSC will stop delivering natural gas to Europe through its main pipeline for three days, further squeezing energy supplies just as Germany is trying to build up stocks for the winter.

European benchmark futures soared as much as 9% after the Russian producer said it won’t ship any gas to Germany via the Nord Stream pipeline from Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 because of maintenance. The work will involve the only functioning turbine that can pump gas into the link.

The European gas market has been on edge for months as Russia progressively cut deliveries through the pipeline, most recently to just 20% of capacity. Gazprom has cited issues with turbines, but European politicians insist the curbs are politically motivated as Russia retaliates against sanctions imposed after it invaded Ukraine.

U.S. Will Supply Ukraine $775 Million in Drones, Humvees, Artillery (8:06 p.m.)

The Biden administration plans to supply Ukraine 50 armed Humvees and 40 mine-clearance vehicles along with Howitzers, drones and other weaponry as part of a $775 million package of military assistance, the Pentagon said.

With the latest package, the US will have committed more than $10 billion in military assistance to Ukraine.

The latest assistance will include more HIMARS rocket systems, 16 105mm Howitzers and 36,000 shells, 15 Scan Eagle drones for reconnaissance, and more air-to-ground anti-radar missiles, the official said. The package marks the 19th drawdown of Defense Department inventories for Ukraine.

“As President Biden has made clear, we will support Ukraine as they defend their democracy for as long as it takes,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “The United States will continue to work with its Allies and partners to provide Ukraine with key capabilities to meet Ukraine’s evolving battlefield requirements.”

Macron, Putin Hold Call to Discuss Nuclear Inspector Visit (5:59 p.m.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a telephone conversation with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, who initiated the call, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Putin said Russia is ready to assist an IAEA mission to the Zaporizhzhie nuclear power plant. Putin warned of the risk of a “large-scale catastrophe” at the plant, which Russian troops seized in March.

Macron stressed concern about the risks to nuclear safety and security of the power station, voicing support for sending an IAEA mission to the site, according to a readout from Paris.

Ukrainian CDS Contracts to Pay Out after Restructuring (5:41 p.m.)

The Credit Derivatives Determinations Committee said a restructuring-credit event occurred with respect to Ukraine, triggering the payout of credit-default swap contracts.

Around $2.4 billion worth of Ukrainian debt was protected by CDS contracts on a gross basis as of last month, according to data from the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation. The maximum net payout would be around $220.7 million, it said.

(Video) Can anyone win? Experts explain Russia Ukraine war latest

Ukraine won approval for a debt-payment freeze from the holders of its international bonds, gaining relief for a budget wrecked by Russia’s invasion.

Ukraine Plans to Allow Men To Leave Country for Short-Term Trips (5:34 p.m.)

The government in Kyiv will allow men of conscription age to make short-term business trips abroad from Sept. 1, news service Interfax reported, citing Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko.

Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 who aren’t exempt for military service have been forbidden to cross the border since the war began under the country’s martial law regime.

Putin’s War in Ukraine at a Standstill, Western Officials Say (4:35 p.m.)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is at a near-operational standstill, Western officials said.

With both sides more conscious that they face a marathon rather than a sprint in a war already close to six months old, the tempo of the conflict has slowed, the officials said on condition of anonymity. They said the question now is whether Ukraine can generate a credible counter attack in the fall.

The assessment comes after a period in which officials in Kyiv had been talking up the possibility of an imminent counter offensive to retake Kherson, a river port city of some 290,000 that Russian forces captured as they swept through the south of the country at the start of the war.

Kremlin May Delay Annexation Votes as Advance Stalls (4:14 p.m.)

The Kremlin is considering the possibility of putting off votes to annex territories it’s taken in southern and eastern Ukraine as its military advances in the regions have stalled, a potential setback to Russia’s drive to cement its gains.

The referendums, originally targeted for next month, may be held as late as December or January because Russian troops haven’t yet been able to take full control of the areas the Kremlin seeks to claim as its own, according to people familiar with the discussions.

For the moment, however, the Kremlin hasn’t abandoned hopes of holding the votes in September and preparations are continuing, the people said. Though any vote would be rejected internationally as illegal, the Kremlin aims to use the referendums as a symbolic triumph for the domestic audience in Russia, signaling its determination to keep control over the land even as Ukraine vows to eject its forces.

UN’s Guterres Hails Rising Grain Export Volumes (3:17 p.m.)

UN Director-General Antonio Guterres visited Odesa and hailed progress of the safe-transit agreement that has seen Ukraine export some 600,000 tonnes of grain and other foodstuffs in the past month.

“Twenty-five ships have departed from Odesa and other Ukrainian ports loaded with grain and other food supplies -- with more on their way,” Guterres said. The rising export volumes have started to alleviate global food shortages, including in drought-struck parts of Africa which will soon take delivery of the first cargo out of Ukraine under the UN’s World Food Program.

EU Furnishes Information to Hague Court in War Crimes Case (12:50 p.m.)

The European Union has delivered information to the International Court of Justice in the Hague as part of a case Ukraine filed alleging that Russia is planning acts of genocide amid its invasion.

The ICJ didn’t provide details about the filing in the case, where Kyiv accused Moscow of “planning acts of genocide in Ukraine” and contended that Russia “is intentionally killing and inflicting serious injury on members of the Ukrainian nationality.” Russia has declined to participate in the proceedings.

War-Hit Atomic Plant Poses Risk of Leaving Europe in the Dark (12:41 p.m.)

Diplomats concerned about an atomic accident in Ukraine should also turn their attention to a larger and looming danger, according to engineers who study critical infrastructure.

Already only two of six reactors at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant are operating, potentially leaving Ukraine’s electricity grid facing collapse this winter, with the crisis spilling into neighboring European Union energy markets.

(Video) War in Ukraine: why is Russia’s army so weak?

Germany Knocks Down Nord Stream 2 Suggestion (11:55 a.m.)

A spokesman for Chancellor Olaf Scholz rejected a proposal that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline be approved on a temporary basis to fill Germany’s gas stores for winter, and then closed again.

The idea was floated on Thursday by Wolfgang Kubicki, deputy leader of the Free Democratic Party, a junior coalition partner in Scholz’s government. Christian Lindner, FDP leader and Germany’s finance minister, also rejected the suggestion, which caught the attention of Ukraine’s foreign minister.

Germany’s economy ministry says gas from the Nord Stream 1 pipeline will be enough to satisfy the nation’s gas needs as it works to ultimately wean itself off Russian supplies.

Zelenskiy Aide Speaks with UK Officials on Potential Aid (10:39 a.m.)

Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukraine’s president, and Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, army commander-in-chief, spoke by phone with UK chief of defense staff Admiral Tony Radakin and Stephen Lovegrove, UK national security adviser, according to Zelenskiy’s office.

The officials discussed “in detail” further potential aid to Kyiv, according to a brief statement on Friday. No further details were provided.

NATO Focusing on Black Sea Reinforcement (9 a.m.)

Russia’s war has answered a fundamental question that NATO states had been asking for years: whether older members like the US, France and Germany will fight for less wealthy ex-communist allies if they’re attacked.

But it has raised others, including whether the alliance is doing enough to deter Russian expansionism after years of underinvestment and ignored warnings, and whether the effort to reinforce the previously neglected Black Sea region should have happened long ago.

Read more: NATO Races to Counter Russia’s Threat in Europe’s Weak Spot

Wheat Heads for Weekly Drop as Grain Flows From Ukraine (8:05 a.m.)

Wheat prices headed for a weekly decline as grains from Ukraine slowly make their way to overseas markets, providing relief to global supplies strained by Russia’s invasion.

The newly opened crop-export corridor shows initial success, with more than 500,000 tons exported from Ukraine’s major Black Sea ports in the first half of August. While that’s far below a normal pace, prospects for an acceleration in flows are weighing on grain prices, helping to ease food inflation concerns.

Xi, Putin to Attend G-20 Summit in Indonesia (4 a.m.)

Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping both plan to attend a Group of 20 summit in Bali in November, Indonesia’s president said.

The presence of Xi and Putin would set up a showdown with US President Joe Biden and other democratic leaders, all of whom are set to meet in person for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

More Military Aid on Tap From US, Reuters Reports (00:12 a.m.)

The US is preparing $800 million in additional military aid to Ukraine and could announce it as soon as Friday, Reuters reports citing three sources familiar with the matter.

Russia Using Ukraine Nuclear Plant as Shield for Troops (9:41 p.m.)

Moscow’s troops are likely using the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine to shield its troops and equipment, undermining the safety of the plant’s operations, according to European intelligence officials.

(Video) Ukraine's Zelenskyy Says Ports Are At Standstill Because Of Russian Blockade

European intelligence has also assessed that Russia is likely to continue to spread disinformation falsely painting Ukraine’s actions toward the plant as reckless, the officials said.

Russian state Twitter accounts have repeatedly accused Kyiv of targeting the facility, including with Western weapons, and Moscow has warned of unsubstantiated false-flag operations.

Russia Is Seen Using Ukraine Nuclear Plant as Shield for Troops

Erdogan Says Discussed Ending War in Latest Bid to Mediate (6:52 p.m.)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he discussed avenues to end the Russian-led war during talks with his Ukrainian counterpart, as well as conditions for a possible prisoners exchange.

The comments came after the Turkish leader met in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday. Erdogan said he would follow up on the discussions with Putin.

Erdogan Says Discussed Ending War in Latest Bid to Mediate

UN to Send Fact-Finding Team to Olenivka Prison, Guterres Says (6:10 p.m.)

The UM will establish a fact-finding mission at the site of the Olenivka prison, where some 50 Ukrainian POWs died in an attack last month, said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

“We will now continue to work to obtain the necessary assurances to guarantee secure access to Olenivka,” Guterres said in Lviv. “That means safe, secure and unfettered access to people, places and evidence without any interference from anybody.”

While Ukraine and Russia have traded blame for the incident, European intelligence has dismissed Moscow’s claims that ammunition provided by the US were used to hit the facility, following analysis of the damage captured by satellite images.

Zelenskiy Says He Spoke With UN Chief About Nuclear Plant, Deportations (4:10 p.m.)

Commenting on Telegram after speaking with Antonio Guterres, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he discussed with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres the forced deportation of Ukrainians, the need to release Ukrainian soldiers and medics from Russian captivity, and continued exports of grain from the Black Sea.

“Particular attention was paid to the topic of Russia’s nuclear blackmail” at the Zaporizhzhia plant, Zelenskiy said, adding that the UN “must ensure the security of this strategic object, its demilitarization and complete liberation from Russian troops.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a key architect of the Ukrainian grain export safe-transit agreement, met with Zelenskiy before the three men started tripartite talks.

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