By Svitlana Morenets
Portrait of the week in Ukraine
- Moscow’s second major missile strike has damaged 18 energy facilities in ten regions of Ukraine. Of the 50 missiles fired, 44 were downed by Ukraine, according to the country’s military, with Moldova hit in the crossfire.
- Iran is preparing to resupply Moscow with about 1,000 weapons, including attack drones and the first delivery of surface-to-surface short-range ballistic missiles.
- A drone attack that hit three Russian ships in the Black Sea has been credited to Ukraine’s military intelligence.
- Russia was losing 40 armoured vehicles a day – about the same as battalion’s worth of equipment – in mid-October according to the Ministry of Defence.
- UN inspectors said visits to three nuclear facilities in Ukraine found no evidence of undeclared activities. This rebuffs Russian claims that Volodymyr Zelensky is preparing a dirty bomb.
- Russian military leaders have discussed how and when Moscow might use tactical nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine, according to the New York Times. Vladimir Putin was reportedly not in the meetings.
- Zelensky said that he will not join the G20 summit in Indonesia on 15 November if Putin attends.
- Ukrainian partisans have assassinated at least 11 Russian occupation officials and prominent collaborators since Tuesday.
- Kyiv plans to open about 1,000 heating points for the capital’s residents in case of emergencies in winter.
- The US has accused North Korea of secretly supplying Russia with artillery shells for the war in Ukraine.
- A British legal firm will file a lawsuit against Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner group of Russian mercenaries on behalf of Ukraine.
Ukrainian-language media selection
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How will the war with Russia change? –Roman Pagulych (Radio Svoboda)
Meet the 56-year-old British man who rescued Ukrainians from the front line – Olga Omelyanchuk (Reporters)
The Mariupol family who spent a month in a bomb shelter –Victoria Andreeva (Ukrainian pravda)
Can drones replace warships? – Marko Syrovoy (Liga.net)
Six scenarios on the war – Oleksiy Yarmolenko (Babel)
How grain highlighted Russia’s naval vulnerabilities
Earlier this week, Vladimir Putin declared an end to the deal allowing Ukraine to export its grain to the world. This threatened to send prices surging, with a potentially devastating impact on world hunger. But his bluff was called. Turkey, Ukraine and the UN held talks and continued a deal without Russia – and three days later, Putin returned to the agreement. Why? And what does this tell us about Russian vulnerabilities?
The trigger for Putin pulling out was a drone strike on Russian ships near Sevastopol last Saturday. This was devastating for Moscow: until recently, Ukraine simply didn’t have such military capabilities. Now, suddenly, it does. Volodymyr Zelensky did not claim responsibility but local reports said the drone attack was led by Vasyl Malyuk, the head of Ukraine’s secret service. Putin’s navy looks like a sitting duck, with more strikes inevitable. As one Ukrainian analyst put it: ‘The idea of attacking the enemy’s fleet in a protected harbour is not new – it happened in Pearl Harbor. But a remote, unmanned attack is new.’
A Russian foreign ministry official wrote on Telegram that ‘the grain deal was thwarted by Zelensky’s terrorists, led by British specialists. They need more deaths. The Kyiv regime rests on this hellish throne: money, weapons, death’. Britain’s ambassador in Moscow, Deborah Bronnert, was summoned to Russia’s foreign ministry to hear Putin’s ‘strong protest’ even though no evidence of UK support was presented.
The drone strikes fitted a pattern of Russian naval vulnerability. The first was the sinking of its flagship ‘Moskva’ by Ukrainian-made Neptune missiles. Then Russia lost Snake Island, an outpost Putin had planned to use as a launchpad for attacks on Odessa – which, if it fell, would allow Russian control of the Black Sea. Now, Russia’s Black Sea fleet lives with the daily fear of drone attack.
At first, the purpose of Russia’s withdrawal from the grain agreement was to achieve further support from the West in the export of Russian agricultural products (not yet subject to sanctions). When this failed, Putin tried to use a grain deal to cover his fleet in Crimea, asking Ukraine to give ‘guarantees’ not to use the grain shipping corridor for military purposes (i.e. not to shell his Black Sea fleet). But logistically, there is no link between the two.
The grain deal is a rare diplomatic success. Ukraine supplies 10 per cent of the world’s grain and millions of tons of food had been going to waste when the invasion began in February. Russia, ultimately, could not afford to lose even more global support by being blamed for exacerbating world hunger. So the Kremlin ended up at a dead end – with Turkey prepared to become hostile and lend military support to get the grain moving again, perhaps joining forces with the US to escort grain shipments from Odessa through the Black Sea.
It was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who talked Putin down. The UN grain corridor is a marker of his prestige and authority in Turkey (Erdogan faces elections next year). To soften criticisms from within his own country, Putin said Russia had decided to return to the grain agreement after receiving ‘guarantees’ from Ukraine not to use the corridor for military purposes. Ukraine’s officials deniedthe existence of new obligations that would go beyond those already outlined in July’s grain agreement.
All told, the episode underlines Russia’s naval vulnerability to Ukraine’s improving capabilities – and Turkey’s willingness to act robustly to protect the grain. The vast majority of Ukrainians believe they can win this war. This week helped show why.
PS. I’m debating Peter Hitchens in London at 6.45 p.m. tonight about the war, in an event run by the How To Academy. You can buy tickets here. Any readers who are coming would be welcome to join the Spectator staff for a drink later!
Kherson, Ukraine: The Russian flag has disappeared from the Kherson Regional State Administration – the main office of Moscow-appointed authorities of the invaded city (Credit: Kherson Regional Council)
Quote of the week
‘During the full-scale aggression, defenders of Ukraine destroyed twice as many Russian aircraft than the Soviet Union lost during the ten-year war in Afghanistan – 278 Russian aircraft in Ukraine against 118 Soviet aircraft in Afghanistan.’
– Valeriy Zaluzhnyy, commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces
Wider reading on the war
How Putin kept the plan to invade Ukraine secret –Owen Matthews (The Times)
Lithuania readies for a Russian assault if Ukraine falls – Siobhan Robbins (Sky News)
How Russia pays for war –Lazaro Gamio, Ana Swanson (New York Times)
Russian mercenaries jockey for influence amid military struggles in Ukraine – Katie Bo Lillis and team (CNN)
Putin’s next escalation is coming. How should the West respond? – Hans Binnendijk, Alexander Vershbow, and Julian Lindley-French (Atlantic Council)
Svitlana Morenets was a journalist in Kyiv. She hitchhiked in Crimea to learn more about life under Russian occupation and wrote a story about her experience in 2019. She was abroad during the 24 February invasion and is now in London under the refugee scheme. If you enjoy it, please forward it to someone you know: you can sign up here. Svitlana’s writing for The Spectator can be found here. This email is a work in progress: all feedback welcome: firstname.lastname@example.org