The Ukrainian military launched a counteroffensive in the northeast region of the country has made significant progress and taken the Russians by surprise. The number of Russian military units in the Kharkov region had dropped considerably once Russia shifted the focus of its military campaign in Ukraine from the north to the east and south. In the lead-up to the much anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive, the Kherson area in the south looked to be the focal point for the coming attack. Naturally, Russia shifted a large number of troops and equipment from the northeast to Kherson. This played right into Ukrainian hands. They took the bait and now Kiev’s forces are reaping the benefits. Ukraine is making claims of boisterous victories and significant progress. While it is clear significant progress is begin made, independent verification on some of the claims coming out of Kiev has not yet come. Western media is heralding the results of the counteroffensive as bringing about a new phase of the war and a shift from the war of attrition to a more maneuver-based campaign. As is generally the case with journalists, they might be jumping the gun. Ukraine must defend the ground it has recaptured in the northeast and there are indications of Russian forces stepping up attacks in the area.
Germany is under pressure to move more expediently on the promised delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine. After the Russian invasion began in February, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a plan to rearm Germany and provide heavy weapons to Ukraine. Now over six-months into the conflict, many of the promised weapons have yet to arrive. The German government has not explained the delays. Fears that Russia will suspend all gas deliveries to Germany are undoubtedly playing a role in Berlin’s long-term thinking. Given Nord Stream 1’s indefinite shut down and the worsening energy situation in Europe, I would not expect to see an increase in the number of German weapons arriving in Ukraine anytime soon.
With Germany in the midst of a deepening energy crisis German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is now calling for the construction of a pipeline which would reach from Portugal to Central Europe. Naturally, the goal of such a pipeline would be to reduce Germany’s dependence on Russian gas. Even though Germany and other European nations have made strides to shrink their dependence on gas shipments from Russia, it has become clear that reliance will not diminish before the winter season arrives. Scholz has broached the topic of a pipeline with the officials from Portugal, Spain, France and the European Union. Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa has been pushing for the pipeline proposal to be examined by the EU since the early days of Russia’ invasion of Ukraine. Germany and other nations with a heavy reliance on Russian gas paid the issue little mind.
Now Germany appears intent to push the matter, even publicly admitting regret that a sincere effort was not made earlier. Of course, the geopolitical situation has changed. Now that Germany is anxiously seeking other sources for natural gas supplies, a pipeline from Portugal to Central Europe suddenly seems to be an ideal solution.
Unfortunately for Berlin, the energy troubles confronting Germany are not strictly limited natural gas. Water levels on the Rhine River dropped to a critical low on Friday. This will affect barge traffic on the river and subsequently restrict the flow of essential commodities to inland Europe even more. Not exactly welcome news and a firm indication that the energy crisis facing Europe is a long way from being brought under control.
Forty-six civilians have been evacuated from the Azovstal steelworks plant in Mariupol, according to Russian news reports. Another report from Ukrainian troops defending the plant tells of twenty civilians who were evacuated during a ceasefire. It remains unclear if these two groups are the same or different. However, The UN confirmed today that an operation to evacuate people from the steel plant in Mariupol is under way. According to estimates, there are 1,000 Ukrainian civilians and several hundred soldiers sheltering in the massive plant. According to news updates at 1540 Eastern Time, the UN has announced an operation to evacuate all civilians inside the city will begin on Monday
In eastern Ukraine, fighting has picked up around Kharkov as Ukrainian forces strive to push Russian troops farther away from the nation’s second-largest city. The battlelines around Kharkov have been static since the early days of the war. Russian troops are entrenched in the city’s northern and eastern suburbs. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, operations carried out by Ukrainian forces have retaken four villages around Kharkov: Verkhnya Rohanka, Ruska Lozova, Slobidske and Prilesne. Those claims have yet to be independently verified.
Germany’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being criticized (yet again). Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb told a German newspaper that Berlin’s actions have been hesitant when compared to other European nations. Kuleb said Germany should “take the leading role in Europe, especially in questions of Eastern policy.” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wasted little time in defending his decisions on Ukraine. “I make my decisions quickly and in coordination with our allies. I am suspicious of hasty action and Germany going it alone.” Scholz has been heavily criticized for not providing weapons and supplies to Ukraine fast enough.
Moscow is projecting the appearance of leaving a door open for further discussions of its security concerns, even as Russian military exercises continue and, in some cases, intensify. Russian President Vladimir Putin is supporting a need for further discussion, even as he emphasizes his nation’s worries about “the endless, in our opinion, and very dangerous expansion of NATO to the East.” At the moment, Putin is referring to the possibility of Ukraine becoming a NATO member. Putin met with his senior advisors today for an update. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Putin’s positive comments on more dialogue with NATO and the West while Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that some of the military exercises are drawing to a close while others will end in the near future.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has embarked on the shuttle diplomacy circuit. Today, he is in Kiev discussing the crisis with Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelensky. Scholz has come under fire for Germany’s somewhat skittish support for Ukraine lately and hopes this trip will help to erase the looming misperception that Berlin has been reluctant to back Ukraine for fear of provoking Russia to curtain natural gas supplies to Germany.The German chancellor will arrive in Moscow tomorrow for talks with Vladimir Putin.
As Scholz arrived in Kiev, Western nations are withdrawing more embassy staff and military personnel from Ukraine. More airlines are also avoiding Ukrainian airspace as the crisis with Russia continues. The Ukrainian government announced it was ready to assume financial responsibility for the safety of aircraft flying through its airspace. Kiev has dedicated over $500 million to keeping its airspace open to commercial flights in the face of many insurance and leasing companies balking at carriers use of Ukrainian airspace as tensions and the threat of Russian military action rise.
Once again, the German government has made a questionable decision concerning its Ukraine stance and, in the process, raises some pointed questions about the nation’s future role within NATO. Berlin is blocking Estonia from providing military material support to Ukraine. The German government is refusing to issue export permits for weapons of German origin, citing a long-standing policy concerning arms exports. Ironically enough, the weapons Estonia is looking to export to Ukraine are former Soviet D-30 artillery pieces that were left in Germany following reunification in 1990. The artillery was then exported to Finland before the Finns sent it on to Estonia. Germany’s policy on weapons exports is not the only factor in play. The Germans have made a point not to send weapons to Ukraine for fear of provoking Russia. So, while the United States, Great Britain and a host of other NATO nations are contributing weapons to Ukraine as tensions rise with Russia.
Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Schloz is not helping to strengthen relations with the United States either. He has turned down the Biden administration’s invitation to discuss the Ukraine crisis, according to a report from Der Spiegel on Friday. Schloz’s office declined the invitation because of a ‘full schedule,’ including a trip Monday to Madrid. The chancellor’s office will apparently find time to speak with France’s leader Emmanuel Macron about the situation in Ukraine on Tuesday.
Not mentioned in Germany’s latest moves is the role the Nordstream 2 project is playing in its policymaking, though it is apparent the natural gas pipeline is a growing factor for Berlin.