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Russia is taking an ‘operational pause’ in Ukraine, analysts say

Bombed-out building in Kharkiv, Ukraine
The National Pedagogical University in Kharkiv, Ukraine, was destroyed by a Russian attack.
(Evgeniy Maloletka / Associated Press)
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Russia may be temporarily easing its offensive in Ukraine as its military attempts to reassemble forces for a renewed assault, foreign analysts say.

On Wednesday, Russian forces made no claimed or assessed territorial gains in Ukraine “for the first time in 133 days of war,” according to the Institute for the Study of War. The Washington-based think tank suggested that Moscow might be taking an “operational pause” that does not entail “the complete cessation of active hostilities.”

“Russian forces will likely confine themselves to relatively small-scale offensive actions as they attempt to set conditions for more significant offensive operations and rebuild the combat power needed to attempt those more ambitious undertakings,” the institute said.

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A statement Thursday from Russia’s Defense Ministry seemed to confirm that assessment. It said Russian military units involved in combat in Ukraine were being given time to rest.

“The units that performed combat missions during the special military operation are taking measures to recover their combat capabilities. The servicemen are given the opportunity to rest, receive letters and parcels from home,” the statement said, according to the Russian state news agency Tass.

Shelling continued in Ukraine’s east, where at least nine civilians were killed and six wounded in 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas describe the situation there as apocalyptic in the fight against Russia.

July 4, 2022

Ukraine’s presidential office said in its Thursday morning update that cities and villages in seven Ukrainian regions were shelled in the past day. Most of the civilian deaths occurred in Donetsk province in the east, where fighting is ongoing. Seven civilians were killed there, including a child, the president’s office said.

Ten cities and villages came under shelling in Donetsk, and 35 buildings were destroyed, including a school, a vocational college and a hospital, officials said.

Donetsk is part of the Donbas, a mostly Russian-speaking industrial area where Ukraine’s most experienced soldiers are concentrated. Pro-Russian separatists have fought Ukrainian forces and controlled much of the Donbas for eight years. Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of two self-proclaimed republics there just before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

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Putin on Monday claimed victory in Luhansk, the other province constituting the Donbas, after Ukrainian forces withdrew from the last city they controlled there. The governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, denied Wednesday that the Russians had completely captured the province.

Relentless Russian artillery barrages have battered Ukraine’s powerful coal industry and endangered miners working underground. “No one wants to risk getting trapped down there,” said one.

June 30, 2022

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, a boarding school was hit, but no one was injured. The Kharkiv region, which lies along the border with Russia, is under daily shelling, and two civilians were killed there over the last 24 hours.

The Ukrainian military said Thursday that Russian forces also carried out shelling and helicopter strikes in the Sumy region in the northeast.

As the fighting continued, the British Defense Ministry said in a daily assessment Thursday that Russia’s military appeared to be “reconstituting” its forces. The intelligence assessment said the heavy shelling along the front line in Donetsk was likely intended to secure previous Russian gains.

Further hostilities were reported in the Black Sea, where the Ukrainian military said Thursday that a Ukrainian flag had been planted on a strategic island that Russian troops withdrew from last month.

The European Union’s executive arm has pledged to draft an emergency plan aimed at helping member countries do without Russian energy in the wake of the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine

July 1, 2022

Ukraine’s Operational Command South said in a statement that Ukrainian military units had cleared Snake Island, an outpost off Ukraine’s southwestern coast vital for guaranteeing sea lanes out of the key port of Odesa. The command group also said the Ukrainian military had destroyed some 30 pieces of Russian military equipment, describing the discovery of “abandoned ammunition and vast ruins.”

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Russian troops withdrew from the island June 30 in what Russia’s Defense Ministry called “a goodwill gesture.” But the ministry said Thursday that a Russian aircraft had launched a missile strike on the island as Ukrainian forces attempted to plant the flag.

“As a result, some of the Ukrainian military personnel were destroyed, the rest fled,” the ministry said.

Ukraine also said that Russia fired two missiles targeting a Moldovan-flagged oil tanker in the Black Sea, setting it ablaze.

Ukraine’s southern military command said the strike hit the Millennial Spirit, which had more than 500 tons of diesel fuel on board. Ukraine said one missile struck the ship, while the other went wide. Social media images showed smoke rising off the coast of Odesa on Thursday morning.

The ship has been without a crew, drifting at sea since the start of the war in February. Russia did not immediately acknowledge the strike on the vessel. The ship’s tracking devices have been down since it was abandoned by its crew.

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said it summoned the Turkish ambassador in Kyiv on Thursday over what it described as the theft of Ukrainian grain by a Russian ship.

The ship, the Zhibek Zholy, was allowed to leave Turkey’s Black Sea coast after Turkish authorities briefly detained it at Ukraine’s request. Ukraine summoned the ambassador to complain about the “unacceptable situation.”

Turkey, with its Bosporus Strait, is a key transit route for shipping out of the Black Sea. Ukraine has sought to pressure Ankara to stop Russian shipments of its grain, a vital source of revenue.

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