Ukraine Russia war: Poland threatens to close borders with Belarus over Wagner fighters

Wagner chief Prigozhin killed

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Poland and the Baltic states have threatened to close their borders with Belarus, as they urged Minsk’s authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko to expel Wagner mercenaries from the country.

There have been growing tensions on Nato’s eastern flank since Wagner fighters relocated to Belarus following the shortlived mutiny against Russia’s military leadership led by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin in June, who is believed to have died in a plane crash near Moscow last week.

Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have now warned jointly that Belarus must expel the remaining mercenaries and remove migrants from their borders, following previous attempts by Minsk to “dump” migrants at their borders in a bid to destabilise them.

Polish interior minister Mariusz Kaminski warned that any “critical incident” involving the military or an influx of migrants would result in the closure of all border crossings to travellers and goods.

It came as Ukraine’s military declared it had liberated the Zaporizhzhia village of Robotyne, with Kyiv’s troops now reportedly advancing towards Russia’s second line of defence, as fierce fighting also rages in the east.

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Russia’s minefields ‘a serious problem’ for Ukraine

The vast minefields laid by Russian forces in Ukraine are “a serious problem” for Kyiv’s troops, Mark Galeotti, of the Mayak Intelligence consultancy, told The Independent.

“If you’re facing a heavily mined battlefield, you have to move slowly … at the speed of anti-mining tanks or engineers moving through marking mines, so you are therefore vulnerable to being caught under artillery fire.

“Mines fix you slowly or they channel you – often into a ‘kill zone’ where they’re waiting to drop volleys of artillery shells on you. They deny the Ukrainians that kind of fluidity and speed of movement [seen during last year’s lightning counteroffensive].”

You can read more about the impact Russia’s minefields are having on Ukraine’s counteroffensive here:

Andy Gregory28 August 2023 19:23


How much of a threat does mercenary group pose in Belarus?

Poland and its Baltic neighbours are now threatening to close their borders with Belarus over the presence of Wagner fighters there.

Prior to the apparent death of Yevgeny Prigozhin last week, experts gave The Independent their verdict on what level of threat the mercenaries truly pose in Belarus to its neighbours in the west and south:

Mark Galeotti, director of the Mayak Intelligence consultancy, said he believed Ukraine’s military was not “in the slightest bit worried” about the threat of Wagner attempting to cross its northern border.

But Keir Giles, a senior consulting fellow at Chatham House, warned that “forces taking orders from Russia or Belarus do not need to be large or well-equipped to cause disruption”.

Andy Gregory28 August 2023 18:55


Battlefield situation in eastern Ukraine ‘very hot’, says defence minister

The battlefield situation in eastern Ukraine is “very hot” Ukraine’s deputy defence minister Hanna Maliar has said.

Russian troops are gathering new forces there and regrouping, with Moscow was aiming to deploy its best troops there, Ms Maliar said, following claims of 100,000 Russian troops amassing near Lyman and Kupiansk – where residents have been evacuated amid fears of a second Russian takeover, less than a year after the city was liberated and evidence of torture chambers and mass graves uncovered.

Ukrainian forces have continued to advance south of Bakhmut, Ms Maliar said, claiming that Kyiv’s troops have retaken 1 square km around the town, while Russian troops have not made any advances.

Andy Gregory28 August 2023 18:29


Musician praises ‘determination’ of Ukrainian teenagers he taught in Lviv

A British musician who travelled to Lviv to teach displaced Ukrainian teenagers at a summer school has praised their “determination” to learn despite “living and breathing” the ongoing war.

Ashley Valentine spent five days teaching piano lessons to between 15 and 20 displaced teenagers aged 13 to 18 in the western Ukrainian city from August 14, through working with not-for-profit Make It Possible Ukraine.

“[The not-for-profit] rented a little music studio just on the outskirts of the city so I could give piano lessons,” the 40-year-old who lives in East Dulwich, south-east London, told the PA news agency.

Holly Evans28 August 2023 18:00


Who is ‘Juice’? The ‘mega talent’ Ukrainian pilot killed in mid-air plane crash

Singled out for particular praise by president Volodymr Zelensky and Ukraine’s airforce is Captain Andriy Pilshchykov, a pilot who went by the military callsign “Juice”.

The late pilot, who was 30 years old when the crash occured over the western Zhytomyr region on Friday, had become known not just for his defence of Ukraine, but also for his passionate advocacy for the United States to provide Kyiv with F-16 fighter jets.

Holly Evans28 August 2023 17:30


Russian military pilot ‘defects’ to Ukraine – and brings helicopter with him

A Russian helicopter pilot defected to Ukraine after reportedly being “lured” during a six-month intelligence operation, Ukraine claims.

Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency said an Mi-8 helicopter landed at a Ukrainian airfield with the pilot and his unsuspecting crew members, without specifying when.

It comes after a Russian military blogger claimed in recent weeks that a helicopter crossed the border with three people on board after it had lost its way, but Ukraine now claims this was a deliberate move.

Read more from Matt Drake

Holly Evans28 August 2023 17:00


Turkish President to visit Putin ‘soon’ to discuss Black Sea deal

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will visit Russia soon to discuss the collapsed United Nations deal that had allowed Black Sea exports of Ukrainian grain, a spokesperson for Turkey’s ruling AK Party said on Monday.

The UN- and Turkey-brokered deal lasted a year but ended last month after Moscow quit. Ankara is seeking to persuade Russia to return to the agreement, under which Odesa’s seaports shipped tens of millions of tons of grain.

Since the grain-export deal collapsed, Russian forces have targeted Ukrainian ports with volleys of missiles and kamikaze drones.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will visit Putin ‘soon’ to discuss grain deal

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistribu)

Holly Evans28 August 2023 16:30


Putin will not attend G20 summit in New Delhi

Russia will be represented by its foreign minister at the G20 summit in New Delhi, President Vladimir Putin told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a phone call on Monday where the two leaders also discussed bilateral ties.

The two leaders also spoke about the planned expansion of the BRICS group of emerging economies – comprising India, Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa – as well as a summit of the G20 club of major economies that New Delhi will host next month.

Last week, Modi and Putin both took part in the BRICS summit in South Africa, though the Russian leader attended only via video link because of an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for him over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

The Kremlin, which strongly denies the ICC allegations, has said Putin would also not attend the G20 gathering in India.

Putin appeared via video link at the BRICS summit in South Africa

(Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Holly Evans28 August 2023 16:09


Ukraine believe they have broken through Russia’s most difficult line of defence

Ukrainian forces believe they have broken through the most difficult line of Russian defences in the south and that they will now start advancing more quickly, a commander who led troops into Robotyne has said.

“Robotyne has been liberated,” Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar was quoted as saying by the military.

The settlement is 10 km (six miles) south of the frontline town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region on an important road towards Tokmak, a Russian-occupied road and rail hub.

Tokmak’s capture would be a milestone as Ukrainian troops press southwards towards the Sea of Azov in a military drive that is intended to split Russian forces following Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Ukrainian soldiers enter the village of Robotyne


Holly Evans28 August 2023 15:31


Who is Yevgeny Prigozhin? Wagner Group chief killed in plane crash

Once a businessman with a catering empire friendly with Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin manoeuvred himself into a position so powerful that, as Russia’s war in Ukraine progressed, he could openly question his paymasters’ strategy.

The owner of the Kremlin-allied Wagner Group, the mercenary force that has fought some of the Russian military’s toughest battles in Ukraine – most notably the drawn-out pursuit of Bakhmut – the 62-year-old stepped into his most dangerous role yet this summer: preaching open rebellion against his country’s military leadership.

Now, two months after his men’s attempted uprising ended in uneasy peace talks, Prigozhin is dead in a plane crash just outside of Moscow.

Read more about the former military leader here

Holly Evans28 August 2023 15:00

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