After Ukrainian forces stepped up attacks on vital infrastructure that Moscow needs to maintain control of in Kherson, Russian-installed authorities suspended traffic on a key bridge and prepared their defenses.
Ukraine used Himars rocket systems to strike the Antonivsky bridge again overnight and into Wednesday morning, according to Ukrainian and Russian officials. The bridge connects Kherson to other Russian-held areas in southern Ukraine, and Moscow uses it to resupply the city and its forces. The bridge was damaged on both sides, according to video shared on Russian Telegram channels, rendering it impassable for vehicle traffic.
Mr. Stremousov assured local residents that the suspension of bridge operations would have no effect on supplies and deliveries into the city. However, the strikes come as Ukraine prepares a major counteroffensive aimed at retaking Kherson, a city captured by Russia in the early days of the war. Mr. Stremousov told the Russian state news agency TASS on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces had fired at least 36 missiles at the Kherson region overnight.
Kyiv is taking advantage of Western weapons supplies, which are shifting the battlefield balance and contributing to a significant slowdown in Russia’s push to take territory in the eastern Donbas area, where Russia made piecemeal gains before declaring an operational pause earlier this month. According to Dmytro Butrii, the military governor of the Kherson region, Ukrainian forces have liberated 44 towns and villages, or about 15% of the territory.
According to Ukrainian officials, Russia is now relocating some of its troops from Ukraine’s east to parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south, as it braces itself for more intense fighting.
Despite continued Ukrainian attacks on arms and ammunition depots, Moscow is working to strengthen its grip on those areas. This week, Russian state media reported that Russian-installed authorities in parts of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions are planning referendums in early September that could pave the way for Russia’s annexation. The Donetsk People’s Republic, a Russian proxy state in east Ukraine, has stated that it expects to take control of the entire Donetsk region, which it claims as its territory, by the end of August.
On Wednesday, Russia announced that strategic military exercises in its far east would begin next month, the first such event since a flurry of highly publicized exercises preceding its February invasion of Ukraine. The Defense Ministry said the exercises would take place from August 30 to September 5, as a show of strength in areas of the country that have sent entire garrisons to fight in Ukraine and have been left vulnerable as a result, according to critics.
Russia-backed separatist officials in the Donetsk region said Ukrainian forces were digging into their positions in Bakhmut and Soledar. According to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, Russia intends to take the towns soon as part of a larger plan to control the region. Donbas consists of Donetsk and the Luhansk region, which Russia claimed to have captured earlier this month.
Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Alexei Yerkhov, said on Russian state television that it would take several days to iron out issues in a joint coordination center established in Istanbul on Tuesday to implement a deal allowing Ukraine’s grain to be exported via the Black Sea.
Russia’s naval blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast has rendered the country unable to export grain, threatening a pillar of the country’s economy and a vital source of global supply.
Moscow’s latest move in its escalating economic war with the West has raised new concerns about Europe’s ability to avoid running out of natural gas when winter arrives, which could result in rationing, leaving factories idle and homes cold. On Tuesday, European countries agreed to reduce their natural-gas consumption in response to the threat of a Russian supply cutoff.
Russia has denied using its energy supplies as a weapon, blaming reduced gas flows on sanctions-related turbine problems. Germany, the European Union’s largest gas customer, has called the moves an economic attack, claiming that Moscow is using the turbine issue as a pretext.