Kinetic operations and fear of a nuclear accident at Zaporizhzhia eclipse the cyber phases of Russia's hybrid war. Sanctions grow more complicated.
Ukraine at D+195: Nuclear accident risk.
Ukrainian forces have opened an unexpected offensive in the vicinity of the northern city of Kharkiv, the Telegraph reports. Its fortunes are unclear: Ukrainian sources report some success, while Russian military bloggers minimize the amount of ground retaken by Ukraine. Al Jazeera quotes Ukrainian official in Luhansk as offering an optimistic (if also guarded) assessment of Ukraine's progress in that occupied province: "Speaking to Ukrainian television, the governor of the Luhansk region said, without giving locations, that a 'counterattack is under way and … our forces are enjoying some success. Let’s leave it at that.'”
This morning's update from the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) reports fighting in three distinct regions. "Over the last 24 hours, heavy fighting has taken place on three fronts: in the north, near Kharkiv; in the east in the Donbas; and in the south in Kherson Oblast. Russia’s planned main effort is probably an advance on Bakhmut in the Donbas, but commanders face a dilemma of whether to deploy operational reserves to support this offensive, or to defend against continued Ukrainian advances in the south. Multiple concurrent threats spread across 500km will test Russia’s ability to coordinate operational design and reallocate resources across multiple groupings of forces. United Kingdom government organization(4/4) Earlier in the war, Russia’s failure to do this was one of the underlying reasons for the military’s poor performance."
Russian manpower shortfalls continue. Task & Purpose reports that recruiters are trawling through homeless shelters looking for potential soldiers.
UN inspectors concerned about the situation in Zaporizhzhya.
UN inspectors have expressed continuing "grave" concern over the situation at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear facility. The International Atomic Energy Agency yesterday released its report on the plant's safety and security, which reads in part, “While the ongoing shelling has not yet triggered a nuclear emergency, it continues to represent a constant threat to nuclear safety and security with potential impact on critical safety functions that may lead to radiological consequences with great safety significance. The IAEA recommends that shelling on site and in its vicinity should be stopped immediately to avoid any further damages to the plant and associated facilities, for the safety of the operating staff and to maintain the physical integrity to support safe and secure operation. This requires agreement by all relevant parties to the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone.”
Reuters quotes the report as calling for the immediate establishment of a safety zone around the plant. "Pending the end of the conflict and re-establishment of stable conditions there is an urgent need for interim measures to prevent a nuclear accident arising from physical damage caused by military means. This can be achieved by the immediate establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone.
The report also said that "The staff were operating the facility under extremely stressful conditions while under the control of Russian armed forces,” and that experts from the Russian nuclear concern Rosatom weren't helping matters. Their presence, the Telegraph reports, is impeding proper operation of the plant. (That, of course, is in addition to the problems caused by shelling.)
The IAEA team said Russian occupiers interfered with the inspectors' access to key areas of the plant, including some cooling facilities. The BBC notes that Russia's ambassador to the UN expressed disappointment that the inspectors hadn't blamed Ukraine for the shelling of the plant.
General Zima fights for the defense.
A Washington Post op-ed argues that forecasts for a mild autumn and early winter are bad news for Russia, since winter's frigid weather has historically been Russia's greatest combat advantage. But it's easy to make too much of this: winter has favored Russia when Russia is on the strategic defensive. It's just the opposite in the present war. Commentators cite Napoleon's disastrous retreat from Moscow in 1812, but a more apt historical precedent might be found in the Soviet Union's (largely unsuccessful) Winter War against Finland that began in November of 1939.
The EU continues to grapple with its dependency on Russian natural gas and oil. An Atlantic Council essay argues that Europe can prevail provided it learns the right lessons from the Nord Stream interruptions. Nord Stream 1 and 2 represented excess capacity, and they needlessly increased European and especially German dependence upon Russian supplies. "The European Union clearly needs to form an entirely new energy security strategy," the essay concludes. "It is now obvious that the Russian state and Russian state-owned companies must no longer be allowed to own energy infrastructure or energy companies within the EU. Instead, Brussels must force Gazprom to sell all its pipelines in the EU, as the insightful Baltic states have already done. Likewise, Gazprom must sell its gas storage facilities in the EU or have them nationalized. Similarly, Rosneft should be forced to sell its oil refineries in the EU. The EU should prohibit Gazprom and Rosneft from doing business with European banks to escape their money laundering. The European energy union also needs to be reinforced with more storage, converters, and alternative energy supplies. After years of hybrid energy hostilities against Europe, Putin has now openly declared war. He must be defeated."
In the related matter of oil prices, Foreign Policy offers reason to think that a price cap on Russian oil prepared by the G7 would be effective in reducing Moscow's profits.
The Russian economy, leaked documents suggest, is being far more deeply affected by sanctions than the Kremlin's public statements would have the world believe. Moscow has also signaled, according to Reuters, dissatisfaction with the UN-brokered agreement that would facilitate grain and fertilizer shipments: Western sanctions are inhibiting the shipments, Russia says, and the West is swindling those countries who depend upon Russian and Ukrainian grain. The Telegraph is blunter in its assessment: President Putin is using the threat to "rip up" the agreement as a way of pressuring the West to relax sanctions.