Also Sunday, the British Defense Ministry said there is “a realistic possibility” that Russia is no longer funding the Wagner Group, owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who openly called for a rebellion in June against Russia’s leadership.
The ministry said the Wagner Group may be looking to Belarus for funding, but Wagner’s “sizable force would be a significant and potentially unwelcome drain on modest Belarusian resources.”
On Saturday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it thwarted Ukraine’s rocket strike on the Crimean Bridge, calling it a “terrorist attack” and vowing retaliation.
Ukrainian forces targeted the Crimean Bridge and several other unspecified targets Saturday on the Crimean Peninsula with S-200 rockets and drones, but there were no casualties or damage, according to Russia’s Defense Ministry.
The 19-kilometer-long bridge that connects Russian-annexed Crimea to Russia has come under repeated attack from Ukrainian forces since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
Meanwhile, the British Defense Ministry said Saturday that Russian troops fighting in Ukraine are about to get a break from the fighting. In its daily intelligence update, the ministry said that early in July the commander of the 58th Combined Arms Army was fired, probably partially because he said elements of his forces “needed to be relieved.”
The ministry said Russia is “likely” redeploying airborne forces’ units from the Kherson region to the heavily contested Orikhiv sector in Zaporizhzhia oblast. The report said the 58th Combined Arms Army has been engaged in combat since June.
In addition, the Defense Ministry report said the arrival of the airborne forces’ units will also allow the 70th and 71st Motor Rifle Regiments, which have been under heavy fire, to take a break from the front line. However, this move, according to the report, “will likely leave Russia’s defenses near the east bank of the Dnipro River weaker, where they’re increasingly harassed by Ukrainian amphibious raids.”
Poland said Saturday that it has increased the number of troops on its border with Belarus as a deterrent amid “destabilizing” efforts by its pro-Russian neighbor.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak visited some of the troops recently deployed close to the Belarus border.
He said this week that up to 10,000 Polish Army and Territorial Defense troops will be stationed on the border with Belarus. Some will be in active training and patrolling, others on standby.
Two Belarus military helicopters briefly entered Poland’s airspace last week, a move considered by Warsaw to be a provocation.
Polish Defense Minister Blaszczak said that such actions by Belarus “pose a threat to our security” and for that reason Poland is building up its “deterrence potential.”
According to analysts, Poland has become the personification of the “collective enemy of Russia” due to its support for Ukraine and because western military equipment sent to Ukraine goes through Poland.
Belarusian independent analyst Valery Karbalevich told The Associated Press that “Moscow very much doesn’t like that it is Poland that insists on new sanctions, advocates for Kyiv and actively supports Ukraine’s accession to the EU and NATO.”
Poland is also concerned about the presence in Belarus of Wagner Group mercenaries and about sending migrants to the border in an act of “hybrid warfare” aimed at creating instability in the West.
An elderly woman and a police officer were killed early Saturday by Russian shelling on a settlement in Kharkiv region in eastern Ukraine and Zaporizhzhia in the south. Twelve others were injured, Ukrainian officials said.
On Friday, Russia’s airstrikes also targeted civilian infrastructure in western Ukraine killing an 8-year-old child. In a statement late Friday, France condemned the attacks as “war crimes and must not go unpunished,” France’s foreign ministry said in a statement late on Friday.
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would reinforce its military support to Ukraine, notably in strengthening air defense capacities, in close cooperation with its partners.
“France’s support to Ukrainian and international jurisdictions to fight against the impunity of crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine remains total,” the statement read.
The White House says it is committed to training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s in the United States once such training programs in Europe have reached capacity.
White House spokesman John Kirby said at a press briefing Friday it is important to speed up the process of pilot training on the military aircraft as well as caring for maintenance and other logistics.
“It’s going to be a while before jets can show up in Ukraine and for them to be integrated into the air fleet,” he said. “And it’s not just a function of the transfer of actual airframes, but … the appropriate training for pilots as well as setting up all the maintenance, logistics and sustainment efforts.”
Kirby noted that English language training for Ukrainian specialists is also critical.
“All the tech manuals are in English and all the controls inside the aircraft are in English,” said Kirby. “And so, a pilot is going to have to have at least some basic proficiency in the language.”
The Biden administration has asked Congress to provide more than $13 billion in emergency defense funding to Ukraine and an additional $8 billion for humanitarian support through the end of the year.
The White House supplemental spending request for Ukraine may prove to be too much for Republicans, who are facing great pressure from the party’s presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, who has a tepid attitude toward the war, while a recent CNN poll indicated declining support for the effort among some voters.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a new round of sanctions Friday, targeting prominent members of Russia’s financial elite, along with a Russian business association.
“Wealthy Russian elites should disabuse themselves of the notion that they can operate business as usual while the Kremlin wages war against the Ukrainian people,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo. “Our international coalition will continue to hold accountable those enabling the unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.”
Some information in this report came from Reuters, The Associated Press, and Agence France-Presse.