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Ukraine Latest: Zelenskiy Warns of Winter as Russians Pull Back

·9 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Thousands of Russian troops retreated in the face of a lightning Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv region that threatens to derail the Kremlin’s bid to cement control of Ukraine’s east. Russia’s defense ministry confirmed the pullout, saying it was bolstering its forces in the eastern Donetsk region.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the nation’s army has recaptured “more than 30 settlements” in the Kharkiv region, with units of the National Police moving in as Russian forces are expelled. The Institute for the Study of War estimates Ukraine has recaptured some 2,500 square kilometers (965 square miles) of territory around Kharkiv. Kyiv’s forces may have liberated Kupyansk and Izyum on Saturday.

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Key Developments

  • Russia Confirms Flight of Troops From Ukraine’s Kharkiv Region

  • Scholz Says Germany Is Prepared for Russia Gas Halt

  • US Sees Economic Reasons for Russia to Comply With Oil-Price Cap

  • Ukraine Military Breakthrough in North Threatens Russian Grip

  • Russian-Occupied Reactor at Increased Safety Risk, UN Warns

  • Russia Current-Account Surplus at Record Amid Signs Growth Slows

On the Ground

Kyiv’s forces are pushing back in the Kherson region to the south and around Kharkiv in the north. Ukrainian forces have liberated the town of Balakliya in the Kharkiv region, regional governor Oleh Synehubov said on Telegram. The Ukrainska Pravda website reports that Kupyansk in Kharkiv region was also liberated. Kupyansk has been an important logistics hub and ammunition depot for Moscow’s troops. In the past day, Moscow’s forces launched 13 missile attacks and 22 air strikes, Ukraine’s General Staff said in an update.

(All times CET)

Zelenskiy Says Ukraine, Allies Face Hardest Winter (10 p.m.)

Ukraine and European allies should brace for a difficult winter amid the energy shortages engineered by Russian President Vladimir Putin and pressure to cut aid to Kyiv, Ukraine’s president said.

“It is the most difficult winter for the whole world,” Volodymyr Zelenskiy said at the Yalta European Strategy Conference in Kyiv organized by Ukrainian businessman Victor Pinchuk. He termed choking off energy to Europe Putin’s “last argument.”

Zelenskiy urged Ukraine’s allies to expand offers of anti-missile systems to protect the country’s energy infrastructure, which he predicted would be a target for Russian troops, and acknowledged the risk of foreign aid to Ukraine fading over time.

US Concerned About Russia-China Ties (10 p.m.)

The US is closely watching the deepening economic ties between Russia and China, said Jake Sullivan, National Security Adviser to President Joe Biden.

China hasn’t provided material support to Russia, “something we were concerned about,” Sullivan told the Yalta European Strategy Conference in Kyiv by video. The US hasn’t seen any major Chinese policy decision to “flatly violate US sanctions and export controls at systematic level,” he said.

Still, Washington is watching “steps that China is taking through market transactions to provide services to Russia,” he said.

Naftogaz Warns of Russian Gas Transit Risk (10 p.m.)

There’s a high risk Russia will fully stop natural gas shipments to the European Union through Ukraine, said Yuriy Vitrenko, chief executive officer of energy giant Naftogaz Ukrainy.

‘’I would estimate the likelihood at 70%,” Vitrenko said in an interview during the Yalta European Conference in Kyiv.

Russia has shut off gas supplies to Germany and other European customers via Nord Stream 1 after failing to restart the pipeline following maintenance.

Zelenskiy Meets With Top Commanders (6:12 p.m.)

Ukraine’s president had the latest in a series of meetings with his top military, intelligence and government officials on Saturday, according to a statement on his website.

The officials “listened to reports by military commanders of operative groups” on how the army is “de-occupying Ukrainian territories.” Decisions were taken on “security in the liberated settlements,” according to the statement.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy also spoke earlier with French President Emmanuel Macron, with much fo the talk focused on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

Russia Confirms Flight of Troops From Ukraine’s Kharkiv Region (5:05 p.m.)

Russian troops retreated in the face of a lightning Ukrainian offensive in the Kharkiv region that threatens to derail the Kremlin’s bid to cement control of Ukraine’s east.

A local Moscow-backed official said Saturday Kremlin forces had pulled out of Izyum, a staging post for the campaign in Donbas, to avoid being encircled. Russia’s defense ministry confirmed the pullout.

The news came hours after Ukrainian officials announced the seizure of Kupyansk, a logistical and transit hub for Russian troops fighting in the east, and the recapture of other occupied territory in the northern Kharkiv region earlier this week.

Russia Confirms Flight of Troops From Ukraine’s Kharkiv Region

Ukraine Says Five More Grain Ships Sailed (10:18 a.m.)

Five ships carrying a total of 90,000 tons of Ukrainian grains and agriculture products left Ukrainian Black Sea ports early Saturday, according to an emailed statement. The ships are heading to destinations in Africa and Europe, the government said.

Ukraine has exported 2.6 million tons of agriculture products since it reached a deal in July, brokered by Turkey and the UN, to unblock three ports in the Odesa region that had been closed since Russia’s invasion.

Scholz Says Germany Prepared for Russia Gas Halt (10 a.m.)

Europe is prepared to weather the fallout should Russia decide to halt gas deliveries altogether, said Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Germany has prepared “for Russia to largely cut off gas supplies because of the war against Ukraine,” Scholz said, adding his country has set up terminals on the north German coast to import liquid gas.

Germany’s Baerbock Visits Kyiv (8:50 a.m.)

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock arrived in Kyiv on Saturday on her second visit to the capital since Russia’s invasion in February. The goal is to show that “that we will continue to stand by Ukraine as long as it takes -- with the delivery of weapons, with humanitarian and financial support,” she said.

Ukraine’s prime minister visited Berlin a week earlier. Baerbock said Russian President Vladimir Putin “is counting on us getting tired of sympathizing with the suffering in Ukraine” by choking off energy supplies. “This calculation must not and will not work,” she said.

Ukraine Seeks $1.5 Billion From US for Gas (8:49 a.m.)

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal spoke with US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen late Friday. They discussed energy security, including the upcoming heating season, according to an emailed statement.

Shmyhal said Ukraine is in talks to get $1.5 billion from the US Eximbank to purchase gas. Ukraine may have 15 billion cubic meters of gas in storage by Nov. 1, Ukrainian state-run energy company Naftogaz CEO Yuriy Vitrenko said Friday.

Yellen stressed the need to identify “near-term, high-impact projects critical to rebuilding Ukraine’s economy.”

Ukraine Regains 2,500 Square Kilometers, ISW Estimates (7:30 a.m.)

Ukraine is “likely clearing pockets of disorganized Russian forces caught in the rapid Ukrainian advance to Kupyansk, Izyum, and the Oskil River,” according to the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank. “Ukrainian forces will likely sever Russian ground lines of communication to Izyum within the coming days, possibly collapsing Russian positions in this area,” it said.

Read more: Ukraine Army’s Breakthrough in North Threatens Russian Grip

ISW estimates Ukraine’s forces have captured 2,500 square kilometers (965 square miles) in Kharkiv region counteroffensives as of Friday. That’s double the most recent estimate from Ukrainian officials including Zelenskiy.

Moscow’s troops were “likely taken by surprise” by Ukraine’s offensive operations in the Kharkiv region this week because of their focus on Kherson, the UK defense ministry said.

Zelenskiy Says More Than 30 Settlements In Kharkiv Region Liberated (7 a.m.)

Ukraine’s army has liberated more than 30 settlements in the Kharkiv region so far, with units of the National Police returning to the areas, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said late Friday.

“We are gradually taking control of new settlements -- everywhere we are returning the Ukrainian flag and protection for all our people,” he said.

Zelenskiy urged bloggers not to report specific details of Ukraine’s defense operations before they’re announced by officials: “Do not complicate the task for our army with your haste.”

US Releases Guidance on Russian Oil-Price Cap Plan (12:50 a.m.)

The US Treasury on Friday issued rough compliance guidelines for its proposed cap on the price of Russian oil, shortly after officials said Russia would have an economic incentive to participate.

The guidance tasks private companies with enforcing the cap by seeking certification that Russian oil is sold at or below a price set by the US along with other Group of Seven members. The guidance is aimed at the insurance companies and financial firms that facilitate the international oil trade.

The cap is meant to be in place by the Dec. 5 for crude oil, and Feb. 5 for petroleum products, in line with the implementation of the European Union’s ban on services associated with seaborne oil and refined products.

Ukraine Files Arbitration Case Against Gazprom (4:56 p.m.)

Ukraine’s state-run Naftogaz filed an arbitration case against Russia’s Gazprom PJSC for not paying for natural gas transit on time and in full, according to an emailed statement.

Naftogaz demanded Gazprom pay for transiting gas via Ukrainian territory as its contract includes a pump-or-pay clause -- meaning the Russian firm must pay the minimum gas-transit fee even if it doesn’t move the contracted volumes. Russia cut its gas transit via Ukraine this year.

A hearing will be held in Zurich, according to statement. Gazprom didn’t immediately respond to a request for a comment sent by Bloomberg News.

Nuclear Plant Situation ‘Increasingly Precarious’ (4:30 p.m.)

Operators at a Russian-occupied nuclear reactor in southeast Ukraine may soon have to draw on their last line of defense in order to prevent a nuclear accident, according to the direst warning yet issued by International Atomic Energy Agency monitors.

Continued attacks around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant have cut power cables and rendered layers of safety-backup systems ineffective. Now, power systems in the nearby city of Enerhodar have been destroyed by shelling, IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a lengthy statement.

The IAEA called the situation “increasingly precarious.”

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