Daily Briefs

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21 August 2023, Monday | NIAS Europe Daily Brief #600

War in Ukraine: Days 542 & 543

Russia’s space agency Roscosmos reports the crash of Luna-25; Wildfires spark in Spain's Canary Islands’; Heatwaves across the southeast of France

War in Ukraine: Days 542 & 543
By Sreeja JS

War on Ground
On 20 August, according to Ukrinform, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukraine’s President, announced on Telegram that Ukraine and Netherlands reached a consensus on the transfer of F-16 jets. Government of Denmark would donate F-16 jets together with the Netherlands. Earlier, it has been agreed that F-16 jets would be transferred to Ukraine subject to certain conditions, in close cooperation with the US and other partners. Conditions include (but are not limited to) successfully selected, tested, and trained F-16 personnel in Ukraine, authorizations, infrastructure and logistics. At present, the Netherlands have 42 F-16 jets for training Ukraine’s personnel in Denmark and Romania.
On 19 and 20 August, Zelenskyy visited Sweden for the first time since Russia’s invasion. He met Ulf Kristersson, Sweden’s Prime Minister and discussed the preparation of the 13th military aid package to Ukraine, which would include the joint production of Swedish CV90 light tanks.
On 20 August, Ukrinform reported that the number of civilians injured due to Russia’s missile attack in Chernihiv had increased to 156. According to Oleksiy Kuleba, Deputy Head of the President’s Office, 66 residential buildings, ten administrative buildings and 67 vehicles have been damaged and the rescue operation has been completed.
On 19 August, Russia launched a missile attack on Chernihiv that killed seven people. Chernihiv, situated around 90 miles north of Kyiv towards Belarus was largely spared from major attacks since the beginning of the invasion. Further, the report said that the attack followed Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President’s visit to Rostov-on-Don at the headquarters of the special military operation group after Kyiv claimed some success last week on the battlefield and a day after the US approved the transfer of F-16 jets from Denmark and the Netherlands.

The Moscow View
Claims by Russia

On 20 August, RT reported that Russia’s air defences shot down around three drones over the southwestern Belgorod Region. According to the Defence Ministry, the drones were downed in an unpopulated area avoiding casualties and damage to the ground. On the same day, another drone headed towards Moscow was downed. According to the Ministry, the drone was detected over the Stupino district and was suppressed through an electronic warfare system, causing no casualties or damage.

According to RT, the border regions of Russia such as Kursk, Bryansk and Belgorod are being reportedly attacked via drones and artillery shelling in the past couple of months while drone attacks have increased in Moscow.
On 19 August, according to Russia’s Defence Ministry, a military air base in Western Russia was attacked via an explosives-laden drone. The attack was thwarted but one aircraft was damaged.

The West View
Responses from the US and Europe  

On 20 August, Financial Times reported that US officials are becoming highly critical of the success chances of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, deepening the relations between Kyiv and Washington at a critical juncture since the beginning of the invasion. According to the report, at this rate, Ukraine would struggle to recapture its territory before its forces ran out of combat power or muddy ground hinders their manoeuvres. The apprehensions come just weeks before the expiration of a USD 43 billion package of US funding to Kyiv, requiring the Biden administration to seek approval from Congress before continuing further assistance. 

On 20 August, the UK Ministry of Defence in its daily intelligence update wrote that Russia’s Aerospace Forces (VKS) are likely under intense pressure to step up air defences in western Russia as attacks have intensified in the past week. According to the ministry, Ukraine’s attacks on Russia’s territory are strategically important because Putin invaded Ukraine on the assumption that the war would have only a little direct effect on Russians. 

On 19 August, the UK Ministry of Defence noted in its daily intelligence update that, over the last week the front line has remained unchanged. Ukraine’s forces have advanced in the South along the Mokri Yaly River, securing the village of Urozhaine. In the north, Russia’s forces continued attacks in Kupiansk making no significant gains. According to the ministry, both sides confront a similar challenge: to defeat the well-entrenched forces while having limited uncommitted forces to open new assaults. 

Denmark to donate F-16s to Ukraine, defense ministry confirms,” Ukrinform, 20 August 2023
Ukraine to receive 42 F16 fighter jets – Zelensky,” Ukrinform, 20 August 2023
Injury toll in Russian missile attack on Chernihiv rises to 156 – President's Office,” Ukrinform, 20 August 2023
Russia Hits Ukraine's Chernihiv After Putin Meets Generals - Wrap Up,” Kyiv Post, 19 August 2023
Russian air defense shoots down multiple targets near Belgorod – governor,” RT News, 20 August 2023
Russian military thwarts drone attack on Moscow,” RT News, 20 August 2023
Ukraine attacks Russian military airfield – MOD,” RT News, 19 August 2023
US grows doubtful Ukraine counteroffensive can quickly succeed,” Financial Times, 20 August 2023
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 20 August 2023,” Twitter, 20 August 2023
Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine – 19 August 2023,” Twitter, 19 August 2023

In Brief
By Padmashree Anandhan

Heatwaves across the southeast of France
On 21 August, Le Monde reported on the heatwave with increased temperatures in the Rhone Valley region along with wildfire in the southeast. According to the report, the temperatures are expected to increase by 22 and 23 with southern France experiencing the highest temperatures. Close to 50 out of 96 health departments in France have warned of high heat warning levels. France’s national weather service spokesperson said: “Some records could be broken, notably on Tuesday in the Rhone valley with 40-42ᵒC expected.” Following the 2022 summer, July 2023 is marked as the hottest of the season, where close to 250 acres of forest are reported to have been ambushed in the fire. (“France sizzles in prolonged end of summer heat wave,” Le Monde, 21 August 2023)

Leaders discuss energy cooperation
On 20 August, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban held a meeting with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. During the meeting, they discussed energy, physical security, war in Ukraine, and economic challenges. The discussion focused on the established physical gas transport link which allowed to storage of 50 million cubic meters of gas in Hungary. According to Hungary’s Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó this cooperation between Hungary and Azerbaijan is expected to gain importance in Europe’s gas supply due to the Ukraine war. (“Energy Cooperation with Azerbaijan Entering a New Dimension,” Hungary Today, 21 August 2023)

Wildfires spark in Canary Islands’
On 19 August, Spain’s island of Tenerife reported extreme weather conditions. According to the island’s regional councilor, the temperatures had increased overnight along with low humidity and increased wind. In response, the towns in the north of Tenerife were evacuated upon the concerns of high proximity to fire. The reasons behind the wildfire sparked on 16 August in Spain’s Mount Teide volcano remain unknown. In terms of the impact, close to 5,000 hectares are predicted to have been exposed to extreme fires. On 20 August, firefighters from the Canary Islands’ reported on the advance made in safety efforts taken towards the community in combatting the wildfires. According to Canary Islands President Fernando Clavijo: “We warned of a complex situation, with rising temperatures and wind... and it's true the night started very hard with many calls saying the fire was very close to people's homes.” The fire on the Island’s come after the heatwave and increased global temperatures. (“Tenerife: More residents evacuated as wildfire spreads,” Deutsche Welle, 19 August 2023 ; “Firefighters push forward against Tenerife wildfire,” Deutsche Welle, 20 August 2023)

Roscosmos reports the crash of Luna-25
On 20 August, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos reported that its lunar programme Luna-25 had crashed following an “abnormal situation.” According to the report, in the first stage, the Luna-25 collided with the moon's surface after it got caught in an uncontrolled orbit. Roscosmos said: “During the operation, an unplanned situation arose on board the automatic station, which did not allow the maneuver to be carried out under the given parameters.” Post the crash, Russia’s specialists will be investigating the cause of the crash. (“Russia says Luna-25 probe crashed into moon,” Deutsche Welle, 20 August 2023)

Russia imposes sanctions on UKs ministers
On 19 August, BBC reported on Russia’s foreign ministry's imposition of sanctions on UKs ministries and journalists. The list includes Culture Secretary, ICC Chief Prosecutor, and journalists from BBC, Daily Telegraph, and the Guardian. According to the ministry, the sanctions were in response to UK’s “hostile anti-Russian course.” Earlier, Russia had blocked several UKs journalists and defence officers, and the UK in line with the West has sanctioned Russia over diamonds, oil, and gas impacting more than 1,000 businesses of Russia. (“Russia sanctions UK politicians and journalists,” BBC, 19 August 2023)

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