Latest news from Russia and the war in Ukraine

Russian units around Kherson are ‘likely undermanned,’ UK says

Russian servicemen in the Kherson region on May 19, 2022. Russian units in and around Kherson are likely to be undermanned and could lack cohesion, according to the latest intelligence from the U.K.

Olga Maltseva | AFP | Getty Images

Russian units in and around Kherson — a southern Ukrainian city currently occupied by Russian forces and one which Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive to reclaim — are likely to be undermanned and could lack cohesion, according to the latest intelligence from the U.K.

“The Southern Military District’s (SMD) 49th Combined Arms Army has highly likely been augmented with components of the Eastern Military District’s (EMD) 35th Combined Arms Army. Most of the [Russian] units around Kherson are likely under-manned and are reliant upon fragile supply lines by ferry and pontoon bridges across the Dnipro,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Twitter Tuesday.

The ministry said that the integration of SMD and EMD units “suggests a significant reorganization of Russia’s force in Ukraine.”

The ministry added that “there is a realistic possibility that Russia has moved to rationalise the several, semi-independent, operational commands which contributed to its poor performance early in the invasion” and that if Ukraine succeeds in undertaking sustained offensive operations in the Kherson direction, “the cohesion of this untested structure will likely be a key factor in the sustainability of Russian defences in the south.”

— Holly Ellyatt

‘We will chase them to the border,’ Zelenskyy says

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has expressed confidence that Ukraine’s forces will push the occupying Russian forces back to pre-2014 borders after a counteroffensive in southern Ukraine began earlier this week.

“The occupiers must know: we will chase them to the border. To our border, which line has not been changed,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address Monday.

“If they want to survive – it’s time for the Russian military to run away … If they do not hear me – they will have to deal with our defenders, who will not stop until they free everything that belongs to Ukraine,” he added.

Soldier Volodimyr stationed on the front line at an undisclosed position in Mykolaiv Oblast. Ukrainian forces have launched a counteroffensive in southern regions, including around Mykolaiv, which is strategically located close to the Black Sea.

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Ukraine has appeared to grow in confidence in recent weeks with the targeting of Russian-occupied territory in southern Ukraine including Crimea, which it annexed in 2014. Kyiv’s officials have said they will now fight to reclaim the peninsula, which is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, as well as the city of Kherson, which fell to Russian forces at the start of the war.

“Does someone want to know what our plans are? You will not hear specifics from any really responsible person. Because this is the war. And so it goes at war,” Zelenskyy said.

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command told NBC News on Monday that Russian troops were retreating from some areas in the south of the country already as the counteroffensive begins, although some experts have expressed caution, saying it’s too early to start drawing conclusions from Ukraine’s counterattack.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine claims Russians are retreating from some positions in south

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern military command told NBC News that Russian troops were retreating from some areas in the south of the country, where Kyiv claims it started a counteroffensive against Russian troops.

Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for the southern military command, said in a telephone interview that “under the pressure of our actions, the enemy began to retreat. It is currently recorded that the enemy has withdrawn from some of its positions,” NBC News reported.

NBC News was unable to verify the spokesperson’s claims, and both Humeniuk and outside observers expressed caution about drawing early conclusions.

The British Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday morning local time that Ukraine increased artillery fire along the front in southern Ukraine starting on August 29, but “it is not yet possible to confirm the extent of Ukrainian advances.”

Neil Melvin, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told NBC News that early reports indicated “that Ukrainian forces have broken through the first set of Russian defenses in places around Kherson.”

— Ted Kemp

Putin using Zaporizhzhia to hold Ukraine’s energy supply hostage, White House says

A Russian serviceman patrols the territory of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar on May 1, 2022. The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station, seized by Russian forces in March, is in southeastern Ukraine and is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world.

Andrey Borodulin | Afp | Getty Images

The Biden administration welcomed news that the International Atomic Energy Agency would soon inspect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

The White House also contended that Russia is using its control of the facility to compromise Ukraine’s energy supply.

“This would require knowing exactly what he has in mind and that’s difficult for us to ascertain on any day, particularly on any issue with respect to Ukraine,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on a conference call when asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions.

“What we can piece together, based on their activities and their actions, is that at the very least we ascertain that by holding that plant, he can hold Ukraine hostage with respect to their own electrical power capability,” Kirby said.

“The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant basically controls all the electrical power for much of southern Ukraine and even beyond, so he can hold that power hostage. He … could actually potentially use some of that power inside Russia if he wanted to,” Kirby added.

— Amanda Macias

Nearly 7 million Ukrainians have become refugees from Russia’s war

Nearly 7 million Ukrainians have become refugees and moved to neighboring countries since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February, the U.N. Refugee Agency estimates.

More than 3.9 million of those people have applied for temporary resident status in neighboring Western countries, according to data collected by the U.N. Refugee Agency.

“The escalation of conflict in Ukraine has caused civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure, forcing people to flee their homes seeking safety, protection and assistance,” the agency wrote.

— Amanda Macias

IAEA inspectors will begin work at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant ‘in the coming days’

A serviceman with a Russian flag on his uniform stands guard near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine August 4, 2022.

Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

 Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are expected to arrive in Kyiv today and will begin their work at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant “in the coming days.”

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi will lead the team of 14 international experts, the ministry said.

“Ukraine’s position is clear: the occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant by Russian troops and the importation of a large amount of military equipment and ammunition into its territory in violation of all international rules exposes the nuclear plant to extreme danger, including provoking a nuclear incident,” the ministry wrote in a statement, according to an NBC News translation.

— Amanda Macias

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