Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday he believes Russia may be preparing for an attack on Ukraine’s nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest nuclear facility.
"Full de-occupation of the Zaporizhzhia NPP is a must," the president said in his daily address. "Anyone who turns a blind eye to Russia's occupation of such a facility, to Russia's mining of the territory and facilities of the nuclear power plant, is actually contributing not only to this Russian evil, but also to terror in general."
Zelenskyy warned about the dire consequences of such an attack. “Obviously, radiation does not ask who is neutral and can reach anyone in the world,” the Ukrainian leader said.
Russian officials said Thursday that overnight airstrikes by Ukrainian forces damaged a bridge linking the Crimean Peninsula to the Kherson region of southern Ukraine.
The Chongar bridge is one of the few routes Russian forces use to move between Crimea and other parts of Ukraine under Russian control. Russia has occupied Crimea since annexing it in 2014 in a move rejected by most of the international community.
The Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti reported that investigators said four missiles were fired at the bridge and that the remains of one of them showed markings of being French-made. Vladimir Konstantinov, chairman of Crimea's parliament, said damage to the bridge was not severe and likely could be repaired within several days.
As is often the case, Ukraine did not confirm responsibility for the attack, with a defense spokesman saying only, "If the stars are lit, it means it was done for a reason, right? We can only say that there will be a continuation."
Russia and Ukraine control different parts of Kherson province, a focus of fighting during Kyiv’s counteroffensive aimed at recapturing Russia-held territory.
Overall, the counteroffensive appears to be slow-moving. Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that Ukraine's army had advanced seven kilometers and had retaken territory that included eight villages during the last two weeks.
"As the president of Ukraine [Volodymyr Zelenskyy] said yesterday, the counteroffensive is not a Hollywood movie. It's not easy walk," Shmyhal told reporters at a Ukraine Recovery Conference in London.
"The counteroffensive is a number of military operations,” he said. “Sometimes it's offensive, sometimes it's defensive. Sometimes it could be tactical pauses. Unfortunately, during our preparation for this counteroffensive, Russians were preparing too. So, there is so much minefields, which really make it slower."
"We [do] not bring our people into the fire of this war as Russians (are) doing. … We will do very smart offensive operations and because of this it will take time," the prime minister said. "We all should have patience and we will see results."
The British Defense Ministry said Friday in its daily intelligence update about the Russian invasion of Ukraine that Russia has invested “in major enhancements” to the security of the Black Sea Fleet’s main base at Sevastopol since 2022.
Included among those investments, according to the update, are “an increased number of trained marine mammals.”
The mammals are “likely” bottle-nosed dolphins, the report says that are “highly likely intended to counter enemy divers.”
The ministry said Russia has trained animals for a number of missions and in Arctic waters uses Beluga whales and seals. The ministry, however, did not reveal what missions the animals were deployed for in the Arctic.
The European Union Wednesday imposed new sanctions against Russia for its war against Ukraine, targeting countries where businesses have used loopholes in previous sanctions to continue to trade with Russia, effectively supporting President Vladimir Putin’s 16-month invasion.
The 27-nation EU had previously imposed 10 rounds of sanctions against Russian companies, while freezing assets and imposing travel bans on more than 1,000 officials.
The new sanctions are aimed at keeping key war-related materials and goods from reaching Russia via nations that trade with the EU but have also maintained a business-as-usual relationship with Moscow.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU's executive arm, said the new sanctions will "deal a further blow to Putin's war machine with tightened export restrictions, targeting entities supporting the Kremlin."
"Our anti-circumvention tool will prevent Russia from getting its hands on sanctioned goods," she said.
Aside from sanctions against Iranians alleged to be supplying drones to Russia, it is the first time that the EU has targeted trade via other countries.
The new package will also target 71 individuals and 33 entities in relation with the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia.
Also included is a prohibition to accessing ports in the EU by vessels engaged in ship-to-ship transfers when there is a suspicion that a boat is not respecting the ban on importing seaborne Russian crude oil and petroleum products into the bloc. In addition, the package extends the suspension of the broadcasting licenses in the EU of five Russian media outlets under state control.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday encouraged Turkey to support ratifying Sweden’s accession to NATO.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Blinken expressed support for Sweden to be admitted at this time during talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on the sidelines of a Ukraine recovery conference in London.
Sweden and Finland applied for membership in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Finland officially joined in April, but Sweden’s accession has been held up by Turkey’s objections to what it said was a lack of action by Sweden against groups that Turkey considers terrorists.
With three weeks until NATO leaders gather for a summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Sweden expressed hope that it will be able to join the alliance.
Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom told Reuters that Turkey’s parliament should begin the process of ratifying Sweden’s NATO bid.
Sweden has carried out a number of reforms, including a new anti-terror law, as part of an agreement struck with Turkey last year to address security concerns.
"Our judgment is that we have done what was expected of us. Now it is time for the Turkish parliament to start the ratification process," Billstrom told Reuters on the sidelines of a meeting in parliament. (VOA/NS)