Ukraine updates: Russia says attack in Donetsk thwarted

Monday, 5 June 2023 (17:59 IST)
Russia's Defense Ministry said on Monday that its forces thwarted a major Ukrainian offensive in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk. 
The ministry said Kyiv had used six mechanized and two tank battalions in the offensive on Sunday. It added that Russian forces killed 250 Ukrainian troops and destroyed dozens of tanks and vehicles. 
"The enemy's goal was to break through our defenses in the most vulnerable, in its opinion, sector of the front," said the ministry's spokesman, Igor Konashenkov. "The enemy did not achieve its tasks. It had no success."
Moscow's claims could not be independently verified, and it was unclear whether the alleged attack was part of Ukraine's long-awaited counteroffensive to recapture territories taken by Russia.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's ground forces' commander said Ukrainian forces continued "moving forward" near Bakhmut.
Oleksandr Syrskyi said on Telegram that forces managed to destroy a Russian position near the city.
Ukrainian officials have spoken of a planned counteroffensive for months, but they have not elaborated the scale of such an attack — whether it would be a fully-fledged assault across the entire 1,100-kilometer (684-mile) front line, or smaller ones to weaken Russia's forces and facilities. 
Here are some of the other developments concerning Russia's war in Ukraine on Monday, June 5:
Wagner founder says Ukraine takes part of Berkhivka
Ukrainian forces have captured part of the village of Berkhivka, which lies north of the key city of Bakhmut, the founder of the Russian Wagner mercenary group has said.
Wagner Group chief Yevgeny Prigozhin said that part of the settlement "has already been lost" to Ukrainian forces.
He called the defeat a "disgrace," urging the Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu to proceed to the front and mobilize an army. 
"Come on, you can do it!" he said. "And if you can't, you'll die heroes."
Prigozhin blamed the loss on Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, with whom he's been openly at odds with throughout the majority of the war. 
Wagner's mercenary fighters have been at the forefront of Russia's war on Ukraine, prompting its founder to repeatedly accuse the Russian army and defense ministry of not doing enough.
Brussels to probe use of Belgian weapons during war
Belgium will ask Ukraine to clarify whether reports that pro-Ukrainian forces have used Belgian-made rifles to fight Russian troops in Russia's western border.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the country's defense ministry and intelligence agencies have already started investigating the issue as they attempt "to determine what has happened exactly."
De Croo told Belgium's Radio 1 that European weapons are usually delivered to Ukraine under the condition that they are only used in defense operations on Ukrainian soil. He stressed there are "strict controls in place to see that this is the case."
The Belgian prime minister declined to comment on possible consequences if the reports were confirmed.
"We must not get ahead of ourselves here," he said. "But we are analyzing the situation and we would take this very seriously."
Russia begins Baltic Sea drills
Moscow has kicked off naval drills in the Baltic Sea, amid annual NATO Baltic Sea drills which began on Sunday.
Russia said its drills involve 40 ships and boats, 25 aircraft and some 3,500 personnel and are due to run until June 15.
The NATO drills meanwhile involve 50 ships, over 45 aircraft and 6,000 personnel. They feature participation from Finland for the first time, shortly after it joined the alliance.
Moscow has also kicked off drills in the Sea of Japan and the far eastern Sea of Okhotsk.
Papal peace mission to Kyiv underway
Pope Francis has tasked a cardinal to visit Kyiv on Monday and Tuesday, on a peace mission trying to help end the war in Ukraine.
The Vatican said Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi is carrying out the peace mission.
"This is an initiative whose main purpose is to listen in depth to the Ukrainian authorities on the possible ways to reach a just peace and support gestures of humanity that may help ease tensions," it said.
A cardinal since 2019, Zuppi hails from the same Sant' Egidio Community which brokered in 1992 a deal ending the civil war in Mozambique.
Pope Francis has made repeated calls for a peaceful solution since the Russian invasion in February 2022.
Russia hit Ukraine with drones to drain missile supply, UK says
Russia launched over 300 Iranian Shahed aerial vehicles (OWA-UAVs) over the course of May against Ukraine, in an attempt to "force Ukraine to fire stocks of valuable, advanced air defense missiles," the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) said in its latest intelligence update.
The use of the Shahed drone was most intense to date last month, the ministry added.
However, it said that Russia was not thought to have been successful. The MOD said Kyiv neutralized at least 90% of the incoming drones. Ukraine has been reliant on older and cheaper air defense weapons, as well as electronic jamming.
The ministry also suggested Moscow was "attempting to locate and strike Ukrainian forces well behind the front line," adding that this goal was also not reached due to its "poor targeting processes."
Pro-Ukraine group says handing Kyiv Russian captives
The pro-Ukraine Russian Volunteer Corps has said they captured several soldiers during a raid in the southern Russian Belgorod region and would hand them over to Ukrainian authorities.
A video released on the Telegram messaging app late Sunday showed what was seemingly a group of around a dozen Russian soldiers being held captive, with two lying on hospital beds.
"We have already decided the fate of these guys. They will be transferred to the Ukrainian side for the exchange procedure," a man could be heard saying in the video clip. 
"These Russian men took up arms against their will. Soon they will understand the whole vileness and injustice of the war unleashed by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," another Corps member who did not identify himself said in the video. 
Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, said earlier that he was open to meeting the group if the soldiers were still alive. 
The man in the video said Gladkov had not shown up at the designated meeting place.
The group initially said they had captured two soldiers, and later said they took more soldiers throughout the day. 
The man in the video said he had just returned from the Russian town of Novaya Tavolzhanka, where Gladkov had earlier reported clashing with what he called a group of "Ukrainian saboteurs."
Russia's Defense Ministry said its forces drove the fighters back into Ukraine.
Kyiv has denied direct involvement in the cross-border attacks.
Belgorod governor says energy facility on fire after attack 
The governor of the Russian region of Belgorod said an energy facility was set on fire in the early hours of Monday. 
Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram that the "preliminary cause of the fire was an explosive device dropped from a drone,"
"There were no casualties," he said. 
An armed incursion into Belgorod last month forced Russia to use its artillery and air force on home soil. Moscow blames Kyiv, while Ukraine denies responsibility. 
Reports: Polish fighters involved in fighting in Belgorod
Polish media have reported that mercenaries from Poland were fighting on the side of the Ukrainian army under the name of the Polish Volunteer Corps. 
The reports published on the online news portals and referred to the group's own messages on Telegram, as well as a video allegedly showing soldiers on their way to Belgorod.
Polsat said the Polish Volunteer Corps was working together with the Russian Volunteer Corps.
Wagner chief Prigozhin accuses Russia of mining retreat routes
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, accused the regular Russian army of mining a route that his fighters had wanted to drive on out of Bakhmut. 
Prigozhin also published a document that he claimed was an operation log from mid-May, which mentions exchanges of fire between Wagner fighters and Russian soldiers.
The Wagner chief had made similar accusations in recent days, the latest in a public spat with the Defense Ministry in Moscow. 
Russia evading sanctions on weapons: Zelenskyy 
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address on Sunday that Moscow was evading international sanctions by using a network of suppliers.
The sanctions were intended to stop Russia from making missiles and other weapons.
"Unfortunately, the terrorist state manages to use the technologies of the world through a network of suppliers, manages to bypass international sanctions," Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy did not name the countries that he claimed were helping Moscow.
In April, an aide to Zelenskyy said Ukraine's army was finding a growing number of components from China in Russian weapons used in Ukraine. Beijing denies sending arms to its key ally Moscow.

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