Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky let loose a verbal barrage in Sofia Thursday against Bulgarian President Rumen Radev over the latter's opposition to arming Ukraine.
“God forbid some tragedy should befall you and you should be in my place,” he said, according to a Politico translation. “And if people with shared values do not help, what will you do? You would say: Putin, please grab Bulgarian territory?”
“No, you, as a real president, I am sure you would not allow a compromise with your independence. It is your right not to support aid to Ukraine. But I would really like you to understand me correctly."
The meeting with Radev, "a former air force chief who is more sympathetic to Russia and equivocal on NATO, went even worse than expected," Politico reported. “Gathered on each side of a long wooden table, the khaki-clad Ukrainian delegation sat stony faced, occasionally grimacing and taking notes, opposite Radev’s team as the Bulgarian president explained that there was ‘no military solution’ and that more and more weapons will not solve it.”
According to Politico, after Zelensky's emotional remarks, a clearly-ruffled Radev cowered behind papers before asking cameras to leave.
Regardless of the flap, the Bulgarian Parliament adopted a declaration in support of Ukraine's NATO membership, the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Ruslan Stefanchuk announced today on his Facebook page.
“It is expected that the Bulgarian government, in particular, at the upcoming Alliance summit in Vilnius in July 2023, will state a position in support of Ukraine's NATO membership after the restoration of peace on its territory,” Stefanchuk wrote.
After visiting Bulgaria, Zelensky traveled to the Czech Republic to meet with President Petr Pavel.
A day earlier, Zelensky told CNN in an exclusive interview that entrenched Russian defenses, combined with slower-than-desired delivery of Western arms has slowed the pace of Ukraine's counteroffensive.
Zelensky told CNN that in some areas of the country his military cannot “even think of starting” attacks, because it does not have “the relevant weapons.”
“I’m grateful to the US as the leaders of our support,” he said through a translator, “but I told them as well as the European leaders that we would like to start our counteroffensive earlier, and we need all the weapons and materiel for that. Why? Simply because if we start later, it will go slower.”
Zelensky added that difficulties on the battlefield were now leading to a “slowed down” counteroffensive.
“I wanted our counteroffensive to happen much earlier, because everyone understood that if the counteroffensive unfolds later, then a bigger part of our territory will be mined. We give our enemy the time and possibility to place more mines and prepare their defensive lines.”
It is unclear, however, just how much additional advantage Ukraine would have had in terms of overcoming Russian fortification had the counteroffensive started as soon as the weather permitted in the Spring. Russia, as we noted last Fall, has long been building up its fortifications in anticipation of Ukraine's long-stated desire to liberate the entire nation, including Crimea.
Next week is an all-important NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. It will be interesting to see how leaders there respond to Zelensky and how they react to the current status of the counteroffensive, which appears to be achieving incremental progress across several fronts, but at a high cost.
Before we head into the latest from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
At least six people were killed and and nearly 40 injured after a Russian missile attack on the western Ukraine city of Lviv, according to Ukrainian officials.
The Russians attacked with 10 Kalibr sea-launched cruise missiles, of which seven were shot down and three hit Lviv, according to Ukrainian military officials.
In addition to the deaths and injuries, Maksym Kozytskyi, head of the Lviv Regional State Administration (OVA) said on his Telegram channel that more than 30 homes, 250 apartments, 10 hostels, a children’s home and two schools were damaged. In addition, an electric substation was also damaged, leaving about 150 customers without power.
“This is the most destructive attack on the civilian population in the Lviv region since the beginning of the full-scale war,” he said.
On its Telegram channel, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed the attack was against military targets.
"The Russian Federation Armed Forces launched a concentrated strike with long-range sea-based high-precision weapons against temporary deployment sites of [Armed Forces of Ukraine] AFU personnel and foreign mercenaries, as well as storage sites for foreign-manufactured armored vehicles," the Russian MoD claimed. "All the assigned targets have been neutralized. The goal of the attack has been reached. The enemy strategic reserves have sustained significant damage."
That response drew outrage from Ukraine.
In a meeting with reporters in Minsk Thursday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko laid out his conditions for the use of tactical nuclear weapons, which Russian President Vladimir Putin last month said he provided to his vassal state. Lukashenko also said that Wagner Private Military Company boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, exiled to Belarus after his aborted mutiny last month, is in Russia at the moment.
Belarus, said Lukashenko, will only use tactical nuclear weapons in defense of the nation.
“It seems to me that the war in Ukraine, a special military operation is not and will not be the reason for a nuclear strike from any side," Lukashenko said, according to the Belarusian Defense Ministry Telegram channel. "Now, if there is NATO aggression against Belarus or Russia, which means invading our territory, then the hands are untied."
As for Prigozhin, "he is in St. Petersburg," said Lukahsenko. "Or maybe this morning he will travel to Moscow or elsewhere. But he is not on the territory of Belarus now."
Lukashenko also said he was not concerned about the presence of Wagner fighters in Belarus, adding that if those troops are stationed in Belarus, they will be used to defend the country.
That seems to back up what Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine's Defense Intelligence Directorate, told us last week about Wagner forces not coming to Belarus.
"No one, just a few people from his forward-ranking group," he told us when asked how many Wagner fighters were coming to Belarus.
“I am absolutely not worried or worried that we will have a certain number of these fighters stationed," Lukashenko said Thursday. "Moreover, they will be placed under certain conditions. The main condition: if we need to use this unit for the defense of the state, it will be activated instantly. And their experience will be in demand.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, meanwhile, said despite Lukashenko's claim, Russia doesn't know the whereabouts of Prigozhin, who was in St. Petersburg as recently as July 4 to reclaim weapons seized from him during his mutiny attempt.
Speaking of Prigozhin, Russia is on the verge of civil war in the wake of his mutiny attempt, according to Budanov.
“According to the secret data of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, analyzed by Ukrainian military intelligence, during the mutiny on June 24 and 25, the owner of 'Wagner' Prigozhin had the support of the population of 17 of the 46 regions of Russia,” Budanov told The Times of London Wednesday. Putin has support of 21 regions while one region remains up for grabs.
The information, Budanov told the newspaper, was derived by Russian monitoring of opinions expressed on social media and messaging apps like Telegram.
Putin could count on support from Moscow, but not St. Petersburg, he added, amplifying what he told us last week about the country being “split in two” had Prigozhin been successful.
“The situation is indicating exactly what our service has been talking about: that the Russian Federation is on the edge of the civil war," Budanov said. "There needs to be a small internal ‘affair’, and the internal conflict will be intensified.”
A week ahead of the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, small tensions are showing between Washington and Kyiv, which has frequently expressed a strong desire to join the alliance.
Yesterday, asked if the U.S. would support Ukraine joining NATO after this all-out war ends, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Ukraine needed to make certain reforms - which she did not specify - before it could join NATO.
The conversation about Ukraine's NATO wishes begins at about the 31-minute mark in the video below.
On Thursday, Oleg Nikolenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, reacted to those comments. NATO should put aside any concerns about how Moscow would react to Ukraine becoming a member, Nikolenko said on his Facebook page.
In order to defend its skies with ground-based systems, Ukraine has been relying on Soviet-era air defense systems like the Buk and S-300 and, since last Fall, foreign-donated systems like National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missiles Systems, or NASAMS, the IRIS-T SLM and the Patriot.
But Oleksandr Kamsyshin, Minister of Strategic Industry, claimed on his Telegram channel July 3 that flight tests have recently been completed on two domestically produced anti-aircraft missile systems.
“I am grateful to our partners for supplying Ukraine with imported anti-aircraft missile systems,” Kamsyshin wrote on his Telegram channel. “The domestic defense industry is only ‘getting on the rails’ to help our anti-aircraft missile forces. We still do not have domestic anti-aircraft missile systems in service. Neither portable nor stationary.”
Kamsyshin said that there are “several projects in the works, on which we have intensified work. In the last month, the first flight tests of two projects were completed. Both are successful. It is still far from ready, but we are doing everything to speed up the work.”
Kamsyshin offered no details, but his Telegram message included an image of an air defense missile being developed under a project dubbed Koral. According to a Ukrainian defense official we spoke with, that’s a medium-range air defense interceptor variant of the Vilkha-M guided rocket we wrote about in March. It would have a fragmentation warhead, akin to the S-300, and an anticipated range of about 100 km, the official told us.
But nothing is imminent.
“There is still a long way to go,” the official told us. “There is no proper homing head or radar.”
Yesterday, we told you that a U.K-donated Storm Shadow air-launched, conventionally armed cruise missile fell into Russian hands in a partially intact state. Today, Russia claims the missile's remains are already in Moscow for analysis, the official Russian TASS news agency reported Thursday.
Dmitry Rogozin, head of the ‘Tsar's Wolves’ scientific and research center, said that Ukrainian forces tried to prevent Russian retrieval of the missile.
Ukrainian forces "engaged heavy artillery and a special reconnaissance group," he said. "However, all enemy’s attempts were promptly thwarted."
In an effort to lay the groundwork for potential negotiations to end the war in Ukraine, secret talks were held between a group of former U.S. national security officials and prominent Russians believed to be close with the Kremlin, NBC reported Thursday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with members of the group for several hours in April in New York, according to NBC, which cited four former officials and two current officials.
“Sitting down with Lavrov were Richard Haass, a former diplomat and the outgoing president of the Council on Foreign Relations, current and former officials said. The group was joined by Europe expert Charles Kupchan and Russia expert Thomas Graham, both former White House and State Department officials who are Council on Foreign Relations fellows.”
Thanks to a combination of foreign donations and battlefield attrition, Ukraine now has more tanks than Russia, according to Bloomberg.
"An update Thursday of the Ukraine Support Tracker database maintained by Germany’s Kiel Institute for the World Economy said Kyiv’s backers had delivered 471 new tanks since the start of the war, with a further 286 still to arrive, even as the rate of new pledges slowed," the publication reported.
"Combined with a tally of equipment lost or captured by the open source intelligence group Oryx, widely considered to be conservative, the figures suggest that Ukraine’s tank fleet has grown since the start of the invasion last year, even as Russia’s has halved."
Oryx only tabulates losses for which there is visual confirmation, meaning that actual figures could be higher.
The gap also narrowed in terms of artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems, although by much smaller margins.
If you wanted to see what it looks like when Ukrainian troops launch a Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) tank-busting missile from one of their donated Bradley Fighting Vehicles, check out this video below. It shows the crew observing a Russian armored vehicle, then launching the missile. A Russian soldier is seen coming into view just before impact and then flying through the air after the missile hit the target.
In war, luck is often measured in meters or seconds. Such was the case of this Ukrainian Husky TSV armored vehicle crew that narrowly avoided being hit by an anti-tank guided missile. The video below shows the missile flying over the Husky. It's unclear whether the crew knew how lucky they really were until seeing it for themselves.
A U.K.-donated Challenger 2 tank was spotted on the front lines in Zaporizhzhia. In the video below, you can hear the loud rumble of the tank's engine before it is briefly seen zipping rather quickly in reverse.
Throughout this conflict both sides have tried to use the cover of tree lines to hide personnel and equipment, but thanks in large measure to the ubiquity of drones, that's often not a very successful endeavor. The video below, of Ukrainian artillery and mortar fire on Russian troops, is yet another example of that.
There was another exchange of prisoners between Russia and Ukraine, with 45 being released by each side.
Finally, how does Zelensky get pumped for a day of defending a nation?
With some head-banging AC/DC and Guns N' Roses.
That's it for now. We'll update this story when there's more news from Ukraine to report.
Contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org