Day 545 of the Invasion of Ukraine: Elon Musk admitted to the Pentagon that he had spoken with PutinUkraine | August 22, 2023, Tuesday // 09:32| views
Day 545 of the invasion of Ukraine. Summary of key events in the last 24 hours:
- Elon Musk admitted to the Pentagon that he had spoken with Putin
- The destruction of a Russian strategic bomber has been confirmed
- London: Some of the drone attacks on Russia may be from its territory
- Zelensky insists on lifting the ban on the import of Ukrainian grain to Bulgaria and 4 other countries
- Zelensky confirmed that Ukraine wants the reactors from Bulgaria’s “Belene” NPP
- Vucic and Zelenski said they had "good" and "open" talks
- Ukraine announced that its troops had entered a strategic southeastern village
- Ukrainian drones have been shot down near Moscow and over Bryansk
- Greece will train Ukrainian pilots for the F-16
- Prigozhin's first video address after the march to Moscow
- Putin will watch from afar as the BRICS decide to (not) fight the West
Elon Musk admitted to the Pentagon that he had spoken with Putin
Elon Musk did speak with Putin, though he has repeatedly denied the allegations. This is clear from a report by The New Yorker, which reveals that Musk admitted to the Pentagon about his phone conversation with the Russian president.
Curiously, shortly after this conversation, Musk surprisingly published his ideas for stopping the war in Ukraine, and they echoed the Kremlin's wishes.
Last year, the billionaire repeatedly denied rumors of talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, he still informed the US Department of Defense about this conversation. In its Monday article, The New Yorker cited former senior Pentagon official Colin Kahl and another unnamed government official.
Musk has been invited to an exchange of views with the Pentagon, with the department pushing for continued use by the Ukrainian armed forces of the Starlink Internet satellite system operated by Musk's SpaceX space company. At the start of Russia's war against Ukraine, Musk donated Starlink receiver equipment to Kyiv and allowed it to be used for free.
However, SpaceX later stated that it did not wish to continue paying for the operation of the terminals. Musk told Pentagon officials about his conversation with Putin during the talks on this issue, writes The New Yorker.
"I have only spoken to Putin once and that was 18 months ago," tweeted the billionaire.
The conversation was about space travel.
In the end, SpaceX agreed to allow Ukraine to continue using the Starlink terminals for the time being. That year, the US Department of Defense signed a contract with the company to cover the costs.
What is particularly interesting about the conversation with Putin is that Musk published ideas for a solution to the conflict at that time. Among other things, he had proposed Ukraine to give up Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in violation of international law, to end the war, as well as referendums in Russian-occupied territories. In view of Russian aggression, the ideas have drawn much criticism.
The destruction of a Russian strategic bomber has been confirmed
Planet Lab satellite images confirmed that on August 19, a Ukrainian drone destroyed a Russian strategic bomber at its base in the Novgorod region. Footage of a Tu-22M3 strategic bomber on fire appeared on social media on Sunday and the BBC later confirmed that it was not tampered with. Now, satellite images from August 16 and August 21 clearly show the burned site, and that the supersonic aircraft involved in attacks on Ukraine have been moved.
A source told Novaya Gazeta that Russia currently has about 40 such aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons, but does not have the capacity to replace them with new ones.
London: Some of the drone attacks on Russia may be from its territory
The attack on the Tu-22M3 bomber in the Novgorod region of Russia is an argument in favor of the assessment that some drone attacks against Russia are carried out from Russian territory itself.
This is said in today's summary of British military intelligence, published on the X profile (until recently "Twitter") of the Ministry of Defence.
This time, London released the information hours after first reports that the August 19 attack may have destroyed the Tu-22 strategic bomber, as shown by Planet Labs satellite images shown by the BBC's Russian service.
A source told Novaya Gazeta that Russia currently has about 40 such aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons, but does not have the capacity to replace them with new ones.
According to British military intelligence, the bomber was destroyed with a "very high degree of probability", but if the claim of the Russian Ministry of Defense about the use of a quadcopter drone is true, it strengthens the thesis that some of the attacks came from Russian territory, given that such devices probably do not have the range needed to reach the Soltsy base from positions outside of Russia.
Britain also notes that this is at least the third attack on airfields by Russian long-range aviation and raises the question of Russia's ability to defend strategic locations inside the country.
Earlier this morning, the Ukrainian publication NV reported that the drone attacks on Russian military airports were carried out by a group of saboteurs whose activities were coordinated by the Ukrainian special services. For this, NV refers to an interlocutor in the General Directorate of Intelligence, i.e. in the military intelligence of Ukraine. The interlocutor claims that over the past few days, these groups have neutralized "five Russian planes, including strategic bombers, that launched missile strikes on Ukrainian cities."
These operations are carried out by agents cooperating with Ukrainian military intelligence, and the attack in Novgorod Oblast is an example of this, along with another on Shaykovka Airport in Kaluga Oblast, where two more bombers were damaged in drone attacks.
Ukraine officially insists that subversive groups are behind the drone attacks on Russian territory, with presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak saying some of them likely originate from Russia, not Ukraine. At the same time, in the last month, Kyiv has changed strategy, starting to talk through local and foreign publications and comments from officials about its role in various operations against Russia.
Zelensky insists on lifting the ban on the import of Ukrainian grain to Bulgaria and 4 other countries
Agricultural export and transit from Ukraine to be fully restored from September 15. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky insisted on this during a meeting with Ursula von der Leyen in Athens.
Zelensky participated in the Greek capital in the dinner organized by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, dedicated to EU enlargement.
He wrote on social networks that he thanked von der Leyen for efforts to restore Ukrainian exports and transit of agricultural products and insisted that they be fully restored from mid-September. Then the ban, which Bulgaria and four other countries - Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia - introduced for the import of Ukrainian wheat, corn, and sunflower, expired.
The five countries received permission from Brussels to ban the import of Ukrainian goods due to logistical difficulties and limited warehouse capacity that cannot accommodate the increased Ukrainian imports. The five countries should only provide transit transportation for the four goods. Ukraine has repeatedly protested against the ban and demanded its removal
Von der Leyen and Zelensky also discussed Ukraine's progress on the road to the EU. Kyiv wants to start membership negotiations at the end of 2023.
Vucic and Zelenski said they had "good" and "open" talks
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic held talks in Athens on Tuesday, which the two leaders described as "good" and "open", Reuters reported.
Serbia has repeatedly condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the UN and other international forums, but has not imposed sanctions on Moscow.
It also maintains trade and military cooperation with its traditional Slavic and Orthodox ally as it seeks to join the European Union.
In April, leaked Pentagon documents showed that Serbia had agreed to supply arms and ammunition to Kyiv or send them to Ukraine. Vucic said Serbia has never sold weapons or ammunition to Ukraine or Russia, although Serbian weapons may have reached the battlefield through third countries.
"An open, honest and fruitful meeting with the president of Serbia," Zelensky wrote on "Telegram" under a photo of the two leaders shaking hands.
He did not give many details, but added: "A good conversation about the observance of the UN Charter and the inviolability of borders ... For the shared future of our nations in the common European home. For the development of our relations, this is in our mutual interest."
In an Instagram post, Vucic said he had a "good and open" conversation with Zelensky on issues including the territorial integrity of the two countries.
Ukraine does not recognize Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Meanwhile, Belgrade does not recognize Russia's annexation of parts of Ukraine that Moscow occupies. "We reviewed the events in Ukraine and Kosovo and I reiterated that Serbia respects the territorial integrity of Ukraine," Vucic wrote.
Both leaders, who were in Athens as Greece hosts a meeting of Balkan leaders, expressed support for their countries' bids to join the EU.
Ukraine announced that its troops had entered a strategic southeastern village
Ukraine announced on Tuesday that its troops had entered the strategic southeastern village of Robotyne, a potentially significant advance in its counteroffensive against Russian forces, Reuters reported.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said on Telegram that Ukrainian soldiers are organizing the evacuation of civilians after entering Robotyne, but are still coming under fire from Russian forces.
The 47th mechanized inside Robotyne, providing aid to locals that remained.. pic.twitter.com/hPPg1bVgcy— NOELREPORTS ???????? ???????? (@NOELreports) August 22, 2023
"Our soldiers in the village of Robotyne," General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, commander of Ukrainian forces in the south, wrote on Telegram, under a photo of a soldier in a tank.
Robotyne is 10 km south of the frontline town of Orikhiv in Zaporizhzhia Oblast on an important road to Tokmak, a Russian-occupied road and rail hub.
The capture of Tokmak would be a cornerstone as Ukrainian troops push south towards the Sea of Azov, aiming to divide the Russian occupation forces. The Institute for the Study of War, a US research group and think tank, described the Ukrainian attacks on Robotyne as "tactically significant". Advances in the area could allow Ukrainian forces to begin operating beyond the thickest part of Russian minefields that have delayed a counteroffensive that began in early June, it said. A video released by the Ukrainian military shows a woman kissing a Ukrainian soldier and several evacuees talking on the phone with loved ones.
Ukrainian Army liberating some of the few civilians who had remained in the Robotyne area during the counteroffensive.— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) August 22, 2023
Finally, they can come out of their basements and call their relatives to tell them that they are free again.
This is why Ukraine fights. For freedom! pic.twitter.com/9P6kyy1Czp
"Psychologically it was very difficult (...). We waited so long that today they came unexpectedly. We couldn't even believe that they were ours (..) We are very grateful to the guys (troops)," the 52-year-old says in the video a woman.
Reuters was unable to confirm the location of the footage and the date the clip was shot.
Russia, which sent tens of thousands of troops to Ukraine in February 2022, did not immediately comment on the reports.
Ukrainian drones have been shot down near Moscow and over Bryansk
Four Ukrainian drones have been shot down near Moscow and over the Bryansk Oblast, which borders Ukraine, Russian officials said early this morning. An air alert was declared last night in a number of Ukrainian Oblasts.
A drone was shot down in the Odintsovo district, near the village of Chastsy west of Moscow, four explosions were heard shortly after 3:00 a.m. local time.
The Russian Ministry of Defense reported that no one was injured in the attack. One of the unmanned aerial vehicles was shot down over Krasnogorsk, Moskovsk Oblast.
Good morning moscow region☀️ pic.twitter.com/OtQGbz1SKg— Mira of Kyiv ???????? (@reshetz) August 22, 2023
Videos and photos from the scene show broken windows of a high-rise apartment building, debris on the sidewalk and a damaged car.
Airspace over the Russian capital was briefly closed and Moscow's three major airports, Vnukovo, Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo, temporarily suspended flights.
A part of them were transferred to other cities. The Ministry of Defense reported that the military intercepted an attempted terrorist attack over the Bryansk Oblast, where two machines were also destroyed.
A few days ago, Russia reported on a series of attempted attacks by Ukrainian drones, including over Moscow. Then again some of the airports were closed.
An air alert was declared last night in Ukraine's Sumy and Chernihiv Oblasts, as well as in the Kyiv Oblast.
Earlier, the head of the administration of the Chernihiv Oblast, Vyacheslav Chaus, said that a Russian drone had crashed into a civilian building, but did not give further details.
Explosions were also reported in the Zaporizhzhia Oblast as a result of a drone attack.
Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar stated that the situation in the Kupiansk region remains complicated and serious shelling continues there.
According to her, the Russians are regrouping and preparing to send more soldiers to the area.
Greece will train Ukrainian pilots for the F-16
Greece has offered to train Ukrainian pilots for the F-16 fighter jets that Denmark and the Netherlands decided to provide to Kyiv last weekend. This was announced by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during his visit to Athens.
Greece will participate in the training of our F-16 pilots. “Thank you for this proposal”, Zelensky said during a joint briefing with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Ukrainian pilots will also be trained to fly the F-16 in Denmark and Romania.
The Ukrainian president arrived on an unannounced visit to the Greek capital, where this evening he participated in a dinner and an informal discussion with leaders from the Balkans, with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel. Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov also participated in the dinner.
Prigozhin's first video address after the march to Moscow
Two months after the attempted march to Moscow, Yevgeny Prigozhin published his first video address on social networks. It is assumed that the video with the creator of "Wagner" was filmed in Africa. Prigozhin appears in the middle of a deserted area, dressed in camouflage clothing and with a weapon in his hands. More armed men and a pickup can be seen in the distance.
Russian authorities claim that after the coup attempt, some of Wagner's fighters and Prigozhin himself left for Belarus. Following this information, Poland increased the presence of its military along its border with the country.
At the end of July, information appeared that "Wagner" plans to strengthen its presence in Africa. "We are working. The temperature is +50 degrees Celsius - just the way we like it. ‘Wagner’ conducts reconnaissance and search operations. We make Russia great on all continents and Africa freer. Justice and happiness for African peoples. We are making life a nightmare for ISIS, Al Qaeda and other bandits. We recruit real fighters and continue to perform the tasks assigned to us. We have made promises that we will fulfill," the video address says.
Putin will watch from afar as the BRICS decide to (not) fight the West
How can a handful of countries with a population of almost 3 billion and accounting for a quarter of the world's economy challenge Western supremacy?
It sounds like a simple question, but in fact it has many tricks, and the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, collectively known as the BRICS, who are gathering today - almost all - know this.
These are five different economies, with different interests. Russia has been put to a severe test by the war in Ukraine and the isolation that cut it off from its otherwise traditional economic partners, China - by the echo of weak economic indicators, raising concerns about the state of the second world economy. Brazil - from the heterogeneous interests of its continent and in the international relations between which it tries to maneuver. India - from the recent rapprochement with the United States. Despite openly cordial relations with Moscow, South Africa and Brazil do not want to lose Washington completely.
How tightly should they grasp the hand they'll discover, though? The dispute between rivals China and India - the world's most populous authoritarian state and most populous democracy - in a bloc where decisions are taken by consensus could doom BRICS' transformation into a "non-Western" alternative to the G7.
This will come as no surprise; for 15 years now, the union has failed to turn its growing economic power into a political one. If the right approach, it would be a new opportunity to become a significant rival of the West. At least in words, some of the five countries won't mind giving that impression until Thursday.
The BRICS group accounts for more than 40% of the world's population and about 26% of the world's economy, and offers an alternative forum for countries outside diplomatic channels seen as dominated by traditional Western powers. Its influence and economic weight are causing more countries to join it. The question is which countries would be admitted.
At their 15th summit in South Africa (rotating chair until the end of the year), leaders are coming face to face for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic.
All but Russian President Vladimir Putin. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will represent Russia and participate alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, South African counterpart host Cyril Ramaphosa and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Putin will attend only virtually after a warrant for his arrest was issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague in March. South Africa is a state party to the ICC and if Putin showed up, it would be obliged to arrest him. This means that while Putin hopes to bet on the BRICS to show that his country is not isolated because of the war in Ukraine, he cannot even visit a "partner country" against this isolation.
BRICS expansion may be controversial, but leaders certainly want at least the Global South to watch: 67 leaders from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean have been invited. The list of invitees includes the New Development Bank (until recently the BRICS Development Bank), the UN Secretary General and others.
By the way, there was also someone from the West who wanted to participate: it was French President Emmanuel Macron. Because of his position on the war in Ukraine, however, Russia rejected the idea.
South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said in a statement last week that the BRICS countries wanted to show "global leadership in addressing the needs ... of the greater part of the world, namely ... the development and inclusion of the Global South in multilateral systems " - a veiled blow against the dominance of the West.
But China wants to go further: for BRICS to become a full-blooded rival to the Group of Seven (G-7), an alternative to Western development aid, to "reform global governance systems (to) increase the representation... of developing countries and emerging markets".
Beijing's thesis is that political union will strengthen the BRICS' collective voice in the world. New Delhi, however, contested this idea, preferring the non-alignment of the union. Pretoria is careful to say that the thesis about the "anti-Western" element in BRICS expansion is "totally wrong".
India, the rotating chair of the G20, also believes that the "politicization" of BRICS, involving the Global South, will turn the association into a club primarily serving Chinese interests in opposing the West. On the contrary, the Asian giant prefers, through rapid expansion, to show that the developing world warmly supports it. But even the question of who else should enter the club is a matter of controversy.
Amid discussions of global geopolitics, trade and infrastructure, a number of topics may take a backseat to one of the more contentious: enlargement. At least 23 countries have expressed interest in such a step.
Among those wishing to enter are a bunch of countries: from Venezuela and Argentina, through Ethiopia and Egypt, to Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, they are as heterogeneous as the BRICS positions are heterogeneous.
Enlargement tempts some of the countries, but there is no unanimity for it. By what procedure will it be carried out? What should the criteria be? And no less important: which countries to say "yes" to?
The driving force behind the expansionist push is China, which sees itself as able to rally many in the Global South against the United States in the swirling race. Behind this position is Russia, which is looking for loopholes from the isolation of other countries from the West after the Ukraine war, but not Brazil, which thinks it is not the time (and in fact does not want enlargement to reduce its weight in the bloc). India is about to take sides. South Africa was a product of the first enlargement when BRIC became BRICS in 2011, just two years after their first meeting in Yekaterinburg, but for now it remains the latest to join.
Especially important for Pretoria are the African countries with which BRICS is interested in cooperation and in the part of interaction with the African Continental Free Trade Area, the largest in terms of number of participants and population. More African BRICS members would be welcome; "BRICS and Africa" is also the thematic corner of the current meeting.
According to the "Financial Times", it is still possible to invite several countries such as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Argentina. The criteria that will make these or other countries suitable will be discussed by Thursday: for example, a minimum population or gross domestic product or willingness to work with an NDB bank.
The group is also expected to discuss how to boost local currency fundraising and lending under the New Development Bank, NDB, long known as the BRICS Bank. Using a local currency will help reduce the risk of the impact of currency fluctuations, South Africa's Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana said.
De-dollarization may be a difficult task, especially given that the financing offered by the NDB is far below the scale offered by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. For example, over a decade, the NDB has approved billion in financing - about a third of what the World Bank offered last year alone.
The bank could not yet discuss the BRICS self-loan plan, which Brazil proposed and Russia supported earlier this year as an alternative to dependence on the dollar. Hosts South Africa have said that discussions are off the table at the moment. Opponent of the proposal is again India, which prefers to find ways to increase commercial exchange in national currencies.
The dollar has appreciated against emerging-market currencies since Russia invaded Ukraine and the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates to fight inflation in early 2022, making servicing dollar-denominated debt more expensive for those countries.
The NDB is also expanding and the summit could become a key platform to attract more member countries. Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have joined the bank since 2021. Uruguay is part of the accession process, while Algeria, Honduras, Zimbabwe and Saudi Arabia have expressed interest.
For now, there is agreement between the countries on more symbolic steps, albeit with a global request - such as the creation of a new rating system for universities, for which, according to Moscow, the time has come.
The bloc's divisions, if not overcome, will bring to mind the words of Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill, who coined the term BRIC in 2011:
“Apart from creating the BRICS Bank... it's hard to know what the group did other than meet every year”.
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