Russian fire pounds Ukraine as uncertainty swirls over gas pipeline restart

Russian forces have shelled eastern and southern Ukraine after Washington said it saw signs Moscow was preparing to formally annex territory it has seized during nearly five months of war.

Uncertainty swirled meanwhile over the planned restart on Thursday of a huge Russian gas pipeline to Europe, as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that its capacity could be further reduced due to slow progress in equipment maintenance.

Fearing Russia could cut off deliveries, the European Union will set out emergency plans to reduce gas demand within months.

Ukraine’s military and politicians reported heavy and sometimes fatal Russian shelling amid what they said were largely unsuccessful attempts by Russian ground forces to advance.

Territorial gains

British military intelligence said Russia’s offensive in the eastern Donbas region continued to make minimal gains as Ukrainian forces — which Britain helps support — held the line.

More than two weeks have passed since Russia’s last major territorial gain, the city of Lysychansk.

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Search and rescue workers and local residents take a dead body from under the debris of a building after the Russian air raid in Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine, on Thursday, 16 June 2022. Source: AAP / AP

The Kremlin has said there is no time limit to what it calls a “special military operation” to ensure its own security in the face of NATO’s expansion and that it will do whatever it takes to achieve its aims.

Ukraine and the West condemn the conflict as an unprovoked war of aggression by Russia against its neighbour.

Five civilians were killed and 16 wounded by Russian shelling in the Donetsk region, while two civilians were killed by shelling in the city of Nikopol in the south, the respective Ukrainian regional governors said on Telegram.

Laying the groundwork

Russia’s TASS news agency meanwhile cited the mayor of Horlivka, a city in the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, as saying that one person had been killed and three injured, including a child, by Ukrainian shelling.

Reuters could not immediately verify the Ukrainian or Russian accounts.

Citing US intelligence, White House national security spokesman John Kirby accused Russia of laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory it had seized since the start of the war on 24 February, an assertion the Russian embassy in Washington said mischaracterised what Moscow was trying to do.

The embassy cast what Ukraine and the West regard as a naked land grab as “returning peace to liberated territories” in order to protect the rights of people regardless of their ethnicity or language — a reference to Russian speakers or ethnic Russians in Ukraine who Russia says it is saving from persecution at the hands of what it has cast as dangerous Ukrainian nationalists.

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Ukrainian servicemen shoot with 82mm mortar during training in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, on Tuesday, 19 July 2022. Source: AAP / AP

Pipeline to Germany

Kyiv says that the Russian narrative is false. NORD STREAM 1 Russian natural gas exports via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany are due to restart on Thursday after 10 days of annual maintenance work.

Sources have told Reuters that Nord Stream, the single largest link for Russian gas supplies to Europe, is expected to resume as scheduled but at reduced capacity.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday after a visit to Tehran, Mr Putin said the capacity of Nord Stream 1 could be reduced due to problems with other pumping units, one of which would need to be sent for maintenance on 26 July.
He said Russian energy giant Gazprom was ready to fulfil its obligations on gas exports.

Gazprom cut exports through the route to 40 per cent capacity last month, citing delays in the return of a turbine Siemens Energy was servicing in Canada, which had initially banned the equipment’s return, citing sanctions.

Russia to punish Wikimedia over Ukraine conflict ‘fakes’

Russia’s communications watchdog said on Wednesday it was taking steps to punish the Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, for violating Russian law around the conflict in Ukraine.

In a statement, Roskomnadzor said that Wikipedia still hosted “prohibited materials, including fakes about the course of the special military operation on the territory of Ukraine”, and that search engines would be used to inform users that Wikimedia violated Russian law.

Writing on Telegram, vice chair of the Russian parliament’s committee on information policy Anton Gorelkin said that links to Wikipedia would be accompanied by a disclaimer warning users about legal violations by Wikimedia Foundation.
Roskomnadzor said the measures would remain in place until Wikimedia Foundation becomes fully compliant with Russian law.

The Wikimedia Foundation on 13 June appealed a Moscow court ruling, fining it U$91,000 ($132,000) for refusing to remove what it termed disinformation from Russian-language Wikipedia articles on the Ukraine conflict, including “The Russian Invasion of Ukraine”, “War Crimes during the Russian Invasion of Ukraine”, and “Massacre in Bucha”.

Wikipedia, which says it offers “the second draft of history”, is written and edited by volunteers across more than 300 languages.
With the shuttering of much of Russia’s independent media after the invasion of Ukraine, Wikipedia became one of the last available sources of fact-checked information on the war available to Russians.
Russia introduced sweeping new laws on sharing information about the conflict in Ukraine shortly after the Kremlin invaded the country.
Narratives around the conflict, Europe’s largest since 1945, are highly contested. Russia does not call what is happening a “war” or an “invasion”, criminalising the use of either word and instead framing it as a “special military operation” to “demilitarise and denazify” Ukraine.

Ukraine and the West say that Russia’s framing is a figleaf aimed at justifying an imperial-style war of aggression.

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