Russia obliterates front-line Ukraine towns by retrofitting bombs and expanding its air base network

The bombing of the Epicenter in Kharkiv killed 19 people, including two children. (FILE/AFP)
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Updated 20 June 2024
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Russia obliterates front-line Ukraine towns by retrofitting bombs and expanding its air base network

  • The bombing of the Epicenter in Kharkiv killed 19 people, including two children
  • Russia has accelerated its destruction of Ukraine’s front-line cities in 2024 to a scale previously unseen in the war using the glide bombs

KHARKIV, Ukraine: The first shock wave shattered aisles stacked almost to the ceiling with home improvement products. The next Russian bomb streaked down like a comet seconds later, unleashing flames that left the megastore an ashen shell.
A third bomb failed to detonate when it landed behind the Epicenter shopping complex in Kharkiv. Investigators hope it will help them trace the supply chain for the latest generation of retrofitted Russian “glide bombs” that are laying waste to eastern Ukraine. The Soviet-era bombs are adapted on the cheap with imported electronics that allow distant Russian warplanes to launch them at Ukraine.
Other cities that have been devastated by the weapons include Avdiivka, Chasiv Yar and Vovchansk, and Russia has nearly unlimited supplies of the bombs, which are dispatched from airfields just across the border that Ukraine has not been able to hit.
Store manager Oleksandr Lutsenko said the May 25 attack hints at Russia’s aim for Kharkiv: “Their goal is to turn it into a ghost city, to make it so that no one will stay, that there will be nothing to defend, that it will make no sense to defend the city. They want to scare people, but they will not succeed.”
Russia has accelerated its destruction of Ukraine’s front-line cities in 2024 to a scale previously unseen in the war using the glide bombs and an expanding network of airstrips, according to an Associated Press analysis of drone footage, satellite imagery, Ukrainian documents and Russian photos.
The results can be seen in the intensity of recent Russian attacks. It took a year for Russia to obliterate Bakhmut, where the bombs were first used. That was followed by destruction in Avdiivka that took months. Then, only weeks were needed to do the same in Vovchansk and Chasiv Yar, according to images analyzed by AP that showed the smoldering ruins of both cities.
Now, Russia is putting the finishing touches on yet another airstrip less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Ukraine and launching the bombs routinely from multiple bases just inside Russian borders, according to the AP analysis of satellite pictures and photos from a Russian aviation Telegram channel.
The bombing of the Epicenter in Kharkiv killed 19 people, including two children. In all, glide bombs have hit the city more than 50 times this year, according to Spartak Borysenko of the Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office.
He showed investigation documents to AP that identified at least eight Russian air bases used to launch the attacks, all within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of Ukraine. He said at least one of the munitions had foreign electronics and was made in May. That date suggests Russia is using the bombs rapidly and that it has successfully circumvented sanctions for dual-use items.
Photos on Russian Telegram channels linked to the military show glide bombs being launched three and four at a time. In one launch of four bombs, the AP traced the aircraft’s location to just outside the Russian city of Belgorod, near the air base now under construction. All four bombs in the photo were headed west — with Vovchansk and Kharkiv in their direct line of fire.
At the end of May, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia was launching more than 3,000 of the bombs every month, with 3,200 used in May alone.
Oleh Katkov, whose military-oriented site Defense Express first traced the launch location, said hitting air bases is key to slowing the pace of the bombings by forcing Russian planes to launch farther away.
“This doesn’t mean they will completely stop their bombings, but it will become more difficult for them,” Katkov said. “They will be able to make fewer sorties per day.”
For months, Ukrainian officials complained bitterly about restrictions on using Western-supplied weapons against targets in Russia, including the airfields that house Russian bombers. The United States and Germany recently authorized some targets in Russia, but many others remain off-limits.
The newest airfield, just outside Belgorod, has a 2,000-meter (-yard) runway, the AP analysis found. Construction began late summer 2023, during the failed Ukrainian counteroffensive.
A Ukrainian intelligence official, who provided information to AP on condition of anonymity, said his government had been closely following the construction, which did not yet appear complete in a photo taken mid-June.
The official also noted that Belarus provides sanctuary for Russian bombers. A map created by the Ukrainian battlefield analysis site DeepState showed 10 airfields in Belarus, including five just across the border from Ukraine.
In all, the DeepState map shows 51 bases used by Russia within 600 kilometers (370 miles) of Ukrainian-controlled territory, including three in occupied eastern Ukraine, six in the illegally annexed peninsula of Crimea, and 32 in Russia.
“The greatest strategic advantage Russia has over Ukraine is its advantage in the sky,” Zelensky said last week. “This is missile and bomb terror that helps Russian troops advance on the ground.”
Russia launches up to 100 guided bombs daily, Zelensky said. Besides missiles and drones, which Russia already routinely uses for attacks, the bombs cause “an insanely destructive pressure.”
The base material for the glide bombs comes from hundreds of thousands of Soviet-era unguided bombs, which are then retrofitted with retractable fins and guidance systems to carry 500 to 3,000 kilograms (1,100 to 6,600 pounds) of explosives. The upgrade costs around $20,000 per bomb, according to the Center for European Policy Analysis, and the bombs can be launched up to 65 kilometers (40 miles) from their targets — outside the range of Ukraine’s regular air defense systems.
The bombs are similar in concept to the American Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, missiles, which have had their GPS systems successfully jammed by Russian forces in Ukraine.
Because Russia does not have the strength to occupy eastern cities such as Kharkiv, bombing is their preferred option, said Nico Lange, an analyst with the Center for European Policy Analysis.
“From their point of view, the strategy seems to be to terrorize the cities enough that people will leave,” Lange said.
Back at the Epicenter home improvement store, surveillance footage taken just before the explosion showed salesperson Nina Korsunova walking across the floor toward the aisle that she was staffing that day. Then there was a blinding flash, and the camera cut out.
Korsunova curled into the fetal position as a display crashed on top of her. She uncovered her eyes just in time to see the second bomb streak inside. With her eardrums blown out, she could hear nothing and saw not a single sign of life.
“I thought I was alone and that they had abandoned me there. It gave me the strength to climb out,” she said. She crawled over piles of shattered lamps, and cables snarled her legs as she climbed through debris from the electrical supply aisle.
Two weeks later, the skeleton of the building reeked of a disorienting combination of scorched metal and laundry detergent that spilled from melted jugs in the cleaning products aisle.
Neither Korsunova nor the store manager have any plans to leave their hometown.
“It didn’t break me,” she said. “I will remain in Kharkiv. This is my home.”


Biden says could quit race if ‘medical condition’ emerged

Updated 9 sec ago
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Biden says could quit race if ‘medical condition’ emerged

LAS VEGAS: US President Joe Biden said he could drop his reelection bid if doctors found he had a medical condition, as a top Democrat on Wednesday urged the 81-year-old to step aside.
Biden’s comments were the first time he has even slightly opened the door to abandoning the White House race, and came as Representative Adam Schiff, a key ally from California, urged Biden to “pass the torch.”
“If I had some medical condition that emerged, if somebody, if the doctors came and said ‘you’ve got this problem, that problem,’” Biden told the Black media outlet BET in an interview taped Tuesday, when asked what could make him rethink.
Biden however defended his decision to stay on for a rematch with Republican Donald Trump in November, and explained why he had not handed over to a younger generation after one term.
“I said I was going to be a transitional candidate, and I thought I’d be able to move on from this, pass it on to someone else,” he said. “But I didn’t anticipate things getting so, so, so divided.”
Biden has been fighting for political survival since a disastrous debate against Trump nearly three weeks ago, in which his tired and confused appearance sparked concerns about his age.
Schiff became the first Democrat to call for him to step aside since the assassination attempt against Trump on Saturday, which had briefly silenced the growing chorus against Biden.
“A second Trump presidency will undermine the very foundation of our democracy, and I have serious concerns about whether the President can defeat Donald Trump in November,” Schiff said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.
Schiff, who is expected to win a Senate seat this November, is a key White House ally in the legislature and shot to nationwide prominence as lead prosecutor during then-president Trump’s first impeachment trial.
Biden was set to make a fresh attempt to prop up his candidacy in a speech to crucial Latino voters in the battleground state of Nevada later Wednesday.
Around 20 House Democrats and one senator have now called on Biden to leave the White House race but Biden has refused, insisting he is best placed to beat Trump.
Most polls show Biden trailing in a tight race, with Trump pulling ahead in key swing states but no dramatic movement since the debate debacle or shooting.
Biden said his mental acuity was “pretty damn good” in an NBC interview on Monday, one of a series of unscripted outings aimed at showing he has what it takes.
With pressure on Biden mounting, Democrats said on Wednesday they plan a virtual nomination for the president in the first week of August, ahead of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on August 19.
Some Democrats have slammed the scheme, accusing the party of trying to ram through Biden’s candidacy and avoid a full discussion of alternative choices.
Party chiefs say they need to carry out the virtual roll-call by August 7, which is the deadline set by the Republican-led state of Ohio for the submission of nominations.
Biden otherwise risks not being on the ballot in Ohio, the home state of Trump’s new running mate J.D. Vance.
While Ohio’s governor has signed a law giving Biden more time, the DNC said it feared further legal challenges.
“None of this will be rushed,” the heads of the DNC’s rules committee said in a letter to lawmakers obtained by AFP. “No matter what may be reported, our goal is not to fast-track.”
But several lawmakers are planning to sign a letter against the virtual nomination plan and others have criticized it, according to US media.
Biden insists that Democratic voters support him, but a poll by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research said Wednesday that nearly two-thirds want him to step aside.

Russia’s Lavrov welcomes Vance stance on Ukraine amid European concern

Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, holds a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters
Updated 17 July 2024
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Russia’s Lavrov welcomes Vance stance on Ukraine amid European concern

  • Vance, chosen this week by Donald Trump as his running mate, wants to cut American military support for Ukraine in its war with Russia
  • America’s European allies are widely concerned about Vance’s selection as Trump’s vice presidential candidate in the Nov. 5 election

UNITED NATIONS: Russia is ready to work with any US leader willing to engage in “equitable, mutually respectful dialogue,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday, while welcoming the stance on Ukraine of Republican vice presidential candidate J.D. Vance.
Vance, chosen this week by Donald Trump as his running mate, wants to cut American military support for Ukraine in its war with Russia and has said Kyiv has no chance of regaining all the territory Russia has taken since it launched its full-scale invasion on Ukraine in February 2022.
“He’s in favor of peace, he’s in favor of ending the assistance that’s being provided and we can only welcome that because that’s what we need — to stop pumping Ukraine full of weapons and then the war will end,” Lavrov told reporters.
America’s European allies are widely concerned about Vance’s selection as Trump’s vice presidential candidate in the Nov. 5 election. Trump had expressed unease about the latest congressional aid package for Ukraine, which was passed in April. But, unlike Vance, did not explicitly oppose it.
Trump also said late last month that he does not accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s terms for ending the war. Putin has said Russia would end the war if Kyiv handed over the four regions in the country’s east and south claimed by Moscow.
Trump — who was president from 2017 until 2021 — and US President Joe Biden are locked in a close election rematch, according to most opinion polls.
“We will work with any American leader, we will remain ready to work with any US leader, who the US people elect,” Lavrov said, if the leader is “willing to engage in equitable, mutually respectful dialogue.
“Under Trump there were more and more sanctions that were imposed, economic sanctions, diplomatic sanctions were imposed, however, at that time ... dialogue was underway between us and Washington at the highest levels,” Lavrov said.
“Right now there is no such dialogue,” he said of the Biden administration, adding that since Russia’s war in Ukraine began in 2022, high level contacts between Washington and Moscow had dried up.
An assessment published this month by the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Russia “remains the primary threat to our elections” and unidentified “Russian influence actors” secretly plan to “sway public opinion” in swing states and “diminish US support for Ukraine.”
“We do not interfere in other states domestic affairs. This includes the United States,” Lavrov said.
He was in New York to chair two United Nations Security Council meetings during Russia’s July presidency of the body.


Cyprus plans to build a major naval base to play a larger geopolitical role, says defense minister

An Open Arms ship and ship Jennifer, of the World Central Kitchen carrying food aid for the Gaza Strip, prepare to set sail.
Updated 17 July 2024
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Cyprus plans to build a major naval base to play a larger geopolitical role, says defense minister

  • Cyprus has in recent months been staging ground for collection and delivery of donated humanitarian aid to Gaza
  • Aid is being shipped from the Cypriot port of Larnaca to the Palestinian territory after being security screened

NICOSIA: Cyprus’ defense minister said Wednesday that plans are in motion to build a major naval base on the east Mediterranean island nation’s southern coast capable of hosting large ships from European Union countries and other nations to carry out a variety of missions including humanitarian aid deliveries to the tumultuous Middle East region.
Vasilis Palmas told reporters that Cyprus’ recently elevated geopolitical role as the European Union’s closest member to the Middle East warrants the building of infrastructure that can support policies geared toward the region.
Cyprus has in recent months been the staging ground for the collection and delivery of donated humanitarian aid to war-ravaged Gaza. The aid is being shipped from the Cypriot port of Larnaca to the Palestinian territory after being security screened. Last year, Cyprus served as a waystation for third-country nationals evacuated from Sudan.
Palmas said the construction of the base would “contribute decisively” to policy implementation in the region.
He said Greece is contributing technical know-how to the project, while actual construction will be guided by the findings of an expert study that will be completed in the next few days.
The naval base will be built on an existing naval installation some 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of the coastal town of Limassol, which in 2011 was the site of a huge explosion of 480 tons of seized Iranian gunpowder that killed 13 people, knocked out Cyprus’ main power station and stirred up a political crisis.


190 Russian, Ukrainian prisoners exchanged following UAE mediation efforts

Updated 17 July 2024
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190 Russian, Ukrainian prisoners exchanged following UAE mediation efforts

ABU DHABI: The UAE has succeeded in securing the exchange of 190 prisoners of war between Russian and Ukraine, state news agency WAM has reported.

The UAE now secured the release of 1,558 captives with its sixth successful mediation effort between the warring parties, less than one month after the previous exchange process, the report added.

“These efforts reflect the UAE’s commitment to being a reliable mediator supporting diplomacy to resolve the crisis between the two countries,” a statement for the UAE’s foreign ministry said.

The UAE was committed to ‘continuing all efforts and initiatives aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, stressing the importance of dialogue, and de-escalation, as the only ways to resolve the conflict, and for mitigating its humanitarian repercussions,’ it added.

The UAE also managed to negotiate the exchange of two prisoners between the United States and the Russian Federation in December 2022.


Pakistan summons Taliban envoy after attack on military base

Updated 17 July 2024
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Pakistan summons Taliban envoy after attack on military base

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's foreign ministry summoned the Taliban's deputy head of mission on Wednesday and urged their administration to take action against Afghanistan-based militant groups that Islamabad says attacked a military base this week.
Militants attacked the base in Bannu in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing eight Pakistani security force members.