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Ukraine updates: Kyiv claims first counteroffensive gains

Published June 12, 2023last updated June 12, 2023

Kyiv said it had made the first modest gains in reclaiming territory from Russia as part of its counteroffensive.

Mechanized infantry vehicles unit moving up to the front in the town of Orikhiv in Ukraine
Kyiv and Moscow have said their forces had inflicted heavy personnel and equipment losses on their opponents over the past weekImage: Nicolas Cleuet/Le Pictorium/IMAGO

In the first reported gains of its much-anticipated counteroffensive, Kyiv says its forces have reclaimed territory from Russia.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar on Monday posted a message on Telegram saying that Ukraine's flag was again flying over the village of Storozheve.

Unverified videos showed troops hoisting the Ukrainian flag in the village of Blahodatne in the Donetsk region and their unit's flag in the adjacent village of Neskuchne.

Ukraine also said its troops had made advances in Makarivka, but some prominent Russian military bloggers suggested that while Ukrainian forces took Blahodatne and Neskuchne, the fight for Makarivka was going on.

Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry said it had repelled Ukrainian attacks around several villages in the southeast of the country, contradicting earlier claims from Kyiv that its forces had retaken the settlements.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday acknowledged that some counteroffensive actions had begun. 

While staying largely silent over the past week about the counteroffensive, Ukraine's military reported other battlefield successes on Monday.

"Over the last week in the Bakhmut direction, the Russian invaders suffered significant losses," the general staff said in a daily update.

Zelenskyy: Ukraine counteroffensive 'taking place'

Here are some of the other developments concerning Russia's war in Ukraine on Monday, June 12:

Scholz, Macron and Duda pledge continued support for Ukraine

Germany, France and Poland will continue to support Ukraine in its fighting against Russian invasion. Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Poland's President Andrzej Duda reiterated this position at a meeting in Paris. 

According to Scholz, Russian President Vladimir Putin underestimated the unity of the Europeans when he decided to invade Ukraine. "Germany, France and Poland are on the side of Ukraine," he said.

Scholz added that Ukraine will be further supported, including with weapons, and "we will do so for as long as it is necessary."

Macron said that Ukraine's long-awaited counteroffensive against invading Russian forces will be underway for weeks or even months.

He also emphasized that France has increased its arms deliveries to Ukraine in view of the counteroffensive. "We want it to be as successful as possible so that we can then start a negotiation phase in good conditions," Macron added.

Meanwhile, Duda has appealed to the NATO member states to offer Ukraine a perspective in the defense alliance. "Ukraine is waiting for a clear signal regarding a clear prospect of NATO membership," he said.

French, Polish and German leaders pledge to keep up support to Ukraine. DW's Rosie Birchard

Germany and Ukraine score 6 goals in friendly draw

Germany narrowly avoided defeat when two late goals saw them salvage a lucky 3-3 draw against Ukraine in their 1,000th football international. 

Niclas Füllkrug gave Germany a sixth minute lead in his Werder Bremen home stadium but Viktor Tsygankov in the 19th and an own goal by Antonio Rüdiger off Mykhaylo Mudryk's shot in the 23rd reversed matters. 

Tsygankov made it 3-1 the 55th before Kai Havertz in the 83rd and a stoppage time penalty from captain Joshua Kimmich saw the Germans avoid a first defeat in the ninth meeting with Ukraine. 

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Ukraine ambassador in Germany Oleksiy Makeyev were in attendance for the anniversary game from which all proceeds are to go to war-torn Ukraine. Steinmeier has named the game "a sign of friendship and solidarity." 

"A football match can not change a war situation. That is something we are doing, politics, by giving support to those who were attacked by Russia's army," Steinmeier said. "And we must also hope that Ukraine decisively change the course of the war over the coming weeks."

Blinken hopes Ukraine offensive will force Putin to talk

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced hope that a successful offensive by Ukraine would force Russian President Vladimir Putin into talks about ending its invasion. 

Speaking alongside his Italian counterpart, Blinken said the United States was "confident that they will continue to have success" after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy indicated that a long-discussed offensive was underway.

"Success in the counteroffensive would do two things — it would strengthen its position at any negotiating table that emerges, and it may have the effect as well of actually causing Putin to finally focus on negotiating an end to the war that he started," Blinken said. 

"In that sense, it can actually bring peace closer, not put it further away," Blinken told a joint news conference with Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.

Blinken also said that the offensive showed the need to "maximize our support to Ukraine now, so it can have success on the battlefield." 

Coalition would train F-16 pilots by summer — Dutch minister

Ukrainian pilots could begin training to fly US-manufactured F-16 fighter jets as soon as this summer, the Dutch defense minister said.

"This summer is our ambition. And we'll see if that's realistic for the start of the training program," Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren told Reuters in an interview.

She said the aim would be to have the training program fully operational within six months. Denmark, where there are flight simulators, is a possible location to host the program.

A final decision has not yet been taken on a request from Kyiv to supply dozens of F-16s, Ollongren said. The US-backed training program will include Belgium and Luxembourg, while France and Britain have offered assistance, she said.

Water levels in flooded Kherson subside

Several days after the destruction of the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine, the water levels of the Dnipro River in the flooded war zone of Kherson are subsiding, the authorities said. 

On Monday morning, the water level in the regional capital of Kherson was about 3.29 meters, Ukrainian military governor of the area, Oleksandr Prokudin, reported on Telegram. 

In the region, the average water level of the river is said to have dropped by 2 meters to about 3.6 meters, according to the local Ukrainian rescue staff on Telegram. According to the rescue staff, the Kakhovka reservoir has lost about 72% of its water since the dam's destruction. 

As a result of the dam destruction, the water rose by more than 10 meters in some areas, such as in the nearby town of Nova Kakhovka, Russian media reported. 

Residents of flooded Kherson brace for more hardship

Putin uses holiday to support his troops in Ukraine

President Vladimir Putin marked the Day of Russia national holiday by lauding the country's patriotic tradition as a support for soldiers fighting in Ukraine. 

"This public holiday marks the inseparability of centuries-old history, the greatness and glory of the Fatherland, affirms the unity of the multinational people, devotion to their country, a warm, sincere attitude towards their beloved Motherland," he said at a ceremony presenting state awards. 

"Such keen feelings ... in a difficult time for Russia, they unite our society even more strongly, serve as a reliable support for our heroes, the participants in the special military operation," Putin said, using the Russian official terminology for the Ukraine conflict. 

The holiday comes amid intensifying counteroffensive operations by Ukraine against Russian forces that occupy about 20% of the country. 

Russian forces 'have played all their cards' militarily, analyst tells DW

Russian forces might benefit from superior air power in the face of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, but are otherwise in poor shape to defend their positions, according to former military intelligence officer Frank Ledwidge.

"They're extremely depleted and have a rather ramshackle leadership state at the strategic and operational level. And they are and will continue to be in trouble," he told DW in an interview.

On the military front, "they've played all their cards" and had no surprise methods in store to counter any Ukrainian initiatives, he said.

Ledwidge said there were several possible axes for the counteroffensive but that any prediction of possible next steps remained speculation, as the Ukrainian army used deception as a main ploy.

But Ledwidge said that so far, progress by the Ukrainian troops was good even though Ukraine had not used its main forces in any attacks that have taken place.

"There are four separate axes which they seem to be assaulting on, but all of them are not full-on assaults, partly because I think they've yet to reach, in most places, the first lines of Russian defenses: the strong, strong points that we saw being developed over the winter," he said.

Macron to welcome Scholz and Duda in Paris

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Polish leader Andrezej Duda are meeting French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Monday to discuss further support for Ukraine.

The three leaders will also prepare for next month's NATO summit, Berlin said in a statement.

Talks on Ukraine are expected to focus on military support for Kyiv's counteroffensive, as well as offering humanitarian aid, particularly with the response to last week's breach of the Kakhovka dam in the Kherson region.

The three European leaders will also address the possible security guarantees that could be granted to Ukraine in the long term as Kyiv pushes for a solid plan for its NATO accession once the war is over.

North Korea pledges full support to Russia

North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un has pledged his full support for Russia.

"Justice is sure to win, and the Russian people will continue to add glory to the history of victory," Kim said in a message carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin marks Russia's national day on Monday.

Kim described the friendship between the two countries as a "precious strategic asset common to the two countries" for centuries.

The North Korean leader also stressed he was willing to "strive for closer strategic cooperation" with Russia.

It was not the first time Kim has voiced support for Russia's war in Ukraine. 

The North Korean leader first hailed the invasion shortly after it occurred in February 2022, then later last July, when he recognized the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as independent states.

NATO begins largest-ever air drills in Germany

NATO's most extensive air force exercise ever in European airspace is underway.

The exercise involves 10,000 troops and 250 aircraft from 25 nations, led by Germany's Bundeswehr.

These drills, referred to as "Air Defender 23," include both NATO members and partner countries like Japan and Sweden in a display of unity and readiness to counter any possible threats.

Last week, Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz of the German Luftwaffe said "Air Defender" was conceived in 2018 as a reaction to Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine four years earlier. However, he clarified that it was "not targeted at anyone."

US Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann, however, said the drill would show "beyond a shadow of a doubt the agility and the swiftness of our allied force" and is meant to send a message to countries, including Russia.

Air Defender 23 'is a large-scale readiness exercise'

The training will encompass both operational and tactical-level activities, primarily conducted in Germany but also extending to the Czech Republic, Estonia and Latvia.

Pakistan buys cheap Russian oil 

Pakistan's Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif said the first-ever shipment of discounted Russian crude oil had arrived in Karachi.

He called it a "start of a fresh chapter in the relationship between Pakistan and the Russian Federation." 

The inexpensive oil benefits Pakistan, a nation currently confronting a severe payments crisis and contending with the imminent threat of a debt default.

For Russia, Pakistan's purchase offers a new market, expanding its sales alongside its existing trade with India and China. 

This diversification comes as Russia redirects its oil away from Western markets due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Zelenskyy praises troops

Ukrainian President  Volodymyr Zelenskyy expressed gratitude to his troops in his nightly video address thanking "each one of our combat brigades, each of our units."

He commended the dedication of all troops involved in the ongoing operations in the eastern and southern regions without specifying the exact locations of the fights.

On Saturday, Zelenskyy had hinted at Kyiv's counterattack to reclaim territories, confirming the start of "counteroffensive and defensive operations."

Ukrainian officials have urged citizens not to divulge any information that could jeopardize the ongoing operation.

IAEA head to visit Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant

The United Nations nuclear watchdog has expressed the need for expanded access to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to investigate a "significant" inconsistency in water level data at the breached Kakhovka dam, which is vital for cooling the plant's reactors.

Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is scheduled to visit the plant this week.

In a statement, Grossi highlighted that the measurements received by the agency from the plant's inlet indicated stable water levels at the dam for approximately one day over the weekend.

However, the IAEA chief pointed out that the water level elsewhere in the extensive reservoir appeared to be decreasing. This is critical as the height of the water level is a crucial factor for the continued functioning of the water pumps at the facility.

The IAEA has emphasized that the water from the reservoir is essential for cooling the six reactors and spent fuel storage at the nuclear facility.

The Kakhovka hydropower dam and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant have been under Russian occupation since the early stages of the invasion in February 2022.

dh,ss/jcg,lo (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)