KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian troops used American-supplied precision multiple rocket launchers to knock out a strategic bridge used by Russia to supply its forces in southern Ukraine’s occupied Kherson region, officials said Wednesday.
Ukraine also claimed to have destroyed an enemy ammunition depot, artillery pieces and other military equipment in the region, killing 51 members of the Russian army. There was no immediate confirmation from the Russian side.
The Antonivskyi Bridge over the Dnieper River was attacked late Tuesday, according to Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Moscow-appointed administration for the Kherson region. The bridge was left standing, but holes in its deck prevented vehicles from crossing the 0.9-mile span, he said.
After previous Ukrainian attacks damaged the bridge last week, it was closed to trucks, but it had remained open for passenger vehicles until the latest strike.
Russian forces in recent days have intensified their shelling of cities and villages in eastern Ukraine while also stepping up airstrikes in the south. At the same time, the Kremlin’s troops are facing mounting counterattacks from the Ukrainians in the Kherson region, which was captured by Moscow early in the war.
Ukrainian forces used U.S.-supplied HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) multiple rocket launchers to target the bridge, Stremousov said. A Ukrainian military spokesperson, Nataliya Gumenyuk, told Ukrainian TV that “surgical strikes” were carried out on the bridge.
The HIMARS has greater range, much more precision and a faster rate of fire than the Soviet-designed Smerch, Uragan and Tornado rocket launchers used by both Russia and Ukraine. The weapons were among the billions of dollars in Western military aid that has helped Ukraine fight the Russians since the Feb. 24 invasion.
While halting traffic across the Dnieper River bridge makes only a slight dent in the overall Russian military operations, the attack was a morale-boosting victory for the Ukrainians.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter that the “occupiers should learn how to swim across” the Dnieper or “leave Kherson while it is still possible.” “There may not be a third warning,” he tweeted.
The bridge is the main crossing over the Dnieper in the Kherson region. The only other option is a dam at a hydroelectric plant in Kakhovka, which also came under Ukrainian fire last week but has remained open.
Knocking the crossings out would make it hard for the Russian military to keep supplying its forces in the region.
“We are doing all we can so that the occupiers have no logistical capabilities remaining on our land.” Ukraine’s president said during his nightly video address, noting the attack on the Antonivskiy bridge and other crossings in the region.
“Of course, they will all be rebuilt, but it will be us rebuilding them,” Zelenskyy added.
The accurate targeting of the bridge contrasted with Russia’s indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas since the invasion five months ago.
The governor of Dnipropetrovsk, in the east-central part of the country, said Wednesday that Russian forces struck two regions with artillery. Gov. Valentyn Reznichenko said a woman was wounded in the town of Marhanets and several apartment buildings, a hospital and a school were damaged by the shelling.
“Chaotic shelling has no other goal but to sow panic and fear among the civilian population,” he said.
The bulk of the Russian forces are fighting in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, known as the Donbas, where they have made slow gains in the face of ferocious Ukrainian resistance.
They have taken some ground northeast of Bakhmut, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think-tank. But it said Russian forces are unlikely to occupy significant additional territory in Ukraine before early autumn.
In other developments:
• Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy claimed that Russia has lost nearly 40,000 soldiers in the war and that tens of thousands more were wounded. His claim could not be independently verified. The Russian military last reported its losses in March, when it said 1,351 troops had been killed.
• At least two civilians were killed and three wounded when Russian forces shelled a hotel in the eastern city of Bakhmut, Ukrainian emergency authorities said. Bakhmut has been a focus of the Russian offensive in the region.
RUSSIA SLASHES GAS FLOW
Russia’s Gazprom on Wednesday halved the amount of natural gas flowing through a major pipeline from Russia to Europe to 20% of capacity. It’s the latest Nord Stream 1 reduction that Russia has blamed on technical problems but Germany calls a political move to sow uncertainty and push up prices amid the war in Ukraine.
The Russian state-controlled energy giant announced Monday that it would slash flows on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that runs to Germany because of equipment repairs. It’s raised new fears that Russia could completely cut off gas that is used to power industry, generate electricity and heat homes to try to gain political leverage over Europe as it tries to bolster its storage levels for winter.
Nord Stream’s network data and the head of Germany’s network regulator, Klaus Mueller, confirmed the reduction.
“Gas is now a part of Russian foreign policy and possibly Russian war strategy,” Mueller told Deutschlandfunk radio.
Natural gas prices have surged on Europe’s TTF benchmark to levels not seen since early March and are nearly six times higher than they were a year ago. Soaring energy prices are fueling record inflation, squeezing people’s spending power and heightening concerns that Europe could plunge into recession if it does not save enough gas to get through the cold months.
That fear led E.U. governments on Tuesday to agree to reduce natural gas use to protect against further Russian supply cuts.
The draft law aims to lower demand for gas by 15% from August through March with voluntary steps. If there aren’t enough savings, mandatory cuts would be triggered in the 27-nation bloc.
Russia, which has reduced or cut off natural gas to 12 EU countries since the war, insists that the new drop-off through Nord Stream 1 is because maintenance is needed on a turbine for a compressor station and another turbine sent for repairs in Canada isn’t yet back in place. It has said the paperwork for the return of the latter turbine has raised questions about Western sanctions.
European leaders and analysts say the reductions are a pretext to try to divide E.U. countries and elevate prices.
“As before, we see no technical cause” for the cuts, German government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said in Berlin, adding that “from our point of view, there is nothing standing in the way of transporting the turbine to Russia.”
“What we are seeing here is actually a power play, and we won’t let ourselves be impressed by that,” she added.
Gazprom’s latest move “seems to support our view that recent Russian cuts in flows are a purposeful deterioration in gas trade due to geopolitical escalations,” James Huckstepp, manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa gas analytics at S&P Global Commodity Insights, said in a research note Tuesday.
“That being the case, it increases our skepticism around Russian imports in the months ahead,” Huckstepp said.
Russia recently has accounted for about a third of Germany’s gas supplies. The government said last week that the drop in gas flows confirmed that Germany can’t rely on Russian deliveries, announcing that it would step up its gas storage requirements and take further measures to conserve supplies.
Russia’s foreign minister on Wednesday denied his country is responsible for the global surge in food prices following its invasion of Ukraine, dismissing the “so-called food crisis” as he completed a visit to several African nations on a continent hit especially hard.
Addressing reporters and African diplomats in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Sergey Lavrov accused the United States and European countries of driving up prices by pursuing “reckless” green policies and even hoarding food during the covid-19 pandemic.
“The situation in Ukraine did additionally negatively affect food markets, but not due to the Russian [war], rather due to the absolutely inadequate reaction of the West, which announced sanctions,” Lavrov said.
Western countries, for their part, have repeatedly pointed out that food is exempt from their sanctions on Russia and have blamed Moscow for the global crisis.
Lavrov said last week’s breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea for tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine “could have been announced long, long ago if not for the Western stubbornness in insisting they are always right.” He said Russian and Turkish ships will escort ships that have been trapped in Ukrainian ports through the Black Sea once Ukraine demines its coastline.
Many African countries rely heavily on wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine, and African leaders weeks ago visited Moscow to express their food concerns while a looming famine stalks the Horn of Africa, including Ethiopia, during the worst drought in decades.
But many African nations haven’t openly criticized Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Experts have cited Moscow’s support for some African nations dating back to the Soviet Union or Russia’s role as a major arms supplier to the continent while sending relatively little humanitarian aid.
Ethiopia is Africa’s diplomatic hub and second most populous country, and later this year it is expected to host the second Russia-Africa summit. Ukraine’s president earlier this year addressed the Addis Ababa-based African Union continental body about Russia’s invasion, but few heads of state reportedly tuned in.
Lavrov on his African tour has sought to reassure leaders concerned about a spike in grain prices and justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which he called a “threat” on Russia’s border.
He also claimed most countries do not support Western sanctions on Russia, calling it “basically evident from the fact that, except for two or three countries, no one in Africa, Asia or Latin America” has joined them.
Ethiopia’s government made no public comment about the war in Ukraine or the food crisis during Lavrov’s visit, with state media reporting only that Russia and Ethiopia had agreed to strengthen economic ties.
Information for this article was contributed by Kirsten Grieshaber, Geir Moulson and staff writers of The Associated Press.
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