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Russians foiled in river-crossing bid; pontoon span’s destruction said to inflict heavy losses

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | May 14, 2022 at 8:51 a.m.
A man sweeps debris Friday outside a shopping and entertainment mall destroyed by a Russian missile strike in Odesa, Ukraine. More photos at (AP/Francisco Seco)

KYIV, Ukraine -- Russian forces suffered heavy losses in a Ukrainian attack that destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross a river in the east, Ukrainian and British officials said.

Ukraine's airborne command released photos and video of what it said was a damaged Russian pontoon bridge over the Siversky Donets River in Bilohorivka, as well as several destroyed or damaged Russian military vehicles nearby. The Ukrainians said they destroyed at least 73 tanks and other military equipment during the two-day battle earlier this week. The command said its troops "drowned the Russian occupiers."

Britain's Defense Ministry said Russia lost "significant armored maneuver elements" of at least one battalion tactical group. A Russian battalion tactical group consists of about 1,000 troops.

"Conducting river crossings in a contested environment is a highly risky maneuver and speaks to the pressure the Russian commanders are under to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine," the ministry said in its daily intelligence update.

In other developments, a move by Finland and potentially Sweden to join NATO was thrown into question when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country is "not of a favorable opinion" toward the idea. He accused Sweden and other Scandinavian countries of supporting Kurdish militants and others whom Turkey considers terrorists.

Erdogan did not say that he would block the two nations from joining NATO. But the military alliance makes its decisions by consensus, meaning that each of its 30 member countries has a veto over who can join.

An expansion of NATO would be a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who undertook the war in what he said was a bid to thwart the alliance's eastward advance. But in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, other countries along Russia's flank fear they could be next.

With Ukraine pleading for more arms to fend off the invasion, the European Union's foreign affairs chief announced plans to give Kyiv an additional $520 million to buy heavy weapons.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov welcomed the heavy weapons making their way to the front lines but said there is no quick end to the war in sight.

"We are entering a new, long-term phase of the war," he wrote in a Facebook post. "Extremely difficult weeks await us. How many there will be? No one can say for sure."

The battle for the Donbas, Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, has turned into a village-by-village, back-and-forth fight with no major breakthroughs on either side and little ground gained. In his nightly address Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said no one can predict how long the war will last but that his country's forces have been making progress, including retaking six Ukrainian towns or villages in the past day.

Fierce fighting has been taking place on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodonetsk, said Oleh Zhdanov, an independent Ukrainian military analyst. The Ukrainian military has launched counterattacks but has failed to halt Russia's advance, he said.

"The fate of a large portion of the Ukrainian army is being decided -- there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers," he said.

The Ukrainian military chief for the Luhansk region of the Donbas said Friday that Russian forces opened fire 31 times on residential areas the day before -- destroying dozens of homes, notably in Hirske and Popasnianska villages, and a bridge in Rubizhne.

In the south, Ukrainian officials claimed another success in the Black Sea, saying their forces took out a Russian logistics ship that was trying to deliver an anti-aircraft system. There was no confirmation from Russia, and no casualties were reported.

In the ruined southern port of Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters holed up in a steel plant faced continued Russian attacks on the last stronghold of resistance in the city. Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of Ukraine's Azov Regiment, said his troops will hold out "as long as they can" despite shortages of ammunition, food, water and medicine.

Justin Crump, a former British tank commander who is now a security consultant, said Russia's losses have forced it to downsize its objectives in Ukraine. He said the Russians have had to use hastily patched-together units that haven't trained together.

"This is not going to be quick. So we're settled in for a summer of fighting at least. I think the Russian side is very clear that this is going to take a long time," he said.


Elsewhere, President Joe Biden announced Friday that he's nominating one of his top national security aides as ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, aiming to underscore his administration's commitment to the Pacific region.

Biden announced his decision to nominate Yohannes Abraham, chief of staff to the White House National Security Council, to serve as the U.S. representative to the 10-country bloc as he wrapped up talks with leaders of the association who gathered in Washington for a two-day "special summit."

Biden's efforts to put greater emphasis on the Pacific region have been overtaken in recent months by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier on Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris met with the association's leaders and underscored that "the United States and ASEAN have shared a vision for this region, and together will guard against threats to international rules and norms." That comment, during a session that focused in part on freedom of the seas, appeared to reference China's increasingly aggressive naval actions.

China has stepped up its military presence in the South China Sea in recent years, as well as in the East China Sea, where a dispute about uninhabited islets administered by Japan but claimed by China has been an issue.

"We stand with our allies and partners in defending the maritime rules-based order, which includes freedom of navigation and international law," Harris declared.

Biden in his remarks to the leaders at the State Department said that strengthening the U.S. relationship with the bloc is "at the very heart" of his foreign policy strategy.

"An Indo-Pacific that is free and open, stable and prosperous, and resilient and secure is what we're all seeking," Biden said.

Biden also planned to speak with association leaders in private about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the White House said.

Some members of the bloc -- Vietnam, Burma and Laos -- for years have depended on Russia for military hardware. With the exception of Singapore -- the only member of the 10-member group to impose direct sanctions against Moscow -- the alliance has avoided criticizing Putin or Russia's prosecution of the war.

Indonesia has been guarded in its public comments on the invasion, and the Philippines has made clear that it won't impose sanctions against Russia. Thailand joined a United Nations vote against the invasion of Ukraine but has maintained a position of neutrality in the war.

"Our hope is to see the war in Ukraine stop as soon as possible, and we give the peaceful resolution of a conflict a chance to succeed," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters Friday at the start of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. "Because we know that if the war continues, all of us will suffer."

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, currently president of the Group of 20 -- composed of the world's largest economies -- has resisted Biden's calls to bar Russia from this fall's summit in Bali. White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated Friday that Biden maintains his position that it "should not be business as usual at the G-20" and that Putin should be disinvited.


Ukraine's foreign minister said Friday that his country is willing to engage in diplomatic talks with Russia to unblock grain supplies and to achieve a political solution to the war, but it won't accept ultimatums from Moscow.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the Ukrainian government had received "no positive feedback" from Russia, which he alleged "prefers wars to talks."

"We are ready to talk, but we are ready for a meaningful conversation based on mutual respect, not on the Russian ultimatums thrown on the table," Kuleba told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven major economies.

Kuleba said his talks with G-7 counterparts in Germany had been "helpful, fruitful, very honest and result-oriented." He praised them for the financial and military support they have so far provided to Ukraine.

But he urged Ukraine's supporters to supply more weapons, including multiple rocket-launch systems and military planes, and to put further pressure on Russia's economy by stepping up sanctions and seizing Russian sovereign assets to pay for rebuilding Ukraine.

The EU's foreign affairs chief announced plans to give Ukraine another $520 million to buy heavy weapons.

"We will provide a new tranche of 500 more millions to support the military of Ukraine," Josep Borrell, the EU's high representative for foreign policy, said at the G-7 meeting in Weissenhaus, on Germany's Baltic Sea coast.

The funds would be earmarked for the purchase of heavy weapons and would take the EU's total financial support for Ukraine to $2.1 billion, he added. EU diplomats cautioned that any disbursement requires backing from all of the bloc's 27 members.

Some countries are expressing misgivings, and approval is unlikely before next week.

EU Council President Charles Michel, who represents the governments of EU members in Brussels, threw his "full support" behind the plan. "Time is of the essence," Michel wrote in a message posted on Twitter.

Borrell also expressed hope of soon getting the bloc's member states to agree on an oil embargo against Russia, despite resistance from Hungary, which is heavily dependent on Russian imports.

Kuleba said he plans to join a meeting of EU diplomats in Brussels on Monday, where the issue will be discussed.

"It's a critical moment when we will see where EU unity will continue to exist or it will be broken," he said, saying that Hungary's concerns were "more politics than economic arguments."

"Putin has been trying for many years to achieve exactly his goal, to break the unity of the European Union on its policy towards Ukraine," he added.

"If ... Hungary opts out and does not support the package, I believe it will cause a lot of damage of the European Union itself, and therefore they have to do their utmost to prevent it from happening," said Kuleba.

Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, expressed optimism that a deal could be reached.

"We need this agreement, and we will have it," he said.

The three-day G-7 meeting, which ends today, offered an opportunity for top diplomats from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States to discuss the broader geopolitical implications of the Ukraine war, as well as other world problems. Representatives from Moldova and Indonesia were invited to participate in some of the talks.

G-7 officials considered questions, such as how to pay for the eventual reconstruction of Ukraine, during informal sessions at the secluded seaside resort, which was sealed off from potential protesters by the presence of about 3,500 police officers.

The meeting's host, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, highlighted the links between the war in Ukraine and other crises by warning that failure to unblock millions of tons of grain stuck in the country could cause severe food shortages elsewhere.

"We can only see the tip of the iceberg at the moment," she said. "We all know that [...] if climate crisis hits in summer around the world, the situation will get even worse."

Information for this article was contributed by Oleksandr Stashevskyi, David Keyton, Yesica Fisch, Yuras Karmanau, Frank Jordans, Mstyslav Chernov, Jari Tanner, Elena Becatoros, Aamer Madhani, Matthew Daly and staff members of The Associated Press.

  photo  An elderly woman sleeps inside a basement used as a bomb shelter during Russian attacks in Severodonetsk, Luhansk region, Ukraine, Friday, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
  photo  Ukrainian army vehicles drive past the remains of a Russian tank in north Kharkiv, east Ukraine, Friday, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
  photo  A mannequin dressed as a soldier is placed near a road in north Kharkiv, Ukraine, Friday, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
  photo  Volunteers load a car with food and supplies at a donations distribution centre in Severodonetsk, Luhansk region, Ukraine, Friday, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
  photo  In this handout photo provided by the Ukraine Armed Forces on Thursday, May 12, 2022, a ruined pontoon crossing with dozens of destroyed or damaged Russian armored vehicles on both banks of Siverskyi Donets River after their pontoon bridges were blown up in eastern Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
  photo  Zhenia, a member of the Ukrainian territorial defence force, guards a position near Kutuzivka, east Ukraine, Friday, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
  photo  Russian army Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin, 21, is seen behind a glass during a court hearing in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, May 13, 2022. The trial of a Russian soldier accused of killing a Ukrainian civilian opened Friday, the first war crimes trial since Moscow's invasion of its neighbor. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
  photo  Ukrainian servicemen collect bodies of Russian soldiers to load into a railway refrigerator carriage in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
  photo  In this handout photo provided by the Ukraine Armed Forces Thursday, May 12, 2022, dozens of destroyed or damaged Russian armored vehicles on both banks of Siverskyi Donets River after their pontoon bridges were blown up in eastern Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

  photo  People walk past part of a rocket that sits wedged in the ground in Lysychansk, Ukraine, on Friday. (AP /Leo Correa)

 Gallery: Images from Ukraine, month 3

Print Headline: Russians foiled in river-crossing bid


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