by Raffaele Crocco

The 72nd week since the Russian invasion of Ukraine brings news of another Russian general who has been killed. He had two stars and his name was Oleg Tsokov. He died in Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov, the victim of an attack on the Hotel Dune, the region’s headquarters, by a long-range Storm Shadow precision missile. It was fired by a Kyiv fighter jet from over a hundred kilometres away. General Tsokov joins the long list of Russian casualties in this war that Moscow does not know how to win and has no hope of winning.

Kyiv’s military command has published the – clearly biased – figure of Moscow’s losses since February 2022. Let’s not forget that this includes not only the dead, but also those incapacitated, captured or wounded. Well, the figure would exceed 239,000. Then there are the hundreds of armoured vehicles, weapons systems, aircraft and so on. In short, a massacre of people and resources that is shredding the future of the Russians. For its part, the figure is unknown, but according to foreign observers, Ukraine’s losses could be as high as 140,000. These are appalling figures, to which must be added tens of thousands of civilians killed by Russian shelling, prisoners of war and millions of refugees.

The war continues, violently, despite the figures. Ukrainian General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi confirmed to the US television network CNN that Kyiv has received the cluster bombs announced by US President Joe Biden. The jubilant general explained that he received them last week, specifying that they have not yet been used, but that they could ‘change the course of this war’. This is, of course, in defiance of international treaties banning their use because they are considered ‘inhumane weapons’.

But war does not know what to do with humanity. So the Ukrainian offensive continues, and it seems to be finally producing concrete results. The city of Bakmhut, captured by the Russians after months of fighting, is reportedly on the verge of being retaken by Kyiv’s forces. During the week, the Ukrainians were also reported to have continued operations in the western region of Zaporizhzhya, and the counter-offensive was said to be developing in three sectors of the front, with many areas being retaken.

The Institute for the Study of War (a US think-tank founded in 2007) states that geo-located footage shows Ukrainian advances north-east of Robotyne, 15km south of Orikhiv. This is also confirmed by milbloggers, military bloggers close to the Kremlin. They explain that this advance was possible because the Ukrainians attacked a frontline area where the Russian forces had fewer mines and fewer fortifications. At the same time, however, the Russians responded with a series of drone attacks across Ukraine for two nights in a row. Air strikes also continued. One death and four injuries were reported in Kyiv.

Meanwhile, nothing is moving on the diplomatic front. Despite efforts to present it as “still vital and far from the empty proposals of a certain pacifism”, the Vatican initiative has reached a dead end. A stance that many found inappropriate and unnecessarily polemical. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on the other hand, has dismissed those who claim that official peace talks could be held in Ukraine this month. “We have received no indications in this regard. There are reasons to believe that this is fake news, given the persistent intention of Kyiv and its Western contacts to escalate hostilities,” the Minister said.

So, the doors to negotiations are closing, just as they seem to be opening for Evgheny Prizoghin, the leader of Wagner. The rebel of late June, the man who led the uprising and the armed march on the Russian capital at the head of his mercenary organisation, has returned to Moscow and reportedly met with Putin. Interestingly, a fact is emerging these days: companies linked to Prigozhin are said to have won at least nine government contracts worth more than one billion roubles, or 11.7 million euros, in the days following the ‘uprising’. The contracts are not military, but are for catering services for many government institutions.