by Raffaele Crocco
So it’s 100 metres a day. So says Stoltemberg, the NATO secretary general who has become the barometer of this 80-week war. He said this emphatically to the Afet Committee of the European Parliament in Brussels, explaining the progress of the Ukrainian offensive against the Russian invaders. “Kyiv is gaining ground, about 100 metres a day,” he said. “The Russian army was the second strongest in the world and now it is the second strongest in Ukraine: the reality is that the Ukrainians are once again exceeding expectations and our duty is to support them”.
Words that appear to dispel the uncertainties emerging among certain allies who are convinced that the Ukrainians cannot win the war despite the arms deliveries. Stoltenberg is convinced that this is the right approach. “Nobody,” he continues, “ever said that the Ukrainian counter-offensive would be easy. The Russians have prepared defensive lines with trenches, tank obstacles, dragon’s teeth, and extensive minefields. These are the reasons for the slow Ukrainian advance,” he said. “Now it is crucial to continue this support because the fighting is incredibly challenging and demanding.”
What emerges above all is that the solution to the conflict is still based on weapons. And weapons make themselves felt. They kill. Since the carnage began, statistics now put the number of victims at around 500,000 – on both sides, including the dead and wounded, both military and civilian. A death list that is constantly being updated. This week there have been many civilian casualties. At least 19 people were killed and another 48 injured in Russian attacks in Dnipropetrovsk, Sumy, Lugansk, Mykolaiv, Chernihiv, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, Kherson, Odessa and Kharkiv. A market was hit in the town of Kostiantynivka in Donetsk: 17 dead and dozens injured.
So a massacre. And while people die, the games of politics and propaganda continue. On both fronts, the issue of corruption has taken centre stage over the past week. And, of course, everything has been used to ridicule the enemy. The first attack came from Moscow, from the Foreign Ministry. The spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, mentioned the change in the government in Kyiv with the new defence minister, Rustem Umerov. This man was appointed despite being involved in a corruption investigation. On 25 August this year, Ukraine’s High Anti-Corruption Court (HACC) ordered the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) to initiate criminal proceedings against Umerov for abusing his official powers when he was in charge of the Court of Public Property Fund. Zakharova didn’t hold back, writing on Telegram: “So Zelensky fired one defence minister for corruption without launching an investigation, and appointed another against whom there is an ongoing anti-corruption investigation?”
Interesting question, balanced by the news that two Russian generals, including the commander of Moscow’s air and missile defence, have been arrested on corruption charges. They are Konstantin Ogienko, who was in charge of Moscow’s air defences until July 2023, and Dmitry Belyatsky, the commander of the 4th Air Defence Division. According to investigators, Belyatsky allegedly organised the collection of a bribe on behalf of Ogienko for the allocation of defence-owned land to the head of a civilian organisation. According to the charges, at the end of June 2023, Ogienko received an advance payment of 500,000 roubles, approximately 5,000 euros, out of an agreed bribe of 30 million rubles. After pleading guilty and reaching an agreement with the prosecutor’s office, Byalyatsky brought the charges himself. Ogienko, however, denies the charges. For its part, the Kremlin has remained silent.
There is some good news on wheat exports. Kyiv has announced that it has started exporting through Croatian ports. Ukrainian Economy Minister Yulia Svyridenko explained how this channel works. She mentioned that during a bilateral meeting at the Three Seas Initiative summit in Bucharest, she had a long discussion with Croatian Prime Minister Andriy Plenkovich about the possibilities of exporting wheat. There were precedents. “Ukrainian wheat,” the minister said, “has already been exported through Croatian ports. Although this trade route is niche, it is already popular and we believe that it can play an important role in bilateral trade between our countries even after the war”.