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Why isn’t Putin at BRICS summit in South Africa? He could be arrested: Aug. 22 recap

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Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t be shaking hands at a major international summit in South Africa, discouraged from attending in person because of criminal charges linked to his invasion of Ukraine.

The BRICS summit, which opened Tuesday, normally draws the heads of state for the five member nations: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. But host South Africa is a member of the International Criminal Court, which in March issued an arrest warrant for Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to steal Ukrainian children and bring them to Russia for adoption. South Africa would be obliged to arrest the Russian leader if he traveled to the meeting in Johannesburg.

Putin has pledged to fully participate remotely, and in a video statement he blamed the West for Russia pulling out of the deal that allowed Ukrainian cargo ships safe passage to export grain through the Black Sea, a topic of particular interest for African nations.

Putin has a big stake in the conference as the leaders decide on plans to expand the bloc, already home to 40% of the world’s population and about one-third of global economic output. More than 20 countries have inquired about joining, South African officials said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are attending the summit.

War developments:

∎ The Ukraine Defense Ministry said the Russian military is sinking civilian ferries in the Kerch Strait and plans to install barriers between them to protect Russia’s “illegal” Crimean Bridge. The ministry called the effort a “hysterical reaction” to a series of attacks on the bridge since the invasion in February 2022.

∎ The U.S. would be willing to train Ukrainian pilots in F-16 fighter jets if demand for the training exceeds what Europeans can provide, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said. Denmark and the Netherlands are leading the training and have agreed to give dozens of the planes to Ukraine.

∎ Poland’s President Andrzej Duda confirmed Russia has begun shifting some short-range nuclear weapons to neighboring Belarus, which he said will change the security architecture of the region and the entire NATO military alliance.

∎ The U.S. Embassy in the Belarusian capital of Minsk advised American citizens to “depart immediately” from the country and strongly discouraged fellow citizens from traveling there because of the government’s support of Russia’s war.

∎ National Security chief Oleksiy Danilov said Ukraine’s military would most likely liberate Crimea “if the aggressor country does not understand by that time that it needs to leave our territory. We have no other option.”

The wrong focus and allocation of troops have contributed significantly to the slow progress of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which appears ready to shift gears at the urging of Western military leaders, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Ukraine has split its forces nearly evenly between the southern and eastern fronts instead of dedicating most of its efforts and top combatants to breaking through toward Melitopol in the south, which may allow it to sever Russia’s supply lines, the newspaper said.

Western officials seem to have persuaded Ukraine’s top military commander, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyiian, to change tactics, thanks in large part to his close ties with his British counterpart, Adm. Sir Tony Radakin, the newspaper reported.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Tuesday that Kyiv’s troops have entered the southeastern village of Robotyne in Zaporizhzhia province and started evacuating civilians. Driving the Russians out of Robotyne could provide opportunities for the push toward Melitopol.

Maliar also rejected the notion that Ukraine had not recaptured enough territory nearly three months into the counteroffensive, telling Reuters: “It’s incorrect to measure this advance by meters or kilometers. What’s important is the very fact that, despite everything, we’re moving forward even though we have fewer people and fewer weapons.”

War is not at a ‘stalemate,’ Jake Sullivan says

In a briefing with reporters Tuesday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan backed up Maliar’s contention that Ukraine has been making progress, even if it’s incremental.

Sullivan pointed out the dynamic nature of the battles and said Ukraine has been “methodical, systematic” in reclaiming territory.

“We do not assess that the conflict is a stalemate,” Sullivan said in response to a question. “Ukrainians are operating according to their tactics and their timetable, making progress according to the strategic and operational decisions of their commanders and their leadership, and we’ll continue to support that.”

Russian Gen. Sergey Surovikin, the former top commander of Moscow’s troops in Ukraine who was later suspected of collaborating with the brief Wagner Group insurrection in June, has been fired as head of aerospace forces, Russian media reported Tuesday.

Surovikin, known as General Armageddon for his go-for-broke tactics in other wars, has not been seen in public since June 24. Previous reports indicated he had been detained.

Surovikin’s fate will be decided by the Ministry of Defense, according to the RBC news outlet, which quoted a source saying the general “is currently on a short vacation.”

It will take at least six to seven months for the Ukrainian Air Force to be ready to fly the F-16s multiple European nations have promised Kyiv, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Tuesday.

Reznikov told Ukraine TV the pilots have already demonstrated their ability to be ready in six months, “but the technicians and engineers − we don’t know yet.” He said the F-16 systems and repair protocols are complex. But he said bright, dedicated technicians learned Patriot missile systems in 10 weeks rather than the 10 months that had been expected.

“That’s why I am convinced that F-16s will be in Ukrainian skies to liberate Ukrainian territories,” Reznikov said.

Ukrainian drone attacks on Moscow are legitimate tactics “within the framework of international law,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told journalists. At a joint news conference in Berlin, Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna and Baerbock said Russia bears responsibility for everything that happens stemming from the war.

Although drone attacks have become common in Moscow, the Kyiv government has hedged on its involvement. Estonia has been among Ukraine’s most ardent supporters in the war. Germany has also provided military and humanitarian aid but has drawn criticism for being at times hesitant to provide Ukraine with high-tech military support.

“Russia is bombing civilian targets in Ukraine relentlessly, targeting grain silos, hospitals and churches,” Baerbock said. “Ukraine is defending itself.”

Recent drone attacks that battered Russian bombers in bases far from the Ukraine border were the work of saboteurs directed by Kyiv’s military intelligence services, Ukraine media claimed Tuesday. The strikes were conducted Saturday on the Soltsy air base, more than 360 miles north of the Ukraine border, and the Shaikovka air base about 200 miles from Ukraine.

Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov told the Ukrainian LIGA.net news outlet Monday that at least one Russian warplane was damaged in the attack on Shaikovka. The Ukrainska Pravda newspaper reported the attacks destroyed two Russian bombers and damaged two other aircraft. The Russian Defense Ministry said only that the Soltsy strike damaged one aircraft. 

Contributing: The Associated Press

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