Crucial battle for Kherson could be settled in weeks; Ukraine receives air defense weapons: Updates

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Clashes between Ukrainian and Russian forces near the southern city of Kherson over the next two to three weeks could determine control of the only regional capital Russia has seized since its invasion in February, according to a Defense Department official.

Kherson lost power and water service Sunday after an attack that Russian-appointed authorities blamed on Ukrainian forces without providing evidence. Tens of thousands of residents have been evacuated to Russian-held territory in anticipation of a fierce battle for control of the crucial city, the largest in the province of the same name.

Elsewhere, battle lines appear to have stabilized in the north near Kharkiv and in central Ukraine as winter nears, according to the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity. Both sides continue to fire enormous amounts of artillery rounds, the official said. Russians fire about 20,000 shells a day, and Ukraine counters with as many as 7,000.

Ukraine will need the U.S. and its Western allies to continue supplying artillery cannons and ammunition, the official said.

The Russians have been unable to destroy any of about 20 rocket-assisted artillery systems known as HIMARS. The Pentagon and U.S. allies began providing Ukraine with the truck-mounted weapons over the summer. Ukrainians have used the artillery system, which can strike targets more than 40 miles away with accuracy, to destroy supply depots and command posts.

Latest developments:

►Russia has endured more than 76,000 casualties and lost nearly 2,800 tanks in the war, according to the Kyiv Independent, which cited figures from the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

►Turkey, which helped broker the grain agreement that lifted a Russian blockade and allowed Ukraine to ship agricultural goods, will propose a one-year extension, Turkish media reported. The deal expires Nov. 19.

►Ukraine’s presidential office said Russian strikes in the Zaporizhzhia region targeted a cultural center, farmers’ warehouses and private residences. Three people died and seven were wounded.

A Ukrainian flag with messages of support for cities of eastern Ukraine hangs from a destroyed Russian tank displayed in downtown Kyiv on Nov. 7, 2022.
A Ukrainian flag with messages of support for cities of eastern Ukraine hangs from a destroyed Russian tank displayed in downtown Kyiv on Nov. 7, 2022.

Much-needed air defense weapons arrive in Ukraine

Ukraine has been pleading for air-defense help ever since the Kremlin started focusing on destroying the country's energy infrastructure nearly a month ago. That aid has finally arrived.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Monday acknowledged receiving NASAMS and Aspide missile systems from the U.S. and its allies, the Kyiv Independent reported.

"These weapons will significantly strengthen the Ukrainian army and will make our skies safer," Reznikov said.

Ukrainian cities have been subjected to an onslaught of Russian drones and missiles that have damaged 40% of the energy system and left more than 4.5 million people without power, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who said the Kyiv province has been particularly impacted.

Seven provinces, including Kyiv and Kharkiv, are enduring rolling blackouts and sometimes emergency outages, at a time when nighttime temperatures are dipping into the 30s.

Ground 'littered with bodies' of new Russian draftees who were killed

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that 80,000 civilians from his Sept. 21 mobilization have been sent to Ukraine, and 50,000 of them have joined “combat units.”

Increasing accounts indicate a large number of them are getting killed, often after getting little training for battle.

One such report, by the Russian online news outlet Vyorstka, said hundreds of newly called-up fighters were recently killed in the Luhansk province by Ukrainian shelling. Survivors and their relatives told the outlet that officers abandoned them on the front line, and that an entire battalion was only equipped with three shovels to dig trenches.

After Russian war correspondents reported about 300 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing in four days in the heavily contested Donetsk region, Primorye Gov. Oleg Kozhemyako said an investigations confirmed “losses, but not nearly as (many).”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy questioned that assertion Monday in his nightly video address, saying Kozhemyako was probably ordered to lie.

"The Donetsk region remains the epicenter of the greatest madness of the occupiers -- they die by the hundreds every day,'' Zelenskyy said. "The ground in front of the Ukrainian positions is literally littered with the bodies of the occupiers.''

Putin ally who sent mercenaries to Ukraine admits US election meddling

One of the closest allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a man running a mercenary outfit bolstering the Kremlin's flailing war effort in Ukraine, said Monday that he and Russia have meddled in U.S. elections and will do it again.

Russian entrepreneur Yevgeny Prigozhin actually boasted of the intrusion into American politics after years of denials. Responding to a journalist’s question about such a possibility a day ahead of Tuesday's midterm elections, Prigozhin said in a Telegram post:  “Gentlemen, we have interfered, are interfering and will interfere. Carefully, precisely, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do.”

It's not clear whether Prigozhin, known as "Putin's chef'' because his company hosted dinners for the Russian leader, was being sarcastic.

Prigozhin, 61, has long avoided the spotlight but is raising his profile. In September he acknowledged founding the Wagner Group, a private militia that sent forces to Syria and Africa before Ukraine. That same month, someone who looks like Prigozhin was captured on video recruiting prisoners at a Russian penal colony to fight in Ukraine.

Prigozhin was one of 13 Russians indicted in 2018 by the U.S. government for election meddling as a result of the Mueller investigation.

White House, Kremlin reportedly have had talks aimed at easing tensions

A top Biden administration official has held secret talks with influential aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a push to ease the rising tensions between Washington and Moscow, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The Journal, citing U.S. officials and authorities in other Western nations, said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan sought to derail escalation of the war amid concerns that Russia might resort to nuclear weapons if its battlefield struggles using conventional warfare continue.

Sullivan reportedly has had an unknown number of discussions with Yuri Ushakov, a foreign policy adviser to Putin, and Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian leader's  security council.

The Kremlin has walked back its nuclear rhetoric in recent days. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said in its most recent assessment that Putin’s alarming nuclear references last month "failed to generate the degree of fear within the Ukrainian government" that the Kremlin likely intended.

"Key Kremlin officials began collectively de-escalating their rhetoric regarding the use of nuclear weapons in early November," after Putin said Russian leaders have never discussed the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the assessment said.

Warren Buffett's son meets with Zelenskyy in Kyiv

Howard Buffett, son of iconic billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett, met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Monday. Zelenskyy, in a Telegram post, said he thanked Buffett for supporting a "kitchen factory" project initiated by Ukraine first lady Olena Zelenska to provide hot meals at schools.

The possibility of Buffett's participation in the Fund for the Reconstruction of Ukraine was also considered, Zelenskyy said. He also presented Buffett with the Order of Yaroslav the Wise "for his support of the state sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine" and his contributions toward drawing support for Ukrainians around the world.

Britain says Russia is losing planes faster than it can replace them

Russia appears to be losing planes and helicopters faster than it can build them, the British Defense Ministry said in its most recent assessment of the war. The assessment cites a Ukrainian claim that Russia had lost almost 280 aircraft during the war, more than twice the number lost in the decade-long Soviet-Afghan War – although the ministry notes that British authorities cannot independently verify the figures.

The time required for training pilots further reduces Russia’s ability to regenerate combat air capability, the assessment says, adding that both situations are not likely to change in the next several months.

"Russia’s continued lack of air superiority is likely exacerbated by poor training, loss of experienced crews, and heightened risks of conducting close air support in dense air defense zones," the ministry says.

4.5 million Ukrainians have no power, millions more face rolling blackouts

More than 4.5 million people in Ukraine are without power and millions more face rolling blackouts this week as the nation races to patch an energy infrastructure being relentlessly pounded by Russian missile and drone strikes. Rolling blackouts in Kyiv, a city of 3 million people now facing some of Ukraine's most dire power challenges, are starting at 6 a.m. Temperatures in Kyiv are forecast to dip below freezing next week.

The intentional outages are also underway in Chernihiv, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr, Sumy, Kharkiv and Poltava regions, the state-owned Ukrenergo said Monday. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned Ukrainians not to expect the Russian attacks on energy to ease.

"The terrorist state is concentrating forces and means for a possible repetition of mass attacks on our infrastructure," Zelenskyy said in an address to his nation. "First of all, energy.”

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine updates: Crucial battle for Kherson could be settled soon