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Ukraine war latest: Russia intensifies attacks near Toretsk, Donetsk Oblast

by The Kyiv Independent news desk June 20, 2024 12:59 AM 8 min read
Ukrainian soldiers of the 24th Brigade's mortar unit are seen at positions near Toretsk as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues in Toretsk, Ukraine, on March 26, 2024. (Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu via Getty Images)
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Key developments on June 19:

  • Russia, North Korea sign strategic partnership agreement
  • Russia has moved almost all ground forces from Finland's vicinity to Ukraine, media report
  • After a 'long lull,' Ukraine reports intensified Russian attacks near Toretsk in Donetsk Oblast
  • Denmark announces new aid package for Ukraine focused on F-16s, defense industry
  • Patriot missiles intended for Switzerland to go to Ukraine, Swiss outlet reports

Ukraine's Armed Forces on June 18 reported an increase in Russian attacks near the town of Toretsk, Donetsk Oblast, after a "long lull" in fighting in the area.

In a post on Telegram, the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces said its "intelligence, artillery, aviation, unmanned systems" were all working to repulse five attacks launched simultaneously.

"In the Toretsk direction, the Russian occupiers stepped up and started five assaults at once – in the areas of Niu-York, Pivnichne, and Pivdene," they wrote.

"The Defense Forces of Ukraine control the situation and repel the aggressor."

According to the crowd-sourced DeepState monitoring service, Russian forces were attacking in the direction of the villages of Pivnichne and Druzhba, just east of Toretsk.

In comments to AFP, residents of Toretsk reported an increase in attacks on the town.

"They started shooting in the morning and it was going on all day long," one person said.

Over the last few weeks, attention has been focused on Russia's stalled offensive in Kharkiv Oblast, but Russian troops have been steadily advancing in the country's easternmost Donetsk Oblast, which remains Moscow's primary target.

Moving west from the ruins of the two occupied Donetsk Oblast cities – Bakhmut and Avdiivka – Russian troops have overrun several small villages and come close to Chasiv Yar and a strategic highway south of the town.

Elsewhere, Russian troops are intensifying attacks in the border areas of Luhansk Oblast with the aim of capturing the village of Borova in neighboring Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine's 3rd Assault Brigade said on June 18.

In a post on Telegram, the brigade said Moscow's forces are using tanks, FPV drones, and anti-aircraft missiles in an effort to advance, and also claimed they had deployed chemical weapons, without providing further details.

"The front line… in Kharkiv Oblast, bordering Luhansk Oblast, is today one of the most intense areas of the enemy's offensive," they wrote.

"The immediate task of the occupiers is to get to the (villages of) Cherneshchyna (and) Pershotravneve, with the subsequent seizure of Borova."

According to the crowd-sourced DeepState monitoring service, Russia has amassed 10,000 troops as part of a "shock fist" to capture the village.

Borova had been occupied by Russian forces in March 2022 but was liberated later that year during Ukraine's sweeping counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast.

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Russia, North Korea sign strategic partnership agreement

Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed on June 19 the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement in Pyongyang, the Kremlin's press service reported.

Under the treaty, the two countries pledge to provide aid to one another if either is attacked, Putin said at a press conference after the signing ceremony.

Putin arrived in North Korea on June 18 in a sign of the deepening relations between the two pariah countries, as Pyongyang supplied Moscow with extensive military supplies for use on Ukrainian battlefields.

The two leaders led hours-long talks before signing the treaty. The North Korean dictator claimed the agreement is of a "peaceful and defensive nature" and called Russia his country's "most honorable friend and ally."

Details of the treaty remain unclear, but Putin said that Russia "does not rule out the development of military-technical cooperation with North Korea" in connection to the newly signed agreement.

"I have no doubt that (the treaty) will become a driving force of a new multipolar world. Time has changed. The status of (North Korea) and the Russian Federation in the global geopolitical structure has also changed," Kim said at a press conference.

North Korea's leader also said the agreement provides for cooperation in the economic, political, and military spheres.

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With Russia's military stocks running low and domestic production capacity simultaneously hampered by Western sanctions, North Korea has been shaping up to be Russia's leading weapons supplier.

Moscow has reportedly received extensive military packages from Pyongyang, including ballistic missiles and around 5 million artillery shells.

As part of his visit to North Korea, Putin and Kim also signed treaties on on cooperation in healthcare, science, and the construction of a border bridge across the Tumen River.

According to the Russian state-controlled news agency Interfax, the new partnership agreement replaces previous documents signed between the two countries in 1961, 2000, and 2001.

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Russia has moved almost all ground forces from Finland's vicinity to Ukraine, media report

Russia has moved the vast majority of its ground forces previously stationed near Finland to take part in the war in Ukraine, the Finnish public broadcaster Yle reported on June 19, citing an undisclosed Finnish military intelligence source.

These revelations stand in contrast to previous claims by Russia on reinforcing its troops near the Finnish border in response to the Nordic country's entry into NATO.

"On average, 80% of the equipment and soldiers have been transferred to the war in Ukraine," the high-ranking military intelligence source told Yle.

According to the source, the situation is similar in other Russian regions except for Moscow Oblast. This concerns mainly the Ground Forces, as air defenses, the Air Force, and the Navy remain relatively well-manned, Yle reported.

The numbers of soldiers stationed in bases near the Finnish borders sometimes fluctuate as Russia draws new conscripts, but "all contract soldiers have been sent to do real work," the source said.

After Russian professional contractors suffered heavy losses in Ukraine, Russia began to partially mobilize its population to fill up the ranks.

Satellite imagery obtained by Yle confirmed certain changes. For example, dozens of units and equipment stationed in a military base near Petrozavodsk (a city some 200 kilometers from the Finnish border) in June 2023 disappeared as of May 2024.

At the same time, new facilities appeared, likely for servicing equipment damaged in the war or accommodations for conscripts undergoing basic training, Yle wrote.

A number of NATO officials have warned that NATO should prepare itself for a possible open confrontation with Russia in the coming years. The Finnish intelligence estimates it can take between three to five years for the Russian military to recuperate from its losses in Ukraine.

The tensions between the military bloc and Moscow have been mounting since the West threw its support behind Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.

Finland entered NATO in April 2023, extending the NATO-Russian border by roughly 1,340 kilometers (830 miles).

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Denmark announces new aid package for Ukraine focused on F-16s, defense industry

Denmark on June 18 announced its 19th assistance package for Ukraine, including financial support for Ukraine's defense industry, equipment for F-16 fighter jets, and donations from Danish military stocks.

The first Danish F-16s are scheduled to arrive in Ukraine this summer. Kyiv expects to receive the aircraft from other countries as well, including Netherlands, Belgium, and Norway.

As part of Copenhagen's commitment to supporting Ukraine for the next 10 years, the country has developed a donation model via the Ukrainian defense industry to help directly develop Ukraine's military production.

The 19th package will allow the use of the sum of 1.2 billion Danish kroner (over $170 million) allocated under the two most recent packages to quickly meet Ukraine's needs. The first donations should begin this summer.

"Europe is at a fateful moment. Russia's war against Ukraine has been going on for over two years, and the situation on the battlefield is dire," Danish Foreign Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said.

"Investing in the Ukrainian defense industry is an effective and sustainable way to support Ukrainian combat capability, both here and now and in the long term."

Denmark has already allocated 64.8 billion Danish kroner (over $9 billion) in military aid under its Ukraine fund for the period of 2023-2028.

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Patriot missiles intended for Switzerland to go to Ukraine, Swiss outlet reports

U.S.-made missiles for the Patriot air defense system manufactured for Switzerland are to be delivered to Ukraine despite contractual obligations, the Swiss outlet Blick reported on June 19, citing undisclosed sources.

According to Blick, Bern has an order totaling $340 million with Washington for the PAC-3 variant of the missile.

Sources told the outlet that the U.S. has decided to delay delivery to Switzerland and send them instead to Ukraine, which is in dire need of the weapons to protect against Russian aerial attacks.

The PAC-3 missile is the most advanced used by the Patriot air defense system and is effective against ballistic missiles. Each missile costs $4.1 million.

They are in high demand as European countries seek to bolster their own air defenses amid rising tensions with Russia.

A German-led initiative is seeking to get more Patriot missiles to Ukraine, with German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius on June 11 announcing 68 were on their way to Kyiv.

The decision comes as Ukraine faces increased Russian attacks on its population centers and infrastructure.

Pistorius emphasized the urgency of strengthening Ukraine's air defenses, referencing his recent visit to Odesa, where he observed the devastating effects of Russian missile strikes. He also unveiled an aid package valued at 500 million euros ($542 million).

Berlin launched the initiative in April amid Kyiv's increasingly dire need for air defenses, facing heavy Russian aerial attacks against population centers and the energy grid.

A number of countries have already backed the initiative since then, including Belgium, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, and others.

On June 13, Washington denied reports that the U.S. is planning to deliver another Patriot battery to Ukraine.

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