Ukraine war live updates: Russia pounds Ukrainian footholds in occupied territory; Russia says it won't tolerate election meddling

Russia is almost certainly attempting a pincer movement to encircle the town of Avdiivka, a fighting hot spot in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Thursday.

“Over the last week, Russian forces have continued attacks towards outlying villages of the contested town of Avdiivka,” the ministry said on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Avdiivka is a small town but holds strategic importance for both sides. It has been fought over for nearly a decade, given fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and holds political significance for Russia given its proximity to the city of Donetsk.

“Recent advances have likely brought Russian forces close to the Ukrainian-held Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant, a sprawling industrial complex which produces coke and a variety of chemicals, occupies a key tactical position to the north of the town,” the U.K. noted.

A view of Ukraine’s Avdiivka city as an airstrike on the Metinvest coke plant is seen in the background on Oct. 30, 2023.

Libkos | Getty Images News | Getty Images

“The plant dominates the main road into Avdiivka and, if Russian forces were to secure it, resupplying the town would become increasingly difficult for Ukraine.”

However, the ministry noted, the industrial facility provides Ukraine with a localized defensive advantage and Russian forces will probably suffer significant personnel losses if they attempt to assault the facility.

— Holly Ellyatt

The U.K.’s new Foreign Secretary David Cameron is in Kyiv Wednesday, marking his first visit to Ukraine since taking up the role on Monday.

Announcing the visit, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the pair “had a good meeting focused on weapons for the frontline, strengthening air defense, and protecting our people and critical infrastructure.”

The U.K. is one of Ukraine’s staunchest Western allies and one of its largest individual benefactors after the U.S.

As Foreign Secretary, supporting Ukraine against Putin’s aggression is vital, which is why I am pleased to make this my first visit as Secretary of State,” Cameron said in a statement released by the British government

“Russia thinks it can wait this war out, and that the West will eventually turn its attention elsewhere. This could not be further from the truth. In my first discussions with President Zelenskyy in my new role, I made clear that the U.K. and our partners will support Ukraine and its people for as long as it takes for them to achieve victory.”

— Holly Ellyatt

A group of Ukrainian marines at the bank of the Dnieper River at the front line near Kherson, Ukraine, on Oct. 14, 2023.

Alex Babenko | AP

Fierce fighting is taking place between Russian forces and Ukrainian units that crossed over the Dnieper River to the Russian-occupied left (or eastern) bank of the river in the southern Kherson region, analysts say.

Fighting is concentrated around a number of villages on the east bank, including Krynky, where Ukraine has managed to establish footholds, but Russian forces are now reported to be pounding those positions. A Russian official warned Wednesday that “hell fire” would be rained down upon Ukrainian forces who had crossed the river.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War painted a picture of mixed fortunes in the area, citing Ukrainian officials, Russian military bloggers closely following developments in the war and open-source evidence.

“Ukrainian forces continued larger-than-usual operations on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast [region] on November 15,” the ISW noted in analysis Wednesday.

But it added that “Russian milbloggers claimed that Ukrainian forces conducted unsuccessful attacks from central Krynky … [they] also claimed that Russian forces prevented Ukrainian forces from conducting casualty evacuation and deploying additional Ukrainian personnel to the east bank near the Antonivsky road bridge.”

The ISW also noted that geolocated footage published on Nov. 14 shows that Russian forces made some advances into Ukrainian-held Krynky, with Russian milbloggers claiming that the counterattacks by Russian forces forced Ukrainian forces to withdraw from some areas south of Krynky.

CNBC was unable to verify developments on the ground and neither Russia nor Ukraine mentioned the battles taking place in the area in their military updates on Thursday. On Wednesday, Ukraine requested an “informational silence” around its maneuvers so that its “plans are put in motion.”

A senior Ukrainian official said Monday that Ukrainian forces managed to cross the Dnieper river which has essentially divided Russian and Ukrainian forces since a successful Ukrainian counteroffensive a year ago. Russia confirmed the development Wednesday.

If Ukrainian forces can make progress on the eastern bank, it could herald the start of an advance southward to Russian-occupied Crimea.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that any internal and external attempts to interfere with the 2024 presidential election in Russia will be suppressed, state media outlet TASS reported.

Putin said any measures necessary would be taken to prevent illegal obstruction of the election, including any pressure applied to the electoral process, according to a Google translation of his comments.

Putin has not confirmed if he will run for re-election next year, however various news reports have cited sources saying he plans to stand for election once again. If he were to be re-elected, his presidency could extend until 2030.

Russia has long been accused of interfering in the electoral processes of other countries, particularly the U.S. vote in 2016.

Last month, the U.S. released an intelligence assessment sent to more than 100 countries that found Moscow is using spies, social media and Russian state-run media to erode public faith in the integrity of democratic elections worldwide, Reuters reported. Russia has repeatedly rejected various accusations of interference.

— Sophie Kiderlin, Holly Ellyatt

The outcome of the war in Ukraine is considered a “determining, and even existential,” factor in the future of the West, according to a survey of 21 countries published Wednesday by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) thinktank and Oxford University.

The majority of respondents outside of Europe and the U.S. said they saw Western nations as a bigger obstacle to peace than Russia, and more still viewed Moscow as the ultimate victor in the conflict.

Almost three quarters of non-European respondents who expected Russia to win the war also believed the European Union could “fall apart” within the next 20 years, while around one third of those in the U.S. and in Europe shared the view.

For many, the conflict in Ukraine was considered a “proxy war” between the U.S. and Russia, with majorities in Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey saying they believe two Cold War powers are “already at war.”

— Karen Gilchrist

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his press conference at the Konstantin Palace on July 29, 2023 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Contributor | Getty Images News | Getty Images

There was more than a hint of schadenfreude in Russian state coverage of the forthcoming meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden in San Francisco on Wednesday, with Russia accentuating the geopolitical gulf between the two superpowers.

Russia will be watching the talks closely, given its alliance with China, and any signs of a rapprochement between Beijing and Washington is likely to earn a frosty response from Moscow.

Russian media reveled in pouring cold water on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit where Xi and Biden are due to meet Wednesday.

A reporter for Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency on Tuesday reported that a plenary meeting of the APEC summit chaired by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai took place “in a half-empty hall.”

RIA Novosti contrasted its image of a half-empty conference hall with the U.S. Trade Representative Tai emphasizing to delegates “how important this event is for the United States.” 

Read more on the story here: Russia relishes divisions between China and the U.S., pouring cold water on Xi-Biden talks

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine requested an “informational silence,” amid fierce fighting on the Russian-occupied left (or eastern) bank of the Dnieper River in the southern Kherson region.

“The Russians understand that the advance of the defense forces is inevitable, but they cannot calculate from which direction they can expect such a danger,” Natalia Humeniuk, press officer for Operational Command South, said Wednesday in televised comments translated by NBC News.

Russian forces were, she said, “trying to actively defend themselves, to actively use heavy artillery, rocket launchers, and aviation as much as possible.”

“The pushback from our side is taking place on a line from 3 to 8km [up to 5 miles] along the entire coast from the water’s edge [of the Dnieper River]. The front line is quite fluid today,” she said. 

KHERSON OBLAST, UKRAINE – NOVEMBER 05: Destroyed buildings are seen on an island in the middle of the Dnieper River in Kherson, Ukraine, Nov. 5, 2023.

Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

“I cannot reveal all the measures we are currently taking, but it is obvious that the enemy is being pressed [by our measures]. For now, we are asking for informational silence so that our plans are put in motion, it will allow us to report on great successes later.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak said Monday that Ukraine’s forces had gained a foothold on the left side of the river and were looking to advance.

“Against all odds, Ukraine’s defense forces have gained an foothold on the left bank of the Dnieper. Step-by-step, we demilitarized Crimea. We have covered 70% of the distance,” he told the Hudson Institute.

Russia confirmed the development Wednesday, but said it was pummeling a “small group” of Ukrainian troops near the village of Krynky.

Vladimir Saldo, the Russian-installed governor of the occupied part of Kherson, claimed Ukrainian units were now trapped and were being hit with “bombs, rockets, ammunition from heavy flamethrower systems, artillery shells [and] drones.”

CNBC could not independently verify the reports.

— Holly Ellyatt

Russian forces are pummeling Ukrainian units that have crossed over the Dnieper River to the Russian-occupied left (or eastern) bank of the river in Kherson, a Russian-installed official said Wednesday.

The Kherson area, in southern Ukraine, is partially occupied by Russian forces after an offensive to take the city of Kherson last year prompted Russian forces to withdraw to the eastern bank of the river.

Ukraine reported Tuesday that its forces had established a foothold on the eastern bank of the river. The announcement could herald the start of an advance toward Russian-occupied Crimea, with Ukraine saying on Wednesday that it was starting to push back Russian forces.

“Along the front line, which runs along the Dnipro [the Dnieper River]… The pushback from our side is taking place on a line from 3 to 8 km (2-5 miles) along the entire bank from the water’s edge,” Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for the southern military command, said, in comments reported by Reuters.

“For now, we will ask for informational silence … which would allow us to report later on great successes,” she added.

A Ukrainian serviceman of the 123rd Territorial Defense Brigade stands guard on a position next to the Dnieper River, in an undisclosed location in the Kherson region, on Nov. 6, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Roman Pilipey | Afp | Getty Images

A Russian-installed official, Vladimir Saldo, said in Google-translated comments on Telegram that Ukrainian units had been able to cross the river — confirming for the first time that this had taken place — and said that initially Ukraine had sent “more manpower than our means of destruction were able to destroy.”

“Additional forces have now been brought up,” he said, claiming that Ukrainian forces were blocked in the village of Krynki where “a fiery hell” awaited them. “Bombs, missiles, ammunition from heavy flamethrower systems, artillery shells, and drones are flying at him [Ukrainian forces] … Over the last two or three days alone, the enemy’s total losses amounted to about a hundred militants.”

A group of Ukrainian marines cross the Dnieper River at the frontline near Kherson, Ukraine, Oct. 14, 2023.

Alex Babenko | AP

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War noted Tuesday that “Ukrainian forces are continuing their own offensive operations and making tactical-level gains along the front, particularly in western Zaporizhia Oblast [region] and on the east (left) bank of Kherson Oblast,” the ISW noted.

“The Russian military command will likely have to decide whether to keep certain Russian elements on certain sectors of the front to defend against ongoing Ukrainian offensive operations or to redeploy them to support offensive operations elsewhere that will likely culminate without reinforcements.”

These choices will likely hinder Russia’s ability to fully regain the initiative in the coming weeks, the ISW said.

CNBC was unable to verify developments on the ground.

— Holly Ellyatt

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