Ukraine war live updates: Kyiv says it has liberated front-line villages in counteroffensive; North Korea offers support to Russia

Russia’s defense minister trying to assert leadership, UK says

Russia’s defense minister appears anxious to have a higher public profile as Ukraine’s counteroffensive gets underway, the U.K. noted Monday.

“Over the last week, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has maintained a high public profile, likely with the aim of presenting himself as in control of strategic issues while Ukraine accelerates offensive operations,” Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence update on Twitter.

Shoigu has provided at least two comments on Russia’s defensive operations, including making almost certainly seriously exaggerated claims about Ukrainian losses, the U.K. said, adding that this contrasts with other key periods in the war when he had disappeared from public appearances.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow, Russia, on April 17, 2023.

Gavriil Grigorov | Sputnik | Reuters

“Shoigu has also urged Russia’s defence industry to redouble its efforts, and castigated Western Military District officers for not dispatching reserve armoured vehicles to the front quickly enough,” the ministry said.

Shoigu is likely acutely aware of the need to maintain a positive image in the face of increasingly unmasked criticism from some fellow Russians, including so-called military bloggers commenting on Russia’s strategy in Ukraine.

Russia’s defense ministry also appears to be trying to rein in private military groups fighting in Ukraine, such as the Wagner Group, issuing an order Saturday that all “volunteer units” should sign contracts by July 1 to bring them under the control of Shoigu. The head of the Wagner Group refused.

— Holly Ellyatt

North Korea offers its ‘full support’ to Russia

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, one of the few friends Russia has left, reportedly sent a message congratulating his Russian counterpart on Russia Day.

June 12 is a national holiday in Russia, marking the anniversary of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic’s declaration of autonomy from the then-Soviet Union in 1990.

North Korea’s state media KCNA said Monday that Kim Jong Un offered his “full support and solidarity” to Russia on its national day and praised Moscow’s efforts “to preserve its sovereign rights against the imperialists high handed and arbitrary practices.”

North Korea’s state media KCNA said Monday that Kim Jong Un offered his “full support and solidarity” to Russia on its national day and praised Moscow’s efforts “to preserve its sovereign rights against the imperialists high handed and arbitrary practices.”

Alexander Zemlianichenko | AFP | Getty Images

KCNA added that Kim Jong Un’s message also lauded “the correct decision and guidance of the Russian president, the struggle of the Russian people to foil the hostile forces’ escalating threats and challenges to deprive Russia of its sovereignty, security and peaceful life has entered a new decisive phase.”

The message said that North Korea’s friendship with Russia was “a precious strategic asset common to the two countries and it is the fixed stand of the DPRK government to ceaselessly develop the good neighborly and cooperative relations, as required by the new era.”

Isolated dictatorship North Korea is one of Russia’s remaining friends on a global stage and there has been speculation that it could supply weapons to Moscow.  The U.S. said in March that intelligence suggested that Russia wanted to trade food for weapons with North Korea. 

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukraine says it has liberated several villages in Donetsk

All eyes are on Ukraine’s counteroffensive after its armed forces claimed to have liberated four front-line villages in the eastern Donetsk region.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Sunday that the villages of Blahodatne and Makarivka had been de-occupied and on Monday added Storozheve to the list of liberated settlements.

In the Bakhmut area, Ukrainian troops are continuing to conduct assault actions, Maliar said, with gains reported there.

Ukrainian servicemen ride atop an armored personnel carrier vehicle in the Zaporizhzhia region on June 11, 2023.

Anatolii Stepanov | Afp | Getty Images

Another Ukrainian brigade posted on Facebook that it gained control of the village of Neskuchne in Donetsk.

Ukraine’s government has consistently said there would be no public announcement of the start of the offensive. But last weekend, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy finally confirmed that counteroffensive and defensive actions had indeed begun.

That came after Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Ukrainian forces had so far failed in their counteroffensive but that the “offensive potential” of Ukraine had not been undermined yet.

In response, Zelenskyy said Saturday that “it’s interesting that Putin said [that] about our counter offensive. It is important that Russia always feels it, that they do not have much time left, in my opinion. Defensive counter-attacks are taking place in Ukraine at what stage I will not say in detail.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Work has started on international investigation of dam breach, Zelenskyy says

Work has already started into an investigation by the International Criminal Court of the breach of the Kakhovka dam and the vast flood it triggered, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday.

“Representatives of the International Criminal Court have visited Kherson region in recent days,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address.

“On the very first day after the disaster, the general prosecutor’s office sent a corresponding request to the International Criminal Court concerning an investigation of this disaster and the work has already begun.”

Members of Russia’s emergencies ministry use an inflatable boat in a flooded area during a rescue operation following the collapse of the Nova Kakhovka dam in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict, in the town of Hola Prystan in the Kherson region, Russian-controlled Ukraine, June 8, 2023. 

Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

Zelenskyy said it was important that international legal experts saw the aftermath of the disaster, including incidents of shelling of flooded areas. Officials said three people were killed on Sunday in Russian shelling of boats carrying evacuees.

The president said Ukrainian rescue teams had evacuated about 4,000 residents from affected zones – including areas on the Russian-occupied east bank of the Dnipro River.

— Reuters