Every week we wrap up the must-reads from our coverage of the Ukraine war, from news and features to analysis, visual guides and opinion.
Push for Kherson symbolises Ukraine’s cautious confidence
Ukraine declared this week it had begun a counteroffensive aiming to retake Kherson – the one city Russia holds west of the Dnieper River – prompting a fog of uncertainty to descend on how the effort was progressing, never mind whether it would succeed.
Oleksiy Arestovych, a key adviser to the president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, stressed there would be “no quick wins” as the attack in the south began.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, western officials said Ukraine had “pushed back” the Russian defenders in “several places”, but insisted it was too soon to name villages taken or distances gained while fighting was ongoing.
The caution may be realistic but it is also telling, Dan Sabbagh explains. This is not, in any sense, a blitzkrieg or a broad front attack, but rather a localised effort to strike at the most obvious strategic vulnerability in the Russian frontline, and to try to demonstrate that Ukraine can drive the Russians back in places before winter sets in.
On Thursday Lorenzo Tondo in Kyiv and Julian Borger reported new details from the counteroffensive. Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine had retaken more than 1,000 sq km (390 sq miles) of territory and over 20 villages in the south and east.
This is the first time Kyiv has disclosed details of its recent counteroffensive since last week so as not to compromise the operation.
Dan Sabbagh writes that the counteroffensive took Russia, and everyone else, by surprise.
UN calls for demilitarised zone around Zaporizhzhia plant
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, called for a demilitarised zone around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, involving the withdrawal of Russian occupying troops and the agreement of Ukrainian forces not to move in, Lorenzo Tondo reported this week from Lviv.
Guterres was addressing a UN security council session on Tuesday, at which he supported the recommendations put forward by Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who led an inspection visit to the occupied Zaporizhzhia plant and this week presented a report to the security council. The report confirmed the presence of Russian soldiers and military equipment at the plant and noted the integrity of the plant had been violated several times.
“We are playing with fire and something very, very catastrophic could take place,” Grossi said. “This is why in our report, we are proposing the establishment of a nuclear safety and security protection zone limited to the perimeter and the plant itself.”
Guterres said that, as a first step, Russian and Ukrainian forces should cease all military operations around the plant.
“As a second step, an agreement on a demilitarised perimeter should be secured,” he added. “Specifically, that will include the commitment by Russian forces to withdraw military personnel and equipment from that perimeter and the commitment by Ukrainian forces not to move in.”
The plant was seized by Russian forces in early May and has recently been the target of sustained shelling, increasing the risk of a nuclear disaster.
Ian Sample spoke to Prof Claire Corkhill about what this could mean for Zaporizhzhia, what the risks were if the plant lost external power and how a nuclear meltdown could be avoided.
Russia’s war expands as Gazprom cuts supply to Europe
While Vladimir Putin’s bloody military offensive has stalled in Ukraine, an energy war in under way, threatening an all-out power struggle in which the west seeks to cap the price of Russian oil and the Kremlin cuts off the supply of gas to Europe.
The unpredictable dispute, in which both sides deploy unconventional weapons of economic warfare, shows the extent to which Russia’s hybrid war in Ukraine has been extended into new terrain, Patrick Wintour writes.
Gazprom, the Russian state-owned gas monopoly supplier, said this week a routine maintenance check revealed an oil leak in the main gas turbines at compressors on the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, which takes gas from Siberia into northern Germany via the Baltic Sea. Gazprom said the leak would take an indefinite amount of time to fix, after innumerable other unusually prolonged breaks for maintenance.
The Russian announcement – seen in the west as a piece of transparent blackmail – came hours after the G7 finance ministers pressed ahead with an elaborate plan to put a cap on Russian oil prices.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later conceded that Russia’s resumption of gas supplies was “undoubtedly” dependent on whether the west would lift its sanctions.
And on Wednesday, during a bellicose speech at an economic conference in Vladivostok, Vladimir Putin threatened to cut off all deliveries of gas, oil and coal to Europe if it imposed a price cap on Russian energy imports. Recalling a Russian fairytale, the president said Europeans could “freeze like the wolf’s tail”.
Andrew Roth covered the address from Moscow. “We will not supply anything at all if it contradicts our interests,” Putin said in one of his most belligerent and defiant speeches since the beginning of the war. “We will not supply gas, oil, coal, heating oil – we will not supply anything.”
The Russian leader has powerful destructive levers at his disposal. He has cut supplies to just 20% of normal level on Nord Stream 1, contributing to the vast rise in gas prices as European countries scramble to store as much gas as possible before winter. The question is whether he plans to continue toying with Europe by occasionally threatening to reduce supplies, or to instead go for the jugular by turning off gas supplies altogether.
Russia kept gas supplies to Europe flowing even at the height of the cold war. By contrast, the pipeline has now been shut down twice since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Truss takes over
Jennifer Rankin, Isobel Koshiw and Pjort Sauer reported on how Moscow and Kyiv reacted to Britain’s new prime minister. Liz Truss’s arrival in Downing Street was greeted with scorn and scarcely veiled condescension from the Kremlin, but an outpouring of praise in Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin’s chief spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, expressed concerns that relations might deteriorate in comments to reporters shortly before Truss was announced as the winner of the Tory leadership race.
“I wouldn’t like to say that things can change for the worse, because it’s hard to imagine anything worse,” Peskov said when asked if Moscow expected any shift in relations with Britain. “But unfortunately, this cannot be ruled out.”
Ukrainian politicians, however, offered an exuberant welcome. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said British-Ukraine ties were already at “an unprecedentedly high level”.
The Ukranians starting school in Germany
Liudmyla Mashkova has been leading a class of Ukrainian students, aged 12 to 17, since April. They are in Potsdam, a German city just west of Berlin, where the Helmholtz Gymnasium, or secondary school, has given them space and resources.
Mashkova, a secondary school teacher from Kyiv, has been employed to teach German in one of the thousands of willkommensklassen, or welcome classes, set up at schools across the country.
Kate Connolloy reports she fled the war in Ukraine at the beginning of March along with her 16-year-old son and five-year-old daughter, leaving behind her husband, an officer in the Ukrainian army.
Like her pupils, who come mainly from the south and the east of Ukraine, Mashkova had hoped for a quicker end to the war. Now they are together once again at the start of a new school year, with just a few changes to the class makeup.