Outnumbered Ukrainian defenders continue to hold the line in the east against Russian forces who are making only “minimal gains”, British military intelligence said on July 20, amid reports that Kyiv destroyed a key bridge over the Dnipro River using modern Western artillery.
The strike against the strategic Antonivskyi Bridge in the Russian-held Kherson region of southern Ukraine, reported by Russian-installed regional authorities, was the second in as many days.
Live briefing: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
RFE/RL Live briefing gives you all the latest developments on the ongoing invasion of Russia, how Kyiv is responding, Western military aid, the global response and the plight of civilians and refugees. For all of RFE/RL’s coverage of the war, click here.
Kirill Stremousov, the Moscow-appointed deputy head of the region’s military-civilian administration, told TASS on July 20 that about nine missiles fired from American-made HIMARS systems hit the bridge.
“The bridge is very badly damaged. It is repairable but will take time. We will probably have to stop traffic,” Stremousov said, adding that there were no casualties.
The information could not be independently confirmed.
The 1.4 kilometer bridge is the main one over the Dnieper and if rendered inoperable it would be difficult for the Russian military to continue supplying its forces in the area.
British intelligence said in its daily bulletin that the bridge remains “a key vulnerability” for forces in Moscow.
The newsletter said control of the Dnipro crossings is likely to become a key factor in the outcome of the fighting in the Russian-held areas west of the Dnipro, which include the key city of Kherson, which is “politically and symbolically important for Russia”.
The latest Western assessment came as Ukraine’s military reported widespread shelling and attacks in various parts of the country that resulted in civilian casualties far from the front line.
At least one person was killed in a Russian missile strike targeting the center of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, which is becoming one of the main axes of the Russian offensive in the east from Ukraine.
Russian missiles earlier hit the port city of Odessa and the eastern city of Toretsk, regional officials said.
Kyiv accused Russian forces of stepping up long-range strikes on targets far from the front, killing large numbers of civilians. Moscow says it hits military targets.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has said Ukraine is now capable of inflicting “significant losses” on Russian invaders thanks to an influx of modern Western weapons, told Ukrainians in his regular video address on July 19 that Kyiv set up a parliamentary commission to regulate the use of weapons received from the West.
Zelenskiy appeared to be responding to reports that some Western officials feared Western weapons could end up being sold on the black market or smuggled out of the country.
Some US lawmakers in Washington have criticized the Pentagon for failing to adequately monitor US-supplied weapons to Ukraine.
“I want to emphasize: there is no reason to claim our state in this regard,” he said.
“But to eliminate all the fabrications made by Russian propagandists and those who help them in Ukraine or elsewhere, this additional parliamentary apparatus will be put in place,” he said.
Military analysts agree that Western weapons systems such as the American-made HIMARS, which are more accurate and have a longer range than other artillery pieces, could be a game-changer for Kyiv in its bid to launch a counterattack. – offensive in the south of the country.
A meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group is scheduled for July 20. At the group’s last meeting in May, a total of 47 countries participated and 20 of them announced security assistance programs for Ukraine.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said he had a phone call with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to discuss the framework for the next meeting.
The contact group meeting comes as the White House says Russia is laying the groundwork for annexing more Ukrainian territory and installing illegitimate proxy rulers in areas of the country under its control.
John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council (NSC), said during a press briefing at the White House on July 19 that the Russians planned to hold “mock referenda” in the areas from which they seized, possibly as early as September, and are preparing to establish the ruble as the default currency and force residents to apply for citizenship.
Areas targeted for annexation include Kherson, Zaporizhzhya and all of Donetsk and Lugansk.
The NSC spokesperson said it was “outlining” Russian plans “so the world knows that any alleged annexation is premeditated, illegal and illegitimate.”
“Annexation by force will be a flagrant violation of the Charter of the United Nations and we will not allow it to go unchallenged or unpunished,” Kirby said.
Kirby said the United States would respond to Russia’s actions “quickly and harshly and in close cooperation with our allies and partners.” The response will include sanctions against “puppets and proxies” installed by Russia, he said.
Kirby also said that in the coming days the United States would announce a new arms package for Ukraine. Aid should include more HIMARS systems.