A new aid package has been announced, including non-enriched uranium ammunition to combat Russian tanks

Counter-offensive advances in Ukraine as US maintains its support

AFP/BRENDAN SMIALOWKI - El secretario de Estado de los Estados Unidos, Antony Blinken, y el primer ministro de Ucrania, Denys Shmyhal, se estrechan la mano antes de su reunión en la Oficina del primer ministro en Kiev el 6 de septiembre de 2023
AFP/BRENDAN SMIALOWKI - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal shake hands before their meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Kiev on September 6, 2023

María Senovilla, journalist, contributor to the magazine Atalayar and other media and correspondent in Ukraine, analyses the latest developments in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict on the ground for the microphones of Onda Madrid's "De cara al mundo" programme. 

The war in Ukraine continues and the United States reaffirms its support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with the visit of Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Kiev. In addition, the new Ukrainian Defence Minister makes decisions and the counteroffensive continues to advance. 


Maria, let's talk about the Konstantinovka market, the shelling that has caused yet another shocking civilian carnage, similar to the famous "Sarajevo flower bombing". 

Market bombings are unfortunately a common occurrence in almost every war. Beyond the death toll we are talking about a new war crime, a new attack on a civilian target. We have some in the summer in this part of Donbas north of Donetsk, which is still under the control of the Ukrainian government. The continuous siege we get here means these attacks, which are no longer indiscriminate, but are directed at civilian targets: markets, restaurants, parks, which are usually shelled during the day, when there are more people, and often with cluster munitions.  

How extensive was the shelling in the heart of Konstantinovka?

In the case of the Konstantinovka market, the attack took place at two o'clock in the afternoon. We are talking about an area, an open market, a bazaar, a street full of small shops, such as bakeries, greengrocers, butchers, small electrical appliance shops, where there is no military target, and where there is little military traffic. The toll is 17 dead, civilians between 18 and 83 years old, more than 35 wounded, 6 of them seriously, 4 women and 2 men, now connected to artificial respirators, so the prognosis is not favourable. It joins other attacks in recent memory, such as the Kramatorsk pizzeria or the Pokrovsk hotel. It is yet another Russian war crime, I insist, against civilian targets in Ukraine. 

At the same time, on yet another night, there have been bombings against Odessa, against port infrastructures dedicated to the export of grain, which not only Ukraine needs to export, but which many places in the world, I am thinking of Africa, need this grain to leave in order to avoid a food crisis. 

That's right, and also against Ukraine's grain export and port infrastructure on the Danube River south of Odessa. There have been new attacks throughout the week, and it is curious because this comes on the heels of news a couple of days ago that the Kremlin said it wanted to return to the grain deal. While these words were being uttered, port infrastructures, silos where grain is stored, which is to be exported, and the whole surrounding region of Odessa province were shelled.

Ukraine is crossing the Surovikin line, how are you experiencing this advance of the counteroffensive? Because in addition to that success on the Surovikin line, Ukraine continues to carry out attacks on Russian soil, right? 

That is correct. The drone attacks that started last week, which we said at the time, are being carried out by those units, by those corps that are made up of Russian citizens, but are fighting on the Ukrainian side, and so Zelensky is prevented from crossing that red line imposed by his Western partners, where they forbid Ukrainian citizens from attacking Russian soil, so to get rid of the rule. In the Pskov and Moscow regions, drone attacks have occurred again in recent nights. The Russian volunteer corps commanded by Denis Kapustin has already taken part in some of these operations in order to cross the Surovikin front line. 

PHOTO/ARCHIVO - Denis Kapustin muestra la Insignia al Honor, concedida a título postumo por el Gobierno de Ucrania a uno de sus amigos más cercanos
PHOTO/ARCHIVO - Denis Kapustin displays the Badge of Honour, awarded posthumously by the Ukrainian government to one of his closest friends

How strategically important are the battles taking place near the Surovikin line for Russian and Ukrainian troops? 

This could have an effect in a very short time, which could be a turning point, not only in the summer counteroffensive, but in the whole war, because at the moment, with the launch of Robotine, and with those advances that are being made south of Robotine, the way is opening up to the locations of Tomaz and Volnovaja. 

These locations enclose one of the railway junctions that form part of Russia's supply route to Crimea, crossing all of southern Donbas, southern Zaporilla and southern Kherson, which are occupied all the way to the Crimean peninsula. This rail route, which is a very long route, transports refuelling troops, fuel, weapons, ammunition and food. 

PHOTO/ARCHIVO - Ejército ruso en la región dónde se encuentra la línea Surovikin
PHOTO/ARCHIVO - Russian army in the region where the Surovikin line is located

If Ukraine manages to reach either of these two locations in the coming weeks, Otomak or Volkhovnava, by crossing the second line of defence, the second Russian defence fortification could disrupt Russia's supply to the Crimean peninsula. This would be a turning point, not in the operations that have been ongoing since June as part of the summer counteroffensive, but in the course of the war as we know it now. 

Profile of the new defence minister appointed by Zelensky. 

Rustem Umerov is a well-known MP who has worked for years for the restitution of Crimea as part of Ukrainian territory. He has a long political career. He is a native of Crimea, a Tatar and a Muslim. Therefore, Zelenski, who is Jewish, let us remember, incorporates in his government a representative of the Tatar minority, almost exterminated by Russia, and also a representative of the Islamic world, which is also very much a minority in this country, and who could be a good spokesman, a good negotiator, to deal with countries like Turkey, which right now have a vital weight and importance for Ukraine. 

PHOTO/TWITTER/ @rustem_umerov - Rsutem Umerov, nuevo ministro de Defensa de Ucrania
PHOTO/TWITTER/ @rustem_umerov - Rsutem Umerov, Ukraine's new Minister of Defence

When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Umerov became the co-chairman of the Crimean platform, which was a diplomatic platform, because he tried to channel international efforts at the diplomatic level to recover the peninsula, although it did not produce results, but for years he was part of international negotiating tables, with a very low profile, very discreet, but in that diplomatic way of negotiating. Also in 2022, he was part of the Ukrainian negotiating team, which during the first months of the invasion sat with Moscow at these failed negotiating tables, and also negotiated the Grand Bargain last summer. We are therefore dealing with a very diplomatic profile, a profile of dialogue, and a profile that is not currently affected by any corruption cases, which was the main reason for the dismissal of his predecessor. 

What are the first steps taken by the new minister? 

He took office last Monday and has announced two measures aimed at modernising the institution, at having greater control over the resources, especially personnel resources, available to Defence, and also at curbing the corruption that was undermining the recruitment process in all the country's offices. On the one hand, the new minister, Umerov, has announced that a digital identification card will be created for all members of the army, in order to have a single register of records, a computerised register that will allow control of transfers, of records, and in this way bring the Ukrainian army into the 21st century with these digital databases, and prevent bribes, such as payments to speed up the process of transferring from one unit to another, from occurring along the way. 

Some soldiers knew that this spring they tried to move from one brigade to another, and after two months of waiting with a stalled file, they admitted to me that what they did was to go to an office, pay a cash amount, and miraculously the next day their file was processed and the brigade change was effective. We already know how the recruitment process works, and how to pay, because they give you a piece of paper at a given moment in the country, and with this measure of the digital card and making all these processes computerised, this type of corruption in cash could be avoided. 

The second measure, the most controversial, is that it has prohibited women registered in the army from leaving the country, and obliges those who have medical and pharmacy studies to register. This means that if you have a capacity, for example, in the case of doctors, pharmacists, but also other professions, such as lawyers and engineers. Since the war started here in Donbas, there are many women who have registered in the army claiming that they have certain skills which they put at the disposal of the army if necessary. Now these women are part of that group where there were men aged 18 to 60 who, although they do not fight, have not even done military service, they are part of a group that the government will call up in line. 

It has been a very controversial move because these are women. There are many already registered voluntarily, but also all those with medical or pharmacy degrees will be forced to register, to register their name with the army and say they have those skills if they need them. And all this will come into effect on 1 October, both the impossibility for them to leave the country and the obligation for medical and pharmaceutical products to be registered. The measure was announced recently and controversy is brewing. 

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra