Russia-Ukraine: A southern counteroffensive, a prisoner trade, a passage for grain
As Ukraine cuts off reinforcements to occupied Kherson, Moscow considers a prisoner trade for Griner, Whelan
On day 155 of the invasion, Ukraine gains momentum in a counteroffensive, while the U.S. proposes a prisoner trade for Britney Griner and Paul Whelan. The millions in Africa and the Middle East brace for famine if grain from Ukraine cannot make its way past Russian blockades.
On the ground, Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive, aiming to retake the city of Kherson and the surrounding region. The area lies west of the Dnipro river, putting Moscow at a strategic disadvantage, according to the BBC.
Ukraine used U.S.-provided long-range missiles to take out the only two bridges into the city, effectively cutting off Russian troops from reinforcements. The New York Times reports that “Russia was racing to bolster its forces in the region,” though their position right now “looks highly vulnerable.”
Donated equipment was used to target the bridges in Kherson, though Moscow warns of “more than serious” consequences if Ukraine uses NATO-supplied rocket systems, per CNN.
The New York Times reports that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that the U.S. has made “a substantial proposal,” in regards to negotiations with Moscow to release WNBA star Brittney Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan. The man at the center of the proposed prisoner exchange is Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer who was convicted in 2011 for conspiring to kill American citizens.
According to Al Jazeera, Bout started an air freight business after the Soviet Union collapsed, and violated U.N. arms embargoes by selling weapons in Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sometimes to both sides of bloody conflicts.
On July 22, Russia and Ukraine signed agreements to export more than 20 million tons of grain stuck in Black Sea ports, per The Washington Post. The deal extends for 120 days, and The Associated Press estimates it will take around four months, with four or five large bulk carriers per day, to get the shipments out.
The start is slow going, however, as AP reports ship owners are assessing risks, while trust in the Russian navy runs low and explosive mines make the trips dangerous.