Here are the highlights of events related to the war in Ukraine over the past 24 hours:
Ukraine published a photo with the raising of the Ukrainian flag over Visokopilya in the Kherson region
High-ranking aides to President Volodymyr Zelensky published a photo of Ukrainian soldiers raising the country's flag over Visokopilya, a village in the Kherson region targeted by the Ukrainian counteroffensive.
"Vysopilya. Kherson Oblast. Ukraine. Today," Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the presidential office, wrote in a Facebook post showing three soldiers on a roof, one of them raising the Ukrainian flag.
The same photo was also posted on Twitter by the head of the office of the Ukrainian president Andriy Yermak with the caption "Step by step".
If the settlement is captured, it would be a significant territorial gain in the counter-offensive that began last week and is aimed at the southern part of the country, Reuters notes.
Kherson region, which was captured by Russian forces at the beginning of the conflict, is an important target of the Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Kherson is located north of the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in February and March 2014.
ISW confirms VSU progress in the counteroffensive in south and east, Russia with over 40 air and ground strikes
The Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south and east is making verifiable progress. Ukrainian forces are advancing on several fronts in Kherson Oblast and have captured territory behind the Donetsk River in Donetsk Oblast, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) reported in its latest analysis.
ISW refers to the statement of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who claimed that three settlements had been liberated from the enemy. The Ukrainian head of state did not say who they were, but ISW pointed to two of them using official and unofficial reports - Vysokpilya, where footage emerged of the Ukrainian flag being placed on the roof of a building north of the border between Kherson and Dnipropetrovsk regions, and Ozerne, northwest of Siversk.
Analysts at the Washington-based institute predict the pace of the counteroffensive will change dramatically within days as Ukrainian forces work to deprive the Russians of essential supplies, disrupt their command operations, weaken their morale even as ground offensives of the Russian army continue. The Russians will occasionally counter-attack and retake some occupied positions, and of course conduct fierce artillery and air attacks on liberated settlements and advancing Ukrainian units.
ISW notes that in recent days the Ukrainian Armed Forces (VSU) has made progress that has given Russian minibloggers reason for more realistic commentary.
In support of ISW's analysis are the latest reports from the General Staff of the Ukrainians and the Operational Command "South" of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. They reported individual successes of the Ukrainian army and destroyed equipment and manpower of the enemy, as well as non-stop attacks with artillery and air force by the Russians. Over the past 24 hours, Russia has carried out 25 missile and more than 22 airstrikes against targets on Ukrainian territory, according to the summary of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine from Monday morning. Civilian infrastructure was damaged in Kharkiv, Dimitrovka, Konstantinovka, Zelenopolie, Zaitsevo, Kodema, Soledar, Mykolaiv, Voznesensk, Ochakov Sukhoi Stavok and Bezimyannoe.
At the same time, according to the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, they “launched missile strikes and caused fire damage to command posts of different levels, ammunition depots of a strategic level, areas of concentration of military equipment and personnel, areas of concentration and firing positions of artillery divisions, as well as other important targets”. The Ukrainians claim to have destroyed over the past 24 hours 19 tanks and 10 artillery systems, as well as 300 manpower of the Russian army. This morning, footage emerged of explosions at a Russian ammunition depot in the Kharkiv region.
In the occupied Kherson region, the Russian governors have forbidden the population to move to neighboring areas, as well as to cross the Dnieper River in any way - bridges or boats. If the order is refused, the Russians threaten to open fire on the violators.
For its part, the Southern Command of the Armed Forces of Ukraine reported a mutiny in the ranks of the Russians - in the 127th Regiment of the 1st Army Corps of the Russian Army, servicemen refused to participate in combat operations due to dissatisfaction with the lack of reinforcements and logistics. According to the data of OK "South", the forces of the 127th regiment on the front line were also left without drinking water.
Germany sent additional troops to Lithuania
Around 100 German soldiers arrived in Lithuania yesterday after Germany promised to increase its presence on NATO's eastern flank following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The soldiers disembarked from a ferry in the port city of Klaipeda.
They were to form the command unit of a new brigade - a group that normally consisted of about 4,000 soldiers.
"Our message to our allies here on the eastern flank is that we are determined to ensure their security," said brigade commander Christian Naurat.
The command unit will remain permanently in the Baltic country, and combat units will join them for the exercise, he added.
A senior member of the German military said the first exercises could take place as early as October.
Germany, which leads the NATO battle group in Lithuania, already has about 1,500 German soldiers in the country. The former Soviet-ruled Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, now members of the EU and NATO, worry they could be the next targets of attack if Russia defeats Ukraine.
Since the start of the conflict, they have called for more NATO troops and the creation of brigades to replace the current units.
In recent years, NATO has strengthened its eastern flank, especially after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
In 2017, four multinational battle groups were deployed in the three Baltic states and Poland.
After the start of the Russian invasion at the end of February, NATO decided to create four new battle groups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
Is Turkey a sanction evasion haven for Russia?
Although Turkey in the past six months has tried to present itself as an honest and neutral power broker that mediates between Russia and Ukraine - and actually scored a big success in brokering a deal for the export of Ukrainian grain through its ports -- in fact, it is seen by many western governments as facilitating others to evade the Western sanctions imposed on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
This stand is not surprising because Turkey has long experience in busting sanctions and violating UN Security Council and US sanctions on Iran and jihadist groups and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has no qualms to exploit the opportunities presented by the war in Ukraine to shore up his country's tottering economy and help Moscow and rich Russians avoid the sanctions. The fact that Turkey has expertise in busting sanctions is evident from the case of the state-owned Halkbank, which illicitly transferred approximately USD 20 billion worth of restricted Iranian funds.
Halkbank was indicted in the Manhattan Federal Court for allowing the proceeds of the sale of Iranian energy deposited in the bank to be used to buy gold for the benefit of the government in Tehran and facilitating transactions fraudulently designed to appear to be purchases of food and medicine by Iranian customers, when in fact no purchases of food or medicine occurred.
President Erdogan has repeatedly stated that he would not implement the Western sanctions on Russia, while Turkey is the only NATO country that has not closed its airspace to Russian aircraft and has allowed Russians to open accounts with Turkish banks to stash their cash.
Obviously, Erdogan sees the war in Ukraine as an opportunity to shoring up the economy of his country and has even spelled this out clearly on March 21, speaking to his party faithful, when he said:
"With the Ukraine crisis, our country has become a rising star in sectors such as finance and tourism. By God's will, we will fulfil our promise to make our country one of the world's top 10 economies by making the best use of opportunities. We will continue to march towards our goals."
Ankara's refusal to implement the US and EU sanctions prompted four Russian oligarchs with links to Russian President Vladimir Putin to dock their super-luxury yachts in Turkish ports and thus avoid, at least temporarily, international efforts to freeze their assets in superyachts.
Two of these superyachts - the USD 700 million "Eclipse" and the USD 600 million "Solaris" belong to Chelsea Football Club Owner Roman Abramovich, while the "Flying Fox" superyacht belongs to Dmitry Kamenshchik, Chairman of Moscow's Domodedovo Airport. The USD 100 million super yacht "Titan" is owned by Alexander Abramov, while the "Ragnar" is a USD 85 million yacht, by former KGB agent Vladimir Strzhalkovsky.
According to press reports, Washington is concerned because Turkey, its NATO ally, instead of applying the Western sanctions, is continuously increasing its trade relations with Russia, while the Russian businesses are using Ankara to avoid sanctions and trade restrictions.
Also, Moscow is funding Turkey's first nuclear plant costing USD 20 billion, which Russian companies construct in Akkuyu, in southern Turkey.
President Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, during their meeting in Sochi early in August, agreed to increase the economic cooperation between the two countries. Erdogan declared that Turkey would switch part of its payments for Russian gas to rubles and that it planned to deepen relations with Moscow by extending the use of Russia's Mir payment system.
Official data show that Turkish exports to Russia have increased by almost 60 percent in dollar terms, compared with the previous year. This happens at a time when many countries have cut exports to Russia.
Furthermore, according to press reports Ankara, by acting as a go-between, assists Western firms, constrained by sanctions, to make exports to Russia.
Last month, the US Treasury in a letter warned TUSIAD - Turkish largest business group- not to bypass Western sanctions, saying that "any individuals or entities providing material support to US-designated persons are themselves at risk of US sanctions... Turkish banks cannot expect to establish corresponding relationships with sanctioned Russian banks and retain their corresponding relationships with major global banks as well as access to the US dollar and other major currencies."
According to Reuter, Turkish Finance Minister Nureddin Nebati dismissed as "meaningless" concerns among Turkish businesses over the US Treasury warning that they risked being penalized if they maintained commercial ties with Russians under sanctions.
Meanwhile, Turkey's tourism industry has managed to attract about 2.2 million Russian tourists, who due to the various restrictions and the closure of airspace to Russian aircraft can visit only a few countries and Turkey is probably their first choice. About 80 daily flights are carried out from Russia to Antalya.
Russians also buy thousands of properties in Turkey, taking advantage of the huge devaluation of the Turkish Lira. Wealthy Russians are pouring money into real estate in Turkey and top the list of foreign buyers of homes in the country.
Economists point out that Ankara must be very careful about expanding its trade transactions with Moscow, as Turkey has USD 178.6 billion in trade with the European Union, and only USD 35 billion with Russia.
President Erdogan, emboldened by his success in brokering the grain deal between Russia and Ukraine, probably feels that Ankara can afford to bypass Western sanctions, as it appears to be the only mediator available between the warring sides.
Erdogan on Saturday went a step further and told President Putin "that Turkey can play a facilitator role in the Russian occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, as it did in the grain deal."
So far, Erdogan seems to be winning the game of busting sanctions and benefiting from the war, on the one hand and appears to be the only mediator acceptable to all sides, on the other hand. However, as the Financial Times pointed out on March 24 European countries remain reluctant to publicly criticize Turkey's stance on Russia, but behind the scenes, there are growing concerns about the long-term implications.