As Ukraine offensive gains momentum, Russia’s 49th Army called ‘highly vulnerable’: Live updates

Ukraine’s counteroffensive is gathering momentum and the occupied southern city of Kherson is virtually cut off from the other territories held by Russia, according to an assessment released Thursday by the British Defense Ministry.

Ukraine has recently used its new long-range artillery to damage at least three of the bridges across the Dnipro River – bridges Russia relies upon to supply the areas under its control, the assessment said.

“Russia’s 49th Army is stationed on the west bank of the Dnipro River and now looks highly vulnerable,” the assessment said.

“We will not stop until we liberate the last meter of our Ukrainian land,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said. “We won’t rest until we liberate our last village.”

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Latest developments:

►The U.S. government announced Thursday a reward of up to $10 million for information about Russian interference in American elections, a sign of concern about meddling in the November midterms.

►Marina Ovsyannikova, a former Russian state TV journalist who quit after making an on-air protest of Russia’s war in Ukraine in March, was fined 50,000 rubles ($860) Thursday for discrediting the military. She was previously fined 30,000 rubles ($270 at the time) for holding up an antiwar poster during the March 14 evening news broadcast.

►Ukrainian officials announced an operation to liberate an occupied region in the country’s south.

►Ukraine celebrated Statehood Day, a national holiday created after the invasion began. “We will fight for our statehood to the last – the last breath, the last bullet, the last soldier, but not ours – the enemy’s,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

►UEFA, soccer’s governing body in Europe, said it’s conducting a disciplinary investigation into Turkish club Fenerbahçe after its fans chanted the name of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a Champions League qualifying game Wednesday against Ukraine’s Dynamo Kyiv.

A fisherman watches smoke rise after Russian forces launched a missile attack on a military unit in the Vyshhorod district on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, July 28, 2022. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Russian casualties estimated at 75,000, US legislators told

There’s no accurate total for the number of casualties – including deaths and wounded – Russia and Ukraine have sustained in the war, and both sides have reason to fudge the figures.

But one current estimate recently shared with U.S. legislators hints at the enormous toll the Kremlin is paying for its invasion.

“We were briefed that over 75,000 Russians have either been killed or wounded, which is huge,” Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN. “… Over 80% of their land forces are bogged down, and they’re tired.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the figure Thursday, saying it wasn’t coming directly from the Biden administration. Russia hasn’t provided any casualty numbers in more than four months and tends to downplay its losses.

Last week, CIA Director William Burns pegged the number of Russian deaths in the war at 15,000 and up to 45,000 injured. That 60,000 total is lower than the new estimate by 20%, a significant but not enormous difference after another week of combat. The 75,000 casualties, if accurate, represent half the 150,000 troops the U.S. has said Russia initially committed to the war.

Russia: ‘No concrete result yet’ in Brittney Griner talks

Russian officials acknowledged Thursday that discussions involving possible release of WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner have taken place but said they should be not be conducted on a public stage.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the talks have brought “no concrete result yet.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked about the U.S. announcement, replied that prisoner swaps were typically negotiated behind the scenes. He also emphasized that “no agreements have been finalized.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. had put a “substantial proposal on the table weeks ago” that would free Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan. Blinken did not reveal details of the possible prisoner swap, but CNN reported the U.S. offered Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer nicknamed “The Merchant of Death.”

Griner, 31, was arrested on drug-related charges at a Moscow airport in February after cannabis oil was found in her luggage. She has pleaded guilty to a drug charge that could result in a 10-year prison sentence.

In a tough spot: ‘Dangerously misguided’ but maybe necessary: US negotiates scary Brittney Griner swap with Russia

Russian missiles strike regions that had been spared in recent months

Kyiv regional governor Oleksiy Kuleba said on Telegram that a settlement in the Vyshgorod district of the region was targeted early Thursday; an “infrastructure object” was hit. It wasn’t immediately clear whether there were any casualties. Chernihiv Gov. Vyacheslav Chaus at the same time reported that multiple missiles were fired from the territory of Belarus at the Honcharivska community.

Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions months ago, failing to capture either. The renewed strikes on the areas come a day after the leader of pro-Kremlin separatists in the east, Denis Pushilin, publicly called on the Russian forces to “liberate Russian cities founded by the Russian people – Kyiv, Chernihiv, Poltava, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Lutsk.”

Meanwhile, Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, also came under a barrage of shelling overnight, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said. The southern city of Mykolaiv was fired upon at as well, with one person sustaining injuries.

Shell reaps record profits from soaring energy prices prompted by war

British energy giant Shell more than doubled its earnings from last year’s second quarter while shattering a profits record set earlier this year, benefiting from the spike in oil and natural gas prices caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The London-based company said its adjusted earnings from April to June – which exclude one-time items and fluctuations in the value of inventories – soared to 11.5 billion from $5.5 billion in the same months in 2021.

The first quarter of 2022 – partly impacted by the threat of war before Russia launched its invasion Feb. 24 – yielded company-high adjusted earnings of $9.1 billion. The war has boosted oil and natural gas prices as nations spurned Russian energy and supply reductions caused turmoil in the global markets.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine live updates: Russia’s 49th Army called ‘highly vulnerable’