Romania wants to transit 60% of Ukrainian grain

Bucharest hopes that around 60% of Ukrainian grain exports could transit through Romanian territory following Russia's unilateral termination of the grain deal, the country's Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu said on Aug. 18, Reuters reported.

Ciolacu pointed out that Romania is working to improve its connecting infrastructure by rail, road, river, and sea, as well as border crossings.

The country's Transport and Infrastructure Minister Sorin Grindeanu said on Aug. 11 that Romania plans to increase the transit capacity of Ukrainian grain from 2 million metric tons to 4 million every month.

"We agreed that the Ukrainian grain exports must be accelerated in the context of the recent attacks that we are all aware of in recent weeks on the Ukrainian ports of Reni and Izmail," Grindeanu said.

Systematic strikes against Ukrainian ports and grain infrastructure followed Russia's withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative on July 17. This included Ukraine's ports on the Danube River, Reni and Izmail, lying only several hundred meters away from Romania's border.

As Reuters pointed out, Romania's port of Constanta had emerged as Ukraine's biggest alternative shipping route even before the grain deal collapsed. In the first seven months of 2023, the port facilitated the transit of 8.1 million metric tons of Ukrainian grain and 8.6 million metric tons in 2022, Reuters said.

US intelligence thinks Ukraine will fail to reach the counteroffensive’s key goal

The U.S. intelligence assesses that Ukrainian forces will fail to reach the key southeastern city of Melitopol in this year’s counteroffensive, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the forecast.

If the assessment proves correct, Ukraine will not fulfill its principal goal of cutting off the land bridge that connects Russia to the occupied Crimean peninsula.

Ukrainian forces, currently advancing toward occupied Melitopol from the village of Robotyne around 80 kilometers away, will remain outside the city, anonymous U.S. officials suggested to the Washington Post.

Zaporizhzhia Oblast’s Melitopol lies on the crossing of two critical highways and a railway line, serving as a logistical hub for the Russian army in southern Ukraine to move military equipment. The city was occupied shortly after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The media outlet wrote that the U.S.’s pessimistic forecast is based on Russia’s ability to effectively defend occupied territory with a phalanx of minefields and trenches, which has reportedly slowed down Ukraine’s advances.

As another reason for Ukraine’s counteroffensive not meeting the allies’ expectations, the officials named Kyiv’s strategy of relying on smaller units to advance in different areas of the front rather than concentrating a large mass of forces on a single breakthrough point.

This approach, which contradicts the Pentagon’s recommendations, has led to Ukranian forces making limited gains in different areas over the summer, but allowed them to reduce the losses, added WP.

According to President Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine had planned to launch the counteroffensive much earlier than in early June to prevent Russia from building up its defenses. The plans were postponed due to the slow progress of Western supplies and training; he told CNN.

Ukrainian armed forces' Commander-in-Chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi told the Washington Post that Ukrainian troops advance daily despite lacking much-needed supplies, including F-16 fighter jets and artillery ammunition.

Zaluzhnyi criticized those complaining of "slow progress," adding that the counteroffensive is "not a show." President Volodymyr Zelensky also noted that the advance is "slower than desired" but that the campaign is not a movie.

Zelensky signed a law changing the constitutional court selection procedure

President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Aug. 17 that he had signed a law changing how Constitutional Court judges are chosen, which is necessary to launch EU membership talks.

In his evening video address, Zelensky said the law "guarantees transparent, professional, and honest selection of the Constitutional Court judges."

"Our state is one more step closer to joining the European Union," he added.

The reform of the Constitutional Court, which has been entangled in corruption scandals and controversies, is one of the seven recommendations outlined by the European Commission as conditions for Ukraine's accession to the EU.

The first version of the law, signed by Zelensky on Dec. 20, ignored the Venice Commission's recommendations, failing to give foreign experts a key role in assessing the integrity of candidates for Constitutional Court jobs.

Critics argued that the bill would enable the Presidential Office to handpick loyalists and fully control the Constitutional Court. The European Commission urged Kyiv to increase the number of experts approving or rejecting the judge candidates from six to seven, ensuring that the seventh expert is foreign.

On July 27, Ukraine's parliament approved the new bill changing the selection procedure. It gave international experts a deciding vote on judging a justice candidate's integrity and competence, which the Venice Commission praised.

However, the European advisory body regretted that its essential suggestion to add a deadlock-breaking seventh member to the six-person expert group involved in the judge selection was not followed. Under the new law, the expert panel will still include three representatives of the Ukrainian government and three foreign experts.

Ukraine's Constitutional Court has long been a controversial body, which has struck down multiple necessary anti-corruption reforms, several of which were later brought back.

President Volodymyr Zelensky suspended and removed the court's chairman in 2021, calling his tenure a threat to Ukraine's national security.

Russia is progressing in the mass production of attack drones

Leaked documents show that Russia "has made steady progress" with its plans to produce its own version of the Iranian Shahed kamikaze drone for use against Ukrainian targets, the Washington Post reported on Aug. 17.

The documents detail how Russia is setting up a production line in Tatarstan that aims to build 6,000 attack drones by the summer of 2025, improving on "Iran's dated manufacturing techniques" to produce more deadly drones on a greater scale.

Russia often launches drones at night to exhaust and detect Ukrainian air defense to further fire missiles at it from its aircraft or missile carriers. According to the Air Force, drones remain challenging to Ukrainian forces to shoot down.

The Washington Post story follows a U.K. Defense Ministry report on Aug. 16, that said Russian forces have almost certainly started to deploy domestically-produced drones based on Iranian Shahed drone designs.

The ministry noted that domestic production would enable Russia to establish a more stable supply of kamikaze drones for airstrikes against Ukraine.

However, Moscow is currently still dependent on components and complete weapons shipped from Iran, mostly via the Caspian Sea, the defense report said.

The White House has raised the issue of Iran's supply of attack drones to Russia with Tehran, the Financial Times reported on Aug. 16, though Iran has long officially denied that it is behind the collection of drones.

According to the FT's sources, Washington has asked Tehran to stop selling drones to Russia at indirect talks in Qatar and Oman this year.

The Washington Post added that researchers from the U.S. Institute for Science and International Security studied the leaked documents and assessed that Russia has not yet managed to produce entire drones, their bodies, "and probably for not more than 300" units.

The researchers also said the project is already "at least a month behind schedule."

However, the research team concluded that if Russia manages to set up the production line, it can attack Ukraine with hundreds of drones at a time regularly.

The Washington Post said that the documents, from late 2022 to early 2023, were leaked by a person involved in the project who opposed the invasion of Ukraine.

On Aug. 3, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russia had launched almost 2,000 Shaheds in Ukraine.