Russia Demands Ukraine Surrender As NATO Readies For Finland, Sweden Membership

A photograph taken on June 28, 2022 shows the ruins of a school building, partially destroyed by two rockets in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. SERGEY BOBOK / AFP
A photograph taken on June 28, 2022 shows the ruins of a school building, partially destroyed by two rockets in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
SERGEY BOBOK / AFP

 

Western allies vowed on Tuesday to boost NATO’s defences and to back Ukraine to the end as Moscow demanded Kyiv’s surrender.

As NATO leaders gathered in Madrid for a summit, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said Finland and Sweden would be formally invited to join NATO after Turkey lifted its block on their bids.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had stubbornly refused to approve their applications — lodged in response to Russia’s war on Ukraine — despite calls from his NATO allies to clear their path to membership.

But he abandoned his opposition following crunch talks on Tuesday with the leaders of the two Nordic countries in Madrid.

READ ALSO: Russia Adds 43 Canadians To Blacklist, Canada Hits Back

Erdogan’s office said late on Tuesday it had agreed to back their applications, saying Ankara had “got what it wanted”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the agreement between Finland, Sweden and Turkey, saying their membership would make the defence alliance “stronger and safer”.

Meanwhile, a senior US official said their membership would be a “powerful shot in the arm” for NATO unity.

NATO’s expansion came as Russian missiles continued to pound Ukrainian cities.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters arriving with President Joe Biden that Washington will announce “historic” new long-term military deployments in Europe.

The reinforcements will join NATO’s eastern flank, Russia’s nervous neighbours like the Baltic states, and reflect a long-term change “in the strategic reality” elsewhere in Europe.

Ahead of the summit, Stoltenberg said the allies would boost their high-readiness forces from 40,000 to 300,000.

New sanctions

Before travelling to Madrid, Biden and other leaders of the G7 powers — the world’s richest democracies — had held a summit in the German Alps.

Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz boasted afterwards that his country, a laggard in defence spending, would build “the largest conventional army within the NATO framework in Europe”.

Russia’s invasion, he said, had convinced Berlin “that we should spend more… an average of around 70 to 80 billion euros a year on defence over the next few years”.

NATO member Bulgaria announced it would expel 70 staff from Russia’s diplomatic mission accused of working against its interests.

At the G7 summit, the leaders agreed to impose new sanctions targeting Moscow’s defence industry, raising tariffs and banning gold imports from the country.

The US Treasury said the measures “strike at the heart of Russia’s ability to develop and deploy weapons and technology used for Vladimir Putin’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine,”

The new set of sanctions target Rostec, Russia’s largest defence conglomerate, as well as military units and officers implicated in human rights abuses in Ukraine, the Treasury said.

Putin’s Kremlin was not fazed by the sanctions, warning that Ukraine’s forces’ only option was to lay down their arms.

“The Ukrainian side can stop everything before the end of today,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“An order for the nationalist units to lay down their arms is necessary,” he said, adding Kyiv had to fulfil a list of Moscow’s demands.

‘Everything burned’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for the United Nations to visit the site of a missile strike on a shopping mall in the central city of Kremenchuk, as he addressed the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

“I suggest the United Nations send either a special representative, or the secretary-general of the United Nations, or a plenipotentiary commission to the site of this terrorist act… so the UN could independently find out information and see that this indeed was a Russian missile strike,” Zelensky said of the attack on Monday that killed at least 18 people.

“Everything burned, really everything, like a spark to a touchpaper. I heard people screaming. It was horror,” witness Polina Puchintseva told AFP.

All that was left of the mall was charred debris, chunks of blackened walls and lettering from a smashed store front.

Russia claims its missile salvo was aimed at an arms depot — but none of the civilians who talked to AFP knew of any weapons store in the neighbourhood.

And, outside Russia, the latest carnage sparked only Ukrainian fury and western solidarity.

“Indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians constitute a war crime,” the G7 leaders said in a statement, condemning the “abominable attack”.

Zelensky declared on his social media channels: “Only total insane terrorists, who should have no place on Earth, can strike missiles at civilian objects.

“Russia must be recognised as a state sponsor of terrorism. The world can and therefore must stop Russian terror,” he added.

The G7 leaders did not go so far as to brand Putin a terrorist — but they vowed that Russia, already under tough sanctions, would face more economic pain.

“The G7 stands united in its support for Ukraine,” Scholz told reporters.

“We will continue to keep up and drive up the economic and political costs of this war for President Putin and his regime.”

Oil price cap?

The G7 had announced several new measures to put the squeeze on Putin, including a plan to work towards a price cap on Russian oil.

The group also agreed to impose an import ban on Russian gold. At the same time, the G7 powers heaped financial support on Ukraine, with aid now reaching $29.5 billion.

Meanwhile, with fierce artillery duels continuing in the eastern Donbas region, Ukrainian officials said the central city of Dnipro and several other sites had been hit by more Russian missiles.

Pro-Moscow forces detained Igor Kolykhayev, the elected mayor of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson.

Russian media said the “nationalist” was an opponent of Moscow’s supposed efforts to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, but Kolykhayev’s aides said he had been “kidnapped” by the city’s illegitimate occupiers.

The UN said 6.2 million people are now estimated to have been displaced within Ukraine, in addition to 5.26 million who have fled abroad.

“Ukraine now faces a brutality which we haven’t seen in Europe since the Second World War,” Stoltenberg said as leaders began to gather in Madrid.

 

AFP

Russia Adds 43 Canadians To Blacklist, Canada Hits Back

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Russian government via teleconference in Moscow on March 10, 2022. Mikhail Klimentyev / SPUTNIK / AFP
In this file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Russian government via teleconference in Moscow on March 10, 2022. Mikhail Klimentyev / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

Russia on Monday banned 43 more Canadians from entering its territory, in response to sanctions imposed by Ottawa over Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.

Canada then hit back with another round of sanctions against six Russians and 46 companies linked to the country’s defence sector.

The new blacklist published by the Russian foreign ministry includes Suzanne Cowan, leader of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, and Mark Carney, former governor of the Canadian and British central banks.

Senior civil servants, political advisers, and members of civil society are also penalised.

READ ALSO: Moscow Says Strikes Hit Ukraine Military Training Centres

The foreign ministry in Moscow criticised the “belligerent Russophobia” of Trudeau’s government.

It said the new bans were in retaliation for Canada’s introduction in May of new sanctions targeting the heads of Russian companies and members of their families.

Trudeau, in Germany for G7 talks, has also signalled Ottawa’s intention to roll out measures “to counter the Kremlin’s disinformation” and ban exports of technologies such as quantum computers and advanced manufacturing equipment that it says could be used in Russian defence manufacturing.

Since the start of its offensive in Ukraine, Russia has banned more than 700 Canadians from entering its territory, including those announced on Monday.

In May, the Kremlin closed down the Moscow office of Canadian national public broadcaster CBC/Radio-Canada and cancelled its journalists’ visas and accreditation passes.

The move was in retaliation for Canada’s decision in March to ban Russian state media outlet RT.

The latest measures announced by Trudeau bring to more than 1,070 the total number of individuals and entities in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus that Canada has sanctioned since Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine started on February 24.

AFP

Russia Fails To Pay Debt But Denies It Doesn’t Have The Money

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a BRICS Plus session involving the leaders of several invited states during the 14th BRICS summit - in virtual format via a video call at the Novo-Ogarevo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia on June 24, 2022. Mikhail Metzel / Sputnik / AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a BRICS Plus session involving the leaders of several invited states during the 14th BRICS summit – in virtual format via a video call at the Novo-Ogarevo state residence, outside Moscow, Russia on June 24, 2022. Mikhail Metzel / Sputnik / AFP

 

Russia said Monday that two of its debt payments were blocked from reaching creditors, pushing the country closer to its first foreign default in a century due to sanctions over the Ukraine offensive.

The announcement came on the 124th day of Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, with Western sanctions so far failing to force the Kremlin to change its course.

The Western economic penalties have largely severed the country from the international financial system, making it difficult for Moscow to service its debt.

READ ALSO: Moscow Says Strikes Hit Ukraine Military Training Centres

The Russian authorities insist they have the funds to honour the country’s debt, calling the predicament a “farce” and accusing the West of seeking to drive Moscow into a default artificially.

“There are no grounds to call this situation a default,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters after a key payment deadline expired Sunday.

“These claims about default, they are absolutely wrong,” he said, adding that Russia settled the debt in May.

Russia lost the last avenue to service its foreign-currency loans after the United States removed an exemption last month that allowed US investors to receive Moscow’s payments.

‘Vicious circle of decline’

A 30-day grace period for the payment of $100 million in interest payments expired on Sunday night, most of which had to be paid in foreign currency.

Russia had attempted to make the payments, but the finance ministry said Monday that the money had not been transferred to creditors.

International settlement and clearing systems “received funds in full in advance” but the payments were not transferred to the final recipients due to “the actions of third parties,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The actions of foreign financial intermediaries are beyond the Russian finance ministry’s control,” the statement said.

While some experts dismiss the event as a technical default, others say it will have far-reaching consequences.

“This default is important as it will impact on Russia’s ratings, market access and financing costs for years to come,” said Timothy Ash, an emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management.

“And that means lower investment, lower growth, lower living standards, capital and human flight (brain drain), and a vicious circle of decline for the Russian economy.”

‘Locked Russia out’

But Liam Peach, emerging Europe economist at Capital Economics, a research group, said a default was a “a largely symbolic event that is unlikely to have an additional macroeconomic impact”.

“Sanctions have already done the damage and locked Russia out of global capital markets,” Peach said in a note.

The sanctions included freezing the Russian government’s stockpile of $300 billion in foreign currency reserves held abroad, making it more complicated for Moscow to settle its foreign debts.

After the United States closed the payment loophole last month, Russia said it would pay in rubles that could be converted into foreign currency, using a Russian financial institution as a paying agent, even though the bonds do not allow payments in the local currency.

The country last defaulted on its foreign debt in 1918, when Bolshevik revolution leader Vladimir Lenin refused to recognise the massive debts of the deposed tsar’s regime.

Russia defaulted on domestic debt in 1998 when, due to a drop in commodity prices, it faced a financial squeeze that prevented it from propping up the ruble and paying off debts that accumulated during the first war in Chechnya.

The International Monetary Fund’s number two official, Gita Gopinath, said in March that a Russian default would have “limited” impact on the global financial system.

AFP

Russians ‘Fully Occupy’ Severodonetsk, Focus Shifts To Lysychansk

A picture taken on June 21, 2022 from the town of Lysychansk, shows a large plume of smoke rising on the horizon, behind the town of Severodonetsk, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Anatolii Stepanov / AFP
A picture taken on June 21, 2022 from the town of Lysychansk, shows a large plume of smoke rising on the horizon, behind the town of Severodonetsk, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Anatolii Stepanov / AFP

 

Russia’s army has “fully occupied” the key Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk after weeks of fighting, its mayor said Saturday, as Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would be able to send nuclear-capable missiles to Belarus within months.

The capture of the industrial hub of Severodonetsk is an important strategic win for Moscow as it seeks to gain full control over the east of the country.

It has been the scene of weeks of running battles, but the Ukrainian army said Friday that its outgunned forces would withdraw to better defend the neighbouring city of Lysychansk.

READ ALSO: US Sending Ukraine $450m More In Arms – White House

“The city has been fully occupied by the Russians,” mayor Oleksandr Striuk said on Saturday.

A few hours earlier, pro-Moscow separatists said Russian troops and their allies had entered Lysychansk, which faces Severodonetsk across the river.

“Street fighting is currently taking place,” a representative of the separatists, Andrei Marochko, said on Telegram, in a claim that could not be independently verified.

In Saint Petersburg, Putin said Saturday that Russia would deliver Iskander-M missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to Belarus in the coming months, as he received Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

He also offered to upgrade Belarus’ warplanes to make them capable of carrying nuclear weapons, in comments broadcast on Russia television.

Putin has several times referred to nuclear weapons since his country launched a military operation in Ukraine on February 24, in what the West has seen as a warning to the West not to intervene.

Pull in Belarus

Ukraine said it had come under “massive bombardment” early on Saturday morning from neighbouring Belarus which, although a Russian ally, is not officially involved in the conflict.

Twenty rockets “fired from the territory of Belarus and from the air” targeted the village of Desna in the northern Chernigiv region, Ukraine’s northern military command said.

It said infrastructure was hit, but no casualties had yet been reported.

Belarus has provided logistic support to Moscow since the February 24 invasion, particularly in the first few weeks, and like Russia has been targeted by Western sanctions — but is officially not involved in the conflict.

“Today’s strike is directly linked to Kremlin efforts to pull Belarus as a co-belligerent into the war in Ukraine,” the Ukrainian intelligence service said.

‘Ukraine can win’

Four months after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, they have focused on the eastern Donbas region, gradually making gains despite fierce resistance.

Also capturing Lysychansk would allow Russia to focus its attention on Kramatorsk and Slovyansk further west in its attempt to conquer the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland.

The Russian breakthrough came on the eve of a week of feverish Western diplomacy, as US President Joe Biden flew in to Europe for a G7 summit starting Sunday, and NATO talks later in the week.

“Ukraine can win and it will win,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a statement on the eve of the summit. But they need our backing to do so.

“Now is not the time to give up on Ukraine,” he added.

The Western allies will take stock of the effectiveness of sanctions imposed so far against Moscow, consider possible new aid for Ukraine, and begin turning their eye to longer-term reconstruction plans.

The European Union offered a strong show of support on Thursday when it granted Ukraine candidate status, although the path to membership is long.

Moscow dismissed the EU decision as a move to “contain Russia” geopolitically.

Evacuating the Azot plant

As in the southern port of city of Mariupol before it, the battle for Severodonetsk has devastated the city.

On Saturday, Severodonetsk mayor Striuk said civilians had started to evacuate the Azot chemical plant, where several hundred people had been hiding from Russian shelling.

“These people have spent almost three months of their lives in basements, shelters,” he said. “That’s tough emotionally and physically.”

They would now need medical and psychological support, he added.

Pro-Moscow separatists said Russian forces and their allies had taken control of the Azot factory and “evacuated” more than 800 civilians sheltering there.

The mainly Russian-speaking Donbas has long been a focus of Russia.

Since 2014, it has been partially under the control of pro-Moscow separatists, who set up self-declared breakaway republics in Lugansk and Donetsk.

Human remains

Millions of Ukrainians have fled their homes and their country since the invasion, most to neighbouring Poland. Some foreigners have gone the other way to fight.

Russia said Saturday its troops had killed up to 80 Polish fighters in strikes on a factory in Konstantinovka in the Donetsk region, a claim that could not be verified.

Russia has also intensified its offensive in the northern city of Kharkiv in recent days.

An AFP team on Saturday saw a 10-storey administrative building in the city-centre hit by missiles overnight, causing a fire but no casualties.

It had already been bombed, prompting one soldier on the scene to note: “The Russians are finishing what they started.”

On Friday, the same reporters found a stray dog eating human remains in the town of Chuguiv, southeast of Kharkiv, where an attack earlier this week killed six people.

 

AFP

Four Dead In Russian Military Plane Crash

Russian map.

 

A Russian military cargo plane crashed in the city of Ryazan southeast of Moscow on Friday, killing four people and injuring five others, authorities said.

The aircraft was on a training flight without cargo when the crew decided to land due to an engine malfunction, and it was partially destroyed when it hit the ground, the defence ministry said in a statement quoted by local news agencies.

“According to preliminary information, four people died as a result of a plane crash in the area of the Mikhailovsky highway in the city of Ryazan,” the regional government’s crisis unit said in a statement, as quoted by the TASS state news agency.

The defence ministry said the injured crew members were taken to hospital.

The aircraft was a Il-76 military transport plane, which were first manufactured in the Soviet Union in the late 1960s.

READ ALSO: Tantrums And Tactics Turned Lukaku’s Chelsea Dream Into Nightmare

The plane crashed into a field close to residential buildings near a highway, causing a fire that has since been extinguished, TASS reported.

A witness quoted by the Ria Novosti agency said the crash took place at around 4:00 am local time.

No details were given about where the plane was headed when it crashed in Ryazan, around 200 kilometres (125 miles) southeast of the Russian capital.

Several military planes have crashed this month near Russia’s border with Ukraine, where Moscow has been engaged in fierce fighting since invading in late February. The army has cited potential technical problems for the previous crashes.

AFP

EU Grants Candidate Status To Ukraine As US Ships Weapons

France's President Emmanuel Macron (L), President of the European Council Charles Michel (C) and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (R) attend a press conference during an European Council in Brussels on June 23, 2022. JOHN THYS / AFP
France’s President Emmanuel Macron (L), President of the European Council Charles Michel (C) and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (R) attend a press conference during an European Council in Brussels on June 23, 2022. JOHN THYS / AFP

 

European Union leaders granted candidate status Thursday to Ukraine and Moldova in a strong show of support against Russia’s invasion, as the United States said it was sending Kyiv more high-precision rocket systems.

The West’s latest attempts to rally behind Ukraine came as Russia closed in on key cities in the country’s embattled east and prompted growing global concerns with restrictions in gas and grain exports.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the EU decision on his country and Moldova as “a unique and historic moment”, although the two former Soviet republics face a long path before joining the bloc and its benefits of free movement and a common market.

 

“Ukraine’s future is within the EU,” said Zelensky, who had been working the phones for weeks.

“We will win, rebuild, enter the EU and then will rest. Or probably we will not rest.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said that the decision by EU leaders sent a “very strong signal” to Russia that Europeans support the pro-Western aspirations of Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin had declared Ukraine to be part of Moscow’s sphere and insisted he was acting due to attempts to bring the country into NATO, the Western alliance that comes with security guarantees.

European powers before the invasion had distanced themselves from US support for Ukraine’s NATO aspirations and EU membership is at least years away.

Ukraine and Moldova will have to go through protracted negotiations and the European Union has laid out steps that Kyiv must take even before that, including bolstering the rule of law and fighting corruption.

Weapons to fight Russian gains

The White House announced that it was sending another $450 million in fresh weapons to Ukraine including new High Mobility Artillery Rocket systems, which have been at the top of Kyiv’s wish list.

The so-called Himars system can simultaneously launch multiple precision missiles at an extended range.

An initial four units have already been delivered, with Ukrainian soldiers being trained to operate the equipment, after President Joe Biden’s administration said Kyiv had offered assurances it would not fire into Russia.

Ukraine’s needs have been increasingly urgent as Russia — which failed to take Kyiv immediately after invading on February 24 — advances in the east, tightening its grip on strategically important Severodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the Donets river.

Taking the cities would give Moscow control of the whole of Lugansk, allowing Russia to press further into the Donbas region and potentially farther west.

Ukraine acknowledged Thursday that it had lost control of two areas from where it was defending the cities, with Russian forces now closer to encircling the industrial hubs.

Britain’s defence ministry said some Ukrainian units had probably been forced to withdraw “to avoid being encircled”.

“Russia’s improved performance in this sector is likely a result of recent unit reinforcement and heavy concentration of fire,” it said in its latest intelligence update.

A representative of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine told AFP the resistance of Ukrainian forces trying to defend Lysychansk and Severodonetsk was “pointless and futile.”

“At the rate our soldiers are going, very soon the whole territory of the Lugansk People’s Republic will be liberated,” said Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the army of Lugansk.

The Russian army also said Thursday that its bombings in the southern city of Mykolaiv had destroyed 49 fuel storage tanks and three tank repair depots, after strikes killed several Ukrainian troops Wednesday.

‘Only grannies left’

The northeastern city of Kharkiv near the Russian border was nearly empty on Wednesday, AFP reporters said, a day after shelling by Moscow’s forces killed five people there.

“Last night the building next to mine collapsed from the bombardment while I was sleeping,” said Leyla Shoydhry, a young woman in a park near the opera house.

Roman Pohuliay, a 19-year-old in a pink sweatshirt, said most residents had fled the city.

“Only the grannies are left,” he said.

In the central city of Zaporizhzhia, women were training to use Kalashnikov assault rifles in urban combat as Russian forces edged nearer.

“When you can do something, it’s not so scary to take a machine gun in your hands,” said Ulyana Kiyashko, 29, after moving through an improvised combat zone in a basement.

‘Weaponising’ grain and gas

Western officials have also accused Russia of weaponising its key exports of gas as well as grain from Ukraine, contributing to global inflation and rising hunger in the world.

“We are very clear that this grain crisis is urgent, that it needs to be solved within the next month,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on a visit to Turkey.

“Otherwise we could see devastating consequences,” she said.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged African nations to pressure Russia for a safe route for grain.

“African capitals matter and they do influence Russia’s position,” he told African journalists.

A US official warned of new retaliatory measures against Russia at the Group of Seven summit being attended by Biden in Germany starting Sunday.

Germany ratcheted up an emergency gas plan to its second alert level, just one short of the maximum that could require rationing in Europe’s largest economy, after Russia slashed its supplies.

“Gas is now a scarce commodity,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters, urging households to cut back on use. Demand for gas is lower in the summer but shortages could cause heating shortages in the winter.

France is aiming to have its gas storage reserves at full capacity by early autumn, and will build a new floating methane terminal to get more energy supplies by sea, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said.

A Kremlin spokesman reiterated its claim that the supply cuts were due to maintenance and that necessary equipment from abroad had not arrived.

AFP

France Seeks Full Gas Reserves As Russia Cuts Supplies

 In this file photo taken on November 08, 2011 the Nordstream gas pipeline terminal is pictured prior to an inaugural ceremony for the first of Nord Stream's twin 1,224 kilometre gas pipeline through the baltic sea, in Lubmin November 8, 2011. John MACDOUGALL / AFP
In this file photo taken on November 08, 2011 the Nordstream gas pipeline terminal is pictured prior to an inaugural ceremony for the first of Nord Stream’s twin 1,224 kilometre gas pipeline through the baltic sea, in Lubmin November 8, 2011. John MACDOUGALL / AFP

 

The French government said Thursday it aims to have its natural gas reserves at full capacity by autumn as European countries brace for supply cuts from major supplier Russia with the Ukraine war draging on.

“We are ensuring the complete filling of our storage capacities, aiming to be close to 100 percent by early autumn,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said.

She added that France will also build a new floating terminal to receive more gas supplies by ship.

READ ALSO: US Says NATO Commitment To Lithuania ‘Ironclad’ After Russia Threat

“We can do without Russian gas,” French Energy Transition Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher said later on BFM Business TV.

That depends on the floating terminals beginning operating as planned and France filling its strategic reserve, she added.

 

AFP

EU Weighs Ukraine Candidacy As Russia Inflicts ‘Hell’ In East

EU Flag

 

EU leaders met in Brussels on Thursday to discuss making Ukraine a candidate to join the bloc, a “decisive” moment likely to infuriate Russia as its forces battled stiff resistance to advance in the embattled eastern Donbas region.

Western officials also denounced Moscow’s “weaponising” of its key gas and grain exports, with a US official warning of further retaliation measures at a G7 summit in Germany starting Sunday.

Germany ratcheted up an emergency gas plan to its second alert level, just one short of the maximum that could require rationing in Europe’s largest economy after Russia slashed its supplies.

“Gas is now a scarce commodity,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters, urging households to cut back on use.

In Ankara Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “weaponising hunger” by preventing grain shipments from leaving Ukraine ports, raising the spectre of shortages worldwide.

“We are very clear that this grain crisis is urgent, that it needs to be solved within the next month. Otherwise, we could see devastating consequences,” Truss said after talks with her Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Moscow and Ankara have negotiated for weeks on getting millions of tonnes of desperately needed grain out of the war zone and on to Africa and the Middle East, so far to no avail.

The potential consequences for Ukraine’s allies loomed large over the country’s EU candidate status talks in Brussels, and the G7 and NATO meetings in the following days.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had conducted a “telephone marathon” ahead of the meeting, making his case to 11 European leaders on Wednesday alone.

“This is a decisive moment for the European Union, this is also a geopolitical choice that we will make today,” EU council president Charles Michel told journalists ahead of the summit.

– Russian gains –
While the European Commission-backed candidacy is widely expected to be approved, some members have been lukewarm about Ukraine’s status, and any accession process is likely to take years if not decades.

On the ground in the Donbas, the situation was becoming increasingly urgent as Russian forces tightened their grip on the strategically important city of Severodonetsk, as well as its twin city of Lysychansk across the Donets river.

Taking the two cities would give Moscow control of the whole of Lugansk, allowing Russia to press further into Donbas.

Britain’s defence ministry said some Ukrainian units had probably withdrawn “to avoid being encircled” as Russian troops advanced slowly but steadily toward Lysychansk.

“Russia’s improved performance in this sector is likely a result of recent unit reinforcement and heavy concentration of fire,” it said in its latest intelligence update.

“The Russian army is… just destroying everything” in Lysychansk, said Sergiy Gaiday, governor of the Lugansk region.

“It’s just hell out there,” after four months of shelling in Severodonetsk, he wrote later, vowing that “Our boys are holding their positions and will continue to hold on as long as necessary.”

– ‘Only grannies left’ –
After being pushed back from Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine in the initial weeks of the invasion launched on February 24, Moscow is seeking to seize a vast eastern swathe of the country.

But daily bombardments also continue elsewhere.

The northeastern city of Kharkiv near the Russian border was near empty on Wednesday, AFP reporters said, a day after shelling by Moscow’s forces killed five people there.

“Last night the building next to mine collapsed from the bombardment while I was sleeping,” said Leyla Shoydhry, a young woman in a park near the opera house.

Roman Pohuliay, a 19-year-old in a pink sweatshirt, said most residents had fled the city.

“Only the grannies are left,” he said.

Zelensky again pressed allies Wednesday for the rapid supply of more arms, having earlier accused the Russian army of “brutal and cynical” shelling in the eastern Kharkiv region, where the governor said 15 people had been killed in a day.

In the central city of Zaporizhzhia, meanwhile, women were training to use Kalashnikov assault rifles in urban combat as Russian forces edged nearer.

“When you can do something, it’s not so scary to take a machine gun in your hands,” said Ulyana Kiyashko, 29, after moving through an improvised combat zone in a basement.

– Lithuania in cross-hairs –
Away from the battlefield, Moscow this week summoned Brussels’ ambassador in a dispute with EU member Lithuania over the country’s restrictions on rail traffic to the Russian outpost of Kaliningrad.

The coastal territory, annexed from Germany after World War II, is about 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometres) from Moscow, and borders Lithuania and Poland but has no land border with Russia.

By blocking goods arriving from Russia, Lithuania says it is simply adhering to European Union-wide sanctions on Moscow.

The United States made clear its commitment to Lithuania as a NATO ally, while Germany urged Russia not to “violate international law” by retaliating.

US Says NATO Commitment To Lithuania ‘Ironclad’ After Russia Threat

US President Joe Biden speaks about supporting Ukrainians defending their country against Russia, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 28, 2022.  Jim WATSON / AFP

 

The United States said Tuesday it stood firmly behind Lithuania and NATO commitments to defend it after Russia warned its neighbor over restrictions on rail transit.

“We stand by our NATO allies and we stand by Lithuania,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“Specifically our commitment to NATO’s Article Five — the premise that an attack on one would constitute an attack on all — that commitment on the part of the United States is ironclad,” he said.

READ ALSO: Russia Warns Lithuania, Pushes Into Ukraine’s Donbas

Lithuania, a former Soviet republic both in NATO and the European Union, has been among the most outspoken nations in opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Lithuania said that it would restrict the rail transit of goods sanctioned by the EU into Kaliningrad, an isolated Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland.

Russia warned that it would “certainly respond” to the “hostile actions.”

Price said that the United States welcomed the “unprecedented economic measures” taken by Lithuania and other nations against Russia over its invasion.

Asked about Russia’s statements, Price said, “We aren’t going to speculate on Russian saber-rattling or Russian bluster and don’t even want to give it additional airtime.”

AFP

Russia Warns Lithuania, Pushes Into Ukraine’s Donbas

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on aviation via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on March 31, 2022. Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP
In this file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on aviation via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on March 31, 2022.
Mikhail KLIMENTYEV / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

Moscow on Tuesday warned Lithuania of “serious” consequences over its restriction of rail traffic to Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, as Kremlin forces made gains in Ukraine’s strategic Donbas region.

The row over Lithuania, the arrival of sophisticated German weaponry in Ukraine’s arsenal, and an imminent decision on Kyiv’s candidacy to join the EU threaten to further ratchet up tensions between the West and Moscow.

Kremlin troops were meanwhile gaining ground in the Donbas, causing “catastrophic destruction” in Lysychansk, an industrial city at the forefront of recent clashes, the region’s governor said. Ukraine confirmed Russia had taken the frontline village of Toshkivka.

Ukrainian troop move by tanks on a road of the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 21, 2022, as Ukraine says Russian shelling has caused "catastrophic destruction" in the eastern industrial city of Lysychansk, which lies just across a river from Severodonetsk where Russian and Ukrainian troops have been locked in battle for weeks. Anatolii Stepanov / AFP
Ukrainian troop move by tanks on a road of the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 21, 2022, as Ukraine says Russian shelling has caused “catastrophic destruction” in the eastern industrial city of Lysychansk, which lies just across a river from Severodonetsk where Russian and Ukrainian troops have been locked in battle for weeks. Anatolii Stepanov / AFP

 

Governor Sergiy Gaiday said “every town and village” in Ukrainian hands in the Lugansk region was “under almost non-stop fire”.

Since being repelled from Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine following its invasion in February, Moscow has been focusing its offensive on the Donbas region.

In the eastern city of Sloviansk, which could become a flashpoint as Russian troops advance from the north, local people were preparing to withstand attacks and the authorities said the community would defend itself.

“We believe they’ll beat the Russian scum,” resident Valentina, 63, said of local Ukrainian forces.

‘Serious’ consequences

Russia’s war of words with EU member Lithuania escalated on Tuesday, with Moscow vowing “serious” consequences over Vilnius’ restrictions on rail traffic to the exclave of Kaliningrad that borders Lithuania and Poland.

Lithuania says it is simply adhering to EU-wide sanctions on Moscow but Russia countered, accusing Brussels of “escalation”.

Moscow summoned the EU’s ambassador to Russia. Its foreign ministry said Lithuania’s actions “violate the relevant legal and political obligations of the European Union”.

“Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions,” security council chief Nikolai Patrushev said at a regional security meeting in Kaliningrad.

Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov tweeted that powerful German-made Panzerhaubitze 2000 howizter artillery pieces had reached his country’s forces.

Russia said Tuesday it had repelled a Ukrainian attempt to re-take the symbolic Snake Island, a small territory in the Black Sea captured by Russian forces on the first day of the invasion.

‘Significant losses’

In addition to Toshkivka, Ukraine said it had lost control of the eastern village of Metyolkine, a settlement adjacent to Severodonetsk, which has been a focus of fighting for weeks and is now largely under Russian control.

A chemical plant in Severodonetsk where hundreds of civilians are said to be sheltering was being shelled constantly, Ukraine warned.

But defence ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told Ukrainian television that Russian forces had suffered “significant losses in the area of Severodonetsk”.

Ukraine on Tuesday said it struck a Black Sea oil drilling platform off the Crimea peninsula because Russia was using it as a military installation.

The rig had Russian garrisons and equipment for air defence, radar warfare and reconnaissance, Sergiy Bratchuk of Odessa’s regional military administration told an online briefing.

Crimea’s Moscow-backed leader Sergey Aksyonov had said three people were injured and seven more were missing after the first reported strike against offshore energy infrastructure in the Russian-annexed peninsula since the war began.

Russian shelling killed 15 people including an eight-year-old in eastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Tuesday, its governor said.

On the maritime front, Russia’s navy is blockading ports, which Ukraine says is preventing millions of tonnes of grain from being shipped to world markets, contributing to soaring food prices.

Prior to the war, Ukraine was a major exporter of wheat, corn and sunflower oil.

With European officials due to gather this week at a summit expected to approve Ukraine’s candidacy to join the EU, Brussels foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the Russians’ port blockade “a real war crime”.

Moscow denies responsibility for the disruption to deliveries and, following Borrell’s comments, blamed the West’s “destructive” position for surging grain prices.

Turkish media reported that Russian, Ukrainian and UN officials would meet in Istanbul next week to try to unblock Black Sea grain exports.

$100-million medal

In New York, Dmitry Muratov, the Russian editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, auctioned off his Nobel Peace Prize gold medal for $103.5 million to benefit children displaced by the war.

It was sold to an unidentified phone bidder.

Muratov won the prize in 2021 alongside journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines.

With US-Russia tensions soaring, the US State Department on Tuesday confirmed a second American, 52-year-old Stephen Zabielski, was killed fighting for Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier told NBC News that two Americans captured in Ukraine while fighting with Kyiv’s military were “endangering” Russian soldiers and should be “held accountable for those crimes”.

On the ground, the police chief of the Kyiv region said victims of the Russian attempt to seize Ukraine’s capital continued to be found.

So far, the bodies of 1,333 civilians have been discovered and 300 people remain missing.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland visited Ukraine on Tuesday to discuss prosecution of individuals involved in war crimes.

“There is no place to hide,” Garland said, vowing to hold to account those responsible for “atrocities” and war crimes.

Spain said one of its citizens fighting for Ukraine had been killed, without giving further detail.

Denmark and Sweden meanwhile became the latest European countries to warn of potential gas supply problems. Their energy agencies issued early warnings, due to uncertainty over hydrocarbon imports from Russia.

Ukraine has called the reasons given for Russia’s reduction of gas supply to European customers “far-fetched” and “illegal”.

 

AFP

Sanctioned Russia Becomes China’s Main Source Of Oil

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Talent and Success Educational Foundation via a video link at the Sirius Educational Center for Gifted Children in Sochi on May 11, 2022. Mikhail METZEL / SPUTNIK / AFP
File Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin 
Mikhail METZEL / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

 

 

China ramped up crude oil imports from Russia in May, customs data showed Monday, helping to offset losses from Western nations scaling back Russian energy purchases over the invasion of Ukraine.

The spike means Russia has overtaken Saudi Arabia to become China’s top oil provider as the West sanctions Moscow’s energy exports.

The world’s second-biggest economy imported around 8.42 million tonnes of oil from Russia last month — a 55 percent rise on-year.

Beijing has refused to publicly condemn Moscow’s war and has instead exacted economic gains from its isolated neighbour.

It imported 7.82 million tonnes of oil from Saudi Arabia in May.

China bought $7.47 billion worth of Russian energy products last month, about $1 billion more than in April, according to Bloomberg News.

The new customs data comes four months into the war in Ukraine, with buyers from the United States and Europe shunning Russian energy imports or pledging to slash them over the coming months.

Asian demand is helping to staunch some of those losses for Russia, especially buyers from China and India.

India bought six times more Russian oil from March to May compared with the same period last year, while imports by China during that period trippled, data from research firm Rystad Energy shows.

“For now, it is just pure economics that Indian and Chinese refiners are importing more Russian-origin crude oil… as such oil is cheap,” said analyst Wei Cheong Ho.

According to the International Energy Agency’s latest global oil report, India has overtaken Germany in the last two months as the second-largest importer of Russian crude.

China has been Russia’s biggest market for crude oil since 2016.

– ‘No limits’ –
Days before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, China’s President Xi Jinping greeted his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Beijing where the two countries declared a bilateral relationship of “no limits”.

Although demand in China remains muted due to Covid restrictions, there has been some improvement in the past month as cities loosen controls after the country’s worst outbreak since the early days of the pandemic.

This has allowed supply chain problems to ease and industrial production to pick up, official data shows.

China’s overall imports from Russia spiked 80 percent in May from a year ago to $10.3 billion, according to customs data.

Beijing’s purchases of Russian liquefied natural gas surged 54 percent on-year to 397,000 tonnes, even as overall imports of the fuel fell.

China has been accused of providing a diplomatic shield for Russia by criticising Western sanctions on Moscow and arms sales to Kyiv.

– Joint goals –
Once bitter Cold War rivals, Beijing and Moscow have stepped up cooperation in recent years as a counterbalance to what they see as US global dominance.

This month they unveiled the first road bridge linking the countries, connecting the far eastern Russian city of Blagoveshchensk with the northern Chinese city of Heihe.

Last week Xi assured Putin of China’s support on Russian “sovereignty and security” in a call between the two leaders.

The Kremlin said the pair had agreed to ramp up economic cooperation in the face of “unlawful” Western sanctions.

The West has implemented unprecedented sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its war in Ukraine, forcing Moscow to find new markets and suppliers to replace foreign firms that have left Russia following the invasion.

The 27-nation European Union agreed in late May to a package of sanctions that would halt the majority of Russian oil imports.

The United States has already banned all Russian oil but European nations are much more dependent on these imports.

Energy is a major source of income for Putin’s government, and Western nations are trying to isolate Moscow and impede its ability to continue the war.

Russia Putting World In Danger Of Famine, Warns EU

An aerial view shows the destroyed Community Art Center following a strike in the city of Lysychansk, in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas on June 17, 2022, as the Russian-Ukraine war enters its 114th day. ARIS MESSINIS / AFP

 

Russia is putting the world at risk of famine through its blockade of Ukraine’s shipments of grains and restrictions on its own exports, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Saturday.

The threat to food security and a “battle of narrative” with Russia on Western-imposed sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine will dominate European Union foreign ministers’ talks in Luxembourg on Monday.

“We are ready to work with the UN and our partners to prevent any unwanted impact on global food security,” Borrell said in an article published on his official blog.

“Russia’s conscious political choice is to ‘weaponise'” grain exports and “use them as a tool for blackmail against anyone that opposes its aggression” in Ukraine, Borrell said.

“Russia turned the Black Sea into a war zone, blocking shipments of grain and fertiliser from Ukraine but also affecting Russian merchant shipping. Russia is also applying quotas and taxes on its grain exports,” he added.

The sanctions imposed by the EU “do not prohibit Russia to export any agricultural goods, payment for such Russian exports or the provision of seeds, provided that sanctioned individuals or entities are not involved”.

“We are fully aware that there is a ‘battle of narratives around this issue” of sanctions, Borrell continued.

He added that it was imperative that Ukrainian exports be allowed to resume by ship.

“We are working closely with the UN on this issue and the EU and its member states are ready to do their part of the necessary actions to achieve this.

“We hope that a solution can be found in the coming days. Not doing this threatens to cause a global food catastrophe,” he warned.

-AFP