Strikes Kill 18 In Ukraine’s Odessa

Rescue workers walk past debris and carsunder ruins in front of the shopping and entertainment center in the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Odessa on May 10, 2022, destroyed after Russian missiles strike late on May 9, 2022.
Oleksandr GIMANOV / AFP

 

 

Missile strikes killed 18 people and wounded dozens in Ukraine’s Odessa region Friday, a day after Russian troops abandoned positions on a strategic island in a major setback to the Kremlin’s invasion.

The news came after NATO leaders wrapped up a summit in Madrid, with US President Joe Biden announcing $800 million in new weapons for Ukraine.

“We are going to stick with Ukraine, and all of the alliance are going to stick with Ukraine, as long as it takes to make sure they are not defeated by Russia,” he said.

The missiles were fired early Friday, hitting an apartment building and recreation centre about 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of the Black Sea port of Odessa, which has become a strategic flashpoint in the conflict.

Ukrainian emergency services initially said 17 people were killed and 30 wounded in both attacks. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, a senior official at the Ukrainian presidency, later wrote on Telegram that the death toll had risen to 18, including two children.

The strikes, in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, were launched by aircraft that flew in from the Black Sea, said Odessa military administration spokesman Sergiy Bratchuk.

“The worst-case scenario played out and two strategic aircraft came to the Odessa region,” he said in a TV interview, adding they had fired “very heavy and very powerful” missiles.

Earlier this week, there was global outrage when a Russian strike destroyed a shopping centre in Kremenchuk, central Ukraine, killing at least 18 civilians. Putin has denied Moscow’s forces were responsible.

– Anti-corruption reforms –
Friday’s attacks came a day after Russian troops abandoned their positions on Snake Island, off the coast of Odessa.

The island had become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the first days of the war, when the rocky outcrop’s defenders told a Russian warship to “go f*ck yourself” after it called on them to surrender — an incident that spurred a defiant meme.

It was also a strategic target, sitting aside shipping lanes near the port of Odessa. Russia had attempted to install missile and air defence batteries while under fire from drones.

Ukraine was recently granted “candidate status” by the European Union as it pushes to join the bloc, although membership is likely still years away.

On Friday, the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen told Ukraine’s parliament that membership was “within reach” but urged them to press forward with anti-corruption reforms.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meanwhile announced Ukraine had begun exporting electricity to the EU, via Romania, as fears grow of an energy crisis in Europe due to reduced Russian gas deliveries.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov compared surging diplomatic tensions to the Cold War.

“As far as an Iron Curtain is concerned, essentially it is already descending… The process has begun,” he told reporters.

– Snake Island –
There was a glimmer of hope however, when Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he had given Russian President Vladimir Putin a message from Zelensky.

It came after Widodo visited both Moscow and Kyiv. Neither side has revealed what was in the note.

Zelensky said Russia’s decision to abandon Snake Island “changes the situation in the Black Sea considerably”.

“It does not yet guarantee security. It does not yet guarantee that the enemy will not return. But it already considerably limits the actions of the occupiers,” he said in his daily address.

The Russian defence ministry described the retreat as “a gesture of goodwill” meant to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organise protected grain exports from Ukraine.

In peacetime, Ukraine is a major agricultural exporter, but Russia’s invasion has damaged farmland and seen Ukraine’s ports seized, razed or blockaded — sparking concerns about food shortages, particularly in poor countries.

Western powers have accused Putin of using the trapped harvest as a weapon to increase pressure on the international community, and Russia has been accused of stealing grain.

On Thursday, a ship carrying 7,000 tonnes of grain sailed from Ukraine’s occupied port of Berdyansk, said the regional leader appointed by the Russian occupation forces.

– Donbas under fire –
Evgeny Balitsky, the head of the pro-Moscow administration, said Russia’s Black Sea ships “are ensuring the security” of the journey, adding that the port had been de-mined.

The conflict in Ukraine dominated the NATO summit in Madrid this week, as the alliance officially invited Sweden and Finland to join, and Biden announced new deployments of US troops, ships and planes to Europe.

Russian missiles have continued to rain down elsewhere in Ukraine, with the city of Lysychansk in the eastern Donbas region coming under sustained bombardment.

Capturing the city would allow the Russians to push deeper in the Donbas, which has become the focus of their offensive since failing to capture Kyiv after their February invasion.

Sergiy Gaiday — governor of the Lugansk region, which includes Lysychansk — said the city continued to face heavy shelling.

“Residents of Lysychansk barely leave their basements and homes,” he wrote on Telegram, adding fires had broken out in houses and shopping malls.

The Russians had taken control of parts of the city’s oil refinery, he said.

Russia Quits Snake Island, Weakening Blockade Of Ukraine Ports

This handout image courtesy of Maxar Technologies released on June 30, 2022 shows an overview of Snake Island, Ukraine on June 17, 2022. Photo by various sources / AFP
This handout image courtesy of Maxar Technologies released on June 30, 2022 shows an overview of Snake Island, Ukraine on June 17, 2022. Photo by various sources / AFP

 

Russian troops have abandoned their positions on a captured Ukrainian island, a major setback to their invasion effort that weakens their blockade of Ukraine’s ports, defence officials said on Thursday.

The news from the Black Sea came as NATO leaders wrapped up their summit in Madrid, with US President Joe Biden announcing $800 million in new weapons to help Ukraine fight off Russia’s invasion.

“We are going to stick with Ukraine, and all of the alliance are going to stick with Ukraine, as long as it takes to make sure they are not defeated by Russia,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, compared the new diplomatic low to the return of the Cold War, telling reporters: “As far as an Iron Curtain is concerned, essentially it is already descending… The process has begun.”

READ ALSO: If Putin Was A Woman, There Would Be No Ukraine War – Boris Johnson

But there may be a possible opening: Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo said, after meeting Putin in Moscow, that he had given the Russian leader a message from their Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Snake Island became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance in the first days of the war, when the rocky outcrop’s defenders told a Russian warship that called on them to surrender to “go f*ck yourself”, an incident that spurred a defiant meme.

It was also a strategic target, sitting aside shipping lanes near Ukraine’s port of Odessa. Russia had attempted to install missile and air defence batteries while under fire from drones.

Now, however, Ukraine has begun to receive longer range missiles and artillery, and the Russian position on Snake Island seems to have become untenable.

‘Strategically important’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the Russian president that any eventual peace deal would be on Ukraine’s terms.

“In the end, it will prove impossible for Putin to hold down a country that will not accept his rule,” he said.

“We’ve seen what Ukraine can do to drive the Russians back. We’ve seen what they did around Kyiv and Kharkiv, now on Snake Island.”

The Russian defence ministry statement described the retreat as “a gesture of goodwill” meant to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere with UN efforts to organise protected grain exports from Ukraine.

But Kyiv claimed it as a win.

“They always downplay their defeats this way,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.

“I thank the defenders of Odessa region who took maximum measures to liberate a strategically important part of our territory,” Valeriy Zaluzhny, the Ukraine military’s commander-in-chief, said on Telegram.

In peacetime, Ukraine is a major agricultural exporter, but Russia’s invasion has damaged farmland and seen Ukraine’s ports seized, razed or blockaded — threatening grain importers in Africa with famine.

Western powers have accused Putin of using the trapped harvest as a weapon to increase pressure on the international community, and Russia has been accused of stealing grain.

‘Direct threat’

On Thursday, a ship carrying 7,000 tonnes of grain sailed from Ukraine’s occupied port of Berdyansk, said the regional leader appointed by the Russian occupation forces.

Evgeny Balitsky, the head of the pro-Moscow administration, said Russia’s Black Sea ships “are ensuring the security” of the journey, adding that the port had been de-mined.

Separately, the Russian defence ministry said its forces are holding more than 6,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war who have been captured since the February 24 invasion.

The conflict in Ukraine has dominated the NATO summit in Madrid, where the leaders said Russia “is the most significant and direct threat to allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area”.

This came as NATO officially invited Sweden and Finland to join the alliance, and Biden announced new deployments of US troops, ships and planes to Europe.

Biden said the US move was exactly what Putin “didn’t want” — and Moscow, facing fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces equipped with Western weapons, reacted with predictable fury.

Putin on Wednesday accused the alliance of seeking to assert its “supremacy”, telling journalists in the Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat that Ukraine and its people are “a means” for NATO to “defend their own interests.”

“The NATO countries’ leaders wish to… assert their supremacy, their imperial ambitions,” Putin added.

‘As long as it takes’

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed Putin’s comments as “ridiculous” and said the Russian leader “has made imperialism the goal of his politics”.

NATO leaders have funnelled billions of dollars of arms to Ukraine and faced a renewed appeal from Zelensky for more long-range artillery.

“Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told the summit, as he announced a new strategic overview that focuses on the Moscow threat.

The document, updated for the first time since 2010, warned the alliance “cannot discount the possibility” of an attack on its members.

Russian missiles continued to rain down on cities across Ukraine.

In the southern city of Mykolaiv, rescuers found the bodies of seven slain civilians in the rubble of a destroyed building, emergency services said.

The city of Lysychansk in the eastern Donbas region — the current focus of Russia’s offensive — is also facing sustained bombardment.

The situation in Lysychansk — the last major city the Russians need to take over in the Lugansk region — was “extremely difficult” with relentless shelling making it impossible to evacuate civilians, regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said.

“There is a lot of shelling… The Russian army is approaching from different directions,” he said in a video posted on Telegram.

Russia’s forces remain at the outskirts of the city where there is currently no street fighting, he said.

Gaiday dismissed claims by pro-Russian separatists fighting alongside Moscow’s forces who claim to control half of the city situated across the river from neighbouring Severodonetsk, which was captured by the Russian army last week.

The United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine said on Thursday 16 million people in Ukraine were in need of humanitarian aid.

‘Offensive’ remarks

Also on Thursday, Russia summoned Britain’s ambassador to Moscow to protest at Johnson’s “offensive” remarks about Putin.

Johnson had said on Tuesday that Putin would not have started the war in Ukraine if he was a woman and said the military operation was “a perfect example of toxic masculinity”.

The Russian foreign ministry said: “In polite society, it is customary to apologise for remarks of this kind.”

 

AFP

Biden Announces $800m In Ukraine Arms, Vows Continued Support

US President Joe Biden gestures as he addresses media representatives during a press conference at the NATO summit at the Ifema congress centre in Madrid, on June 30, 2022. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

 

President Joe Biden on Thursday announced $800 million in new weapons for Ukraine and said the United States will support Kyiv “as long as it takes” in its war against Russian invasion.

“We intend to announce more than $800 million more” for air defence, artillery, counter battery systems and other weaponry, he told reporters at the NATO summit in Madrid.

Biden said Western support would be maintained as long as necessary and that Russia would not achieve victory.

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

“We are going to stick with Ukraine, and all of the alliance are going to stick with Ukraine, as long as it takes to make sure they are not defeated by Russia,” he said.

“Ukraine has already dealt a severe blow to Russia,” Biden said, adding that he did not “know how it’s going to end, but it will not end with a Russian defeat of Ukraine.”

AFP

If Putin Was A Woman, There Would Be No Ukraine War – Boris Johnson

A view of the city of Mariupol on June 2, 2022, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine.
STRINGER / AFP

 

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have started the war in Ukraine if he was a woman, according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

“If Putin was a woman, which he obviously isn’t, but if he were, I really don’t think he would’ve embarked on a crazy, macho war of invasion and violence in the way that he has,” Johnson told German broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday evening.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is “a perfect example of toxic masculinity”, he said, calling for better education for girls around the world and for “more women in positions of power”.

The British Prime Minister acknowledged that “of course people want the war to end”, but for the moment “there’s no deal available. Putin isn’t making an offer of peace”.

Western allies must support Ukraine to enable it to be in the best possible strategic position in the event that peace negotiations with Moscow do become possible, he added.

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 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

G7 Vows Solidarity With Ukraine ‘As long As It Takes

Representatives of Seven rich nations (G7) and Outreach guests are pictured at the start of their fifth working session about “Investing in a better future: Climate, Energy, Health” on June 27, 2022 at Elmau Castle, southern Germany, during the G7 Summit.

 

 

The Group of Seven rich nations vowed enduring support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, in a statement from its summit in Germany on Monday.

“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” the G7 said.

US Plans To Supply Ukraine Missiles


STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

The United States is planning to send Ukraine sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to defend against Russian attacks, a source familiar with the process told AFP on Monday.

President Joe Biden “has made the procurement of advanced air defence systems for Ukraine a priority”, the source said, asking not to be identified.

An announcement is “likely this week” on the purchase of an “advanced medium- to long-range surface-to-air missile defence system”, as well as other weaponry to help Ukraine fight Russia’s invasion.

Moscow Says Strikes Hit Ukraine Military Training Centres

Bystanders gather around the wreckage of vehicles after Russian missiles struck the courtyard of a multi-storey residential complex on the eastern outskirts of Kharkiv on June 26, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. SERGEY BOBOK / AFP

 

Russia said Sunday that its forces had carried out strikes against three military training centres in northern and western Ukraine, including one near the Polish border, just days before a NATO summit.

The bombings were carried out with “high-precision weapons of Russia’s aerospace forces and Kalibr missiles,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

Among the targets was a military training centre for Ukrainian forces in the Starychi district of the Lviv region, around 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the border with NATO member Poland.

The other two training centres were in the central Zhytomyr region and northern Chernihiv region.

Konashenkov did not say when or from where the missiles were fired.

However Kyiv on Saturday said that Russia had carried out strikes from Ukraine’s northern neighbour Belarus. Moscow did not comment on the claim.

After the strikes, several Ukrainian brigades “completely lost their combat capabilities,” Konashenkov said, adding that “plans to deploy them in combat zones were thwarted”.

The strikes served as a reminder that Russia is capable of striking any part of Ukraine, even with the bulk of its operation now taking place in the east and south of the country.

Ukrainian authorities reported that there were Russian strikes on the capital Kyiv on Sunday morning, but Konashenkov did not mention it in his statement.

The Russian strikes come as a G7 summit opened in Germany on Sunday, and ahead of a NATO meeting in Madrid from June 28 to 30.

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

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

In this file photo, US President Joe Biden (C) talks to service members from the 82nd Airborne Division, who are contributing alongside Polish Allies to deterrence on the Alliance’s Eastern Flank, in the city of Rzeszow in southeastern Poland, around 100 kilometres (62 miles) from the border with Ukraine, on March 25, 2022. Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP

 

The United States is sending a new batch of military assistance to Ukraine, the White House said Thursday, with the $450 million shipments including four more advanced rocket systems to use against Russian invasion forces.

“This package contains weapons and equipment, including new High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems,” White House spokesman John Kirby said. Also included are tens of thousands of rounds of artillery ammunition and patrol boats.

The rocket systems known as HIMARS are at the top of Ukraine’s wish list as the pro-Western country battles a Russian invasion force advancing through the east of the country with the help of a significant advantage in heavy artillery.

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An initial four units of the rocket system have already been delivered, kicking off the training program required for Ukrainian soldiers to operate the sophisticated and highly accurate weaponry. Another four are now being sent, the Pentagon said.

Also included are 36,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, 18 vehicles used to tow 155mm artillery pieces, 1,200 grenade launchers, 2,000 machine guns, 18 coastal and river patrol boats, and spare parts, the Pentagon said.

With the latest shipments, the US contribution to Ukraine’s military will amount so far to $6.1 billion since the start of Russia’s invasion in February, Kirby said.

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