Russian forces withdraw from a strategic Black Sea island on the 127th day of fighting as US President Joe Biden announces $800 million in new weapons to help Ukraine fight off Moscow's troops.

Moscow is keeping up its push to take control of the entire Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, with an immediate focus Lysychansk city, the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in Luhansk province.
Moscow is keeping up its push to take control of the entire Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, with an immediate focus Lysychansk city, the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in Luhansk province. (AFP)

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Situation in Lysychansk 'extremely difficult': Governor

The situation in Lysychansk, a city in eastern Ukraine under Russian attack, is "extremely difficult" with relentless shelling making it impossible to evacuate civilians, the regional governor of Luhansk has said.

"There is a lot of shelling and from multiple directions. The Russian army is approaching from different directions towards Lysychansk," Sergiy Gaiday 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 Sievierodonetsk, which was captured by the Russian army last week.

Some captured Azov fighters will face trial, Putin ally says

Some captured members of Ukraine's Azov Regiment will face trial, the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament has said, a day after Russia's top court postponed a decision on whether to brand the unit as a terrorist entity.

Vyacheslav Volodin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, said Russia would carry out a "substantial investigation" into every member of Azov to find out "who was involved in what." Those who are determined to have "blood on their hands" will face trial, the State Duma speaker said in a post on Telegram.

The Azov Regiment, part of Ukraine's National Guard, was founded in 2014 as one of many volunteer militias to fight pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbass region. Its fighters were feted as national heroes for defying Russian forces who laid siege on the city of Mariupol for weeks.

Ukraine receives 446.8M euro loan from World Bank: Finance ministry

Ukraine has received a 446.8 million euro loan from the World Bank with 424.6 million euros of it guaranteed by Britain, the Finance Ministry has said.

"The funds raised will secure funding for public sector employees. We are grateful to the Government of the United Kingdom and the World Bank team for supporting Ukraine in this difficult period of our history," Finance Minister Serhiy Marchenko was quoted by his ministry as saying.

Lavrov says new 'iron curtain' descending between Russia and West

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that a new "iron curtain" is descending between Russia and the West after Moscow's offensive in Ukraine.

"As far as an iron curtain is concerned, essentially it is already descending," Lavrov told reporters. "They should just be careful not to pinch anything," he quipped. "The process has begun," he said after talks with his counterpart from Belarus.

Lavrov said Russia has not had any relations with the European Union since 2014, when Moscow annexed the peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine following a popular uprising in Kiev. He said Moscow would not trust Washington and Brussels "from now on".

The EU is not at all interested in understanding our interests...It is interested in what has been decided in Brussels. And what has been decided in Washington has been decided in Brussels

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Biden announces $800M in Ukraine arms, vows continued support

President Joe Biden has announced $800 million in new weapons for Ukraine and said the United States will support Kiev "as long as it takes".

"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.

"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."

Putin denies Russia's role in looming global food crisis

President Vladimir Putin has denied that Russia bore any responsibility for a looming global food crisis due to the conflict in Ukraine, instead blaming Western sanctions imposed on Moscow that "made it much more difficult" to deliver certain products internationally.

"We have not put any restrictions on the export of fertilisers, nor on the export of food products," Putin said as he welcomed Indonesian leader Joko Widodo, whose country holds the G20 presidency, to the Kremlin.

Moscow does "not hinder the export of Ukrainian wheat," Putin said, adding that Russia is "in constant contact" with the UN agency in charge of the issue.

Ukraine says Russian equipment on Snake Island destroyed

Oleksii Hromov, a brigadier general in Ukraine's armed forces, has said that Russian equipment on Snake Island had been destroyed and that although there were no Ukrainian forces on the island yet there would be.

Hromov added at a news conference that Ukraine's military would do everything possible so ships carrying grain could pass through the Black Sea and that there were currently no plans to withdraw from the eastern city of Lysychansk, which Russian forces are trying to encircle.

Hromov also said Russia ramped up missile strikes in the second half of June. He added that more than half of the missiles were from Soviet reserves and less precise.

Europe court urges Russia to stop executions of two Britons

The European Court of Human Rights has told Russia to prevent the execution of two British citizens sentenced to death in a pro-Moscow separatist region of Ukraine.

Russia must "ensure that the death penalty imposed on the applicants was not carried out," the court said in an emergency ruling that noted the pair had "voluntarily laid down their arms and surrendered to the Russian forces in Mariupol".

Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin were earlier this month sentenced to death by a court in the unrecognised Donetsk People's Republic, following their surrender to Russian forces. Both men, residents of Ukraine with Ukrainian partners, had joined the Ukrainian armed forces in 2018.

Sweden, Finland to sign NATO accession protocol on Tuesday: Stoltenberg

Sweden and Finland will sign on Tuesday the NATO accession protocol to formally join the alliance, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said.

The accession protocol must then be ratified by all 30 allied parliaments to allow both countries to become part of NATO and benefit from the alliance's collective defence clause.

Macron says France will soon deliver more CESAR guns to Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron has told the NATO summit in Spain that France would soon deliver six further CESAR guns to help Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

Earlier this week, US President Joe Biden pledged more American troops, warplanes and warships for Europe as NATO agreed the biggest strengthening of its deterrents since the Cold War in response to Russia's offensive against Ukraine.

Macron also said the European Union must find more, alternative routes to transport out Ukraine grain supplies amid the Russian offensive.

Russia's exit from Snake Island shows 'impossible' to subdue Ukraine: UK

Russia's pullout from the captured Snake Island in the Black Sea shows the futility of President Vladimir Putin's strategic goals in Ukraine, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

"In the end, it will prove impossible for Putin to hold down a country that will not accept his rule," Johnson told a news conference after a NATO summit in Madrid, while also stressing the alliance's unity against Russia.

UN says 16M people in Ukraine need humanitarian aid

As Russia presses on with its offensive against Ukraine, some 16 million people inside the country need humanitarian aid, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine has said.

"Almost 16 million people in Ukraine today need humanitarian assistance: water food, health services," Osnat Lubrani told a press briefing.

Six million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes for other parts of the country since fighting started, though around 5 million have since returned, she said. But "many know that they might be forced to flee again," she added. Over 5.3 million more Ukrainians have fled abroad, Lubrani said.

Indonesian president says delivers Zelenskyy's message to Putin

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has said in Moscow he delivered a message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Putin hosted Widodo more than four months into Moscow's offensive in Ukraine, as Russia seeks to pivot toward Asia and Africa following the onset of unprecedented Western sanctions. Indonesia holds the rotating presidency of the G20 this year and is preparing to host a summit in Bali in November.

"I conveyed President Zelensky's message to President Putin," Widodo said after talks with the Kremlin chief in comments translated into Russian. Widodo said he expressed his "readiness" to help start "communication" between the two leaders. He did not provide further details, and neither side said what was in the note.

US blocks trust where sanctioned Russian oligarch Kerimov held property interest

The US Treasury Department has blocked a trust where sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov held a property interest, it has said.

"The US Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it has issued a Notification of Blocked Property to Heritage Trust, a Delaware-based trust in which OFAC-designated Russian oligarch Suleiman Abusaidovich Kerimov holds a property interest," the Treasury Department said in a statement, adding that the trust held assets valued at over $1 billion as of Thursday.

Russia leaves Snake Island, in blow to blockade of Ukraine ports

Russian forces have withdrawn from Ukraine’s Snake Island in the northwestern Black Sea with an aim to free the passage of Ukraine’s grain export, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

“On June 30, as a step of goodwill, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation completed their tasks on the Snake Island and withdrew from the garrison stationed there."

“Thus, it was demonstrated to the world community that the Russian Federation does not hinder the efforts of the UN to organize a humanitarian corridor for the export of agricultural products from the territory of Ukraine,” it said.

Russia begins shipping grain from occupied Ukraine port

Russia began shipping grain from Ukraine's occupied territory, with a vessel carrying 7,000 tonnes of cereal sailing from Ukraine's occupied port of Berdyansk.

Kiev has for weeks accused Russia and its allies of stealing its grain from southern Ukraine, contributing to a global food shortage caused by grain exports blocked in Ukrainian ports.

Until now shipments have been transported by land, Kiev says. 

Russia says it has more than 6,000 Ukrainian POWs

Russia is holding more than 6,000 Ukrainian prisoners, the defence ministry has said, a day after the two sides swapped imprisoned soldiers.

"The total number of Ukrainian troops captured or who surrendered is more than 6,000," Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the ministry, said in a statement.

On Wednesday each side received 144 detained soldiers. The Ukrainian defence ministry said most of the Ukrainian soldiers had been seriously wounded.

Pro-Russian separatists say Kiev shelling civilians with Western weapons

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine accused Kiev's army of shelling civilians with advanced multiple rocket launch systems and howitzers they have recently received from the Western countries.

The United States announced in early June it would deliver to Ukraine M142 HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, with a slightly longer range than their Russian and Soviet-made equivalents, to enable the Kiev military to destroy enemy forces while staying out of reach.

Several European countries, including France and Germany, have also supplied heavy howitzers to Ukraine in recent weeks. 

Russian lawmakers approve bill on banning foreign media

The lower house of Russia’s parliament gave final approval to a bill that would allow the banning of foreign news media in response to other countries' actions against Russian news outlets.

The State Duma approved the bill on its final, third reading. The equally pliant upper house of parliament is set to quickly approve the measure before Russian President Vladimir Putin signs it into law.

Russia has repeatedly complained in recent months that Western countries were improperly restricting Russian media by banning their operation or denying visas to their journalists. 

Pope implicitly accuses Russia of aggression, imperialism in Ukraine

Pope Francis implicitly accused Russia of "armed conquest, expansionism and imperialism" in Ukraine, calling the conflict a "cruel and senseless war of aggression".

The pope, speaking to a delegation of Orthodox leaders in Rome, referred to the conflict as one pitting Christians against one another.

Both Russia and Ukraine are predominantly Orthodox Christian but there is a sizeable Catholic minority in Ukraine. 

Russian forces fight to capture Ukraine's eastern bulwark

Russian troops have been fighting to encircle the last bulwark of Ukraine's resistance in an eastern province, as funerals were to be held for those who were killed by a Russian strike on a shopping mall in central Ukraine earlier this week.

Moscow’s push to take control of the entire Donbass region from Ukraine is focused on Lysychansk, the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the Luhansk province. Russian troops and their separatist allies control 95 percent of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, the two provinces that make up the mostly Russian-speaking Donbass.

The Ukrainian General Staff said that the Russian troops were shelling Lysychansk and clashing with Ukrainian defenders around an oil refinery on the edge of the city.

Britain sends more military aid to Ukraine

Britain is sending 1 billion pounds' ($1.21 billion) worth of military support to Ukraine, bringing its total military and economic support since the start of the conflict to 3.8 billion pounds.

The government said the new money is for equipment including air defence systems, unmanned aerial vehicles and electronic warfare equipment. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged allies at a NATO summit in Madrid to “dig deep” in support of Ukraine.  

Amnesty accuses Russia of bombing Mariupol theatre 

A theatre sheltering civilians destroyed in March in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol was likely hit by a Russian air strike in a "war crime," Amnesty International has said in a report.

"Until now, we were speaking about an alleged war crime. Now we can clearly say it was one, committed by the Russian armed forces," Oksana Pokalchuk, head of Amnesty's Ukraine branch, told the AFP news agency.

"These explosions were caused by something really big: two 500-kg bombs" dropped from a plane, she added, dismissing Russian claims that the theatre was hit in a false-flag attack by the city's Ukrainian defenders.

Based on eyewitness statements and public death reports, "Amnesty International believes that at least a dozen people died in the attack, but also that it is likely that many additional fatalities remain unreported," the group added.

Russia steps up attacks in Ukraine after landmark NATO summit

Russia has pressed on with its offensive in eastern Ukraine after NATO branded Moscow the biggest "direct threat" to Western security and agreed plans to modernise Kiev's beleaguered armed forces.

Ukrainian authorities said they were trying to evacuate residents from the frontline eastern city of Lysychansk, the focus of Russia's attacks where about 15,000 people remained under relentless shelling.

"Fighting is going on all the time. The Russians are constantly on the offensive. There is no let-up," regional Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television. "Absolutely everything is being shelled."

For live updates from Wednesday (June 29), click here

Source: AFP