Western allies vow to boost NATO's defences and back Ukraine till the end as Moscow demands Kiev's surrender and fierce fighting enters its 126th day.

Ukraine’s breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, whose independence Moscow recognised in February, are situated in Donbass region, the main focus of Russia's current offensive.
Ukraine’s breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, whose independence Moscow recognised in February, are situated in Donbass region, the main focus of Russia's current offensive. (TRTWorld)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Ukraine ceases diplomatic ties with Syrian regime — Zelenskyy

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced the end of diplomatic ties between Kiev and Damascus after Moscow ally Syria's Bashar al Assad regime recognised the independence of eastern Ukraine's two separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The Syrian regime provoked Ukraine's ire after becoming the first state other than Russia to recognise the two separatist territories earlier on Wednesday.

"There will no longer be relations between Ukraine and Syria," Zelenskyy said in a video posted on Telegram, adding that the sanctions pressure against Syria "will be even greater".

Russia's Ukraine ambitions 'unchanged'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the objectives of what Moscow calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine remained unchanged, that its goal was to "liberate" eastern Ukraine's Donbass region and create conditions to ensure Russia's security.

He said Russian troops had advanced in Ukraine and that the military intervention was going as planned. 

There was no need, he said, to set a deadline for an end to the campaign.

Putin denies Russian responsibility for Kremenchuk strike

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied Moscow's forces were responsible for a strike on a crowded shopping centre in the Ukrainian town of Kremenchuk earlier this week, in which 18 people were killed.

"Our army does not attack any civilian infrastructure site. We have every capability of knowing what is situated where," Putin told a news conference in the Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat.

Ukraine gets back 144 soldiers in biggest prisoner swap

Ukraine has carried out its biggest exchange of prisoners since Russia launched its offensive, securing the release of 144 of its soldiers, including 95 who defended Mariupol's steelworkers, Ukraine's military intelligence agency has said.

The majority of the Ukrainians were badly wounded, suffering from gunshot and shrapnel wounds, blast traumas, burns, fractured bones and amputated limbs, the agency known by the acronym GUR said in a statement on Telegram.

There was no comment from Russia. But the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine said it secured the release of 144 soldiers, including its fighters and those of the Russian army. "We handed over to Kiev the same number of prisoners from Ukrainian armed units, most of whom were wounded."

Russia tells UN it is ready to help lower threat of a food crisis

Russia's top diplomat has told the secretary general of the United Nations that the country is ready to coordinate efforts to reduce the threat of a global food crisis, the Russian foreign ministry has said.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also told Antonio Guterres in a phone call that Moscow was committed to fulfilling its grain and fertiliser export obligations.

Canada opens new embassies in eastern Europe amid Ukraine crisis

Canada says it will boost its diplomatic presence in central and eastern Europe as well as the Caucasus, opening four new embassies to "help counter Russia's destabilising activities" in the region, as the conflict in Ukraine drags on.

The announcement came as Group of Seven and NATO leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meet this week, with how best to support Kiev in its battle with Moscow atop the agenda of both summits.

"Canada is announcing that we are increasing our diplomatic footprint. Canada will be opening four new embassies in Estonia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Armenia," Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Madrid.

This diplomatic expansion will help guide Canada's response to evolving security threats, enhance political and economic cooperation to support European allies, and further counter the impacts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and support Armenia in its democratic development

Canadian Foreign Ministry

Kiev welcomes NATO's 'clear-eyed stance' on Russia

Ukraine has welcomed decisions by NATO to pledge more support to Kiev as it faces an invasion of Russian troops and to invite Finland and Sweden to join the US-led alliance.

"Today in Madrid, NATO proved it can take difficult but essential decisions. We welcome a clear-eyed stance on Russia, as well as the accession for Finland and Sweden. An equally strong and active position on Ukraine will help protect the Euro-Atlantic security and stability," Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.

EU nears compromise deal to defuse standoff with Russia over Kaliningrad

Trade through Lithuania to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad could return to normal within days, two sources familiar with the matter has told Reuters new agency, as European officials edge towards a compromise deal with the Baltic state to defuse a row with Moscow.

Kaliningrad, which is bordered by European Union states and relies on railways and roads through Lithuania for most goods, has been cut off from some freight transport from mainland Russia since June 17 under sanctions imposed by Brussels.

European officials are in talks about exempting the territory from sanctions, which have hit industrial goods such as steel so far, paving the way for a deal in early July if EU member Lithuania drops its reservations, said the people, who declined to be named because the discussions are private.

Zelenskyy says will join G20 in Bali depending on other 'participants'

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told Indonesia's visiting President Joko Widodo that he will attend the upcoming G20 summit in Bali depending on who else is attending.

"Certainly I accept the invitation. Ukraine's participation will depend on the security situation in the country and on the composition of the summit's participants," Zelenskyy said following their talks in Kiev, in an apparent reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin's attendance.

Ukraine's Tsurenko criticises Russian 'lies' after Wimbledon win

Ukrainian tennis player Lesia Tsurenko has criticised Russian "lies" over a missile strike on a shopping mall, saying she knew people affected by the attack after reaching the third round of Wimbledon.

Tsurenko, who wore a ribbon in the Ukraine colours, recovered from losing the first set to beat compatriot Anhelina Kalinina 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. The 33-year-old said both players felt "amazing support" on Court 12, with fans waving Ukrainian flags.

In her post-match press conference, she said she had been given permission by Wimbledon chiefs to wear the ribbon, referring to the "horrible things that are going on in Ukraine".

Especially, it's very painful for me to see that Russian propaganda is just saying that, for example, that shopping mall in Kremenchuk was not working...That's a lie...

Ukrainian tennis player Lesia Tsurenko

Putin still wants most of Ukraine, war outlook grim: US intelligence chief

Russian President Vladimir Putin still wants to take most of Ukraine and the picture for the conflict there remains "pretty grim," the top US intelligence official has said.

"We continue to be in a position where we look at President Putin and we think he has effectively the same political goals that we had previously, which is to say that he wants to take most of Ukraine," Avril Haines, the US Director of National Intelligence, told a Commerce Department conference.

Russia threatens retaliation against Norway over access to Arctic islands

Russia has said restrictions imposed by Norway are blocking goods for Russian-populated settlements on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, and threatened unspecified "retaliatory measures" unless Oslo resolves the issue.

Svalbard, midway between Norway's north coast and the North Pole, is part of Norway, but Russia has the right to exploit the archipelago's natural resources under a treaty signed in 1920, and some settlements there are populated mainly by Russians.

Norway, which is not in the EU but applies EU sanctions against Russia, has said sanctions would not affect the transport of goods by ship to Svalbard. But much of the freight for the archipelago's Russian settlements passes first through a checkpoint into mainland Norway, which is closed to sanctioned goods.

NATO leaders denounce Russia's 'appalling cruelty' in Ukraine

NATO leaders have decried Russia's brutal aggression in Ukraine and pledged more support for Kiev as it faces the onslaught from Moscow.

"Russia's appalling cruelty has caused immense human suffering and massive displacements, disproportionately affecting women and children," a declaration from a summit in Madrid said.

Alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg announced a new joint package of non-lethal support, including secure communications equipment and anti-drone systems. "Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes," he said.

China's 'coercive policies challenge our interests': NATO

NATO has for the first time in its guiding blueprint said China's might challenges the alliance and Beijing's closer ties to Moscow went against Western interests.

"The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values," NATO's strategic concept published at a summit in Madrid said.

"It strives to subvert the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains." It accused China of targeting NATO members with its "malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric".

NATO chief thanks Türkiye, Finland, Sweden for talks to find 'united way forward'

NATO secretary-general has thanked Türkiye, Finland and Sweden for accepting his invitation “to engage in negotiations to find a united way forward”.

Speaking at a press conference at the NATO summit in Madrid, Jens Stoltenberg called the trilateral agreement between Türkiye, Finland and Sweden that will address Ankara's security concerns "good" for the three countries, as well as NATO.

“Today, NATO leaders took the historic decision to invite Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO. The agreement concluded last night by Türkiye, Finland and Sweden paved the way for this decision,” he said. “The decision ... demonstrates that NATO's door is open,” said the alliance’s chief.

Syrian regime recognises independence, sovereignty of Donetsk, Luhansk

Syrian regime has officially recognised the independence and sovereignty of the two breakaway regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, regime's news agency SANA has said, citing a foreign ministry source.

The Syrian regime presidency had affirmed its intention to build relations with the two breakaway republics in February.

Russia not 'intimidated' by US military buildup in Europe: Deputy minister

Russia says it will not be intimidated by US military reinforcements in Europe as tensions spiral over Moscow's military intervention in Ukraine.

"I think that those who propose such solutions are under the illusion that they will be able to intimidate Russia, somehow restrain it — they will not succeed," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters.

"The security of countries where additional contingents will appear will not be strengthened. The prospect of stabilisation will be distant. Risks will increase," he added.

Russian court lets opposition figure's jail term stand

A court in Moscow has rejected a prominent Russian opposition figure's appeal of the 15-day jail sentence he received on charges of failing to obey police.

The decision by the Moscow City Court, the capital's highest municipal judicial body, came one day after Ilya Yashin was sentenced.

Yashin, who has publicly criticised Russia's military campaign in Ukraine, was detained late on Monday in a Moscow park. Police said he grabbed an officer by his uniform and insulted police, which Yashin denied. In May, Yashin was ordered to pay 90,000 roubles ($1700) on charges of discrediting the Russian military.

Russia adopts new 'foreign agents' law to target domestic opponents

Russia's lower house of parliament has passed a new law that will make it easier for authorities to label domestic critics as "foreign agents", a key tool in cracking down on dissent.

Russian has used the "foreign agent" tag since 2012 to identify people and organisations it deems to be engaging in political activity with foreign funding. Under the new law, authorities will be able to apply the label to anyone deemed to be under "foreign influence".

The definition of "political activity" has been expanded to include a wide range of activities identified as "contradicting the national interests of the Russian Federation".

Russia warns West: Don't take your assets in our country for granted

Russia has hinted that it has not dropped the idea of seizing Western-owned assets and businesses in the country, as a top official sharply criticised governments that have hit Moscow with sanctions.

In a combative media briefing, foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova warned that Russia was prepared to "act accordingly" if the West decided to use Russia's frozen state assets — chief among them being around $300 billion of central bank foreign currency reserves.

The use of the funds "will be interpreted by us as an unlawful and defiantly unfriendly attack, giving us the right to take retaliatory actions to protect our interests," she said.

Pope: Ukraine shopping centre bombing the latest 'barbarous' attack

Pope Francis has called the bombing of a crowded shopping centre in the city of Kremenchuk the latest in string of "barbarous attacks" against Ukraine.

Ukraine said at least 18 people were killed and about 60 injured on Monday by a Russian missile strike. Russia's defence ministry said it had hit a legitimate military target in the city, and that the shopping centre was not in use.

"Every day, I carry in my heart dear and martyred Ukraine, which continues to be flagellated by barbarous attacks like the one that hit the shopping centre in Kremenchuk," Francis told crowds in St. Peter's Square on the feast of St. Peter and Paul. "I pray that this mad war can soon end and I renew my appeal to persevere without tiring in praying for peace."

May the Lord open the those paths to dialogue which men either do not want or not able to find. May they not neglect to help the Ukrainian population, which is suffering so much

Pope Francis

World Bank lends Tunisia $130M for grains hit by Ukraine conflict

The World Bank has announced a $130-million loan to help Tunisia cover the cost of cereal imports whose prices have spiralled since Russia's offensive against Ukraine.

The package aimed "to lessen the impact of the Ukraine war by financing vital soft wheat imports and providing emergency support to cover barley imports for dairy production", the lender said.

It would also help buy "seeds for smallholder farmers for the upcoming planting season", it said in a statement late Tuesday.

Britain sanctions Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin

Britain has announced sanctions on oligarch Vladimir Potanin, described by London as Russia's second-richest man and who has been buying assets from firms exiting Russia over the offensive in Ukraine.

Potanin, known as Russia's "Nickel King", was included in the latest wave of sanctions listings by Britain which included business figures, financial firms and other entities.

Potanin is one of Russia's richest people, although his net worth depends largely on the value of his 36% stake in Nornickel, the world's largest producer of palladium and refined nickel. Since the offensive began, Potanin has snapped up Rosbank from Societe Generale when the French lender exited the Russian market, before adding a 35% stake in TCS Group.

Zelenskyy pushes for fuller NATO embrace, more arms

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told NATO leaders that Ukraine needs modern weapons and more financial aid in its fight against Russia's offensive.

"We need to break the Russian artillery advantage... We need much more modern systems, modern artillery," Zelenskyy told a NATO summit in Madrid via video link.

He added that financial support was "no less important than aid with weapons". "Russia still receives billions every day and spends them on war. We have a multibillion-dollar deficit, we don't have oil and gas to cover it," Zelenskyy said, adding that Ukraine needs around $5 billion a month for its defence.

US boosting force posture in Europe for Russia threat - Biden

President Joe Biden has said that the US is enhancing its military presence in Europe for the long haul to bolster regional security after Russia’s offensive in Ukraine.

Meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Madrid at the opening of the alliance’s annual leaders summit, Biden said “NATO is strong and united" and that steps to be taken during the gathering will "further augment our collective strength.”

Biden opened his participation in the summit by announcing that the US is establishing a permanent headquarters in Poland, sending two additional F-35 fighter jet squadrons to the UK and will send more air defence and other capabilities to Germany and Italy.

US says no communication with Russia about military changes in Europe

The United States has not communicated with Russia about a set of major changes in its military posture in Europe, and has no requirement to do so, a senior US official has said.

The official said NATO's first new strategic concept since 2010 would mention for the first time the "systemic challenges" posed by China and its burgeoning relationship with Russia, the official told reporters.

NATO summit proof alliance seeks to contain Russia - Moscow

Moscow has said that the NATO summit in Madrid served as proof that the alliance is seeking to contain Russia and that it sees Finland and Sweden's NATO bids as a "destabilising" factor.

"The summit in Madrid confirms and consolidates this bloc's policy of aggressive containment of Russia," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, Russian news agencies reported.

"We consider the expansion of the North Atlantic alliance to be a purely destabilising factor in international affairs."

Norway to send rocket launchers to Ukraine

Norway has said it will donate three multiple-launch rocket systems to Ukraine, following similar decisions made by Britain, Germany and the United States.

Kiev, whose forces are struggling to defend the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, has repeatedly called on its allies to provide more heavy weaponry.

"We must continue to support Ukraine so that they can continue their fight for freedom and independence," Norwegian Defence Minister Bjorn Arild Gram said in a statement.

$330B in Russian assets frozen

More than $330 billion in financial resources owned by Russia's elite and its central bank have been frozen by the West since Moscow's offensive began, according to an international sanctions task force.

The Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs Task Force (REPO) says that members, who include the US, Canada, UK, leading EU members, Japan and other allies, have blocked $30 billion in assets belonging to Russian oligarchs and officials and immobilised $300 billion owned by the Russian central bank.

Buses, trains to connect Crimea, south Ukraine

Authorities in Crimea have announced the launch of bus and train services between the Moscow-annexed peninsula and Russian-occupied parts of southern Ukraine.

"Starting from July 1, regular bus and train services between Crimea and the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia will be launched for the first time in eight years," Sergei Aksyonov, the pro-Moscow head of annexed Crimea, says.

Russia's offensive aimed in part at ending Crimea's isolation by seizing control of large parts of southeast Ukraine to create a land bridge between Russia and the peninsula, which was seized by Moscow in 2014.

Stoltenberg says Moscow poses a 'direct threat' to NATO

NATO leaders meeting in Madrid are set to label Russia a menace to their security as they overhaul the alliance's defences in response to the Russian offensive in Ukraine, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said.

"We'll state clearly that Russia poses a direct threat to our security," Stoltenberg said ahead of the unveiling of NATO's new strategic blueprint.

Stoltenberg said the alliance was meeting in Madrid “in the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced since the Second World War".

Two killed by strike on residential building in Ukraine's Mykolaiv

Two people have been killed and three wounded by a Russian strike on a residential building in Ukraine's southern city of Mykolaiv, regional governor Vitaly Kim has said.

He did not clarify whether it was a bomb or missile strike, artillery or mortar shelling. 

Moscow-administered Kherson prepares to join Russia - TASS

The Moscow-controlled military-civilian administration in Ukraine's Kherson region has said it has begun preparations for a referendum on joining Russia, Russian state news agency TASS has reported.

Gazprom's gas exports to Europe via Ukraine steady

Russian gas producer Gazprom has said its supply of gas to Europe through Ukraine via the Sudzha entry point is seen at 42.1 million cubic metres (mcm) on Wednesday compared with 42.2 mcm on Tuesday.

An application to supply gas via another major entry point, Sokhranovka, was again rejected by Ukraine, Gazprom said.

Zelenskyy says Putin has become 'a terrorist'

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of becoming "a terrorist" leading a "terrorist state", urging Russia's expulsion from the United Nations and calling for the UN team to visit the site of a missile strike on a shopping mall in the city of Kremenchuk.

In a virtual address to the UN Security Council, Zelenskyy urged the UN to establish an international tribunal to investigate "the actions of Russian occupiers on Ukrainian soil" and to hold the country accountable.

"We need to act urgently to do everything to make Russia stop the killing spree," Zelenskyy said, warning that otherwise Russia's "terrorist activity" will spread to other European countries and Asia, singling out the Baltic states, Poland, Moldova and Kazakhstan. "Putin has become a terrorist," he said. "Daily terrorist acts, without weekends. Every day they are working as terrorists."

For live updates from Tuesday (June 28), click here

Source: TRTWorld and agencies