Live Update: Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 467

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine in February 2022 after the Western-leaning Kiev government turned a deaf ear to Moscow’s calls for its neighbor to maintain its neutrality. In the middle of the mayhem, Moscow and Kiev are trying to hammer out a peaceful solution to the conflict. Follow the latest about the Russia-Ukraine conflict here:

‘No prospects’ for grain deal extension: Russia

Russia’s foreign ministry says it sees no prospects for extending the Black Sea grain export deal, which is set to expire in mid-July, Russian news agencies reported.

The TASS news agency quoted the ministry as saying it was continuing consultations with the United Nations and that ship inspections had resumed.

The RIA Novosti news agency also reported that a new round of Russia-UN talks would occur in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 9.

Russia has repeatedly threatened to quit the deal, complaining that obstacles still remain to its food and fertiliser exports.

Two drones fell on highway near Moscow region

Two drones fell on a highway in Russia’s Kaluga region, which lies south of the Moscow region, with the governor saying on Monday that no explosives detonated.

“The area has been cordoned off,” the governor of the region, Vladislav Shapsha, said on the Telegram messaging app.

Based on the information provided by Shapsha, the drones fell some 280km-300km (174 miles-186 miles) from Moscow.

Last week, Russia said Ukrainian drones struck districts of Moscow. Kyiv has denied any involvement.

Russia says it repels Ukrainian attempt to cross into Belgorod

Russia’s Defence Ministry announced it repelled a Ukrainian attempt to cross into the Belgorod region on Sunday, Russian RIA news agency reported.

Moscow said “more than 10” Ukrainian fighters had been killed by air and artillery strikes.

On Sunday, an anti-Kremlin group stated it had captured several soldiers during a cross-border raid into the Belgorod region and would hand them over to Ukrainian authorities.

The governor of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, also reported fighting in the town of Novaya Tavolzhanka with “Ukrainian saboteurs”.

Ukraine says it has no information on a counteroffensive

Ukraine’s military says it has no information about an offensive which Russia said Kyiv had launched at five points along the front line in Donetsk.

“We do not have such information and we do not comment on any kind of fake,” a spokesperson for the Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff said in response to a question from the Reuters news agency.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov did not answer questions about Ukraine’s counteroffensive during his daily press briefing, the Russian TASS news agency reported

Peskov told reporters that the Ministry of Defence could answer any questions about the “special military operation” and referred to the ministry’s statement on the alleged offensive.

Wagner boss says settlement near Bakhmut retaken by Ukraine

Leader of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, says Ukrainian forces have retaken part of the settlement of Berkhivka, north of Bakhmut.

“Now part of the settlement of Berkhivka has already been lost; the troops are quietly running away. Disgrace!” Prigozhin said in an audio message published by his press service.

He urged Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and the chief of the general staff, Valery Gerasimov, to come to the front to rally the troops.

“Come on, you can do it!” he said. “And if you can’t, you’ll die heroes,” he added.

Prigozhin’s private army captured Bakhmut last month after the longest battle of the war and handed its positions there to regular Russian troops.

Earlier in the day, the commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, stated that Ukrainian troops continued “moving forward” near Bakhmut.

Ukrainian grain yields could fall by 20 percent

While most of Ukraine’s winter grain crops are in good condition, grain yields could fall by 20 percent if dry and hot weather persists, the APK-inform consultancy firm quotes agricultural scientists as saying.

Grain output decreased to about 53 million tonnes in 2022 from a record 86 million tonnes in 2021 after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February last year.

The government has said that in 2023 the harvest could decline to 44.5 million tonnes.

“In general, weather conditions for most of the spring period were sufficiently favourable for growth and development of winter cereal crops,” Ukraine’s National Academy of Agrarian Sciences said in a report.

“However, in case of continuation of dry weather in the period of grain filling, especially on the background of high air temperatures. … the share of lost yields can be from 15 percent to 20 percent,” it added.

Ukraine forces ‘moving forward’ near Bakhmut: Ukrainian commander

The commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said on Monday that Ukrainian forces continued “moving forward” near Bakhmut.

Syrskyi stated that Ukrainian forces were successful in destroying a Russian position near the city.

“We continue moving forward,” Syrskyi said on the Telegram messaging app.

US statement on bilateral arms is ‘positive’: Kremlin

A statement by United States national security adviser Jake Sullivan calling for bilateral arms control discussions was “positive”, says the Kremlin.

On Friday, Sullivan said the US would abide by the nuclear weapons limits set in the New START treaty until it expires in 2026 if Russia did the same.

“This is an important and positive statement by Mr Sullivan. Of course, we expect it to be de facto confirmed by steps through diplomatic channels, and then the proposed formats for dialogue can be considered,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated.

President Vladimir Putin suspended Moscow’s participation in the treaty in February.

Russia claims to have thwarted ‘large-scale’ Ukraine attack

Russia has said its forces thwarted a major Ukrainian offensive in the Ukrainian region of Donetsk, killing 250 Ukrainian troops and destroying tanks and armoured vehicles.

“On the morning of June 4, the enemy launched a large-scale offensive in five sectors of the front in the South Donetsk direction,” the Russian defence ministry said on its Telegram channel early on Monday.

There was no update from Ukraine on the alleged offensive. In its evening update on June 4, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said Moscow was focusing its military efforts on the full occupation of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Donetsk is one of four Ukrainian territories that Russia annexed last September, along with Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson.

Ukraine has been preparing for a counteroffensive to take back territory occupied by Russia since it began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, as as well as the Crimean Peninsula it seized in 2014.

Ukraine reports two advances along front line in east

The head of Ukraine’s Land Forces said the country’s troops achieved two small victories along the front line of the battlefield with Russia in the contested provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The commander, Oleksandr Syrskyi, wrote on an official army website that Ukrainian forces had advanced 400 meters (1,300 feet) closer to the town of Svatove in Luhansk region. Svatove is situated along key Russian supply routes, so any eventual re-capture of the town would have important strategic implications.

While the front line has been static for months, hostilities in northern Donetsk and several parts of Luhansk “continue almost around the clock,” Syrskyi stated.

Syrskyi added Russia had launched fresh offensives in several locations in Luhansk region and the northern part of the Donetsk region partially using former prisoners who had been specifically trained for assault operations.

While Russian troop reinforcements have given their forces a numerical advantage, Syrskyi suggested that Ukraine’s superior agility gives Kyiv the edge on the battlefield.

“Not even superiority in numbers helps the enemy,” he said.

Luhansk and Donetsk make up Ukraine’s Donbas region, an industrial heartland when Russian-backed separatists seized control of two territories and declared breakaway republics in 2014. Shortly before the full-scale invasion in February 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the two separatist territories as independent states, ordering the deployment of Russian troops there in defiance of international law.

Syrskyi also stated that Ukrainian troops had successfully liberated some territory to the south of Bakhmut, the city in Donetsk where some of the war’s fiercest fighting has taken place.

Another Ukrainian official, army spokesman Serhii Cherevatyi, said Kyiv’s forces were mostly engaged in “preparatory activities” and “reconnaissance.”

“We are trying to preserve our personnel and counterattack only when we believe there are opportunities to achieve success,” Cherevatyi added.

Dissident military groups claim they’ve captured two Russian soldiers in Belgorod region

Two dissident Russian military units said Sunday that they had captured two Russian soldiers in the Belgorod region and demanded a meeting with the local governor Vyacheslav Gladkov.

The Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom for Russia Legion, which are not officially part of Ukraine’s military but fight under Ukrainian command, have made several recent incursions in Belgorod that have helped bring the war to Russian soil.

Gladkov responded to the groups’ demand in a video message on his Telegram channel Sunday, saying he is prepared to talk to the units if the two soldiers they claim to have captured are still alive.

“The only thing that stops me from negotiating with them is our guys who are in their hands. Most likely they killed them, as hard as it is for me to say. But if they are alive, from 17:00 to 18:00 Shebekino International Automobile Checkpoint. I guarantee safety. That’s it,” Gladkov added, apparently offering a meeting.

The head of the Wagner private military company, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed in a Telegram post Sunday that “he is ready to send one of his high-ranking deputies” to pick up captured Russian soldiers if no one comes to their rescue.

Prigozhin, who frequently needles the Kremlin establishment, challenged Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov to come to the soldiers’ rescue as well.

Sweden has taken steps to address Turkey’s concerns about its NATO accession: Secretary-general

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Sunday as they continue to work toward finding a path for Sweden to join the alliance.

Russia’s war in Ukraine prompted both Sweden and Finland to abandon decades of neutrality and seek to join the alliance, in what was viewed as a significant blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has sought to undermine NATO. But Turkey has held up Sweden’s accession for several reasons, mainly accusing Stockholm of allowing terrorist organizations to stay in the country.

Stoltenberg confirmed officials from Sweden, Turkey and Finland will meet the week of June 12 to discuss Sweden’s NATO membership bid.

On Thursday, Sweden passed new anti-terrorism legislation amending its constitution, ending its arms embargo and stepping up its counter-terrorism operations including against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party).

In response to this new legislation, Stoltenberg said, “Sweden has taken significant concrete steps to meet Turkey’s concerns,” and that it has “fulfilled its obligations.”

Stoltenberg added he believes there is still time for Sweden to become a member by this year’s NATO summit in Vilnius on July 11-12, a goal set at last year’s summit in Madrid

US believes Ukraine’s counteroffensive will see Kyiv take back “strategically significant territory”

The United States believes the highly anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive will result in Kyiv taking back “strategically significant territory,” Jake Sullivan, US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

“Exactly how much, in what places, that will be up to developments on the ground as the Ukrainians get this counteroffensive underway,” Sullivan said, adding, “But we believe that the Ukrainians will meet with success in this counteroffensive.”

Asked if this meant he expected some form of negotiations by the end of this year, Sullivan wouldn’t provide any sort of timetable but said that developments on the battlefield will have a “major impact” on any future negotiation.

“But what I will say is this: President [Volodymyr] Zelensky himself has said that this war will end ultimately through diplomacy,” Sullivan added.

UK MoD: Russia becoming increasingly paranoid as Ukraine war drags on

The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence has announced that Russia is becoming increasingly paranoid as the war on Ukraine drags on.

In its daily defence intelligence assessment, the ministry cited a case of a Russian care home worker, who was reportedly arrested after wearing a blue and yellow jacket to work.

“In recent days, Russian National Guard troops arrested a 22-year-old man in Volkhov near St Petersburg for displaying what was eventually determined to be the blue and yellow flag of Russia’s own Aerospace Forces,” it said.

“The clampdown highlights uncertainty within a paranoid Russian officialdom of what is and is deemed permissible within an increasingly totalitarian system,” it added.

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