Saturday, April 20, 2024

Russia’s “Special Operation” in Ukraine; Day 97: EU agrees to ban 90% of Russian oil by year-end

Russia, wary of NATO’s eastward expansion, began a military campaign in Ukraine on February 24 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:

Severodonetsk mayor says Russian forces seized half of city

Russian forces have seized half of the eastern city of Severodonetsk, its mayor has stated.

“The city is essentially being destroyed ruthlessly block by block,” Oleksandr Striuk told The Associated Press.

He added heavy street fighting continues and artillery bombardments threaten the lives of the estimated 13,000 civilians still sheltering in the ruined city that once was home to more than 100,000.

Evacuation efforts have been halted because of shelling.

“There are food supplies for several more days, but the issue is how to distribute them,” he continued.

Ukraine’s president welcomes new sanctions but criticises ‘unacceptable’ delay

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has welcomed a sixth package of European Union sanctions against Russia but criticised what he called an “unacceptable” delay in the bloc agreeing the latest measures.

“When over 50 days have passed between the 5th and 6th sanction packages, the situation is not acceptable for us,” Zelenskyy stated, speaking alongside Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova in Kyiv.

Russia playing ‘hunger games’ by blocking Ukrainian food exports: FM

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has accused Russia of deliberately blocking food exports and playing “hunger games with the world.”

Kuleba wrote on Twitter that Ukraine was working on a United Nations-led operation to ensure a safe trade route for food exports.

Germany to end Russian oil imports by end of 2022: Scholz

Germany is sticking to its goal of becoming independent from Russian oil imports by the end of the year, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said.

He added that options on how to handle refineries in eastern Germany, where thousands of employees worried about losing their jobs, were still to be determined.

“For now, it is important that we find a perspective that safeguards the jobs in Leuna and Schwedt,” Scholz told journalists in Brussels after a summit with European Union leaders that agreed a gradual embargo on Russian oil imports.

Macron ‘not excluding’ additional EU sanctions against Russia

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that following a sixth European Union package of sanctions against Russia nothing could be ruled out in terms of additional measures in the coming weeks.

Speaking to reporters following an EU summit in Brussels, he expressed hope for an agreement with Russia on Ukrainian food exports in the coming weeks, adding that recent talks between the Russian and Turkish presidents on the matter were a “positive sign”.

France, Germany propose UN resolution to end Odessa blockade

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have urged Vladimir Putin to end Russia’s blockade of the Ukrainian port of Odessa under the terms of a UN resolution.

“I proposed, in the discussion we had with Olaf Scholz last Saturday, to President Putin that we take the initiative for a resolution at the United Nations to give a very clear framework to this operation,” Macron said after a European summit in Brussels.

Germany to supply IFVs to Greece, Athens to deliver Soviet weapons to Kyiv

Germany will deliver infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) to Greece so that the government in Athens can pass on Soviet-style weapons to Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said.

“We will provide Greece with German infantry fighting vehicles,” he told reporters, without specifying what kind of infantry fighting vehicles Berlin will hand over to Greece or what kind of weapons Athens will pass on to Kyiv.

“The defence ministries will work out the details and quickly implement this agreement,” he added.

ICC to open office in Kyiv: Prosecutor

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan has said he is working toward opening an office in Ukraine’s capital “in the next few weeks.”

The ICC can’t prosecute the crime of aggression because neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the court. However, the ICC is taking part in a joint investigation along with Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania.

Khan added the united front of nations “hopefully can provide some modicum of accountability for the crimes that we are seeing in Ukraine and that really should no longer be tolerated.”

EU reaches limit on anti-Russian sanctions: Moscow’s envoy

The European Union has reached a saturation point as far as its anti-Russian sanctions go and its forthcoming – seventh – package of sanctions may cover only gas, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov sفشفثی on Tuesday.

“As for the content, the seventh package may only cover gas because the European Union has already reached a saturation point regarding its sanctions. There is nothing else to ban,” he said in an interview with the Rossiya-24 TV channel.

He noted however that when it comes to agreeing on a sanction package covering Russian gas, Europe “will have much more serious problems and internal contradictions than with oil.”

Following an almost month-long round of debates, the EU summit has finally concurred on the sixth package of anti-Russian sanctions, which, along with a partially suspended embargo on Russian oil, includes an extended backlist of Russian entities and individuals, disconnecting Sberbank and two more Russian banks from SWIFT, in addition to three Russian TV channels in the European Union getting banned from broadcasting there.

New EU sanctions to make Putin smile: Croatian President

Croatian President Zoran Milanovic thinks that the EU’s new sanctions against Russia will only make Russian President Vladimir Putin smile.

“You can introduce a gas embargo against Russia [as well]. Why don’t you?” the Croatian leader noted in a conversation with journalists on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, the sanctions don’t work, possibly, at some point they will. And the ruble didn’t drop, Russia does not feel any of this from the financial point of view, and when it does, the war will be over. The price will be paid by European citizens while Vladimir Putin will smile with satisfaction,” he explained.

That said, Milanovic asserted that there will be other customers for Russian oil and gas, above all, due to high demand for energy products.

The Croatian president assessed the possibility of his country becoming an energy hub for Central Europe in the near future.

“I would like for Croatia to become a key player. However, Croatia is not a key player and not a player at all,” he stressed.

“The fact that oil will go through our pipeline, what does this mean? Currently, we are also receiving gas through Serbia, all of this is interrelated. And Serbia [receives] oil through us. All of these are limited capacities that this oil pipeline (Adria pipeline, JANAF) can cope with, just as our gas pipeline from an LNG terminal [on Krk Island],” he explained.

According to the Croatian head of state, in his opinion, Hungary is the key player in this sphere as well as partially Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Canada sanctions 22 Russian nationals, 4 companies

Canada added four more companies and twenty two individuals into their sanction lists for Russia, the Canadian government said on its website on Tuesday.

In particular, the Russian Agricultural Bank and Investtorgbank were added to the sanction list.

Inclusion into such lists means freezing of potential assets in Canada and the ban on entering the country.

Italian PM: Russia sanctions will remain in place for long time, trade channels will change for many years, if not forever

Sanctions against Russia on gas and oil imports will be in place for a very long time, trade channels will change for many years, “if not forever,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said.

“Let’s not be deceived, these sanctions will last a very, very, very long time. Due to the state of things, trade lines will be changed, and possibly for many years; if not forever,” the prime minister told reporters.

Speaking at a press conference following a meeting of EU leaders in Brussels, Draghi stated it was necessary to establish pan-European ties in the field of budgetary policy and in areas “which are lacking, in particular, in Russian oil and subsequently in gas.”

Europe ‘dancing on brink’ of global economic crisis due to sanctions: Hungary

Europe is “dancing” on the brink of a global economic crisis because of sanctions against Russia, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Tuesday.

“We have enough problems, energy prices are sky-high, inflation is soaring and Europe is dancing on the brink of a global economic crisis because of sanctions,” Orban told the M1 broadcaster.

The prime minister added managing the economy in such crisis with higher oil prices “would have been tantamount to an atomic bomb,” but added that this scenario has been prevented.

On Monday night, the EU leaders reached an agreement at a summit in Brussels to put an embargo on Russian oil supplied by sea as part of the sixth package of sanctions in response to the military operation in Ukraine, while pipeline deliveries will continue as normal for now. European Council President Charles Michel stated earlier on Tuesday that there will be temporary exemptions for landlocked member states, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Gazprom to cut gas supplies to Denmark’s Orsted, Germany via Shell deal

Russia’s Gazprom said on Tuesday it would cut off gas flows to Denmark’s Orsted and to Shell Energy for its contract to supply gas to Germany, after both companies failed to make payments in roubles.

The cuts will be effective from June 1, Gazprom announced.

Russia has already cut off gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland and the Netherlands, which refused to make payments in line with a demand that requires rouble accounts to be set up in a Russian bank as part of the settlement scheme.

Orsted had said on Monday that Gazprom Export could stop supplying gas but said such a move would not immediately put Denmark’s gas supplies at risk.

Gazprom also added it had been told by Shell Energy Europe Limited that it would not pay in roubles for gas supplied to Germany. It added that the contract stipulated gas supplies of up to 1.2 billion cubic metres per year.

Gazprom stated Shell and Orsted had failed to pay for gas deliveries by the end of the working day on May 31, and stop deliveries until they paid in line with Russian demands.

US to send Ukraine precision-guided missiles with range of over 60km: Report

The Joe Biden administration intends to provide Ukraine with precision-guided missiles that could hit targets from a distance of over 60 km as part of efforts to boost Ukrainian military amid Russia’s special operation, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday, citing US officials.

The guided multiple launch rocket systems under consideration can fire twice the distance of the M777 howitzers that the United States has already delivered to Ukraine, the report added.

At the moment, it is not yet known how many of these systems will be sent to Ukraine, but according to one official, cited in the report, if approved, the first deliveries would begin within weeks. Training Ukrainians on how to operate these systems would last at least 10 days.

The Pentagon repeatedly said that the Ukrainian side has on many occasions asked the United States to send them multiple rocket launchers, especially after the epicenter of the battles moved to Donbass.

Systems, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, would allow Ukrainian forces to strike Russian positions throughout Donbass and can be fired from either tracked or wheeled launchers, according to the officials.

On Monday, President Biden stated that Washington would not supply Kiev with missile systems capable of striking Russian territory.

The Biden administration has already provided Ukraine with 1,400 Stinger anti-aircraft systems along with 5,500 Javelins, and hundreds of drones among other equipment since Russia’s special military operation began in February.

Turkey says awaiting Sweden’s and Finland’s responses to its conditions on NATO accession

“The Nordic opponents are telling us that the national legislation must be revised. We are prepared to wait as long as it takes until Turkey’s national security concerns are addressed,” Cavusoglu continued.

Medvedev: Western sanctions targeting Russia based on hatred against Russian people

Bulgaria exempt from Russian oil embargo until end of 2024: PM

Bulgaria has been exempted from the European Union embargo on Russian oil until the end of 2024, Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday.

Further details on the exemption will be revealed in a couple of days, Petkov said as he arrived for the second day of an extraordinary European Council meeting on Ukraine.

Petkov stated the exemption would give Bulgaria time to adapt its refinery to process other oil.

He also added he is “glad” the sixth round of EU sanctions on Russia “will pass” and that Russia’s “financial flows will stop.”

European Union leaders agreed on Monday to ban most Russian oil imports as part of a new sanctions package against Moscow.

The “stronger the sanctions, the quicker the war will end”: Latvian PM

Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš has welcomed the latest round of sanctions against Moscow, saying the “stronger the sanctions, the quicker the war will end.”

“All member states are determined to move away from Russian energy dependency,” he stated upon arrival to a special meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Tuesday.

“Over the past 20, 30 years, nations have built infrastructure, which has been greatly reliant upon Russian energy sources, and we’re moving very rapidly away from that. For some member states it’s easier, for other member states it is actually physically more difficult because of the lack of ports, lack of infrastructure, but everyone is moving in the same direction,” Kariņš added.

The European Union agreed to ban 90% of Russian oil imports by the end of the year, the leaders of the European Council announced on Monday.

“Yesterday we agreed on the sixth sanction round, which includes oil, it will cut about two thirds of Russia’s oil exports to the EU,” Kariņš added, saying, “This is very, very good news. Indeed. The stronger the sanctions, the quicker the war will end.”

Kariņš also praised the agreement.

“I think it’s a fantastic step in the right direction, to make it ever more difficult for Russia to fund this war of aggression in Ukraine,” Kariņš noted.

Senior EU official weighs in on seizure of Russian assets

The confiscation of Russian foreign assets would be “a very difficult step” as it is not a political decision and requires judicial justification, European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni said.

Earlier this month, several senior EU officials proposed seizing Russian foreign exchange reserves, which had been frozen in response to Moscow’s military offensive in Ukraine. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell suggested the funds should be used to cover the cost of rebuilding Ukraine once the conflict is over.

Speaking at the Foreign Press Association in Rome, Gentiloni confirmed that several countries are evaluating the idea of confiscation with support from the European Commission. However, he stressed that “from a legal point of view, the transition from freezing to confiscation is a very difficult step” and thus “the outcome is not certain.”

“We have to respect the law as the rule of law is a founding principle of the EU and we will do it in all cases,” he added.

The commissioner also made it clear that confiscation “is not a political decision,” and has to comply with legal requirements.

Zelensky ready to meet with Putin: Ukrainian president’s press secretary

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is ready to accept Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s initiative to organize his meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian news portal Vesti said on Tuesday, citing Ukrainian presidential spokesman Sergey Nikiforov.

Vesti stated it had contacted Nikoforov, who said that “it is too early to speak about formats of the meeting.” In his words, it is about “a consent in principle for such a meeting.”

Zelensky noted on Monday he had had a telephone conversation with Erdogan.

According to the Turkish presidential office, Erdogan told his Ukrainian counterpart that Turkey was ready to continue mediatory efforts between Russia and Ukraine.

During a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier on Monday, Erdogan voiced an initiative to organize a meeting involving Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations in Istanbul.

Zelensky aide pressures US

Kiev will resort to hysterical outbursts, if the US fails to deliver multiple rocket launchers to fight Russia, an aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday. Alexey Arestovich was responding to remarks by US President Joe Biden, who said the US won’t send to Ukraine long-range rockets that can hit Russia.

Washington is reportedly on the brink of stepping up the arming of Ukraine with heavier weapons. Arestovich, a key figure in Ukraine’s messaging on military affairs, outlined Kiev’s response to a scenario, in which the weapons are not delivered as expected.

“The decision about the systems is coming soon, and we will understand whether they will supply them or not,” he stated, adding, “If they don’t, we’ll have an exemplary tantrum.”

The US is expected to deliver two kinds of rocket systems to Ukraine, the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) and the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). Both can launch tactical ballistic missiles with a range of up to 300km, but the more affordable type of munitions for them are shorter-range rockets that can be fired in barrages.

Biden said on Monday that the US was “not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that can strike into Russia”. He didn’t elaborate, but many people, Arestovich included, believe he was referring to the munitions, not the launchers.

“Seventy kilometers is more than enough for us,” he added, referring to the range of the smaller projectiles.

Media reports said US officials were reluctant to supply the longer-range missiles that could be used to attack targets in Russia due to concerns that Moscow would perceive it as a major escalation. Russia has blamed Ukrainian forces for several cross-border incidents that hurt civilians and caused damage inside Russia. Kiev has neither claimed credit nor denied responsibility for them.

Ukraine has Soviet-made multiple rocket launchers in its arsenals but claims that the American systems would give it an advantage on the battlefield. Ukrainian troops have been retreating in the east this month, ceding territory claimed as their own by Russian-backed republics in the Donbass region. Kiev also suffered a setback in Mariupol, where over 2,000 troops surrendered to Russian forces after spending weeks under a blockade.

Moscow: NATO disrespected Russia’s position because of its desire to rule world

NATO has refused to respect Russia’s security initiatives in a bid to rule the entire world, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday at a joint press conference following talks with his Bahraini counterpart Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani.

In particular, he told the Bahraini leadership about Russia’s efforts over the past 15 years to “reliably ensure security on the European continent and the Euro-Atlantic region as a whole,” and about Moscow’s numerous initiatives that “have not received respectful consideration, respectful response” from NATO and the US itself.

“This situation has shown the desire of our Western partners to conduct business not on the basis of equality, not on the basis of the principles of the UN Charter, including the principle of respect for the sovereign equality of states, but on the basis of diktat, their irreparable conviction that they are destined to rule the entire world,” the minister stressed.

Lavrov added that Russia will continue to defend the principles of international law and the UN Charter, which the West violates by all means while promoting the concept of unipolarity.

“According to this concept, the West decides everything. In doing so, NATO plays the role of global policeman, it is not a defensive alliance. It plays the role of ensuring global security, including, as they say, in the Indo-Pacific region, openly announcing the need to contain the People’s Republic of China, Russia, of course. And the concept of a rules-based order assumes that this dominance of the West takes place with the United States in charge of everything,” the Russian foreign minister explained.

Senior Ukraine official says EU sanctions on Russia still ‘not enough’

The latest European Union sanctions on Russia, which ban most imports of its oil, are “not enough” and the pace of sanctions so far has been too slow, according to a senior official in the Ukrainian president’s office.

In the bloc’s toughest reprisals against Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine three months ago, an EU summit in Brussels on Monday agreed measures that officials said would immediately cut more than two-thirds of oil imports from Russia, and 90 percent by the end of the year.

“If you ask me, I would say far too slow, far too late and definitely not enough,” Ihor Zhovkva, deputy head of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office, noted.

EU oil ban would cut money Russia has to spend on Ukraine war: Borrell

The EU deal to cut most of Russian oil imports would force Moscow to offer crude at a lower price to others, according to the bloc’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell.

“We are the most important client for Russia,” Borrell said on arriving to second day of EU leaders talks about the latest in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

“The purpose is to make Russia have less financial resources to feed its war machine,” he added.

Ukrainian court sentences two Russian soldiers to jail

A Ukrainian has court sentenced two captured Russian soldiers to 11 and a half years in jail for shelling a town in eastern Ukraine, the second war crimes verdict since the start of Russia’s invasion in February.

Alexander Bobikin and Alexander Ivanov, who listened to the verdict standing in a reinforced glass box at the Kotelevska district court in central Ukraine, both pleaded ‘guilty’ last week.

Ukraine has identified 600 Russian war crime suspects: prosecutor

Ukraine has identified more than 600 Russian war crime suspects and has started prosecuting around 80 of them, according to Kyiv’s top prosecutor.

The list of suspects includes “top military, politicians and propaganda agents of Russia”, prosecutor general Iryna Venediktova told a news conference in The Hague.

Venediktova added Estonia, Latvia and Slovakia had decided to join an international investigation team in Ukraine.

EU oil sanctions on Russia to have ‘months-long phase in’

The European Union’s sanctions against seaborne imports of Russian oil will be imposed with a phase-in period of six months for crude oil and eight months for refined products, according to a European Commission spokesperson.

That timeline would kick in once the sanctions are formally adopted, with EU country ambassadors aiming to adopt them this week, after EU leaders agreed in principle to the sanctions at a summit on Monday.

The timings would follow the deadlines originally proposed by the Commission, when it proposed the oil sanctions earlier this month.

Lavrov: West prevents Russian ships from docking at ports to exacerbate food crisis

Russia has done everything in its power to resolve the nascent global food crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has stated.

However, the West itself creates obstacles in the way of solving the issue, as these countries are preventing the Russian ships from entering their ports, Lavrov stressed. He added that due to Western sanctions, the logistics of food supplies and the financial operations related to them had been disrupted.

“[Western countries] should, of course, seriously consider what is more important for them: Using the problem of food security for their own PR, or solving the issue with concrete steps. It’s up to them now,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov’s statement comes in the wake of allegations that Russia is blocking Ukrainian ports, preventing their use in exporting grain in order to artificially create a global food crisis. Ukraine and Russia are among the world’s top suppliers of grain and other agricultural products.

The foreign minister pointed out that Russia is ready to release Ukrainian ships and escort them out of Ukrainian waters. However, that would require Kiev to clear the coastal waters of the naval mines it has deployed, which prevent the save passage of the commercial vessels.

However, while such steps may release Ukrainian grain exports, certain countries would still be massively deprived of agricultural exports from Russia. The sale of grain and crops to certain countries has been practically paralysed due to the US and most European countries banning Russian ships from entering their ports.

Western sanctions against the Russian banking sector also disrupted international payments to and from the country, further exacerbating the issue. Moscow has stated on several occasions that the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions, which the Kremlin considers illegal, is a prerequisite for releasing agricultural exports and resolving the nascent global food crisis.

Moscow will find other oil importers after EU agrees on phase-out: Russian diplomat

Moscow will find other oil importers that will replace the European Union after it reached an agreement on a partial ban of Russian oil supplies, Permanent Representative of Russia to International Organisations in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov announced on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, European Council President Charles Michel stated that the EU leaders managed to mend the differences and agreed on a partial ban on Russian oil imports on the first day of the summit in Brussels, effectively unblocking the sixth package of sanctions against Moscow. The partial embargo will hit two-thirds of oil imports from the country.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen noted the EU will cut oil imports from Russia by 90% by the end of 2022 after reaching the agreement.

“As she [von der Leyen] rightly said yesterday, #Russia will find other importers. Noteworthy that now she contradicts her own yesterday’s statement. Very quick change of the mindset indicates that the #EU is not in a good shape,” Ulyanov said on social media, commenting on von der Leyen’s tweet about the agreement.

The sixth EU package of sanctions against Russia still has to be officially approved by all member states and ratified before it goes into effect.

The EU has already rolled out five sanctions packages. The European Commission announced plans to impose a blanket ban on Russian oil weeks ago; however, several European countries, including Hungary, blocked its adoption due to concerns about a negative impact on their economies and energy security.

Russia halts gas supplies to Netherlands

The Netherlands has become the fourth country to stop receiving Russian natural gas, following its decision not to pay for deliveries in rubles.

Russia’s energy giant Gazprom announced on Tuesday that it had “completely stopped gas supplies” to the Dutch state energy wholesaler GasTerra.

“As of the end of the business day on May 30, Gazprom Export had not received payment for gas supplies in April from GasTerra B.V.,” the Russian company explained in a statement.

GasTerra earlier said it had taken measures to make up for the gas shortfall.

“The cessation of supply by Gazprom means that until October 1, 2022, the date on which the contract ends, approximately 2 bcm of contracted gas will not be supplied. GasTerra has anticipated this by purchasing gas elsewhere,” the Dutch company said in a statement.

In late April, Gazprom suspended gas exports to Bulgaria and Poland, and in May, Finland was cut off. Denmark also faces a supply freeze after refusing Russia’s ruble payment demand.

Moscow’s new payment scheme requires gas buyers from “unfriendly” countries that have placed sanctions on Russia to open accounts in Gazprombank. They can then deposit funds in their currency of choice, which the bank converts to rubles and transfers to the supplier.

Russia would need territory beyond Severodonetsk to fully control Donbas: UK

Russia will need to capture territory beyond Severodonetsk, including the key city of Kramatorsk and the M04 Dnipro-Donetsk main road, if it wants to fully occupy the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the United Kingdom’s defence ministry has said.

In its latest intelligence briefing, the ministry noted that Russia’s capture of the town of Lyman supported its main operational effort of encircling Severodonetsk and closing the pocket around Ukrainian forces in Luhansk.

“Heavy shelling continues, while street fighting is likely taking place on the outskirts of Severodonetsk town,” the ministry announced.

It added that Russia’s progress had been slow but it was holding gains, likely due to the fact it had massed forces and fires in relatively small areas, which forced it to accept risk elsewhere in occupied territory.

First ship leaves Mariupol since Russia took city: Separatist leader

A ship has left the port of Mariupol for the first time since Russia took the city and is headed east to Russia, Interfax quoted the Russian-backed separatist leader of the Ukrainian breakaway region of Donetsk as saying.

A spokesperson for the port stated last week that the ship would be loading 2,700 tonnes of metal in Mariupol before travelling east to the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

Ukraine announced the shipment of metal to Russia from Mariupol amounted to looting.

Russian troops advancing towards Severodonetsk centre

The governor of Luhansk has told Ukrainian television that Russian troops were slowly advancing towards the centre of Severodonetsk

Part of the city of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine is “already controlled by the Russian army” and Russian troops are “gradually moving towards downtown Severodonetsk,” Hayday confirmed.

But Hayday denied Russian reports that they have captured the whole city.

“The situation is extremely complicated,” Hayday said.

“Unfortunately, part of Severodonetsk city is already controlled by the Russian army. They [the Russians] reported a couple of days ago that they had already captured the entire city. This is not the case, there are our guys in the city. The Russians cannot move freely,” he added.

Hayday said he didn’t think there was a risk troops would encircle Severodonetsk though fighting continues in the city.

“The Russians do not control the Lysychansk-Bakhmut route, but they are shelling it,” Hayday added.

Russian forces are “focused on establishing control over the city of Severodonetsk,” the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in its daily update on Tuesday morning.

There are “ongoing hostilities” in the area as Russia continues its “assault operations,” and “electronic warfare” is also being used, the military added.

Severodonetsk, a city in eastern Luhansk region, is being hammered with constant shelling as Russian forces try to encircle Ukrainian defenders and move into the city.

Around 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Severodonetsk, in the Lyman area, Russia is regrouping and “prepares for the offensive.” The General Staff stated Russian troops had to withdraw after suffering losses following a reconnaissance operation.

There was also an “attempt to assault the area of Dovhenke” to the west of Lyman, but “the enemy was unsuccessful,” and “retreated to previously occupied positions.”

Latest round of EU sanctions includes a ban on 90% of Russian oil imports by end of 2022

The European Union agreed to ban 90% of Russian oil imports by the end of the year, the leaders of the European Council announced on Monday.

Russian oil delivered by tankers would be banned, while an exemption will be made for the southern segment of the Druzhba pipeline, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen stated at a press conference.

The northern segment of the pipeline serves Poland and Germany, which have agreed to the embargo. The southern part goes to Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic. Von der Leyen said an exemption will be made for the southern segment, which accounts for 10% of imports on Russian oil.

“We have a clear political statement by Poland and Germany that they will, as the others, wind down Russian oil, until the end of the year. We have covered overall 90% of Russian oil being wound down during this time frame. Leftover is the roundabout 10 or 11% that is covered by the southern Druzhba. We have agreed for the moment an exemption,” von der Leyen said.

Von der Leyen added that EU leaders would continue to meet to discuss details of the oil embargo and other parts of the sanctions package.

“The European Council agrees that the sixth package of sanctions against Russia will cover crude oil, as well as petroleum products, delivered from Russia into member states, with a temporary exception for crude oil delivered by pipeline,” the European Council announced in a statement.

“The European Council will revert to the issue of the temporary exception for crude oil delivered by pipeline as soon as possible,” it read.

on der Leyen said it would be possible to increase usage of the Adria oil pipeline in Croatia to supply oil to Hungary without Russia. She added that Hungary’s refineries would need to be updated to accommodate oil from Croatia.

“It is big step forward what we did today. Because we have now gotten rid of coal – and this was already very difficult. Now we basically have the political agreement, how to phase out oil in a clear timeframe,” von der Leyen added.

Earlier this month when Europe proposed the ban on Russian oil, it stopped short of sanctioning Russia’s natural gas. According to Rystad Energy, Russia’s natural gas exports are predicted to generate about $80 billion in tax revenues for Moscow this year.

In recent weeks, Russia has been cutting off gas supply to countries such as the Netherlands, Poland, Finland, Bulgaria which have refused to comply with its demand for gas to be paid for in rubles.

European Commission president: EU leaders have agreed “on principle” on new sanctions package against Russia

European Union leaders have agreed “on principle” on a new sanctions package against Russia, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said in a news conference on Monday following a summit in Brussels.

“I’m very glad that the leaders were able to agree in principle on the sixth sanctions package, this is very important. Thanks to this, (the) council should now be able to finalize a ban on almost 90% of all Russian oil imports by the end of the year. This is an important step forward,” von der Leyen stated.

Von der Leyen added that the remaining 10% of imports of Russian oil is via a pipeline into Hungary and Slovakia. Those imports would be exempt from the sanctions, she said.

“Two-thirds of the oil that we have in the EU is seaborne and one-third in pipeline,” von der Leyen noted, “We have agreed for the moment being for an exemption. We have agreed that the council will revert to the topic as soon as possible.”

Von der Leyen stated that the leaders agreed to remove Sberbank, Russia’s largest bank, from the SWIFT network, as well as institute a ban on the insurance of Russian ships by EU companies and a ban on providing Russian companies with a range of services.

Von der Leyen added that there would be a suspension of broadcasting of three more Russian state outlets in the EU. She did not specify which broadcasters would be suspended.

“We are working on a mechanism to have an extraordinary macrofinancial assistance package of 9 billion (euros), which we will work on now in the next week — how to put it into place,” von der Leyen said.

The leaders also held intensive talks on the reconstruction of Ukraine. Von der Leyen emphasized that coordination across EU states is necessary to carry this out.

“It was good that we could discuss the proposal of the commission in the council to create a platform where we can channel all of the international initiatives to be clear together on the direction on travel, to raise the necessary investment, but also to be very clear that investment comes with reform,” she continued.

EU agrees to ban most Russian oil imports: Official

The president of the European Council has announced an agreement among EU countries to ban most Russian oil imports to the 27-nation bloc.

“This immediately covers more than 2/3 of oil imports from Russia, cutting a huge source of financing for its war machine,” Charles Michel wrote on Twitter.

It remains unclear when the ban will go into effect or whether countries heavily dependent on Russian energy exports, which previously opposed the embargo, will be exempt from the measure.

The ban would be part of a sixth EU sanction package against Moscow that Kyiv had been seeking.

Michel stated the measures also include blocking Russia’s largest bank Sberbank from the SWIFT financial messaging service, banning three Russian state-owned broadcasters and sanctions against individuals responsible for war crimes.

Russia stole half a million tonnes of grain: Zelensky

President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed that Russian occupiers have stolen “at least half a million tonnes of grain” from Ukraine.

They “are now looking for ways to illegally sell it somewhere. To sell it in a way to make money on what was stolen and to keep the deficit in the legal market,” he said in his nighttime address.

On Monday, CNN reported that satellite imagery showed a Russian merchant ship loaded with stolen Ukrainian grain had arrived in the Syrian port of Latakia. It was carrying nearly 30,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat, according to Ukrainian officials.

Zelensky noted the killing of French journalist Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff brings the number of media workers killed in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion to 32.

Zelensky added, “A little more than a month ago I gave an interview to this very TV channel. It was my first interview to the French media during the full-fledged war. My sincere condolences to colleagues and family of Frederic.”

Zelensky has said the Russian blockade of Ukrainian seaports prevents Kyiv from exporting 22 million tonnes of grain.

He stated the result is the threat of famine in countries dependent on the grain and could create a new migration crisis.

“This is something the Russian leadership clearly seeks,” he added.

Zelensky accused Moscow of “deliberately creating this problem so that the whole of Europe struggles and so that Ukraine doesn’t earn billions of dollars from its exports.”

Moscow has blamed Western sanctions for the crisis – a claim Zelensky dismissed as “cynical”.

Belarus to conduct military mobilisation exercises near Ukraine border

Belarus will conduct military mobilisation exercises in June and July in the Gomel region, which borders Ukraine to the south and Russia to the east, state news agency BelTA has reported.

“Events of this kind are traditionally held to increase the combat and mobilisation readiness of military commissariats, and improve military knowledge and practical skills of those liable for military service,” BelTA quoted Andrey Krivonosov, military commissar of the Gomel region, as saying.

Russians buried 16,000 Mariupol residents in mass graves since April: Mayor

The Ukrainian mayor of the now Russian-controlled city of Mariupol has said that since mid-April, Russian occupiers have buried at least 16,000 city residents in mass graves near the villages of Staryi Krym, Manhush and Vynohradne.

Vadym Boychenko also stated on Telegram that 25 new trench areas had appeared at the Staryi Krym cemetery in the past month. He said the bodies had been placed in the trenches in layers, and then “masked” with plates as individual burial sites.

“We estimated the death toll at 22,000 people in Mariupol. But more and more facts show that the consequences of the Rashist crime are much worse. This and the dire state of the local population under occupation need special attention of the global community,” Boychenko continued.

He added thousands of bodies still remained under rubble, in natural cemeteries and in temporary mortuaries.

EU backs 9 billion euros of loans for Ukraine

EU members have backed a package of loans worth 9 billion euros ($9.7 billion), with a small component of grants to cover part of the interest, for Ukraine to keep its government going and pay wages for about two months.

Leaders also backed the creation of an international fund to rebuild Ukraine after the war, with details to be decided later.

The European Council President Charles Michel said in a tweet that the council “will continue helping Ukraine with its immediate liquidity needs, together with G7.”

Kherson and Zaporizhzhia switch to Russia’s internet and mobile networks

The Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, now under Russian control, have switched over to Russia’s mobile and internet network, state news agency RIA reports citing an advisor to the Moscow-installed head of information policy in the annexed territory of Crimea.

“In the liberated territories, it is now exclusively Russian Internet and communications. In fact, this is the end of Ukrainian propaganda. Volodymyr Zelensky’s towers of lies have fallen,” Oleg Kryuchkov said.

RIA reports that the occupying military-civilian administration in Kherson asked Moscow whether it could use the capabilities of Russian telecommunications companies to restore cellular communications in the region. The request reportedly came after shelling by Ukrainian forces caused a network blackout.

Russian forces control one third of Severodonetsk: Moscow-backed separatist

Russian forces have seized control of about a third of Severodonetsk, but their assault is taking longer than they had hoped, according to a Moscow-backed separatist leader quoted in a TASS news agency report.

“We can say already that a third of Severodonetsk is already under our control,” TASS quoted Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic, as saying in a report on Tuesday morning.

Pasechnik told the Russian state news agency that fighting was raging in the city, but Russian forces were not advancing as rapidly as might have been hoped.

“But we want, above all, to maintain the city’s infrastructure,” he added.

The advance of Russian troops was complicated by the presence of several large chemical plants in the Severodonetsk area, TASS reported.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has also said Russian forces reportedly control the northeast and southeast outskirts of the city of Severodonetsk and are continuing to gain ground within the city.

“Ukrainian and Russian sources reported ongoing fighting to the south of Severodonetsk in Toshkivka, Ustynivka, Voronove, Borivske, and Metolkine, as Russian forces continue efforts to complete the encirclement of Severodonetsk from the south,” the ISW said in its latest campaign assessment.

It added that there had been reports Russian forces were transferring large quantities of personnel and equipment to the area to strengthen operations against Severodonetsk.

“A Russian Telegram channel claimed that Russian forces control the entire southern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, except for the part of the river that runs through Severodonetsk. ISW cannot independently confirm this claim, though it is consistent with previous reporting on persistent, incremental Russian advances in and around the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area,” the institute said.

Turkey tells US it wants ‘concrete steps’ from Finland, Sweden for NATO bids

A chief adviser to Turkey’s president told his US counterpart that Turkey wanted “concrete steps” on the existence of what it calls “terrorist organisations” in Finland and Sweden before it would consider their NATO bids, the Turkish presidency has said.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Ibrahim Kalin, chief foreign policy adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, spoke to discuss the NATO bids and the war in Ukraine, the Turkish presidency said in a statement.

In a statement, the Turkish presidency announced Kalin had told Sullivan in a phone call that nations wanting to join NATO must “internalise the alliance’s values and principles on security and counter-terrorism”.

“It was emphasised that it is imperative for Sweden and Finland to take concrete steps regarding the terrorist organisations that threaten Turkey’s national security,” it added.

Russia’s Gazprom to halt gas supplies to Dutch trader GasTerra on May 31

Russia’s Gazprom Export has said it will suspend gas supplies to Dutch gas trader GasTerra on May 31 over failure to pay for gas delivered in April under the rouble-for-gas payments scheme.

It added that the suspension of gas supplies will be enacted until the payments are settled in line with the Russia-proposed scheme.

EU Parliament backs EU membership for Ukraine with ‘zero ambiguity’

The European Parliament supports Ukraine’s EU membership and urges bloc leaders to move ahead with the integration process, the legislative body’s president has said.

“There is zero ambiguity about the European Parliament’s position that it positively views the next step for Ukraine to become a candidate for the EU,” Roberta Metsola told Anadolu Agency at a news conference following her discussions with the EU leaders at the special summit.

Zelensky calls on EU to approve sixth package of sanctions against Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called on the European Union to put aside internal disputes and push on with plans to approve the bloc’s proposed sixth package of sanctions against Russia.

Addressing EU leaders attending the European Council summit in Brussels on Monday, Zelensky called on the bloc to maintain a sense of unity in the face of Russian aggression.

“This is time for you to become not separate but one whole. Ukraine has demonstrated why everyone has to be united. We are all working for one purpose,” he told the summit via video link.

“You have managed to stop the invaders and more unity is the basis of the success. All the disputes within the European Union must stop because they give incentives for Russia to carry on,” Zelensky urged EU leaders.

The Ukrainian leader stressed that although he is “grateful” for efforts being made “to advance the sixth sanction package,” the bloc must push on with plans to approve the sanctions.

“Unfortunately for some reason it is still not in place. And for some reason, you are dependent on the Russian pressure. And it should be the opposite. Russia should depend on you. Why is Russia still able to earn $1 billion per day selling oil?” he asked EU leaders.

“There should be an oil embargo so that Russia understands the price of its actions,” Zelensky continued.

Dutch gas trader GasTerra says its Gazprom deliveries to end

Dutch company GasTerra says that from Tuesday it will no longer receive gas from Russia’s Gazprom after refusing to agree to Moscow’s demands for payment in roubles.

GasTerra, which buys and trades gas on behalf of the Dutch government, said it had contracted elsewhere for the two billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas it had expected to receive from Gazprom through October.

It added the system that Russia had demanded, which involved the setting up of accounts that would be paid in euros and then swapped for roubles, could violate EU sanctions and also said the payment route presented too many financial and operational risks.

GasTerra is 50 percent owned by Dutch government entities and 25 percent each by oil giants Shell and Exxon.

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