Ukraine latest updates: Battle for Lysychansk city grinds on

Ukraine news from June 29: Lysychansk is last eastern stronghold under Ukrainian control following retreat of Ukraine’s forces from Severodonetsk.

Locals look at destroyed buildings in Lysychansk, Ukraine.
Locals look at destroyed buildings in Lysychansk after heavy fighting in the Luhansk area, Ukraine, 18 June 2022, five kilometers north-east of Severodonetsk. The city and its surroundings have turned into a battlefield in the past weeks [Oleksandr Ratushniak/EPA]
  • NATO has labelled Russia a menace to its security as the bloc plans to revise its defences in response to the war on Ukraine.
  • A Russian missile attack has killed three people and injured five in the port city of Mykolaiv on Wednesday, local authorities say, following Tuesday’s raids that killed three people, including a six-year-old girl.
  • The UK’s defence ministry claims Russian forces were making “incremental advances” in their offensive to capture the city of Lysychansk.
  • It also says there is a real possibility the Russian missile that hit the shopping centre in Kremenchuk was intended for a nearby target.
  • Russia’s deputy UN ambassador tells the United Nations Security Council that Moscow’s precision weapons hit hangars in the Kremenchuk road machinery plant, causing a fire that spread to the mall.
(Al Jazeera)

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These were the updates on Wednesday, June 29:

Zelenskyy says ties cut with Syria after it recognised separatist republics

President Zelenskyy has announced the end of diplomatic ties between Kyiv and Damascus after Moscow ally Syria recognised the independence of eastern Ukraine’s two separatist republics.

“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”.

Putin: Russia will respond if NATO sets up infrastructure in Finland, Sweden

President Putin said Russia would respond in kind if NATO set up infrastructure in Finland and Sweden after they join the US-led military alliance.

Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying he could not rule out that tensions would emerge in Moscow’s relations with Helsinki and Stockholm over their joining NATO.

Frequency of shelling in Lysychansk is ‘enormous’: regional governor

The frequency of shelling on Lysychansk, a city in eastern Ukraine under Russian attack, is “enormous”, the regional governor of Luhansk said.

Lysychansk “is constantly being shelled with large calibres. The fighting is continuing at the outskirts of the city. The Russian army is trying to attack constantly,” Serhiy Haidai said on his Telegram channel.

“Now there is a peak of fighting. The frequency of shelling is enormous.”

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

Russian President Putin still wants to seize most of Ukraine, but his forces are so degraded by combat that they likely can only achieve incremental gains in the near term, Avril Haines, the top US intelligence officer said.

“We perceive a disconnect between Putin’s near-term military objectives in this area and his military’s capacity, a kind of mismatch between his ambitions and what the military is able to accomplish,” she told a Commerce Department conference.

“In short, the picture remains pretty grim and Russia’s attitude toward the West is hardening,” Haines added. “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.”

‘No one wants to see a NATO-Russia conflict’: analyst

Theresa Fallon, the director at the Centre for Russia Europe Asia Studies, said that Russia might escalate its offensive on Ukraine, as it contends with the expansion of NATO.

“There is concern that Russia will escalate the war on Ukraine even further,” Fallon told Al Jazeera, speaking from Brussels.

“We’re seeing an awful war of attrition in Ukraine. No one wants to see a NATO-Russia conflict, so I think Russia is trying to ramp it up as much as possible.”

Fallon said that President Putin will have to explain to his public that pushing back at NATO has only resulted in the addition of two new member states, Sweden and Finland.

“Poland is getting more troops, the whole eastern flank is getting strengthened, and I think that the money being pledged to Ukraine sends a strong signal that this will go on for some time,” she said.

Stoltenberg: China is not adversary but is a serious challenge

China is not NATO’s adversary but it does represent serious challenges, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

“We now face an era of strategic competition … China is substantially building up its forces, including in nuclear weapons, bullying its neighbours, including Taiwan,” Stoltenberg said. “China is not our adversary but we must be clear-eyed about the serious challenges it represents.”

Biden announces US military reinforcements across Europe

President Joe Biden has announced the deployment of United States military reinforcements across Europe in an effort to counter Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine.

Meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Madrid for the opening of the 30-nation alliance’s annual leaders summit, Biden said “the United States will enhance our force posture in Europe and respond to the changing security environment as well as strengthening our collective security”.

Read more here.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg greets US President Joe Biden
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg greets US President Joe Biden as he arrives at the start of the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Russians fight to encircle Ukraine’s last eastern stronghold

Russian forces are battling to surround the Ukrainian military’s last stronghold in the long-contested eastern Donbas province.

Ukrainian troops are fighting to prevent their encirclement as Russian forces push towards two Luhansk province villages south of the city of Lysychansk.

The UK’s defence ministry said Russian forces were making “incremental advances” in their offensive to capture the city. Lysychansk is the last major area of the province under Ukrainian control following the retreat of Ukraine’s forces from the neighbouring city of Severodonetsk.

A man rides a bicycle among debris in Lysychansk, Ukraine.
A man rides a bicycle among debris in Lysychansk on June 21, 2022, as Ukraine says Russian shelling has caused “catastrophic destruction” in the eastern industrial city [Anatolii Stepanov/AFP]

Syria joins Russia in recognising Ukraine separatist republics

Moscow ally Syria has recognised the independence of eastern Ukraine’s two separatist republics, making it the first state other than Russia to do so.

The breakaway states of Donetsk and Luhansk, whose independence Moscow recognised in February, are situated in the Donbas region at the centre of Russia’s invasion and have escaped Kyiv’s control since 2014.

“The Syrian Arab Republic has decided to recognise the independence and sovereignty of both the Lugansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic,” a source at Syria’s foreign ministry told the state-owned SANA news agency.

“We will communicate with both countries to agree on frameworks for strengthening relations, including establishing diplomatic relations in accordance with established rules,” the source said.

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

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

Zelenskyy says will join G20 in Bali depending on other ‘participants’

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy 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 Kyiv, in an apparent reference to Russian President Putin’s attendance.

Kyiv says 144 Ukrainian soldiers freed in prisoner swap

Ukrainian intelligence said that 144 Ukrainian soldiers, including scores of defenders of the Azovstal steelworks in the southern port city of Mariupol, had been freed in a prisoner swap with Moscow.

“This is the largest exchange since the start of the full-scale Russian invasion. Of the 144 freed, 95 are Azovstal defenders,” the main intelligence directorate of Ukraine’s defence ministry said on Telegram.

It did not specify when and where the swap took place or how many Russian prisoners were released as part of the exchange.

Chip exports to Russia plunged by 90 percent after curbs

Global exports of semiconductors to Russia have plummeted by 90 percent since the US and allies slapped export controls on Moscow over its war on Ukraine, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said.

Raimondo, speaking at an annual Commerce Department conference, also said that controls placed on Russia’s aerospace sector were hammering its ability to generate revenue and support military aviation.

“Russia may be forced to ground between half and two-thirds of its commercial aircraft in the next four years in order to cannibalize them for spare parts,” she added.

Ukraine praises NATO stance on Russia

Ukraine praised NATO for having a “clear-eyed stance” on Russia and for inviting Finland and Sweden to join the military alliance, and called for an “equally strong and active position on Ukraine” to protect Euro-Atlantic security.

“Today in Madrid, NATO proved it can take difficult, but essential decisions,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.

“We welcome a clear-eyed stance on Russia, as well as accession for Finland and Sweden. An equally strong and active position on Ukraine will help to protect the Euro-Atlantic security and stability.”

Russia toughens ‘foreign agents’ legislation

Russian lawmakers have passed legislation that broadens the definition of “foreign agents,” a label used to crack down on Kremlin critics.

The State Duma, or lower house of parliament, said in a statement that the measures will make it possible “to defend the interests and to ensure the security of the Russian Federation”.

According to the new legislation, anyone “under foreign influence” or receiving support from abroad – not just foreign money – can now be declared a “foreign agent” in Russia.

Such individuals will be prohibited from teaching in public schools and organising public events, among other activities.

NATO identifies Russia as its biggest threat

NATO has declared Russia the “most significant and direct threat” to its members’ peace and security in its new strategic blueprint, a document that reaffirms NATO’s values and purpose.

The 30-member military alliance described Russia that way in a statement at a summit in Madrid, in a declaration that underscores Moscow’s shift from strategic partner to threat.

NATO leaders also promised to “step up political and practical support” to Ukraine as it fights Russia’s invasion.

EU reassigns $3.7bn of regional funds to hosting Ukraine refugees

The European Union’s executive branch made a fresh 3.5 billion euros ($3.7bn) from regional development funds available to host Ukrainian refugees after some 6.2 million people fled to the bloc.

“EU member states have welcomed millions of Ukrainians fleeing from this war, but they also have to deal with its economic consequences – extra costs and supply chain difficulties,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, a deputy head of the executive European Commission.

The money will be paid out to EU countries, local authorities and civil society groups as pre-financing this year and the next, including to raise the weekly allowance for hosting people from the current 40 euros ($42) to 100 euros ($106).

Russia says it’s not in contact with Canada, Germany over gas turbine

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said Moscow is not in diplomatic contact with Canada and Germany over repairs to a turbine that Moscow has cited as its reason for cutting gas flows to Europe via a pipeline.

“There are no contacts through diplomatic channels, neither with Canada nor with Germany, over the issue of a turbine which is being upheld by Canadian authorities,” Zakharova told a briefing.

Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom has cut the capacity along the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to just 40 percent of usual levels this month, citing the delayed return of equipment being serviced by Germany’s Siemens Energy in Canada.

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.

Ilya Yashin, who has publicly criticised Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine, was detained late Monday in a Moscow park. Police said he grabbed an officer by his uniform and insulted police, which he denied.

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

Ukrainians search for 20 missing after Russia strikes mall

Crews are continuing to search through the rubble of the shopping mall in Kremenchuk, where Ukrainian authorities say 20 people are still missing.

A number of survivors were being treated for injuries such as skull fractures and severed limbs.

The city declared three days of mourning. The State Emergency Service of Ukraine says it is impossible to ascertain the exact number of victims given that the air strike was so powerful that there may be no remains for relatives to be able to recover.

Russia not ‘intimidated’ by US military build-up in Europe: Deputy minister

Russia has said 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.

“We have the capabilities and resources,” Ryabkov added, threatening retaliation. “Now what is happening will certainly lead to compensatory measures on our part.”

Russian group behind cyberattack targeting Norway: Security agency

A number of private and public institutions in Norway have been subjected to a so-called distributed denial of service (DDoS) cyberattack in the last 24 hours, the Norwegian NSM security authority has said.

“A criminal pro-Russian group appears to be behind the attacks,” NSM said in a statement.

The attacks targeted institutions offering important services, according to the agency, which did not name any of those that were affected. The website of the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority was unavailable and Norwegian media reported that it had been among those subject to the attack.

FAO, OECD warn millions risk undernourishment as wheat prices surge

The war in Ukraine is putting millions more people at risk of undernourishment, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have said.

“With food security already under pressure the consequences would be dire, especially for the most vulnerable,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said during a presentation of the FAO/OECD Agricultural Outlook 2022-2031.

Some 20 million tonnes of grain have to leave Ukraine by the end of next month to make room for this year’s crops and avoid food shortages in Africa, the European Commission said last month. Diplomatic talks are ongoing to open up an alternative sea route.

Ukraine tells NATO Russia wants to dictate future world order

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has told NATO leaders the ongoing conflict is “a war for the right to dictate conditions in Europe – for what the future world order will be like”.

In a virtual address to a summit of the Western defence alliance in Madrid, Zelenskyy said “that is why it is absolutely necessary to support Ukraine, even now, with weapons, finances and political sanctions against Russia, which will stop its ability to pay for the war”.

NATO summit proof alliance seeks to contain Russia: Moscow

Moscow has said the NATO summit in Madrid is proof that the alliance is seeking to contain Russia and that it is using 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.”

Finance minister says Russia may buy friendly countries’ currencies to weaken rouble

Russia may start buying the currencies of “friendly countries” and use those holdings to influence the exchange rate of the dollar and euro, as a means of countering sharp gains in the rouble, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has said.

“Through the currencies of friendly countries, through cross rates with the dollar and the euro it will be possible to regulate the cost of the euro and the dollar to the rouble,” he told a conference organised by a Russian business lobby group.

“We will discuss this with the economic bloc in the government. The central bank has agreed,” he added.

UK sanctions Russia’s second-richest man

The United Kingdom has announced a new round of sanctions that included Vladimir Potanin, Russia’s second-richest man.

“Today’s sanctions show that nothing and no one is off the table, including Putin’s inner circle,” a UK government spokesperson said in a statement.

Potanin is the co-owner of Russian mining giant Norilsk Nickel. Forbes magazine lists him as the second-richest individual in Russia with a fortune estimated in 2021 at $27bn.

Zelenskyy asks NATO summit for modern artillery, financial support

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

“We need much more modern systems, modern artillery,” Zelenskyy told a NATO summit in Madrid via video link, adding that financial support was “no less important than aid with weapons”.

World Bank lends Tunisia $130m to finance wheat imports

The World Bank has approved a $130m loan to Tunisia to finance vital soft wheat imports and provide emergency support to cover barley imports for dairy production.

The loan comes as the North African country suffers a severe financial crisis that has sometimes caused wheat ships to remain anchored in ports for weeks due to its inability to pay.

The central bank said in a statement that the loan aims to lessen the impact of the Ukraine war on Tunisia.

Pope says Kremenchuk bombing the latest ‘barbarous’ attack

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

“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 in Rome 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.”

US accuses five firms in China of supporting Russia’s military

United States President Joe Biden’s administration has added five companies in China to a trade blacklist for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defence industrial base.

The US Department of Commerce, which oversees the blacklist, said the targeted companies had supplied items to Russian “entities of concern” before the February 24 invasion, adding that they “continue to contract to supply Russian entity listed and sanctioned parties”.

The agency also added another 31 entities to the blacklist from countries that include Russia, Lithuania, Pakistan, Singapore, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, according to the Federal Register entry. Of the 36 companies added, 25 had China-based operations.

Allies froze $330bn of Russian assets since Ukraine invasion: Task force

The Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs Task Force (REPO) has said in a joint statement that it had blocked $30bn in assets of Russian oligarchs and officials and immobilised $300bn owned by the Russian central bank.

They have also detained at least five luxury yachts and frozen opulent real estate owned by the country’s billionaires.

“Together, we will ensure that our sanctions continue to impose costs on Russia for its unprovoked and continuing aggression in Ukraine,” the group said in a statement released by the US Treasury.

Russia says Norway barring food shipments to Russian workers on island

Russia says Norway is barring food shipments to Spitsbergen, the largest island in Norway’s Arctic Ocean archipelago Svalbard, where Russia engages in regional commercial activities.

Konstantin Kosachev, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of parliament, said on Telegram that the food is intended for Russians working in a mining village.

He said Norwegian authorities justified their refusal by citing sanctions against Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow views Sweden and Finland’s NATO accession ‘negatively’: Official

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says Russia views plans by Sweden and Finland to join NATO “negatively”, the Interfax news agency has reported.

Russian state news agency RIA also quoted Ryabkov as saying that NATO expansion is “destabilising” and does not add to the security of members of the alliance.

(Al Jazeera)

Moscow-administered Kherson prepares referendum on joining Russia

Moscow’s military-civilian administration in Ukraine’s Kherson region says it is preparing for a referendum on joining Russia, an official in the administration has told Reuters news agency.

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Russian-backed administration, said a date had not yet been picked, but that he expected the vote in “the coming half year”.

Kherson, a port city on the Black Sea, was occupied during the first week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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.

“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.

“Our guns require extensive upgrading, therefore we have agreed with the British that they receive Norwegian guns so that they can send some of theirs to Ukraine,” the minister added, hailing “good cooperation between allies”.

Turkey to seek extradition of 33 suspects from Finland, Sweden

Turkey has said it will seek the extradition of 33 “terror” suspects from Sweden and Finland under a deal that paved the way for Ankara to back the Nordic countries’ NATO membership bids.

“We will seek the extradition of terrorists from the relevant countries within the framework of the new agreement,” signed on Tuesday by the foreign ministers of Turkey, Sweden and Finland, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag was quoted as saying by NTV television.

Polish president’s aide welcomes increased US military presence

The announcement by US President Joe Biden that the 5th Army headquarters will be established in Poland shows that Washington intends to increase its presence in the country, the Polish president’s foreign policy adviser has said.

“It is a success which comes from long and consistent negotiations on this matter and, at the same time, a very clear sign that the Americans intend to increase, not decrease, their presence in Poland,” Jakub Kumoch told Reuters.

Russian court postpones ruling on labelling Azov regiment as ‘terrorists’

Russia’s Supreme Court has postponed for the second time a hearing on whether to designate Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, which defied besieging Russian forces for weeks in Mariupol, as a “terrorist” entity.

A court official said the hearing, first set for May 26, has been rescheduled for August 2. No reason was given.

If the Supreme Court designates the regiment as a “terrorist” entity, it could pave the way for some of the men to face trial, as members of the Russian parliament have demanded.

Indonesian president in Ukraine on ‘peace mission’

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has started a visit to Ukraine intended to help rekindle peace talks with Russia and explore ways to free up exports of grain to global markets.

President Widodo, better known as Jokowi, and his wife arrived in the capital, Kyiv, by train, according to the Indonesian presidential website.

Jokowi is the chair of the G20 and one of the six world leaders the UN appointed as “champions” of a Global Crisis Response Group (GCRG), formed to address the threat of hunger and destitution posed by the war.

US changing force posture in Europe based on threat from Russia

The US is changing its force posture in Europe based on threats coming from Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, President Biden has said at the NATO summit in Madrid.

He confirmed the US will raise the number of destroyers in Spain to six from four, and said Washington will send two additional F-35 squadrons to the UK and establish the 5th Army headquarters in Poland.

Sweden, Finland need NATO as a guarantee of the future: German FM

Sweden and Finland have realised that they need NATO as a guarantee “for the future of their children, for peace and security for themselves”, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has told Al Jazeera.

Baerbock said the announcement that Helsinki and Stockholm can proceed with their NATO bids after Turkey agreed to lift its veto was a show of unity in defiance of Moscow’s attempt to sow division.

The Nordic countries filed a bid to join the Western alliance, in an historic shift away from a decades-long neutrality policy. “This is also a good chance for NATO, because those two countries are strong democracies [and have] powerful armies themselves,” Baerbock said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez pose for a photo during a NATO summit in Madrid, Spa
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez discussed NATO’s enlargement at the summit in Madrid, Spain [Susana Vera/Reuters]

Spain’s PM at NATO summit tells Russia’s Putin he ‘will not win’

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who is hosting a NATO meeting in Madrid, has said that the alliance was delivering a strong message to President Vladimir Putin.

“We are sending a strong message to Putin: ‘you will not win’,” Sanchez said in a speech.

Earlier, Sanchez said Russia would be identified as NATO’s “main threat” in its new strategic concept, as opposed to a strategic partner previously.

NATO chief says alliance facing biggest challenge since World War II

Stoltenberg has said NATO was meeting in Madrid “in the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced since the second world war”.

The war in Ukraine has already triggered an escalation in NATO’s forces in Eastern Europe and allies are expected to agree to increase the rapid reaction force nearly eightfold, from 40,000 to 300,000 soldiers by next year.

NATO allies to send weapons to Kyiv for as long as necessary: Scholz

NATO allies will continue to supply Ukraine with weapons in its war against Russia for as long as necessary, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said as he arrived for the second day of the NATO summit in Madrid.

“It is good that the countries that are gathered here but many others, too, make their contributions so Ukraine can defend itself – by providing financial means, humanitarian aid but also by providing the weapons that Ukraine urgently needs,” he told reporters.

“The message is: We will continue to do so – and to do this intensively – for as long as it is necessary to enable Ukraine to defend itself,” he added.

UK PM says there would be no Ukraine war ‘if Putin was a woman’

Putin would not have started the war in Ukraine if he were a woman, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

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

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

World Bank to give Egypt $500m to boost food security

The World Bank has agreed to provide Egypt with $500m in development funds to boost food security amid the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

Egypt’s international cooperation ministry has said the funds will primarily support the country’s wheat purchases. The aim is to help the government maintain a strategic reserve and utilise the investments made in raising the country’s grain storage capacity.

Russia poses a ‘direct threat’ to NATO security: Stoltenberg

NATO chief Stoltenberg said the alliance’s new strategic blueprint will label Russia a menace to their security as they overhaul the bloc’s defences in response to the war on Ukraine.

“We’ll state clearly that Russia poses a direct threat to our security,” Stoltenberg said before the unveiling of the blueprint.

NATO is due to launch the largest revamp of its defence and deterrence capabilities at the summit in Madrid, turning its attention on the challenge posed by a rising China alongside the threat posed by Moscow.

In a sign of this shift, South Korea and Japan will be attending a NATO summit for the first time.

UK needs to bolster defence spending to maintain leadership: Minister

Defence minister Ben Wallace said on Wednesday that the UK will need to bolster its spending on defence if it wants to maintain a global leadership role after 2024, when his department’s current budget allocation will be reviewed.

“If Britain wants to maintain this leadership role post-2024 we’re going to have to see probably greater investment,” Wallace said on Sky News.

Russia security forces detain mayor of Ukrainian city of Kherson: Officials

Russia-installed officials in Ukraine’s occupied Kherson region say their security forces detained Kherson city mayor Ihor Kolykhayev on Tuesday after he refused to follow Moscow’s orders, while a Kherson local official said the mayor was abducted.

“I can confirm that Kolykhayev was detained by the commandant’s (military police) office,” Ekaterina Gubareva, the Moscow-appointed deputy head of the Kherson region, said on Telegram.

Halyna Lyashevska, an adviser to Kolykhayev, said the mayor was abducted after refusing to cooperate with Russian occupiers.

“This morning, the mayor of Kherson Ihor Kolykhayev came to one of the utility facilities where the remaining employees of the city council were working,” Lyashevska said on her Facebook page. “As soon as he got out of the car, he was immediately detained by the armed national guards and, most likely, the FSB,” she said, referring to Russia’s Federal Security Services.

Mykolaiv strike toll rises to three dead and five wounded

Authorities in the city of Mykolaiv have updated the civilian toll from a Russian missile strike on a residential building to three dead and five wounded.

Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych said eight missiles had hit the city, and urged residents to evacuate. He said the building appeared to have been hit by a Russian X-55 cruise missile.

A rescue effort is under way for survivors.

Photographs from the scene showed smoke billowing from a four-storey building with its upper floor partly destroyed.

Russia may have intended to hit different Kremenchuk target: UK

There is a realistic possibility the missile that hit the shopping centre in Kremenchuk was intended for a nearby target, the UK’s defence ministry has said.

“Russia’s inaccuracy in conducting long range strikes has previously resulted in mass civilian casualty incidents, including at Kramatorsk railway station on 9 April 2022,” the ministry said in a recent intelligence briefing.

“Russian planners highly likely remain willing to accept a high level of collateral damage when they perceive military necessity in striking a target,” it added.

The ministry also said Russian forces had advanced a further 2km from the Lysychansk oil refinery, south of the town, towards Lysychansk since June 25.

Referendum to absorb Donetsk into Russia scheduled for September: Adviser

A pseudo-referendum for the mostly occupied Donetsk region to be absorbed into Russia will be held on September 11, the adviser to the mayor of Mariupol has said.

Petro Andriushchenko said on Telegram that the Russian-installed authorities in the region had received instructions to set up venues for the “vote”.

Russians using cluster bombs in Lysychansk: Governor

The situation in Lysychansk is reminiscent of Severodonetsk when Russian forces had started storming the city, the governor of Luhansk has said, adding that Russia is firing on residents using cluster bombs.

“The occupiers do not stop at anything. Once in Severodonetsk, when they could not move forward for a long time, they fired about 200 shells from various types of weapons at one of the city’s intersections, turning several houses to ashes,” Serhiy Haidai said on Telegram.

Haidai said many residents of Lysychansk had serious injuries and were being treated in hospitals across the country. Three people were being treated in Kramatorsk, two children were taken to the city, Dnipro, and some were in hospitals in Lviv, he said.

The Russian army continues trying to surround Lysychansk from the southwest settlements of Vovchoyarivka and Verkhnokamyanka, he said.

Two killed in Mykolaiv: Governor

Two people were killed and three wounded by a Russian attack on a residential building in Ukraine’s southern city of Mykolaiv on Wednesday morning, regional governor Vitaliy Kim said.

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

Russians also struck the Mykolaiv region on Tuesday, killing three people in the town of Ochakov including a six-year-old girl.

Sanctions will only end when Putin accepts Ukraine invasion is a failure: Scholz

Western sanctions against Russia will only end when Putin accepts that his plans in Ukraine will not succeed, Germany’s chancellor has said.

“All the sanctions we imposed over Crimea are still there. All the sanctions we imposed because of the Russian-incited uprising in Donbas are still there. And the same will go for the decisions taken now, which are much more severe,” Scholz said at the closing news conference of the three-day G7 summit in Germany.

“There is only one way out: for Putin to accept that his plans in Ukraine will not succeed,” he added.

Scholz said the rocket attack on the shopping centre in Kremenchuk was proof of Putin maintaining his “brutal aggression,” adding that “we are not in a situation where we can see the end”.

US blacklists five Chinese companies for allegedly supporting Russia

The Biden administration has added five companies in China to a trade blacklist for allegedly supporting Russia’s military and defence industrial base.

The Commerce Department, which oversees the blacklist, said the targeted companies had supplied items to Russian “entities of concern” before the February 24 invasion, adding that they “continue to contract to supply Russian entity listed and sanctioned parties”.

The agency also added another 31 entities to the blacklist from countries that include Russia, UAE, Lithuania, Pakistan, Singapore, the UK, Uzbekistan and Vietnam, according to the Federal Register entry. Of the 36 total companies added, 25 had China-based operations.

“Today’s action sends a powerful message to entities and individuals across the globe that if they seek to support Russia, the United States will cut them off as well,” Under Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Security Alan Estevez said in a statement.

Russian envoy criticises UN for letting Zelenskyy speak remotely

Russia’s deputy envoy to the UN has criticised Albania’s presidency of the Security Council for allowing Zelenskyy to speak via video link and “at the last minute,” which the envoy said violated standard practice, Moscow’s state TASS news agency reports.

“We are seriously concerned over the stance of the Albanian presidency with regard to participation of President Zelenskyy of Ukraine in this meeting. There have been no consultations with all council members on this issue. The delegations were confronted with this fact at the last minute. This violates the existing practice and working methods of the Security Council,” Dmitry Polyansky told the council on Tuesday.

Representatives need to be physically present in the Security Council chamber, according to standard practice, Polyansky said.

“The Security Council should not turn into a platform where President Zelenskyy … can angle for more NATO weapons,” Polyansky added, according to TASS.

Russia working on Taliban ties, Putin says in Tajikistan

Putin says Russia is trying to build relations with the Taliban and wants to see all the ethnic groups in Afghanistan take part in running the country.

Putin’s statement Tuesday came in a meeting with President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan during the Russian leader’s first trip abroad since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict. Tajikistan, which hosts a Russian military base, has a long and porous border with Afghanistan and is wary that armed groups could seep into the country.

“We are doing everything so that the situation in that country normalises,” Putin said in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital. “We are attempting to build relations with the political forces that control the situation … We are working from the premise that all ethnic groups in Afghanistan, as was already said, must properly participate in running the country.”

Although Russia designates the Taliban as a terrorist group, the Taliban have representation in Russia and a delegation attended the recent St Petersburg International Economic Forum. Putin will be in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat on Wednesday for a summit of leaders of Caspian Sea littoral states.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon shake hands will posing for a photo.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon pose for a photo during their meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, Tuesday, June 28, 2022 [Alexander Shcherbak, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP]

Japan to extend extra $100m to Ukraine: PM

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, in Germany to attend the G7 leaders summit, has said that Japan will extend an additional $100m in humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

He added that Japan would also provide support to expand Ukraine’s grain storage capacity as the harvest season nears.

Kishida travels to Madrid later on Tuesday, where he will become the first Japanese prime minister to take part in a NATO summit.

Canada pledges extra $118m for Ukraine humanitarian, security support

Canada will provide an additional 151.7 million Canadian dollars ($118m) to Ukraine for humanitarian, development and security support, according to a statement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office.

Canada will also give Ukraine a loan of 200 million Canadian dollars ($155m) through the International Monetary Fund to help meet its urgent liquidity needs.

Trudeau also said that the 73 million Canadian dollars ($57m) in humanitarian assistance Canada pledged on April 9, 2022, has now been allocated to address the crisis in Ukraine and neighbouring countries.

Kremenchuk attack a ‘crime against humanity’: Prosecutor general

The missile attack on the Kremenchuk shopping centre is one of Russia’s “crimes against humanity,” Ukraine’s prosecutor general has said.

Iryna Venediktova emphasised the need for all Ukrainians to remain alert and expect a similar attack “every minute”.

A hospital nurse pushes a wheelchair carrying a woman wounded by the Russian rocket attack at a shopping centre in a city hospital in Kremenchuk
A nurse in a city hospital pushes a woman in a wheelchair wounded by the Russian rocket attack on a shopping centre in Kremenchuk, Poltava region, Ukraine, Tuesday, June 28, 2022 [Efrem Lukatsky/AP]

Bodies burned beyond recognition in Kremenchuk: Minister

As Russian missiles struck the Kremenchuk shopping centre, many people quickly fled the building and took shelter across the street, Ukraine’s interior minister has said.

Denis Monastyrsky also said several of the bodies of people who did not make it out in time were burned beyond recognition. In addition to the 18 killed and 59 wounded, 21 people are still missing.

Resident Kateryna Romashyna told The Associated Press she had just arrived at the mall when an explosion knocked her down. When another blast came about 10 minutes later, she realised she needed to get away.

“I ran away from the epicentre with all of my strength,” she said. Fighting back tears, she added: “You have to be a real monster” to attack a shopping mall.

Australia considering reopening Ukraine embassy

Australia is considering reopening its embassy in Kyiv, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said, as it looks to join several of its allies who have resumed operations after removing its diplomats over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We would like to have a presence on the ground there to assist and to be able to provide that on-ground presence,” Albanese told reporters in Madrid ahead of the NATO summit.

“Australia is considering that … I’ll have more to say on that in coming days and weeks.”

Albanese also condemned Russia’s raid on the Kremenchuk shopping centre, saying it was a “civilian target” and “reinforces the atrocities being committed in this illegal war of aggression by Russia”.

Turkey lifts veto over Finland, Sweden NATO bid

Turkey has lifted its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the Western alliance after the three nations agreed to protect each other’s security, ending a weeks-long drama that tested allied unity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

NATO chief Stoltenberg said the agreement addressed “Turkey’s concerns including around arms exports and the fight against terrorism”.

“Finland and Sweden commit to fully support Turkiye [Turkey] against threats to its national security. This includes further amending their domestic legislation, cracking down on PKK activities and entering into an agreement with Turkiye on extradition,” he said after talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto.

The breakthrough came after four hours of talks just before a NATO summit began in Madrid, averting an embarrassing impasse at the gathering of 30 leaders that aims to show resolve against Russia. It means Helsinki and Stockholm can proceed with their application to join the nuclear-armed alliance.

UK defence spending projected to reach 2.3% of GDP this year

The UK’s defence spending is projected to reach 2.3 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) this year due to increased military support for Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion of that country, the government has said in a statement.

NATO has estimated the UK will spend 2.12 percent of GDP in 2022, down from an estimated 2.26 percent in 2021 but still above the 2 percent threshold the Atlantic alliance asks its members to meet.

Zelenskyy shares video footage of Kremenchuk hit

Zelenskyy has shared security camera footage of the moment the Kremenchuk shopping mall was hit by a Russian missile raid on Monday and said the attack was done deliberately.

“The Russian missile hit this very object, purposefully. Obviously, that was the order. It is obvious that Russian assassins received such coordinates for this missile,” Zelenskyy said in an evening video address on Tuesday.

Moscow says that it had struck a nearby arms depot and falsely claimed that the mall was empty. Zelenskyy’s nighttime address decried what he said were Russia’s lies.

“And I wish to say separately about the responsibility of those Russian propagandists who lie about this terror, who are trying to justify the actions of the Russian army. Each of you will also be punished. We have all the evidence of what the Russian troops are doing against our people,” he said.


A still image from security camera footage shows the explosion as a Russian missile strike hits a shopping mall at a location given as Kremenchuk, Ukraine.
A still image from security camera footage shows the explosion as a Russian missile attack hits a shopping mall at a location given as Kremenchuk, in Poltava region, Ukraine, June 28, 2022 [CCTV via Instagram @zelenskiy_official/Handout via Reuters]

Western countries turning Ukraine into ‘anti-Russia’: Moscow’s UN envoy

Ukraine is being turned into “anti-Russia” at the behest of some Western countries, Russia’s deputy envoy to the UN has told the UN Security Council.

Dmitry Polyansky said that by supplying weapons to Ukraine, Western nations were prolonging the time when Ukraine’s leaders “will sit down at the negotiating table with a realistic position rather than with slogans”.

“We began a special military operation in order to stop the shelling of Donbas by Ukraine and so that the territory of this country, which has been turned into anti-Russia at the behest of a number of Western countries, as well as its nationalist leadership, ceases to pose a threat to Russia or the inhabitants of the south and southeast of Ukraine,” he said.

“And until those goals are achieved, our operation will continue.”

No Russian strike on shopping centre: Moscow’s UN envoy

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador has told the UN Security Council that there was no Russian strike on the shopping centre in Ukraine’s central city of Kremenchuk, which officials say killed at least 18 people and wounded 59 others.

Dmitry Polyansky said Russian precision weapons struck hangars in the Kremenchuk road machinery plant with weapons and ammunition from the US and Europe destined for Ukrainian troops in eastern Donbas. The shopping centre was some distance away but the detonation of ammunition “created a fire which then spread to the shopping centre,” he said.

Ukraine called the council meeting after Russia’s recent surge in attacks, including Monday’s air attack on the crowded shopping mall.

Zelenskyy told the council that “dozens are missing” and body fragments have been found, including hands and feet, adding that unfortunately there may be more victims.

Zelenskyy urges Russia’s expulsion from UN

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has 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 in a virtual address to the UN Security Council. He warned 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.”

Zelenskyy also urged Russia’s expulsion from the 193-member UN, citing Article 6 of the UN Charter which states that a member “which has persistently violated the principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the organisation by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.”


You can read all the updates from June 28 here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies