Russia quits Black Sea outpost of Snake Island in blow to blockade of Ukraine

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Russian forces have abandoned their positions on Snake Island, a Ukrainian outpost in the Black Sea, weakening their blockade of Ukraine’s ports, Ukrainian defence officials said on Thursday. US President Joe Biden said Washington will announce an additional $800 million in military aid for Kyiv at the close of a NATO summit in Madrid. Follow our live blog for the latest developments. All times are Paris time, GMT+2. 

This live page is no longer being updated. To follow our live coverage, click here. For more analysis of the war in Ukraine, click here.

1:05am: Ukrainian city votes to ban church formerly affiliated with Russia

The local council in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on Thursday became the first to ban a branch of the Orthodox church that was until last month directly affiliated with Moscow.

According to Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi, the unanimous council vote to prohibit the activity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) – with longstanding ties to Moscow – was “political” and without legislative effect, as rules on religious organisations are made at the national level.

“This is a position that we have publicly voiced, and now state bodies must get to work on it,” Sadovyi was quoted as saying by the city administration’s site.

3:19pm: EU, Russia agree they need a plan for Kaliningrad, says Polish PM

The European Union and Russia agree it is necessary to come up with a plan concerning the movement of goods between the Russian mainland and the Kaliningrad exclave, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Thursday.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that European officials are in talks about exempting the territory from sanctions, which have hit industrial goods such as steel so far, paving the way for a deal in early July if EU member Lithuania drops its reservations.

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

3:05pm: New ‘iron curtain’ is descending between Russia and West, Moscow says

Russia‘s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that a new “iron curtain” was descending between Russia and the West.

“It’s practically already coming into place. Let them just behave carefully,” Lavrov said of Western countries during a press conference.

Russia’s decision to send tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine has triggered an overhaul of Europe’s foreign, defence and security policies and contributed to anti-Russian sentiment across the continent.

3:11pm: US to announce $800 million more weapons aid to Ukraine, Biden says

US President Joe Biden on Thursday said Washington will announce $800 million of additional weapons aid to Ukraine in the coming days.

“We are going to support Ukraine as long as it takes,” Biden said at a press conference on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid.

2:45pm: Ukraine army hails liberation of ‘strategically important’ Snake Island

Ukraine’s army on Thursday hailed the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Black Sea’s Snake Island, which was captured in the first days of Russia’s invasion.

“I thank the defenders of Odessa region who took maximum measures to liberate a strategically important part of our territory,” Valeriy Zaluzhny, the Ukraine military’s commander-in-chief, said on Telegram.

“Unable to withstand the fire of our artillery, missile and air strikes, the occupiers left Snake Island,” Zaluzhny said.

2:11pm: Russia’s exit from Snake Island shows ‘impossible’ to subdue Ukraine

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

“In the end, it will prove impossible for Putin to hold down a country that will not accept his rule,” Johnson told a news conference after a NATO summit in Madrid.

Agreement to any peace deal would be entirely up to Ukraine, he added, while stressing unity against Russia from the NATO alliance and from G7 countries at a leaders’ summit in Germany.

2:04pm: German leader slams ‘ridiculous’ Putin claim NATO imperialist

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday dismissed as “ridiculous” accusations from the Russian president that NATO had “imperial ambitions”.  

Scholz insisted at the end of a NATO summit in Madrid that the Western military alliance was “not a threat to anyone” and said it was President Vladimir Putin “who has made imperialism the goal of his politics”.

1:57pm: Johnson says Ukrainians do have in their power to repel Russia

Ukraine has the power to repel Russia and win the war that began four months ago, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday.

“We think that they (Ukrainians) do indeed have it in their power to repel the Russians and to get them back to the pre-February 24th position,” Johnson told reporters at the NATO summit in Madrid.

1:24pm: Macron says France will soon deliver more CESAR guns to Ukraine

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

1:20pm: Greece has offered ships to export grain from blocked Ukrainian ports, Stoltenberg says

Greece is willing to provide ships to help export grain from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports that have been blocked by Russia, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday.

1:14pm: Sweden, Finland to sign NATO accession protocol on Tuesday, Stoltenberg says

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

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

12:02pm: Russia says it has over 6,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war 

Russia says over 6,000 Ukrainian servicemen have been captured or surrendered, RIA news agency cited the defence ministry as saying on Thursday.

The ministry said the exchange of 144 prisoners of war with Ukraine, announced on Wednesday by Ukrainian intelligence, was organised by direct order of President Vladimir Putin, RIA cited the ministry as saying.

10:55am: Russia withdraws from Ukraine’s Snake Island

Russia announced Thursday it was pulling its forces from Ukraine’s Snake Island, calling it a “goodwill gesture” to allow Kyiv to export agricultural products.

“On June 30, as a gesture of goodwill, the Russian armed forces completed their tasks on Snake Island and withdrew a garrison stationed there,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

The head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office, Andriy Yermak, confirmed that Russian forces had withdrawn from Snake Island, a strategic Black Sea outpost.


>> To read further: Black Sea’s Snake Island emerges as crucial in Russia-Ukraine war

 

10:45am: Sweden to send more anti-tank weapons to Ukraine

Sweden will send more anti-tank weapons and machine guns to Ukraine, Sweden’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday.

The arms package, which also includes equipment for mine clearing, is valued at around 500 million Swedish crowns ($49 million), it added.

7:11am: Amnesty says Russia behind ‘war crime’ bombing of Mariupol theatre

A theatre sheltering civilians destroyed in March in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol was likely hit by a Russian airstrike in a war crime, Amnesty International said in a report published Thursday.

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

“These explosions were caused by something really big: two 500-kilogramme (1,100-pound) bombs” dropped from a plane, she added, dismissing Russian claims that the theatre was hit in a false-flag attack by the city’s Ukrainian defenders.

4:20am: US disburses $1.3 bn of promised aid to Ukraine

The US Treasury Department announced Wednesday the transfer of $1.3 billion in economic aid to Ukraine as part of the initial $7.5 billion promised to Kyiv by the Biden administration in May. 

“With this delivery of economic assistance, we reaffirm our resolute commitment to the people of Ukraine as they defend themselves against Putin’s war of aggression and work to sustain their economy,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. 

The payment, part of the $7.5 billion aid package signed by President Joe Biden in May, is set to be made through the World Bank.

According to World Bank estimates, the war, which began with Russia‘s invasion of its former Soviet neighbor in February, could cause the Ukrainian economy to contract by up to 45 percent in 2022.

The country is currently running a budget deficit that is growing by $5 billion every month, exacerbated by its inability to raise funds or to access financing on external markets. 

Allies have rushed to pump Ukraine with aid, with the G7 and the European Union also announcing commitments of $29.6 billion in further money for Kyiv, with $8.5 billion of that coming from the United States, according to the Treasury Department. 

Washington already disbursed two payments of $500 million of that through the World Bank in April and May to help cover Ukraine‘s immediate costs as it dealt with “Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion”, the Treasury said. 

Washington has already supplied Kyiv with more than $6 billion in military equipment since Russia’s invasion. 

12:30am: If Putin was a woman, there would be no Ukraine war, says UK’s Johnson

Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have started the war in Ukraine if he was a woman, according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

“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 on Tuesday evening. 

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”.  

Putin, speaking in the Turkmenistan capital of Ashgabat, dismissed Johnson’s comments as “incorrect”.

“I’d like to point to events in modern history when (former British prime minister) Margaret Thatcher decided to launch an offensive against Argentina for control of the Falkland Islands” in 1982, he said. 

“There, a woman decided to start a war,” which ended in British victory the same year, the Russian leader said.

11:30pm: Britain unveils £1 bn of new military aid for Ukraine

Britain pledged another £1 billion ($1.2 billion) in military aid to Ukraine Wednesday to help it fend off Russia’s invasion, including air-defence systems and drones.

The fresh funds will bring Britain’s total military support to Kyiv since the start of the war in late February to £2.3 billion, Downing Street said in a statement.

The package includes “sophisticated air-defence systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles, innovative new electronic warfare equipment and thousands of pieces of vital kit for Ukrainian soldiers,” it said. 

This will be a “first step” to allow Ukraine to go beyond its “valiant defence” efforts and move towards “mounting offensive operations” to regain territory.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Vladimir Putin’s attacks against Ukraine were “increasingly barbaric” as the Russian leader “fails to make the gains he had anticipated and hoped for and the futility of this war becomes clear to all.

“UK weapons, equipment and training are transforming Ukraine’s defences against this onslaught,” the statement quoted him as saying.

“And we will continue to stand squarely behind the Ukrainian people to ensure Putin fails in Ukraine.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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