L’Ukraine on Monday (June 20) accused Russia of further intensifying its deadly bombardments in the East, where its troops are fiercely resisting, and, according to Moscow, in return hit drilling platforms in the Black Sea off Crimea (southern ), annexed in 2014. On the threshold of a week described as “historic” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, with a summit in Brussels which could grant kyiv the status of candidate for entry into the European Union, the Tension has also risen sharply further north between Russia and Lithuania, which has restricted Russian freight transit by rail to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
Russia denounced a “hostile” act. If transit “is not restored in full, then Russia reserves the right to act to defend its national interests”, threatened the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Kremlin considered the situation “more than serious”. The head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell then declared that Lithuania applied European sanctions on the transit of certain types of exports between Russia and Kaliningrad, but did not impose any blockade on the Russian enclave. “Lithuania has not adopted any unilateral or national restrictions. It’s wrong. It applies EU sanctions”, insisted Josep Borrell, according to whom “we must be worried when Russia announces retaliatory measures”.
Moscow did not specify the nature of its threat, but Kaliningrad, the former Prussian city of Königsberg annexed in 1945, which has become a Russian enclave in the European Union, is a strategic bridgehead for the Russians, who have installed missiles there. Iskander ballistic missiles, capable of carrying out nuclear strikes in Western Europe, and anchor their military fleet there. As for Lithuania, a former Soviet republic with strained relations with Moscow, it is a member not only of the EU, but also of NATO, which has troops there.
Sievierodonetsk 30% controlled by Ukrainians
In Ukraine, the presidency indicated on Monday that the Russian bombardments increased in the region of Kharkiv (North-East), the second city of the country, which resisted the pressure of the Russian forces since the beginning of the offensive on February 24. In the Donetsk region (East), the intensity of the bombardments “is increasing all along the front line”, added the presidency, reporting one dead and seven injured including a child.
In Sievierodonetsk, “the Russians control most of the residential areas”, but “more than a third of the city remains controlled by our armed forces”, according to the head of the local administration, Oleksandr Striouk. Fighting is raging around this key agglomeration to control the whole of Donbass, an industrial basin in eastern Ukraine partially controlled since 2014 by pro-Russian separatists supported by Moscow.
Serguiï Gaïdaï, the regional governor, confirmed the fall of the village of Metolkine, on the south-eastern outskirts of Sievierodonetsk, which the Russian Minister of Defense announced on Sunday the capture. “We are ready”, the Ukrainian army “is holding up” on the eve of a decisive week, President Zelensky said Sunday evening in his daily video address, stressing however that his forces had suffered “significant losses” against to the power of Russian artillery and air force in the positional war of recent weeks.
Russians and Ukrainians clash over cereals
The Russians accused the Ukrainians of hitting three drilling rigs at their oil and gas complex off Crimea on Monday morning. “There are three wounded and seven missing,” the governor installed by Moscow after the 2014 annexation of the peninsula, Sergei Aksionov, said on Telegram. According to him, 94 people were evacuated. This is the first reported strike against offshore hydrocarbon infrastructure in Crimea since the Russian invasion began on February 24. But the Ukrainian army had already hit several times, with cruise missiles fired from the coast, Russian ships in the Black Sea, including the cruiser Moskva (Moscow), flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, sunk mid -april.
Russia, however, retains control of this area of the Black Sea, and its blockade has the effect of preventing the export by cargo of millions of tonnes of cereals, of which Ukraine is one of the main producers in the world.
Moscow argued on Monday that the rise in grain prices was “the fault of Western regimes, which act as provocateurs and destroyers”, according to Russian diplomacy spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. The Ukrainian president, in a videoconference speech to members of the African Union (AU), said that the Russians “need this crisis” and “deliberately aggravate it”. Deploring that “Africa (is) the hostage of those who started the war”, he indicated that “difficult negotiations” were underway to unblock Ukrainian ports, with no progress so far.
The European Union, through the voice of the head of its diplomacy, accused Moscow of committing “a real war crime” by blocking these exports. “Twenty million tonnes of wheat remain blocked in Ukraine. This creates hunger, even starvation. This is a deliberate attempt to use food as a weapon of war”, denounced Josep Borrell. The German government is organizing an international conference in Berlin on Friday on the food crisis linked to this war, in the presence in particular of the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken, the German executive announced on Monday. US President Joe Biden, who will travel to Europe from Saturday for a G7 meeting and then a NATO summit next week, deemed it “unlikely” that he would go through Ukraine on this occasion.
A conference for the reconstruction of Ukraine
This war could last “for years”, estimated Sunday in the German daily Picture the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, calling on Western countries to support kyiv in the long term. Switzerland, which is hosting the first reconstruction conference in Ukraine on July 4 and 5, expects a “long and complex” reconstruction, which will have to be accompanied by reforms. “The war is still going on, but we also know that the time will come for a reconstruction which will be long and complex,” declared Swiss President Ignazio Cassis, during the presentation of the Lugano conference.
Finally, in the midst of the Russian invasion and on the eve of the EU summit which must decide whether or not to grant him candidate status, the Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament, ratified on Monday the Istanbul Convention, the first international treaty to be fixed legally binding standards to address gender-based violence. “A historic event that will bring us into the EU even faster,” applauded Oleksandr Korniyenko, first vice-president of the Rada, on Twitter.
“President Volodymyr Zelensky and all the deputies who voted in favor of ratification have cut yet another cord which had anchored Ukraine to the ‘Russian world'”, welcomed for his part Serguiï Kyslytsya, the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN. European Council President Charles Michel said he would invite the 27 EU countries this week to grant Ukraine and Moldova candidate status, as recommended by the European Commission.