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June 30, 2022 Russia-Ukraine news

Biden: 'The reason gas prices are up is because of Russia'

What we covered here

  • US President Joe Biden said NATO’s actions in response to Russia’s invasion are starting to take effect economically and militarily as he vowed to support Ukraine “as long as it takes.”
  • In a news conference before departing Madrid, Biden touted NATO’s unity and the historic nature of the summit, which saw formal invitations to Sweden and Finland to join the alliance.
  • About 15,000 people remain in Lysychansk as Russian forces maintain shelling amid attempts to storm the city, Ukrainian military officials said.
  • Russian forces have left Snake Island in the Black Sea, after Ukraine said it carried out a “remarkable operation.” Russia claimed they had withdrawn “as a gesture of goodwill.”
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The strategic territory of Snake Island is "free again," Zelensky says

The southern end of Snake Island is seen on June 30.

Snake Island is “free again,” Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly brief Thursday. 

“Zmiinyi [Snake] Island is a strategic point, and it significantly changes the situation in the Black Sea. It does not guarantee safety yet, it does not yet guarantee that the enemy will not return. But it already limits the actions of the occupiers significantly. Step by step, we will drive them out of our sea, our land, and our sky,” Zelensky said. 

The small but strategic territory was the scene of one of the opening salvos of the war in Ukraine, with demands from a Russian warship calling for the Ukrainian defenders to surrender, who boldly replied with “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.”

Known as Zmiinyi Ostriv in Ukrainian, Snake Island lies around 30 miles (48 kilometers) off the coast of Ukraine and is close to the sea lanes leading to the Bosphorus and Mediterranean.

Some background: Ukrainian Armed Forces said Russian troops left the island on Thursday, after they carried out what they said was a “successful” operation. Meanwhile, Russian army spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said at a briefing that its forces left the island “as a gesture of goodwill.”

Pentagon reviewing proposals for new weapons capabilities for Ukraine's fight against Russia, official says

The US Defense Department is now reviewing 1,300 proposals from 800 companies for innovative new weapons and commercial capabilities they may be able to develop and produce for Ukraine to use in its fight against Russia’s invasion, according to a defense official.

The Pentagon expects to decide in the coming weeks on which ideas it will pursue, leading to possible eventual production for Ukraine as well as for the US military.

The proposals, requested by the department, center around key areas — including weapons capabilities for air defense, anti-armor, anti-personnel, coastal defense, anti-tank, unmanned aerial systems, counter battery and secure communications — which have been identified by Ukraine as key military needs. 

They were sought as part of a broad initiative by the Defense Department to “fulfill Ukraine’s priority security assistance requests,” according to the original solicitation for ideas sent to industry. The goal is to get ideas and information in hand in order to accelerate production and build more capacity across the industrial base, as its now accepted the US and its allies are likely to have to support Ukraine long after its own existing weapons stockpiles run out.    

This comes as the Pentagon continues its multiple billion-dollar weapons transfers. On Thursday, President Joe Biden said the US will soon announce another $800 million in new aid, including air defense systems and offensive weapons. So far, the US has committed $6.1 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the Feb. 24 invasion by Russia. The US has been working with more than 50 other nations to see what weapons they can offer. 

The preference has been for what they have in Russian weapons, because Ukraine’s forces are familiar with those systems and would not need training. But as the war has gone on, more advanced weapons have been provided and Ukraine’s forces have been trained in nearby countries. 

The department’s plan for potential new production contracts reflects some urgency as it looks for potential deliveries anywhere from less than 30 days to more than 180 days. It is also asking companies to detail what type of air, land or sea platform their weapon might be deployed on and if they already have something in production.

“In particular, the Department is exploring options which would accelerate production and build more capacity across the industrial base for weapons and equipment that can be rapidly exported, deployed with minimal training, and that are proven effective in the battlefield,” the DOD said in its solicitation to industry for ideas.

The effort comes as a followup to a Pentagon meeting earlier this year with eight of the largest defense contractors, as well as approval by Congress for funding purchase contracts for weapons in addition to the ongoing drawdown and transfer of systems from the US military stockpile.  

The Pentagon has put into place a detailed bureaucratic structure to assess Ukraine’s needs and try to accelerate supplying them, it said. A new “senior integration group” of senior officials reviews Ukraine’s latest operational needs.

The funding could potentially come from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which is a pot of nearly $1 billion for contracting for weapons for Ukraine. Nearly $240 million has been contracted for in areas ranging from Switchblade drones to secure communications devices. 

Russia says it has complete control of Lysychansk oil refinery while Ukraine admits only "partial success" 

Smoke billows over the oil refinery outside Lysychansk on June 21.

The Russian barrage continued on the eastern city of Lysychansk and Russian troops have “completely taken over the refinery,” Vitaliy Kiselev, the assistant minister of the interior of the Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), announced on Russian-backed media outlet Zvezda. 

“Today, our troops have completely taken over the refinery, cleaning is underway. Our divisions have already entered almost beyond the refinery. That is, we control part of the city from the side of the refinery. Similarly, we have units that entered from the eastern side, crossed the Siverskyi Donets River and crashed into residential buildings. And we have exactly the same situation, even better, after we took Vovchoiarivka, our units came even closer. And from the side of Toshkivka we crashed into the residential areas. Almost from all sides we control Lysychansk, somewhere by 50%,” Kiselev said. 

Meanwhile, Ukraine says Russia is still conducting assault operations in the area of ​​the Lysychansk oil refinery and “had a partial success, and holds the northwestern and southeastern parts of the plant,” according to a Thursday evening update from the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

“The enemy carried out assault operations in the areas of the northeastern part of the Lysychansk refinery, the settlement of Topolivka and the northern part of the settlements of Vovchoiarivka and Maloriazantseve,” the Ukrainian Armed Forces statement said. “[Russia] is partially successful. Keeps under fire control section of the road Topolivka – Lysychansk. Unable to withstand the fire of our artillery, missile and air units, the Russian occupiers left Snake Island. Thus, the Odesa region was completely liberated.”

Serhiy Hayday, head of the Luhansk region military administration, said on Thursday night that Lysychansk is an “extremely difficult situation.”

“The shelling comes from several directions. Because the Russian army approached Lysychansk from different directions. As always, they reported that they controlled half the city. It is not true. But the shelling is very powerful. They even are deliberately shooting at our humanitarian centers. There are wounded. Now we advise people to be constantly in shelters. Evacuation is not possible. This is extremely dangerous. They mine the access roads with anti-tank mines. Russians on the outskirts. There are no street fights inside the city,” Hayday said. 

Sweden has promised Turkey it will extradite 73 people, Turkish president says

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addresses media representatives during a press conference at the NATO summit in Madrid on June 30.

Sweden promised to extradite 73 people to Turkey as a result of the memorandum that was signed in Madrid on Tuesday between Sweden, Finland and Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said.

“If the promise is not kept, we will do what is necessary in the agreement,” he said during a presser in Madrid on Thursday, adding that Turkey would not send the ratification of the agreement to the parliament. “If they do not fulfill these, we will not send it to parliament.”

Still, Erdoğan called the memorandum a “diplomatic victory.”

Prior to the NATO summit where the trilateral memorandum was signed, Turkey said it will veto Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership bids, claiming they harbor members of Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK which Turkey, EU and USA recognize as terror organization, as well as FETO which Turkey sees behind 2015 coup attempt.

The 10-article memorandum says Sweden and Finland will address Turkey’s pending extradition requests of terror suspects in accordance with the European Convention on Extradition.

Turkey dropped its objection to Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership as a result of the memorandum signed by those three countries and after Erdogan spoke to US President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

Satellite images show how Ukraine used drones to target Russian forces on Snake Island

For the first several weeks after Snake Island in the Black Sea fell to the Russians on the first day of their invasion into Ukraine on Feb. 24, it was relatively quiet. That all changed on May 2, when the Ukrainians began utilizing Bayraktar TB2 drones to target Russian forces and equipment on and near the island. 

Since then, almost every week, the Ukrainians conducted drone strikes on the island. The strikes have been overwhelmingly successful, knocking out military vehicles, buildings, ships and even a helicopter. 

Ukrainian Armed Forces said Russian troops left the island on Thursday, after they carried out what they said was a “successful” operation. Meanwhile, Russian army spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said at a briefing that its forces left the island “as a gesture of goodwill.”

The small but strategic territory was the scene of one of the opening salvos of the war in Ukraine, with demands from a Russian warship calling for the Ukrainian defenders to surrender, who boldly replied with “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.”

See some of the satellite images from the strategic island here:

An overview of Snake Island is seen on June 30.
The northern end of Snake Island is seen on June 21.

Here are the key takeaways from US President Biden's speech at the NATO summit

US President Joe Biden speaks at the NATO Summit on June 30 in Madrid.

The NATO summit this week in Madrid, Spain, made headlines as it renewed its focus to address Russia’s war in Ukraine and China as a threat. US President Joe Biden said these developments show that the US-led military alliance is “moving to a place that reflects the realities of the second quarter of the 21st century.”

Here’s a look at key remarks from Biden’s speech at the conclusion of the summit.

A message of transatlantic unity against Putin’s goals: The global response to every crisis created due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine shows Russian President Vladimir Putin is “getting exactly what he did not want,” Biden said, citing Moscow’s anger at Sweden and Finland’s decision to join NATO.

“We’re more united than ever. And with the addition to Finland and Sweden, we’ll be stronger than ever. They have serious militaries, both of them. We’re going to increase the NATO border by 800 miles along the Finnish-Russian border. Sweden is all in.”

Russia is feeling the impact: While pledging to “support Ukraine as long as it takes,” Biden said that the war in Ukraine has already taken a toll on Russia as it defaulted on foreign debt for the first time in a century. “They’re paying a very, very heavy price for this,” Biden said. 

Inflation is a problem globally and Russia is to blame: Biden also addressed the increase in gas prices and food shortages around the globe and especially back at home in the US, squarely placing the blame on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “The bottom line is ultimately the reason why gas prices are up is because of Russia. Russia, Russia, Russia. The reason why the food crisis exists is because of Russia.”

"Too early" to establish outpost on Snake Island, Ukrainian military official says

While the Russian forces have withdrawn from Snake Island in the Black Sea, it may be “too early” for Ukraine to establish an outpost there, said the spokesperson for the Ukrainian Military’s Southern Command, Natalia Humenyuk.

Humenyuk reported the island remains engulfed in heavy smoke as explosions continue. Although the Ukrainian military saw Russian troops evacuate using speedboats, Humenyuk said investigation needs to take place into possible “diversion tools left behind” before claiming back the island.

“Our forces haven’t landed on the island yet,” she added clarifying it is not clear if Russian troops withdrew completely. “We cannot state that they all withdrew. But we hope that they had enough sense to do that.”

Humenyuk suggested the Russian military set anti-air missile systems and radar station on fire “to cover their tracks.”

“As soon as they understood all these systems were being targeted by us effectively and could not serve them anymore, they realized they had to fold their outpost and get out,” she added. “We have to monitor their behavior in terms of their ship groupings and the use of other forces. It is too early for us to form an outpost on the Snake island. We have to finish the investigation into the result of the military operation.” 

Russian military command justified their withdrawal from the island on Thursday “as a gesture of goodwill.”

An islet off the Ukrainian coast near Odesa, Snake Island had been captured by the Russian Navy in the early day of the war in February. An important outpost for marking Ukrainian territorial waters, it has become the symbol of Ukrainian resistance against Russian occupation. 

Read more about Russian withdrawal from Snake Island here.

Ukraine severs diplomatic ties with Syria over recognition of separatist-controlled areas in Donbas

Ukraine announced Thursday that it has severed diplomatic relations with Syria after Damascus on Wednesday recognized the independence of the pro-Russia separatist-controlled Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine strongly condemns the decision of the Syrian Arab Republic to recognize the so-called ‘independence’ of the temporarily occupied territories in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine,” the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

“We consider this decision to be an unfriendly act against Ukraine, an encroachment on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state, and a gross violation of Ukrainian law, the UN Charter, and the fundamental norms and principles of international law,” it added.

Syria is the only country aside from Russia to formally recognize the independence of the breakaway regions.

“In response to this unfriendly act, Ukraine declares the severance of diplomatic relations with Syria without the severance of consular relations, in accordance with Article 2 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations done in Vienna on 24 April 1963,” Ukraine’s foreign ministry also said, adding that it will impose a trade embargo, as well as other sanctions, on Syria.

Read more about the two pro-Moscow regions here.

Putin has made "a big mistake" in underestimating both Ukraine and NATO, alliance chief tells CNN

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN that Russian President Vladimir Putin has underestimated both Ukraine’s resistance and the unity of the NATO military alliance. 

“He [Putin] has made a big mistake; he totally underestimated the strength of Ukrainian armed forces, the courage of Ukrainian leadership and the Ukrainian people, and he also underestimated the unity of NATO and partners in providing support to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg told CNN’s chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour Thursday. 

Speaking from the NATO Madrid summit, Stoltenberg said that Putin had failed in achieving his objectives when it came to weakening the NATO alliance. 

“One of his main messages at the beginning of this war was that he wanted less NATO. He actually proposed to sign an agreement to have no further NATO enlargement. What he’s getting now is more NATO and two new NATO members, including Finland with a border … with Russia, doubling NATO’s border with Russia,” he told Amanpour. 

“That does not mean we don’t see the seriousness of the difficulties that Ukraine is facing in Donbas,” Stoltenberg said.  

Stoltenberg told CNN that he is ignoring Putin’s rhetoric and that he will “assess him on his actions.” 

“What he does in Ukraine is a brutal violation of international law. It is a war that has led to a lot of civilian casualties, civilians killed and huge losses,” he told CNN. 

The accomplishments at the NATO summit in Madrid are a “victory” for the military alliance, according to Stoltenberg. 

“It is a victory for NATO that we once again have demonstrated our unity and ability to change, adapt when the world is changing,” the NATO chief said.

“We live in a world where we see brutal use of force against a close neighbor of NATO, a close partner of NATO in Ukraine, and that’s the reason why we have significantly stepped up and will further step up our presence in the eastern part of the alliance to remove any room for miscalculation or misunderstanding in Moscow about our readiness to protect and defend all allies,” he said.

“This is deterrence, and the purpose of deterrence is to prevent conflict. And that’s exactly what NATO has done for more than 70 years — prevent conflict and preserve peace,” he added.

Biden places blame for gas prices and food crisis squarely on Russia

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a media conference at the end of a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, on June 30.

US President Joe Biden said the increase in gas prices and food shortages around the globe are due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The bottom line is ultimately the reason why gas prices are up is because of Russia. Russia, Russia, Russia. The reason why the food crisis exists is because of Russia,” Biden said during a news conference at the NATO summit in Madrid.

Russia has blockaded Ukrainian Black Sea ports, not allowing grain to be exported from one of the main areas of grain production in the world.

“In addition, at home … I’ve released a million barrels of oil per day from our oil reserve, and in addition to getting other nations to move forward, a total of 240 million barrels of oil to release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, number one. Number two, I have asked Congress, would they in fact go and temporarily end the tax on gasoline at the pump, and, thirdly to ask the states to do the same thing. If we do these things, it is estimated we could bring down tomorrow, if they — if Congress agreed and the states agreed, we could bring down the price of oil about a dollar a gallon at the pump in that range,” he said, adding it would bring “immediate relief.”

Biden: Russia is paying a "very heavy price" for Ukraine war

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a media conference at the end of a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, on June 30.

While pledging to “support Ukraine as long as it takes,” US President Joe Biden said that the war in Ukraine has already taken a toll on Russia.

“Look at the impact that the war on Ukraine has had on Russia. They’ve had to renege on their national debt for the first time since the beginning, almost well over 100 years. They’ve lost 15 years of the gains they’ve made in terms of their economy. They’re in a situation where they’re having trouble because of my imposition of dealing with what can be exported to Russia, in terms of technology. They’re going to have trouble maintaining oil production because they don’t have the technology to do it. … And they also are in a similar situation in terms of their weapons systems and some of their military systems,” he said at a news conference concluding the NATO summit in Madrid.  

Biden pledged the US and NATO will “stick with Ukraine.”

“Ukraine has already dealt a severe blow to Russia: Russia in fact has already lost its international standing. Russia is in a position where the whole world is looking and saying, ‘wait a minute, all this effort to try to take the whole country; you tried to take Kyiv, you lost, you tried to take the Donbas and all of it, you haven’t done that yet,’” Biden said.

“The generic point is we’re supplying them with the capacity and the overwhelming courage they have demonstrated that in fact they can continue to resist the Russian aggression. And so I don’t know … how it is going to end, but it will not end with a Russian defeat of Ukraine in Ukraine,” Biden continued.

Biden portrays transatlantic alliance as more united than ever in concluding NATO news conference

US President Joe Biden sought to portray the transatlantic alliance as more united than ever as he prepared to depart Europe after two summits focused heavily on the war in Ukraine.

“I told (Russian President Vladimir) Putin that if he invaded Ukraine, NATO would not only get stronger, but would get more united,” Biden said at a press conference at the conclusion of a NATO summit in Madrid. “And we would see what see democracies in the world stand up and oppose his aggression and defend the rules based order. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing today.”

Biden said the United States was “doing exactly what I said” and enhancing its force posture in Europe.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a media conference at the end of a NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, ON June 30.

He said the United States was “rallying the world to stand with Ukraine” and said he was preparing to unveil an additional $800 million in security assistance, including air defense systems, artillery, ammunition and counter-battery radar.

“We’re moving to a place that reflects the realities of the second quarter of the 21st century And we’re we’re on the verge of making significant progress,” he said.

“Putin thought we could break the Transatlantic Alliance,” he went on. “He tried to weaken us, expected our resolve the fracture, but he’s getting exactly what he did not want.”

Biden: Putin is "getting exactly what he did not want"

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference on the final day of the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, on June 30.

US President Joe Biden said the decisions and deals announced at the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, show that NATO is “moving to a place that reflects the realities of the second quarter of the 21st century.”

The world’s response to every crisis created due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine shows Putin is “getting exactly what he did not want,” Biden said.

“At every step of this trip, we set down a marker of unity, determination and deep capabilities of the democratic nations of the world to do what need to be done,” he said. “Putin thought he could break the transatlantic alliance. He tried to weaken us. He expected our resolve to fracture. But he’s getting exactly what he did not want.”

“He wanted the Finlandization of NATO. He got the natoization of Finland,” Biden added, as NATO invited Sweden and Finland to join the US-led military alliance, which has drawn an angered response from Russia. “We’re more united than ever. And with the addition to Finland and Sweden, we’ll be stronger than ever. They have serious militaries, both of them. We’re going to increase the NATO border by 800 miles along the Finnish-Russian border. Sweden is all in.”

Biden also noted NATO’s work to address price hike in gas and oil and food insecurity affecting different parts of the world because of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“We tasked our teams to work on the details of the price cap on Russian oil, to drive down Putin’s revenues without hurting Americans and others at the gas pump. We’ll seek to use the funds from the tariffs on Russian goods to help Ukraine rebuild. We’ve committed more than $ 4.5 billion — more than half of that from the United States — to address food insecurity, and the immediate crisis caused by the Russian war.”

Biden calls NATO summit "historic" as alliance aims to address threats from Russia and China

U.S. President Joe Biden holds a news conference before departing the NATO summit at the IFEMA arena in Madrid, Spain, on June 30.

US President Joe Biden said the NATO summit in Madrid has been “historic” citing the decision to invite Finland and Sweden to the military alliance.

“This summit was about strengthening our alliance, meeting the challenges of our world as it is today, and the threats we’re going to face in the future,” he said.

Biden also addressed how the alliance is looking to meet “the direct threats Russia poses to Europe” and the “systematic challenges that China poses.”

“The last time NATO drafted a new mission statement was 12 years. At that time, it characterized Russia as a partner, and it didn’t even mention China. The world has changed — changed a great deal since then. And NATO is changing as well. At this summit, we rallied our alliances to meet both the direct threats of Russia poses to Europe and the systemic challenges that China poses to a rules-based world order,” he said on Thursday.

NOW: Biden holds news conference at NATO summit

U.S. President Joe Biden holds a news conference before departing the NATO summit at the IFEMA arena in Madrid, Spain, on June 30.

Before returning to Washington, US President Joe Biden is holding a news conference at the NATO summit in Madrid where he’s expected to address the state of the war in Ukraine.

With Russia bogged down in a long-term conflict of attrition, NATO leaders leave here having taken historic steps to address a fundamentally altered security situation. It has given the organization a renewed sense of purpose after years wavering on how to approach Russia.

The alliance is poised to grow larger after formally inviting Finland and Sweden to join. The path was cleared for the two countries, each with long histories of military non-alignment, after Turkey dropped its objections, giving this summit a somewhat unexpected boost as it commenced.

Leaders made major enhancements of NATO’s force posture along its eastern edge, increasing the number of high-alert troops by sevenfold. Biden announced new rotational deployments of US troops in the Baltics and Romania, new ships to Spain and planes to the United Kingdom, and for the first time a permanent Army garrison headquarters in Poland.

Read more about the summit here.

Mayor of eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk urges residents to evacuate

The mayor of Sloviansk, Vadym Liakh, has urged residents of the eastern Ukrainian city to evacuate as he issued a warning about the approach of Russian troops.

Six people were wounded and two of them were in “serious condition” after Russian forces fired on the city on Thursday, he said.

“Today at 11a.m., the enemy fired at the city of Sloviansk from multiple rocket launchers. Two explosions of cluster shells happened in a densely populated neighborhood, near a supermarket, as well as near a bus stop,” Liakh told Ukrainian broadcaster Espreso TV. “The shelling is ongoing. The enemy is close.”

NATO officials say plan to boost high response force to 300,000 is "still a work in progress"

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference at the end of the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, on June 30.

NATO military officials are walking back the secretary general’s announcement earlier this week that 300,000 troops “will” be placed on high alert across the alliance, now saying the high number is a “concept” the bloc aims to enact by mid-2023. 

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that NATO “will increase the number of our high readiness forces to well over 300,000.” 

But it now appears that number is more aspirational, and is based on a new model NATO believes will take at least another year to accomplish. 

The initial announcement appeared to be a seven-fold increase from the 40,000 troops NATO currently has on high alert, and two NATO officials told CNN that number caught many NATO countries’ defense chiefs off guard. 

It was not clear to them, for example, which troops from each member state would need to contribute to that new high-readiness force, or whether enough countries had even been asked or agreed to provide the sufficient forces for it. It was a point of apparent confusion and disjointedness in an otherwise highly choreographed show of unity among the allies. 

Two senior NATO officials told reporters in a briefing on Thursday that the new high-readiness model will eventually replace the NATO Response Force model, but that it is “still a work in progress.”

“We know from nations, through our planning process, the number of forces that nations have at their disposal, the readiness that they have,” one of the officials said. “So there will be several iterations of populating this model, but we would not be giving figures for a model if we were not extremely confident that we could deliver on those things. But it’s a work in progress.”

The officials indicated that under the new model, many of the troops would remain in their home countries rather than move under the command of NATO’s Allied Command Operations. But they would be quickly available to NATO should a security crisis arise, such as if Russia were to attack a member country. 

Asked what the trigger would be to move those forces to high alert under NATO command, one of the officials would only say it will involve “indications and warnings” of a potential attack. 

Food crisis not caused by NATO sanctions, NATO secretary general says

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference on the second and final day of the NATO 2022 Summit at the IFEMA Trade Fair Center, Madrid, Spain, on June 30.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday denied that sanctions against Russia by NATO members are to blame for the worsening food crisis.

“Contrary to what President Putin and also China are now telling the world through different disinformation campaigns, this food crisis is not caused by NATO sanctions. It is caused by President Putin’s war and the best way to end the food crisis is to end the war,” Stoltenberg said.

“The impact is severe, including on some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Food prices are hitting record highs, and many countries depend on Ukraine for substantial wheat and other food imports,” he added, noting that NATO allies discussed efforts to mitigate the crisis and get grain out of Ukraine.

The NATO chief said that Turkey is trying to facilitate some kind of agreement and that Greece announced “that they are ready to make available ships to get grain out of Ukraine.”

Lithuania and Romania are making efforts “to expand their own land capacity by railway to transport more food,” he added.

Ukraine begins energy exports to European Union

Ukraine has begun exporting electricity to the European Union, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and the EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen announced on Thursday.

“Just three months after receiving the energy certification, the long-awaited export of Ukrainian electricity to Europe has begun! Today [Thursday], from the first hour of the night, such exports went to Romania. The initial volume is 100 MW,” Shmyhal said in a post on his official facebook account.

“In the first day alone, the state-owned enterprise Ukrenergo earned UAH 10 million from the sale of access to the interstate crossing,” he added. “The export potential of Ukrainian electricity to Europe is up to 2.5 GW. Under this scenario, the state will be able to receive more than UAH 70 billion a year.”

The President of the European Commission welcomed the move, saying it serves both Ukraine’s and the EU’s needs.

“It will provide an additional source of electricity for the EU. And much-needed revenues to Ukraine,” von der Leyen tweeted on Thursday. “So we both benefit.”

First merchant ship leaves Berdyansk port, according to military head of Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia

The first merchant ship has left the occupied Berdyansk port on the Azov sea on Thursday, according to Yevgeniy Balitsky, head of the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia military administration. 

“After several months of standstill, the first merchant ship left the Berdyansk commercial sea port,” Balitsky posted on his Telegram channel. “The safety of the dry cargo vessel is ensured by ships and boats of the Novorossiysk Naval Base of the Black Sea Fleet.”

Ukrainian officials say millions of Ukrainian grain exports are still on hold as Russia continues to block the country’s main export routes on Black and Azov sea. Russian officials have claimed the seaports of Mariupol and Berdyansk have been demined and operating normally since early June.

Balitsky reiterated claims by Russia that the waters surrounding the occupied port have been demined by the engineering units of Russia’s Novorossiysk Naval Base.

“The Berdyansk Bay and the port itself are fully secure. And the port workers and port equipment are ready for cargo handling operations,” he claimed in his Telegram post. 

It's 3 p.m. in Kyiv. Here's what you need to know

If you’re just joining us, here are the latest developments in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

  • Russian forces withdraw from Snake Island: The Ukrainian Armed Forces said Thursday it was after they carried out a “successful” operation. However, Moscow gave a slightly different narrative, with the Russian army spokesperson saying that Russian forces left the island “as a gesture of goodwill.”
  • Mall search continues: Search for survivors in the aftermath of the Russian missile strike on a shopping mall in Kremenchuk continued overnight Wednesday and into Thursday, according to the mayor of the city. Vitalii Maletskyi added that he feared more bodies may be found. The number of dead remains at 18, but 21 people are still missing, he said. Russian President Vladimir Putin denied Moscow was behind the strike. “The Russian army does not attack any civilian site,” he claimed. Russia’s Defense Ministry previously said it hit military targets but video from the city of Kremenchuk shows the mall obliterated by a missile.
  • Mykolaiv under attack: The number of people who have died as a result of a bombing on a five-storey apartment building in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv has increased to six, according to the emergency services. Eight missiles hit the city early on Wednesday, according to regional officials. Separately, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said 10 Russian missiles hit “civilian targets” in the southern city on Wednesday, killing at least five people. The assault “proves for absolutely everyone in the world that the pressure on Russia is not enough,” he said in his nightly address.
  • NATO enlargement: NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg called the formal invitation from the alliance to Sweden and Finland to join the defense bloc “a historic decision.” The invitation sparks a seven-step accession process. Meanwhile, Putin issued a fresh warning over Finland and Sweden’s bids to join NATO, saying while Russia was not bothered if the two countries joined the bloc, it would “respond symmetrically” to any military or infrastructure build up.
  • “Constant shelling” of Lysychansk: Russian forces attempting to storm the eastern Ukrainian city — where some 15,000 people remain — are maintaining “constant shelling,” the head of the Luhansk region military administration said. “Now the density of fire is so strong. So much that we can only put 30 people on a bus,” the military chief said.

Nearly 16 million people in Ukraine need humanitarian aid, says UN

Volunteers distribute humanitarian aid in the town of Lyubotyn, Ukraine, on June 29.

Nearly 16 million Ukrainians are in need of humanitarian assistance, the United Nations resident coordinator for Ukraine has said.

“Almost 16 million people in Ukraine today need humanitarian assistance – water, food, health services, roof over their head and protection,” Osnat Lubrani said in a press conference Thursday.

“These are conservative numbers which United Nations is revising now.”

Lubrani added that at least six million people have so far been displaced internally by the conflict and another 5.3 million have fled abroad since the invasion on February 24.

Sweden to supply anti-tank weapons and demining equipment to Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen study the Swedish made the Carl Gustaf M4, a shoulder-launched weapon system, during a training session near Kharkiv, Ukraine, on April 7.

Sweden will donate anti-tank weapons and demining equipment worth 500 million Swedish Krona ($49 million) to Ukraine, a Swedish official has said.

Talking to CNN on Thursday, Swedish defense ministry spokesperson Toni Eriksson said the equipment was requested by the Ukrainian government, and would be delivered “as soon as possible.”

Sweden has already donated military equipment to Ukraine on four previous occasions, he said, adding that they will also be providing further support weapons.

Eriksson did not give any details on further specifics of the equipment Sweden was giving.

People “dream of at least half an hour of silence” in Lysychansk, official says

The Russian barrage has continued on the eastern city of Lysychansk, according to Serhii Hayday, the head of Luhansk’s region military administration.

“People dream of at least half an hour of silence, but the occupiers do not stop firing from all available weapons,” Hayday said, giving a sense of what life is like in the beleaguered city.

In a Thursday morning update on the fate of the city, he said that Russian forces had destroyed the police headquarters and had begun targeting the oil refinery in the city. Russian attacks on the refinery continued on to Thursday morning.

He added that the body of a woman was found in a basement of a house that was also hit.

On Wednesday, Hayday reported that “around 15,000 people” still remained in the besieged city, despite being urged to evacuate over the past few weeks. Now, he says it is harder for people to leave.

“Now the density of fire is so strong. So much that we can only put 30 people on a bus,” he said.

Putin says Russia is "open to dialogue" on strategic stability and nuclear non-proliferation

Russia is open to a dialogue on strategic stability and nuclear non-proliferation, as well as improving the situation with arms control, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday in his video address to the participants of the St. Petersburg International Legal Forum.

“Russia is open to dialogue on ensuring strategic stability, maintaining the non-proliferation regimes for weapons of mass destruction, and improving the situation in the field of arms control,” Putin said.

Russia is developing relations with everyone who is interested in this, he added.

The Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said earlier in June it is essential to continue communication between Russia and the US on the “principles of mutual respect, the indivisibility of security, consideration of mutual concerns and mutual benefit.”

UK to provide a further $1.2 billion in military aid to Ukraine

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends the Meeting of the North Atlantic Council Session at the NATO summit at the IFEMA arena in Madrid, Spain, on June 30.

The United Kingdom will provide a further £1 billion ($1.2 billion) of military support to Ukraine, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced at the NATO summit on Thursday.

“This uplift to funding will herald a new phase in the international community’s support to Ukraine,” a statement issued by No. 10 Downing Street said, adding it will support “sophisticated air defence systems, uncrewed aerial vehicles, innovative new electronic warfare equipment and thousands of pieces of vital kit for Ukrainian soldiers.”

“Putin’s brutality continues to take Ukrainian lives and threaten peace and security across Europe,” said Johnson.

“UK weapons, equipment and training are transforming Ukraine’s defences against this onslaught. And we will continue to stand squarely behind the Ukrainian people to ensure Putin fails in Ukraine,” he added. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Johnson on Twitter for announcing additional assistance to Ukraine.

“I’m grateful to 🇬🇧 Prime Minister @BorisJohnson for allocating an additional £1 billion for security assistance to Ukraine. 🇬🇧 is our true friend and strategic partner. We appreciate the consistent, leadership support for 🇺🇦 in countering Russian aggression,” Zelensky wrote.

Thursday’s announcement brings the total UK military support since the outbreak of war to £2.3 billion ($2.8 billion) — more than any country other than the United States, according to the statement.