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Russia threatens Lithuania with ‘consequences’ over blocked rail to enclave

Published

on

6/6

© Reuters. A man stands outside a damaged residential building located in Panfilova street following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

2/6

By Natalia Zinets

KYIV (Reuters) -Russia threatened on Tuesday to punish Lithuania with measures that would have a “serious negative impact” for blocking some shipments by rail to Moscow’s Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad, the latest dispute over sanctions imposed over war in Ukraine.

Within Ukraine, the battle for the eastern Donbas region has become a brutal war of attrition, with Russia concentrating its overwhelming firepower on a Ukrainian-held pocket of the region that Moscow claims on behalf of its separatist proxies.

The proxies said on Tuesday they were advancing towards the town of Lysychansk, now Ukraine’s main bastion in the area of heaviest fighting after most of the neighbouring city of Sievierodonetsk fell under Russian control.

Ukraine, its forces and weaponry dwarfed by Russia’s, has begged the West to send more and better artillery. Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov announced on Tuesday the arrival of powerful German self-propelled howitzers.

Blaming Western sanctions, Russia has started pumping reduced volumes of gas to Europe via Ukraine. German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said the reduced flows amounted to an economic attack on Germany that “cannot be allowed to succeed”. Berlin unveiled details of a new auction system aimed at incentivising industry to use less gas.

Diplomatic attention has turned towards Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, a Baltic Sea port and surrounding countryside that are home to nearly a million Russians, connected to the rest of Russia by a rail link through EU- and NATO-member Lithuania.

Lithuania has shut the route for transport of steel and other ferrous metals, which it says it is required to do under EU sanctions that took effect on Saturday.

Russian officials say other basic goods have been blocked as well. Video footage from the enclave showed some panic buying over the weekend at shops selling construction materials.

‘HOSTILE’

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, visited the enclave on Tuesday to chair a security meeting there. He said Lithuania’s “hostile” actions showed that Russia could not trust the West, which he said had broken written agreements over Kaliningrad.

“Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions,” Patrushev was quoted as saying by state news agency RIA. “Appropriate measures” were being worked out, and “their consequences will have a serious negative impact on the population of Lithuania”, he said without elaborating.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said it was “ironic” to hear Russia complain about alleged violations of international law, given that it had violated “possibly every single international treaty”.

Moscow summoned EU envoy Markus Ederer to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. EU spokesperson Peter Stano said Ederer asked the Russians at the meeting “to refrain from escalatory steps and rhetoric”.

The standoff creates a new source of confrontation on the Baltic, a region already set for a security overhaul that would hem in Russia’s sea power as Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO and put nearly the entire coast under alliance control.

The EU sought to deflect responsibility from Vilnius, saying the policy was collective action by the bloc.

In a symbolic but morale-boosting decision, Ukraine is set to become an official candidate for European Union membership on Thursday, diplomats said.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland became the latest international dignitary to visit Ukraine, affirming on Tuesday Washington’s commitment to identify, arrest and prosecute those involved in war crimes during Russia’s invasion.

HEAVYWEIGHT FIGHT

In some of the bloodiest fighting seen in Europe since World War Two, Russia has made slow progress in the Donbas since April at the cost of thousands of soldiers’ lives on both sides.

Some of the fighting has spanned the Siverskyi Donets river that curls through the Donbas, with Russian forces mainly on the east bank and Ukrainian forces mainly on the west.

But Ukrainian troops – and an estimated 500 civilians – are still holding out at a chemical plant in the east bank city of Sievierodonetsk, despite weeks of heavy bombardment.

In recent days Russia has captured Toshkivka, a small city on the west bank further south, giving it a potential foothold to try to cut off the main Ukrainian bastion at Lysychansk.

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the pro-Moscow separatist self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, said forces were “moving from the south towards Lysychansk” with firefights erupting in a number of towns.

“The hours to come should bring considerable changes to the balance of forces in the area,” he said on Telegram.

Russia’s defence ministry said on Tuesday its missiles had struck an airfield near the port of Odesa in response to a Ukrainian attack on gas production platforms in the Black Sea. Reuters could not independently verify the report.

Although fighting has favoured Russia in recent weeks because of its huge edge in artillery firepower, some Western military analysts say Russia’s failure to make a major breakthrough so far means time is now on the Ukrainians’ side.

Moscow is running out of fresh troops, while Ukraine is receiving newer and better equipment from the West, tweeted retired U.S. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, a former commander of U.S. ground forces in Europe.

“It’s a heavyweight boxing match. In 2 months of fighting, there has not yet been a knockout blow. It will come, as RU forces become more depleted,” Hertling wrote.

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin told graduates of military academies that Russia would “continue to develop and strengthen our armed forces”. He added that newly tested Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying 10 or more nuclear warheads would be deployed by the end of 2022.

In another reminder of the war’s heavy human toll, mourners in the western city of Lviv buried 27-year-old Artem Dymyd who, his father said, had returned from the United States to fight.

“When the full-scale invasion started, where was he? On the front line, of course,” said Oleh Tiakhnybok, a relative. “He was an angel and he will remain an angel for our family.”

World

West pledges support for Ukraine as missiles strike shopping centre

Published

on

6/6

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A smoke rises over remains of a building destroyed by a military strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Lysychansk, Luhansk region, Ukraine June 17, 2022. REUTERS/Oleksandr Ratushniak

2/6

By Simon Lewis

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) -Western nations on Monday pledged unwavering support for Ukraine in the war with Russia and Ukrainian officials said 28 civilians were killed in Russian attacks, including a missile strike on a crowded shopping centre.

Leaders of the Group of Seven major democracies, meeting in Germany, said they would keep sanctions on Russia for as long as necessary and intensify international pressure on President Vladimir Putin’s government and its ally Belarus.

“Imagine if we allowed Putin to get away with the violent acquisition of huge chunks of another country, sovereign, independent territory,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the BBC.

The United States said it was finalising another weapons package for Ukraine that would include long-range air-defence systems – arms that Zelenskiy specifically requested when he addressed the leaders by video link on Monday.

Ukraine endured another difficult day on the battlefront following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk after weeks of bombardment and street fighting.

Russian artillery was pounding Lysychansk, its twin across the Siverskyi Donets River. A Russian missile strike killed eight and wounded 21 others in the city on Monday, the area’s regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. There was no immediate Russian comment.

Lysychansk is the last big city still held by Ukraine in the eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take the capital Kyiv early in the war, now in its fifth month.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said the Russian forces were trying to cut off Lysychansk from the south. Reuters could not confirm Russian reports that Moscow’s troops had already entered the city.

Southeast of Kyiv in the city of Kremenchuk, firefighters and soldiers were searching through debris for survivors after two missiles struck a shopping centre, killing at least 13 and wounding 40, Ukrainian officials said.

“This is not an accidental hit, this is a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an evening video address. He earlier said more than 1,000 people had been inside.

Russia has not commented on the Ukrainian accusations. Its deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, accused Ukraine of using the incident to gain Western sympathy ahead of a planned summit of the NATO military alliance.

“One should wait for what our Ministry of Defence will say, but there are too many striking discrepancies already,” Polyanskiy wrote on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR).

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the attack was “deplorable”. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called it the “latest in a string of atrocities”.

Ukrainian officials said Russian shelling had killed five in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and at least two in the eastern Donetsk province.

‘WE SENT HIM MESSAGES’

As night began to fall in Kremenchuk, rescuers brought lights and generators to continue the search. Family members, some close to tears and with hands over their mouths, lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers had set up a base.

Kiril Zhebolovsky, 24, was looking for his friend, Ruslan, 22, who worked at the Comfy electronics store and had not been heard from since the blast.

“We sent him messages, called, but nothing,” he said. He left his name and phone number with the rescue workers in case his friend is found.

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 in what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” to rid the country of far-right nationalists and ensure Russian security. It denies targeting civilians in a conflict that has killed thousands, sent millions fleeing and laid waste to cities.

Russian forces also control territory in the south, including the port city of Mariupol, which fell after a long and devastating siege.

A senior U.S. defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Russia had carried out about 60 strikes against Ukraine over the weekend.

The official said a weekend strike in Kyiv that hit apartments was close to a factory that made munitions for Ukrainian forces.

In his address to the G7 leaders, Zelenskiy asked again for more arms, U.S. and European officials said. He requested help to export grain from Ukraine and for more sanctions on Russia.

The G7 nations promised to squeeze Russia’s finances further – including a deal to cap the price of Russian oil that a U.S. official said was “close” – and promised up to $29.5 billion more for Ukraine.

“We will continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” a G7 statement said.

The White House said Russia had defaulted on its external debt for the first time in more than a century as sweeping sanctions have effectively cut the country off from the global financial system.

Russia rejected the claims, telling investors to go to Western financial agents for the cash which was sent but bondholders did not receive.

The war has created difficulties for countries way beyond Europe’s borders, with disruptions to food and energy exports hitting the global economy.

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World

U.S. abortion ruling ignites legal battles over state bans

Published

on

2/2

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Abortion rights campaigners participate in nationwide demonstrations following the leaked Supreme Court opinion suggesting the possibility of overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision, at Duncan Plaza in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.

2/2

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – Battles over abortion shifted to state courts on Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure nationwide, as a judge blocked a statewide ban in Louisiana and clinics in Idaho, Kentucky and Texas sued seeking similar relief.

The four are among the 13 states with “trigger laws” designed to ban or severely restrict abortions once the Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a right to the procedure, as it was on Friday.

In Louisiana, abortion services that had been halted since Friday began resuming after Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Robin Giarrusso on Monday issued a temporary restraining order https://tmsnrt.rs/3OEBEbG blocking the state from carrying out its ban.

The order came shortly after Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport – one of Louisiana’s three abortion clinics – sued, arguing Louisiana’s trigger laws “lack constitutionally required safeguards to prevent arbitrary enforcement.”

The judge set a July 8 hearing to decide whether to further block enforcement of the ban, which Hope Medical said violated its due process rights under the state’s constitution.

In Kentucky, two abortion clinics including a Planned Parenthood affiliate filed a state court challenge to an outright abortion ban enacted in 2019 and a separate six-week ban, saying they violated patients’ rights to privacy and self-determination under the state’s constitution.

In Idaho, a Planned Parenthood affiliate asked the state’s highest court to block enforcement of a “trigger” law banning abortion that the Republican-controlled state legislature passed in 2020 that would take effect Aug. 19.

And in Republican-led Texas, where a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy went into effect last year, a judge in Harris County will hear arguments on Tuesday on whether to block officials from enforcing pre-Roe v. Wade abortion prohibitions.

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton had said in a Friday advisory that while the state’s 2021 trigger ban would not take effect for 30 days after the Supreme Court’s ruling, prosecutors could immediately pursue cases based on pre-1973 laws.

Republican Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry in a statement said his office was “fully prepared to defend these laws in our state courts, just as we have in our federal courts.”

His Republican counterparts in Kentucky and Idaho, Daniel Cameron and Lawrence Wasden, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Paxton.

The cases are among several challenging Republican-backed abortion laws under state constitutions after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

A Utah branch of Planned Parenthood on Saturday sued over that state’s trigger ban, and abortion rights advocates plan to challenge an Ohio ban on abortions after six weeks that took effect on Friday.

In Florida, a group of abortion providers went before a state court judge to argue a challenge to that state’s new Republican-backed ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which they say violates Florida’s constitution.

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World

U.S. Supreme Court abortion ruling ignites new legal battles over state bans

Published

on

2/2

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Abortion rights campaigners participate in nationwide demonstrations following the leaked Supreme Court opinion suggesting the possibility of overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision, at Duncan Plaza in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.

2/2

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) -Battles over abortion shifted to state courts on Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to the procedure nationwide, as a judge blocked a statewide ban in Louisiana and clinics sued to obtain similar relief in Kentucky and Idaho.

The three are among the 13 states with “trigger laws” designed to ban or severely restrict abortions once the Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a right to the procedure, as it was on Friday.

In Louisiana, abortion services that had been halted since Friday began resuming after Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Robin Giarrusso on Monday issued a temporary restraining order https://tmsnrt.rs/3OEBEbG blocking the state from carrying out its ban.

The order came shortly after Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport – one of Louisiana’s three abortion clinics – sued, arguing Louisiana’s trigger laws “lack constitutionally required safeguards to prevent arbitrary enforcement.”

The judge set a July 8 hearing to decide whether to further block enforcement of the ban, which Hope Medical said violated its due process rights under the state’s constitution.

In Kentucky, two abortion clinics including a Planned Parenthood affiliate filed a state court challenge https://tmsnrt.rs/3bxnue9 to an outright abortion ban enacted in 2019 and a separate six-week ban passed that same year.

The lawsuit argued the bans violate patients’ rights to privacy and self-determination under the state’s constitution.

In Idaho, a Planned Parenthood affiliate asked the state’s highest court to block enforcement of a “trigger” law banning abortion that the Republican-controlled state legislature passed in 2020 that would take effect Aug. 19.

Republican Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry in a statement said his office was “fully prepared to defend these laws in our state courts, just as we have in our federal courts.”

His Republican counterparts in Kentucky and Idaho, Daniel Cameron and Lawrence Wasden, did not respond to requests for comment.

The cases are among several challenging Republican-backed abortion laws under state constitutions after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

A Utah branch of Planned Parenthood on Saturday sued over that state’s trigger ban, and abortion rights advocates plan to challenge an Ohio ban on abortions after six weeks that took effect on Friday.

In Florida, a group of abortion providers went before a state court judge to argue a challenge to that state’s new Republican-backed ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, which they say violates Florida’s constitution.

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