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Russia leaves Snake Island in response to blockade of Ukrainian ports

#Russia #leaves #Snake #Island #response #blockade #Ukrainian #ports

Russian troops have abandoned positions on a captured Ukrainian island, a major setback to their invasion effort weakening their blockade of Ukrainian ports, defense officials said Thursday.

The news from the Black Sea came as NATO leaders met in Madrid for a second day to demonstrate their unity and determination to support Kyiv with advanced weapons in the face of Moscow’s attack.

Snake Island became a symbol of the Ukrainian resistance in the early days of the war, when the ledge’s defenders told a Russian warship that urged them to surrender to fuck off, an incident that spurred a defiant meme.

It was also a strategic target as it was adjacent to shipping lanes near the Ukrainian port of Odessa. Russia had attempted to install missile and air defense batteries while coming under drone fire.

Now, however, Ukraine has begun receiving longer-range missiles and military equipment from its Western backers, and the Russian position on Snake Island appears to have become untenable.

– “Strategically important” –

The Russian Defense Ministry statement described the withdrawal as a “goodwill gesture” to demonstrate that Moscow will not interfere in UN efforts to organize protected grain exports from Ukraine.

But Kyiv claimed it as a victory.

“I thank the defenders of the Odessa region, who took maximum measures to liberate a strategically important part of our territory,” Valeriy Zaluzhny, the supreme commander of the Ukrainian military, said on Telegram.

In peacetime, Ukraine is a major agricultural exporter, but Russia’s invasion has damaged farmland and resulted in Ukrainian ports being confiscated, destroyed or blocked – threatening grain importers in Africa with famine.

Western powers have accused President Vladimir Putin of using the trapped crops as a weapon to increase pressure on the international community, and Russia has been accused of stealing grain.

A ship with 7,000 tons of grain left the occupied Ukrainian port of Berdyansk on Thursday, said the regional head appointed by the Russian occupying forces.

Evgeny Balitsky, the head of the pro-Moscow government, said Russia’s Black Sea ships “ensure the safety” of the voyage, he said, adding that the port had been demined.

– “Direct Threat” –

Separately, the Russian Defense Ministry said its forces are holding more than 6,000 Ukrainian POWs captured since the February 24 invasion.

The conflict in Ukraine has dominated the NATO summit in Madrid, where leaders said Russia posed “the most significant and direct threat to the security of allies and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.”

This came as NATO officially invited Sweden and Finland to join the alliance and US President Joe Biden announced new deployments of US troops, ships and aircraft to Europe.

Biden said the US move was exactly what Russian President Putin “didn’t want” – and Moscow, which faced stiff opposition from Western-armed Ukrainian forces, responded with predictable fury.

Putin accused the alliance of wanting to assert its “supremacy” and told journalists in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat that Ukraine and its people are “a means” for NATO “to defend its own interests”.

“The leaders of the NATO countries want … to maintain their supremacy, their imperial ambitions,” Putin added.

NATO leaders have funneled billions of dollars worth of weapons into Ukraine and faced a renewed appeal from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for more long-range artillery.

“Ukraine can count on us for as long as it takes,” NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said at the summit, which ends on Thursday, as he announced a new strategic overview focused on the Moscow threat.

– “Clear eyes” –

The document, updated for the first time since 2010, warned that the alliance “cannot rule out the possibility” of an attack on its members.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba welcomed “NATO’s clear stance on Russia”.

Russian missiles continued to rain down on Ukraine.

In the southern city of Mykolaiv, rescue workers found the bodies of six civilians killed in the rubble of a destroyed building, rescue services said.

The city of Lysychansk in eastern Donbass, the current focus of the Russian offensive, is also exposed to sustained bombing raids.

“Russians are throwing almost all their resources at capturing Lysychansk,” Sergiy Gaiday, regional governor of Lugansk, which includes the city, said on Telegram.

“It’s hard to find a safe place in the city.”

– Theater Strike ‘War Crimes’ –

Moscow’s invasion unleashed massive economic sanctions and a wave of support for Zelensky’s government, including shipments of advanced weapons and bolstering Europe’s defenses.

Washington has announced that it will move the headquarters of its 5th Army Corps to Poland.

An army brigade will fly to Romania and two squadrons of F-35 fighters to Britain, air defense systems will be sent to Germany and Italy, and the fleet of US Navy destroyers in Spain will grow from four to six.

Britain on Wednesday pledged another $1.2 billion in military aid to Ukraine, including air defense systems and drones.

In a report released on Thursday, Amnesty International said a theater housing civilians destroyed in March in the besieged city of Mariupol was hit by a Russian airstrike in what is likely a war crime.

“Up until now we have been talking about an alleged war crime. Now we can say unequivocally that it was one committed by the Russian armed forces,” Oksana Pokalchuk, head of Amnesty International’s Ukraine department, told AFP.

Still, the group noted that the death toll may have been less than initially thought. Amnesty believes at least a dozen people were killed in the attack, although many more are likely unreported.

The Mariupol city government had presented an initial estimate of around 300 deaths.

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