Russia launches new offensive, seeks sanctions relief to free Ukraine’s food supply routes

Russian forces launched offensives against towns in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, with constant mortar shelling destroying several homes and killing civilians, Ukrainian officials said, as Russia focuses its attack on the region Donbass industry.

Russia has been focused on trying to seize the two separatist-claimed Donbass provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front, according to Ukrainian officials.

In the easternmost part of Ukraine’s Donbass pocket, the city of Severodonetsk on the eastern bank of the Siverskiy Donets River and its twin Lysychansk on the western bank have become a crucial battleground. Russian forces were advancing from three directions to encircle them.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office said Russian forces launched an offensive on Severodonetsk on Wednesday and the city was under constant mortar fire.

Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said six civilians were killed and at least eight injured, most near bomb shelters in Severodonetsk.

Smoke rises above a self-propelled howitzer piloted by pro-Russian troops towards the direction of Severodonetsk on Tuesday in the Luhansk region of Ukraine. (Alexander Ermoshenko/Reuters)

“At the moment, with artillery support, the Russian occupiers are attacking Severodonetsk,” Gaidai said.

Ukraine’s military said on Tuesday it repelled nine Russian attacks in Donbass, where Moscow troops had killed at least 14 civilians, using planes, rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, mortars and missiles .

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Targeting unarmed civilians during war is “always criminal”, said Michael Newton, a law professor and former US State Department official. There are dozens more war crimes trials to come from the Ukraine-Russia war, he said.

Reuters could not immediately verify reports of the fighting.

The Donbass fighting follows Russia’s biggest victory in months: the surrender last week of the Ukrainian garrison at the port of Mariupol after a siege in which kyiv estimates tens of thousands of civilians were killed.

Three months into the invasion, Russia still has limited gains to show for its worst military loss in decades, while much of Ukraine suffered devastation in the greatest attack on a European state since 1945.

The war has also caused growing food shortages and soaring prices due to sanctions and disruption of supply chains. Ukraine and Russia are major exporters of grain and other commodities.

Exports of cereals and food products remain blocked

Russia has said it is ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for ships carrying food to leave Ukraine, in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions, the Interfax news agency said on Wednesday quoting the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs Andrei Rudenko.

Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia sent thousands of troops to Ukraine on February 24, and more than 20 million tons of grain are stuck in silos in the country.

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War in Ukraine worsens global food crisis

The impact of the war in Ukraine extends far beyond the country’s borders, as Russian forces have destroyed crops and blocked ports along the Black Sea, affecting food supplies in Africa and the Middle East. East.

Russia and Ukraine account for almost a third of global wheat supplies, and the lack of significant grain exports from Ukrainian ports is contributing to a growing global food crisis.

Ukraine is also a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.

Western powers discussed the idea of ​​setting up “safe corridors” for grain exports from Ukrainian ports, adding that any such corridor would require Russian consent.

“We have repeatedly said on this point that a solution to the food problem requires a comprehensive approach, including the lifting of sanctions that have been imposed on Russian exports and financial transactions,” Rudenko said.

“And this also requires the Ukrainian side to clear mines of all ports where ships are anchored. Russia is ready to provide the necessary humanitarian passage, which it does every day,” he said.

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of laying drifting mines in the Black Sea.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that Russia was using the food supply as a weapon with global repercussions.

“We are always ready to dialogue with anyone who seeks … a peaceful resolution of all issues. I leave Ursula von der Leyen’s statement to her conscience,” Rudenko said.

He said Russia would discuss the possibility of exchanging prisoners with Ukraine once those who surrendered were convicted. Russian and separatist officials have said some of those who surrendered should be tried for war crimes.

British military authorities say Ukraine’s overland export routes are “highly unlikely” to offset the problems caused by the Russian blockade of the Black Sea port of Odessa.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence, in an update released Wednesday morning, says there has been no “significant” merchant shipping to or from Odessa since the start of the Russian invasion.

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Defense Minister Anita Anand announced that the federal government is preparing to send Canada’s largest donation of military equipment to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began.

The ministry says the blockade, combined with the lack of land routes, means that significant quantities of grain remain in storage and cannot be exported.

“As the threat of the Russian naval blockade continues to deter commercial vessel access to Ukrainian ports, the resulting supply shortages will further increase the price of many commodities,” the ministry said.

Russia may be pressured by US debt decision

Meanwhile, in a move that could bring Russia closer to the brink of default, the Biden administration announced it would not extend a waiver that was set to expire on Wednesday that allowed Russia to pay U.S. bondholders.

The US Treasury Department says on his site late Tuesday, he would not extend the waiver, which was due to expire Wednesday, that allowed Russia to make interest and maturity payments on its sovereign debt to American persons.

A boy plays in front of houses destroyed by shelling in Borodyanka, Ukraine, on Tuesday, near kyiv. While the Russian military has largely abandoned this area by now, the damage from the early days of the invasion is apparent. (Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press)

The waiver allowed Russia to maintain public debt payments, but its expiry now appears to make default inevitable – the country’s first major international sovereign bond in more than a century.

Nearly US$2 billion in payments on Russian international bonds are due before the end of the year.

Unlike most default situations, Moscow is not short of money. Russia’s debt repayment schedules pale in comparison to its oil and gas revenues, which stood at $28 billion in April alone thanks to high energy prices.

For their part, Russian lawmakers have given the first stamp of approval to a bill that would allow Russian entities to take over foreign companies that left the country in opposition to Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, a news portal showed. government line.

British retailer Marks & Spencer on Wednesday and Starbucks Corp on Monday are among the latest Western brands to announce their departure from Russia, following a similar move last week by McDonald’s.