Fierce battles reported along the front lines; China and France discuss ceasefire conditions

Fierce battles reported along the front lines; China and France discuss ceasefire conditions
A handout photo made available by Governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Serhiy Lysak shows the aftermath of a rocket attack in the Dnipro area, central Ukraine, 4 June 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration Handout)

Russia and Ukraine reported widespread fighting along the front lines amid expectations a long-planned Ukrainian counteroffensive could be imminent.

China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, and Emmanuel Bonne, a diplomatic adviser to the French president, exchanged views on Russia’s war in Ukraine in a phone call, according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry. 

The two envoys agreed to create conditions which might allow for a “political settlement”, the ministry said without elaborating. Beijing has ramped up efforts to negotiate an end to the war as part of a wider blueprint spearheaded by President Xi Jinping.

The Polish government has asked the UK for new air defence support and technology to help it repel Russian missiles, drones and spy balloons, people familiar with the matter said. The request came after a series of suspected incursions into Polish air space in recent months and heightened concern in Warsaw about spillover from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Latest developments

Russia and Ukraine report fierce battles along front lines

Russia and Ukraine reported widespread fighting along the war’s front lines as anticipation mounted for Kyiv’s long-planned counteroffensive.

The Defence Ministry in Moscow said its forces defeated a large-scale Ukrainian attack in the south of Donetsk region on Sunday involving tanks and mechanised battalions. “The enemy did not achieve its objectives, it had no success,” the ministry said in a statement early on Monday. 

Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Malyar, said Russian officials were spreading disinformation to distract from their losses around the city of Bakhmut, which is in the northeast of the Donetsk region and has been the focus of heavy fighting for months. 

“The area around Bakhmut remains the epicentre of fighting,” Malyar said, adding that Ukrainian troops had advanced to the north and to the south of the city as they tried to encircle the occupying forces. “We are having success there.” Neither account could be independently verified. 

The General Staff in Kyiv reported “combat engagements” during the past day including fierce fighting near the Donetsk region town of Maryinka. Ukrainian troops repelled all Russian attacks and “the enemy continues to concentrate its main efforts on attempts to fully occupy Luhansk and Donetsk regions,” it said on Facebook.

Russian military bloggers highlighted Ukrainian advances amid fighting around the village of Novodonetske, southwest of the city of Donetsk, although, again, those accounts couldn’t be confirmed. 

The war that’s now in its 16th month is entering a potentially decisive phase as Ukraine masses forces for its push to reclaim Russian-occupied regions of the country’s south and east, backed by billions in weapons supplied by Kyiv’s US and European allies.  

Meanwhile, Russia continued its campaign of air strikes against Ukraine, firing six cruise missiles and eight Shahed drones, the General Staff in Kyiv said. Air defences downed four missiles and six drones, it said.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said naval tactical groups began “operational exercises” in the Baltic Sea on Monday through June 15. Some 40 warships, naval vessels and support boats are involved as well as more than 3,500 personnel and 25 aircraft and helicopters, it said on Telegram. 




United Airlines calls Russian airspace ‘a risk’ 

United Airlines Holdings’ CEO Scott Kirby said flying over Russia constituted a risk that many carriers including his own won’t take, while airlines from China or India enjoy a competitive advantage as they continue to traverse the airspace.

“I think it creates a safety and security risk,” Kirby said in Istanbul, highlighting concerns for the safety of US citizens on such flights, or the possibility of being forced to land in Russia for a variety of reasons.

Read more: Airspace dispute has US carriers sitting out China’s reopening

US airlines and their lobby group, Airlines for America, are pushing the Biden administration to level the playing field against Chinese rivals who can overfly Russia. As a result, flight frequencies between the world’s two biggest economies — China and the US — are stalled at below 10% of pre-Covid level.

Kirby said United had curtailed flights where Russian airspace is an obstacle that’s too big to divert around. The airline has resumed just a handful of Chinese services. It can’t fly many Asian routes given the distances needed to avoid Russian airspace, Kirby said. 

Iata Director-General Willie Walsh, speaking at the annual general meeting of the aviation lobby group, said closing an air space was a “political decision” and that he would like to see Russia open up again to everyone and for the Russia-Ukraine conflict to end.  

Poland seeks UK air defence to stop Russian drones, spy balloons

The Polish government has asked the UK for new air defence support and technology to help it repel Russian missiles, drones and spy balloons, people familiar with the matter said.

The request came after a series of suspected incursions into Polish air space in recent months and heightened concern in Warsaw about spillover from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The UK’s Defence Ministry declined to comment on the request, saying only that its Sky Sabre Ground Based Air Defence system was currently deployed in Poland. The UK had previously signed a £1.9-billion export agreement to provide Poland with ground-based air defence capabilities. 

Britain was considering its response to the Polish request, a person familiar with the matter said. A spokesperson for Poland’s National Security Bureau declined to comment.  

Russia’s oil and gas revenue shrank by over a third in May

Russia’s oil and natural gas revenue fell by more than a third in May, hit by lower crude prices amid Western sanctions and reduced gas exports to Europe.

Budget proceeds from oil and gas taxes plunged by 36% from a year ago to 570.7 billion roubles ($7-billion), the Finance Ministry said on Monday. Taxes from crude and petroleum products — which accounted for 75% of total hydrocarbon revenues in May — fell by 31% to 425.8 billion roubles, according to Bloomberg calculations.

Oil and gas contribute about a third to Russia’s coffers, which are under pressure amid the rising cost of financing the war in Ukraine. The drop in contributions to the nation’s budget comes after the European Union banned most seaborne imports of crude and petroleum products and the Group of Seven industrialised nations imposed a price cap on Russia’s oil sales.    

Gas revenue fell by almost 46% in May from a year ago to 145 billion roubles. Income from gas export tariffs fell by 81% to 38.3 billion roubles after Russia’s Gazprom capped pipeline flows to Europe, historically its biggest market. 

Ukraine’s European neighbours set to extend grain import ban

Ukraine’s European neighbours are set to extend a ban on importing the country’s grain until mid-September, a move that risks fuelling tensions between Kyiv and its allies.

In late April, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria agreed to replace unilateral import bans on crop shipments from Ukraine with European Union restrictions. Transit shipments to other member states are exempted. Those eastern European nations said flows from Ukraine threatened local farmers after prices slumped.

That EU agreement was set to end on Monday, but Poland’s agriculture ministry said on Twitter that it has received a draft proposal that extends the import ban until September 15. An EU spokesperson said a decision had not yet been made.

Grain shipments from Ukraine, a key global supplier, have been disrupted by Russia’s invasion. Kyiv on Friday called on the EU to end the ban on its crop exports, saying they were helping the Kremlin to intensify pressure on the country’s economy. 

Russian sanctions push Eurasian Resources Group to consider green iron

Kazakhstan’s Eurasian Resources Group (ERG) is considering producing a feedstock for low-carbon steel production after sanctions blocked its iron ore shipments to Russia.

Luxembourg-registered ERG halted sales to its biggest customer, Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works, after the US imposed sanctions on the Russian company last year. That prompted ERG — 40% owned by the Kazakh state — to weigh up building a hot briquetted iron plant to supply electric-arc furnaces making low-carbon steel.

“As iron ore can no longer be shipped to Russia, we are seriously considering the project,” Kazakhstan’s deputy prime minister, Serik Zhumangarin, said in an interview in Astana. 

ERG’s plan underlines how the war in Ukraine is changing traditional trade flows. DM


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