Ukraine news – live: EU grants Kyiv candidate status as Zelensky hails ‘historic moment’

Ukrainian drone strikes major Russian oil refinery

Leaders from the European Union have formally accepted Ukraine as a candidate for membership to the 27-nation block, in a bold move that comes following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The decision has been hailed as a “historic moment” by European Council chief Charles Michel. He tweeted: “Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU,” before adding: “Our future is together.”

Elsewhere, the battle for the east Ukrainian cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk is “entering a sort of fearsome climax”, one of president Volodymyr Zelensky’s advisers has said.

Oleksiy Arestovych made the comment as Ukrainian forces try to cling onto this part of Luhansk province in the face of fierce Russian attacks.

The Kremlin’s troops have recently captured more territory in the industrial Donbas region, taking control of the settlements of Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka to the south of Lysychansk, according to the Luhansk governor Serhiy Gaidai.

In its latest report on the battle for the Donbas, the British Ministry of Defence said on Thursday that Russian soldiers had most likely advanced 3 miles towards Lysychansk from the south since Sunday.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky spoke of the massive Russian strikes in the east of the country. “The goal of the occupiers in this direction remains the same – they want to destroy the whole Donbas step by step,” he said in his late night address.

This comes as the EU is set to decide whether to grant Ukraine candidacy status.

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Ukraine granted EU candidate status in ‘historic moment’

European leaders have formally accepted Ukraine and Moldova as candidates to join the EU, in a “historic moment” which will also serve as a blow to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Although it could take the two countries more than a decade to qualify for membership, the decision at a two-day EU summit is symbolic step which signals the bloc’s intention to reach deep into the former Soviet Union.

“A historic moment,” European Council chief Charles Michel tweeted. “Today marks a crucial step on your path towards the EU,” he said, adding: “Our future is together.”

Read more here:

Eleanor Sly23 June 2022 20:00

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Over 40 organisations call on Biden to do more to free Brittney Griner from detention in Russia

Dozens of organisations have signed a letter calling on President Joe Biden to make a deal to free Brittney Griner, the basketball star who has been detained in Russia for more than three months, Abe Asher reports.

Ms Griner, whose resume includes two Olympic gold medals, an NCAA championship with Baylor University, and a WNBA championship with the Phoenix Mercury, was detained in February just prior to the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on accusations that she was transporting hashish oil in her luggage. The US State Department has classified her as “wrongfully detained”.

In the letter, also addressed to vice president Kamala Harris, Ms Griner’s allies wrote that the star “continues to endure inhumane treatment, deprived of contact with her family” and called on the administration to increase its urgency regarding the matter and “make a deal to get Brittney back home to America immediately and safely.”

Signatories to the letter included the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA), the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, the NAACP, the National Urban League, and a range other human rights, LGBTQ+, and sporting organisations.

Andy Gregory23 June 2022 19:51

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US to provide $450m security package for Ukraine, officials say

The United States is expected to provide an additional $450m in security assistance to Ukraine, two US officials have told Reuters.

One of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said an announcement was expected later today and the latest package is expected to include four more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) – weapons which Ukraine celebrated receiving from the US earlier today.

The official added that details on the package could change at the last minute, Reuters reported.

The latest package comes after Joe Biden’s administration last week announced a fresh infusion of $1bn in weapons for Ukraine, including anti-ship rocket systems, artillery rockets, howitzers and ammunition.

Andy Gregory23 June 2022 19:14

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Putin critic Alexei Navalny held in new prison with culture of ‘beatings and torture’

Alexei Navalny, the Russian anti-corruption activist, has tweeted an update on his time behind bars after being moved to a new prison, my colleague Lamiat Sabin reports.

The critic of Vladimir Putin was sentenced to nine years in prison on embezzlement and contempt of court charges in March, in a case that Amnesty International described as a “sham”.

That was on top of a two-and-a-half-year sentence for allegedly violating the conditions of his parole while outside Russia. Mr Navalny was arrested in January 2021 after returning from Germany, where he had been recuperating from nerve-agent poisoning he blamed on Russian authorities.

After his latest appeal was rejected, the 46-year-old was transferred earlier this month to the maximum-security IK-6 prison in the Vladimir region village of Melekhovo, about 155 miles east of Moscow.

On Tuesday, Mr Navalny tweeted that he had already received a reprimand after just a week at what he described as “my new cozy high-security prison”. The punishment was for a “made-up report” from his last prison saying that he had “violated the dress code” by visiting the “washroom wearing a T-shirt instead of a prison jumpsuit”.

The new maximum-security prison had a culture of “reports, reprimands, and rewards” as well as “beatings and torture,” he also said.

Andy Gregory23 June 2022 18:42

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UK defence and foreign secretaries in Turkey to talk war and weapons ahead of Nato summit

Weapons and war were the top agenda items in a pair of high-power diplomatic meetings between the UK and Turkey today, our international correspondent Borzou Daragahi reports.

The visits by the UK’s foreign and defence secretaries to Ankara followed news of the possible collapse of a major fighter jet deal between Ankara and Washington and came amid a crisis in Nato over efforts to include Nordic countries into the alliance.

UK defence secretary Ben Wallace met in the Turkish capital with his counterpart Hulusi Akar. Nato allies, ahead of a summit in Madrid next Wednesday, are seeking to convince Turkey to remove its opposition to allowing Sweden and Finland to join the alliance.

They hope to present a united front against Russia as it pursues its four-month war of imperial conquest in Ukraine.

Andy Gregory23 June 2022 18:19

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Analysis | How the Kaliningrad stalemate could get serious for Russia and the west

In this analysis piece, our associate editor Sean O’Grady argues that the standoff over Kaliningrad “is a severe test of Russian nerve”. He writes:

“If Vladimir Putin wanted to invade Ukraine to make Russia great again, then being bullied by tiny Lithuania, once a small republic of the USSR and with a population of 2.8 million, has made the Russian president instead look rather foolish.

“It is unthinkable that Lithuania would be able to impose such sanctions on its powerful neighbour were it not for its membership of the EU and Nato. It is also unthinkable that Lithuania would have been so bold without the acquiescence of Nato, which means the United States nodded it through. It feels as if a superpower clash is coming closer.”

You can read his thinking in full by registering or with Independent Premium:

Andy Gregory23 June 2022 17:49

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Canada will provide £157m to address global food crisis, Trudeau says

Canada will provide C$250m (£157m) to the United Nations to address the food crisis exacerbated by supply chain constraints and high inflation after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Justin Trudeau has said.

“We provided half a billion dollars at the beginning of the year, and this is an additional C$250 million to address this serious crisis,” the prime minister told reporters at the Commonwealth summit in Rwanda.

Andy Gregory23 June 2022 17:28

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Norway to step up gas deliveries to EU as bloc warns of potential for further supply cuts

Norway has agreed to cooperate with the European Union to provide the union with more gas, as the bloc warned it was preparing for further supply cuts

“The two agreed to step up work with the aim to increase Norwegian gas deliveries both in the short and longer term,” Norway’s oil and energy ministry said in a statement.

EU countries have so far been able to compensate for reduced gas supply from Russia, but are increasing preparation in case of further supply cuts, the European Commission said earlier today.

“According to our exchange with the national authorities, the gas security of supply in Germany – and in the EU – is currently guaranteed. Lower inflows of gas from Russia can so far be compensated,” a Commission spokesperson said.

On Monday, the EU’s energy chief and EU ministers will discuss possible measures to reduce gas demand, and are increasing preparations for if the situation worsens, the spokesperson said.

Andy Gregory23 June 2022 17:10

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Ukraine holds preliminary hearing in first rape trial of Russian soldier

Ukraine has held a preliminary hearing in its first trial of a Russian soldier charged with raping a Ukrainian woman, in what could be the first of dozens of such cases.

The suspect, 32-year-old Mikhail Romanov, who is believed to be in Russia, will be tried in absentia. He is accused of raping a 33-year-old woman after he and another Russian soldier allegedly shot her husband at point blank range in the village of Bohdanivka, northeast of Kyiv.

The two soldiers then left and later returned twice more to rape her, the court files said. The identity of the second soldier had not been established.

A prosecutor working on sexual violence cases told Reuters that up to 50 such crimes were being investigated, but that the number of instances of sexual violence by Russian soldiers since the start of Vladimir Putin’s invasion was likely to be substantially higher.

Andy Gregory23 June 2022 16:49

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Death sentence for two Britons in Donbas a ‘sham judgement’, Downing Street says

The sentencing to death of two Britons for fighting Russian forces in Ukraine is a “sham judgment” with “absolutely no legitimacy”, No 10 has said, as the men plan to appeal against the verdict (see post at 1:52pm).

Asked about the situation, a Downing Street spokesman said: “Well we’ve consistently condemned the sentencing of the two individuals that you have spoken about. It’s a sham judgment with absolutely no legitimacy.

“We’ve set out that these men are soldiers with the Ukrainian armed forces and therefore they’re prisoners of war and should be afforded the protections that that allows.

“The foreign secretary, as we’ve said before, continues to discuss this with her Ukrainian counterpart. But again, our firm belief is these gentlemen were fighting as part of the Ukrainian armed forces, and they should be provided with the legal protections that that provides.”

Asked if there was any update on any kind of agreement to bring the men home, possibly via a prisoner swap, the spokesman said: “That would be a question for the Ukrainian government. As I say, they were fighting … as part of the Ukrainian armed forces and we continue to work closely with them. But again, we continue to call the judgment out for what it is, which is a sham.”

Both men have lived in Ukraine since before the invasion.

PA23 June 2022 16:28

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