- EU Ambassador appears at Foreign Ministry in Moscow
- Almost a million Russians live in the Baltic enclave
- In eastern Ukraine, Russian-backed separatists demand a breakthrough
- Kyiv calls for lull in fighting ‘calm before the storm’
KYIV, June 21 (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday threatened to punish Lithuania with measures that would have a “serious negative impact” for blocking some rail shipments to Moscow’s Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad, on Tuesday. latest dispute over the sanctions imposed for the war in Ukraine.
On the ground in eastern Ukraine, Russian separatist proxies said they were advancing towards the main battlefield stronghold of Kyiv. A Ukrainian official described a lull in the fighting as the “calm before the storm”.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland was set to become the latest international dignitary to visit Ukraine on Tuesday, where a Justice Department official said Garland would discuss efforts to prosecute war crimes.
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European countries, faced with the prospect that war and sanctions could lead Moscow to cut gas supplies next winter, were looking for ways to protect their economies and maintain heat and electricity. Germany, Russia’s biggest energy consumer, has unveiled details of a new auction system aimed at incentivizing industry to use less gas. Read more
Diplomatic attention has turned to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, a Baltic Sea port and surrounding countryside that is home to nearly a million Russians, connected to the rest of Russia by a rail link via Lithuania, member of the EU and NATO.
Lithuania has closed the road for transporting steel and other ferrous metals, which it says it is required to do under EU sanctions which came into force on Saturday.
Russian officials said other commodities had also been blocked. Video footage from the enclave showed panic buying over the weekend at stores selling building materials.
Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, traveled to the enclave on Tuesday to chair a meeting on security there. He said Lithuania’s “hostile” actions showed that Russia could not trust the West, which he said broke the written agreements on Kaliningrad.
“Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions,” Patrushev was quoted as saying by the official RIA news agency. “Appropriate measures” were being worked out, and “their consequences will have a serious negative impact on the Lithuanian population”, he said without giving details.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said it was “ironic to hear rhetoric about alleged breaches of international treaties” from Russia, which she accuses of violating “perhaps all international treaties”.
She denied that Lithuania’s actions amounted to a blockade and repeated Vilnius’ position that it is only enforcing sanctions imposed by the EU.
Moscow summoned EU envoy Markus Ederer to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. EU spokesman Peter Stano said Ederer asked the Russians at the meeting “to refrain from escalation and rhetoric.”
The standoff creates a new source of confrontation on the Baltic, a region already poised for a security overhaul that would hamper Russia’s sea power as Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO and place nearly the entire coast under the control of the alliance.
The EU sought to deflect responsibility from the Lithuanians, claiming the policy was a collective action of the bloc. Vilnius was “doing nothing but implementing the guidance provided by the (European) Commission”, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
Within Ukraine, the battle for the east has turned into a brutal war of attrition in recent weeks, with Russia focusing its overwhelming firepower on a Ukrainian pocket in the Donbass region that Moscow claims on behalf of its proxies. separatists.
Moscow has made slow progress there since April in a fierce fight that has cost both sides thousands of soldiers killed, one of the bloodiest ground battles in Europe for generations.
The fighting crossed the Siverskyi Donets River which meanders through the region, with Russian forces mainly on the eastern bank and Ukrainian forces mainly to the west, although the Ukrainians are still holding out in the town of Sievierodonetsk on the eastern bank. .
In recent days, Russia has seized Toshkivka, a small town further south on the western bank, giving it a potential foothold to try to cut off the main Ukrainian stronghold of Lysychansk.
Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia for the self-proclaimed pro-Moscow separatist Luhansk People’s Republic, said forces were “moving south towards Lysychansk” with firefights breaking out in a number of towns.
“The coming hours should bring considerable changes in the balance of forces in the area,” he said on Telegram.
The governor of Ukraine’s Luhansk region said Russian forces gained territory on Monday. The night was relatively calm, but more attacks occurred, Serhiy Gaidai said: “It’s a calm before the storm.”
Although the fighting has favored Russia in recent weeks due to its huge advantage in artillery firepower, some Western military analysts say Russia’s failure to make a major breakthrough so far means that time is now on the side of the Ukrainians.
Moscow is short of fresh troops, while Ukraine is getting newer and better equipment from the West, tweeted retired US Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, former commander of US ground forces in Europe.
“It’s a heavyweight boxing match. In 2 months of fighting there hasn’t been a knockout yet. It will come, as RU forces wear thin,” Hertling wrote.
Dmitry Muratov, editor of Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s last independent newspapers, has auctioned off a Nobel Peace Prize he won last year, raising $103.5 million for the UNICEF to help Ukrainian refugees. The anonymous buyer bid for the medal over the phone at the auction in New York. Read more
Novaya Gazeta, like all other independent media in Russia, has suspended publication since Moscow issued a reporting ban that deviates from the official narrative of the “special military operation” launched in Ukraine on February 24.
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Reporting from Reuters offices Writing by Peter Graff Editing by Nick Macfie
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