President Joe Biden will head to Europe at week's end for a three-country trip intended to bolster the international coalition against Russian aggression as the war in Ukraine extends well into its second year. The main focus of Biden's five-day visit will be the annual NATO summit, held this year in Vilnius, Lithuania. Also planned are stops in Helsinki, Finland, to commemorate the Nordic country's entrance into the 31-nation military alliance in April, and Britain, the White House announced Sunday. US, NATO had no involvement in Wagner's 'short-lived' revolt in Russia: Biden Biden will begin his trip next Sunday in London, and will meet with King Charles III at Windsor Castle the next day, according to Buckingham Palace. The president did not attend Charles's coronation in May, sending first lady Jill Biden to represent the United States. In June, Biden hosted British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the White House, where the two leaders pledged continued cooperation in defending Ukraine. Sunak's office said he looked forward to welcoming Biden and that their meeting would build on earlier visits. The NATO meeting comes at the latest critical point in the war. Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, says counteroffensive and defensive actions against Russian forces are underway as Ukrainian troops start to recapture territory in the southeastern part of the country, according to its military leaders. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO's secretary-general, visited the White House on June 13, where he and Biden made clear that the Western alliance was united in defending Ukraine. Biden said during that meeting that he and other NATO leaders will work to ensure that each member country spends the requisite 2% of its gross domestic product on defense. Just a day after Blinken’s Beijing visit to stabilize US-China relations, Biden calls Xi Jinping a ‘dictator’ "The NATO allies have never been more united. We both worked like hell to make sure that happened. And so far, so good," Biden said as he sat alongside Stoltenberg, who is expected to extend his term for another year. "We see our joint strength in modernizing the relationship within NATO, as well as providing assistance to defense capabilities to Ukraine. When Finland joined NATO in April, it effectively doubled Russia's border with the world's biggest security alliance. Biden has highlighted the strengthened NATO alliance as a signal of Moscow's declining influence. Sweden is also seeking entry into NATO, although alliance members Turkey and Hungary have yet to endorse the move. Biden will host Sweden's prime minister, Ulf Kristersson, at the White House on Wednesday in a show of solidarity as the United States presses for the Nordic nation's entry into NATO. Biden hosting Modi as US sees India as a pivotal force in Asia for decades to come Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said Sweden is too lax on terrorist groups and security threats. Stoltenberg has said Sweden has met its obligations for membership through toughening anti-terrorist laws and other measures. Hungary's reasons for opposing Sweden have been less defined, complaining about Sweden's criticism of democratic backsliding and the erosion of rule of law. Hungary, while providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine, has also sought to balance its relations between NATO and Russia. Budapest is heavily reliant on Russia for its energy requirements. After last weekend's abortive rebellion in Russia, the fate of some top generals is unknown All nations in the alliance have to ratify the entry of a new member country. The White House has stressed that Sweden has fulfilled its commitments to join NATO and has urged that it join the alliance expeditiously. Putin says the aborted rebellion played into the hands of Russia’s enemies
Some 110 million people have had to flee their homes because of conflict, persecution, or human rights violations, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says. The war in Sudan, which has displaced nearly 2 million people since April, is but the latest in a long list of crises that has led to the record-breaking figure. "It's quite an indictment on the state of our world," Filippo Grandi, who leads the U.N. refugee agency, told reporters in Geneva ahead of the publication Wednesday of UNHCR's Global Trends Report for 2022. Also Read: Record 108.4 mln people forcibly displaced by end of 2022: UNHCR Last year alone, an additional 19 million people were forcibly displaced including more than 11 million who fled Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in what became the fastest and largest displacement of people since World War II. "We are constantly confronted with emergencies," Grandi said. Last year the agency recorded 35 emergencies, three to four times more than in previous years. "Very few make your headlines," Grandi added, arguing that the war in Sudan fell off most front pages after Western citizens were evacuated. Also Read: UN agencies warn of starvation risk in Sudan, Haiti, Burkina Faso and Mali, call for urgent aid Conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Myanmar were also responsible for displacing more than 1 million people within each country in 2022. The majority of the displaced globally have sought refuge within their nation's borders. One-third of them - 35 million - have fled to other countries, making them refugees, according to the UNHCR report. Most refugees are hosted by low to middle-income countries in Asia and Africa, not rich countries in Europe or North America, Grandi said. Also Read: Sudan military ruler seeks removal of UN envoy in letter to UN chief, who is 'shocked' by the demand Turkey currently hosts the most refugees with 3.8 million people, mostly Syrians who fled the civil war, followed by Iran with 3.4 million refugees, mostly Afghans. But there are also 5.7 million Ukrainian refugees scattered across countries in Europe and beyond. The number of stateless people has also risen in 2022 to 4.4 million, according to UNHCR data, but this is believed to be an underestimate. Also Read: Thousands of exhausted South Sudanese head home, fleeing brutal conflict Regarding asylum claims, the U.S. was the country to receive the most new applications in 2022 with 730,400 claims. It's also the nation with the largest backlog in its asylum system, Grandi said. "One of the things that needs to be done is reforming that asylum system so that it becomes more rapid, more efficient," he said. The United States, Spain and Canada recently announced plans to create asylum processing centers in Latin America with the goal of reducing the number of people who trek their way north to the Mexico-U.S. border. Also Read: UN: Sudan conflict displaces over 1.3 million, including some 320K to neighboring countries As the number of asylum-seekers grows, so have the challenges facing them. "We see pushbacks. We see tougher and tougher immigration or refugee admission rules. We see in many countries the criminalization of immigrants and refugees, blaming them for everything that has happened," Grandi said. Also Read: War in Ukraine, disasters left 71mn people internally displaced in 2022: Report Last week European leaders renewed financial promises to North African nations in the hopes of stemming migration across the Mediterranean while the British government insists on a so-far failed plan to ship asylum-seekers to Rwanda, something UNHCR is opposed to. But there were also some wins, Grandi said, pointing to what he described as a positive sign in the European Union's negotiations for a new migration and asylum pact, despite criticism from human rights groups. Also Read: Sudan's government declares UN envoy ‘persona non grata’ Grandi also celebrated the fact that the number of refugees resettled in 2022 doubled to 114,000 from the previous year. But he admitted this was "still a drop in the ocean."
The mayor of the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih said 10 people have died following Russian missile strikes overnight that hit civilian sites including a residential building. Oleksandr Vilkul said 28 other people had been wounded and at least one person was believed to be under the rubble. In an early afternoon update Tuesday, Vilkul wrote on the Telegram app that a dozen injured people had been rushed to city hospitals. THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP's earlier story follows below. At least six people were killed when Russian missiles hit civilian buildings in an overnight attack Tuesday in the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih, regional officials said, as rescuers scrambled to retrieve people believed to be trapped under the rubble. The strike involving cruise missiles hit a five-story residential building, which was engulfed in fire, Gov. Serhiy Lysak of the Dnipropetrovsk region wrote on Telegram. Also Read: Ukraine recaptures village as Russian forces hold other lines, fire on fleeing civilians elsewhere After initial reports of three dead, Kryvyi Rih mayor Oleksandr Vilkul wrote on the social media app that the death toll had risen to a least six, and seven people were feared trapped under the rubble. Authorities initially said at least two dozen people were wounded. The devastation in President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's hometown is the latest bloodshed in Russia's war in Ukraine, which began in February 2022, as Ukrainian forces are mounting counteroffensive operations using Western-supplied firepower to try to drive out the Russians. Images from the scene relayed by Zelenskyy on his Telegram channel showed firefighters battling the blaze as pockets of fire poked through multiple broken windows of a building. Charred and damaged vehicles littered the nearby ground. Also Read: Top UN court allows a record 32 countries to intervene in Ukraine's genocide case against Russia "More terrorist missiles," he wrote. "Russian killers continue their war against residential buildings, ordinary cities and people." The aerial assault was the latest barrage of strikes by Russian forces that targeted various parts of Ukraine overnight. Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, was attacked with Iranian-made Shahed drones, and the surrounding region was shelled, local Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said on Telegram. The shelling wounded two civilians in the town of Shevchenkove, southeast of Kharkiv. The mayor of Kharkiv, Ihor Terekhov, separately reported early Tuesday that the drone strike damaged a utilities business and a warehouse in the city's northeast. Neither Terekhov nor Syniehubov referenced any casualties within Kharkiv. Also Read: A dam collapses and thousands face the deluge — often with no help — in Russian-occupied Ukraine The Kyiv military administration reported that the capital came under fire as well on Tuesday, but the incoming missiles were destroyed by air defenses and there were no immediate reports of any casualties there. Air defenses overnight shot down 10 out of 14 cruise missiles and one of four Iranian-made Shahed drones launched by Russian forces, Ukraine's General Staff said on its Facebook page. Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine's ground troops said the country's forces were "moving forward" outside the city of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. Oleksandr Syrskyi wrote on Telegram that Russian forces are "losing positions on the flanks," while Ukrainian troops were conducting "defensive" operations in the area. For weeks, Ukrainian officials have been reporting small gains west of Bakhmut, which was largely devastated in the war's longest and bloodiest battle before Moscow's forces took control last month. Also Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry published a video showing what it said was a German-made Leopard 2 tank and U.S.-made Bradley fighting vehicle captured from Ukrainian forces. According to the ministry, the video was shot by Russian soldiers after fierce fighting in the southern Zaporizhzhia, and a soldier is seen pointing at the immobilized vehicles. It wasn't immediately possible to verify the video's authenticity. Like the Bakhmut area, battle zones in Zaporizhzhia are one of several places along the roughly 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line where Ukrainian forces have been intensifying their counteroffensive operations. On Monday, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said the country's troops recaptured a total of seven villages spanning 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) of eastern Ukraine over the past week — small successes in the early phases of a counteroffensive. Russian officials didn't confirm those Ukrainian gains, which were impossible to verify and could be reversed in the to-and-fro of war. The advance amounted to only small bits of territory and underscored the difficulty of the battle ahead for Ukrainian forces, who will have to fight meter by meter to regain the roughly one-fifth of their country under Russian occupation.
Ukraine's military on Sunday reported recapturing a southeastern village as Russian forces claimed to repel multiple attacks in the area, while a regional official said three people were killed when Moscow's troops opened fire at a boat evacuating people from Russian-occupied areas to Ukrainian-held territory along a flooded front line far to the south. The battlefield showdown in the southeast and chaotic scenes from inundated southern Ukraine marked the latest upheaval and bloodshed in Russia's war in Ukraine, now in its 16th month. Also Read: Ukraine's dam collapse is both a fast-moving disaster and a slow-moving ecological catastrophe Oleksandr Prokudin, governor of the Kherson region, said on his Telegram account that a 74-year-old man who tried to protect a woman was among those who died in the attack on evacuees, which wounded another 10. An Associated Press team on site saw three ambulances drop off injured evacuees at a hospital, one of whom was splattered with blood and whisked by stretcher into the emergency room. The Kherson region straddles the Dnieper River and has suffered heavy flooding since last week's breach of a dam that Ukraine and Russia accuse each other of causing. Russian forces occupy parts of the region on the eastern side of the river. Many civilians have said Russian authorities in occupied areas were forcing would-be evacuees to present Russian passports before taking them to safety. Since then, many small boats have shuttled from Ukrainian-held areas on the west bank across the river to rescue desperate civilians stuck on rooftops, in attics and other islands of dry amid the deluge. Also Read: Top UN court allows a record 32 countries to intervene in Ukraine's genocide case against Russia To the northeast, nearly half-way up the more than 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) front line, Ukrainian forces said they drove out Russian fighters from the village of Blahodatne, in the partially occupied Donetsk region. Ukraine's 68th Separate Hunting Brigade posted a video on Facebook that showed soldiers installing a Ukrainian flag on a damaged building in the village. Myroslav Semeniuk, spokesman for the brigade, told The Associated Press that an assault team captured six Russian troops after entering several buildings where some 60 soldiers were holed up. "The enemy keeps shelling us but this won't stop us," Semeniuk said. "The next village we plan to reclaim is Urozhayne. After that, (we'll proceed) further south." Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian troops in the area had advanced up to 1.5 kilometers (about a mile) and had taken control of another village, Makarivka. Also Read: A dam collapses and thousands face the deluge — often with no help — in Russian-occupied Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday that Ukrainian counteroffensive actions were underway. But while the recapture of Blahodatne pointed to a small Ukrainian advance, Western and Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly cautioned that efforts to expel Russian troops more broadly are expected take time. Russia has made much of how its troops have held their ground elsewhere. The Russian Defense Ministry on Sunday continued to insist that it was repelling Ukrainian attacks in the area. It said in a statement that Ukrainian attempts at offensive operations on the southern Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia axes of the frontline over the past 24 hours had been "unsuccessful." Vladimir Rogov, a Russian-installed official in the Zaporizhzhia region, insisted that Blahodatne and two other villages in the region were in a "gray area" in terms of who controls them. However, Rogov said in a Telegram post that Russian fighters had been forced to leave the village of Neskuchne in the Donetsk region. In a video, fighters identifying themselves as members of a Ukrainian volunteer force claimed to have taken the village. Russian President Vladimir Putin has asserted that that Ukraine's counteroffensive had started, and said Ukrainian forces were taking "significant losses." Also Read: UN aid chief says Ukraine faces `hugely worse' humanitarian situation after the dam rupture In other developments: Ukrhydroenergo, Ukraine's hydropower generator, said Sunday that water levels on a reservoir above the ruptured Kakhovka dam continued to decline — at 9.35 meters (30 feet, 6 inches) on Sunday morning, marking a drop of more than seven meters since the dam break on Tuesday. Meanwhile, below the dam, Prokudin said water levels on the Ukrainian-held west bank were receding, even if more than 32 settlements remained flooded. He said conditions were worse on the Russian-occupied eastern bank, which sits at a lower elevation and where water levels were slower to drop back down. Also Sunday, the Russian military accused Ukrainian forces of attacking — albeit unsuccessfully — one of its ships in the Black Sea. According to Russia's Defense Ministry, the attempted attack took place when six unmanned speedboats targeted Russia's Priazovye reconnaissance vessel that was "monitoring the situation and ensuring security along the routes of the TurkStream and Blue Stream gas pipelines in the southeastern part of the Black Sea." All the speedboats were destroyed by the Russian military, and the ship didn't sustain any damage, the ministry said. The claim could not be independently verified, and Ukrainian officials made no immediate comment. Ukraine and Russia reported exchanging scores of prisoners of war on Sunday; Russia said 94 of its soldiers were freed and Yermak said 95 Ukrainians were released. Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has signed a decree ordering all Russian volunteer formations to sign contracts with the ministry by July 1, according to his deputy Nikolai Pankov. The move would give the formations legal status and allow them to receive the same state benefits as contract soldiers. Observers say the move likely targets the Wagner private military company. Wagner owner Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has a long-running feud with the Russian military, said Sunday that the group would not sign such contracts "precisely because Shoigu cannot manage military formations normally."
For days, the Ukrainian teenager has waited in the attic, just down the street from the cemetery of her flooded town, marking time with her 83-year-old grandfather and two other elderly people and hoping for help to escape the deluge of a catastrophic dam collapse. But help is slow in coming to Oleshky, a Russian-occupied town across the Dnieper River from the city of Kherson with a prewar population of 24,000, according to those stranded and their desperate Ukrainian rescuers. Russian forces are taking rescuers' boats, they say. Some say the soldiers will only help people with Russian passports. Also Read: Drone footage of collapsed dam shows ruined structure, devastation and no sign of life "Russian soldiers are standing at the checkpoints, preventing (rescuers) from approaching the most-affected areas and taking away the boats," said one volunteer, Yaroslav Vasiliev. "They are afraid of saboteurs, they suspect everyone." So 19-year-old Yektarina But and the three elderly people with her simply wait, along with thousands of others believed to be trapped by floodwaters spread across 600 square kilometers (230 square miles) of the Kherson region. About two-thirds of the flooded areas are in territory occupied by Russia, officials said. The group in the attic have no electricity, no running water, no food. The battery on But's cellphone is dying. "We are afraid that no one will know about our deaths," she said in a brief cellphone interview, her voice trembling. "Everything around us is flooded," she said. "There is still no help." Her grandfather, who had suffered a stroke, was running out of medicine, she said. One woman with her, a neighbor's grandmother, could not move on her own. Others have been turned away from rescue. Also Read: Zelenskyy visits area flooded by destroyed dam as five reported dead in Russian-occupied town Viktoria Mironova-Baka said she has been in touch from Germany with relatives stuck in the flooded region. "My relatives said that Russian soldiers were coming up to the house today by boat, but they said they would only take those with Russian passports," she told The Associated Press. Her grandmother, aunt and more than a dozen other people are taking shelter in the attic of a two-story house. Details of life in Russian-occupied Ukraine are often unclear. The AP could not independently verify reports of boat seizures or that only Russians were being evacuated, but the account is in line with reporting by independent Russian media. It's a sharp contrast to Ukrainian-controlled territory flooded by the dam collapse. Authorities there have aggressively evacuated civilians and brought in emergency supplies. On Thursday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy traveled to the area to assess the damage. Russian President Vladimir Putin "has no plans at the current moment" to visit affected Moscow-occupied areas, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. also read: Ukrainian dam breach: What is happening and what's at stake This region has suffered terribly since Russia invaded Ukraine early last year, enduring sometimes-relentless artillery and missile attacks. The latest disaster began Tuesday, when the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam, roughly 80 kilometers (50 miles) upstream from Oleshky, collapsed, sending torrents of water down the Dnieper River and across the war's front lines. Officials say more than 6,000 people have been evacuated from dozens of inundated cities, towns and villages on both sides of the river. But the true scale of the disaster remains unclear for a region that was once home to tens of thousands of people. At least 14 people have died in the flooding, many are homeless, and tens of thousands are without drinking water. The floods ruined crops, displaced land mines, caused widespread environmental damage, and set the stage for long-term electricity shortages. Ukraine says Russia destroyed the dam with explosives. Russia accuses Ukraine of destroying it with a missile strike. A drone flown Wednesday by an AP team over the dam's wreckage revealed none of the scorch marks or shrapnel scars typical of a bombardment. The bulk of the dam itself is now submerged, and The AP images offered a limited snapshot, making it difficult to rule out any scenario. The dam also had been weakened by Russian neglect and water had been washing over it for weeks. It had been under Russian control since the invasion in February 2022. Compounding the tragedy, Russia has been shelling areas hit by the flooding, including the front-line city of Kherson. On Thursday, Russian shelling echoed not far from a square in Kherson where emergency crews and volunteers were dispensing aid. Some evacuation points in the city were hit, wounding nine people, according to Ukrainian officials. The floodwaters have irrevocably changed the landscape downstream, and shifted the dynamic of the 15-month-old war. Oleshky Mayor Yevhen Ryshchuk said that by Thursday afternoon water levels were beginning to fall, but roughly 90% of the city remained flooded. Ryshchuk fled after Russian forces tried to force him to collaborate, but he remains in close contact with people in and around the city. Russia says it is helping the region's civilians. Moscow-appointed regional Gov. Vladimir Saldo claimed over 4,000 people had been evacuated from the flood zones. He shared a video showing empty beds in shelters prepared for evacuees. Ryshchuk dismisses such talk. He said some people trying to leave flooded areas were forced back by Russian soldiers who accused them of being "waiters" — people waiting for Ukraine to reclaim control of the region. Others, who called the Russian-controlled emergency services, were told they would have to wait for help, he said. "That's it," he said. "Yesterday, some Russians came in the morning, took a few people off the roofs, filmed a video, and left. That's everything they have done as of today." The help that made it through has been scattered. Ukrainian military footage, for instance, showed their forces dropping a bottle of water from a drone to a boy trapped with his mother and sister in the attic of their home near Oleshky. Ukrainian soldiers later evacuated the family and their pets to the city of Kherson, National Police reported. Much of the help is being organized by volunteers communicating on the encrypted app Telegram. Messages about stranded people, often trapped on the roofs of their houses, appear in these groups every few minutes. Most are posted by relatives in safer areas. Just one of these volunteer groups has a map showing over 1,000 requests to locate and rescue people, mostly in Oleshky and the nearby town of Hola Prystan. A woman helping with one of the groups, who spoke on condition her name not be used for fear of reprisals from the Russian occupiers, shared a message with an AP journalist. "We were looking for a person named Serhii Borzov," the message read. "He was found. Unfortunately, dead. Our condolences to the relatives."
For the first time since fleeing South Sudan's civil war eight years ago, Jacob Wani returned home excited to rebuild his life. But when the 45-year-old farmer tried to access his land in Eastern Equatoria state's Magwi County, he was banned, told that it had been labeled hazardous and contaminated with mines. "My area is dangerous," Wani said, standing in his shop in Moli village where he now lives, a few miles from the farm. "I do not have the capacity to rebuild in this place and I am also afraid (of explosives). If I go, maybe something can hurt me." As South Sudanese trickle back into the country after a peace deal was signed in 2018 to end a five-year civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people and displaced millions, many are returning to areas riddled with mines left from decades of conflict. More than 5,000 South Sudanese have been killed or injured by land mines and unexploded ordnance since 2004, according to the U.N. Mine Action Service (UNMAS). South Sudan is trying to clear all anti-personnel minefields and cluster munitions in the country by 2026. While more than 84 million square meters of cluster munitions and mines have been cleared in nearly two decades, according to UNMAS — equivalent to approximately 15,000 American football fields — experts doubt that the deadline will be met as munitions are being found across the country daily. Ten people were killed in March after mistakenly playing with a grenade in a remote village in Western Bahr el Ghazal State. "The contamination is too huge," said Jurkuch Barach Jurkuch, chairperson for South Sudan National Mines Action. Efforts are also complicated by a lack of funding, continued insecurity and flooding during the rainy season, he said. Eastern Equatoria state, along the border with Uganda, is South Sudan's most heavily contaminated area, hit by wars with northern Sudan before gaining independence in 2011, fighting with the Lord's Resistance Army led by Uganda's notorious warlord Joseph Kony and South Sudan's civil war. By the end of 2021, the state had the most areas with cluster munitions in the country — 55 out of a total of 123 — according to Mine Action Review, which does global mine analysis. The state is also the second most returned to in the country since the peace agreement, with more than 115,00 people coming back, according to the U.N. During a visit to Magwi County in May, families told The Associated Press that they had their food rations cut by 50% in refugee camps in Uganda, which pushed them to come back hoping they'd be able to cultivate. But people are returning to the remnants of conflict-riddled villages, with little food, shelter or open schools, all of which is compounded by the mines. In some communes, more than half of the area is contaminated, locals say. "Whenever there is a land mine, there is a danger. So everybody fears to go cultivate and do activities in the bush because of fear of land mines," said Sebit Kilama, a community leader. Private contractors and aid groups are trying to clear the area from contamination, but say the task is enormous. During clearance in a cluster munitions site in May by the aid group MAG, focused on mine clearance, 16 unexploded munitions were found in less than a week of work. Locals are also finding devices a few miles from main roads. When AP journalists visited, a villager alerted the demining team of an unexploded 60 millimeter mortar shell, which he found a few miles into the brush. MAG is working with communities to raise awareness about the danger of mines and other unexploded ordnance. "Land mines don't have an expiry date," said Clara Hayat, a community outreach officer with MAG, during a talk to a group of children in a village where people recently returned from Uganda. "Don't bring them home, because they can kill," she said.
Pressure from the West is strengthening Russia's ties with China, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said in a meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing Wednesday. Mishustin's visit comes as Russia is increasingly turning to China for diplomatic and economic support amid growing isolation over its invasion of Ukraine. Also Read: G7 urges China to press Russia to end war in Ukraine, respect Taiwan's status, fair trade rules In opening remarks at his meeting Wednesday with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, Mishustin did not mention the 15-month-old war that China, in deference to Moscow, has refused to criticize, focusing instead on economic cooperation between the neighbors that have partnered in challenging the U.S. lead in global affairs. Relations between the two countries are "at an unprecedented high level," influenced by the "increased turbulence in the international arena and the pattern of sensational pressure from the collective West," Mishustin said. Also Read; New sanctions: How effective are they in stopping Russia's invasion of Ukraine? China says it is a neutral party between Russia and Ukraine and wants to help broker an end to the conflict. But it has blamed the West for provoking Moscow and has maintained strong diplomatic and trade ties with Russia in opposition to sanctions against it. China's special envoy met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other government officials during talks in Kyiv this month. The visit followed a phone call last month between the Ukrainian leader and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that Zelenskyy described as "long and meaningful" and which marked the first known contact between the two since the Russian invasion began. Also Read: The cyber gulag: How Russia tracks, censors and controls its citizens Beijing released a peace plan in February but Ukraine's allies largely dismissed it, insisting that Putin must withdraw his forces. Zelenskyy's own 10-point peace plan includes a tribunal to prosecute war crimes committed by Russia. While sidestepping the conflict, Mishustin emphasized Russia's role as a provider of oil and gas to China and their bonds formed as initial allies among communist nations. "The peoples of Russia and China cherish their history, rich culture and traditions. We support the further development of our culture, exchanges and communication," Mishustin said.
Russian troops and security forces fought for a second day Tuesday against an alleged cross-border raid that Moscow blamed on Ukrainian military saboteurs but which Kyiv portrayed as an uprising against the Kremlin by Russian partisans. Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region on the Ukraine border, said forces continued to sweep the rural area around the town of Graivoron, where the alleged attack on Monday took place. Ten civilians were wounded in the attack, he said, and one died during evacuation. Gladkov urged residents of the area who evacuated on Monday to stay put and not come back to their homes just yet. "We will let you know immediately ... when it is safe," Gladkov said. "Security agencies are carrying out all the necessary actions. We're waiting for the counterterrorism operation to be over." Also Read: Russia alleges border incursion by Ukrainian saboteurs; Kyiv claims they are disgruntled Russians It was impossible to independently verify who was behind the attack or what its aims were, and disinformation has been one of the weapons of the almost 15-month war. While it is not the first time Russia has alleged an incursion by Ukrainian saboteurs, it is the first time the operation to counter the raid has continued for a second day, highlighting the struggles Moscow is facing amid its bogged-down invasion of Ukraine and embarrassing the Kremlin. The British Defense Ministry said Russian security forces "highly likely" clashed with partisans in at least three locations within Belgorod. "Russia is facing an increasingly serious multi-domain security threat in its border regions, with losses of combat aircraft, improvised explosive device attacks on rail lines, and now direct partisan action," it said in a tweet on Tuesday. In addition to the alleged incursion, Gladkov reported multiple drone attacks on Graivoron and other settlements of the Belgorod region on Monday night. The attacks resulted in no casualties, but damaged buildings and caused a fire. On Tuesday morning, two more drones were shot down by the region's air defense systems. Also Read: New sanctions: How effective are they in stopping Russia's invasion of Ukraine? According to Gladkov, an elderly woman died during evacuation, and two more people were wounded "in the settlements the enemy entered." That brought the total number of those wounded during the attack to 10. Gladkov first reported on Monday afternoon that a Ukrainian Armed Forces saboteur group entered Graivoron, a town about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the border with Ukraine. The town also came under Ukrainian artillery fire, he said. He later announced a counterterrorist operation in the area, and said that authorities were imposing special controls, including personal document checks, and stopping the work of companies that use "explosives, radioactive, chemically and biologically hazardous substances." Ukrainian officials blamed the incident on Russian guerrilla groups bent on changes at the Kremlin. Ukraine intelligence representative Andrii Cherniak said Russian citizens belonging to murky groups calling themselves the Russian Volunteer Corps and the "Freedom of Russia" Legion were behind the assault. Also Read: ‘Exhaust them’: Why Ukraine has fought Russia for every inch of Bakhmut, despite high cost The Russian Volunteer Corps claimed in a Telegram post it had crossed the border into Russia again, after claiming to have breached the border in early March. The Russian Volunteer Corps describes itself as "a volunteer formation fighting on Ukraine's side." Little is known about the group, and it is not clear if it has any ties with the Ukrainian military. The same is true for the "Freedom of Russia" Legion. The Belgorod region in southwest Russia, just like its neighboring Bryansk region and several others, has witnessed sporadic spillover from the 15-month war, with its border towns and villages regularly coming under shelling and drone attacks.
Ukrainian soldiers were still engaging Russian forces in fierce battles in and around Bakhmut on Sunday, military officials said, hours after Moscow and the private army Wagner announced that their troops had taken full control of the eastern city. The fog of war made it impossible to confirm the situation on the ground in the invasion's longest battle, and a series of comments from Ukrainian and Russian officials added confusion to the matter. Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar even went so far as to say that Ukrainian troops "took the city in a semi-encirclement." "The enemy failed to surround Bakhmut, and they lost part of the dominant heights around the city," Malyar said. "That is, the advance of our troops in the suburbs along the flanks, which is still ongoing, greatly complicates the enemy's presence in Bakhmut." Also Read: Ukraine’s Zelenskyy at center of last day of high-level diplomacy as G7 looks to punish Russia Her comments came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, at the Group of Seven summit in Japan, appeared to suggest that Bakhmut had fallen. When asked if the city was in Ukraine's hands, Zelenskyy said: "I think no, but you have to -- to understand that there is nothing, They've destroyed everything. There are no buildings. It's a pity. It's tragedy." Zelenskyy's press secretary later walked back those comments. Also Read: Ukrainian president meets with world leaders at G7 as Russia claims a key victory in the war And the spokesman for Ukraine's Eastern Group of Forces, Serhii Cherevaty, said that the Ukrainian military is managing to hold positions in the vicinity of Bakhmut. "The president correctly said that the city has, in fact, been razed to the ground. The enemy is being destroyed every day by massive artillery and aviation strikes, and our units report that the situation is extremely difficult. "Our military keep fortifications and several premises in the southwestern part of the city. Heavy fighting is underway," he said. It was only the latest flip-flopping of the situation in Bakhmut after eight months of intense fighting. Also Read: Zelenskyy says ‘Bakhmut is only in our hearts’ after Russia claims controls of Ukrainian city Only hours earlier, Russian state new agencies reported that President Vladimir Putin congratulated "Wagner assault detachments, as well as all servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces units, who provided them with the necessary support and flank protection, on the completion of the operation to liberate Artyomovsk," which is Bakhmut's Soviet-era name. Russia's Defense Ministry also said that Wagner and military units "completed the liberation" of Bakhmut. At the G-7 in Japan, Zelenskyy stood side by side with U.S. President Joe Biden during a news conference. Biden announced $375 million more in aid for Ukraine, which included more ammunition, artillery and vehicles. "I thanked him for the significant financial assistance to (Ukraine) from (the U.S.)," Zelenskyy tweeted later. The new pledge came after the U.S. agreed to allow training on American-made F-16 fighter jets, laying the groundwork for their eventual transfer to Ukraine. Biden said Sunday that Zelenskyy had given the U.S. a "flat assurance" that Ukraine wouldn't use the F-16s jets to attack Russian territory. Many analysts say that even if Russia was victorious in Bakhmut, it was unlikely to turn the tide in the war. The Russian capture of the last remaining ground in Bakhmut is "not tactically or operationally significant," a Washington-based think tank said late Saturday. The Institute for the Study of War said that taking control of these areas "does not grant Russian forces operationally significant terrain to continue conducting offensive operations," nor to "to defend against possible Ukrainian counterattacks." In a video posted on Telegram, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said the city came under complete Russian control at about midday Saturday. He spoke surrounded by about a half-dozen fighters, with ruined buildings in the background and explosions heard in the distance. Russian forces still seek to seize the remaining part of the Donetsk region still under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas. It isn't clear which side has paid a higher price in the battle for Bakhmut. Both Russia and Ukraine have endured losses believed to be in the thousands, though neither has disclosed casualty numbers. Zelenskyy underlined the importance of defending Bakhmut in an interview with The Associated Press in March, saying its fall could allow Russia to rally international support for a deal that might require Kyiv to make unacceptable compromises. Analysts have said Bakhmut's fall would be a blow to Ukraine and give some tactical advantages to Russia but wouldn't prove decisive to the outcome of the war. Bakhmut, located about 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of the Russian-held regional capital of Donetsk, had a prewar population of 80,000 and was an important industrial center, surrounded by salt and gypsum mines. The city, which was named Artyomovsk after a Bolshevik revolutionary when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, also was known for its sparkling wine production in underground caves. Its broad tree-lined avenues, lush parks and stately downtown with imposing late 19th-century mansions — all now reduced to a smoldering wasteland — made it a popular tourist destination. When a separatist rebellion engulfed eastern Ukraine in 2014 weeks after Moscow's illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, the rebels quickly won control of the city, only to lose it a few months later. After Russia switched its focus to the Donbas following a botched attempt to seize Kyiv early in the February 2022 invasion, Moscow's troops tried to take Bakhmut in August but were pushed back. The fighting there abated in autumn as Russia was confronted with Ukrainian counteroffensives in the east and the south, but it resumed at full pace late last year. In January, Russia captured the salt-mining town of Soledar, just north of Bakhmut, and closed in on the city's suburbs. Intense Russian shelling targeted the city and nearby villages as Moscow waged a three-sided assault to try to finish off the resistance in what Ukrainians called "fortress Bakhmut." Mercenaries from Wagner spearheaded the Russian offensive. Prigozhin tried to use the battle for the city to expand his clout amid the tensions with the top Russian military leaders whom he harshly criticized. "We fought not only with the Ukrainian armed forces in Bakhmut. We fought the Russian bureaucracy, which threw sand in the wheels," Prigozhin said in the video on Saturday. The relentless Russian artillery bombardment left few buildings intact amid ferocious house-to-house battles. Wagner fighters "marched on the bodies of their own soldiers" according to Ukrainian officials. Both sides have spent ammunition at a rate unseen in any armed conflict for decades, firing thousands of rounds a day. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has said that seizing the city would allow Russia to press its offensive farther into the Donetsk region, one of the four Ukrainian provinces that Moscow illegally annexed in September.
World leaders ratcheted up pressure Sunday on Russia for its war against Ukraine, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the center of a swirl of diplomacy on the final day of the Group of Seven summit of rich-world democracies. Zelenskyy's in-person attendance at one of the world's premier diplomatic gatherings is meant to galvanize attention on his nation's 15-month fight against Russia. Even before he landed Saturday on a French plane, the G7 nations had unveiled a slew of new sanctions and other measures meant to punish Moscow and hamper its war-fighting abilities. Ukraine is the overwhelming focus of the summit, but the leaders of Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and Italy, as well as the European Union, are also working to address global worries over climate change, AI, poverty, economic instability and nuclear proliferation. Also Read: Ukrainian president meets with world leaders at G7 as Russia claims a key victory in the war Two U.S. allies — South Korea and Japan — continued efforts Sunday to improve ties that have often been hurt by lingering anger over issues linked to Japan's brutal 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean Peninsula. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol visited a memorial to Korean victims, many of them slave laborers, of the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing. Washington wants the two neighbors, both of which are liberal democracies and bulwarks of U.S. power in the region, to stand together on a host of issues, including rising aggression from China, North Korea and Russia. Bolstering international support is a key priority as Ukraine prepares for what's seen as a major push to take back territory seized by Russia in the war that began in February last year. Zelenskyy's visit to the G7 summit closely followed the United States agreeing to allow training on potent American-made fighter jets, which lays the groundwork for their eventual transfer to Ukraine. Also Read: Zelenskyy says ‘Bakhmut is only in our hearts’ after Russia claims controls of Ukrainian city "Japan. G7. Important meetings with partners and friends of Ukraine. Security and enhanced cooperation for our victory. Peace will become closer today," Zelenskyy tweeted after his arrival. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that President Joe Biden and Zelenskyy would have direct engagement at the summit. On Friday, Biden announced his support for training Ukrainian pilots on U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets, a precursor to eventually providing those aircraft to Ukraine. "It is necessary to improve (Ukraine's) air defense capabilities, including the training of our pilots," Zelenskyy wrote on his official Telegram channel after meeting Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, one of a number of leaders he talked to. Zelenskyy also met on the sidelines of the summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, their first face-to-face talks since the war, and briefed him on Ukraine's peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country before any negotiations. India, the world's largest democracy, has avoided outright condemnation of Russia's invasion. While India maintains close ties with the United States and its Western allies, it is also a major buyer of Russian arms and oil. Summits like the G7 are a chance for leaders to put pressure on one another to align or redouble their diplomatic efforts, according to Matthew Goodman, an economics expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. "Zelenskyy's presence puts some pressure on G7 leaders to deliver more — or explain to him directly why they can't," he said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the G7 summit for aiming to isolate both China and Russia. "The task has been set loudly and openly: to defeat Russia on the battlefield, but not to stop there, but to eliminate it as a geopolitical competitor. As a matter of fact, any other country that claims some kind of independent place in the world alignment will also be to suppress a competitor. Look at the decisions that are now being discussed and adopted in Hiroshima, at the G7 summit, and which are aimed at the double containment of Russia and China," he said. The G7, however, has vowed to intensify the pressure. "Russia's brutal war of aggression represents a threat to the whole world in breach of fundamental norms, rules and principles of the international community. We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes to bring a comprehensive, just and lasting peace," the group said in a statement. Another major focus of the meetings was China, the world's No. 2 economy. There is increasing anxiety that Beijing, which has been steadily building up its nuclear weapons program, could try to seize Taiwan by force, sparking a wider conflict. China claims the self-governing island as its own and regularly sends ships and warplanes near it. The G7 said they did not want to harm China and were seeking "constructive and stable relations" with Beijing, "recognizing the importance of engaging candidly with and expressing our concerns directly to China." They also urged China to pressure Russia to end the war in Ukraine and "support a comprehensive, just and lasting peace." China's Foreign Ministry said that "gone are the days when a handful of Western countries can just willfully meddle in other countries' internal affairs and manipulate global affairs. We urge G7 members to ... focus on addressing the various issues they have at home, stop ganging up to form exclusive blocs, stop containing and bludgeoning other countries." The G7 also warned North Korea, which has been testing missiles at a torrid pace, to completely abandon its nuclear bomb ambitions, "including any further nuclear tests or launches that use ballistic missile technology," the leaders' statement said. The green light on F-16 training is the latest shift by the Biden administration as it moves to arm Ukraine with more advanced and lethal weaponry, following earlier decisions to send rocket launcher systems and Abrams tanks. The United States has insisted that it is sending weapons to Ukraine to defend itself and has discouraged attacks by Ukraine into Russian territory. "We've reached a moment where it is time to look down the road again to say what is Ukraine going to need as part of a future force, to be able to deter and defend against Russian aggression as we go forward," Sullivan said. Biden's decisions on when, how many, and who will provide the fourth-generation F-16 fighter jets will be made in the months ahead while the training is underway, Biden told leaders. The G7 leaders have rolled out a new wave of global sanctions on Moscow as well as plans to enhance the effectiveness of existing financial penalties meant to constrain President Vladimir Putin's war effort. Russia is now the most-sanctioned country in the world, but there are questions about the effectiveness. Russia had participated in some summits with the other seven countries before being removed from the then-Group of Eight after its 2014 annexation of Crimea. The latest sanctions aimed at Russia include tighter restrictions on already-sanctioned people and firms involved in the war effort. More than 125 individuals and organizations across 20 countries have been hit with U.S. sanctions. Kishida has twice taken leaders to visit to a peace park dedicated to the tens of thousands who died in the world's first wartime atomic bomb detonation. Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, wants nuclear disarmament to be a major focus of discussions. The G7 leaders also discussed efforts to strengthen the global economy and address rising prices that are squeezing families and government budgets around the world, particularly in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The group reiterated its aim to pull together up to $600 billion in financing for the G7's global infrastructure development initiative, which is meant to offer countries an alternative to China's investment dollars.