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Moscow fumes after EU cuts off shipments to Baltic outpost

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2022-06-21T11:14:53Z

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday that he expects Russia to intensify its attacks on his country while Kyiv awaits a European Union decision this week on granting Ukraine the status of a candidate country.

Russia summoned the European Union’s ambassador in Moscow on Tuesday, fuming over what it calls an illegal rail blockade of a Russian outpost on the Baltic Sea, the latest stand-off over sanctions imposed over the war in Ukraine.

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On the ground in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s separatist proxies said they were advancing towards Kyiv’s main battlefield bastion. A Ukrainian official described a lull in fighting there as the “calm before the storm”.

The latest diplomatic crisis is over the Kaliningrad enclave, a port and surrounding countryside on the Baltic Sea that is home to nearly a million Russians, connected to the rest of Russia by a rail link through EU- and NATO-member Lithuania.

Lithuania has shut the route for basic goods including construction materials, metals and coal, which it says it is required to do under EU sanctions that took effect on Saturday.

Russia calls the move an illegal blockade and has threatened unspecified retaliation against Lithuania. read more

EU envoy Markus Ederer appeared at the Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday. EU spokesperson Peter Stano said Ederer “explained that Lithuania is implementing EU sanctions and there is no blockade, and asked them to refrain from escalatory steps and rhetoric”.

The standoff creates a new source of confrontation on the Baltic, a region already set for a security overhaul that would hem in Russia’s sea power as Sweden and Finland apply to join NATO and put nearly the whole coast under alliance control.

Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s powerful Security Council, arrived in Kaliningrad to hold a council meeting, Russia’s RIA state news agency reported.

Moscow had summoned a Lithuanian diplomat on Monday, but the EU has deflected responsibility from the Lithuanians, saying the policy was a result of collective action by the bloc. Vilnius was “doing nothing else than implementing the guidelines provided by the (European) Commission”, said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Within Ukraine, the battle for the east has become a brutal war of attrition in recent weeks, with Russia concentrating its overwhelming firepower on a Ukrainian-held pocket of the Donbas region that Moscow claims on behalf of its separatist proxies.

Moscow has made slow progress there since April in a relentless fighting that has cost both sides thousands of troops killed, one of the bloodiest land battles in Europe for generations.

The fighting has spanned the Siverskyi Donets river that curls through the region, with Russian forces mainly on the east bank and Ukrainian forces mainly on the west, though Ukrainians are still holding out in the east bank city of Sievierodonetsk.

In recent days Russia has captured Toshkivka, a small city on the west bank further south, giving it a potential foothold to try to cut off the main Ukrainian bastion at Lysychansk.

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Russia of the pro-Moscow separatist self-styled Luhansk People’s Republic, said forces were “moving from the south towards Lysychansk” with firefights erupting in a number of towns.

“The hours to come should bring considerable changes to the balance of forces in the area,” he said on Telegram.

The governor of Ukraine’s surrounding Luhansk region said Russian forces had gained some territory on Monday. It was relatively quiet overnight, but more attacks were coming, Serhiy Gaidai said: “It’s a calm before the storm”.

Although fighting has favoured Russia in recent weeks because of its huge firepower advantage in artillery, some Western military analysts say Russia’s failure to make a major breakthrough so far means time is now on the Ukrainians’ side.

Moscow is running out of fresh troops, while Ukraine is receiving newer and better equipment from the West, tweeted retired U.S. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, a former commander of U.S. ground forces in Europe.

“It’s a heavyweight boxing match. In 2 months of fighting, there has not yet been a knockout blow. It will come, as RU forces become more depleted,” Hertling wrote.

Dmitry Muratov, editor of Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s last independent newspapers, auctioned off a Nobel Peace Prize he had won last year, raising $103.5 million for UNICEF to help Ukrainian refugees. The anonymous buyer bid for the medal by phone at the auction in New York. read more

Novaya Gazeta, like all other independent media in Russia, has halted publication since Moscow enacted a ban on reporting that departs from the official account of the “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Related Galleries:

A view shows railway tracks at a commercial port in the Baltic Sea town of Baltiysk in the Kaliningrad region, Russia October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar

A man stands outside a damaged residential building located in Panfilova street following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Onlookers watch as firefighters attempt to put out a fire allegedly caused by a shelling in the Nemyshlianski district, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine, June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Leah Millis

A view shows a crater in the courtyard of a residential building located in Vannikova street following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

People gather near a crater in the courtyard of a residential building located in Vannikova street following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Men walk out of a damaged residential building located in Vannikova street following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Smoke from artillery strikes rises over the village amid military presence in Toshkivka, Luhansk region, Ukraine in this screengrab taken from a drone video released on June 19, 2022, and obtained by REUTERS

Drone footage shows an artillery strike amid military presence in Toshkivka, Luhansk region, Ukraine in this screengrab taken from a video released on June 19, 2022, and obtained by REUTERS

A local resident removes debris from a courtyard of an apartment building located in Vannikova street following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

A local resident walks near a damaged building located in Panfilova street following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

People walk outside a damaged residential building located in Vannikova street following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

A man walks past a destroyed structure at a local market following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 19, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

A woman stands next to a building damaged by shelling at a local market in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 19, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a meeting with local authorities during a visit to the southern city of Mykolaiv, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Ukraine June 18, 2022. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

A woman walks past destroyed structures at a local market following recent shelling in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donetsk, Ukraine June 19, 2022. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

A worker stands as they respond to an overnight shelling that heavily damaged a school for professional railway transportation, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in Lyubotyn, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine, June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Leah Millis

People remove debris of a building of the lyceum of railway transport destroyed by a missile strike, as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues, in the town of Liubotyn, in Kharkiv region, Ukraine June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy

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