Russian Missiles Batter Ukraine, but Bakhmut Offensive Seen Stalling

FILE PHOTO: A local resident walks an empty street, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the front line city of Bakhmut, Ukraine February 24, 2023. REUTERS/Alex Babenko/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A local resident walks an empty street, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the front line city of Bakhmut, Ukraine February 24, 2023. REUTERS/Alex Babenko/File Photo
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Russian Missiles Batter Ukraine, but Bakhmut Offensive Seen Stalling

FILE PHOTO: A local resident walks an empty street, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the front line city of Bakhmut, Ukraine February 24, 2023. REUTERS/Alex Babenko/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: A local resident walks an empty street, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the front line city of Bakhmut, Ukraine February 24, 2023. REUTERS/Alex Babenko/File Photo

Russian drones attacked Ukrainian cities and missiles blasted an apartment block, but a months-long ground assault on the eastern town of Bakhmut could be stalling in the face of fierce resistance, according to Ukrainian and British military experts.

Russian forces unleashed a wave of air strikes in the north and south of Ukraine as President Vladimir Putin bid farewell on Wednesday to Chinese leader Xi Jinping following a two day visit to Moscow by his fellow autocrat and "dear friend".

But staunch resistance by Ukrainian defenders in Bakhmut, the site of Europe's deadliest infantry battle since World War Two, led British military intelligence to believe Russia's assault on the town could be running out of steam, Reuters said.

There was still a danger, however, that the Ukrainian garrison in Bakhmut could be surrounded, Britain's defense ministry said in its intelligence update on Wednesday.

Ukraine's military General Staff agreed that Russia's offensive potential in Bakhmut was declining.

In a show of defiance, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's office released a video of him handing out medals to troops it said were near the Bakhmut front line.

Bakhmut has become a key objective for Moscow, which sees the town as a stepping stone toward completing its conquest of the eastern Donbas region.

"The enemy continues to conduct offensive operations, suffering major casualties, losing significant amount of weapons and military equipment," said the General Staff of the Ukraine Army said in a Thursday morning report.

"Ukrainian defenders have been repelling numerous round-the-clock enemy attacks in the vicinities of Bakhmut, Bohdanivka, and Predtechyne," it said, adding that numerous settlements near the line of contact were shelled.

The Ukraine military said that 660 Russian troops, 13 tanks, one air defense system, 11 armored personnel carriers were destroyed in a past day.
Reuters could not verify the battlefield report.

During Wednesday night, air raid sirens blared across the capital Kyiv and parts of northern Ukraine, and the military said it had shot down 16 of 21 Iranian-made Shahed suicide drones.

Firefighters battled a blaze in two adjacent residential buildings in the southern city of Zaporizhzhia, where officials said at least one person was killed and 33 wounded by a twin missile strike.

In Rzhyshchiv, a riverside town south of Kyiv, at least eight people were killed and seven injured after a drone struck two dormitories and a college, regional police chief Andrii Nebytov said.

"This must not become 'just another day' in Ukraine or anywhere else in the world. The world needs greater unity and determination to defeat Russian terror faster and protect lives," Zelenskiy tweeted, along with a video of security camera footage showing a building exploding.

A playground and a car park at the scene in Zaporizhzhia were littered with glass, debris and wrecked cars. Emergency workers brought out the wounded along with anyone unable to walk.
An elderly woman with a scratched face sat alone on a bench, wiping tears and whispering prayers.

"When I got out, there was destruction, smoke, people screaming, debris. Then the firefighters and rescuers came," said Ivan Nalyvaiko, 24.

International groups estimate rebuilding Ukraine will cost $411 billion - 2.6 times Ukraine's 2022 gross domestic product.

CHINA-RUSSIA UNITY

Hosting Xi in Moscow this week was Putin's grandest diplomatic gesture since he ordered the invasion of neighboring Ukraine 13 months ago and became a pariah in the West.

The two men referred to each other as "dear friend", promised economic cooperation, condemned the West and described relations as the best they have ever been.

Xi departed telling Putin: "Now there are changes that haven't happened in 100 years. When we are together, we drive these changes."

"I agree," Putin said.

But the public remarks were notably short of specifics, and during the visit Xi had almost nothing to say about the Ukraine war, beyond that China's position was "impartial".

The White House urged Beijing to pressure Russia to withdraw. Washington also criticized the timing of the trip, just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin on war crimes charges.

China has proposed a peace plan for Ukraine that the West largely dismisses as vague at best, and at worst a ploy to buy time for Putin to regroup his forces.

Ukraine says there can be no peace unless Russia withdraws from occupied land. Moscow says Kyiv must recognize territorial "realities" after its claim to have annexed nearly a fifth of Ukraine.



Russia Launches 16th Air Strike on Kyiv This Month

Police officers walk next to a part of a missile which landed on a street during a Russian strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 29, 2023. (Reuters)
Police officers walk next to a part of a missile which landed on a street during a Russian strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 29, 2023. (Reuters)
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Russia Launches 16th Air Strike on Kyiv This Month

Police officers walk next to a part of a missile which landed on a street during a Russian strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 29, 2023. (Reuters)
Police officers walk next to a part of a missile which landed on a street during a Russian strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 29, 2023. (Reuters)

Explosions rang out across Kyiv on Monday as Russia launched its 16th air attack on the Ukrainian capital this month, hours after unleashing dozens of missiles and drones overnight.

Panicked residents, some of whom initially ignored the air raid siren as they ate breakfast in cafes, rushed for cover when the sky filled with smoke trails and blast clouds.

All the Russian missiles were shot down, but one person in the central Podil district was taken to hospital, authorities said. No major damage was reported.

Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko said explosions sounded in the capital's central districts and emergency services were dispatched.

"The attack on Kyiv continues. Don't leave the shelters!" he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

Ukraine shot down 11 cruise and ballistic missiles fired in the second of Monday's attacks on Kyiv, said Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Heavy air strikes about six hours earlier had targeted the capital, put five Ukrainian aircraft out of action in the west of the country and caused a fire in the Black Sea port of Odesa.

"I would say there has been an activisation, a serious activisation...there are fewer missiles flying, but the regularity of strikes has increased," said air force spokesperson Yuriy Ihnat.

Russia's main targets are typically stocks of Western weapons, energy facilities and government buildings, but the fact the missiles over Kyiv were shot down made it difficult to establish their target on Monday, he said.

Russia has increased the frequency of air attacks as Ukraine prepares to launch a counteroffensive.

Kyiv metro stations were packed with people taking shelter although many residents ignored the air raid alarm until they heard loud blasts in city center.

A local television report from a junction on a busy highway showed missile wreckage that appeared to have hit a traffic light.


Belarus’s Lukashenko Says There Can Be ‘Nuclear Weapons for Everyone'

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 25, 2023. (AFP)
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 25, 2023. (AFP)
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Belarus’s Lukashenko Says There Can Be ‘Nuclear Weapons for Everyone'

Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 25, 2023. (AFP)
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko attends a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 25, 2023. (AFP)

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that if any other country wanted to join a Russia-Belarus union there could be "nuclear weapons for everyone".

Russia moved ahead last week with a plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, in the Kremlin's first deployment of such warheads outside Russia since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, spurring concerns in the West.

In an interview on Russia's state television late on Sunday, Lukashenko, President Vladimir Putin's staunchest ally among Russia's neighbors, said that it must be "strategically understood" that Minsk and Moscow have a unique chance to unite.

"No one is against Kazakhstan and other countries having the same close relations that we have with the Russian Federation," Lukashenko said. "If someone is worried ... (then) it is very simple: join in the Union State of Belarus and Russia. That's all: there will be nuclear weapons for everyone."

He added that it was his own view - not the view of Russia.

Russia and Belarus are formally part of a Union State, a borderless union and alliance between the two former Soviet republics.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, whose nation of 20 million people has close historical ties with Moscow but has refused to recognize Russia's annexation of parts of Ukraine, dismissed Lukashenko's invitation to join the union.

"I appreciated his joke," Tokayev's office quoted him as saying on Telegram, adding that Kazakhstan was already a member of a broader Russian-led trade bloc, the Eurasian Economic Union, so no further integration was necessary.

"As for nuclear weapons, we do not need them because we have joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty," he said in a remark which could be interpreted as a sting to Moscow and Minsk.

"We remain committed to our obligations under those international documents."

Russia used the territory of Belarus as a launchpad for its invasion of their common neighbor Ukraine in February last year, and since then their military cooperation has intensified, with joint training exercises on Belarusian soil.

On Sunday, the Belarusian Defense Ministry said that another unit of the S-400 mobile, surface-to-air missile systems arrived from Moscow, with the systems to be ready for combat duty soon.


Russia Hits Ukrainian Military Facility and Odesa Port in Air Strikes 

An aerial view of a battle field near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, May 27, 2023. (AP)
An aerial view of a battle field near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, May 27, 2023. (AP)
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Russia Hits Ukrainian Military Facility and Odesa Port in Air Strikes 

An aerial view of a battle field near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, May 27, 2023. (AP)
An aerial view of a battle field near Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, May 27, 2023. (AP)

Russia put five aircraft out of action in an attack on a military target in western Ukraine and caused a fire at the Black Sea port of Odesa in heavy air strikes early on Monday, Ukrainian officials said.

Kyiv also came under intense attack for the second successive night, but reported no significant damage and said that most of the drones and missiles fired at the capital overnight had been shot down.

The attacks were part of a new wave of increasingly frequent and intense air strikes launched by Moscow this month as Kyiv prepares to launch a counteroffensive to try to take back territory occupied by Russian forces.

In a rare acknowledgement of damage suffered at a military "target", Ukraine did not name the site or sites hit in the western region of Khmelnitskiy but said work was under way to restore a runway and five aircraft were taken out of service.

A large military airfield was located in the region before the war.

"At the moment, work is continuing to contain fires in storage facilities for fuel and lubricants and munitions," the Khmelnitskiy region governor's office said.

Ukraine's military said the attack on Odesa port had caused a fire and damaged infrastructure but did not specify whether the damage threatened grain exports.

Ukraine is an important global grain supplier and the port is vital for shipping agricultural products abroad. It is also one of three included in a UN-brokered deal on the safe export of grain via the Black Sea.

"A fire broke out in the port infrastructure of Odesa as a result of the hit. It was quickly extinguished. Information on the extent of the damage is being updated," the military's southern command said on Facebook.

Ukrainian counterattack expected

Russia, which began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine just over 15 months ago, did not immediately comment on the attacks. Reuters was not able to independently verify the reports on the scale of the attacks.

After months of attacks on energy facilities, Russia is now increasingly targeting military facilities and supplies to try to disrupt Ukraine's preparations for its counterattack, Kyiv says.

Moscow says Ukraine has stepped up drone and sabotage attacks against targets inside Russia as Kyiv prepares for the counteroffensive.

Ukraine said it had shot down 29 of the 35 drones and 37 of 40 cruise missiles fired overnight by Russia.

The Kyiv military administration said its air defenses had shot down over 40 of the "targets" fired at it in what was Russia's 15th air assault on the city this month.

"Another difficult night for the capital," Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on the Telegram messaging channel.

The attack follows the largest drone barrage launched on Kyiv the previous night, which killed one person and injured several. In Sunday's attack, 36 drones were downed over Kyiv.

"With these constant attacks, the enemy seeks to keep the civilian population in deep psychological tension," Serhiy Popko, the head of the city's military administration said.


North Korea Notifies Neighboring Japan it Plans to Launch Satellite in Coming Days 

Japan Self-Defense Forces soldiers walk past a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile unit after Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reviews the unit at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Japan, October 8, 2017. (Reuters)
Japan Self-Defense Forces soldiers walk past a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile unit after Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reviews the unit at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Japan, October 8, 2017. (Reuters)
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North Korea Notifies Neighboring Japan it Plans to Launch Satellite in Coming Days 

Japan Self-Defense Forces soldiers walk past a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile unit after Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reviews the unit at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Japan, October 8, 2017. (Reuters)
Japan Self-Defense Forces soldiers walk past a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile unit after Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reviews the unit at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Japan, October 8, 2017. (Reuters)

North Korea on Monday notified neighboring Japan that it plans to launch a satellite in coming days, which may be an attempt to put Pyongyang's first military reconnaissance satellite into orbit.

Japan's coast guard said the notice it received from North Korean waterway authorities said the launch window was from May 31 to June 11, and that the launch may affect waters in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and east of the Philippines' Luzon Island.

The coast guard issued a safety warning for ships in the area on those dates because of the possible risks from falling debris. Japan's coast guard coordinates and distributes maritime safety information in East Asia, which is likely the reason it was the recipient of North Korea's notice.

To launch a satellite into space, North Korea would have to use long-range missile technology banned by UN Security Council resolutions. Its past launches of Earth observation satellites were seen as disguised missile tests.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the launch would violate UN resolutions and was a “threat to the peace and safety of Japan, the region and the international community.”

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada ordered Japan’s Self Defense Force to shoot down the satellite or debris, if any entered Japanese territory.

Matsuno said it was possible the satellite would enter or pass above Japan’s southwestern islands including Okinawa, where the United States has major military bases and thousands of troops.

Japan has already been on standby for falling missile debris from North Korean launches earlier this year and has deployed missile defense systems such as PAC-3 and ship-to-air interceptors in southwestern Japan.

South Korea warned Monday that North Korea will face consequences if it goes ahead with its launch plan in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions that ban the North from conducting any launch using ballistic technology.

“Our government strongly warns North Korea against a provocation that threatens peace in the region and urges it to withdraw its illegal launch plan immediately,” a ministry statement said. It said South Korea will cooperate with the international community to resolutely cope with any North Korean provocation.

Earlier this month, North Korean state media reported leader Kim Jong Un had inspected a finished military spy satellite at his country's aerospace center and approved the satellite's launch plan. Monday's launch notice did not specify the type of satellite.

Last week, rival South Korea launched its first commercial-grade satellite into space, which likely will provide it with technology and expertise to place its first military spy satellite into orbit later this year and build more powerful missiles. Experts say Kim would want his country to launch a spy satellite before South Korea does.

North Korea placed Earth observation satellites in orbit in 2012 and 2016. Pyongyang does not notify neighboring countries of its missile firings in advance, but has issued notices ahead of satellite launches in the past.

While North Korea has demonstrated an ability to deliver a satellite into space, there are questions about the satellite’s capability. Foreign experts say the earlier satellites never transmitted imagery back to North Korea, and analysts say the new device displayed in state media appeared too small and crudely designed to support high-resolution imagery.

Spy satellites are among an array of high-tech weapons systems Kim has publicly vowed to develop. Other weapons systems on his wish list include solid-propellant ICBMs, nuclear-powered submarines, hypersonic missiles and multi-warhead missiles.

The North’s satellite launch plan comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Since the start of 2022, North Korea has test-launched more than 100 missiles, some of them nuclear-capable weapons that place the US mainland, South Korea and Japan within striking distance. North Korea argues its testing spree is meant to issue warning over expanded military drills between the US and South Korea, but observers say North Korea aims to modernize its weapons program then win greater concessions from its rivals in future dealings.

Last week, the South Korean and US militaries conducted large-scale live-fire drills near the border with North Korea as the first of five rounds of exercises marking 70 years since the establishment of their alliance. North Korea warned Monday that the US and South Korea will face unspecified consequences for their “war scenario for aggression on” North Korea.

“We’d like to ask them if they can cope with the consequences to be entailed by their reckless and dangerous war gambles that are being staged under the eyes of the armed forces of (North Korea),” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Saturday that he was ready to meet Kim Jong Un “any time without preconditions” and that he was making efforts to organize a summit as soon as possible.

He was speaking at a conference dealing with the abductions of Japanese citizens to North Korea decades ago. The issue was only partially resolved and North Korea never provided a full account for those still believed held.

North Korea on Monday urged Japan to show its sincerity about resuming talks, saying it’s necessary to “cool-headedly recall” why past talks had failed to improve ties.


Iran Warns Taliban of ‘Strategic Loss’ over Border Dispute

Iranian military and police officials hold a joint meeting. (Tasnim)
Iranian military and police officials hold a joint meeting. (Tasnim)
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Iran Warns Taliban of ‘Strategic Loss’ over Border Dispute

Iranian military and police officials hold a joint meeting. (Tasnim)
Iranian military and police officials hold a joint meeting. (Tasnim)

Two Iranian military commanders visited a border area with Afghanistan following the heavy exchange of cross-border gunfire between Taliban and Iranian border guards, which killed and injured several.  

Taliban spokesman and Iranian state media said two Iranian border guards and a Taliban fighter were killed during the skirmish over water rights. 

The clashes occurred Saturday morning at the Sassuli border point in the Iranian province of Zabul.  

The Iranian border guards said in a statement that its forces used their intense fire to inflict heavy casualties and severe damage without giving further details.  

Taliban defense ministry spokesman Enayatullah Khowarazmi said: "Unfortunately, once again, in the border areas of Kong district of Nimroz province, there was a shooting by Iranian soldiers, (and) a conflict ... broke out."  

"The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan considers dialogue and negotiation reasonable for any problem. Making excuses for war and negative actions is not in the interest of any of the parties," Khowarazmi said.  

Commander of the ground forces in the Iranian army Kioumars Heydari and deputy commander of Iran's Law Enforcement Forces Qasem Rezaei visited the border to monitor the situation. 

Heydari said: "The common borders with Afghanistan are fully under the control of the army's ground forces... and security is fully established." 

Iranian media confirmed the reopening of the Silk Road border bridge between Iran and Afghanistan, which was closed due to the clashes.  

Rezaei asserted that Tehran would not allow any unfortunate incident on the border with Afghanistan, adding that stability has been restored.  

He accused the Taliban of using all forms of weapons without observing international laws and the principle of good neighborliness.  

Meanwhile, Assistant of Foreign Minister Rasool Mousavi said Iran must remain vigilant, warning any conflict will be a "strategic loss" for both parties. 

Iranian media reported that officials from Iran and Afghanistan had agreed to a ceasefire and the formation of a fact-finding committee. 

The Iranian parliament held an emergency meeting to discuss the tensions with the Taliban. Iran's special envoy to Afghanistan, Hasan Kazemi Qomi, attended the meeting. 

Qomi had held talks with Taliban's Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Kabul Saturday.  

Lawmaker and National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Ismail Kothari said the dispute will be resolved through dialogue, not force. He clarified that Iran does not recognize the Taliban despite meeting with its members. 

Meanwhile, the Taliban claimed to have destroyed 18 Iranian border installations, reported Russia Today. 

It quoted a statement by the Taliban's Communications Department accusing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of carrying out the attacks.  

The clashes reflect the sharply escalating rising tensions between the two countries amid a dispute over water rights over a dam on the Helmand River. 

Last week, Iran warned that it reserves the right to take the necessary measures to protect its shares of the water. 

It accused the Taliban of violating a 1973 agreement by reducing the water flow from the river to the dry eastern regions of Iran. The Taliban denied the accusation. 

The Helmand River originates from central Afghanistan and flows over 1,000 km until it reaches Lake Hamun at the border.  

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had previously said Kabul was holding on to fulfilling its obligations but indicated that the water level had declined because of a severe drought.  


Uganda Confirms Casualties among Country's Soldiers in Somali Attack

(FILES) Security forces patrol outside a building which was attacked by suspected Al Shabaab militants in the Somalia's capital Mogadishu, on February 21, 2023. (Photo by Hassan Ali ELMI / AFP)
(FILES) Security forces patrol outside a building which was attacked by suspected Al Shabaab militants in the Somalia's capital Mogadishu, on February 21, 2023. (Photo by Hassan Ali ELMI / AFP)
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Uganda Confirms Casualties among Country's Soldiers in Somali Attack

(FILES) Security forces patrol outside a building which was attacked by suspected Al Shabaab militants in the Somalia's capital Mogadishu, on February 21, 2023. (Photo by Hassan Ali ELMI / AFP)
(FILES) Security forces patrol outside a building which was attacked by suspected Al Shabaab militants in the Somalia's capital Mogadishu, on February 21, 2023. (Photo by Hassan Ali ELMI / AFP)

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni said late on Sunday there had been casualties during an attack by Somalia's Islamist group al Shabaab on a military base manned by Ugandan peacekeepers in the Horn of African country on Friday.

Museveni did not say how many soldiers were killed or wounded but it was the first official admission of losses in the attack among the Ugandan troops who are serving in the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS).

"Condolences to the country and the families of those who died," Museveni said in a statement, adding the country's military had set up a panel to investigate what happened.

Al Shabaab has since 2006 has been fighting to topple Somalia's Western-backed government and establish its own rule based on its own strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Museveni said during the attack "some of the soldiers there did not perform as expected and panicked, which disorganized them and the al Shabaab took advantage of that to overrun the base and destroy some of the equipment."

The assailants numbered about 800 and during the attack the Ugandan troops were forced to withdraw to a nearby base, about nine kilometers away, he said.

Al Shabaab fighters targeted the base early on Friday in Bulamarer, 130 km (80 miles) southwest of the capital Mogadishu.

Al Shabaab said in a statement at the time that it had carried out suicide bomb attacks and killed 137 soldiers at the base.

There was no immediate official confirmation of the casualties. Al Shabaab tends to give casualty figures in attacks that differ from those issued by the authorities.

ATMIS has so far not said how many troops were killed or wounded in the attack.

The peacekeeping mission has been in Somalia since 2007 and helps to defend Somalia's central government.


Putin Orders Stronger Russian Border Security

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia May 26, 2023. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia May 26, 2023. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)
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Putin Orders Stronger Russian Border Security

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia May 26, 2023. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia May 26, 2023. (Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)

President Vladimir Putin on Sunday ordered stronger border security to ensure "fast" Russian military and civilian movement into Ukrainian regions now under Moscow control.

 

Speaking in a congratulatory message to the border service, a branch of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), on their Border Guard Day holiday, Putin said their task was to "reliably cover" the lines in the vicinity of the combat zone.

 

Attacks inside Russia have been growing in intensity in recent weeks, chiefly with drone strikes on regions along the border but increasingly also deep into the country, including on an oil pipeline northwest of Moscow on Saturday.

 

"It is necessary to ensure the fast movement of both military and civilian vehicles and cargo, including food, humanitarian aid building materials sent to the new subjects of the (Russian) Federation," Putin said in a message posted on the Kremlin's Telegram messaging channel.

 

Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Luhansk and Donetsk are the four regions in Ukraine that Putin proclaimed annexed last September following what Kyiv said were sham referendums. Russian forces only partly control the four regions.

 

On Saturday, officials said three people were injured in Ukrainian shelling in Belgorod, a region that was the target of pro-Ukrainian fighters this week that sparked doubts about Russia's defense and military capabilities.

 

The Kursk and Belgorod Russian regions bordering Ukraine have been the most frequent target of attacks that have damaged power, rail and military infrastructure, with local officials blaming Ukraine.

 

Kyiv almost never publicly claims responsibility for attacks inside Russia and on Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine, but said that destroying infrastructure is preparation for its planned ground assault.

 

Ukraine indicated on Saturday that it was ready to launch a long-promised counteroffensive to recapture territory taken by Russia in the 15-month long war, a conflict that has claimed the lives of thousands and turned Ukrainian cities into rubble.


Biden, McCarthy Reach Tentative US Debt Ceiling Deal

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks during a news conference after President Joe Biden and McCarthy reached an "agreement in principle" to resolve the looming debt crisis on Saturday, May 27, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks during a news conference after President Joe Biden and McCarthy reached an "agreement in principle" to resolve the looming debt crisis on Saturday, May 27, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
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Biden, McCarthy Reach Tentative US Debt Ceiling Deal

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks during a news conference after President Joe Biden and McCarthy reached an "agreement in principle" to resolve the looming debt crisis on Saturday, May 27, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif., speaks during a news conference after President Joe Biden and McCarthy reached an "agreement in principle" to resolve the looming debt crisis on Saturday, May 27, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP)

US President Joe Biden and top congressional Republican Kevin McCarthy reached a tentative deal to suspend the federal government's $31.4 trillion debt ceiling on Saturday evening, ending a months-long stalemate.

However, the deal was announced without any celebration, in terms that reflected the bitter tenor of the negotiations and the difficult path it has to pass through Congress before the United States runs out of money to pay its debts in early June.

"I just got off the phone with the president a bit ago. After he wasted time and refused to negotiate for months, we've come to an agreement in principle that is worthy of the American people," McCarthy tweeted.

Biden called the deal "an important step forward" in a statement, saying: "The agreement represents a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want. That’s the responsibility of governing."

The deal would suspend the debt limit through January of 2025, while capping spending in the 2024 and 2025 budgets, claw back unused COVID funds, speed up the permitting process for some energy projects and includes some extra work requirements for food aid programs for poor Americans.

After months of back-and-forth, the tentative agreement came together in a flurry of calls. Biden and McCarthy held a 90-minute phone call earlier on Saturday evening to discuss the deal, McCarthy briefed his members later in the evening, and the White House and the House leader spoke afterward.

"We still have more work to do tonight to finish the writing of it," McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill. McCarthy said he expects to finish writing the bill on Sunday, then speak to Biden and have a vote on the deal on Wednesday.

Biden and McCarthy have to carefully thread the needle in finding a compromise that can clear the House, with a 222-213 Republican majority, and Senate, with a 51-49 Democratic majority -- meaning it will need bipartisan support before the president can sign it.

Negotiators have agreed to cap non-defense discretionary spending at 2023 levels for one year and increase it by 1% in 2025, a source familiar with the deal said.

"It has historic reductions in spending, consequential reforms that will lift people out of poverty into the workforce, rein in government overreach - there are no new taxes, no new government programs," McCarthy said.

The deal will avert an economically destabilizing default, so long as it succeeds in passing it through the narrowly divided Congress before the Treasury Department runs short of money to cover all its obligations, which it warned on Friday will occur if the debt ceiling issue was not resolved by June 5.

Republicans who control the House of Representatives have pushed for steep cuts to spending and other conditions, and were sharply critical of the deal as early details were reported.

Republican Representative Bob Good, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, tweeted that he was hearing the deal would raise the debt by $4 trillion, and added "IF that is true, I don’t need to hear anything else. No one claiming to be a conservative could justify a YES vote."

North Carolina's Dan Bishop described the deal earlier Saturday as "utter capitulation in progress. By the side holding the cards."

One high-ranking member of the House Freedom Caucus said they were in the process of gauging member sentiment, and unsure what the vote numbers might be.

Taxes vs. spending cuts

Republicans say they want to cut spending to slow the growth of the US debt, which is now roughly equal to the annual output of the country's economy. Biden and Democrats have pushed to increase taxes on the wealthy and companies to shrink the debt while increasing spending on programs like free community college.

The long standoff on raising the debt ceiling spooked financial markets, weighing on stocks and forcing the United States to pay record-high interest rates in some bond sales. A default would take a far heavier toll, economists say, likely pushing the nation into recession, shaking the world economy and leading to a spike in unemployment.

Biden for months refused to negotiate with McCarthy over future spending cuts, demanding that lawmakers first pass a "clean" debt-ceiling increase free of other conditions, and present a 2024 budget proposal to counter his budget issued in March.

Two-way negotiations between Biden and McCarthy began in earnest on May 16.

The work to raise the debt ceiling is far from done. McCarthy has vowed to give House members 72 hours to read the legislation before bringing it to the floor for a vote.

That will test whether enough moderate members support the compromises in the bill to overcome opposition from both hard-right Republicans and progressive Democrats to reach a simple majority vote.

Then it will need to pass the Senate, where it will need at least nine Republican votes to succeed. There are numerous opportunities in each chamber along the way to slow down the process.


Zelensky Thanks Air Defense after Largest Drone Attack on Kyiv in the Invasion

A firefighter works at a site of a tobacco factory damaged during Russian suicide drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 28, 2023. (Reuters)
A firefighter works at a site of a tobacco factory damaged during Russian suicide drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 28, 2023. (Reuters)
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Zelensky Thanks Air Defense after Largest Drone Attack on Kyiv in the Invasion

A firefighter works at a site of a tobacco factory damaged during Russian suicide drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 28, 2023. (Reuters)
A firefighter works at a site of a tobacco factory damaged during Russian suicide drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 28, 2023. (Reuters)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday praised his country's air defense forces, after the capital Kyiv saw the largest drone attack since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

The overnight attack killed two people and wounded three others.  

The latest drone attack came as Russia has intensified aerial strikes on the capital this month, and warned the West against escalating the conflict after the United States agreed to greenlight F-16 deliveries.

Ukraine said the latest attack in Kyiv was "the most important" of the invasion, with more than forty out of 54 drones targeting the capital.

"Every time you shoot down enemy drones and missiles, lives are saved... you are heroes!" Zelensky told his air defense forces on Sunday morning, also thanking rescuers.

This was the 14th drone attack on the Ukrainian capital by Russia this month.

"People are in shock. There's a lot of damage, the windows were broken, the roof was damaged," said Sergei Movchan, a 50-year-old resident whose house was damaged by debris.  

Kyiv had been relatively spared since the beginning of the year, but in May its residents have had to live with almost nightly air raid sirens and thundering explosions.  

"Russians are intimidating us. But I think it's the agony of their regime," Movchan said.  

Kyiv a 'symbol'

In Kyiv the air raid alert lasted more than five hours as the attack was carried out in several waves.

Kyiv's mayor, Vitali Klitschko described the assault as "massive" with drones "arriving from several directions at once".

The Kyiv military administration said that "more than 40 Russian drones were destroyed by air defense" systems in the "most important drone attack against the capital since the start of the invasion" in February 2022.  

Authorities reported that two killed and three others wounded as debris of the downed drones fell in several districts.  

Sunday was to be celebrated as Kyiv's city day, usually marked by street concerts and celebrations.  

"Today the enemy decided to 'congratulate' the population on Kyiv Day with the help of their killer drones," the authorities said.  

Congratulating residents on Kyiv Day, presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak said the capital had "stood up" to Russia.

"Kyiv, a city of free and brave people, has become a symbol of Ukraine´s unbreakable spirit and the Kremlin´s failed imperial ambitions," Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said.  

Ukraine's air force said that "a record" of 54 drones were launched from the regions of Briansk and Krasnodar in Russia, adding that 52 were destroyed.  

It said Russia used Shahed drones from Iran, and presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak to vow new sanctions against Iran.  

'Key ally'  

"Tehran has become a key ally of Moscow in this war, deliberately supplying it with weapons for attacks on civilian cities," Podolyak said.  

This week Zelensky had blasted Tehran's "support for evil" and appealed to the Iranian people.  

Iran had answered by saying Zelensky's accusation was an attempt to gain the West's military and financial support.

After Kyiv long asked for advanced warplanes, the United States on Friday said it would allow Kyiv to acquire F-16 fighter jets, the most sophisticated material yet supplied by the West.  

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday said Western nations were "playing with fire" by agreeing to supply Ukraine with F-16.  

Lavrov called the move an "an unacceptable escalation" of the conflict, in a TV interview posted on social media.  

As the drone war rages, Russia has blamed Ukraine -- and its Western backers -- for increasing artillery and drone attacks on its territory, accusations Kyiv has mostly denied.  

Most drones target Russian regions bordering Ukraine but they have sometimes reached hundreds of kilometers inside Russia, including a thwarted attack on the Kremlin itself.  

The past week also saw an unprecedented two-day incursion from Ukraine claimed by two anti-Kremlin groups, with Russia using its air force and artillery to push back the fighters.  

The reports of attacks come at a time when Kyiv says it is finalizing plans for a counter-offensive to recover lost territory, including the Crimea peninsula which was annexed in 2014.


Russia Thwarts Drone Attack on Krasnodar Oil Refinery

 An explosion of a drone is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 25, 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
An explosion of a drone is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 25, 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
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Russia Thwarts Drone Attack on Krasnodar Oil Refinery

 An explosion of a drone is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 25, 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
An explosion of a drone is seen in the sky over the city during a Russian drone strike, amid Russia's attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine May 25, 2023. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Russia's air defense systems destroyed several drones as they approached the Ilsky oil refinery in the Krasnodar region near the Black Sea, local officials said on Sunday.

"Several unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) tried to approach the territory of the Ilsky oil refinery in the Krasnodar Krai," the region's emergency officials said on the Telegram messaging channel.

"All of them were neutralized, the infrastructure of the plant was not damaged."

The officials did not say who launched the attack. Reuters was not able to independently verify the report.

On Saturday, Moscow said that Ukraine had struck oil pipeline installations deep inside Russia. Kyiv almost never publicly claims responsibility for attacks inside Russia and on Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine.

The Ilsky refinery, near the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, has a processing capacity of around 6.6 million tons per year. It has been attacked several times this month.