NATO defence ministers discuss ways to bolster forces and deterrence along the military alliance's eastern borders to dissuade Russia from planning further aggression in the wake of its assault on Ukraine, now in its 113th day.

A Russian serviceman patrols near the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine.
A Russian serviceman patrols near the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, amid the ongoing Russian military action in Ukraine. (AFP)

Thursday, June 16, 2022

US urges Russia 'humane treatment' of Americans captured in Ukraine

The United States has urged Russia to treat any American veteran captured while fighting alongside Ukrainian troops as prisoners of war guaranteed humane treatment.

The State Department also said that a third American was believed to be missing in Ukraine in addition to two military veterans who were reportedly seized by Russian forces in a pitched battle last week.

"The Russians have certain obligations and members of the Ukrainian armed forces -- including volunteers who may be third-country nationals incorporated into the armed forces –– should be treated as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions," State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.

Prisoners of war must be "afforded the treatment and protections commensurate with that status, including humane treatment and fundamental process and fair-trial guarantees," he said.

Leaders pledge arms and EU path for Ukraine in Kiev visit

The leaders of four European Union nations visited Ukraine, vowing to back Kiev's bid to become an official candidate to join the bloc in a high-profile show of support for the country fending off a Russian offensive.

French President Emmanuel Macron also promised Ukraine six more powerful truck-mounted artillery guns, the latest in a new round of Western arms pledges for Ukraine as the war grinds on in the eastern Donbass region. 

In the face of Kiev's fears that Western resolve to help it could wane, the visit by Macron and the leaders of Germany, Italy and Romania carried heavy symbolic weight. 

Europe court tells Russia to prevent execution in eastern Ukraine

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has told Russia to prevent the execution of a Moroccan man sentenced to death in a pro-Moscow separatist region of Ukraine for fighting on behalf of Ukrainian forces.

Brahim Saadoun, a Moroccan citizen born in 2000, was sentenced to death along with two British men by the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), following his surrender to Russian forces in the conflict in its neighbour.

Russia "should ensure that the death penalty imposed on the applicant was not carried out," the court said its emergency ruling following a petition filed this month by a representative of Saadoun.

Ukraine says Russian peace talks proposals are an attempt to deceive world

Ukrainian peace talks negotiator Mykhailo Podolyak dismissed Russia's latest comments about being ready to resume negotiations as "an attempt to deceive the world."

Russia, he said in an online post, wanted to give the impression of being ready to talk while planning to stab Ukraine in the back. 

Kiev would definitely return to the negotiations but only at the right time, he added. 

Zelenskyy hologram appeals for tech firm help

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy referenced "Star Wars" and World War II as he sought aid from big tech firms, appearing as a hologram at a conference in Paris.

He told a crowd of hundreds at the VivaTech trade show that Ukraine was offering technology firms a unique chance to rebuild the country as a fully digital democracy.

He asked for help on the terms of lend-lease – the way in which the United States helped the Allies during World War II, whereby aid was offered without payment but on the understanding that hardware would be returned. 

US has not raised issue of two missing Americans with Russia

The United States said it has not raised the two US citizens reported missing in Ukraine with Russia and there are reports of a third American whose whereabouts are unknown.

"As of today, we have not raised this yet with the Russian Federation ... (We) haven't seen anything from the Russians indicating that two such individuals are in their custody," US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters. 

Ex-Russia captain Denisov fears for life after speaking out against Russia's offensive in Ukraine

Former Russian international footballer Igor Denisov has said he fears for his life after criticising his country's offensive in Ukraine.

"I don't know, maybe for these words they will put me in prison or kill me, but I tell you the facts," the 38-year-old said in an interview broadcast on YouTube.

"For me, it was not even a shock but a horror .. a disaster," he continued of his initial reaction on hearing of the offensive. 

Europe's energy security not at immediate risk from latest Russian gas cuts, EU says

Europe's energy security is not at immediate risk as a result of Russia reducing gas supplies to more European countries, a European Commission spokesperson said.

"Based on our exchange with the national authorities this morning via the Gas Coordination Group, there is no indication of an immediate security of supply risk," the spokesperson said, adding that Brussels and countries' national authorities were monitoring the situation closely. 

Zelenskyy: The more weapons we get, the faster Ukraine can free its land

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that Russia's offensive amounted to aggression against all Europe and that the more weapons Ukraine receives from the West, the faster it will be able to liberate its occupied land. 

He told a news conference he had discussed the possibility of further sanctions against Russia and post-war reconstruction at talks in Kiev with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania. 

Ukraine was grateful for arms deliveries to help it against Russia's attacks and expected to receive heavy weaponry including modern rocket artillery and missile defence systems, he said. 

Pro-Russian separatist leader says grain, metals shipments could leave Mariupol soon

Ships loaded with grain and metals will leave the Azov Sea port of Mariupol soon, with shipments potentially headed to the Middle East, a pro-Russian separatist leader told the Interfax news agency.

Mariupol, on Ukraine's southern coast, fell under the control of Russian and separatist forces in May after a months-long siege.

Denis Pushilin, leader of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), said plans were for the port to handle around 1 million tonnes of freight by the end of the year. 

Italy wants to see Ukraine as part of EU, Draghi says in Kiev

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the main message of his talks in Kiev with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the leaders of France and Germany was that Italy wants to see Ukraine as a part of the European Union.

Speaking at a joint news conference in the Ukrainian capital, Draghi said he fully supported investigations into alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

"I want to say today that the most important message of my visit is that Italy wants Ukraine in the European Union. And it wants Ukraine to have candidate status and will support this position at the next European Council," he said.

Russian forces targeting Ukrainians, Tatars in Crimea - Council of Europe

The Council of Europe has expressed grave concern and condemned Russian occupying forces in Crimea over human rights violations against ethnic minorities, including Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars.

Based on a recent report by Secretary-General Marija Pejcinovic Buric, the council's Committee of Ministers noted in a meeting that the human rights situation in the peninsula has "deteriorated significantly." 

The ministers urged Russian authorities to immediately stop violating the human rights of local residents, release all unlawfully-held detainees, provide unhindered access of international human rights organizations to Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, revoke the ban on the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, a representative body of the ethnic Turkic group. 

Mariupol 'horrors' will leave 'indelible mark': UN rights chief

The extent of death and destruction in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol suggests serious international law violations, the UN rights chief said, warning the horrors would mark future generations.

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet painted a grim picture of one of the bloodiest chapters so far in Russia's offensive in Ukraine.

"Between February and the end of April, Mariupol was likely the deadliest place in Ukraine," she said, in an update on the situation in the strategic port city, now held by Moscow.

'Our product, our rules,' says Russia's Gazprom chief

The head of Russian energy giant Gazprom said that Moscow will play by its own rules after cutting daily gas supplies to Germany. 

"Our product, our rules. We don't play by rules we didn't create," Alexei Miller said during a panel discussion at the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Earlier this week, Gazprom slashed its natural gas deliveries via the Nord Stream pipeline, after saying Germany's Siemens had delayed the repair work of compressor units at the Portovaya compression station.

Russian rouble, stocks push higher

The Russian rouble and stocks gained, as the head of the central bank said the currency would remain free-floating and that capital controls should continue to be relaxed.

At 1435 GMT, the rouble was 0.7 percent stronger against the dollar at 56.61 and had gained 1.4 percent to trade at 58.96 versus the euro.

Top policymakers used Russia's annual economic forum in St. Petersburg to highlight the rouble's recent strength, with concerns that it could weigh on the Russian economy as it tips into recession.

Dutch say prevented Russian spy from accessing ICC

The Dutch intelligence service said it had stopped a Russian spy posing as an intern from accessing the International Criminal Court, which is investigating war crimes in Ukraine.

The man used a Brazilian cover identity but was unmasked as a member of Russia's GRU military intelligence and refused entry in April as a "threat to national security", the AIVD (General Intelligence and Security Service) said in a statement.

The Dutch named him as Sergey Vladimirovich Cherkasov, 36, saying he had claimed to be a 33-year-old Brazilian citizen named Viktor Muller Ferreira in his bid to access the Hague-based ICC. 

France's Macron meets Ukraine's Zelenskyy in Kiev for first time since fighting began

French President Emmanuel Macron has met Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev, Macron's office has said, marking the first time the two leaders had met physically since Russia attacked Ukraine in February.

Macron was visiting Kiev alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, in a show of support with the Kiev government. 

Earlier, Macron said Ukraine must win against Russia, as he visited the town of Irpin, where he said massacres had been committed. "It's a heroic city, marked by the stigmata of barbarism," Macron told reporters.

France has been alongside Ukraine since day one. We stand with the Ukrainians without ambiguity. Ukraine must resist and win.

Emmanuel Macron

Kremlin says Western arms 'useless'

The Kremlin has warned against new Western weapons supplies to Ukraine as Macron, Scholz and Draghi arrived in Kiev.

"I would like to hope that the leaders of these three states and the President of Romania will not only focus on supporting Ukraine by further pumping Ukraine with weapons," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov aaded that it would be "absolutely useless and will cause further damage to the country".

Russia-backed forces to 'reopen' humanitarian corridor at Azot plant

Russia-backed forces will reopen a humanitarian corridor for civilians to leave the Azot chemical plant in Sievierdonetsk, the Interfax news agency has reported citing a separatist leader.

Leonid Pasechnik, head of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic, said separatist forces had entered the plant — where Ukraine says hundreds of civilians are taking shelter — but had been unable to dislodge Ukrainian fighters from the factory, the TASS news agency reported.

NATO ministers discuss boosting eastern flank forces

NATO defence ministers have gathered for talks focusing on bolstering forces and deterrence along the military alliance's eastern borders to dissuade Russia from planning further aggression.

The onslaught by the Kremlin in Ukraine since February has led allies to rethink strategies and to agree that NATO forces should be present in greater numbers on that flank. They have already beefed up the deployment of troops and materials and want to guarantee a long-term presence of forces.

In response to the assault on Ukraine, NATO says it has placed over 40,000 troops under its direct command, mainly on the eastern flank. The meeting of defence ministers came ahead of a June 29-30 NATO summit in Madrid that will seek to set a determined course for the alliance in coming years.

Turkish, British, Ukrainian defence chiefs discuss Ukraine

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar met with British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksii Reznikov on Thursday.

They also discussed the safe transportation of grain to Türkiye and other parts of the world through ships and A400M aircraft. 

Up to 25 million tons of grain are currently stuck in Ukraine, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who recently stated that he is seeking a secure corridor for Ukrainian ships to carry it out to ease food shortages in some regions of the world.

Russia: Ready for peace talks, blames Kiev for stalling

Russia's chief negotiator has said Moscow is ready to restart peace talks with Ukraine, but had yet to receive a response to its latest proposals, the Interfax news agency reported.

Since intermittent talks between the two sides were held in March, including a high-profile meeting of delegations in Istanbul, negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have stalled.

Russia's lead negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, said on Thursday that Kiev was to blame for the lack of progress, Interfax reported.

France wants 'Ukraine victory' that establishes total territorial integrity

France wants a military Ukrainian victory against Russia that reestablishes the territorial integrity of the country, including Crimea that was seized by Russia in 2014, a French diplomatic source has said.

The source added it was up to the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to define what a military victory could be.

Deputy PM: Russia could stay in OPEC+ deal beyond 2022

Russia could continue cooperating within the OPEC+ oil production agreement beyond 2022, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak has said. Novak said details on the formulation of Russia's future agreement with OPEC would be clearer by the end of the year.

"We will work to ensure the energy security of the oil market," Novak said in remarks at Russia's flagship annual economic forum in St. Petersburg. He added Russia saw the current situation on the global oil market as balanced.

Meanwhile, Russia is not considering an exit from World Trade Organisation, the Interfax news agency cited a deputy Russian foreign minister as saying.

Macron, Scholz, Draghi arrive in Kiev

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi have arrived in Kiev. They are expected to discuss Ukraine's EU candidacy with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The trio had travelled on board a special train that left Poland in the early hours of Thursday to arrive in the Ukrainian capital. Asked by a journalist why he had come to Ukraine, Macron said: "For a message of European unity."

German media said they had met "in the night" in Poland's south-eastern city of Rzeszow, which has an international airport. They arrived separately and met on board shortly after the train's departure. It is their first trip to Ukraine since the Russian offensive began on February 24.

Kremlin: Russia, US at a very, very hot point of confrontation

Moscow and Washington are currently at "a very, very hot point of confrontation", the RIA news agency has said, citing Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Peskov said earlier on Thursday that Russia and the United States must discuss the extension of the START nuclear arms reduction treaty.

The matter was important for global security and Russia's military operation in Ukraine was no reason to avoid its discussion, Peskov added.

Ukraine: Some 10,000 civilians still in Sievierodonetsk

Around 10,000 civilians are trapped in Ukraine's eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, where intense fighting with Russia has raged for weeks, the local governor has said. 

Ukrainian authorities says hundreds of civilians have taken refuge in the city's Azot chemical plant and that the factory is constantly bombarded.

"Out of 100,000 residents, around 10,000 remain," Sergiy Gaiday, the governor of the Luhansk region, said on Telegram. He said Kiev's army is "holding back the enemy as much as possible."

For almost four months they have dreamt of controlling Sievierodonetsk...and they do not count the victims

Luhansk governor Sergiy Gaiday

UK: Main bridges over Ukraine's Siverskyy Donets river likely destroyed

Russia will need to conduct a contested river crossing or advance on its stalled flanks after all the main bridges over the Siverskyy Donets river, linking Sievierodonetsk and Ukrainian-held territory, have likely been destroyed, Britain's Defence Ministry has said.

Ukraine has probably managed to withdraw a large proportion of its combat troops, who were originally holding the town, the ministry said. 

"Russia's combat force in the Donbass is highly likely operating in increasingly ad hoc and severely undermanned groupings," it said in an intelligence update posted on Twitter.

Governor: Four killed in overnight rocket strike on outskirts of Ukraine's Sumy

An overnight Russian air-launched rocket strike hit a suburb of the northern Ukrainian city of Sumy, killing four and wounding six, the local governor has said, though he did not specify the target of the strike on the suburb of Sad.

Governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyi said another rocket strike hit the Dobropillia district, which lies next to the Russian border, on Thursday, followed by 26 mortar rounds fired from across the border.

Slovaks give Mi helicopters, Grad rockets to Ukraine

Slovakia has donated five Soviet-designed Mi-series military helicopters and thousands of Grad multiple-rocket launcher rockets to Ukraine, its defence minister has said.

"Glad to confirm that thousands of Slovak 122mm Grad rockets and 5 Mi series helicopters have been safely donated to Ukraine armed forces," Jaroslav Nad tweeted after a meeting of NATO and other western defence ministers in Brussels.

The shipment includes four M1-17 and one Mi-2 helicopter, he said, adding that those have already been replaced in the Slovak armed forces by US-made UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters.

Two US nationals feared captured in eastern Ukraine

Two US citizens who travelled to Ukraine as volunteer fighters against Russian forces have been missing for a week and are feared captured, their family members said.

Alexander Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Andy Huynh, 27, of Hartselle, Alabama, were last in contact with their families on June 8 and did not return from fighting around the Kharkiv region of eastern Ukraine.

The Telegraph, which first reported their disappearances, quoted an unnamed fellow fighter who said the two men were captured after running into a larger Russian force during a June 9 battle northeast of Kharkiv.

If the pair have been captured, they would be the first confirmed US nationals to have been captured in the armed conflict that began on February 24. 

Alexander Drueke (L) and Andy Huynh, both US military veterans who had been living in Alabama, lost contact with their families after combat in Ukraine [Courtesy: WAAY-TV]
Alexander Drueke (L) and Andy Huynh, both US military veterans who had been living in Alabama, lost contact with their families after combat in Ukraine [Courtesy: WAAY-TV] (WAAY-TV)

For live updates from Wednesday (June 15), click here

Source: AFP