Railway cars, stamped “Cereale” on their sides, spilled Ukrainian corn onto underground conveyor belts, sending up billowing dust clouds last week at the terminal operated by the American food giant Cargill. At a quay operated by COFCO, the largest food and agricultural processor in China, grain was being loaded onto a cargo ship from one of the enormous silos that lined its docks. At COFCO’s entry gate, trucks that displayed Ukraine’s distinctive blue-and-yellow-striped flag on their license plates waited for their cargoes of grain to be inspected before unloading.

During a visit to Kyiv last week, Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, said that since the beginning of the invasion more than a million tons of Ukrainian grain had passed through Constanta to locations around the world.

But logistical problems prevent more grain from making the journey. Ukraine’s rail gauges are wider than those elsewhere in Europe. Shipments have to be transferred at the border to Romanian trains, or each railway car has to be lifted off a Ukrainian undercarriage and wheels to one that can be used on Romanian tracks.

Truck traffic in Ukraine has been slowed by backups at border crossings — sometimes lasting days — along with gas shortages and damaged roadways. Russia has targeted export routes, according to Britain’s defense ministry.

Romania has its own transit issues. High-speed rail is rare, and the country lacks an extensive highway system. Constanta and the surrounding infrastructure, too, suffer from decades of underinvestment.

Over the past couple of months, the Romanian government has plowed money into clearing hundreds of rusted wagons from rail lines and refurbishing tracks that were abandoned when the Communist regime fell in 1989.

Still, trucks entering and exiting the port from the highway must share a single-lane roadway. An attendant mans the gate, which has to be lifted for each vehicle.

When the bulk of the Romanian harvest begins to arrive at the terminals in the next couple of weeks, the congestion will get significantly worse. Each day, 3,000 to 5,000 trucks will arrive, causing backups for miles on the highway that leads into Constanta, said Cristian Taranu, general manager at the terminals run by the Romanian port operator Umex.

Mr. Mircea’s farm is less than a 30-minute drive from Constanta. But “during the busiest periods, my trucks are waiting two, three days” just to enter the port’s complex so they can unload, he said through a translator.

That is one reason he is less sanguine than Mr. Corbea is about Romania’s ability to take advantage of farming and export opportunities.

“Port Constanta is not prepared for such an opportunity,” Mr. Mircea said. “They don’t have the infrastructure.”

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What Happened on Day 105 of the War in Ukraine

Even as Russia hammers eastern Ukraine with heavy artillery, it is cementing its grip on the south, claiming to have restored roads, rails and a critical freshwater canal that could help it claim permanent dominion over the region.

The extension of Russian infrastructure into the occupied south could allow Moscow to fortify a “land bridge” between Russia and Crimea and build on efforts to claim control through the introduction of Russian currency and the appointment of proxy officials.

Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, said on Tuesday that the military, working with Russian Railways, had repaired about 750 miles of track in southeastern Ukraine and set the conditions for traffic to flow from Russia through Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region to occupied territory in Kherson and Crimea.

Mr. Shoigu also said that water was once again flowing to Crimea through the North Crimean Canal — an important source of freshwater that Ukraine cut off in 2014 after the Kremlin annexed the peninsula. Mr. Shoigu claimed that car traffic was now open between “continental” Russia and Crimea.

Mr. Shoigu’s claims of restored roads and rails could not be immediately verified.

Satellite imagery reviewed by The New York Times showed that water was flowing through the parts of the canal in Crimea that were dry until March. Russian engineers blew open a blockage in the canal in late February, days after Russian forces invaded Ukraine. Ukrainian officials did not immediately comment on Wednesday.

The North Crimean Canal, a 250-mile-long engineering marvel built under the Soviet Union, had channeled water from Ukraine’s Dnipro River to the arid Crimean Peninsula until President Vladimir V. Putin seized it in 2014.

Credit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

After Crimea’s annexation, Ukraine dropped bags of sand and clay into the canal to prevent the Russian occupiers from benefiting from the valuable freshwater.

Instead of flowing to Crimea, the canal was used to irrigate the melon fields and peach orchards in Ukraine’s Kherson region to the north.

Ukrainian officials said that cutting off the water was one of the few levers at their disposal to inflict pain on Russia without using military force.

For the Kremlin, the blockage represented a vexing and expensive infrastructure challenge, with Crimea’s residents suffering chronic water shortages and occasional shut-offs at the tap.

When Mr. Putin massed troops on Ukraine’s border last year, some analysts speculated that the canal was one of the prizes the Kremlin wanted.

Even as Russia sought to entrench its control in the south this week, a clandestine battle has emerged inside the occupied regions, involving Kremlin loyalists, occupying Russian forces, Ukrainian partisans and the Ukrainian military.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian media posted video of what they said was an explosion at a cafe in the occupied city of Kherson that had served as a gathering place for people collaborating with Russian forces. Russian state media described it as an act of “terror.”

It was the latest in a series of attacks targeting Russian supporters and proxies. It came amid reports — most impossible to independently verify — of Ukrainian guerrillas blowing up bridges, targeting rail lines used by Russian forces and killing Russian soldiers on patrol.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said that there was a focused guerrilla movement operating in the south. “Partisans are fighting very actively,” he said on his YouTube channel.

In the east, where both armies are fighting for control, Ukrainian officials were weighing whether to withdraw their forces in the city of Sievierodonetsk, the last major pocket of Ukrainian resistance in the Luhansk region.

Sievierodonetsk has been blasted by weeks of Russian shelling, and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine referred to the city and its neighbor, Lysychansk, on Monday as “dead cities,” physically destroyed and nearly empty of civilians.

“Fighting is still raging and no one is going to give up the city, even if our military has to step back to stronger positions,” Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian military governor of the Luhansk region, said on Ukrainian television, according to Reuters.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Moscow’s announcement that it was extending its ties to the occupied south seemed certain to be greeted in Ukraine as further evidence of Russia’s determination to break Ukraine apart and pillage its natural resources.

“Russia is trying to build infrastructure for military supply,” said Mykhailo Samus, deputy director for international affairs at the Center for Army Studies, Conversion and Disarmament, a research group in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

“Maybe they try to steal the agriculture, food products from occupied territories,” he added.

The Russian authorities said that the first train had traveled from the occupied city of Melitopol to Crimea carrying grain — freight that Ukrainian officials say was stolen from Ukrainian farmers forced to hand over their crops for a pittance or nothing at all.

Russia has blockaded Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since the start of the war, trapping more than 20 million tons of grain meant for export and deepening a global food crisis. Dimming the long-term outlook, grain silos in Ukraine are still about half full, the Ukraine Grain Association said on Wednesday, raising the possibility that much of this year’s crop could be left in the fields.

On Wednesday, the Russian and Turkish foreign ministers held talks focused on allowing Ukraine’s grain to reach global markets through the Black Sea.

Credit…Nicole Tung for The New York Times

But the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, minimized the issue, suggesting that a global food catastrophe caused by a Russian blockade was a Western exaggeration.

“The current situation has nothing to do with the food crisis,” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference in Ankara, the Turkish capital. “The Russian Federation is not creating any obstacles for the passage of ships and vessels.”

He blamed Ukraine, saying that its naval mines and refusal to use humanitarian corridors offered by Russia in Black Sea shipping lanes were stalling exports.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, disagreed, saying that there was a global problem, but that it involved both Russian and Ukrainian products.

“The food crisis in the world is a real crisis,” Mr. Cavusoglu said, noting that Russia and Ukraine together supply about one-third of the world’s grain products.

Mr. Cavusoglu said that a mechanism was needed to get not just agricultural products from Ukraine out through the Black Sea, but also Russian fertilizer, which is vital for global agriculture.

He suggested that the answer lay in a United Nations proposal that the international community provide guarantees for the shipments that addressed security concerns on both sides.

Ukraine was not invited to the talks in Ankara, and its government and Russia’s each blame the other for the lack of exports.

The two countries normally supply about 40 percent of wheat needs in Africa, according to the United Nations.

Ukrainian officials are deeply skeptical of a promise by Mr. Putin, which Mr. Lavrov repeated, that if harbors were demined, Russia would not exploit them to dispatch an invasion fleet. Russian warships have also been patrolling Black Sea shipping lanes.

Oleksii Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said on Twitter on Wednesday, “Our position on the supply of grain is clear: security first.” He accused Russia of “artificially creating obstacles to seize the market and blackmail Europe over food shortages.”

The United States has cited satellite imagery of cargo ships to accuse Russia of looting Ukrainian wheat stocks that it exported, mostly to Africa, echoing Ukrainian government allegations that Russia has stolen up to 500,000 tons of wheat, worth $100 million, since it invaded Ukraine in February.

Wheat is not the only Ukrainian resource prompting alarm. As Ukraine braces for what promises to be a difficult winter, Mr. Zelensky said that the country would not sell its gas or coal abroad. “All domestic production will be directed to the internal needs of our citizens,” he said.

Reporting was contributed by Valerie Hopkins, Ivan Nechepurenko, Malachy Browne, Neil MacFarquhar, Safak Timur and Anushka Patil.

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White House Struggles to Talk About Inflation, the ‘Problem From Hell’

WASHINGTON — President Biden was at a private meeting discussing student debt forgiveness this year when, as happens uncomfortably often these days, the conversation came back to inflation.

“He said with everything he does, Republicans are going to attack him and use the word ‘inflation,’” said Representative Tony Cárdenas, Democrat of California, referring to Mr. Biden’s meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in April. Mr. Cárdenas said Mr. Biden was aware he would be attacked over rising prices “no matter what issue we’re talking about.”

The comment underscored how today’s rapid price increases, the fastest since the 1980s, pose a glaring political liability that looms over every major policy decision the White House makes — leaving Mr. Biden and his colleagues on the defensive as officials discover that there is no good way to talk to voters about inflation.

The administration has at times splintered internally over how to discuss price increases and has revised its inflation-related message several times as talking points fail to resonate and new data comes in. Some Democrats in Congress have urged the White House to strike a different — and more proactive — tone ahead of the November midterm elections.

increased by 8.3 percent in the year through April, and data this week is expected to show inflation at 8.2 percent in May. Inflation averaged 1.6 percent annual gains in the five years leading up to the pandemic, making today’s pace of increase painfully high by comparison. A gallon of gas, one of the most tangible household costs, hit an average of $4.92 this week. Consumer confidence has plummeted as families pay more for everyday purchases and as the Fed raises interest rates to cool the economy, which increases the risk of a recession.

a series of confidential memos sent to Mr. Biden last year by one of his lead pollsters, John Anzalone. Inflation has only continued to fuel frustration among voters, according to a separate memo compiled by Mr. Anzalone’s team last month, which showed the president’s low approval rating on the economy rivaling only his approach to immigration.

wrote in a tweet that went viral this weekend.

The White House knows it is in a tricky position, and the administration’s approach to explaining inflation has evolved over time. Officials spent the early stages of the current price burst largely describing price pressures as temporary.

When it became clear that rising costs were lasting, administration officials began to diverge internally on how to frame that phenomenon. While it was clear that much of the upward pressure on prices came from supply chain shortages exacerbated by continued waves of the coronavirus, some of it also tied back to strong consumer demand. That big spending had been enabled, in part, by the government’s stimulus packages, including direct checks to households, expanded unemployment insurance and other benefits.

Some economists in the White House have begun to emphasize that inflation was a trade-off: To the extent that Mr. Biden’s stimulus spending spurred more inflation, it also aided economic growth and a faster recovery.

have claimed credit for strong economic growth.

“Some have a curious obsession with exaggerating impact of the Rescue Plan while ignoring the degree high inflation is global,” Gene Sperling, a senior White House adviser overseeing the implementation of the stimulus package, wrote on Twitter last week, adding that the law “has had very marginal impact on inflation.”

Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, acknowledged in an interview last week that there were some disagreements among White House economic officials when it came to how to talk about and respond to inflation, but he portrayed that as a positive — and as something that is not leading to any kind of dysfunction.

“If there wasn’t healthy disagreement, debate and people feeling comfortable bringing issues and ideas to the table, then I think we would be not serving the president and the public interest well,” he said.

He also pushed back on the idea that the administration was deeply divided on the March 2021 package’s aftereffects, saying in a separate emailed comment that “there is agreement across the administration that many factors contributed to inflation, and that inflation has been driven by elevated demand and constrained supply across the globe.”

How to portray the Biden administration’s stimulus spending is far from the only challenge the White House faces. As price increases last, Democrats have grappled with how to discuss their plans to combat them.

deficit reduction as a way to lower inflation and arguing that Republicans have a bad plan to deal with rising costs. Mr. Biden regularly acknowledges the pain that higher prices are causing and has emphasized that the problem of taming inflation rests largely with the Fed, an independent entity whose work he has promised not to interfere with.

The administration has also highlighted that inflation is widespread globally, and that the United States is better off than many other nations.

The renewed messaging comes as Mr. Biden and his top aides have grown increasingly concerned about the public’s negative views of the economy, according to an administration official. Economists within the administration are more sidelined when it comes to setting the tone on issues like inflation than in previous White Houses, another person familiar with the discussions said.

So far, the talking points have done little to change public perception or to mollify concerns on Capitol Hill, where some Democrats are pushing for the White House to find a more compelling story.

“There has to be more of a laser focus on the economy, a bolder message, a clearer story,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who wrote a New York Times opinion piece last week saying that Democrats need a more ambitious plan for fighting inflation. He added that “rhetoric about ‘Well, we’re doing really well’ does not capture the profound sense of anxiety that Americans feel.”

Part of the difficulty is that there is only so much politicians can do to fight price increases.

suspended a ban on summertime sales of higher-ethanol gasoline blends to try to temper price increases at the pump, spurring frustration among climate activists still angry over the collapse of the president’s climate and social-spending package.

Talks over whether to roll back Trump-era tariffs on Chinese goods have also gotten caught in the inflation maw. Ms. Yellen has said she supports relaxing tariffs to help ease prices, but other Democrats are wary that removing them would make Mr. Biden look weak on China.

Inflation is also influencing conversations about whether to forgive student loan debt, one of Mr. Biden’s key campaign promises. Economists in the administration think that loan forgiveness would, at most, push inflation up a little bit by giving people with outstanding student debt more financial wiggle room. But some economists in the administration’s orbit have expressed concern about the possibility of doing something that could stimulate demand — even slightly — at a moment when it is already hot.

To help mute the inflationary effect, forgiveness would most likely be accompanied by a resumption of interest payments on all student loans that have been paused since the pandemic.

For now, the administration is considering forgiving at least $10,000 for borrowers in a certain income range, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Cárdenas said that Mr. Biden knew he would be attacked over inflation but that he did not think the issue would prevent the president from canceling at least $10,000 worth of debt.

“Will it affect him going beyond that? It may,” he said.

Jonathan Martin contributed reporting.

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Fierce street fighting in Ukraine’s Sievierodonetsk, a pivotal battle for Donbas

  • Fierce street fighting for key eastern industrial city
  • Ukraine troops outnumbered, will not surrender-Zelenskiy
  • Eastern front under constant shelling
  • Efforts to evacuate thousands

KYIV/DRUZHKIVKA, Ukraine, June 7 (Reuters) – Ukrainian troops battled Russians street-to-street in the ruins of Sievierodonetsk on Tuesday, trying to hold onto gains from a surprise counter-offensive that had reversed momentum in one of the bloodiest land battles of the war.

The fight for the small industrial city has emerged as a pivotal battle in eastern Ukraine, with Russia focusing its offensive might there in the hope of achieving one of its stated war aims – to fully capture surrounding Luhansk province on behalf of separatist proxies.

After withdrawing from nearly all the city in the face of the Russian advance, Ukrainian forces staged a surprise counter-attack last week, driving the Russians from a swath of the city centre. Since then, the two armies have faced off across boulevards, both claiming to have inflicted huge casualties.

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“Our heroes are not giving up positions in Sievierodonetsk,” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in an overnight video address, describing fierce street fighting in the city. Earlier, he told reporters at a briefing the Ukrainians were outnumbered but still had “every chance” of fighting back.

Before Ukraine’s counter-offensive, Russia had seemed on the verge of encircling Ukraine’s garrison in Luhansk province, cutting off the main road to Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets river.

But following the counter-offensive, Zelenskiy made a surprise visit to Lysychansk on Sunday, personally demonstrating that Kyiv still had an open route to its troops’ redoubt.

Ukraine’s defence ministry said Russia was throwing troops and equipment into its drive to capture Sievierodonetsk. Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Monday the situation had worsened since the Ukrainian defenders had pushed back the Russians over the weekend.

REFOCUS

Luhansk and neighbouring Donetsk province, together known as the Donbas, have become Russia’s main focus since its forces were defeated at the outskirts of Kyiv in March and pushed back from the second biggest city Kharkiv last month.

Russia has been pressing from three main directions – east, north and south – to try to encircle the Ukrainians in the Donbas. Russia has made progress, but only slowly, failing to deal a decisive blow or to encircle the Ukrainians.

In its nightly update, the Ukrainian military said two civilians were killed in Russian shelling in the Donbas and Russian forces had fired at more than 20 communities, using artillery and air strikes.

In Druzhkivka, in the Ukrainian-held pocket of Donetsk province, residents were picking through the wreckage of houses obliterated by the latest shelling.

“Please help, we need materials for the roof, for the house, there are people without shelter,” shouted Nelya, outside her home where the roof had been shredded. “My niece, she has two small children, she had to cover one of her children with her own body.”

Nearby, Nadezhda picked up a children’s pink photo album and kindergarten exercise book from the ruins of her house, and put them on a shelf somehow still standing in the rubble.

“I do not even know where to start. I am standing here looking but I have no idea what to do. I start crying, I calm down, then I cry again.”

Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, in what it calls a “special military operation” to stamp out what it sees as threats to its security. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war to grab territory.

CONSTANT SHELLING

Britain’s defence ministry said on Tuesday that Russia was still trying to cut off Sievierodonetsk by advancing from the north near Izium and from the south near Popasna. It said Russia’s progress from Popasna had stalled over the last week, while reports of heavy shelling near Izium suggested Moscow was preparing a new offensive there.

“Russia will almost certainly need to achieve a breakthrough on at least one of these axes to translate tactical gains to operational level success and progress towards its political objective of controlling all of Donetsk Oblast,” it said.

The Donetsk regional governor, Pavlo Kyrylenko, told Ukrainian television there was constant shelling along the front line, with Russia attempting to push towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, the two biggest Ukrainian-held cities in Donetsk.

Kyrylenko said efforts were underway to evacuate people from several towns, some under attack day and night, including Sloviansk where about 24,000 residents, around a quarter of the population, still remains.

“People are now understanding, though it is late, that it is time to leave,” he said.

Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest exporters of grain, and Western countries accuse Russia of creating risk of global famine by shutting Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

Zelenskiy said Kyiv was gradually receiving “specific anti-ship systems”, and that these would be the best way to break a Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports.

Moscow denies blame for the food crisis, which it says was caused by Western sanctions.

Russia’s U.N. envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, stormed out of a U.N. Security Council meeting on Monday as European Council President Charles Michel, addressing the 15-member body, accused Moscow of fueling the global food crisis with its invasion of Ukraine. read more

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would respond to Western deliveries of long-range weapons by pushing Ukrainian forces further back from Russia’s border.

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Reporting by Reuters; Writing by Peter Graff
Editing by Gareth Jones
Editing by Gareth Jones

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Struggling in Ukraine’s East, Russian Forces Strike in Kyiv

KYIV, Ukraine — Russian forces pressed hard on Sunday to take the town of Sievierodonetsk, one of the last obstacles to seizing the region of Luhansk. But as so often in this grinding war of attrition, the Russian Army is finding the going difficult, with Ukrainian forces making counterattacks and seizing back some of the town.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who said he visited frontline troops near Sievierodonetsk on Sunday, said that fighting was being waged street by street and that the situation was “extremely difficult.” The city is largely in ruins, and thousands of civilians are still sheltering in basements there.

Capturing Sievierodonetsk would deliver the Luhansk region to Russian forces and their local separatist allies, who also control much of neighboring Donetsk. But their inability to take ground quickly and their persistent vulnerability to determined Ukrainian fighters again show that the Russian war plan has not gone according to Moscow’s expectations.

Even as it struggled in the east, Moscow offered a reminder Sunday that it retains the power to lash out in much of Ukraine, hitting Kyiv, the capital, for the first time in more than a month. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, angered by the impending arrival in Ukraine of long-range missiles from the West, warned that Moscow may hit hitherto unscathed targets.

he threatened “to strike targets we haven’t hit before” if Western countries supply Ukraine with longer-range missiles, but he provided no specifics.

Speaking to the state-run Rossiya TV network, Mr. Putin was asked about the U.S. announcement that it would supply Ukraine with a more sophisticated rocket system that could strike targets some 40 miles away. Even as he warned about new Russian targets, he sought to play down the rocket deliveries, suggesting that Western nations were just replenishing stocks of similar weapons that Ukraine had depleted.

Russia has been irritated by the U.S. decision to supply Ukraine with HIMARS truck-mounted multiple-launch rocket systems, with missiles that have a range of up to 40 miles, greater than anything Ukraine currently possesses. Since the invasion, the Pentagon has provided Ukraine with 108 M777 howitzers. But the range of the HIMARS missiles is more than twice that of the 155-mm shells fired by howitzers.

five missiles hit near the Darnytsia railway station and Pozniaky, a residential neighborhood, wounding one person.

Russia’s Defense Ministry claimed that the missiles had struck a railway repair workshop and destroyed an unspecified number of Soviet-era T-72 tanks delivered by Eastern European nations. Poland and the Czech Republic have sent hundreds of such tanks to Ukraine. Ukrainian officials denied that any tanks had been destroyed.

several powerful explosions early Sunday in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, rattling windows miles away. Kramatorsk, which serves as the provincial capital for Ukrainian-controlled areas of the Donetsk region, has been repeatedly struck by missiles but has escaped the sweeping destruction in other towns. There were no reports of injuries in Sunday’s attack, which hit industrial areas.

in a Twitter message that talk of humiliation was not the point. The real question, he said, is: “How to defeat Russia while offering it a way out? To avoid an everlasting war, the temptation of escalation and the total devastation of Ukraine.”

Tone matters, Mr. Araud wrote in English.

“The word ‘humiliate’ is giving to the debate an emotional and moral tone which is a dead end,” he said. “In foreign policy, at the end of a war, there are a winner and a loser or, which is much likelier in this case, there is a stalemate. A stalemate means an ever-going war or a compromise.”

Helene von Bismarck, a German historian, said that what was most annoying about Mr. Macron’s talk of humiliation “is not just that it sounds callous, after Bucha, but that it is yet another example of discussing the long-term relationship with Russia as if it wasn’t influenced by the short-term development of the war.”

But the strain of the long war was evident even in Estonia, whose prime minister, Kaja Kallas, has been one of the most outspoken voices urging a Russian defeat and Mr. Putin’s isolation.

Ms. Kallas dissolved her coalition government on Saturday, firing seven Centre party ministers from the 15-strong cabinet, including the foreign minister, Eva-Maria Liimets. The dismissal of the Centre ministers followed weeks of political deadlock, including a vote on an education bill in which Centre voted against the government and with a far-right opposition party.

Ms. Kallas, who is seeking to create a new coalition to avoid early elections, cited the need for unity during this war to explain her actions. She said she hoped that the war “would have opened the eyes of all the parliamentary parties to the importance of a common understanding of the threats for us as a country neighboring Russia.”

Valerie Hopkins reported from Kyiv, and Steven Erlanger from Brussels. Reporting was contributed from Andrew E. Kramer from Kramatorsk, Ukraine; Neil MacFarquhar from Istanbul; and Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia.

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Ukraine says Russian advances could force retreat in part of east

  • Russian forces advance in east, shifting momentum
  • EU eyes deal on banning oil shipments from Russia
  • Putin says food crisis can be solved by lifting sanctions

KYIV, May 28 (Reuters) – Ukrainian forces may have to retreat from their last pocket in the Luhansk region to avoid being captured, a Ukrainian official said, as Russian troops press an advance in the east that has shifted the momentum of the three-month-old war.

A withdrawal could bring Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of capturing eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions in full. His troops have gained ground in the two areas collectively known as the Donbas while blasting some towns to wastelands.

Luhansk’s governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said Russian troops had entered Sievierodonetsk, the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine, after trying to trap Ukrainian forces there for days, though adding that Russian forces would not be able to capture the Luhansk region “as analysts have predicted”.

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“We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves. However, it is possible that in order not to be surrounded we will have to retreat,” Gaidai said on Telegram.

Gaidai said 90% of buildings in Sievierodonetsk were damaged with 14 high-rises destroyed in the latest shelling.

Speaking to Ukrainian television, Gaidai said there were some 10,000 Russian troops based in the region and they were “attempting to make gains in any direction they can”. read more

He said several dozen medical staff were staying on in Sievierodonetsk but that they faced difficulty just getting to hospitals because of the shelling.

Reuters could not independently verify the information.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was protecting its land “as much as our current defence resources allow”. Ukraine’s military said it had repelled eight attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk on Friday, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles.

“If the occupiers think that Lyman and Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainian,” Zelenskiy said in an address.

‘PERFORMED POORLY’

The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said on Saturday Ukrainian forces had repelled eight assaults in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the previous 24 hours. Russia’s attacks included artillery assaults in the Sievierodonetsk area “with no success”, it said.

Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said while Russian forces had begun direct assaults on built-up areas of Sievierodonetsk, they would likely struggle to take ground in the city itself.

“Russian forces have performed poorly in operations in built-up urban terrain throughout the war,” they said.

Russian troops advanced after piercing Ukrainian lines last week in the city of Popasna, south of Sievierodonetsk. Russian ground forces have captured several villages northwest of Popasna, Britain’s defence ministry said.

Reached by Reuters journalists in Russian-held territory on Thursday, Popasna was in ruins. The bloated body of a dead man in combat uniform could be seen lying in a courtyard.

Resident Natalia Kovalenko had left the cellar where she was sheltering in the wreckage of her flat, its windows and balcony blasted away. She said a shell hit the courtyard, killing two people and wounding eight.

“We are tired of being so scared,” she said.

Russia’s eastern gains follow the withdrawal of its forces from approaches to the capital, Kyiv, and a Ukrainian counter-offensive that pushed its forces back from Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv.

Russian forces shelled parts of Kharkiv on Thursday for the first time in days killing nine people, authorities said. The Kremlin denies targeting civilians in what it calls its “special military operation”.

Ukraine’s General Staff said on Saturday while there was no new attack on the city, there were multiple Russian strikes on nearby communities and infrastructure.

In the south, where Moscow has seized a swath of territory since the Feb. 24 invasion, including the port of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials say Russia aims to impose permanent rule.

STRUGGLING TO LEAVE

In the Kherson region in the south, Russian forces were fortifying defences and shelling Ukraine-controlled areas, the region’s Ukrainian governor told media. Another official said Russian forces had shelled the town of Zelenodolsk.

On the diplomatic front, European Union officials said a deal might be reached by Sunday to ban deliveries of Russian oil by sea, accounting for about 75% of the bloc’s supply, but not by pipeline, a compromise to win over Hungary and clear the way for new sanctions. read more

Zelenskiy has accused the EU of dithering over a ban on Russian energy, saying the bloc was funding Russia’s war and delay “merely means more Ukrainians being killed”.

In a telephone call with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, Putin stuck to his line that a global food crisis caused by the conflict can be resolved only if the West lifts sanctions.

Nehammer said Putin expressed readiness to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine but added: “If he is really ready to negotiate is a complex question.”

Both Russia and Ukraine are major grain exporters, and Russia’s blockade of ports has halted shipments, driving up global prices. Russia accuses Ukraine of mining the ports.

Russia justified its assault in part on ensuring Ukraine does not join the U.S.-led NATO military alliance. But the war has pushed Sweden and Finland, both neutral throughout the Cold War, to apply to join NATO in one of the most significant changes in European security in decades.

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Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Conor Humphries, Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Vitaliy Hnidyi in Kharkiv and Reuters journalists in Popasna; Writing by Rami Ayyub and Robert Birsel; Editing by Grant McCool and William Mallard

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Putin says he is ready to deliver gas, discuss prisoner swap – Austria

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council via a video link in Moscow, Russia May 27, 2022. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin via REUTERS

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ZURICH, May 27 (Reuters) – Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said Russian President Vladimir Putin told him on Friday that Moscow would meet its natural gas delivery commitments to Austria and was ready to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine.

Nehammer made the comments to reporters after the two leaders held a 45-minute telephone call that Nehammer described as a chance to confront Putin with the realities of the war in Ukraine and discuss prospects for humanitarian solutions.

Asked what Putin had told him about gas deliveries, the Austrian conservative said: “He also raised the subject (and said) that all deliveries would be completed in full.”

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In a separate statement, the Kremlin said Russia had reaffirmed its commitment to supply natural gas to Austria, which gets 80% of its gas from Russia.

Nehammer, who visited Russia last month for talks with Putin, said the Russian leader had expressed readiness to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine.

“Whether he is really ready to negotiate is a complex question,” he added.

Russia describes the three-month-old incursion as a special military operation to disarm its neighbour and remove dangerous nationalists from power. The Kyiv and its allies in the West say the charge is bogus and says the invasion of Ukraine is an unprovoked attack.

Nehammer said Putin had repeatedly defended Moscow’s actions and blamed Western sanctions for economic disruptions that ensued. He said he thought Putin was creating facts on the group to take into negotiations.

Putin was “entirely aware” of the issue of food security, Nehammer said of the conversation, adding Putin “gave signals” that he was ready to allow exports over seaports but had linked progress to the lifting of Western sanctions.

The Kremlin statement said Putin had discussed work to ensure the safety of navigation in the Azov and Black Seas, saying Ukraine should clear ports of mines to allow the free passage of blocked ships.

The United States and others accuse Russia of blockading Ukraine’s ports. read more

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Reporting by Michael Shields, editing by Thomas Escritt and Jon Boyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Ukraine says troops may retreat from eastern region as Russia advances

  • Ukrainian governor says Russian troops enter Luhansk city
  • Moscow-backed separatists take control of Lyman
  • EU edging towards partial ban on Russian oil
  • Putin again ties grain exports to lifting sanctions

KYIV/POPASNA, Ukraine, May 27 (Reuters) – Ukraine said on Friday its forces may need to retreat from their last pocket of resistance in Luhansk to avoid being captured by Russian troops pressing an advance in the east that has shifted the momentum of the three-month-old war.

A withdrawal could bring Russian President Vladimir Putin closer to his goal of capturing Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions in full. His troops have gained ground in the two areas collectively known as the Donbas while blasting some towns to wastelands.

Luhansk’s governor, Serhiy Gaidai, said Russian troops had entered Sievierodonetsk, the largest Donbas city still held by Ukraine, after trying to trap Ukrainian forces there for days. Gaidai said 90% of buildings in the town were damaged.

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“The Russians will not be able to capture Luhansk region in the coming days as analysts have predicted,” Gaidai said on Telegram, referring to Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets River. read more

“We will have enough strength and resources to defend ourselves. However it is possible that in order not to be surrounded we will have to retreat.”

Moscow’s separatist proxies said they now controlled Lyman, a railway hub west of Sievierodonetsk. Ukraine said Russia had captured most of Lyman but that its forces were blocking an advance to Sloviansk, a city a half-hour drive further southwest.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine was protecting its land “as much as our current defence resources allow”. Ukraine’s military said it had repelled eight attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk on Friday, destroying tanks and armoured vehicles.

“If the occupiers think that Lyman and Sievierodonetsk will be theirs, they are wrong. Donbas will be Ukrainian,” Zelenskiy said in an evening address.

‘AT GREAT COST’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Bloomberg UK that Putin “at great cost to himself and to the Russian military, is continuing to chew through ground in Donbas”.

Russian troops advanced after piercing Ukrainian lines last week in the city of Popasna, south of Sievierodonetsk. Russian ground forces have now captured several villages northwest of Popasna, Britain’s Defence Ministry said.

Reached by Reuters journalists in Russian-held territory on Thursday, Popasna was in ruins. The bloated body of a dead man in combat uniform could be seen lying in a courtyard.

Natalia Kovalenko had left the cellar where she sheltered to live in the wreckage of her flat, its windows and balcony blasted away. She said a shell hit the courtyard outside, killing two people and wounding eight.

“I just have to fix the window somehow. The wind is still bad,” she said. “We are tired of being so scared.”

Russia’s eastern gains follow a Ukrainian counter-offensive that pushed Moscow’s forces back from Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv in May. But Ukrainian forces have been unable to attack Russian supply lines to the Donbas.

Russian forces shelled parts of Kharkiv on Thursday for the first time in days. Local authorities said nine people were killed. The Kremlin denies targeting civilians.

In the south, where Moscow has seized a swathe of territory since the Feb. 24 invasion, including the strategic port of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials believe Russia aims to impose permanent rule.

Ukraine’s military said Russia was shipping in military equipment from Russian-annexed Crimea to build defences against any counter-attack and was mining the banks of a reservoir behind a dam on the Dnipro River that separates the forces.

STRUGGLING TO LEAVE

In the Kherson region, north of Crimea, Russian forces were fortifying defences and shelling Ukraine-controlled areas on a daily basis, the region’s Ukrainian governor Hennadiy Laguta told a media briefing.

He said the humanitarian situation was critical in some areas and people were finding it almost impossible to leave occupied territory, with the exception of a 200-car convoy that left on Wednesday.

On the diplomatic front, European Union officials said a deal might be reached by Sunday to ban deliveries of Russian oil by sea, accounting for about 75% of the bloc’s supply, but not by pipeline, a compromise to win over Hungary and unblock new sanctions. read more

Zelenskiy has criticised the EU for dithering over a ban on Russian energy, saying the bloc was funding Moscow’s war effort and that delay “merely means more Ukrainians being killed.”

In a telephone call with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, Putin stuck to his line that a global food crisis caused by the conflict can be resolved only if the West lifts sanctions.

Nehammer, who visited Russia in April, said Putin expressed readiness to discuss a prisoner swap with Ukraine but he said: “If he is really ready to negotiate is a complex question.”

Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports has halted shipments of grain, driving up global prices, with both countries major grain exporters. Russia accuses Ukraine of mining the ports and Ukraine has described the Russian position as “blackmail”.

Russia, which calls its invasion a “special military operation”, launched its assault in part to ensure Ukraine does not join the U.S.-led NATO military alliance.

But the war has pushed Sweden and Finland, who were both neutral throughout the Cold War, to apply to join NATO in one of the most significant changes in European security in decades.

The Nordic states’ bids have been tripped up over opposition by NATO member Turkey, which contends they harbour people linked to a militant group it deems a terrorist organisation. Swedish and Finnish diplomats met in Turkey on Wednesday to try to bridge their differences.

“It is not an easy process,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters on Friday, adding that Sweden and Finland must take “difficult” steps to win Ankara’s support.

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Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Conor Humphries and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv, Vitaliy Hnidyi in Kharkiv and Reuters journalists in Popasna; Writing by Peter Graff, Catherine Evans and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Edmund Blair and Grant McCool

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Iran seizes two Greek tankers amid row over U.S oil grab

DUBAI/ATHENS, May 27 (Reuters) – Iranian forces seized two Greek tankers in the Gulf on Friday, shortly after Tehran warned it would take “punitive action” against Athens over the confiscation of Iranian oil by the United States from a tanker held off the Greek coast.

“The Revolutionary Guards Navy today seized two Greek tankers for violations in Gulf waters,” said a Guards statement, quoted by Iranian state news agency IRNA. It gave no further details and did not say what the alleged violations were.

Greece’s foreign ministry said an Iranian navy helicopter landed on Greek flagged vessel Delta Poseidon, which was sailing in international waters, 22 nautical miles from the Iranian shore, and took the crew hostage, among them two Greek citizens.

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It said a similar incident took place on another Greek-flagged vessel near Iran, without naming the ship, adding both actions violated international law and Greece had informed its allies, as well as complained to Iran’s ambassador in Athens.

Greece-based Delta Tankers, which operates the Delta Poseidon, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Greek authorities last month impounded the Iranian-flagged Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, near the coast of the southern island of Evia due to European Union sanctions.

The United States later confiscated the Iranian oil cargo held onboard and plans to send it to the United States on another vessel, Reuters reported on Thursday.

The Pegas was later released, but the seizure inflamed tensions at a delicate time, with Iran and world powers seeking to revive a nuclear deal that Washington abandoned under former President Donald Trump.

Earlier on Friday, Nour News, which is affiliated to an Iranian state security body, said on Twitter: “Following the seizure of an Iranian tanker by the Greek government and the transfer of its oil to the Americans, #Iran has decided to take punitive action against #Greece.”

It did not say what kind of action Iran would take.

The Pegas was among five vessels designated by Washington on Feb. 22 – two days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – for sanctions against Promsvyazbank, a bank viewed as critical to Russia’s defence sector.

It was unclear whether the cargo was impounded because it was Iranian oil or due to the sanctions on the tanker over its Russian links. Iran and Russia face separate U.S. sanctions.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency later quoted an unnamed source as saying: “There are 17 other Greek vessels in the Persian Gulf, which could be seized by the Revolutionary Guards if Greece continues its mischievousness.”

“Informed sources also stress that Greece should take compensatory measures towards the Iranian oil tanker as soon as possible,” said Tasnim.

NUCLEAR TALKS

A maritime security source said the other tanker seized on Friday was the Greek-flagged Prudent Warrior. Its operator, Greece-based shipping firm Polembros, told Reuters there had been “an incident” with one of its ships, without elaborating, adding it was “making every effort to resolve the issue.”

U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), which monitors Iran-related tanker traffic through ship and satellite tracking, said Prudent Warrior was carrying a cargo of Qatari and Iraqi oil, while the Delta Poseidon was loaded with Iraqi oil.

Each vessel was carrying approximately one million barrels, it said.

“This should have direct implications on the JCPOA (Iran nuclear) negotiations and further stalling any chances of reviving a deal,” Claire Jungman, chief of staff at UANI, told Reuters.

A spokesperson with the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said it was aware of the reported seizures and was looking into them.

Also on Friday, Iran summoned an envoy of Switzerland, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran, to protest against the Pegas oil seizure, the Iranian foreign ministry said.

“The Islamic Republic expressed its deep concern over the U.S. government’s continued violation of international laws and international maritime conventions,” state media quoted the foreign ministry as saying.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment on the oil seizure.

IRNA quoted Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization as saying the tanker had sought refuge along the Greek coast after experiencing technical problems and poor weather. It called the seizure of its cargo “a clear example of piracy”.

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on what it described as a Russian-backed oil smuggling and money laundering network for the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.

In 2019, Iran seized a British tanker near the Strait of Hormuz for alleged marine violations two weeks after British forces detained an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar, accusing it of shipping oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Both vessels were later released.

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Reporting by George Georgiopoulos in Athens, Jonathan Saul in London and Dubai newsroom
Editing by Angus MacSwan and Alistair Bell

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