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Russia claimed the move was a "goodwill gesture" to allow the export of Ukrainian agricultural products. Meanwhile, fighting intensified in Lysychansk, in the Donbas region. DW has the latest.
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Dr. Aglaya Snetkov, an expert on Russian foreign policy and lecturer at University College London, told DW it's now accepted by all sides that the war in Ukraine is likely to continue for months and that there is no end in sight.
"I think in practice we have now a war of attrition and on the ground we simply don't know how long it's going to take," she said.
Snetkov also said that the NATO summit in Madrid was crucial in focusing NATO's interests and focusing NATO's attention on what's going in Ukraine. She specifically cited NATO formally designating Russia as "the number one threat to NATO."
However, according to Snetkov, this declaration also runs the risk of playing into Putin's hand domestically.
"Because now he can turn to the Russian public and say: 'Look, we always told you that NATO was imperialistic, that the war was against Russia. No one believed us. But now they've actually, you know, written it into their agreements,'" Snetkov said.
In his nightly address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Ukrainian military for liberating Snake Island.
He said that this island is "a strategic point, and it significantly changes the situation in the Black Sea."
"It does not guarantee safety yet, it does not yet guarantee that the enemy will not return. But it already limits the actions of the occupiers significantly. Step by step, we will drive them out of our sea, our land, and our sky," Zelenskyy said.
The Ukrainian president also said that Ukraine on Thursday started exporting electricity to Romania.
Ukraine and Moldova joined the European electricity grid earlier this year, in March, having left the formerly Soviet grid soon after Russia's invasion in February, making such exports technically feasible.
"At the expense of Ukrainian electricity, a significant part of the Russian gas consumed by Europeans can be replaced. That is, it is not just a question of export revenue for us, it is a question of security for the whole of Europe," Zelenskyy said.
According to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, the starting quantity is up to 100 megawatts per day — enough to power several thousand households but only a small fraction of Romania's energy consumption.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke on the phone with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine. Steinmeier congratulated the Ukrainian leader on his country's EU candidate status and expressed respect for Zelensky's "heroic fight against the Russian aggressor."
Zelensky said they also talked about "increasing defense support for Ukraine."
The two had already spoken over the phone in May, after Ukraine rejected a visit by Steinmeier at short notice in April, as he was criticized due to his previous ties with Russia when he served as foreign minister and earlier as head of the chancellery under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
The regional governor of Luhansk, Sergiy Gaiday, said the city of Lysychansk, which is under Russian attack, has been hit by relentless shelling, in what he described as an "extremely difficult" situation.
Lysychansk is the last major city that Russian forces need to take over in the eastern region, which is one of two provinces in the large Donbas area that Moscow seeks to control.
"We can simply say that the Russians are very numerous and are arriving from all sides. There's an incredible number of vehicles and artillery," Gaiday said in a video posted on Telegram
He added that the shelling made it "no longer possible" to evacuate some 15,000 civilians still trapped in the city.
The US Treasury Department anounced it has blocked a $1 billion (€954 million) Delaware-based trust connected to sanctioned Russian oligarch Suleiman Abusaidovich Kerimov.
It comes after the US seized a superyacht tied to Kerimov earlier this month, which was worth $325 million.
"Treasury continues using the full range of our tools to expose and disrupt those who seek to evade our sanctions and hide their ill-gotten gains,'' Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement, adding that her department would continue to coordinate sanctions againts "those who fund and benefit from Russia's war against Ukraine.''
Indonesia, which currently holds the rotating G20 presidency, has thus far remained cautiously neutral over the conflict. President Joko Widodo arrived in Moscow on Thursday for what he called a "peace trip" to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
After talks in the Kremlin, Widodo said he conveyed a message from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Putin. He also expressed his "readiness" to help start "communication" between the two leaders.
Speaking through a translator, Widodo said Jakarta planned to continue cooperation with Moscow, from whom it receives several key imports, and that important to move towards a peaceful resolution of the war in Ukraine.
Putin also used the joint press statement to reiterate the Kremlin's assertion that Russian forces are not blocking grain exports from leaving Ukraine, despite the fact that the UN said on the same day that the world is facing an "unprecedented hunger crisis" over the blockade.
"Almost 16 million people in Ukraine today need humanitarian assistance: water food, health services," said Osnat Lubrani, the head of the UN Resident Coordinator Office in Ukraine.
Six million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes for other parts of the country since the war started, though around 5 million have since returned, she said. But "many know that they might be forced to flee again," she added.
Lubrani also said that official casualty numbers for the conflict were likely far lower than the true number due to the difficulty in obtaining information from Russian-controlled areas.
"The number we have of almost 5,000 civilians killed and more than 5,000 injured is just a fraction of the frightening reality," she said. She added that it was "extremely difficult if not... impossible" for humanitarian groups to access areas that are no longer under Kyiv's control.
Kyiv said that Prime Minister Denys Schmygal would lead a delegation of around 100 people to Switzerland next week for an international meeting on rebuilding Ukraine, adding it would mark the largest delegation to leave his country since the Russian invasion.
They will be among delegations from dozens of countries at the Ukraine Recovery Conference to be co-hosted by Kyiv and Bern in the southern Swiss city of Lugano on July 4 and 5. The conference had been planned well before Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, and had originally been slated to discuss reforms in Ukraine before being repurposed for war reconstruction.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had initially been scheduled to come and co-host the event alongside his Swiss counterpart Ignazio Cassis, but he is now due to attend only virtually.
In all, 38 countries and 14 international organizations will send delegations to Lugano, with eight heads of government in attendance, including from Poland and the Czech Republic, the Swiss organizers said. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has also confirmed she will come.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that a new "iron curtain" was descending between Russia and the West.
"It's practically already coming into place. Let them just behave carefully," Lavrov said of Western countries during a news conference.
The Kremlin's decision to invade Ukraine has sparked an overhaul of Europe's foreign, defense and security policies.
While closing a NATO summit in Madrid, US President Joe Biden described the meeting as "historic," noting the last time the military alliance updated its strategic concept Russia was seen as a partner.
"The world has changed, changed a great deal since then," Biden said.
Biden also said the US will provide Ukraine with additional weapons aid to the value of $800 million (€768 million).
"We are going to support Ukraine as long as it takes," he said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has described as "ridiculous" Vladimir Putin's assertion that NATO has imperial ambitions.
Scholz insisted at the end of a NATO summit in Spain on Thursday that NATO was "not a threat to anyone" and said it was Putin "who has made imperialism the goal of his politics."
The Russian president on Wednesday hit out at NATO after its leaders dubbed Moscow their "most significant and direct threat."
"The NATO countries' leaders wish to... assert their supremacy, their imperial ambitions," he said, with one eye on the military alliance's expansion, which is set to include Sweden and Finland.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has prompted NATO to launch the largest overhaul of its defense and deterrence capabilities since the end of the Cold War.
German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said he suspects that Russia may not resume natural gas supplies to Europe through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline after planned maintenance work next month.
Habeck said a "blockade" of the pipeline is possible from July 11, when regular maintenance work is due to get underway. In previous summers, the operation has meant shutting down the pipeline for about 10 days, he said.
"But given the pattern we have seen, it wouldn't be so super-surprising if some little technical detail is found and then they say, 'We can't switch it on again; now we found something during maintenance and that's it,'" Habeck told a forum organized by the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The European Union must find alternative routes to move grain supplies out of Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron said.
Russia and Ukraine are the first and fifth largest wheat exporters in the world, accounting for 20% and 10% of global sales, respectively, but Moscow's invasion of its neighbor and the closure of the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea nearly brought exports to a halt.
The United Nations has warned millions of people are at risk of undernourishment due to stalled wheat exports.
The commander of Kyiv's armed forces, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said that Ukrainian-made Bohdana howitzers had played a significant part in liberating Snake Island from Moscow forces and thanked foreign partners for their support.
Russia seized control of the island in the opening days of the war in the apparent hope to use it as a staging ground for an attack on Odesa.
After the island was taken by the Russians, the Ukrainian military relentlessly bombarded a small Russian garrison and air defense assets stationed there.
Ukrainian troops who served in the Azov battalion before being captured by Russia will face trial, the speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament said on Thursday.
"These nationalists, whose hands are covered in blood, are not humans. They are awaiting trial," State Duma Chairman Vyacheslav Volodin said.
Russia's Defense Ministry said it is holding more than 6,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war.
The announcement comes a day after Russia and Ukraine swapped imprisoned soldiers.
"The total number of Ukrainian troops captured or who surrendered is more than 6,000," Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the ministry, said in a statement.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ordered Russia not to execute two Britons captured after fighting for Ukraine.
Earlier this month, a court in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) issued the death penalty to Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner, accusing them of "mercenary activities."
The ECHR said Russia "should ensure that the death penalty imposed on the applicants was not carried out; ensure appropriate conditions of their detention; and provide them with any necessary medical assistance and medication."
Earlier this month, Russia passed legislation to end the jurisdiction of the ECHR.
The UK has so far refused to publicly raise the issue with authorities in the DPR, instead saying it hoped Ukraine could secure the men's release.
The Russian military says its has withdrawn its troops from Snake Island, an island belonging to Ukraine located in the Black Sea.
Russia's Defense Ministry said it pulled out its forces from the island near the Black Sea port of Odesa as a "goodwill gesture."
The ministry said the withdrawal demonstrated that "the Russian Federation wasn't hampering the United Nations' efforts to establish a humanitarian corridor for taking agricultural products from the territory of Ukraine."
The Ukrainian president's office had a different take on proceedings.
"KABOOM! No Russian troops on the Snake Island anymore. Our Armed Forces did a great job," Andriy Yermak, head of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's office, wrote on Twitter.
Sweden will send more anti-tank weaponry to Ukraine, Sweden's Defense Ministry said on Thursday.
The arms package is valued at around 500 million Swedish crowns ($49 million, €47 million), the ministry said.
A ship carrying 7,000 metric tons of grain has left Ukraine's occupied port of Berdyansk, the region's Russia-appointed top official said on Thursday.
It is the first grain shipment since the conflict began on February 24.
"After numerous months of delay, the first merchant ship has left the Berdyansk commercial port, 7,000 tonnes of grain are heading toward friendly countries," Evgeny Balitsky, the head of the pro-Russia administration, said on Telegram.
Russia's Black Sea ships "are ensuring the security" of the vessel during its journey, he said, adding that the Ukrainian port had been de-mined.
Russia is trying to blockade Lysychansk, the last part of the eastern Luhansk region that is still under Kyiv's control, the Ukrainian military said Thursday.
The Ukrainian General Staff said attacks were centered around the oil refinery in the city.
British intelligence has also picked up on the fighting in Lysychansk, saying that "current ground combat is likely focused around the oil refinery, located 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) south-west of the city."
"Fighting is going on all the time. The Russians are constantly on the offensive. There is no let-up," regional Governor Serhiy Haidai told Ukrainian television. "Absolutely everything is being shelled."
Haidi added that Moscow "have thrown practically all their forces to seize the city."
Rights group Amnesty International released a report on Thursday into the devastating airstrike on a theater in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.
The report gathered evidence that suggests Russia deliberately targeted the theater where civilians were sheltering on March 16 — in what amounts to a "war crime."
"Until now, we were speaking about an alleged war crime. Now we can clearly say it was one, committed by the Russian armed forces," Oksana Pokalchuk, head of Amnesty's Ukraine branch, told news agency AFP.
The report used statements from 52 survivors and witnesses about the airstrike, and had experts examine photos, videos and satellite images of the scene.
They determined that the sky was clear enough for a pilot to see the word "children" written in large Cyrillic letters on the front and back of the building.
Weapons analysts determined that two 500-kilogram bombs dropped from a Russian jet were most likely behind the strike.
Amnesty said the evidence discredits Russia's claims that the theater was hit by Ukrainian troops in a false-flag attack.
City officials estimated around 300 people were killed in the strike, but the report suggested that the toll was not as high, as some witnesses said the building had emptied due to evacuations in the days prior to the attack.
Hundreds of civilians had sought shelter in the Mariupol theater amid Russia's siege of the port city
NATO members branded Russia as the most "direct threat" to the transatlantic military alliance's security over its invasion of Ukraine.
The announcement came amid a NATO summit in Madrid, where Finland and Sweden were officially offered membership.
In reaction, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would respond in kind if NATO deployed troops in the Scandinavian countries.
Meanwhile, fighting intensified in the eastern Luhansk region as well as in southern Ukraine. Several missiles struck the city of Mykolaiv, a river port located off the Black Sea.
Ukraine also carried out its biggest prisoner of war exchange, securing the release of 144 soldiers.
jsi, rs, es/fb (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)