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The local governor says Ukraine has "pushed back" Russian forces in the fight for the key Donbas city. Meanwhile, a top official has speculated that the war might last several more months.
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday told a Bosnian-Serb television broadcaster that Western sanctions would actually benefit Russia by driving up energy prices.
"Considering the price level that has been established as a result of the West's policies, we have suffered no budgetary losses," he said, adding, "On the contrary, this year we will significantly increase the profits from the export of our energy resources."
In reaction to a European Union agreement that will see roughly 90% of Russian oil imports to the bloc banned by the end of the year, the Moscow hardliner said, "Oil, generally speaking, is not subject to politics, there is a demand for it ... we have alternative sales markets, where we are already increasing sales."
DW's Jan-Philipp Scholz, reporting from Kyiv, says, "it is simply impossible to verify if Ukraine has really regained half of the territory in Sievierodonetsk." Kyiv on Saturday claimed that a successful counter-offensive had helped it recapture much of the fiercely contested city in the Donbas region.
Scholz said, however, that Ukrainian forces had indeed achieved a "remarkable" feat by managing to push back Russian troops who initially looked to have entirely taken control of the city, calling it, "an important partial success for the Ukrainians."
Speaking of reports that thousands of Russian troops were amassing for an assault on the nearby city of Sloviansk, DW's Scholz said Kyiv is very concerned as the city is "an important transportation hub." He also noted that it is, "one of the last areas of the Donbas region that is still beyond Russian control."
He said several hundred people had already been evacuated but that local officials were now urging those citizens who still remained to leave before Russian forces approach.
Asked about when heavy weapons promised by Western countries might arrive in the Donbas, DW's Scholz said it could still take weeks, meaning they may not be of any use in the current fight by the time they arrive. Though he did add that fighters say they preparing "for a long war of attrition, so the weapons could make a difference in possible upcoming counter-offensives."
Kyiv on Saturday announced that Ukraine and Russia exchanged the bodies of 320 soldiers — 160 each — on June 2. The exchange took place at the front in the southeastern Ukrainian region of Zaporizhzhya.
Ukraine has repeatedly called on Moscow to take possession of the bodies of its fallen soldiers and to give them a dignified burial.
Kyiv accuses the Kremlin of using its young as "cannon fodder" to be simply left to rot on the battlefield after they are killed.
Authorities in Kyiv say representatives from its intelligence services and armed forces leadership were on hand for the exchange.
"Russian artillery struck the Svyatohirsk Lavra in the Donetsk region again today. Destroyed All Saints Monastery. It was consecrated in 1912. It was first destroyed during the Soviet era. Later it was rebuilt to be burned by the Russian army," wrote Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Telegram Saturday.
He also posted a video of the church engulfed in flames.
The monastic settlement of Svyatohirsk Lavra dates back to 1627 and the wooden church is one of the country's most sacred Orthodox sites.
Zelenskyy noted that four monks had been previously killed at the site, which is located in the embattled Donbas region. He said 300 civilians, 60 of them children, had been sheltering there amid intense fighting.
The Ukrainian leader went on to call for "barbaric" Russia to be expelled from UNESCO, the United Nations (UN) cultural agency, saying, "Every church burned by Russia in Ukraine, every school blown up, every destroyed memorial proves that Russia has no place in UNESCO."
The Russian Defense Ministry denied involvement in the incident, instead deflecting blame to Ukrainian troops, whom it claims set the blaze themselves as they retreated from advancing Russian forces.
There are no military targets at the site according to Kyiv. It is managed by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has said it will break with the Russian Orthodox Church over the February 24 Russian invasion and ensuing war, which Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow enthusiastically supports.
Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, speaking in the Saturday edition of the mass-circulation newspaper Bild, announced that Germany is hardening its cyber-defense capabilities against Russian intrusion, saying that Moscow presents a real threat.
Faeser said her ministry is defending "German domestic security and peace against Russia's attempts to spy and influence, against lies and against war propaganda." She went on to say: "We know exactly what intelligence means the Russian government uses. We are extremely vigilant and are protecting ourselves. And we are active."
The interior minister said that vigilance is what led Berlin to expel some 40 Russian Embassy employees in April, all of whom Faeser said, were working for Russian intelligence services.
German security experts warn that the threat of communications espionage is real and often underestimated, especially in Berlin's government district, where cellphones can be easily hacked. One must assume that foreign intelligence services are "making a considerable effort" to intercept sensitive information Faeser said.
Intelligence services, for instance, say Moscow has been using specially constructed broadband antennae on the roof of Russia's Berlin Embassy to eavesdrop on communications for years.
Intelligence agencies in Washington DC., are conducting reviews of their initial assessments of the situation in Ukraine before Russia invaded as well as in the early phase of the war.
The assessment comes at the urging of politicians from both sides of the aisle as doubt has grown over intelligence capability, especially after the US' disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.
The agencies grossly misread the will of the Ukrainians — from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to the army and the civilian population — to stand and defend their homeland against an invader that US intelligence services misread in the other direction, namely assuming far greater capability and military superiority.
Despite the correct prediction of a Russian invasion, the Russian advance has a not unfolded as the US expected, leading some lawmakers to ask whether more should have been done to arm the Ukrainians before the invasion occurred.
"Had we had a better handle on the prediction, we could have done more to assist the Ukrainians earlier," said Senator Angus King, an Independent from Maine.
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines, replying to a request from the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the National Intelligence Council (NIC) would conduct a review of agency assessments regarding a given nation's "will" and "capacity to fight," calling both metrics, "quite challenging," and noting, "we're looking at different methodologies for doing so."
The review is not subject to a specific timetable.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has met with Finland's prime minister and spoken with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in an effort to work past the roadblock Ankara has put up over Sweden and Finland joining the military alliance.
Stoltenberg said he had a "constructive phone call" with Erdogan and promised continued dialogue.
Turkey, a member of NATO since 1952, opposes membership for the two countries and is using its veto power in the membership vote — a unanimous vote from all 30 members is required for a new member to be accepted — to force policy changes from the Nordic countries.
A spokesman for Turkey's president said Ankara feels no pressure to see the bids advanced by the time NATO leaders convene for a June 29-30 summit in Madrid, Spain.
Sweden and Finland, spurred by Russia's February 24 invasion of Ukraine, upended decades of non-alignment policy to seek admission to the military alliance.
The governor of Luhansk province said Russia had retreated in the industrial city of Sievierodonetsk — now one of only two settlements in the province that aren't under Russian control.
"Right now, our soldiers have pushed them back, [the Russians] are suffering huge casualties," Serhiy Haidai said in a live TV broadcast on Saturday.
He added: "Russians are blowing up bridges, so we could not bring in reinforcements to our boys in Sievierodonetsk."
Ukrainian news website Dialog.ua also reported that Igor Girkin, a pro-Russian veteran who had been active in the war in Donbas since 2014, confirmed details of the retreat on his Telegram channel.
Ukraine's official volunteer brigade, the International Legion of Defense, has paid tribute to four foreigners from Germany, France, the Netherlands and Australia who were killed in recent weeks.
"We lost our brothers in combat but their bravery, their memory and legacy will forever inspire us," it said in a statement on Saturday.
The deaths of the Frenchman and the Australian had been confirmed by their respective governments, while AFP reporters were present for the burial of the Dutch fighter in Kharkiv on May 21.
Earlier this week Russia claimed it had killed "hundreds" of foreign fighters on the Ukrainian side.
French President Emmanuel Macron has offered to mediate between Russia and Ukraine after Vladimir Putin "isolated himself" on the world stage.
"We must not humiliate Russia so that the day when the fighting stops we can build an exit ramp through diplomatic means," he said in an interview with regional newspapers that was published on Saturday.
France has supported Ukraine with money and weapons, but has also maintained a line of communication with the Russian president.
Macron added: "I think, and I told [Putin], that he is making a historic and fundamental mistake for his people, for himself and for history."
Russia's tactics have changed on the battlefield, according to Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak, adding that Russian losses had now decreased to around 100 to 200 casualties per day — a figure he said was "roughly comparable" with Ukrainian losses.
"In the first one-and-a-half to two months they fought with absolutely no understanding of what they were doing," he told Meduza, an independent Russian-language news outlet based in Riga, Latvia that is not subjected to strict Russian state censorship laws regardiing coverage of the war against Ukraine.
"They just moved their columns around the country, and our guys quickly and brutally destroyed them. This kind of war was simple enough."
"Unfortunately, it has ended," he said, adding that the fighting now was bogged down and the outcome is decided mostly by the numbers of soldiers and weapons.
He warned it was hard to judge when the war with Russia would end. At the same time, he indicated the fighting could last for another half a year.
"If you count by the stockpiled weapons, this could drag on for a period of two to six months," Podoliak said.
"But war is a non-linear process, influenced by dozens or even hundreds of factors," he added. "I wouldn't set specific deadlines."
The European Union is set introduce special regulations that will recognize Ukrainian driver's licenses, according to the German government.
Non-EU nationals in Germany can typically drive for six months using their existing driver's license, after which they must apply for a local certification.
"The EU Commission is planning a road transport agreement with Ukraine which, among other things, will provide for the temporary recognition of driving licences and certificates of competence for the transport of goods," the German government said in a response to a parliamentary question as seen by the DPA.
The move is aimed at helping Ukrainian refugees who fled to the EU after the Russian invasion. It will also help freight companies operating between Ukraine and the EU.
The UK Defence Ministry has accused Russia of launching unguided airstrikes over the Donbas region.
"The increased use of unguided munitions has led to the widespread destruction of built-up areas in the Donbas and has almost certainly caused substantial collateral damage and civilian casualties," the ministry said in a tweet on Saturday.
It added that Russia's stocks of precision guided missiles "are likely to have been significantly depleted" since the start of the war.
Russia has brought in reinforcements to further its efforts to take control of the city of Sievierodonetsk in Ukraine's Donbas region and is carrying out "assault operations" with artillery in the city, Ukraine's military said on Saturday.
According to Reuters news agency, the Ukrainian military said Russian forces had, however, retreated after failing to advance in the nearby town of Bakhmut.
On Friday, the governor of Luhansk province, Serhiy Haidai, told national television that Ukrainian troops had recaptured 20% of the territory in the factory city previously lost to Russian advances. He said Russian troops had previously held some 70% of the city.
He added that it was unlikely the city would be taken by Russian troops in the next two weeks despite the reinforcements being deployed by Moscow.
Haidai's claim of Ukrainian advances could not immediately be verified.
Moscow is now focusing its military efforts on the eastern Donbas region after failing to take the capital, Kyiv, at the start of the at the start of the invasion which was launched on February 24.
The leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) parliamentary group, Rolf Mützenich, said he does not consider Germany to be a suitable mediator between Kyiv and Moscow.
He instead suggested that countries that avoided condemning Russia in the United Nations General Assembly take on the role of mediator.
"Germany will hardly be able to mediate in this conflict," Mützenich said. "Because from Russia's point of view, we took too clear a position from the start."
In a video message from Kyiv marking 100 days since Russia invaded Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed, "Victory will be ours."
Vadym Boichenko, the displaced mayor of the captured Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, accused Russia of holding the city's remaining 100,000 citizens hostage.
Ukrainian police opened criminal investigations into allegations of sexual violence against civilians, according to Deputy Interior Minister Kateryna Pavlichenko.
Protestant theologians and allied politicians drafted an open letter to leaders of the Protestant Church of Germany calling for the Russian Orthodox Church to be suspended from the World Council of Churches and for bilateral relations between the German and Russian Churches to be frozen.
The EU said that around 500 Ukrainian patients have so far been receiving urgent treatment by way of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
Ukraine's ambassador to Turkey said that Turkish buyers are purchasing grain that Russia stole.
The chair of the African Union (AU), Macky Sall, said in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow should take into account the impact the war was having on the African continent.
You can revisit our live updates from June 3 here.
jsi, sdi/rt (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)