Kyiv, June 30 (Reuters) – Russian forces on Thursday abandoned Snake Island, a strategic Black Sea outpost, in a major victory for Ukraine that could ease Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports.
Russia’s defense ministry said it had decided to withdraw from the outcrop as a “goodwill gesture” to show Moscow was not blocking UN efforts to open a humanitarian corridor that allows food to be shipped out of Ukraine.
Ukraine said it had driven out Russian troops after a massive artillery and missile attack overnight.
“Kabon!” Andrei Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, tweeted. “There are no more Russian troops on Snake Island. Our armed forces are doing well.”
Ukraine’s southern military command posted on Facebook what appeared to be an aerial image of the island, with at least five huge plumes of black smoke rising above it.
“The enemy hurriedly used two speedboats to evacuate the wreckage of the garrison, and it is likely that they have left the island. At present, the Snake Island is being swallowed up by fire, and the sound of explosions continues.”
Ukrainian armed forces brigadier General Oleksii Hromov told a briefing that Ukrainian troops have not yet taken the island, “but trust me, they will.”
An exposed rocky outcrop overlooks the seaway to Odessa, Ukraine’s main Black Sea port, where Russia is blocking grain cargoes from one of the world’s leading grain suppliers.
Snake Island has captured the world’s attention since Russia seized it on the first day of the war, when Ukrainian guards who had ordered the surrender of Russia’s flagship cruiser Moskva radioed back “Russian warship: fuck you”.
“The most important aspect is that this could potentially open the door for Ukraine to export grain from Odessa, which is vital to Ukraine’s economy and global food supply,” tweeted Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the U.S. Foreign Policy Institute. .
Lifting the blockade has always been a top strategic objective for the West: US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has accused Russia of deliberately creating world hunger and “extortion”.
Moscow has denied blocking ports and blamed Western sanctions for the food shortage, saying it has restricted its own exports.
“We do not stop the export of Ukrainian grain. The Ukrainian military has mines on the access to its ports; no one is preventing them from clearing these mines, and we guarantee the safety of the grain being shipped out of there,” President Vladimir Putin said. said Thursday.
Several military experts said simply driving the Russians off Snake Island would not be enough to clear the port.
“Does this mean there is a sudden flow of grain? No, not really,” said Marcus Faulkner, a lecturer in war studies at King’s College London, noting that ports are still being mined and Russia can still intercept cargo ships at sea .
Kyiv-based military analyst Oleg Zhdanov also said the port could not be opened immediately, but it was still “a major victory in which we are liquidating the dominance of the Black Sea Fleet”.
Last month, the British Ministry of Defence said Russia could dominate the northwest Black Sea if it can consolidate control of Snake Island with air and coastal defense cruise missiles.read more
Russia has been defending the island since February, despite Ukraine’s growing claims of causing havoc, sinking supply ships and destroying Russian fortifications.
New weapons from the West have made Russian troops more vulnerable, especially HIMARS, a powerful rocket system supplied by the United States that Ukraine began deploying last week. Russia’s abandonment of the island “could be a tangible result of NATO’s arms shipment to Ukraine,” Lee said.
Weeks after Ukraine’s victory on Snake Island, the momentum of the conflict appeared to be turning in favor of Russia, which has focused its firepower on capturing towns in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.
After weeks of heavy fighting, it seized the city of Sivir Donetsk last week and is now trying to encircle the city of Lysichansk on the other side of the Donets River in Sivirski.
Ukrainian authorities said they were trying to evacuate the remaining residents from Lysychansk, where they believed there were still around 15,000 people.
“The fighting has been going on. The Russians have been attacking. There has been no slack,” regional governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television.
An official from the province’s pro-Russian separatist government told the RIA news agency that the Lysychansk refinery is now fully controlled by Russian and pro-Russian military forces, and all roads to Lysychansk are also under their control.
Ukraine said major roads were largely impassable due to the fighting, but the city had not been completely cut off.
Despite concessions and heavy losses in the Donbass in recent weeks, Ukraine hopes to inflict enough damage to drain Russia’s advancing troops. Ukrainian troops have been fighting back in the south, with Russian-installed proxies announcing their readiness to vote to join Russia.
Ukraine’s 60th Infantry Brigade said on Facebook on Thursday that it had retaken the village of Potyomkine in the southern Kherson region. This cannot be independently verified.
In Madrid, a day after NATO leaders held a summit, NATO declared Russia its main adversary and announced plans to put 300,000 troops on heightened alert.
The coalition invited Finland and Sweden to join, and leaders pledged more arms to Ukraine, including U.S. President Joe Biden, who announced the next $800 million in support.
Turkey, which is trying to act as a mediator, has said it wants progress on a deal to reopen Ukrainian ports. Greece, which has the world’s largest commercial fleet, said it was ready to send ships out of Ukraine for grain.
Reporting by Reuters Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Andrew Heavens
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