Russian tanks poised for Luhansk attack
Ukraine and its international partners are bracing for Russia to launch a new offensive, with the Pentagon on Monday saying there are signs that the Kremlin has begun reinforcing and resupplying its forces in the eastern Donbas region. A top official in Moscow vowed there would be no letup in hostilities before the next round of peace talks. US intelligence has observed a massive Russian military convoy making its way south toward Izyum, a strategically-important town in northeast Ukraine that Russia seized earlier this month and may now use as a staging point to carry out assaults on larger cities to the south, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. The expectation, Kirby added, is that the “same brutal tactics, that same disregard for civilian life and civilian infrastructure, will probably continue” as Russian military commanders concentrate on the Donbas. While Russia has pulled back from the suburbs of Kyiv and other parts of northern Ukraine, Putin’s forces continue to attack elsewhere. Russia has continued to fire artillery, rockets and mortars at the northern city of Kharkhiv, Ukrainian military officials said. Russian forces, they said, attempted on Monday to storm the city of Sievierodonetsk in the Donbas region but were unsuccessful.
UK, US investigate “Russia”s use of chemical weapons” reports
The UK and the US are investigating reports that Russia may have unleashed chemical weapons on people in Mariupol while attacking the country’s southern port. A unit of Ukraine’s National Guard, the Azoz Regiment, claimed that the chemicals were dropped from an unmanned aerial vehicle in the city. According to Newsweek, they said Russian forces used “a poisonous substance of unknown origin… The victims have respiratory failure, vestibulo-atactic syndrome.” An aide to Mariupol’s mayor said the reports had not been confirmed.
Over 10,000 civilians killed in Mariupol siege – Mayor
As President Volodymyr Zelensky estimated the death toll in Ukraine’s hardest-hit city of Mariupol was in the “tens of thousands”, the city’s mayor said Monday that more than 10,000 civilians had died in the Russian siege of the city, and that the death toll could surpass 20,000. Speaking to The Associated Press, Mayor Vadym Boychenko also said Russian forces brought mobile cremation equipment to the city to dispose of the bodies. Boychenko said in Mariupol, about 120,000 civilians are in dire need of food, water, warmth and communications.
Russia reaping huge oil, gas profits
Russia is reaping a massive windfall from oil and gas exports – despite the West”s sweeping sanctions over the Ukraine invasion – thanks to a lucrative cocktail of stiff prices, surging demand and trade loopholes. According to Bloomberg, Russia is poised to earn nearly $321 billion from its energy exports this year – up more than a third compared to the previous year. In April alone, Russia expects $9.6 billion more from energy sales than it initially projected due to high prices. That’s partly because the EU remains reliant on Russian gas and has declined to cut off shipments due to fears of an energy crisis.
Italy signs new gas deal with Algeria
Italy has signed an agreement to increase gas imports from Algeria, the latest push by an EU member-state to acquire alternative energy from Russia, following its invasion of Ukraine. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the deals were a significant step in Italy’s drive to reduce its dependency on Russian gas. Russia is Italy’s biggest supplier, representing 40 percent of total imports, followed by Algeria, which provides some 21 billion cubic metres of gas via the Trans-Mediterranean pipeline. The new deal would add an extra nine billion cubic metres of gas from Algeria, just eclipsing Russia”s annual 29 billion cubic metres a year.
Biden urges Modi not to accelerate Russian oil purchases
President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a “candid exchange of views” on Ukraine on Monday, with the US leader asking Modi not to accelerate the buying of Russian oil as many nations try to deny Moscow vital energy income. Modi said he had repeatedly appealed to Putin and Zelensky to hold direct talks.
UN Security Council hears of Russian rapes, mass abductions
Ukraines UN ambassador told members of the Security Council that Russia had abducted 121,000 Ukrainian children from his country since the start of its invasion. Sergiy Kyslytsya said most of the abducted children were orphans. The abductions were in flagrant violation of international law and conventions. He also claimed that the withdrawal of Russian troops from some areas has left a trail of “unimaginable suffering, with killings, unspeakable torture and sexual violence including rape and mutilation”.
Nehammer meets Putin but is left “without much optimism”
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said Monday that he urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the invasion of Ukraine and raised the issue of “serious war crimes” committed by the Russian military. But he said he walked away from the meeting without much optimism for an end to the war any time soon. He affirmed his primary message to Putin in the “very direct, open and tough” talks was that “this war needs to end, because in war both sides can only lose.” Nehammer was the first European leader to meet Putin in Moscow since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine February 24. Austria is a member of the European Union and has backed the 27-nation bloc’s sanctions against Russia, though it so far has opposed cutting off deliveries of Russian gas. The country is militarily neutral and is not a member of Nato.
Pope Francis to meet Patriarch Kirill in June?
According to Reuters, the Vatican is weighing a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in Jerusalem this June. “The Vatican is studying the possibility of extending Pope Francis” trip to Lebanon in June so that he can travel to Jerusalem to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill,” Reuters reports. After returning from his trip to Malta, Pope Francis mentioned a possible meeting with the Patriarch of Moscow in the Middle East. According to those sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, “the plan is for the 85-year-old pope, who is due to visit Lebanon on June 12 and 13, to fly to Amman, Jordan, on the morning of June 14”.
Shehbaz Sharif is Pakistan’s new prime minister
Pakistan’s National Assembly unanimously elected Shehbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, as the new prime minister of the country, two days after Imran Khan”s government lost the no-confidence motion. Shehbaz Sharif was the frontrunner for the PM’s post and the leader of the rainbow coalition of opposition parties which removed Imran Khan from office. Shehbaz was the only candidate left in the race after former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi announced that his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party will boycott the voting.
Britney Spears pregnant again
Britney Spears has announced she was expecting her third child, six months after a judge put an end to the legal protection of her father who, she had reported, had prevented her from attempting a new pregnancy. Spears, 40, has been engaged to Sam Asghari, 28, since September. Her two oldest children, Sean and Jayden, are 16 and 15 years old.
Depp takes Amber Heard to stand
Johnny Depp and Amber Heard faced each other in court over a lawsuit worth at least $50 million. The defamation trial by the actor against his ex-wife opened Monday in Virginia after an editorial she herself wrote in 2018 for the Washington Post in which it talks about domestic violence. The couple married in 2015 and after only 15 months, Heard filed for her divorce claiming she suffered physical violence when he was drunk. The couple divorced in January 2017.