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Russia-Ukraine war: Moscow says US decision to supply Ukraine with rocket systems ‘increases risk’ of confrontation – live

US president says move will enable Ukraine ‘to more precisely strike key targets’; most of Sievierodonetsk under Russian control

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Wed 1 Jun 2022 18.43 AESTFirst published on Wed 1 Jun 2022 14.30 AEST
The high mobility artillery rocket system (Himars) that the US is sending to Ukraine to help it defend itself against Russian attacks.
The high mobility artillery rocket system (Himars) that the US is sending to Ukraine to help it defend itself against Russian attacks. Photograph: Tony Overman/AP
The high mobility artillery rocket system (Himars) that the US is sending to Ukraine to help it defend itself against Russian attacks. Photograph: Tony Overman/AP

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Russia criticises US decision to supply Ukraine with medium-range rocket systems

Russia has said that a US decision to supply advanced rocket systems and munitions to Ukraine was extremely negative and would increase the risk of a direct confrontation.

Reuters reports that the Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, told the state news agency RIA Novosti that Moscow viewed US military aid to Ukraine “extremely negatively”.

Ryabkov singled out US plans to supply Kyiv with its high mobility artillery rocket system (Himars) – a multiple rocket launcher system that Washington said it would supply to Ukraine as part of its latest military aid package.

“Attempts to present the decision as containing an element of ‘self-restraint’ are useless,” Ryabkov said. “The fact that the United States, at the head of a group of states, is engaged in a purposeful pumping of weapons into the Kyiv regime is an obvious thing.”

Russia now controls 70% of Sievierodonetsk – Luhansk governor

Serhiy Haidai, Ukraine’s governor of Luhansk, has said that Russia now controls 70% of the city of Sievierodonetsk, which is the main crucible of Russia’s attack at the present time, and a key objective if Russian forces are to control the whole of the Donbas region.

Haidai posted to Telegram claiming that “The Russians control 70% of Sievierodonetsk. Ukrainian troops retreated to more advantageous, pre-prepared positions. Another part continues fighting inside the city.”

He also said “Lysychansk is completely under Ukrainian control. All free settlements of Luhansk region are constantly under fire. Evacuation is suspended.”

Pope Francis appealed to authorities to lift the block on wheat exports from Ukraine, saying the grain cannot be used as a “weapon of war”.

Reuters reports that speaking at his general audience to thousands of people in St Peter’s Square, he said the block should be lifted because many millions of people depend on wheat from Ukraine, particularly in the world’s poorest countries.

Oleh Synyehubov, Ukraine’s governor of Kharkiv, has posted to Telegram a situation update. He writes:

Kharkiv, Izium, Bohodukhiv and Chuhuiv districts of the region were shelled en masse. As a result of these shellings, four civilians were killed. A woman died in Zolochev, and a 12-year-old boy died in Ivanivka, Izium district. In the village Shestakove, Chuguiv district – two dead. A total of seven civilians were injured.

Fighting continues in Kharkiv region. The enemy is focused on defense and trying to hold his ground. In the Izium direction, the Russian occupiers are regrouping and preparing for new offensive attempts. Our defenders hold positions and inflict losses on the enemy. Last night, the Ukrainian armed forces shot down a Russian Ka-52 “Alligator” helicopter.

The enemy is acting insidiously, striking at civilians and civilian infrastructure. But he will answer for all his crimes! Ukraine will win!

The claims have not been verified.

Russia criticises US decision to supply Ukraine with medium-range rocket systems

Russia has said that a US decision to supply advanced rocket systems and munitions to Ukraine was extremely negative and would increase the risk of a direct confrontation.

Reuters reports that the Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, told the state news agency RIA Novosti that Moscow viewed US military aid to Ukraine “extremely negatively”.

Ryabkov singled out US plans to supply Kyiv with its high mobility artillery rocket system (Himars) – a multiple rocket launcher system that Washington said it would supply to Ukraine as part of its latest military aid package.

“Attempts to present the decision as containing an element of ‘self-restraint’ are useless,” Ryabkov said. “The fact that the United States, at the head of a group of states, is engaged in a purposeful pumping of weapons into the Kyiv regime is an obvious thing.”

Russia’s RIA Novosti agency is reporting that overnight a video depicting children alleged to have been killed by Ukrainian forces in the Russian-occupied Donbas region of Ukraine was projected on to the US embassy in Moscow. The agency writes:

A video was projected on the walls of the US embassy in Moscow, stating that the US military “bears full responsibility for all the dead children of Donbas”.

The activists who organised the action timed it to the International Children’s Day.

The performance participants explained that they wanted to remind the world community that the White House has been sponsoring the Ukrainian authorities for many years.

Also from last night is this image of Gazprom’s building in Moscow, which is lit up at night with the letter “Z” in support of Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine.

The windows of the Gazprom building glow in the shape of the symbol Z in Moscow.
The windows of the Gazprom building glow in the shape of the symbol Z in Moscow. Photograph: Yuri Kochetkov/EPA

The Swiss government has vetoed Denmark’s request to send Swiss-made armoured personnel carriers to Ukraine, citing its neutrality policy of not supplying arms to conflict zones, the Swiss broadcaster SRF has reported.

Neutral Switzerland requires foreign countries that buy Swiss arms to seek permission to re-export them.

Reuters notes that in April Switzerland vetoed the re-export of Swiss-made ammunition used in anti-aircraft tanks that Germany is sending to Ukraine. It has also rejected Poland’s request for arms to help neighbouring Ukraine.

With the referendum on whether to join the European Union’s common defence policy today, and the question over gas supplies from Russia, there is a lot of news coming out of Denmark this morning. And there is more – Denmark’s foreign minister, Jeppe Kofod, has said he will ask parliament tomorrow for Denmark’s support of the accession of Sweden and Finland to Nato. Before the two nations can formally join, their membership has to be ratified by every current member state, which includes founding member Denmark.

  • Initially this block incorrectly said that Kofod would speak to parliament on Wednesday. It was amended at 8.40am after Reuters issued a correction. Apologies.

There is a quick snap from Reuters here about the gas supply situation in Denmark. The Danish system operator Energinet has said that the flow of natural gas to Denmark via Germany remained steady today, despite Gazprom’s decision to halt supplies.

Away from the war in their homeland, Ukraine’s men’s football team are competing for a place in this year’s Fifa World Cup in Qatar. Nick Ames writes for us:

When Ukraine face Scotland at Hampden Park tonight it will be less a rebirth than a reminder that, much as Russia might wish to erase the country’s cultural identity, its football heritage remains truly alive. The act of playing for a World Cup place on Wednesday night, and over the next five days if all goes well, is both one of defiance and of expectation that, despite everything, good things can lie ahead.

Read more here: Ukraine players show their nation’s culture is alive and kicking

Maksym Kozytskyi, the governor of Lviv, has confirmed on Telegram that again overnight there were no air raid warnings in the region, which is to the west of Ukraine and away from the main Russian theatre of operations.

The UK’s ministry of defence has published their latest assessment of the situation on the ground in Ukraine. It says:

Russian ground operations remain tightly focused, with the weight of fire power concentrated within a small sector of Luhansk oblast. Over 30-31 May, fighting intensified in the streets of Sievierodonetsk, with Russian forces pushing closer to the town centre.

Over half of the town is likely now occupied by Russian forces, including Chechen fighters. Beyond the Donbas, Russia continues to conduct long-range missile strikes against infrastructure across Ukraine.

https://t.co/eyvBTJ9Q1Y

🇺🇦 <a href=https://www.theguardian.com/"https://twitter.com/hashtag/StandWithUkraine?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw\%22>#StandWithUkraine</a> 🇺🇦 <a href=https://www.theguardian.com/"https://t.co/GxpDQY3ua2/">pic.twitter.com/GxpDQY3ua2

&mdash; Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) <a href=https://www.theguardian.com/"https://twitter.com/DefenceHQ/status/1531881373262290944?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw\%22>June 1, 2022</a></blockquote>\n","url":"https://twitter.com/DefenceHQ/status/1531881373262290944","id":"1531881373262290944","hasMedia":false,"role":"inline","isThirdPartyTracking":false,"source":"Twitter","elementId":"b13c4288-e36a-420c-8fab-8eb39ce6af8f"}}">

Latest Defence Intelligence update on the situation in Ukraine - 1 June 2022

Find out more about the UK government's response: https://t.co/eyvBTJ9Q1Y

🇺🇦 #StandWithUkraine 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/GxpDQY3ua2

— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) June 1, 2022

Denmark votes today in a referendum asking the nation whether it wants to end its decades-long opt-out from common European Union defence policies. The referendum was called on 6 March in the wake of Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine.

Agence France-Presse reports that analysts’ predictions of the result have been cautious, given a low voter turnout expected in a country that has often said “no” to further EU integration. Eleven of Denmark’s 14 parties have urged voters to say “yes”, representing more than three-quarters of seats in parliament.

“We must always cast our ballots when there is a vote”, prime minister Mette Frederiksen urged Danes in the final televised debate of the campaign on Sunday.

“I believe with all my heart that we have to vote ‘yes’. At a time when we need to fight for security in Europe, we need to be more united with our neighbours”, she said.

The defence opt-out means the Nato founding member does not participate in EU foreign policy where defence is concerned, and does not contribute troops to EU military missions.

Polls close at 8pm local time (7pm BST) with the result expected about three hours later.

Ukrainian hospitals are coming under enormous pressure, with trains carrying hundreds of injured people west from the front lines. Associated Press reports from Pokrovsk, where already-strained hospitals are trying to deal with an influx of trauma injuries from eastern cities like Sievierodonetsk, which are under heavy Russian bombing:

In wheelchairs and on stretchers, in ambulances and on train station platforms, they wait. Medical workers pull out ramps and wheel the patients onto the specially equipped train that will carry them westwards, away from the fighting raging in eastern Ukraine.

The train is a lifeline for the overwhelmed hospitals in cities and towns near Ukraine’s front lines that are struggling to cope with an influx of war wounded on top of their usual flow of sick patients.

Some hospitals in the east are buckling under the pressure of growing victim numbers, with already-reduced staff. From Pokrovsk:

Before the war “when there was normal work, we had 10 surgeons, now we have five,” said Dr. Ivan Mozhaiev. In his department, the 32-year-old is the only surgeon who remained out of five.

689 children have been injured or killed in Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion, the Verkhovna Rada - Ukrainian parliament - said this morning, in a post to its official Telegram.

As of the morning of June 1, the official number of child victims was 243, and the number of injured was 446.

It noted that those figures are not final, as work was still underway to try and confirm deaths in occupied territories and areas with active fighting. The true number is likely much higher: in cities like Sievierodonetsk, the mayor has said it is impossible to keep track of civilian casualties amid round-the-clock shelling.

For more insight into why Ukraine has been pleading for arms like the missiles just promised by the US, I recommend our correspondent Luke Harding’s report from Mykolaiv. He spoke there to Ukrainian forces under constant fire, desperate for heavier weaponry. Roman Kostenko, a Ukrainian MP and special forces commander said this:

“Victory now depends on our international friends,” he said. “We have plenty of kalashnikovs and machine guns. If we get enough heavy arms Russia will not be able to go any further.” He stressed: “The west can change the outcome of this war.”

Roman Kostenko, a Ukrainian MP and special forces commander in Mykolaiv
Roman Kostenko, a Ukrainian MP and special forces commander in Mykolaiv Photograph: Handout

Reuters reports that Russia’s nuclear forces are holding drills in the Ivanovo province, northeast of Moscow. The report comes from Interfax news agency, citing the Russian defence ministry on Wednesday.

Some 1,000 servicemen are exercising in intense manoeuvres using over 100 vehicles including Yars intercontinental ballistic missile launchers, it said.

The report came shortly after Biden announced the US would be sending a $700m package of security assistance, including medium range missiles, to Ukraine.

Biden to send mid-range rockets to bolster Ukraine defences

Some more detail on the military aid package announced by president Joe Biden:

The medium-range high mobility artillery rocket systems are part of $700m of security assistance for Ukraine from the US that will include helicopters, Javelin anti-tank weapon systems, tactical vehicles and more.

Biden said the United States the advanced rocket systems and munitions would allow Ukraine to “more precisely strike key targets on the battlefield”. The US is trying to strike the balance of assisting Ukraine without risking escalating the war further.

Senior US administration officials said Ukraine gave assurances the missiles would not be used to strike inside Russia:

These systems will be used by the Ukrainians to repel Russian advances on Ukrainian territory, but they will not be used on targets in Russian territory.”

Read the full story on that arms package here:

Summary and welcome

Hello. I’m Tess McClure and welcome to our live coverage of the war in Ukraine.

This morning, Joe Biden confirmed he will send more advanced, longer-range rocket systems to Kyiv, a critical weapon that Ukrainian leaders have been asking for as they struggle to stall Russian progress in the Donbas region. The medium-range high mobility artillery rocket systems are part of a new $700m tranche of security assistance from the US.

That missiles package is an attempt for the US to strike a balance - providing meaningful assistance, while avoiding escalating the war by providing weapons that could allow strikes deep into Russia.

It’s just after 7am in Ukraine. If you’re just waking up or dropping in to catch up on what’s been happening, here are some of the latest developments from overnight:

  • Russian forces now control of most of the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk. Serhiy Gaidai, the local governor, said in an online post late on Tuesday that Russian shelling had made it impossible to deliver humanitarian supplies or evacuate people. Civilians were told to stay underground.
  • President Zelenskiy has blasted the “madness” of bombing a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk. “Given the presence of large-scale chemical production in Sievierodonetsk, the Russian army’s strikes there, including blind air bombing, are just crazy.” Local officials said a nitric acid tank was hit and posted images of pink smoke billowing.
  • Zelenskiy said Ukraine’s military forces have had some successes near Kherson and in parts of the Kharkiv region.
  • Ukraine welcomed EU sanctions but criticised the “unacceptable” delay. Speaking alongside Slovakia’s President Zuzana Caputova in Kyiv, Zelenskiy noted that 50 days had passed between the fifth and sixth sanction packages.
  • Ukraine was working on an international UN-led operation with naval partners to ensure a safe trade route for food exports, according to Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, who said Russia was playing “hunger games with the world by blocking Ukrainian food exports”.
  • Ukraine’s giant seed bank is in danger of being destroyed. The genetic code for nearly 2,000 crops rests in underground vaults based in Kharkiv, north-eastern Ukraine, which has come under intense bombing. Read more of the Guardian’s coverage how vital seed banks are in the climate crisis here and here.
  • The African Union warned EU leaders that Moscow’s blockade of Ukraine’s ports risked “a catastrophic scenario” of food shortages and price rises. Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, who chairs the union, said “the worst is perhaps ahead of us” if current global food supply trends continued.
  • Ukraine would prosecute 80 suspected war criminals, said the prosecutor general, Iryna Venediktova. Representatives of a group of countries investigating Russian war crimes have met with the international criminal court prosecutor, Karim Khan, at The Hague.
  • A senior Russian lawmaker has suggested kidnapping a Nato defence minister. Oleg Morozov from the United Russia party said on Rossiya-1 state TV he had a “fantastical plot” that a Nato war minister would travel to Kyiv and wake up in Moscow.
  • Sanctions against Russia are directed at ordinary citizens and motivated by hatred, the former president, Dmitry Medvedev, has said. Medvedev, who advises Vladimir Putin on national security, said on Telegram that the “endless tango of economic sanctions” won’t touch the political elite but have brought losses for big business.
  • Russia has further cut off gas supplies to Europe. Gazprom turned off the taps to a top Dutch trader and halted flows to some companies in Denmark and Germany. The intensification follows the EU’s decision to place an embargo on most Russian oil imports.