Stoltenberg says Nato members 'stepping up' amid push to send more weapons to Ukraine

Russia agrees to establish a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians from a Severodonetsk chemical plant

A Ukrainian special operations unit sits in the back of a pick-up truck after a combat operation in the country's east. AP
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Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg is set to rally the defence alliance’s members to provide more artillery to Ukraine, saying fighters “need to be prepped for the long haul”.

His push comes at a time when Russia hinted that it would be open to a possible negotiation on the fate of two British men sentenced to death for fighting alongside the Ukrainians.

Further weapons packages, as requested by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, will be discussed during a meeting at Nato’s headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Mr Stoltenberg said.

“Ukraine should have more heavy weapons,” Mr Stoltenberg told reporters at The Hague. “And Nato allies and partners have provided heavy weapons for a long time, but they are also stepping up.”

The alliance’s secretary general said the defenders of Ukraine, who include soldiers and civilians, must be given the means to fight effectively.

“[Ukrainians] need to be prepped for the long haul, as there is no way to predict how and when this war will end,” he said.

In other developments related to the Ukraine war:

· Russia has said it will establish a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians holed up in the Azot chemical plant in the flashpoint city of Severodonetsk in eastern Ukraine. Forty children are among 500 civilians trapped in the plant, the regional mayor said.

· Mr Zelenskyy has expressed regret over “the restrained behaviour of some leaders”, which had “slowed down arms supplies very much”. Ukraine has received only 10 per cent of the arms it had requested from the West, Kyiv's deputy defence minister said.

A Ukrainian flag is placed on the grave of military medic Yevhen Khrapko, who was killed during the evacuation of wounded servicemen from a fighting zone. He was buried at a cemetery in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. EPA

A UN official has said that Ukrainian children should not be adopted in Russia, where several thousand young people are believed to have been relocated to since the invasion began.

· Ukrainian MP Alona Shkrum has praised Ireland’s generosity towards the 35,000 Ukrainian refugees it has taken in, telling reporters during a visit to Dublin that the hospitality “will never be forgotten”.

'Everything will depend on appeals from UK'

Meanwhile the fates of two Britons sentenced to death by firing squad for fighting in Ukraine continue to hang in the balance.

Aiden Aslin, 28, and Shaun Pinner, 48, both signed-up members of Ukraine's 36th Marine Brigade, were detained by Russian forces during the battle for Mariupol.

They were convicted by a court in the Ukrainian breakaway enclave of Donetsk of being “mercenaries” and conducting “terrorist activities” after the fought alongside Ukrainian troops.

A Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on Monday suggested Moscow would be willing to listen to London regarding the cases.

However, neither Moscow nor the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine who passed the sentence have heard from authorities in Britain on the issue.

“You need to apply … to the authorities of the country whose court passed the verdict, and that is not the Russian Federation,” Mr Peskov said, according to an Associated Press report.

“But, of course, everything will depend on appeals from London. And I am sure that the Russian side will be ready to listen.”

Ms Truss said she had spoken to her Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba about the Britons’ cases, amid suggestions a prisoner swap could be negotiated.

“I will do whatever is necessary to secure their release,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday.

As Kyiv continues to push for EU accession, the French government has laid out its proposal for a “European Political Community,” an idea first floated by President Emmanuel Macron as a middle ground membership for Ukraine in May.

The plan was detailed in a memo EU ambassadors are due to discuss at a meeting on Wednesday.

As fears of an escalation of the war in Ukraine ratchet up among Nato’s ranks, a military historian has expressed doubted over whether the alliance would be able to repel Russian attacks on Baltic states.

Sonke Neitzel, who has written extensively about the Second World War, suggested in an interview with German daily newspaper Welt that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia remain highly vulnerable to Russian aggression.

Ukraine's farming industry has suffered damage worth $4.3 billion (£3.5 billion) to farmland, machinery and livestock as a result of Russia’s invasion, the Kyiv School of Economics has said.

About half of the “already immense” destruction from the war comes from pollution caused by mines and unharvested crops, according to a report from the institute. About a quarter of the total — $926 million (£764 million) — accounts for damage to farm machinery due to military activity and occupation.

Russia is using food security as an economic weapon, said Tymofiy Mylovanov, a former minister and president of the Kyiv School of Economics.

“They are trying to take over farmland for people to collaborate,” he said in an interview. “They are moving crops away. They are taking food which otherwise would have been consumed in those areas and they are moving it to Russian areas.”

China repeats backing for Russian 'sovereignty and security'

Chinese President Xi Jinping held a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday and told him Beijing would keep backing Moscow on “sovereignty and security”, according to state media.

China is “willing to continue to support [Russia] on issues concerning core interests and major concerns such as sovereignty and security,” Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported Mr Xi as saying.

It was the second reported call between the two leaders since the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.

China has refused to condemn Moscow's war and has been accused of providing diplomatic cover for Russia by blasting western sanctions and the supply of arms to Kyiv.

After weeks of bombardment and street clashes, Russian forces now control the majority of Severodonetsk, one of the last Ukrainian strongholds in the Luhansk region, British intelligence suggests.

The UK's Ministry of Defence on Wednesday said it is “highly unlikely” that Mr Putin's forces had expected such stiff resistance from the Ukrainians defending the city.

“After more than a month of heavy fighting, Russian forces now control the majority of Severodonetsk,” the ministry said in an update on Twitter.

“Russia’s urban warfare tactics, which are reliant on heavy use of artillery, have generated extensive collateral damage throughout the city.”

The ministry said elements of “Ukrainian Armed Forces, along with several hundred civilians” had taken shelter in underground bunkers at the Azot Chemical Plant, in the city’s industrial zone.

“Russian forces will likely be fixed in and around Azot while Ukrainian fighters can survive underground. This will likely temporarily prevent Russia from re-tasking these units for missions elsewhere,” the ministry said.

“It is highly unlikely that Russia anticipated such robust opposition or such slow, attritional conflict during its original planning for the invasion.”

Updated: June 15, 2022, 5:50 PM
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