Russia pulls out of Snake Island

Ukraine celebrates but Moscow's defence chiefs describe withdrawal from strategically important outcrop as 'gesture of goodwill'

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Russian forces on Thursday announced they had abandoned the strategic Black Sea outpost of Snake Island, which they had captured in the first days of the Ukraine invasion.

The withdrawal marks a major victory for Ukraine that could loosen the grip of Russia's grain export blockade.

Ukraine said it had driven the Russian forces out after a massive artillery assault overnight.

However, Russia's Defence Ministry described the decision to pull out as a "gesture of goodwill".

Defence spokesman Lt Gen Igor Konashenkov insisted that the withdrawal was intended to demonstrate that “the Russian Federation wasn’t hampering the United Nations’ efforts to establish a humanitarian corridor for taking agricultural products from the territory of Ukraine”.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russian of blockading Ukrainian ports to prevent the exports of grain, contributing to the global food crisis. Moscow has denied the accusations and said Ukraine needed to remove sea mines from the Black Sea to allow for safe navigation.

The head of Ukraine's army Valeriy Zaluzhny on Thursday hailed the withdrawal of Russian forces, saying: "I thank the defenders of Odesa region who took maximum measures to liberate a strategically important part of our territory."

He thanked allies for their support and said howitzers had played an important role in liberating the island.

"KABOOM!" tweeted Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's chief of staff. "No Russian troops on the Snake Island any more. Our Armed Forces did a great job."

Last month, British military intelligence said Russia could dominate the north-western Black Sea if it consolidated its position on Snake Island.

The outcrop controls access to sea lanes to Odesa, Ukraine's main Black Sea port, where a Russian blockade has prevented exports of grain from one of the world's main suppliers, creating a global food supply shock and risk of famine.

Russia took control of the island that sits on a busy shipping lane in the early days of the war in an apparent hope to use it to control the area and use it as a staging ground for an attack on Odesa.

Snake Island became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance after a radio exchange went viral at the start of the war, in which Ukrainian soldiers used an expletive in rebuffing a demand by a Russian warship to surrender.

In the east of Ukraine on Thursday, Moscow kept up its push to take control of the entire Donbas region. It is focused on the city of Lysychansk, the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the Luhansk province. Russian troops and their separatist allies control 95 per cent of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, the two provinces that make up the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas.

Speaking on a visit to Turkmenistan early on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his goals in Ukraine have not changed since the start of the war: “the liberation of the Donbas, the protection of these people and the creation of conditions that would guarantee the security of Russia itself".

He denied Russia had adjusted its strategy after failing to take Kyiv in the early stage of the conflict. “As you can see, the troops are moving and reaching the marks that were set for them for a certain stage of this combat work. Everything is going according to plan,” Mr Putin said at a news conference in Turkmenistan.

In central Ukraine, funerals were to be held on Thursday for some of the 18 people killed by Monday’s Russian missile strike on a busy shopping centre in Kremenchuk. Crews continued to search through the rubble in search of another 20 who remain missing.

After the attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of becoming a “terrorist” state. On Wednesday, he reproached Nato for not embracing or equipping his embattled country more fully.

A man pastes a new series of commemorative Snake Island anti-Russian stamps on a postcard, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, outside the post office in Kyiv. Reuters
Updated: July 01, 2022, 7:32 AM
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