- The United Nations has slammed the “horrific” civilian toll as Russia’s war in Ukraine reaches 500 days.
- Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Ukraine “deserves” NATO membership during his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
- Erdogan also says he is pressing Russia to extend the Black Sea grain deal by at least three months.
- US President Joe Biden has defended what he said was a “difficult decision” to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine.
UK says Russia lacks reserves for Bakhmut fight
UK’s defence ministry say Russia’s army in Ukraine hardly has any reserves to reinforce the sector around the town of Bakhmut, despite intensified fighting.
Last week’s fighting around the now destroyed city has been among the fiercest on the entire front, after subsiding in June, the ministry said in its daily intelligence report on Twitter.
“Russian defenders are highly likely struggling with poor morale, a mix of disparate units and a limited ability to find and strike Ukrainian artillery,” the statement said.
But it said the Russian leadership probably considered it politically unacceptable to abandon Bakhmut, which had been one of the few Russian territorial gains in the past 12 months.
Russia seeks UN Security Council meeting on Nord Stream blasts
A senior Russian diplomat at the United Nations says Moscow has requested a new meeting of the UN Security Council for July 11 to discuss last September’s explosions on the Nord Stream gas pipelines.
Moscow has unsuccessfully demanded access to investigations by Sweden and other countries into the blasts, which severely damaged the pipelines connecting Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea.
“We requested a new open meeting of the UN Security Council on the Nord Stream blasts for July 11,” Dmitry Polyansky, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, said on the Telegram messaging platform.
He also said Russia would invite “a couple of interesting impartial speakers” to the meeting.
Zelenskyy visits island symbol of defiance as war enters 500th day
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited a Black Sea island whose defenders famously defied a Russian warship at the beginning of the invasion.
“Today we are on Snake Island, which will never be conquered by the occupiers, like the whole of Ukraine, because we are the country of the brave,” he said in a video clip released on social media on Saturday.
“I want to thank from here, from this place of victory, each of our soldiers for these 500 days,” Zelensky said in the undated clip, in which he was shown arriving on the island by boat and leaving flowers at a memorial.
Moscow captured Snake Island shortly after launching its invasion on February 24, 2022. A radio exchange went viral in which Ukrainian soldiers told the crew of Russia’s attacking warship demanding their surrender to “go f**k yourself”.
The Ukrainian soldiers were taken prisoner but later exchanged for Russian captives.
Russian shelling kills six in eastern Ukraine: Governor
Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko says six people were killed in Lyman in eastern Ukraine after the town came under fire from Russian rockets.
“At least six people were killed and five injured… At around 10am [07:00 GMT], the Russians struck the town with multiple rocket launchers,” Kyrylenko said on social media.
Russian defence minister Shoigu shown inspecting troops
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has inspected troops and overseen training of newly formed units made up of contracted servicemen, his ministry says.
The ministry released footage on its Telegram channel showing Shoigu in khaki military fatigues inspecting soldiers at a shooting range, in what seems to be a rare public appearance with troops since last month’s aborted mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group.
The ministry did not say when the video was filmed or when the inspection took place.
Shoigu said on Monday that the aborted Wagner mutiny did not affect Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.
Ukraine counteroffensive ‘advances’: 80th Airborne Brigade return to Bakhmut
The battle of Bakhmut is the longest and bloodiest of the war in Ukraine.
Russian forces seized control of the city in the eastern Donbas region in May.
Ukraine’s 80th Airborne Brigade is heavily involved in the battle and among its ranks are a father and son fighting side by side.
Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig reports from the front line near Bakhmut, Ukraine.
UK to give special firefighting vehicles to Ukraine
Britain says it will provide 15 Rapid Intervention Vehicles and two Major Foam Vehicles to Ukraine.
“The UK will provide 17 specialist firefighting vehicles to Ukraine’s fire and rescue services, primarily sourced from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Defence Fire and Rescue, with one provided by the Welsh Government,” said a statement from the defence ministry.
It noted the equipment will help bolster Ukraine’s ability to respond to damage caused by Russian attacks.
“These specialist firefighting vehicles will boost Ukraine’s ability to protect its infrastructure from Russia’s campaign of missile and drone attacks and continue our support for Ukraine, for as long as it takes,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in the statement.
500 days of war in Ukraine: At what cost?
Five-hundred days ago, in the early hours of a cold February morning, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of its western neighbour, Ukraine.
The Kremlin had hoped for a quick “special military operation” but 16-and-a-half months later, fighting is still raging with no immediate end in sight.
As the war reaches another grim milestone on Saturday, here are just some of the sombre ways it has upended life for tens of millions of people.
Ukraine ‘deserves’ NATO membership, Turkey’s Erdogan says
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also called for a return to peace talks saying, ‘a fair peace creates no losers’.
Turkey supports Ukraine’s NATO membership aspirations, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy, but he also urged for a “return to peace efforts” to end the conflict that has now raged for 500 days since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.
“There is no doubt that Ukraine deserves membership of NATO,” Erdogan told a joint press conference with the Ukrainian president in Istanbul early on Saturday, adding that the two sides should go back to peace talks.
“A fair peace creates no losers,” the Turkish leader said, according to the Reuters news agency.
Zelenskyy thanked Erdogan for his support, which comes ahead of a key NATO summit that is set to start on Tuesday in Vilnius, Lithuania.
“I am grateful for the support of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Peace formula. Protection of our countries, our people and our interests,” the Ukrainian leader wrote in a tweet regarding his talks with Erdogan.The Ukrainian leader has lobbied intensively for his embattled country to be invited to join the Western military alliance, arguing that Ukraine has become Europe’s last line of defence against Russia’s aggression.
This week, Zelenskyy visited the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria to drum up support for Ukraine’s NATO membership bid ahead of the military alliance’s July 11-12 summit.
In Prague, he won a pledge of support for Ukraine to join NATO “as soon as the war is over”, and in Sofia, he secured backing for membership “as soon as conditions allow”.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also reaffirmed his view that Ukraine would become a member.
However, the timeline for Ukraine’s membership remains unclear.
On Friday, the United States dampened Ukraine’s hopes of any rapid accession to the alliance, saying this week’s summit would not result in a NATO membership invitation.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the Vilnius summit “will be an important moment on that pathway towards membership”, but that Ukraine has “further steps it needs to take before membership in NATO”.
NATO countries have debated when and how Ukraine can become a member and under what circumstances. Member countries such as Germany insist that certain conditions must be met, including the military being under civilian and democratic control.
It remains unclear what exactly Ukraine will be offered at the summit in the Lithuanian capital, and Zelenskyy has acknowledged that Kyiv is unlikely to be able to join NATO while at war with Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened unspecified action if Ukraine joins NATO.
Kremlin watching closely
Zelenskyy’s talks in Turkey were being watched closely by the Kremlin, which has tried to break its international isolation by cultivating strong relations with the Turkish leader Erdogan.Erdogan has tried to portray himself as a neutral mediator between Kyiv and Moscow, substantially boosting wartime trade with Russia while also supplying Ukraine with drones and other weapons that helped keep Kremlin forces from seizing Kyiv in the first weeks of the war.
Though the Turkish leader reaffirmed his longstanding call for the two sides to enter peace negotiations, Erdogan risked drawing the ire of Putin by delivering unequivocal support for Ukraine’s NATO aspiration.
Erdogan said Putin will visit Turkey next month and that he and the Russian president would discuss possible prisoner swaps between Russia and Ukraine, which Erdogan has helped to arrange in the past.
Erdogan also said that he would push Putin to extend a deal that Turkey and the United Nations had brokered last year under which Ukraine was able to ship grain to the global market from ports on the Black Sea.The deal will expire on July 17 unless Russia agrees to its renewal.