• Russia bristles at US rocket deliveries
  • Moscow conducts nuclear exercises
  • Russian forces tighten their grip on the city of Sievierodonetsk
  • Chemical plant hit, mayor urges residents inside
  • Russia cuts more gas to Europe after EU oil ban deal

KYIV, June 1 (Reuters) – Russian forces moved closer to the center of an industrial city on Wednesday in a bid to seize part of eastern Ukraine, while the United States said that they would supply advanced rockets to Kyiv to help Moscow negotiate an end to the war.

The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces, now 98 days after their invasion, shelled infrastructure in eastern and southern regions, including the city of Sievierodonetsk, which they entered on May 27 and which is the main objective of their ground offensive in the eastern region of Donbass.

According to provincial governor Serhiy Gaidai, a Russian airstrike hit the Azot chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk on Tuesday, detonating a tank of toxic nitric acid and releasing a plume of pink smoke. He urged residents to stay indoors.

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Reuters could not independently confirm the cause of the incident.

US President Joe Biden has said Washington will provide precision rocket systems and ammunition as part of a $700 million weapons package expected to be officially announced on Wednesday. Read more

“We acted quickly to send Ukraine a significant amount of weapons and ammunition so that it could fight on the battlefield and be in the strongest possible position at the negotiating table,” wrote Biden in the New York Times.

A Biden administration official said the new supplies — which add up to billions of dollars worth of equipment such as drones and anti-aircraft missiles — include the M142 high-mobility artillery rocket system ( HIMARS), which Kyiv says is “crucial” in countering Russian missile attacks.

Amid fears that such weapons could draw the United States into direct conflict, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Ukraine had promised Washington it would not use the rocket systems to strike targets. targets inside Russia. Read more

Russia, however, warned of an increased risk of direct confrontation with the United States. Read more

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Saudi Arabia, said the supply of rocket launchers increased the risk of a “third country” being drawn into the conflict.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such supplies would not encourage Ukrainian leaders to resume stalled peace talks.

“We believe the United States is deliberately and diligently adding fuel to the fire,” Peskov said.

NUCLEAR FORCES

Shortly after the US decision was announced, the Russian Defense Ministry said Russian nuclear forces were holding exercises in Ivanovo province, northeast of Moscow, Interfax news agency reported. . The report does not mention the American decision. Read more

Russia has also completed testing of its Zircon hypersonic cruise missile and will deploy it by the end of the year on a new frigate from its Northern Fleet, a senior army officer said on Wednesday. Read more

The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces continued to shell the northern, southern and eastern districts of Sievierodonetsk.

If Russia captures the city and its smaller twin Lysychansk on the west bank of the Siverskyi Donets River, it will hold all of Luhansk, one of two Donbass provinces that Moscow claims on behalf of the separatists and a target of key war of President Vladimir Putin. .

Ukrainian forces now control only 20% of Sievierodonetsk, Russian forces 60% and the rest has become “no man’s land”, Oleksandr Stryuk, the Ukrainian head of the city’s administration, told Reuters. Read more

“The 20% is fiercely defended by our armed forces…Attempts are being made to drive out the Russian troops…We are hopeful that despite everything we will liberate the city…” Stryuk said.

Governor Gaidai said Lysychansk was easier to defend because it is located on a hill, but Russian forces would target it with artillery and mortars once they had full control of Sievierodonetsk.

The leader of the pro-Moscow Luhansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, told the TASS news agency that Russian proxies had moved slower than expected to protect the city’s infrastructure and “use caution around its factories. chemicals”.

Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s aid agency, which had long operated from Sievierodonetsk, said up to 12,000 civilians remained trapped in the crossfire, without sufficient access to water , food, medicine or electricity.

Before the war, the city was home to around 120,000 people.

WEAPONS PACK

The new US package includes munitions, counterfire radars, air surveillance radars, additional Javelin anti-tank missiles and anti-armour weapons, officials said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Wednesday that Berlin would supply Kyiv with its IRIS-T medium-range surface-to-air defense system.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for more weapons while lambasting the European Union, which on Monday agreed to cut Russian oil imports, for not earlier sanctioning energy from Russia.

The EU will ban imports of Russian oil by sea. Officials said it would halt two-thirds of Russia’s oil exports to Europe initially, and 90% by the end of this year. Read more

In response to the EU oil embargo, Russia has widened its gas cuts to Europe, driving up prices and intensifying its economic battle with Brussels. Read more Moscow said on Wednesday it could reroute oil exports to limit its losses.

The war also disrupted Ukrainian exports of wheat and other staples, hitting consumers with higher food prices, especially in the world’s poorest countries.

Pope Francis has called for the lifting of all blockages on wheat exports from Ukraine, saying the grain should not be used as a “weapon of war”. Read more

Putin launched what he calls a special military operation on February 24 to disarm and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of aggression.

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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Gareth Jones and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Frank Jack Daniel and Hugh Lawson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.