Russia steps up battle for eastern Ukraine

Russia’s defense ministry released images showing what it said was the latest successful test of their Zircon hypersonic cruise missile

Russia pressed its onslaught on eastern Ukraine Saturday, saying it had captured the strategic town of Lyman and had successfully tested hypersonic missiles in the Arctic.

Ukrainian forces battled to repel Russian forces from the outskirts of the key city of Severodonetsk, a Ukrainian official said, however denying claims it had been surrounded.

“The town of Krasny Liman has been entirely liberated from nationalists,” the Russian defense Ukrainian ministry said, using the Russian name for Lyman and confirming an announcement made a day earlier by pro-Moscow separatists.

Russian forces have been closing in on Severodonetsk and nearby Lysychansk in Lugansk province, with conflicting reports about the extent of their advance.

“Severodonetsk has not been cut off… there is still the possibility to deliver humanitarian aid,” he told Ukrainian television.

– France, Germany urge talks –

Other Ukrainian ports have been cut off from the world by Russian warships, preventing key grain supplies from being transported out.

Russia has tightened its own exports and Ukraine has vast amounts stuck in storage, driving up prices and cutting availability for importers across the globe.

But on Saturday he told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a phone call Russia was “ready” to look for ways to allow more wheat onto the global market.

He called for the lifting of sanctions to allow “an increase in the supply of Russian fertilizers and agricultural products” onto the global market.

And they demanded Russia free 2,500 Ukrainian fighters taken as prisoners of war after surrendering earlier this month at a sprawling steelworks in the ravaged port city of Mariupol.

Zelensky late Friday said his country was doing everything to defend the Donbas from intense artillery and missile strikes.

To further help the Ukrainians, Washington was preparing to send advanced long-range rocket systems, US media reports said.

But he said Washington was “still committed to helping them succeed on the battlefield”.

But Putin warned Macron and Scholz that ramping up arms supplies to Ukraine would be “dangerous” and risk “further destabilisation”.

– Ship docks in Mariupol –

“We need to act until they stop their policy of aggression,” Zelensky told a think tank in Indonesia.

In Ukraine, a spokesman for the Russian-controlled Mariupol port said a first ship had docked there on Saturday.

There was however no official announcement from either the Russian or separatist authorities.

Originally published as Russia steps up battle for eastern Ukraine

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