Moscow on Tuesday warned Lithuania of “serious” consequences over its restriction of rail traffic to Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, as Kremlin forces made gains in Ukraine’s strategic Donbas region.
The row over Lithuania, the arrival of sophisticated German weaponry in Ukraine’s arsenal, and an imminent decision on Kyiv’s candidacy to join the EU threaten to further ratchet up tensions between the West and Moscow.
Kremlin troops were meanwhile gaining ground in the Donbas, causing “catastrophic destruction” in Lysychansk, an industrial city at the forefront of recent clashes, the region’s governor said. Ukraine confirmed Russia had taken the frontline village of Toshkivka.
Governor Sergiy Gaiday said “every town and village” in Ukrainian hands in the Lugansk region was “under almost non-stop fire”.
Since being repelled from Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine following its invasion in February, Moscow has been focusing its offensive on the Donbas region.
In the eastern city of Sloviansk, which could become a flashpoint as Russian troops advance from the north, local people were preparing to withstand attacks and the authorities said the community would defend itself.
“We believe they’ll beat the Russian scum,” resident Valentina, 63, said of local Ukrainian forces.
Russia’s war of words with EU member Lithuania escalated on Tuesday, with Moscow vowing “serious” consequences over Vilnius’ restrictions on rail traffic to the exclave of Kaliningrad that borders Lithuania and Poland.
Lithuania says it is simply adhering to EU-wide sanctions on Moscow but Russia countered, accusing Brussels of “escalation”.
Moscow summoned the EU’s ambassador to Russia. Its foreign ministry said Lithuania’s actions “violate the relevant legal and political obligations of the European Union”.
“Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions,” security council chief Nikolai Patrushev said at a regional security meeting in Kaliningrad.
Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov tweeted that powerful German-made Panzerhaubitze 2000 howizter artillery pieces had reached his country’s forces.
Russia said Tuesday it had repelled a Ukrainian attempt to re-take the symbolic Snake Island, a small territory in the Black Sea captured by Russian forces on the first day of the invasion.
In addition to Toshkivka, Ukraine said it had lost control of the eastern village of Metyolkine, a settlement adjacent to Severodonetsk, which has been a focus of fighting for weeks and is now largely under Russian control.
A chemical plant in Severodonetsk where hundreds of civilians are said to be sheltering was being shelled constantly, Ukraine warned.
But defence ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told Ukrainian television that Russian forces had suffered “significant losses in the area of Severodonetsk”.
Ukraine on Tuesday said it struck a Black Sea oil drilling platform off the Crimea peninsula because Russia was using it as a military installation.
The rig had Russian garrisons and equipment for air defence, radar warfare and reconnaissance, Sergiy Bratchuk of Odessa’s regional military administration told an online briefing.
Crimea’s Moscow-backed leader Sergey Aksyonov had said three people were injured and seven more were missing after the first reported strike against offshore energy infrastructure in the Russian-annexed peninsula since the war began.
Russian shelling killed 15 people including an eight-year-old in eastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Tuesday, its governor said.
On the maritime front, Russia’s navy is blockading ports, which Ukraine says is preventing millions of tonnes of grain from being shipped to world markets, contributing to soaring food prices.
Prior to the war, Ukraine was a major exporter of wheat, corn and sunflower oil.
With European officials due to gather this week at a summit expected to approve Ukraine’s candidacy to join the EU, Brussels foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the Russians’ port blockade “a real war crime”.
Moscow denies responsibility for the disruption to deliveries and, following Borrell’s comments, blamed the West’s “destructive” position for surging grain prices.
Turkish media reported that Russian, Ukrainian and UN officials would meet in Istanbul next week to try to unblock Black Sea grain exports.
In New York, Dmitry Muratov, the Russian editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, auctioned off his Nobel Peace Prize gold medal for $103.5 million to benefit children displaced by the war.
It was sold to an unidentified phone bidder.
Muratov won the prize in 2021 alongside journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines.
With US-Russia tensions soaring, the US State Department on Tuesday confirmed a second American, 52-year-old Stephen Zabielski, was killed fighting for Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier told NBC News that two Americans captured in Ukraine while fighting with Kyiv’s military were “endangering” Russian soldiers and should be “held accountable for those crimes”.
On the ground, the police chief of the Kyiv region said victims of the Russian attempt to seize Ukraine’s capital continued to be found.
So far, the bodies of 1,333 civilians have been discovered and 300 people remain missing.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland visited Ukraine on Tuesday to discuss prosecution of individuals involved in war crimes.
“There is no place to hide,” Garland said, vowing to hold to account those responsible for “atrocities” and war crimes.
Spain said one of its citizens fighting for Ukraine had been killed, without giving further detail.
Denmark and Sweden meanwhile became the latest European countries to warn of potential gas supply problems. Their energy agencies issued early warnings, due to uncertainty over hydrocarbon imports from Russia.
Ukraine has called the reasons given for Russia’s reduction of gas supply to European customers “far-fetched” and “illegal”.