Russian forces have abandoned the strategic outpost of Snake Island in the Black Sea, in a major victory for Ukraine that could lift a Russian grain export blockade that threatens to exacerbate global hunger.
Most important points:
- Russia says its withdrawal from Snake Island was a “goodwill gesture” that showed it was not hindering UN efforts to open humanitarian corridors to export Ukrainian grain
- Experts say the recent delivery of Western weapons to Ukraine likely helped their troops regain the island
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has reiterated that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is “going according to plan”
Russia’s defense ministry said it had decided to pull out of the rock as a “goodwill gesture” demonstrating Moscow’s efforts to open a humanitarian corridor through which grains could be shipped from Ukrainian ports shipped, not clogged.
Ukraine said it had dislodged Russian troops after a massive artillery and night attack.
“KABOOM!” tweeted Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Ukraine’s southern military command posted an image to Facebook of what appeared to be the island, seen from the air, with at least five massive columns of black smoke rising above it.
“The enemy hastily evacuated the remains of the garrison with two speedboats and probably left the island,” it said.
Oleksii Hromov, Brigadier General of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, told a briefing that Ukrainian troops are not occupying the island yet, “but they will, believe me”.
The bare rock controls sea routes to Odessa, Ukraine’s main Black Sea port, where the Russian blockade has prevented grain exports from one of the world’s major suppliers, causing a global deficit, price inflation and a risk of famine. Have originated.
Russia captured the island on the first day of the war, when a Ukrainian guard there, ordered to surrender by the Russian cruiser Moskva, radioed back: “Russian warship: go destroy yourself”.
Hope of resumption of Ukrainian grain exports to the rest of the world
“Most importantly, this could open the door for Ukrainian grain exports from Odessa, which is critical to the Ukrainian economy and global food supply,” tweeted Rob Lee, a senior fellow at US-based Foreign Policy. Research Institute.
Lifting the blockade has been a primary strategic goal of the West. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Russia of deliberately causing world hunger as “blackmail”.
Moscow denies blocking ports and blames food shortages on Western sanctions, saying it is restricting its own exports.
“The Ukrainian army has cleared the entrances to their ports; no one is stopping them from clearing those mines and we guarantee the safety of grain shipping there.”
‘Big win’ despite no immediate relief of export blockade
Several military experts said driving the Russians off Snake Island alone is not enough to unblock the ports.
“Does that mean the grain is suddenly flowing? No, really not,” said Marcus Faulkner, a war studies lecturer at King’s College London, pointing out that ports were still being mined and Russia was still able to intercept cargo ships at sea.
Oleg Zhdanov, a Kiev-based military analyst, also said the ports could not be opened immediately, but it was still a “great victory in the sense that we liquidate the Black Sea fleet’s dominance”.
Last month, the British Ministry of Defense said that if Russia could consolidate its hold on Snake Island with air defense and coastal defense cruise missiles, it could dominate the northwestern Black Sea.
Russia has defended the island since February, despite Ukraine’s increasing claims to cause serious damage, sink supply ships and destroy Russian fortifications.
New weapons sent by the West made the Russian garrison even more vulnerable, especially HIMARS, a powerful missile system supplied by the United States, which Ukraine began using last week.
Lee said Russia’s abandonment of the island is “probably a tangible result of NATO arms deliveries to Ukraine”.
The head of the Ukrainian armed forces said Ukrainian-made howitzers fired at the island had played a role in ousting the Russians, but also thanked foreign countries for their support.
Russia targets last Ukrainian stronghold Luhansk
In eastern Ukraine, Moscow continued to push to take control of the entire Donbas region. It is centered on the city of Lysychansk, the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in Luhansk province.
Russian forces and their separatist allies control 95 percent of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, the two provinces that make up predominantly Russian-speaking Donbas.
The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces fired on Lysychansk and clashed with Ukrainian defenders around an oil refinery on the outskirts of the city.
Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said Russian reconnaissance units tried to enter Lysychansk on Wednesday but were repulsed by Ukrainian forces.
He said Russians were trying to block a highway used to deliver supplies and completely surround the city.
No change in goals, Putin says
Visiting Turkmenistan early Thursday (local time), Russian President Vladimir Putin said his goals in Ukraine had not changed since the start of the war.
He said they were “the liberation of the Donbas, the protection of these people and the creation of conditions that would guarantee the security of Russia itself”.
He made no mention of his originally stated goals to “demilitarize” and “de-nazify” Ukraine. He denied that Russia had changed its strategy after failing to take Kiev early in the conflict.
“As you can see, the troops are on the move and are achieving the targets set for them for a certain phase of this combat work,” Putin said at a news conference in Turkmenistan.
People remain missing after rocket attack
Funerals are set to be held in central Ukraine on Thursday for some of the 18 people killed by Monday’s Russian rocket attack on a busy shopping center in Kremenchuk.
Crews continued to search the rubble for another 20 people who are still missing.
Ukrainian emergency services press officer Svitlana Rybalko said investigators found fragments of another eight bodies along with the 18 bodies.
Whether that meant more casualties was not immediately clear. A number of survivors suffered severed limbs.
After the attack on the mall, Mr. Zelenskyy accused Russia of becoming a “terrorist” state.
On Wednesday, he accused NATO of not embracing or equipping his country more fully.
He called for more modern artillery systems and other weapons and warned NATO leaders to either provide Ukraine with the help it needed to defeat Russia or “face a delayed war between Russia and you”.
In southern Ukraine, the death toll in the Russian rocket attack on an apartment building in Mykolaiv rose to six on Wednesday, Governor Vitaliy Kim said. Another six people were injured.
Mykolaiv is an important port and capturing it – as well as Odessa further west – would be key to Russia’s goal of sealing Ukraine off the Black Sea coast.