Russia withdrew its forces Thursday from Snake Island, a strategically important island that sits along a busy shipping lane in the Black Sea and has come to symbolize Ukrainian resistance to the invasion.
The island gained international attention in February when a Russian warship demanded Ukrainian troops surrender or face bombardment and the soldiers responded “Go f— yourself.” The soldiers were captured and later freed during a prisoner exchange.
Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov called the withdrawal from Zmiyinyy (Snake) Island off Ukraine’s port of Odesa a “goodwill gesture” to demonstrate that the country is not interfering with the United Nation’s attempts to secure space for Ukraine to export agricultural products.
Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russia of blockading ports and exacerbating a global food crisis, which Russia denies.
After the Russians took control of Snake island, the Ukrainian military relentlessly attacked their forces. Ukraine’s military said Russian troops fled the island after being bombarded by Ukrainian and missile strikes.
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►The government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, which remained in power thanks to the 2015 intervention of Russian forces amid a civil war, said it will recognize the “independence and sovereignty” of Ukraine’s separatists eastern republics in the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not changed his goals in Ukraine even though they don’t seem realistic, the top US intelligence official said Wednesday.
Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence, foresees a long, “grinding struggle” in which Russia retains the parts of the eastern Donbas region it already controls and consolidates its hold over the south by the fall but likely doesn’t get beyond that.
Speaking at an event in Washington, Haines said “has effectively the same political goals that he had previously Putin, which is to say that he wants to take most of Ukraine” and push it away from NATO.
“We perceive a disconnect between Putin’s near-term military objectives in this area and his military’s capacity, a kind of mismatch between his ambitions and what the military is able to accomplish,” she said.
Russia continues to make incremental advances in Lysychansk, the last city in Luhansk province, it doesn’t command. The invading forces and their separatist allies control 95% of Luhansk and about half of Donetsk, which make up the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas.
On the same day NATO formally invited Sweden and Finland to join the security alliance, President Joe Biden said the US will increase its military presence in eastern Europe amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Upon arriving at the NATO summit in Madrid on Wednesday, Biden announced the US would establish its first permanent headquarters in Poland, maintain an additional rotational brigade in Romania and boost its rotational deployments in the Baltic region.
The troops in Poland would represent the first permanent US forces on NATO’s eastern flank. The alliance plans to build up stocks of equipment and ammunition in the east and increase almost eightfold the size of its overall rapid-reaction force, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops, by next year.
Contributing: The Associated Press