Russian forces have withdrawn from Snake Island, a strategic Ukrainian outpost seized on day one of the invasion, in what Moscow has described as a “gesture of goodwill”.
But while Russia says its troops have left the rocky outcrop because they have completed all their tasks, Ukraine claims to have pushed out the occupying force.
Snake Island (or Zmiinyi Island), in the Black Sea off Odesa, achieved fame at the start of the war when Ukrainian border guards stationed there rejected a Russian warship’s demand for their surrender.
As the Russian navy attacked, a Ukrainian soldier who was posted on the island told the enemy to “go f*** yourself” in a sign of defiant resistance.
Last month Britain’s defence ministry said that if Russia was able to consolidate its position on Snake Island, it could dominate the north-western Black Sea.
The head of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office, Andriy Yermak, confirmed on Twitter that the Russians had departed.
“KABOOM! No Russian troops on the Snake Island anymore. Our Armed Forces did a great job,” he tweeted.
No Russian troops on the Snake Island anymore. Our Armed Forces did a great job.
More kaboom news to follow. All will be 🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/ItdP3oQvHK
— Andriy Yermak (@AndriyYermak) June 30, 2022
Ukraine’s southern military command wrote on Facebook that Russian forces had evacuated in two boats following an operation involving missile and artillery units.
Mr Yermak repeated Ukrainian accusations that Russia was provoking a global food crisis by blocking Ukraine’s ports and targeting storage facilities.
But the Russian ministry claims the move shows it is not impeding UN efforts to organise a humanitarian corridor to export agricultural products out of Ukraine.
Since Russia invaded on February 24, Ukrainian grain shipments from its Black Sea ports have stalled and millions of tonnes of grain are stuck in silos.
Moscow says the onus is on Kyiv to remove mines from the ports to free up shipping lanes and says Western sanctions against it are worsening the situation.
A first cargo ship left the Russian-occupied Ukrainian port of Berdyansk in the Sea of Azov in Ukraine’s east, a local official said on Thursday, after Russia said the port had been de-mined and was ready to resume grain shipments.
Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies, while Russia is also a key global fertiliser exporter and Ukraine is a major exporter of corn and sunflower oil.
Meanwhile US President Joe Biden has signalled he expects a long conflict in Ukraine, offering to support the country “for as long as it takes”.
Mr Biden said the United States would provide another $US800 million ($1.2 billion) in weapons and military aid to Ukraine.
Speaking after a NATO summit in which the military alliance also agreed to take in Finland and Sweden, Mr Biden said the United States and its NATO allies were united in standing up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I don’t know how it’s going to end but it will not end with Russia defeating Ukraine,” Mr Biden told a news conference.
“Ukraine has already dealt a severe blow to Russia.”
Biden, who appeared to be readying allies for a long conflict in Ukraine despite talk in March of a possible victory, added: “We are going to support Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
He declined to give more details.
Putin hits back after G7 mocking
Russian President Vladimir Putin has shot back at Western leaders who mocked his athletic exploits, saying they would look “disgusting” if they tried to emulate his bare-torso appearances.
Mr Putin made the comment during a visit to Turkmenistan on Thursday when asked about Western leaders joking about him at the G7 summit.
As they sat down for talks, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson jested that G7 leaders could take their clothes off to “show that we’re tougher than Putin” amid Russia-West tensions over Moscow’s military action in Ukraine.
Canadian premier Justin Trudeau joked that Western leaders could try to match Putin’s naked torso pictures with a “bare-chested horseback riding display,” one of his widely publicised athletic adventures.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Putin retorted that, unlike him, Western leaders abuse alcohol and don’t do sports.
“I don’t know how they wanted to get undressed, above or below the waist,” he said. “”But I think it would be a disgusting sight in any case.”
He noted that to look good “it’s necessary to stop abusing alcohol and other bad habits, do physical exercise and take part in sports.”