By The Associated Press
UNDATED — A funeral was held Thursday for a retired Russian Air Force major-general whose plane was shot down while flying a combat mission in his country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian state news agency Tass said Kanamat Botashev, a 63-year-old major-general who volunteered to return to service, had been shot down last month while flying over the eastern Donbass region.
Since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24, Russia has suffered the loss of several generals and other senior officers.
In reporting on a memorial service held Thursday in Cherkessk — the capital of the Karachay-Cherkess Republic, Russia — Tass said Botashev was flying in response to a request for help from an assault group blocked by enemy forces.
He “decided to carry out an attack at an ultra-low altitude, and struck at the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and that subsequently helped the group to get out of the encirclement,” Tass reported.
It said that when leaving the attack, the plane was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile and Botashev was killed. He was awarded the posthumous title of “Hero of Russian Federation.”
On May 22, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said a Russian Su-25 attack plane was shot down over the Luhansk region and that the pilot did not have time to eject.
News reports at the time tied that incident to Botashev’s death, which the Russian government had not confirmed until Thursday.
KEY DEVELOPMENTS IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR:
— In Ukraine, broken lives in a broken house
— Photo Gallery: 100 days of extraordinary images from Ukraine
— US, Germany agree to supply Ukraine advanced weapons
— Ukraine’s quest to qualify for the World Cup surges on during war
— Ukrainian stabs Ukrainian at New York bar, thinking he’s Russian
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. humanitarian chief was to meet with Russian officials Thursday as part of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ efforts to enable Ukrainian and Russian agricultural exports through the Black Sea amid a global food crisis.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that Undersecretary-General Martin Griffiths met officials Wednesday and will continue his meetings Thursday.
Guterres said there was no resolution as of Wednesday, but the U.N. is engaged in serious dialogue with all relevant parties “in order to find a package deal.”
Dujarric noted that Griffiths’ visit to Moscow followed a Monday visit to the Russian capital by Rebeca Grynspan, the secretary-general of the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development known as UNCTAD. Grynspan is focusing on getting Russian grains to global markets. She later went to Washington.
“We’ve seen a lot of positive statements coming from various capitals,” Dujarric said. “We also very much appreciate the role that Turkey is playing in all of this. If we have something concrete to announce, we will do so.”
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s state-run news agency on Thursday said officials from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations will meet in Istanbul soon to discuss plans for the establishment of a “corridor” that would allow the export of Ukrainian agricultural products.
The Anadolu Agency said the sides are set to discuss a possible route for the corridor, insurance issues and security for the corridor. They are also slated to take up the need to clear the route of mines as well as the creation of a command center that would oversee the mechanism.
Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports is preventing the supply of millions of tons of grain around the world.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the need for a corridor for the export of agricultural products during telephone calls with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week.
KYIV, Ukraine – A regional governor on Thursday said an estimated 800 people are holed up in bomb shelters at a chemical factory under attack in Sievierodonetsk, the latest epicenter of Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai told CNN children are among those taking shelter at the Azot factory, the largest chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk.
Russian forces attacked the factory again Thursday, damaging an administrative building and warehouse storing methanol. Only a small quantity of chemicals remains at the factory, according to Haidai.
While Russian forces have taken control of much of the city, the industrial zone remains in Ukrainian hands, he added.
He dismissed potential comparison between the Azov situation and a steel mill at the port city of Mariupol, where civilians and Ukrainian fighters were holed up for weeks, under Russian attack.
Russian forces entered Sievierodonetsk, the largest city Ukraine holds in the eastern Luhansk region, after weeks of shelling as they try to take full control of the industrial Donbas region.
WASHINGTON — NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday sought to underscore the alliance’s appreciation of Turkey as an “important ally.”
He offered the conciliatory words to Ankara ahead of a planned gathering of senior officials from Sweden, Finland and Turkey in Brussels next week to discuss Turkey’s opposition to the Nordic countries joining the defense alliance.
Stoltenberg made the comments to reporters after meeting with President Joe Biden and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House for what was billed as preparatory talks for the Madrid NATO Summit to be held this month.
Stoltenberg said he discussed Sweden and Finland’s application to join NATO with Biden and Sullivan and expressed confidence that the alliance would find a path to addressing Ankara’s concerns. But Stoltenberg also seemed to go out of his way to note Turkey’s value to the alliance.
“I think we need to also recognize that Turkey is an important ally. Turkey contributes to our security in many different ways,” said Stoltenberg, who noted the country’s Turkey’s efforts at countering Islamic State militants.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted Finland and Sweden must show more respect for Turkish sensitivities about terrorism since the countries filed their NATO applications. He is refusing to budge over what he says is their alleged support for Kurdish militants.
KYIV — The new U.S. ambassador to Ukraine on Thursday said her No. 1 mission “is to help Ukraine prevail against Russian aggression” and that the delivery of military aid is being accelerated.
Bridget Brink spoke to reporters Thursday after meeting and presenting her credentials to Ukraine’s president.
“There is no place on the planet I would rather be,” she said. “President Biden has said that we’re going to be here, helping Ukraine, for as long as it takes. And that’s what we’ll do.”
She said deliveries of military assistance are getting to Ukraine faster than earlier in the war.
“My understanding is that now it’s very quick, within days, less even, of a decision, that the hardware is in Ukrainian hands,” she said.
More weaponry will be coming, she promised.
Listing other priorities, Brink also vowed that U.S. officials “will work to ensure the world holds Russia to account for atrocities and war crimes.”
She arrived in Kyiv on May 29.
VILNIUS, Lithuania — Inspired by an act of generosity by Lithuanians, a Turkish manufacturer is donating a drone that will go to the war-torn country of Ukraine, Lithuania’s defense minister said Thursday.
Last week, Lithuanians raised 5.9 million euros in several days to buy a drone for Ukraine. Lithuanian officials had travelled to Turkey to sign a contract with the producer to acquire it.
But Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas wrote on Facebook that the Turkish manufacturer was so “impressed” by the Lithuanian people that it is “donating a drone Bayraktar TB2 to Lithuania.”
The Lithuanian government plans to send the drone to Ukraine later this month.
Some 1.5 million euros of the money raised by Lithuanians will be spent on drone munition, while the remaining 4.4 million would be earmarked for humanitarian and other assistance to Ukraine, Anusauskas said.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says if Russia prevails in its war in Ukraine “then the dark times will come for everyone” in Europe.
Addressing the parliament in Luxembourg via a video link on Thursday, Zelenskyy said: “If we win this war, all Europeans will be able to continue enjoying their freedom.”
“But if this one person who wants to destroy any freedom in Ukraine and Europe prevails, then dark times will come for everyone on the continent,” he added, referring to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
He said Russia currently controls almost 20% of Ukraine’s territory, an area larger than Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg combined, and that “tens of thousands” of people have died in the first 99 days of the war.
“This is what it means, in fact, to characterize this war as full-scale,” Zelenskyy said. “And this is why we are calling the world for their support.”
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says it’s in the European Union’s strategic interest but also “our moral duty” to make it possible for Ukraine to join the 30-nation bloc.
Von der Leyen made her remarks on Thursday at an international security conference in Slovakia’s capital. She spoke after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s gave a video address at the annual gathering.
Zelenskyy has asked for more weapons for Ukraine’s armed forces to be able to prevail over the invading Russian military, called for more EU sanctions against Russia, and repeated his country’s request to become “a full-fledge member of the united Europe.”
Von der Leyen says Ukraine must meet all necessary standards and conditions to be able to join but she has called on the EU to help Ukraine achieve its goal.
She said: “Supporting Ukraine on its path to the European Union, it is not a burden, it is our historic responsibility.”
MOSCOW — The Kremlin has again denounced Western plans to supply more weapons to Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during his daily conference call that “the pumping” of weapons “will bring more suffering to Ukraine, which is merely a tool in the hands of those countries that supply it with weapons.”
Britain said Thursday that it is sending sophisticated medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine. The pledge came a day after the United States and Germany said they would equip the embattled nation with advanced weapons for shooting down aircraft and knocking out artillery.
Peskov warned of “absolutely undesirable and rather unpleasant scenarios” in case “they hypothetically try to use these weapons against targets on our territory.”
“This will significantly change the situation in an unfavorable direction,” Peskov said.
KYIV, Ukraine — A Ukrainian military analyst says an uptick in Russian missile strikes comes in response to Western promises to supply more weapons to Ukraine.
“Supplies of Western weapons are of great concern for the Kremlin, because even without sufficient weapons the Ukrainian army is daringly resisting the offensive,” military analyst Oleh Zhdanov told The Associated Press.
“Any advance in the southeast is already costing Russia a lot, including the loss of equipment and soldiers, and new deliveries of Western weapons to Ukraine could turn the tide,” he said.
STOCKHOLM —The Swedish government said Thursday it wants to help Ukraine with economic aid and military hardware amid “a new phase of the Russian invasion.”
The Swedish government said it wants to donate anti-ship missiles, semi-automatic rifles and munitions, anti-tank weapons and give financial support to Ukraine, Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said.
The missiles “can reach targets both on land and at sea. The automatic rifle that we will donate … can be used with several different types of ammunition that can be used for different purposes,” Hultqvist said.
Sweden also plans to contribute 578 million kronor ($59 million) to “strengthen Ukraine’s ability to combat Russian aggression at a critical time,” a government statement said.
BERLIN — Germany’s vice chancellor says Russia’s continued income from high fuel prices “hurts” but the Russian economy is collapsing and “time is working against Russia.”
Robert Habeck, who is also Germany’s economy minister and responsible for energy, told parliament Thursday that “the income that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin has obtained in recent months because of high prices hurts, and we can only be ashamed that we haven’t yet managed to reduce this dependence more significantly.”
But he argued that looking at Russia’s gas and oil income doesn’t tell the whole story. Habeck said that “Putin is still getting money, but he can hardly spend it any more” because of Western sanctions. He pointed to big drops in exports to Russia, including from Germany.
Habeck said that “time is not working for Russia. It is working against Russia, it is working against the Russian economy.” He added that “no one wants to invest in Russia any more.”
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said Thursday that he expects Denmark to join the European Union’s common defense on July 1.
In a referendum on Wednesday, two-third of voters decided to abandon a 30-year-old waiver that kept the Scandinavian EU country out. With 100% of the votes counted, 66.9% voted in favor of abandoning the 30-year opt-out and 33.1% against.
The move is the latest example of a country in Europe seeking closer defense links with allies after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The referendum follows historic bids by fellow Nordic countries Sweden and Finland to join NATO.
LONDON — Britain says it will send sophisticated medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine, in a move coordinated with the United States.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace says the U.K. will send an unspecified number of M270 launchers, which can send precision-guided rockets up to 80 kilometers (50 miles).
Britain says the decision has been coordinated closely with a U.S. decision to send Ukraine High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems. The two missile systems are similar, though the American one has wheels while the British one — also U.S.-built — runs on tracks.
Britain says Ukrainian troops will be trained in the U.K. to use the equipment.
Ukraine has implored its Western allies to send longer-range missiles to help it counter Russian artillery assaults in the eastern Donbas region, the focus of Moscow’s offensive.
The U.S. said Ukraine has promised not to launch the weapons into Russia. But Russia accused Washington of “pouring fuel on the fire” of the conflict.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s emergency officials said Russian shelling overnight set a school in the city of Kharkiv on fire and that a woman died in the blaze.
Another man sustained injuries, Ukrainian officials said Thursday. Fires from the shelling also occurred in other areas of the Kharkiv region.
Russian forces overnight also shelled the Dnipropetrovsk region, its governor, Valentyn Reznichenko, said on Telegram. He said the shelling took place on the border with the Kherson region, much of which is under Moscow’s control.
In the Sumy region that borders Russia, three people were wounded as a result of overnight missile strikes, governor Dmytro Zhyvytskyi said.
In the east, according to Ukraine’s General Staff, Russian troops continued storming the key city of Sievierodonetsk. Moscow’s forces also stormed the town of Komyshuvakha in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, large parts of which are under Russian control, the General Staff’s morning update said.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia has signed a deal to deliver eight Slovak-made Zuzana howitzers to Ukraine.
The Slovak Defense Ministry announced the deal between the state-run Konstrukta Defense company and the Ukrainian side on Thursday.
Unlike previous arms supplies from Slovakia to Ukraine, this is a commercial deal. Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad says it’s worth more than 40 million euros ($43 million).
Among other arms, Slovakia previously donated a Soviet-era S-300 air defense system at the request of the Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
LVIV, Ukraine — A Russian missile hit rail lines in the western Lviv region, a key conduit for supplies of Western weapons and other supplies, officials said.
Lviv region Gov. Maksym Kozytskyy said five people were wounded in the strike, adding that more information would be available Thursday.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the country’s interior minister, said the Russians hit the Beskidy railway tunnel in the Carpathian Mountains in an apparent effort to cut a key railway link and disrupt shipments of weapons and fuel.
However, the head of Ukrainian railways said the damage to the railroad was still being assessed but the tunnel was spared.
The strike reportedly delayed three passenger trains, but all later resumed their journeys.
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