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Russians battle to encircle Ukraine’s last eastern stronghold

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Russian forces fought to encircle the last stronghold of the Ukrainian army in a long-disputed eastern province on Wednesday, as shock echoed from a Russian airstrike on a shopping center that left at least 18 dead in the center of the country two days earlier. Follow our live blog for the latest developments. All times are Paris time, GMT+2.

4:20 am: US pays $1.3 billion in aid promised to Ukraine

The US Treasury Department announced on Wednesday the transfer of $1.3 billion in economic aid to Ukraine as part of the initial $7.5 billion pledged by the Biden administration to Kiev in May.

“With this delivery of economic aid, we reaffirm our firm commitment to the Ukrainian people who are defending against Putin’s war of aggression and working to support their economy,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

The payment, part of the $7.5 billion aid package signed by President Joe Biden in May, will be made through the World Bank.

The World Bank estimates that the war, which started with the Russian invasion of its former Soviet neighbor in February, could shrink Ukraine’s economy by 45 percent by 2022.

The country currently has a budget deficit growing by $5 billion each month, exacerbated by the inability to raise funds or access financing in external markets.

Allies rushed to pump Ukraine with aid, with the G7 and the European Union also announcing pledges of $29.6 billion in additional money for Kiev, of which $8.5 billion from the United States, according to the Treasury Department.

Washington has already made two payments of $500 million through the World Bank in April and May to help cover Ukraine’s direct costs in handling “Russia’s unprovoked and unwarranted invasion,” the Treasury said.

Washington has supplied Kiev more than $6 billion in military equipment since the Russian invasion.

12:30 p.m.: If Putin were a woman, there would be no war in Ukraine, British Johnson says

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have started the war in Ukraine if he were a woman.

“If Putin was a woman, which he clearly isn’t, but if he was, I really don’t think he would have started a crazy, macho war of invasion and violence the way he did,” Johnson said. . The German broadcaster ZDF Tuesday evening.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is “a perfect example of toxic masculinity,” he said, calling for better education for girls around the world and for “more women in positions of power”.

Putin, speaking in the Turkmenistan capital Ashgabat, dismissed Johnson’s comments as “incorrect”.

“I would like to point to events in modern history when Margaret Thatcher (the former British Prime Minister) decided in 1982 to launch an offensive against Argentina for control of the Falkland Islands,” he said.

“There, a woman decided to start a war,” which ended in a British victory the same year, the Russian leader said.

11:30pm: Britain unveils £1bn in new military aid to Ukraine

Britain on Wednesday pledged an additional £1 billion ($1.2 billion) in military aid to Ukraine to help it fend off the Russian invasion, including air defense systems and drones.

The new funds will bring Britain’s total military aid to Kiev since the war started in late February to £2.3 billion, Downing Street said in a statement.

The package includes “advanced air defense systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, innovative new electronic warfare equipment and thousands of essential equipment for Ukrainian soldiers,” it said.

This will be a “first step” in enabling Ukraine to move beyond its “courageous defense efforts” and move towards “setting up offensive operations” to reclaim territory.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Vladimir Putin’s attacks on Ukraine were “becoming barbaric” because the Russian leader “failed to achieve the gains he expected and hoped for and the futility of this war was clear to everyone.” is becoming.

“British weapons, equipment and training are transforming Ukraine’s defenses against this attack,” the statement said.

“And we will stand firmly behind the Ukrainian people to make sure Putin fails in Ukraine.”

22:28: Putin says Russia will respond if NATO sets up infrastructure in Finland, Sweden

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would respond in kind if NATO set up infrastructure in Finland and Sweden after joining the US-led military alliance.

Putin was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying he could not rule out the possibility of tensions developing in Moscow’s relations with Helsinki and Stockholm over their accession to NATO.

Putin’s comment came a day after NATO ally Turkey vetoed Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the alliance, after the three nations agreed to protect each other’s security.

22:21: Zelensky says ties with Syria were cut after it recognized separatist republics

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday announced the end of diplomatic relations between Kiev and Damascus after Moscow’s ally Syria recognized the independence of eastern Ukraine’s two separatist republics.

“There will be no more relations between Ukraine and Syria,” Zelensky said in a video to Telegram, adding that sanctions pressure against Syria “will be even greater”.

21:24: Frequency of shelling in Lysychansk is ‘huge’, says regional governor

The frequency of shelling on Lysychansk, a city in eastern Ukraine under attack by Russia, is “enormous,” the regional governor of Lugansk said on Wednesday.

Lysychansk “is constantly being shelled with large calibers. The fighting continues on the outskirts of the city. The Russian army is constantly trying to attack,” Sergiy Gaiday told Ukrainian television, who later posted the video on his Telegram channel.

“Now the fighting is at its peak. The frequency of shelling is enormous,” he said, adding that there were still about 15,000 civilians left in the city, which had a population of nearly 100,000 before the war.

However, their evacuation “could be dangerous at the moment,” he said.

19:09: Putin still wants most of Ukraine, war prospects bleak, US intelligence chief says

Russian President Vladimir Putin still wants to take most of Ukraine, but his forces have been so affected by fighting that they are likely to achieve incremental gains only in the short term, the top US intelligence officer said Wednesday.

National Intelligence Director Avril Haines, who outlines U.S. intelligence’s current assessment of the more than four-month-long war, said U.S. spy agencies agree it will continue “for an extended period.”

“In short, the picture remains quite bleak and Russia’s attitude towards the West is hardening,” Haines told a Commerce Department conference.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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