Russian lawmakers approve ‘foreign agent’ amendment making it easier to target domestic critics

Russian forces continue to press on with their assault on Lysychansk, with regional officials saying the situation is ‘very difficult’ in the latest Ukrainian checkpoint in the east as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy again calls on the West to deliver heavy weapons more advanced to allow his forces to ward off the artillery assault of Moscow.

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The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said on June 29 that Russian troops were trying to encircle the hilltop town of Lysychansk, a key battleground in Moscow’s bid to capture Ukraine’s industrial heartland of Donbass.

The head of the military administration of Luhansk, where Lysychansk is located, reported an intensification of military actions, saying there was “fighting everywhere” around the city.

“The Russians use all the weapons at their disposal (…) and without distinguishing whether the targets are military or not – schools, kindergartens, cultural institutions”, declared Serhiy Hayday.

“The situation in Lysychansk is very difficult,” Hayday told television.

“Everything is being destroyed. It’s a scorched earth policy.”

He added that the situation in Lysychansk resembles that of its twin city Syevyerodonetsk where Russian forces have started destroying building after building. Syevyerodonetsk fell to Russia on June 25.

British intelligence said Russian forces continue to progress in their efforts to encircle Lysychansk. He said that since June 25, Russian forces have advanced an additional 2 kilometers near the Lysychansk oil refinery, south of the city.

US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on June 29 that the outlook remained “pretty bleak” and said Russian President Vladimir Putin still wanted to take most of Ukraine.

“We continue to be in a position where we look at President Putin and we believe that he effectively has the same political objectives that he had before, which is to say that he wants to take most of the ‘Ukraine,” Haines told a U.S. Commerce Department conference. .

Haines said U.S. intelligence agencies see the most likely scenario in the near future as the war becoming a bitter conflict in which Russian forces make only incremental gains but no breakthrough toward Putin’s goal.

But intelligence agencies are considering two other possible scenarios: a major Russian breakthrough and Ukraine managing to stabilize front lines while making small gains, perhaps near the Russian city of Kherson and other southern regions. from Ukraine.

Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told NATO leaders gathered for a crucial summit in Madrid that Ukraine needed more advanced heavy weapons and additional financial support to avert the unprovoked invasion of Russia, warning that Moscow’s ambitions would not stop with his country.

“We need to break the advantage of Russian artillery… We need much more modern systems, modern artillery,” Zelenskiy said. said at a NATO summit in Madrid via video link on June 29, adding that the financial support was “no less important than the aid in arms”.

NATO responded by calling Russia “the most direct threat” to Allied security and pledged to modernize Ukraine’s military.

Zelenskiy also accused Russia of intentionally targeting civilians in Kremenchuk, where at least 18 people were killed and dozens are still missing after a missile attack on a crowded shopping mall.

“A Russian missile hit this exact spot. Deliberately… Clearly the Russian killers were given these exact coordinates,” Zelenskiy said in his usual evening video address. “They wanted to kill so many people.”

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said in its June 29 daily intelligence bulletin that there is a “realistic possibility” that the missile strike on the Kremenchuk shopping center was intended to hit a nearby infrastructure target.

He said Russia’s lack of precision in conducting long-range strikes had already led to mass incidents among civilians, including at Kramatorsk train station on April 9.

The British report said it was “highly likely” that Russian strikes would continue to cause further civilian casualties given Russia’s shortage of more modern precision-strike weapons and the professional shortcomings of its targeting planners.

The mayor of the southern city of Mykolayiv, Oleksandr Senkevych, said a missile strike killed at least three people at a residential building in the city on June 29 in an attack that Russia said was aimed at destroying a training base for foreign fighters. The regional governor later said the death toll was four.

In the Dnipropetrovsk region, towards eastern Ukraine, the head of the regional administration, Valentyn Reznychenko, said on June 29 that the bodies of a man and a woman had been found buried under the rubble. of a building hit by a Russian missile the previous day.

He previously said Russia fired six missiles into the area on June 28, three of which were shot down.

Meanwhile, the Moscow-based military administration that rules the area around the occupied Ukrainian city of Kherson has said it is prepare for a referendum on joining Russia.

“Yes, we are preparing a referendum — and we will hold it,” said Kirill Stremoussov, deputy head of Kherson’s military and civil administration in a video posted on Telegram.

Stremoussov said Kherson should become “a full member” of Russia.

Earlier, Russian-installed officials said their security forces arrested Kherson city mayor Ihor Kolykhayev on June 28 after he refused to follow orders from Moscow. A local official said the mayor had been kidnapped.

With reporting from Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, CNN and BBC

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