Russian forces leave Snake Island, keep up eastern assault
Russia on Thursday pulled back its forces from a strategically placed Black Sea island where they have faced relentless Ukrainian attacks, but kept up its push to encircle the last bulwark of Ukraine's resistance in the eastern province of Luhansk.
Russia's Defense Ministry said it withdrew its forces from the Zmiyinyy (Snake) Island off Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odesa in what it described as a "goodwill gesture." Ukraine's military said the Russians fled the island in two speedboats following a barrage of Ukrainian artillery and missile strikes.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov insisted that the withdrawal was intended to demonstrate that "the Russian Federation wasn't hampering the United Nations' efforts to establish a humanitarian corridor for taking agricultural products from the territory of Ukraine.”
Ukraine and the West have accused Russian of blockading Ukrainian ports to prevent the exports of grain, contributing to the global food crisis. Russia has denied the accusations and charged that Ukraine needs to remove sea mines from the Black Sea to allow safe navigation.