These images show a space rocket bearing flags of the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics taking to the famous Baikonur launchpad before it takes off for the International Space Station.
The Russian space agency Roscosmos said in a statement: “The final pre-launch operations with the Donbass launch vehicle, the launch of which is scheduled for June 3, 2022 at 12:32 Moscow time, are underway at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.”
It added that the rocket was “installed in a vertical position and the maintenance columns at the launch complex were brought together” before “specialists from subsidiaries of the Roscosmos State Corporation began work according to the schedule of the first launch day”.
The Russian space agency said that “the launch of the Progress MS-20 cargo ship will be dedicated to the Donbass”.
It added: “In this regard, the second stage of the Soyuz-2.1a launch vehicle has the inscription ‘Donbass’, and the flags of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics on the head fairing. Children from the DPR and LPR, who will also be present at the rocket launch, also watched the removal today.”
The Russian space agency said that the Soyuz capsule is set to deliver 2.5 tonnes of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), including fuel, equipment, medical equipment, clothing, and food for the crew.
The Baikonur Cosmodrome is a spaceport in an area of southern Kazakhstan leased to Russia. The Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics are breakaway states in eastern Ukraine, recognised by Moscow. They are not recognised by the vast majority of the international community. Intense fighting is taking place in eastern Ukraine over the regions.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine have reported that from 24th February to 1st June, Russia lost about 30,700 military personnel.
The Ukrainian military added that Russia had lost 1,361 tanks, 3,343 armoured fighting vehicles, 659 artillery systems, 207 multiple launch rocket systems, 94 anti-aircraft systems, 208 warplanes, 175 helicopters, 519 tactical unmanned aerial vehicles, 120 cruise missiles, 13 warships, 2,290 military vehicles and fuel tankers, and 49 units of special equipment over the same period.
The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in a statement on Wednesday, 1st June at 6 AM, that the Yars mobile missile systems, which can carry nuclear warheads and which boast a reported range of over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles), were performing “intensive manoeuvring operations on combat patrol routes in the Ivanovo Region”.
The move comes after President Joe Biden said that the US will send Kyiv more advanced rocket systems that will help to strike enemy forces from a longer distance. These rocket systems have double the range of the rocket systems currently being used by Russian forces and are much more accurate.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on 25th February, one day after the invasion of Ukraine began: “Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so, to create threats for our country, for our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead you to such consequences that you have never experienced in your history.
“We are ready for any development. All decisions in that regard have been made.”
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on 14th April: “The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called Russian strikes on a nitric acid tank in the besieged eastern city of Sievierodonetsk “madness”. Residents of Sievierodonetsk have been warned to remain in bomb shelters and to prepare masks to protect against toxic fumes.
Analysts say up to 70 per cent of the city is now controlled by Russian forces, with almost all critical infrastructure and housing destroyed.
European Union leaders have reached an agreement to ban 90 per cent of oil imports from Russia, but they remain undecided on gas imports.
Despite setbacks in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian troops have made advances in Kherson in the south and around Kharkiv in the north-east.
Today marks the 98th day of the invasion.