President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged the West to stop playing games with Russia and impose tougher sanctions on Moscow to end its “senseless war” in Ukraine, adding that his country would remain independent, the only question being how price.
Zelenskiy’s criticism of the West has intensified in recent days as the European Union slowly moves towards a possible Russian oil embargo and thousands of Russian forces attempt to encircle two key eastern cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk.
Three months after its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has abandoned its assault on the capital Kyiv and is trying to consolidate control of the industrial region of eastern Donbass, where it has supported a separatist revolt since 2014.
Western military analysts see the battle of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk as a potential turning point in the war after a shift in momentum towards Russia following the surrender of the Ukrainian garrison in Mariupol last week.
“Ukraine will always be an independent state and it will not be broken. The only question is what price our people will have to pay for their freedom, and what price will Russia pay for this senseless war against us,” Zelenskiy said in a late night Thursday address.
“The catastrophic events that are unfolding could still be stopped if the world treated the situation in Ukraine as if it were facing the same situation, if the powers that be did not play with Russia but really pushed for an end to the war.” Zelenskiy complained about disagreements within the EU over more sanctions on Russia and questioned why some nations were allowed to block the plan.
The EU is discussing a sixth round of punitive measures, including an embargo on imports of Russian oil. Such a decision requires unanimity but Hungary opposes it for the moment on the grounds that its economy would suffer too much.
“How many more weeks will the European Union try to agree on a sixth package? Zelenskiy asked, noting that Russia receives a billion euros a day from the 27-nation bloc for energy supplies.
“The pressure on Russia is literally about saving lives.
Every day of procrastination, weakness, various disputes or proposals to ‘pacify’ the aggressor at the expense of the victim just means more Ukrainians are being killed.” Zelenskiy’s comments mark the second day in a row that he has sharpened his critique of the world’s approach to war.
On Wednesday, he lambasted suggestions that Kyiv would make concessions to bring peace, saying the idea resembled attempts to appease Nazi Germany in 1938.
ADVANCE RUSSIAN TROOPS
Russian forces attacked from three sides on Thursday in an attempt to surround Ukrainian forces in Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, the Ukrainian military said. If the two cities straddling the Siverskiy Donets River fell, almost all of the Donbass province of Luhansk would be under Russian control.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said around 50 Russian soldiers had reached the highway and “managed to gain a foothold”, even setting up a checkpoint.
“The checkpoint was broken, they were pushed back…the Russian army is not controlling the road now, but they are bombarding it,” he said. It was possible that Ukrainian troops would leave “a colony, maybe two. We have to win the war, not the battle”, he said.
“It is clear that our boys are slowly retreating to more fortified positions – we must hold off this horde.” Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Vadym Denisenko told a briefing that 25 Russian battalions were trying to surround Ukrainian forces.
Reuters reporters in Russian-held territory further south saw evidence of Moscow’s advance into Svitlodarsk, where Ukrainian forces withdrew earlier this week.
The town is now firmly under the control of pro-Russian fighters, who have occupied the local government building and hung a Soviet hammer and sickle flag on the gate.
Reuters drone footage of the nearby abandoned battlefield showed craters marking a green field surrounded by destroyed buildings. Pro-Russian fighters were busy in the trenches.
The advance from Donbass was supported by massive artillery bombardment. The Ukrainian military said 50 towns in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces were shelled on Thursday.
The head of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valeriy Zaluzhny, asked Telegram for more Western weapons, including “weapons that will allow us to hit the enemy from a great distance”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later warned that any arms supply that could reach Russian territory would be “a serious step towards an unacceptable escalation”.
Western countries led by the United States have supplied Ukraine with long-range weapons, including M777 howitzers from Washington and Harpoon anti-ship missiles from Denmark.
Washington is even considering providing Kyiv with a rocket system that could have a range of hundreds of miles and has had discussions with Kyiv about the danger of escalation if it strikes deep in Russia, US officials told Reuters and diplomatic.
“We have concerns about escalation and yet we still don’t want to put geographic limits on them or tie their hands too much with what we’re giving them,” a US official said, speaking under cover of the ‘anonymity.
Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow expects Ukraine to accept its demands in future peace talks. He wants Kyiv to recognize Russian sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula which Moscow seized in 2014, and the independence of the territory claimed by the separatists.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
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