Ukraine retaliated against Russian military in the east
A regional governor said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces launched a retaliatory strike near the Russian-held city of Izium in eastern Ukraine, which could prove to be a serious blow to Moscow’s plan to capture the entire Donbass region.
After failing to reach the capital Kyiv from the north in the early weeks of the war, Russian forces have focused most of their firepower on the Donbass in the “second phase” of their offensive announced on 19 April.
But Ukraine is taking back territory to its northeast, driving the Russians away from Kharkiv, the second largest Ukrainian city. Maintaining pressure on Izium and Russian supply lines would make it harder for Moscow to encircle battle-hardened Ukrainian troops on the Eastern Front in the Donbass.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky also said complex negotiations were underway to find a way to evacuate a large number of wounded soldiers from the besieged steelworks in the port of Mariupol in exchange for the release of Russian prisoners of war.
Mariupol, which has suffered the heaviest fighting in nearly three months of war, is now in Russian hands, but hundreds of Ukrainian fighters still remain at the Azovstal steel works despite heavy Russian bombardment.
Western military analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals did not expect such fierce Ukrainian resistance when they launched the offensive on February 24.
As well as losing a large number of men and a lot of military equipment, Russia has been hit by economic sanctions. The Group of Seven major Western economies pledged in a statement on Saturday to “further increase economic and political pressure on Russia” and to supply more weapons to Ukraine.
Commenting on the latest developments in eastern Ukraine, regional governor Ole Sinegubov said in comments circulated on social media: “The hottest place remains the Izium direction.”
“Our armed forces have retaliated there. The enemy is retreating on some fronts and this is a result of the character of our armed forces.”
Moscow’s invasion, which it calls a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists, has dealt a blow to European security. Kyiv and its Western allies say that the claim of fascism is a baseless excuse for an unprovoked war of aggression.
The war prompted Finland to abandon its military neutrality and join NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Sweden is widely expected to follow suit.
Finnish President Souli Niinisto told Putin over the phone that his country, which shares a 1,300 km (800 mi) border with Russia, wants to join NATO to increase its security.
The Kremlin said Putin told Niinisto that it would be a mistake for Helsinki to abandon its neutrality, adding that the move could damage bilateral ties.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that it was not possible for his country, a NATO member, to extend support to the coalition because Finland and Sweden were “home to several terrorist organisations”.
The foreign ministers of Finland and Turkey were due to meet in Berlin later on Saturday to try to resolve their differences over the NATO merger.
Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Saturday that Turkey has not closed the door for Sweden and Finland to join, but wants talks with the two countries and what it sees as terrorist activities in Europe.
Kalin said the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union – was fundraising and recruiting in Europe and that its presence was “strong and open”, particularly in Sweden.
“What needs to be done is clear: they have to stop allowing PKK outlets, activities, organizations, individuals and other forms of presence in those countries…” Kalin said.
G7 ministers support further aid
One of the objectives of Russia’s actions in Ukraine was to prevent the former Soviet republic from joining NATO.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who spoke to Putin on the phone on Friday, said he had seen no sign of any change in the Russian leader’s thinking on the conflict.
In an interview for the T-Online news website published on Saturday, Scholz said Western sanctions on Russia would remain in place until it reached an agreement with Ukraine, adding that “our aim is to thwart this invasion. “
Meeting in Germany, the foreign ministers of the G7 group of wealthy countries favored giving Ukraine more aid and weapons.
In their statement, the G7 ministers of the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada also pledged to “accelerate our efforts to reduce and eliminate dependence on Russian energy supplies”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the West’s sanctions amounted to a “total hybrid war” against Moscow, but that Russia would face sanctions by forging deeper partnerships with China, India and others.
As Russian and Ukrainian forces battled artillery close to their shared border north of Kharkiv on Saturday, Vera Kosolapenko, 67, wept as she stood in the smoldering ruins of her tiny home after being hit by a Russian missile on Friday She was
“I don’t know how I’m going to rebuild this house,” she said, as explosions echoed through her lush village of Bezruki.
“I loved this place.”
Ukraine’s Zelensky said complex negotiations were underway on the next phase of the evacuation mission from the Azovtal steel works in Mariupol, involving international intermediaries.
Erdogan’s spokesman said Turkey had proposed sea evacuation of wounded fighters from the plant two weeks ago. The proposal remains “on the table”, although Moscow has not agreed to it, he said.
Russia’s defense ministry said its forces targeted Ukrainian command posts, ammunition depots and other military equipment in several regions, including the Donbass, killing at least 100 Ukrainian “nationalists”.
Reuters could not independently confirm the report.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinetts, Tom Balmforth, Idris Ali, David Ljunggren and the Reuters Bureau; Writing by Gareth Jones and Timothy Heritage; Editing by William Mallard, David Clarke and Daniel Wallis)
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