Russia steps up attacks ahead of EU decision on Ukraine’s entry into bloc

The Kremlin has stepped up attacks against the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions of northeast and eastern Ukraine, and has blocked exports of Ukrainian cereals and grains on the eve of a decision by the 27 EU countries on Kiev’s bid to join the bloc.

Alexander NEMENOV / AFPparade russia
Battle tanks are used during military parade in Russia

Russia on Monday intensified attacks against the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions, in the northeast and east of Russia. Ukrainea few days before the 27 countries of the European Union (EU) discuss Kiev’s candidacy for the bloc. At the start of a week of intense activity around Ukraine’s candidacy for the European bloc, EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell said the Russia is committing a “real war crime” by blocking Ukrainian cereal and grain exports. At a time of growing fears about the consequences of the invasion on food prices, Germany is organizing an international meeting on the subject on Friday, which will be attended by the head of US diplomacy, Antony Blinken.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna urged Russia to “stop playing with world hunger”. This Monday, “a really historic week begins,” he said. Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday, the 19th, in his daily speech. The 27 EU countries meet on Thursday and Friday to decide whether the country can be granted candidate status, a decision that must be taken unanimously. “Obviously we expect Russia to step up its attacks this week,” warned the Ukrainian president. “Our army resists,” he said. In its morning report, Ukraine’s presidency said there was an increase in shelling in the Kharkiv region and an increase in attacks “across the front line” in Donetsk, in the east, where one person was killed and seven wounded.

In Donbass, the city of Severodonetsk has concentrated the offensive to take over this entire eastern mining basin, partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014. “The Russians control most of the residential districts” of Severodonetsk, but “if you count the entire city , more than a third is still controlled by our armed forces,” said municipal administration chief Oleksandr Striuk. Serguii Gaidai, governor of Luhansk, one of the regions that make up the Donbass, confirmed on television the fall in Russian control of Metiolkiné, on the outskirts of Severodonetsk.

On the southern front, the Ukrainian army claims that Russian forces “cannot advance on the ground” and are just continuing the bombardment. Russia’s defense ministry said it used cruise missiles to attack a factory in Mykolaiv and destroyed “ten 155 mm mortars and up to 20 armored vehicles supplied to the Kiev regime by the West in the last ten days”. Mykolaiv is a port and industrial city where half a million people lived before the war. The location is a target of Russian attacks because it is on the route to Odessa, Ukraine’s main port.

In turn, Russia accused Ukrainian forces of having attacked offshore oil drilling platforms off the Crimean peninsula. Against the EU, Russia uses its hydrocarbons as a weapon and cut off the flow of gas to several countries last week. In contrast, Russian oil imports into China increased by 55% in May compared to last year. In an attempt to reduce dependence on Russia and to reduce gas consumption, Germany will turn to coal plants. “It’s bitter, but it’s indispensable,” said Economy Minister Robert Habeck. The government, however, said on Monday that this measure is “limited” and that the promise to abandon coal before 2030 will be fulfilled. Austria also announced over the weekend the reactivation of a closed coal plant in 2020. The sanctions adopted against Moscow also involved restrictions on transit through Lithuania to the Kaliningrad enclave, which Russian diplomacy described as “openly hostile”.

*With information from AFP

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