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Ukraine: fighting in the heart of Severodonetsk, Zelensky addresses European leaders

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As the 100th day of the war in Ukraine approaches, kyiv has announced that it has regained ground from the Russians in the Kherson region in the east of the country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is to address European leaders gathered in Brussels on Monday for an extraordinary summit.

THE ESSENTIAL

Russian and Ukrainian forces clashed Monday in the heart of Severodonetsk, according to the governor of this region of eastern Ukraine, while President Volodymyr Zelensky should address European leaders gathered in Brussels to discuss in particular a new package of sanctions against Russia. Severodonetsk and the neighboring city of Lyssytchansk are key cities in Donbass still under Ukrainian control. Russian forces aim to fully control this mining basin, which pro-Russian separatist forces backed by Moscow took partial control of in 2014.

Ukrainian forces have nevertheless claimed to regain ground in the south, particularly in the region around Kherson, a city near Crimea which came under Russian control from the start of the war in March. In its update published on the night of Sunday to Monday, the Ukrainian army claims in particular to progress near Bilogirka, a hundred kilometers north of Kherson. kyiv also claimed that Russian forces were building “defensive lines” around Kherson and had brought special forces into the nearby town of Mykolaiv, to “recover lost ground”. “Kherson, hold on, we are close!”, said the Ukrainian general staff on its Facebook page.

Russian forces have been trying to encircle this agglomeration and take control of it for several weeks, in an offensive that has intensified in recent days, in the face of which President Zelensky admitted that the Ukrainian army was in difficulty. “The Russians are advancing towards the middle of Severodonetsk. The fighting is continuing, the situation is very difficult,” Sergei Gaïdaï, governor of the Lugansk region, said on Telegram. He added that the road linking Severodonetsk to Lysytchansk, then to that of Bakhmout further south, was too “dangerous” to allow the evacuation of civilians and the transport of humanitarian aid.

Moscow plans to issue Russian passports to residents

Moscow has not confirmed this information. But she mentioned fighting in this region, indicating that she had destroyed Ukrainian military equipment with artillery fire at a Mykolaiv shipyard, and destroyed Ukrainian rockets in flight near Chornobaivka, about fifteen kilometers north- west of Kherson.

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The fighting in the Kherson region comes as the new pro-Russian authorities in this city at the mouth of the Dnieper River have expressed a desire to be attached to Russia, which has announced that it will issue residents a Russian passport via ” a simplified procedure.

In Melitopol, another Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian town in the Zaporizhia region, the pro-Russian administration reported that a car bomb exploded on Monday morning, injuring two people. “It is a cynical terrorist act by the kyiv regime, an act intended to frighten the inhabitants of our city, an act directed against civilians”, accused Galina Danilchenko, the new mayor of the city installed by Moscow, quoted by the Russian agency Ria Novosti. “The kyiv regime cannot get used to the idea that the inhabitants of Melitopol no longer want to have anything to do with this power of kyiv,” she said.

Twenty-Seven meeting on sanctions against Russia

In this context, the Ukrainian president must address Monday afternoon by videoconference to the European leaders meeting at the summit in Brussels. New sanctions against Moscow are on the menu of this meeting of the Twenty-Seven. They should in particular rediscuss the plan for a gradual embargo on Russian oil, which has so far been blocked by Hungary. They should examine a new proposal which would temporarily exclude the oil transported via the Druzhba pipeline, which supplies Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in particular, it was indicated in the entourage of the European Commission.

Hungary, a landlocked country without access to the sea, which depends for 65% of its consumption on oil transported from Russia by Druzhba, had rejected an initial offer of a two-year derogation. Budapest has requested at least four years and nearly 800 million euros in European funding to adapt its refineries. “I hope we can reach an agreement tomorrow, but I’m not sure, it will depend on the leaders themselves,” said a European diplomat on Sunday. The adoption of sanctions requires the unanimity of the Twenty-Seven.

In addition to the oil embargo, the sixth package of sanctions prepared by the EU aims to exclude the most important Russian bank, Sberkank (37% of the market), and two other banking establishments from the international financial system Swift, as well as an extension of the EU blacklist to around sixty personalities. Leaders must also discuss the need to ensure liquidity for Ukraine to continue to operate its economy as well as food security, in particular due to the blocking of Ukrainian grain exports, while the African continent fears a crisis. . In particular, the Commission has proposed aid to Ukraine of up to €9 billion in 2022.

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First visit by a senior French official since the start of the conflict

More than three months after the start of the Russian invasion, attempts to mediate between Moscow and kyiv have stalled. Again this weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging him to start “serious direct negotiations” with kyiv.

In this context, the new French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna, went to Ukraine on Monday, the first visit by a French official of this level since the start of the conflict. She began her day with a visit to Boutcha, in the suburbs of kyiv, a city symbol of the massacres of civilians of which the Russian troops are accused by the Ukrainian authorities. “This shouldn’t happen, it shouldn’t happen again,” she said after visiting an Orthodox church where photos of the abuses were on display. “France is at their side (of the Ukrainians) with its friends, its allies, it will do everything possible for peace to return,” she said.

A “more robust posture” of NATO on the eastern flank?

Westerners are also continuing to review their defense policies in the face of the Russian threat. NATO Deputy Chief Mircea Geoana said on Sunday that the Alliance was no longer bound by its former commitments to Moscow not to deploy its forces in Eastern Europe. In the Founding Act on relations between NATO and Russia, signed 25 years ago, the Russians had “undertaken not to attack the neighbors, that is what they are doing, and hold regular consultations with NATO, which they are not doing,” said Mircea Geoana.

According to him, the Founding Act “simply does not work, because of Russia”, and NATO no longer has “any restrictions” to acquire a “robust posture on the eastern flank”. And in Germany, the government and the conservative opposition reached an agreement on Sunday evening to break the budgetary rules imposed by the constitution, in order to release 100 billion euros to modernize the army.

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