Ukraine takes tentative step towards EU membership as Donbas battles reach ‘fearsome climax’

  • Zelenskiy urges West to speed up heavy weapons deliveries
  • EU leaders to launch Ukraine’s accession process
  • The battle of the twin cities of Donbass reaches a critical stage

KYIV, June 23 (Reuters) – Ukraine will be accepted as a candidate for European Union membership on Thursday, a decision that will boost the country’s morale as the battle with Russian troops for two eastern cities reached what one official called a “fierce climax”.

Although the endorsement of the Kyiv government’s candidacy by European leaders meeting in Brussels is just the start of a process that will take years, it does mean a huge geopolitical shift and will irritate Russia as it struggles to impose his will to Ukraine.

Friday will mark four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border in what he calls a “special military operation” partly necessitated by Western encroachment on what Russia sees as its sphere of power. ‘influence.

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The conflict, which the West sees as an unwarranted war of aggression by Russia, has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities, while having ramifications across much of the world. , as food and energy exports have been reduced.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has urged his country’s allies to speed up deliveries of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield.

“We have to liberate our land and achieve victory, but faster, much faster,” Zelenskiy said in a video address Thursday.

Moscow’s massive air and artillery attacks are aimed at destroying the entire Donbass region, he said.

Russia has focused its campaign on southern and eastern Ukraine after its advance on the capital Kyiv at the start of the conflict was thwarted by fierce Ukrainian resistance.

The attrition war in Donbass – Ukraine’s industrial heartland – is most critical in the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, which straddle the Siverskyi Donets River in Luhansk province.

The battle there “is entering a kind of fearsome climax,” said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskiy.

Ukrainian forces were defending Sievierodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Thursday, but Russian forces had captured Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka to the south.

Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk as Ukraine and Russia argue over who controls the bombed city.

Moscow says Ukrainian forces in the city are surrounded and trapped. But Gaidai told Ukrainian television on Wednesday that Russian forces did not have full control of Sievierodonetsk.

Gaidai said all of Lysychansk was within range of Russian fire.

“In order to avoid encirclement, our command could order the troops to withdraw to new positions. There could be a regrouping after last night,” he said.

The TASS news agency quoted Russian-backed separatists as saying Lysychansk was now surrounded and cut off from supplies after a road linking the town to the city of Sieviersk was taken.

Reuters was unable to immediately confirm the information.

The British Ministry of Defense said some Ukrainian units withdrew, likely to avoid being surrounded.

“Russian forces are putting the Lysychansk-Sievierodonetsk pocket under increasing pressure with this creeping advance … however, its efforts to achieve deeper encirclement to take western Donetsk Oblast remain stalled,” it said. the ministry on Twitter.

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Zelenskiy said he spoke to 11 EU leaders on Wednesday about Ukraine’s candidacy and would make further calls on Thursday.

European Union Director-General Ursula von der Leyen, speaking ahead of the two-day EU summit in Brussels, said: “History is on the move”.

She added: “I’m not just talking about Putin’s war of aggression. I’m talking about the winds of change that are once again blowing across our continent.”

Besides Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are also seeking to join the EU in what would be its most ambitious expansion since welcoming Eastern European states after the Cold War.

Russia has long opposed closer ties between Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, and Western groupings like the European Union and the NATO military alliance.

Diplomats say it will take a decade or more for Ukraine to meet the criteria for EU membership. But EU leaders say the bloc must make a gesture that recognizes Ukraine’s sacrifice.

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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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