Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky today warned that only a diplomatic advance, rather than a direct military victory, could end Russia’s war against his country, as Moscow cut off gas supplies to Finland.
After just 12 weeks of fierce fighting, Ukrainian forces have halted Russian attempts to seize Kiev and the northern city of Kharkiv, but renewed and intense pressure on the eastern Donbass region.
Moscow’s army has leveled and occupied the southeastern port city of Mariupol, and has previously inflicted an unprovoked ground and artillery attack on Ukrainian troops and towns.
President Zelensky’s Western allies have sent modern weapons to his forces and imposed massive sanctions on Russia’s economy and President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
But the Kremlin has reacted by disrupting European energy supplies and shutting off gas supplies to Finland on Saturday, angering Moscow over its bid to join the NATO alliance.
– ‘It will be bloody’ –
Against this background, President Zelensky told Ukrainian television that the war would end “through diplomacy.”
The conflict, he warned, “will be bloody, there will be war but only through diplomacy will it definitely end”.
In order to circumvent financial sanctions and force European energy clients to support its central bank, Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that importers from “unfavorable countries” pay for rubles in gas.
Russian energy giant Gazprom says it has cut off supplies to neighboring Finland because it did not receive a ruble payment from the Finnish state-owned energy company Gasum by the end of Friday.
Gazprom delivered 1.49 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Finland in 2021, about two-thirds of the country’s gas consumption but only eight percent of its total energy consumption.
Gassum said it would fill the gap from other sources, through the Baltic connecting pipeline, which connects Finland to Estonia, a member of the European Union.
Moscow last month cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria in a move described the European Union as “blackmail”, but importers from some other EU countries relied on Russian gas plans to open a ruble account at Gazprom’s bank.
Finland and neighboring Sweden broke their historic military neutrality this week and applied to join NATO after growing public support for the alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
– ‘Serious error’ –
Moscow has warned Finland that joining NATO would be “a serious mistake with far-reaching consequences” and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said it would respond by building military bases in western Russia.
But both Finland and Sweden are now clearly on track to join the military alliance, with US President Joe Biden offering “full, full, full support” in their bids this week.
NATO’s existing 30 members must agree to a new entry, and Turkey has condemned Sweden’s alleged tolerance of Kurdish militants, but diplomats are confident of avoiding a veto.
On Ukrainian soil, the fighting is fierce in the eastern part of Donbass, a Russian-speaking area partially controlled by Kremlin separatists since 2014.
The Russians are “trying to do the same thing with Severodonetsk and many other cities,” Zelensky said on Friday, “they have completely destroyed Vonokovka in Ruby, as they did in Mariupol.”
At least 12 people were killed and at least 40 others were injured in what became known as the “siege” of Severodonetsk, a frontline town now under siege, the regional governor said.
– ‘Operation End’ –
President Zelensky described the Severodonetsk bombing as “brutal and utterly meaningless,” as frightened residents in the basement described an endless test of terror.
The city is part of the last pocket of the Ukrainian resistance in Lugansk, which consists of the Donbass war zone with the Donetsk suburbs.
Yesterday, Moscow said the battle for Mariupol’s Azvastal steelwork – a symbol of Ukraine’s fierce resistance since Putin’s invasion began on February 24 – was now over.
Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenko said that since May 16, 2,439 Ukrainian workers had surrendered at the steel plant, a final 500 yesterday.
Ukraine is hoping for an exchange of surrendering Azvastal troops for Russian prisoners. But in Donetsk, pro-Kremlin authorities are threatening to prosecute some of them.
President Joe Biden has called the war in Ukraine part of the US-led struggle against democracy and authoritarianism.
The US Congress this week approved a $ 40-billion (38-billion-euro) aid package, including funding to improve Ukraine’s armored vehicle fleet and air defense system.
And, at a meeting in Germany, the G7 industrialized nations pledged .8 19.8 billion to shore up Ukraine’s fragmented public finances.
– Living underground –
While the attack spread around the northeastern city of Kharkiv, it remained in the Russian artillery range and hundreds of people refused to give up the relative security of its metro system.
“We’re tired. You can see how comfortable our house is,” said Katrina Talpa, 35, pointing to a mattress and sheets on the ground and some food in a cardboard box.
She and her husband Yuri are trying their best to deal with their cats Marek and Seema at the Soviet-era station called “Heroes of Labor”.
“They are used to it,” said Mrs. Talpa.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)