European Union leaders gave candidate status on Thursday to Ukraine and Moldova as a sign of strong support for Russian aggression, while the United States said it was sending Kyiv more high -precision rocket systems.
The West’s latest attempt to rally behind Ukraine comes as Russia approaches major cities in the war-torn east of the country and fueling growing global concern with restrictions on gas and grain exports.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the EU’s decision on his country and Moldova as a “unique and historic moment”, although the two former Soviet republics faced a long path before joining the bloc and its benefits for free movement and common markets.
“Ukraine’s future is in the EU,” said Zelensky, who has been using the phone for weeks.
“We will win, rebuild, enter the EU and then will rest. Or maybe we will not rest.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said that the decision by EU leaders sent a “very strong signal” to Russia that Europeans support Ukraine’s pro-Western aspirations.
President Vladimir Putin has declared Ukraine part of the Moscow sphere and insisted he was acting because of an attempt to bring the country into NATO, a Western alliance that comes with security guarantees.
European powers before the invasion had distanced themselves from US support for Ukraine’s NATO aspirations and EU membership for at least a few more years.
Ukraine and Moldova have to go through protracted negotiations and the European Union has set the steps Kyiv must take before that, including strengthening the rule of law and fighting corruption.
– Weapons against Russian gain –
The White House announced that it will send another $ 450 million of new weapons to Ukraine including a new High Mobility Artillery Rocket system, which is at the top of Kyiv’s wish list.
A system called Himars can simultaneously launch multiple precision missiles over long distances.
Four initial units have already been dispatched, with Ukrainian soldiers trained to handle the equipment, after President Joe Biden’s administration said Kyiv had offered assurances it would not shoot into Russia.
Ukraine’s needs became more pressing as Russia-which failed to capture Kyiv immediately after attacking on February 24-advanced eastward, tightening its grip on the strategically important Severodonetsk and its twin city of Lysychansk across the Donets river.
Taking over the cities would give Moscow control over the whole of Lugansk, allowing Russia to press further into the Donbas region and potentially further west.
Ukraine admitted Thursday that it has lost control over two areas from which it defends the city, with Russian troops now increasingly close to besieging the industrial hub.
Britain’s defense ministry said some Ukrainian units may have been forced to retreat “to avoid siege”.
“Russia’s improved performance in the sector is likely a result of the recent strengthening of units and the high concentration of fire,” he said in his latest intelligence update.
A pro-Russian separatist representative in Ukraine told AFP Ukrainian military resistance trying to defend Lysychansk and Severodonetsk was “futile and futile.”
“At the rate our troops go, soon the entire territory of the Lugansk People’s Republic will be liberated,” said Andrei Marochko, a spokesman for the Lugansk military.
The Russian military also said on Thursday that its bombing in the southern city of Mykolaiv had destroyed 49 fuel storage tanks and three tank repair depots, after an attack killed several Ukrainian soldiers Wednesday.
– ‘Only grandma lives’ –
The northeastern city of Kharkiv near the Russian border was almost empty on Wednesday, AFP reporters said, a day after gunfire by Moscow troops killed five people there.
“Last night the building next to me collapsed as a result of the bombing while I was sleeping,” said Leyla Shoydhry, a young woman in a park near the opera house.
Roman Pohuliay, 19, in a pink sweat shirt, said most residents had fled the city.
“Only the grandmothers are left,” he said.
In downtown Zaporizhzhia, women are training to use Kalashnikov assault rifles in urban combat as Russian troops get closer.
“When you can do something, it’s not so scary to take a machine gun in your hand,” said Ulyana Kiyashko, 29, after moving through a homemade combat zone in the basement.
– ‘Guns’ grain and gas –
Western officials also accused Russia of using major arms exports of gas as well as grain from Ukraine, contributing to global inflation and increased world hunger.
“We are very clear that this grain crisis is urgent, that it needs to be resolved within the next month,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said during a visit to Turkey.
“Otherwise, we could see dire consequences,” he said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba urged African countries to press Russia for safe passage for grain.
“African capitals are important and it affects Russia’s position,” he told African reporters.
A U.S. official warned of new retaliation against Russia at a Group of Seven summit Biden attended in Germany starting Sunday.
Germany raised its emergency gas plan to a second warning level, just less than one of the maximums that might require rations in Europe’s largest economy, after Russia cut its supplies.
“Gas is now a limited commodity,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters, urging households to reduce consumption. Demand for gas is lower in summer but shortages can lead to a lack of heating in winter.
France aims to have its gas storage reserves at full capacity by early autumn, and will build a new floating methane terminal to get more energy supply by sea, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said.
A Kremlin spokesman reiterated his claim that supply cuts were due to maintenance and equipment needed from abroad had not yet arrived.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by AGRASMARTCITY staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)