Russia on Thursday acknowledged that Western support would slow its offensive in Ukraine, but said it “would not prevent them from achieving their objectives,” amid conflicting reports of civilian evacuations headed to the last Ukrainian nest of resistance in Mariupol.
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“The US, UK and NATO as a whole constantly share intelligence with the Ukrainian armed forces. Together with the supply of weapons (…) these actions do not allow a quick conclusion of the operation, ”Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the press.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian Presidency.
He was responding to information from New York Times This information, which the United States provided to the Ukrainian military, led to the targeting of several Russian generals near the front lines.
However, these Western actions “cannot prevent” the objectives of the Russian offensive in Ukraine from being achieved, he added, after 10 weeks of a war that has already claimed thousands of lives and provoked the exodus of more than 5 million Ukrainians.
So far, Moscow has only been able to claim full control of one major Ukrainian city, Kherson, to the south. But after two months of siege and bombardment, Russia hopes to soon fully capture the strategic port of Mariupol, where the last of the Ukrainian fighters, along with civilians, are holed up in the underground passages of the massive Azovstal Steelworks.
Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that humanitarian corridors “worked” to evacuate the remaining civilians at that Mariupol factory – who, according to the city’s mayor Vadim Boïtchenko, would still number 200. He also assured that the Russian army respects the ceasefire around the steel mill announced the previous day for three consecutive days, from 05:00 to 15:00 GMT from Thursday to Saturday.
However, the Ukrainians have not confirmed a ceasefire.
“Russian occupiers are busy blocking and destroying Ukrainian units on the territory of Azovstal,” the Ukrainian army said in a statement Thursday morning, adding that troops from Moscow “reopened the offensive with aircraft support in order to to take control of the factory”.
In a video message broadcast on Wednesday evening, the commander of the Azov regiment defending the plant, Denys Prokopenko, claimed that “bloody fighting is ongoing in Azov valley” with Russian soldiers present “in the fence of the steel plant”.
Global call for donations
According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, around 344 people were evacuated from Mariupol and the surrounding area to Zaporizhia, a city under Ukrainian control about 230 km away, on Wednesday.
Hundreds of civilians from Azovstal were also able to flee this weekend as part of an evacuation organized with the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Mr Zelensky also called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to help “rescue” those injured at the steel mill.
Hundreds of people – Ukrainian fighters and civilians – have been hiding in WWII underground galleries running under the Azovstal compound since early March. Moscow has focused its firepower on the steelworks since President Vladimir Putin announced the city’s “liberation” on April 21.
The full capture of Mariupol, an industrial port south of the Donbass devastated by two months of Russian siege and bombing, would be a major victory for Moscow as May 9 approaches, the day Russia marks with a grand military parade in the square celebrates his victory over Nazi Germany.
The Ukrainians claimed that the Russians were preparing a military victory parade in Mariupol that day.
In this context, the Ukrainian President, who continues to call for more sanctions against Russia and more arms supplies to the West, launched a global fundraiser for Ukraine on Thursday via the United24 platform created specifically for this purpose.
“With one click you can donate money to help our defenders, save our civilians and rebuild Ukraine,” he said in English in a video on Twitter announcing the launch.
Black Gold Embargo
For its part, the European Commission on Wednesday proposed a gradual European Union embargo on oil imports from Russia.
If EU member states give the green light unanimously, “we will stop Russian supplies of crude oil within six months and of refined products by the end of the year,” said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Ursula von der Leyen
The Commission’s draft provides for a temporary exemption for Hungary and Slovakia, two landlocked countries fully dependent on supplies through the Druzhba pipeline, who will be able to continue their purchases from Russia in 2023.
However, Budapest refused to accept this project in its current form, drawing the ire of the head of Ukrainian diplomacy, who accused any country that defied such an embargo of “complicity” in the crimes committed by the Russians in attributed to Ukraine.
Oil prices have risen sharply under the influence of the embargo project, the price of a barrel of Brent grade from the North Sea has reached its highest level in two and a half weeks.
On the basis of military operations, according to the Ukrainian army, the Russian armed forces continued their offensive, especially in the east of the country.
According to the governor of Donetsk region, 25 civilians were injured in a strike that hit a residential area in Kramatorsk overnight.
For its part, the Russian army said it had attacked a Ukrainian command post and two military camps at the city’s airfield.
Moscow also said it had fired “high-precision” missiles in the south, including a military airport near Kirovograd and an ammunition depot and fuel depot in the Mykolaiv region.
“Thanks to the successful actions of the Ukrainian defenders, the enemy lost control of several locations near the Mykolaiv and Kherson regions,” the Ukrainian General Staff said on Thursday morning.
On Ukraine’s northern border, Belarus — an ally of Moscow — began “surprise” military maneuvers on Wednesday to test its army’s responsiveness, its defense ministry said.
And Moscow announced on Wednesday evening that its army had simulated the launching of nuclear-capable missiles in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad between Poland and Lithuania, two EU member states. More than 100 soldiers took part in these exercises.
From Chisinau, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, informed him that the Europeans plan to “significantly” increase their support for Moldova this year by supplying additional military equipment to its armed forces.
Recent attacks on the pro-Russian Moldovan separatist region of Transnistria have heightened concerns that the conflict could spread to this former Soviet republic of 2.6 million people.
In addition to an embargo on Russian oil, the European Union on Wednesday also proposed excluding three other Russian banks – including Sberbank, Russia’s largest institution – from the Swift international financial system.
The European Commission is also recommending sanctions against the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, who has multiplied his preaching in support of the military intervention in Ukraine.
For his part, US President Joe Biden said he would discuss possible “additional” sanctions against Moscow with the other G7 countries this week.
A Security Council meeting on Ukraine was also scheduled for Thursday evening in New York.