War in Ukraine, Day 77 | An annexation of the Cherson region provoked gas riots

(Kyiv) Ukraine’s Kherson region, occupied by the Russians since early March, will ask to be annexed by Russia, one of its pro-Russian officials said on Wednesday, while supplies of Russian gas through Ukraine agreed for the first time flow seemed affected by the fighting.

Posted at 8:28
Updated at 10:08 am

David STOUT with Dmitry ZAKS in Kramatorsk
Media Agency France

what you need to know

  • The volume of Russian gas flowing through Ukraine to Europe fell on Wednesday, Moscow and Kyiv said;
  • Ukraine’s Kherson region, occupied by the Russians since early March, will ask to be annexed by Russia;
  • On Tuesday evening, the US House of Representatives passed a nearly $40 billion aid package for Kyiv;
  • Ukraine says it tried to disrupt alcohol sales in Russia;
  • The factory in Zaporizhstal, located tens of kilometers from the front, resumed operations in April.
  • Almost a third of Ukraine’s jobs lost to war;
  • Wives of soldiers of the Azov regiment saw the pope and asked for his help.

“There will be a request (addressed to the President of Russia) to integrate the Kherson region as a full-fledged subject of the Russian Federation,” Kirill Stremoussov, deputy head of the administration of the coastal city, told Russian authorities of Kherson, a major Ukrainian city about which the Russians claimed total control during the two and a half month war in Ukraine.

“The entire legal basis […] will be ready before the end of the year,” he said, adding that the Kherson region will not hold such a vote because the international community does not recognize the Crimea-Russia referendum of 2014.

Speaking in Kherson on Friday, a senior Russian parliament official, Andrei Turtchak, pledged that Russia would stay in southern Ukraine “forever”.

For several weeks, Kyiv has accused Moscow of wanting to organize a referendum on independence in that region, as happened in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in 2014, when pro-Russian separatists took partial control. Moscow recognized its independence shortly before invading Ukraine on February 24.

“There will be no People’s Republic of Kherson. If someone wants a new annexation, Russia will be hit with stronger sanctions,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on April 22.

Destination Transnistria?

The comments come as US intelligence chief Avril Haines warned on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was preparing “for a protracted conflict” and wants to reach “goals beyond the Donbass,” citing a gradual weakening of the security system, Western resolve, to stop him .

According to her, beyond the south, Russia has its sights set on Transnistria, a separatist region of Moldova whose southern tip is only about sixty kilometers from Odessa.

According to the Ukrainian Southern Command, Russian troops are about to “mercilessly” hit the Mykolaiv region, the last lock before the metropolis of Odessa. “Private houses, agricultural facilities were damaged and the power supply to one of the villages was interrupted,” he said on Tuesday night.

In late April and early May, explosions shook Transnistria, fueling fears that the conflict would escalate. The European Union announced on May 4 that it would “significantly increase” its military aid to Moldova.

Gas deliveries fail

Shipments of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine also fell on Wednesday for the first time since the conflict began.

Ukraine’s gas pipeline operator OGTSOU has accused Russian forces of “interfering” with its facilities in the Luhansk region and preventing normal gas flows from being maintained.

He said on Wednesday that Russian giant Gazprom had cut the tap to one of the Ukrainian branches of the gas pipeline and requested it be relocated to another border crossing.

Gazprom said it was impossible to divert supplies while volumes passing through another border crossing – at Sudja in Russia’s Kursk border region – have already increased. But not enough to offset the drop — 18% Wednesday, according to Ukrainians — in volumes passing Lugansk points.

“We are monitoring the situation closely,” responded on Wednesday the Federal Ministry of Economics, whose country is one of the most important European buyers of Russian gas. “Germany’s energy security is currently guaranteed,” he added, however.

So far, both Moscow and Kyiv have kept gas flowing, although the European Union has been struggling to prepare for a disruption in their supplies since Vladimir Putin ordered payments for supplies to be made in rubles – a treaty change it says is unacceptable.

These gas disruptions come as Russia continues its offensive in the Donbass and is slowly gaining ground.

In particular, the besieged twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk appear poised to fall at any time, AFP noted. The Ukrainian army appears to be having increasing difficulty holding the front line as Russian offensives “come in waves,” according to a soldier interviewed at the scene, requiring dangerous operations to evacuate the wounded.

Kyiv, on the other hand, is pleased to have pushed back the Russians, who had been shelling for weeks on the north-eastern districts of Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, and to have taken some small towns in that region near the Russian border.

“Occupiers are gradually being pushed back from Kharkiv,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a video late Tuesday, praising Ukrainian fighters who “are showing superhuman strength to drive off the invading army.”

In Mariupol, if hundreds of Ukrainian fighters holed up there still hold the Azovstal Steel Plant, they are also constantly being bombed, according to Kyiv.

Voting on US military aid

On Tuesday evening, the American House of Representatives approved an aid framework for Kyiv worth almost 40 billion dollars, which includes an economic and humanitarian component, but also arms and ammunition.

It must now be voted on in the Senate later this week or early next week before it will be announced by the US President.

The European Union continues to try to persuade its 27 member states to accept a draft embargo on Russian oil, which is currently being blocked by Budapest. An agreement is possible “within a week”, assured the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune.

This project is part of a sixth package of sanctions against Russia that is being prepared in Brussels. Amid the impact of unprecedented western sanctions on the Russian economy, new car sales in Russia plummeted further in April, falling 78.5% in a year.

Back to Kyiv

But the Ukrainian economy suffers even more. Around 30 percent of jobs have been lost there since the beginning of the war, the International Labor Organization said on Wednesday. The IMF had predicted in mid-April that Ukraine’s GDP would fall by 35% in 2022, versus -8.5% for Russia’s GDP.

However, Kyiv seems to be gradually returning to normal: almost two-thirds of the capital’s 3.5 million inhabitants, which left the bulk of its residents when the conflict began, have now returned, according to Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

Restaurants have reopened and sidewalk cafes are once again attracting customers, where many seem to ignore the anti-aircraft sirens that still sound regularly.

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