(Kyiv) Russian forces scored major military successes in eastern Ukraine on Saturday after fully capturing the strategic city of Sievierodonetsk and invading the neighboring city of Lysytchansk after a bitter battle at the beginning of the fifth month of the conflict.
Posted at 7:50am
Updated at 2:23 p.m
At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that “in the coming months” his country would supply missiles to Belarus, from where Ukrainian territory is being attacked.
It is Iskander-M, the Russian head of state said at the beginning of a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Saint Petersburg (in north-western Russia).
In statements that could further strain relations between Moscow and the West, the two leaders also said they wanted to modernize Belarusian aviation to make it capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
Kyiv had recently accused Russia of wanting to “take Minsk to war” after 20 rockets were fired from Belarusian soil and planes fired at a key Ukrainian military center in Desna, according to the Ukrainian army. in the North, around 5am (2am GMT) on Saturday.
This village in the Chernihiv border region, from which no casualties were reported this time, had already been the target of bomb attacks on May 17, in which, according to the Ukrainians, 87 people were killed at the time.
The first attacks from Belarusian territory also took place at the very beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, launched on February 24.
US President Joe Biden left for Europe on Saturday, where he wants to further strengthen the ranks of Westerners against Russia in the long term.
He first has to attend a G7 summit in southern Germany on Sunday, where aid for Ukraine will be discussed, and then another NATO summit in Madrid starting Tuesday.
“The Russians are finishing what they started”
In eastern Ukraine, the Russian army made major advances on Saturday.
Sievierodonetsk is “completely occupied by the Russians,” its mayor Oleksandre Striouk recognized at the end of the afternoon, a day after the Ukrainian army announced that it was withdrawing from this pre-war city of about 100,000 inhabitants in order to better defend the locality from Lysytchansk, located on the opposite bank of the Donets River.
At the same time, the separatists declared that they had “taken full control of the Azot factory industrial zone” in Sievierodonetsk and entered Lysychansk with the Russian military.
“There’s street fighting going on there right now,” they added, without immediate independent confirmation.
Crucial progress on the ground for Russia, which wants to seize the entire Donbass industrial basin, which has already been partially in the hands of pro-Russian separatists since 2014.
For its part, the Russian army said it had killed “up to 80 Polish mercenaries” in a bombardment and also destroyed 20 armored vehicles and eight-degree multiple rocket launchers in a high-precision gun fire at the Megatex zinc plant in Konstantinovka, eastern Donetsk region.
Again, this information was unverifiable, while Moscow often claims to “eliminate foreign mercenaries” who have gone to Ukraine to fight.
In Kharkiv (northeast), Ukraine’s second largest metropolis, which has resisted pressure from Russian troops since the start of the offensive, rockets are once again falling on the city center on a daily basis.
On Friday night, one of them hit an administrative building near the hotel where an AFP team was staying, causing a fire, according to Ukrainian emergency services. The building had previously been bombed. “The Russians are finishing what they started,” a soldier, who did not reveal his identity, told AFP on Saturday.
In the south, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Saturday that “more than 300 Ukrainian soldiers and foreign mercenaries and 35 heavy weapons units” were “liquidated in one day in the Mykolayiv region.”
In this context, Kyiv castigated the Russians’ condemnation of the EU’s green light on Thursday for Ukraine’s candidacy.
“This only shows Russia’s weakness,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.
On Friday, Moscow condemned a “geopolitical grab” on the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS, which brings together several countries of the former USSR) to “contain Russia,” ensuring “this aggressive approach by the Union has the potential to turn Europe.” create new divisions and much deeper crises in Europe”.
The massive bombardment in the east eventually made Ukrainian soldiers give in, but without necessarily fundamentally changing the situation on the ground, experts say.
“Ukrainian units are exhausted, bloodless. They had terrible casualties with battalions completely neutralized,” explains a senior French officer on condition of anonymity, recalling units of 300 or 400 men, of which only about twenty were left operational.
But despite everything, “the overall vision – a slow war of deadlocked positions – has hardly changed,” Ivan Klyszcz, a researcher at Estonia’s University of Tartu, assures AFP. “The withdrawal was probably pre-planned and can be considered tactical,” he analyses, stressing that the Ukrainian resistance allowed the army to consolidate its rear.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday after a phone call with Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson that no progress had been made on Sweden’s bid to join NATO.
Sweden and Finland asked to join the Atlantic Alliance after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but encountered Turkey’s blockade.