Kyiv: Ukrainian forces have launched a counter-offensive near the Russian-held town of Izium in eastern Ukraine, a regional governor said on Saturday, in what could prove a serious setback for Moscow’s plans to capture the entire Donbas region.
Russian forces have focused much of their firepower on the Donbas in a “second phase” of their invasion that was announced on April 19, after they failed to reach the capital Kyiv from the north in the early weeks of the war.
But Ukraine has been retaking territory in its northeast, driving the Russians away from the second-largest Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Keeping up pressure on Izium and Russian supply lines will make it harder for Moscow to encircle battle-hardened Ukrainian troops on the eastern front in the Donbas.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also said complex talks were underway to find a way to evacuate a large number of wounded soldiers from a besieged steel works in the port of Mariupol in return for the release of Russian prisoners of war.
Mariupol, which has suffered the heaviest fighting in nearly three months of war, is now in Russian hands but hundreds of Ukrainian fighters are still holding out at the Azovstal steel works despite weeks of heavy Russian bombardment.
Western military analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals failed to anticipate such fierce Ukrainian resistance when they launched the invasion on February 24.
As well as losing large numbers of men and much military equipment, Russia has been hit by economic sanctions. The Group of Seven leading Western economies pledged in a statement on Saturday to “further increase economic and political pressure on Russia” and to supply more weapons to Ukraine.
Ukrainian National Guard soldiers inspect a basement during a reconnaissance mission in a recently retaken village on the outskirts of Kharkiv, east Ukraine.Credit:
Moscow’s invasion, which it calls a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists, has jolted European security. Kyiv and its Western allies say the fascism assertion is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression.
The war has prompted Finland to abandon its military neutrality and seek membership of NATO. Sweden is widely expected to follow suit.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told Putin by phone that his country, which shares a 1,300km border with Russia, wanted to join NATO to bolster its own security.
Putin told Niinisto it would be a mistake for Helsinki to abandon its neutrality, the Kremlin said, adding that the move could harm bilateral relations.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday it was not possible for his country, a NATO member, to support enlarging the alliance because Finland and Sweden were “home to many terrorist organisations”.
The foreign ministers of Finland and Turkey were due to meet in Berlin later on Saturday to try to resolve their differences over NATO accession.
Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said on Saturday that Turkey had not shut the door to Sweden and Finland joining but wants negotiations with both countries and a clampdown on what it sees as terrorist activities in Europe.
Ukrainian National Guard soldiers gather in a house used as temporary base in a recently retaken village on the outskirts of Kharkiv, east Ukraine.Credit:
Kalin said the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union – was fundraising and recruiting in Europe and its presence was “strong and open” in Sweden in particular.
“What needs to be done is clear: they have to stop allowing PKK outlets, activities, organisations, individuals and other types of presence to … exist in those countries,” Kalin said.
Ukraine’s Zelensky said complex negotiations were under way on the next phase of the evacuation mission from the Azovtal steel works in Mariupol, with international intermediaries involved in the talks.
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