Ukraine takes a step towards joining the European Union as Russian forces tighten restrictions on Donbass cities


  • Zelensky urges West to speed up delivery of heavy weapons
  • EU leaders launch Ukraine’s membership process
  • The Battle of the Twin Cities of Donbass reaches a critical stage

Kyiv (Reuters) – Ukraine is set to be accepted as a candidate to join the European Union on Thursday in a move to boost the country’s morale as Russian attacks wear down the defenders of two cities in the eastern Donbass region.

Although the approval of the Kyiv government’s request by EU leaders meeting in Brussels is just the beginning of what will be over many years ahead, it represents a huge geopolitical shift that will anger Russia as it struggles to impose its will on Ukraine.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the European Union, Vsevolod Chintsov, told Reuters the expected green light was “a signal to Moscow that Ukraine and other countries of the former Soviet Union cannot belong to Russia’s spheres of influence.”

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Friday marks four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border in what he calls a “special military operation” necessitated in part by Western encroachment on what Russia sees as its sphere of influence.

The conflict, which the West considers an unjustified war of aggression by Russia, has killed thousands, displaced millions, and destroyed cities in addition to its repercussions in most parts of the world as food and energy exports have been curtailed.

Russia focused its campaign on southern and eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian resistance thwarted its advance on the capital, Kyiv, in the early stages of the conflict.

The war of attrition in the Donbass – Ukraine’s industrial heartland – is most significant in the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysechhansk, which lie on both sides of the Seversky Donets River in Luhansk Province.

Oleksiy Aristovich, Zelensky’s advisor, said the battle there “enters some kind of frightening climax.”

hot summer

Senior Ukrainian defense official Oleksiy Gromov said in a briefing on Thursday that Russian forces are trying to encircle the Ukrainian forces defending Lyschansk.

Separately, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said all of Lysekhansk was in Russian crossfire and that Ukrainian forces there could retreat to new positions to avoid falling into the trap.

Gidayi said that Ukrainian forces were defending Severodonetsk and the settlements near Zolote and Vovchorovka, but that Russian forces had captured Loskotivka and Ray-Olkandrievka in the south.

Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Severodonetsk as Ukraine and Russia squabble over who controls the bombed city.

Moscow says Ukrainian forces in the city are surrounded. But Gaidai said on Wednesday that the Russians had not yet fully taken control of Severodonetsk.

Russia-backed separatists said Lysichansk was now surrounded and cut off from supplies after storming a road linking the city to the town of Seversk, the TASS news agency reported.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the news.

And the Russian Interfax news agency quoted the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that on the southern front, Russian forces bombed fuel tanks and military equipment for the Ukrainian army near Mykolaiv with high-precision weapons.

Mykolaiv, a river port and shipbuilding center off the Black Sea, was a bulwark against Russian efforts to head west toward the main port city of Odessa in Ukraine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged his country’s allies to speed up shipments of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield.

“We must liberate our land and achieve victory, but more quickly, more quickly,” he said in a video address early Thursday.

Later, Ukraine’s Defense Minister said that multiple HIMARS missile systems had arrived from the United States. With a range of up to 70 km, the systems can challenge Russian artillery batteries that have struck Ukrainian cities from afar.

“The summer will be hot for the Russian occupiers. The last one for some of them,” Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov wrote on Twitter.

Shield for the European Union

In addition to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are also seeking to join the European Union in what would be the most ambitious expansion since the East European countries were welcomed after the Cold War.

Russia has long been opposed to closer ties between Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, and Western groupings such as the European Union and the NATO military alliance.

Diplomats say it will take Ukraine a decade or more to meet the criteria for joining the European Union. But EU leaders say the bloc should make a gesture acknowledging Ukraine’s sacrifice.

Ukraine’s move to join the ranks of the European Union goes hand in hand with applications from Sweden and Finland to join NATO in the wake of the Russian invasion – indications that the Kremlin’s military actions have backfired on its geopolitical goals.

Anna Melinchuk, a 29-year-old Ukrainian living in Brussels, was among a small crowd of her compatriots who gathered outside the building where EU leaders were meeting.

“It is a very symbolic move by the European Union,” she told Reuters. “It is not only a war against Ukraine, Russia also waged this war against Europe.”

“The Ukrainians today are the shield of the European Union, and we are protecting Europe from Russian aggression, so it is very important that we see this solidarity in action.”

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Reporting by Reuters offices. Writing by Angus Maxwan; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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