Ukrainian president expects Russian attacks to escalate with EU summit this week

  • EU to decide on Ukraine’s membership bid
  • Zelenskiy says Battle for Donbass is intensifying
  • The city of Sievierodonetsk at the center of Russian attacks
  • NATO’s Stoltenberg says war could last for years

KYIV, June 20 (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has predicted that Russia will step up its attacks this week as European Union leaders plan to back his country’s bid to join the bloc and Russia continues its campaign to take control of eastern Ukraine.

“Obviously this week we should expect an escalation of its hostile activities from Russia,” Zelenskiy said in a video address Sunday night. “We are preparing. We are ready.”

Ukraine applied to join the EU four days after Russian troops crossed its border in February. The EU’s executive, the European Commission, recommended on Friday that Ukraine be granted candidate status. Read more

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Leaders of the 27-nation union will consider the issue at a summit on Thursday and Friday and are expected to endorse Ukraine’s candidacy despite reluctance from some member states. The process could take many years.

EU membership of Ukraine would interfere with one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated goals when he ordered his troops into Ukraine: to keep Moscow’s southern neighbor out of the sphere of Western influence.

Putin said on Friday that Russia had “nothing against” Ukraine’s EU membership, but a Kremlin spokesman said Russia was following Kyiv’s bid closely, especially to the EU. light of increased defense cooperation between EU members.

On the battlefield, Russian forces are trying to take full control of the eastern Donbass region, parts of which were already held by Russian-backed separatists before the February 24 invasion.

The industrial city of Sievierodonetsk is one of the main targets of the Russian assault in the east. Russia said on Sunday it had seized Metyolkin, a village on the outskirts, and Russian state news agency TASS reported that scores of Ukrainian fighters had moved there. The Ukrainian military said Russia had “partial success” in the region.

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai told Ukrainian television that a Russian attack on Toshkivka, 35 km (20 miles) south of Sievierodonetsk, “also had some success”. TASS, citing an assistant to the interior minister of the Lugansk People’s Republic, reported that Toshkivka had been “released”.

In Sievierodonetsk itself, a city of 100,000 before the war, Mayor Olekander Struk said Russian forces controlled about two-thirds of the city, including most residential areas, and continued to throw forces on the Ukrainians with the aim of completely gaining control.

“Hopefully the city will hold on, and once they have the firepower advantage, we can liberate them without leaving them first.”

Russia and Ukraine continued their heavy bombardments around Sievierodonetsk “with little change to the front line”, the British Ministry of Defense said on Sunday.

In Sievierodonetsk’s twin city, Lysychansk, residential and administrative buildings were destroyed by Russian shelling, Gaidai said. “People are dying on the streets and in bomb shelters,” he said.

Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield accounts.


Analysts from the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, wrote in a note that “Russian forces will likely be able to capture Sievierodonetsk in the coming weeks, but at the cost of concentrate most of their available forces in this small area”.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the war in Ukraine could last for years and urged Western governments to continue sending advanced weapons to Ukrainian troops, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported. Read more

“We have to prepare for the fact that it could take years. We must not relax our support for Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said.

Russia says it has launched what it calls a “special military operation” to disarm its neighbor and protect Russian speakers there from dangerous nationalists.

Ukraine and its allies reject this as a baseless pretext for a war of aggression.

In Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, northwest of Luhansk, the Russian Defense Ministry said its Iskander missiles had destroyed weapons recently supplied by Western countries.

Russian forces were trying to approach Kharkiv, which had been heavily shelled early in the war, and turn it into a “frontline city”, an official with Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said. Read more

The governor of Russia’s Bryansk region said the border village of Suzemka was shelled from northern Ukraine, one person was injured and a power plant was damaged.

The Ukrainian General Staff said Russia had deployed an anti-aircraft missile division in Bryansk and up to three battalion tactical groups were covering the border in nearby Bryansk and Kursk regions.

Towards Kharkiv, the Russians were trying to prevent Ukrainian forces from advancing towards the border, he added.

In southern Ukraine, Western weapons helped Ukrainian forces advance 10 km towards Russian-occupied Melitopol, its mayor said in a video posted on Telegram from outside the city.

Australia’s Ministry of Defense said it had sent the first four of 14 pledged armored personnel carriers to Ukraine, as part of a $200 million aid pledge.

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Reporting from the offices of Reuters and Maria Starkova; Written by Cynthia Osterman and Lincoln Feast, edited by Robert Birsel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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