President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the West to stop playing with Russia and impose tough sanctions on Moscow to end its “irrational war” in Ukraine, saying the only question was whether the country would remain independent.
Jelensky’s criticism of the West has grown in recent days as the European Union moves slowly toward a possible Russian oil embargo and thousands of Russian forces try to encircle the two main eastern cities of Siviarodonetsk and Lisichansk.
Three months after its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has abandoned its invasion of the capital, Kiev, and is trying to consolidate control of the industrial East Donbas region, where it has supported a separatist uprising since 2014.
Western military analysts see the war in Sivirodonetsk and Lysichansk as possible turning points in the war after the Ukrainian garrison surrendered in Mariupol last week and the pace shifted to Russia.
“Ukraine will always be an independent state and it will not be broken. The only question is what our people will pay for their independence and what Russia will pay for this meaningless war against us,” Zelensky said. Thursday late night address.
“The catastrophic unfolding events can still be stopped if the world treats the situation in Ukraine as if it were facing the same situation, if the powers that be do not play with Russia, then really push for an end to the war.”
Zelensky complained about differences within the European Union over further sanctions against Russia and asked why some countries were being allowed to block the plan.
The EU is discussing a sixth round of sanctions, including a ban on Russian oil imports. Such a move would require a consensus, but Hungary opposes the idea for the time being, as its economy would suffer greatly.
“How many more weeks will the EU try to agree on a sixth package?” Russia is receiving one billion euros a day from the 27-nation bloc for fuel supplies, Zelensky asked.
“Pressure on Russia is literally a matter of saving lives. Every day delays, vulnerabilities, various conflicts or proposals at the expense of ‘calming down’ the aggressors only means killing more Ukrainians.”
Zelensky’s remarks marked the second day in a row that he had sharpened his criticism of the world’s view of war.
On Wednesday, he rejected proposals for concessions to bring peace to Kiev, saying the idea had thwarted efforts in 1938 to appease Nazi Germany.
Russian troops are advancing
Russian forces launched a three-pronged assault on Siviarodonetsk and Lysichansk on Thursday in an attempt to encircle Ukrainian forces, the Ukrainian military said. If two large cities fall into the Sivarsky Donets River, almost all of the Donetsk province of Luhansk will be under Russian control.
Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said about 50 Russian troops had reached the highway and “managed to keep one foot”, even setting up a checkpoint.
“The checkpoints have been broken up, they have been left behind … The Russian army does not control the route now, but they are shelling,” he said. It was possible that Ukrainian troops would “leave one settlement, maybe two. We must win the war, not the war,” he said.
“It’s clear that our boys are slowly retreating to a more secure position – we have to hold on to this force.”
Vadim Denisenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, said in a briefing that 25 Russian battalions were trying to encircle Ukrainian forces.
Further south, in the Russian-controlled territory, Reuters reporters saw evidence of Moscow’s advance in Sweetlodarsk, where Ukrainian forces withdrew earlier this week.
The city is now firmly under the control of pro-Russian fighters, who have occupied the local government building and hung a Soviet hammer and sickle flag on the door.
Reuters drone footage from a nearby abandoned battlefield shows a green-marked hole in a green field surrounded by a dilapidated building. Pro-Russian fighters were roaming the trenches.
The Donbass advance was supported by extensive artillery bombardment. The Ukrainian military says 50 cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces came under fire on Thursday.
The head of Ukraine’s armed forces, Valery Jaluzhny, called on the Telegram for more Western weapons, especially “weapons that would allow our enemies to strike at great distances.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later warned that the supply of weapons that could reach Russian territory would be “a serious step towards unacceptable growth.”
The danger of growth
Western nations, led by the United States, have provided Ukraine with long-range weapons, including Washington’s M777 Howitzer and Denmark’s Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
Washington is even considering providing Kiev with a rocket system that could have a range of hundreds of kilometers, and has held talks with Kiev if Russia hits deep, US and diplomatic officials told Reuters.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “We are concerned about the growing number and we still do not want to be geographically limited or we do not want to tie their hands too much to what they are given.”
Russia has called its move in Ukraine a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegations are baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow hoped Ukraine would accede to its demands in any future peace talks. It wants Kiev to recognize Russia’s sovereignty over the Crimean peninsula occupied by Moscow in 2014 and the independence of the separatist-claimed territory.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)