Ukraine warns that only talks can end the war
DESIRE FOR PEACE A military chaplain conducts a funeral service for Ukrainian servicemen Sergei Profotilov and Igor Malenkov, both killed in the village of Vilkhivka during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in the military section of the cemetery number 18 in Kharkiv in Bezlioudivka, in eastern Ukraine, Saturday, May 21, 2022. PHOTO AFP
KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) that only a diplomatic breakthrough rather than an outright military victory could end Russia’s war on his country as Moscow cut off supplies in gas from Finland.
Zelenskyy also called for more military aid, even as US President Joe Biden formally approved a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine’s war effort.
And he insisted his war-ravaged country should be a full-fledged candidate to join the European Union, rejecting a suggestion by French President Emmanuel Macron and some other European leaders to create some sort of associated political community. as a waiting area for an application for membership.
“We don’t need such compromises,” Zelenskyy told a joint press conference with visiting Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa.
“Because, believe me, it won’t be [a] compromise with Ukraine in Europe, it will be another compromise between Europe and Russia.”
Speaking on Ukrainian television on Saturday, Zelenskyy said: “There are things that can only be achieved at the negotiating table.”
The war “will be bloody, there will be fighting but will only end definitively with diplomacy”.
“Discussions between Ukraine and Russia will definitely take place. In what format, I don’t know,” he added.
But he promised the result would be “fair” for Ukraine.
Russia cuts gas from Finland
After just over 12 weeks of fierce fighting, Ukrainian forces have halted Russian attempts to seize kyiv and the northern city of Kharkiv, but they are under intense pressure in the eastern region of Donbass.
Moscow’s army razed and seized the Black Sea port of Mariupol and subjected Ukrainian troops and eastern towns to relentless ground and artillery attack.
Zelenskyy’s Western allies have shipped modern weapons to his forces and imposed sweeping sanctions on the Russian economy and President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
The Kremlin reacted by disrupting the European energy supply.
On Saturday, Russian energy giant Gazprom said it had cut off supplies to neighboring Finland because it had not received ruble payments it was owed.
Helsinki had refused to pay its bill in roubles, which Moscow demanded in a bid to circumvent financial sanctions and force European energy customers to support its central bank.
In 2021, Gazprom supplied around two-thirds of the country’s gas consumption, but only 8% of its total energy consumption.
Gasum, Finland’s state-owned energy company, said it would use other sources, such as the Balticconnector gas pipeline, which connects Finland to Estonia, another EU member.
Moscow cut off gas to Poland and Bulgaria last month, a move the European Union has denounced as “blackmail”, but importers in some other EU countries more dependent on Russian gas are planning to open ruble accounts with Gazprom’s bank.
Application for NATO membership
The dispute over Finland’s gas bill comes just days after Finland and neighboring Sweden broke their historic military non-alignment and applied to join NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
Public support for the alliance skyrocketed after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Moscow warned Finland that NATO membership would be “a grave mistake with far-reaching consequences”. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said he would respond by building military bases in western Russia.
But Finland and Sweden are now apparently on the fast track to joining the military alliance, with Biden this week offering “full, total and complete support” for their offers.
NATO’s current 30 members must agree, however, and Turkey has condemned Sweden’s alleged tolerance for the presence of exiled Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged Swedish and Finnish leaders to drop financial and political support for what he called “terrorist” groups.
Turkey would not view its offers “positively” unless its terrorism concerns were addressed, he warned.
On the ground in Ukraine, the fighting is fiercest in the eastern region of Donbass, a Russian-speaking area partially controlled by pro-Kremlin separatists since 2014.
In Severodonetsk, a frontline town now under threat of encirclement, 12 people were killed and 40 others injured by Russian shelling, regional governor Sergiy Gaiday said.
“The Russians use artillery day and night,” he said.
In neighboring Donetsk region, Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Telegram on Saturday that seven civilians had been killed and 10 injured.
The Russian Defense Ministry claimed to have destroyed a large shipment of US and European weapons in a long-range missile strike on Malin railway station west of kyiv in the Zhytomyr region.
There has been no Ukrainian or independent confirmation of the strike.
On Friday, Moscow declared over the battle for the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, a symbol of Ukraine’s fierce resistance since Putin launched the February 24 invasion.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenko said 2,439 Ukrainians had visited the steel plant since May 16, up from 500 on Friday.
Ukraine hopes to exchange the surrendered Azovstal soldiers for Russian prisoners. But in Donetsk, pro-Kremlin authorities are threatening to bring some of them to justice.
Biden framed the war in Ukraine as part of a US-led struggle pitting democracy against authoritarianism.
The US Congress this week approved a $40 billion (38 billion euro) aid package, including funds to improve Ukraine’s armored vehicle fleet and air defense system – and President Biden promulgated it on Saturday.
Russia, meanwhile, released a list of 963 Americans, including Biden, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, who are banned from entering the country.
This followed a similar list compiled by Washington.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also imposed travel bans on 26 Canadians on Saturday “in response to the latest anti-Russian sanctions announced by Canadian authorities.”