Ukraine: Moscow raises its tone against Vilnius and progresses in the East
Moscow on Tuesday promised “serious” retaliation against Lithuania after Vilnius imposed European sanctions linked to the invasion of Ukraine, where Russian troops continue to advance in the east.
Two days before the summit of the leaders of the European Union, called upon to decide on granting Ukraine the status of candidate country for the European club that kyiv is crying out for, the French Minister for European Affairs Clément Beaune , whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, declared that a “total consensus” had emerged within the Twenty-Seven during a meeting with his counterparts in Luxembourg, to accede to this request.
Describing as “hostile acts” the restrictions imposed by the Lithuanian authorities on the transit by rail of goods hit by European sanctions in the direction of Kaliningrad, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, declared, during a visit in this Russian enclave on the Baltic, that “appropriate measures” would be “adopted soon” and that they would have “serious negative consequences for the population of Lithuania”.
As Russian troops step up their advance in Donbass, in eastern Ukraine, an American official announced in Washington that the United States Minister of Justice, Merrick Garland, was on a surprise visit to kyiv, where he is due to discuss with Ukraine’s Attorney General, Iryna Venediktova, “US and international efforts to help Ukraine identify, apprehend, and prosecute those implicated in war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine.”
– “Epicenter of confrontation” –
In eastern Ukraine, the Russians “fully control” the village of Tochkivka on the front line, a few kilometers from Severodonetsk and Lyssytchansk where the fighting is raging, recognized the head of the Severodonetsk district, Roman Vlasenko.
“The entire Lugansk region is now the epicenter of the confrontation between Ukrainian and Russian armies,” added Vlasenko, who was speaking on Ukrainian television.
This region is almost completely controlled by forces from Moscow. Only the pocket of Ukrainian resistance around Lyssytchansk and Severodonetsk still escapes the control of the Russian army.
According to Mr Vlasenko, “fighting is raging around the industrial zone” of Severodonetsk where, according to local authorities, 568 people including 38 children – mainly employees and their families – are now taking refuge inside the Azot plant.
The factory is emblematic of this industrial city which had around 100,000 inhabitants before the war. The capture of the city by Moscow would be an important step towards the conquest of the entirety of Donbass, a mainly Russian-speaking region partly held by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.
– “Catastrophic destruction” –
The governor of the Lugansk region, Serguiï Gaïdaï, reported on his side of “catastrophic destruction in Lyssytchansk”, a twin city separated from Severodonetsk by the Donets, an impassable river since the bridges there were destroyed.
Suffering from daily bombardments, the region has for several weeks been the scene of violent artillery battles between Russian and Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged the Ukrainian military to “hold on”, saying the outcome of the war will depend on its resilience and ability to hold back the Russian military and inflict casualties on it.
In the Kharkiv region (northeast), Governor Oleg Synegoubov announced that 15 people, including an eight-year-old child, were killed on Tuesday and 16 injured under Russian artillery fire. “These are the terrible consequences of the Russian bombardments in broad daylight in the Kharkiv region,” the governor said on his Telegram channel.
In addition, saying “appreciate the efforts” of Berlin to help kyiv militarily, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiï Reznikov announced the receipt of German self-propelled artillery guns Panzerhaubitze 2000.
Several cities in Donbass still under the control of kyiv are preparing for a new advance by Russian troops, such as Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, east of Severodonetsk.
“The front has come closer in recent weeks, up to 15-20 kilometers”, explained to AFP Vadym Lyakh, mayor of Sloviansk, who hopes for the rapid arrival of “new weapons” including the Ukrainian army. requires.
“So far, everything is fine here, but it’s very hard psychologically when you see on television what is happening in other cities,” said Svitlana, 48, a butcher at the Kramatorsk market.
Still on the military front, Russia claimed to have repelled a “crazy” attempt by kyiv’s forces to retake Serpents’ Island, a symbolic and strategic territory conquered by Moscow in the Black Sea at the start of its offensive in Ukraine, launched on 24 february.
Ukraine said on Tuesday that it had targeted hydrocarbon drilling platforms in the Black Sea the day before, which it said were used as military “installations” by the Russians to strengthen their control in the region.
– Russification –
“We are proud that (in Ukraine) our fighters act with courage, professionalism, like real heroes,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said during a speech in the Kremlin to young graduates of Russian military academies and the most senior army officers. Mr Putin also said he was “sure” that the sanctions against Russia will be “overcome”.
In Berlin, the German Minister of Economy and Climate Robert Habeck considered that the reductions in the delivery of Russian gas to Europe via the Nord Stream gas pipeline, recently decided by Moscow, are an “attack” which aims to “seed chaos on the European energy market”.
“What we saw last week has another dimension. The reduction in gas deliveries by Nord Stream is an attack on us,” he said. This “economic attack” was, according to him, “deliberately carried out” by Vladimir Putin.
In southern Ukraine, “specialists from the transmission units of the Russian Armed Forces have connected and reconfigured to broadcast Russian channels the last of the seven television transmitters in the Kherson region”, conquered by Moscow from the first days of the war, according to a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry.
According to the text, one million inhabitants of the region now have “free” access to the main Russian channels, in particular those of the public audiovisual group VGTRK, which actively relays the Kremlin line.
Since the region came under the control of Moscow, the occupying forces have been carrying out a policy of Russification of the territories there: the Russian currency, the rouble, has been introduced and Russian passports are beginning to be distributed.
According to the Russian state news agency TASS, one of the new pro-Russian officials of the Kherson region, Kirill Stremoussov, claimed that this territory could be attached to Russia, “by referendum”, “before the end of the year”.
In Washington, the State Department confirmed that a second American national had been killed in action in Ukraine and reiterated its call not to take part in the conflict, while two other Americans were captured by Russia.
A spokesman for the White House, John Kirby, considered it “appalling” that Russia is talking about the possibility of applying the death penalty to these two prisoners.
“It is appalling that a Russian government official is suggesting the death penalty for two American citizens who were in Ukraine,” Kirby said, reacting to statements by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in an interview. the American channel NBC.