Von der Leyen discusses EU integration in Kyiv
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was in Kyiv on Thursday to advance Ukraine’s EU integration process as its armed forces gain ground against Russia.
That visit comes as Russian and Chinese Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in turn meet on the sidelines of a regional Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan, touted as an “alternative” to Western alliances.
“In Kyiv for my third visit since the beginning of the war with Russia,” said Ms. von der Leyen on Twitter, which is the first time since Ukraine’s admission as an EU candidate country.
According to her, discussions will focus on how “to bring our economies and our people closer together as Ukraine moves towards joining the Union”.
In June, the Europeans approved Ukraine’s candidacy, which is also aiming to join NATO. Moscow perceives this prospect as an existential threat, which, among other things, used this pretext to invade the country on February 24.
The West has responded by imposing a series of sanctions on Russia and arming Kyiv, crucial support that has enabled it to retake thousands of square kilometers of territory from Russian forces in recent weeks.
But Ukraine is also asking for financial support, as its economy has collapsed and Finance Minister Sergei Marchenko estimates that the country needs five billion dollars a month to cover its budget deficit.
– “Active battles” –
On the eve of Ms. von der Leyen’s visit, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the strategic city of Izium, recently recaptured from the Russians in the Kharkiv region (northeast), from where he promised victory to the Ukrainians.
He stressed that thanks to the Ukrainian counter-offensive launched in early September, “almost the entire Kharkiv region was liberated” with the capture of “400 places”.
On Wednesday evening, Russian forces in turn hit hydraulic infrastructure with the help of seven rockets, causing sudden flooding of the Ingulets River in Kryvyï Rig, the birthplace of Mr. Selensky, who denounced an attempt to flood it.
Deputy head of the presidential administration Kyrylo Tymoshenko told Telegram on Thursday that 112 houses had been flooded in this city of around 600,000 without any casualties.
A new attack targeted the city on Thursday, hitting an “industrial company” and causing “serious damage” without causing casualties, said the head of the local military administration, Oleksandre Vilkoul.
On the Eastern Front, several towns and villages including Toretsk, Bakhmout, Avdiivka and Chassiv Iar were bombed, according to the presidency, killing two civilians and wounding 13 in the past 24 hours.
In Bakhmout, AFP journalists saw a thick plume of smoke Thursday morning after the strike that hit a residential building overnight. Firefighters tried to find bodies amidst a pile of rubble while the streets were nearly deserted and artillery fire could be heard.
In the Kherson region (south), where the Ukrainian armed forces are also conducting a counter-offensive but appear to be encountering more resistance than in Kharkiv, the situation with “active fighting” is “extremely difficult”, according to the presidency.
The Russian army, for its part, claimed to have carried out “massive strikes” against Ukrainian forces in the Mykolayiv (south) and Kharkiv (northeast) regions.
For their part, far from Ukraine, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin will meet in Uzbekistan on Thursday, an opportunity to re-seal their alliance against the West as their countries find themselves at the center of diplomatic crises.
Arriving by plane in this former Soviet republic on Thursday morning, Mr Putin was greeted there on the tarmac by a guard of honour.
Targeted by Western sanctions aimed at weakening and isolating Russia, Mr Putin has sought to hasten a turn to Asia since the start of the war in Ukraine.
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