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Ukraine leads a counter-offensive against Russian forces in the East


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KYIV/BEZRUKY – Ukrainian forces have launched a counteroffensive near the Russian town of Izium in eastern Ukraine, a regional governor said on Saturday, in what could prove a serious setback for plans to Moscow aiming to capture the entire Donbass region.

Russian forces have concentrated much of their firepower on Donbass in a “second phase” of their invasion which was announced on April 19, after failing to reach the capital kyiv from the north in the first weeks of the war. war.

But Ukraine has reclaimed territory in its northeast, driving the Russians out of Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv. Maintaining pressure on Izium and Russian supply lines will make it harder for Moscow to encircle hardened Ukrainian troops on the eastern Donbass front.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the situation in Donbass remained very difficult, adding that Russian forces were still trying to salvage some kind of victory there.

“They don’t stop trying,” he said.

The president spoke as Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the US Senate, made an unannounced visit to Kyiv along with other Republican senators. The Republican delegation discussed tightening sanctions against Russia, Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy also said complex talks were underway to find a way to evacuate a large number of wounded soldiers from a besieged steel mill in the port of Mariupol in exchange for the release of Russian prisoners of war.

Mariupol, which has suffered the heaviest fighting in nearly three months of war, is now in Russian hands, but hundreds of Ukrainian fighters are still holding out at the Azovstal steelworks despite weeks of heavy Russian bombardment.

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Western military analysts say Russian President Vladimir Putin and his generals did not anticipate such fierce Ukrainian resistance when they launched the invasion on February 24.

In addition to losing a large number of men and a lot of military equipment, Russia was hit by economic sanctions. The major Western economies of the Group of Seven pledged in a statement on Saturday to “further increase economic and political pressure on Russia” and supply more arms to Ukraine.

Commenting on the latest developments in eastern Ukraine, regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said in comments posted on social media: “The hottest point remains the management of Izium.”

“Our armed forces have gone on a counter-offensive there. The enemy is retreating on some fronts and this is the result of the character of our armed forces,” he said.

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DIPLOMATIC tremors

Moscow’s invasion, which it calls a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists, has shaken European security. kyiv and its Western allies say the assertion of fascism is a baseless pretext for an unprovoked war of aggression.

The war prompted Finland to abandon its military neutrality and seek membership in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Sweden is expected to follow suit.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto told Putin by telephone that his country, which shares a 1,300 km border with Russia, wanted to join NATO to boost its own security.

Putin told Niinisto it would be a mistake for Helsinki to abandon its neutrality, the Kremlin said, adding that the move could damage bilateral relations.

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that it was not possible for his NATO member country to support the alliance’s enlargement because Finland and Sweden were home to “many terrorist organizations”.

The foreign ministers of Finland and Turkey were due to meet in Berlin later on Saturday to try to resolve their differences over NATO membership.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Saturday that Turkey had not closed the door on Sweden and Finland’s membership, but wanted negotiations with the two countries and a crackdown on what ‘she sees as terrorist activities in Europe.

Kalin said the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union – was fundraising and recruiting in Europe and that its presence was “strong and open” in Sweden in particular.

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“What needs to be done is clear: they must stop allowing PKK media, activities, organizations, individuals and other types of presence to exist in these countries,” Kalin said.

G7 MINISTERS SUPPORT MORE AID

One of the goals of Russia’s action in Ukraine was to prevent the former Soviet republic from joining NATO.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who spoke to Putin by phone on Friday, said he detected no signs of a change in the Russian leader’s thinking on the conflict.

In an interview for the t-online news site published on Saturday, Scholz said Western sanctions against Russia would remain in place until it reaches an agreement with Ukraine, adding: “Our goal is may this invasion fail”.

Meeting in Germany, the foreign ministers of the group of rich countries of the G7 supported the granting of additional aid and weapons to Ukraine.

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In their statement, the G7 ministers – from the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada – also pledged to “accelerate our efforts to reduce and end dependence on Russian energy supplies”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the West’s sanctions amounted to “all-out hybrid warfare” against Moscow, but Russia would resist the sanctions by forging deeper partnerships with China, India and others.

As Russian and Ukrainian forces engaged in artillery duels near their common border north of Kharkiv on Saturday, Vera Kosolapenko, 67, wept as she stood in the still-smoldering ruins of her small home, hit by a Russian missile on Friday.

“I don’t know how I’m going to rebuild this house,” she said as explosions echoed through her leafy village of Bezruky.

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“Loved this place.”

Ukrainian Zelenskiy said complex negotiations were underway on the next phase of the evacuation mission from the Azovtal steelworks in Mariupol, with international intermediaries involved in the talks.

Erdogan’s spokesman said Turkey offered two weeks ago to carry out a sea evacuation of injured fighters from the factory. The proposal remains “on the table” despite Moscow not accepting it, he said.

The dire situation in Mariupol received airtime during the popular Eurovision Song Contest in Turin, Italy on Saturday. Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra – one of the nominees – took a moment after the band’s song to highlight the city’s plight for millions of viewers around the world.

“Please help Ukraine, Mariupol. Help Azovstal right now,” vocalist Oleh Psiuk shouted from the stage.

The Russian Defense Ministry said its forces struck Ukrainian command posts, ammunition depots and other military equipment in several regions, including Donbass, killing at least 100 Ukrainian “nationalists”.

Reuters could not independently verify the report.

(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets, Tom Balmforth, Idrees Ali, David Ljunggren and Reuters bureaus; writing by Gareth Jones and Timothy Heritage; editing by William Mallard, David Clarke and Daniel Wallis)

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