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Ukraine rules out ceasefire as Russia steps up efforts for Donbass


Ukraine on Saturday ruled out a ceasefire or concessions to Moscow as Russia stepped up its offensive in the eastern Donbass region and halted gas supplies to Finland.

After ending weeks of resistance by the last remaining Ukrainian fighters in the strategic southeastern city of Mariupol, Russia is leading what appears to be a major offensive in Luhansk, one of the two provinces of Donbass.

Russian-backed separatists already controlled swaths of territory in Lugansk and neighboring Donetsk province before the February 24 invasion, but Moscow wants to seize the last Ukrainian territory in Donbass.

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“The situation in Donbass is extremely difficult,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his overnight address. The Russian army was trying to attack the towns of Sloviansk and Sievierodonetsk, but Ukrainian forces were holding back their advance, he said.

Earlier, Zelenskyy told local television that while the fighting would be bloody, the end would only come through diplomacy and the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory would be temporary.

Zelenskyy’s adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, ruled out agreeing to a ceasefire and said kyiv would not agree to any deal with Moscow involving a ceding of territory. He said making concessions would backfire on Ukraine because Russia would retaliate harder after any break in the fighting.

“The war will not stop (after concessions). It will just be paused for a while,” Podolyak, Ukraine’s chief negotiator, told Reuters in an interview at the heavily guarded presidential office.

“They are going to launch a new, even more bloody and large-scale offensive.”

Recent calls for an immediate ceasefire have come from US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

An end to the fighting in Mariupol, the largest city captured by Russia, could be crucial for its ambitions in Donbass. It offers Russian President Vladimir Putin a rare victory after a series of setbacks in nearly three months of fighting.

The last Ukrainian forces locked down the vast Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol which surrendered on Friday, Russia said.

Full control of Mariupol gives Russia control of a land route linking the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014, with mainland Russia and separatist-held areas of eastern Ukraine pro-Russian.

Ukrainian forces in separatist-controlled areas of Luhansk and Donetsk said on Saturday they repelled nine attacks and destroyed five tanks and 10 other armored vehicles in the past 24 hours.

Russian forces were using aircraft, artillery, tanks, rockets, mortars and missiles across the entire front line to attack civilian structures and residential areas, the Ukrainians said in a Facebook post. At least seven people were killed in the Donetsk region, they said.

Russian troops destroyed a bridge over the Siverskiy Donets River between Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. There was fighting on the outskirts of Sievierodonetsk from morning till night, he said on the Telegram messaging app.

Sievierodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets River form the eastern part of a Ukrainian-held pocket that Russia has been trying to invade since mid-April after failing to capture kyiv.

GAS DISPUTE

Russian gas company Gazprom said it had halted gas exports to Finland, which refused Moscow’s demands to pay for Russian gas in rubles after Western countries imposed sanctions for the invasion.

Finnish state-owned gas wholesaler Gasum, the Finnish government and individual gas-consuming companies in Finland have said they are ready for a shutdown of Russian flows.

Most European supply contracts are denominated in euros or dollars. Last month, Moscow cut off gas to Bulgaria and Poland after refusing to comply with new terms.

Western countries have also stepped up arms deliveries to Ukraine. On Saturday, kyiv received another huge boost when US President Joe Biden signed a bill providing nearly $40 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid.

Moscow said Western sanctions, along with arms deliveries to kyiv, amounted to a “proxy war” by the United States and its allies.

The Russian military said it destroyed a large shipment of Western weapons in Ukraine’s Zhytomyr region, west of kyiv, using sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles. Reuters could not verify the report independently.

Thousands of people in Ukraine have been killed in the war that has displaced millions and destroyed cities.

First post: STI

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