Ukraine moves towards EU membership as Russian forces intensify operations on Donbass cities

  • Zhelensky urges Western nations to speed up the supply of heavy weapons
  • EU leaders are set to launch the Ukraine membership process
  • The war for the Donbass Twin Cities has reached a critical juncture

KYIV, June 23 (Reuters) – Ukraine is set to be accepted as a candidate to join the European Union on Thursday, a move that will boost the country’s morale as Russian attacks exhaust the guards of two cities in the eastern Donbass region.

EU leaders convene in Brussels to approve the Kyiv government’s request, despite the fact that it marks the beginning of a years-long process that will mark a major geopolitical change and anger Russia, which is struggling to impose its will on Ukraine.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the EU Vsevolod Chentsov told Reuters that the expected green light was “a signal to Moscow that Ukraine and other countries of the former Soviet Union could not join Russian spheres of influence.”

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Friday marks four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border, which he calls a “special military operation,” somewhat needed by Western encroachment that Russia considers its sphere of influence.

The conflict, which the West views as Russia’s unjustified war of aggression, has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities, and affected much of the world as food and energy exports have been reduced.

Russia has focused its campaign on southern and eastern Ukraine after its advance on the capital, Kiev, was thwarted by Ukrainian opposition in the early stages of the conflict.

Donbass – Ukraine’s industrial hub – is one of the most important twin cities on the opposite side of the Shivarsky Donetsk River in Luhansk Oblast.

The war there is “entering a kind of frightening climax,” said Oleksi Arrestovich, Zhelensky’s adviser.

Hot summer

Ukraine’s senior defense official Oleksi Kromov told a conference on Thursday that Russian forces were trying to encircle Ukrainian troops guarding Lysyansk.

Luhansk Governor Sergei Kaitoi said separately that all Lyczynsk regions were within reach of the Russian fire and that Ukrainian troops there could retreat to new heights to avoid being trapped.

Kaitoy said Ukrainian forces were guarding the settlements of Sivrodonetsk and nearby Solot and Vovchoyrovka, but Russian troops had captured Loskudyvka and Roy-Oleksandrovka in the south.

Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Siverodonetsk, while Ukraine and Russia are arguing over who controls the bombing city.

It says Ukrainian forces have cordoned off the city of Moscow. But on Wednesday, Kaidoi said the Russians did not yet have full control over Senior Rodonetsk.

The TASS news agency quoted Russian-backed separatists as saying that Lysychansk had now been cordoned off and supplies cut off after a road was built connecting the city with the city of Seversk.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.

In the south, Russia’s Defense Ministry quoted Russian forces as attacking Ukrainian military fuel tanks and military equipment near Mykoliv with high-precision weapons, the Interfax news agency reported.

A river port and shipyard a short distance from the Black Sea, Mikholev has been a stronghold against Russian efforts to push westward towards the main port city of Odessa, Odessa.

On the battlefield, President Volodymyr Zhelensky urged his allies to expedite the export of heavy weapons on par with Russia.

“We need to liberate our land and achieve success, but very quickly, very quickly,” he said in a video speech Thursday morning.

Later, Ukrainian Defense Minister HIMARS said that several rocket systems came from the United States. With a range of 70 km, these systems can challenge Russian artillery batteries that have hit Ukrainian cities from a distance.

“Summer will be hot for the Russian occupiers. For some of them it will be the last,” Defense Minister Oleksi Resnikov tweeted.

Shield for the EU

Similarly Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are seeking to join the EU in its most ambitious expansion since welcoming Eastern European countries after the Cold War.

Russia has long opposed close ties between Ukraine, its former Soviet republic and Western groups such as the European Union and the NATO military alliance.

Diplomats say it will take Ukraine a decade or more to meet the criteria for joining the EU. But EU leaders say they recognize Ukraine’s sacrifice.

Ukraine’s move to join the EU is working with Sweden and Finland applying to join NATO following the Russian invasion – indications that the Kremlin’s military operations have backtracked on its geopolitical objectives.

Anna Melenchuk, a 29-year-old Ukrainian living in Brussels, was in a small crowd of her comrades outside the building where EU leaders were meeting.

“This is a very symbolic move on the part of the EU … not just the war against Ukraine, but the war that Russia is waging against Europe,” he told Reuters.

“The Ukrainians today are a shield to the EU. We are protecting Europe from Russian aggression, so it is important to see this unity in action.”

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Reuters Bureau report; Written by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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