The Russian army concluded on Saturday the conquest of the Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk and managed to enter neighborhoods in neighboring Lysychansk, after weeks of a devastating offensive to seize the region on donbasin the east of the country.
Ukraine also faced a “massive bombardment” in the north from Belarusa country allied with Russiawhich will be able to equip it “in the coming months” with missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, as announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Severodonestk was “totally occupied by the Russians,” said the city’s mayor, Oleksandre Striuk, the day after the Ukrainian authorities announced a withdrawal from that city to defend Lysychansk.
The pro-Russian separatists announced shortly before the seizure of the Azot chemical plant in Severodonetsk and the “evacuation” of 800 civilians who had taken refuge there.
The Governor of the region Luganskof which Severodonetsk is a part, stated that “90% of the city is damaged and 80% of the houses will have to be demolished.”
The separatists also announced that their forces and those of the Russian army had entered Lysychansk, where “street fighting” was taking place.
“Some businesses in the city have already been taken over. Street fighting is currently taking place,” a representative of the pro-Russian separatists, Lt. Col. Andrei Marochko, told Telegram.
The fall of these two cities could facilitate the advance of Russian troops towards Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, further west in the region of Donetsk.
Lugansk Y Donetsk make up Donbas, an area already partially controlled by the pro-Russians since 2014.
“Drag Belarus into the war”
In the north, “a massive shelling of missiles hit the Chernigov region,” said the Northern command of the Ukrainian troops.
“Twenty rockets targeted the town of Desna, launched from Belarusian territory and from the air,” he added, specifying that the attacks hit infrastructure, but caused no casualties.
Belarus has so far not been officially involved in the conflict, but has provided logistical support to the Russian invasion, which began four months ago, and has been subject, like Russia, to Western sanctions.
In the afternoon, Putin announced, after meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenkothat Russia will equip its ally with missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and adapt its planes so that they can carry nuclear payloads.
“In the coming months we are going to transfer to Belarus Iskander-M tactical missile systems, which can use ballistic or cruise missiles, in their conventional and nuclear versions,” Putin said at the beginning of his interview with Lukashenko in St. Petersburg, broadcast by Russian television.
“Today’s bombing is directly related to the Kremlin’s efforts to drag Belarus into the war in Ukraine as a co-belligerent,” the general directorate of the Ukrainian intelligence services, under the Ministry of Defense, said on Telegram.
Those announcements come ahead of a G7 meeting of Western economic powers starting Sunday in Germany and a summit of the NATO between Tuesday and Thursday in Madrid, to discuss how to strengthen support for Ukraine in a war with no end in sight.
Ukraine particularly calls for heavy weapons to counteract the Russian advance and “stabilize” the situation in Donbas.
Russian advances in the east do not imply a radical turnaround in the war, experts point out.
“The general view – a slow war of entrenched positions – has hardly changed,” Ivan Klyszcz, a researcher at the Estonian University of Tartu, told AFP.
“The withdrawal was probably planned in advance and can be considered tactical,” he added, stressing that the Ukrainian resistance has allowed kyiv to consolidate its rear.
The leaders of the European UnionThe EU granted Ukraine and Moldova, another former Soviet republic, the status of candidates to join the bloc on Thursday.
The Russian government saw in these decisions a Western maneuver to contain Moscow geopolitically.
The EU initiative “confirms that the seizure of the CIS space [Comunidad de Estados Independientes, que agrupa a varias exrepúblicas soviéticas] is actively pursuing, in order to contain Russia,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zajarova said.