Ukraine will be accepted as a candidate to join the European Union on Thursday, a move that will boost the country’s morale as the battle with Russian troops for two cities in the east reached what one official called a “fierce climax.”
While the approval of the Kyiv government’s request by EU leaders meeting in Brussels is only the beginning of what will be a years-long process, it is a major geopolitical shift and will anger Russia as it struggles to impose its will. in Ukraine.
Friday will mark four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border in what he calls a “special military operation,” in part necessitated by Western encroachment on what Russia considers its sphere of influence. .
The conflict, which the West sees as an unwarranted war of aggression by Russia, has killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities, as well as having ramifications across much of the world as food exports have dwindled. and energy.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged his country’s allies to speed up shipments of heavy weapons to match Russia on the battlefield.
“We must liberate our land and achieve victory, but faster, much faster,” Zelensky said in a video address Thursday.
Moscow’s massive air and artillery strikes are aimed at destroying the entire Donbas region, he said.
Russia focused its campaign on southern and eastern Ukraine after its advance on the capital Kyiv in the early stages of the conflict was thwarted by stubborn Ukrainian resistance.
The war of attrition in Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, is most critical in the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, which straddle the Siverskyi Donets River in Luhansk Oblast.
The battle there is “entering a kind of fearsome climax,” said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelensky.
MURAT YUKSELIR / THE BALLOON AND THE MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS
Ukrainian forces were defending Sievierodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka, Lugansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said on Thursday, but Russian forces had captured Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka to the south.
Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk as Ukraine and Russia squabble over who controls the bombed-out city.
Moscow says Ukrainian forces in the city are surrounded and trapped. But Gaidai told Ukrainian television on Wednesday that Russian forces were not in full control of Sievierodonetsk.
Gaidai said that all of Lysychansk was within range of Russian fire.
“To avoid the encirclement, our command could order the troops to withdraw to new positions. There may be a regroup after last night,” he said.
The TASS news agency quoted Russian-backed separatists as saying that Lysychansk was now surrounded and cut off from supplies after a highway connecting the city to the city of Sieviersk was seized.
Reuters could not immediately confirm the report.
The British Ministry of Defense said some Ukrainian units had withdrawn, probably to avoid being encircled.
“Russian forces are putting the Lysychansk-Sievierodonetsk bourse under increasing pressure with this creeping advance… however, their efforts to achieve a deeper encirclement to take western Donetsk Oblast remain stalled,” the ministry said in a statement. Twitter early Thursday.
Zelensky said he had spoken to 11 EU leaders on Wednesday about Ukraine’s bid and would make more calls on Thursday.
European Union chief executive Ursula von der Leyen, speaking ahead of the two-day EU summit in Brussels, said: “History is on.”
She added: “I am not talking only about Putin’s war of aggression. I am referring to the wind of change that is once again blowing across our continent.”
In addition to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are also seeking to join the EU in what would be their most ambitious expansion since welcoming Eastern European states after the Cold War.
Russia has long opposed closer ties between Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, and Western groupings such as the European Union and the NATO military alliance.
Diplomats say it will take a decade or more for Ukraine to meet the criteria to join the EU. But EU leaders say the bloc must make a gesture that acknowledges Ukraine’s sacrifice.