Update on the situation in Ukraine on the 63rd day of the conflict with Russia.
Poland and Bulgaria will be deprived of Russian gas
On Tuesday evening, Polish and Bulgarian authorities said they had been warned by Russian gas company Gazprom of its intention to cut off its gas supplies to those two countries the next day despite the contracts binding them. However, these two members of NATO and the European Union (EU) agree to get the missing gas from other sources.
“Ukraine clearly believes it can win, and so does everyone here,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at the start of a meeting with some 40 countries at the US Air Force Base in Ramstein, Germany, organized to speed up supplies military equipment needed by Ukraine to repel Russian invasion. “We will continue to move heaven and earth to be able to please them,” added the minister.
Allied arms deliveries
After initially hesitating to supply Ukraine with offensive weapons, the United States has made the leap, as has Britain, France and the Czech Republic. Even Germany, particularly reluctant, announced on Tuesday that it intends to authorize the delivery of Guepard-type tanks. The Netherlands will supply Panzerhaubitze 2000 armored howitzers to Kyiv, the Dutch government has confirmed.
According to Mike Jacobson, a civilian artillery specialist, the West wants to allow Ukrainians to respond to Russia’s long-range bombardments aimed at pushing back most of Ukraine’s forces and then sending tanks and soldiers to occupy the ground. More broadly, “we want Russia to be so weakened that it can no longer do the things it did by invading Ukraine,” Lloyd Austin said Monday.
While waiting for the delivery of these weapons on the Donbass front, the situation is complicated and “not at all rosy in terms of morale,” Iryna Rybakova, press secretary of Ukraine’s 93rd brigade, told AFP.
According to an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, Russian forces are bombing bridges and railways to slow western arms shipments. The Russian army said Tuesday it had conducted high-precision missile strikes against 32 Ukrainian military targets, including 20 areas of troop and equipment concentrations and four ammunition depots near the cities of Sloviansk and Druzhkovka in the Donetsk region.
In the Donbass regions, as in the south, “the enemy is attacking our troops’ positions along the entire front line with mortars, artillery and multiple rocket launchers,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday. In the south, two Russian rockets hit the city of Zaporijjia in particular on Tuesday morning, killing at least one person and injuring one, according to the regional administration.
Zaporizhia, a major industrial center on the Dnieper River, has in recent weeks been the staging point for Ukrainian civilians fleeing besieged Mariupol and other bombed Donbass cities. But the city is now preparing for a Russian attack from the coast, according to Kyiv.
The world “on the brink of disaster” with the occupation of Chernobyl
Zaporizhia is close to Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, the situation of which is closely monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Its boss Rafael Grossi, who visited Chernobyl on Tuesday to mark the 36th anniversary of the 1986 nuclear disaster, stressed that radioactivity was “in the normal range” and had increased intermittently during the Russian occupation between late February and the end of the March.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday accused Russia of bringing the world “to the brink of disaster” by occupying the Chernobyl power plant at the start of its invasion of Ukraine. “The world was again on the brink of catastrophe, because for the Russian army the Chernobyl zone and the power plant were like normal territory for conducting military operations,” said Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Azovstal was still throbbing
The situation also appears deadlocked in Mariupol, a strategic port on the southern tip of the Donbass that is almost entirely under Russian control. Russian forces continue to shell the huge Azovstal metallurgical complex there, where the last Ukrainian militants are holed up, reportedly with nearly 1,000 civilians, the region’s governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Tuesday.
In a telephone interview with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted that “the authorities in Kyiv must fulfill their political responsibilities and order the militants to lay down their arms,” according to the Kremlin.
The UN Secretary General in Moscow
In this regard, the United Nations Secretary-General was in Moscow on Tuesday, his first visit to the Russian capital since the beginning of a conflict that has upset major world balances and destroyed any cooperation between Russia and the West.
“I proposed setting up a contact group that would bring together Russia, Ukraine and the United Nations to explore ways to open humanitarian corridors,” said Antonio Guterres. After his meeting with the UN chief in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin said he still believed in a positive outcome of the negotiations. “Despite everything, the negotiations are going on (…) I hope that we will come to a positive result,” he said.
The Russian-Ukrainian talks seem deadlocked than ever. While Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday accused Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of “faking” negotiations, his US counterpart Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that Vladimir Putin had not shown “seriousness” in his intentions to negotiate. And the risk of the conflict escalating remains.
Call for calm in Moldova
Concerns are growing in Moldova in southern Ukraine after a series of blasts on Monday and Tuesday in the Moscow-backed separatist region of Transnistria.
“We call on our fellow citizens to remain calm,” said Moldovan President Maïa Sandu after convening her National Security Council. “This is an attempt to increase tensions. The Moldovan authorities will ensure that the republic is not drawn into a conflict.”
“Russia wants to destabilize the Transnistrian region and suggests that Moldova should expect ‘guests’,” warned Advisor to the Ukrainian Presidency Mikhaïlo Podoliak. A Russian general, Rustam Minnekayev, said last week that the conquest of southern Ukraine was possible. Without going as far as blaming Moscow for the blasts as Kyiv is doing, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters: “We remain concerned about any possible attempt to escalate tensions.”