African Reserves

Amid Russian invasion, EU grants candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova

Zelensky said that “the future of Ukraine is within the EU”.

Kyiv:

European Union leaders granted candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova on Thursday in a strong show of support against invading Russia, as the United States said it was sending Kyiv more high-precision rocket systems.

The West’s latest attempts to side with Ukraine came as Russia moved closer to key cities in the country’s beleaguered east and sparked growing global concerns over restrictions on gas and grain exports.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has hailed the EU decision on his country and Moldova as “a unique and historic moment”, although the two former Soviet republics face a long road to joining the bloc and its advantages of free movement and a common market.

“The future of Ukraine is within the EU,” said Zelensky, who had been working on the phone for weeks.

“We will win, rebuild, enter the EU and then rest. Or probably we won’t rest.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said the decision by EU leaders sent a “very strong signal” to Russia that Europeans supported Ukraine’s pro-Western aspirations.

President Vladimir Putin had said Ukraine was part of Moscow’s sphere and insisted he was acting because of attempts to bring the country into NATO, the Western alliance that comes with security guarantees.

Before the invasion, European powers had moved away from American support for Ukraine’s NATO aspirations and EU membership is at least years away.

Ukraine and Moldova will have to go through lengthy negotiations and the European Union has set out steps that Kyiv must take before that, including strengthening the rule of law and fighting corruption.

– Weapons to fight Russian gains –

The White House announced it was sending an additional $450 million worth of new weapons to Ukraine, including new high-mobility artillery rocket systems, which topped Kyiv’s wish list.

The so-called Himars system can simultaneously launch multiple precision missiles at an extended range.

The first four units have already been delivered, with Ukrainian soldiers being trained to operate the equipment, after President Joe Biden’s administration said Kyiv had offered assurances it would not fire on Russia.

Ukraine’s needs are increasingly urgent as Russia – which failed to take Kyiv immediately after its February 24 invasion – advances east, tightening its grip on the important strategic Severodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk across the Donets River.

Taking the cities would give Moscow control of all of Lugansk, allowing Russia to push deeper into the Donbass region and potentially further west.

Ukraine admitted on Thursday that it had lost control of two areas from where it was defending cities, with Russian forces now closer to encircling industrial hubs.

The UK Ministry of Defense said some Ukrainian units were likely forced to withdraw “to avoid being surrounded”.

“Russia’s improved performance in this sector is likely the result of recent unit build-ups and heavy concentration of fire,” he said in his latest intelligence update.

A representative of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine told AFP that the resistance of Ukrainian forces trying to defend Lysychansk and Severodonetsk was “useless and futile”.

“At the rate our soldiers are going, very soon the entire territory of the Lugansk People’s Republic will be liberated,” said Andrei Marochko, spokesman for the Lugansk army.

The Russian military also said Thursday that its shelling in the southern city of Mykolaiv had destroyed 49 fuel storage tanks and three tank repair depots, after strikes killed several Ukrainian soldiers on Wednesday.

– ‘There are only grannies left’ –

The northeastern Russian city of Kharkiv near the Russian border was almost empty on Wednesday, AFP journalists said, a day after shelling by Moscow forces killed five people there. .

“Last night the building next to mine collapsed from bombardment while I was sleeping,” said Leyla Shoydhry, a young woman in a park near the opera house.

Roman Pohuliay, a 19-year-old wearing a pink sweatshirt, said most residents had fled the town.

“Only the grannies are left,” he said.

In the central city of Zaporizhzhia, women practiced using Kalashnikov assault rifles in urban combat as Russian forces closed in.

“When you can do something, it’s not so scary to pick up a machine gun,” 29-year-old Ulyana Kiyashko said after walking through a makeshift basement combat zone.

– ‘Arming’ grain and gas –

Western officials have also accused Russia of militarizing its key gas and grain exports from Ukraine, contributing to global inflation and rising world hunger.

“We are very clear that this grain crisis is urgent, that it must be resolved within the next month,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said during a visit to Turkey.

“Otherwise we could see devastating consequences,” she said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has urged African nations to pressure Russia for a safe route for grain.

“African capitals matter and they influence Russia’s position,” he told African reporters.

A US official has warned of further retaliatory measures against Russia at the Group of Seven summit Biden is attending in Germany starting on Sunday.

Germany has increased its emergency gas plan to its second level of alert, just one shy of the maximum that could require rationing in Europe’s biggest economy, after Russia cut supplies.

“Gas is now a rare commodity,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters, urging households to reduce their consumption. Gas demand is lower in the summer, but shortages could lead to heating shortages in the winter.

France aims to have its gas storage reserves at full capacity by early autumn and will build a new floating LNG terminal to source more energy by sea, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has said.

A Kremlin spokesman reiterated his claim that the supply cuts were due to maintenance and that necessary equipment from abroad had not arrived.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)