Russian pressure remains strong in eastern Ukraine, according to Kiev’s own admission, convinced to win after Russian setbacks on the battlefield, and accompanied by a victory at Eurovision that provides balm in the heart of the country at war.
“The situation in Donbass remains very difficult. Russian troops are trying to achieve at least one victory there,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged on Saturday. “Little by little, we are forcing the occupiers to leave our lands.”
Russian forces are trying to advance in this strategic region in the east, partly controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014, and which Moscow has set as its main target since the withdrawal of its troops from around kiiv in late March.
“We are preparing for major offensives in Severodonetsk and around the Lysytchansk-Bakhmut axis,” said Serguiï Gaïdaï, Ukrainian governor of the Lugansk region, describing an increasingly critical humanitarian situation. “The Lugansk region is constantly under chaotic shelling … there is absolutely no gas, water or electricity,” he said Saturday night.
For three weeks in particular, the Russians have unsuccessfully tried to cross the Severskyi Donets River at the level of the village of Bilogorivka in the Lugansk region.
In this almost deserted village, an AFP team saw the roads littered with abandoned military equipment. Only three soot-covered corners remained of a school bombed a week ago, a strike that Kyiv proclaims as one of the most serious crimes committed by Russian forces since beginning their invasion of Ukraine, along with 60 civilians killed .
The most important information:
– The Donbass region is still under pressure. “The situation in Donbass remains very difficult. Russian troops are trying to achieve at least one victory there,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged.
– The Russians, especially for three weeks, have unsuccessfully tried to cross the Severskyi Donets River, on the level of the village of Bilogorivka, in the Lugansk region.
The Russian forces had to withdraw from several locations northeast of the city of Kharkiv, the country’s second city, according to the Ukrainian General Staff.
“The EU is with you”
In the east, the Russians are failing to get a “meaningful grip,” a U.S. defense official said on condition of anonymity. The situation also seems to have changed around Kharkiv, the country’s second city. Russian forces had to withdraw from several locations northeast of the city, the Ukrainian General Staff said.
But according to the American Institute for the Study of War (ISW), “Ukraine and its Western partners probably have only a small window of opportunity to support a counter-offensive in the occupied territories” by Russia. . Vladimir Putin “probably intends to annex southern and eastern Ukraine to the Russian Federation in the coming months,” according to this institute.
But after 80 days of war, his country’s victory at the Eurovision Song Contest has encouraged the Ukrainian president, more determined than ever to win on the battlefield as well. “Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe,” Volodymyr Zelensky responded, following the triumph of a Ukrainian group on Saturday night in Turin (Italy).
Several European leaders have followed suit and praised Ukraine’s very symbolic success in this competition, very popular in Europe and from which Russia was excluded. This victory is “a clear reflection not only of your talent, but also of Europe’s unwavering support for Ukraine,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, for his part, hoped that the 2023 edition of Eurovision would be held “in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”, while the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen recalled: ” That EU is with you “.
Euphoric following the decision of thousands of European viewers in favor of the Kalush Orchestra, Volodymyr Zelensky immediately compared this victory to the military, which he says he is more convinced of than ever.
“I am sure our victorious choir in the fight against the enemy is not far away,” he said, promising to organize “one day” Eurovision in a “free, peaceful and rebuilt” Mariupol. , referring to this city of martyrs, where the last Ukrainian fighter jets are anchored in Azovstal steelworks.
“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal,” said Kalush Orchestra singer Oleh Psiuk on stage, whose performance received a standing ovation. According to Petro Andryushchenko, deputy mayor of Mariupol, a large convoy of 500 to 1,000 cars, which had been waiting to pass for three days, finally got permission on Saturday to reach Zaporizhia, a city under Ukrainian control located about 230 km from Mariupol.
Outside Ukraine, Finland’s forthcoming candidacy for NATO, which will be formalized on Sunday, – and probably also Sweden – is the most important point of tension with Moscow. On Saturday, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö officially informed Vladimir Putin about this by telephone. “The conversation was direct and straightforward and proceeded without irritation. Avoiding tensions was considered important,” said Sauli Niinistö, a very regular interlocutor for the Russian president in recent years.
Vladimir Putin told him that Helsinki’s renunciation of its historic military freedom of alliance “would be a mistake, as there is no threat to Finland’s security,” according to the Kremlin. Moscow on Thursday had threatened to retaliate with “technical-military” measures without specifying which ones. During the night from Friday to Saturday, the export of electricity to Finland – about 10% of the Nordic country’s consumption – was stopped.
Most NATO countries have supported Helsinki’s accession, with the exception of Turkey, which is threatening to block. Finland and Sweden can only join NATO after a unanimous vote among its members. However, the leader of the Turkish diplomacy Mevlut Cavusoglu did not completely close the door and offered to talk about it with his allies and the affected countries.
Turkey accuses these two countries of housing members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an organization considered “terrorist” by Ankara (but also of the EU and the US), and could ask them for compensation.
An informal meeting of NATO foreign ministers began on Saturday in Berlin, dedicated to Ukraine. Sweden and Finland will hold bilateral talks with Turkey to try to overcome the country’s hostility.
In this context, the diplomats of the G7 (Germany, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Japan and the United Kingdom), who met in Wangels (Germany), on Saturday indicated that they would “never” recognize the borders that Russia wants to impose on Ukraine. And again called on Belarus, a neighbor of Ukraine and an ally of Moscow, to “stop facilitating Russia’s intervention”.