Russia urged to annex Kherson in Ukraine as battles rage

Pro-Kremlin authorities in Kherson, Ukraine, announced on Wednesday they would ask Russia to annex the region as Moscow seeks to consolidate its gains in an increasingly long and bloody war.

Gas supplies to power-starved Europe were also disrupted by the halt in Russian supplies passing through Ukraine as international shock waves from the February 24 invasion continued.

The developments came as Ukraine said it was pulling Russian troops away from the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv, in the northeast, but faced heavy resistance from security forces. invasion.

Russia has focused on eastern and southern Ukraine since failing to take kyiv in the first weeks after the February 24 invasion, and US intelligence has warned that Putin was ready for a long war.

Kherson, the first major Ukrainian city to fall after the Russian invasion of its pro-Western neighbor, is located north of Crimea, itself annexed by Moscow in 2014 after an internationally condemned vote.

Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Moscow-based civil and military administration of Kherson, said there would be a “request to make the Kherson region a full subject of the Russian Federation”.

Stremousov suggested authorities would appeal directly to Putin without putting the decision to a vote.

But the Kremlin replied that it was up to the people of Kherson to “determine their own fate”.

Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhaylo Podolyak said Kyiv forces would liberate Kherson and “the invaders could ask to join even Mars or Jupiter.”

Russia appears determined to create a land bridge to Crimea from its own territory, with US intelligence suggesting it then wants to cross the southern coast to Moldova.

“They come in waves”

On the battlefield, Ukrainian forces have been bolstered by what kyiv says is the recapture of four villages around Kharkiv.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his late-night address on Tuesday that he had “good news” from Kharkiv and hailed the “superhuman strength” of Ukraine’s defenders.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff said on Wednesday that “the occupiers continue to concentrate their efforts to prevent the further advance of our troops” from Kharkiv towards the Russian border.

But Ukraine is engaged in what appears to be an increasingly desperate effort to hold the Russian-speaking Donbass region to the east.

“They are coming in waves,” volunteer fighter Mykola said of repeated Russian attempts to push south across a strategic river near a rural settlement called Bilogorivka.

Nearby, Ukrainian doctors rushed a bloodied soldier from the eastern front, an AFP correspondent noted. A doctor reassured the grimacing fighter that the tight tourniquet above his knee did not mean he was about to lose part of his leg.

US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said on Tuesday that Putin was “preparing for a protracted conflict” and “still intends to achieve goals beyond Donbass”.

UN chief Antonio Guterres, who recently met Putin, said on Wednesday it was important to maintain contact with Russia even though there was currently “no chance” of a ceasefire -fire at this time.

The war in Ukraine has fueled Europe’s growing energy crisis, with kyiv pushing for an embargo on oil and gas imports from Russia.

Ukraine said on Wednesday that Russia had cut off gas supplies through a key transit hub in the east of the country, a day after Ukraine’s state-owned energy company Naftogaz said it was no longer responsible. gas passing through Russian-occupied territory.

Germany said Russian gas inflows had accordingly fallen by a quarter from the previous day.

Germany is heavily dependent on Russia for its gas supplies and has rejected an immediate full embargo on Russian gas, although it supports a halt to Russian oil that the EU wants.

“Ukrainian culture exists”

Russia’s invasion has also prompted Sweden and Finland to consider joining NATO, with the two countries set to decide this week.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Swedish counterpart Magdalena Andersson announced on Wednesday a mutual defense agreement in the event of an attack.

Ukraine has pushed Western countries for more military and economic support, despite Russian warnings to the West.

Czech President Milos Zeman, a close ally of Putin before the war, on Wednesday approved a request allowing 103 citizens to fight in Ukraine alongside the army.

As President Joe Biden warned that Ukraine would likely run out of funds within days to keep fighting, the US House of Representatives voted Tuesday night to send a $40 billion aid package to the country.

“With this aid package, America is sending a resounding message to the world of our unwavering resolve to stand with the brave people of Ukraine until victory is won,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

The United States considers it increasingly likely that Putin will mobilize his entire country, including by ordering martial law.

Sanctions on Russia are biting, with its foreign currency reserves dwindling and new car sales falling more than 78% in April.

As Russia cracks down internally, Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina says she left Russia disguised as a food delivery courier to evade the police.

Music has also become a rallying point for Ukrainians, ahead of Saturday’s final of the Eurovision Song Contest, the world’s biggest live music event.

Ukrainian folk rap group Kalush Orchestra are the favorites to win the after camp celebration and they progressed to Tuesday night’s semi-final. Ukraine won in 2016 and Kyiv hosted Eurovision in 2017.

Russia was excluded from the competition this year.

“We are here to show that Ukrainian music and Ukrainian culture exist,” said rapper Oleh Psiuk.

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