Russia stopped providing gas to Finland in an escalation of a row over energy payments with the West yesterday, and intensified an offensive in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.
After ending weeks of resistance by the last Ukrainian fighters in the strategic southeastern city of Mariupol, Russia is waging what appears to be a major offensive in Luhansk, one of two provinces in Donbas.
Russian-backed separatists already controlled swathes of territory in Luhansk and the neighbouring Donetsk province before the February 24 invasion, but Moscow wants to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in Donbas.
The end of fighting in Mariupol, the biggest city Russia has captured so far, could be crucial to that ambition and gives Russian President Vladimir Putin a rare victory after a series of setbacks in nearly three months of combat.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told local television that while the fighting would be bloody, and victory difficult, the end would come only through diplomacy.
“For them, all these victories — the occupation of Crimea or Donbas — is very temporary. And all this will return — since this is our territory,” he said yesterday.
Full control of Mariupol could give Russia command of an overland route linking the Crimea peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014, with mainland Russia and the areas of eastern Ukraine that are held by pro-Russia separatists.
Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said in a social media post early on Saturday that Russia was trying to destroy the city of Sievierodonetsk, with fighting taking place on the outskirts of the city.
“Shelling continues from morning to the evening and also throughout the night,” Gaidai said in a video post on the Telegram messaging app.
Despite losing ground elsewhere in recent weeks, Russian forces have advanced on the Luhansk front. Sievierodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets River form the eastern part of a Ukrainian-held pocket that Russia has been trying to overrun since mid-April after failing to capture Kyiv. Russia’s state gas company, Gazprom, said it had halted gas exports to Finland after it refused to agree to Russian demands to pay for Russian gas in roubles because of Western sanctions imposed over the invasion of Ukraine.
Finland and Sweden applied this week to join the Nato military alliance, a decision spurred by the Ukraine war.
Finnish state-owned gas wholesaler Gasum, the Finnish government and individual gas consuming companies in Finland have said they were prepared for a shutdown of Russian flows and that the country will manage without.
Most European supply contracts are denominated in euros or dollars and Moscow cut off gas to Bulgaria and Poland last month after they refused to comply with the new payment terms.
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