(Kyiv) The Ukrainian region of Kherson, occupied by the Russians since the beginning of March, will ask to be annexed by Russia, said Wednesday one of its pro-Russian officials, while deliveries of Russian gas transiting through Ukraine seemed for the first time affected by the fighting.
“There will be a request (addressed to the Russian President) to integrate the Kherson region as a full subject of the Russian Federation,” Kirill Stremoussov, deputy head of the administration of the coastal city, told Russian agencies. of Kherson, the only major Ukrainian city over which the Russians have claimed total control in the two and a half months of war in Ukraine.
“The whole legal basis […] will be ready before the end of the year,” he said, adding that since the international community did not recognize Crimea’s 2014 referendum to join Russia, the Kherson region would not hold such a ballot.
On Friday, a senior Russian parliamentary official, Andrei Tourchak, assured from Kherson that Russia would stay “forever” in southern Ukraine.
Kyiv has been accusing Moscow for several weeks of wanting to organize a referendum on independence in this region, as was done in 2014 in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk when pro-Russian separatists partially took control. Moscow recognized their independence just before invading Ukraine on February 24.
“There will be no People’s Republic of Kherson. If anyone wants further annexation, stronger sanctions will hit Russia,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on April 22.
The statements come as US intelligence chief Avril Haines warned on Tuesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was preparing “for a protracted conflict” and wanted to achieve “goals beyond the Donbass”, counting on a gradual weakening of the security system. Western determination to stop it.
According to her, Russia has in its sights, beyond the south, Transdniestria, a separatist region of Moldova whose southern tip is only about sixty kilometers from Odessa.
According to the Ukrainian command for the south, Russian troops are “mercilessly” striking the Mykolaiv region, the last lock before the metropolis of Odessa. “Private homes, agricultural facilities were damaged and the electricity supply to one of the localities was interrupted,” he said overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday.
In late April and early May, explosions shook Transdniestria, fueling fears of an extension of the conflict. The European Union announced on May 4 that it would “significantly increase” its military aid to Moldova.
Deliveries of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine were also down on Wednesday, for the first time since the start of the conflict.
Ukrainian gas pipeline operator OGTSOU has accused Russian forces of “interfering” in its facilities in the Luhansk region and preventing the usual flow of gas from being maintained.
He said Wednesday that the Russian giant Gazprom had cut off the tap to one of the Ukrainian branches of the gas pipeline, and requested the transfer to another crossing point.
Gazprom said it was impossible to reroute deliveries, while volumes transiting through another crossing point – located in Sudja, in the Russian border region of Kursk – have already increased. But not enough to compensate for the drop – by 18% on Wednesday, according to the Ukrainians – in volumes passing through the Luhansk points.
“We are monitoring the situation closely,” reacted on Wednesday the German Ministry of Economy, whose country is one of the main European customers of Russian gas. “Germany’s energy security is currently guaranteed,” he added, however.
So far, both Moscow and Kyiv have kept gas flowing, although the European Union has struggled to prepare for a disruption in its supplies since Vladimir Putin ordered payment for deliveries in rubles – a contractual change that she finds unacceptable.
These gas disruptions come as Russia continues its offensive in the Donbass, slowly gaining ground.
The besieged twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lyssychansk in particular seem likely to fall at any time, AFP noted. The Ukrainian army seems to be having more and more difficulty in holding the front line, with Russian offensives “coming in waves”, according to a soldier interviewed on the spot, requiring perilous operations to evacuate the wounded.
Kyiv, on the other hand, is pleased to have pushed back the Russians who had been firing for weeks on the northeast districts of Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, and to have taken over a few small towns in this region close to the Russian border.
“The occupiers are gradually being pushed back from Kharkiv,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video late Tuesday, praising Ukrainian fighters who “show superhuman strength in driving out the invading army.”
In Mariupol, if the hundreds of Ukrainian fighters who entrenched themselves there still hold the Azovstal steelworks, they are also constantly bombarded, according to Kyiv.
On Tuesday evening, the US House of Representatives adopted an aid package for Kyiv of nearly $40 billion, including an economic and humanitarian component, but also arms and ammunition.
It must now be voted on in the Senate, at the end of the week or at the beginning of next week, before being promulgated by the American president.
The European Union continues to try to convince its 27 member states to adopt a draft embargo on Russian oil, currently blocked by Budapest. An agreement is possible “within the week”, assured Tuesday the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune.
This project is part of a sixth package of sanctions against Russia in preparation in Brussels. Witnessing the effects of unprecedented Western sanctions on the Russian economy, sales of new cars continued to collapse in Russia in April, melting by 78.5% over one year.
But the Ukrainian economy is suffering even more. Some 30% of jobs have been lost there since the start of the war, the International Labor Organization said on Wednesday. The IMF had predicted in mid-April a fall in Ukrainian GDP of 35% in 2022, against -8.5% for Russian GDP.
However, Kyiv seems to be gradually returning to normal: nearly two-thirds of the 3.5 million inhabitants of the capital, which had emptied the majority of its inhabitants at the start of the conflict, have now returned, according to its mayor. Vitali Klitschko.
Restaurants have reopened and sidewalk cafes are once again attracting customers, where many seem to ignore the anti-aircraft sirens that still sound regularly.