Fighting continues between Ukrainian forces and Russian and pro-Russian forces in the east and south of the country. But according to President Volodymyr Zelensky, the noose is loosening around the city of Kharkiv. This retreat of the Russian troops is accompanied by heavy bombardments on the city. Airstrikes also continue in other regions, in Odessa or Mariupol.
On the diplomatic side, kyiv is calling for its membership of the European Union – a “question of war or peace” – while the member countries are said to be close to finding an agreement around an embargo on Russian oil. It could be announced within the week, according to the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune.
The Russian noose is loosening on Kharkiv, the second city of Ukraine and pounded since the end of February, said the Ukrainian authorities last night. “Our armed forces gave us all good news from the Kharkiv region. The occupiers are gradually being pushed back,” President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video. “I am grateful to all of our fighters who hold their ground and display superhuman strength to drive out the invading army.”
“The localities of Cherkasy Tychky, Rusky Tychky, Rubizhne and Bayrak have been liberated,” said the Ukrainian general staff on Facebook. “Thus, the enemy was pushed even further from Kharkiv, and the occupiers had even fewer opportunities to hit the regional center.”
But “the intensity of the shelling in the Kharkiv district has increased”, he also noted. Moreover, according to Oleg Snegoubov, head of the regional administration of Kharkiv, “by withdrawing, the Russian occupiers leave behind them deadly traps”, mines.
The US House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a staggering envelope of nearly $40 billion for the Ukraine crisis, following Joe Biden in his unwavering support for kyiv. The text voted on by elected officials from both sides in the evening includes an economic and humanitarian component, but also arms and ammunition. It must now be voted on in the Senate before being promulgated by the American president.
American intelligence foresees an extension of the conflict beyond Ukraine, believing that the Russian president wants to bring it to Moldova. “Putin is preparing for a protracted conflict in Ukraine, during which he still intends to achieve goals beyond the Donbass” (est). It would also target Transdniestria, a region of Moldova that seceded in 1990, said the head of American intelligence, Avril Haines.
If it is “possible” that the Russians achieve this objective in the coming months, “they will not be able to reach Transdniestria and include Odessa (southern Ukraine) without decreeing a form of general mobilization”, added Ms. Haines during of a hearing in the United States Congress.
The Russian president “is probably counting on a weakening of the determination” of Westerners, she warned. Believing that Putin’s ambitions exceed the capabilities of his army, she considers “likely” a “more unpredictable trajectory and potentially an escalation” in the coming months, as well as a greater likelihood of “more drastic measures, including the establishment of martial law, the reorientation of industrial production”. “We continue to believe that President Putin will only order the use of nuclear weapons if he perceives an existential threat to the Russian state or regime,” she noted.
Kyiv again insisted on the need for its security to join the European Union. This membership, in the context of the invasion of the country by Russia, has become a “question of war or peace”, estimated the same day the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kouleba. According to him, “one of the reasons why the war started is that Putin was convinced that Europe did not need Ukraine”.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who holds the rotating EU presidency, dashed hopes of Ukraine’s quick EU membership on Monday, saying it would take “decades”. He proposed, in the meantime, accession to a new entity, a “European political community”, capable of welcoming other countries.
The German Foreign Minister announced on Tuesday the reopening of the German embassy in kyiv, which was closed shortly after the start of the Russian invasion on February 24. His visit was an opportunity for kyiv to welcome Berlin’s “change of position” vis-à-vis Moscow in recent weeks. “I would like to thank Germany for having changed its position on a number of issues”, including its “traditional policy towards Russia”, declared Dmytro Kouleba, his Ukrainian counterpart.
The German minister visited Boutcha, near kyiv, where hundreds of dead civilians were discovered after the Russian occupation in March. “We owe it to the victims not just to commemorate here, but to bring the culprits to justice…that is the promise we can and must make here in Boutcha,” she said.
Dutch Minister Wopke Hoekstra, also in Ukraine on Tuesday, tweeted photos from Irpin, another town near kyiv where Ukraine accuses the Russians of massacring civilians in March. He too announced the reopening of his embassy in the Ukrainian capital.
On the ground, after strikes on Odessa (south) on Monday, which left at least one dead and five injured, the Ukrainian general staff announced that Russian artillery fire and air strikes continued on Tuesday in the east of the country and on the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol (south-east).
According to a senior Ukrainian government official, “more than a thousand soldiers”, including “hundreds of wounded”, are still in the underground galleries of the huge steelworks, the last pocket of Ukrainian resistance in this strategic southern port of Donbass. In the rest of this region, the Russians “continue to prepare offensive operations in the Lyman and Severodonetsk regions”, according to the Ukrainian general staff.
In the Kharkiv region, the bodies of 44 civilians were found in the rubble of a building destroyed in March in Izium, a city under Russian control, according to the regional governor, Oleg Sinegooubov. In the Donetsk region, three civilians were killed and three injured on Tuesday in Marinka, Avdiivka and Kalynove, according to the regional governor.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced the capture of Popasna, between Kramatorsk and Lugansk, in the northern Donbass, allowing Russian and pro-Russian forces to reach “the administrative border of the People’s Republic of Lugansk”, i.e. the “border” between the self-proclaimed pro-Russian separatist Lugansk republic and the other pro-Russian separatist territory, the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic.
Negotiations are continuing on the proposed European Union embargo on Russian oil, currently blocked by Hungary. An agreement is possible “within the week”, assured, Tuesday, the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune. “Russian hydrocarbons are not just a commodity. It is worth giving up on them, above all oil. Because freedom is at stake. And the protection of freedom has a price,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky .
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, whose country is highly dependent on Russian gas but supplies arms to Ukraine, met Joe Biden at the White House on Tuesday. The first called for “a strong European Union (…) in the interest of the United States”, the second praising “a good friend and a great ally”.