Ukraine takes next step in long EU membership process as Donbas battles rage

Updates from day 120 of the invasion

  • EU begins two-day summit, expected to accept Ukraine as candidate for membership.

  • Competing claims about the degree of control over Severodonetsk in the Donbas.

  • Ukrainian President Zelensky delivered his message to Canadian students on Wednesday.

  • Germany starts new phase in energy plan, warns that rationing is possible in winter.

Ukraine will be accepted on Thursday as a candidate to join the European Union, a move that will boost the country’s morale as the battle with Russian forces over two cities in the east called a “fierce climax.”

While the approval of the Kiev government’s application by EU leaders meeting in Brussels is only the beginning of what will be a process of years, it represents a massive geopolitical shift and will annoy Russia as it struggles to wants to impose on Ukraine.

It will be four months since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops across the border in what he calls a “special military operation,” necessitated in part by Western interference in what Russia sees as its sphere of influence.

The conflict, which the West sees as an unwarranted war of aggression by Russia, has killed thousands and destroyed millions of displaced persons and cities, and has affected much of the world as exports of food and energy have been curtailed.

Russia focused its campaign on southern and eastern Ukraine after its advance towards the capital Kiev was thwarted by persistent Ukrainian resistance in the early stages of the conflict.

WATCH l Zelensky tells Canadian post-secondary students about the dangers of ‘Ukraine fatigue’:

Zelensky urges Canadian university students not to forget Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addressed university students across Canada to bolster support and help prevent what some are calling Ukraine fatigue.

‘Terrifying climax’ in Donbas: Ukraine official

Moscow’s massive air and artillery strikes are aimed at destroying the entire Donbas region, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a video address on Thursday.

The war of attrition in the Donbas – Ukraine’s industrial heartland – is most critical in the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk, which lie on either side of the Siverskyi Donets River in Luhansk province.

The battle there “enters a kind of terrifying climax,” said Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelensky.

Ukrainian forces were defending Severodonetsk and the nearby settlements of Zolote and Vovchoyrovka, Luhansk government leader Serhiy Gaidai said on Thursday, but Russian forces had captured Loskutivka and Rai-Oleksandrivka in the south.

Hundreds of civilians are trapped in a chemical plant in Severodonetsk as Ukraine and Russia dispute over control of the bombed city.

Moscow says Ukrainian troops are surrounded and trapped in the city. But Gaidai told Ukrainian television on Wednesday that Russian forces were not in full control of Severodonetsk, but admitted that troops there may have to withdraw to new positions.

WATCH l CBC News on the ground in Kharkiv, where 150,000 are displaced, according to the mayor:

Ukraine takes next step in long EU membership process as Donbas battles rage

Kharkiv torn between return to normalcy and lingering fear

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, is showing signs of life, but concerns remain over Russian attacks.

The TASS news agency quoted Russian-backed separatists as saying Lysychansk was now surrounded and cut off from supplies after a road connecting the city to the city of Sieviersk was taken.

Reuters could not immediately confirm the message.

‘Risk of complete gas disruption’: EU official

Zelensky said he met with 11 EU leaders on Wednesday about Ukraine’s candidacy and will call more on Thursday.

In addition to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia are also seeking to join the EU in what would be its most ambitious enlargement since they welcomed Eastern European states after the Cold War.

VIEW l EU cut Russian oil imports earlier this month, with a few exceptions:

Ukraine takes next step in long EU membership process as Donbas battles rage

EU announces partial ban on Russian oil imports

European Union leaders have agreed to cut most Russian oil imports over the next six months after reaching a compromise with Hungary.

Diplomats say it will take Ukraine ten years or more to meet the criteria for EU accession. But EU leaders say the bloc must make a gesture recognizing Ukraine’s sacrifice.

EU and Western leaders are also deeply concerned about global energy and food supplies in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

“The risk of complete gas disruption is now more real than ever,” Frans Timmermans, head of EU climate policy, said on Wednesday.

Russia may cut off gas to Europe completely to bolster its political clout, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its own statements on Wednesday, adding that leaders there now had to prepare.

Several European countries have mapped out measures to deal with a supply shortage and to avert winter energy shortages and an inflation spike that could test the continent’s determination to maintain sanctions against Russia.

Germany activated the “alarm phase” of its emergency gas plan on Thursday in response to falling Russian inventories, but stopped allowing utilities to pass on rising energy costs to customers in Europe’s largest economy.

The move is the latest escalation in a deadlock between Europe and Moscow since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which exposed the bloc’s reliance on Russian gas supplies and sparked a frenzied search for alternative energy sources.

Energy rationing in Germany possible

The decision, announced by the economy minister, marks a strong shift, especially for Germany, which has maintained strong energy ties with Moscow.

“The cut in gas supplies is an economic attack on us by Putin,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck said in a statement, adding that Germans should cut consumption. Gas rationing would hopefully be avoided, but cannot be ruled out, Habeck said.

“Summer has arrived, a summer after a long period of pandemic and people want to enjoy the time outside and maybe once without political misery. But winter is coming,” he added.

Ukraine takes next step in long EU membership process as Donbas battles rage
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, speaks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen ahead of the two-day EU summit in Brussels on Thursday. Germany has initiated a new phase in its gas supply plan due to a Russian supply. (Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)

Russia has denied that the cut in gas supplies was premeditated, with state supplier Gazprom blaming a delay in returning serviced equipment due to Western sanctions.

The second “alarm phase” of the three-phase emergency plan is triggered when the German government sees a high risk of long-term supply shortages. It theoretically allows utilities to pass high prices on to industry and households and thus help reduce demand.

In the second phase, the market can still function without the need for state intervention, which would usher in the last emergency phase.

Supply constraints have also prompted German companies to consider resorting to polluting forms of energy, such as coal, previously considered unthinkable due to pledges at global climate summits.

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