EU bans Russian oil; Zelenskiy describes the situation in Donbass as “extremely difficult”

  • Zelenskiy says situation remains ‘extremely difficult’
  • Russian forces enter the margins of the governor of Sievierodonetsk
  • “A terrible smell of death” in the air
  • Biden says no to rockets that can reach Russia

KYIV/LVIV, May 30 (Reuters) – EU leaders agreed on Monday to ban the export of Russian oil to the bloc of 27, EU Council President Charles Michel said, as Ukrainian and Russian forces clashed on the outskirts of Sievierodonetsk, the last city still held by Kyiv in the strategic Ukrainian province of Lugansk.

Michel said on Twitter that the ban would immediately cover more than two-thirds of oil imports from Russia “cutting off a huge source of funding for its war machine”. Read more

EU leaders, meeting in Brussels, also agreed to cut Russia’s biggest bank Sberbank from the SWIFT system and ban three other Russian public broadcasters, Michel added.

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Shortly before the announcement, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the situation remained “extremely difficult” in the Donbas region, where Russia is concentrating its military effort after failing to capture the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in March.

Zelenskiyhad called the EU too soft on Moscow when it appeared leaders would not reach an agreement on the oil ban. Read more

Earlier in Washington, President Joe Biden said the United States would not send Ukrainian rocket systems that could reach Russia, a move that Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev called a “rational”. Read more

Russia is seeking to seize the entire Donbass region, made up of Lugansk and Donetsk, another province that Moscow claims in the name of separatist proxies.

Capturing Sievierodonetsk and its twin city Lysychansk on the opposite bank of the Siverskyi Donets River would give Moscow effective control of Lugansk and allow the Kremlin to declare some form of victory after more than three months of death and destruction in Ukraine. .

But by focusing on a battle for just one small town, Russia could leave another territory open to Ukrainian counterattacks.

In his overnight address, Zelenskiy said the situation in Donbas “remains extremely difficult” and said the Russian military was “trying to muster a superior force to put more and more pressure on our defenders”.

“The Russian army has now gathered the maximum combat power there,” he said of Donbass as a whole.

Kyiv said that in recent days its forces have pushed Russian troops back to defensive positions in Andriyivka, Lozove and Bilohorka, villages on the southern bank of the Inhulets River that forms the border of Kherson province, where Moscow is trying to consolidate control.

Russian bombings

Zelenskiy said Russian forces shelled the city of Kharkiv again on Monday, as well as the border region of Sumy, which was hit from inside Russia.

Russian shelling reduced much of Sievierodonetsk to rubble, but Ukrainian defense slowed the wider Russian campaign in the Donbass region. Read more

Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said Russian troops had advanced on the southeastern and northeastern fringes of Sievierodonetsk, but Ukrainian forces had driven them south from the village of Toshkivka, which could thwart a thrust to encircle the area. Read more

“They use the same tactic over and over again. They bomb for several hours – for three, four, five hours – in a row, then attack,” he said. “Those who attack die. Then the bombardments and the attacks follow one another, and so on until they break through somewhere.”

With rising temperatures, there was a “terrible smell of death” in the outskirts of Sievierodonetsk, Gaidai said.

A French journalist, Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff of the BFM television channel, was killed on Monday near Sievierodonetsk when a shell hit the vehicle he was traveling in during an evacuation of civilians. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, visiting Ukraine, has called for an investigation. Read more

The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin, in talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, said Russia was ready to facilitate unhindered grain exports from Ukrainian ports in coordination with Turkey.

Western leaders have chastised Russia for blockading Ukrainian ports, sending prices for grain and other commodities skyrocketing. The UN declared a worsening global food crisis and tried to broker a deal to unblock Ukraine’s grain exports. Read more

“The focus was on ensuring safe navigation in the Black and Azov seas and eliminating the threat of mines in their waters,” the Kremlin said of Putin’s call with Erdogan.

Putin said that if the sanctions were lifted, Russia could export large volumes of fertilizers and agricultural products.

Zelenskiy also spoke with Erdogan and said he discussed food security and defense cooperation, “and, of course, how to speed up the end of this war.”

HUNGARY BLOCKS EU OIL EMBARGO

Efforts to agree an EU oil embargo have been stymied by Hungary’s refusal to agree to a ban on Russian imports it receives through the huge Soviet-era ‘Friendship’ pipeline that crosses Ukraine.

Zelenskiy had questioned the EU’s lack of resolve.

“Why are you dependent on Russia…Why can Russia still earn close to a billion euros a day selling energy?” he said in a speech to EU leaders.

In the Netherlands, GasTerra, which buys and trades gas on behalf of the Dutch government, said it would no longer receive gas from Russia’s Gazprom from Tuesday.

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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Peter Graff, Angus MacSwan and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Nick Macfie, Leslie Adler, Chris Sanders and David Gregorio

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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