Russia captures key Ukrainian city as NATO seeks to prolong conflict 

June 26, 2022 - 18:31

The Russian military has taken full control of a key eastern Ukrainian city following weeks of some of the conflict’s most intense fighting as critics accuse NATO members of prolonging the crisis in Eastern Europe. 

Both Russian and Ukrainian officials have confirmed the Russian seizure of the city of Sievierodonetsk. Ukrainian officials have said that their remaining troops have withdrawn from the city after a prolonged battle with regular Russian troops and forces from the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LPR).

Ukraine has described its retreat from the city as a "tactical withdrawal" to fight from higher ground in the city of Lysychansk on the opposite side of a river. Pro-Russian separatist forces have claimed that Moscow’s forces are already advancing on Lysychansk.

Russia's Interfax news agency cited a representative of pro-Russian separatist forces as saying Russian and pro-Russian forces had entered Lysychansk across the river and were fighting in urban areas there.

Speaking exclusively to Sky News UK, from south of the city of Severodonetsk, Ukrainian commander Oleksandr said almost all of his experienced soldiers who had been fighting together since 2018 have been lost.

"My unit was 100 percent made up of professional soldiers who have a lot of experience. Now, 80 percent are incapacitated from serious injuries or death," he said. 

The Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov announced "as a result of successful offensive operations, units of the people's militia of the LPR, with the support of Russian troops... completely liberated the cities of Severodonetsk and Borivske,"

Ukrainian shelling is said to have forced Russian troops to suspend the evacuation of people from a chemical plant in Sievierodonetsk, just hours after Moscow’s forces took the city, Russian news agency TASS cited local police as saying.

The fall of Sievierodonetsk will be viewed as Russia's biggest military gain since capturing the port of Mariupol last month. The Russian military is expected to press on and seize more ground on the opposite side of the river bank.

In a video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy vowed that Ukraine would win back the cities it lost, including Sievierodonetsk. But acknowledged that "we don't have a sense of how long it will last,”

Russia had shifted its focus to the eastern Donbas region next to its border. The territory is made up of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. The cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk were the last major Ukrainian bastions in Luhansk. 

Moscow says Luhansk and Donetsk, where it has voiced support for uprisings by ethnic Russians since 2014, should be considered independent countries. It has called on Ukraine to cede the territory of the two provinces to its separatist administrations. Ukraine and the self-proclaimed separatist provinces accuse the other of violating the Minsk agreement. 

Europe's biggest land conflict since World War Two has now entered its fifth month.

Critics accuse NATO members, with the U.S. and the UK in particular of using Ukraine to expand the Northern military alliance.

Instead of backing a peaceful solution to the conflict, Western nations have been pumping weapons and money into the war zone. 

The latest NATO member, the UK has promised to send more support for Ukraine without mentioning any peace talks. 

Analysts had hoped that if Russia takes control of the Eastern Donbass region, the peace process will resume. 

British prime minister Boris Johnson however has called on G7 leaders to carry on supporting Kyiv with arms and money as London pledged additional financial loans for the country without making any mention about the stalled peace talks. 

“Ukraine can win and it will win. But they need our backing to do so. Now is not the time to give up on Ukraine,” Johnson said. 

A statement from Downing Street said “Britain stands ready to provide another $525m in loan guarantees,” warning that the Ukrainian government fears it could run out of cash by autumn without fresh injections of loans.

London’s new pledge raises the total amount of British loans to Ukraine this year to around $1.8 billion. There are question marks on how Ukraine will repay the debt. 

Ukrainian president Volodymyr 
Zelenskiy is expected to address G7 leaders on Monday virtually and, according to the British government, he will be calling on allies to provide long-term support for his country.

On Saturday, President Zelenskiy admitted that the conflict was becoming difficult to handle emotionally saying “at this stage of the war it’s spiritually difficult, emotionally difficult... we don’t have a sense of long it will last, how many more blows, losses and efforts will be needed before we see victory is on the horizon,” 

“The air defense systems – the modern systems that our partners have – should not be on training grounds or in storage, but in Ukraine, where they are needed now, needed more than anywhere else in the world,” he said.

The U.S. earlier announced that it will provide 18 patrol boats to Ukraine as part of the 13th military package to Kyiv.

Analysts say the conflict could have been avoided if NATO and the U.S. responded to Moscow’s security guarantees concerning NATO’s eastward expansion on Russian borders, that the Kremlin sent months before the fighting started.

Ironically, the U.S. economy is not looking in the best of shape with many experts saying a recession is now a matter of when, how strong it will hit, and how long it will last? 

The sanctions imposed on Russia has exacerbated the economic downfall in the U.S. and a halt to the conflict in Ukraine could potentially help the economy rebound from the losses that are currently affecting ordinary households. Inflation in America has hit a 40-year high. 

However, that doesn’t appear to be a priority for President Joe Biden whose approval ratings have nosedived to their lowest last week, falling for the fourth consecutive week to a record low while the price of gasoline is rising on an almost daily basis.

Analysts say Biden has been diverting the blame for the economic hardship back home on Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. He has repeatedly blamed the rising prices on “Putin”. 

Whether Americans will buy into that will be seen in the November mid-term elections (Macron’s efforts didn’t work out too well in the parliamentary election). Biden’s popularity is an indication of how developments will unfold but Americans will also be asking themselves that prices were already rising before the conflict erupted in Ukraine.

Likewise, crossing the pond, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson just seems like he can’t escape the political nightmare following him, with the British economy also suffering record inflation levels and performing the worst in Europe. 

The UK Premier’s latest setback came a few days ago when the ruling Conservatives lost two by-elections which also saw the party’s co-chairman resign saying "we cannot carry on with business as usual".

That came hot on the heels of a no-confidence vote that Johnson narrowly escaped but will find it difficult to pass legislation with so many Tory MPs turning against him, following scandals including “partygate”.

The UK PM is on an eight-day trip, traveling to the G7 summit and then to NATO. Critics say Johnson might be out of the country but will almost certainly be telling the media back home that Russia is the “cause” of the rising living crisis facing ordinary households in Britain. 

Again will voters buy that argument? Nothing indicates that they have so far.

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