Russia expands control over key Ukrainian city as US plans to bolster Kyiv fire

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Russian forces seized parts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk on Tuesday following street battles with Ukrainian defenders, cementing Moscow’s control over one of Kyiv’s last remaining towns in the Donbass region, at the center of its offensive in Ukraine.

Russia has stepped up its efforts to take the strategically important city as Western leaders have taken new steps to punish Moscow for its invasion. The Biden administration plans to supply Ukraine with precision-guided rocket systems to boost Ukraine’s firepower against Russian troops.

It’s unclear how many of the new systems, which US officials say can hit targets at ranges of 40 miles or more, the US would supply, but an official said they could arrive in Ukraine within weeks. . Training in their use would begin quickly and take at least 10 days.

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Western governments hoped the steady flow of weapons to the government in Kyiv could change the calculus of the battle in eastern Ukraine, where Russia wants to take over Donbass, once Ukraine’s industrial heartland. , which borders Russia.

“The Russian army is trying to muster overwhelming forces in certain areas to put more and more pressure on our defenders,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an address Monday evening. “There, in the Donbass, the Russian army gathered the maximum combat power.”

The leader of the self-proclaimed Russian-backed Luhansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, told Russian news agency TASS on Tuesday that a third of Severodonetsk is controlled by separatist forces. Video of Russian-allied Chechen fighters in the city shows soldiers moving unhindered through the city center. The Luhansk region and neighboring Donetsk form the Donbass region.

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The fall of Severodonetsk would bring the Russians one step closer to their goal of controlling Donbass, although Russia’s assault on the city has come at a high cost for its manpower-stricken armed forces following its failed attempt to take Kyiv.

“Street fighting continues in Severodonetsk,” Luhansk region governor Serhiy Haidai said, adding that Ukrainian forces were trying to push Russian troops back to the outskirts of the city.

If Ukraine cedes Severodonetsk to the Russians, troops from Kyiv will likely retreat to the nearby town of Lysychansk, which overlooks Severodonetsk across the Siverskyi Donets River.

The European Union announced on Monday that it would introduce a sixth sanctions package that would include an embargo on Russian oil following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The embargo would include an exemption for oil delivered from Russia via pipelines, an amount that represents a third of EU oil purchases from Russia. EU officials said that by the end of this year the embargo would cover 90% of previous Russian oil imports. It would be spread over several months.

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Russia halted natural gas deliveries to the partly state-owned Dutch energy company GasTerra after it refused to pay in rubles as demanded by Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine.

The company, 50% owned by the Dutch government, joins Poland, Bulgaria and Finland, whose gas supply has been suspended by Russia due to the payment mechanism. However, some of Europe’s largest natural gas companies have agreed new payment terms with Russia’s Gazprom PJSC.

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