EU removes Russian patriarch from sanctions package to secure Hungarian acceptance

The four EU leaders who visited Ukraine on June 16 support Ukraine’s ‘immediate’ EU candidate status, French President Emmanuel Macron said after a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Macron, speaking at a joint press conference in Kyiv alongside German, Italian and Romanian leaders, added that France would step up arms deliveries to Ukraine to help its forces repel the Russian invasion .

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The delivery will include six more powerful truck-mounted artillery guns, Macron said, adding that the leaders “are doing everything so that only Ukraine can decide its fate”.

Macron made the trip to Ukraine with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.

Scholz said he supports granting EU candidate status to Moldova, as well as to Ukraine.

Zelenskiy called on the European Union to offer his country membership in the bloc through a shortened procedure, saying it would be a “powerful response” to Russia’s unprovoked invasion.

Bloc leaders are due to discuss the issue in Brussels on June 23-24.

Speaking at the press conference, Zelenskiy said that the invasion of Russia amounts to an aggression against all of Europe and that the more weapons Ukraine receives from the West, the sooner it can free its forces. occupied lands.

The Ukrainian leader said he discussed new sanctions against Russia and post-war reconstruction during the talks.

Ukraine has criticized France, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Italy for alleged wavering in supporting Kyiv, accusing them of being slow to deliver weapons.

WATCH: Former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Ilya Bogdanov first came to Ukraine in 2014 “not to fight for Ukraine but to fight against Putin’s regime”. After becoming a Ukrainian citizen and recovering from a serious injury in recent fighting, he now says he “doesn’t want war for war’s sake. I want peace in Ukraine”.

The EU leaders’ visit comes a day before the European Commission publishes its assessment of Ukraine’s bid for EU membership.

The four leaders, who traveled to Kyiv by train, previously passed through the ruins of Kyiv’s suburb of Irpin, the scene of heavy fighting at the start of the invasion.

Russian troops have been accused of committing war crimes in Irpin.

“Irpin, like Bucha, became a symbol of the unimaginable cruelty of the Russian war, of senseless violence,” Scholz said. said on Twitter. “The brutal destruction of this city is a warning: this war must end.”

Draghi, surrounded by the wreckage, said: “They destroyed kindergartens, they destroyed playgrounds. Everything will be rebuilt,” he promised. “We are going to rebuild everything.

In reaction to the visit of European leaders, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned against further Western arms deliveries to Ukraine.

“I would like to hope that the leaders of these three states and the president of Romania will not just focus on supporting Ukraine by continuing to pump Ukraine with weapons,” Peskov told reporters.

On the battlefield, the head of the Ukrainian army said that Russia had concentrated its main strike forces in the northern Lugansk region and they were trying to attack simultaneously from nine directions.

“The fierce struggle for the Luhansk region continues,” Valeriy Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, said in an online message. The Russians were using aircraft, rocket-propelled grenades and artillery, Zaluzhny added.

Fighting for Syevyerodonetsk has been raging for weeks as Russia advances in the Donbass region. Capturing Syevyerodonetsk – the largest city of Luhansk still under Ukrainian control – would allow forces from Moscow to advance on Sloviansk and Kramatorsk further west.

The UK Ministry of Defense said in its daily intelligence bulletin early on June 16 that, while the situation continues to be extremely difficult for the defenders of Syevyerodonetsk, Ukraine has probably succeeded in withdrawing a large part of its fighting troops which initially held the city.

British intelligence also pointed to Russia’s likely difficulties in replenishing its fallen troops.

“As Ukrainian authorities claim, some Russian Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) – usually consisting of around 600-800 men – were able to muster as few as 30 soldiers,” the bulletin said.

He added that Moscow’s advantage in numbers of tanks and artillery became less relevant in the urban warfare environment, slowing the advance of Russian forces.

US General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on June 15 that although Russian forces outnumber and are stronger than Ukrainian forces in the Donbass region, the Russian consolidation of their control in eastern Ukraine was “not a done deal”.

Milley, quoted by CNN, said “the numbers clearly favor the Russians.” But he added: “There is no inevitability in war. War takes many turns. So I wouldn’t say it’s inevitable.

The United Nations warned that some 12,000 civilians remained trapped in Syevyerodonetsk as essential supplies ran out, and many of them took refuge in bunkers under the city’s Azot chemical plant.

“Lack of water and sanitation is a big concern. It’s a huge concern for us because people can’t survive for long without water,” the spokesman for the humanitarian affairs office told the BBC. of the UN, Saviano Abreu, adding that food and medical supplies were also running out. the city.

Russia had told Ukrainian defenders locked in the city’s Azot chemical plant to renounce their “senseless resistance and lay down their arms” early on June 15, promising a humanitarian corridor for civilians sheltering in the area. plant with the fighters.

Kyiv ignored the ultimatum.

On June 15, the United States announced additional arms packages for Ukraine worth about $1 billion.

US President Joe Biden said he told Zelenskiy about the assistance in a phone call.

The weapons kits include 18 howitzers, 36,000 rounds for them, two Harpoon coastal defense systems, artillery rockets, secure radios, thousands of night vision devices and funding for training, the official said. Pentagon.

Zelenskiy called for both more heavy weapons and new EU sanctions against Russia.

With reporting from Reuters, AP, BBC, CNN and AFP

Laura T. Thrasher