Russian and Ukrainian forces fought street by street on Monday for control of the industrial city of Severodonetsk in the pivotal battle of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian troops had the numerical advantage and the situation was “difficult”, but Ukraine had “every chance” to fight back.
The eastern city has become the main target of the Russian offensive in the Donbas – comprising the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk – as the Kremlin invasion progresses in a war of attrition that sees cities devastated by artillery bombardments.
“The situation is difficult in the east,” Zelenskyy told a media briefing in the capital Kiev. “We have the situation under control, there are more” [Russians]they are more powerful, but we have every chance to fight.
“If there is one [Russian] breakthrough in Donbas, it will be very difficult,” he added.
Russia says it is on a mission to “liberate” the Donbas River — which has been partially controlled by separatist proxies from Moscow since 2014 — after Ukrainian forces drove its forces back from the capital Kiev and Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. in the war. early stages.
Zelenskyy said peace talks with Russia were at “zero level” and that “the most threatening situation” has developed in the Zaporizhzhya region, parts of which have already been occupied by Russia.
“The enemy wants to… occupy the city of Zaporizhzhya,” he added.
Russia calls its action in Ukraine a “special military operation” designed to eradicate what it sees as a threat to its own security. Ukraine and its Western allies reject this, saying the Russian offensive is an unprovoked war to conquer territory that threatens to turn into a wider European conflict.
UK promises missiles
Earlier on Monday, the United Kingdom said it would provide Ukraine with multiple-launch missile systems that can hit targets up to 80 km (50 mi) away.
The systems would give the Ukrainians the more precise, long-range firepower needed to reach Russian artillery batteries, a key part of Moscow’s battle plans.
The UK’s action was coordinated with the United States, which last week pledged to provide Kiev with advanced missile systems.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would respond to Western supplies of long-range weapons to Ukraine by pushing Ukrainian troops further back from the Russian border.
During an online press conference, Lavrov said that “the greater the range of weapons you supply, the further the line will be shifted from where neo-Nazis could threaten the Russian Federation”.
Separately, Lavrov criticized the West for preventing his travel to Serbia by blocking his flight.
“Something unthinkable has happened… A sovereign state has been deprived of its right to conduct foreign policy. Serbia’s international activities on the Russian track have been blocked.”
The announcement followed reports that Serbia’s neighbors — Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Montenegro — had refused to allow Lavrov’s plane to fly through their airspace to reach Serbia.
Securing Grain Exports
Zelenskyy said on Monday that Ukraine is in talks with countries such as Turkey and the UK about security guarantees for Ukrainian ships carrying much-needed grain for export.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted food supplies for many countries in the world and pushed prices up.
“It’s important to us that there’s a security corridor…that this or that country’s fleet takes care of shipping the grain,” Zelenskyy said. “If we’ve blocked 22-25 million tons there now, we might have 75 . by the fall [million tonnes]†
The issue of blocked grain will be on the agenda on Wednesday during Lavrov’s visit to Turkey. Ankara is involved in United Nations efforts to reach an agreement to ship Ukrainian grain amid an escalating global food crisis.
Zelenskyy said Kiev has not been invited to the talks, possibly because Turkey wants to get security guarantees for its ships from Russia first.