The danger of a big war – Newspaper Kommersant No. 80 (7281) of 05/11/2022

The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation reported on the success of the Russian armed forces, which has a symbolic meaning – the withdrawal of troops to the administrative borders of the Luhansk People’s Republic. The Ukrainian side does not confirm this information. In Kyiv, they continue to believe in a quick radical change in the course of hostilities, and the goal is “the complete liberation of the entire territory of Ukraine.” The basis for such hopes is provided by active support from outside: the West is increasing its military assistance to Ukraine. In particular, the foreign ministers of Germany and the Netherlands, who visited Kyiv, promised new deliveries of weapons.

“Units of the People’s Militia of the Lugansk People’s Republic, with the support of the armed forces of the Russian Federation, having completed the cleansing of the nationalists in the village of Popasnaya, broke through the enemy’s defenses in depth and reached the administrative border of the Luhansk People’s Republic,” said Igor Konashenkov, official representative of the Russian Defense Ministry, on Tuesday morning.

Full control over the Lugansk region has an important symbolic meaning for Moscow, as this is one of the objectives of the Russian “special military operation” launched on February 24. At the same time, the Ukrainian side did not confirm the statement of the RF Ministry of Defense. In particular, the head of the Luhansk regional military administration, Sergei Gaidai, said on the air of the telethon that the Ukrainian troops “withdrew from Popasna to more fortified positions, while the defense is strong and there are no breakthroughs.” The General Staff of Ukraine did not directly comment on the words of the Russian military, but reported in the evening that “the enemy is attacking in the areas of the settlements of Nizhne, Toshkovka, Orekhovo, Luhansk region; has no success.” All three settlements are located within the administrative boundaries of the Lugansk region, to the east of Popasna. In the evening report of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, the Luhansk People’s Republic was not mentioned.

Against the backdrop of ongoing fighting in Kyiv, they continue to believe in victory, hoping for an uninterrupted flow of outside assistance.

“In the first months of the war, victory for us looked like the withdrawal of Russian troops to the positions they occupied until February 24, and payment for the damage caused. Now, if we are strong enough at the front and win the battle for Donbass, which will be decisive for the subsequent dynamics of the war, the victory for us in this war will be the liberation of our remaining territories,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba in an interview with the British newspaper Financial times. At the same time, he acknowledged that too much sacrifice could force Ukraine into negotiations, but in this case, Kyiv would like to “approach the inevitable moment with the strongest cards.” According to Mr. Kuleba, in order to win, Ukraine’s allies must deprive Russia of oil and gas revenues, as well as make arms supplies more efficient and stable. He also stressed that it would be important for Ukraine to obtain the status of an EU candidate in June. “If we don’t get candidate status, it means only one thing, that Europe is trying to deceive us. And we are not going to swallow it,” he stressed.

There is a possibility that the wishes of Kyiv will be heard. On Tuesday, the European Commission confirmed that they had received from Ukraine the second part of the answers to the questionnaire, which must be completed in order to consider the status of a candidate for EU membership. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, after talking with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky via video link, promised that “Europe intends to make its decision in June.”

On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron also spoke about the accelerated procedure for Kyiv to obtain the status of an EU candidate, but he stressed that “it will take years, and quite likely decades, for Ukraine to really join the European Union.”

In terms of arms supplies to Kyiv, more encouraging and unequivocal statements are coming in. “We support Ukraine morally, financially and militarily with weapons. It cannot be that borders in Europe are moved by violence,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a joint press conference with President Macron in Berlin on Monday. The day before, the issue of arms supplies was discussed in Kyiv by the speaker of the German Bundestag, Berbel Bas, and on Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Berbock, who arrived in the Ukrainian capital. This is the first visit of a representative of the German government to Ukraine. Recall that back in mid-April, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier wanted to come to Kyiv, but the Ukrainian authorities canceled the visit, citing his close ties with the Russian Federation. After that, Chancellor Scholz made it clear that he was not going to go to Kyiv because of the story with the president. On May 5, a conversation took place between Presidents Steinmeier and Zelensky, after which both sides reported that all problems had been eliminated.

Together with Mrs. Burbock, the head of the Netherlands Foreign Ministry Wopke Hoekstra also came to Kyiv. Before the official talks, they already traditionally visited Irpen and Bucha, where dozens of civilians were killed, as a tradition for foreign delegations. Kyiv then accused Moscow of “war crimes”, and Russia announced “provocations and fakes.” “Our duty to the victims is not only to honor their memory,” said Annalena Burbock. According to her, Germany will provide funds for the work of Ukrainian prosecutors who will investigate crimes, including facts of sexual violence committed during hostilities, which is also reported by international organizations. Mrs. Burbock also informed about the upcoming deliveries of “modern tanks and howitzers” to Ukraine. “Germany and the Netherlands will be able to supply these howitzers together, because one country cannot supply everything, since we ourselves do not have enough of them. But Germany will provide seven (howitzers.— Kommersant), and we will now begin the training that is necessary for this,” the minister said. She also promised that Germany would reduce its dependence on Russian energy “to zero – and always will.” “My message is clear: Ukraine can count on our support – not only military, not only today. We will also be there when this war ends, when Vladimir Putin fails to achieve his goal, when Ukraine builds its future in freedom,” Annalena Burbock wrote on Twitter following talks with Volodymyr Zelensky.

The visits of the foreign ministers of Germany and the Netherlands, as well as the speaker of the Bundestag, to Ukraine are not the only ones in recent days. Recall that on May 8 Uzhhorod was visited by the wife of US President Jill Biden, and Kyiv by Prime Ministers of Canada and Croatia Justin Trudeau and Andrey Plenkovic. On May 9, President of the European Council Charles Michel unexpectedly arrived in Odessa, where he discussed with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal the possibility of exporting Ukrainian grain to the EU and other measures to support Kyiv. Part of the meeting had to be held in a bomb shelter due to the shelling of the city. Ukrainian authorities reported the death of one person and the destruction of the shopping center. Moscow did not comment on these attacks, but focused on the situation around Serpent’s Island, over which Kyiv tried to regain control in order to unblock the sea route from Odessa to send grain and receive weapons. “The thoughtless PR action of the Kyiv regime to seize Zmeiny Island on the eve of Victory Day led to the senseless death of more than five dozen Ukrainian militants and military personnel of the elite units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the loss of four aircraft, ten helicopters, three boats and 30 unmanned aerial vehicles,” he said on Tuesday in the evening Igor Konashenkov.

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden also mentioned the importance of returning Ukrainian grain to the world market. “Ukraine has 20 million tons of grain in its storage facilities. We are studying ways to return this grain to the world market and thereby achieve price reductions,” he said.

The day before, President Biden expressed the opinion that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has no way out at the moment” from the conflict in Ukraine. At a meeting with representatives of the Democratic Party, he said that he was trying to “figure out what to do with it.”

For her part, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haynes told a congressional hearing on Tuesday that the US does not see a “viable continuation of the negotiation process” between Moscow and Kyiv in the short term. According to her, the Russian authorities are preparing for a protracted conflict in Ukraine and are counting on achieving goals outside the Donbass. US intelligence believes that the immediate goals of the Russian military campaign remain the establishment of control over the Donbass “with a buffer zone”, the encirclement of the most combat-ready units of Ukrainian troops to the west of it, the retention of Kherson, the land corridor between Crimea and Donbass, and the sources of water supply to Crimea. “We are also seeing signs that the Russian military wants to expand the land corridor to Transnistria. Although Russian forces are able to achieve most of these short-term goals in the coming months, we believe that they will not be able to penetrate the land corridor that will stretch into Transnistria and include Odessa without some form of mobilization,” she said. Ms. Haynes also emphasized that the US does not want to bring matters to a third world war, but named possible points of escalation: attempts by the Russian Federation “to interfere with Western military supplies to Ukraine, responding to economic sanctions, or threatening the regime from within.” At the same time, Washington is making it clear that the United States does not intend to abandon either the policy of sanctions against the Russian Federation or the expansion of military assistance to Kyiv.

Marianna Belenkaya

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