- The head of the European Commission will discuss Ukraine’s accession to the EU in Kyiv
- Ukrainian president promises to take more anti-corruption measures
- Zelensky gave a gloomy assessment of Russia’s offensive in the east
- Russian strike destroyed residential building; 4 dead – officers
- Lavrov says that Russia will respond to the supply of long-range missiles
KIV, Feb 2 (Reuters) – A Russian missile destroyed a residential building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, killing at least three people, before top European Union officials arrived in Kiev for talks seen as key to Ukraine’s shift towards the West.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has vowed more anti-corruption measures as authorities continue raids ahead of meetings with the EU, reflecting his determination to show Kiev can be a reliable steward of billions of dollars in aid.
“We are here to show that the EU is as strong as ever in Ukraine. And we are here to deepen our support and cooperation,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said as she arrived in Kiev by train on Thursday. along with more than a dozen other senior EU officials.
However, the EU, reluctant to accept a country at war, is poised to dash hopes that Ukraine will soon be allowed to join, stressing the need for more anti-corruption measures.
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The team from Brussels will discuss sending more weapons and money to Ukraine, increasing access to the EU for Ukrainian products, helping Kiev meet its energy needs, strengthening sanctions against Russia and prosecuting Russian leaders for the war.
The EU says it has allocated nearly 60 billion euros in aid to Ukraine, but Kiev’s bid for membership is expected to take years.
In an evening video address, Zelensky gave another bleak assessment of the situation on the battlefield as Russian forces continue to make increasing gains in the east of the country as the first anniversary of Moscow’s occupation approaches on February 24.
A Russian Iskander-K tactical missile fired at Kramatorsk at 21:45 (1945 GMT) on Wednesday, killing at least three people and injuring 20, police said.
“At least eight residential buildings were damaged. One of them was completely destroyed,” the police wrote on Facebook.
People may be buried under the rubble.”
Kramatorsk is currently about 55 km (34 mi) northwest of Bakhmut, the main focus of fighting in eastern Ukraine.
‘TIGHTER’ ON THE EASTERN FRONT
Determined to make a breakthrough before Ukraine receives new Western-promised battle tanks and armored vehicles, Russia has accelerated on the battlefield, announcing advances north and south of Bakhmut, which has been under constant Russian bombardment for months.
“In the east of our country, a certain increase in offensive operations of the invaders on the front has been observed. The situation has become even tougher,” Zelensky said.
“The enemy is now trying to achieve at least something to show that Russia has some chances on the anniversary of the invasion,” he added.
The Ukrainian army said on Wednesday evening that Bakhmut and 10 towns and villages around it were fired by Russia.
Ukrainian military analyst Yevhen Dikiy believes that Russian forces are trying to encircle Bakhmut from both the north and the south, using superior numbers of troops to cut it off from resupply and drive the Ukrainians out.
“This is the most difficult scenario for us,” Dikiy told Espreso TV.
“The enemy is able to use his only resource, his surplus of men,” he said, describing a landscape northeast of Bakhmut that was “literally covered in corpses.”
Ukraine and its Western allies say Moscow has inflicted heavy casualties around Bakhmut, sending poorly equipped troops, including thousands of convicts recruited as mercenaries from prisons.
A former commander of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, who fled to Norway in January, told Reuters he wanted to apologize for the fighting in Ukraine and called for the perpetrators of the atrocities to be brought to justice.
“First of all, I want to apologize many times and again,” said 26-year-old Andrey Medvedev.
Ukraine has secured weapons promises from the West that offer new capabilities — the latter of which is expected to include missiles from the United States this week that will nearly double the range of Ukrainian forces.
“We are focused on providing Ukraine with the capability it needs to be effective in a counteroffensive operation expected in the spring,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a visit to the Philippines on Thursday.
The new weapons will put all Russian supply lines in eastern Ukraine, as well as parts of Crimea, within the reach of Ukrainian forces.
Moscow says such missiles will escalate the conflict but not change its course.
“The greater the variety of weapons supplied to the Kyiv regime, the more we will have to push them out of the territories that are part of our country,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Russian state television on Thursday. Moscow claims to have annexed four Ukrainian provinces last year, as well as Crimea, which it seized in 2014.
The governor of Luhansk region, Serhii Gaidai, told Ukrainian television on Thursday that Russian forces are probing weak spots in the defense on the western outskirts of Ukraine’s Luhansk region.
The amount of fire has increased, the number of attacks in the Svatove-Kreminna direction has increased… Our positions are being lined up with corpses,” Gaidai said.
Reuters could not confirm the battlefield reports.
President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine last February as part of a “special military operation” to “arm” his neighbor and now presents the campaign as a fight to defend Russia against an aggressive West. Ukraine and the West call it an illegal war to expand Russian territory.
Reuters Reporting by Himani Sarkar and Gareth Jones Editing by Robert Birsel and Peter Graff
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