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Monday June 17, 2024

Russia presses Donbas as fierce battles continue to rage across the region: Ukraine takes centre stage at Davos

By AFP
May 23, 2022

Kyiv, Ukraine: Russian forces pursued their bombardment of frontline Ukrainian cities on Sunday, seeking to gain military momentum as Kyiv’s diplomatic counter-offensive targeted the world’s business and political elite gathering in Davos.

Shelling and missile strikes hit Kharkiv in the north, and Mykolaiv and Zaporizhzhia in the south, while eight civilians were killed on the eastern front in the Donbas, Ukrainian officials said.

Three months after launching their invasion, Moscow’s forces are focused on securing and expanding their gains in the Donbas region and on Ukraine’s southern coast. Kyiv, meanwhile, is rallying international support and receiving Western weapons supplies, even if EU powers are struggling to agree on expanding sanctions to Russia’s huge energy exports.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda was to address the Ukrainian parliament and meet President Volodymyr Zelensky later on Sunday, a day ahead of the Ukrainian leader’s Davos videoconference.

"He will in particular pay homage to those who, in defending Ukraine, are fighting to defend Europe," Duda’s adviser Jakub Kumoch told the news agency PAP. The World Economic Forum brings together the world’s business and political elite in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos, and this year’s gathering will put Ukraine’s crisis at centre stage.

Zelensky is due to hold a videoconference with delegates Monday evening to mark the opening of Ukraine House Davos, a forum for Kyiv and its international backers. In March, Davos organisers cut ties with Russian firms and officials, and announced that anyone under international sanctions would not be welcome at the event.

Western nations have rallied behind Ukraine’s defence of its territories, led by the United States -- which just approved a $40-billion war chest for Kyiv -- and neighbours like Poland. But some European countries that are dependent on Russian oil supplies, such as Hungary, are resisting calls for an embargo on crude -- and major EU economic powers like Germany remain huge gas importers.

The European Union is also reticent on Kyiv’s ambitions to join the bloc. France’s President Emmanuel Macron has suggested creating a "European political community" as a kind of antechamber to full membership. Zelensky dismissed this idea. "We don’t need such compromises," he said Saturday during a joint news conference with visiting Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

"Because, believe me, it will not be compromise with Ukraine in Europe, it will be another compromise between Europe and Russia." France’s Europe Minister insisted Sunday that "Ukraine is Europe", without addressing a potential EU bid, adding that the immediate goal is "to avoid any Russian victory".

But, while rejecting any concessions to Russia -- and fighting to regain territory lost since Moscow began its offensive in late February -- Kyiv knows that talks will come. "There are things that can only be reached at the negotiating table," Zelensky told Ukrainians on Saturday.

The war, he said, "will be bloody, there will be fighting, but it will only definitively end through diplomacy". Meanwhile, Russia’s lead negotiator in peace talks with Ukraine said on Sunday that Russia was willing to resume negotiations but the initiative to continue them was with Kyiv. "For our part, we are ready to continue the dialogue," Kremlin aide Vladimir Medinsky said in an interview with Belarusian TV.

"Freezing talks was entirely Ukraine’s initiative, Medinsky said, adding that the "ball is completely in their court". He added that "Russia has never refused talks". Talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations have been held regularly both in person and via video-link since the Russian military offensive began on February 24.

"Russians are our Slavic brothers" is a common slogan in Bulgaria, but the Ukraine war is putting widespread Russophile sentiment to the test. "We are here to prove that there are not only Putinophiles in Bulgaria," IT expert Stanimir Ganev, 43, told AFP at a recent pro-Ukraine march in the capital Sofia, referring to supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin.