kyiv rules out ceasefire as Russia steps up offensive in eastern Ukraine

Polish President Andrzej Duda, who met President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv last month, returned on Sunday to address Ukraine’s parliament, the first foreign leader to do so in person.

After putting an end to weeks of resistance by the last Ukrainian fighters in the strategic port of Mariupol, in the south-east, Russia is leading a major offensive in Luhansk, one of the two provinces of Donbass.

Russian-backed separatists already controlled swaths of Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk provinces before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, but Moscow wants to seize the last Ukrainian-held territory in the region .

On the Donetsk front line, Russian forces were trying to break through Ukrainian defenses to reach the administrative borders of the Luhansk region, while further north they continued to shell Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, the general staff said on Sunday. Ukrainian in its daily update.

Sievierodonetsk and its twin Lysychansk across the Siverskiy Donets River form the eastern part of a Ukrainian-held pocket that Russia has been trying to invade since mid-April after failing to capture kyiv and shifting its focus to the east and south of the country.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that Russia was deploying its BMP-T “Terminator” tank support vehicles in the offensive. With only 10 units available for a unit that already suffered heavy casualties in kyiv’s failed attempt, however, the ministry said they were “unlikely to have a significant impact”.

Ukraine’s chief negotiator, speaking to Reuters on Saturday, ruled out a ceasefire or any deal with Moscow involving a ceding of territory. Making concessions would backfire because Russia would retaliate stronger after any break in the fighting, said Zelenskiy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak.

“The war won’t stop. It will just be put on hiatus for a while,” Podolyak said in an interview at the heavily guarded presidential office. “They are going to launch a new, even more bloody and large-scale offensive.”

Recent calls for an immediate ceasefire have come from US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The end of the fighting in Mariupol, the largest city captured by Russia, offers Russian President Vladimir Putin a rare victory after a series of setbacks in nearly three months of fighting.

The last Ukrainian forces locked in the vast Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol have surrendered, the Russian Defense Ministry announced on Friday.

Full control of Mariupol gives Russia control of a land route linking the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014, with mainland Russia and parts of eastern Ukraine held by separatists pro-Russian.

GAS DISPUTE

Russian gas company Gazprom said on Saturday it had halted gas exports to Finland, which has refused Moscow’s demands to pay Russian gas in rubles after Western countries imposed sanctions for the invasion.

Finland said it was prepared for the cut in Russian flows. It asked on Wednesday with its northern neighbor Sweden to join the NATO military alliance, although this is facing resistance from NATO member Turkey.

Most European supply contracts are denominated in euros or dollars. Last month, Moscow cut off gas to Bulgaria and Poland after rejecting the new terms.

Western countries have also stepped up arms deliveries to Ukraine. On Saturday, Kyiv received another huge boost when US President Joe Biden signed a bill providing nearly $40 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid.

Moscow said Western sanctions, along with arms deliveries to kyiv, amounted to a “proxy war” by the United States and its allies.

Putin calls the invasion a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of radical anti-Russian nationalists. Ukraine and its allies have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war, which has killed thousands in Ukraine, displaced millions and destroyed cities.

Zelenskiy said he stressed the importance of new sanctions against Russia and the unblocking of Ukrainian ports during a call with Italian Draghi on Saturday.

(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Max Hunder, Tom Balmforth in Kyiv, David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Lidia Kelly in Melbourne and Reuters bureaus; Writing by Richard Pullin, Doina Chiacu and Tomasz Janowski; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Frances Kerry)

By Natalia Zinets

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