EU weighs Ukraine candidacy as Russia inflicts ‘hell’ in east

A partially destroyed educational and laboratory building at a Kharkiv college struck by Russian rocket fire

EU leaders met in Brussels on Thursday to discuss making Ukraine a candidate to join the bloc, a “decisive” moment likely to infuriate Russia as its forces battled stiff resistance to advance in the embattled eastern Donbas region.

Western officials also denounced Moscow’s “weaponising” of its key gas and grain exports, with a US official warning of further retaliation measures at the G7 summit in Germany starting Sunday.

“Gas is now a scarce commodity,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told reporters, urging households to cut back on use.

“We are very clear that this grain crisis is urgent, that it needs to be solved within the next month. Otherwise we could see devastating consequences,” Truss said after talks with her Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

The potential consequences for Ukraine’s allies loomed large over the country’s EU candidate status talks in Brussels, and the G7 and NATO meetings in the following days.

“This is a decisive moment for the European Union, this is also a geopolitical choice that we will make today,” EU council president Charles Michel told journalists ahead of the summit.

While the European Commission-backed candidate is widely expected to be approved, some members have been lukewarm about Ukraine’s status, and any accession process is likely to take years if not decades.

Taking the two cities would give Moscow control of the whole of Lugansk, allowing Russia to press further into Donbas.

“Russia’s improved performance in this sector is likely a result of recent unit reinforcement and heavy concentration of fire,” it said in its latest intelligence update.

“It’s just hell out there,” after four months of shelling in Severodonetsk, he wrote later, vowing that “Our boys are holding their positions and will continue to hold on as long as necessary.”

After being pushed back from Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine in the initial weeks of the invasion launched on February 24, Moscow is seeking to seize a vast eastern swathe of the country.

The northeastern city of Kharkiv near the Russian border was near empty on Wednesday, AFP reporters said, a day after shelling by Moscow’s forces killed five people there.

Roman Pohuliay, a 19-year-old in a pink sweatshirt, said most residents had fled the city.

Zelensky again pressed allies Wednesday for the rapid supply of more arms, having earlier accused the Russian army of “brutal and cynical” shelling in the eastern Kharkiv region, where the governor said 15 people had been killed in a day.

“When you can do something, it’s not so scary to take a machine gun in your hands,” said Ulyana Kiyashko, 29, after moving through an improvised combat zone in a basement.

Away from the battlefield, Moscow this week summoned Brussels’ ambassador in a dispute with EU member Lithuania over the country’s restrictions on rail traffic to the Russian outpost of Kaliningrad.

By blocking goods arriving from Russia, Lithuania says it is simply adhering to European Union-wide sanctions on Moscow.

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Originally published as EU weighs Ukraine candidacy as Russia inflicts ‘hell’ in east

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