Russian forces shelled dozens of towns in the Donbas region of Ukraine and were inching closer to encircling two key cities in the region where thousands of civilians are in danger of being trapped without a way out, Ukraine’s military said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, meanwhile, blasted suggestions that Ukraine make territorial concessions to Russia to end the war, likening the idea to the West’s appeasement of Nazi Germany in 1938.
Russian forces shelled 40 towns in the easternmost pocket still held by Kyiv in the Donbas, Ukraine’s military said on May 26.
Russian forces were advancing on the key twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk on both banks of the Siverskiy Donets River, with the fighting reaching the limits of Severodonetsk.
“Russian troops have advanced far enough that they can already fire mortars” on the city, the governor of the Luhansk region, Serhiy Hayday, said in a statement on social media.
The fall of the two cities would leave the whole of the Luhansk region under Russian control, one of the Kremlin’s stated goals in its war.
Police in Lysychansk are collecting bodies of people killed to bury them in mass graves, Mr. Hayday said. Some 150 people have been buried in a mass grave in one Lysychansk district, he added.
Moscow-backed separatists quoted by Russian news agency TASS claimed on May 26 that they were holding about 8,000 Ukrainian prisoners of war, but the claim could not be independently confirmed.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Mr. Zelenskyy, said Russia’s “army is having some tactical success, which is threatening to become an operational success in the direction of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.”Despite its current momentum, the Russian offensive has betrayed serious operational failures, British intelligence suggested in its daily bulletin on May 26, taking specific aim at the use of Russia’s elite airborne force (VDV).
“The VDV has been employed on missions better suited to heavier armored infantry and has sustained heavy casualties during the campaign,” the bulletin issued by Britain’s Ministry of Defense said.
“Its mixed performance likely reflects a strategic mismanagement of this capability and Russia’s failure to secure air superiority,” the ministry said.
On a larger scale, the bulletin assessed, the misemployment of the VDV in the invasion of Ukraine “highlights how [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s significant investment in the armed forces over the last 15 years has resulted in an unbalanced overall force.”
Mr. Zelenskyy in his nightly address issued another urgent plea for Western help.
“We still need the help of our partners, especially weapons for Ukraine. Full help! No exceptions, no restrictions, enough to win,” he said.
He also called out some in the West for paying too much attention to Russia’s interests, taking particular aim at former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and The New York Times.
Mr. Kissinger, 98, this week told the World Economic Forum in Davos that a return to the “status quo” before Russia’s February 24 invasion would be ideal. That would mean that Crimea, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, and the separatist-controlled eastern regions would be lost by Ukraine.
“It seems Mr. Kissinger’s calendar is not 2022, but 1938,” Mr. Zelenskyy said, comparing his suggestion to the agreement that ceded part of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany more than 80 years ago.
Meanwhile, The New York Times editorial board wrote on May 19 that a negotiated peace might require Kyiv to make some concessions, given that a decisive Ukrainian military victory was not realistic.
“Perhaps The New York Times also wrote something similar in 1938. But let me remind you, it’s now 2022,” Mr. Zelenskyy said.
On the Davos forum’s last day on May 26, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that three months of war had shown Putin won’t win the war against Ukraine, and cannot dictate the terms of any settlement to the fighting.
Mr. Scholz said the capture of the whole of Ukraine seemed “further away now than at the beginning of the war.”
After failing to capture either of Ukraine’s two largest cities, Kyiv or Kharkiv, Moscow has now turned its focus to taking full control of eastern regions that since 2014 have been partially held by Kremlin-backed separatists.
“Putin must not win his war, and I am convinced he will not win,” Mr. Scholz said.
He added that the “status quo” scenario mentioned by Mr. Kissinger was not an option.
“There will be no dictated peace,” Mr. Scholz added. “Ukraine will not accept this, and neither will we.”
Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba on May 25 urged governments and companies to “kill Russian exports” as a way to help push Moscow to ending its war against Ukraine.
“My message is very simple. Kill Russian exports,” Mr. Kuleba said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“As long as Russia makes money on selling oil and gas, their pockets are pretty full,” he added.
The European Union is currently working on a proposal to ban Russian oil and gas imports across the 27-nation bloc, but several countries, especially Hungary, have said they will need help and a phase-in period if they are to sign on to the measure.
The United Nations, meanwhile, has urged the Russian authorities to release grain stuck in Ukrainian ports to avert global food shortages.
The war and Western sanctions against Russia have sent the price of grain, cooking oil, fertilizer and energy soaring.
(With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, CNN, and BBC)
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