“It may be necessary to withdraw” from Severodonetsk, said Wednesday Serguiï Gaïdaï, governor of the Lugansk region, on the Ukrainian channel 1 1. Tuesday evening, he had already indicated that holding this city was “mission impossible”. , even if the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense still affirmed Wednesday morning that the Ukrainian forces “resist the attacks” Russian.
Since the fall of the port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov on May 20, the Russians have been concentrating their offensive on this town of Severodonetsk at the western limit of the Lugansk region, one of the two regions of Donbass with that of Donetsk.
They aim to take full control of Donbass, already partially controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014.
They have made only slow progress so far, leading Western analysts to say that the Russian invasion launched on February 24 has turned into a war of attrition, with minimal progress achieved at the cost of massive destruction and heavy casualties.
In a rare televised briefing on Tuesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed that Russian forces had “completely liberated” the residential areas of this industrial city, known for its large Azot chemical plant, and now controlled “97%” of the territory of this Lugansk region.
– “Heroic defense” –
The towns of Severodonetsk and Lyssytchansk, separated by a river, constitute the last agglomeration still under Ukrainian control in the region of Lugansk. Their capture would open the road to Kramatorsk, a large city in the Donetsk region, to the Russians.
If Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky assured Tuesday evening that his men were continuing “the absolutely heroic defense of Donbass”, the Ukrainians repeat that they have a vital need for more powerful weapons to stop the Russian steamroller.
The delivery of multiple rocket launcher systems, with a range of some 80 km, slightly greater than the Russian systems, has been announced but it is unclear when the Ukrainians will be able to start using them.
So far, the Ukrainians have had to make do with Western weapons of lesser range. Such as the 22 M-109 howitzers, of American design and a range of some 20 km, that Norway announced on Wednesday that it had sent to Ukraine.
The other major battle is being played out on the agricultural front. The blocking of Ukrainian ports by the Russian Black Sea Fleet – starting with that of Odessa, the country’s main port – is paralyzing its grain exports, particularly wheat, of which it was before the war on the way to becoming the third global exporter.
African and Middle Eastern countries are the first to be affected, and fear deep food crises.
– Russian-Turkish talks to unlock cereals –
Some 20 to 25 to 25 million tonnes are currently blocked, quantities which could triple by “by the fall” to reach 75 million tonnes, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned on Monday.
While Moscow accuses the West of being the cause of this shortage because of their sanctions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Cavusoglu in Ankara on Wednesday to discuss “secure maritime corridors” that would allow to resume grain transport in the Black Sea.
At the request of the UN, Turkey has offered its help to escort maritime convoys from Ukrainian ports, despite the presence of mines, some of which have been detected close to the Turkish coast.
At a press conference after their discussions, Lavrov assured that Russia was “ready to guarantee the safety of ships leaving Ukrainian ports (…) in cooperation with our Turkish colleagues”.
Mr. Cavusoglu considered for his part “legitimate” Russia’s request to lift the sanctions which indirectly affect its agricultural exports, to facilitate Ukrainian exports.
– Moscow “dreams” of attacking Odessa –
“If we are to open the Ukrainian international market, we believe that removing barriers to Russian exports is legitimate,” he said.
He specifically cited Russian “grain and fertilizer” exports, which are not directly targeted by Western sanctions but are de facto prevented by the suspension of banking and financial exchanges.
However, the two men did not announce any concrete mechanism for exporting the cereals that are currently blocked.
Ukraine was not represented at these discussions. While Russia has assured in recent days that it would let Ukrainian boats loaded with grain through on condition that kyiv demine the port of Odessa, an official in the Odessa region has deemed such a request inadmissible.
If Ukraine demines the country’s main port, Russia “will want to attack, it dreams of parachuting troops”, said Sergei Bratchouk, spokesman for the regional administration, in a video message on Telegram.
“The Russian Black Sea Fleet will pretend to withdraw towards annexed Crimea. But as soon as we clear the access to the port of Odessa, the Russian fleet will be there,” he said.
– “Book of the Executioners” –
kyiv, supported by Washington, accuses Moscow of “stealing” grain from it. And the two belligerents accuse each other of destroying grain stocks.
Tuesday evening, the Russian Ministry of Defense notably affirmed that the Ukrainian forces had “purposely set fire to a large grain depot”, containing some 50,000 tons of grain, in the port of Mariupol, in Russian hands.
While the war has driven some 6.5 million Ukrainians to flee their country and caused several thousand deaths – even if no precise toll is available – Mr. Zelensky announced on Tuesday the publication next week of a ” Book of Executioners”.
This database will compile information on war crimes – numbering several thousand, according to kyiv – and the Russian soldiers accused of having committed them, and will also name the superiors who gave the orders, according to Mr. Zelensky.
“I have repeatedly stressed that they will all be held accountable. And we are going there step by step,” said the Ukrainian president. “Everyone will be brought to justice,” he added.