Western support for Ukraine tightened on Friday as the European Union was poised to approve an embargo on Russian oil amid new assessments that the Russian military’s eastern offensive was faltering, hampered by logistical problems and stiff Ukrainian resistance.
The oil embargo, which will be phased in over a period of several months, is expected to be approved by EU ambassadors next week, in a step that should avoid the time-consuming process of gathering heads of state.
News of the European oil embargo came amid a wave of activities to provide Ukraine with more weapons and support, while NATO defenses were strengthened, while the Kremlin and Western allies appeared to gird themselves for a protracted battle that threatened to cross the borders of Ukraine.
President Biden’s request on Thursday for Congress to approve $33 billion to bolster Ukraine’s arsenal and economy was followed by more pledges from allies. The British army said on Friday it would send 8,000 soldiers to Europe, who would join tens of thousands of troops from NATO countries in exercises designed to deter further Russian aggression.
As NATO allies’ pledges to Ukraine grew, Russia’s offensive in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine showed signs of stagnation amid heavy losses on the battlefield and was now “several days behind” on schedule, one said. senior Pentagon official Friday.
Britain’s Defense Intelligence Agency largely agreed, saying on Friday that “Russian territorial gains are limited and achieved at a significant cost to the Russian armed forces.”
In a video released Friday, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called Russia’s losses “colossal”.
The Russian military is trying to encircle Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region by attacking from the north, east and south, but has made little progress, experts and Pentagon officials say.
Victory in the Donbas campaign is vital to Moscow’s plans to carve out much of southern and eastern Ukraine, from Odessa in the south through Mariupol and to Kharkov in the north, and under Russian rule. domination or even outright annexation.
Moscow now has 92 battalion groups fighting in Donbas — up from 85 a week ago, but still well below the 125 it had in the first phase of the war, the Pentagon official said. Each battalion group has about 700 to 1,000 troops.
Russia still has massive firepower in the region, but many of those battalions were badly damaged in early fighting around the capital Kiev, and have been rushed back to Donbas before being restored to full combat power, the Pentagon official said. .
Some military pundits on Friday gave a more grim assessment of Russia’s prospects. dr. Mike Martin, a visiting lecturer in war studies at King’s College London, told the BBC that Russia’s offensive was “sort of fizzle” and the battle for eastern Ukraine could be over in two to four weeks.
Russia’s early failures, its inability to perform “a daring maneuver” in recent battles and Ukraine’s growing prowess on the battlefield are at the root of a “major strategic shift” among Western countries, he said, as they expand their goals. from going beyond defending Ukraine to defeating Russia and relegating its army.
In an effort to bolster its armed forces, Russia has unleashed a barrage of rocket and artillery strikes along the entire front, continuing its strategy of attacking both civilian and military targets. “It is cruelty of the coldest and most depraved kind,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday.
Ukrainian forces counterattacked in northern Donbas on Friday and recaptured Ruska Lozova, a town of about 6,000 inhabitants about 20 kilometers north of Kharkov that had been occupied by Russian forces since March.
Many of the city’s remaining residents quickly evacuated, taking advantage of the now open road to Kharkov. Cars, some full of bullet holes, stumbled into town, crammed with luggage, people and pets.
The battle for Ruska Lozova is part of a wider campaign launched in recent weeks by Ukrainian forces to push Russian troops away from Kharkov and hopefully out of range of Russian artillery. The fighting has been fierce, as the Russian border is about 20 miles from the city.
Before the war, Kharkiv was the second largest city in Ukraine with a population of about 1.4 million people. But it is now a shell of itself, with many of its neighborhoods empty after a relentless bombardment.
In another sign of Moscow’s sense of urgency, several of the 12 battalion groups that had fought in Mariupol were sent to fight in Donbas, the Pentagon official said, even as Ukrainian fighters resisted in the besieged city.
The remaining Russian troops continued to pound Mariupol in their struggle to eliminate the last resistance there. The city’s mayor on Friday made a desperate appeal to the international community to rescue those still trapped in a massive steel factory that has become the last foothold for Ukrainian fighters and civilians.
War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
Russian oil embargo. European Union countries are likely to approve a phased embargo on Russian oil, sealing a long-delayed measure that has divided members of the bloc and emphasized their reliance on Russian energy resources. The ambassadors expect to give their final approval by the end of this week, EU officials said.
Vadym Boychenko, the mayor of Mariupol, said more than 600 were injured – including soldiers and civilians – in the Azovstal complex. “They have been there for over 60 days and they are begging to be rescued,” he said, reiterating that supplies of water, medicines and ammunition were quickly depleted. “It’s not a matter of days, it’s a matter of hours.”
About 20,000 civilians were killed, he said, but denied that the city had been completely captured.
The European Union’s move to ban Russian oil imports, a long-delayed move that has divided members of the bloc and highlighted their reliance on Russian energy resources, was another sign that Ukraine’s western allies were getting their support from take difficult measures to punish Russia.
It took weeks for EU countries to agree on the contours of the measure, and intensive discussions will continue over the weekend before the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, puts down a final proposal that the EU will take. ambassadors must approve, several EU officials and diplomats involved in the process said.
The diplomats and officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak publicly about the progress of the sensitive talks.
Russia is Europe’s largest oil supplier, supplying about a quarter of the bloc’s annual needs, about half of Russia’s total exports, according to 2020 data. With the oil embargo being phased in, officials said the bloc would try to make up for the shortfall by increasing imports from other sources, such as the Persian Gulf states, Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
That the European Union is now seemingly able to reach a compromise between its 27 member states over a measure so difficult points to a fundamental miscalculation by Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin in his attack on Ukraine: rather than To sow discord, the war has a united front that makes difficult compromises easier.
“More important than the oil embargo is the signal that Europe is united and taking the initiative back,” said Mujtaba Rahman, general manager for Europe at Eurasia Group, a consultancy. Mr Rahman said a more abrupt cut in oil imports would have been more painful for Russia, but also too expensive for Europe, at the risk of diminishing public support for Ukraine.
If, as expected, it is implemented next week, the oil embargo will be the biggest and most important new step in the EU’s sixth package of sanctions since Russia invaded Ukraine. It also includes sanctions against Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank, which had been spared so far, officials said.
Germany’s position was critical in finalizing the new measure; the country, the bloc’s economic leader, was importing about a third of its oil from Russia at the time of the invasion of Ukraine. But influential Energy Minister Robert Habeck said this week that Germany had reduced that to just 12 percent in recent weeks, making a full embargo “manageable.”
“The problem that seemed very big for Germany a few weeks ago has become much smaller,” Mr Habeck told news media on Tuesday during a visit to Warsaw. He added: “Germany has come very, very close to independence from Russian oil imports.” But he didn’t explain how it happened so quickly.
Matina Stevis-Gridneff reported from Brussels and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kharkov, Ukraine. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Cora Engelbrecht from Krakow, Poland.