NATO warns of protracted war in Ukraine as Russian attacks follow EU push for Kyiv

NATO’s Stoltenberg says Russia’s war in Ukraine could last for years.

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The war in Ukraine could last for years, the NATO chief said on Sunday as Russia stepped up its attacks after the European Union recommended that Kyiv become a candidate to join the bloc.

Jens Stoltenberg said the supply of state-of-the-art weapons to Ukrainian troops would increase the chances of liberating its eastern Donbass region from Russian control, the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported.

“We need to prepare for the fact that this may take years. We must not stop supporting Ukraine,” Stoltenberg, secretary general of the military alliance, was quoted as saying.

“Even if the costs are high, not only for military support, but also because of rising energy and food prices.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Kyiv on Friday, also spoke of the need to prepare for a long war.

This meant ensuring that “Ukraine receives weapons, equipment, ammunition and training faster than the invader,” Johnson was quoted as saying in the Sunday Times.

“Time is the vital factor,” he wrote. “It will all depend on whether Ukraine can strengthen its ability to defend its soil faster than Russia can renew its ability to attack.

Ukraine received a significant boost on Friday when the European Commission nominated it for candidate status, a decision the EU is expected to approve at this week’s summit.

This would put Ukraine on a course to pursue an aspiration that was considered unattainable before Russia by February. 24 invasion, even if membership may take years.

Intensified attacks

Russian attacks have intensified on Ukraine’s battlefields.

The industrial city of Severodonetsk, a major target in Moscow’s offensive to gain full control of Luhansk, one of the two provinces that make up Donbass, has once again faced heavy artillery and rocket fire, the Ukrainian military said.

“The situation in Severodonetsk is very difficult,” said Sergei Gaidai, the Ukrainian-appointed governor of Luhansk, adding that Russian forces, using air reconnaissance drones, were quick to adjust strikes in response to changes in defense.

“Areas near the bridges have been heavily shelled again,” Gaidai said in an online post on Sunday, adding that the Nitrogen chemical plant, where hundreds of people had taken refuge, had been hit twice.

The bodies of two civilians were found in the twin city of Severodonetsk, Lisichansk, across the river, he said, adding: “The destruction of the city’s homes is increasing like an avalanche.”

The Ukrainian military has acknowledged that “the enemy has had partial success in the village of Metolkine”, southeast of Severodonetsk.

Severodonetsk was a major goal in the Kremlin’s quest to gain full control of Luhansk.

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Russia’s state news agency TASS reported that many Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in Metolkine, citing a source working for Russian-backed separatists.

Russian rockets hit a gas plant in the Izyum district in the northwest, and Russian rockets raining down on the outskirts of Kharkiv, the second largest city, hit a municipal building, causing a fire but no casualties, Ukrainian officials said.

They reported shelling further west in Poltava and Dnepropetrovsk, saying on Saturday that three Russian missiles had destroyed a fuel storage depot in the city of Novomoskovsk, injuring 11 people.

Pavlo Kirilenko, governor of Donetsk, Donbass’s other province, said a civilian had been killed and 11 injured in Saturday’s shelling.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said Russian troops on a reconnaissance mission near the town of Krasnopil were repulsed with heavy casualties on Saturday.

Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield accounts.

Two senior commanders of fighters defending the Azovstal steel plant in the southeastern port of Mariupol have been transferred to Russia for investigation, TASS reported.

Zelenski’s protection

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, whose challenge inspired his people and won worldwide respect, said he had visited troops on the southern front line in the Nikolaev region, about 550km (340 miles) south of Kyiv.

“I spoke to our defenders – the military, the police, the National Guard,” he said in a video in the Telegram news release on Sunday, which appeared to have been recorded on a moving train.

“Their mood is secure: they all have no doubts about our victory,” Zelenski said. “We will not give the south to anyone and we will take back everything that is ours.

Zelensky, whose challenge in the face of Russian pressure has won worldwide acclaim, said “we will take back all ours.”

Sergey Supinski Afp | Getty Images

Another video shows Zelenski handing out medals and posing for a selfie with servicemen in his trademark khaki T-shirt.

Zelensky remained mostly in Kyiv after the Russian invasion, although in recent weeks he has made unannounced visits to Kharkiv and two eastern cities near the battlefields.

One of the stated goals of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the deployment of troops in Ukraine was to halt the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty to the east and to keep Moscow’s southern neighbor out of the sphere of Western influence.

But the war, which killed thousands, turned cities into ruins and sent millions to flee, had the opposite effect – persuaded Finland and Sweden to seek NATO membership – and helped pave the way for Ukraine’s EU bid.

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