War in Ukraine: Russia advances in the East and Putin plays with nuclear fear

The strategic city of Severodonetsk fell to the Russian army after days of fighting. At the same time, the Russian president promised his Belarusian counterpart to deliver missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Lrussian forces achieved major military successes in eastern Ukraine on Saturday, fully seizing, after a fierce battle, the strategic city of Severodonetsk and entering the neighboring city of Lyssychansk, in beginning of the fifth month of conflict.

At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that his country would “in the coming months” deliver to Belarus, from where strikes were carried out against Ukrainian territory, missiles capable of carrying nuclear charges. It is Iskander-M, said the Russian head of state at the start of a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Saint Petersburg (north-west of Russia). In statements that risk further straining relations between Moscow and the West, the two leaders also said they wanted to modernize the Belarusian air force to make it capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

kyiv had shortly before accused Russia of wanting to “draw” Minsk “into the war” after the firing, according to the Ukrainian army, of 20 missiles from Belarusian soil, as well as planes, on an important Ukrainian military center, in Desna, in the north, Saturday around 05:00 (02:00 GMT). This village in the border region of Cherniguiv, where no casualties have been reported this time, had already been the target, on May 17, of bombardments which had then killed 87 people, according to the Ukrainians. The first attacks from Belarusian territory had also taken place at the very beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, launched on February 24.

US President Joe Biden left for Europe on Saturday, where he intends to further consolidate, and over time, the ranks of Westerners against Russia. He must first participate, on Sunday, in a G7 summit in southern Germany, where aid to Ukraine will be discussed, then, from Tuesday in Madrid, another NATO.

“The Russians are finishing what they started”

In eastern Ukraine, the Russian army recorded major advances on Saturday. Severodonetsk is “entirely occupied by the Russians”, thus recognized at the end of the afternoon its mayor Oleksandre Striouk, the day after the announcement by the Ukrainian army of its withdrawal from this city of approximately 100,000 inhabitants before the war. to better defend the locality of Lyssytchansk, located on the opposite bank of a river, the Donets.

At the same time, the separatists declared that they had “taken full control of the industrial zone of the Azot factory” in Severodonetsk and entered Lysychansk with the Russian military. “Street fights are currently taking place there,” they added, without confirmation from an independent source being able to be obtained immediately. Crucial progress on the ground for Russia, which wants to conquer the entire industrial basin of Donbass, already partially in the hands of pro-Russian separatists since 2014.

In Kharkiv (north-east), the second largest metropolis in Ukraine, which has resisted pressure from Russian troops since the start of the offensive, missiles are falling again daily on the city center. During the night from Friday to Saturday, one of them hit an administrative building near the hotel where an AFP team was staying and caused a fire, according to the Ukrainian emergency services. The building had been bombed before. “The Russians are finishing what they started,” a soldier on the spot told AFP on Saturday, who did not reveal his identity.

In the south, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday that “more than 300 Ukrainian servicemen and foreign mercenaries and 35 heavy weapons units” had been “liquidated in one day in the Mykolaiv region”.

“Tactical” withdrawal

In this context, kyiv castigated the condemnation by the Russians of the green light given Thursday by the EU to Ukraine’s candidacy. “This only shows Russia’s weakness,” tweeted Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

On Friday, Moscow denounced a “geopolitical grab” of the space of the Community of Independent States (CIS, bringing together several countries of the former USSR) to “contain Russia”, ensuring that “this aggressive approach of the Union Europe has the potential to create new schisms and much deeper crises in Europe”.

The massive bombardments in the East ended up making the Ukrainian soldiers give in, but without necessarily fundamentally changing the situation on the ground, say experts. “The Ukrainian units are exhausted, bloodless. They had terrible losses with completely neutralized battalions”, explains a high-ranking French officer on condition of anonymity, evoking units of 300 or 400 men of which there remained only about twenty able-bodied.