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Mykolaivka (Ukraine) (AFP) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday Lyman, a key city in one of four Ukrainian regions annexed by Russia, had been “cleansed” by Moscow’s troops.
The latest development in Ukraine’s week-long counteroffensive against the invasion of Moscow comes as Russia presses ahead with the annexation of captured Ukrainian territories despite condemnation from Kyiv and the West.
The retaking of Lyman – which Moscow’s forces held under their control for weeks earlier this year – marks the first Ukrainian military victory in an area the Kremlin has claimed and vowed to defend by any means possible.
The Ukrainian army said it entered Lyman, a strategic rail hub in the eastern Donetsk region, on Saturday, prompting Moscow to announce the “withdrawal” of its troops from the city to “more convenient routes”.
The recapture of Lyman has become the most popular story in the media, Zelensky noted in his Sunday night address. “But the achievements of our soldiers are not limited to Lyman,” he added.
The day before, he promised to recapture more areas in the country’s eastern Donbass region within the week.
“Now I’m optimistic and very motivated,” a 33-year-old Ukrainian soldier, who uses the combat name “Smoke,” told AFP after returning from near Lyman.
“I see the activity on the front lines and how foreign arms … are helping us to take back our country.”
Kyiv received another boost on Sunday when Berlin said Germany, Denmark and Norway would deliver 16 howitzer armored artillery systems from 2023.
The three NATO members have agreed to jointly finance the procurement of Slovakia’s Zuzana-2 guns, the German Defense Ministry said, although the announcement does not meet Kiev’s demands for Germany’s Leopard main battle tanks.
Russian court approves annexation
With Russian casualties mounting, some pundits have warned that President Vladimir Putin may turn to nuclear weapons – an option suggested by a Putin ally.
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said Saturday Russia should consider using “low-yield nuclear weapons” after Moscow troops were driven out of Lyman.
Putin on Friday hosted a grand Kremlin ceremony to celebrate the annexation of Ukraine’s four regions – Donetsk, Kherson, Lugansk and Zaporizhia – following referenda that Kyiv and its allies called invalid.
Despite condemnation from the West, Russia’s constitutional court on Sunday recognized as lawful the annexation deals Putin signed with the Moscow-backed leaders of Ukraine’s four regions.
According to Duma spokesman Vyacheslav Volodin, the annexation treaties will be examined by the Russian lower house of parliament, the State Duma, on Monday.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Russia’s attempt at annexation made ending the conflict “much more difficult, almost impossible”.
Pope Francis “begged” Putin on Sunday to stop the “spiral of violence and death” and condemned the annexations as violations of international law.
The four territories form a crucial land corridor between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Together, the five regions make up around 20 percent of Ukraine.
Kyiv also called for the immediate release of Ihor Murashov, chief of the Moscow-held Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, and condemned his “unlawful detention” by the Russians on Friday.
“This is another manifestation of completely open Russian terror,” Zelenskyy said on Sunday.
After the annexations, Washington announced “heavy” new sanctions against Russian officials and the defense industry and said G7 allies would support imposing “costs” on any nation that supports the annexation.
French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to work on introducing new EU sanctions against Moscow after a phone call with Zelenskyy on Sunday, his office said.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also discussed the developments with the Ukrainian President’s Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak in Istanbul.
Washington and its allies would impose “heavy costs” on any person or entity supporting Russia’s “alleged” annexations, Sullivan said, according to an office statement.
In a statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), its head Rafael Grossi said Murashov’s arrest was a cause for “great concern”.
Grossi is expected to travel to Kyiv and Moscow “next week,” the UN agency added.
Zaporizhzhia – Europe’s largest nuclear power plant – has been at the center of tensions, with Moscow and Kyiv accusing each other of waging strikes at and near the plant, fueling fears of a nuclear disaster.
Zelenskyj called on the US-led military alliance NATO to grant his country fast-track membership.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg criticized the annexations as “illegal and illegitimate” but remained non-binding after Ukraine said it was bidding to join the western alliance.
© 2022 AFP