Russia rejects Kyiv ceasefire over offensive in eastern Ukraine

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KYIV – Ukraine rejects a ceasefire or concession to Moscow as Russia intensifies an offensive in the eastern Donbass region and halts gas supplies to its latest salvo in Finland in response to Western sanctions and its deepening international isolation.

Polish President Andrzej Duda, who met with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev last month, returned to address the Ukrainian parliament on Sunday, the first foreign leader to do so personally.

Russia is launching a major offensive in Luhansk, one of the two provinces of Donbass, after weeks of resistance by the last Ukrainian fighters in the strategic southeastern port of Mariupol.

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Russian-backed separatists already controlled parts of Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk provinces before Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, but Moscow wants to occupy the last remaining Ukrainian-controlled territory in the region.

On the Donetsk frontline, Russian forces were trying to break through Ukraine’s defenses to reach the administrative border in the Luhansk region, while further north they continued heavy shelling in Siviarodonetsk and Lysichansk, Ukrainian general staff said in its daily update on Sunday.

On the other side of the Sivarsky Donets River, Sivirodonetsk and its twin Lysichansk form the eastern part of a Ukrainian-occupied pocket that Russia has been trying to occupy since mid-April after failing to occupy Kiev and shifting focus east and south of the country.

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The British Ministry of Defense said on Sunday that Russia was deploying its BMP-T “Terminator” tank-support vehicle in the attack. There are only 10 available for a unit that has already suffered heavy losses in Kiev’s failed attempt, however, the ministry said, adding that they are “unlikely to have a significant impact.”

Ukraine’s chief negotiator, speaking to Reuters on Saturday, denied a ceasefire or any agreement with Moscow involving the transfer of territory. Mikhailo Podoliak, Zelensky’s adviser, said the concessions would be counterproductive because Russia would be hit harder after the ceasefire.

“The war will not stop. It will be a break for some time, “Podoliak said in an interview with the tightly guarded president’s office.” They will launch a new attack, even more bloody and larger. “

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There have been recent calls for an immediate ceasefire from US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

The end of the war in Mariupol, Russia’s largest city, has given Russian President Vladimir Putin a rare victory after nearly three months of continuous fighting.

The last Ukrainian troops to hold back the vast Azovstal steelwork in Mariupol have surrendered, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday.

Mariupol’s full control gives Russia command of a land route connecting the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow occupied in 2014, the mainland Russia and parts of eastern Ukraine occupied by pro-Russian separatists.

Gas conflict

Russia’s state gas company Gazprom said on Saturday it had cut off gas exports to Finland, rejecting Moscow’s demand for rubles for Russian gas after Western nations imposed sanctions.

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Finland says it was ready for the cut-off of Russian flows. It applied jointly with its Nordic neighbor Sweden on Wednesday to join the NATO military alliance, although it is facing resistance from NATO member Turkey.

Most European supply agreements are marked in euros or dollars. Last month, Moscow cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland after rejecting new terms.

Western nations have also increased their arms supplies to Ukraine. On Saturday, Kyiv received another huge boost when US President Joe Biden signed a bill to provide nearly $ 40 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid.

Moscow says Western sanctions, including arms supplies to Kiev, amount to a “proxy war” by the United States and its allies.

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Putin called the attack a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of extremist anti-Russian nationalists. Ukraine and its allies have dismissed it as a baseless pretext for war, which has killed thousands of Ukrainians, displaced millions and destroyed cities.

Zelensky said in a call with Italy’s Draghi on Saturday that he had stressed the importance of further sanctions on Russia and the lifting of blockades on Ukrainian ports.

(Writing by Natalia Genetas, Max Hunder, Tom Balmforth of Kiev, David Lodgengren in Ottawa, Lydia Kelly and Richard Pulin in Melbourne, Reuters Bureau by Doina Chiaku and Thomas Janowski, Reporting by Gary Doyle and Frances K)

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