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Fighting rages in eastern Ukraine as NATO pushes for expansion

#Fighting #rages #eastern #Ukraine #NATO #pushes #expansion

Fighting raged in and around Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region on Tuesday as Russian troops attempted to build on recent battlefield gains while NATO pushes ahead with Finland’s and Sweden’s historic bids for membership.

With the war now well into its fifth month, Kiev’s allies on Tuesday pledged to support Ukraine in what is expected to be a long and expensive recovery, agreeing on the need for sweeping reforms to increase transparency and fight corruption.

According to talks in Switzerland, the reconstruction of war-torn Ukraine is estimated at at least $750 billion.

But on the battlefield, the conflict continued to wreak havoc, and the Ukrainian presidency reported Russian shelling and missile attacks in several regions overnight.

In Moscow, the Defense Ministry reported that Russian forces have attacked the city of Kharkiv with “high-precision” weapons over the past 24 hours, killing up to 150 Ukrainian soldiers.

The attack followed a shelling in Donetsk that Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered his troops to continue attacks in a bid to take complete control of the Donbass.

In Brussels, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg announced that the process of ratifying Sweden and Finland as new members of the military alliance had officially started.

“With 32 nations around the table, we will be even stronger and our people will be even safer as we face the biggest security crisis in decades,” he said in a joint press statement with Sweden’s and Finland’s foreign ministers.

Both Sweden and Finland announced their intention to abandon decades of military non-alignment and become part of NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

– “The fight goes on” –

After abandoning its initial war aim of capturing Kyiv after stubborn Ukrainian resistance, Russia focused its efforts on gaining control of the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts that make up the Donbass region.

Ukraine said its forces still defended “a small part” of Lugansk province – the north-eastern part of the Donbass – although Moscow claimed its troops were now in full control there.

Russia captured the strategic city of Lysychansk near the Lugansk-Donetsk border on Sunday after Ukraine’s army said it was withdrawing to save lives among outnumbered and outnumbered forces.

The fall of Lysyhansk – a week after the army also withdrew from the neighboring city of Severodonetsk – gives Russian forces an opportunity to advance towards Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in Donetsk.

“Fighting at the administrative borders of the region continues,” said the Ukrainian presidency on Tuesday.

In a sign Moscow was trying to consolidate supply lines for the next push, Ukrainian forces said Russian forces in Lugansk were “taking steps” to restore transport infrastructure behind the battle lines.

In Sloviansk, some 75 kilometers west of Lysyhansk in Donetsk, the situation was calm on Tuesday morning while artillery fire could be heard outside the city, AFP reporters at the scene noted.

Further east, after days of shelling, Russian forces were closing in on the small town of Siversk – the first on the Lugansk Strait.

According to AFP reporters, two Ukrainian Red Cross minibuses were headed there to evacuate willing civilians.

– “Accountable” –

In the southwest, in the Moscow-held Kherson region, Russian troops used helicopters and various artillery to try to stem Ukrainian counterattacks.

“Ukrainian air, missile and artillery units continue to attack enemy depots and invader concentrations, particularly in the Kherson region,” added the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Intensifying fighting in southern Ukraine comes as Kremlin-installed authorities in Kherson announced that an official from Russia’s powerful security services, the FSB, has taken control of the government there.

The city of Kherson, near Moscow-annexed Crimea, was the first major city to be captured by Russian forces in February.

Moscow has since launched a campaign of so-called Russification, trying to introduce the ruble, issuing Russian passports and opening a first Russian bank in late June.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reiterated on Monday his call for increased supplies of arms from the West to help Kyiv maintain resistance and counter-offensives to regain lost territories.

At the meeting of Ukraine’s allies in Lugano, he also called on the democratic world to unite in rebuilding his country.

Leaders from dozens of countries, international organizations and companies signed a declaration on Tuesday outlining the principles and priorities of the recovery effort.

Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told the reconstruction conference that the estimated $750 billion recovery bill should be funded in part from the confiscated assets of Russia and Russian oligarchs.

“The Russian authorities unleashed this bloody war. They caused this massive destruction and they should be held accountable for it,” he said.

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