Russia takes ‘half’ of key city as EU clinches oil deal

Russian forces have seized control of half of eastern Ukraine’s key city of Severodonetsk, a senior official said Tuesday, while EU leaders were split over banning gas from Moscow after agreeing to embargo most of its oil.

Ukraine meanwhile pushed on with an investigation into war crimes since the Russian invasion. Officials said thousands had been committed in the eastern Donbas region alone and that it had jailed two Russian soldiers elsewhere in the country. 

“Unfortunately, the front line divides the city in half. But the city is still defending itself, the city is still Ukrainian, our soldiers are defending it,” said Oleksandr Stryuk, head of Severodonetsk’s military and civil administration.

Later Tuesday, Gaiday warned that Russian forces had hit a tank containing nitric acid at a Severodonetsk chemical plant and called on people to stay in their shelters.

A compromise oil embargo deal reached late Monday, meant to punish Russia for its invasion, cuts “a huge source of financing for its war machine”, European Council chief Charles Michel tweeted.

– Talks on gas embargo –

Europe relies on Russian gas for some 40 percent of its supplies, and a ban would add to the existing pain from an energy and inflation crisis on the continent.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen suggested Brussels had gone far enough for now on hitting Russian fossil fuels and that it was time to focus more on the “financial and the economic sector”.

The compromise oil deal hatched on Monday exempts deliveries by pipeline, after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned halting supplies of cheap Moscow crude would wreck his nation’s economy.

Denmark became the latest European country to be targeted by Russia over gas exports in the meantime, following in the footsteps of the Netherlands, Finland, Poland and Bulgaria.

– ‘Save your lives’ –

“We see some cars driving around with Ukrainian flags, so we figure that means we are still part of Ukraine,” said Yevgen Onyshchenko, a 42-year-old plumber in a powerless apartment in Severodonetsk’s twin city Lysychansk.

French journalist Frederic Leclerc-Imhoff was killed while covering civilian evacuations in the area on Monday.

“I repeat once again that there are no safe places in the Donetsk region, so I call again: evacuate — save your lives,” he said.

Prosecutor Iryna Venediktova, who met international counterparts in The Hague on Tuesday, said Kyiv was already going to prosecute 80 suspects for alleged war crimes on Ukrainian soil.

The servicemen convicted on Tuesday — Alexander Bobykin and Alexander Ivanov — were both convicted of firing Grad missiles on two villages in the northeastern Kharkiv region in the early days of the war.

Russia’s invasion of its pro-Western neighbour is also threatening a global food crisis, with Ukraine’s huge grain harvest effectively taken off the world market. 

Under Macron’s proposal, a UN resolution would set up a framework under which mines laid by the port’s Ukrainian defenders could be removed, and grain shipments resume.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was up to the West and Kyiv to resolve the crisis, starting with the lifting of sanctions.

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