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Battle for Donbas reaching ‘fearsome climax’, Ukraine says

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President Volodymyr Zelensky said Moscow’s massive air and artillery strikes were aimed at destroying the entire Donbas region and urged Ukraine’s allies to speed up the shipment of heavy weapons to put Russia on the battlefield. to match. Follow FRANCE 24’s live blog for the latest developments. All times Paris time (GMT+2).

6:14 am: Battle for Donbas reaches ‘terrifying climax’, says Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Moscow’s massive air and artillery strikes were aimed at destroying the entire Donbas region and urged Ukraine’s allies to speed up the shipment of heavy weapons to put Russia on the battlefield. to match.

The battle for the twin cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in Ukraine’s Luhansk region is entering “a kind of terrifying climax,” said Oleksy Arestovych, Zelensky’s adviser. Russia is trying to conquer both Luhansk and Donetsk, which are part of the Donbas region – the industrial heart of the country.

On the diplomatic front, European leaders are expected to formally put Ukraine on the long road to EU membership at a summit in Brussels on Thursday. Though mostly symbolic, it will help boost morale after four months of bloody conflict that killed thousands, displaced millions and destroyed cities.

“We need to liberate our country and get the victory, but faster, much faster,” Zelensky said in a video speech released early Thursday, reiterating Ukraine’s demands for bigger and faster weapons.

“There were massive air and artillery attacks in Donbas. The occupier’s aim is unchanged here, they want to destroy the entire Donbas step by step,” he said.

“That is why, time and again, we emphasize the acceleration of arms deliveries to Ukraine. What is needed quickly is equality on the battlefield to stop this diabolical armada and push it beyond Ukraine’s borders.”

5:21 am: Russia seeks new fuel markets in Africa, Middle East as Europe turns its back

Russia is increasing supplies of gasoline and naphtha to Africa and the Middle East as it struggles to sell fuel in Europe, while Asia already takes in larger amounts of Russian crude, data from Refinitiv Eikon shows and sources told Reuters.

The development is likely to increase competition for Asian customers between Russia and other major fuel exporters – Saudi Arabia and the United States – which are Asia’s top three suppliers.

The European Union has been slowly reducing imports of Russian crude oil and fuel since March and has agreed a full embargo to take effect at the end of 2022.

Asian buyers have intervened to ramp up purchases of Russian crude oil quickly, even though Asia is not a natural market for Russian fuel because Asia refines more oil than it needs and is a net exporter of fuel.

That makes finding new outlets such as Africa and the Middle East paramount for Russia to protect its global market share and avoid a deeper decline in oil exports and output.

“Africa and the Middle East appear to be the top options for Russian oil suppliers, so we expect more shipments there in the second half of the year as the EU embargo gets closer,” said a trader involved in the trade. in Russian oil products to Reuters.

Africa is being held hostage, Volodymyr Zelensky tells the African Union

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03:18: Rights groups call on Biden to negotiate the release of WNBA star Griner

A coalition of human rights groups on Wednesday called on US President Joe Biden to “make a deal” to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia for months.

Griner was taken into custody at a Moscow airport on February 17 when an examination of her luggage allegedly revealed multiple cannabis oil vape cartridges. She could face up to 10 years in prison.

Last week, her pre-trial detention was extended until July 2.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on the phone Wednesday evening with Cherelle Griner, the wife of the two-time Olympic champion, a senior State Department official said, without detailing the content of the conversation.

01:52: Russian strikes hit school, grain facilities in Mykolaiv

In a briefing Wednesday, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed responsibility for a rocket attack that killed a number of Ukrainian troops in the southern city of Mykolaiv.

Ukrainian officials said seven Russian missiles hit the port city, killing at least one person and causing several large fires. Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych told Ukrainian television that the strike hit two businesses and a school, causing a fire that authorities were unable to extinguish.

The operators of two grain storage facilities, global grain traders Bunge and Viterra, confirmed that their facilities had been affected.

12:11 am: G7 summit to announce measures increasing ‘pressure on Russia’, US official says

Leaders at the upcoming G7 summit in Germany will announce new measures aimed at pressuring Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, a senior US official said Wednesday.

“We will roll out a concrete set of proposals to increase pressure on Russia,” the official said. US President Joe Biden flies on Saturday to join the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan at the summit in Bavaria.

The club of rich democracies is at the heart of a fierce economic and diplomatic campaign to punish Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February and is still fighting in the pro-Western country’s eastern region, as well as occupying parts of the south.

After attending the G7 summit from Sunday to Tuesday, Biden will fly to Madrid next week for a NATO military alliance summit.

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© France Médias Monde graphic studio

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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