Both sides harden stances on anniversary of Nazi defeat in Europe


PARIS — On a day to commemorate the end of World War II in Europe, the war in Ukraine on Sunday was marked by attitude and signals as both sides stepped up their rhetoric and determination.

Leaders of the world’s richest democracies have vowed to end their dependence on Russian energy and ensure that Russia does not triumph in its “unprovoked, unjustified and illegal aggression” as President Vladimir V. Putin continues his indiscriminate bombing of eastern Ukraine and organized celebrations for Russia. Victory Day holiday on Monday.

A statement by the group of 7 major industrialized countries said that on a day when Europe commemorates the devastation of the Second World War and its millions of victims, including those of the Soviet Union, Mr Putin’s “actions put Russia to shame and the historic sacrifices of his people.”

The leaders signaled to Mr Putin that their continued support for Ukraine would only increase, saying: “We remain united in our determination that President Putin must not win his war against Ukraine.” The memory of all those who fought for freedom in World War II, the statement said, compelled them “to keep fighting for it today.”

The tone was determined, with no mention of any possible diplomacy or ceasefire.

As fighter jets flew through the skies and nuclear weapons were displayed in preparation for Victory Day, Mr Putin seemed to be warning Western leaders that he was determined to double down on the war until he could conjure something that could be claimed as victory. .

There was further evidence of this on Sunday when rescuers searched the rubble in Bilohorivka, a village in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine, where a day before a Russian bomb had flattened a school building, killing people sheltering there. came to life, local authorities said.

“Most likely, all 60 people still under the rubble are now dead,” Governor Serhiy Haidai wrote on the Telegram messaging app. But it was unclear how many people were actually in the school, and that toll can be high. If confirmed, it would be one of the deadliest single Russian attacks since the war started in February.

Despite World War II commemorations in most of Europe on Sunday and in Russia on Monday, a painful reminder of the tens of millions who died, there was no indication that the war in Ukraine was nearing an end. All signals pointed in the opposite direction. Russian attacks on Ukrainian towns and villages met a crescendo of Western rhetoric, accompanied by the constant danger of escalation.

Mr Putin, whose steady militarization of Russian society in recent years has turned the celebration of the Soviet defeat of the Nazis on May 9 into an annual apotheosis of the power of a rising nation, is expected to wage a war of repeated setbacks. in Ukraine as a successful drive to ‘de-nazify’ a neighboring country whose existence he himself denies.

His long-awaited speech may go further and may indicate that any conquest in Ukraine thus far will become permanent through annexation. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and started fueling military conflict in the eastern Donbas region.

In Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city now in ruins after a sustained Russian attack, and a place Mr Putin wants to show as proof of his “victory”, the last Ukrainian defenders of the city promised to fight on. Russian troops were clearing the streets on Sunday in preparation for a celebratory parade on Monday.

Throughout eastern Ukraine, Russia seemed determined to make its occupation permanent by means of Russian flags, Russian-language signs and the introduction of the ruble. The Group of 7 Leaders said any attempts “to replace democratically elected Ukrainian local authorities with illegitimate ones” would not be recognized.

Visits to the region by the first lady, Jill Biden, who crossed western Ukraine to meet Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, during an unannounced visit to Uzhhorod, and Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, who unexpectedly appeared in a wartime scarred suburb of Kiev, were clearly meant to bring home a message of unwavering Western devotion.

Senior US diplomats returned to the US embassy in Kiev for the first time since the start of the war.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky released a black-and-white video speech on Sunday celebrating the Allied victory in 1945. Standing in front of a destroyed apartment building in a suburb of Kiev that was hit hard by Russian troops before withdrawing from the region around the capital, he said: “We pay our respects to everyone who defended the planet against Nazism during World War II.”

Mr Putin has portrayed Mr Zelensky, who is Jewish, as the leader of a nation threatening Russia with a revived Nazism. His aim was to instill among the Russian troops the spirit of the Great Patriotic War, as World War II is known in Russia, but with little result.

At the massive Azovstal steel plant, the last remaining part of Mariupol not under Russian control, Ukrainian forces again rejected Russian deadlines to surrender. In a virtual press conference, Lt. Illya Samoilenko, an officer in a Ukrainian National Guard battalion known as the Azov regiment: “We are essentially dead men. Most of us know this. That’s why we fight.”

Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, a deputy commander of the regiment, said: “We don’t have much time, we are constantly being shelled”, with attacks from Russian tanks, artillery, aircraft and snipers.

The other civilians in the steel factory were evacuated on Saturday. Local officials estimate the death toll in the city at more than 20,000.

When the United States and its allies have refused to deploy military forces for fear of unleashing World War III, they have turned to support Ukraine in every other way, their resolve increased and their actions expanded with every Russian atrocity.

The Group of 7 statement included a series of economic, military and judicial steps, with the apparent aim of bringing the Russian economy to its knees and increasing pressure on Putin to return from a war of his choice that would make him a pariah. and threatens much of his country’s progress over the past two decades.

“We are committed to phasing out our dependence on Russian energy, including by phasing out or banning Russian oil imports,” the statement said. It added, without being specific, that this would be done in a “timely and orderly manner”. Alternative sources, they added, would be found to ensure “affordable prices for consumers.”

It was unclear how this Group of 7 commitment went beyond existing commitments, if at all.

The 27-nation European Union has already committed to a complete import ban on all Russian oil, with most countries phasing out Russian crude within six months and refined oil by the end of the year. The European Union is too dependent on Russian gas to consider banning it any time soon.

The war has already pushed up petrol prices in much of Europe in a generally inflationary environment. If the war drags on, support for the West’s commitment to Ukraine is likely to waver among consumers who pay at the pump or through their utility bills.

The statement from the Group of 7, which met remotely, said the seven countries — the United States, France, Britain, Japan, Germany, Canada and Italy — had already provided or pledged $24 billion to Ukraine by 2022. “In the coming weeks we will step up our collective financial support in the short term,” they said.

“We will continue to take action against Russian banks that are linked to the global economy and are systematically critical to the Russian financial system,” she added. More broadly, they would “take steps to prohibit or otherwise prevent the provision of key services on which Russia depends.”

Military and defense aid would continue to ensure that “Ukraine can defend itself now and deter future acts of aggression.”

The leaders said they would “make every effort to hold President Putin” and his accomplices “accountable for their actions in accordance with international law”.

The charges of illegality leveled against Putin for the invasion of a sovereign country are sure to infuriate the Russian president. NATO’s 1999 bombing of Belgrade during the Kosovo War, the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003, and Western support for Kosovo’s independence in 2008 have left him with a healthy distrust of US invocations of the United Nations Charter and international law.

A war raged in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, with a Ukrainian counter-offensive near Kharkov, the country’s second-largest city, gaining ground in the northeast. However, the Ukrainian army withdrew from the city of Popasna after two months of fierce fighting.

In general, the planned Russian offensive in the east of the country, like the rest of Putin’s war, has gone less well than planned. Mr Putin’s overall aim appears, at least for the time being, to link Crimea via Mariupol with other occupied areas in eastern Ukraine, as well as with Russia itself, forming a coherent and strategic area.

William J. Burns, the CIA director and former US ambassador to Russia, said the current phase of the war was at least as dangerous as Russia’s first attempt to attack the capital and overthrow the Ukrainian government.

Speaking on Saturday in Washington, he said Mr Putin was “in a frame of mind that he doesn’t think he can afford to lose” and that he was convinced that “doubling down will still allow him to make progress.” books”.

In the 77 years since the end of World War II, the possibility of a broad conflagration in Europe has rarely, if ever, been more likely.

Reporting contributed by Emma Bubola in London; Eduardo Medina in New York City; Marc Santora in Krakow, Poland; Maria Varenikova in Kiev, Ukraine; Katie Rogers in Uzhhorod, Ukraine; Julian E. Barnes and Michael Crowley in Washington; and Cassandra VinogradI in London.

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