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Russia declares final victory at steel plant in Mariupol and fights for more territory in eastern Ukraine

Patrick J. McDonnell and Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

The Kremlin has warned of reprisals against countries rallying behind Ukraine. On Friday, Finland’s state-owned natural gas wholesaler, Gasum, said Russia’s state energy company, Gazprom, had announced that it would halt supplies to the Finnish company starting Saturday.

The cutoff comes just a few days after Helsinki submitted its application to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a move that ends decades of official military nonalignment and incenses Moscow. Last month, Gazprom also shut off supplies to Poland and Bulgaria over their refusal to pay for the gas in rubles, which would help prop up the beleaguered Russian currency, instead of in the dollars or euros specified under contract.

Gasum Chief Executive Mika Wiljanen told customers that the company had “been carefully preparing for this situation” and should be able to keep the pipelines running.

With the conquest of Mariupol, Moscow now controls access to the Sea of Azov.

That has had disastrous effects on Ukraine’s economy, particularly its ability to export the grain that millions of people around the world depend on for food. Officials said the loss in trade and the costs of war have contributed to a budget deficit of $5 billion. And reduced exports and rising prices for wheat have worsened food insecurity in Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere.

At a United Nations Security Council meeting Thursday to address the crisis, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the food supply for millions of people worldwide was being “held hostage by the Russian military” — an accusation that Russian officials dismissed as a lie. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was trying to negotiate a plan to move Ukrainian food exports out through the Black Sea.

 

Valeriy Zaluzhny, the commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, told journalists that his troops have so far managed to keep the key Black Sea port of Mykolaiv, west of Crimea, under Ukrainian control.

Ukrainian forces are also pushing southeast toward Kherson, the first city to fall after the war began Feb. 24, amid growing signs that Russia is planning to annex parts of the region, including the city of Melitopol, where the occupiers are reportedly introducing the use of the ruble in place of the Ukrainian hryvnia.

Fears remain high for the Ukrainian soldiers captured in Mariupol who Moscow now says number more than 2,000. Ukrainian officials have declined to give a precise figure. Transferred to a penal camp in Russian-controlled territory, many are severely injured and face deep hostility from Russian soldiers and politicians, who have branded the Azov regiment as “Nazis” deserving trial and punishment.

The International Red Cross says it has registered as prisoners of war hundreds of troops evacuated from the massive steel plant.

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