KYIV: A Moscow-backed separatist leader was reported by the state-run TASS news agency on Tuesday (May 31) as saying that Russian forces had not advanced as rapidly as they had hoped in the battle for Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost city still in Ukraine’s hands.
As the Russian offensive continued across Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, the European Union agreed to ban most imports of Russian oil, a move intended to blow a hole in the Kremlin’s war finances.
In the bloc’s toughest sanction on Moscow since the invasion of Ukraine began three months ago, European Council President Charles Michel said that the ban agreed at an EU summit in Brussels on Monday would immediately cover more than two-thirds of oil imports from Russia and cut a “huge source of financing for its war machine”.
EU leaders said that they had agreed to cut 90 per cent of oil imports from Russia by the end of this year, with exemptions for Hungary – a landlocked country that relies heavily on crude piped from Russia – and others concerned about the ban’s economic impact.
They also agreed to cut off the largest Russian bank, Sberbank, from the SWIFT system and to ban three more Russian state-owned broadcasters, Michel added.
The announcement came as Russian forces pushed into key objectives in the Donbas, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the situation remained “extremely difficult”.
Russia has been seeking to seize the entire Donbas, consisting of Luhansk and Donetsk which Moscow claims on behalf of separatist proxies.
Capturing the twin cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk on the banks of the Siverskyi Donets river would give Moscow effective control of Luhansk and allow the Kremlin to declare some form of victory after more than three months of war.
The leader of the Moscow-backed Luhansk People’s Republic, Leonid Pasechnik, told TASS that a third of Sievierodonetsk was “already under our control”, but progress less rapid than hoped.
The advance of Russian troops was complicated by the presence of several large chemical plants in the Sievierodonetsk area, TASS reported.
In the south, Kyiv said that its forces had pushed back Russian troops to defensive positions in Andriyivka, Lozove and Bilohorka, villages on the southern bank of the Inhulets River that forms the border of Kherson province, where Moscow is trying to consolidate control.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the claims from either side.