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Putin declares victory in embattled Donbas region of Luhansk

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POKROVSK, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday declared victory in the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk, one day after Ukrainian forces withdrew from their last remaining bulwark of resistance in the province.

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin in a televised meeting Monday that Russian forces had taken control of Luhansk, which together with the neighboring Donetsk province makes up Ukraine’s industrial heartland of Donbas.

Shoigu told Putin that “the operation” was completed on Sunday after Russian troops overran the city of Lysychansk, the last stronghold of Ukrainian forces in Luhansk.

Putin, in turn, said that the military units “that took part in active hostilities and achieved success, victory” in Luhansk, “should rest, increase their combat capabilities.”

Putin’s declaration came as Russian forces tried to press their offensive deeper into eastern Ukraine after the Ukrainian military confirmed that its forces had withdrawn from Lysychansk on Sunday. Luhansk governor Serhii Haidai said on Monday that Ukrainian forces had retreated from the city to avoid being surrounded.

“There was a risk of Lysychansk encirclement,” Haidai told the Associated Press, adding that Ukrainian troops could have held on for a few more weeks but would have potentially paid too high a price.

“We managed to do centralized withdrawal and evacuate all injured,” Haidai said. “We took back all the equipment, so from this point withdrawal was organized well.”

The Ukrainian General Staff said Russian forces were now focusing their efforts on pushing toward the line of Siversk, Fedorivka and Bakhmut in the Donetsk region, about half of which is controlled by Russia. The Russian army has also intensified its shelling of the key Ukrainian strongholds of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, deeper in Donetsk.

On Sunday, six people, including a 9-year-old girl, were killed in the Russian shelling of Sloviansk and another 19 people were wounded, according to local authorities. Kramatorsk also came under fire on Sunday.

An intelligence briefing Monday from the British Defense Ministry supported the Ukrainian military’s assessment, noting that Russian forces will “now almost certainly” switch to capturing Donetsk. The briefing said the conflict in Donbas has been “grinding and attritional,” and is unlikely to change in the coming weeks.

While the Russian army has a massive advantage in firepower, military analysts say that it doesn’t have any significant superiority in the number of troops. That means Moscow lacks resources for quick land gains and can only advance slowly, relying on heavy artillery and rocket barrages to soften Ukrainian defenses.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made capturing the entire Donbas a key goal in his war in Ukraine, now in its fifth month. Moscow-backed separatists in Donbas have battled Ukrainian forces since 2014 when they declared independence from Kyiv after the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea. Russia formally recognized the self-proclaimed republics days before its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.

In his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged the withdrawal, but vowed that Ukrainian forces will fight their way back.

“If the command of our army withdraws people from certain points of the front where the enemy has the greatest fire superiority, in particular this applies to Lysychansk, it means only one thing: We will return thanks to our tactics, thanks to the increase in the supply of modern weapons,” Zelenskyy said.

Since failing to take Kyiv and other areas in Ukraine’s northeast early in the war, Russia has focused on Donbas, unleashing fierce shelling and engaging in house-to-house combat that devastated cities in the region.

Russia’s invasion has also devastated Ukraine’s agricultural sector, disrupting supply chains of seed and fertilizer needed by Ukrainian farmers and blocking the export of grain, a key source of revenue for the country.

In its Monday intelligence report, Britain’s defense ministry pointed to the Russian blockade of the key Ukrainian port of Odesa, which has severely restricted grain exports. They predicted that Ukraine’s agricultural exports would reach only 35% of the 2021 total this year as a result.

As Moscow pushed its offensive across Ukraine’s east, areas in western Russia came under attack Sunday in a revival of sporadic apparent Ukrainian strikes across the border. The governor of the Belgorod region in Western Russia said fragments of an intercepted Ukrainian missile killed four people Sunday. In the Russian city of Kursk, two Ukrainian drones were shot down, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

In other developments:

— Ukrainian soldiers returning from the front lines in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region — where Russia is waging a fierce offensive — describe life during what has turned into a grueling war of attrition as apocalyptic.

— Two Russian airplanes departed Bulgaria on Sunday with scores of Russian diplomatic staff and their families amid a mass expulsion that has sent tensions soaring between the historically close nations, a Russian diplomat said.

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Associated Press journalists Maria Grazia Murru and Oleksandr Stashevskyi contributed from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Francesca Ebel, The Associated Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

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Conservatives warn Canada is fuelling Putin’s war machine by returning turbines

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OTTAWA — Conservative MPs have accused the Liberal government of fuelling Vladimir Putin’s war machine by agreeing to allow pipeline equipment in Montreal for repairs to be returned to a Russian energy giant.

Tories claimed the government’s decision to return the turbine means more funds will be pumped into Gazprom, which is controlled by the Russian state, and in turn will allow the country’s president to buy more arms to attack Ukraine.

The accusations were made during heated exchanges on Thursday at a meeting of a parliamentary committee where Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson gave evidence about Canada’s decision to return the equipment.

Last month, the Liberal government drew criticism for granting Siemens Energy an exemption on sanctions against Russia and allowing the turbine to return to Germany and then eventually to Russia for installation in the pipeline.

Siemens Energy was granted a permit to import, repair and return up to six turbines for Gazprom. Kyiv has accused Canada of setting a dangerous precedent, arguing the exemptions undermine the sanctions.

Conservative MP James Bezan told the committee that Canada had been “outmanoeuvred by the Russian Federation.”

He said it seemed that Putin was playing chess while Canada was playing checkers, and accused the Liberal government of “enabling” Gazprom, which would give Russia more funds to buy weapons to kill Ukrainians.

“It’s embarrassing that the government of Canada capitulated,” he said.

Alexandra Chyczij, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, told the committee that the decision to return the turbines was “the thin edge of the wedge” and the first waiver of sanctions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

She warned that “appeasement of dictators” never works and just “emboldens them.”

But Joly denied that Canada was capitulating and insisted it was rather calling Putin’s bluff. She said returning the turbine denied Putin a pretext for reducing the flow of natural gas through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that runs to Germany from Russia.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson echoed this sentiment and said revealing Putin’s dishonesty had always been a reason for the decision.

But Tory MP Marty Morantz noted that the government didn’t use this language when the decision was first made. He questioned when it decided the rationale was about calling Putin’s bluff, rather than about securing gas supplies to Europe.

The Conservatives also questioned whether the alternative of funnelling gas through pipelines through Ukraine had been actively explored by the government.

Wilkinson said the option had been looked at in detail but was not seen as viable, not least because the Ukraine pipelines were through a war zone. He added that Canada was working closely with European nations to help wean them off their reliance on Russian energy to heat their homes, including by planning to supply natural gas from Canada.

Both Wilkinson and Joly said the decision was taken after wide consultations, including with Ukraine, and was a difficult one.

Wilkinson said the intention of sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is to punish Putin and not to punish Canada’s allies in Europe.

Joly said the government was firmly committed to continuing sanctions to squeeze Putin and was planning new rounds every two weeks.

Russia has proven to the world that it cannot be a reliable economic partner, she said.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Yulia Kovaliv, was expected to make clear her country’s disappointment with the decision in an appearance before the committee later Thursday.

On Wednesday, Joly and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock insisted at a joint appearance in Montreal that it was necessary to return the turbine.

Since the equipment arrived in Germany, Russia has reduced the pipeline’s flow to 20 per cent of capacity, which the ministers said shows Putin is using energy as a weapon of war.

The turbine remains in Germany, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov arguing that Gazprom needs documents from Siemens Energy proving that the equipment isn’t subject to western sanctions before it can be returned to Russia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2022.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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Ukraine’s ambassador to tell MPs Canada must reverse Russian turbine decision

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OTTAWA — Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada will today make clear her country’s disappointment over Canada’s decision to allow pipeline equipment that was in Montreal for repairs to be returned to a state-controlled energy giant in Russia despite war-related sanctions.

Yulia Kovaliv is to appear before a committee of MPs looking into Ottawa’s decision to allow a turbine to be released to Gazprom, which Canada has sanctioned over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for use in the Nord Stream 1 pipeline supplying Germany with natural gas.

Last month, the Liberal government drew criticism for granting Siemens Energy an exemption on sanctions against Russia and allowing the turbine to return to Germany and then eventually to Russia for installation in the pipeline.

Siemens Energy was granted a permit to import, repair and return up to six turbines for Gazprom and the Ukrainian Embassy says Kovaliv will renew calls for Ottawa to revoke the decision.

Kyiv has accused Canada of setting a dangerous precedent, arguing the exemptions undermine sanctions put on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson are also to appear before the House of Commons foreign affairs committee today, and Liberal chair Ali Ehsassi says it is important for Canadians to hear how the decision was made.

\On Wednesday, Joly and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock both insisted the return of the turbines used in the Russian pipeline was necessary.

But they also said the fact that the turbine remains in Germany after Canada allowed its release — and that Russia has since reduced natural gas supplies to Germany to 20 per cent — reveals the level of dishonesty from President Vladimir Putin.

Russia had cited the delayed return of the equipment as a reason for reducing the flow of natural gas through the pipeline that runs to Germany from Russia.

“We called his bluff,” Joly said in Montreal on Wednesday in a joint news conference with Baerbock. “It is now clear that Putin is weaponizing energy flows to Europe.”

Ehsassi said Thursday’s meeting of the foreign affairs committee would help establish “the diplomatic representations that were made” around the decision.

Germany’s ambassador to Canada, Sabine Sparwasser, is also expected to appear before the committee, alongside the European Union’s ambassador to Canada, Melita Gabrič.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 4, 2022.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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