Ukraine moves closer to EU membership as Putin again slams ‘insane’ Western sanctions

The European Union's executive arm recommended putting Ukraine on a path to membership on Friday, a symbolic boost for a country fending off a Russian onslaught that is killing civilians, flattening cities and threatening its very survival.

Kyiv says Moscow's troops kept up relentless attacks on cities in Donbas region

The European Union's executive arm recommended putting Ukraine on a path to membership Friday, a symbolic boost for a country fending off a Russian onslaught that is killing civilians, flattening cities and threatening its very survival.

In another show of Western support, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to offer continued aid and military training, adding that evidence points to Russia "taking heavy casualties" in the invasion.

The latest embrace of Ukraine by its European allies marked another setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who launched his war nearly four months ago, hoping to pull his ex-Soviet neighbour away from the West and back into Russia's sphere of influence.

At Russia's showpiece economic forum in St. Petersburg on Friday, Putin said Moscow "has nothing against" Ukraine joining the EU, because it "isn't a military organization, a political organization like NATO." He also reprised his usual defence of the war, alleging it was necessary to protect people in parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed rebels and to ensure Russia's own security.

The possibility of membership in the EU, created to safeguard peace on the continent and serve as a model for the rule of law and prosperity, fulfils a wish of Zelensky and his Western-looking citizens.

WATCH | It could take years to make Ukraine an EU member:

Ukraine gets recommendation as EU membership candidate

17 hours ago

Duration 3:52

The European Union's executive arm has recommended making Ukraine a candidate for EU membership. It's the beginning of a process that could take years or even decades.

The European Commission's recommendation that Ukraine become a candidate for membership will be discussed by leaders of the 27-nation bloc during a summit next week in Brussels. The war has increased pressure on EU governments to fast-track Ukraine's candidate status. But the process is expected to take years, and EU members remain divided over how quickly and fully to open their arms to new members.

Political and military support for Ukraine from Western countries has been key to its surprising success in the face of larger and better-equipped Russian forces. Zelensky has also clamoured for additional immediate support in the form of more and better weapons to turn the tide in the east, known as the Donbas region.

In St. Petersburg, Putin decried the sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and its allies as "insane and, I would say, reckless."

"The calculation was understandable: to impudently, with a swoop, crush the Russian economy by destroying business chains, forcing the withdrawal of Western companies from the Russian market, freezing domestic assets, hitting industry, finance, and the people's standard of living. It didn't work," he said.

Battle for Donbas

After a series of setbacks early in the war, including the failure to seize Ukraine's capital, Russian forces have switched their focus to the Donbas — a contested eastern region of Ukraine that's home to Moscow-backed separatists.

The Ukrainian military said Moscow's troops kept up relentless attacks on both Slovyansk and Severodonetsk, two key cities that have been the focus of recent fighting. The military claimed Ukrainian forces pushed Russian fighters out of the village of Bohorodychne, north of Slovyansk.

Russia and its allies say they have taken about half of Donetsk and nearly all of Luhansk — the two regions that make up the Donbas. Severodonetsk and surrounding villages are in the last pocket of Luhansk region still in Ukrainian hands.


"The Russians are pouring fire on the city," said Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai. "It's getting harder and harder for us to fight in Severodonetsk, because the Russians outnumber us in artillery and manpower, and it's very difficult for us to resist this barrage of fire."

The constant shelling made it impossible for 568 people, including 38 children, sheltering in the Azot chemical plant in the city to escape, he said.

Russian forces have destroyed all three bridges leading out of the city, but Haidai said it still had not been fully blocked off.

WATCH | What happened in Week 17 of Russia's attack on Ukraine:

What happened in Week 17 of Russia’s attack on Ukraine

11 hours ago

Duration 3:53

Russian forces tightened their grip on the eastern Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk and nearly claimed the entire Luhansk region, while Ukraine established export routes for grain through Poland and Romania to try to avoid a world food crisis. Here’s a recap of the war in Ukraine from June 11 to June 17.

The Moscow envoy for Russia-backed separatists who control much of the territory around Severodonetsk said an evacuation from the Azot plant could take place under certain conditions.

Rodion Miroshnik of the self-proclaimed Luhansk's People's Republic said on social media that Russian troops and separatists are "ready to consider options for opening a humanitarian corridor for the exit of civilians but subject to strict adherence to the ceasefire."

Earlier this week, Miroshnik accused Kyiv of trying to disrupt the evacuation of civilians from Azot, a claim vigorously denied by Ukrainian officials.

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