Ukraine tells Nato: Donbas battle will be like second world war

Kyiv says if west does not send more weapons now it will be too late and calls for ‘ruinous’ sanctions

Kyiv has called for more heavy weaponry from its western allies and “ruinous” sanctions against Moscow, saying the scale of any impending Russian assault on eastern Ukraine would remind Nato members of the second world war.

“Either you help us now – and I’m speaking about days, not weeks – or your help will come too late, and many people will die,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, told a meeting of his counterparts in the alliance in Brussels on Thursday.

Kuleba said he expected Nato members to send Kyiv the weapons it needed, including air defence systems, artillery, armoured vehicles and jets, but insisted they must act fast while Moscow refocuses its offensive on the Donbas region.

“I have no doubts that Ukraine will have weapons necessary to fight,” he said. “The question is the timeline. The battle for Donbas will remind you of the second world war with large operations, thousands of tanks, armoured vehicles, planes, artillery.”

The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, told reporters the alliance had agreed to strengthen support to Ukraine, was providing “a wide range” of weapon systems, and would also provide cybersecurity assistance and equipment to protect against chemical and biological threats.

He said there was no sign the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, intended to pull back. “We have no indications he has changed his overall goal, and that is to control Ukraine and to achieve significant military victories on the battleground,” he said

Smoke rises over the town of Rubizhne, Donbas region.
Smoke rises over the town of Rubizhne, Donbas region. Photograph: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images

“What we see is Russian regrouping and repositioning. We expect a big battle in Donbas. We are prepared for the long haul. This war may last for weeks, but also months, and possibly also for years. And therefore we need to prepare for a lot more.”

In a rare admission that Ukraine had already inflicted considerable damage on Russia’s invading forces, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov admitted in an interview with Sky News that Moscow had suffered “significant losses” since the start of the invasion, adding: “It’s a huge tragedy for us”. He did not specify a casualty toll.

With peace talks between Russia and Ukraine continuing by video, Turkey, which has hosted two meetings between the sides, said images of what appeared to be deliberate civilian killings in Bucha and towns in the Kyiv area had “overshadowed” negotiations and ruined an “emerging positive atmosphere”.

Pictures and video of dead civilians, some with their hands bound, in the streets of Bucha after it was recaptured from Russian invaders have sparked international revulsion and renewed calls from Ukraine for more weapons and tougher sanctions.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said on Thursday that Kyiv had presented Moscow with a draft peace deal containing “unacceptable” elements and deviated from previously agreed proposals, but Ukraine’s chief negotiator, Mykhailo Podolyak, dismissed the comments as “purely propagandistic” and aimed at diverting attention from events in Bucha.


A day after a new round of western sanctions was announced, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said they did not go far enough and that Russia would see them as “permission to attack”. Some politicians were still “unable to decide how to limit the flow of … oil euros to Russia so as not to put their economies at risk”, he said.

The west must “bring Russia to justice”, Zelenskiy told the Greek parliament, and teach Moscow that “those who blackmail Europe with an economic and energy crisis always lose”. Andriy Yermak, the head of the presidential office, said sanctions “must be ruinous enough for us to end this terrible war”.

On Thursday evening Zelenskiy said that the situation in the town of Borodyanka was “significantly more dreadful” than in nearby Bucha.

“The work to clear the rubble in Borodyanka has begun … it’s significantly more dreadful there. Even more victims from the Russian occupiers,” he said in a video posted on the Telegram messaging service. The town is about 15 miles from Bucha.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the bloc should approve its fifth round of economic sanctions, including a ban on Russian coal imports worth about €4bn (£3.3bn), by Friday and that measures against Russian oil would be discussed by foreign ministers on Monday.

A man walks near a damaged school, next to a police building in Kramatorsk, Donbas.
A man walks near a damaged school, next to a police building in Kramatorsk, Donbas. Photograph: Fadel Senna/AFP/Getty Images

“Sooner or later, I hope sooner, it will happen,” he said. Zelenskiy is due to hold talks with the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, in Kyiv on Friday, the Ukrainian government confirmed, adding that no advance details of the talks would be announced for security reasons.

But while it welcomed the fresh sanctions announced by the EU, Britain and the US – which targeted two daughters of Vladimir Putin as well as Russia’s biggest public and private banks – Ukraine insisted that Europe in particular must go further.

“We will continue to insist on a full oil and gas embargo for Russia,” Kuleba said. “I hope we will never face a situation again when to step up the sanctions pressure we need atrocities like Bucha to be revealed.”

He stressed the vital importance of weapon supplies as well as sanctions, saying the deal Ukraine was offering was fair: “you give us weapons, we sacrifice our lives, and the war is contained in Ukraine”. He added: “My agenda is very simple. It has only three items on it. It’s weapons, weapons and weapons.”

EU sources said Europe’s ban on Russian coal imports – the key measure in its latest sanctions – would not take effect until August, a month later than previously proposed after pressure from Germany, the bloc’s top importer of Russian coal. The UK is due to ban Russian coal by the end of the year.

Punitive measures on oil and gas, however, which are far more significant imports, have divided the EU27, with member states more dependent on imports from Russia afraid of the economic consequences. Russia accounts for about 40% of the EU’s natural gas consumption and a third of its oil imports.

Ukraine on Thursday accused Hungary, which has said it is prepared to pay in roubles for Russian gas, of adopting an “unfriendly” position. “If Hungary really wants to help end the war, here’s how to do it: stop destroying unity in the EU,” foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said.

Budapest should “support new anti-Russian sanctions, provide military assistance to Ukraine, and not create additional sources of funding for Russia’s military machine”, he added. “It is never too late to get on the right side of history.”

Putin called Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who has long sought a rapprochement with Moscow, to congratulate him after his party won a fourth consecutive term in general elections last week. The Ukrainian foreign ministry said a subsequent proposal by Budapest to host peace talks “looks cynical”.


Jon Henley Europe correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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