Both sides harden positions on anniversary of Nazi defeat in Europe

PARIS – On a day commemorating the end of World War II in Europe, the war in Ukraine was marked by postures and signaling on Sunday, as each side increased its rhetoric and determination.

Leaders of the world’s richest democracies have vowed to end their dependence on Russian energy and ensure that Russia does not triumph in its “unprovoked, unjustifiable and illegal aggression” as President Vladimir V. celebrates Victory Day on Monday.

A statement by the Group of 7 Major Industrialized Countries said that on a day when Europe remembered the devastation of the Second World War and its millions of victims, including those of the Soviet Union, Putin’s actions “shame Russia and the historic sacrifices of your people”.

The leaders, signaling to Putin that their relentless support for Ukraine would only grow, said, “We remain united in our determination that President Putin must not win his war against Ukraine.” The memory of all those who fought for freedom in World War II, the statement said, compelled them “to continue fighting for it today.”

The tone was firm, with no mention of any potential diplomacy or ceasefire.

In Moscow, as fighter jets soared through the sky and nuclear weapons were displayed in preparation for Victory Day, Putin seemed to signal to Western leaders that he was determined to bend the war until he could conjure up something that could be claimed as victory.

There was new evidence of this on Sunday as rescue workers scoured the rubble in Bilohorivka, a village in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region where a Russian bomb had toppled a school building the day before, killing people sheltering there, they said. local authorities.

“Probably all 60 people who remain under the rubble are already dead,” Governor Serhiy Haidai wrote on the messaging app Telegram. But it was unclear how many people were actually in the school and that number could be inflated. If confirmed, it would be one of the deadliest Russian attacks since the start of the war in February.

Despite World War II commemorations in most of Europe on Sunday and in Russia on Monday, a painful reminder of the tens of millions of people killed, there was no indication that the war in Ukraine was nearing an end. If anything, all signs pointed in the opposite direction. Russian attacks on Ukrainian towns and villages have met a crescendo of Western rhetoric, accompanied by the constant danger of escalation.

Putin, whose steady militarization of Russian society in recent years has turned the May 9 celebration of the Soviet defeat of the Nazis into an annual apotheosis of a resurgent nation’s power, must portray a war of repeated setbacks in Ukraine as a successful drive to “denazify” ” a neighboring nation whose existence he denies.

His long-awaited speech could go further, possibly signaling that any achievement in Ukraine so far will become permanent through annexation. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and began to stir up military conflict in the eastern Donbas region.

In Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city now in ruins after a sustained Russian attack, and a place Putin wants to show as evidence of his “victory”, the city’s last Ukrainian defenders have vowed to fight. Russian forces were cleaning the streets on Sunday in possible preparation for a celebratory parade on Monday.

Across eastern Ukraine, Russia seemed intent on making its occupation permanent through Russian flags, Russian-language signs, and the introduction of the ruble. The Group of 7 leaders said that any attempt to “replace democratically elected Ukrainian local officials with illegitimate ones” would not be recognized.

Visits to the region by First Lady Jill Biden, who traveled across western Ukraine to meet Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska on an unannounced visit to Uzhhorod, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who appeared unexpectedly in a war. in the marked suburb of Kiev, they were clearly intended to convey a message of unwavering Western commitment.

Senior American diplomats have returned to the US Embassy in Kiev for the first time since the start of the war.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky released a black-and-white video on Sunday marking the Allied victory in 1945. In front of a destroyed building in a Kiev suburb hard hit by Russian troops before their withdrawal from the region around the capital, he said: “We pay our respects to everyone who defended the planet against Nazism during World War II.”

Putin portrayed Zelensky, who is Jewish, as the leader of a nation threatening Russia with revived Nazism. His aim has been to instill the spirit of the Great Patriotic War, as World War II is known in Russia, among Russian troops, but with little apparent success.

At the vast Azovstal steelworks, which is the last remaining part of Mariupol not under Russian control, Ukrainian troops again rejected Russian deadlines for surrender. In a virtual press conference, Lieutenant Illya Samoilenko, an officer in a battalion of the Ukrainian National Guard known as the Azov regiment, said: “We are basically dead men. Most of us know this. That’s why we fight”.

Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the regiment, said: “We don’t have much time, we are under constant bombardment”, with attacks from Russian tanks, artillery, planes and snipers.

The remaining civilians at the steel plant were evacuated on Saturday. Local officials estimate the city’s death toll at more than 20,000.

If the United States and its allies refused to commit military forces for fear of triggering World War III, they moved to support Ukraine in every other way, increasing their resolve and their actions expanding with each Russian atrocity.

The Group of 7’s statement included a series of economic, military and judicial measures, with the apparent aim of bringing the Russian economy to its knees and increasing pressure on Putin to turn back a war of choice that turned him into a pariah and a threat. much of his country’s progress over the past two decades.

“We pledged to gradually eliminate our dependence on Russian energy, including eliminating or banning the import of Russian oil,” the statement said. He added, without being specific, that this would be done in a “timely and orderly” manner. Alternative sources, they added, would be found to ensure “affordable prices for consumers.”

It was unclear how this Group of 7 commitment went beyond existing commitments, if at all.

The 27-nation European Union has already committed to a complete import ban on all Russian oil, with most countries phasing out Russian crude within six months and refined oil by the end of the year. The European Union is too dependent on Russian gas to consider banning it in the short term.

The war has already driven up gasoline prices across much of Europe in a generally inflationary climate. If the war drags on for long, support for the West’s commitment to Ukraine is likely to falter among consumers who pay the cost at the pump or on their utility bills.

The Group of 7 communiqué, meeting remotely, said the seven nations – the United States, France, Britain, Japan, Germany, Canada and Italy – have already provided or pledged $24 billion to Ukraine for 2022. “In the coming weeks , we will intensify our collective short-term financial support,” they said.

“We will continue to act against Russian banks connected to the global economy and systematically critical to the Russian financial system,” they added. More generally, they would “take steps to prohibit or prevent the provision of key services on which Russia depends.”

Defense and military assistance would continue to ensure that “Ukraine can defend itself now and prevent future acts of aggression.”

The leaders said they would “spare no effort to hold President Putin” and his accomplices “accountable for their actions in accordance with international law”.

The accusations of illegality leveled against Putin for invading a sovereign country are sure to anger the Russian president. NATO’s bombing of Belgrade in 1999 during the Kosovo War, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and Western support for Kosovo’s independence in 2008 gave him a healthy distrust of American invocations of the United Nations Charter and the law International.

War broke out in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, with a Ukrainian counteroffensive near Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, gaining ground in the northeast. However, the Ukrainian army withdrew from the city of Popasna after two months of fierce fighting.

Overall, the planned Russian offensive in the east of the country, like the rest of Putin’s war, went less than planned. Putin’s overall objective, at least for now, appears to be to connect Crimea through Mariupol to other occupied areas in eastern Ukraine and to Russia itself, forming a cohesive and strategic swath of territory.

William J. Burns, CIA director and former US ambassador to Russia, said the current phase of the war is at least as dangerous as Russia’s initial attempt to attack the capital and overthrow the Ukrainian government.

Speaking on Saturday in Washington, he said Putin was “in a frame of mind that he thinks he can’t lose”, and was convinced that “doubling down will still allow him to make progress”.

In the 77 years since the end of World War II, the possibility of a widespread conflagration in Europe has rarely, if ever, seemed more plausible.

The report was contributed by Emma Bubola In London; Eduardo Medina In New York; Marc Santora in Krakow, Poland; Maria Varenikova in Kiev, Ukraine; Katie Rogers in Uzhhorod, Ukraine; Julian E. Barnes and Michael Crowley in Washington; and Cassandra Vine In London.

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