Zaporizhia, Ukraine (AFP) – Ukraine on Wednesday shut down a pipeline carrying Russian natural gas to homes and industries in Western Europe, while an official appointed by the Kremlin in the southern region captured by Russian forces said the region would ask Moscow to annex it.
The immediate impact of the power cut is likely to be limited, in part because Russia can divert gas to another pipeline and because Europe relies on a variety of suppliers. But it was the first time since the war began that Ukraine had disrupted the flow of one of Moscow’s most lucrative exports westward.
Meanwhile, talk of annexation in Kherson — and Russia’s apparent willingness to consider such a request — has raised the possibility that the Kremlin may seek to cut off another part of Ukraine while trying to salvage a skewed invasion. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014.
“The city of Kherson is Russia,” Kirill Strimosov, deputy head of the Moscow-appointed Kherson regional administration told RIA Novosti news agency. He said regional officials wanted Russian President Vladimir Putin to make Kherson a “suitable region” for Russia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was “up to the residents of the Kherson region” to make such a request, and that any move to annex the territories would have to be closely evaluated by experts to ensure that its legal basis is “absolute and pure.”
Russia has repeatedly used annexation or recognition of breakaway republics as tactics in recent years to win over parts of former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after a referendum was held in the peninsula on whether it wanted to become part of Russia.
Kherson, a Black Sea port of about 300,000 people, provides access to the fresh waters of neighboring Crimea and is seen as a gateway to Russia’s broader control of southern Ukraine. It was captured early in the war, becoming the first major city to fall in Ukraine.
Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Mykhailo Podolak scoffed at the idea of including it, tweeting: “The invaders may ask to join even Mars or Jupiter. The Ukrainian army will liberate Kherson, no matter what word games they play.”
On the energy front, Ukraine’s natural gas pipeline operator said it has moved to stop the flow of Russian gas through a compressor station in a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists because enemy forces are interfering with the station’s operation and withdrawing gas.
The center handles about a third of Russian gas that passes through Ukraine to Western Europe. But analysts said much of the gas could be rerouted through another pipeline from Russia that crosses Ukraine, and preliminary data suggests this is already happening.
In any case, Europe also gets natural gas from other pipelines and other countries.
“We’re missing a small percentage of total European gas supply, when you think about imports and domestic production as well,” said Tom Marzik Manser, head of gas analytics at market intelligence firm ICIS. “So that’s not a huge cut to gas supply” to Europe.
However, European gas futures swung in the news, meaning consumers could face higher energy bills at a time when prices are already rising.
It was not clear whether Russia would receive any immediate hit, as it has long-term contracts and other ways to transport gas.
But the cut highlights the broader threat to gas supplies from the war.
“Yesterday’s decision is a small preview of what might happen if gas facilities are hit by live ammunition and run the risk of extended downtime,” said gas analyst Zongqiang Luo at Rystad Energy.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said, a Russian missile attack targeted an area around Zaporozhye and destroyed unspecified infrastructure. There were no immediate reports of injuries. The southeastern city was a haven for civilians fleeing the Russian siege in the devastated port city of Mariupol.
Defenders of the Russian forces said that the Russian forces continued to bombard the steel factory, which is the last stronghold of the Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol. The Azov Regiment said on social media that Russian forces carried out 38 air strikes in the past 24 hours on the territory of the Azovstal steel plants.
The station, with its network of tunnels and bunkers, housed hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians during a months-long siege. Dozens of civilians have been evacuated in recent days, but Ukrainian officials said some may still be trapped there.
President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his evening address on Tuesday, indicated that the Ukrainian army is gradually pushing Russian forces away from Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city and key to the Russian offensive in Donbas, the eastern industrial region that the Kremlin has said is its main target. .
Zelensky said his forces drove Russian forces out of four villages near Kharkiv in the country’s northeast.
Ukraine is also targeting Russian air defenses and resupply ships on Snake Island in the Black Sea in a bid to disrupt Moscow’s efforts to expand its control over the coast, according to Britain’s Ministry of Defense.
The ministry said that Russian resupply ships have had the least protection since the Russian navy withdrew to Crimea after the main ship of its fleet sank in the Black Sea..
Separately, Ukraine said it shot down a cruise missile targeting the Black Sea city of Odessa on Wednesday.
The gas cuts came as Western powers look to increase economic pressure on Moscow and bolster Ukraine’s defenders. The US House of Representatives approved a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine on Tuesday. Senate approval seemed certain.
However, there are growing concerns that the fighting in Ukraine may remain a source of continental and global instability for months or even years.
US and NATO officials have expressed concern that Russia may be on the cusp of a protracted conflict as the war enters its third month with little sign of a decisive military victory for either side and no solution in sight.
The alliance is also waiting To see if Russia’s neighbors Sweden and Finland are announcing plans to join NATO, a move the Kremlin sees as an insult.
Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Kelvin Chan in London, and AP staff worldwide contributed.
Follow the AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine
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