Russia launches all-out assault to encircle Ukraine troops in east

Russian invasion of Ukraine is a global issue,says Biden

Russian forces were launching an all-out assault to encircle Ukrainian troops in twin cities straddling a river in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, a battle which could determine the success or failure of Moscow's main campaign in the east.

Exactly three months after Russia invaded Ukraine, authorities in the second-largest city Kharkiv reopened the underground metro, where thousands of civilians had sought shelter for months under relentless bombardment.

The reopening is a symbol of Ukraine’s biggest military success over the past few weeks: pushing Russian forces largely out of artillery range of Kharkiv, as they did from the capital Kyiv in March.

But the decisive battles of the war’s latest phase are still raging further south, where Moscow is attempting to seize the Donbas region of two eastern provinces, Donetsk and Luhansk, and trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket on the main eastern front.

The easternmost part of the Ukrainian-held Donbas pocket, the city of Sievierodonetsk on the east bank of the Siverskiy Donets river and its twin Lysychansk on the west bank have become the pivotal battlefield there, with Russian forces advancing from three directions to encircle them.

"The enemy has focused its efforts on carrying out an offensive in order to encircle Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk," said Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk, where the two cities are among the last territory still held by Ukraine.

“The intensity of fire on Sievierodonetsk has increased by multiple times, they are simply destroying the city,” he said on TV, adding there were about 15,000 people in the city and the Ukrainian military remains in control of it. Reuters journalists in the Donbas, who reached Bakhmut further west, heard and saw intense shelling on the highway towards Lysychansk on Monday.

Ukrainian armoured vehicles, tanks and rocket launchers were moving towards the front lines, with and buses carrying soldiers.

Further west in Slovyansk, one of the biggest Donbas cities still in Ukrainian hands, air raid sirens wailed on Tuesday morning but streets were still busy, with a market full, children riding on bikes and a street musician playing violin by a supermarket.

Two empty public transport buses were driving towards the frontline town of Lyman to evacuate civilians from heavy shelling there, escorted by police and a military car.

Mariupol

Mr Gaidai said Ukrainian forces had driven the Russians out of the village of Toshkivka just to the south of Sievierodonetsk. That could not be independently confirmed. Four people had been killed in the shelling of one home in Sievierodonetsk overnight. The battle there follows the surrender last week of Ukraine’s garrison in the port of Mariupol after nearly three months of siege in which Kyiv believes tens of thousands of civilians have died.

Russia is now in control of an unbroken swathe of eastern and southern Ukraine, but has yet to achieve its objective of seizing all of Luhansk and Donetsk.

US president Joe Biden, meeting the leaders of Japan, India and Australia in Tokyo, said the war showed the importance of defending international law and human rights around the world.

The previous day he broke with convention to say openly that the United States would use its military to protect Taiwan, the self-ruled island claimed by China.

Mr Biden’s remarks on Taiwan were seen as a sign of how three months of what Washington and its allies describe as an unprovoked Russian war of aggression in Ukraine have invigorated Western resolve on security issues.

Russia’s three-month long invasion, the biggest attack on a European state since 1945, has seen more than 6.5 million people flee abroad, turned entire cities into rubble and brought down severe economic sanctions on Moscow.

International order

US president Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the crisis in Ukraine was a global issue which heightened the importance of maintaining international order, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Mr Biden’s comments delivered at the opening of the “Quad” meeting of Indo-Pacific leaders in Tokyo come a day after he broke with convention and volunteered US military support for Taiwan, the self-governed island claimed by China.

“This is more than just a European issue. It’s a global issue,” Mr Biden said of the Ukraine situation at the Quad meeting of the United States, Japan, India and Australia.

Mr Biden stressed Washington would stand with its allies and push for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

Mr Biden’s remarks on Taiwan were seen as a sign of how three months of what Washington and its allies describe as an unprovoked Russian war of aggression in Ukraine have invigorated Western resolve on security issues.

“International law, human rights must always be defended regardless of where they’re violated in the world,” he said.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy told global business leaders in Davos on Monday that the world must increase sanctions against Russia to deter other countries from using "brute force" to achieve their aims.

The European Union will likely agree on an embargo on Russian oil imports "within days", its biggest member Germany has said, as Moscow said its economic ties with China would grow amid its isolation by the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Many of the EU’s 27 member states are heavily reliant on Russian energy, prompting criticism from Kyiv that the bloc has not moved quickly enough to halt supplies.

Hungary is demanding energy investment before it agrees to an embargo, clashing with EU states pushing for swift approval. The EU has offered up to €2 billion ($2.14 billion) to central and eastern nations lacking non-Russian supply.

"We will reach a breakthrough within days," Germany's economy minister, Robert Habeck, told broadcaster ZDF.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin would focus on developing ties with China as economic links with the United States and Europe were cut.

“If they (the West) want to offer something in terms of resuming relations, then we will seriously consider whether we will need it or not,” he said in a speech, according to a transcript on the foreign ministry’s website.

“Now that the West has taken a ‘dictator’s position’, our economic ties with China will grow even faster.”

Russia’s three-month long invasion, the biggest attack on a European state since 1945, has seen over 6.5 million people flee abroad, turned entire cities into rubble, and prompted the unprecedented imposition of Western sanctions on Russia.

Mr Zelenskiy on Monday called on Ukraine’s allies to pressure Moscow into a prisoner exchange.

“We do not need the Russian servicemen, we only need ours,” Mr Zelenskiy said. “We are ready for an exchange even tomorrow.”

War crimes trials

In the first of what could be many war crimes trials arising from the invasion, a court in Kyiv sentenced a young Russian tank commander to life in prison for killing an unarmed civilian.

Ukraine is investigating over 13,000 alleged Russian war crimes, the website of its prosecutor general shows.

Russia has denied targeting civilians or involvement in war crimes.

At a cemetery outside Mariupol, treading through long rows of fresh graves and makeshift wooden crosses, Natalya Voloshina, who lost her 28-year-old son in the fight for the city, said many of Mariupol's dead had no one left to honour their memory.

“Who will bury them? Who will put up a plaque?” she asked.

“They have no family.” – Reuters