• EU officials in Kyiv for talks and visit to scene of civilian deaths in Bucha
• Japan, Finland to expel Russian diplomats; Turkey pushes for talks
KRAMATORSK: In one of the deadliest strikes of the six-week-old Ukrainian war, at least 50 people were killed and hundreds injured on Friday when a rocket hit a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk, drawing strong reactions from European Union and several other countries including Japan that decided to expel eight Russian diplomats and trade representatives.
However, the Russian defence ministry was quoted by RIA news agency as saying the missiles said to have struck the station were used only by Ukraine’s military and that Russia’s armed forces had no targets assigned in Kramatorsk on Friday.
The bombing came at a time when European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell were in Kyiv for talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky and to visit the scene of civilian deaths in Bucha. Zelensky said no Ukrainian troops were at the station, calling it ‘a deliberate attack on civilians’ with 50 deaths and 300 reportedly injured. “Russian forces (fired) on an ordinary train station, on ordinary people,” he told Finland’s parliament in a video address.
Regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said the station was hit by a Tochka U short-range ballistic missile containing cluster munitions. However, Russia’s defence ministry said suggestions it had carried out the attack were “absolutely untrue”.
Reuters was unable to verify what happened in Kramatorsk.
Officials have begged civilians to flee, while the intensity of fighting is impeding evacuations. However, officials continued to press civilians to leave. “There is no secret — the battle for Donbas will be decisive. What we have already experienced — all this horror — it can multiply,” warned Lugansk regional governor Sergiy Gaiday. “Leave! The next few days are the last chances. Buses will be waiting for you in the morning,” he added.
Moscow has denied targeting civilians but growing evidence of atrocities has galvanised Ukraine’s allies to pile on more pressure.
The EU earlier approved an embargo on Russian coal and the closure of its ports to Russian vessels as part of a “very substantial” new round of sanctions that also includes an export ban and new measures against Russian banks. In addition, it backed a proposal to boost its funding of arms supplies to Ukraine by 500 million euros ($544 million), taking it to a total of 1.5 billion euros. So far, the bloc had frozen 30 billion euros in assets from blacklisted Russian and Belarusian individuals and companies under sanctions, it said Friday.
En route to Kyiv, Borrell told journalists the EU would supply 7.5 million euros to train Ukrainian prosecutors to investigate war crimes.
At the United Nations, 93 of the General Assembly’s 193 members voted on Thursday to suspend Russia from the body’s human rights council over its actions in Ukraine.
In his video address to the Finnish parliament, President Zelensky called for a “cocktail” of sanctions, scolding “those who are making us wait, wait for the things that we need badly, wait for the means of protecting our lives”.
His appeal echoed a call from his foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, who earlier asked Nato for heavy weaponry, including air defence systems, artillery, armoured vehicles and jets. “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, many civilians will lose their homes, many villages will be destroyed,” FM Kuleba said after meeting Nato foreign ministers in Brussels.
Finland, Japan expel diplomats
Finland said it would expel two Russian diplomats over the war in Ukraine, following a wave of similar moves across Europe. “The measure is in line with those taken by other EU member states,” the PM Office stated.
“In addition the visa extension of one Russian embassy staff member has been cancelled.” This week EU countries expelled almost 200 Russian diplomats over two days for alleged spying or “national security reasons” amid increasing outrage over apparent evidence of widespread killing of Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops.
Also in a rare move for Japan, its foreign ministry announced it was expelling eight diplomats and trade representatives as part of a comprehensive judgment that included condemnation of Russia’s killing of civilians.
Tokyo also announced it would ban coal imports from Russia. Trade minister Koichi Hagiuda said it would reduce imports gradually while looking for alternative suppliers in the wake of sanctions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. However, he said, “We would need to find alternative suppliers or we would face difficulties securing domestic coal which could lead to power outages and such. We need to avoid such a situation.
“We will cooperate with Russian sanctions without inflicting a burden on domestic industry”.
US, EU condemn attack
The White House decried the “horrific and devastating images” of the attack which EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, in Kyiv with the head of the EU executive Ursula von der Leyen, condemned on Twitter as “yet another attempt to close escape routes for those fleeing this unjustified war.”
Ukrainian officials say Russia’s military is regrouping after withdrawing eastwards from the zone around Kyiv, where a forensics team on Friday began exhuming a mass grave in the town of Bucha. The grave’s discovery last week galvanised the West into toughening sanctions against Russia and speeding up arms deliveries to Ukraine.
Turkey pushes for talks
However, Turkey is pushing to revive talks between Russia and Ukraine stalled after atrocities were uncovered in Bucha and other regions near Kyiv, saying both countries are still ready to meet on its soil. Ankara assures that the two warring sides are still “willing to hold talks” in Turkey in a bid to move towards a solution to the six-week war.
“Both Russia and Ukraine are willing to hold the talks in Turkey but they are far away from agreeing on a common text,” a high-ranking Turkish official told journalists on Friday. There are “some issues pending”, including the status of the Donbas and Crimea regions as well as security guarantees, according to the official, who said no date had been fixed for the next round of talks.
Russia has called allegations that its forces executed civilians in Bucha a “monstrous forgery” aimed at denigrating its army.
The Kremlin said on Friday the “special operation” could end in the “foreseeable future” with its aims being achieved with work by the Russian military and peace negotiators.
Russian forces have however failed to take any major cities so far, confronted by unexpectedly strong Ukrainian resistance and dogged by what Western intelligence officials say have been logistical, supply and morale problems.
Britain would send Ukraine a further 100 million pounds ($130 million) of military support, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday, and defence sources in Prague said the Czech Republic had delivered tanks, rocket launchers, howitzers and infantry fighting vehicles and would ship more.
Ukraine’s military general staff said on Friday that Russian troops were focused on capturing the besieged southeastern port of Mariupol, fighting near the eastern city of Izyum and breakthroughs by Ukrainian forces near Donetsk.
The West has imposed more sanctions on Russia since the images surfaced, with Washington sanctioning top Russian lenders and President Vladimir Putin’s daughters, a move echoed by Britain on Friday, while the EU banned nearly 20 billion euros worth of trade, including Russian coal.
Zelensky has urged Brussels to also ban Russian oil and gas. Borrell said a potential oil ban would be discussed on Monday in Brussels, but called oil sanctions “a big elephant in the room” given concerns over its impact on Europe’s economy and its consumers.
Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2022