Ukraine: Zelensky marks start of Russian offensive in Donbas
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US President Joe Biden has called a videoconference with G7, EU and NATO leaders on Ukraine, set to take place this afternoon. Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Romania, Canada and the UK are all expected to participate. The secretary-general of NATO and the presidents of the European Council and European Commission are also set to attend.
The key question the leaders are expected to tackle is whether or not to supply Ukraine with heavy weaponry, including tanks and jets.
Mr Zelensky has been asking for the supplies for weeks, but the issue has become more pressing as the country gears up for a battle in Donbas.
Russian forces have reportedly begun a renewed offensive to seize the East of Ukraine.
Last night, the Ukrainian President announced Moscow had launched the anticipated offensive to take the Donbas region.
In a video address, he said: “Now we can already state that the Russian troops have begun the battle for the Donbas, for which they have been preparing for a long time.”
He said a “significant part of the entire Russian army is now concentrated on this offensive”.
But Mr Zelensky added: “No matter how many soldiers are driven there, we will defend ourselves.
“We will fight. We will not give up anything Ukrainian.”
Meanwhile, Mr Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak declared: “The second phase of the war has started.”
Tensions are rising among western leaders ahead of the talks later today.
In-fighting has broken out across the German coalition over the issue of whether to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his party are opposed to the move, arguing that the deliveries will only be possible in ordination with NATO and the USA – although some EU governments, such as the Czech Republic, are already supplying tanks.
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Some members of the Greens and the liberal FDP, however, are in support of the weapons deliveries.
Mr Scholz has been criticised for his failure to comment on the issue, with the chairwoman of the Bundestag’s defence committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, saying: “It would be nice if he would break his silence and explain what he actually wants.”
Earlier in April, Boris Johnson had appeared to rule out supplying Ukraine with tanks, saying it “wouldn’t be appropriate” for Western allies to fulfil all of Ukraine’s requests for weaponry.
When asked whether the UK would send tanks and armoured vehicles to Ukraine, while speaking at a joint press conference with Mr Scholz, the UK Prime Minister added: “I’m in principle willing to consider anything by way of defensive weaponry to help the Ukrainians protect themselves and their people.
“I think it’s important that we should be giving equipment that is genuinely useful and is operable by Ukrainians, that’s our consideration.
“It may be more useful to support the Ukrainians by backfilling and allowing some of the former Warsaw Pact countries to supply some of their own armour in the way that you’ve been seeing.”
Mr Scholz supported Mr Johnson’s comment, saying we “must always look at what can be used effectively”.
He added: “The fact is that we are trying to supply weapons that are useful and can be used well … the successes that the Ukrainian army has achieved so far show that these are particularly effective weapons: anti-tank weapons, anti-aircraft weapons, munition.”
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