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Ukraine won't surrender Bakhmut, says Zelensky as Russia advances near

by Asami Terajima and Oleksiy Sorokin February 3, 2023 7:10 PM 4 min read
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi attends together with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and President of the European Council Charles Michel the joint press conference following the 24th EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv, Ukraine on Feb. 3, 2023. (Photo by Yan Dobronosov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
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President Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukraine "won't hand over Bakhmut."

"We will fight as long as we can," he said during a joint press conference with European Union leadership.

According to Zelensky, Russia will soon launch a major offensive in the east and northeast, targeting cities like Bakhmut and Lyman.

The Ukrainian intelligence on Feb. 2 issued a stark warning that Russia was redeploying additional assault groups and military equipment to capture Donbas – comprised of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts – by March.

"Russia wants revenge, and they want this revenge exactly where they really need it," Zelensky said. "Our task is not to give them this opportunity until our army is strengthened with appropriate weapons. I think we have a chance."

Russian forces appeared to be picking up pace in the northern part of Donetsk Oblast after capturing the salt-mining town of Soledar, which sits roughly 15 kilometers northeast of Bakhmut.

Moscow claimed to be inching closer to encircling Bakhmut, a largely-destroyed city that it has sought to capture since Summer despite heavy casualties.

"If there is a long-range weapon, the most long-range weapon, we will not only not leave Bakhmut, we will begin to liberate the Donbas (including areas) which have been occupied since 2014," Zelensky said.

Standing by Zelensky in Ukraine's historic Mariinskyi Palace, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel expressed support for delivering more arms and making Ukraine's victory on the battlefield a reality.

"We are not intimidated and will not be intimated by the Kremlin, because Ukraine and the EU, we are family," Michel said. “Your destiny is our destiny.”

"There can be no safe and independent Europe without a safe and independent Ukraine,” Michel said, adding that “we are determined to help you win on the battlefield.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C), European Council President Charles Michel (L), and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen (R) give a joint press conference during the EU-Ukraine summit in Kyiv on Feb. 3, 2023. (Photo by Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)

Historic Ukraine-EU Summit

Over a dozen top EU officials arrived in Kyiv to attend the Ukraine-EU Summit on Feb. 3, nearly a year after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The Ukraine-EU Summit is "proof that Russia can't break us," Zelensky said.

The historic summit, held in central Kyiv, was the first of its kind to be held in an active war zone. Von der Leyen, Michel, and High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell were all in Kyiv for the event.

Ahead of the summit, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at a briefing that the plan was to discuss Ukraine's progress in meeting the seven requirements to join the EU and the timeframe of when the accession negotiations could begin.

Ukraine officially applied for EU membership in late February, just days after the start of the full-scale invasion, and gained its candidacy status in June.

Von der Leyen: ‘I'm deeply convinced that Ukraine will win this war’

But it's expected to take years before it gets admitted into the bloc, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying in May that it may be "decades."

Zelensky said that Ukraine's goal was to begin the negotiations this year. Von der Leyen said Ukraine's progress on the seven requirements for potential accession was more impressive than expected but added that there was "no rigid timeliness" on when it would obtain membership.

The EU hailed Ukraine's "considerable efforts" in recent months toward a potential membership.

The Guardian reported that the language was changed from "considerable progress" after Germany, the Netherlands, and other EU member countries complained without "no official assessment to justify such rosy comments."

The EU has said that Ukraine needs to establish a credible track record to curb corruption and speed up its long-withstanding judicial reforms.

A senior EU official told the Kyiv Independent on the condition of anonymity that the bloc plans to begin the negotiations in October, but Kyiv was pushing for Summer.

Standing next to Zelensky, Von der Leyen said Russia made "two big strategic mistakes," which were "underestimating the courage and determination of the Ukrainian people" and "the unity and very strong desire of the EU to stand together with Ukraine for as long as it takes."

While Ukraine's hopes for a swift membership were dashed, Von der Leyen said that the EU would help Ukraine "until the day when the Ukrainian flag will be raised where it is supposed to be - in front of the Belmont building in Brussels."

Regarding sanctions against Russia, von der Leyen said that the EU aimed to prepare the 10th round of sanctions by Feb. 24, the first anniversary of the full-scale invasion.

Von der Leyen said the upcoming sanction package would include an increased price cap on Russian petroleum products. She added that the EU's sanctions were already "throwing it (Russia) back by a generation," with the bloc's oil price gap costing Moscow about $176 million daily.

Zelensky said that Ukraine expects the EU to impose sanctions on Russia's Rosatom state atomic energy corporation that is taking an active part in the occupation of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

Furthermore, Zelensky said Ukraine is continuing to push for a tribunal and the seizure of Russian assets currently frozen in the West.

"It only makes sense that Russia should pay to rebuild Ukraine," said Michel, regarding infrastructure in Ukraine that “Russia has destroyed.”

"Europe will step up its work towards the use of Russia's frozen assets to support Ukraine's reconstruction and for the purposes of reparation, in accordance with EU and international law," says the official EU statement following the summit.

Michel has earlier pressed EU leaders to begin talks on confiscating Russian central bank assets, worth $300 billion, to help reconstruct Ukraine.

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