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Zelensky: Only diplomacy can end conflict with Russia

Ukrainian president warns continued fighting ‘will be bloody’; Moscow cuts gas supplies to Finland following NATO application

A destroyed tank is seen near the village of Biskvitne near Kharkiv on May 19, 2022, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. (Sergey Bobok/AFP)
A destroyed tank is seen near the village of Biskvitne near Kharkiv on May 19, 2022, amid Russia's military invasion launched on Ukraine. (Sergey Bobok/AFP)

KYIV, Ukraine (AFP) — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky warned Saturday that only a diplomatic breakthrough rather than an outright military victory could end Russia’s war on his country, as Moscow cut gas supplies to Finland.

“There are things that can only be reached at the negotiating table,” Zelensky said, just as Russia claimed its long-range missiles had destroyed a shipment of Western arms destined for Ukraine’s troops.

After just over 12 weeks of fierce fighting, Ukrainian forces have halted Russian attempts to seize Kyiv and the northern city of Kharkiv, but are under renewed and intense pressure in the eastern Donbas region.

Moscow’s army has flattened and seized the southeastern port city of Mariupol and subjected Ukrainian troops and towns in the east to a remorseless ground and artillery attack.

Zelensky’s Western allies have shipped modern weaponry to his forces and imposed sweeping sanctions on the Russian economy and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

But the Kremlin has responded by disrupting European energy supplies, and on Saturday cut off gas shipments to Finland, which angered Moscow by applying to join the NATO alliance.

A photo taken on May 12, 2022 shows pipes at the Gasum plant in Raikkola, Imatra, Finland. (Vesa Moilanen/Lehtikuva/AFP)

‘It will be bloody’

Against this backdrop, Zelensky told Ukrainian television the war would end “through diplomacy.”

The conflict, he warned, “will be bloody, there will be fighting but will only definitively end through diplomacy” — promising only that the result would be “fair” for Ukraine.

“Discussions between Ukraine and Russia will decidedly take place. Under what format I don’t know — with intermediaries, without them, in a broader group, at presidential level,” he said.

In order to side-step financial sanctions and force European energy clients to prop up his central bank, Putin has demanded that importers from “unfriendly countries” pay for gas in rubles.

Russian energy giant Gazprom said it had halted supplies to neighboring Finland as it had not received ruble payments from Finland’s state-owned energy company Gasum by the end of Friday.

Gazprom supplied 1.49 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Finland in 2021, about two-thirds of the country’s gas consumption but only eight percent of its total energy use.

Gasum said it would make up for the shortfall from other sources, through the Balticconnector pipeline, which links Finland to Estonia, a fellow European Union member.

A man fishes on the ice of the Finnish Gulf next to the business tower Lakhta Centre, the headquarters of Russian gas monopoly Gazprom covered by clouds in St. Petersburg, Russia, on January 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky, File)

Moscow cut off gas to Poland and Bulgaria last month in a move the European Union described as “blackmail,” but importers in some other EU countries more dependent on Russian gas plan to open ruble accounts with Gazprom’s bank.

Finland and neighboring Sweden this week broke their historical military non-alignment and applied to join NATO, after public support for the alliance soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

‘Grave mistake’

Moscow has warned Finland that joining NATO would be “a grave mistake with far-reaching consequences” and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said it would respond by building military bases in western Russia.

But both Finland and Sweden are now apparently on the fast track to join the military alliance, with US President Joe Biden this week offering “full, total, complete backing” to their bids.

All 30 existing NATO members must agree on any new entrants, and Turkey has condemned Sweden’s alleged toleration of Kurdish militants, but diplomats are confident of avoiding a veto.

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