ZAPOROZHIA, Ukraine – Ukraine on Wednesday shut down a pipeline carrying Russian natural gas to homes and industries in Western Europe, while a Kremlin-appointed official in the southern Russian-occupied region said the area would ask Moscow to annex it.
The immediate effect of the power outage is likely to be limited, in part because Russia can redirect gas to another pipeline and because Europe is counting on different suppliers. But this was the first time since the start of the war that Ukraine disrupted the flow of one of Moscow’s most lucrative exports to the west.
Meanwhile, talks on annexation in Kherson – and Russia’s apparent willingness to consider such a request – have increased the likelihood that the Kremlin will seek to break off another piece of Ukraine in an attempt to save the invading conflict. Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014.
“The city of Kherson is Russia,” Deputy Head of the Kherson Regional Administration Kirill Stremusov told RIA Novosti. He said that regional officials want Russian President Vladimir Putin to make Kherson a “proper region” for Russia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that such a request was “made by the people of the Kherson region” and that any move to the annexation territory should be carefully assessed by experts to make sure that its legal basis is “absolute.” clear ».
In recent years, Russia has repeatedly used the annexation or recognition of breakaway republics as a tactic to gain parts of the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after a referendum was held on the peninsula on whether it wanted to become part of Russia.
Kherson, a Black Sea port with about 300,000 inhabitants, provides access to fresh water for neighboring Crimea and is seen as a gateway for greater Russian control over southern Ukraine. It was captured at the beginning of the war, becoming the first major Ukrainian city to perish.
Adviser to the President of Ukraine Mykhailo Podalak ridiculed the idea of its annexation, writing on Twitter: “Invaders may even ask to join Mars or Jupiter. The Ukrainian army will liberate Kherson, no matter what word games they play. “
As for the energy front, Ukraine’s gas pipeline operator said it had stopped the flow of Russian gas through a compressor station in eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists because enemy forces were interfering with the station’s operation and taking away gas.
The hub serves about one-third of Russia’s gas passing through Ukraine to Western Europe. But analysts say most of the gas could be diverted through another pipeline from Russia that runs through Ukraine, and preliminary data suggests this is already happening.
In any case, Europe also gets natural gas from other pipelines and other countries.
“We are losing a few percent of total gas supplies to Europe, taking into account imports and domestic production,” said Tom Marzek-Manser, head of ICIS’s gas analytics division. “So this is not a big gas cut off” for Europe.
However, European gas futures have increased in the news, which means consumers may face higher energy bills at a time when prices are already rising.
It was unclear whether Russia would strike a direct blow, as it has long-term contracts and other means of transporting gas.
But the restriction underscores the broader risk to gas supplies as a result of the war.
“Yesterday’s decision is a small preview of what could happen if gas plants suffer from fire and run the risk of prolonged downtime,” said gas analyst Zongjiang Luo of Rystad Energy.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said a Russian missile strike had struck Zaporizhia, destroying unidentified infrastructure. There were no direct reports of casualties. The southeastern city was a haven for civilians fleeing the Russian siege of the ruined port city of Mariupol.
Russian troops continue to beat the metallurgical plant, which is the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, its defenders said. The Azov regiment reported on social networks that Russian troops had struck 38 air strikes on the territory of the Azovstal metallurgical plant in the previous day.
The plant with a network of tunnels and bunkers sheltered hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians during a months-long siege. Dozens of civilians have been evacuated in recent days, but Ukrainian officials say some may still be trapped.
In a speech on Tuesday, President Vladimir Zelensky suggested that the Ukrainian military was gradually pushing Russian troops away from Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city and the key to Russia’s offensive in the Donbass, the Kremlin’s eastern industrial region. .
Zelensky said his troops had driven Russian troops out of four villages near Kharkiv in the northeast.
According to the British Ministry of Defense, Ukraine is also targeting Russian air defenses and replenishment vessels on the Black Sea island of Smeina to thwart Moscow’s efforts to expand control over the coastline.
The ministry said Russian replenishment vessels have had minimal protection since the Russian Navy retreated to Crimea after sinking the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet.
Separately, Ukraine said on Wednesday it shot down a cruise missile aimed at the Black Sea port city of Odessa.
The gas cut-off came at a time when Western powers were seeking to increase economic pressure on Moscow and support Ukraine’s defenders. The US House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a $ 40 billion aid package to Ukraine. The approval of the Senate proved certain.
However, there is a growing fear that hostilities in Ukraine could remain a source of continental and global instability for months or even years.
U.S. officials and NATO have expressed concern that Russia could be embroiled in a protracted conflict if the war turns into its third month without signs of a decisive military victory for both sides and an ugly decision.
The alliance is also waiting for Sweden and Finland, Russia’s two neighbors, to announce plans to join NATO, which the Kremlin will view as an insult.
Gambrel reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Esika Fish in Bakhmut, David Keitan in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanov in Lviv, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita Baldor in Washington, Kelvin Chan in London and AP staff around the world.