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Ukraine stops Russian gas at key hub, underlining risk to supply

Latest political developments

  • Russia’s Gazprom indicates some drop in gas supplies to Europe.
  • Moscow says it has enough energy buyers apart from the West.
  • UN chief does not see Ukraine peace negotiations any time soon.
  • U.K. signs security deals with Sweden and Finland.

Updates from the ground on Day 77 of the war

  • Zelensky says Ukrainian military has pushed Russian troops away from Kharkiv.
  • Russian rocket attack targets area around Zaporizhzhia, host city of Mariupol evacuees.
  • Dozens of airstrikes target Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol, fighting regiment says.

Ukraine stopped the flow of Russian natural gas on Wednesday through a hub that feeds European homes and stoves, while Kyiv’s military claimed it made some gains in grinding battles near a key northeastern city.

In 11 weeks, the war has played out on battlefields in Ukrainian towns and cities but also in energy and financial markets, as Ukraine’s allies in the West have sought to deprive Russia of money needed to fund the war with sanctions and energy embargoes.

The practical impact of Wednesday’s gas cut-off for European households was not immediately clear. Ukraine’s pipeline operator said it would switch supply to another hub, and an analyst said transit should not be affected.

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But Russia’s state-owned giant Gazprom indicated some fall-off. It said it was sending gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine in the amount of 72 million cubic metres, apparently down 25 per cent from the day before.

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Members of the Ukrainian military receive treatment for injuries at a front-line field hospital on Tuesday in Popasna, in Ukraine’s Donbas region. (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Preliminary flow data suggested higher rates moving through a second station in Ukrainian-controlled territory. Russian gas flows to Europe through other pipelines as well.

It was also not clear if Russia would take any immediate hit, since it has long-term contracts and other ways of transporting gas.

But the move could hold symbolic significance as the first time Ukraine has disrupted the flow westward. It comes as the European Union has sought to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, phasing out its use of coal and considering doing the same for oil. Gas presents a more complicated problem, given both how much Europe uses and the technical difficulties in sourcing it elsewhere.

Ukraine reports gas siphoning

Ukraine’s natural gas pipeline operator said it would stop Russian shipments through its Novopskov hub, in a part of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, because of interference from “occupying forces,” including the apparent siphoning of gas. It also complained about interference along the route last month.

Benchmark European gas futures see-sawed Tuesday and Wednesday on the news, meaning consumers may face higher energy bills — at a time of already rising prices.

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Raia, 69, gestures at her destroyed house in Sloboda-Kukharivska, Ukraine, on Tuesday. (Alexey Furman/Getty Images)

Higher prices would benefit Russia, though it has massive foreign reserves now given the rapid rise in crude oil prices in recent months as global travel and business resumed in the wake of mass coronavirus pandemic lockdowns.

The hub in question handles about a third of Russian gas passing through Ukraine to western Europe. Gazprom put the figure at about a quarter.

U.S. closer to authorizing $40B aid package

The move came as Western powers have been looking to ratchet up economic pressure on Moscow and bolster Ukraine’s defences. The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday approved legislation that would provide $40 billion US in aid to Ukraine.

Russia has enough buyers for its energy resources outside of Western countries, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday, as European Union countries try to sharply reduce their reliance on Russian oil and gas.

“Let the West pay more than it used to pay to the Russian Federation, and let it explain to its population why they should become poorer,” Lavrov said at a news conference in Muscat after talks with his Omani counterpart.

Russian forces repelled near Kharkiv: Zelensky

On the battlefield, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Ukraine’s military had pushed Russian forces out of four villages near Kharkiv — the country’s second-largest city, and a key to Russia’s offensive in the eastern Donbas.

After his forces failed to overrun the capital in the early days of the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin switched his focus to the region, which is Ukraine’s industrial heartland and has also been the site of fighting between Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian troops for years.

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An injured fighter with the Azov Regiment poses for a photographer inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Tuesday. (Dmytro ‘Orest’ Kozatski/Azov Special Forces Regiment/The Associated Press)

Russian troops continued to pound the steel plant that is the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, its defenders said. The Azov Regiment said on social media Wednesday that Russian forces carried out 38 airstrikes in the previous 24 hours on the grounds of the Azovstal steelworks.

The plant, with its network of tunnels and bunkers, has sheltered hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians during a months-long siege. Scores of civilians were evacuated in recent days, but Ukrainian officials said some may still be trapped there.

Ukraine targets Russian forces on Snake Island

Meanwhile, the British Defence Ministry said Ukraine was targeting Russian forces on Snake Island in the northwestern Black Sea, in an effort to disrupt Moscow’s attempts to expand its influence.

WATCH | Ukraine health system hit by 200 direct attacks, says WHO

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Ukraine health system hit by 200 direct attacks, says WHO

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The World Health Organization is urging an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to stop the suffering from Russia’s widespread assault on Ukraine’s health systems, its workers, and sick and wounded people. 1:15

Russia has sought to reinforce its garrison on Snake Island, while “Ukraine has successfully struck Russian air defences and resupply vessels with Bayraktar drones,” the ministry said on Twitter. It said Russian resupply vessels had minimum protection after the Russian Navy retreated to Crimea after losing the flagship of its Black Sea fleet.

Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press show fighting there.

But the statement warned: “If Russia consolidates its position on (Snake) Island with strategic air defence and coastal defence cruise missiles, they could dominate the northwestern Black Sea.”

On Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said a Russian rocket attack targeted an area around Zaporizhzhia, destroying unspecified infrastructure. There were no immediate reports of casualties. The southeastern city has been a refuge for many civilians who have fled a Russian siege in the devastated port city of Mariupol.

WATCH | Ukrainian officials say Odesa hit with 7 Russian missiles

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Ukrainian officials say Odesa hit with 7 Russian missiles

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The Ukrainian military says Russian forces fired seven missiles from the air at Odesa, hitting a shopping centre and a warehouse. One person was killed and five were wounded. 5:38

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday the time would come when there are peace negotiations over Ukraine, but he did not see that time in the immediate future.

“This war will not last forever. There will be a time when peace negotiations will take place. I do not see that in the immediate future. But I can say one thing: we will never give up,” Guterres said.

U.S. officials and NATO have expressed concerns that Russia may be digging in for a protracted conflict as the war grinds into its third month with little sign of a decisive military victory for either side and no resolution in sight.

Security deals with Sweden, Finland

The Atlantic alliance is also waiting to see whether Sweden and Finland, two key Baltic Sea neighbours of Russia, would announce plans to join NATO — in what could be a serious blow to Russia.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday said he had agreed to new deals with Sweden and Finland to bolster European security, pledging to support both countries’ armed forces should they come under attack.

Johnson and his Swedish counterpart, Magdalena Andersson, signed their countries’ declaration in Harpsund, the country retreat of the Swedish prime minister.

The British statement said the new arrangements would intensify intelligence sharing, and accelerate joint military training, exercises and deployments.

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