After weeks of fierce fighting, the Russian army has claimed complete control of the Azovstal steelworks in the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. All enemy fighters surrendered, the Ministry of Defense announced on Saturday night in Moscow.
The sprawling industrial complex on the Azov Sea was the last place in the strategically important port city in south-eastern Ukraine that had not yet been fully under Russian control. The Ukrainian side initially did not comment on the alleged capture of the plant.
In a television interview recorded before the Russian government announced the capture, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy blamed the West for the development.
He has repeatedly called on Western leaders to provide his country with “appropriate weapons so that we can reach Mariupol to liberate these people.”
Because of the massive destruction in his country, Zelenskyy mentioned in his nightly video speech a fund for compensation payments to countries that Russia had damaged with attacks. That could be regulated in a “multilateral agreement”.
Zelenskyy suggested freezing or confiscating Russian capital and property abroad and transferring it to this new fund. “That would be fair,” he said.
According to Ukrainian estimates, war damage in Ukraine already totals hundreds of billions of euros. Russia began its attack on the neighboring country at the end of February.
Zelenskyi also blamed Russia for a rocket attack on a cultural center in the east of the country that injured eight. An eleven-year-old child was also injured in the shelling in the city of Lozova in the Kharkiv region, the head of state wrote on the Telegram news channel.
“The occupiers have identified culture, education and humanity as their enemies.” Russia, in turn, accused Ukraine of misusing civilian objects for military purposes.
Former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen criticized the German government’s cautious course on this point. Germany is “too hesitant to deliver heavy weapons and impose sanctions,” the Dane told the Handelsblatt newspaper.
“Of course, Germany is highly dependent on Russian gas imports, but I think a clear stance from the federal government would change the whole dynamic in Ukraine. We need German leadership.”
The Dane, who was Prime Minister of his country from 2001 to 2009 and Secretary General of the transatlantic military alliance from 2009 to 2014, called on Europeans to stop importing oil and gas from Russia immediately.
“Certainly an energy embargo will have a price. But compared to the cost of a protracted war, that price would be small,” argued Rasmussen. The most effective means is to stop the financing of Putin’s war machine – and this requires a freeze on all oil and gas imports.
The new international Ukraine contact group plans to reconnect on Monday. The US Department of Defense announced that this time the meeting would be held via video. There will be representatives from more than 40 countries.
At the end of April, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin invited partners from around 40 countries to a meeting at the US Air Force base in Ramstein, Rhineland-Palatinate, to discuss aid for Ukraine. There he had promised future meetings of the contact group on a monthly basis.
Russia has stopped its gas supplies to Finland. “Natural gas deliveries to Finland under the Gasum supply contract have been suspended,” said the Finnish state-owned energy company Gasum on Saturday. The Russian energy giant Gazprom announced the delivery stop on Friday.
The reason is that payments for the gas delivered in April were not made. Russia had demanded that bills only be paid in rubles and no longer in euros or dollars – and had previously turned off the gas supply to Poland and Bulgaria because, like Finland, they had rejected the ruble payment that had not been contractually agreed.
After the capture of the Mariupol steelworks, it remains to be seen whether Russia will provide information on the whereabouts of the arrested Ukrainian militants. The Defense Ministry in Moscow released a video of the men’s arrest.