EU leaders are holding a two-day summit focused almost entirely on the conflict in Ukraine, it is expected the leaders will approve Ukraine to apply for EU membership and will issue a warning that a seventh package of sanctions is being considered.
President Macron, Chancellor Scholtz and Prime Minister Draghi are expected to visit Kyiv “within days”. They are expected to confirm that no peace deals and no sanctions easing with Russia will be agreed without the approval of Kyiv. They are also expected to warn Moscow of further sanctions if the fighting escalates or does not end soon.
The military action and statements by senior Russian officials suggest that Moscow is now entirely focused on gaining full control of the Donbas region as quickly as possible. The fate of the Donbas will be the most difficult part of peace talks.
Both in terms of the fighting in eastern Ukraine and the sanctions momentum, there are grounds for optimistic and pessimistic scenarios. But there is a clear sense that whatever happens next will be a major game-changer for Russia’s relations with the West and for the economy.
President Putin will make his traditional May 9th speech ahead of the military parade on Red Square tomorrow. There is a lot of speculation about what he may say, although the Kremlin has specifically denied he will declare martial law or move to a war footing.
No victory by Victory Day. Despite previous speculation, Russian officials are now saying that there will not be an end to the fighting in Ukraine by May 9th. However, there is an expectation that President Putin will make a significant statement on, or ahead of, that date.
It is now clear that President Zelensky will not engage in further peace talks until there is a full cease-fire and civilians and military now trapped in Mariupol are safe. It is equally clear that President Putin will not agree to a cease-fire until Russia has secured military objectives including, at minimum, full control of the Donbass region.
President Putin’s press spokesperson admitted that Russia has suffered a “significant loss of troops”. He also said that the military is making every effort to “complete the operation in the coming days, in the foreseeable future”. This is a big change in tone and content from him.
Ukraine and Russian officials are talking (via video link) again today. This follows the submission of proposals by Ukraine, to compromise on some issues, on Wednesday. The Kremlin spokesperson dampened expectations for any meaningful progress, stating that both sides are still a long way apart.
US President Biden said “this man (Putin) cannot remain in power” in a speech made in Warsaw. White House officials have downplayed the comment but, to officials in Moscow, it provides proof of what they believe the West is trying to achieve with sanctions.