By ELENA BECATOROS and JON GAMBRELL
ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine (AP) – Ukraine on Wednesday shut down a pipeline carrying Russian natural gas to homes and industries in Western Europe, while a Kremlin official in a southern region occupied by Russian forces said the area will shut down Moscow. ask to annex it.
The immediate effect of the energy freeze is likely to be limited, partly because Russia can divert the gas to another pipeline and because Europe is dependent on different suppliers. But it was the first time since the start of the war that Ukraine disrupted the flow west of one of Moscow’s most lucrative exports.
Meanwhile, talk of annexation into Kherson — and Russia’s apparent willingness to consider such a request — raised the possibility that the Kremlin will try to tear down another piece of Ukraine as it tries to salvage a failed invasion. . Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine in 2014.
“The city of Kherson is Russia,” Kirill Stremousov, deputy head of the Kherson regional administration installed by Moscow, told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency. He said regional officials want Russian President Vladimir Putin to make Kherson a “real region” of Russia.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it would be “up to the residents of the Kherson region” to make such a request, and that any move into annexation territory should be carefully evaluated by experts to ensure the legal basis is “absolute”. Transparent.”
Russia has repeatedly used annexation or recognition of breakaway republics as a tactic in recent years to seize pieces of the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 after holding a referendum on the peninsula over whether it wanted to become part of Russia.
A port of about 300,000 on the Black Sea, Kherson provides freshwater access for neighboring Crimea and is seen as a gateway to wider Russian control of southern Ukraine. It was captured early in the war, making it the first major city of Ukraine to fall.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak mocked the idea of annexation, tweeting: “The invaders can ask to join even Mars or Jupiter. The Ukrainian army will liberate Kherson, whatever games they play with words.”
On the energy front, the Ukrainian natural gas pipeline operator said it was taking steps to stop the flow of Russian gas through a compressor station in a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists because enemy forces interfered with the station’s operation and took off gas.
The hub processes about a third of the Russian gas that goes to Western Europe via Ukraine. But analysts said much of the gas could be diverted through another pipeline from Russia that traverses Ukraine, and preliminary data suggested this is already happening.
In any case, Europe also obtains natural gas from other pipelines and other countries.
“We’re losing a few percent in total European gas supply if you also consider imports and domestic production,” said Tom Marzec-Manser, head of gas analysis at ICIS, a market research firm. “So this isn’t a huge gas shutdown” for Europe.
Still, European gas futures were in the news, meaning consumers may face higher energy bills at a time of already rising prices.
It was not clear whether Russia would be directly affected, as it has long-term contracts and other means of transporting gas.
But the shutdown highlights the wider gas supply risk of the war.
“Yesterday’s decision is a small preview of what can happen if gas installations are hit by live fire and are at risk of extended outages,” said Rystad Energy gas analyst Zongqiang Luo.
On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said a Russian missile strike targeted an area around Zaporizhzhya, destroying unspecified infrastructure. There were no direct reports of casualties. The southeastern city was a refuge for civilians fleeing the Russian siege in the ruined port city of Mariupol.
Russian troops continued to pound the steel mill, the last bastion of the Ukrainian resistance in Mariupol, defenders said. The Azov regiment said on social media that Russian forces have carried out 38 airstrikes on the grounds of the Azovstal steel plant in the past 24 hours.
The factory, with its network of tunnels and bunkers, has protected hundreds of Ukrainian troops and civilians during a months-long siege. Dozens of civilians have been evacuated in recent days, but Ukrainian officials said some are still trapped there.
In his late-night address Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested that the Ukrainian army is gradually pushing Russian troops away from Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city and a key to Russia’s offensive in the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that the Kremlin said it is his main goal. †
Zelenskyy said his troops drove Russian troops from four villages near Kharkov, in the northeast of the country.
Ukraine is also targeting Russian air defense and supply ships on Snake Island in the Black Sea in a bid to disrupt Moscow’s attempts to extend its control of the coastline, the British Defense Ministry said.
The ministry said Russian supply ships have enjoyed minimal protection since the Russian navy withdrew to Crimea after the sinking of the flagship of the Black Sea fleet.
Separately, Ukraine said it shot down a cruise missile on Wednesday that was targeting the Black Sea port city of Odessa.
The gas freeze came as Western powers attempted to increase economic pressure on Moscow and bolster Ukraine’s defenders. The US House on Tuesday approved a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. Senate approval seemed certain.
Still, fears are growing that fighting in Ukraine could continue to be a source of continental and global instability for months or even years.
US officials and NATO have expressed concern that Russia may be engaged in a protracted conflict as the war approaches its third month with little sign of a decisive military victory for either side and no resolution in sight.
The alliance is also waiting to see if Sweden and Finland, two neighbors of Russia, announce plans to join NATO, a move the Kremlin would consider an insult.
Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yesica Fisch in Bakhmut, David Keyton in Kiev, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Kelvin Chan in London and AP’s global collaborators contributed.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine