© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view shows the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant during a visit by members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expert mission, in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict outside Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia regi
By Tom Balmforth
KYIV (Reuters) – European leaders sought to ease the impact of high energy prices across the continent after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned of a difficult winter, even as he reported progress in a counter-offensive against Russian troops.
In Sunday’s nightly remarks, Zelenskiy thanked his forces for taking two settlements in the south and a third, along with additional territory, in the east, citing “good reports” from his military commanders and intelligence head.
Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president’s office, earlier posted an image of soldiers raising the Ukrainian flag over a village he said was in the southern area that is the main focus of the counter-offensive.
“Vysokopillya. Kherson region. Ukraine. Today,” Tymoshenko wrote on Facebook (NASDAQ:) over a photograph of three soldiers on rooftops, one of them fixing a Ukrainian flag to a post.
Ukraine began the counter-offensive last week targeting the south, particularly the Kherson region, which Russia seized early in the conflict.
After Ukrainian forces’ intense shelling of clusters of Russian troops in the region, the Russians have banned movement of residents, forbidding them to cross the Dnipro River, the Ukrainian general staff said on Monday.
Russia has launched 25 missile strikes, and more than 22 air strikes, on military and civilian targets in Ukraine in the last 24 hours, the statement added, keeping up its focus on establishing full control over the Donetsk region.
Zelenskiy’s remarks came a day after he warned Europeans that Russia was preparing “a decisive energy blow” during the cold months ahead.
Moscow has cited Western sanctions and technical issues for the energy disruptions. European countries, which have backed Kyiv with diplomatic and military support, have accused Russia of weaponising energy supplies.
Some analysts say the shortages and a surge in living costs as winter approaches risk sapping Western support for Kyiv as governments try to soothe disgruntled populations.
Last week Moscow said it would keep closed the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, its main gas channel to Germany, while G7 countries announced a planned price cap on Russian oil exports.
The Kremlin said it would stop selling oil to nations that adopted the cap.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Sunday his government had been planning for a total halt in gas deliveries in December, promising measures to lower prices and tie social benefits to inflation.
“Russia is no longer a reliable energy partner,” Scholz told a news conference in Berlin.
In response, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accused Germany of being an enemy of Russia. “In other words, it has declared a hybrid war on Russia,” he said.
On Sunday, Finland and Sweden announced plans to offer billions of dollars to power companies to avert the threat of insolvency amid the crisis.
Separately, the U.S. embassy in Moscow said John Sullivan, the ambassador appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2019, had left his post and was retiring. A State Department official said Sullivan had served a typical tour length.
EYES ON ZAPORIZHZHIA NUCLEAR PLANT
Russian authorities said the situation was calm around the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine, after U.N. inspectors said on Saturday it had again lost external power.
Three strong explosions were heard in Energodar, the curfew-bound city where the plant is located, but there were no immediate details of damage and casualties, Russia’s official TASS news agency said on Monday.
Ukrainian troops made two attempts to deploy assault teams in the vicinity of the city, it said, adding that they were using drones, heavy artillery and rocket launching systems.
The last main external power line was cut off, although a reserve line kept up electricity supply to the grid, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said.
Only one of its six reactors remained in operation, it said.
Russian troops seized the plant shortly after President Vladimir Putin sent his army over the border on Feb. 24. It has become a focal point of the conflict. Each side has blamed the other for shelling that has raised fears of a nuclear disaster.
Vladimir Rogov, a pro-Russian official in the Zaporizhzhia region, told Komsomolskaya Pravda radio that there had been no shelling or incursions, and that IAEA experts were expected to work at the plant until at least Monday.
Last week an IAEA mission toured the plant, which is still operated by Ukrainian staff, and some experts have stayed there pending the release of an IAEA report.
Russia has resisted international calls to demilitarise the area.
On other battlefronts, Ukrainian Telegram channels reported explosions at the Antonivsky bridge near the city of Kherson, occupied by Russian forces.
Ukrainian missiles have severely damaged the bridge over the past weeks, but Russian troops were trying to repair it or to set up a pontoon crossing or barges to maintain supplies to their units on the right bank of the Dnipro River.