EU says Ukraine ceasefire would be inherently unstable

Two Russian oil refineries hit by drone attacks near the Black Sea

Ukrainian soldiers in a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle near the frontline city of Bakhmut. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

The EU's top official on Wednesday argued against a ceasefire along the current battle lines in Ukraine, saying it would be “inherently unstable”.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said any peace “must be a lasting one” and involve a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine.

Her remarks came after two Russian oil refineries near the Black Sea were hit by drone attacks in the early hours of Wednesday, causing a fire at one site, the latest incident in mainland Russia.

Plants in Afipsky and Ilsky, in Russia's Krasnodar region, were struck by unmanned aerial vehicles.

Russian officials did not immediately say who they suspected of launching the attacks, but Moscow has accused Kyiv of targeting its territory in recent weeks.

Neither side has made major military gains in Ukrainian territory in recent weeks after a bitter struggle for the city of Bakhmut.

At a conference in Bratislava, Ms von der Leyen said a ceasefire “would be inherently unstable and destabilise the region along the contact line”.

“After all, a ceasefire was in place after 2014 and we know what happened to that arrangement last February when Russia invaded Ukraine,” she said.

“Nobody would invest or rebuild, and the conflict could flare up again at any time. No – a just peace must result in the withdrawal of Russian forces and their equipment from the territory of Ukraine.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned against an unstable ceasefire in Ukraine. AP

The Ilsky refinery, which is across the Azov Sea from Ukraine, came under attack at about 4am local time, Russian state-owned news agency RIA reported, citing local officials.

No casualties were reported and there was no damage to the site.

“As a result of the fall, the apparatus crashed, the plant’s infrastructure was not damaged, and there was no fire,” the report said. “Special services and law enforcement agencies are working on the spot.”

The incident came after Russian officials on Sunday said air defence systems had neutralised several drones as they approached the site in Ilsky.

The Ilsky oil refinery caught fire in early May after a drone attack. EPA

After a blaze broke out at the Afipsky oil refinery, the governor of Krasnodar said a drone was the probable cause. Veniamin Kondratyev said the fire had affected an area of about 100 square metres and had been extinguished. No one was hurt, he said.

On Tuesday, the Kremlin blamed Ukraine for a series of drone strikes on the Russian capital, which caused minor damage to buildings and injured two people.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Kyiv of trying to frighten Russians, and said the attack had been in response to Russia’s targeting of a Ukrainian military intelligence headquarters.

In a televised address, Mr Putin said Kyiv had chosen to “intimidate Russia, to intimidate Russia's citizens” and added: “This is obviously a sign of terrorist activity.”

Some of Moscow’s most upmarket districts were targeted, including one where Mr Putin has a home.

The attack prompted the government to order stronger air defence systems.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian presidential aide, denied Kyiv was behind the attacks, but said “we are pleased to watch events” and predicted that they would continue.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said British public officials are a “legitimate military target” because of the UK's support for Ukraine.

Mr Medvedev, deputy chairman of Mr Putin's Security Council, claimed Britain’s backing for Kyiv amounted to an “undeclared war” against Russia.

His warning came after the UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Ukraine had the right to “project force beyond its borders” into Russia to resist the Russian invasion.

In response to Mr Cleverly’s comments, Mr Medvedev said: “The goofy officials of the UK, our eternal enemy, should remember that within the framework of the universally accepted international law which regulates modern warfare, including The Hague and Geneva Conventions with their additional protocols, their state can also be qualified as being at war.”

The White House said it did not support attacks on Russian territory and that it was gathering information on the latest incidents. Russia’s ambassador to the US accused Washington of supporting terrorists.

The war of words between Moscow and the West has escalated ahead of a crucial summit in Moldova, which will bring together 46 EU and European leaders to discuss financial and political support for Ukraine.

Western allies are also looking ahead to the Nato summit in Vilnius in July.

Russia, meanwhile, continues to bombard Ukrainian cities with drone and missile attacks.

One person was killed and four wounded in a Russian drone strike on Kyiv on Tuesday, according to Ukrainian officials.

There were no such attacks reported overnight.

Ukraine and Russia conflict – latest pictures

Russia evacuates children near Ukraine border after shelling

On Wednesday evening, Russia said it was evacuating hundreds of children from villages due to intensifying shelling in the border region of Belgorod, where the situation was deemed “alarming” by the Kremlin.

Authorities began evacuating children from the border districts of Shebekino and Graivoron, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram.

“The question of children's safety in the two districts … is very important,” Mr Gladkov said.

“All of us adults are very worried.”

Mr Gladkov said the first 300 evacuated children will be taken to Voronezh, a city about 250 kilometres away.

More than 1,000 more children will be removed to other provinces over the coming days, he added.

A correspondent for state-run agency RIA Novosti near Voronezh said buses had arrived with about 150 people on board.

The governor said the situation was growing worse in the village of Shebekino, where he reported more shelling during the day that injured four people, but did not cause any deaths.

Updated: May 31, 2023, 10:40 PM