Ukrainian troops prepare for new Russian attacks on Donbas, says Zelenskyy

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Ukrainian troops are preparing for new Russian attacks in the east of the country as Moscow builds up its forces there after setbacks near the capital Kiev, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Thursday.

The Russian invasion of its neighbor, now in its fifth week, has forced about a quarter of Ukrainians from their homes and pushed Russian-Western tensions to their worst point since the Cold War.

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Russia withdraws 20% of troops from Kiev, Pentagon says

Vigorous resistance from Ukrainian forces has prevented Russia from taking a major city, including Kiev, where a Russian armed column was held back for weeks. During peace talks in Istanbul this week, Russia said it would curtail operations near Kiev and the northern city of Chernihiv to build confidence.

But Ukraine and its Western allies, including the United States, rejected Russia’s promise as a ploy to contain its losses and prepare for other attacks.

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The head of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency said new intelligence showed some Russian soldiers had refused to carry out orders, sabotaged their own equipment and accidentally shot down one of their own planes.

Click to play video: 'Russia-Ukraine conflict: More than 4 million people have fled Ukraine as food crisis looms'

Russia-Ukraine conflict: More than 4 million people have fled Ukraine as food crisis looms

Russia-Ukraine conflict: More than 4 million people have fled Ukraine as food crisis looms

Russia says its forces are regrouping to focus on “liberating” the breakaway eastern Donbas region.

In an early morning video speech, Zelenskyy referred to Russian troop movements away from Kiev and Chernihiv, saying this was not a withdrawal, but rather “the result of the work of our defenders”.

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In Kharkiv, a city that was once close to Russia is bombed daily

Zelenskyy added that Ukraine “sees a build-up of Russian troops for new attacks on the Donbas and that we are preparing for that”.

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The Donbas region includes two self-proclaimed “people’s republics” that Russia says it is helping liberate from Ukrainian control.

The leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Denis Pushilin, said on Wednesday that offensive operations were intensifying.

Click to play video: 'Progress reported in Russia-Ukraine talks'

Progress reported in Russia-Ukraine talks

Progress reported in Russia-Ukraine talks

Donetsk includes the besieged port city of Mariupol, which experienced some of the heaviest fighting and bombing of the war and where about 170,000 people are trapped with scarce food and water.

“We cook what we find at the neighbors. A little cabbage, a little more potatoes, we found tomato paste, some beetroot,” said former steel worker Viktor from Mariupol. They cook using a rudimentary barbecue and sleep in a cellar, which he called their “peaceful oasis.”

Russian troops have taken half of the strategic port city, an adviser to Zelenskyy said on Wednesday. Russia’s defense ministry said Thursday it was ready to observe a ceasefire in Mariupol, Russian news agencies reported.

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Kiev has accused Russia of failing to fully honor previous such commitments. Moscow denies targeting civilians.

Peace talks, gas prices

Russia says it is conducting a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbor. Western countries say the invasion of Moscow, the biggest attack on a European country since World War II, has not been provoked at all.

Donbas’ fate was discussed during peace talks in Istanbul on Tuesday. A leading Ukrainian negotiator said talks will resume online Friday.

Ukraine has called for a ceasefire without compromising territory or sovereignty, though it has proposed adopting neutral status in exchange for security guarantees. Russia opposes Ukraine’s entry into NATO’s US-led military alliance, citing its potential membership as the reason for the invasion.

Click to play video: 'Russia-Ukraine Peace Talks'

Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine

Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine

Western sanctions against Russia as punishment for its invasion have largely isolated its economy from world trade, but Moscow is still Europe’s largest supplier of oil and gas.

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The United States is considering releasing up to 180 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) over several months to ease upward pressure on gasoline prices, two US sources said.

US President Joe Biden will comment later on Thursday about attempts to lower gas prices, the White House said.

To exert its influence, Russia demanded that oil and gas payments be made in rubles by Friday, raising fears of energy shortages and increasing recession risks in Europe. Germany has warned of a potential emergency if Russia cuts supplies.

Click to play video: 'U.S. intelligence shows Putin was 'misinformed' by advisers about Ukraine, White House says

US intelligence shows Putin was ‘misinformed’ by advisers about Ukraine, White House says

US intelligence shows Putin was ‘misinformed’ by advisers about Ukraine, White House says

Russian President Vladimir Putin floated a potential compromise, telling German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that payments could be made in euros and sent to Gazprombank, which would convert the money into rubles, a German government spokesman said.

Scholz asked for written information to “better understand the procedure,” the spokesperson said.

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Gazprombank, one of the main payment channels for Russian oil and gas, is not subject to EU sanctions.

‘squeezed out’

Global restrictions on exports to Russia because of its invasion have shut down a carmaker, halted work on tanks and blocked a Russian computer maker’s access to circuits used in communications equipment, a US official said.

“Necessity brought together this unprecedented collaboration on export controls and other measures that have a meaningful impact on Putin’s war,” said Thea Kendler, an official with the US Department of Commerce.

Russia says that the West has effectively declared economic war on Russia and so it will now turn east away from Europe to build a partnership with China.

(Reporting by Reuters agencies; Writing by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Coates; Editing by Michael Perry)

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