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‘We must not humiliate Russia’, warns French President Macron as Ukrainian forces push back Russians in eastern city

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Members of a foreign volunteers unit which fights in the Ukrainian army take positions in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region Ukraine on June 2, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Serhii Nuzhnenko

Members of a foreign volunteers unit which fights in the Ukrainian army take positions in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region Ukraine on June 2, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Serhii Nuzhnenko

Members of a foreign volunteers unit which fights in the Ukrainian army take positions in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region Ukraine on June 2, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Serhii Nuzhnenko

French President Emmanuel Macron said it is vital that Russia is not humiliated so that when the fighting stops in Ukraine a diplomatic solution can be found.

Macron added that he believed Paris would play a mediating role to end the conflict.

He has sought to maintain a dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February. His stance has been repeatedly criticised by some eastern and Baltic partners in Europe, as they see it as undermining efforts to pressure Putin to the negotiating table.

"We must not humiliate Russia so that the day when the fighting stops we can build an exit ramp through diplomatic means," Macron said in an interview to regional newspapers published on Saturday. "I am convinced that it is France's role to be a mediating power."

Macron has spoken with Putin regularly since the invasion as part of efforts to achieve a ceasefire and begin a credible negotiation between Kyiv and Moscow.

"I think, and I told him, that he is making a historic and fundamental mistake for his people, for himself and for history," Macron said.

France has supported Ukraine militarily and financially, but until now Macron has not been to Kyiv to offer symbolic political support like other EU leaders, something Ukraine has wanted him to do. Macron said he had not ruled out going.

Paris is sending offensive weapons, including Caesar howitzer canon, taken from French army stocks. Macron said he had asked weapons manufacturers to accelerate production.

Meanwhile Kyiv said on Saturday that Ukrainian forces had recaptured a chunk of the industrial city of Sievierodonetsk and could hold it for up to two weeks as fighting raged on.

Kyiv said Moscow had reinforced its troops around the city and attempted to cut off Ukraine's access to the industrial city, the focus of a Russian offensive to take the eastern Donbas region.

Serhiy Gaidai, governor of Luhansk province, said Russian forces were blowing up bridges across the Siverskyi Donets river to prevent Ukraine bringing in military reinforcements and delivering aid to civilians in Sievierodonetsk.

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"The Russian army, as we understand, is throwing all its efforts, all its reserves in that (Sievierodonetsk) direction," Gaidai said in a live TV broadcast on Saturday.

"Russians are blowing up bridges, so we could not bring in reinforcements to our boys in Sievierodonetsk," he said.

He said Ukrainian troops had retaken 20pc of the territory they had lost in Sievierodonetsk.

He said it was "not realistic" that the city would fall in the next two weeks. "As soon as we have enough Western long-range weapons, we will push

their artillery away from our positions. And then, believe me, the Russian infantry, they will just run," said Gaidai.

Since being driven back from the capital Kyiv, Russia has launched a massive assault in Luhansk and Donetsk, two provinces that make up the eastern Donbas region.

For both sides, the fighting in the east in recent weeks has been one of the deadliest phases of the war, with Ukraine saying it is losing 60 to 100 soldiers every day.

Ukraine's military said on Saturday Russia had used artillery to conduct "assault operations" in Sievierodonetsk, but Russian forces retreated and Ukrainian troops are holding positions inside the city, around 145 kilometres from the Russian border.

Russian soldiers also attempted to advance towards Lysychansk, across the Siverskyi Donets river from Sievierodonetsk, but were stopped, Ukraine's military general staff said.

Reuters reached Sievierodonetsk on Thursday and was able to verify that Ukrainians still held part of the city.

In neighbouring Donetsk province, Russian troops were just 15 km outside the city of Sloviansk, regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko told Reuters on Friday.

Britain's defence ministry said on Saturday that Russian air activity remains high over Donbas, with Russian aircraft carrying out strikes using both guided and unguided munitions.

In Ukraine's southern Odesa region on Saturday morning, a missile hit an agricultural storage unit, wounding two people, the regional administration's spokesman wrote on Telegram.


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