EU weighs Ukraine support as new refugee exodus beckons

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union leaders sought Friday to shore up their support for Ukraine after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned that Russia was trying to spark a refugee exodus by destroying his war-ravaged country’s energy infrastructure.

Nearly eight months into the war, Russia has increasingly targeted Ukraine’s power stations, waterworks and other key infrastructure with missile and drone strikes. Meanwhile, the EU is struggling with the fallout of having to urgently wean itself off Russian gas and oil as the war fuels price hikes and market nervousness.

In a speech via video link to European leaders in Brussels on Thursday, Zelenskyy said “attacks by Russian cruise missiles and Iranian combat drones have destroyed more than a third of our energy infrastructure. Because of this, unfortunately we are no longer able to export electricity to help you maintain stability.”

The president added: “Russia also provokes a new wave of migration of Ukrainians to EU countries,” by attacking electricity and heating sources “so that as many Ukrainians as possible move to your countries.”

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas described the targeting of civilian infrastructure as “pure terrorism.”

Russia’s attacks are meant to “make us afraid. It is to make us refrain from the decisions that we would otherwise make, and this is awful that it is possible to do this in the year 2022,” Kallas told reporters at an EU summit in Brussels.

Her Latvian counterpart, Krisjanis Karins, said “Russia’s war is becoming ever more brutal, now blatantly aimed not at the Ukrainian military but at Ukrainian citizens.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has branded Russia’s attacks on civilian infrastructure as “war crimes.”

More than 4.3 million Ukrainian citizens have registered for temporary protection in the EU. Poland is hosting almost almost a third of them.

A draft of a summit statement has the EU leaders affirming they “will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes” with continued political, military and economic support.

They also say the 27-nation bloc will “step up its humanitarian response, in particular for winter preparedness.” The draft text, seen by The Associated Press, is expected to be adopted later Friday, although its precise wording could change.

The EU is deeply divided over how to handle the arrival of migrants without authorization, an issue that lies at the heart of one of the bloc’s biggest-ever political crises. But many countries, particularly in central and eastern Europe, so far have set aside their objections to welcome large numbers of war refugees from Ukraine.

The leaders of the EU’s member countries also are set to warn Belarus against helping Russia in the war. Ukraine’s military leaders warned this week that Russia is deploying aircraft and troops to Belarus and that Russian forces could attack from there to cut supply routes for Western weapons and equipment.

“The Belarusian regime must fully abide by its obligations under international law. The European Union remains ready to move quickly with further sanctions against Belarus,” the draft summit statement says.

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