PARIS — On a day to commemorate the end of World War II in Europe, the war in Ukraine was marked by posturing and signals on Sunday as each side stepped up its rhetoric and resolve.
Leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies have pledged to end their dependence on Russian energy and ensure that Russia does not triumph in its “unprovoked, unjustifiable and unlawful aggression” , as President Vladimir V. Putin continued his indiscriminate bombardment of eastern Ukraine and orchestrated Russia’s celebrations. Victory Day on Monday.
A statement from the Group of 7 major industrialized nations said that on a day when Europe remembered the devastation of World War II and its millions of casualties, including those of the Soviet Union, the actions of Mr. Putin “brings Russia and the historic sacrifices of its people to shame.”
The leaders, signaling to Mr Putin that their unwavering support for Ukraine would only grow, said: “We remain united in our determination that President Putin does not win his war against Ukraine.” The memory of all who fought for freedom in World War II, the statement said, compelled them “to continue to fight for it today.”
The tone was firm, with no mention of potential diplomacy or a ceasefire.
In Moscow, as fighter jets streaked overhead and nuclear weapons were displayed in preparation for VE Day, Mr Putin appeared to signal to Western leaders that he was determined to redouble his efforts in the war until ’til he could conjure up something that could be claimed as a victory.
There was fresh evidence of this on Sunday, as rescuers searched through rubble in Bilohorivka, a village in the Lugansk region of eastern Ukraine where a Russian bomb had leveled a school building the day before, killing people sheltering there, local authorities said.
“Most likely the 60 people who remain under the rubble are now dead,” Governor Serhiy Haidai wrote on the Telegram messaging app. But it’s unclear how many people were actually in the school and that toll could turn out to be inflated. If confirmed, it would be one of the deadliest Russian attacks since the war began in February.
Despite World War II commemorations across much of Europe on Sunday and in Russia on Monday, a painful reminder of the tens of millions killed, there was no sign that the war in Ukraine was about to end. On the contrary, all the signals were pointing in the opposite direction. Russian attacks on Ukrainian towns and villages have been met with a crescendo of Western rhetoric, accompanied by a constant danger of escalation.
Mr Putin, whose steady militarization of Russian society in recent years has turned the May 9 celebration of the Soviet defeat of the Nazis into an annual apotheosis of a resurgent nation’s might, is set to paint a war of repeated setbacks in Ukraine. as a success lead to “denazify” a neighboring nation whose very existence he denies.
His much-anticipated speech could go further, perhaps signaling that whatever Ukraine is conquered so far will become permanent through annexation. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and began stoking military conflict in the eastern Donbass region.
In Mariupol, the Ukrainian port city now in ruins after a sustained Russian assault, and a place Mr Putin wants to present as proof of his “victory”, the city’s last Ukrainian defenders have sworn to fight. Russian forces were clearing the streets on Sunday ahead of a celebratory parade on Monday.
Throughout eastern Ukraine, Russia seemed determined to make its occupation permanent through Russian flags, Russian-language signs and the introduction of the rouble. The Group of 7 leaders said any attempt “to replace democratically elected Ukrainian local authorities with illegitimate ones” would not be recognised.
Visits to the region by First Lady Jill Biden, who traveled across western Ukraine to meet Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska during an unannounced visit to Uzhhorod, and Justin Trudeau, the first Canadian minister, who unexpectedly appeared in a war-scarred suburb of kyiv, were clearly aimed at sending the message of unwavering Western commitment.
Senior US diplomats returned to the US Embassy in Kyiv for the first time since the war began.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky released a black-and-white video speech on Sunday marking the Allied victory in 1945. Standing in front of a destroyed building in a kyiv suburb hard hit by Russian troops before their withdrawal from the region around the capital, he said: “We pay tribute to all those who defended the planet against Nazism during World War II.”
Mr Putin portrayed Mr Zelensky, who is Jewish, as the leader of a nation threatening Russia with revived Nazism. Its aim was to instill the spirit of the Great Patriotic War, as World War II is known in Russia, among the Russian troops, but without apparent success.
In the vast Azovstal steelworks which is the last remaining part of Mariupol not under Russian control, Ukrainian troops again rejected Russian deadlines for surrender. In a virtual press conference, Lt. Illya Samoilenko, an officer of a Ukrainian National Guard battalion known as the Azov Regiment, said: “We are basically dead men. Most of us know this. This is why we fight.
Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, the regiment’s deputy commander, said: “We don’t have much time, we are constantly bombarded”, with attacks from Russian tanks, artillery, planes and snipers.
The civilians remaining in the steelworks were evacuated on Saturday. Local officials put the death toll in the city at more than 20,000.
While the United States and its allies refused to commit military forces for fear of starting World War III, they decided to support Ukraine in every other way, their resolve mounting and their actions expanding with each Russian atrocity.
The Group of 7 declaration included a series of economic, military and judicial measures, with the apparent aim of bringing the Russian economy to its knees and increasing the pressure on Mr Putin to give up a war of choice that turned him into an outcast and threatens much of his country’s progress over the past two decades.
“We are committed to phasing out our dependence on Russian energy, including by removing or prohibiting the import of Russian oil,” the statement said. He added, without being specific, that it would be done “in a timely and orderly manner”. Alternative sources, they added, would be found to ensure “affordable prices for consumers”.
It was unclear how this Group of 7 commitment went beyond existing commitments, if at all.
The European Union, made up of 27 countries, has already pledged to completely ban imports of all Russian oil, with most countries phasing out Russian crude oil within six months and refined oil by the end of the year. The European Union is too dependent on Russian gas to consider banning it in the short term.
The war has already driven up petrol prices across much of Europe in a generally inflationary climate. If the war drags on for a long time, it’s likely that support for the West’s commitment to Ukraine could waver among consumers who pay the cost at the pump or in their utility bills.
The statement from the Group of 7, meeting remotely, says the seven nations – the United States, France, Britain, Japan, Germany, Canada and Italy – have already provided or pledged 24 billion to Ukraine for 2022. “In the coming weeks, we will step up our collective short-term financial support,” they said.
“We will continue to take action against Russian banks connected to the global economy and systematically critical of the Russian financial system,” they added. More generally, they would “take action to prohibit or otherwise impede the provision of key services upon which Russia depends”.
Military and defense assistance would continue to ensure that “Ukraine can defend itself now and deter future acts of aggression.”
The leaders said they would “spare no effort to hold President Putin” and his accomplices “accountable for their actions in accordance with international law”.
The charges of illegality brought against Mr. Putin for the invasion of a sovereign country will not fail to irritate the Russian president. The NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999 during the Kosovo War, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and Western support for Kosovo’s independence in 2008 gave him a healthy distrust of invocations United Nations Charter and international law.
War raged in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, with a Ukrainian counter-offensive near Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, gaining ground in the northeast. However, the Ukrainian army withdrew from the town of Popasna after two months of fierce fighting.
In general, the planned Russian offensive in the east of the country, like the rest of Mr. Putin’s war, went less well than expected. Mr Putin’s overall aim, at least for now, appears to be to connect Crimea via Mariupol to other occupied areas of eastern Ukraine and to Russia itself, forming a strip of territory coherent and strategic.
William J. Burns, director of the CIA and former US ambassador to Russia, said the current phase of the war was at least as dangerous as Russia’s initial attempt to attack the capital and overthrow the Ukrainian government.
Speaking in Washington on Saturday, he said Mr Putin was “in a state of mind that he thinks he can’t afford to lose” and was confident that “doubling down again will allow him to progress”.
In the 77 years since the end of World War II, the possibility of a large conflagration in Europe has rarely, if ever, appeared more plausible.
The report was provided by Emma Bubola in London; Eduardo Medina At New York; Marc Santora in Krakow, Poland; Maria Varenikova in Kyiv, Ukraine; Katie Rogers in Uzhhorod, Ukraine; Julian E. Barnes and Michael Crowley in Washington; and Cassandra Vinograd in London.