Vladimir Putin's plans are not going according to plan. That is the thought that must be going through the Russian president's head these days, as he sees how the means mobilised for the invasion have not been enough to reduce a people, the Ukrainian people, willing to stand up to the end. A resistance led by President Volodymir Zelensky, whose career as a leading actor in romantic comedies gave no hint of his statesmanship.
Intelligence services, independent analysts and even the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, agree: the strategy designed by the Kremlin has not worked. But only the latter, Putin's right-hand man who rules the region with an iron fist, has demanded that the Russian leader deploy more aggressive tactics. A roadmap that Moscow has already set in motion in Kharkov, Ukraine's second-largest city with 1.5 million inhabitants.
Dozens of people were killed on Monday during the Russian army's "massive" bombardment of Kharkov, the adviser to Ukraine's interior minister, Anton Gerashchenko, confirmed. The brutal air offensive, which targeted residential areas, caused numerous unaccounted civilian casualties and reduced many parts of a city close to the Russian border and with close cultural and economic ties to its eastern neighbour to rubble, leaving heart-rending images. The attack came just a day after Ukrainian forces recaptured the town, which had been seized hours earlier by Russian soldiers.
The number of people killed since the start of the invasion has risen to 352, according to the Ukrainian health ministry. The figures updated on Monday also reflect the existence of 2,040 wounded, which could increase exponentially in the coming hours. Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has counted 102 dead and 300 wounded. In an escalation of hostilities that has claimed the flight of half a million people, most of whom have been displaced towards Poland.
While Russian missiles were falling on Kharkov, the Ukrainian and Russian delegations held their first talks in the Belarusian town of Gomel, close to the Ukrainian border, to find a solution through dialogue and put an end to the invasion launched by Moscow. A dialogue whose success seemed to be a chimera and which has ended with little progress after almost six hours of meetings, which will be repeated in the coming days in a hostile context for diplomacy.
The Ukrainian president, who hours earlier launched an appeal to the European Union for his country to join the Community bloc immediately "within the framework of a new special procedure", formally requested its integration in an act in which he was accompanied by the president of the Rada and its prime minister, Denis Shmihal. Zelenski signed a letter to Brussels in a historic step that fulfils the Europeanist will expressed by a majority in Ukraine. In a context, moreover, of the utmost urgency.
During his vibrant address to the Ukrainian people on Monday, one more since the beginning of the invasion, Zelenski had urged the EU to grant his country immediate membership in response to Moscow's invasion, in addition to the package of aggressive sanctions imposed by Brussels and Washington on the Russian economy. These actions have plunged the rouble by 30% in just one day.
This request activates the EU's processes for assessing the candidacy. A process in which any country located on the continent that respects and promotes the fundamental values of the European Union is welcomed. Although the slowness of the bureaucratic procedures, as well as the strict political conditions, make approval difficult in the short or medium term. An approval that European Commission President Ursula von der Layen said she supported "in time".
The EU's High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrel, has praised Volodymir Zelenski's performance. "The Ukrainians are resisting and thank God Zelenski is not a leader who flees hiding in a car". The Ukrainian president has also received praise and a call from another European leader seeking to assume the leadership of the EU-27 after Angela Merkel's withdrawal, Emmanuel Macron. The French president told his Ukrainian counterpart that Putin has pledged not to attack civilians in Ukraine.