In an interview with the BBC, airing Sunday, Ukraine’s first lady noted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spiked energy prices across Europe, but has come with an additional price for her homeland.
Olena Zelenskyy told Laura Kuenssberg, “I understand the situation is very tough. . . The prices are going up in Ukraine, as well. But in addition our people get killed. … So when you start counting pennies on your bank account or in your pocket, we do the same and count our casualties.”
The British defense ministry said Sunday in an intelligence update on Twitter that “Russian forces continue to suffer from morale and discipline issues in Ukraine. In addition to combat fatigue and high casualties, one of the main grievances from deployed Russian soldiers probably continues to be problems with their pay.”
The ministry’s statement said that “In the Russian military, troops’ income consists of a modest core salary, augmented by a complex variety of bonuses and allowances. In Ukraine, there has highly likely been significant problems with sizable combat bonuses not being paid. This is probably due to inefficient military bureaucracy, the unusual legal status of the ‘special military operation’, and at least some outright corruption amongst commanders.
“The Russian military has consistently failed to provide basic entitlements to troops deployed in Ukraine, including appropriate uniform, arms and rations, as well as pay,” according to the British ministry. “This has almost certainly contributed to the continued fragile morale of much of the force.”
Saturday, a top European Union leader said amid the intensifying energy battle between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine that Europe is “well prepared” — thanks to storage capacity and energy conservation measures — if Russia decides to stop all gas deliveries.
“We are well prepared to resist Russia’s extreme use of the gas weapon,” EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told reporters on the sidelines of an economic forum in Italy. “We are not afraid of Putin’s decisions, we are asking the Russians to respect contracts, but if they don’t, we are ready to react.”
Gentiloni’s remarks come on the heels of Moscow’s decision Friday to delay the reopening of its main gas pipeline to Germany. Russia was reacting to the Group of Seven countries’ agreement to cap the price of Russian oil exports, limiting Moscow’s profits.
Gentiloni said that gas storage in the European Union “is currently at about 80%, thanks to the diversification of supplies,” although the situation varies in each country.
Russian energy giant Gazprom said it could not resume the supply of natural gas to Germany, just hours before it was set to restart deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Russia blamed a technical fault in the pipeline for the move, which is likely to worsen Europe’s energy crisis.
European Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer said Friday on Twitter that Gazprom acted under “fallacious pretenses” to shut down the pipeline.
Turbine-maker Siemens Energy, which supplies and maintains some of the pipeline equipment, said Friday that there was no technical reason to stop shipping natural gas.
Moscow has blamed Western sanctions that took effect after Russia invaded Ukraine for hindering the maintenance of the gas pipeline. Europe accuses Russia of using its leverage over gas supplies to retaliate against European sanctions.
Friday, finance ministers from the G-7 countries said they would work quickly to implement a price cap on Russian oil exports.
The G-7 ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States said the amount of the price cap would be determined later “based on a range of technical inputs.”
“This price cap on Russian oil exports is designed to reduce Putin’s revenues, closing an important source of funding for the war of aggression,” said German Finance Minister Christian Lindner.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the decision by G-7 finance ministers.
“When this mechanism is implemented, it will become an important element of protecting civilized countries and energy markets from Russian hybrid aggression,” Zelenskyy said in his Friday evening video address.
The jockeying for control of energy supplies comes as Russian and Ukrainian forces trade strikes near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where U.N. inspectors are seeking to avert a potential disaster.
Ukraine’s military said Friday it had carried out strikes against a Russian base in the southern town of Enerhodar, near the nuclear power plant.
Russia and Ukraine each accuse the other of shelling near the facility. Kyiv also accuses Moscow of storing ammunition around the plant and using the facility as a shield for carrying out attacks, charges Russia denies.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited the Zaporizhzhia plant this week, having braved artillery blasts to reach the facility Thursday.
IAEA head Rafael Mariano Grossi said he and his team saw everything they asked to see at the plant, were not surprised by anything, and he will issue a report early next week on his findings.
Grossi, who has left Ukraine, spoke with reporters after arriving at the airport in Vienna on Friday. He said, “My concern would be the physical integrity – would be the power supply and of course the staff” at Zaporizhzhia.
A team of 13 experts accompanied Grossi to Ukraine, and he said six have remained at Zaporizhzhia. Of those six, two will remain until hostilities cease, which Grossi said will make a huge difference.
“If something happens or if any limitation comes, they are going to be reporting it – report it to us,” Grossi said. “It is no longer a matter of ‘A said this, and B said the contrary.’ Now the IAEA is there.”
Friday, Ukraine’s nuclear agency, Energoatom, accused Russia of “making every effort” to prevent the IAEA mission from learning the real situation at the facility.
The Zaporizhzhia plant has been controlled by Russia since the earliest days of its invasion but remains operated by Ukrainian engineers.
With the nuclear plant in a war zone, world leaders have expressed fears it could be damaged and result in a radiation disaster like that at Ukraine’s Chernobyl plant in 1986.
Ukrainian grain shipments are continuing. The Joint Coordination Center said Saturday it has cleared two outbound vessels to move Sunday. The ships are carrying a total of 14,250 metric tons of grain and other food products to Turkey.
Another 10 vessels that had been set to move earlier but were delayed by bad weather are also expected to leave Ukrainian ports Sunday for destinations in Africa, Asia and Europe.
VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.
Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.