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Defiant Putin Slams West While Ukraine Inches Closer to Joining EU

Ukrainian soldiers ride a self-propelled artillery vehicle Gvozdika in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, June 17, 2022.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy applauded the European Commission’s recommendation to grant Ukraine candidate status for European Union membership, while Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the West and dismissed sanctions imposed on Moscow as “stupid.”

Putin spoke Friday at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where he accused the West of “colonial arrogance” and trying to crush Russia with sanctions.

Putin said the "special military operation" in Ukraine will continue, and he emphasized Russia's sovereignty and strength when faced with what he called “Western hostility.”

The West has fundamentally refused to fulfill its earlier obligations, it turned out to be simply impossible to reach any new agreements with it," Putin said. "In the current situation, against a backdrop of increasing risks for us and threats, Russia's decision to conduct a special military operation was forced - difficult, of course, but forced and necessary."

Putin said the U.S. is trying to change “the course of history,” and he accused the West of fanning anti-Russian sentiment and of "active military appropriation of Ukrainian territory."

He spoke as Russia continued its offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Ukraine’s military said Friday the attacks continue in the key cities of Sloviansk and Sievierodonetsk. Russia and its allies say they control about half of Donetsk and nearly all of Luhansk, the two regions that make up the Donbas. Sievierodonetsk and surrounding villages are in the last part of Luhansk that Ukraine still holds.

Ukraine joining EU?

The head executive of the European Union said Friday that Ukraine should be formally considered for candidate status.

"We all know that Ukrainians are ready to die for the European perspective,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission's president. "We want them to live with us the European dream.”

Early Friday, Zelenskyy tweeted that he commends the decision, adding, “It’s the 1st step on the EU membership path that’ll certainly bring our Victory closer.”

The recommendation is the first step in the long process of becoming a member of the 27-nation bloc. EU leaders will meet later this month to consider the commission’s recommendation. The commission also recommended candidacy for Moldova, though not for Georgia.

Russia's foreign ministry accused Brussels of "manipulating" Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies.

"We see how for many years the Western community has been manipulating the idea of some kind of involvement of Ukraine in their integration structures," Russian Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was quoted as saying.

Natural gas cuts

France is the latest country to be completely cut off from Russian natural gas. Moscow also has reduced supplies by half to Italy and Slovakia. In addition, Germany and Austria have also been hit. Europe gets about 40% of its gas from Russia.

The European nations are stockpiling their reserves to prepare for winter. They use less gas during the summer because buildings don’t need to be heated.

The EU wants its members to have their gas storage at 80% capacity, at least, by November.

Russia previously cut off natural gas to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Biden willing to pay 'political price'

President Joe Biden says he’s willing to pay a political price for his support for Ukraine. The United States imposed tough sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine and gas prices have skyrocketed since.

In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, Biden said he is making decisions as commander in chief and not as a politician.

“I'm the president of the United States,” he said. “It's not about my political survival. It's about what’s best for the country.”

Biden said there could be chaos in Europe if Russia keeps moving deeper into the continent without being challenged.

Foreign leaders visit Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and President Klaus Iohannis of Romania visited Kyiv on Thursday in a show of support for Ukraine amid its battle to fend off Russia's invasion.

"It's an important moment. It's a message of unity we're sending to the Ukrainians," Macron said. Air raid sirens blared as their visit began.

After the talks between the four leaders and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the four signaled that Ukraine would be offered candidate status in the economic bloc.

"My colleagues and I have come here to Kyiv today with a clear message: Ukraine belongs to the European family," Scholz said.

Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president who is now deputy head of the Kremlin Security Council, dismissed the European leaders as "connoisseurs of frogs, liver and pasta" and said their visit brought no benefit.

"Again they promised EU membership and old howitzers, slammed down some vodka and, like 100 years ago, took the train home," he tweeted. "And that's all good. It's just that this doesn't bring Ukraine any closer to peace. And the clock is ticking."

But in his nightly video address, Zelenskyy said it was important for him to hear that the European leaders "agree the end of the war and peace for Ukraine should be as Ukraine sees them."

He said Ukrainians will continue to fight for their land.

The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed some information for this report.