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Ukrainians will continue to fight even if surrounded, Western officials say


Ukrainian forces will continue to fight even if surrounded by the Russian advance in Donbass, Western officials have said.

Following the final fall of the port city of Mariupol, the Russians seek to cut off the entrenched Ukrainians around the strategically important city of Severodonetsk.

The city is seen as key to the Russians taking full control of the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, which has been partly held by pro-Moscow separatist rebels since 2014.

Western officials said that while a higher number of Russians meant they would eventually succeed in encircling the “Severodonetsk pocket”, that did not necessarily mean defeat for the Ukrainians.

An official said that although no more aid could get through, the Ukrainians had shown they were ready to continue the fight, inflicting further damage on the Russian military machine.

“I think a lot of it depends on political will.

“The Ukrainians do not want to cede any territory.

“They want the Russians to fight for a very small part,” the official said.

“If these forces continue to fight, they serve an important military function, degrading Russia’s ability to advance and allowing time for Ukrainian forces to continue improving their defenses elsewhere.

“From the point of view of death, escaping might be desirable but from a military point of view and from a political point of view, the Ukrainians will intend to fight.

“We would expect them to fight for every bit of territory they can.”

The assessment came as President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a fresh appeal to the international community to step up financial support for his country while continuing to tighten sanctions against Moscow.

In a video address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, he said: “Here is what the sanctions should be: they should be maximum, so that Russia and any other potential aggressor who wants to wage a brutal war against his neighbor know clearly consequences immediate of their actions.

Meanwhile, Western officials have played down Lithuania’s call for an international naval coalition to lift the Russian blockade of the Black Sea port of Odessa, which is cutting off vital grain exports to the rest of the world.

An official said that in practice this could only be achieved with the agreement of the Russians, which seems unlikely.

“I think the thing we should rule out is any sense that it could be done without Russian permission,” the official said.

“They have the ability to target both ships entering and leaving Odessa and Odessa itself.

“Trying to do so without their consent would obviously increase the risk of there being an incident.”