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Russia resumes some gas flows to Germany as its forces home in on power plant in Ukraine

Russia resumes some gas flows to Germany as its forces home in on power plant in Ukraine
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By Reuters
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By Nina Chestney and Natalia Zinets

LONDON/KYIV - Russia resumed gas supplies through its biggest pipeline to Europe but Germany said it was not enough to rule out potential shortages, while in Ukraine, Russian forces were reported to be close to seizing the country's second biggest power plant.

Russian troops shelled cities across the east and south and hit two schools as they carried out limited ground operations in preparation for a wider offensive, Ukrainian officials said. Russia said its forces had destroyed military targets.

The resumption of gas flows via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany ended a nerve-jangling 10 days for Europe in which politicians expressed concern Russia might not restart them at a time when alternative energy supplies are tight and prices high.

But flows were only restored at the 40% of capacity levels they had been running at before the maintenance pause and Germany's economy minister Robert Habeck accused Russia of blackmailing Europe over energy.

The Kremlin denied that and blamed Europe for disruption which it said was caused by EU sanctions which had complicated the pipeline's maintenance.

Nord Stream 1 has traditionally carried more than one third of Russia's gas exports to Europe and while its restart allayed concern Russia might not restart them at all, supplies were not enough for Germany to reach its storage requirements.

"In view of the missing 60% (capacity) and the political instability, there is no reason yet to give the all-clear," said Klaus Mueller, president of Germany's network regulator. Other countries in Europe, including France, Austria and the Czech republic, would also be affected, the regulator said.

Habeck said he feared the pipeline's capacity could fall further and that Germany would tighten its gas storage targets, introduce gas saving measures, and dip into its coal reserves in October to try to ensure even supplies.

The European Commission has proposed that member countries cut gas use by 15% to prepare for possible supply cuts but that plan is facing resistance from some governments.

Moscow has repeatedly criticised EU and U.S. sanctions on Russia over its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine and Western arms help for Kyiv, saying it had to undertake what it calls a "special military operation" to prevent NATO using Ukraine to threaten Russia.

Ukraine says it needs the weapons to defend itself against what it and the West cast as an unprovoked imperial-style war of aggression designed to steal its land and erase its national identity.

Ben Wallace, Britain's defence minister, said London would send scores of artillery guns and more than 1,600 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine after outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised another 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) of military support.

INTENSE SHELLING

The Ukrainian military reported heavy and sometimes fatal Russian shelling in the east and south of the country amid what its said were largely failed attempts by Russian ground forces to advance in the eastern Donetsk region.

Donetsk regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said Russian missile strikes had destroyed two schools in the cities of Kramatorsk and Kostiantynivka and had also hit the city of Bakhmut but there was no information yet on casualties.

"Russia is intentionally destroying our cities and towns. Do not expose yourself to danger - evacuate," he wrote on Telegram.

Russia's defence ministry said its forces had destroyed the headquarters of Ukraine's SBU intelligence service in Kramatorsk and had shot down a Ukrainian SU-25 military plane nearby. It said it had also hit Ukrainian artillery positions and arms depots near Kostiantynivka.

Russia says it does not deliberately target civilians and uses high precision weapons to degrade Ukrainian military targets, but the war has flattened cities, particularly in Russian-speaking areas in the east and southeast of Ukraine.

The mayor of Kharkiv, Igor Terekhov, said one of the most densely populated areas of the city was being shelled while the governor of the wider region, Oleh Synehubov, said two people had been killed and 19 wounded, four of them seriously.

Vitaly Kim, governor of the southern Mykolaiv region, said the region had been targeted with seven S-300 missiles. One person had been wounded, he said, and infrastructure damaged.

Multiple blasts were also heard in the Russian-controlled southern region of Kherson overnight and into Thursday, Russian news agency TASS reported.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports.

HEAVY LOSSES

CIA Director William Burns said on Wednesday that the United States estimated that Russian casualties in Ukraine had so far reached around 15,000 killed and perhaps 45,000 wounded and that Ukraine has suffered what he called significant losses too.

Russia classifies military deaths as state secrets even in times of peace and has not updated its official casualty figures frequently during the war.

Scotching persistent speculation that Putin may be suffering from health problems, Burns also said that the Kremlin chief was healthy as far as he knew.

British military intelligence said on Thursday that Russian forces were likely closing in on Ukraine's second biggest power plant at Vuhlehirska, 50 km (31 miles) north-east of Donetsk.

"Russia is prioritising the capture of critical national infrastructure, such as power plants," the ministry, which supports Ukrainian forces, said in a regular bulletin.

It said taking the power plant, a Soviet-era coal-fired facility, was also probably part of Russia's attempt to regain momentum as it tried to advance towards the key cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in eastern Ukraine.

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