Putin, Zelenskyy Court Major Allies as Ukraine Makes Gains

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy are each courting major allies on Thursday, seeking to prop up their efforts in a war whose fortunes have tilted toward Ukraine in recent days.

In Uzbekistan's ancient Samarkand, Putin was hoping to break through his international isolation and further cement his ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a geopolitical alliance increasingly seen as potent counterweight to the Western powers.

Putin and Xi were due to meet one-on-one and discuss Ukraine, according to the Russian president's foreign affairs adviser.

In Kyiv, Zelenskyy was shrugging off a traffic collision the previous night that left him with no major injuries, officials said. He met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who once more showed full commitment to Ukraine's cause.

Von der Leyen said she would address "how to continue getting our economies and people closer while Ukraine progresses towards accession" to the European Union, which is likely still years away in even the best of circumstances.

In a sign of further EU commitment, the European Parliament completed the drawn-out political process of a 5 billion-euro preferential loan to Ukraine, the key part of a 9 billion-euro package of aid to offset the cost of war.

In Germany, the EU's economic powerhouse, the foreign minister was pressuring Chancellor Olaf Scholz to decide soon to supply Ukraine with versatile tanks while the war momentum was with Kyiv.

Germany has been hesitant on such moves for long, but Annalena Baerbock said that "in the decisive phase that Ukraine currently finds itself, I also don't believe that it's a decision which can be delayed for long."

While Russian forces in some areas are increasingly being pushed back toward the border, Russia is still striking from behind the front line. Ukrainian officials said Russian missiles kept hitting the dam of the reservoir close to Zelenskyy's birthplace, Kryvyi Rih, on Thursday, The damage flooded over 100 homes. Efforts were underway to contain more spillage and authorities urged citizens to take shelter as strikes continued.

The attack so close to his roots angered Zelenskyy, who said the strikes had no military value.

"In fact, hitting hundreds of thousands of ordinary civilians is another reason why Russia will lose," he said in his nightly address late Wednesday.

The presidential office said that Russian shelling of seven Ukrainian regions over the past 24 hours killed at least two civilians and wounded 14.

Zelenskyy himself remained in a buoyant mood, saying that almost 400 settlements had been retaken in less that a week of fighting.

"It was an unprecedented movement of our warriors -- Ukrainians once again managed to do what many considered impossible," he said.

Zelenskyy is expected to ask for more Western military material, which has been essential in driving the counteroffensive, and request even harsher sanctions against Moscow as the war approaches the seven-month mark.

Despite the renewed Ukrainian vigor on the battlefield and the first rumblings of criticism at home, Putin is staying steadfast with his determination to fully subdue Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.

After a phone call with Putin earlier in the week, Scholz said that "unfortunately, I cannot tell you that the realization has grown over there by now that this was a mistake to start this war."

"There has been no indication that new attitudes are emerging there now," he added.