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WRAPUP 4-Ukraine's Zelenskiy warns of hard winter, reports war progress

·4 min read

(Updates with Zelenskiy's comments about counter-offensive)

* Zelenskiy: Russia plans 'decisive energy blow on all Europeans'

* Russia delayed pipeline reopening in blow to Europe

* IAEA says line down at Zaporizhzhia plant but backup working

* U.S. ambassador to Russia leaves post

By Tom Balmforth

KYIV, Sept 4 (Reuters) - European leaders on Sunday sought to ease the impact of high energy prices across the continent, after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned of a difficult winter, even as he reported progress in a counter-offensive against Russian troops.

Zelenskiy thanked his forces in his nightly address on Sunday for taking two settlements in the south and a third in the east, as well as additional territory in the east, saying he had received "good reports" from his military commanders and head of intelligence.

Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the president's office, earlier on Sunday posted an image of soldiers raising the Ukrainian flag over a village he labeled as being in the southern area that is the main focus of the counter-offensive.

"Vysokopillya. Kherson region. Ukraine. Today," Tymoshenko wrote in a Facebook post over a photo of three soldiers on rooftops, one of them fixing a Ukrainian flag to a post.

Ukraine began a counter-offensive last week targeting the south, particularly the Kherson region, which Russia seized early in the conflict.

Zelenskiy's remarks came a day after he warned Europeans that Russia was preparing "a decisive energy blow" during the cold months ahead.

Moscow has cited Western sanctions and technical issues for the energy disruptions. European countries who have backed Kyiv with diplomatic and military support have accused Russia of weaponizing energy supplies.

Some analysts say the shortages and a surge in living costs as winter approaches risk sapping Western support for Kyiv as governments try to deal with disgruntled populations.

Separately, the U.S. embassy in Moscow said John Sullivan, the ambassador since his appointment by former President Donald Trump in 2019, had left his post and was retiring from the diplomatic service. A State Department official said Sullivan had served a typical tour length.

Last week Moscow said it would keep the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, its main gas channel to Germany, closed and G7 countries announced a planned price cap on Russian oil exports.

The Kremlin said it would stop selling oil to any countries that implemented the cap.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Sunday his government had been planning for a total halt in gas deliveries in December, promising measures to lower prices and tie social benefits to inflation.

"Russia is no longer a reliable energy partner," Scholz told a news conference in Berlin.

In response, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev accused Germany of being an enemy of Russia. "In other words, it has declared a hybrid war on Russia," he said.

On Sunday, Finland and Sweden announced plans to offer billions of dollars to power companies to avert the threat of insolvency amid the crisis.

EYES ON ZAPORIZHZHIA NUCLEAR PLANT

Russian authorities said the situation around the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine was calm on Sunday, after U.N. inspectors said on Saturday it had again lost external power.

The last remaining main external power line was cut off although a reserve line continued supplying electricity to the grid, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement.

Only one of its six reactors remained in operation, it said.

Russian troops seized the plant shortly after President Vladimir Putin sent his army over the border on Feb. 24. It has become a focal point of the conflict. Each side has blamed the other for shelling that has raised fears of a nuclear disaster.

Speaking to Komsomolskaya Pravda radio, Russian official Vladimir Rogov said there had been no shelling or incursions. IAEA experts are expected to continue working at the plant until at least Monday, Rogov was quoted as saying.

An IAEA mission toured the plant, which is still operated by Ukrainian staff, last week and some experts have remained there pending the release of an IAEA report.

Russia has resisted international calls to demilitarize the area.

On other battlefronts, Ukrainian Telegram channels reported explosions at the Antonivsky bridge near the southern city of Kherson, which is occupied by Russian forces.

The bridge has been severely damaged by Ukrainian missiles over the past weeks, but Russian troops were trying to repair it or to set up a pontoon crossing or barges to maintain supplies to Russian units on the right bank of the Dnipro River.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth in Kyiv; Additional reporting by Michael Shields, Ron Popeski, Elaine Monaghan and Reuters bureaus; Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Angus MacSwan and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by William Mallard, Philippa Fletcher and Lisa Shumaker)