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Calling Putin a ‘butcher,’ Biden doubts Russia will scale back Ukraine targets


US President Joe Biden has cast doubt on Russia’s signal that it may be reducing its war aims to focus on eastern Ukraine, as two Russian missile strikes hit the western part of the country on Saturday , injuring five people.

After failing to break kyiv’s fierce resistance in a month of fighting and deadly attacks on civilians, the Russian military said in a surprise announcement that it would focus on “the main objective the liberation of Donbass.

But Biden said he was “not sure” Moscow had actually changed its strategy, as he called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “butcher” when meeting Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

The US leader’s assessment came as two missiles hit a fuel depot in Lviv, western Ukraine, a rare attack on a town just 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the Polish border that has escaped serious fighting since the invasion of Russian troops last month.

At least five people were injured, regional governor Maksym Kozytsky said, as AFP reporters in the city center saw plumes of thick black smoke.

Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, promising to destroy the country’s military and overthrow pro-Western President Volodymyr Zelensky.

But his army has made little headway in capturing key towns, and its attacks that have hit hospitals, apartment buildings and schools have become deadlier.

Biden, who led efforts by Western allies to pressure Putin to end his invasion of Ukraine, called Putin a “war criminal” for attacks on civilians.

The Kremlin hit back at Biden’s description of Putin as a “butcher”, saying “a head of state must stay sober”.

“Such personal insults reduce the window of opportunity for our bilateral relations under the current (US) administration. We should be aware of this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in remarks carried by the official TASS news agency.

Unwavering

Biden, who is on a two-day visit to Poland after holding a series of summits in Brussels with Western allies, earlier met Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov in Warsaw in a demonstration categorical support for kyiv.

The two ministers had made a rare trip outside Ukraine for the face-to-face talks, a possible sign of growing confidence in their response against Russian forces.

The talks focused on “Washington’s unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

Biden, who later met with Polish President Andrzej Duda, also underscored NATO’s “sacred commitment” to collective defense, in clear assurance to Ukraine’s conflict-torn neighbours.

“You can count on that…for your freedom and ours,” he told Duda.

Speaking after visiting Ukrainian refugees later on Saturday, Biden said children asked him to pray for their male relatives fighting in Ukraine.

“I remember what it’s like when you have somebody in a war zone and every morning you wake up and you’re wondering…you’re praying you don’t get that phone call,” said Biden, whose son Beau served in Iraq before he died. of a brain tumour.

“Everybody shoot”

On the front line, the much larger Russian army continued to fight determined Ukrainian defenders using weapons supplied by the West. from near the capital kyiv to Kharkiv, the Donbass region and the devastated port city of Mariupol.

A humanitarian convoy leaving Mariupol, including ambulances carrying injured children, was being held up at Russian checkpoints, a Ukrainian official said.

An accumulation of several kilometers had formed near Vassylivka, in the Zaporizhzhia region where the convoy was heading, said Lyudmyla Denisova, in charge of human rights in Ukraine.

“Ambulances carrying injured children are also queuing. People have been deprived of water and food for two days,” she wrote on Telegram, accusing Russian troops of “creating obstacles.”

Authorities said they fear some 300 civilians in Mariupol died in a Russian airstrike on a theater used as a bomb shelter last week.

Russian forces hammering Mariupol’s fierce resistance see the city as a pivot in their bid to create a land corridor between the Crimean region, which Moscow seized in 2014, and Donbass.

A Mariupol resident who managed to escape from the city, Oksana Vynokurova, described leaving complete devastation behind.

“I lost all my family. I lost my house. I’m desperate,” the 33-year-old told AFP after reaching Lviv by train.

“My mother is dead. I left my mother in the yard like a dog, because everyone is shooting.”

In Kharkiv, where local authorities reported 44 artillery fire and 140 rocket fire in a single day, residents resigned themselves to the incessant shelling.

Anna Kolinichenko, who lives in a three-room apartment with her sister and brother-in-law, said they didn’t even bother going down to the basement when the sirens sounded.

“If a bomb drops, we’re going to die anyway,” she said. “We are getting used to the explosions a bit”.

Russian forces have taken control of Slavutych, the town where Chernobyl nuclear power plant workers live, briefly detaining the mayor, Ukrainian regional authorities said.

Townspeople protested, prompting the invading forces to fire shots into the air and throw stun grenades into the crowd.

kyiv said it was reducing a planned 35-hour curfew to just Saturday 8 p.m. until Sunday 7 a.m., as Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian counterattacks were underway near the capital.

Ukrainian forces were also trying to retake Kherson, the only major city held by invading Russian troops, a Pentagon official said.

‘Bragging’

Some had predicted that the Russian army would cross Ukraine with little resistance, but they had vastly underestimated Ukrainian determination.

Putin’s army also displayed poor discipline and morale, flawed equipment and tactics, and brutality towards civilians, according to Western analysts.

Amid heavy censorship, Russian authorities on Friday gave only their second official military tally since the start of the invasion, at 1,351.

This is well below Western estimates, with a senior NATO official saying between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian troops died.

Sergei Rudskoi, a high-ranking Russian general, suggested the time had come for a drastically reduced “primary objective” of controlling Donbass, an eastern region already partly held by Russian proxies.

Rudskoi said Ukraine’s military had been badly degraded and Russia had failed to seize cities to “prevent destruction and minimize casualties among personnel and civilians.”

While diplomatic efforts have so far done little to stop Russia, Zelensky has continued his relentless attempt to rally world leaders to his side.

This time, delivering his message to the Doha Forum meeting in the Qatari capital, he accused Russia of fueling a dangerous arms race by “bragging” about its nuclear stockpiles.

He also urged Qatar to help prevent Moscow from deploying the energy as a weapon.

“I ask you to increase energy production to make everyone in Russia understand that no one can use energy as a weapon to blackmail the world,” Zelensky said.


Russia news

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