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Putin says Russia wants a buffer zone in Ukraine’s Kharkiv but has no plans to capture the city

The remarks were Putin’s first in the offensive launched on May 10, which opened a new front and displaced thousands of Ukrainians in a matter of days. Earlier Friday, a massive Ukrainian drone attack on the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula knocked out power in the city of Sevastopol, after an earlier attack damaged planes and fuel storage at an air base.

In southern Russia, Russian authorities said a refinery was also set on fire.

Moscow launched attacks in the Kharkiv region in response to Ukrainian bombing of Russia’s Belgorod region, Putin told reporters during a visit to the Chinese city of Harbin.

“I have said publicly that if this continues, we will be forced to create a security zone, a health zone,” he said. “This is what we do.” Russian troops are “advancing daily as planned,” he said, adding that there were no plans at the moment to take the city of Kharkiv.

Ukrainian troops are fighting to stop the Russian advance in the Kharkiv region, which began late last week. In a bid to increase the number of soldiers, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed two laws on Friday, allowing prisoners to join the army and increasing the fines imposed on draft dodgers by five. The controversial mobilization law comes into force on Saturday.

Russia conscripted prisoners early in the war, and lack of personnel forced further measures. The legislation allows “conditional release from serving a sentence and subsequent enlistment in military service” for a specific period for certain persons accused of criminal offenses. It does not extend to persons convicted of crimes against the national security of Ukraine.

Penalties will be increased to 25,500 hryvnias ($650) for citizens and 51,000 hryvnias ($1,300) for officials and legal entities for ignoring draft opinions or failing to update the committee draft of their information. Fines previously amounted to 5,100 hryvnias ($130) for citizens and 8,500 hryvnias ($215) for civil servants and legal entities.

Ukrainian authorities have evacuated around 8,000 civilians from the recently disputed town of Vovchansk, 5 kilometers from the Russian border. The Russian army’s usual tactic is to reduce towns and villages to rubble with airstrikes before troops enter them.

At least two people were killed and 19 others injured in the Russian shelling of Kharkiv, regional head Oleh Syniehubov said in his Telegram message on Friday. Four of the injured were in critical condition.

Russia’s new offensive has “expanded the zone of active hostilities by almost 70 kilometers” (45 miles), aiming to force Ukraine to spread out its forces and use reserve troops, the military chief said Friday Ukrainian, Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi.

In the Kharkiv region, Russian forces have advanced 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border, Zelenskyy said Friday.

Separately, speaking about the upcoming peace conferences on Ukraine to be held in Switzerland next month, Putin said it was a vain attempt to enforce the terms of a peaceful settlement on Russia and stressed that Russia was not invited to the meeting.

He said Russia was ready to begin negotiations, but viewed Zelensky’s peace formula as wishful thinking. Any possible peace talks should be based on a draft agreement negotiated by Russia and Ukraine during their Istanbul talks in 2022, he said.

Ukraine, for its part, has carried out drone raids on Crimea in an attempt to retaliate during Moscow’s offensive in northeastern Ukraine, which has increased pressure on the outnumbered and outnumbered Ukrainian forces. sub-armies, awaiting delayed deliveries of crucial arms and munitions from their Western partners.

A Ukrainian intelligence official confirmed to The Associated Press that the country’s intelligence services struck Russian military infrastructure sites in Novorossiysk, on the Black Sea coast, and the Russian-occupied city of Sevastopol. The official was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The operation, carried out by Ukrainian-made drones, targeted ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the official said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said air defense downed 51 Ukrainian drones over Crimea, 44 over Russia’s Krasnodar region and six over the Belgorod region. Russian warplanes and patrol boats also destroyed six maritime drones in the Black Sea, the statement said.

At least three fighter jets were destroyed in a previous attack in Crimea a few days ago, according to satellite images of the air base provided by Maxar Technologies.

Mikhail Razvojaev, governor of Sevastopol, which is the main base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, said the drone attack damaged the city’s power plant. He said it could take a day for power to be fully restored and warned residents against power outages. He also announced that the city’s schools would be temporarily closed.

In the Krasnodar region, authorities said a drone attack Friday morning caused a fire at an oil refinery in Tuapse, which was later brought under control. There were no casualties. Ukraine has repeatedly targeted refineries and other energy facilities located in the Russian heartland, inflicting damage.

Krasnodar region governor Veniamin Kondratyev said fragments of drones shot down around the Novorossiysk port caused several fires, but there were no casualties.

Belgorov Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said a Ukrainian drone hit a vehicle, killing a woman and her 4-year-old child. Another attack set fire to a fuel tank at a gas station, he said.

Recent Russian attacks have also targeted the eastern region of Donetsk, as well as the Chernihiv and Sumy regions to the north and the southern region of Zaporizhzhia – apparently seeking to further exploit Ukraine’s depleted resources.

After strengthening their forces in northern Ukraine, Russian forces are now trying to advance near the village of Lyptsi, as well as the town of Vovchansk, according to Syrskyi, the Ukrainian military commander.

Syrskyi also said he inspected units that are “preparing for defense” of Sumy. On Tuesday, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, reportedly said that the Russian military planned to launch offensive actions in Sumy.

Russia has also tested defenses elsewhere along the roughly 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line, which snakes north-south across eastern Ukraine. The line has barely changed over the past 18 months, in what has become a war of attrition.


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