Russia signals less ambitious goals in Ukraine war


Russia has signaled it may backtrack on its war aims to focus on eastern Ukraine after failing to break national resistance in a month of fighting and attacks on civilians, including up to 300 dead in the bombing of a theater.

The possible change came ahead of a planned meeting by US President Joe Biden with Ukrainian refugees in Poland and talks with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda in Warsaw before he delivers a speech on ‘brutal war’, the court said. White House.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the February invasion to destroy Ukraine’s military and overthrow pro-Western President Volodymyr Zelensky, placing the country in the grip of Russia.

But Sergei Rudskoi, a top general, suggested a drastically reduced “primary objective” of controlling Donbass, an eastern region already partly held by Russian proxies.

His surprise statement came as a Western official reported that a seventh Russian general, Lt. Gen. Yakov Rezanstev, had died in Ukraine and a colonel had been “deliberately” killed by his own demoralized men.

Complicating Moscow’s challenges, the invading troops faced a counteroffensive in Kherson, the only major Ukrainian city under Russian control.

Visiting Rzeszow, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Ukraine, Biden hailed Ukraine’s “incredible” resistance, likening the conflict to a bigger version of Communist China’s crushing of protests in 1989 in Tiananmen Square.

Biden told soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division that the struggle in Eastern Europe represents a historic “tipping point.”

“Are democracies going to prevail…or are autocracies going to prevail? And that’s really what’s at stake,” Biden said.

The US leader was briefed on the humanitarian situation, with more than 3.7 million refugees fleeing Ukraine, most to Poland.

Earlier, he wrapped up a trip to Brussels for meetings with Western allies announcing new steps to help the European Union shed dependence on imported Russian energy.

The plan is part of a sea change in the West, which for years has moved away from direct confrontation with the Kremlin but now seeks to cast Putin as an outcast.

‘Children’ written clearly

The much larger Russian army continued to fight determined Ukrainian defenders using Western-supplied weapons – from near the capital kyiv to Kharkiv, the Donbass region and the devastated port city of Mariupol.

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

The theater was targeted as the word “children” was written in large Russian on the ground outside, so as to be visible to the pilots.

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.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced a bold plan with Turkey and Greece to evacuate “all those who wish to leave Mariupol”, adding that he would soon discuss it with Putin.

A Mariupol resident who has already left the city, Oksana Vynokurova, 33, described leaving behind a hellish landscape.

“I escaped, but I lost all my family. I lost my house. I’m desperate,” she told AFP after reaching the city of Lviv by train.

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

Zelensky said in a video statement Friday that despite thousands of evacuations from Mariupol, “the situation in the city remains tragic.”

Counter attack

Some predicted that the Russian army would cross Ukraine with little resistance.

But Putin’s army has shown poor discipline and morale, flawed equipment and tactics, and brutality towards civilians.

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.

Rudskoi’s announcement of a pivot in the battle for eastern Ukraine has been accompanied by claims of success.

He 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.”

But his reference to plans for the “liberation” of the Donbass region could lay the groundwork for the Kremlin to focus on an easier campaign that can be sold to the Russians as a victory.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainians are mounting an increasingly aggressive defense and in places regaining ground.

The UK Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian counterattacks were underway near kyiv and a Pentagon official said Ukrainian forces were also trying to retake Kherson, the only major city held by invading Russian troops.

Ambulances evacuated more people from the devastated suburban town of Irpin, northwest of Kyiv, on Friday, AFP journalists reported, as Ukrainian forces tried to repel Russian forces.

A giant pall of black smoke billowed from the direction of Irpin, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the war, as shell bursts echoed through nearby buildings.

Paramedics pulled a wax-faced elderly woman from an ambulance onto a bloodstained stretcher as the sound of explosions and air raid sirens could be heard late into the night across the capital.

Chemical Weapons Alert

As Russia’s war machine stumbles, Western officials warn that Putin may resort to chemical weapons.

In Brussels for the NATO, EU and G7 summits on Thursday, Biden said the transatlantic alliance would “respond” if Putin resorted to chemical warfare – although a senior adviser stressed that the US United themselves “did not intend to use chemical weapons”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Biden of seeking to “divert attention.”

And Putin, whom Biden again called a “war criminal,” gave a speech on Friday saying Russia was the victim, comparing Western boycotts to “Nazis in Germany.”

Energy strategy

Earlier Friday, Biden and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen announced a joint energy task force seeking a way for Europe to break its energy dependence on Russia.

Germany, Moscow’s biggest customer in Europe, said it would halve Russian oil imports by June and end all coal deliveries by the fall.

The effort to redirect Europe’s energy supply will take time and, combined with sweeping sanctions aimed at isolating Russian currency and industries, is already shocking Western economies.

But von der Leyen said the campaign was working and was “exhausting Putin’s resources to fund this atrocious war”.


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