Russian forces, frustrated by the tenacious defence of major cities by Ukrainian soldiers and ad hoc civilian militias, gathered menacing strength on Tuesday.
DNIPRO, Ukraine – Russian forces, frustrated by the tenacious defence of major cities by Ukrainian soldiers and ad hoc civilian militias, gathered menacing strength on Tuesday, as a projectile appeared to strike near Kharkiv’s administration building and a convoy of tanks, troop carriers and artillery more than 40 miles long threatened Kyiv.
Kharkiv remains under Ukrainian control but is “surrounded” by Russian troops, Kharkiv mayor Ihor Terekhov told The Washington Post. In Kyiv, residents were bracing for an all-out assault as the Russian force, under the command of a president whose country has become an international political and economic pariah with astonishing speed, is apparently girding itself to encircle the capital. A senior US defence official said the Kremlin seems ready to adopt the same siege tactics that are beginning to strangle Kharkiv.
There, thousands are without power and heat in freezing temperatures, local officials said, and residents were bracing for more shelling on Tuesday. Suspected cluster munitions struck residential parts of Kharkiv on Monday, raising fears that as Russia escalates attacks in urban areas, it could use tactics similar to those it used in Chechnya and Syria, where it has been accused of wartime abuses. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the attack on civilian areas in Kharkiv was “terror against the city”.
Five hours of talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations near Belarus’s border on Monday failed to yield a breakthrough, with the two sides agreeing only to continue discussions in coming days. Top Russian officials hardened their rhetoric on Tuesday, denying attacks on civilian areas and with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu saying the war would continue until Moscow’s goals are met.
Zelensky addressed the European Parliament on Tuesday, urging the block to stand with Ukraine by allowing it to join the European Union.
“Now we are fighting for survival,” he said via video conference. “But we are fighting also to be equal members of Europe.”
“We have proven our strength,” he continued. “So do prove that you are with us. Prove that you will not let us go. Prove that you indeed are Europeans.”
The speech comes after Zelensky made a formal pitch to join the 27-bloc union under a special procedure.
“We are grateful to our partners for being with us,” he said Monday. “But our goal is to be together with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be on an equal footing.”
In recent days, the 27-member bloc has made dramatic moves to back Ukraine and isolate Russia, including financing the sale and delivery of weapons to Kyiv, blocking Russian planes from EU skies and tough economic measures.
In an interview with Euronews, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen again voiced support, saying Ukraine is “one of us and we want them in the European Union.”
However, von der Leyen did not offer details on if or how Ukraine might join – nor have other senior officials. European Council President Charles Michel later noted that there are “different opinions and sensitivities” among EU member states on the issue.
On Tuesday, he said the Council will consider the request.
RUSSIA DOUBLES DOWN
As unprecedented Western sanctions shook Russian finances, top Moscow officials doubled down on their war against Ukraine, with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu saying the war would not stop until Moscow’s goals to “de-Nazify” Ukraine were met and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accusing Kyiv of plans to acquire nuclear weapons.
Shoigu hit out at the West for “trying to use the Ukrainian people in the fight against our country.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Ukrainian claims that Russia had used cluster bombs and vacuum bombs a “canard.” He denied a war or invasion was taking place, calling it a “special operation” in the Kremlin’s approved terminology.
Speaking in his daily press call, Peskov dismissed Ukraine’s accusation that Russia was committing war crimes and claimed that “nationalist groups” were using people as human shields, claims for which Russia has offered no evidence.
Asked by a journalist about Russia refusing to use the term “war” when Russian Grad multiple-rocket launchers were striking residential areas such as Kharkiv, Peskov replied: “You are asking the question from the point of view of emotions. I’m telling you officially, President Putin as commander in chief gave the order to launch a special operation, and a special operation is under way.”
Peskov said the West had revealed its true nature, with its tough sanctions against Russian officials, banks and oligarchs and its efforts to isolate Russia’s financial system and impact its economy.
“And now these aggressive actions against our country are of a sharply concentrated nature,” he said.
Shoigu, who has put Russia’s nuclear forces on high alert on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s orders, said Russian forces were “not occupying Ukrainian territory” and that Russia was taking “every measure” to protect lives.
Wall-to-wall coverage on Russian state television calls the “operation” defensive, aimed at dealing with “Nazis” and “nationalists” who have taken the country hostage with the help of the West, turning Ukraine into an “anti-Russia project.”
Ukraine has suffered 1,500 civilian and military casualties since the attack began, Biden administration officials told US lawmakers on Monday.
EYES ON BELARUS
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his country does not plan to join Moscow’s military assault in Ukraine, after US officials said the Russian ally might send soldiers there.
In comments carried by state news agency BelTA on Tuesday, Lukashenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said his army “has not taken and does not take any part in the hostilities.”
US officials have said intelligence reports showed Belarus preparing to send forces into Ukraine to back Russia. The officials cited that support as a key factor behind a State Department decision Monday to suspend US Embassy operations in Minsk, the Belarus capital.
Satellite images from above southern Belarus showed ground force deployments and attack helicopter units, according to US firm Maxar Technologies. Russian troops have in recent weeks assembled and conducted large-scale military drills in Belarus, where Lukashenko on Sunday pushed through a constitutional amendment ending the country’s nuclear-free status.
The Belarusian leader also said on Tuesday that air defencce systems were on high alert in the country and the defense minister was “ready to cover the western border with another five battalions.”
TASK FORCE TARGETS OLIGARCHS
French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Tuesday that a task force has been created to identify Russian oligarchs with assets in France and ultimately freeze or seize those assets – part of a broader strategy to “cause the collapse of the Russian economy” in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
The task force, made up of France’s public finance authority, customs services and financial intelligence agency, will work to identify Russian oligarchs with ties to France, as well as their property and their assets in the country “to be able to freeze them,” Le Maire said in an interview with France Info and on Twitter.
It comes as reports emerge of tensions between Putin and members of the oligarch class who made billions of dollars while showing fealty to the autocratic leader but now see their fortunes threatened by Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.
Le Maire said the task force would seek to go beyond a freeze and “equip ourselves with the legal means necessary to seize all of these assets.”
Le Maire said the French task force would cast a wide net, searching not just for known Russian oligarchs in France, but also for their spouses, their children and the vehicles through which they co-own property in France with others, “so that they cannot hide behind financial arrangements.”
“We are going to touch at the heart of Russian power,” he said.
Speaking of the broader European strategy of pursuing sanctions against Putin and his allies to starve the Russian military effort of its resources, Le Maire said there should be no doubt that Europe intends to wage a “total economic and financial war” against oligarchs and the Russian government that could “cause the collapse of the Russian economy.”
– THE WASHINGTON POST