Russian troops withdraw from around Kharkiv, Batter East
A member of Ukraine’s emergency service looks at the City Hall building in Central Square following the shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022. (Image: AP/PTI)
Kyiv: Ukraine’s military said on Saturday that Russian troops were withdrawing after weeks of bombing Ukraine’s second-largest city, as forces from Kyiv and Moscow engaged in a grinding battle for the country’s eastern industrial zone.
Ukraine’s military said Russian forces were retreating from the northeastern city of Kharkiv and concentrating on guarding supply routes, while launching mortars, artillery and airstrikes in the eastern province of Donetsk to “destroy Ukrainian forces”. and destroy the fortifications.”
Defense Minister Oleksey Reznikov said Ukraine was “entering a new – long-term – phase of the war”.
In a show of support, a US Senate delegation led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Saturday.
A video posted to Zelensky’s Telegram account showed McConnell, who represents the state of Kentucky, and fellow Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine, John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Cornyn of Texas, greeting them. His visit was blocked until next week after another senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, approved Senate approval of an additional $40 billion to help Ukraine and its allies withstand a 3-month-old invasion of Russia.
In a statement after leaving Ukraine, McConnell said that the United States “stands completely behind Ukraine and will maintain our support until Ukraine wins this war”.
After the February 24 invasion failed to capture Kyiv, Russian President Vladimir Putin shifted his attention east to the Donbass, an industrial region where Ukraine has fought Moscow-backed separatists since 2014.
The objective of the offensive is to encircle Ukraine’s most experienced and most well-equipped troops, stationed in the east, and seize parts of the Donbass that remain under Ukrainian control.
Airstrikes and barrage of artillery make it extremely dangerous for journalists to move east, hindering efforts to get a complete picture of the battle. But it seems to be a back-and-forth slog without major successes from both sides.
Russia occupied some Donbass villages and towns, including Rubizan, which had a population of about 55,000. Zelensky said Ukraine’s military had also made progress in the east, taking back six towns or villages in the past.
In his nightly address on Saturday, he said “the situation in the Donbass remains very difficult” and that Russian troops were “still trying to come out victorious at least to some extent”.
“Step by step,” said President Zelensky, “we are forcing the occupants to leave the Ukrainian lands.” Kharkiv, which is near the Russian border and just 80 km (50 mi) southwest of the Russian city of Belgorod, has been under heavy shelling for several weeks.
The largely Russian-speaking city, with a population of 1.4 million before the war, was a major military objective in the war, when Moscow was expected to capture and hold major cities. “It appears that Ukraine has won the Battle of Kharkiv,” Washington-based think-tank Institute for the Study of War said.
“Ukrainian forces prevented Russian troops from encircling, let alone capturing Kharkiv, and then expelled them from around the city, as they did with Russian forces trying to capture Kyiv. ”
Regional governor Oleh Sinegubov said via Telegram messaging app that there had been no shelling on Kharkiv in the past. He said Ukraine launched a counterattack near Izium, a city 125 km (78 mi) south of Kharkiv, which has been held by Russia since at least early April.
Oleh Zhdanov, an independent military analyst from Ukraine, said fighting was fierce on the Siversky Donets River near the city of Severodnetsk, where Ukraine has retaliated but failed to halt Russia’s progress.
“The fate of a large part of the Ukrainian army is being decided – there are about 40,000 Ukrainian soldiers,” he said. However, Russian forces suffered heavy losses in the Ukrainian attack, which destroyed a pontoon bridge they were using to try to cross the same river in the city of Bilohorivka, Ukrainian and British officials said. Britain’s Defense Ministry said Russia lost “critical armored maneuvering elements” of at least one battalion tactical group in the attack.
A Russian battalion tactical group consists of approximately 1,000 soldiers. The ministry said the risky river crossing was a sign of “pressure on Russian commanders to make progress in their operations in eastern Ukraine”.
Zelensky has warned of a global food crisis as Russia blocks Ukraine’s grain from leaving the port. The Group of Seven major economies echoed that Saturday, saying that “Russia’s war of aggression has generated one of the most serious food and energy crises in recent history, now threatening the most vulnerable around the world.” is”.
Putin started a war in Ukraine with the aim of thwarting the expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe. But the invasion has worried Russia and other countries that they may be next, and this week Finland’s president and prime minister said they are in favor of gaining NATO membership.
Authorities in Sweden are expected to announce a decision on Sunday about whether to apply to join the Western military alliance. In a phone call on Saturday, Putin told Finnish President Souli Niinisto that there was no threat to Finland’s security and that joining NATO would be an “error” and “negatively affect Russian-Finnish relations”.
The Kremlin said there was a “open exchange of views” between the two leaders. Niinisto said the discussion was “straight and clear and was conducted without exaggeration. Avoidance of tension was considered important.”
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said joining NATO by Finland and Sweden would heighten security tensions in the Arctic, “turning it into an area of military competition”.
Russian energy group Inter RAO suspended electricity supply to Finland on Saturday, according to a statement from the Finnish national electric grid operator. But about 10% of Finland’s electricity comes from Russia, and officials did not expect a shortage.
Possible bids from the Nordic countries were raised on Friday after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country “is not of a favorable opinion”. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to meet his NATO counterparts, including the Turkish foreign minister, in Germany later this week.
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