Rights group calls on Ethiopia to investigate ‘war crime’ in Tigray
KYIV, Ukraine: Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky called on people around the world to come together in public on Thursday to show support for his beleaguered country as he prepared to address US President Joe Biden and others NATO leaders gathered in Brussels on the first month anniversary of the Russian invasion.
“Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourself seen and heard,” Zelensky said in English in a moving video address Wednesday night that was recorded in the dark near the presidential offices in Kyiv. “Say people matter. Freedom matters. Peace matters. Ukraine matters.
Zelensky said he would demand during a videoconference with NATO members that the alliance provide “effective and unrestricted” support to Ukraine, including all the weapons the country needs to repel the Russian assault.
Biden was expected to discuss new sanctions and how to coordinate those measures, as well as increased military aid to Ukraine, with NATO members, then talk to G7 industrialized country leaders and the European Council in a series of meetings on Thursday.
On the eve of a meeting with Biden, European Union countries signed an additional 500 million euros ($550 million) in military aid for Ukraine.
When Russia launched its invasion on February 24 in the biggest European offensive since World War II, a swift overthrow of the Ukrainian government seemed likely. But a month after the start of the fighting, Moscow is bogged down in a crushing military campaign of attrition.
In its latest update, Russia said on March 2 that nearly 500 troops had been killed and nearly 1,600 injured. NATO, however, estimates that between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian troops were killed – the latter figure being what Russia has lost in a decade of fighting in Afghanistan.
A senior NATO military official said the alliance’s estimate was based on information from Ukrainian authorities, what Russia has released – intentionally or not – and intelligence gathered from open sources. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with basic rules established by NATO.
Ukraine also claims to have killed six Russian generals. Russia recognizes only one dead general.
Ukraine has released little information on its own military casualties and the West has not given an estimate, but Zelensky said nearly two weeks ago that around 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed.
With his ground forces slowed down or stopped by fleeing Ukrainian units armed with Western-supplied weapons, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops are bombarding targets from a distance, falling back on the tactics they used to reduce cities in ruins in Syria and Chechnya.
A senior US defense official said on Wednesday that Russian ground forces appear to be digging in and establishing defensive positions 15 to 20 kilometers (9 to 12 miles) outside the capital, Kyiv, as they only advance little or nothing towards the city center.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military assessments, said it appears forces are no longer trying to advance into the city and that in some areas east of Kyiv , the Ukrainian troops pushed back the Russian soldiers further.
Instead, Russian troops appear to be prioritizing combat in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbass, in what may be an effort to cut off Ukrainian troops and prevent them from moving west to defend other cities, the official said. The United States has also seen Russian vessel activity in the Sea of Azov, including what appears to be efforts to send landing ships ashore with supplies, including vehicles, the official said.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted the military operation is proceeding “in strict accordance” with plans.
In a worrying sign that Moscow may consider using nuclear weapons, senior Russian official Dmitry Rogozin said the country’s nuclear arsenal would help deter the West from intervening in Ukraine.
“The Russian Federation is capable of physically destroying any aggressor or group of aggressors within minutes at any distance,” said Rogozin, who heads state aerospace company Roscosmos and oversees missile construction facilities. . He noted in his televised remarks that Moscow’s nuclear stockpiles include tactical nuclear weapons, designed for use on the battlefield, as well as much more powerful nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles.
U.S. officials have long warned that Russian military doctrine is considering an “escalation to de-escalation” option of using nuclear weapons on the battlefield to force the enemy back in a situation where Russian forces face a imminent defeat. Moscow has denied having such plans.
Rogozin, known for his bluster, did not specify what actions by the West would be considered interference, but his comments almost certainly reflect the thinking inside the Kremlin. Putin has warned the West that an attempt to introduce a no-fly zone over Ukraine would draw him into conflict with Russia. Western countries have said they will not create a no-fly zone to protect Ukraine.
Zelensky noted in his national address that Ukraine had not received the fighter jets or modern air defense systems it requested. He said Ukraine also needs tanks and anti-ship systems.
“We have been defending ourselves against attempts to destroy us, to erase us from the face of the earth for a month,” he said.
In Kyiv, where near-constant shelling and gunfire rocked the city on Wednesday as the two sides battled for control of several suburbs, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least 264 civilians had been killed since the start of the war. Russian independent media The Insider said Russian journalist Oksana Baulina was killed by a shelling in a kyiv neighborhood on Wednesday.
In the south, the beleaguered port city of Mariupol has suffered the worst ravages of war, enduring weeks of shelling and now street-to-street fighting. But Ukrainian forces prevented its fall, thwarting an apparent attempt by Moscow to completely secure a land bridge linking Russia and Crimea, seized from Ukraine in 2014.
In their last update, more than a week ago, Mariupol officials said at least 2,300 people had died, but the true toll is likely much higher. Airstrikes last week destroyed a theater and an art school where civilians were sheltering.
Zelensky said there were 100,000 civilians left in the city, which had a population of 430,000 before the war. Efforts to provide those trapped with desperately needed food and other supplies have often failed.
In the besieged northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces shelled and destroyed a bridge used for delivering aid and civilian evacuations, regional governor Viacheslav Chaus said.
Kateryna Mytkevich, 39, who arrived in Poland after fleeing Chernihiv, wiped away tears as she said the city was without gas, electricity or running water and entire neighborhoods had been destroyed.
“I don’t understand why we have such a curse,” she said.