The West is encouraging Ukraine to strike Russia and should take Putin‘s threat to respond ‘seriously’, the country’s foreign ministry spokesman has said today.
Maria Zakharova told a weekly briefing in Moscow that the West is ‘openly calling on Ukraine to attack Russia using weapons received from NATO countries’ while warning: ‘We do not recommend testing our patience’.
She was speaking after UK defence minister Ben Wallace said Ukraine has the ‘right’ to strike military targets inside Russia, while armed forces minister James Heappey said it would be ‘legitimate’ to use donated Western weapons for such attacks.
Her comments also came after Vladimir Putin said yesterday that any country deemed to be ‘interfering’ in Ukraine would meet with a ‘lightning-fast’ response using weapons ‘no one else can boast of’ – thought to be a reference to nukes.
Explosions inside Russia in recent weeks have destroyed fuel depots, ammo dumps and railways being used to reinforce its armies inside Ukraine. Kyiv has not commented on the attacks, but is widely thought to be behind them.
Earlier this week, a Ukrainian minister described them as ‘karma’.
Maria Zakharova, spokesman for Russia’s foreign ministry, today accused the West of encouraging Ukraine to use donated weapons to attack her country
It comes after a series of blasts on Russian soil targeting military bases in recent days that have been blamed on Kyiv (pictured, burning fuel depots in Belgorod on Monday)
Smoke and fire rises from a military facility close to a railway station that was blown up amid fighting near Lyman, a city in eastern Ukraine, today
Ukraine says Russia has stepped up its attacks on Donbas today, with battles being fought along a stretch of frontline hundreds of miles long
As Russian forces try to fix an surround Ukrainian units in the east of the country, defenders are still holding out inside the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol while blasts took down TV masts in Kherson overnight and explosions also rocked Transnistria, in Moldova
- Ukraine said Russia had stepped up attacks in the eastern Donbas region in an attempt to surround its troops
- Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, deplored the ‘absurdity’ of Russia’s war as he visited devastated areas near Kyiv
- Strikes in occupied Kherson took out TV masts which had been broadcasting Russian media, as officials said the currency will be changed to the ruble
- Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Western weapons deliveries to Ukraine threaten the security of Europe
- Russia said it is ‘alarmed’ by blasts in the Transnistria region of Moldova where it has troops, raising fears the country could soon be dragged into the war
- Germany’s parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of supplying heavier weapons to Ukraine, piling pressure on Chancellor Scholz to act
Ukraine said Thursday that Russia’s offensive in the east picked up momentum, with several towns coming under intense attack as Moscow’s forces attempt to surround Ukrainian troops.
In a reminder of the horrific toll the war has taken since it began Feb. 24, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited towns outside the capital of Kyiv where evidence of mass killings of civilians was found after Russia’s retreat.
The fighting gathered pace after Russia suddenly cut off natural gas to two NATO nations on Wednesday, in what was seen as a bid to punish and divide the West over its support for Ukraine ahead of the potentially pivotal battle in the eastern industrial region of the Donbas.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s military said Russian forces were ‘exerting intense fire’ in several places as they pushed on with the second phase of their invasion.
The most intensive action was around Donetsk and close to Kharkiv, which lies outside the Donbas but is seen as key to Russia’s apparent bid to encircle Ukrainian troops there.
Tatiana Pirogova spoke of the intense fear of living under constant bombardment.
‘It’s not just scary. It’s when your stomach contracts from pain’ the Kharkiv resident said. ‘When they shoot during the day, it’s still OK, but when the evening comes, I can’t describe how scary it is.’
The General Staff said that over the past 24 hours, the Ukrainian forces have repelled six attacks in the Donbas, control of which is now Moscow’s primary focus ever since its initial offensive faltered and failed to take the Ukrainian capital.
Luhansk governor Serhiy Haidai said the Russian army shelled the residential area in his region ’29 times by aircrafts, multiple rocket launches, tube artillery and mortars.’
Russian forced uploaded footage of themselves fighting in Rubizhne, in the Luhansk region, as battles rage in Ukraine’s east
Chechen soldiers fighting for Russia – known as Kadyrovites after their leader, Razman Kadyrov – filmed themselves fighting in the town of Rubizhne
Russia tanks were also filmed fighting around the Azovstal steel works, in Mariupol (pictured), where Ukrainian defenders are still holed up
Satellite photos analyzed by The Associated Press also showed evidence of intense Russian fire on Mariupol in recent days.
The images show how concentrated attacks have greatly damaged a central facility at the Azovstal steelworks, the last redoubt of Ukrainian fighters in the key battleground city.
An estimated 1,000 civilians are sheltering along with about 2,000 Ukrainian fighters in the steelworks, a massive Soviet-era complex with a warren of underground facilities built to withstand airstrikes.
Russia, meanwhile, said a city under its control in the south also came under fire.
With the war now in its third month, Guterres on Thursday toured towns outside Kyiv, including Bucha, that have seen some of the most horrific attacks of the war.
‘Civilians always pay the highest price,’ he said as he visited the bombed out suburb of Irpin. ‘And this is something everyone should remember, everywhere in the world. Wherever there is a war the highest price is paid by civilians.’
Evidence of atrocities was discovered in the towns Guterres visited on Thursday after the Russians retreated from the area in the face a fiercer than expected Ukrainian resistance, bolstered by Western arms.
In what could be a further Ukrainian counterattack, a series of explosions boomed near the television tower late Wednesday in southern Ukraine’s Kherson, which has been occupied by Russian forces since early in the war. The blasts at least temporarily knocked Russian channels off the air, Ukrainian and Russian news organizations reported.
Ukraine has urged its allies to send even more military equipment so it can continue its fight.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that ‘up to date, NATO allies have pledged and provided at least 8 billion U.S. dollars in military support to Ukraine. And we see the importance of further stepping up our support to Ukraine.’
In a sign of shifting support in favour of Ukraine, Germany’s parliament today voted by an almost six-to-one margin to increase the supply of heavy weapons.
The document calls for the ‘acceleration of the delivery of effective, including heavy, weapons and complex systems by Germany’.
Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht had said on Tuesday that Germany would send Gepard anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine, in a clear switch in Berlin’s cautious policy on military backing for Kyiv.
Vladimir Putin on Wednesday evening warned any country deemed to be ‘interfering’ in Ukraine that they will face a ‘lightning-fast’ response with weapons ‘no one else can boast of’
Germany had previously sent only defensive weapons, leaving Chancellor Olaf Scholz facing criticism that he was undermining European security, the rules-based world order, and lending tactic support to Moscow.
The motion approved on Thursday calls on the government to supply heavy weapons directly, as well as indirectly by replacing stocks sent to Ukraine from eastern European countries.
Underlining the importance of sending such weapons, British military intelligence reported today that Russia still has the capacity to launch amphibious attacks on Ukraine – perhaps targeting Mykolaiv or Odesa – despite suffering losses at sea.
In an intelligence briefing posted Thursday morning, the ministry says that about 20 Russia naval vessels, including submarines, are currently operating the Black Sea.
Despite the ’embarrassing’ loss of the Moskva missile cruiser and Saratov landing ship, Russian ‘retains the ability to strike coastal targets’, it said.
While it presses its campaign in the east, Moscow has also piled on the pressure by leveraging its biggest export product -energy, cutting off NATO members Poland and Bulgaria from its natural gas on Wednesday.
European leaders blasted that decision as ‘blackmail,’ saying the move and the Kremlin’s warning that it might cease shipments to other countries is a failed attempt to divide the West over its support for Ukraine.
The tactic against the two EU countries could eventually force targeted nations to ration gas and deal another blow to economies suffering from rising prices. At the same time, it could deprive Russia of badly needed income to fund its war effort.
The gas cuts do not immediately put the two countries in any dire trouble. Poland, especially, has been working for many years to line up other suppliers, and the continent is heading into summer, making gas less essential for households.
Gazprom said it shut off the two countries because they refused to pay in rubles, as President Vladimir Putin has demanded of ‘unfriendly’ nations. The Kremlin said other countries may be cut off if they don’t agree to the payment arrangement.
Russian artillery is filmed opening fire on eastern Ukraine in footage released by state media
A Russian artillery shell explodes in Rubizhne, eastern Ukraine, where fighting is ongoing
European countries have balked at Russia’s demand for rubles. Moscow has since proposed a system that it says satisfies its demand – but that the Europeans say means they are still paying in either euros or dollars.
‘Europe (and) Germany will make payments in euros and others may pay in dollars, and not in rubles,’ Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Wednesday. ‘The conversion, once the payments have been made, is a matter for Gazprom. We have discussed this with the European Union. We will continue down this path.’
Still, the cutoff and the Kremlin warning that other countries could be next sent shivers of worry through the 27-nation European Union. Germany is the world’s biggest buyer of Russian energy, and Italy is also a significant consumer, though they, too, have been taking steps to reduce their dependence on Moscow.
In signs that the conflict could soon spill over the border of Ukraine, Russia today described a series of blasts in the Transnistria region of Moldova – a breakaway province where it has a long-standing garrison of troops – as ‘alarming.’
Maria Zakharova said: ‘We regard these actions as acts of terrorism aimed at destabilising the situation in the region and expect a thorough and objective investigation.
She said Russia ‘strongly condemns’ attempts to involve Transnistria in the conflict in neighbouring Ukraine, while dismissing a ‘sensational statement’ from Ukraine about Russian peacekeepers and Transnistrian conscripts preparing ‘for offensive actions’.
The separatist region bordering Ukraine has reported explosions hitting the security ministry, a military unit and a Russian-owned radio tower as well as shots fired at a village housing a Russian arms depot.
The self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria seceded from Moldova in 1992 after a brief war with Chisinau. Around 1,500 Russian soldiers have been based there since.
Meanwhile a Russian official said Thursday that the ruble will soon be introduced in areas of Ukraine under Moscow’s control, despite Russia earlier insisting it was not seeking to occupy captured territory.
A civilian and military administrator of the Russian-controlled region of Kherson in southern Ukraine said Moscow would introduce its currency in the region within the coming days.
‘Beginning May 1, we will move to the ruble zone,’ the official, Kirill Stremousov, was cited as saying by Russia’s state-run news agency RIA Novosti.
He specified there will be a grace period of four months when Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, would also be used.
‘Then we will completely switch to settlements in rubles,’ RIA Novosti quoted Stremousov as saying.
Stremousov’s announcement was yet to be confirmed by any high-ranking Russian official.
Russia said earlier this week that it had seized control of the entire southern Kherson region, including its eponymous administrative capital, which fell to Russian troops soon after the February 24 invasion.
Moscow’s defence ministry claimed that ‘peaceful life’ was being restored to the region and others which have been captured recently, despite reports in the Ukrainian press and on social media of ongoing protests against the Russian administration of Kherson.