Russia steps up offensive in Eastern Ukraine
The US mission to the OSCE security body said the Kremlin might attempt “sham referendums” in southern and eastern areas it had captured since the invasion, using “a well-worn playbook that steals from history’s darkest chapters.
KYIV: Russian forces stepped up their offensive in the east of Ukraine on Thursday as US President Joe Biden planned a new $20 billion package of weapons and ammunition for Kyiv.
“The enemy is increasing the pace of the offensive operation. The Russian occupiers are exerting intense fire in almost all directions,” Ukraine’s military general staff said.
It identified Russia’s main attack as near the towns of Slobozhanske and Donets, along a strategic frontline highway linking Ukraine’s second-largest city Kharkiv with the Russian-occupied city of Izyum.
The Kharkiv regional governor said Russian forces were ratcheting up attacks from Izyum, but Ukrainian troops were holding their ground. Kharkiv regional prosecutors said two civilians were killed and seven wounded in Russian shelling of the village of Pokotilovka.
Responding to repeated Ukrainian pleas to Western leaders for supplies of heavier weaponry and equipment, Biden asked the US Congress for $33 billion to support Kyiv, a massive jump in funding that includes over $20 billion for weapons and ammunition and other military aid.
The package, also entailing $8.5 billion in direct economic assistance and $3 billion in humanitarian and food security aid, forms part of US efforts to isolate and punish Russia for its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which has flattened cities and forced more than 5 million people to flee abroad.
Washington hopes Ukrainian forces can repel Russia’s assault on the east and weaken its military so that it can no longer menace neighbors. After being beaten back in efforts to capture the capital Kyiv in the north, Russia has shifted forces eastward to capture the Donbas provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk in a battle that may prove a decisive turning point in the war.
The US mission to the OSCE security body said the Kremlin might attempt “sham referendums” in southern and eastern areas it had captured since the invasion, using “a well-worn playbook that steals from history’s darkest chapters.”
It said: “These falsified, illegitimate referendums will undoubtedly be accompanied by a wave of abuses against those who seek to oppose or undermine Moscow’s plans. The international community must make clear that any such referendum will never be recognized as legitimate.”
Inside Russia, there were more explosions in the city of Belgorod near the border with Ukraine.
Russia has objected to statements from NATO member Britain that it was legitimate for Ukraine to target Russian logistics.
“In the West, they are openly calling on Kyiv to attack Russia with the use of weapons received from NATO countries,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. “I don’t advise you to test our patience further.”
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