Moscow/Washington, 23 March 2022 (dpa/MIA) — Both Ukraine and Russia claimed successes on the battlefield on Tuesday, nearly one month after Moscow invaded its western neighbor in a war that has already claimed thousands of lives and propelled millions to seek safety elsewhere.
The conflict was showing no sign of abating: The Ukrainian side reported that it had hit nine Russian targets in the air within 24 hours.
Russia reported a further advance in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, although Kyiv refuted this and Western powers say Moscow’s advance remains stalled in many places.
Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky said that dozens more children had died due to Russia’s war on his country and that the city of Mariupol — a major flashpoint — lay in ruins after weeks of siege.
The death toll following Russia’s invasion last month now stood at “117 children, thousands of adults,” Zelensky told Italian lawmakers via video link from Kyiv.
“Thousands wounded. Tens of thousands of destroyed families. Hundreds of thousands of ruined destinies. Millions, already millions of abandoned homes,” he said. “Ukrainian cities are being ruined. Some are almost completely destroyed. Like Mariupol.”
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later said that the Russian military operation in Ukraine is proceeding “strictly in accordance with the plans” and denied that Moscow was targeting civilians.
Peskov told CNN that Russian President Vladimir Putin has not achieved his goals in Ukraine “yet.”
“It’s a serious operation with serious purposes,” Peskov said, stating that one the targets of Moscow’s so-called “special operation” in the neighboring country “is to get rid of the military potential of Ukraine.”
Peskov reiterated claims by the Kremlin that the Russian military is targeting “only… military objects… not civil ones,” and blamed “nationalist regiments… who are now trying to cover themselves under the shield of civilians, thus paving the way for [civilian] casualties.”
In recent weeks, charges of human rights violations have piled up against the Kremlin.
Among the Kremlin’s objectives, the spokesperson also cited wanting Ukraine to recognize Crimea “is also an untakeable part of Russia” and that the self-proclaimed “people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk are already independent states.”
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and backed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Asked whether Putin would use atomic weapons, Peskov said that they would only be used if there was an existential threat to Russia, according to the country’s “concept of domestic security.”
Moscow claims the invasion of its western neighbor, which it officially calls a “special operation” and not a war, is designed to demilitarize Ukraine and to stop what it says was genocide carried out against ethnic Russians in Ukraine, an accusation Kyiv and its Western allies, along with human rights groups, dismiss as absurd.
It remains unclear if the onslaught on the battlefield is yielding any results. Russia claims advances, but Ukraine says the sides are in a stand-off. Many claims coming out of the country are difficult to verify.
Washington said Tuesday that Russia’s advance into Ukrainian territory was being frustrated by supply issues.
“We continue to see indications that the Russians did not properly plan for logistics and sustainment,” US Defence Department spokesman John Kirby said.
“We know that they continue to have fuel issues across their force. And that they are still struggling with with food,” he said. The Russians “have been increasingly frustrated by a lack of progress here.”
A Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity that Russian soldiers were also short on proper cold-weather gear.
“We picked up indications that some troops have actually suffered and were taken out of the fight because of frostbite,” he said.
The port city of Mariupol continues to be one of the major flashpoints in the conflict. More than 100,000 people are waiting to be evacuated from the city on the Sea of Azov, where the situation is becoming increasingly dire amid relentless Russian attacks.
The Pentagon official said Russian forces were now thought to be firing from the sea on Mariupol.
In Kyiv, the government said some 6,000 people had managed to leave Mariupol in private cars on Tuesday, but that pro-Russian separatists had stopped a humanitarian convoy not far from the city.
Fighters from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic took several Ukrainian civil defence workers “hostage” in Manhush, 10 kilometres west of Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Ukrainian TV.
The detained people had been driving buses in which civilians were supposed to be evacuated from Mariupol, Vereshchuk said.
The escape route had been agreed with the International Red Cross.
The Russian Defense Ministry said more than 68,000 civilians had been evacuated from Mariupol, located in the eastern Donetsk region, without Kyiv’s help.
Kyiv accuses Moscow of bringing women and children in particular to Russia against their will from their homes in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday spoke with both Putin and Zelensky. Weeks of frantic diplomatic efforts are yet to yield results.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that “a further package of sanctions” against Russia would be revealed when US President Joe Biden is in Europe to attend NATO and European Union summits later this week.
Sullivan also said “one of the key elements” of the announcement will be a tightening of existing sanctions to make it more difficult for Moscow to evade the measures.
Zelensky was expected to address NATO leaders on Thursday. NATO has adamantly rejected his pleas for a no-fly zone to be imposed over Ukraine out of fear it could lead to a wider confrontation with Russia.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned Russia on Tuesday that “this war is unwinnable” and called again for immediate peace talks.
“Ukraine cannot be conquered city by city, street by street, house by house,” he said in New York. “There is enough on the table to cease hostilities … and seriously negotiate — now,” he said.
“Sooner or later, it will have to move from the battlefield to the peace table … Continuing the war in Ukraine is morally unacceptable, politically indefensible and militarily nonsensical.”
In a video message released early Wednesday, Zelensky described peace negotiations with Russia as “very difficult.”
“They are very difficult, sometimes scandalous, but we are moving forward step by step,” Zelensky said, adding that Ukrainian representatives were negotiatiating every day.
“We will work, we will fight as much as possible. Until the end. Brave and open.” The negotiators are working tirelessly. “We can rest when we’ve won,” he added.
Zelensky thanked the international community for supporting his country.
He said he hoped three summits planned for this week by the G7, NATO and the EU will lead to additional support, adding that he expects new sanctions against Russia and new aid for Ukraine.