Putin vows to continue bloody offensive in Ukraine until Russia’s goals are achieved

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Vladimir Putin vowed on Tuesday that Russia’s bloody offensive in Ukraine will continue until its goals are achieved and insisted the campaign is going according to plan, despite a pullback major in the face of fierce Ukrainian opposition and significant casualties.

Russian troops, thwarted in their push towards the Ukrainian capital, are now focusing on the eastern region of Donbass, where Ukraine said on Tuesday it was investigating an allegation that a toxic substance had been dropped on its troops. The nature of the substance was unclear, but Western officials warned that any use of chemical weapons by Russia would be a serious escalation of the already devastating war.

Many places around the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, bear traces of violent conflict.

Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Russia invaded on February 24, with the aim, according to Western officials, of taking the capital kyiv, overthrowing the government and installing a regime favorable to Moscow. Over the next six weeks, the ground advance stalled and Russian forces lost potentially thousands of fighters and were blamed for killing civilians and other atrocities.

Putin insisted on Tuesday that his invasion was aimed at protecting people in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed rebels and “ensuring Russia’s own security”.

He said Russia “had no choice” but to launch what he called a “special military operation”, and promised it would “continue until its complete completion and fulfillment of the tasks that have been set”.

For now, Putin’s forces are preparing for a major offensive in Donbass, torn by fighting between Russia’s allied separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and where Russia has recognized the separatists’ demands for independence. . Military strategists say Moscow appears to be hoping local support, logistics and terrain in the region favor its larger and better-armed military, potentially allowing Russia to eventually turn the tide in its favor.

FILE - A woman pulls her bags past houses damaged during fighting in eastern Mariupol, Ukraine.
FILE – A woman pulls her bags past houses damaged during fighting in eastern Mariupol, Ukraine.

Alexei Alexandrov via Associated Press

In Mariupol, a strategic port city in Donbass, a Ukrainian regiment defending a steelworks claimed that a drone had dropped a toxic substance on the city. He said there were no serious injuries. The claim of the Azov Regiment, a far-right group now part of the Ukrainian military, could not be independently verified.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that while experts try to determine what the substance could be, “the world must react now”. Evidence of “inhuman cruelty” to women and children in Bucha and other Kyiv suburbs continued to surface, he added, including alleged rapes.

“Not all serial rapists reach the cruelty of Russian soldiers,” Zelenskyy said.

The allegations came after a separatist official allied with Russia appeared to urge the use of chemical weapons, telling Russian state television on Monday that separatist forces should seize the plant by blockading first all exits. “And then we will use chemical troops to smoke them out,” said the official, Eduard Basurin. He denied on Tuesday that separatist forces used chemical weapons in Mariupol.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said officials were investigating and it was possible that phosphorus munitions – which cause horrific burns but are not classified as chemical weapons – were used in Mariupol .

Much of the city was razed to the ground in weeks of pounding by Russian troops. The mayor said on Monday the siege had left more than 10,000 civilians dead, their bodies “lying in the streets.” Mayor Vadym Boychenko said the death toll in Mariupol could top 20,000.

Zelenskyy’s adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, acknowledged the challenges facing Ukrainian troops in Mariupol. He said via Twitter that they remain stuck and have supply problems, while the president and Ukrainian generals are “doing everything possible (and impossible) to find a solution”.

“For more than a month and a half, our defenders are protecting the city from (Russian) troops, which are 10 times larger,” Podolyak tweeted. “They are fighting under the bombs for every meter of the city. They make (Russia) pay an exorbitant price.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the use of chemical weapons “would be a relentless escalation in this conflict”, while Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said it would be a “violation totality of international law”.

US President Joe Biden has called the Russian invasion a “genocide” for the first time. He was even more blunt later on Tuesday, repeating the term and saying, “It has become increasingly clear that Putin is simply trying to eliminate the very idea of ​​being Ukrainian.”

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that the United States could not confirm the drone report. But he noted the administration’s continuing concerns “about Russia’s potential to use a variety of riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents.”

Britain, meanwhile, has warned that Russia may use phosphorus bombs, which are banned from civilian areas under international law, in Mariupol.

Most armies use phosphorus ammunition to illuminate targets or produce smoke screens. Deliberately firing them in an enclosed space to expose people to the fumes could violate the Chemical Weapons Convention, said Marc-Michael Blum, former lab chief at the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

“Once you start using the properties of white phosphorus, the toxic properties, specifically and deliberately, then it becomes prohibited,” he said.

In Washington, a senior US defense official said the Biden administration was preparing another military aid package for Ukraine totaling $750 million to be announced in the coming days. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss plans not yet publicly announced. The delivery is to be completed this week of $800 million in military assistance approved by Biden a month ago.

The war has driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes, including nearly two-thirds of the country's children.
The war has driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes, including nearly two-thirds of the country’s children.

Risto Bozovic via Associated Press

Faced with fierce resistance from Ukrainian forces reinforced by Western weapons, Russian forces increasingly relied on bombing cities, razing many urban areas and killing thousands. The war has driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes, including nearly two-thirds of the country’s children.

Moscow’s withdrawal from towns and villages around Kyiv led to the discovery of large numbers of apparently massacred civilians, prompting widespread condemnation and accusations of war crimes.

More than 720 people have been killed in the outskirts of kyiv occupied by Russian troops and more than 200 are missing, the Interior Ministry announced on Wednesday.

In Bucha alone, Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk said 403 bodies had been recovered and the toll could rise as minesweepers comb the area.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said on Tuesday it was also investigating events in the northeast Brovary district.

He said the bodies of six civilians were found with gunshot wounds in a basement in the village of Shevchenkove and that Russian forces are believed to be responsible.

Prosecutors are also investigating allegations that Russian forces fired on a convoy of civilians trying to drive away from the village of Peremoha in Brovary district, killing four people including a 13-year-old boy. In another attack near Bucha, five people were killed, including two children, when a car came under fire, prosecutors said.

Putin falsely claimed on Tuesday that Ukraine’s accusation that hundreds of civilians were killed by Russian troops in the town of Bucha was “false”. Associated Press reporters saw dozens of bodies in and around the city, some of which had their hands tied and appeared to have been shot at close range.

Speaking at the Vostochny space launch facility in Russia’s Far East, in its first known foray out of Moscow since the start of the war, Putin also said the West would fail to isolate the Russia and that its economy has withstood a “blitz” of sanctions.

Addressing the pace of the campaign, he said Moscow was proceeding “calmly and rhythmically” to “achieve planned goals while minimizing casualties”.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday it used air- and sea-launched missiles to destroy an ammunition depot and an aircraft hangar at Starokostiantyniv in the western Khmelnytskyi region and an ammunition depot near kyiv.

Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press writer Robert Burns in Washington and AP reporters around the world contributed to this report.

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