Russia widens war, bombs new targets
LVIV: Russia widened its offensive in Ukraine on Friday, striking airfields in the west and an industrial city in the east, while the huge armoured column that had been stalled for over a week outside Kyiv was on the move again, spreading out into forests and towns near the capital.
The US and its allies moved to further isolate and sanction Russia by revoking its most favoured trading status. But with the invasion in its 16th day, Russia appeared to be trying to regroup and regain momentum, with expanded bombardment and a tightening of its stranglehold on cities like Mariupol, the strategic seaport where civilians struggled to find food amid an intense 10-day-old siege.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said there have been certain positive developments in Russia-Ukraine talks but gave no details. He told Belarus’ leader that negotiations were being held almost on a daily basis.
For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said “Ukrainian forces had reached a strategic turning point”, but he did not elaborate.
“It’s impossible to say how many days we will still need to free our land, but it is possible to say that we will do it,” he said via video from Kyiv.
He also said authorities were working on establishing 12 humanitarian corridors and trying to ensure food, medicine and other basics get to people across the country.
Western and Ukrainian officials have said Russian forces have struggled in the face of stiffer resistance and heavier losses than anticipated, along with supply and morale problems. So far, they have made the biggest advances on cities in the south and east while stalling in the north and around Kyiv.
While Russian forces continued to launch air strikes in urban areas such as Kyiv, Kharkiv and Mariupol, they also pounded targets away from the main battle zones.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russia used high-precision long-range weapons to put military airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in the west out of action.
The Lutsk strikes killed four Ukrainian servicemen and wounded six, Lutsk Mayor Ihor Polishchuk said. In Ivano-Frankivsk, residents were ordered into shelters in an air raid alert.
Russian air strikes also targeted for the first time the eastern city of Dnipro, a major industrial hub and Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, situated on the Dnieper River. Three strikes took place, killing at least one person, according to Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Heraschenko.
In images of the aftermath released by Ukraine’s emergency agency, firefighters doused fire at a building, and ash fell on bloodied rubble. Smoke billowed over shattered concrete where buildings once stood.
In another potentially ominous development, new satellite photos appeared to show the massive Russian convoy outside the Ukrainian capital had split up and fanned out.
Howitzers were towed into position to open fire, and armoured units were seen in towns near the Antonov Airport north of the city, according to Maxar Technologies, the company that produced the images.
The 64-kilometre line of tanks and other vehicles had massed outside Kyiv early last week. The purpose of the latest move was unclear, though Russia is widely expected eventually to try to encircle the capital.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence said that after making limited progress, Russian forces were trying to re-set and re-posture their troops, gearing up for operations against Kyiv.
But Nick Reynolds, a land warfare analyst at British defence think tank Royal United Services Institute, said the move, in part, looked like an attempt by the troops to better protect themselves by dispersing. He said it may indicate the Russians are not ready to surround the city immediately.
In the meantime, Russia is increasing bombardments and regrouping its forces on the ground.
“It’s ugly already, but it’s going to get worse,” Reynolds said.
Repeated rounds of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have taken place along the Belarus border, and the two countries’ foreign ministers held talks on Thursday with no apparent progress, while various third countries have also made attempts to broker a stop to the fighting.
A Western official said the fact that negotiations are taking place so early in the fighting might speak to Russian concerns about the progress of the war.
Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2022