Ukrainians try to repel Russian forces attacking their city

Ukrainian forces managed to thwart the Russian invasion, bolstering counter-attacks on multiple fronts and retaking a town outside Kyiv on Tuesday, while the Russians became more heavily armed. , so far unable to gain decisive advantage , has tried to force Ukrainian cities and people to submit .

As fighting broke out around Kyiv, Ukrainian military officials said their forces had prevailed at Makariv, a key crossroads on western approaches to the city, while in the south of the land. country, they sought to regain the Kherson region. However, the southern port of Mariupol has endured a brutal siege, with the government saying some 100,000 civilians remain trapped in the ruined city with little food, water, electricity or heat.

“This war is not going to end easily or quickly,” Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, told reporters ahead of President Biden’s departure for a NATO summit in Europe.

Mr. Biden is expected to impose sanctions this week on hundreds of members of the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, according to a person familiar with the expected announcement.

In Russia, the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, which had clearly expected a lightning conquest, responded to the failures in Ukraine and its plummeting reputation in the West by expanding its crackdown. recent draconian crackdown on dissidents, seeing it as an offense to discredit the activities of all state agencies working abroad, such as embassies. A Russian court has sentenced opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, who opposes Russia’s Ukraine war, to another nine years in prison for fraud.

A Pentagon assessment concluded that Russia’s “combat strength” in Ukraine had for the first time fallen below 90% of its original force – more than 150,000 troops were concentrated in western Russia and Belarus before the invasion. February 24th. That’s a stable reflection losses suffered by the Russian military, to the extent that American officials say could render units unable to carry out combat missions.

According to a senior Russian Defense Ministry official, Russian forces are “struggling on many fronts,” including conventional supply lines and logistics. The Pentagon even saw indications that some Russian troops had been evacuated because of frostbite, the official said.

The official declined to mention the number of Russian casualties, although the Pentagon estimated last week that at least 7,000 Russians were killed.

New satellite images analyzed by The New York Times show that Russia has removed all of its planes from the airport south of Kherson, the largest city captured by Russian forces to date. Ukrainian forces claim to have attacked the airport twice, destroying an unspecified number of helicopters. The removal is a sign that the Russians are struggling as they seek to control the region, experts say.

The device removal, visible by comparison pictures taken by space imaging company Planet Labs over six days, The Ukrainian army is pressing to regain lost territory in the Kherson region.

Control over Kherson, captured by Russia on March 2, is essential in any attempt to control southern Ukraine. But Russia has failed to dominate the entire region.

Dmitri S. Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, repeatedly refused to rule out the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons in a television interview on Tuesday. When asked under what conditions Putin would use such weapons, Mr. Peskov told CNN, “If it’s an existential threat to our country, it probably is.” While he did not define an “existential threat,” Russian officials had previously suggested that it meant an attack on Russia itself, but the invasion of Ukraine has cast the previous policy into question. doubt.

It’s difficult to gauge the current context of the fighting there, with one senior US defense official describing only the fighting as “a very active, active battleground”.

The official said the Pentagon has no indication that Russian forces are moving towards the use of chemical or biological weapons.

On Monday, Mr. Biden emphasized the possibility that Mr. Putin could switch to using such weapons, forbidden via International Treaty. “His back is against the wall,” Biden said at a meeting of US business leaders.

Mr. Biden will attend a summit of NATO leaders in Brussels on Thursday, during which other issues will discuss a potential response to any such weapons. The US will also announce new sanctions against Russia along with its NATO allies, Mr. Sullivan said.

“Over the past few months, the West has united,” he said. “The president is touring Europe to make sure we stay united, to strengthen our common resolve, to send a strong message that we are prepared and committed to doing this in the time it takes. necessary”.

In Ukraine, the Defense Ministry announced that its troops had raised the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag over Makariv, about 40 kilometers west of Kyiv, where control has been repeatedly changed hands. The town is adjacent to an important highway leading from the capital to western Ukraine and Lviv, so keeping it out of Russian reach is crucial in efforts to prevent Kyiv from being besieged.

The Russians have been unable to advance further than 9 miles northwest of Kyiv or 18 miles east of the city – essentially where they were last week, the senior Pentagon official said.

Ukraine’s push to push back was extended to air and air defense units, which managed to keep fighting despite being outnumbered and far outnumbered by the Russians.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said that the besieged city of Mariupol, a port on the Sea of ​​Azov, was being “turned to ashes”. The government says about 100,000 civilians, or 22% of the original population, are still trapped there. The Pentagon official said that Russian naval ships joined forces on the ground to bombard the city. Russia’s Black Sea fleet has its headquarters on the nearby Crimean Peninsula, and dozens of ships are patrolling the waters off Ukraine, according to the Pentagon.

Mr. Zelensky, continuing to address parliaments around the world via video link, warned the Italian Parliament that famine would hit parts of the world if farmers in Ukraine, a major wheat producer, can’t work. “Famine is approaching for some of the countries that depend on Ukraine’s corn, oil and wheat, including the North African nations just across the Mediterranean Sea from Italy,” he said.

In response, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said his country wanted Ukraine to join the European Union, and praised the Ukrainian people’s “heroic” resistance to Putin’s “brutal”.

Draghi said that Italy has frozen assets worth more than 800 million euros (nearly 900 million USD) from Russian oligarchs and is working to overcome its dependence on Russian energy supplies as quickly as possible. .

At the United Nations, Secretary-General António Guterres said that 10 million Ukrainians have been displaced from their places of residence, or just under a quarter of the population.

Mr. Guterres called the war in Ukraine “force majeure”. Ukrainians have “suffered a hell on earth – and the impact is being felt around the world with skyrocketing food, energy and fertilizer prices threatening to lead to a global hunger crisis.” ”, he said. Guterres repeated his plea for Russia to stop the war, and called for serious negotiations.

Russia’s parliament, the Duma, which reliably conducts the Kremlin’s bidding, has revised its already draconian censorship law to “discredit” the overseas activities of all agencies. government – not just the military – is a potential offense. The law bans terms like “war” or “invasion” to describe Russia’s military activities in Ukraine, punishing anyone who spreads “false information” about the invasion with sentences of up to 15 year in prison. Russia has taken other steps to stamp out disinformation, prompting independent news outlets to close or move operations out of the country for fear of sanctions, and block access to Facebook and Instagram, both. Both are widely used by government officials and businesses.

The conviction and sentencing of Mr. Navalny was seen by many as a way to keep him behind bars and further limit his exposure to the outside world, as the Kremlin tries to clamp down on the narrates the war at home and quells the challengers. . Mr. Navalny appealed to Russians to oppose the invasion, through letters from the prison that his lawyer posted on social media.

Zhanna Agalakova, an outstanding Russian foreign correspondent who resigned earlier this month from Channel One, one of the most popular networks in a country where the state controls virtually all broadcasts , announced that she had quit her job to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “I’m doing this for the Russians,” she said in a series of Twitter posts through Reporters Without Borders. “Our news doesn’t show reality.”

Report contributed by John Ismay in Washington; Marc Santora in Krakow, Poland; Andrew E. Kramer in Kyiv, Ukraine; Dan Bilefsky in Montreal; Anton Troianovski in Istanbul; Valeriya Safronova; Gaia Pianigiani In Rome; Christiaan Triebert in Paje, Tanzania; and Christoph Koettl and Farnaz Fassihi in New York.

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