Kremlin Deploys New Troops to Ukraine as Both Sides Gird for a War of Attrition

Russia is calling on its troops stationed in the far east to join the battle in Ukraine, Ukraine’s military command said on Saturday, as Moscow seeks to bolster its combat forces amid losses. heavy weight and signs that the attempt to capture eastern Ukraine has stalled. .

Adding to the feeling that both sides appear to be gearing up for a war of attrition, Ukrainians on Saturday lined up at gas stations across the country as the government struggled to deal with the situation. lack of fuel due to Russian attacks on oil infrastructure.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said Friday in his nightly address: “Line ups and high prices at gas stations are seen in many parts of our country. “The occupiers are deliberately destroying the infrastructure for fuel production, supply and storage.”

He said that Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s seaports means that oil tankers cannot enter. The war has also crippled grain harvests in Ukraine, known as Europe’s bread depot, disrupting global food supplies and exacerbating the food crisis in East Africa.

As the Western allies poured more heavy weapons into Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland, both NATO countries, reached an agreement that could proceed with the delivery of MIG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Slovakia says Polish F-16 jets will patrol its skies, unleashing a Slovak fleet of Soviet-made MIGs.

Following a meeting between the two countries’ defense ministers on Friday, Poland said its air force would begin patrolling Slovak territory as part of their joint efforts to help Ukraine.

Slovakia has not explicitly said it will send its MIGs to Ukraine, but it has raised the possibility of doing so – provided it can find an alternative way to protect its airspace, which it does. agreement with Poland seems to be reached.

Last month, Poland refused to directly supply its own fleet of MIG-29s to Ukraine, offering instead to send the planes to a US military base in Germany, where they would then be stationed. can be flown to Ukraine. Washington, worried about provoking Russia, refuse the offer.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, argued that the United States and the European Union, by providing more powerful weapons to Ukraine, are waging a proxy war against Russia, at the cost of their lives. civilian life.

Lavrov said that the flow of weapons from the West had nothing to do with supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty, but rather allowing the United States and the European Union to fight against Russia “to the last Ukrainian”.

The fuel shortage in Ukraine follows Russian attacks this week on Ukraine’s main fuel producer and other major refineries. Russia said it also attacked storage facilities for petroleum products used by the Ukrainian military.

A senior Pentagon official said such attacks are aimed at reducing the Ukrainian military’s ability to “replenish their own stockpiles and to fortify themselves”.

In response, officials in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, appeals to the people use public transport instead of private vehicles to save fuel. “We need to keep in mind the needs of our military and our defenders,” the city government said.

The Kremlin’s deployment of troops from eastern Russia to the front in Ukraine suggests Moscow may be trying to regain momentum in what the Pentagon has described as a “bulge” of attacks in eastern Ukraine. .

The Ukrainian military said that additional Russian forces were sent first to a Russian city near the Ukrainian border and then to the city of Izium, in northeastern Ukraine, where the Russians met decisive resistance. paralysis. It does not say how many troops are being deployed.

Western analysts say Russia’s offensive in the east has slowed as the country struggles to overcome many of the same logistical problems related to shipments of food, fuel, weapons and ammunition thwarted the early stages of the invasion more than two months ago.

On Saturday, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said Russia was trying to overcome the problems that have limited its invasion by concentrating combat power geographically, shortening supply lines and simply command and control.

But Russia “still faces significant challenges,” the ministry said in a statement Latest intelligence update about war. “It was forced to merge and redeploy exhausted and separate units from the failed advances in northeastern Ukraine. Many of these units may be mentally impaired.”

The fighting in eastern Ukraine has taken an increasingly heavy toll on the militaries of both countries. Russia’s Defense Ministry on Saturday said its forces had fired on 389 targets across Ukraine, including soldiers’ housing facilities, killing 120 Ukrainians.

Ukraine says its Special Forces have attacked a command center near Izium, destroying dozens of tanks and armored vehicles.

In a measure of the rising number of civilians, Ukrainian authorities say police have received more than 7,000 reports of missing persons since the start of the invasion on February 24, with half of them the case is still unresolved.

Ukrainian officials call the number “unprecedented in modern history” and they urge allies to send forensic experts and experts in the management of missing persons registers.

In a long-awaited but often disappointing development in Mariupol, the dilapidated southern Ukrainian port occupied by Russian troops, some 20 women and children have been evacuated from the Azovstal steel plant, where the The city’s last Ukrainian fighters were piled up along with hundreds of increasingly desperate people. civilian.

The news, from Captain Svyatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov regiment, comes as the United Nations is working to broker a ceasefire to allow trapped civilians and Ukrainian fighters to escape from their homes. machine.

Captain Palamar said in a video posted on Telegram that an evacuation column had arrived in the evening to bring civilians to safety, adding that he hoped the wounded would also be moved. safe.

He did not provide further details, although Russia TASS . news agency said one of its reporters at the scene reported that 25 people – including six children – had walked out of the factory. It remains unclear whether they are free to seek safety in Ukraine or are being held by Russian forces.

Lavrov said in an interview published by China’s state news agency on Saturday, nearly one million Ukrainians had been transferred from Ukraine to Russia. He described the moves as “voluntary evacuation”, a statement contradicting witnesses, Ukrainian officials and Western observers, who have said that many Ukrainians have been forcibly deported. painting.

Lavrov’s statement echoes false assertions in Russian propaganda that its forces are liberating ethnic Russians and others in Ukraine from what Russian President Putin called the “public” Ukrainian government. neo-fascists”.

Ukraine has argued that Russia is carrying out forced migration of its citizens, a war crime, to be used as leverage in any peace talks.

Ukraine also accuses Russian forces of stealing cultural artifacts from occupied cities.

In Mariupol, city officials say Russian forces have moved more than 2,000 items – including icons, medals and works of Russian artists – from the city’s museums to Donetsk, the capital of the country. the eastern region is controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

In the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, local officials say a mysterious man wearing a white coat in a lab used tweezers and long gloves to pull out several gold artifacts more than 2,300 years old. from cardboard boxes in a local museum, as a team of Russians. Soldiers stood behind them with guns, eager to watch. These items date back to the Scythian empire and date back to the fourth century BC.

“The Orcs have held our Scythian gold,” announced the mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fyodorov, used a derogatory term for many Ukrainians for Russian soldiers. “This is one of the largest and most expensive collections in Ukraine, and today we don’t know where they got it.”

A series of explosions inside Russia in recent weeks have also raised fears of war spilling beyond Ukraine’s borders and sounded the alarm for the first air raid on Russian soil since World War II.

Incidents include a Russian fuel depot that caught fire shortly after surveillance video captured light trails of a missile fired from a low-flying helicopter and a fire that broke out at a military research institute near Moscow .

Russia accuses Ukraine of carrying out the helicopter attack, while military analysts say Ukrainian sabotage may have caused other fires. Ukraine responded with deliberate ambiguity.

“We neither confirm nor deny,” Oleksei Arestovych, an adviser to Zelensky’s chief of staff, said in an interview.

Mr. Arestovych describes the policy as a strategic position, and he compares it to Israel’s long-ambiguous policy on nuclear weapons, another geopolitically sensitive issue.

“After what happened,” he said, “officially we don’t say yes and we don’t say no, like Israel.”

Report contributed by Steven Erlanger, Andrew Higgins, Maria Varennikova, John Ismay, Dave Philipps, Valeriya Safronova, Lauren McCarthy, Victoria Kim, Christiaan Triebert, Alexandra Koroleva, Andrew E. Kramer, Jeffrey Gettleman, Michael Schwirtz and Christine Hauser.

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