Russia Shuffles Command in Ukraine as Thousands Flee the East

Russia reorganized command of its flag offensive in Ukraine and selected a general with extensive combat experience in Syria to lead the mission, as western countries threw more weapons into the country in anticipation of a renewed Russian attack in the east.

The appointment of the general, Aleksandr V. Dvornikov, as the top battlefield commander came when Britain announced it would be sending an anti-aircraft missile system, 800 anti-tank missiles and several armored vehicles to Ukraine, and when Slovakia handed over a long-range missile to the Ukrainian army. S-300 air defense system, with the blessing of the United States.

In another show of support for Ukraine, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Great Britain paid a surprise visit to Kiev, the capital, on Saturday, where he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, flanked by the flags of both nations.

Johnson and Zelensky planned to discuss further aid to Ukraine, including a “new package of financial and military aid,” the British government said in a statement.

Johnson and other Western leaders’ attempt to bolster Ukraine came as fears of another Russian attack escalated a day after a rocket attack on a train station in the eastern city of Kramatorsk killed more than 50 people, including children, and many were injured. more who heeded official warnings to flee.

Moscow denied responsibility for the attack, but US military officials and independent analysts in Washington said they believed Russian forces had launched the missiles.

Mr Zelensky described the attack as “a new war crime of Russia” in his nightly video address to the nation. He said the attack on innocent civilians at the station will be investigated, along with other atrocities blamed on Russian forces, including the apparent killings of civilians in Bucha, a suburb of Kiev.

“Like the Bucha massacre, like many other Russian war crimes, the missile attack on Kramatorsk has to be one of the charges before the tribunal, and it will certainly happen,” said Mr Zelensky, calling on Russian military commanders to hold trials such as who faced the Nazis in Nuremberg after World War II.

Mr Zelensky thanked Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, who visited Bucha on Friday, “for her personal involvement and assistance in setting up a joint investigation team to establish the full truth about the actions of the Russian occupiers and all those responsible for justice.”

Japan said it would join the United States and European countries in supporting investigations into what Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called “unforgivable war crimes” committed by Russian troops.

Mr Kishida accused Russia of repeatedly violating international humanitarian law by attacking civilians and nuclear power plants, a pain point for Japan given its experience in 2011 with the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

“We must hold Russia strictly responsible for these atrocities,” Mr Kishida said. Japan also said it would expel eight Russian diplomats, ban Russian coal and restrict Russian imports of wood, vodka and machinery.

Legal experts have said it would be difficult to charge war crimes against the Kremlin. The burden of proof is very high, requiring prosecutors to show that soldiers and their commanders intended to violate international law that defines the rules of war.

Western analysts and European intelligence officials believe that Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin is seeking battlefield gains by May 9, when he plans to deliver a Victory Day speech to the Russian public, commemorating both the Soviet victory in World War II as well as the military operation in Ukraine.

Russian forces have regrouped in the east after withdrawing from areas around Kiev under fire from Ukrainian forces. The build-up of troops has prompted officials in Kramatorsk and other eastern cities to urge residents to flee.

On Friday, the day of the rocket attack in Kramatorsk, more than 6,600 people managed to flee besieged Ukrainian cities — a record number for the week — of the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. said

Kramatorsk mayor Oleksandr Honcharenko said fewer than 400 people had left the city on Saturday, believed to be heading for areas in the west that are considered safer.

Mr Honcharenko said he expected about a quarter of Kramatorsk’s 200,000 residents to remain in the city despite the expected Russian advance, and said the city was preparing food, water and medical supplies.

“The only thing that will convince them to leave the city is if it comes under siege,” he said.

In the central city of Dnipro, dozens of people were waiting for the bus to Bulgaria on Saturday.

“The air strikes are becoming more frequent,” said Ludmila Abramova, 62, who had fled Pavlograd, a town near the eastern Donbas region, where Russia has refocused its forces. “I am leaving.”

“But everything will be fine,” Ms Abramova added. “I’ll be right back.”

Karina Humuk, 20, accompanied friends who had also left Pavlograd on their way to Bulgaria. “People are afraid that rockets, missiles and explosions will come to Pavlograd,” she said.

The European Commission pledged €1 billion on Saturday to support Ukraine and countries hosting refugees fleeing the war, which has sparked the fastest-moving exodus of European refugees since World War II.

More than 7 million Ukrainians have left their homes since the invasion on February 24, and more than 4.4 million have left the country altogether, according to the United Nations.

The reorganization of the Russian military command came as the Institute for the Study of Wara Washington think tank that monitors the fighting said in its latest assessment that Russian forces in the east appeared to be coming to a standstill, “probably not allowing for a Russian breakthrough and would be in poor morale”.

The British Ministry of Defense also pointed to Russian military challenges, though it warned that Russia was expected to escalate its airstrikes in eastern and southern Ukraine. The ministry said Russian attempts to link its soldiers in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, to Kremlin-backed forces in the Donbas region were thwarted by Ukrainian counter-attacks.

The appointment of General Dvornikov, reported by a senior US official on Saturday, was an attempt to rectify that struggling campaign, US officials said.

General Dvornikov, 60, holds the second highest rank in the Russian army. He was declared a Hero of the Russian Federation for his command of the Russian armed forces in the brutal war in Syria, where Mr Putin has deployed Russian warplanes and missiles to aid Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a multifaceted conflict between the government. , armed rebels, jihadists and others. In September 2016, the general was appointed commander of Russia’s Southern Military District, with responsibility for the troubled North Caucasus.

Russia conducted its military campaign against Ukraine from Moscow, with no central war commander on site to coordinate air, ground and sea units. That approach helped explain why the invasion struggled with unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance and was plagued by poor logistics and weak morale, US officials said.

The disorganized attack also contributed to the deaths of at least seven Russian generals as senior officers were pushed to the front lines to solve tactical problems that Western militaries would have left to more junior officers or higher enlisted personnel.

Eric Schmitt message from Washington, Jane Arraf from Lviv, Ukraine, and Michael Levenson From New York. Reporting contributed by Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak from Dnipro, Ukraine, Cora Engelbrecht from Krakow, Victoria Kim from Seoul, Julian E. Barnes from Washington, and Steven Erlanger and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels.

SOURCE – www.nytimes.com

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