Russians Seize 42 Towns in Eastern Ukraine as Fighting Intensifies

Ukrainian officials on Friday acknowledged that Russian forces had captured more than three dozen small towns this week in their first attempt to capture eastern Ukraine, offering a first glimpse of what promises to be a squeaky-clean brawl by the Kremlin to gain wider territorial gains in Ukraine. a new phase of the two-month-old war.

The fighting in the east — along increasingly fortified lines stretching for more than 500 miles — intensified as a Russian commander signaled even greater ambitions and warned that Kremlin forces were aiming to gain “complete control” over southern Ukraine until to Moldova, the Ukrainian capital. southwestern neighbor.

While it seemed unlikely that the commander, Major General Rustam Minnekayev, would have mispronounced, his warning sparked skepticism, based on Russia’s likely difficulty in launching another broad offensive and the general’s relatively obscure role. in the hierarchy. But his threat could not be ruled out.

The broader war goals he outlined at a defense industry meeting in a Russian city more than 1,000 miles away from the fighting are said to be far more ambitious than the scaled-down goals outlined by President Vladimir V. Putin in recent weeks, which targeted were on winning control of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Some political and military pundits suggested the general’s statement could be part of Russia’s ongoing efforts to distract or confuse Ukraine and its allies. General Minnekayev’s official job involves political propaganda work and usually does not involve military strategy.

Fierce fighting broke out on Friday in part of southeastern Ukraine, inundating communities on the banks of the Dnipro River. While Ukrainian officials acknowledged that Russia had taken over 42 small towns and villages in recent days, they said those same places could soon be back in Ukrainian hands.

Western analysts said Russian forces had been battered and weakened in both the slow but largely successful battle for the southern city of Mariupol and the failed battle for Kiev. But instead of resting, reinforcing and re-equipping the troops, Moscow is pushing through to the east.

The Russian military appears to be trying to secure battlefield gains — including capturing all of the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, or oblasts — before May 9, when Moscow holds its annual celebration of its World War II victory.

“They’re not taking the break that would be necessary to rejoin these forces, to stop for a week or two and prepare for a wider offensive,” said Mason Clark, an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War in Washington. “They’ll probably be able to capture some territory. We don’t think they will be able to conquer the entire oblasts in the next three weeks.”

In his remarks on Friday, General Minnekayev claimed that one of Russia’s goals was “complete control over the Donbas and southern Ukraine.”

He said this would allow Russia to exercise control over Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, “providing agricultural and metallurgical products” to other countries. However, despite repeated attacks, Russia has failed to take those ports, including Odessa, a fortified city of 1 million inhabitants.

“I would like to remind you that many Kremlin plans have been destroyed by our military and people,” Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote on social media in response to General Minnekayev’s comments.

General Minnekayev also issued a veiled warning to Moldova, where in 1992 Moscow-backed separatists took control of a 250-mile stretch of land known as Transnistria.

“Control of southern Ukraine is another connection to Transnistria, where there is also evidence of oppression of the Russian-speaking population,” the general said, echoing false claims of a “genocide” against Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine Mr Putin would have committed. used to justify the February 24 invasion.

The Moldovan government later called on the Russian ambassador to complain, saying General Minnekayev’s comments were “not only unacceptable, but also unfounded” and led to “heightened tensions”.

Transnistria has never been recognized internationally, not even by Russia. But Russia is holding 1,500 soldiers there, nominally to keep the peace and guard a large Soviet-era ammunition depot.

Moldova, a poor country of 2.6 million inhabitants, is considered vulnerable to further Russian incursions. It is not a member of NATO or the European Union, but hastily applied for EU membership last month.

Yuri Fyodorov, a Russian military analyst, said the broader objectives set out by General Minnekayev “are unattainable from a military standpoint”.

“All Russian combat-ready units are now concentrated in the Donbas, where Russia has made no significant progress in the past five days,” Fyodorov said in an interview. General Minnekayev’s rank, he said, would generally not allow him to make such sweeping policy statements that also contradict what has been said by the country’s top leaders.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov declined to comment on General Minnekayev’s comments.

As Western allies rush to arm Ukraine with increasingly heavier long-range weapons, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on a visit to India on Friday, said his country is considering sending tanks to Poland so that Warsaw can then send its own tanks to Poland. to steer. Ukraine. The Biden administration said this month it would also help move Soviet-made tanks to Ukraine.

Russia’s defense ministry said in its first statement on the victims of the April 14 sinking of the Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, that one crew member had died, 27 were missing and 396 had been evacuated. Relatives of at least 10 Moskva crew members had expressed frustration at the Kremlin’s silence, which became a test of its strong hold on information the Russians receive about the war.

Ukraine said it sunk the Moskva with two missiles – a claim confirmed by US officials – while Russia claimed a fire on board caused an ammunition explosion that left the ship dead.

As Russia tightened its crackdown on any domestic opposition to the war, it opened a criminal case against Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian pro-democracy activist and contributing columnist for The Washington Post, for spreading “false information,” his officials said. lawyer Friday. †

Mr Kara-Murza, 40, arrested earlier this month faces 10 years in prison, according to official decree against him Posted online by his lawyer, Vadim Prokhorov.

It said he was being investigated for comments he made before Arizona lawmakers on March 15. mr. Kara-Murza told a local news center in Phoenix that month when Russia committed “war crimes” in Ukraine, but that “Russia and Putin’s regime are not one and the same”.

“Americans should be outraged by Putin’s escalating campaign to silence Kara-Murza,” said Fred Ryan, The Post’s editor. said in a statement

Mr Putin, who has been increasingly vilified in the West by the war, has not completely rejected diplomatic involvement. On Friday he has agreed to meet with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in Moscow next week, a major change from his refusal to even take Mr Guterres’ phone calls. Still, the meeting did not weaken Mr Putin’s views on Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that he said should not even be a sovereign country.

The Ukrainian government said the fighting had made it too dangerous to organize evacuations from a war that United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called a “horrific story of abuses against civilians”.

After another attack on the northeastern city of Kharkov on Friday, residents watched as smoke rose over shops. In the ruined port of Mariupol, hundreds of civilians and the last organized Ukrainian fighters were trapped in a sprawling steel factory, urgently begging for help from underground bunkers. Newly released satellite images of the city showed hundreds of hastily dug graves, lending credence to Ukrainian claims that Russia was trying to cover up atrocities.

And in the Zaporizhzhya region of south-central Ukraine, Ukrainian troops were dug in about two miles from Russian forces attempting to advance north in an attempt to reinforce a land bridge connecting Russian territory to the Crimean peninsula, which Mr. Putin in 2014.

The Ukrainian Army’s 128th Separate Mountain Assault Brigade, armed with anti-tank missiles supplied by the Americans and British, as well as other advanced weapon systems, claimed to have destroyed two Russian T-72 tanks that had strayed too close to its positions.

“We are on our own land,” said Captain Vitaliy Nevinsky, the brigade commander. “We defend ourselves and defeat this horde, this invasion of our territory.”

Anton Trojanovskic reported from Hamburg, Germany, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Michael Levenson From New York. Reporting contributed by Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland, Michael Schwirtz from Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, Tyler Hicks from Kharkov, Ukraine, Nick Cumming Bruce from Geneva, Julian E. Barnes from Washington, Farnaz Fassihi from New York and Sameer Yasir from New Delhi.


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