© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A gas installation is depicted at a Gaz-System gas compressor station in Rembelszczyzna, outside Warsaw, Poland, April 27, 2022. REUTERS / Kacper Pempel
By Natalia Zinets
KYIV (Reuters) – The United States accused Russia on Thursday of plotting to assert false independence votes to justify the country’s conquest of territory in Ukraine as Russian forces escalated their attacks to the east.
More than two months into an invasion that has flattened cities but failed to conquer the capital Kiev, Russia has launched a push to conquer two eastern provinces in a struggle that the West sees as a crucial turning point in the war.
Although Russian troops were pushed out of northern Ukraine last month, they are heavily fortified in the east, and also still have part of the south, which they captured in March.
The US mission to the OSCE Security Council said the Kremlin might try to “fake referendums” in the southern and eastern territories it had conquered since the February 24 invasion, using “a worn book stealing from the darkest chapters in history” “.
“These falsified, illegitimate referendums will no doubt be accompanied by a wave of aggression against those who seek to oppose or undermine Moscow’s plans,” it said. “The international community must make it clear that any such referendum will never be recognized as legitimate.”
Ukraine said there were overnight explosions in the southern city of Kherson, the only regional capital Russia has so far conquered since the invasion. Russian troops there had used tear gas and stun grenades on Wednesday to suppress pro-Ukrainian crowds, and they now shelled the entire surrounding region and attacked Mykolaiv and Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine said.
Russian state media on Thursday quoted an official from a self-proclaimed pro-Russian “military-civilian commission” in Kherson as saying the area would start using Russia’s ruble currency from May 1.
Ukraine’s General Staff said Russia was also stepping up its main military offensive in the east, with Moscow now aiming to conquer all two provinces that have been partially controlled by separatists since 2014.
“The enemy is increasing the pace of the offensive operation. The Russian occupiers are firing intense fire in almost all directions,” it said.
It identified Russia’s main attack as near the cities of Slobozhanske and Donets along a strategic front line connecting Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv with the Russian-occupied city of Izyum. Kharkiv’s regional governor said Russian forces intensified the attacks from Izyum, but the Ukrainian troops held out.
WEST SENDS WEAPONS
Western countries have in recent days increased arms supplies to Ukraine as fighting in the east intensifies. More than 40 countries met this week at a U.S. air base in Germany and promised to send heavy weapons as artillery to what is expected to be a major battle of opposing armies along a heavily fortified front line.
Washington now says they hope Ukrainian forces can not only repel Russia’s attacks to the east, but also weaken its military so that it can no longer threaten neighbors. Russia says it is equivalent to NATO waging a “proxy war” against it, and has made a number of threats this week about unspecified retaliation.
“If anyone intends to intervene in the ongoing events from the outside and create strategic threats to Russia that are unacceptable to us, they should know that our retaliatory attacks will be lightning fast,” President Vladimir Putin told lawmakers in St. Petersburg. Petersburg on Wednesday. .
“We all have the tools for this, things no one else can boast of having now. And we do not want to brag, we will use them if necessary. And I want everyone to know that.”
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Putin’s remarks suggesting he would escalate the conflict were a sign of “desperation”. “After failing almost all of its goals,” Putin now sought to consolidate Russia’s control over occupied territory, acting as a “cancer growth” inside Ukraine, Wallace said.
When Russian forces were pushed away from Kiev last month, the devastated suburbs left strewn with the bodies of hundreds of civilians killed in what Western countries call clear evidence of war crimes. Moscow denies targeting civilians, saying without evidence that such signs of alleged atrocities are false.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres struck an emotional tone during a visit to the former Russian-occupied Kyiv suburbs of Borodyanka and Bucha.
“I imagine my family in one of those homes, now ruined and black. I see my grandchildren running away in panic, part of the family was eventually killed,” Guterres told reporters in Borodyanka, surrounded by burnt, windowless apartment blocks.
“Innocent civilians lived in these buildings, they paid the highest price for a war to which they have not contributed at all.”
Guterres met with Putin in Moscow on Wednesday on a failed peacekeeping mission. Russia rejected the UN chief’s offer to help evacuate Mariupol, the besieged port that has been the scene of the war’s bloodiest fighting and worst humanitarian catastrophe.
Ukrainian troops are still trapped in a giant steelworks in Mariupol. Putin claimed victory in the city last week, ordering the steelworks blocked. Kiev says 100,000 civilians are still trapped in the city’s ruins.
“As long as we are here and keep the defense … the city is not theirs,” Captain Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of Ukraine’s Azov regiment, told Reuters in a video link from an undisclosed location under the huge factory.
“The tactic (now) is like a medieval siege. We are surrounded, they no longer throw lots of forces to break our line of defense. They carry out air strikes.”
More than 5 million refugees have fled abroad since Russia launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine on February 24. Moscow says the goal is to disarm its neighbor and defeat nationalists, which the West calls a false pretext for a war of aggression.
US President Joe Biden is expected to make remarks Thursday in support of Ukrainians, the White House said.