KYIV, Ukraine — Fighting is grinding on in Ukraine after the country marked the anniversary of Russia’s invasion, with Ukrainian authorities on Saturday reporting dozens of new Russian strikes and attacks on cities in the east and south.
After a somber and defiant day of commemorations Friday and a marathon news conference, Ukraine’s president followed up with new video posts a day later in which he declared that “Russia must lose in Ukraine” and argued that its forces can be defeated this year.
In a separate tweet, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also pushed for more sanctions on Russia after the U.K., U.S. and the European Union announced new measures aimed at further choking off funding and support for Moscow.
“The pressure on Russian aggressor must increase,” Zelenskyy tweeted in English.
He said Ukraine wants to see “decisive steps” against Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom and the Russian nuclear industry, as well as “more pressure on military and banking.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last weekthat Rosatom and his Defense Ministry need to work on ensuring that Russia is ready to resume nuclear weapons tests if need be. He claimed the U.S. is working on nuclear weapons and that some in the U.S. are pondering plans to carry out nuclear tests banned under the global test ban that took effect after the Cold War.
“If the U.S. conducts tests, we will also do it,” Putin said.
Russia has already become the most sanctioned nation in the world over the past year, targeted with sanctions by more than 30 countries representing more than half of the world’s economy. But the squeeze on its economy, trade and firms has yet to deliver a knockout blow.
Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, called the latest U.S. sanctions “thoughtless.”
“We have learned to live under economic and political pressure,” Antonov said. “The experience of previous sanctions has shown that they harm the world market to a greater extent, worsen the situation of ordinary citizens in states that initiate or support reckless sanctions.”
The Feb. 24 anniversary of last year’s invasion brought no respite in Russian attacks.
Still, in one of his video posts Saturday, Zelenskyy said “is it possible for us to win?”
“Yes,” he said. “We are capable of this in unity, resolutely and unyieldingly, to put an end to Russian aggression this year.”
On Saturday, Ukraine’s military reported 27 Russian airstrikes and 75 attacks from multiple rocket launchers in the most recent 24-hour spell. It said Russian offensive efforts continue to be concentrated in Ukraine’s industrial east and northeast.
Five wounded civilians were reported in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province, where territory is roughly split between Russian and Ukrainian control.
Battles raged in nearby Bakhmut, a city in the Donetsk region that has become the focus of the fighting in recent months, according to Ukraine’s Land Forces. The military said Russian forces continued trying to break through Ukrainian defenses, encircle and seize the city.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of Russia’s private military company Wagner, claimed Saturday that his fighters have “completely taken over” the village of Yahidne on the northern outskirts of Bakhmut. There has been no confirmation of the claim from the Russian military or the Ukrainian army.
In the southern Kherson region, Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin also reported 83 Russian shelling attacks, with the regional capital, also called Kherson, hit nine times, and residential buildings, a preschool and a medical institution struck. The head of Ukraine’s presidential office reported three civilians wounded in the region.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Saturday that he aims to discuss peace efforts related to the Ukraine war with China when he travels there in April. China has called for a cease-fire and peace talks. Zelenskyy gave support Friday for Beijing’s apparent interest in playing a role.
Macron said in Paris that “China must now help us to put pressure on Russia.”
“Obviously so that Russia never uses neither chemical nor nuclear weapons,” he said. “But also so that [Russia] stops this aggression as a condition for a negotiation.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Saturday that he welcomed parts of the peace plan for Ukraine proposed by China, but disagreed with other aspects.
“There are things that are remarkably right, such as the renewed condemnation of the use of nuclear weapons,” Scholz told reporters during an official visit to India. “What’s missing in my view is a discernible line that says: ‘Russian troops must also withdraw.'”
JETS RULED OUT
President Joe Biden said he is ruling out Ukraine’s request for F-16 fighter jets at this time, despite increased pressure from Zelenskyy.
“He doesn’t need F-16s now,” Biden said in an interview with ABC News that aired Friday. “I am ruling it out for now.”
The U.S. has resisted sending F-16 warplanes to Ukraine over concerns that their delivery could further escalate the war.
Biden highlighted other advanced weapons systems the U.S. is providing to Zelenskyy’s forces.
“We’re sending him what our seasoned military thinks he needs now. He needs tanks, he needs artillery, he needs air defense, including another HIMARS,” Biden said, using the acronym for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.
The U.S. also announced plans to deliver more than $2 billion in additional security assistance for Ukraine, focused on defense systems and aid for government services like electricity and heating.
Biden and other leaders of the Group of Seven said they planned to keep ratcheting up financial pressure going forward, with the U.S. saying particular focus will be paid to “dual-use” products that can be repurposed by Russia for military use.
The U.S. announced sanctions and export controls on more than 250 individuals and entities it said were tied to Russia’s energy, defense and financial services sectors or who were aiding Moscow in subverting existing penalties.
The European Union agreed Saturday to impose new sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, targeting more officials and organizations accused of supporting the war, spreading propaganda or supplying drones, as well as restricting trade on products that could be used by the armed forces.
The EU’s Swedish president said the sanctions “are directed at military and political decision-makers, companies supporting or working within the Russian military industry and commanders in the Wagner Group. Transactions with some of Russia’s largest banks are also prohibited.”
Asset freezes were slapped on three more Russian banks and seven Iranian “entities” — companies, agencies, political parties or other organizations — that manufacture military drones, which the EU suspects have been used by Russia during the war.
The new measures were only adopted after much internal wrangling over their exact makeup, and were made public one day after the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — the intended target date.
The delay, which was minor but symbolically important, is yet more evidence of how difficult it has become for the 27-nation bloc to identify new targets for restrictive measures that are acceptable to all member nations.
The sanctions are meant to undermine Russia’s economy and drain funds for its war effort, but they are also increasingly inflicting pain on European economies already hit by high inflation and energy prices and still suffering from the effects of the covid-19 pandemic.
Before this latest round of measures, the EU had already targeted almost 1,400 Russian officials, including Putin, government ministers, lawmakers and oligarchs believed loyal to the Kremlin, but also officers believed responsible for war crimes or targeting civilian infrastructure.
The bloc had also frozen the assets of more than 170 organizations, ranging from political parties and paramilitary groups to banks, private companies and media outlets accused of spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda.
Russia’s energy sector was hit, too — notably oil and coal — and the bloc, through its own measures and political decisions, combined with retaliation from Moscow, was rapidly weaned off its dependence on Russian natural gas.
The Japanese government is poised to increase support for Ukraine as the Russian invasion enters its second year.
Because of constitutional restrictions on the provision of military support, the government will focus on extending civilian assistance. As a show of solidarity with Ukraine, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is considering a visit to the country, the timing of which will be carefully assessed.
“We’ve been painstakingly implementing support for the Ukrainian people,” Kishida said Friday at a press conference at the prime minister’s office. “We will continue to offer seamless support going forward.”
Japan will continue to provide assistance mainly in the civilian sphere, taking into account the most dire needs of Ukrainians.
As Ukraine has experienced electrical shortages because of Russian missile strikes on power plants and other power-related infrastructure, the Japanese government decided to send 1,500 generators over the winter.
Japan has pledged a total of $7.1 billion in support for Ukraine and has also provided Ukrainian government officials with training in the use of the latest mine detectors in Cambodia.
At Friday’s press conference, Kishida admitted that “what Ukraine needs most is equipment to fight Russia.” However, Japan’s assistance in this regard does not compare to that provided by the United States and European countries.
The Self-Defense Forces Law and the operational guidelines for the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology prohibit the country from providing equipment with lethal capability. As a result, Japan has only been able to send such defense-related equipment as bulletproof vests and helmets.
During telephone talks with Zelenskyy in January, Kishida was asked to visit Ukraine.
“We are considering the matter, taking into account various circumstances, such as safety and secrecy,” Kishida said at a press conference.
According to government officials, Kishida wants to go to Ukraine before the G-7 summit in Hiroshima in May and is considering visiting a city other than Kyiv.
Government officials are exploring ways to realize the trip, working out the route and size of the delegation, among other matters. However, Japan has limited intelligence-gathering capabilities compared to other G-7 nations, so ensuring safety will be a challenge.
Information for this article was contributed by John Leicester, Elise Morton, Sylvie Corbet, Frank Jordans and staff members of The Associated Press, by Justin Sink and Akayla Gardner of Bloomberg News (TNS) and staff members of The Japan News (WPNS).