Putin hints of new effort to gain territory in Ukraine after cross-border strikes

AP , Tuesday 13 Jun 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested Tuesday that he could order Russian troops to try to carve out more land in Ukraine for a buffer zone, while asserting that Ukrainian forces had suffered “catastrophic” losses in a new counteroffensive.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with war correspondents in Moscow on June 13, 2023. AP


The Russian leader made some of his most detailed remarks in months about the war in an open meeting with military journalists and bloggers, just as Ukrainian officials claim they have captured a handful of villages in the early stages of a counter-offensive.

It came after overnight Russian missile strikes in central Ukraine killed at least 11 people.

Putin also said he wasn’t ruling out a new mobilization and reiterated Russia’s blame against Ukrainian forces for the destruction of a Dnieper River dam last week that caused vast flooding on both sides of the front line in southern Ukraine.

Putin said that a Ukrainian counteroffensive has been unsuccessful and suffered losses that he called “catastrophic.” He asserted that Ukraine lost 160 tanks and over 360 other armored vehicles, while Russia only lost 54 tanks. Those claims could not be immediately verified, and Ukrainian officials typically do not comment on losses among their forces.

Referring to alleged Ukrainian incursions and shelling of Russia’s Belgorod region, Putin said Russia's military would take moves to stop such attacks, and if such attacks continue, “we will have to consider creating a sanitary zone in Ukraine to prevent it from striking our territory.”

It was not immediately clear whether Russia could afford to risk expanding its gains in Ukraine as it faces an evolving Ukrainian counteroffensive in several sectors of the more than 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) frontline.

In recent weeks, Russia’s border areas have come under increasing attack, with the Kremlin blaming Ukrainian forces for incursions of fighters and drone strikes. Local leaders in Russia have pleaded with the Kremlin to do more to protect their residents, some of whom have been evacuated to safer areas. Ukrainian authorities haven’t confirmed Kyiv’s involvement in such attacks, but obliquely welcomed them.

Putin acknowledged that Russian authorities could have foreseen such attacks and been prepared better to repel them. Russian troops withdrew from broad swathes they controlled in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region under the brunt of a Ukrainian counteroffensive in the fall.

Earlier Tuesday, Russian missiles rained down overnight on the city of Kryvyi Rih — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown — killing at least 11 people and wounding more than two dozen in a warehouse and an apartment building.

The attack in Kryvyi Rih, comes as Ukrainian forces are beginning an effort to drive Russian forces from about one-fifth of Ukrainian territory that they now occupy, 15 months into the war.

Russian forces have unleashed overnight missile strikes repeatedly against targets across Ukraine in recent weeks, and Tuesday’s toll was among the highest from a single attack. In late April, missile strikes hit an apartment building in the central city of Uman, killing 23 people, including six children.

Images from the latest missile attack relayed by Zelenskyy on his Telegram channel showed firefighters battling a blaze as flames poked through broken windows in the damaged apartment building. Charred and damaged vehicles littered the nearby ground.

“More terrorist missiles,” he wrote. “Russian killers continue their war against residential buildings, ordinary cities and people.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said Russian forces used long-range air-launched cruise missiles to hit Ukrainian military reserves and depots holding Western weapons and ammunition.

The governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, Serhiy Lysak, wrote on Telegram that the bodies of seven people were recovered from a private company's warehouse, and “another four destinies were cut short" at the apartment building. He said search operations had been called off.

Kryvyi Rih Mayor Oleksandr Vilkul said on the social media app that 28 people were wounded.

Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, meanwhile, was attacked with Iranian-made Shahed drones, and the surrounding region was shelled, local Gov. Oleh Syniehubov said on Telegram. The shelling wounded two civilians in the town of Shevchenkove, southeast of Kharkiv, and a drone strike damaged two buildings in Kharkiv.

The Kyiv military administration reported that the capital came under fire as well on Tuesday, but the incoming missiles were destroyed by air defenses and there were no immediate reports of any casualties there.

Air defenses overnight shot down 10 out of 14 cruise missiles and one of four Iranian-made Shahed drones launched by Russian forces, Ukraine’s General Staff said on its Facebook page.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, Hanna Maliar, told Ukrainian TV that its forces are continuing their offensive in four areas in the south and east.

The head of Ukraine’s ground troops said the country’s forces were “moving forward” outside Bakhmut, in Ukraine's east. Oleksandr Syrskyi wrote on Telegram that Russian forces are “losing positions on the flanks.”

For weeks, Ukrainian officials have been reporting small gains west of Bakhmut, which was largely devastated in the war’s longest and bloodiest battle before Moscow's forces took control last month.

The advances have amounted to only small bits of territory and underscore the difficulty of the battle ahead for Ukrainian forces, who will have to fight meter by meter to regain the roughly one-fifth of their country under Russian occupation.

Over the last day, nearly a dozen front-line towns and villages in Ukrainian-held areas of Donetsk came under increased shelling as Ukrainian troops pushed forward, Zelenskyy’s office said.

Also Tuesday, the Russian Defense Ministry published a video showing what it said was a German-made Leopard 2 tank and U.S.-made Bradley fighting vehicle captured from Ukrainian forces. According to the ministry, the video was shot by Russian soldiers after fierce fighting in Zaporizhzhia, and a soldier is seen pointing at the immobilized vehicles. It wasn’t immediately possible to verify the video’s authenticity.

On Monday, Maliar, the Ukrainian deputy defense minister, said the country’s troops had recaptured a total of seven villages spanning 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) of eastern Ukraine over the past week, small successes in the early phases of a counteroffensive.

Russian officials didn’t confirm those Ukrainian gains, which were impossible to verify and could be reversed in the to-and-fro of war.

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