by Yurus Karamanau and Adam Schreck
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Vladimir Putin vowed Tuesday that Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine would continue until its goals were met and insisted the campaign was going according to plan, although Ukraine’s Strong protests and significant losses resulted in a major withdrawal.
Russian troops pushed toward the Ukrainian capital are now focusing on the eastern Donbass region, where Ukraine said on Tuesday it was investigating claims that a poisonous substance was spilled on its troops. It was unclear what the substance might have been, but Western officials warned that any use of chemical weapons by Russia would be a serious extension of an already devastating war.
According to Western officials, on February 24, Russia invaded Kyiv with the goal of capturing Kiev, toppling the government, and establishing a regime friendly to Moscow. In six weeks, Russia’s ground progress stalled, its army potentially losing thousands of fighters and the army was accused of killing civilians and other atrocities.
Putin insisted on Tuesday that his offensive was aimed at protecting people and “ensuring Russia’s own security” in parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed rebels.
He said Russia had “no other option” but to launch “a special military operation”, and vowed that it would continue “until its full completion and completion of the assigned tasks.”
For now, Putin’s forces are gearing up for a major offensive in the Donbass, which has been broken by fighting between Russian-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and where Russia has recognized the separatists’ claims of independence. . Military strategists say Russian leaders expect local support, logistics and terrain in the region to favor Russia’s larger and better armed force, potentially allowing its troops to eventually turn the tide in their favor. .
In Mariupol, a strategic port city in the Donbass, a Ukrainian regiment defending a steel mill claimed that a drone dropped a toxin on the city. This indicated that there were no serious injuries. The claims of the Azov Regiment, now part of the Ukrainian Army, a far-right group, could not be independently verified.
It came as separatist officials affiliated with Russia appeared to urge the use of chemical weapons, telling Russian state TV on Monday that separatist forces should first seize the plant by blocking all exits. “And then we’ll use chemical troops to get them out there,” said the officer, Eduard Basurin. He denied on Tuesday that separatist forces had used chemical weapons in Mariupol.
Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hannah Malier said officials were investigating, and it was possible that phosphorus warheads – which cause horrific burns but are not classified as chemical weapons – were used at Mariupol.
Much of the city has been destroyed in weeks of fighting by Russian troops. The mayor said on Monday that more than 10,000 civilians have been killed in the siege, with their bodies “carpeting through the streets”. Mayor Vadim Boychenko said the death toll in Mariupol alone could surpass 20,000 and gave fresh details of allegations by Ukrainian authorities that Russian forces have brought mobile cremation equipment to dispose of corpses.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s adviser, Mykhailo Podolik, acknowledged the challenges facing Ukrainian troops in Mariupol. They said on Twitter that they are blocked and having problems with supplies, while Zelensky and the Ukrainian general “do everything possible (and impossible) to find solutions and help our people.”
“For over 1.5 months our defenders defend the city from (Russian) soldiers who are 10+ times bigger,” Podolik said in a tweet. “They are fighting under the bomb for every meter of the city. They (Russia) pay an exorbitant price.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the use of chemical weapons “would be a drastic escalation in this conflict,” while Australian Foreign Minister Maris Payne said it would be a “wholesale violation of international law”.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that the US could not confirm the drone report. But he noted the administration’s persistent concerns “about Russia’s ability to use various riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, Britain has warned that Russia could use a phosphorus bomb – whose use in civilian areas is banned under international law – in Mariupol.
In the face of stiff resistance by Ukrainian forces strong with Western weapons, the Russian army has increasingly become dependent on bombing cities, leveling many urban areas and killing thousands. The war has evicted more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes – including about two-thirds of all children.
Moscow’s retreat from cities and towns around the capital Kyiv led to the discovery of a large number of apparently massacred civilians, prompting widespread condemnation and accusations that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine.
The report mainly focused on northwestern suburbs such as Buka, but Ukraine’s prosecutor-general’s office said on Tuesday it was also looking into incidents in the Brovary district, which lies to the northeast.
The prosecutor’s office said the bodies of six civilians with gunshot wounds were found in a basement in the village of Shevchenkov and that the Russian military is believed to be responsible.
Prosecutors are also investigating allegations that Russian forces opened fire on a convoy of civilians trying to leave by car from the village of Peremoha in Brovari district, killing four people, including a 13-year-old boy. Prosecutors said five people, including two children, were killed in another attack near Bucha when a car was fired upon.
Putin falsely claimed on Tuesday that Ukraine’s allegations that Russian troops had killed hundreds of civilians in the city of Buka were “fake”. Associated Press reporters saw dozens of bodies in and around the city, some with their hands tied, that had been shot at close range.
The Russian leader spoke at the Vostochny Space Launch Facility in the country’s Far East during his first known campaign outside Moscow since the start of the war. He also said that foreign powers would not succeed in isolating Russia.
He said Russia’s economy and financial system had called Western sanctions a “blitz” and claimed they would backfire by raising prices for essentials such as fertilizer, causing food shortages and increasing migration flows to the West.
Addressing the pace of the campaign, Putin said Russia was moving “quietly and rhythmically” as it wanted to “achieve the planned goals while minimizing losses.”
Building up forces in the east, Russia continued to attack targets throughout Ukraine to undermine the country’s defenses. Russia’s defense ministry said on Tuesday it used air and sea missiles to destroy an ammunition depot and airplane hangars in Starokostiantyiv in the Western Khmelnitsky region and an ammunition depot near Kyiv.
Karamanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press writer Robert Burns in Washington and AP journalists from around the world contributed to this report.
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