Russia is now at ‘war with NATO and the West’ and has taken the invasion of Ukraine to a ‘different stage’, a senior EU official has admitted, raising the terrifying specter of a world conflict.
The ‘game-changing’ deal between Western leaders to inject sophisticated tanks into Kyiv to blast invading Kremlin forces has sparked fury in Moscow which has threatened to escalate the war beyond the borders of Ukraine.
Stefano Sannino, secretary general of the European Union’s External Action Service, said Vladimir Putin would increase indiscriminate attacks on civilians and non-military targets and retaliate against the West.
Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo as part of an Asia-Pacific tour, said Putin had “moved from a concept of a special operation to a concept now of war against NATO and the West”.
A Ukrainian tank fires towards a Russian position near the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region yesterday
The official defended the US and German tank provisions, saying they are not designed as an attack but rather to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.
He said: “I think this latest development in terms of arms supply is just an evolution of the situation and the way Russia has started to take the war to another stage.”
He added that Russia was carrying out “indiscriminate attacks” against civilians and towns and no longer against military targets.
The EU is not taking the war to another stage, but “just giving the opportunity to save lives and allow the Ukrainians to (themselves) defend against these barbaric attacks”, said Mr Sannino.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin said today that the United States holds the key to ending the war in Ukraine but refuses to use it.
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Joe Biden of “injecting weapons into Ukraine” when he could instead be behind a ceasefire.
Germany and the United States announced on Wednesday they would send advanced battle tanks to Ukraine, offering what one expert called an “armoured strike force” to help Kyiv break the stalemate in the fighting as that the Russian invasion is entering its 12th month.
Local residents remove debris from a neighbor’s house damaged by a Russian military strike, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine
A woman takes photos with her mobile phone next to residential houses damaged in the wake of Russian missile attacks
A German-made Leopard tank is pictured during exercises in Canada and will soon be deployed on the battlefield
Click here to read: France is looking for excuses NOT to send tanks to Ukraine
The announcement marked the first step in a coordinated effort by the West to provide dozens of heavy weapons, which Ukrainian military commanders said would enable counter-offensives, reduce casualties and help restore stockpiles of ammunition down.
Joe Biden said his country would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks, reversing months of persistent arguments from Washington that they were too difficult for Ukrainian troops to operate and maintain.
The US decision followed Germany’s agreement to send 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its own stocks.
In response, Russia intensified its attempts to break through Ukraine’s defenses with heavy fighting in the east of the country.
Ukraine’s military said fierce battles were underway, a day after Russian missiles and drones killed at least 11 people in retaliation for the tank deal.
Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the allies for their support, but renewed his calls for tougher sanctions against Moscow and made clear his country needed more weapons to repel invaders in the twelfth month of the war.
“This evil, this Russian aggression cannot and must only be stopped with adequate weapons. The terrorist state will not understand anything else,” Zelensky said in his nightly televised address Thursday.
Putin (pictured yesterday) has stepped up his attempts to break through Ukrainian defenses with heavy fighting in the east of the country
“Weapons on the battlefield. Weapons that protect our skies. New sanctions against Russia, that is to say political and economic weapons.
Ukraine’s military said it shot down 47 of Russia’s 59 missiles on Thursday. Russia also launched 37 airstrikes, 17 of them using Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones. All the drones were shot down, he added.
Eleven people were killed in the drone and missile strikes, which crossed several regions and also damaged dozens of buildings, a state emergency service spokesman said.
Local officials on Friday reported heavy shelling in northern, northeast and eastern Ukraine, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting since the launch of the Russian invasion.
“Fierce fighting continues along the front lines. Our defenders firmly hold their positions and inflict casualties on the enemy,” said Oleh Synehubov, governor of the northeastern Kharkiv region.
Oleskandr Musiyenko, head of Ukraine’s Center for Military and Strategic Research, said Russia was sending more reinforcements to block Ukrainian advances.
“They mainly send infantry and artillery forces into battle, mostly made up of conscripts. But they don’t have the level of artillery and tank support they had on February 24,” Musiyenko told Ukrainian television.
Ukrainian soldiers are seen aboard a Soviet-era T-72 tank, widely used in the ongoing conflict, in the Donetsk region on January 20
“They have fewer resources. They rely on the numerical superiority of their troops.
The front lines have remained largely frozen over the past two months as Russia tries to gain more ground in the east after occupying much of what is known as the Donbass region and securing a corridor of land it occupied in southern Ukraine.
Britain said in a regular intelligence update on Friday that Russian forces had likely carried out probing attacks near Orikhiv in the southeast and Vuhledar in the east, but it was unlikely that they have made “substantial progress”.
Both sides are expected to launch a spring offensive.
“Where will the main (Russian) strike take place? For now, we have no idea. Diversionary strikes are possible in all sectors and, in one or two, mass strikes aimed at breaching a corridor through Ukraine,’ said Mykola Sunhurovskiy, director of military programs at the Ukrainian think tank Razumkov Center. , on the nv.ua website.
In the past, Russia has reacted to Ukrainian successes with heavy airstrikes that have left millions without light, heat or water.
Ukrainian soldiers are seen at their mortar position on the Donbass front line yesterday
Yesterday an APC vehicle dumped the recaptured town of Lyman in the Donetsk region at a key moment in the war
On Thursday, he seemed to be following this pattern. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said Russia’s attacks targeted power plants.
The Kremlin has said it views the promised delivery of Western tanks as evidence of growing US and European “direct involvement” in the war, which both deny.
Western allies have committed around 150 tanks while Ukraine has said it needs hundreds to break through Russian defensive lines and retake occupied territory in the south and east. Moscow and Kyiv, which relied on Soviet-era T-72 tanks, are expected to launch new ground offensives in the spring.
After being promised modern tanks, Ukraine is now looking for fourth-generation Western fighter jets such as the US F-16, an adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister has said.
The United States on Thursday officially designated the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary company, as a transnational criminal organization, freezing its American assets for aiding the Russian military in Ukraine.
The head of part of the Russian-controlled Donetsk region said on Wednesday that Wagner units were advancing into the town of Bakhmut. A senior Ukrainian official said fighting in Bakhmut and Vuhledar was intensifying.
Since invading Ukraine 11 months ago, Russia has shifted focus from its rhetoric of ‘denazification’ and ‘demilitarization’ of its neighbor to confront what it says is an aggressive alliance and expansionist US-led NATO.