Wednesday, 28 February 2024 04:39

What to know after Day 734 of Russia-Ukraine war

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NATO allies reject Emmanuel Macron idea of troops to Ukraine

Several Nato countries, including the US, Germany and the UK, have ruled out deploying ground troops to Ukraine, after French President Emmanuel Macron said "nothing should be excluded".

Mr Macron said there was "no consensus" on sending Western soldiers to Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has warned of direct conflict if Nato troops deploy there.

Russian forces have recently made gains in Ukraine and Kyiv has urgently appealed for more weapons.

Macron told a news conference on Monday evening: "We should not exclude that there might be a need for security that then justifies some elements of deployment.

"But I've told you very clearly what France maintains as its position, which is a strategic ambiguity that I stand by."

The French leader was speaking in Paris, which is hosting a crisis meeting in support of Ukraine, attended by heads of European states, as well as the US and Canada.

A full-scale invasion of Ukraine launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin is now in its third year, with no signs that the biggest war in Europe since World War Two could end soon.

Mr Macron's comments prompted responses from other European and Nato member countries.

US President Joe Biden believes the "path to victory" is providing military aid "so Ukrainian troops have the weapons and ammunition they need to defend themselves", a White House statement said.

"President Biden has been clear that the US will not send troops to fight in Ukraine," it added.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said there had been no change to the agreed position that no European country or Nato member state would send troops to Ukraine.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's spokesman said the country had no plans for a large-scale military deployment to Ukraine, beyond the small number of personnel already training Ukrainian forces.

The office of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said Italy's "support does not include the presence of troops from European or Nato states on Ukrainian territory".

Peskov, on behalf of the Kremlin, called Macron's suggestion "a very important new element" adding it was absolutely not in the interests of Nato members.

"In that case, we would need to talk not about the probability, but about the inevitability [of direct conflict]," he said.

Earlier, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg denied considering whether troops would be sent to Ukraine, although he insisted the alliance would continue to support Ukraine, which is not a Nato member.

That position has been echoed by a number of Nato member states including Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Russia has an abundance of artillery and is a far bigger military force than Ukraine, whose troops are critically dependent on modern weapons being provided by Western allies, particularly the US.

But the approval of a much needed $95bn (£75bn; €69bn) US aid package - including $60bn for Ukraine - has been facing an uphill battle in the US House of Representatives.

The US is by far the largest contributor of military aid to Ukraine and had committed €42.2bn (£36bn; $45bn) as of 15 January, Kiel Institute data showed.

Germany ranks second with commitments of €17.7bn in the same time period, followed by the UK which provided €9.1bn of military aid.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who took part in Monday's meeting in Paris by video link, said that "everything we do together to defend against Russian aggression adds real security to our nations for decades to come".

** Ukraine withdraws from two villages near Avdiivka

Ukraine's military said on Tuesday it had withdrawn from two more villages near the eastern town of Avdiivka which was captured earlier this month by Russian forces, losing more territory as support from its Western allies runs short.

A senior commander said troops had consolidated new defensive positions west of Avdiivka, whose capture was the biggest Russian battlefield gain in nine months.

Ukrainian military spokesperson Dmytro Lykhoviy said troops had pulled back from Sieverne and Stepove, a day after Kyiv announced it had abandoned the village of Lastochkyne.

"Our forces withdrew from the small villages of Sievierne and Stepove... Heavy battles for Sievierne went on yesterday in the evening and night," Lykhoviy said, adding that Russia had taken significant losses in that fight.

Ukraine was pulling back to positions level with the rest of the eastern front line, to terrain more suitable for defence, Lykhoviy said.

Sieverne and Stepove had a total population of fewer than 100 people before the invasion.

Russia's Defence Ministry said it had captured Sieverne, two years and three days since Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of its neighbour in what the Kremlin calls a "special military operation".

The ministry said its troops had "occupied more advantageous lines and positions" and struck Ukrainian manpower and equipment near three other settlements.

Reuters could not independently verify the battlefield claims of either side.

Avdiivka had withstood unrelenting Russian barrages since mid-October. The capture of the town, where virtually no buildings remained intact, was the biggest Russian gain since it took the equally devastated town of Bakhmut further northeast last May.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Avdiivka's capture as an "absolute success" and pledged to press on with the drive to secure control over all of Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region, which he claimed to have annexed in October 2022.

One Ukrainian commander, Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, said on Telegram: "In the Avdiivka sector, the line of defence in the areas of Tonenke, Orlivka and Berdychi has been stabilised."

Russian forces had failed in their attempts to advance in two areas further south, including the hotly contested Ukrainian-held village of Robotyne, the senior general added.

Ukraine's effort to hold Avdiivka, which lies only about 10 km (6 miles) from the key Russian-held city of Donetsk, forced it to defend an awkward salient that protruded into Russian-occupied areas.

Its loss comes as Ukraine faces shortages of artillery rounds and other supplies as promised Western support has not arrived and a U.S. aid package is held up by Republicans in Congress.

U.S. President Joe Biden and top Democrats met with senior Republicans in Congress on Tuesday to press again for the release of some $60 billion in aid for Ukraine.

A White House statement issued after a meeting said Biden "discussed how Ukraine has lost ground on the battlefield in recent weeks and is being forced to ration ammunition and supplies due to congressional inaction."



Kremlin reacts to Macron’s remarks on NATO troops in Ukraine

A direct conflict between Russia and NATO will likely become inevitable if member states of the US-led military bloc send troops to Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said. He was speaking after French President Emmanuel Macron, whose government hosted a high-profile meeting of Ukraine backers on Monday, said EU members “will do everything necessary to prevent Russia from winning” – including deploying forces on the ground to support Kiev.

Several governments have since ruled out sending troops to the front line.

Opponents of the proposal have arrived at a “sober assessment of the potential risks” of deploying NATO forces in Ukraine, Peskov told the media on Tuesday. That would be “absolutely against the interests of those nations” and their people, he warned.

Asked about the probability of a direct conflict with NATO if Western troops are sent to Ukraine, the Kremlin spokesman said, “in this case, we have to talk not about the probability, but rather the inevitability.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has spoken out against the idea. Participants of the meeting in Paris came to an agreement against it, he told a news conference on Tuesday.

At a joint press conference in Prague on Tuesday, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala and his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, ruled out sending their citizens to fight in Ukraine. Senior officials in Hungary and Slovakia issued similar statements.

Macron said Western leaders could end up changing their minds in the future, similarly to how they did with military assistance – which in some cases initially involved items such as helmets to eventually donating lethal weaponry including tanks and fighter jets.

While there was no consensus over the proposal, the participants agreed to create a coalition to supply medium and long-range missiles to Kiev, the French president said.

Moscow considers the Ukraine conflict to be a US-orchestrated proxy war against Russia, and has repeatedly warned that by supplying increasingly sophisticated weapons to Kiev, NATO members are drawing closer to a direct confrontation.

** Moscow updates estimate of Kiev’s military losses

Kiev has lost over 444,000 troops in two years of hostilities against Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu estimated on Tuesday.

His remarks come days after Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky claimed that his country's forces recorded some 31,000 fatalities in the two years of fighting. Western media have pointed out that the latest figure from Kiev is even significantly lower than a US estimate released in the summer of last year.

Shoigu said the high attrition rate on the Ukrainian side was evidence “that the US strategy to contain Russia at the cost of Ukrainian lives and passive economic and military support of the Kiev regime has no way forward.”Speaking at a ministerial meeting, Shoigu said the average daily cost of the conflict for the Ukrainian army was more than 800 troops and 120 pieces of weaponry. He did not break down casualties into killed and wounded soldiers.

While making his claim on Sunday, Zelensky contrasted his 31,000 figure with Russian estimates, which he branded as lies. He declined to say how many Ukrainian soldiers were injured, explaining that revealing that information would benefit Moscow’s military planning.

The New York Times noted that Zelensky's claim “differed sharply” from estimates by US officials last August. At the time sources said some 70,000 Ukrainians had been killed and 100,000 to 120,000 had been wounded in action.

A number resembling that cited by Zelensky was mentioned last week in a statement by the office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, which marked the second anniversary of the hostilities. The mission in Ukraine claimed to have verified 30,457 civilian casualties since the conflict escalated in February 2022.

”Every Ukrainian citizen, and every military service member in particular, realizes that Zelensky is lying,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said of the claim on social media.

She suggested that the president may have downplayed the loss of Ukrainian lives in order to secure more foreign funding. Ukrainians “are not humans for Zelensky, but units, on which he can get more Western money,” she claimed.



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