Ukraine ‘disappointed’ with NATO, as Biden visits US troops in Poland
But inside Ukraine, where Russia’s brutal attack has continued, a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky said officials were “very disappointed” with the outcome of the series of summits on Wednesday between NATO and European Union leaders in Brussels that brought Biden to Europe.
“We expected more bravery. We expected some bold moves,” Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff, told the Washington-based Atlantic Council via live video Friday.
U.S. and Ukrainian officials believe the Russian operation has already failed in some respects, given strong Ukrainian resistance and heavy Russian casualties, and Russia signaled on Friday that its targets may tighten. But Yermak’s remarks served as a reminder that Ukraine remains understaffed, under-armed and faces more destruction every day. The Pentagon said on Friday that Russia had begun mobilizing military reinforcements to eventually send to Ukraine.
By issuing a general statement of continued military support, while continuing to reject Ukraine’s demands to send in Soviet-era jet fighters, to impose a no-fly zone against Russian planes overhead of Ukraine and to speed up the flow of more heavy arms, Yermak said, NATO is “just trying to make sure it doesn’t provoke a military conflict between Russia” and the West, calling the alliance’s inaction “appeasement”.
“We need very concrete things. But we still have to remind you of that many times,” he said.
Yermak said Ukraine needed NATO to “close our skies” to Russian air power and provide “real-time intelligence”, as well as more anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons – some of which are now rare in the West. He also argued for more long-range artillery, rocket launchers and small arms.
“Without that,” Yermak said, “our war cannot last.”
Far from an anticipated rush to fully occupy a country with a much weaker military, Russia appeared on Friday to have at least partially lost control of the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson on the Black Sea, according to defense officials, the first of a handful of medium-sized towns he struggled to occupy in the five weeks since the invasion began.
Ukrainian forces, reinforced by armed civilians, also pushed back Russian advances in other parts of the country. The Pentagon said Friday that Ukraine had made “incremental” progress against Russia outside the northern city of Chernihiv, and that other offensives were underway in the western suburbs of the capital Kyiv. A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with ground rules laid down by the Pentagon, said Russian troops, stuck outside kyiv for weeks, have begun establishing positions defensive instead of prioritizing a lead.
While Russia’s goal in the invasion initially seemed to be to seize kyiv, the Kremlin is now emphasizing its intention to control the Donbass region to the east, where Ukrainian troops are fighting against two breakaway areas since 2014. Moscow has recognized the region as two separate areas. “republics”.
“The combat potential of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has been significantly reduced, which … allows us to focus our efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbass,” said Sergey Rudskoy, head of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff, said in a speech on Friday.
The renewed focus on Donbass could be a face-saving measure as the Russians fail to achieve their larger goals, such as capturing kyiv and decapitating the Ukrainian government. The Russians have made modest gains in the east, and their objective may now be to expand separatist-held territory and declare victory. It could also be designed as a ruse to allow beleaguered Russian troops to rest.
It is unclear whether Russian troops will be withdrawn from elsewhere to reinforce Donbass, the US defense official said, but there is evidence they have changed the way they fight in other places.
“It seems that the Russians are not currently pursuing a ground offensive towards kyiv,” the official said. “They’re digging. They’re setting up defensive positions.”
Rudskoy also released the first Russian casualty assessment since early March, saying 1,351 servicemen died and 3,825 were injured. NATO estimated on Wednesday that Between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in four weeks of fighting in Ukraine, according to a senior alliance military official.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with basic NATO rules, said the estimate was based on several factors, including information from Ukrainian officials, which the Russian side released. and open sources. By comparison, Russia lost around 15,000 troops in a decade of war in Afghanistan after its invasion in late 1979.
Among the most recent Russian casualties, according to a Western official and a Ukrainian journalist, was Colonel Yuri Medvedev, commander of the 37th Motorized Rifle Brigade, who was attacked and injured by troops under his command after suffering heavy casualties. in the fights. outside Kyiv. Troops threw a tank at Medvedev, wounding him in both legs, after their unit lost nearly half of its men, according to a Facebook post by journalist Roman Tsymbaliuk.
Although Tsymbaliuk said the colonel had been hospitalized, a senior Western official said he believed Medvedev had been killed.
Russia’s bombardment of Ukrainian population centers and other targets has continued, with the top defense official reporting that Moscow is flying 300 sorties over Ukraine a day, an increase from last week . On Friday, the Ukrainian Air Force also claimed that Russian missiles hit a command center in Vinnytsia in central-western Ukraine, causing “significant” damage to some buildings.
The southern port city of Mariupol remained the target of intense Russian attacks and was cut off from food, water and humanitarian aid. Matilda Bogner, head of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, told a press conference on Friday that his agency had received “more and more information” and satellite images of mass graves in Mariupol.
An identified mass grave appeared to contain some 200 bodies, she said, although it was unclear how many of those who died were civilian casualties of the war.
Bogner said the UN human rights office had also documented 22 cases of disappearances or enforced detention of Ukrainian officials in Russian-held territories, 13 of which have since been released. A number of journalists in Russian-occupied areas in the southeast have disappeared or been killed.
In his remarks on Friday, Yermak expressed his gratitude to the United States and other Western countries, as did Zelensky in the many video addresses he gave to Western legislatures and other audiences. But, like Zelensky, Yermak stressed that Ukraine is the West’s front line against further Russian aggression that NATO must stop for its own security.
Biden, Poland, touted an extra billion dollars he previously announced to help the millions of Ukrainians who have fled violence in neighboring countries and beyond, as well as the millions of displaced and suffering inside the country. The United States has also pledged to provide more $2 billion worth of military equipment under Biden, including Stinger man-portable air defense missiles and Javelin anti-tank weapons.
As the Russian offensive began in late February, the State Department called on the countries to which it had sold these weapons in the past to share those they could spare with Ukraine. The United States, they promised, would quickly issue the necessary waivers to transfer them to another country and fill its arsenals with weapons from its own stockpiles.
But as the needs in Ukraine grew, some of these weapons, particularly Stingers, became increasingly scarce. Production lines for the missiles, which entered service in 1981, ceased some time ago and “we are exploring options to replenish US stockpiles more quickly and fill depleted stocks of allies and partners,” he said. Department of Defense spokeswoman Jessica R. Maxwell.
“It will take time to get the industrial base going again…to allow production to resume,” Maxwell said in an email. Among the options for speeding up production, she said, were adding more workers to the production line and developing alternatives for outdated components.
Mike Nachshen, senior director of international communications for Raytheon Missiles and Defence, which produces Stingers, said they “recognize the urgent need to bolster inventory” and are working with government and industry “to expedite production times. so that we can deliver additional units of this critical combat capability as soon as possible.
The administration is considering invoking the Defense Production Act, which gives the executive emergency power to control domestic industries and ramp up production of certain critical items. Both Biden and President Donald Trump have invoked the law to deal with the covid-19 pandemic.
The U.S. promise to resupply Ukraine with U.S.-made defense supplies from other countries is of particular significance to countries along NATO’s eastern flank anxious to defend their own lines of defense. forehead in a possible confrontation with Russia.
In particular, Ukraine has requested additions to the Russian-made S-300 air defense system already in its arsenal, whose missiles fly higher and further than short-range Stingers. Slovakia and Bulgaria – which, like Ukraine, are former members of the Soviet-era Warsaw Pact – also have the system, as does Greece.
Bulgaria and Greece fell. Slovakia has said it will transfer the system, provided the aging S-300 is replaced immediately, an action that requires a host of downstream changes to other capabilities once an alternative has been identified. During a visit to Slovakia last weekend, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said officials were working there.
Radovan Javorcik, Slovakia’s ambassador to the United States, said in an email this week that his government was in “close consultation” with its allies, but “until a concrete replacement of the S-300 system does not has not been identified, Slovakia will not be able to decide on a possible donation of the system.
DeYoung and Horton reported from Washington. Miriam Berger in Jerusalem; Liz Sly in London; Mary Ilyushina in Riga, Latvia; and Dan Lamothe in Washington contributed to this report.