Ukrainian officials confirmed on Friday that Russian forces occupied more than three dozen small towns this week in their initial campaign to occupy eastern Ukraine, offering a first look at what the Kremlin promises as a crushing struggle to achieve wider territorial gains in the new phase. two months old war.
Fighting in the east – along increasingly fortified lines spanning more than 300 miles – intensified as the Russian commander signaled even broader ambitions, warning that Kremlin forces were aiming to take “full control” of southern Ukraine as far as Moldova, Ukraine. southwestern neighbor.
Although it seemed unlikely that the commander, Major General Rustam Minnekaev, was wrong, his warning still provoked skepticism, based on Russia’s probable difficulties to launch another broad offensive and the relatively unclear role of the general in the hierarchy. But his threat could not be ruled out.
The broader war goals outlined at a defense industry meeting in a Russian city more than 1,000 miles from the fighting would be much more ambitious than the diminished goals set by President Vladimir V. Putin in recent weeks, which focused on gaining control of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. .
Some political and military experts believed that the general’s statement may have been part of Russia’s ongoing efforts to disperse or confuse Ukraine and its allies. General Minnevaev’s official work includes political propaganda work and usually does not include military strategy.
Ukrainian soldiers on Friday in the Zaporozhye region of Donbas in an area about two to three miles from where Russian soldiers are fighting. Credit … Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
On Friday, fierce fighting took place in the zone of south-eastern Ukraine, which engulfed communities on the banks of the Dnieper River. While Ukrainian officials acknowledged that Russia had taken control of 42 small towns and villages in recent days, they said the same places could soon be back in Ukraine.
Western analysts said Russian forces had been battered and weakened in both the slow but largely successful battle for the southern city of Mariupol and the failed battle for Kyiv. But rather than rest, strengthen and re-equip the forces, Moscow is pushing forward in the east.
The Russian military appears to be trying to secure profits on the battlefield – including the conquest of all Donetsk and Luhansk regions or areas – before May 9, when Moscow hosts the annual World War II victory celebrations.
“They are not taking the break necessary to reunite these forces to take a week or two to stop and prepare for a wider offensive,” said Mason Clark, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. and Washington. “They’ll probably be able to take up some territory.” We don’t think they will be able to capture the whole area in the next three weeks. “
In his remarks on Friday, General Minnevaev said that one of Russia’s goals was “full control over Donbas and southern Ukraine.”
He said it would allow Russia to control Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, “through which agricultural and metallurgical products are supplied” to other countries. Despite repeated attacks, Russia has failed to capture these ports, including Odessa, a fortified city of 1 million people.
“I want to remind you that many of the Kremlin’s plans were destroyed by our army and people,” Andriy Jermak, chief of staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenský, wrote on social networks in response to General Minnevaev’s remarks.
General Minnevaev also issued a veiled warning to Moldova, where in 1992 Moscow-backed separatists seized a 250-mile-long piece of land known as Transnistria.
“Control of southern Ukraine is another link with Transnistria, where there is also evidence of oppression by the Russian-speaking population,” the general said, reiterating false claims of “genocide” against Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine that Mr Putin was used to justify the February 24 invasion. .
The Moldovan government later summoned the Russian ambassador to complain that General Minnevaev’s comments were “not only unacceptable but also unfounded” and lead to “increased tensions.”
Transnistria has never been recognized internationally – not even by Russia. But Russia holds 1,500 troops there, nominally, to keep the peace and guard a large stockpile of Soviet-era ammunition.
Russian soldiers at the entrance to the village of Varnita, part of the 1500-member forces in Transnistria, allegedly for peacekeeping. Credit … Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times
Moldova, a poor country of 2.6 million people, is considered vulnerable to further Russian invasions. She is not a member of NATO or the European Union, but she hastily applied for EU membership last month.
Yuri Fyodorov, a Russian military analyst, said broader goals described in detail by General Minnekaev “are militarily unattainable.”
“All Russian combat troops are now concentrated in the Donbas, where Russia has failed to make any significant progress in the last five days,” Fyodorov said in an interview. He said that General Minnevaev’s rank would generally not allow him to make such extensive political statements, which also contradicted what the country’s top officials had said.
Dmitry S. Peskov, a spokesman for the Kremlin, declined to comment on General Minnekayev’s remarks.
While the Western Allies are competing to arm Ukraine with increasingly heavy long-range weapons, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on a visit to India on Friday that his country was considering sending tanks to Poland so that Warsaw could send its own tanks to Poland. Ukraine. The Biden administration said this month that it would also help move Soviet-made tanks to Ukraine.
The Russian Ministry of Defense, in its first statement of losses from the sinking of Moscow on April 14, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, said that one crew member had died, 27 were missing and 396 had been evacuated. Relatives of at least 10 members of Moscow’s crew expressed frustration at the Kremlin’s silence, which turned into a test of its strong grasp of the information the Russians were receiving about the war.
Ukraine said it had sunk Moscow with two missiles – a claim confirmed by US officials – while Russia claimed that a fire on board caused an explosion of ammunition, which sent the ship to death.
This photo provided by the Russian Army shows the Moscow missile cruiser near the Syrian coast in 2015. Credit … Print of the Russian Ministry of Defense
As Russia tightened its crackdown on any domestic opposition to the war, it launched criminal proceedings against Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian pro-democracy activist and commentator for The Washington Post, for spreading “false information,” his lawyer said on Friday. .
Mr Kara-Murza, 40, arrested earlier this month, is facing 10 years in prison, according to an official decree against him published online by his lawyer Vadim Prokhorov.
She said she was being investigated for remarks she made to Arizona lawmakers on March 15. Mr Kara-Murza told local news in Phoenix that month that Russia was committing “war crimes” in Ukraine, but “Russia and Putin’s regime are not one and the same.”
“Americans should be outraged by Putin’s escalating campaign to silence Kara-Murza,” said Fred Ryan, publisher of The Post.
Mr Putin, who is increasingly being slandered in the West by the war, has not completely rejected diplomatic involvement. He agreed on Friday to meet with UN Secretary-General António Guterres in Moscow next week, a significant change from his refusal to even receive Mr. Guterres’ phone calls. Nevertheless, the meeting did not signal a softening of Mr Putin’s views on Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that he said should not even be a sovereign country.
The Ukrainian government said it was too dangerous to organize any evacuations from the war, which Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called a “horror story about human rights abuses against civilians.”
After another attack on the city of Kharkov in the northeast on Friday, residents watched as smoke rose above the shops. In the ruined port of Mariupol, hundreds of civilians and the last organized Ukrainian fighters remained trapped in a large steel plant and urged for help from underground bunkers. The city’s newly released satellite images showed hundreds of hastily dug graves, giving credibility to Ukraine’s claims that Russia was trying to cover up atrocities.
And in the Zaporozhye region of southern central Ukraine, Ukrainian troops have dug about two miles from Russian forces trying to push north in an effort to fortify a land bridge connecting Russian territory with the Crimean Peninsula, which Mr Putin annexed in 2014.
Lieutenant Olena Petyak, second commander of the 128th Independent Mountain Assault Brigade, near the front lines in the Zaporizhzhya region. Credit … Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
The 128th Independent Mountain Assault Brigade of the Ukrainian Army, armed with anti-tank missiles provided by the Americans and British and other advanced weapons systems, claimed to have destroyed two Russian T-72 tanks that had strayed too close to its positions.
“We are on our own country,” said Captain Vitaliy Nevinsky, brigade commander. “We are defending ourselves and eliminating this horde, this invasion of our territory.”
Anton Troianovski from Hamburg, Germany, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Michael Levenson from New York. The report was brought by Marc Santora from Krakow, Poland, Michael Schwirtz from Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine, Tyler Hicks from Kharkov, Ukraine, Nick …