Russia escalates shelling of cities as land advance stalls


Russian forces intensified their shelling of key Ukrainian cities as they failed to make “any noteworthy progress” in seizing territory, the US said on Monday amid signs Ukrainian non-combatants were finding it increasingly difficult to escape bombardment of civilian neighborhoods.

John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesperson, said while Russian troops were making progress in southern Ukraine, including tightening their grip around Mariupol and moving closer to the southern port of Odessa, they continued to be largely stymied in the north, where they are attempting to encircle Kyiv.

“As they continue to get frustrated, they continue to rely more on what we would call long-range fires. . . missile strikes, long-range artillery into city centers that they aren’t in yet, ”Kirby said.

At a meeting of the UN Security Council on Monday, aid officials said the southern city of Mariupol appeared to be the hardest hit, with hundreds of thousands of residents trapped without food or water under near constant bombardment. Kharkiv and Melitopol were also being intensively shelled.

The risks to civilians from the escalating bombing campaign have risen to the top of the international agenda after Ukrainian authorities rejected as “immoral and unacceptable” a proposal from Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, for so-called humanitarian corridors out of frontline cities.

Moscow offered to suspend attacks on Kharkiv, Kyiv, Sumy and Mariupol on Monday morning and create transport corridors out of the cities, but most of the routes ended up in Russia. The Kremlin said it would do the same on Tuesday morning, Russian news agency Tass reported.

Moscow claimed its offer of a ceasefire followed by a “personal request” from Emmanuel Macron, president of France – a suggestion denied by Paris. Despite the offer, Ukrainian officials said bombing continued after the supposed start of the ceasefire.

Macron condemned the Kremlin’s offer as “moral and political cynicism” and said “I don’t know many Ukrainians who want to take refuge in Russia” in an interview with LCI television, adding he had failed to persuade Putin of the need for a ceasefire. .

Ukrainian officials treat such Russian offers with skepticism. Previous Russian ceasefires have failed to hold, with both sides trading accusations that the other has violated their terms.

The authorities in Mariupol, a port city on the Sea of ​​Azov which is completely encircled by Russian forces, tried on Saturday and Sunday to evacuate citizens to safety after Moscow said it had called a halt to shelling – and both times had to abandon their attempts when Russia resumed firing.

With concern rising over the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, US President Joe Biden hosted a two-hour call with Macron and their British and German counterparts in an attempt to raise pressure on Putin and co-ordinate a response.

“The focus was concerns over further Russian escalation and the issue of humanitarian supplies in the conflict zones,” said a spokesperson for Germany’s government. “It was agreed that the protection of the civilian population should have utmost priority.”

The Russian shelling came as negotiators for Kyiv and Moscow held a third round of peace talks without any significant breakthroughs. Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, said there had been some “small positive developments in improving the logistics of humanitarian corridors”.

But Vladimir Medinsky, head of the Russian delegation to the talks, told Interfax that they “were not easy”, “fell short of [Russia’s] expectations ”and that it was“ too soon to talk of something positive ”.

Despite Russian advances in the south, US defense officials said there was increasing evidence of moral problems among Russian troops, with Kirby saying the Pentagon believed many were thinking about the purpose of their deployments.

“It is not clear to us that all of the soldiers that Russia has put into Ukraine realized that that’s what they were doing, that they were actually going to invade,” Kirby said.

“They’re having moral problems, they’re having supply problems, they’re having fuel problems, they’re having food problems,” Kirby added. “They’re meeting very stiff and determined Ukrainian resistance, and we still maintain that they are several days behind where they probably thought they were going to be in terms of their progress.”

The Pentagon on Monday said nearly 100 per cent of Russian troops that had amassed on the border before the invasion had now moved into Ukraine, an increase from 95 per cent on Sunday.

The Pentagon said Russia had launched more than 625 missile strikes in Ukraine since the invasion began. It accelerated the number of launches from the weekend, after a pace of roughly 20 a day at the end of last week.



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