As fighting rages, Ukraine rejects Macron’s plea not to ‘humiliate’ Russia

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine — As Ukrainian forces tried to reclaim territory and fend off a blistering Russian attack along the country’s fought-back eastern front, the government also attempted Saturday’s demand from President Emmanuel Macron of France not to humiliate Russia. to increase the chances of a diplomatic solution.

“We must not humiliate Russia so that the day the fighting ends we can build an exit with diplomatic means,” Macron, who tried to position himself as the world’s chief negotiator with the Kremlin, said in an interview with French newspapers. “I am convinced that France’s role is to be a mediating power.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba responded with a scathing post on social media.

“Calls to avoid humiliation of Russia can only humiliate France and any other country that asks,” Kuleba wrote. Instead, he argued, peace and saving lives can best be achieved by “putting Russia in its place.”

The exchange comes as the war has settled into what seems increasingly destined to become a slog.

The Ukrainians and Russians both said on Saturday they inflicted decisive losses on each other in the battle for Sievierodonetsk, the last major city in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine still under Ukrainian control.

But the fighting was not confined to that city. A senior Ukrainian official said on Saturday the country’s forces had reached a milestone in bringing down the Russian invasion force in eastern Ukraine. Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, posted on social networking site Telegram that most of a large Russian military unit had been destroyed in fierce fighting in recent weeks.

“Almost the entire 35th all-Russian army was destroyed,” he wrote.

Yermak’s claim was supported by comments from a Russian military blogger, quoted in a report from the influential Institute for the Study of War. Incompetent Russian commanders had failed to prepare troops for battle in a forested area near the town of Izyum, the report said.

The claim of the routing of the Russian unit could not be independently verified.

Ukrainian soldiers interviewed over the past week have described fierce fighting in the forests around Izyum, a strategic city that Russia uses as a base for attacks south towards the cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk. Ukrainian troops also suffer heavy casualties, 60 to 100 killed a day, Zelenskyy said recently.

The British Ministry of Defense said on Saturday that Russia’s recent use of airstrikes and artillery fire has been a factor in its limited success in eastern Ukraine, in contrast to its largely ineffective airstrikes earlier in the war. Russia’s reliance on long-range strikes has likely depleted the country’s stock of precision-guided missiles, leading to increased use of unguided munitions that can cause significant civilian casualties, the ministry said.

Also on Saturday, an air-launched cruise missile hit the region of Odessa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, Odessa city officials said on Telegram. The missile hit a mostly agricultural area with warehouses, injuring two people, officials said.

And Russian and Ukrainian officials blamed each other for the burning of the main temple of the All Saints Hermitage, a 16th-century monastery in eastern Ukraine that is considered one of the three most sacred places in Ukraine for Orthodox believers.

Rising terror from the skies came a day after, on the 100th day of the war, Ukraine took stock of its successes holding back and in key places from the invasion by Russia, which had attempted to quickly capture the capital Kiev. and overthrow the government. Zelenskyy insisted, “The victory will be ours”, announcing that 50 foreign embassies had resumed operations in the capital.

But on the 101st day, Ukraine again faced the harsh reality on the ground and increasingly from above.

The Russian air raids provided cover for their troops engaged in the bitter fighting in the disputed city of Sievierodonetsk.

And Russian forces continued to target the last remaining bridge to Sievierodonetsk to prevent Ukraine from moving reinforcements, food and medicine to a city that has become the main theater of war and the center of Russia’s war machine. Despite early and devastating setbacks, Russia has come to occupy a fifth of the country.

The intensity of the Russian attack and the frequency of Russian reinforcements to Sievierodonetsk led to predictions that the city would soon fall. But Serhiy Haidai, governor of Luhansk province, who recently had a bleak prognosis for the city’s survival, told Ukraine’s national television that Ukrainian troops had recaptured 20% of the lost territory, adding that it was “not realistic.” ” was that the city would fall in the next two weeks.

As Ukrainian forces attempt to reclaim territory in the east, state emergency services have removed 127,393 explosives. a report from the United Nations Development Programme.

Russia’s withdrawal from those areas has made them more accessible to clearance operations, the report said, adding that Ukrainians had covered an area of ​​more than 11,000 square miles but could take years to clear all the mines in Ukraine. Ukrainian forces have also launched a counter-offensive near the occupied city of Kherson in the south of the country.

But experts increasingly foresee a punitive, costly and tragic military stalemate. Ukraine has no chance, but will soon receive M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, better known as HIMARS, from the United States. The exchanges of increasingly deadly firepower are likely to add to the many millions of people already displaced, a death toll of at least 4,000 civilians and a Ukrainian economy already in tatters, with about $100 billion in losses.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that Russia would continue what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine until “all goals are achieved”.

But one thing that Russia had already achieved was international isolation and a strengthening of the Western alliance against it. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg met with Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland in Washington on Friday to discuss the country’s application to the military alliance. He has advised allies to be prepared for “the long term” and warned last week that the conflict had turned into a “war of attrition”.

On Saturday, a US battleship, the USS Kearsarge, was moored in Stockholm with 26 warplanes and 2,400 Marines and sailors on board, a symbol of the protection NATO membership would provide to Sweden and Finland, both of which wish to join.

As the battle lines between Russia and the West become more entrenched, experts predict Russian cyber-attacks, global disinformation campaigns and a possible food crisis resulting from a Russian naval blockade. Ukraine is one of the world’s largest exporters of grain and cooking oil, and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has been accused by Western leaders of trying to use his country’s control of those stocks to gain sanctions relief.

And those sanctions continued to be felt. On Friday, Marriott became the last multinational to shut down operations in Russia, where it had been active for 25 years. The hotel chain said restrictions imposed by Western governments made it impossible to continue.

Ukraine’s struggle has retained its sovereignty for now, but what that state would ultimately look like is another matter. Russia’s strategy is essentially to pulverize specific areas with seemingly indiscriminate artillery shelling, killing or forcing anyone to flee there before rolling in to mark off the area for Moscow.

It’s a brutal way of waging war that some experts have compared to World War I and Ukrainian officials have called it “medieval.” Craters of bombs and artillery shells gouge fields. Farmers collect cluster bomb shells in their barns.