Ukraine: How Western-backed Kyiv dashed Moscow’s hopes of a quick victory
(Updated with details, G20 meeting, comments from Zelensky Le Maire and Macron, China, Poland)
by Max Hunder and Dan Peleschuk
KYIV, Feb 24 (Reuters) – The war in Ukraine enters its second year on Friday, with no discernable end, as what Russia presents as a “special military operation” but which Kyiv and the West denounce as a invasion, left tens of thousands dead, ravaged cities and forced millions to flee.
Ukrainians paid tribute to their fallen loved ones and vowed to fight until victory, while Russia said its forces were gaining ground in the east of the country.
President Volodimir Zelensky, who is due to participate later today in an online G7 meeting, with the French and American presidents among others, hailed a “year of invincibility” for Ukraine. G7 leaders are expected to announce new sanctions against Russia.
“This is how it all started on February 24, 2022. The longest day of our lives. The hardest day in our recent history. We woke up early and haven’t slept since,” Volodimir said. Zelensky during a video address.
“We resist all threats, bombings, cluster bombs, cruise missiles, suicide drones, power cuts and cold weather. We are stronger than that,” he added.
“We have not been defeated. And we will do everything to win this year!”
Vladimir Putin ordered on February 24, 2022 a large-scale offensive in Ukraine with the objective of taking control of the capital Kyiv to overthrow the pro-Europe government.
The Russian president’s hopes for a quick victory were dashed by Ukrainian resistance and military mistakes that embarrassed Moscow.
Through lightning counter-offensives late last year, Ukraine reclaimed much of the territory previously ceded in the face of Russian troop assaults, turning the conflict into a battle of attrition in the trenches, with casualties mounting. are accelerated on both sides.
In a context of global tensions reminiscent of the Cold War, the Kremlin persists in describing its operation as necessary for security reasons and says it sees it as an essential struggle in the face of Western hostility.
Kyiv and its Western allies, foremost the United States, reject Russian accusations, describing Moscow’s offensive as an unwarranted move aimed at expanding its territory and control in the region.
In addition to the virtual meeting of G7 leaders on Friday, the finance ministers of the G20 countries will assess the economic impact of the war in Ukraine, a year after the start of the Russian offensive.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has accused Russian officials attending a G20 meeting of being ‘accomplices’ in Russia’s atrocities, while host India avoided mentioning the war in its inaugural speech.
The French Minister of Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire,
to Reuters that the finance ministers of the G20 countries should condemn Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
For his part, French President Emmanuel Macron recalled on Twitter on Friday his support for the Ukrainian people: “France stands by your side. To solidarity, to victory and to peace.”.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki traveled to Kyiv on Friday as a sign of support for Ukraine “to give a clear and measurable signal of additional support in Ukraine’s defense against Russia”, the spokesperson said. government word on Twitter.
In support of Ukraine, the Eiffel Tower in Paris was illuminated Thursday evening in the colors of the Ukrainian flag, blue and yellow.
In London, where the street in front of the Russian embassy was painted blue and yellow, people wrapped in Ukrainian flags, hands on heart, gathered at a vigil holding a banner: “If you defend freedom, defend Ukraine”.
HEAVY LOSSES AROUND BAKHMUT
A symbol of heightened tensions, Vladimir Putin announced this week the suspension of Russia’s participation in a major arms control treaty, then declared that new intercontinental ballistic missiles, capable of carrying several nuclear warheads, would be deployed for the first time. times this year.
US President Joe Biden, who made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday before heading to Poland, said on Wednesday he saw no desire in his Russian counterpart to use nuclear weapons – a threat Westerners see as a diversion as Russian troops struggle to advance on the ground.
In recent months, the most intense clashes have mainly taken place in and around Bakhmout, a city in eastern Ukraine, and in Vouhledar, further south.
Hundreds, if not thousands of soldiers, perished in these two towns. Although independent military experts doubt their strategic value, both sides seem determined not to give ground.
Yevgeny Prigojine, founder of the Russian private paramilitary group Wagner, claimed Friday the total takeover of the Ukrainian village of Berkhivka, located on the outskirts of Bakhmout.
Nearly 200,000 Russian soldiers have died or been injured since the start of the war, according to estimates by certain Western representatives. In November, the US Army Chief of Staff said more than 100,000 troops on both sides had been injured or killed since February 24.
Casualties on the front lines are impossible to verify independently. Soldiers in the trenches and military officials, however, admitted that the death toll had accelerated in recent weeks.
“THE WAY OF THE EXECUTIONER”
Thousands of civilians have been killed since the start of the offensive. Ukrainian prosecutors have reported thousands of alleged war crimes committed by Russia, which denies targeting civilians or committing atrocities.
“Russia has chosen the path of the assassin. The path of the terrorist. The path of the executioner,” Volodimir Zelensky said Thursday via Telegram messaging.
Ukraine managed to resist the Russian assaults despite having a smaller army than its rival, mainly thanks to the tens of billions of dollars of military equipment delivered by the West.
Since the start of the conflict, Volodimir Zelensky has distinguished himself in a role of primordial warlord to obtain Western arms deliveries. The Ukrainian president has increased virtual meetings and interviews with leaders around the world.
It remains to be seen whether the level of support provided by the West can be maintained, although Washington has promised to help Kyiv for as long as necessary.
Ukraine has been on high alert for several days, fearing that Russia will carry out missile strikes and drone attacks on the capital to mark the anniversary of its offensive.
A “PEACE SPEECH” PROMISED BY CHINA
So far, the Russian economy has weathered the heavy sanctions against it. Westerners believe that these measures will gradually have a heavier impact and will cripple Moscow’s ability to finance a very expensive war.
“Russia’s economy and system of governance have shown themselves to be much stronger than the West assumed,” Vladimir Putin said this week during a speech to Russia’s political and military elite.
Faced with ceilings imposed on the price of Russian petroleum products and a sharp decline in gas exports to Europe, which have reduced its potential income, Russia has used funds initially intended for the hospital sector or schools to increase its military expenditure. .
Moscow was also able to count on purchases from China and India, compensating for Europe’s desire to no longer be dependent on Russian energy supplies.
The role of Beijing, which has been careful not to describe the Russian offensive as an “invasion” or to condemn it, could increase.
The United States is concerned about the rapprochement between China and Russia, while Vladimir Putin hailed the “new frontiers” in the ties between the two countries and announced the visit to Moscow of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Washington has expressed concern that Beijing may decide to deliver weapons to Russia for its offensive in Ukraine, a move that could escalate into a wider war between, on the one hand, Russia and China, and on the other hand. another, Ukraine and NATO.
However, Xi Jinping is expected to deliver a “peace speech” during the day. Some analysts doubt that China is really keen on mediating for peace beyond rhetoric.
China said it wanted to prevent the Ukraine crisis from spiraling out of control in a document released Friday by the Foreign Ministry.
“Dialogue, negotiation, are the only lasting means to resolve the Ukrainian crisis,” said Beijing, according to this document which presents China’s position on a political settlement of the crisis in Ukraine.
Volodimir Zelensky said on Thursday that he had not seen any plan from Beijing to end the war, but he added that he was in favor of talks between Ukrainian and Chinese representatives. (French version Jean Terzian and Kate Entringer, edited by Blandine Hénault)
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