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Russia intensifies assault, warns US weapons sent to Ukraine are ‘legitimate targets’

A view near the front line where Ukrainian forces have been battling Russian forces in Irpin, Ukraine, on March 10, 2022. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

As Russian forces kept up their bombardment across Ukraine on Saturday, capturing the eastern outskirts of a key southern port city, the Kremlin warned the U.S. that it would consider convoys carrying weapons to Ukraine to be “legitimate targets.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Saturday that shipments of Western weapons to Ukraine would could be attacked by Russian forces, according to Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency. Western nations’ “thoughtless transfer” of portable air defense and antitank missile systems to Kyiv, Ryabkov said, demonstrated “the escalatory component of Washington’s policy.”

“We have warned the U.S. that the U.S.-orchestrated inundation of Ukraine with weapons from some countries is not just a dangerous move, but also an action that makes these convoys legitimate targets,” Ryabkov said. The Russian diplomat did not say whether Russian forces would target such convoys in Poland or Romania, NATO countries that border Ukraine.

The tough talk came on a day that Russian forces sustained “heavy losses in manpower and equipment” in areas northeast of Kyiv and were prevented from regaining a foothold on previously captured frontiers, according to the Ukrainian military. Early in the morning, loud explosions reverberated near the capital, and Ukraine’s State Emergency Service said it had evacuated about 2,000 people from areas near Kyiv.

Despite holding off enemy forces from the capital, Ukrainian officials admitted a bitter defeat, acknowledging that Russia had seized part of Mariupol, a strategic city in the southeastern Donetsk region that could allow it to build a land corridor from pro-Moscow enclaves in the east to Russian-annexed Crimea in the south. Russian shelling of the city hit a mosque sheltering more than 80 people, including children, and repeated efforts to evacuate 430,000 residents have failed as their convoys come under artillery fire. Dozens of buses loaded with humanitarian supplies were reported to be attempting to reach the city.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians to keep fighting.

“The resistance of the entire Ukrainian people against these invaders has already gone down in history,” Zelenskyy said. “But we have no right to reduce the intensity of defense. No matter how difficult it is. We have no right to reduce the energy of resistance. The enemy is bringing new and new columns to the territory of Ukraine. They are looking everywhere for fighters, reservists, conscripts, mercenaries.”

In Melitopol, hundreds gathered on the streets Saturday to demand the release of the southern city’s mayor, Ivan Fedorov, whom the Ukrainian government has said was kidnapped from a government office Friday by Russian forces.

“Federov!” the crowd chanted. “Free the mayor!”

After accusing Russia on Saturday of “switching to a new stage of terror” in trying to “physically eliminate” elected officials, Zelenskyy praised the protesters for their open resistance.

“The invaders must see that they are strangers on our land, on all our land of Ukraine, and they will never be accepted,” he said in a video broadcast.

“If there are hundreds, thousands of people and thousands of soldiers, who are now being mobilized by Russia, and if hundreds or thousands of tanks come, they may come to Kyiv. We understand that,” he said at a news conference. “Only by defeating us, they can enter Kyiv. Therefore, if that’s the goal, let them come.”

In telephone conversations with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, Zelenskyy said he urged them to push for Fedorov’s release.

“The demand is simple: to release him from captivity immediately,” he said. “We expect them, the world leaders, to show how they can influence the situation. How they can do a simple thing: free one person. A person who represents the entire Melitopol community, Ukrainians who do not give up.”

Russia’s intensified assault on the cities and villages of Ukraine came as the United States continued to insist that diplomacy still had a role in the conflict, and as the U.S. and its NATO allies continue to supply Ukraine with tons of weaponry.

On Friday, as President Joe Biden stepped up economic pressure on Moscow, revoking trade relations with Russia and banning Russian products such as diamonds and vodka. He again resisted Ukraine’s demands for a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine,” Biden said at the White House. “Direct confrontation between NATO and Russia is World War III.”


©2022 Los Angeles Times.

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