kyiv, Ukraine (AP) – Russia said on Monday it destroyed air defense systems in Ukraine over the weekend, in what appeared to be another push to gain air superiority and remove weapons that kyiv has described as crucial ahead of a new large-scale offensive in the east.
The initial invasion of Moscow bogged down on several fronts as it was met with stiff resistance from Ukrainian forces, who prevented the Russians from taking the capital and other cities. Moscow’s inability to gain full control of Ukrainian skies hampered Moscow’s ability to provide air cover to troops on the ground, limiting their advances and likely exposing them to greater casualties.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said the military used cruise missiles to destroy four S-300 air defense missile launchers in the southern outskirts of the central city from Dnipro. He added that about 25 Ukrainian soldiers were also affected by Sunday’s strike.
Konashenkov said Ukraine received air defense systems from a European country he did not name. Last week, Slovakia said it handed over Soviet-designed S-300s to Ukraine, but Slovakia said it had no evidence that its system had been hit.
With their advance thwarted in many parts of the country, Russian forces increasingly relied on the bombardment of cities. The war flattened many urban areas, killed thousands, and politically and economically isolated Russia. Ukrainian authorities accuse Russian forces of committing war crimes against civilians, including a massacre outside kyiv, airstrikes on hospitals and a missile attack that killed at least 57 people at a train station .
Now Russia is regrouping for a new push in the eastern region of Donbass, where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014 and have declared independent states. Both sides are preparing for what could be a devastating war of attrition.
Russia has appointed a veteran general to lead the effort, U.S. officials say, though they don’t see a single man making a difference.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meanwhile pleads for more Western aid, saying his forces need heavier firepower to withstand the coming onslaught and repel Russian forces. Echoing his remarks in an interview with the AP, Zelenskyy said on Sunday that the week ahead could be pivotal, with Western support for his country — or lack thereof — proving decisive.
“To be honest, our ability to (survive) depends on that,” Zelenskyy said in an interview with ’60 Minutes’. “Unfortunately, I’m not sure we’ll get everything we need.”
Zelenskyy said he was grateful to US President Joe Biden and other Western leaders for military assistance to date, but said he “a long time ago” passed on a list of specific items including Ukraine desperately needed. In a video address to South Korean lawmakers on Monday, he specifically called for equipment capable of shooting down Russian missiles.
These armaments could come under increasing attack as Russia seeks to shift the balance in the 6-week war.
The Russian report of the attack on the S-300s outside Dnipro was the third such strike since the weekend. Konashenkov said the military also hit such systems in the Mykolaiv and Kharkiv regions. Russian military claims could not be independently verified.
Asked about the Russian claim that it withdrew from systems supplied by a European country, Slovak Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok said on Monday he had “no evidence” that the Russians had destroyed the weapons supplied. by his country. Earlier, his government had called reports that the system provided by Slovakia had been hit as “disinformation”.
Ukraine already had a number of Soviet-made S-300s and other long-range air defense systems, and it also received batches of Western shoulder-fired man-portable anti-aircraft weapons like the Stingers, which are effective against low-flying aircraft.
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer was due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday, after meeting Zelenskyy in kyiv. Austria, a member of the European Union, is militarily neutral and is not a member of NATO.
Questions remain about the ability of the exhausted and demoralized Russian forces to gain much ground after their advance on kyiv was repelled by determined Ukrainian defenders.
The British Ministry of Defense said on Monday that Ukraine had already repelled several assaults by Russian forces in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk – which make up Donbass – resulting in the destruction of Russian tanks, vehicles and artillery.
In Washington, a senior US official said Russia had appointed General Alexander Dvornikov, one of its most experienced military leaders, to oversee the invasion. The official was not authorized to be identified and spoke on condition of anonymity. Russia does not usually announce such appointments, and there was no comment from Moscow.
Dvornikov, 60, gained a reputation for brutality as the leader of Russian forces deployed to Syria in 2015 to support the government of President Bashar Assad during the country’s devastating civil war.
Until now, Russia had no central war commander on the ground. But U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, downplayed the significance of the appointment.
“What we learned in the first weeks of this war is that Ukraine will never be subjugated to Russia,” Sullivan said. “It doesn’t matter which general President Putin tries to appoint.”
Western military analysts say Russia’s assault is increasingly focused on eastern Ukraine – an arc stretching from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, in the north, to Kherson in the north. south.
On Sunday, Russian forces shelled government-held Kharkiv and sent reinforcements towards Izyum in the southeast in an attempt to break through Ukraine’s defenses, the Ukrainian military said. The Russians also maintained their siege of Mariupol, a key southern Donbass port that has been besieged since almost the start of the war.
Oleh Synyehubov, the regional governor of Kharkiv, said on Monday Russian shelling had killed 11 people in the past 24 hours, including a 7-year-old child.
The Institute for the Study of War, an American think tank, predicted that Russian forces would “renew offensive operations in the coming days” from Izyum in the campaign to conquer Donbass, which includes the industrial heartland of the country. ‘Ukraine.
But he said the outcome “remains very uncertain”.
In Mariupol, Russia has deployed Chechen fighters, reputed to be particularly fierce. Capturing the city on the Sea of Azov would give Russia a land bridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized from Ukraine and annexed eight years ago.
In a video posted on his Telegram channel, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said Russian forces would launch a new offensive on Mariupol as well as kyiv and other cities. “Our offensive work will not only be in Mariupol but in all other settlements, towns and villages,” he said.
Residents of Mariupol have lacked food, water and electricity since Russian forces surrounded the town. Hundreds of thousands fled, although Russian attacks also hampered evacuation missions.
On Sunday, Vladislav Usovich, an 18-year-old conscript serving in the Russian-backed separatist forces, advanced slowly with other fighters through residential areas around a factory in Mariupol.
“I thought it would go better, I thought it would go faster. Everything is going slowly,” he said. “The Ukrainians are prepared fighters. NATO has trained them well.