Ukraine: Russian shelling kills 2 in Kharkiv

Ukraine: Russian shelling kills 2 in Kharkiv

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow wants to seize territory in southern Ukraine beyond the eastern Donbas region as the United States and its allies committed more military aid to Ukraine.

Russia failed in the early stages of its five-month offensive to topple the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy or capture the capital of Kyiv in northern Ukraine. And it is currently fighting with Ukrainian forces for control of the Donbas region.

But Lavrov said in an interview Wednesday with state media that Russia no longer felt compelled to fight in Donbas, where Russian separatists have been fighting Kiev’s forces since 2014 when Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

A police officer, right, comforts a man as he holds the hand of a relative who was killed in a Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on July 20, 2022. A police officer, right, comforts a man as he holds the hand of a relative killed by Russian shelling in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on July 20, 2022.

Latest developments in Ukraine: 20 July

“Now the geography has changed. It is not only Donetsk and Luhansk. It is Kherson, Zaporizhia and several other territories. This process continues, consistently and persistently,” Lavrov told state news RT television and RIA Novosti news agency.

Lavrov, Russia’s top diplomat, said Moscow’s territorial goals would expand further if Western countries supplied more long-range missiles to Kyiv.

The United States on Wednesday announced plans to send four more such missile systems to Ukraine, along with more rounds of artillery.

“Ukrainian forces are now using long-range, high-impact missile systems, including HIMARS from the United States, and other systems from our allies and partners,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday at the Pentagon. “Ukraine defenders push hard to hold Russian advance in Donbas.”

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Ukrainians have used multiple US-launched rocket launchers to hit Russian command centers and supply lines, including a strategically important bridge over the Dnieper River in the Kherson region.

Russian officials said the bridge has been damaged but is still open to some traffic. The Russian military would be hard pressed to continue supplying its forces in the region if the bridge was destroyed.

“The Ukrainians are making the Russians pay for every inch of territory they gain,” Milley said, and Donbas is “not lost yet. The Ukrainians intend to continue the fight.”

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The future, Milley said, will depend on the number of long-range missiles and ammunition the Ukrainians have.

“We have a very serious grinding war of attrition going on in the Donbas. And unless there’s a breakthrough on either side — which analysts right now don’t think is very likely in the short term — it’s probably going to continue as a grinding war of attrition for a period until both sides see an alternative way out of this, perhaps through negotiation or something similar.’

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that US intelligence indicated that Russia is “laying the groundwork to annex Ukrainian territory it controls in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty”.

Kirby said the areas involved in plans Russia is reviewing include Kherson, Zaporizhia and all of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

He also called on the US Congress to ratify Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO, saying the Biden administration wants to see the two countries “brought into the alliance as soon as possible.”

Both Sweden and Finland broke with long-standing non-aligned positions to seek NATO membership as a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave its approval on Tuesday, which set the stage for a vote in the entire Senate.

All 30 NATO members must approve the accession of Finland and Sweden to the military alliance.

Grain shipments

On the diplomatic front, Putin said on Tuesday that Russia is ready to facilitate Ukrainian grain shipments from ports along the Black Sea, but that he wants Western countries to lift their sanctions against Russian grain exports.

Putin spoke in Iran after meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on a proposed plan to resume Ukrainian exports.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has disrupted Ukrainian trade, and with pressure on global food supplies, the UN has been involved in talks to unblock the shipments.

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Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told reporters on Tuesday that Guterres remained optimistic that a deal can be reached. He added that Guterres had discussed the ongoing negotiations in a phone call on Monday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Putin also met on Tuesday with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, signaling closer ties between the two countries.

“Contact with Khamenei is very important,” Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy adviser, told reporters in Moscow. “A trusting dialogue has developed between them on the key issues on the bilateral and international agenda.”

“On most issues, our positions are close or identical,” Ushakov said.

As Moscow faces ongoing Western economic sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine, Russia is seeking to strengthen strategic ties with Iran, China and India.

Iran, which also faces Western economic sanctions and ongoing disputes with the United States over Tehran’s nuclear program, expressed hope for closer ties with Russia.

“Both our countries have good experience in fighting terrorism, and this has brought a lot of security to our region,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said after the meeting with Putin. “I hope your visit to Iran will increase cooperation between our two independent countries.”

White House National Security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that the intelligence service indicated that Russia “lays the groundwork for annexing Ukrainian territory which it controls in direct violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

Kirby said the areas involved in plans Russia is reviewing include Kherson, Zaporizhia and all of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.

He also called on the US Congress to ratify Finland’s and Sweden’s accession to NATO, saying the Biden administration wants to see the two countries “brought into the alliance as soon as possible.”

Both Sweden and Finland broke with long-standing non-alliance positions to seek NATO membership as a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The US Senate’s foreign relations gave its approval on Tuesday, which paved the way for a vote in the entire Senate.

All 30 NATO members must approve the accession of Finland and Sweden to the military alliance.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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