WARSAW: US President Joe Biden cast doubt on Russia’s signal that it may scale down its war aims to concentrate on eastern Ukraine, as two Russian missile strikes slammed into the west of the country on Saturday, wounding five.
After failing to break Kyiv’s ferocious resistance in a month of fighting and deadly attacks on civilians, the Russian army in a surprise announcement said it would focus on “the main goal — the liberation of Donbas”.
But Biden said he was “not sure” that Moscow has indeed changed strategy, as he branded Russian President Vladimir Putin a “butcher” while meeting Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
The US leader assessment came as two missiles struck a fuel depot in western Ukraine’s Lviv, a rare attack on a city just 70 kilometres from the Polish border that has escaped serious fighting since Russian troops invaded last month.
Calls Vladimir Putin a ‘butcher’ in meeting with refugees in Warsaw
At least five people were wounded, regional governor Maksym Kozytsky said, as journalists in the city centre saw plumes of thick black smoke.
Putin sent troops into Ukraine on Feb 24, vowing to destroy the country’s military and topple pro-Western President Volodymyr Zelensky.
But his army has made little progress on capturing key cities, and its attacks that have hit hospitals, residential buildings and schools have become more deadly.
Biden, who has been leading efforts among Western allies to press Putin to end his invasion of Ukraine, has blasted Putin as a “war criminal” over the assaults on civilians.
The Kremlin hit back at Biden’s description of Putin as a “butcher”, saying “a state leader must remain sober-minded”.
“Such personal insults are narrowing down the window of opportunity for our bilateral relations under the current (US) administration. One should be aware of this,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in remarks carried by state news agency TASS.
Biden, who is on a two-day visit to Poland after holding a series of summits in Brussels with Western allies, earlier met Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov in Warsaw in an emphatic show of support for Kyiv.
Both ministers had made a rare trip out of Ukraine for the face-to-face talks, in a possible sign of growing confidence in their fightback against Russian forces.
The talks discussed Washington’s “unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.
Biden, who later met Polish President Andrzej Duda, also stressed the “sacred commitment” to Nato’s collective defence, in a clear reassurance to Ukraine’s neighbours rattled by the conflict.
“You can count on that... for your freedom and ours,” he told Duda.
Speaking after visiting Ukrainian refugees later on Saturday, Biden said he had been asked by children to pray for their male relatives fighting in Ukraine.
“I remember what it’s like when you have someone in a war zone and every morning you get up and you wonder... you are praying you don’t get that phone call,” said Biden, whose son Beau served in Iraq before dying of a brain tumour.
On the frontlines, Russia’s far-bigger military continued to combat determined Ukrainian defenders who are using Western-supplied weapons — from near the capital Kyiv to Kharkiv, the Donbas region and the devastated southern port city of Mariupol.
A humanitarian convoy leaving Mariupol, including ambulances carrying wounded children, was being held up at Russian checkpoints, a Ukrainian official said.
A build-up of several kilometres had formed close to Vassylivka, in the region of Zaporizhzhia where the convoy was headed, said Lyudmyla Denisova, in charge of human rights in Ukraine.
Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2022