Ukraine Says Russia Pounding Donbas; Russian Strike Knocks Out Odesa Airport
A Russian missile strike at the airport in the southwestern port of Odesa—a city that has so far been relatively unscathed in the war—has damaged the runway and it can no longer be used, the Ukrainian military said on Saturday.
Russia has sporadically targetted Odesa, a Black Sea port, and a week ago, Ukraine said at least eight people were killed in a strike on the city.
“As a result of a missile attack in the Odesa region, the runway at Odesa airport was damaged. Its further use is impossible,” the Ukrainian military said.
Russian forces also pounded Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region on Saturday. In the town of Dobropillia in Donetsk, the shockwave from a strike blew in the windows of an apartment building and left a large crater in the yard.
Moscow hopes to take full control of the eastern Donbas region made up of Luhansk and Donetsk, parts of which were already controlled by Russian-backed separatists before the invasion.
The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in a daily update that the Russians were trying to capture the areas of Lyman in Donetsk and Sievierodonetsk and Popasna in Luhansk, adding they are “not succeeding—the fighting continues.”
Moscow said on Saturday its artillery units had struck 389 Ukrainian targets overnight.
Alexander Bogomaz, the governor of Russia’s Bryansk region, said air defenses had prevented a Ukrainian aircraft from entering the region, and as a result shelling had hit parts of an oil terminal, Russian news agencies reported.
The governor of another Russian region, Kursk, said several shells were fired from the direction of Ukraine on Saturday at a checkpoint near its border. Roman Starovoit said in a video on his Telegram channel that there were no casualties or damage.
On the Ukrainian side, Luhansk Governor Serhiy Gaidai said the Russians were shelling all over the region “but they cannot get through our defense.” He said civilians would continue to be evacuated despite the difficult situation.
Russia’s TASS news agency, reporting from the scene, said 25 civilians, including six children, had left the territory of the Azovstal steel plant in the besieged southern port of Mariupol on Saturday. It was unclear where they had gone, and Reuters could not independently verify the report.
Russia Says Risks of Nuclear War Must Be Kept to Minimum: TASS
Russia believes the risks of nuclear war should be kept to a minimum and that any armed conflict between nuclear powers should be prevented, the TASS news agency quoted a foreign ministry official as saying on Saturday.
Vladimir Yermakov, the foreign ministry’s head of nuclear non-proliferation, said all nuclear powers must stick to the logic laid out in official documents aimed at preventing nuclear war.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday the West should not underestimate the elevated risks of nuclear conflict over Ukraine, although the United States subsequently said it did not believe there was a threat of Russia using nuclear weapons despite an escalation in Moscow’s rhetoric.
Yermakov on Saturday was quoted as saying that leading nuclear powers must adhere to the logic enshrined in documents they have jointly created.
He was referring to a joint statement published in January by Russia, China, Britain, the United States, and France, in which the five countries—which are the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—agreed that the further spread of nuclear arms and a nuclear war should be avoided.
“The risks of nuclear war, which should never be unleashed, must be kept to a minimum, in particular through preventing any armed conflict between nuclear powers,” TASS quoted Yermakov as saying on Saturday. “Russia clearly follows this understanding.”
Ukraine Says Russian Air Forces Continuing to Strike City of Mariupol
Ukraine’s military said on Saturday that Russian planes had continued to launch strikes on the besieged city of Mariupol, focusing on the Azovstal steelworks where troops and civilians are sheltering.
In a Facebook post, the general staff of the armed forces also claimed the Ukrainian military had regained control over four settlements in the Kharkiv region.
Ukraine Exchanges Prisoners With Russia: Deputy PM
Ukraine carried out a prisoner exchange with Russia on Saturday, with seven soldiers and seven civilians coming home, deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said in an online posting.
She did not say how many Russians had been transferred.
The two nations have swapped prisoners several times during the conflict that began with Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, and on Thursday Ukraine said Russia had handed over 33 soldiers.
Russia Has Set Space Station Exit Timetable
Russia has decided when it will pull out of the International Space Station (ISS) and will give a year’s notice to its partners, Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said on Saturday.
In an interview with the Rossiya-24 TV channel, the head of the space agency said that although a timeframe has been set, the authorities “are not obliged to speak about it publicly.”
Rogozin earlier said Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s military offensive on Ukraine are preventing Roscosmos from proceeding with “business as usual” when it comes to joint work with the United States and other Western countries on the ISS. He also said that if he could he would already have ceased cooperation.
Russia’s activity on the ISS is determined by the government and the president, and the agency is currently allowed to continue operations on the ISS through 2024.
“I can only say one thing: in accordance with our obligations, we will warn our partners a year in advance about the end of work on the ISS,” he said.
Rogozin also explained that during its remaining time on the ISS, Russia “will demonstrate its readiness to deploy the Russian Orbital Service Station (ROSS).” He said the ROSS will be multifunctional and that development plans are already underway.
“When it is presented … we will begin to create this ‘smart hardware’ and prepare its launch into space, the deployment of the station,” Rogozin said.
Moscow Outlines When ‘Frozen’ Dialogue With US May Restart
The dialogue on strategic stability between Russia and the United States may only resume after all the goals of Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine are achieved, a high-ranking Russian diplomat has said.
“As of today, there’s no use talking about any prospects for negotiations on strategic stability with the U.S.,” Vladimir Yermakov, who heads the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, pointed out on Saturday.
“This dialogue is formally ‘frozen’ by the American side,” he said, adding that Washington’s moves concerning the matter “are being pointed in the complete opposite direction” than those of Moscow.
The sides will likely be able to return to “a substantive conversation about the prospects of resuming a full-fledged Russian-American negotiation process on the strategic agenda only after the implementation of all the tasks of the special military operation in Ukraine,” Yermakov added.
Ukraine Crisis a Result of US Policy Goals: Russia
The current conflict between Russia and Ukraine is a direct result of the West’s push to create a unipolar world, one which has involved NATO’s unabated eastward expansion, Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told China’s Xinhua News Agency in an interview published on Saturday.
“The U.S. and NATO have always seen Ukraine as an instrument of containing Russia,” the minister said, adding that the reasons that eventually prompted Moscow to launch its military operation in Ukraine stem from a years-long western policy that included stirring up anti-Russian sentiment among Ukrainians and forcing them to make a “false choice” between the West and Russia.
“It was the West that first instigated and then supported an anti-constitutional coup d’état in Kyiv in 2014” which gave rise to an internal Ukrainian conflict the U.S. and its allies never tried to resolve, Lavrov said, as he accused Washington and its partners of “fostering” Kyiv’s “aggressive anti-Russian course” and “pushing nationalists towards a military solution” of the crisis in the Donbass.
Washington and Brussels brushed off Russia’s proposals for security guarantees in Europe in December 2021, the minister said, adding that Moscow was left with no choice but to launch its military operation to protect the people of the Donbass, following a request from the leaders of the two republics Russia had recognized.
Russia is interested in a “peaceful, free, neutral, prosperous and friendly Ukraine,” the minister has explained, adding that Moscow wishes to restore “centuries-long cultural, economic and family ties between Russians and Ukrainians.”
What is happening right now is not a “new Cold War” but continued attempts by Washington and its allies to impose a “U.S.-centric model of the world” on other nations, Lavrov said. The United States and its allies seek to erode the U.N.-based world order and replace it with their own “rules-based order.” Ukraine has not been the only place in the world where the United States and its allies sought to pursue this goal, the minister noted, citing the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999, the 2003 Iraq invasion, and the Syrian crisis as examples of this “destructive policy.”
Lavrov Says Lifting Sanctions Against Russia Part of Peace Talks With Ukraine
Lifting sanctions imposed on Russia is part of peace negotiations between Moscow and Ukraine, which are “difficult” but continue daily, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in remarks published early on Saturday.
Kyiv warned on Friday that talks on ending Russia’s invasion, now in its third month, were in danger of collapse.
“At present, the Russian and Ukrainian delegations are actually discussing on a daily basis via video-conferencing a draft of a possible treaty,” Lavrov said in comments to China’s official Xinhua news agency published on the Russian foreign ministry’s website.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has insisted since the invasion began on Feb. 24 that Western sanctions on Russia needed to be strengthened and could not be part of negotiations.
Ukraine and Russia have not held face-to-face peace talks since March 29, and the atmosphere has soured over Ukrainian allegations that Russian troops carried out atrocities after they withdrew from areas near Kyiv. Moscow has denied the claims.
“The talks’ agenda also includes, among others, the issues of denazificiation, the recognition of new geopolitical realities, the lifting of sanctions, the status of the Russian language,” Lavrov said.
“We are in favour of continuing the negotiations, although they are difficult,” Lavrov said.
US Training Ukrainian Troops in Europe: Pentagon
Ukrainian military personnel are receiving American training in Europe amid the conflict with Russia, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby has revealed.
“I can announce that the United States has commenced training with the Ukrainian Armed Forces on key systems at U.S. military installations in Germany,” Kirby said during a briefing on Friday.
As part of the program, coordinated with Berlin, the Ukrainian troops are learning to operate artillery, radars and armored vehicles.
“This new training effort in Germany and at other locations in Europe is in direct support of recent U.S. security assistance packages that are designed to help Ukraine win their battles today and build strength for tomorrow,” the spokesman said, noting that the United States has committed $4.3 billion to the Ukrainian military since 2021.
Kirby stressed that the Pentagon has no plans to send its instructors into Ukraine. “The training that we’ll do will be outside of” the country, he said.
But the possibility of servicemen inside Ukraine receiving American training “virtually” is being explored, he added.
Macron Pledges Strong Support for Ukraine
French President Emmanuel Macron has conveyed to Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy his “wish to actively work to re-establish the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine during his second mandate,” in coordination with allies, the presidential Elysee Palace says.
Macron assured Zelenskyy in their hourlong conversation Saturday that “military material” and humanitarian assistance would keep flowing to Ukraine, the Elysee said.
France has so far sent 615 tons of equipment and aid, including generators for hospitals, ambulances, and food. France has been coy about its contribution in defensive weapons, but Macron recently mentioned Milan anti-tank missiles and a delivery of truck-mounted Caesar cannons among “consequential equipment.”
“This support will continue to strengthen,” the French president told Zelenskyy, according to the Elysee.
Ukraine to End Fuel Shortages Soon, Zelenskyy Says
Ukraine will soon stamp out fuel shortages, even though Russian forces have damaged a number of oil depots, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Friday.
This week, Russia struck Ukraine’s main fuel producer, the Kremenchuk oil refinery, as well as several other large depots.
“Queues and rising prices at gas stations are seen in many regions of our country,” Zelenskyy said in a nightly video speech.
“But government officials promise that within a week, maximum two, a system of fuel supply to Ukraine will be at work that will prevent shortages.”
In a statement, Economy Minister Yulia Svyrydenko said the shortages would be eliminated within a week, as Ukraine’s operators had secured contracts with European suppliers.
Ukrainian Warplane Shells Russia: Governor
Russia’s Bryansk Region has sustained yet another attack from Ukraine, the local Governor Aleksandr Bogomaz has said.
Early on Saturday, local air defenses detected an attempt by a Ukrainian military plane to violate the country’s airspace, Bogomaz wrote on Telegram.
The aircraft was prevented from making it into Russia, but managed to fire two projectiles, which landed in the village of Zhecha, not far from the two country’s shared border with Ukraine, he outlined.
Fatalities and injuries were avoided during the attack, but the facilities of the local oil loading terminal suffered minor damage from shockwaves.
More Than 1 Million People Evacuated From Ukraine to Russia, Says Lavrov
Russia’s foreign minister says Moscow has evacuated over 1 million people from Ukraine since the war there began.
The comments Saturday by Sergey Lavrov in an interview with Chinese state news agency Xinhua come as Ukraine has accused Moscow of forcefully sending Ukrainians out of the country. Lavrov said that figure included more than 300 Chinese civilians.
Lavrov also said that negotiations continue between Russia and Ukraine “almost every day.” However, he cautioned that “progress has not been easy.”
Lavrov said the evacuees included 120,000 foreigners and people from Russian-backed breakaway regions of Ukraine—the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics that Russia recognised as independent just before President Vladimir Putin announced the invasion.
Lavrov in part blamed “the bellicose rhetoric and inflammatory actions of Western supporters of the Kyiv regime” for disrupting the talks.
Ukraine Spars With Russia Over Talks, Says Moscow Not Succeeding in East
Ukraine and Russia traded accusations over shaky talks to end a war now in its third month as Russia pounded areas in the east of the country and U.S. lawmakers vowed a massive new weapons package for Kyiv.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in remarks published early on Saturday, said lifting Western sanctions on Russia was part of the peace negotiations, which he said were “difficult” but continue daily by video link.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, told Polish journalists that chances were “high” that the talks, which have not been held in person for a month, would end because of Russia’s “playbook on murdering people,” the Interfax news agency said.
Ukraine acknowledges losing control of some eastern towns and villages but says Moscow’s gains have come at a heavy cost.
“We have serious losses but the Russians’ losses are much, much bigger,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said, without elaborating. “They have colossal losses.”
Russia was pounding the entire Donetsk front line with rockets, artillery, mortar bombs and aircraft in part to stop Ukrainian troops from regrouping, Ukrainian officials said.
Ukraine’s military said Russia was preparing for offensives in the areas of Lyman in Donetsk and Sievierodonetsk and Popasna in Luhansk. In the south, it said, Russia was “continuing to regroup, increase fire effectiveness, and improve position.”
Russia’s defense ministry said its forces had struck Ukrainian weapons storage sites, platoon strongholds, artillery positions, and drones. Russia said a diesel submarine in the Black Sea had struck military targets with Kalibr cruise missiles, the first report of such strikes from a submarine.
Pelosi Hopes to Approve $33 Billion Ukraine Aid ‘as Soon as Possible’
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday she hopes to pass a $33 billion aid package for Ukraine requested by President Joe Biden “as soon as possible.”
Biden asked Congress on Thursday for the money to support the government in Kyiv—a dramatic escalation of U.S. funding for Ukraine more than two months after it was invaded by Russia.
Lawmakers from both parties said they wanted to approve the emergency funding request quickly, but there was no immediate word on exactly when the House and Senate might vote amid disputes over what should be in any legislation.
“We hope to as soon as possible pass that legislation,” Pelosi told her weekly news conference.
Biden’s funding request includes over $20 billion for weapons, ammunition, and other military assistance, as well as $8.5 billion in direct economic assistance to the Ukrainian government and $3 billion in humanitarian aid.
Democrats, who narrowly control Congress, and Republicans disagree over whether to combine the Ukraine funding with billions of dollars for COVID-19 relief that Biden requested in March.
Pelosi said lawmakers would have to “come to terms” with how to address both issues.
Zelenskyy Accuses Russia of Trying to Destroy the Donbass
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Russia of trying to destroy the Donbass and all who live there.
“The constant brutal bombardments, the constant Russian strikes on infrastructure and residential areas show that Russia wants to empty this territory of all people. Therefore, the defense of our land, the defense of our people, is literally a fight for life,” he said late Friday in his nightly video address to the nation.
He said the cities and towns of the Donbass will survive only if Ukraine remains standing. “If the Russian invaders are able to realize their plans even partially, then they have enough artillery and aircraft to turn the entire Donbass into stones. As they did with Mariupol.”
In Kharkiv, a major city to the north, the situation was “brutal” but Ukrainian troops and intelligence agents “have had important tactical successes,” he said without elaborating.
Zelenskyy said rescuers were still going through the rubble in Kyiv after Thursday’s missile strikes.
Lavrov Dismisses Need for UN Corridors Help
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appears to have dismissed the need for the United Nations to help secure humanitarian corridors out of Ukraine’s besieged cities, striking a tough line a day after the U.N. chief toured war-wracked Kyiv with that very aim.
As an interviewer at Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV tried to ask Lavrov about U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ proposals for humanitarian assistance and evacuation of civilians, Lavrov cut him off.
“There is no need. I know, I know,” Lavrov said. “There is no need for anybody to provide help to open humanitarian corridors. There is only one problem … humanitarian corridors are being ignored by Ukrainian ultra-nationals,” he said.
“We appreciate the interest of the secretary-general to be helpful,” he added. “(We have) explained … what is the mechanism for them to monitor how the humanitarian corridors are announced.”
During the hourlong interview, Lavrov also accused the West of sabotaging Russia’s peace talks with Ukraine. He claimed that thorny negotiations in Istanbul last month had been progressing on issues of Russian territorial claims and security guarantees until Ukrainian diplomats backtracked at the behest of the West.
“We are stuck because of their desire to play games all the time,” Lavrov said. “Because of the instructions, they get Washington, from London, from some other capitals, not to accelerate the negotiations.”
When asked about the risks of war spilling into neighboring Moldova after a series of explosions rattled a breakaway border region within the country, Lavrov struck an ominous tone.
“Moldova should worry about their own future,” he said. “Because they’re being pulled into NATO.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.