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Ukraine-Russia latest: Zelensky urges world to mark one month of war with protests as Russian forces ‘digging in’ outside Kyiv

NATO leaders have agreed to supply hazmat suits to Ukraine and step up defences against chemical and biological weapons, following a meeting in Brussels.

he action agreed on Thursday comes as the alliance says it will double the number of battlegroups defending the alliance’s eastern border in light of the Russian invasion.

The measures were approved at a top-level meeting in Brussels today to discuss how to respond to the invasion – with leaders pledging to send more arms to the country and boost military spending.

At the major summit at NATO headquarters on the outskirts of the Belgian capital leaders also agreed to step up defences against chemical and biological attacks, amid fears Russia could use the weapons.

Officials say NATO has no “direct” intelligence to suggest Vladamir Putin is preparing to use chemical weapons, but that Russian rhetoric has concerned them.

“Putin tends to do the things he talks about,” one western official said. “He also tends to do what he says other people are about to do.”

“There is protective equipment we can supply to Ukrainians such as clothing, wash-up kits, detection kits.”

General secretary Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that NATO forces would be bolstered “from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea” and suggested the use of chemical weapons would change the situation dramatically.

The Indo Daily: From TV President to Ukraine’s Wartime Leader – Who is Volodymyr Zelensky?


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The alliance chief told reporters outside the meeting that leaders agreed to “continue to impose unprecedented costs on Russia” and to reinforce their own and Ukraine’s defences.

He said assistance pledged for Ukraine included new anti-tank and air defence systems, as well as drones – which he said were so far “proving highly effective” – alongside “substantial financial and humanitarian aid”.

Opening the meeting on Wednesday Mr Stoltenberg noted that Russia had apparently facilitated the use of chemical weapons in Syria and elsewhere.

“So we are concerned and that’s also reason why we are ready and we’ll address tomorrow ways to provide support to Ukraine to protect themselves.”

Meanwhile Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded for more military aid to defend his country as world leaders gathered for three summits to discuss the next steps in countering Russia’s month-old invasion.

The extraordinary series of summits — hosted by NATO, the G7 industrialised nations and the European Union in Brussels — reflected alarm that the conflict shows no sign of ending soon and could even spread beyond Ukraine’s borders.

As Europe faces its greatest crisis in generations, Western leaders continue the search for ways to increase pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin while avoiding steps that could lead to a wider war on the continent.

Mr Zelenskky, addressing the Nato gathering by video from Kyiv, called for “military assistance without limitations” as Russia is “without limits using its entire arsenal”.

He specifically asked for anti-air and anti-ship weapons, and although Mr Zelensky thanked Western nations for support they already have provided, his frustration was clear.

He urged Nato to provide Ukraine with “1pc of all your planes, 1pc of all your tanks”.

We can’t just buy those,” Mr Zelensky said. “When we will have all this, it will give us, just like you, 100pc security.”

US President Joe Biden, who is attending all three summits, said more aid was on its way.

“We are committed to identifying additional equipment, including air defence systems, to help Ukraine,” Mr Biden said after the Nato meeting.

More than 3.5m refugees have fled Ukraine in recent weeks, including more than 2m to Poland.

Mr Biden is scheduled to visit Poland on Friday, where the energy and refugee issues are expected to be at the centre of talks with President Andrzej Duda.

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A woman kisses a cross on a grave of her mother killed by shelling during Ukraine-Russia conflict, in the besieged southern port of Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Earlier, Zelensky called on people worldwide to gather in public on Thursday to show support for his embattled country on the one-month anniversary of the Russian invasion that he said breaks the heart of “every free person on the planet.”

“Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard,” Zelensky said in English during an emotional video address late Wednesday that was recorded in the dark near the presidential offices in Kyiv. “Say that people matter. Freedom matters. Peace matters. Ukraine matters.”

There were protests around the world, including in Dublin at the Russian Embassy at 5pm this evening.

When Russia unleashed its invasion February 24 in Europe’s biggest offensive since World War II, a swift toppling of Ukraine’s government seemed likely. But with Wednesday marking four full weeks of fighting, Moscow is bogged down in a grinding military campaign.

Ship destroyed

Ukraine’s navy on Thursday reported destroying Russia’s large landing ship, Orsk, near the port city of Berdyansk.

A short Facebook statement about the ship was accompanied with photos and videos of fire and thick plumes of smoke in the port.

The Russian military has not commented on what happened to the ship.

Berdyansk has been under Russian control since February 27.

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The large landing ship “Orsk” of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet in flames as it is destroyed in the port of Berdyansk. Picture: Reuters

Summit

International efforts to make Russia pay for its aggression and to contain Europe’s biggest security crisis since World War II shifted their focus to Brussels. The Belgian capital became a flurry of diplomatic activity as Biden and other leaders huddled for a day-long series of talks on the war’s repercussions, including the possibility of more sanctions on Russia, how to deal with soaring energy costs and the growing needs of Ukrainian refugees and the stiffening of defenses in eastern European nations alarmed about Russian aggression.

Opening an emergency summit, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance is “determined to continue to impose costs on Russia to bring about the end of this brutal war.”

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US President Joe Biden, left, talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and Briitish Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, as they arrive at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. Picture: AP

Casualties

NATO estimated that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in four weeks of war in Ukraine, where fierce resistance has denied Moscow the lightning victory it sought.

By way of comparison, Russia lost about 15,000 troops over 10 years in Afghanistan.

A senior NATO military official said the alliance’s estimate was based on information from Ukrainian authorities, what Russia has released — intentionally or not — and intelligence gathered from open sources. The official spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by NATO.

In its last update, Russia said March 2 that nearly 500 soldiers had been killed and almost 1,600 wounded.

Ukraine has released little information about its own military losses, and the West has not given an estimate, but Zelensky said nearly two weeks ago that about 1,300 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed.

Ukraine also claims to have killed six Russian generals. Russia acknowledges just one dead general.

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Local residents queue for humanitarian aid delivered by Russian soldiers during Ukraine-Russia conflict, in the besieged southern port of Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

China

China is rejecting accusations of helping Russia spread disinformation over Washington’s involvement in Ukraine, while repeating Moscow’s baseless claims about secret American biological warfare labs in Ukraine.

“Accusing China of spreading disinformation on Ukraine is disinformation in itself,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a daily Briefing Thursday. He said China has acted in “an objective and just manner.”

Wang claimed the international community continues to have “grave concerns” about U.S. biolabs in Ukraine, despite rebuttals from independent scientists.

“The U.S. cannot muddle through with silence or claiming that as disinformation. The U.S. should make serious clarifications on whether that is disinformation or not,” Wang said.

The lab claims have also taken root in the U.S., uniting COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, QAnon adherents and some supporters of ex-President Donald Trump.

China claims it is neutral in the conflict, although it maintains what it calls a limitless friendship with Russia, which it calls its “most important strategic partner.” China has refused to criticize Russia over its invasion — or even to refer to it as such — and Chinese state media repeatedly regurgitate Moscow’s false claims over the conflict.

‘Digging in’

With its ground forces slowed or stopped by hit-and-run Ukrainian units armed with Western-supplied weapons, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops are bombarding targets from afar, falling back on the tactics they used in reducing cities to rubble in Syria and Chechnya.

A senior U.S. defence official said Wednesday that Russian ground forces appear to be digging in and setting up defensive positions 15 to 20 kilometres (9 to 12 miles) outside Kyiv, the capital, as they make little to no progress toward the city centre.

The official, speaking anonymously, said it appears the forces are no longer trying to advance into the city, and in some areas east of Kyiv, Ukrainian troops have pushed Russian soldiers farther away.

Instead, Russian troops appear to be prioritising the fight in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in the Donbas, in what could be an effort to cut off Ukrainian troops and prevent them from moving west to defend other cities, the official said. The U.S. also has seen activity from Russian ships in the Sea of Azov, including what appear to be efforts to send landing ships ashore with supplies, including vehicles, the official said.

Despite evidence to the contrary, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted the military operation is going “strictly in accordance” with plans.

In an ominous sign that Moscow might consider using nuclear weapons, a senior Russian official said the country’s nuclear arsenal would help deter the West from intervening in Ukraine.

“The Russian Federation is capable of physically destroying any aggressor or any aggressor group within minutes at any distance,” said Dmitry Rogozin, who heads the state aerospace corporation, Roscosmos, and oversees missile-building facilities. He noted in his televised remarks that Moscow’s nuclear stockpiles include tactical nuclear weapons, designed for use on battlefields, along with far more powerful nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles.

‘Escalate to deescalate’

U.S. officials long have warned that Russia’s military doctrine envisages an “escalate to deescalate” option of using battlefield nuclear weapons to force the enemy to back down in a situation when Russian forces face imminent defeat. Moscow has denied having such plans.

Rogozin, known for his bluster, did not make clear what actions by the West would be seen as meddling, but his comments almost certainly reflect thinking inside the Kremlin. Putin has warned the West that an attempt to introduce a no-fly zone over Ukraine would draw it into a conflict with Russia. Western nations have said they would not create a no-fly zone to protect Ukraine.

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A mother covers her son as they lay on a ground after hearing shelling during Ukraine-Russia conflict, in the besieged southern port of Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

Europe meeting

As U.S. President Joe Biden headed to Europe to meet with key allies about new sanctions against Moscow and more military aid to Ukraine, he warned there is a “real threat” Russia could use chemical weapons.

On the eve of a meeting with Biden, European Union nations signed off on another €500million in military aid for Ukraine.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin will attend the European Council meeting after testing negative for Covid after he was forced to isolate in the US after a positive test.

The Ukrainian president will address the Oireachtas on April 6.

Johnson attack

Downing Street has rejected a Kremlin claim that Boris Johnson is “anti-Russian”, saying: “The prime minister is one of the most active anti-Putin leaders. We have no issue with the Russian people”

The rebuff came after Russian president Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described Mr Johnson as“the most active participant in the anti-Russian race”, adding: “This race will not lead anyone to Mount Olympus, but a foreign policy dead end.”

Chemical weapons

Nato will send equipment to protect Ukrainian troops from Russian nuclear and chemical attacks, the alliance said yesterday amid fears that Vladimir Putin could use such deadly weapons.

Secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said he expected Nato leaders to agree to the extra support, which is likely to include gas masks and protective suits, at an emergency summit in Brussels today. Training, respirators, hand-held detectors and mobile decontamination units are also likely to be offered to Kyiv.

Weapons will be on offer too. Britain will double its lethal aid to Ukraine by providing an extra 6,000 missiles, including anti-tank and high-explosive weapons, bringing the total to more than 10,000.

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Children play in front of a building damaged in fighting during Ukraine-Russia conflict, in the besieged southern port of Mariupol, Ukraine. Picture: Reuters

“I expect allies will agree to provide additional support, including cyber-security assistance as well as equipment to help Ukraine protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats,” Mr Stoltenberg said.

Nato will also agree to “major increases of forces on land, in the air and at sea” to bolster its eastern defences, Mr Stoltenberg said as he warned Moscow against risking a nuclear war with the West.

Four new battle groups will be deployed in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, which would mean a total deterrent of eight multinational groups along the eastern flank, including existing troops in the Baltic nations and Poland.

Zelensky appealed to Western countries to stay united in the face of Russia’s efforts to “lobby its interests” with “some partners” to bring them over to its side, and noted during his national address that Ukraine has not received the fighter jets or modern air-defense systems it requested. He said Ukraine also needs tanks and anti-ship systems.

“It has been a month of defending ourselves from attempts to destroy us, wipe us off the face of the earth,” he said.

War crimes

The U.S. has determined that Russian troops have committed war crimes in Ukraine, and it will work to prosecute the offenders, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. He cited evidence of indiscriminate or deliberate attacks against civilians and the destruction of apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, shopping centers and other sites.

In Kyiv, where near-constant shelling and gunfire shook the city Wednesday as the two sides battled for control of multiple suburbs, Mayor Vitali Klitschko said at least 264 civilians have been killed since the war broke out. The independent Russian news outlet The Insider said Russian journalist Oksana Baulina had been killed by shelling in a Kyiv neighborhood on Wednesday.

Mariupol worst hit

In the south, the encircled port city of Mariupol has seen the worst devastation of the war, enduring weeks of bombardment and, now, street-by-street fighting. But Ukrainian forces have prevented its fall, thwarting an apparent bid by Moscow to fully secure a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, seized from Ukraine in 2014.

In their last update, over a week ago, Mariupol officials said at least 2,300 people had died, but the true toll is probably much higher. Airstrikes in the past week destroyed a theater and an art school where civilians were sheltering.

Zelensky said 100,000 civilians remain in the city, which had a population of 430,000 before the war. Efforts to get desperately needed food and other supplies to those trapped have often failed.

Zelensky accused Russian forces of seizing a humanitarian convoy. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the Russians were holding captive 11 bus drivers and four rescue workers along with their vehicles.

In the besieged northern city of Chernihiv, Russian forces bombed and destroyed a bridge that was used for aid deliveries and civilian evacuations, regional governor Viacheslav Chaus said.

Kateryna Mytkevich (39) who arrived in Poland after fleeing Chernihiv, wiped away tears as she said the city is without gas, electricity or running water, and entire neighborhoods have been destroyed.

“I don’t understand why we have such a curse,” she said.

https://www.independent.ie/world-news/europe/nato-leaders-agree-to-supply-hazmat-suits-to-ukraine-amid-chemical-weapon-concerns-41481786.html Ukraine-Russia latest: Zelensky urges world to mark one month of war with protests as Russian forces ‘digging in’ outside Kyiv

Fry Electronics Team

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