Ukraine said Russia has begun building a military force targeting President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih, while NATO neared its most significant expansion in decades as the alliance responded to Ukraine’s invasion.
Both the US Senate and Italy’s parliament on Wednesday approved Finland and Sweden’s accession to the 30-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Under NATO membership, which must be ratified by all 30 member states, an attack on one is an attack on all.
“This historic vote sends an important signal of America’s continued, bipartisan commitment to NATO and to ensuring our Alliance is ready to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow,” US President Joe Biden said in a statement.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 24, has repeatedly warned Finland and Sweden against joining NATO.
NATO’s 30 allies signed the accession protocol last month, allowing them to join the US-led nuclear-armed alliance once its members ratify the decision.
Ratification could take up to a year.
Ukraine on Wednesday dismissed suggestions by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a friend of Putin, that Russia wanted a “negotiated solution” to the five-month war, saying any dialogue was conditional on a Russian ceasefire and withdrawal of its troops.
Timid attempts at peace talks in March came to nothing.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported Thursday that Ukraine is looking for an opportunity to speak “directly” with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to help end the war.
In an interview with SCMP, Zelensky urged China to use its political and economic influence over Russia to end the fighting.
“It is a very powerful state. It’s a powerful economy… So (it) can affect Russia politically and economically. And China is (also) a permanent member of the UN Security Council,” the report quoted Mr. Selensky as saying.
On the battlefield, Russian forces were engaged in significant military activity, firing from tanks, pipes and rocket artillery in several parts of Ukraine, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said in its update on Thursday.
Previously, Ukraine warned that Moscow could prepare new offensive operations in southern Ukraine.
Dmytro Zhyvytsky, governor of the Sumy region on the border with Russia, said three cities were shelled by Russian forces on Wednesday, firing a total of 55 rockets.
There were no injuries, but homes and businesses were damaged.
He said eight artillery shells hit residential areas of Krasnopilska Municipality.
Mayor Yevhen Yevtushenko of Nikopol, west of Zaporizhia in central Ukraine, said on his Telegram channel that his city was shelled overnight.
Ukrainian Presidential Advisor Oleksiy Arestovych said in an interview published on YouTube that the whole point of the Russian offensive in the east is to force Ukraine to divert troops from the area that really poses a threat – Zaporizhia.
Russia was accused in March of firing shells dangerously close to the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant when its forces took over in the first weeks of the invasion.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Moscow of using Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant as a “nuclear shield” against attacks on Ukrainian forces.
Reuters was unable to verify battlefield reports.
Russia denies attacking civilians, but many cities have been destroyed and thousands killed in the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II.
Ukraine and its western allies accuse Russian forces of war crimes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine to rid the country of fascists in what he called a “military special operation”.
Ukraine and the West said Putin launched an unprovoked “imperial” land grab.
The war has triggered a global energy and food crisis. Russia and Ukraine produce about a third of the world’s wheat, and Russia is Europe’s main energy supplier.
A United Nations-Turkey-brokered agreement between Moscow and Kyiv allowing the safe passage of grain ships from Ukraine has been hailed as a rare diplomatic success in the war.
The first ship carrying Ukrainian grain since the war began passed the Bosphorus on Wednesday.
The ship Razoni left Odessa on the Black Sea early Monday, transporting 26,527 tons of corn to the Lebanese port of Tripoli.
Mr Zelensky said Ukraine must export at least 10 million tons of grain to urgently help reduce its budget deficit, which totals $5 billion a month.
A senior Turkish official said three ships could leave Ukrainian ports daily after the Razoni’s departure, while Ukraine’s infrastructure minister said 17 other ships had been loaded with agricultural products and were waiting to set sail.
https://www.independent.ie/news/ukraine-warns-of-new-russian-offensive-sweden-finland-move-closer-to-joining-nato-41888969.html Ukraine warns of new Russian offensive; Sweden and Finland are nearing NATO membership