WARSAW — US President Joe Biden lambasted Vladimir Putin on Saturday for the month-long war in Ukraine, bluntly calling the Russian leader a “butcher” who “cannot stay in power”.
In an impassioned speech from the Royal Castle in Warsaw, delivered after meeting with top Ukrainian ministers in Poland and speaking earlier with NATO and EU allies about the conflict, Biden put Russia on sharp warning: “Don’t even think about moving on a single inch of NATO. territory.”
Although the White House moved quickly to temper Biden’s unprecedented comments about Putin – insisting the US leader was not seeking ‘regime change’ in Russia and referring to Putin’s influence over neighbors of the region – the Kremlin has clearly expressed its displeasure.
Personal attacks, one official said, “reduced the window of opportunity” for bilateral relations.
Biden coupled his harsh words to Putin with a pointed attempt to appeal to ordinary Russians, saying they were “not our enemy” and urging them to blame their president for the heavy sanctions imposed by the West.
He reassured Ukrainians in the public and elsewhere, at a time when nearly four million of them have been driven from their country. “We are on your side,” he said.
Biden also questioned Russia’s signal that it might reduce its war targets to focus on eastern Ukraine – even as two Russian missile strikes hit the western part of the country.
The president said he was “not sure” whether Moscow had indeed changed its goals, which he said had so far resulted in a “strategic failure”.
Two Russian missiles have already hit a fuel depot in Lviv, western Ukraine, a rare attack on a town just 70 kilometers (45 miles) from the Polish border, which has escaped serious fighting.
At least five people were injured, regional governor Maksym Kozytsky said, as AFP reporters in the city center saw plumes of thick black smoke.
Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24, promising to destroy the country’s military and overthrow pro-Western President Volodymyr Zelensky.
But his army made little progress in capturing key towns, and it struck hospitals, apartment buildings and schools in increasingly deadly attacks on civilians.
Biden, who was wrapping up a whirlwind visit to Poland after holding a series of urgent summits in Brussels with Western allies, earlier met Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov in Warsaw in a blunt display of support in Kyiv.
The two ministers had made a rare trip outside Ukraine for face-to-face talks, a potential sign of growing confidence in their fight against Russian forces.
In a possible change to a plan to transfer Soviet-era fighter jets from Poland to kyiv to bolster Ukraine’s firepower in the skies – rejected last month by the Pentagon as too “risk high” – Kuleba said the United States no longer opposes it.
“As far as we can conclude, the ball is now on the Polish side,” Kuleba said in written comments to AFP after the encounter.
In a video address, Zelensky reiterated a call for planes while urging allies to supply more weapons to Ukraine.
“We need more ammunition. We need it to protect not only Ukraine but also other Eastern European countries that Russia was threatening to invade,” he said.
“At the meeting…with our American colleagues in Poland, we again clarified things,” he said.
“What is NATO doing? Is it led by Russia? What are they waiting for? It’s been 31 days. We only ask for one percent of what NATO has, nothing more.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meanwhile announced an additional $100 million in aid to help Ukrainian police and border guards purchase armored vehicles, equipment and medical supplies, according to a statement.
“Hide the Losses”
On the front lines, the much larger Russian army continued to fight determined Ukrainian defenders using Western-supplied weapons – from near the capital kyiv to Kharkiv, the Donbass region and the devastated port city of Mariupol.
In an update on Saturday evening, the Ukrainian General Staff accused Russia of “hiding the real number of personnel and material losses”.
In the eastern region of Kharkiv, four soldiers and a civilian were killed on Saturday when a Russian bombardment hit a high school in the town of Bervenkove, Ukrainian authorities said.
The Russian Defense Ministry reported a battle for control of two villages near the eastern separatist stronghold of Donetsk and also claimed that a missile strike had destroyed an arms and ammunition depot in the Zhytomyr region of west of kyiv on March 25.
A humanitarian convoy leaving the devastated southern port of Mariupol – including ambulances carrying injured children – arrived in Zaporizhzhia after being held up at Russian checkpoints for two days, a Ukrainian official said.
“Ambulances carrying injured children are also queuing. People were deprived of water and food for two days,” she wrote on Telegram, accusing Russian troops of “creating obstacles.”
Authorities said they fear some 300 civilians in Mariupol died in a Russian airstrike on a theater used as a bomb shelter last week, with around 170,000 people still trapped in the besieged city.
It is very difficult to independently verify what is happening on the ground.
“Used to explosions”
In Kharkiv, where local authorities reported 44 artillery fire and 140 rocket fire in a single day, residents resigned themselves to the incessant shelling.
Anna Kolinichenko, who lives in a three-room apartment with her sister and brother-in-law, said they didn’t even bother going down to the basement when the sirens sounded.
“If a bomb drops, we’re going to die anyway,” she said. “We’re getting a bit used to the explosions.”
Artillery attacks in the town of Brovary, east of kyiv, left three people dead, regional officials said in a statement, and a 19th-century Orthodox church was destroyed.
Russian forces have taken control of Slavutych, the town where Chernobyl nuclear power plant workers live, briefly detaining the mayor, Ukrainian regional authorities said.
Townspeople protested, prompting the invading forces to fire shots into the air and throw stun grenades into the crowd.
The mayor of Kyiv canceled a planned 35-hour curfew, as the British Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian counterattacks were underway near the capital.
“Enemy sabotage groups in the kyiv region are still trying to break into the capital,” the Ukrainian General Staff said.
Air raid sirens sounded early on Sunday in Kyiv and several other cities as residents were warned to take shelter.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said its forces recaptured Trostianets, a town near the Russian border that was one of the first to fall under Moscow’s control.
Footage released by the ministry showed Ukrainian soldiers and civilians among heavily damaged buildings and what appeared to be abandoned Russian military equipment.
In the face of surprisingly fierce Ukrainian resistance, the Russian military displayed poor discipline and morale, suffering from faulty equipment and employing tactics that sometimes involved brutality against civilians, according to Western analysts.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Saturday that British sanctions against Russia could be lifted if Moscow commits to a full ceasefire and withdraws its troops.
His comments echoed remarks by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that sweeping sanctions against Russia are “not designed to be permanent” and could “disappear” if Moscow changes its behavior.
War in Ukraine: latest developments
Rockets hit western Ukraine as Biden visits Poland, Putin slams
UK says Russian sanctions could be lifted with Ukraine withdrawal – report
A 90-year-old woman and her daughter flee the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv just in time
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to access The Philippine Daily Inquirer and over 70 titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am and share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.