Fighting is grinding on in Ukraine after the country marked the anniversary of Russia’s invasion, with Ukrainian authorities on Saturday reporting dozens of new Russian strikes and attacks on cities in the east and south.
After a somber and defiant day of commemorations on Friday and a marathon news conference, Ukraine’s seemingly indefatigable president followed up with new video posts a day later in which he declared that “Russia must lose in Ukraine” and argued that its forces can be defeated this year.
In a separate tweet, President Volodymyr Zelensky also pushed for more sanctions pressure on Russia after the U.K., U.S. and the European Union all announced new measures aimed at further choking off funding and support for Moscow.
“The pressure on Russian aggressor must increase,” Zelensky tweeted in English.
He said Ukraine wants to see “decisive steps” against Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom and the Russian nuclear industry as well as “more pressure on military and banking.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week that Rosatom and his Defense Ministry need to work on ensuring that Russia is ready to resume nuclear weapons tests if needs be. He alleged that the U.S. is working on nuclear weapons and that some in the U.S. are pondering plans to carry out nuclear tests banned under the global test ban that took effect after the end of the Cold War.
“If the U.S. conducts tests, we will also do it,” Putin said.
Russia has already become the most sanctioned nation in the world over the past year, targeted with sanctions by more than 30 countries representing more than half of the world’s economy. But the squeeze on its economy, trade and firms has yet to deliver a knockout blow.
Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, called the latest U.S. sanctions “thoughtless.”
“We have learned to live under economic and political pressure,” Antonov said. “The experience of previous sanctions has shown that they harm the world market to a greater extent, worsen the situation of ordinary citizens in states that initiate or support reckless sanctions.”
The Feb. 24 anniversary of last year’s invasion brought no respite in Russian attacks.
Still, in one of his video posts on Saturday, Zelensky asked: “Is it possible for us to win?”
“Yes,” he said. “We are capable of this in unity, resolutely and unyieldingly, to put an end to Russian aggression this year.”
Ukraine’s military on Saturday reported 27 Russian airstrikes and 75 attacks from multiple rocket launchers in the most recent 24-hour spell. It said Russian offensive efforts continue to be concentrated in Ukraine’s industrial east and northeast. Five wounded civilians were reported in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk province, where territory is roughly split between Russian and Ukrainian control.
Battles raged “around” and “nearby” Bakhmut, a city in the Donetsk region that has become the focus of the fighting in recent months, according to Ukraine’s Land Forces. The military said the Russian forces continued attempts to break through Ukrainian defenses, encircle and seize the city.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, owner of Russia’s private military company Wagner, claimed on Saturday that his fighters have “completely taken over” the village of Yahidne on the north outskirts of Bakhmut. There has been no confirmation of the claim from either the Russian military or the Ukrainian army.
In the southern Kherson region, Gov. Oleksandr Prokudin also reported 83 Russian shelling attacks, with the regional capital, also called Kherson, hit nine times, and residential buildings, a preschool and a medical institution struck. The head of Ukraine’s presidential office reported three civilian wounded in the region.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Saturday that he aims to discuss peace efforts related to the Ukraine war with China when he travels there in April. China has called for a cease-fire and peace talks. Zelensky on Friday gave qualified support for Beijing’s apparent interest in playing a role.
Macron said in Paris that “China must now help us to put pressure on Russia.”
“Obviously so that Russia never uses neither chemical nor nuclear weapons,” he said. “But also so that (Russia) stops this aggression as a condition for a negotiation.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Saturday that he welcomed parts of the peace plan for Ukraine proposed by China, but disagreed with other aspects.
“There are things that are remarkably right, such as the renewed condemnation of the use of nuclear weapons,” Scholz told reporters during an official visit to India. “What’s missing in my view is a discernible line that says: ‘Russian troops must also withdraw.’”