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After Vladimir Putin this week once again launched missile attacks across Ukraine following the West’s pledge to send battle tanks to bolster Kyiv’s forces, a stark warning was issued by a senior EU official.
Stefano Sannino, secretary general of the European Union’s European External Action Service, warned that the Russian President would now increase indiscriminate attacks on civilians and non-military targets – and retaliate against the West.
Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo as part of an Asia-Pacific tour, he said Putin had ‘moved from a concept of special operation to a concept now of a war against NATO and the West’.
He further warned that Russia was already now busily making “indiscriminate attacks” on civilians and cities and no longer military targets.
Mr Sannino stressed that the EU was not looking to escalate hostilities but was ‘just giving the possibility of saving lives and allowing the Ukrainians to defend (themselves) from these barbaric attacks’.
He defended the US and German tank provisions – which have infuriated Moscow – saying they were not intended as an attack but rather to help Ukrainians defend themselves.
However, he added: “I think that this latest development in terms of armed supply is just an evolution of the situation and of the way Russia started moving the war into a different stage.”
The warning of a possible global conflict came as President Volodymr Zelensky yesterday urgently called for further sanctions and more weapons after the latest Russian strikes left 11 dead and saw further explosions near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station.
Terrified civilians were left racing for cover as Kremlin fired a barrage of missiles and drones across the country on Thursday, killing at least 11 people, a day after Kyiv secured pledges of battlefield tanks to combat Moscow’s invasion from western countries.
Angrily responding to the latest attacks, the Ukrainian President warned that the international community had to do more to punish Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
In a televised address to his nation, Mr Zelensky called for immediate further sanctions on Russia and for allies to supply Ukraine with more weapons.
He said: “This Russian aggression can and should be stopped only with adequate weapons. The terrorist state will not understand anything else. Weapons on the battlefield. Weapons that protect our skies.
“New sanctions against Russia, i.e. political and economic weapons. And legal weapons – we need to work even harder to establish a tribunal for the crime of Russian aggression against Ukraine.”
But there appeared to be some cracks in the western unity yesterday when it came to sanctions on the Kremlin.
Hungary broke ranks by publicly warning it will veto any European Union sanctions against Russia affecting nuclear energy.
Ukraine has called on the 27-nation EU to include Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom in sanctions but Hungary, which has a Russian-built nuclear plant it plans to expand with Rosatom, has blocked that.
And Mr Orbán yesterday reiterated in an interview that sanctions on nuclear energy “must obviously be vetoed”.
“We will not allow the plan to include nuclear energy into the sanctions be implemented,” the Hungarian premier said. “This is out of the question.”
As fighting continues, the UK’s Ministry of Defence casts doubt on recent Russian claims of military advances in Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk.
In its daily intelligence briefing, an MoD spokesman explained: “Over the last six days, Russian online commentators have claimed Russian forces have made significant advances, breaking through Ukrainian defences in two areas: in Zaporizhzhia Oblast near Orikiv, and 100km to the east, in Donetsk Oblast, near Vuhledar.”
“Russian units have probably conducted local, probing attacks near Orikiv and Vuhledar, but it is highly unlikely that Russia has actually achieved any substantive advances.”
“There is a realistic possibility that Russian military sources are deliberately spreading misinformation in an effort to imply that the Russian operation is sustaining momentum.”
But Oleskandr Musiyenko, head of the Military and Strategic Research Centre of Ukraine, said Russia was now sending in more reinforcements to block Ukrainian advances.
“They are mostly sending infantry and artillery forces into battle, made up mainly of conscripts. But they do not have the level of artillery and tank support they had on Feb. 24,” Mr Musiyenko said in an interview with Ukrainian television.”
“They have fewer resources. They are relying on the numerical superiority of their troops.”
The latest barrage of Russian missile strikes on Thursday including explosions near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, the UN nuclear agency confirmed yesterday.
Rafael Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who visited Ukraine last week, said IAEA monitors reported powerful explosions near Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station on Thursday and renewed calls for a security zone around the plant.
But Renat Karchaa, an adviser to the head of Rosenergoatom, the company operating Russia’s nuclear plants, said the comments were unfounded and called it a “provocation”.
The Kremlin has in the past reacted to Ukrainian successes with massed airstrikes that left millions without light, heat or water.
Thursday’s attacks appeared to follow this pattern, with many again targeting energy plants.
Mr Zelensky said: “I held an urgent meeting today about the energy situation – about the shortages that are occurring and repair work after the terrorists’ strikes. Repair teams are working in those sites.”
But the Kremlin warned that it saw the promised delivery of western tanks as evidence of growing “direct involvement” of the United States and Europe in the 11-month-old war, something both deny.
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