(Kramatorsk) “Let them try! Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday challenged the West to defeat Russia “on the battlefield” in Ukraine, where, he said, Moscow has “not started the serious stuff yet”.
“Today we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield. What to say ? Let them try! “, said Mr. Putin during a meeting with the leaders of the groups of the lower house of Parliament, broadcast on television.
“We have heard many times that the West wants to fight us to the last Ukrainian. This is a tragedy for the Ukrainian people. But it seems like everything is headed in that direction,” he continued.
These martial declarations come as the United States and European countries have in recent weeks accelerated arms deliveries to the army in Kyiv, which is trying to curb the advance of Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
“Everyone should know that we have not yet started serious things” in Ukraine, launched Mr. Putin during this speech, one of the toughest for weeks.
However, he did not announce an expansion of the military operation or other concrete initiatives.
“At the same time, we do not refuse peace negotiations. But those who refuse them should know that the longer (they will refuse), the more difficult it will be for them to negotiate with us,” the Russian president added.
Using rhetoric reminiscent of that of the Soviet leaders during the Cold War, Mr. Putin also denounced Western “totalitarian liberalism” and considered that the offensive in Ukraine marked the beginning of a transition from a world marked by “egocentrism globalized American towards a truly multipolar world”.
“In most countries, people don’t want such a life or such a future,” he said. “They are tired of getting down on their knees and humiliating themselves in front of those who think they are exceptional”.
Bombings in the Donbass
Russian forces on Thursday bombarded several towns in Donbass, a basin in eastern Ukraine that they are trying to conquer in full, including that of Kramatorsk, where at least one civilian was killed, according to local authorities.
In Kramatorsk, capital of the Ukrainian-held part of Donbass, the explosion left a large crater in a courtyard between a hotel and apartment buildings, AFP journalists noted. They saw the body of a person killed and injured, as well as two cars on fire.
“Airstrike against the central part of Kramatorsk. There are victims,” the mayor of the city, Oleksandr Gontcharenko, announced on Facebook, calling on residents to stay in the shelters.
This “deliberate attack against civilians” caused “one death and six injuries”, declared on Telegram the governor of Donetsk province, Pavlo Kyrylenko, specifying that these figures were provisional and that “six buildings were damaged, including a hotel and a residential building »
“I ask everyone: evacuate! The evacuation is temporary, we must preserve life now,” he added.
The Russians, who have advanced in recent weeks in the Donbass, their priority objective since their withdrawal from the vicinity of Kyiv at the end of March, claim to have taken full control of the province of Luhansk a few days ago, one of the two forming the mining area.
The Russians “have still not reached the limits of the region”, denied Thursday the governor of the province, Serguiï Gaïdaï, accusing the Russians of enlisting by force the inhabitants of the cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lyssytchansk, under their control, in promising them a job.
“No more choice”
Moscow’s forces are now seeking to conquer the other province, Donetsk, to occupy all of Donbass, which Moscow-backed separatists have partially controlled since 2014.
The governor of Donetsk province, Pavlo Kyrylenko, reported at least seven civilians killed on Wednesday by multiple artillery and rocket launchers in several localities.
In this province, Sloviansk and its twin city Kramatorsk are considered the next targets of Russian forces in their plan to conquer Donbass, after four and a half months of conflict.
On Tuesday, Russian rockets struck and partially burned down and destroyed a market in central Sloviansk, killing at least two people.
On Wednesday, the mayor of Sloviansk, Vadim Liakh, had indicated that the evacuation of the city, encouraged by the local authorities, was “in progress”.
“I send my wife and then I have no choice, I join the army tomorrow,” Vitaly, 30, told AFP after bidding farewell to his wife Svitlana, who left on Wednesday. for Dnipro (center) in a bus with some 150 women and children on board.
“They had to leave, after what happened yesterday (Tuesday), they hit the city center,” said Vitaly, saying he was convinced that Sloviansk would not fall into Russian hands and that his family would return there. .
On Wednesday there were still around 23,000 of the approximately 110,000 inhabitants it had before the conflict, its mayor said, counting 17 dead and 67 injured since the start of the hostilities.
In the south, the Russians are still shelling the Mykolaiv region and fighting is raging around the city of Kherson, which they have occupied since the early days of the war and where they are trying to prevent Ukrainian counterattacks, according to Kyiv .
The Ukrainian army finally affirmed on Thursday that it had regained control of Serpents’ Island in the Black Sea, after having handed over its flag there a few days earlier, following the withdrawal of Russian forces from this small symbolic territory.
Moscow, for its part, claimed to have carried out a strike there in the morning with “high precision missiles”, killing some of the Ukrainian soldiers who went to plant a flag there and causing the survivors to flee.
G20 under power
While in Western Europe, eyes were on Thursday on London, where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has resolved to leave power, the Ukrainian presidency thanked him for his support in “the most difficulties” of the Russian invasion. President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his “sadness”.
In Indonesia, a meeting of foreign ministers of the twenty largest world economies (G20) began Thursday on the island of Bali, in the presence of Russia and Western allies of Ukraine.
Given the tension between the two camps and the presence of the head of Russian diplomacy Sergei Lavrov, “we expect a fairly tough confrontation”, indicated a French diplomatic source.
The European Union has warned that it refuses that Russia uses this G20 as “a platform for its propaganda” on the conflict in Ukraine.
A US official, however, said he expected “virtually all G20 countries” to agree on initiatives to address global food insecurity and energy price volatility caused by the war.
He added that a joint G20 statement on Ukraine would not be possible due to Russia’s participation in the summit.
Thursday, on the eve of the interministerial meeting in Bali, Mr. Lavrov met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi there. The two parties notably considered “unacceptable” the “unilateral sanctions adopted by circumventing the UN”, according to the Russian ministry.
China, which refused to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has maintained good relations with the Kremlin despite efforts by Western countries to isolate it.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, for her part, castigated the “failure” of the UN to prevent war in Ukraine, and accused Russia of having imposed on the Security Council its “morally corrupt” position and its “illegal war”.
Mme Ardern, who has long criticized the veto power of the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, United States, France, United Kingdom, Russia), renewed his call for reform of the United Nations.