Ukraine says 13 killed in strikes; US plans more sanctions on Russia; drone attack on science institute said to kill one in Kyiv; French energy company to halt Russian oil imports
Ukrainian soldiers walk on the front line, near Kyiv, on March 20, 2022. (Genya SAVILOV / AFP)
Ukraine forces have reversed the battlefield momentum against invading Russians in some areas to reclaim ground in recent days, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The Ukrainians are “at times going on an offensive,” particularly in the south of the country, US Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told CNN.
“They are going after Russians and pushing them out of places where the Russians have been in the past,” he said, particularly in Mykolaiv.
“We have seen this now increase over the last few days.”
Kirby said he could not confirm reports from Ukrainian officials that they had retaken at least one town and expect to take more in coming days.
But it would be “consistent with the kind of fighting and the kinds of capabilities we have seen the Ukrainians use,” he said.
As for the Russians, he echoed Western analysts who have said the invading forces have become bogged down.
“They are running out of fuel. They’re running out of food. They are not integrating their operations in a joint manner the way you would think a modern military would,” Kirby said.
He said Russian commanders “aren’t necessarily talking to one another,” and that there were communication problems between air and ground forces.
In some cases, the Russian fighters have had to resort to using cellphones to communicate with each other.
The Russians are “frustrated” and “stalled,” he said, citing the fact Moscow’s forces have failed to take control of population centers beyond two areas around Kherson and Melitopol in the south.
“They are slowed. And some of that… is due to their own ineptitude.”
Separately, a senior Pentagon official, speaking on grounds of anonymity, said Tuesday that the Ukrainian army had launched a counterattack on Russian forces in Izyum, a small city southeast of Kharkiv.
Izyum is on a key route to the Donbas region that would potentially allow Russian forces in the northeast and southeast to link up.
“What we’re seeing today is some significant fighting there by the Ukrainians, and an effort to take it back,” the official said of Izyum.
The official said that due to losses and other problems, the Russian force inside Ukraine is now below 90 percent of its available combat power.
In addition to problems getting food and fuel to its units, the Russian military has had to take soldiers out of the fight due to frostbite, the official said.
“They lack the appropriate cold-weather gear for the environment that they are in,” the official said.
Meanwhile, at least 12 people were killed in strikes across eastern Ukraine, an official in Kyiv said. Another person was killed in a drone strike in the capital, according to officials.
“In the Donetsk region, Avdiivka was fired on by artillery and aircraft, the city was razed to the ground. Five civilians were killed and 19 were injured,” Ukraine’s ombudswoman, Lyudmyla Denisova, said in a statement.
She said the attack occurred late Monday.
Avdiivka in the east of Ukraine is adjacent to the de-facto capital of pro-Moscow separatists, who wrested control of two self-proclaimed republics in 2014.
In Lysychansk, 150 kilometers (93 miles) north of Donetsk, another Russian strike left two dead and three wounded, she said.
In the Kharkiv region, a Russian tank had targeted a civilian-marked car, killing three adults and a child, Denisova said.
And in Severodonetsk, one person was killed and around a dozen were wounded in a strike in front of a store, she added.
In addition, at least one person was killed when drones attacked a scientific institute in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, AFP journalists and officials said.
Military rescuers removed a body covered with a black plastic sheet from the scene, AFP journalists saw.
Smoke rose from the white seven-story building at the Institute for Superhard Materials in northwestern Kyiv, part of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine.
Soldiers at the scene pointed out a winged vehicle about a meter (three feet) long, smashed into two large pieces, which they said was a Russian drone.
A defense ministry intelligence official said at the scene that three people had died, but there was no other confirmation of the toll.
“During today’s air raid the armed forces of the Russian Federation used Orlan drones, one of which dropped a bomb, as a result of which the premises caught fire,” the official, who asked not to be identified by name, told AFP.
“Later, two more drones appeared and also tried drop bombs; they were downed. It used to be an industrial workshop here, a civilian institution. No military.”
The body removed from the wreckage, which was in military uniform, was placed on a stretcher and covered in black plastic before being put into a van.
Wiring and circuitry could be seen inside the wreckage of the khaki-colored drone, which lay in pieces on a road about 50 meters (164 feet) from the bombed building.
The attack came as Kyiv was under tight security because of a curfew that runs until Wednesday morning.
The capital was already reeling from a huge Russian missile strike on the Retroville shopping mall late Sunday that killed eight people.
Russia, which invaded Ukraine on February 24, said that the mall was used by the Ukrainian military to store rocket systems.
Moscow showed aerial footage of the mall attack and of what it said were Ukrainian military movements around the shopping center several hours prior.
Ukraine has accused Russian troops of indiscriminately targeting medical facilities, residential areas, and bomb shelters, since Moscow sent troops over the borders of its pro-Western neighbor on February 24.
Russia denies purposefully targeting civilians and has instead accused Ukrainian forces of using civilians as human shields.
More US sanctions coming
More sanctions against Russia and tightening of existing measures will be announced Thursday when US President Joe Biden meets European allies in Brussels, a top US official said.
“A further package of sanctions” will be “rolled out in conjunction with our allies on Thursday,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters.
He said the announcement “will focus not just on adding new sanctions but on ensuring that there is joint effort to crack down on evasion on sanctions.”
French energy giant TotalEnergies said it has decided to halt all its purchases of Russian oil and petroleum products by the end of 2022 at the latest.
The French company said in a statement it will “gradually suspend its activities in Russia” amid the “worsening situation” in Ukraine.
Russia represented 17% of the company’s oil and gas production in 2020.
TotalEnergies holds a 19.4% stake in Russia’s natural gas producer Novatek.
It also has a 20% stake in the Yamal LNG project in northern Russia. The group said it continues to supply Europe with liquefied natural gas from the Yamal LNG plant “as long as Europe’s governments consider that Russian gas is necessary.”
“Contrary to oil, it is apparent that Europe’s gas logistics capacities make it difficult to refrain from importing Russian gas in the next two to three years without impacting the continent’s energy supply,” the statement said.
TotalEnergies has also decided to put on hold its business developments for batteries and lubricants in Russia. It will provide no further capital for the development of projects in Russia, the statement said.
Russian ships in the Sea of Azov have been shelling Mariupol from offshore over the last 24 hours, a senior US defense official said Tuesday.
The official said that there are about seven Russian ships in that area, including several warships, a minesweeper and a couple of landing ships.
By contrast, the official said the US did not see indications that ships in the Black Sea were firing on Odesa, as they had done days ago. The officials said the US had assessed that the Russians have about 21 ships in the Black Sea, including about a dozen surface combatant warships and some landing ships that carry troops.
According to the official, Russian ground forces are still largely stalled outside Kyiv – with troops still about 30 kilometers (19 miles) northeast of the city, and 15 kilometers (9 miles) northwest of the city. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to provide the US military assessment.
The defense official said that there are indications that Russia is exploring ways to resupply troops and is considering bringing in reinforcements, but so far there has been no active moves seen to do either. There also are indications that Russia has used a significant number of its precision-guided munitions, particularly its air-launched cruise missiles, and is exploring ways to resupply those weapons, the official said.