Today’s big question
Capital city could come under siege for ‘four to six weeks’, US official warns
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has warned EU leaders he will be killed if Kyiv falls to Russian troops
Presidency of Ukraine/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has warned that Vladimir Putin may have plans to “indiscriminately carpet bomb” the Ukranian capital Kyiv after US intelligence suggested that Russia has shifted away from its “lightning war” tactics.
Speaking to Sky News, Wallace said Russia will continue to hit Ukrainian cities with “heavy bombardments” resulting in significant casualties. “That is the brutality that I’m afraid we are witnessing and it’s going to get worse,” he added.
With Moscow’s advance appearing to have stalled around key cities, a US official told CBS that it is now not clear whether Putin intends to “gradually strangle” Kyiv through siege tactics or “engage in street-to-street fighting”.
“It is expected to take one week before Kyiv is surrounded,” the official said, and then “another 30 days could elapse before Ukraine’s capital is seized”. A full “tactical seizure” by Russian troops would take four to six weeks, the official said.
The assessment came as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned that the full invasion of Ukraine could take a decade. The longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare was the Siege of Sarajevo, which lasted three years, ten months and three weeks.
Describing the assault on Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has remained defiant. “We will neutralise them all,” he said on Monday. “We did not let them break the defence of the capital, and they send saboteurs to us. For the enemy, Kyiv is the key target.”
Foreign Policy revealed last week that US intelligence suggested Russia was planning for a “post-invasion arrest and assassination campaign in Ukraine” should Kremlin forces mount a successful invasion. Four people familiar with the US intelligence said Russia has “drafted lists of Ukrainian political figures and other prominent individuals to be targeted for either arrest or assassination in the event of a Russian assault on Ukraine”.
The campaign would likely “target prominent political opponents, anti-corruption activists, and Belarusian and Russian dissidents living in exile”, the magazine said.
The US ambassador to the UN also warned in a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, seen by The Washington Post, that Russia had begun creating lists of Ukrainian targets “to be killed or sent to military camps following a military occupation”.
The letter warned that “those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons” are at risk of arrest or death in the event that Russia seizes the country.
It also cited “credible information” that Russian forces could use “lethal measures” to disperse peaceful civilian protesters should the public attempt to disrupt a takeover.
In an address to the Ukrainian people at dawn on Friday, President Zelenskyy said that “enemy saboteur groups” had already breached Kyiv, adding: “According to our information, the enemy marked me as target No 1, my family as target No 2. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state.”
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Two sources involved a video call between Zelenskyy and EU leaders last week told Axios Middle East Correspondent Barak Ravid that the Ukrainian president warned: “This might be the last time you see me alive.”
In January, as Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border, the UK Foreign Office released a statement accusing Moscow of planning to “install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv”, pointing to former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev as “a potential candidate” to head the new regime.
Murayev, the leader of a small pro-Russian party called Nashi that currently has no seats in Ukraine’s parliament, brushed off the claims at the time, telling The Observer: “You’ve made my evening. The British Foreign Office seems confused.
“It isn’t very logical. I’m banned from Russia. Not only that but money from my father’s firm there has been confiscated.”
More recently, a US defence official told the Financial Times (FT) that the Kremlin’s intentions with Kyiv remained unclear, but that “it’s our assessment that they have every intention of decapitating the government and installing their own method of governance”.
Samuel Cranny-Evans, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, added that Moscow’s intentions would become clear in the coming days, as military forces moved throughout the besieged country. “The key thing is what is Russia’s end goal? The actions will fit that,” he told the FT.
“If they only go where Ukrainian forces are, that speaks to Vladimir Putin’s repeated statements of demilitarising Ukraine. Regime change would follow. If Russian troops go into the cities, where there are likely no Ukrainian forces, that suggests a different goal.”
Will Russia stop in Ukraine?
The Ukrainian president has warned that the attack on his country heralded the return of a “new iron curtain” that could once again divide Europe.
“What we have heard today are not just missile blasts, fighting and the rumble of aircraft,” said Zelenskyy in a national address this morning. “This is the sound of a new iron curtain, which has come down and is closing Russia off from the civilised world.”
He went on: “If you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer a powerful assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door.”
Nato member states including Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia “will all find themselves lined up along this new frontier”, said The Telegraph. All of these nations have “already found themselves the victims of Russian cyber attacks, disinformation and intimidation in recent years”.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has also warned that if Putin’s aggression is not stopped in Ukraine, “we are going to see others under threat – the Baltics, Poland, Moldova, and it could end up in a conflict with Nato”.
Her interventions were later cited by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov when he said “unacceptable” remarks about a Russian conflict with Nato were behind Putin’s order to ready the country’s nuclear arsenal.
“Statements were made by various representatives at various levels on possible altercations or even collisions and clashes between Nato and Russia,” Peskov said.
“We believe that such statements are absolutely unacceptable. I would not call the authors of these statements by name, although it was the British foreign minister.”