- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Russian forces resumed their bombardment near Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities Wednesday despite pledges just a day earlier to scale back violent military operations in what world leaders hoped was a sign of a possible breakthrough in talks aimed at persuading the Kremlin to call off its 5-week-old invasion.

With such hope diminishing by the hour, President Biden announced that his administration would provide an additional $500 million in aid to Ukraine to boost the war-ravaged country’s struggling economy. That brings the total announced U.S. funding for aid and military assistance to more than $2 billion for Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion.

Although the latest package is expected to go toward things like salaries for Ukrainian government and military officials, Washington continues to resist requests for fighter jets. The U.S. has delivered thousands of anti-tank and anti-armor weapons to Ukrainian forces in recent weeks. Other NATO members are providing drones, mortar rounds and other equipment.

Mr. Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy by telephone that U.S. officials are working with allies and partners to “identify additional capabilities to help the Ukrainian military defend its country,” according to a White House readout of the call.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that such support could spark a wider war in Eastern Europe.

Russia accelerated efforts to secure economic and military support from China to bolster its forces, which have become bogged down in robust Ukrainian resistance.

SEE ALSO: Russian strikes on Chernihiv continue despite talk of pivot

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in China in a display of unity between Moscow and Beijing. Although Mr. Lavrov’s trip was part of a planned visit to discuss Afghanistan with Chinese and other regional leaders, the Russian foreign minister used the opportunity to publicly claim that Russia and China are aligning around a new “world order.”

“We, together with you and with our sympathizers, will move towards a multipolar, just, democratic world order,” Mr. Lavrov said in a video released by the Russian Foreign Ministry ahead of his meeting with Mr. Yang, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency. The two ministers were shown on Chinese state TV wearing face masks and bumping elbows in front of their national flags.

In Ukraine, Russian military forces continued to bombard areas around Kyiv and Chernihiv, another key northern Ukrainian city, just hours after pledging to scale back such attacks. The Russian shelling and intensified assaults on other parts of Ukraine tempered optimism about any progress in bilateral peace talks that began in Turkey on Tuesday and were slated to continue through this week.

The Russian military’s announcement Tuesday that it would de-escalate near the capital and Chernihiv to “increase mutual trust” was met with deep suspicion among Ukrainian leaders and U.S. officials. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that the Kremlin’s pronouncement may have been an attempt to “deceive people” and deflect attention from attempts to seize besieged Ukrainian cities in the south and east.

Mr. Zelenskyy expressed frustration Tuesday night as the Russian attacks continued. He said the initial round of talks in Turkey brought positive signals, but “those signals don’t silence the explosions of Russian shells.”

“We don’t see any basis for trusting the words voiced by those or other representatives of the state that is continuing to fight for our destruction,” the Ukrainian president said.

SEE ALSO: Lawmakers call for Russia’s removal from U.N. Human Rights Council

“Ukrainians are not naive people,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. “Ukrainians have already learned … you can trust only concrete results.”

Olexander Lomako, secretary of the Chernihiv City Council, said the Russian announcement Tuesday turned out to be “a complete lie.”

“At night, they didn’t decrease, but vice versa increased the intensity of military action,” Mr. Lomako said.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. observed some Russian troops moving north away from Kyiv into Belarus during the 24 hours after Moscow vowed to scale back operations. He said U.S. officials saw the movement not as a withdrawal but an effort to resupply, refit and reposition the troops.

Mr. Kirby confirmed that the U.S. is resupplying Ukrainian forces. He told CNN, “Material is getting into the region every single day, including over the last 24 hours.” The Pentagon shipments include “the kinds of material that we know the Ukrainians need the most,” including anti-armor and anti-air systems. Switchblade drones, which Kyiv has also requested, will begin shipping “relatively soon,” Mr. Kirby said.

An “intelligence update” circulated by the British Defense Ministry said that “Russian units suffering heavy losses have been forced to return to Belarus and Russia to reorganize and resupply.”

“Such activity is placing further pressure on Russia’s already strained logistics,” the ministry said, and “Russia will likely continue to compensate for its reduced ground maneuver capability through mass artillery and missile strikes.”

U.S. and European officials advanced the claim that Mr. Putin is growing increasingly frustrated by the performance of his troops and the difficulties of what the Kremlin calls its “special military operation.”

“We have information that Putin felt misled by the Russian military, which has resulted in persistent tension between Putin and his military leadership,” White House spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield told reporters.

“It is increasingly clear that Putin’s war has been a strategic blunder that has left Russia weaker over the long term and increasingly isolated on the world stage,” she said.

‘Liberating’ the Donbas

Russian officials have said in recent days that their main goal now in Ukraine is the “liberation” of the Donbas, the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial heartland in the east, where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014.

The Associated Press reported that a missile destroyed part of an apartment block in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk early Wednesday and that the separatists blamed Ukrainian forces.

The United Nations food aid agency said it is providing emergency assistance to 1 million people in Ukraine. It said the food includes 330,000 freshly baked loaves of bread for families in the heavily bombarded eastern city of Kharkiv.

Meanwhile, scenes of desperation and horror continued to emerge from the besieged southern port city of Mariupol. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said officials are examining accusations that some residents of Mariupol have been forcibly evacuated to areas controlled by Russian troops or to Russia. Local officials told Ukraine’s Pravda newspaper that Russian forces have deported 20,000 to 30,000 civilians from the city.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko was quoted as saying local teams are doing “everything we can” to organize safe passage out of the city for civilians, especially women and children. “But the Russian forces have been, and still are, doing everything they can to make sure there is not a single bus available in Mariupol. They have reduced 150 new buses to ashes,” Mr. Boychenko said.

The Russian invasion has left thousands dead on both sides and sent nearly 4 million Ukrainians fleeing the country, mainly to neighboring Poland, while the U.S. and its NATO allies have rallied behind Ukraine and imposed harsh economic sanctions on Russia.

The situation has shaken global energy markets because Russia is the top provider of oil and natural gas to several major economies of the European Union, including Germany. Although the 27-nation bloc has declined to sanction Russian energy entities directly, Poland announced steps Wednesday to end all Russian oil imports by year’s end, and Germany issued a warning about natural gas imports.

Mr. Biden visited Poland last week, and Polish officials are now seen to be taking the lead in efforts to sever EU dependence on Russian fossil fuels. “We are presenting the most radical plan in Europe for departing from Russian oil by the end of this year,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said at a news conference a day after announcing a similar ban on Russian coal imports.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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