- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2022

Russian forces intensified their shelling of several major Ukrainian cities Monday, while a third attempt at talks toward a potential cease-fire showed little progress and senior U.S. officials warned that Russian forces could be on the verge of carrying out “mass atrocities” in a widening war zone where food, water, heat and medicine have grown increasingly scarce.

The Kremlin appeared to taunt Kyiv ahead of Monday’s talks in Belarus, saying Russia would be prepared to halt its invasion if Ukraine changed its constitution to permanently rule out NATO membership, acknowledge that Crimea is now Russian territory and recognize the Russian-controlled separatist enclaves inside Ukraine as independent states. Ukrainian officials have repeatedly rejected every demand.

As talks were underway to allow desperate Ukrainian civilians to leave besieged cities such as Mariupol, officials at the Pentagon said the Russian military was trying to recruit seasoned fighters from Syria’s civil war to go to Ukraine to engage in urban combat.

Russian forces were making significant advances in southern Ukraine, but a separate advance around the capital of Kyiv showed more signs of stalling. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been pleading via teleconference with U.S. and European officials for more robust military support. Military experts said the original Russian invasion plan called for far fewer troops than it now appears will be needed to subdue Ukraine’s dogged defense.

“Even Russian mainstream military commentators in Moscow [are beginning] to concede, carefully and elliptically, that the long-prepared blitzkrieg has failed, and in the protracted conflict, Ukraine is gaining strength while time is not working in Russia’s favor,” longtime Russian military analyst Pavel Baez wrote in an analysis Monday for the Eurasia Daily Monitor.

A top Biden administration official said multiple countries were discussing whether to provide the warplanes Mr. Zelenskyy was requesting, although it remained to be seen what would come of the discussions.

The West has been rushing anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, but some officials fear Moscow would view the delivery of NATO warplanes as direct involvement in the war that could trigger Russian military retaliation.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken began a lightning visit to the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, former Soviet republics that are all now NATO members. Mr. Blinken hoped to reassure them of the alliance’s protection.

The U.S. and NATO have repeatedly rejected Mr. Zelenskyy’s pleas for a more direct defense, including establishing a no-fly zone over the Ukrainian battle space, for fear of triggering a wider war with Russia. President Biden spoke in a conference call Monday with President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom to coordinate strategy and new ways to aid Ukraine.

Mr. Biden and his aides have had to keep a watchful eye on U.S. markets, which have been rocked by the war and by a surge in oil prices fueling inflation and upending growth forecasts. Mirroring markets around the world, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down nearly 800 points and the broader S&P 500 lost nearly 3% of its value, the worst day for stocks in nearly 18 months.

As they appeal for outside aid, Ukrainian officials have put the country’s economy on a war footing, with domestic manufacturers and factories focused on filling military orders and repairing equipment damaged in the fighting.

In an eight-minute video released Monday evening, Mr. Zelenskyy spoke publicly for the first time from his presidential office in Kyiv, again insisting Russia’s offensive had not driven him or his government from the capital.

“I’m not hiding. I’m not hiding. And I’m not afraid of anyone,” the Ukrainian president said.

He praised the resistance of Ukrainians across the country to the Russian incursion and said he had not given up on a diplomatic way to force Russia to call off the war.

“We will insist on negotiations until we find a way to tell our people: This is how we will come to peace. Exactly to peace,” he said at one point.

The top U.S. envoy to a key European security forum warned that Russia’s military appears to be on the verge of carrying out “mass atrocities” in Ukraine, a stark warning on the 12th day of an invasion with repeated attacks on civilian targets.

“The brutality of this war is both revolting and heartbreaking,” Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said at a special meeting in Vienna.

“Children have been killed, grandparents driven from their homes, families forced to flee their country in the face of relentless strikes on civilian infrastructure,” Mr. Carpenter said.

The invasion has sent more than 1.7 million Ukrainians spilling into nearby nations — spawning the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

“The depravity of it all is mind-blowing,” he said in remarks circulated while teams of Russian and Ukrainian negotiators were trying again to reach tentative cease-fires in combat-battered cities around southern, northern and eastern Ukraine.

Minor progress

A top Ukrainian official emerged from a three-hour negotiating session saying there had been minor, unspecified progress toward establishing safe corridors that would allow civilians to escape the fighting. Russia’s chief negotiator said he expects those corridors to start operating Tuesday.

Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, said at the end of a Security Council meeting that his country will observe a cease-fire starting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, in Moscow time, and permit humanitarian corridors to evacuate citizens from Kyiv, Chernigov, Sumy and Mariupol.

“This proposal doesn’t have any demands about the citizens being sent necessarily to Russia, into Russian territory,” he said.

Mr. Carpenter cast doubt on the talks in his remarks to the OSCE. He noted that Russia agreed during a previous round last week to open a “humanitarian corridor” to allow civilians to flee the cities of Volnovakha and Mariupol “but then bombed the egress road just as civilians were in the process of fleeing.”

“It is pure evil,” the ambassador said.

He said the OSCE — the world’s largest regional security-oriented intergovernmental organization with observer status at the United Nations — has a “moral responsibility” while Russia moves toward carrying out “mass atrocities.”

“Among the many early warning signs of mass atrocities is the use of rhetoric denying a nation’s right to exist,” Mr. Carpenter said in reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assertion over the weekend that Ukrainian forces are “calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood.”

Mr. Carpenter warned that “humanity has witnessed this sort of rhetoric before, and shockingly we are seeing it again today.”

Russian rockets continued to pummel cities. In the encircled southern port of Mariupol, an estimated 200,000 people — nearly half the population of 430,000 — were hoping to flee. Red Cross officials said they were waiting to hear when a safe corridor for evacuations would be established.

The Associated Press reported that Mariupol is short on water, food and power, and cellphone networks are down. Stores have been looted as residents search for essential goods. Police advised people to remain in shelters until they heard official messages broadcast over loudspeakers to evacuate.

Hospitals in Mariupol are facing severe shortages of antibiotics and painkillers, and doctors performed some emergency procedures without them. A lack of phone service left anxious citizens approaching strangers to ask whether they knew relatives living in other parts of the city and whether they were safe.

At the Pentagon, U.S. military officials confirmed a report that Russia is recruiting fighters from Syria with experience in urban combat to help its invasion of Ukraine’s largest city, Kyiv. The Wall Street Journal first reported the effort.

Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers have built hundreds of checkpoints to protect the city of nearly 4 million, often using sandbags, stacked tires and spiked cables. Some barricades looked significant, with heavy concrete slabs and sandbags piled more than two stories high. Others appeared haphazard, with hundreds of books used to weigh down stacks of tires.

“Every house, every street, every checkpoint, we will fight to the death if necessary,” said Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko.

In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, with 1.4 million people, heavy shelling slammed into apartment buildings. Mr. Klitschko reported that fierce battles also continued in the Kyiv region, notably around Bucha, Hostomel, Vorzel and Irpin.

In the Irpin area, which has been cut off from electricity, water and heat for three days, witnesses saw at least three tanks and said Russian soldiers were seizing houses and cars. A few miles away, in the small town of Horenka, where shelling reduced one area to ashes and shards of glass, rescuers and residents picked through the ruins as chickens pecked around them.

“What are they doing?” rescue worker Vasyl Oksak asked of the Russian attackers. “There were two little kids and two elderly people living here. Come in and see what they have done.”

At The Hague, Netherlands, Ukraine pleaded with the International Court of Justice to order a halt to Russia’s invasion, saying Moscow is committing widespread war crimes.

Russia “is resorting to tactics reminiscent of medieval siege warfare, encircling cities, cutting off escape routes and pounding the civilian population with heavy ordnance,” said Jonathan Gimblett, a member of Ukraine’s legal team.

Russia snubbed the court proceedings, leaving its seats in The Hague’s Great Hall of Justice empty.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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

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

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