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Russian-Ukrainian War: Peace Remains Elusive

Western intelligence officials have warned that Russia and Ukraine are preparing for a major military confrontation in eastern Ukraine as preparations for a decisive Russian operation in the strategic Donbass region gain momentum. .

The military buildup comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying he made “the right decision”.

During a visit to the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur Oblast in Russia’s far east, Putin said of the military operation in Ukraine that “its goals are absolutely clear and noble. On the one hand, we help and save people, and on the other hand, we simply take measures to ensure the security of Russia itself. Clearly we had no choice. It was the right decision.”

His doubling down on the justification for war comes as Russian forces focus on eastern Ukraine after their initial attempt to capture kyiv failed.

Russian-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the Donbass region since 2014 and declared some territories their independent regions. Military strategists say Russian leaders appear hopeful that local support, logistics and terrain in the Donbas will favor a larger and better-armed Russian military, potentially allowing Russian troops to gain more territory and weaken fighting forces. Ukrainians.

British and American intelligence officials have said they expect Russia to prepare for what is expected to be a large and targeted push to extend control in the east of the country.

In a sign of changes in the structure and modus operandi of Russian military command in Ukraine, Moscow has appointed Alexander Dvornikov, one of its most seasoned military leaders, to oversee the military operation.

Dvornikov, 60, rose to prominence as the leader of Russian forces deployed to Syria in 2015 to bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad amid the country’s devastating civil war.

Meanwhile, the British Ministry of Defense said Russian forces continued to withdraw from Belarus to support operations in eastern Ukraine focused on the Donbass region.

“Fighting in eastern Ukraine will intensify over the next two to three weeks as Russia continues to refocus its efforts there,” the ministry said. “Russian attacks remain focused on Ukrainian positions near Donetsk and Luhansk with renewed fighting around Kherson and Mykolaiv and a further push towards Kramatorsk.”

US officials also pointed to new signs that the Russian military is preparing for a major offensive in the Donbass, diverting its attention from kyiv. A senior US defense official described a long convoy rolling towards the eastern town of Izyum with artillery, air force and infantry support, as part of an eastward redeployment.

Western military analysts say Russia’s assault is increasingly focused on a sickle-shaped arc of eastern Ukraine, from Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, north to Kherson South.

The narrower effort could alleviate the Russian problem earlier in the war of spreading the offensive too widely over too large a geographic area. “Just looking at it on a map, you can see they’ll be able to deliver a lot more power in a much more concentrated way,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

The battle will be decisive for the Russian campaign in Ukraine, given the failure of military victories around the capital kyiv or in northern Ukraine.

In a sign of the importance that Moscow thinks of the outcome of its military campaign in eastern Ukraine, the British Guardian newspaper revealed that Russia had received ammunition and military equipment from Iraq for its effort to war in Ukraine with the help of Iranian arms smuggling. networks, according to members of Iran-backed Iraqi militias and regional intelligence services.

Rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and anti-tank missiles, as well as Brazilian-designed rocket launcher systems, were sent to Russia from Iraq. An Iranian-made Bavar 373 missile system similar to the Russian S-300 was also handed over to Moscow by authorities in Tehran, who also returned an S-300, according to a source who helped arrange the transport.

Meanwhile, Russia maintained its siege of Mariupol, a key southern port that has been under attack for nearly eight weeks, as officials presented a dire picture of the humanitarian situation in the city.

Mariupol saw some of the heaviest attacks and civilian suffering of the war, but assaults by Russian forces limited information about the circumstances inside the city. About 120,000 civilians are in dire need of food, water, heat and communications, the mayor said.

Western officials have also expressed concern that Russia, seeing its February 24 invasion of its neighbor turn into a protracted conflict, may resort to more extreme measures, including the use of chemical weapons.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy expressed concern that Russian forces may use chemical weapons in Ukraine, but did not confirm whether they had been used in his daily video address Monday evening.

“Today the occupiers issued a new statement, which demonstrates their readiness for a new stage of terror against Ukraine and our defenders. One of the occupiers’ spokespersons said that they may use weapons chemicals against Mariupol defenders. We take this as seriously as possible,” Zelenskiy said.

Andriy Biletsky, head of the Ukrainian volunteer regiment in Azov, said on Monday that three people in Mariupol suffered “chemical poisoning, but without catastrophic consequences”.

However, Petro Andryushchenko, an assistant to the mayor of Mariupol, wrote that a chemical attack had not been confirmed and that officials were “waiting for official information from the army”.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said he was aware of the information but could not confirm it. “These reports, if true, are deeply concerning and reflect concerns we have had about Russia’s potential to use various riot control agents, including tear gas mixed with chemical agents, in Ukraine,” did he declare.

As preparations continue for the battle in eastern Ukraine, there does not appear to be a breakthrough in diplomatic talks.

After the first face-to-face on Monday in Moscow between Putin and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, the latter said that his trip to Moscow was not “a visit of friendship” and that the two had had “direct contact , open and hard”. ” conversation.

Nehammer spoke of the Ukrainian president’s willingness to meet in person with the Russian president, but Putin gave “no answer”. Instead, he spoke of the “Istanbul road” negotiations, which have so far failed to yield any progress.

“If you ask me if I am optimistic or pessimistic, I am rather pessimistic. Peace talks always take a long time while military logic says don’t spend too much time and go straight to battle,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile, Moscow has said it will not halt its military operation in Ukraine until the next round of peace talks. In an interview with Russian state television, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he saw no reason not to pursue talks with Ukraine, but insisted that Moscow would not would not stop its military operation when the parties met.

* A version of this article appeared in the April 14, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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