Ukraine: NATO expects Russian “additional offensives”

The ICRC has already tried on several occasions, but in vain, to organize evacuations from Mariupol, a strategic port in south-eastern Ukraine, on the Sea of ​​Azov, besieged and shelled relentlessly since the end of February by the Russian forces. (Photo: Getty Images)

This text gathers all the latest developments about the invasion of Russia in Ukraine for the day of March 31. To find all our coverage on the conflict, it’s here. Ed. Some content is self-explanatory and may be difficult to read.

8:04 am | BRUSSELS — Russian forces are “not withdrawing, but repositioning” in Ukraine and NATO expects “additional offensives” from Moscow, Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.

“According to our information, Russia is “trying to regroup (its forces) and strengthen its offensive on the Donbass region and at the same time it maintains pressure on Kyiv and other cities”, estimated Jens Stoltenberg during the meeting. ‘a press conference. “That is why we expect additional offensive actions which will result in even more suffering,” he explained.

Moscow said on Tuesday to “radically” reduce its activity towards Kyiv and Cherniguiv (North) following Russian-Ukrainian talks in Istanbul before appearing to reconsider these announcements.

“Russia has constantly lied about its intentions. We only judge it on its actions and not on its words”, launched the head of NATO on the occasion of the presentation of the report of the Alliance on the defense expenditure of its member countries in 2021.

“It is obvious that we have seen very little will on the part of Russia to find a political solution” to the conflict, he underlined, believing that the military support provided to Ukraine “enabled it to strengthen its position at the negotiating table.

Ukraine: new attempt to evacuate civilians in Mariupol

7:57 am | KYIV — A new attempt to evacuate the many civilians stranded in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol was on track Thursday, with the International Committee of the Red Cross saying it is ready to lead the “life-saving” operation, provided guarantees are met. reunited.

The ICRC has already tried on several occasions, but in vain, to organize evacuations from Mariupol, a strategic port in south-eastern Ukraine, on the Sea of ​​Azov, besieged and shelled relentlessly since the end of February by the Russian forces.

“It is vital that these operations can take place. The lives of tens of thousands of people in Mariupol depend on it,” insisted the organization from Geneva, saying it hoped for a launch on Friday.

Moscow announced late Wednesday a “regime of silence”, i.e. a local ceasefire, from Thursday 3:00 a.m., Quebec time, in order to open a humanitarian corridor “with the direct participation of representatives of the High Commission of the United Nations for Refugees (UNHCR) and the ICRC”.

The Ukrainian government has for its part announced that it will dispatch 45 buses to evacuate civilians towards the city of Zaporozhye, 220 km to the northwest, according to Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. Seventeen buses have already left for Mariupol, she said.

People who managed to leave the city and NGOs described catastrophic conditions there, with civilians holed up in cellars, deprived of water, food and communication, and corpses littering the streets. Some 160,000 civilians are still stranded there and the municipality accuses Moscow of having evacuated “against their will” more than 20,000 inhabitants of Mariupol in Russia.

According to the British Ministry of Defence, “intense fighting continues in Mariupol” but the Ukrainians “retain control of the city center”. The leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, a faithful of Vladimir Putin, whose thousands of men are fighting in this area, assures the reverse that 90 to 95% of the city would now be under Russian control.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu also announced Thursday morning that a new meeting between his Russian counterparts, Sergei Lavrov, and Ukrainian, Dmytro Kouleba, could take place “within one or two weeks”. Turkey could host this meeting, for which no date has been set.

Ukrainian chief negotiator David Arakhamia told him on Wednesday that online talks with the Russian delegation would resume on Friday.

“Torrents of Lies”

Late in the night from Wednesday to Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his army was preparing for new fighting in eastern Ukraine and stressed that he had no faith in Russia’s promises to reduce its military force in the direction of Kyiv.

“We don’t believe anyone, not a single nice phrase,” Mr. Zelensky said. “We also see that there is an accumulation of Russian troops for new strikes” in the Donbass region (east) “and we are preparing for it,” he insisted.

The Ukrainian president addressed Thursday by video to the Australian and Dutch parliaments, urging them to supply arms to his country and to stop buying Russian hydrocarbons. He also recalled the Ukrainian ambassadors to Morocco and Georgia, deemed not “effective” enough to obtain weapons or sanctions against Russia in these two countries.

In Britain, the head of diplomacy Liz Truss announced Thursday a new series of 14 sanctions targeting Russian “propaganda and state media”, including the structures overseeing RT and Sputnik, to counter “a torrent of lies”.

According to the head of the military administration of the Donetsk region, Pavel Kyrylenko, the Russian army again bombarded the Donetsk region in the Donbass at night with phosphorus bombs in some places. Two children died following strikes in the neighboring region of Lugansk, according to the emergency services.

In Kharkiv, a large city near the Russian border, numerous bombings took place during the first part of the night, AFP noted.

The Russians “are not aiming at any military objective, last night it was only artillery bombardments of all kinds on residential areas”, commented a source within the 92nd brigade, one of the units which defends the city. .

According to Oleg Sinegoubov, governor of the Kharkiv region, one person was killed and three injured in “massive” shelling in Dergachi, a northern suburb of Kharkiv. Fierce fighting and shelling continue in Izium, the most disputed point in the region, he said on Telegram.

Further west, two people were killed and two buildings, including a fuel depot, were destroyed by a missile strike at a military site in the central Dnipro region, according to its governor Valentyn Reznichenko.

For their part, the pro-Russian separatists of the Ukrainian Donbass claimed on Thursday to control almost all of the Lugansk region and more than half of that of Donetsk, which could not be verified by an independent source.

Putin’s leap in the polls

In Russia, Vladimir Putin’s popularity jumped 12 points from February with 83% of respondents approving his action, according to a survey published Thursday by the independent Russian institute Levada, of which it is the first poll since the start of the offensive in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin justified the Russian military offensive against his Ukrainian neighbor by accusing him of having orchestrated a genocide of Russian speakers, and of serving as a springboard for NATO, an existential threat for Russia, a message relayed daily by the media of state.

The American and British intelligence services had for their part described Wednesday and Thursday a Russian president “ill-informed” about the conflict, cold with his staff and surrounded by advisers afraid to tell him the truth.

“We have seen Russian soldiers – out of arms and in low spirits – refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft,” said Jeremy Fleming, director of the British agency. cybersecurity (GCHQ).

In five weeks of war, more than four million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their country, according to UNHCR. Europe had not seen such waves of refugees since the Second World War.

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