Russian base strike brings war in Ukraine closer to NATO border
- Russian airstrike hits military base near Polish border
- Moscow claims to have destroyed weapons and killed ‘foreign mercenaries’
- Ukraine and Russia both hint at progress in war talks
- American journalist killed near Kiev
LVIV, Ukraine, March 13 (Reuters) – Russian missiles hit a key Ukrainian base near the border with NATO member Poland on Sunday, killing 35 people and injuring 134, a local official said in a statement. escalation of the war in the west of the country while heavy fighting was reported elsewhere.
The Russian Defense Ministry said the airstrike destroyed a large amount of weapons supplied by foreign nations that were stored in the sprawling training facility, and killed ‘up to 180 foreign mercenaries’ .
Reuters could not independently verify the losses reported by the two parties.
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The attack on the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security in Yavoriv, a base just 25 km from the Polish border which has previously hosted NATO military instructors, has brought the conflict to the doorstep of the Western Defense Alliance.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister had warned on Saturday that Western arms convoys to Ukraine could be seen as legitimate targets.
Britain said the incident marked a “significant escalation” in the conflict. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said any attack on NATO territory would trigger a full response from the alliance.
Regional Governor Maksym Kozytskyy said Russian planes fired around 30 rockets at the Yavoriv facility, adding that some were intercepted. At least 35 people were killed and 134 injured, he said.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russia used high-precision, long-range weapons to strike Yavoriv and a separate installation in the village of Starichi.
“As a result of the strike, up to 180 foreign mercenaries and a large amount of foreign weapons were destroyed,” he told a press briefing.
The 360 square km (140 square mile) facility is one of the largest in Ukraine and the largest in the western part of the country, which has so far been spared the worst of the fighting .
Ukraine, whose aspirations to join NATO are a major irritant to Russian President Vladimir Putin, held most of its drills with Western nations at the base before the invasion. The last major exercises took place in September.
In the weeks leading up to the February 24 Russian invasion, the Ukrainian army trained there, but according to Ukrainian media, all foreign instructors left in mid-February, leaving equipment behind.
“The dining room and the dormitory were destroyed. The barracks too,” said Colonel Leonid Benzalo, a Ukrainian medical reserve officer who was thrown across the room by one of the explosions. “The most important thing is that we are still alive,” he told Reuters after treating the injured there. Read more
While Western countries have sought to isolate Putin by imposing harsh economic sanctions and have supplied arms to Ukraine, the United States and its allies are keen to prevent NATO from being drawn into the conflict.
“There are no NATO personnel in Ukraine,” the NATO official said, when asked if anyone from the alliance was at the base.
Heavy fighting was reported on several fronts.
Air raid sirens sounded again in the capital Kyiv and authorities said they were stockpiling essential food items for two weeks for the 2 million people who have yet to flee from Russian forces trying to surround the city. town.
Ukraine reported new airstrikes on an airport in the west and heavy shelling on Chernihiv northeast of the capital.
Interior Ministry official Vadym Denyenko said Ukrainian forces were counterattacking in the eastern region of Kharkiv and around the southern city of Mykolaiv. Reuters was unable to verify these statements.
An American journalist was shot dead by Russian forces in the town of Irpin, northwest of Kiev, and another journalist was injured, the regional police chief said. Read more
Despite the violence, the two sides gave their most optimistic assessment yet of the prospects for progress during bilateral talks that have been held periodically since the start of the invasion.
“Russia is already starting to talk constructively,” Ukrainian negotiator and presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in a video posted online. “I think we will literally get results in days.”
A Russian delegate to the talks with Ukraine, Leonid Slutsky, was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying that they had made significant progress and that it was possible that the delegations would soon reach plans for agreements. Read more
Neither side has said what it would cover. Three rounds of talks between the two sides in Belarus, the latest last Monday, focused mainly on humanitarian issues.
But there have been conflicting statements about the timing of further talks. Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych told state television that “talks are continuing at the moment.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that, saying talks were scheduled for Monday via video link.
Seeking to up the ante on Russia’s increasingly sanctions-hit economy, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a Twitter post, called out U.S. software companies Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and Oracle Corp ( ORCL.N) and the German enterprise software group SAP (SAPG.DE) to stop support services in Russia. Read more
“VIOLENT AND INHUMAN”
Russia’s invasion has driven more than 2.5 million people across Ukraine’s borders and trapped hundreds of thousands in besieged cities. Read more
“It’s terrifying how violent and inhumane it is,” Olga, a refugee from Kyiv, told Reuters after crossing into Romania.
Ukraine’s human rights watchdog said Russia used phosphorus bombs in a nighttime attack on the town of Popasna in the eastern Lugansk region, calling it a “war crime”. She shared a photograph purporting to show the alleged attack, but did not say whether Ukraine had concrete evidence. Reuters could not immediately verify any of the reports.
Phosphorus munitions can be used legally in wartime to provide light, create smoke screens, or burn down buildings. But its use in populated areas has been a persistent source of controversy.
In eastern Ukraine, Russian troops were trying to surround Ukrainian forces as they advanced from the port of Mariupol in the south and the second city of Kharkiv in the north, the British Ministry of Defense said.
The Mariupol city council said in a statement that 2,187 residents had been killed since the start of the invasion. Reuters was unable to verify this record.
Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, suffered some of the heaviest shelling. Videos from one resident, Teimur Aliyev, showed shelled buildings along the streets, burnt-out cars riddled with shrapnel and strewn debris.
“We will stitch up the wounds and the pain of our country and our city. We are ready to build it and we are ready to renew it when the war is over. We are not going anywhere,” said Aliyev, a 23- year-old musician. Read more
In Chernihiv, about 150 km (100 miles) northeast of Kiev, firefighters rescued residents from a burning building after heavy shelling, video from the Ukrainian emergency service showed – and verified by Reuters .
Moscow denies targeting civilians. He blames Ukraine for failed attempts to evacuate civilians from surrounded towns, a charge Ukraine and its Western allies strongly reject.
Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told state television that more than 140,000 people had been evacuated from the conflict zones, but a humanitarian convoy was unable to reach Mariupol due to shelling.
The Kremlin describes its actions as a “special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice.
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Reports from Reuters offices; Written by Michael Perry, Philippa Fletcher and Alex Richardson; Editing by William Mallard, Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis
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