Ukraine pleads for more weapons as Russian forces focus east

Ukraine pleads for more weapons as Russian forces focus east

Bracing for a redoubled Russian offensive in the east and unearthing fresh evidence of atrocities outside its capital of Kyiv, Ukraine appealed urgently Thursday for more Western weaponry and harsher punitive steps against Moscow.

In an overnight address as the war entered its seventh week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed gratitude for the latest U.S. and British sanctions, but said the West must do more to deprive Russian President Vladimir Putin of energy revenues that fund his war machine.

Failure to do so, Zelensky said, would be seen by Moscow as “permission to start a new bloody wave” in the eastern Donbas region, where Western officials say Russia is trying to rebuild and regroup its forces after a failed bid to seize the Ukrainian capital.

After a Russian pullback from areas around Kyiv revealed a corpse-strewn landscape of destruction, investigative teams and Ukrainian troops pressed ahead with their bleak fieldwork. In Borodyanka, north of the capital, recovery workers sifted through the rubble of collapsed buildings in what had been the town center, and tallied up bodies found in a mass grave.

A monument to Taras Shevchenko, a Ukrainian poet and national icon, stands near an apartment destroyed by Russian shelling in Borodyanka.

(Efrem Lukatsky / Associated Press)

Outrage over the apparent execution-style killings of civilians in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha galvanized a bid to eject Russia from the United Nations’ leading human rights body, the Geneva-based Human Rights Council. The U.N. General Assembly is to vote on the question later Thursday.

Russia has denied that its troops committed atrocities, but Ukraine and Western governments say there is well-documented evidence of war crimes in Bucha and elsewhere. Multiple news organizations, sometimes using satellite imagery, have debunked Russian claims that photos and video footage of corpses left lying in the streets — some with bound hands and shot point-blank — were staged.

In Brussels, European allies were at work on parallel military and diplomatic tracks aimed at supporting Ukraine. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization urged member states to consider providing a broader range of armaments, as the European Union weighed stringent new sanctions against Moscow, including a ban on Russian coal imports.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, arriving at NATO headquarters for ministerial talks that include Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, said his agenda was a simple one.

“It’s weapons, weapons and weapons,” Kuleba said, adding: “The more weapons we get, and the sooner they arrive in Ukraine, the more human lives will be saved.”

The alliance’s chief, Jens Stoltenberg, reiterated that NATO ground forces would not join in the fight, lest the West be dragged into what the White House says could be “World War III.” But he cited an increasingly blurred line as to whether arms provided by NATO member states need be defensive only. So far, the U.S. and its NATO partners have balked at providing Ukraine with aircraft and tanks, both of which Kyiv has repeatedly requested.

“Ukraine is fighting a defensive war, so this distinction between offensive and defensive weapons doesn’t actually have any real meaning,” Stoltenberg said.

Despite Zelensky’s repeated appeals for broad sanctions targeting Russian energy revenues, allied responses have diverged somewhat.

The United States has banned Russian oil imports, but Europe — much more dependent on Russian oil and natural gas — has not followed suit. EU officials have left open the door to considering such a measure, but not right away.

Even the coal import ban that could be approved by the EU as early as Thursday might not take effect for some months, diplomats said.

The bloc also faces internal obstacles as it seeks to forge a common policy on Russian energy purchases. Newly reelected Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Wednesday he would be willing to pay for his country’s natural gas purchases in rubles, although the EU as a whole has firmly rebuffed Putin’s demand to do so.

On Thursday, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said it considered Hungary’s position on ruble payments, which would help prop up Russia’s currency, to be “unfriendly.”

As the war drags on, Western defense officials have said a full-scale confrontation in Ukraine’s industrial east could be weeks away. Moscow’s attention appears increasingly focused on preparations for that assault.

Ukrainian refugees lying on mats

Ukrainian refugees wait in a gymnasium Tuesday in Tijuana.

(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

Regional officials have urged residents in the area to join the 10 million Ukrainians — nearly a quarter of the population — who have abandoned their homes for safe havens in the western part of the country or in other European nations such as Poland and Moldova. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said Thursday that Russian forces had agreed to 10 humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians in three eastern areas.

Russian forces are staging continuous air and artillery strikes along the “line of control” between areas held by Ukraine and by Russian-backed separatists, a British military defense assessment said Thursday. At the same time, Russia is hitting infrastructure targets in Ukraine’s interior, with the likely aim of degrading defenders’ resupply capabilities, it said.

But some of Moscow’s early failures in the war — spoiling Putin’s apparent hope that Ukraine would be quickly subdued — might be repeated. Russian forces “are likely to continue facing morale issues and shortages of supplies and personnel,” according to the British assessment.

McDonnell reported from Kyiv and King from Budapest, Hungary.

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