Ukraine is preparing for new Russian offensive as Moscow denies rape allegations

  • Zelenskiy says Russia could use chemical weapons
  • Austria’s leader meets Putin and warns of ‘massive’ offensive
  • UN official cites growing reports of rape
  • The United States calls on India to cut back on Russian oil and gas

LVIV, Ukraine, April 12 (Reuters) – Ukraine called for more weapons from the West to help the country end the siege of Mariupol and fend off an expected Russian offensive in the east, as more reports of rape and brutality against Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a televised speech late Monday that Russia could resort to chemical weapons as it gathered troops in the eastern Donbas region for a new attack on the port of Mariupol, where thousands are believed to have died during a almost seven weeks siege. Read more

“When it comes to the necessary weapons, we are still dependent on supplies, on our partners. Unfortunately, we are not getting as much as we need to end this war faster … Especially to lift the blockade of Mariupol, “he said.

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The first EU leader to personally meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin since launching what he called a “special operation”, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, said after talks in Moscow on Monday that an offensive in the east was “in preparation for a massive weight “. Read more

After suffering heavy losses and withdrawing forces from the suburbs to Kiev, Russia has turned its gaze to the Donbas, demanding that Ukraine relinquish control to separatist fighters. Conquering Mariupol would allow Moscow to try to encircle the main Ukrainian force in the east.

The General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces provided a regular early morning gathering from the conflict zone that, apart from trying to take control of Mariupol, Russian forces were also keen to capture Popasna, a city more than two hours’ drive west of Luhansk, and were set to launch an offensive in the direction of Kurakhove in the Donetsk region.

The Ukrainian military said its troops had repulsed attacks in both the Luhansk and Donetsk regions and had destroyed four tanks, five armored vehicles, 26 vehicles and eight enemy artillery systems. It also said its forces had shot down a Russian plane, two helicopters and four drones. Reuters could not independently confirm these figures.

Serhiy Gaidai, the governor of Luhansk, called on residents to evacuate using five humanitarian corridors agreed for the eastern Ukrainian region on Tuesday.

“It is far more frightening to stay and burn in your sleep from a Russian shell,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “Evacuate, because every day the situation gets worse. Take your essentials and go to the pick-up point.”

A total of nine humanitarian corridors had been agreed for Tuesday, including one for private cars from Mariupol, said Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Monday that Britain was working with its partners to verify the details of reports that Russian forces may have used chemical agents in an attack on Mariupol.

“There are some things that are beyond and the use of chemical weapons will get an answer and all options are on the table for what that answer could be,” Britain’s junior defense minister James Heappey told Sky News.

ALLEGATIONS RAPE AND HEATS

The departure of Russian forces from the outskirts of Kiev has revealed shocking allegations of war crimes, including executions and rape of civilians. Moscow dismisses the allegations as Ukrainian and Western provocations and has also accused Ukrainian forces of sexual violence.

Senior UN official Sima Bahous told the Security Council on Monday that although all allegations must be investigated independently, “the brutality shown against Ukrainian civilians has raised all red flags”.

“We’re increasingly hearing about rape and sexual violence,” she said. Read more

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador dismissed the allegations, accusing Ukraine and allies of “a clear intention to present Russian soldiers as sadists and rapists.”

The Russian Defense Ministry said the Ukrainian government was instructed by the United States to sow false evidence of Russian violence against civilians, despite what appeared to be Moscow’s “unprecedented measures to rescue civilians.” Read more

Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister accused Russia of detaining civilians including journalists, activists and elected officials in prisons on Russian territory. Reuters could not confirm the claim. Read more

PRESS OS

Putin is scheduled to meet with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Ukraine and Western sanctions, Russian and Belarusian news agencies reported. Belarus is an important staging area for Russian forces.

The United States has sought to pressure Putin to withdraw its forces by banning Russian oil and gas and encouraging allies to follow suit.

But world powers including China and India have refrained from sanctioning Russia. Attracted by steep oil discounts, India has been buying more Russian crude oil since the start of the invasion on February 24 than it did for the whole of last year, data collected by Reuters shows. Read more

In a video call, US President Joe Biden told Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “very clearly that it is not in their interest” to increase dependence on Russian energy, White House spokesman Jen Psaki said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would not pause the fight for any new round of peace talks, which last met on April 1.

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Reporting from Reuters agencies; Written by Stephen Coates & Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing Lincoln Feast.

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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