Military and diplomatic pressures mount for Vladimir Putin as Ukraine counterattacks

Kyiv: Pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin mounted both on the battlefield and in the halls of global power as Ukrainian troops waging a counteroffensive pushed Saturday to advance farther into the country’s partly recaptured northeast. At a high-level summit in Uzbekistan, Putin vowed to press his attack on Ukraine despite recent military setbacks but also had to address concerns over the drawn-out conflict voiced by India and China.

“I know that today’s era is not of war,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the Russian leader in televised comments as the two met Friday in Uzbekistan.

At the same summit a day earlier, Putin acknowledged China’s unspecified “questions and concerns” about the war in Ukraine while also thanking Chinese President Xi Jinping for his government’s “balanced position” on the conflict.

The hurried retreat of his troops this month from parts of a northeast region they occupied early in the war, together with the rare public reservations expressed by key allies, underscored the challenges Putin faces on all fronts.

Both China and India maintain strong ties with Russia and had sought to remain neutral on Ukraine.

Xi, in a statement released by his government, expressed support for Russia’s “core interests” but also interest in working together to “inject stability” into world affairs.

Modi said he wanted to discuss “how we can move forward on the path of peace”.

On the battlefield, Western defence officials and analysts on Saturday said Russian forces were apparently setting up a new defensive line in Ukraine’s northeast after Kyiv’s troops broke through the previous one and tried to press their advances further into the east.

The British Defence Ministry said in a daily intelligence briefing that the line likely is between the Oskil River and Svatove, some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

The new line emerged after the Ukrainian counteroffensive punched a hole through the war’s previous front line, allowing Kyiv’s soldiers to recapture large swaths of land in the northeastern Kharkiv region that borders Russia.

After the Russian troops retreated from the city of Izium, Ukrainian authorities discovered a mass grave site, one of the largest so far discovered.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Friday that more than 440 graves have been found at the site but that the number of victims is not yet known.

Zelenskyy said the graves contained the bodies of hundreds of civilian adults and children, as well as soldiers, and some had been tortured, shot or killed by artillery shelling. He cited evidence of atrocities, such as a body with a rope around its neck and broken arms.

Ukrainian forces, in the meantime, continue to cross the key Oskil River in the Kharkiv region as they try to press on in a counteroffensive targeting Russian-occupied territory, according to the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

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The Institute said in its Saturday report that satellite imagery it examined suggests that Ukrainian forces have crossed over to the east bank of the Oskil in Kupiansk, placing artillery there. The river, which flows south from Russia into Ukraine, had been a natural break in the newly emerged front lines since Ukraine launched its push about a week ago.

“Russian forces are likely too weak to prevent further Ukrainian advances along the entire Oskil River if Ukrainian forces choose to resume offensive operations,” the institute said.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russian forces continued to pound cities and villages with missile strikes and shelling.

A Russian missile attack early Saturday started a fire in Kharkiv’s industrial area, said Oleh Syniehubov, the regional governor. Firefighters extinguished the blaze.

Syniehubov said remnants of the missiles suggest the Russians fired S-300 surface-to-air missiles at the city. The S-300 is designed for striking missiles or aircraft in the sky, not targets on the ground.

Analysts say Russia’s use of the missiles for ground attacks suggests they may be running out of some precision munitions as the monthslong war continues.

Shelling of the nearby city of Chuhuiv later on Saturday killed an 11-year-old girl, Syniehubov reported.

In the southern Zaporizhzhia region, a large part of which is occupied by the Russians, one person was wounded after the Russian forces shelled the city of Orikhiv, Zaporizhzhia’s Ukrainian governor Oleksandr Starukh reported on Telegram.

Starukh said the Russian troops also shelled two villages in the region, destroying several civilian facilities there.

The central Dnipropetrovsk region also came under fire overnight, according to its governor, Valentyn Reznichenko.

“The enemy attacked six times and launched more than 90 deadly projectiles on peaceful cities and villages,” Reznichenko said.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s atomic energy operator, Energoatom, said a convoy of 25 trucks has brought diesel fuel and other critical supplies to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant – Europe’s largest, which was shut down a week ago amid fears that fighting in the area could result in a radiation disaster.

The trucks were allowed through Russian checkpoints on Friday to deliver spare parts for repairs of damaged power lines, chemicals for the operation of the plant and additional fuel for backup diesel generators, Energoatom said in a statement.

The six-reactor plant was captured by Russian forces in March but is still operated by Ukrainian engineers. Its last reactor was switched off Sunday after repeated power failures due to shelling put crucial safety systems at risk.

The Russian military on Saturday accused Ukraine of renewed artillery shelling of the power plant and its personnel rebuffed the attack. Ukrainian authorities did not immediately address the claim.

In Russia, one person was killed and two more wounded Saturday as the result of Ukrainian shelling of a village, according to Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Russian border region of Belgorod.

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