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Putin says Russian forces creating 'buffer zone' in Ukraine's Kharkiv, Kyiv braces for more attacks

Speaking after his meeting with Xi Jinping in China, Putin said Russian troops are planning to advance in Kharkiv after deadly Ukrainian strikes in Russia's Belgorod region. However, he said Russia had no plans as of now to take control of Kharkiv.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Kyiv Published on: May 18, 2024 10:01 IST
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Image Source : REUTERS Russian President Vladimir Putin

Kyiv: Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russian forces advancing in Ukraine's northeast are carving out a "buffer zone" to protect Russia from attacks and said the West was "sick in the head" if it thought it could dictate terms to Moscow. The announcement rang alarms as Ukraine's top commander warned of "heavy battles" looming on the war's new front after Putin's remarks.

Speaking to reporters on a state visit to China, Putin said Russian troops were advancing to plan after repeated deadly Ukrainian strikes on the Belgorod region of Russia. "This is their (Ukraine's) fault because they shelled and continue, unfortunately, to shell residential neighbourhoods in the border areas, including Belgorod," Putin said.

"Civilians are dying there. It's obvious. They are shooting directly at the city centre, at residential areas. And I said publicly that if this continues, we will be forced to create a security zone, a buffer zone. That is what we are doing," he further said, although he expressed no plans to take control of the Kharkiv region.

Russian forces ramp up attacks on Kharkiv

Shortly after Putin's remarks, Russian guided bombs killed at least three people and injured 28 in the northeastern Ukraine city of Kharkiv on Friday, Mayor Ihor Terekhov said on Telegram. The second-largest city in Ukraine has long been targeted by Russian attacks, as civilian and energy infrastructure have come under increasing fire in recent months.

Russian forces last Friday made inroads of up to 10 kilometres in Kharkiv, unbalancing Kyiv's outnumbered troops who are trying to hold the line over a sprawling front nearly 27 months since the invasion. Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi said the combat zone has been expanded by 70 km and that Russia had launched its incursion ahead of schedule after "it noticed the deployment of our forces".

"We understand there will be heavy battles and that the enemy is preparing for that," the head of the Ukrainian armed forces wrote in a statement on the Telegram app. Russian forces have the initiative on the battlefield and are slowly advancing in the east, exploiting Ukrainian shortages of manpower and months of delays in arms supplies from the West.

Russia is also staging its heaviest assaults in the eastern Donetsk region, according to data compiled by the Ukrainian General Staff, which said the Pokrovsk front had faced the most regular assaults in recent days. Syrskyi said Ukrainian forces were also preparing defensive lines for a possible Russian assault on the Sumy region, which would mark another front more than 100 km to the north of Kharkiv.

What is Kyiv doing?

Under fire from depleting munitions to counter the Russian offensive, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused Moscow of seeking to reduce the city to rubble. Moscow denies deliberately targeting civilians but thousands have been killed and injured in its 27-months-long invasion of Ukraine.  

Kyiv has scrambled to develop drones and missiles and staged strikes on facilities in Russia it says are being used to support the war and bomb Ukrainian towns, cities and power facilities. At least 15 people were killed and scores injured on Sunday when a section of a Russian apartment block collapsed after being struck by fragments of a Soviet-era missile, launched by Ukraine and shot down by Russia, officials said.

This was the deadliest attack to date on the Belgorod region. Russian officials called it a "terrorist attack on residential areas" involving Tochka ballistic missiles and Adler and RM-70 Vampire (MLRS) multiple-launch rocket systems. The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had been briefed on the attack, which it said was "barbaric".

Meanwhile, Zelenskyy also signed a law allowing some categories of convicts to serve in the army, the parliament's website showed. The move provides only a potential maximum of 20,000 people who could join the army, Kyiv officials say. The Ukrainian President also signed into law tougher fines for draft dodging.

(with inputs from Reuters)

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