Russia continues to pound Ukrainian cities

Washington DC: Russian forces are striking Ukrainian cities incessantly as their ground offensive inches forward in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance. On Friday, missiles and shelling struck the edges of capital Kyiv and a barrage of missiles was launched against an aircraft repair installation at an airport outside the western city of Lviv, close to the border with Poland.

The war, launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin, is now in its fourth week. Russian troops have failed to take Kyiv — a major objective in their hopes of forcing a settlement or dictating Ukraine’s future political alignments — but have wreaked havoc and devastation.

The fighting has led more than 3 million people to flee Ukraine. The death toll remains unknown, though Ukraine has said thousands of civilians have died.

Meanwhile, the head of the Russian delegation in talks with Ukrainian officials says the parties have come closer to an agreement on a neutral status for Ukraine. Vladimir Medinsky, who led the Russian negotiators in several rounds of talks with Ukraine, including this week, said Friday that the sides have narrowed their differences on the issue of Ukraine dropping its bid to join NATO and adopting a neutral status.

“The issue of neutral status and no NATO membership for Ukraine is one of the key issues in talks, and that is the issue where the parties have made their positions maximally close,” Medinsky said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.

Pope Francis on Friday denounced what he called the “perverse abuse of power” in Russia’s war in Ukraine and called for aid for Ukrainians whose identity, history, and tradition” are under attack. Francis’ comments were some of his strongest yet in asserting Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign state.

Biden presses Xi on Russia support

President Joe Biden and China’s Xi Jinping spoke Friday for nearly two hours via a video call as the U.S. looks to deter Beijing from providing military or economic aid for Russia’s invasion. China’s Foreign Ministry was the first to issue a readout of the video conversation, deploring “conflict and confrontation” as “not in anyone’s interest,” without assigning any blame to Russia. China finds itself in a tricky position — stuck between the White House and the Kremlin.

Biden also plans to travel to Europe next week for talks with European leaders about the Russian invasion and will attend an extraordinary NATO summit in Brussels.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said American officials are evaluating and documenting potential war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine. Blinken said the intentional targeting of civilians is a war crime, for which there will be “massive consequences.”

Putin likens opponents to ‘gnats’

Vladimir Putin appeared at a huge flag-waving rally at a Moscow stadium Friday and lavished praise on his troops fighting in Ukraine, three weeks into the invasion that has led to heavier-than-expected Russian losses on the battlefield and increasingly authoritarian rule at home.

“Shoulder to shoulder, they help and support each other,” the Russian president said of the Kremlin’s forces in a rare public appearance since the start of the war. “We have not had unity like this for a long time,” he added to cheers from the crowd.

Facing stiff resistance in Ukraine and crippling economic sanctions at home, Russian President Vladimir Putin is using language that recalls the rhetoric from Josef Stalin’s show trials of the 1930s.

Earlier this week, Putin likened opponents to “gnats” who try to weaken Russia at the behest of the West — crude remarks that set the stage for sweeping repressions at home against those who dare to speak out against the war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russia has been battered by devastating Western sanctions that cut the government’s access to an estimated half of the country’s hard currency reserves and dealt crippling blows to many sectors of the economy.

Image courtesy of (Image Courtesy: AP)

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