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E. Eduardo Castillo, Associated Press
E. Eduardo Castillo, Associated Press
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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The Kremlin warned Wednesday that increasing the supply of U.S. arms to Ukraine would aggravate the devastating 10-month war ignited by Russia’s illegal invasion and “does not bode well” for the neighboring country, where President Vladimir Putin vowed Russia would achieve its goals.
Speaking during a meeting with his top military brass, Putin said Moscow would use the combat experience to enhance its armed forces. He told the military leaders to analyze the Western weapons used by Ukraine to “develop our armed forces and strengthen the capability of our troops.”
READ MORE: Putin says Ukraine ‘special military operation’ is taking longer than expected
He said the country’s military should learn lessons and modernize based on its experiences in Ukraine and that special emphasis would go to developing his country’s nuclear forces, which he described as “the main guarantee of Russia’s sovereignty.”
In a speech at the same meeting, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia’s military must expand from its current size of 1 million personnel to 1.5 million service members, a number that should include 695,000 volunteer contract soldiers. He also said Russia would form new units in the country’s west in view of plans by Finland and Sweden to join NATO.
Earlier, in a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the expansion of Western weapon supplies to Ukraine “leads to an aggravation of the conflict and, in fact, does not bode well for Ukraine.”
Peskov’s comments were the first official Russian reaction to news that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was heading to Washington for a summit with U.S. President Joe Biden. The trip would be Zelenskyy’s first known foreign trip since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion triggered a war that has killed thousands and laid waste to towns and cities across Ukraine.
Zelenskyy is expected to leave Washington with pledges for a massive $1.8 billion military aid package that would help his country defend itself from Russian aggression. The latest military hardware from the U.S. would include for the first time a Patriot missile battery and precision guided bombs for fighter jets, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Kyiv-based Penta Center independent think tank, said Zelenskyy’s visit could help map out future strategy.
“This is indeed a very significant and symbolic visit, which should determine the course of the war. Zelenskyy for the first time dared to leave Ukraine and is counting on being able to maintain, and possibly even strengthen, U.S. military and economic assistance to Ukraine,” Fesenko told The Associated Press.
In Moscow, Peskov also confirmed media reports that Putin would not deliver his annual state-of-the-nation address this year. Peskov wouldn’t comment on the reason for postponing the address until next year, saying only that it has to do with Putin’s “work schedule.”
Some Russian media have linked the decision to a war in which Russia long lost its momentum. Earlier this year, the Kremlin also canceled Putin’s yearly press conference, which has taken place every December since 2012.
As Zelenskyy traveled to Washington, Moscow also was involved in high-level diplomacy. The deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, met Wednesday with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Medvedev, a former Russian president, said in a video statement that he and Xi discussed an array of topics, including “the conflict in Ukraine.” Medvedev didn’t elaborate.
China has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and criticized sanctions against Moscow. Beijing has only referred to the invasion as the “Ukraine situation” in deference to Moscow, and accused the U.S. and NATO of provoking Putin by expanding into eastern Europe.
In Ukraine, Russian forces pounded populated areas with more missiles and artillery Wednesday. They shelled areas around the city of Nikopol in Ukraine’s southeastern Dnipropetrovsk region overnight, its governor, Valentyn Reznichenk,o said on Telegram on Wednesday morning.
Nikopol is located across the Dnieper River from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. Russian forces currently occupy the plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power station.
The Ukrainian president’s office reported Wednesday that Russian attacks on Tuesday killed five civilians wounded 17. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said iRussia unleashed five missiles and 16 airstrikes on Ukrainian territory and 61 attacks from multiple-launch rocket systems.
READ MORE: Russian drones explode in nighttime attack on Kyiv
General Staff spokesperson Oleksandr Shtupun said Ukrainian forces repelled attacks around more than 25 populated areas in eastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, with the cities of Bakhmut and Avdiivka continuing to be key targets of Russia’s grinding offensive.
Zelenskyy’s trip to the U.S. comes a day after he made a daring and dangerous visit to the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine’s contested Donetsk province, which he called the hottest spot on the 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) front line.
Capturing Bakhmut would sever Ukraine’s supply lines and open a route for Russian forces to press on toward cities that are key Ukrainian strongholds in the Donetsk province.
In a video released by his office from the Bakhmut visit, Zelenskyy was handed a Ukrainian flag signed by soldiers and alluded to delivering it to U.S. leaders.
“We are not in an easy situation. The enemy is increasing its army. Our people are braver and need more powerful weapons,” the Ukrainian leader said. “We will pass it on from the boys to the Congress, to the president of the United States. We are grateful for their support, but it is not enough. It is a hint — it is not enough.”
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