© Reuters. A man walks near destroyed cars in a residential area damaged by shelling as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kiev, Ukraine, March 18, 2022. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
(Updates to UN figure for civilian death toll, comments from a senior Chinese official)
By Natalia Zinets and Natalie Thomas
LVIV/ODESSA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Saturday called for extensive peace talks with Moscow and urged Switzerland to do more to crack down on Russian oligarchs who he says helped war against his country with their money .
British intelligence warned that Russia, frustrated by its failure to achieve its objectives since it launched the invasion on February 24, is now pursuing a strategy of attrition that could exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.
Russian troops have suffered heavy casualties and their advance has largely stalled since President Vladimir Putin launched the attack, which saw long columns of troops attacking Kiev ground to a halt in the suburbs.
But they have besieged cities, destroyed urban areas, and in recent days they have intensified missile strikes on scattered targets in western Ukraine, far from the main battlefields.
Zelenskiy, who regularly appeals passionately to foreign publics for help for his country, told an anti-war protest in Bern that Swiss banks were where the “money of the people who started this war” lay and their accounts should be frozen.
Ukrainian cities “are being destroyed on the orders of people living in European, in beautiful Swiss cities, who enjoy property in your cities. It would be really good to deprive them of this privilege,” he said in an audio address.
Neutral Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, has fully approved EU sanctions against Russian individuals and entities, including orders to freeze their assets in Swiss banks.
The EU measures are part of a wider sanctions effort by Western countries, which are roundly criticized by China, with the aim of straining Russia’s economy and starving its war machine.
In a speech earlier on Saturday, Zelenskiy urged Moscow to hold peace talks now.
“I want everyone to hear me now, especially in Moscow. It’s time to meet, it’s time to talk,” he said in a video address. “The time has come to restore territorial integrity and justice to Ukraine. Otherwise, Russia’s losses will be so great that it will take you several generations to recover.”
The British defense attaché to the United States said British intelligence believes that Russia has been surprised by Ukrainian resistance to its attack and that it has so far been unable to achieve its original objectives.
“Russia has been forced to change its operational approach and is now pursuing a strategy of attrition” that is likely to involve the “arbitrary use of firepower resulting in more civilian casualties,” Air Vice-Marshal Mick Smeath said in a statement.
Putin, calling the move a “special operation” aimed at demilitarizing Ukraine and purging what it sees as dangerous nationalists, told a meeting in Moscow on Friday that all of the Kremlin’s goals would be achieved.
Russia said on Saturday that its hypersonic missiles had destroyed a large underground depot for missiles and aircraft munitions in the western region of Ivano-Frankivsk. Hypersonic weapons can travel faster than five times the speed of sound and the Interfax agency said it was the first time Russia had used them in Ukraine.
A spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force Command confirmed the attack, but said the Ukrainian side had no information about the type of missiles used.
Ukrainian authorities on Saturday said they had seen no significant shifts in frontline areas in the past 24 hours, noting that the cities of Mariupol, Mykolaiv and Kherson in the south and Izyum in the east continued to see the heaviest fighting.
The UN human rights agency said at least 847 civilians were killed and 1,399 injured in Ukraine on Friday, with the real number likely to be much higher. According to the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, 112 children are among the dead. Russia says it does not target civilians.
‘KNOWING HOW TO FIGHT’
Ordinary Ukrainians have joined efforts to defend their country, such as at a training facility in Odessa, a picturesque, multicultural port on the Black Sea, where young urban professionals learned about gun handling and first aid.
“Everyone should know how to fight, how to make medicine,” said 26-year-old graphic designer Olga Moroz.
More than 3.3 million refugees have fled Ukraine through its western border, with about 2 million displaced in the country. Ukraine has evacuated 190,000 civilians from frontline areas through humanitarian corridors, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on Saturday.
“I’m going (to Germany) for three weeks, but I hope I can go home after that,” said Olga Pavlovska, a 28-year-old refugee in the Polish city of Przemysl, hoping Zelekskiy’s calls for extended peace talks will end. the invasion.
Hundreds of thousands have been trapped in the port city of Mariupol for more than two weeks with power, water and heat supplies cut off. Bodies among the rubble are a normal sight. Local officials say the fighting has reached the city center and heavy shelling has prevented humanitarian aid from entering.
Rescuers were still searching for survivors at a theater in Mariupol that authorities said had been flattened by Russian airstrikes on Wednesday. Russia denies having visited the theater.
Russia last acknowledged on March 2 that nearly 500 of its soldiers had been killed and has not offered any updates since. Ukraine says the number has now reached many thousands. Reuters has not been able to independently verify the death toll.
Interfax quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying Moscow expected its operation in Ukraine to end with the signing of a comprehensive agreement on security issues, including Ukraine’s neutral status.
Kiev and Moscow reported some progress this week in talks over a political formula that would guarantee Ukraine’s security while keeping it outside NATO, though both sides accused each other of dragging things out.
China has not condemned the Russian invasion, although it has expressed concern about the war.
Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said on Saturday that Western sanctions against Russia are becoming “more and more outrageous”.
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