Austrian chancellor to meet Putin in Russia amid warnings of fresh offensive against Ukraine | Ukraine

Austria’s chancellor is set to meet Vladimir Putin on Monday, the Russian president’s first face-to-face meeting with an EU leader since ordering the invasion of Ukraine, amid warnings of a fresh offensive and shelling in the east.

Karl Nehammer said the meeting would take place in Moscow and that Austria had a “clear position on the Russian war of aggression”, calling for humanitarian corridors, a ceasefire and full investigation of war crimes.

The UK Ministry of Defense warned on Monday morning that Russian forces may resort to using phosphorous weapons in Mariupol as fighting for the city intensifies. it cited the previous use of the munitions by Russian soldiers in Donetsk.

On the ground, Russian forces pounded targets in eastern Ukraine with missiles and artillery on Sunday, and Ramzan Kadyrov, the powerful head of Russia’s republic of Chechnya, said there would be an offensive not only on the besieged southern port of Mariupol but also on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. “Luhansk and Donetsk – we will fully liberate in the first place … and then take Kyiv and all other cities,” Kadyrov said in a video posted on his Telegram channel.

The US has warned that the appointment of a new general in command of Russia’s military campaign is likely to usher in a fresh round of “crimes and brutality” against civilians. Alexander Dvornikov, 60, came to prominence at the head of Russian troops in Syria in 2015-16, when there was particularly brutal bombardment of rebel-held areas, including civilian populations, in Aleppo.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser in Washington, said: “This particular general has a summary that includes brutality against civilians in other theaters – in Syria – and we can expect more of the same” in Ukraine.

Nehammer met Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Saturday – the same day as the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, who promised to give Ukraine 120 armored vehicles and anti-ship missile systems. Washington has also pledged to give Ukraine “the weapons it needs” to defend itself against a new Russian offensive.

Russia has failed to take any major cities, but Ukraine says it has been gathering its forces in the east for a major assault and has urged people to flee.

Russian forces fired rockets into Ukraine’s Luhansk and Dnipropetrovsk regions on Sunday, officials said. Missiles completely destroyed the airport in the city of Dnipro, said Valentyn Reznichenko, governor of the central Dnipropetrovsk region.

Russia’s defense ministry said high-precision missiles had destroyed the headquarters of Ukraine’s Dnipro battalion in the town of Zvonetsky. Reuters could not immediately confirm the reports.

In other developments:

  • Ukrainian officials said on Sunday the death toll from a missile strike on a train station on Friday in the city of Kramatorsk, in the Donetsk region, had risen to 57, while 109 were wounded. The station was full of people trying to flee the area. Russia has denied responsibility, saying the missiles used in the attack were only used by Ukraine’s military.

  • Joe Biden is set to hold a virtual meeting with India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, on Monday, with the US president expected to press India not to increase its imports of Russian crude. Biden has previously accused India of being the only “somewhat shaky” country in the Quad group of nations – which also includes Japan and Australia – regarding Ukraine. It has not so far imposed any sanctions on Russia.

  • The World Bank has forecast that Ukraine’s GDP will shrink by about 45% this year as the Russian invasion and the impact of a “deep humanitarian crisis” takes its toll. It said Russia would also fall into recession and many countries surrounding Ukraine would suffer severe hardship

  • Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, Iryna Vereshchuk, said 2,824 people were evacuated on Sunday through humanitarian corridors, including 213 from Mariupol, which has been under siege for weeks.

Since Russia invaded, Zelenskiy has appealed to western powers to provide more defense help, and to punish Moscow with tougher sanctions, including embargoes on Russian energy exports.

In an interview aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Zelenskiy said he had confidence in his own armed forces but “unfortunately I don’t have the confidence that we will be receiving everything we need” from the US.

“They have to supply weapons to Ukraine as if they were defending themselves and their own people,” Zelenskiy added. “They need to understand this. If they don’t speed up, it will be very hard for us to hold on against this pressure.”

Sullivan told ABC News: “We’re going to get Ukraine the weapons it needs to beat back the Russians to stop them from taking more cities and towns.”

Zelenskiy said earlier on Twitter he had spoken on the phone to the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, about additional sanctions, as well as more defense and financial support for his country, and welcomed Germany’s more favorable stance on Ukraine.

The EU on Friday banned Russian coal imports among other products, but has yet to touch oil and gas imports from Russia.

Mounting civilian casualties have triggered widespread international condemnation and new sanctions.

A grave with at least two civilian bodies has been found in Buzova village near Kyiv, said Taras Didych, head of the Dmytrivka community that includes the village, the latest such reported discovery since Russian forces with drawn from areas north of the capital.

Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” its southern neighbour. Ukraine and western nations have dismissed this as a baseless pretext for war.

Russia’s invasion has forced about a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million people from their homes, turned cities into rubble and killed or injured thousands.

Some cities in Ukraine’s east are under heavy shelling, with tens of thousands of people unable to evacuate.

With Reuters

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