Ukraine defends front line, Putin talks nukes on war anniversary

  • Putin raises the possibility of increasing nuclear power
  • Russia to deploy Sarmat ICBMs in 2023
  • ‘Back from the brink’, says UN

KYIV, Feb 23 (Reuters) – Ukraine said its forces had repelled Russian offensives along the length of its front line on Thursday to mark the anniversary of the war, as President Vladimir Putin spoke empty-handed after a bloody winter offensive. A nuclear arsenal.

After a series of poignant speeches marking the anniversary of his invasion, Putin on Thursday announced plans to deploy new Sarmat multi-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles this year. Earlier this week he suspended Russia’s participation in the START nuclear arms control treaty.

“As before, we will pay more attention to strengthening the nuclear triangle,” Putin said of nuclear missiles on land, sea and air.

“We will continue the mass production of air-based hypersonic Kinzel systems and begin the mass delivery of sea-based Zircon hypersonic missiles,” Putin said in comments released by the Kremlin early Thursday.

A year after Putin launched the largest ground war in Europe since World War II, Ukraine and its Western allies have abandoned nuclear posturing as a distraction from Russia’s failed military campaign on the ground.

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Russia has seen infantry attacks on frozen ground in past weeks in battles described by both sides as the bloodiest of the war.

Western officials have said they believe Russia is planning an offensive to seize new territory before the anniversary, using hundreds of thousands of reservists forced in recent months to declare victory to Putin.

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Moscow’s forces made progress trying to encircle the small town of Bagmut, but failed to break Ukrainian lines in the north near Kremmina and in the south at Wuhleder, where they fell into the teeth of Ukrainian artillery on open ground and suffered heavy losses.

Ukrainian forces have repelled 90 Russian attacks in the northeast and east in the past 24 hours, the military said early Thursday.

Ukraine has closed some schools to mark the anniversary of the war. But Kiev officials said they believed Moscow lacked the ability to make a dramatic show of force.

“Nothing unusual will happen. A typical (Russian) effort … a small missile attack is planned,” Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, told the Ukrainska Pravda news website.

“23-24 (February), they have two dates. Believe me, we have experienced this more than 20 times,” he said.

Britain’s military said in a daily intelligence update that Moscow may be planning another large-scale attack on Wuhledar, despite costly failed strikes earlier this month. Two full brigades of thousands of elite Russian marines said last week that the battle had been derailed after suffering massive losses there.

With no major battlefield victories in time for the anniversary, Putin instead turned to nuclear rhetoric, announcing in a keynote speech on Tuesday that Russia would end its participation in the New START arms control treaty.

The practical implications are less obvious: studies under the treaty had already been suspended during the war. A senior defense official said Moscow would abide by the treaty’s limits on the missiles and would regularly notify Washington when they were moved.

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U.S. President Joe Biden, who dumped Putin this week and traveled to Kiev and delivered his own speech to a crowd in Warsaw, called the suspension of START a “huge mistake” but said Wednesday: “I don’t. He’s thinking of using nuclear weapons or anything like that. Read on.”

The RS-28 Sarmat missiles, dubbed “Satan 2”, announced by Putin on Thursday, were first unveiled in 2018 and are believed to have been deployed last year.

CNN reports that the United States believes Russia conducted a test of Sarmat shortly before Biden traveled to Ukraine, but the test failed. The Russian Defense Ministry had no comment on the report.

Putin also promised to develop hypersonic missiles, which fly too fast to be fired. Russia is set to begin military exercises with China in South Africa on Friday and has sent a warship equipped with them.

Russia controls almost a fifth of Ukraine despite losing territory in major battlefield setbacks last year after failing to capture Kyiv at the start of its “special military operation”.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and troops on both sides are believed to have died in the past year. Russian artillery destroyed Ukrainian cities and sent millions of refugees flying.

Ukrainian troops have largely stuck to the defensive since their last offensive in November, hoping Russian forces filled with reserves will be exhausted in the offensive. Meanwhile, Kiev has secured Western weapons pledges for a planned counter-offensive in 2023.

In New York, the UN The General Assembly is expected to pass a resolution calling for an end to the invasion, marking the first anniversary of the invasion. Ukraine hopes to deepen Russia’s diplomatic isolation by securing a yes vote from nearly three-quarters of the countries.

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Moscow, which says its invasion is justified by its security concerns, calls the text unbalanced.

“Russia has violated the UN Charter by becoming an aggressor,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at the United Nations. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday condemned Russia’s invasion as a violation of the UN Charter and international law.

“We have heard implicit threats to use nuclear weapons. The so-called tactical use of nuclear weapons is absolutely unacceptable. It is time to step back from the brink,” Guterres said.

Report by Reuters Bureau; By Michael Perry and Peter Graf; Editing by Robert Birzel and Nick MacPhee

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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