Russia hits rail and oil facilities in attacks deep in Ukraine

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KYIV, Ukraine — Russia on Monday launched a series of attacks on rail and oil facilities deep in Ukraine, far from the front lines of Moscow’s new eastern offensive, in a bid to thwart Ukrainian efforts to Gather supplies needed for battle.

The United States, meanwhile, decided to send more weapons to Ukraine and said help from Western allies was making a difference in the 2-month war.

“Russia is failing. Ukraine is succeeding,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, a day after he and the US Secretary of Defense boldly traveled to Kyiv to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Blinken said Washington had approved a sale of $165 million in ammunition — non-U.S. ammunition mostly if not entirely for Ukraine’s Soviet-era weapons — and would also provide more than $300 million in funding for buy more supplies.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin took his comments further, saying that while the US wants to see Ukraine remain a sovereign and democratic country, it also wants “to see Russia weakened to the point where it cannot not do things like invade Ukraine”.

Austin’s comments about weakening Russia seem to represent a larger US strategic goal. Previously, the US position was that the purpose of US military aid was to help Ukraine win and to defend Ukraine’s NATO neighbors against Russian threats.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said weapons supplied by Western countries “will be a legitimate target” for Russian forces. He also warned that the risk of a nuclear conflict “must not be underestimated”.

Speaking in a Russian TV interview, Lavrov said arming Ukraine is an attempt to prolong the fighting “to the last soldier” to inflict the most suffering on Russia.

Regarding the possibility of a nuclear confrontation, Lavrov said: “I wouldn’t like to see these risks artificially inflated now, when the risks are quite significant.”

“The danger is serious,” he said. “It is real. It should not be underestimated.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the United States and its allies of trying to “divide Russian society and destroy Russia from within”.

In other developments, fires were reported at two oil facilities in western Russia, not far from the Ukrainian border. Their cause was not immediately known.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, its apparent objective was the quick takeover of the capital, Kyiv. But the Ukrainians, with the help of Western weapons, thwarted the push and forced Putin’s troops to retreat.

Moscow now says its aim is to take Donbass, the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial region of eastern Ukraine. While both sides say the campaign in the east is ongoing, Russia has yet to mount an all-out ground offensive and achieve no major breakthroughs.

On Monday, Russia concentrated its firepower elsewhere, with missiles and fighter jets striking far behind the front lines.

Five railway stations in central and western Ukraine were hit and one worker was killed, said Oleksandr Kamyshin, director of Ukrainian National Railways. The bombardment included a missile attack near Lviv, the western city near the Polish border that has been swelled by Ukrainians fleeing fighting elsewhere in the country.

Ukrainian authorities said at least five people were killed by Russian strikes in the central region of Vynnytsia.

Russia also destroyed an oil refinery in Kremenchuk, central Ukraine, as well as fuel depots there, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said. In total, Russian warplanes destroyed 56 Ukrainian targets overnight, he said.

Philip Breedlove, a retired US general who served as NATO’s commander-in-chief from 2013 to 2016, said the latest strikes on fuel depots were part of a strategy to deplete key war resources Ukrainians. Strikes against railroad targets, on the other hand, are a newer tactic, he said.

“I think they’re doing it for the legitimate reason of trying to cut off the flow of supplies to the front,” he said. “The illegitimate reason is that they know people are trying to leave the country, and this is just another intimidation, terrorist tactic to make them lose the faith and confidence to travel on the rails.”

Phillips P. O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, said the war is settling, for now, in a campaign of losses and further gains on the field of battle.

“Both sides are getting weaker every day,” he said. “So it’s a question of what you can bring new” and “what can you destroy on the other side”.

In Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova along the Ukrainian border, several explosions believed to be caused by rocket-propelled grenades hit the territory’s State Security Ministry. There were no immediate claims of liability or reports of injuries. Transnistria is a strip of land with around 470,000 inhabitants and around 1,500 Russian soldiers based there.

The Moldovan Foreign Ministry said that “the purpose of today’s incident is to create pretexts to strain the security situation in the Transnistria region”. The United States has previously warned that Russia may launch “false flag” attacks against its own side to create a pretext to invade other nations.

Last week, Rustam Minnekayev, a Russian military commander, said the Kremlin wanted full control of southern Ukraine, which he said would pave the way for Transnistria.

About 2,000 Ukrainian troops holed up in a steel mill in the strategic southern port city of Mariupol are pinning down Russian forces and apparently preventing them from being added to the offensive elsewhere in Donbass. Over the weekend, Russian forces launched new airstrikes on the Azovstal factory in an attempt to dislodge resisters.

Some 1,000 civilians are also believed to have taken refuge in the steelworks, and the Russian military pledged to open a humanitarian corridor on Monday to allow them to leave.

The Russian offer was met with skepticism by Ukraine. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said on the Telegram messaging app that Ukraine does not consider the route safe and added that Russia has previously violated agreements on similar evacuation routes. She called on the United Nations to oversee an evacuation.

The city council and mayor of Mariupol said a new mass grave had been identified about 10 kilometers (6 miles) north of the city. Mayor Vadym Boychenko said authorities were trying to estimate the number of casualties. It was at least the third new mass grave discovered in Russian-controlled areas near Mariupol last week.

Mariupol has been ravaged by shelling and heavy street fighting over the past two months. In addition to freeing Russian troops, capturing the city would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.

In his nightly video speech, Zelenskyy said that after two months of war, “the life of peaceful towns and villages has turned into hell”.

“Part of Ukrainian cities and communities have been destroyed to stone.” He said his country’s goal was to maintain resistance and “make the occupiers’ stay on our land even more intolerable” while Russia depletes its resources.

Britain has said it believes 15,000 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine since Moscow began its invasion. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said 25% of Russian combat units sent to Ukraine “have been rendered non-combat effective”.

Ukrainian officials said around 2,500 to 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed by mid-April.

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Associated Press reporters Yuras Karmanau and Jon Gambrell in Lviv, Ukraine, and AP staff around the world contributed.

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