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By FRANCESCA EBEL

KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AP) — A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared victory in seizing an eastern Ukraine province essential to his wartime aims, his troops escalated their offensive in the neighboring province Tuesday, prompting the governor to urge a mass evacuation of residents.

Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said that getting the 350,000 people remaining in Donetsk province out is necessary to save lives and to enable the Ukrainian army to better defend towns from the Russian advance.

“The destiny of the whole country will be decided by the Donetsk region,” Kyrylenko told reporters in Kramatrosk, the province’s administrative center and home to the Ukrainian military’s regional headquarters.

“Once there are less people, we will be able to concentrate more on our enemy and perform our main tasks,” Kyrylenko said.

The governor’s call for residents to leave appeared to represent one of the biggest suggested evacuations of the war. According to the U.N. refugee agency, more than 7.1 million Ukrainians are estimated to be displaced within Ukraine, and more than 4.8 million refugees left the country since Russia’s invasion started on Feb. 24

The governor said that because they house critical infrastructure such as water filtration plants, Russia’s main targets are now Kramatorsk and a city 16 kilometers 10 miles) to the north, Sloviansk. Kyrylenko described the shelling as “very chaotic” without “a specific target … only to destroy civilian infrastructure and residential areas.”

Sloviansk also came under sustained bombardment Tuesday. Mayor Vadim Lyakh said on Facebook that “massive shelling” pummeled Sloviansk, which had a population of about 107,000 before Russian invaded Ukraine more than four months ago. The mayor, who urged residents hours earlier to evacuate, advised them to take cover in shelters.

At least one person was killed and another seven wounded Tuesday, Lyakh said. He said the city’s central market and several districts came under attack, adding that authorities were assessing the extent of the damage.

The barrage targeting Sloviansk indicated that Russian forces were positioned to advance farther into Ukraine’s Donbas region, a mostly Russian-speaking industrial area where the country’s most experienced soldiers are concentrated.

Sloviansk has previously taken rocket and artillery fire during Russia’s war in Ukraine, but the bombardment picked up in recent days after Moscow took the last major city in neighboring Luhansk province, Lyakh said.

“It’s important to evacuate as many people as possible,” he warned Tuesday morning, adding that shelling damaged 40 houses on Monday.

The Ukrainian military withdrew its troops Sunday from the city of Lysychansk to keep them from being surrounded. Russia’s defense minister and Putin said the city’s subsequent capture put Moscow in control of all of Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the Donbas.

The office of Ukraine’s president said the Ukrainian military was still defending a small part of Luhansk and trying to buy time to establish fortified positions nearby.

The question now is whether Russia can muster enough strength to complete its seizure of the Donbas by taking Donetsk province, too. Putin acknowledged Monday that Russian troops who fought in Luhansk need to “take some rest and beef up their combat capability.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that the war in Ukraine would continue until all of the goals set by Putin are achieved. However, Shoigu said “the main priorities” for Moscow at the moment were “preserving the lives and health” of the troops, as well as “excluding the threat to the security of civilians.”

When Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine more than four months ago, his stated goals were defending the people of the Donbas against Kyiv’s alleged aggression, and the “demilitarization” and “denazifaction” of Ukraine.

Pro-Russia separatists have fought Ukrainian forces and controlled much of the Donbas for eight years. Before the invasion this year, Putin recognized the independence of the two self-proclaimed separatist republics in the region. He also sought to portray the tactics of Ukrainian forces and the government as akin to Nazi Germany’s, claims for which no evidence has emerged.

The General Staff of the Ukrainian military said Russian forces also shelled several Donetsk towns and villages around Sloviansk in the past day but were repelled as they tried to advance toward a town about 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the city’s north. South of the city, Russian forces were trying to push toward two more towns and shelling areas near Kramatorsk.

Meanwhile, Moscow-installed officials in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region on Tuesday announced the formation of a new regional government, with a former Russian official at the helm.

Sergei Yeliseyev, the head of the new Moscow-backed government in Kherson, is a former deputy prime minister of Russia’s western exclave of Kaliningrad and also used to work at Russia’s Federal Security Service, or the FSB, according to media reports.

It wasn’t immediately clear what would become of the “military-civic administration” the Kremlin installed earlier. The administration’s head, Vladimir Saldo, said in a Telegram statement that the new government was “not a temporary, not a military, not some kind of interim administration, but a proper governing body.”

“The fact that not just Kherson residents, but Russian officials, too, are part of this government speaks clearly about the direction the Kherson region is headed in the future,” he said. “This direction is to Russia.”

Kherson’s Russia-installed administration previously stated plans for the region to become part of Russia, either through a referendum or other means.

There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian officials.

In other developments:

— The 30 NATO allies signed off on the accession protocols for Sweden and Finland, sending the two nations’ membership bids to the alliance capitals for legislative approvals. The move further increases Russia’s strategic isolation. Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg hailed the signing as a “truly a historic moment for Finland, for Sweden and for NATO.”

— The war in Ukraine has drawn millions of dollars away from countries facing other crises. Somalia, suffering a food shortage largely driven by the war, may be the most vulnerable. Its aid funding is less than half of last year’s level while overwhelmingly Western donors have sent more than $1.7 billion to respond to the war in Europe. Yemen, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Congo and the Palestinian territories are similarly affected.

— Spain boosted military spending in an attempt to reach its commitment to NATO to dedicate 2% of gross domestic product to defense. Spain’s Cabinet approved a one-off Defense Ministry expenditure of almost 1 billion euros ($1 billion) that the government said was necessary to pay for unexpected expenses from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Spain has sent military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and deployed more troops and aircraft to NATO missions in Eastern Europe.

___

Follow AP’s coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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Analysis: China Will Learn from Russia’s Invasion That ‘Decisive, Overwhelming Force’ Is the Surest Path to Victory

by Sebastian Hughes

 

In light of the West’s united front against Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine, China will likely be forced to reexamine its plans for making Taiwan a part of the communist country, experts on the region told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“I think that the military planners in Beijing, as well as politicians in Beijing, have to be very concerned at a deeper level about their assumptions and plans regarding Taiwan,” David Sacks, a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the DCNF. “The democratic world has really come together behind this and … the narrative would be very similar with a Chinese attack.”

“They’re now starting to see the United States mobilize itself and I think they’re probably not very happy with that,” Gordon G. Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” told the DCNF. “We’ve had these decades of old lethargy and we might, we might, be coming out of it.”

China has increasingly sent aircraft into Taiwan’s defense zone, and it flew nine People’s Liberation Army planes over the country on Feb. 24, the day Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. Since Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed troops into the country, his forces have been met with stiff resistance from Ukraine’s army and citizens.

“As freedom-loving countries rally to defend Ukraine, don’t take your eyes off Taiwan. It’s not a matter of if China will take Taiwan, it’s when,” former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told the DCNF. “And just like Putin watched how the U.S. handled Afghanistan, Xi is now watching how the United States and our allies confront Russia.”

“From a military perspective … this has not been encouraging,” Sacks said. He noted that Russia’s military “outmatches” Ukraine’s on all fronts but has failed to “achieve its military objectives.”

Dr. Matthew Kroenig, a professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told the DCNF that Russia’s shortcomings are particularly concerning for China because while Moscow’s military is “battle-hardened,” Beijing’s is not.

“They’ve been fighting in Ukraine since 2014. They invaded Georgia. Intervened in Syria in 2015 to prop up Assad,” Kroenig said. “China’s military hasn’t fought a war since the war against Vietnam in the 1970s, and so I think there’s a lot of uncertainty about how the Chinese military would perform in battle.”

With Russia’s invasion only a little over a week old, however, there is still time for the tide to shift in Moscow’s favor. Russian forces captured their first major city, Kherson, on Wednesday.

“The real question is going to be, assuming the war lasts this long and the sanctions last this long, three months from now, how much is Russia’s economy still isolated from the rest of the world?” Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF.

“If Moscow takes Kyiv next week … Beijing is absolutely going to be drawing conclusions from that that are probably going to be very different from what conclusions it might draw right now,” he said.

Regardless of the outcome of the Ukraine crisis, however, China is poised to alter its plans for how its forces would attack Taiwan based on the consequences of Russia’s early disappointments.

“My fear is that the takeaway from the Chinese military planners is going to be that essentially you need decisive, overwhelming force early in a conflict because if you let this play out, then the sanctions can take effect, they can take hold, and Taiwan would be able to build support,” Sacks said.

Kroenig concurred, arguing China may decide to “go big from the beginning” in an attempt to achieve the best-case scenario.

Taiwan’s defense planning is also likely to adjust in response to Ukraine’s resistance, as they’re seeing that an “armed citizenry, which is motivated to defend themselves, can defeat a big power,” Chang said.

Ukraine’s parliament approved a draft law to allow citizens to carry firearms after Putin recognized two separatist territories as independent. Its defense ministry called on those in Kyiv to use Molotov cocktails to help defend against Russian invaders as they move into the capital.

“Maybe, Taiwan is going to learn from this is that a levee en masse, an armed population, may serve as a deterrent,” Cheng said. “Handing out tons of AK-47s has probably made Russia’s life a lot harder.”

In the future, should it appear China is gearing up for an invasion, the U.S. needs to be more specific when laying out the sanctions that attacking Taiwan would lead to, unlike how the Biden administration handled the Ukraine crisis, Sacks said.

He noted the decision to hold back sanctions until Russia actually invaded was the right move, but that it was important the U.S. “signal what the sanctions would be beforehand.”

“The United States and its European partners are so much more powerful than Russia, yet we’re not able to stop a Russian invasion,” Chang said.

“That’s a failure of not only Biden but it’s also a failure of the foreign policy consensus that has reigned in the United States for a very long time,” he said. “And so Putin took this as a big green light to engage in even more provocative behavior.”

– – –

Sebastian Hughes is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping” by Presidential Executive Office of Russia. CC BY 3.0.
 

 

 

 

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