French President Emmanuel Macron has raised the ire of Ukrainians confronting Russian invaders by saying it is important that Moscow not be “humiliated” as Vladimir Putin’s intended blitzkreig becomes a drawn out war of attrition.
“We must not humiliate Russia so that the day when the fighting stops we can build an exit ramp through diplomatic means,” Macron said in an interview with regional newspapers, adding he was “convinced that it is France’s role to be a mediating power.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted in response: “Calls to avoid humiliation of Russia can only humiliate France and every other country that would call for it.
“Because it is Russia that humiliates itself. We all better focus on how to put Russia in its place. This will bring peace and save lives.”
Ukraine now says its aim is to push Russian forces back as far as possible on the battlefield, counting on advanced missile systems pledged in recent days by the United States and Britain to swing the war in its favour.
‘Fuel on the fire’
Ukraine forces have attributed their loss of territory to Russian artillery which can pound cities from beyond the range of most weapons in Ukraine’s arsenal.
Moscow has said the Western weapons will pour “fuel on the fire,” but will not change the course of what it calls a “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of nationalists.
Tens of thousands are believed to have died, millions have been uprooted from their homes, and the global economy has been disrupted in a war that marked its 100th day on Friday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy posted footage on Saturday of an important and historic Orthodox Christian monastery ablaze in eastern Ukraine. Kyiv says two monks and a nun were killed on Wednesday when it was struck by Russian shells.
“Every church burned by Russia in Ukraine, every school blown up, every destroyed memorial proves that Russia has no place in UNESCO,” he said, calling for Moscow to be expelled from the main cultural body of the United Nations.
Ukraine said it had recaptured a swathe of the battlefield city of Sievierodonetsk, in a rare counter-offensive against Russia’s main assault force that had been steadily advancing in the east.
The Ukrainian claim could not be independently verified, and Moscow said its own forces were making gains there. But it was the first time Kyiv has claimed to have launched a big counter-attack in Sievierodonetsk after days of yielding ground there.
Key strategic target
Russia has concentrated its forces on Sievierodonetsk in recent weeks for one of the biggest ground battles of the war, with Moscow appearing to bet its campaign on capturing one of two eastern provinces it claims on behalf of separatist proxies.
Both sides have claimed to have inflicted huge casualties in the fighting for the small industrial city, a battle that military experts say could determine which side has the momentum for a prolonged war of attrition in coming months.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov on Saturday said that while it was impossible to predict when the war would end, “my optimistic prognosis is that it is realistic to achieve this as early as this year,” the defence ministry said.
A statement on the ministry’s website said Reznikov told the GLOBSEC 2022 Bratislava Forum that “next will come Poland, the Baltic countries, Slovakia and others. That is why we must stop Russia and restrain it in the future.”
The war has had a devastating impact on the global economy, especially for poor food-importing countries.
Ukraine is one of the world’s leading sources of grain and cooking oil, but those supplies were largely cut off by Russia’s closure of its Black Sea ports, with more than 20 million tonnes of grain stuck in silos.