Moscow Considers West's Attempts to Push Russia Into Storming Major Ukrainian Cities 'Provocative'
11:27 GMT 14.03.2022 (Updated: 12:41 GMT 14.03.2022)
© AP Photo / Efrem LukatskyA view of Khreshchatyk, the main street, empty, due to curfew in the central of Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022
© AP Photo / Efrem Lukatsky
Over two weeks after starting the operation to demilitarise Ukraine, Russian forces have been hesitant to enter major populated centres -especially in areas where Ukrainian ultra-nationalist battalions are holed up. The Russian MoD has repeatedly accused the latter of placing heavy weapons in residential areas, and using civilians as human shields.
Moscow considers recent statements by US and European officials on President Putin's supposed "frustration" with the state of the operation in Ukraine to be provocative, and ultimately aimed at getting Russia to storm Ukrainian cities to cause civilian loss of life, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov has said.
On Sunday, in an interview with CNN, Biden national security advisor Jake Sullivan suggested that the Russian president was "frustrated by the fact that his forces are not making the kind of progress that he thought they would make against major cities." This has prompted him to "lash out" and "to cause damage in every part of the country" with new strikes, according to Sullivan. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell reportedly expressed similar sentiments elsewhere.
"The aforementioned US and EU officials seem to be pushing Russia to storm major cities in Ukraine in order to lay the blame on our country for the deaths of civilians. We consider this position to be provocative," Peskov told reporters at a briefing Monday.
Military operations in heavily populated areas will indeed "inevitably lead to heavy losses among the civilian population," Peskov said. The Russian operation "was planned precisely with this circumstance in mind" to avoid such losses, he added.
"At the start of the operation, the Russian president did in fact instruct the Ministry of Defence to refrain from an immediate storming of large settlements, including Kiev, due to the fact that armed nationalist formations are setting up firing points and placing heavy military equipment directly inside residential areas," Peskov said.
"At the same time, the MoD, while making sure to ensure the maximum security of the civilian population, does not exclude the possibility of taking complete control of those settlements which are practically surrounded, with the exception of zones used for humanitarian evacuation," the spokesman added.
The United Nations reported Sunday that at least 596 Ukrainian civilians have been killed, and 1,067 more injured in the course of the Russian military operation in Ukraine to date, and expressed concerns that the true numbers may be "considerably higher."
The Russian military and its Donetsk and Lugansk people's militia allies have repeatedly accused Ukrainian forces and particularly ultranationalist and/or openly neo-Nazi National Guard formations like the Azov Regiment and the Right Sector of deliberately holing up in urban areas, in apartment buildings, schools and hospitals -knowing that Russian and Donbass troops will be more hesitant to attack them in these positions. At the same time, the MoD and local residents have accused Kiev forces of indiscriminately targeting civilian infrastructure - including using artillery fire during retreats, and of attempting "monstrous provocations" against Ukraine's nuclear power sector, ostensibly aimed at getting NATO to institute a no-fly zone over the country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the start of a "special military operation" in Ukraine aimed at demilitarizing the country and ridding it of the outsized influence of neo-Nazi elements on 24 February, following an urgent request for assistance from the newly recognized Donbass republics, which faced weeks of escalating shelling, sniper and sabotage attacks by Kiev. Western nations have broadly condemned the Russian operation, characterizing it as an unprovoked, out-of-the-blue "invasion," and committing hundreds of millions of dollars in new military assistance to Ukraine.
The Ukraine crisis is the culmination of a calamity which began in the winter of 2014, when Kiev's neutrality-seeking government was overthrown in a coup by forces seeking to pull the country into the EU and NATO, prompting Crimea to break off from Ukraine and rejoin Russia and sparking a civil war in the country's east.