Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the US of prolonging the war in Ukraine as part of what he described as Washington’s alleged efforts to maintain its global hegemony.
“The situation in Ukraine shows that the United States is trying to drag the conflict out …,” the Russian president said on Tuesday addressing the opening ceremony of a security conference in Moscow.
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Washington is “using the people of Ukraine as cannon fodder”, he said, lashing out at the US for supplying weapons to Kyiv.
“They need conflicts to retain their hegemony,” he said.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February, anticipating little military resistance and hoping for a lightning-quick takeover that would topple the government in Kyiv.
But after failing to capture the capital, Russia’s military instead moved its focus to the eastern Donbas region. What the Kremlin thought of as a quick victory has turned into a drawn-out war, thanks to the supply of weapons to Ukraine by Western nations.
The US has provided a staggering $50bn in aid to Ukraine since February, as it has solidly stood behind Kyiv in the wake of the Russian aggression.
Long-range and precision artillery are part of the $9bn US military aid that has allowed Ukraine to strike Russian supply facilities deep inside Moscow-controlled territory.
Explosion in Crimea
Huge fireballs erupted at the site in the Kremlin-controlled Crimea early on Tuesday where ammunition was temporarily being stored. Russia’s state-owned news agency TASS cited the defence ministry as saying the blast was a result of “sabotage”.
The blasts on Tuesday come one week after at least one person was killed and five more injured in similar explosions at a Russian airbase in Crimea, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014.
Ukraine has not directly claimed responsibility for either of the incidents in Crimea.
Ukrainian presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak said on Tuesday the latest blasts in Dzhankoi, Crimea were a “reminder” that “Crimea occupied by Russians is about warehouses explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves”.
He said the blasts were “demilitarisation in action” – using the same term used by Russia to justify its invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking at the Moscow conference, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu charged that along with supplies of weapons to Ukraine, Western allies also have provided detailed intelligence information and deployed instructors to help the Ukrainian military operate the weapons systems.
“Western intelligence agencies not only have provided target coordinates for launching attacks, but Western specialists also have overseen the input of those data into weapons systems,” Shoigu said.
At Tuesday’s security conference attended by military officials from Africa, Asia and Latin America, Putin reaffirmed his long-held claim that he sent troops into Ukraine in response to Washington turning the country into an “anti-Russia” bulwark.
He drew parallels between the US backing Ukraine and a recent visit to Taiwan by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, charging that both were part of an alleged American attempt to foment global instability.
“The American adventure in Taiwan wasn’t just a trip by an irresponsible politician. It was part of a deliberate and conscious US strategy intended to destabilise the situation and create chaos in the region and the entire world, a blatant demonstration of disrespect for another country’s sovereignty and its own international obligations,” Putin said.
”The era of the unipolar world order is nearing its end,” he added.
Food aid ship heads to Africa
Meanwhile, in the eastern Donbas region, which has seen most of the fighting, Ukraine said Russia had launched a “massive” offensive from an oil refinery in the recently-captured city of Lysychansk in Luhansk province.
Ukraine’s presidency said one woman was killed and two more injured in Donetsk province, which together with Luhansk makes up the industrial Donbas that is now mostly controlled by Russian forces.
Kyiv and Moscow have also traded accusations over a series of raids this month on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine – Europe’s largest.
On Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned a “catastrophe” at the Russian-controlled facility would threaten the whole of Europe.
Meanwhile, the Russian Defence Minister Shoigu dismissed allegations that Moscow could potentially use nuclear or chemical weapons in the conflict as an “absolute lie”.
“From the military viewpoint, there is no need for using nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the stated goals,” Shoigu said. “The main mission of the Russian nuclear forces is providing a deterrent against a nuclear attack.”
Meanwhile, the first UN-chartered vessel laden with grain left Ukraine for Africa following a landmark deal brokered by Turkey and the UN to relieve a global food crisis.
The MV Brave Commander, loaded with 23,000 tonnes of wheat, was able to leave after a deal agreed last month lifted a Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports and established safe corridors through the naval mines laid by Kyiv.
Ukraine has said it is hoping there will be two or three similar shipments soon.