Russia alleges US to blame for civilian deaths, Macron for rising tensions

Rhetoric is ramped up as Ukraine’s Zelenskyy tells French parliament ‘Europe is no longer a continent of peace’.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia, April 4, 2023. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova [File: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

Russia has ramped up its rhetoric against the West, blaming the United States for Ukraine’s alleged use of US-supplied weapons against civilians on its soil and accusing France of fuelling tensions across Europe.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Friday that the US’s decision last week to greenlight Ukraine’s firing of US-supplied weapons into Russia amounted to “a confession … for the murder of children and women in the Belgorod region”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed on May 31 that President Joe Biden had agreed for the first time to let Ukraine use the weapons so it could defend its northeastern Kharkiv region, which lies adjacent to Belgorod. The US still bars Ukraine from firing US-made weapons deeper into Russia.

In her comments, Zakharova said the alleged strikes had taken place last week in the Belgorod region.

“Fragments of HIMARS [rockets] will serve as direct proof,” she told reporters, without presenting images of any rocket fragments or saying how many people had been killed in the alleged incident.

Her claims could not be independently verified, while Ukraine and the US have yet to comment.

Separately on Friday, the state RIA Novosti news agency reported that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused French President Emmanuel Macron of stoking tensions across Europe after promising on Thursday to transfer Mirage fighter jets to Ukraine and help train Ukrainian pilots.

“Macron demonstrates absolute support for the Kyiv regime and declares readiness for France’s direct participation in the military conflict,” Peskov was quoted as saying on the sidelines of the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum. “We consider these statements to be very, very provocative, inflaming tensions on the continent and not conducive to anything positive.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned in recent weeks that the West risks a global conflict if it wades deeper into the Ukraine war. In remarks to foreign editors on Wednesday, he hinted at the possibility of heightened tensions – and even “asymmetrical” military steps – if Western countries like Germany and the US were to supply Ukraine with weapons used on Russian soil.

He explained that the use of certain weapons, including the use of advanced missile technology, would be tantamount to participation in Russia’s war with Ukraine. “That would mark their direct involvement in the war against the Russian Federation, and we reserve the right to act the same way,” he said.

Continent at war

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday thanked France for its support and said he hoped to see French jets in Ukrainian skies soon, following Macron’s pledge.

Speaking at the French Parliament, after attending D-Day commemorations in the country the previous day, Zelenskyy said Europe was a continent at war and warned that Russian aggression could spill over the borders of his country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy applauds after delivering a speech at France's National Assembly
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy applauds after delivering a speech at France’s National Assembly, on June 7, 2024, in Paris [Thomas Padilla/AP Photo]

“We live in a time when Europe is no longer a continent of peace, unfortunately,” Zelenskyy said in an address to French lawmakers. “Again, Europe’s cities are being destroyed and villages are burned,” he said of Russia’s bombing of Ukraine.

“This is against Ukraine now. But this can be aimed at other countries tomorrow, and we already see clearly the direction of the aggression – the Baltic countries, Poland, the Balkans,” he added.

Even Europe was not enough, Zelenskyy alleged, pointing to Russian military actions in Syria and Moscow’s growing footprint in the Sahel region of Africa.

The Ukrainian president said the world was too “afraid” to forcefully respond to Putin and that he hoped a summit hosted by Switzerland this month on bringing peace to Ukraine could hasten a fair end to the conflict.

Drone exchanges

His comments came as fighting continued in the war that began in February 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of neighbouring Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Air Force said on Telegram that Moscow’s forces had fired 53 combat drones and five cruise missiles at Ukraine, saying that air defences shot down all but five drones.

Ukrainian officials also said drone attacks overnight caused damage in Kyiv, causing a fire in an industrial plant near the capital. The city of Odesa and other parts of Ukraine were also hit.

In Russia, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said a woman had been killed in a Ukrainian drone attack, which hit a car she was travelling in with her parents.

And in the Russian-controlled eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk, the Russian Defence Ministry accused Ukrainian forces of firing five US-supplied ATACMS missiles in an attack it said had wounded 20 people, including children.

The ministry said in a statement that four of the five missiles had been shot down by air defence systems, but that one of the missiles had damaged two residential apartment blocks, something it alleged was deliberate.

There was no immediate comment from Ukraine about the alleged attacks.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies