Ukraine-Russia war: Putin’s missile strike brings war to NATOs border

Zelensky predicts people will flee from Russia as a result of Ukraine invasion

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In a major escalation of the conflict, rockets obliterated a military facility with Nato links just six miles from the Polish border where hundreds of volunteers and mercenaries had mustered to defend Kyiv. Sources said a militia had assembled at the base for training ahead of deployment to reinforce the under siege capital. The facility was also being used to store vast amounts of foreign military equipment to bolster the fight against Vladimir Putin’s invading forces.

A British aid volunteer accompanying ex-soldiers to base claimed up to 1,600 foreign fighters were stationed there and being readied for battle.

The source said: “When we got there all they wanted to do was recruit us. They were walking through field tactics. There was training with what looked like bazookas. I don’t know if they were real or not.

“They were having training on how to behave in the Army. There were only three or four that looked like they were in military outfits. The rest seemed like they were civilians.

“It was very much how you would expect a UN base to be set up.”

The ferocious firepower that rained down on the Yavoriv International Center for Peacekeeping and Security near Lviv came after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy begged soldiers to enlist in his fight against Russia as part of The International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine. The unit was created “to defeat Putin like we defeated Hitler”.

The hit was the westernmost airstrike of the conflict so far – and one of the biggest with more than 30 missules hitting the base – and the closet despot Mr Putin has come to dragging a Nato member into the bloody conflict.

Russia triumphantly claimed the raid killed scores of foreign fighters and destroyed a large amount of weapons supplied by the West. Defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said: “As a result of the strike, up to 180 foreign mercenaries and a large cache of foreign weapons were destroyed.”

Experts said Russia deliberately targeted the centre as a warning to would-be fighters thinking of enlisting in the growing resistance.

Ukraine said the attack left just 34 dead and 134 wounded and came after President Biden said Nato would defend every inch of its territory if Russia’s invasion spills into member states of the Western alliance.

A volley of rockets was fired at the 140 square-mile facility where Ukrainian forces staged drills before the invasion on February 24. It is not known whether any British nationals were caught up in the raid.

The base was used to train the Ukrainian Army in Javelin, a British man-portable surface-to-air missile. Russia has long suspected it was being used as an international forwarding station.

The strike was widely interpreted as a major warning to Nato. President Zelensky has repeatedly begged for his country to join the alliance, established in the aftermath of the Second World War, and whose enlargement has irritated Russia. Nato has so far refused to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Daniel Szeligowski, of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, said the bombing raid signalled a significant escalation of the invasion and was a “middle finger to the US”.

Colonel Richard Kemp, the decorated former British Army Commander, said: “The complex was an inevitable target for Putin’s forces which need to interdict troop reinforcements and combat supplies — especially anti tank and air defence missiles — coming from outside the country. The base is a logistics hub and assembly centre for foreign volunteers travelling to join the fight for Ukraine.

“It is a message to Nato to cease sending in weapons. Putin does not believe Nato will deploy troops or air power. Counterintuitively, however, it is possible he is trying to provoke some form of limited Western engagement against Russia as a means of shoring up support at home.”

And in a chilling warning former Ukrainian national security chief Oleksandr Danylyuk said Russia could start deliberately sabre-rattling neighbouring Nato countries including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in a bid to force the West to make a move.

He said Russia was targeting what it believed to be Western military facilities supplying arms to the Ukrainians, adding: “They believe that in (such a way) they could destroy or at least undermine that ammunition and military equipment supplies. Again, it doesn’t mean they achieved their goal and the logistics of that Western aid is top secret, as you understand, but again, that was the idea.”

He added: “I think it’s also a very clear message from Moscow that they are ready to attack Nato troops [engaged in supplying Ukraine].

“I’m afraid that because Russia obviously miscalculates the reaction of Ukrainians, and I believe the West as well, they can start doing some provocations in Nato countries, probably in countries like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, very soon.”

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Western shipments of military equipment to Ukraine were fair game.

In another unambiguous warning to the free world he said pumping weapons from a number of countries it orchestrates was a “dangerous move” and “makes those convoys legitimate targets”.

He also denounced US sanctions as an “unprecedented attempt to deal a serious blow to various sectors of the Russian economy,” adding Russia would act in a measured way to avoid hurting itself.

Mr Reznikov said the bombing raid – the latest in a flurry that has destroyed 3,687 Ukrainian military facilities – was a “terrorist attack” and renewed calls for the implementation of a no-fly zone.

He said: “This is new terrorist attack on peace and security near the EU-NATO border. Action must be taken to stop this. Close the sky.”

The ratcheting up of aggression close to the Nato border could see Mr Putin deploy nuclear weapons, according to Polish Premier Andrzej Duda.

He said: “If you’re asking can Putin use chemical weapons I think Putin can use anything right now, especially because he’s in a very difficult situation.

“The Russian army has a crushing, overwhelming majority over Ukraine – but they are not able to win the war.”

President Zelensky has repeatedly told his people – and the world – his country will never surrender to invading forces.

His forces have used British-supplied light anti-tank weapons as a vital part of their resistance. They have been used to destroy columns of armoured vehicles and aircraft. America has said it would provide £150 million in small arms, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to the resistance.

The Kremlin describes its actions as a “special operation” to demilitarise and “deNazify” Ukraine. Ukraine and Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice.

President Duda warned the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine by Russia would be a game-changer and Nato would have to think seriously about how to respond.

President Zelensky has begged Nato to enforce a no-fly zone over his embattled country. But Nato leaders have so far ruled it out, fearing it would escalate the conflict.

Russia said any attempt to impose a no-fly zone would make the protagonists direct “participants of the military conflict”. It also told the West to stop “pumping weapons” into Ukraine in case they fell into terrorist hands.

Fresh hope in peace talks 

Ukrainian and Russian peace negotiators have signalled that there could be positive results within days, writes Steph Spyro.

Russian delegate Leonid Slutsky said the talks had made “substantial progress”. State-run news agency RIA quoted him as saying yesterday that it “may grow in the coming days into a joint position of both delegations, into documents for signing”. Ukrainian counterpart Mykhailo Podolyak said Kyiv “will not concede in principle on any positions”, but Russia “is already beginning to talk constructively”.

He added: “I think that we will achieve some results literally in a matter of days.” Vladimir Putin said only on Friday that there had been some “positive shifts”.

This cost has to be paid because otherwise Putin will just destroy the world

We must pay a high price to prevent ‘crazy’ Putin from destroying the world

Vladimir Putin will be hellbent on “destroying the world” unless he is brought to heel, a Russian politician warned, writes Giles Sheldrick.

Leonid Volkov, ex-chief of staff to opposition leader Alexei Navalny, said the despot was “crazy enough” to use nuclear weapons to achieve his aims. He added: “We can unfortunately expect everything from the Russian president.”

Mr Navalny, who stood against Putin and was poisoned with Novichok, is in jail on fraud charges. Mr Volkov said a huge cost must be paid to stop the invasion of Ukraine: “There are all the sanctions, of course they also create a burden on the European economy.

“But this cost has to be paid because otherwise Putin will just destroy the world. He is clearly not winning the war. He might think about other solutions, more powerful weapons. This is not our war, not in our name.”

Journalist shot in neck

WHITE House officials raged against the “brazen aggression” of Putin’s forces last night after a US journalist became the first member of the media to be killed, writes Chris Riches.

Brent Renaud, 50 – an acclaimed filmmaker and a former New York Times reporter – was shot dead in Irpin, near Kyiv.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US would “execute appropriate consequences”. He added: “This is part and parcel of what has been a brazen aggression on the part of the Russians, where they have targeted civilians, they have targeted hospitals, they have targeted places of worship and they have targeted journalists.”

Boris Johnson also condemned the murder during a phone call to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. The Prime Minister warned that Putin’s barbaric actions are “testing all of humanity”. Two other journalists were injured in the same attack and taken to hospital.

One of them, Juan Arredondo, 45, said he and Brent were filming refugees when they were fired on near a checkpoint. He said Brent was shot in the neck. Brent’s brother Craig is also a filmmaker but it is not known if he is in Ukraine.

Jane Ferguson, a reporter for PBS Newshour, tweeted: “Just left roadside spot where body of Brent Renaud lay under a blanket. Outraged Ukrainian police officer: ‘Tell America, tell the world, what they did to a journalist.’”

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Comment by Richard Kemp, Ex-British Army commander

The Yavoriv military complex near Lviv, close to the border with Poland, was an inevitable target for Putin’s forces which need to interdict troop reinforcements and combat supplies — coming from outside the country. The base is a logistics hub and assembly centre for foreign volunteers travelling to join the fight for Ukraine.

This attack serves two other purposes. First, it is a message to Nato to cease sending in weapons. It fits with Putin’s nuclear threats, aimed to deter Nato leaders from direct military intervention in the conflict. The proximity to Poland underlines that warning. Putin already considers Nato’s supply of weapons, as well as sanctions against Russia, as acts of war.

Putin does not believe Nato will deploy troops or air power. However, it is possible he is trying to provoke some form of limited western engagement against Russia as a means of shoring up support at home.

Second, Putin knows that expanding the war westward, even if only from the air at the moment, will further terrorise the Ukrainian population.

In line with his original strategy, he still hopes that intensifying fear will pressure its government to capitulate to his demands.

President Zelensky’s comments five days ago – that Ukraine is no longer pressing for NATO membership and that he is prepared to compromise on the status of the two Donbas breakaway territories – will have encouraged him.

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