Updates from Day 99 of the invasion
Zelensky says Russia currently occupies about 20 per cent of Ukraine.
Russian forces control most of Severodonetsk.
Russia says it downed a Ukraine fighter jet in Mykolaiv.
Britain to arm Ukraine with rocket system.
Russia tightened its grip on a key target in a battle for control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded for more Western arms to help Ukraine reach a battlefield “inflection point” and prevail in the war.
Zelensky told Luxembourg’s parliament via videolink on Thursday that Russian forces now occupied about a fifth of Ukrainian territory, with battle lines stretching more than 1,000 kilometres.
As the invasion heads into its 100th day on Friday, Russia says Washington is adding “fuel to the fire” with a new $700-million US weapons package for Ukraine that will include advanced rocket systems with a range of up to 80 km.
But separately addressing a forum in Slovakia, Zelensky called for more weapons supplies to “ensure an inflection point in this confrontation,” in Ukraine’s favour.
U.S. President Joe Biden hopes extending Ukraine’s artillery reach will help push Moscow to negotiate an end to a war that has seen thousands killed, cities and towns flattened and more than six million people forced to flee the country.
His administration said it had Ukraine’s assurances it would not use the rocket systems to hit targets inside Russia.
“Ukraine is fighting an exclusively defensive war, and we always state this,” the country’s Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Malyar told a briefing, when asked whether Kyiv made such a promise.
While Moscow denies targeting civilians, it says it regards Ukrainian transport infrastructure used to bring in Western arms as a legitimate target. But it downplayed the effect those supplies will have on what it calls its “special military operation” to disarm Ukraine and rid it of ultra-nationalists the Kremlin says threaten Russian security.
“Pumping (Western) weapons into Ukraine does not change all the parameters of the special operation,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“Its goals will be achieved, but this will bring more suffering to Ukraine,” Peskov said in response to a question on whether U.S. plans to sell Ukraine drones that can be armed with missiles could change the nature of the conflict.
Four Russian missiles hit railway infrastructure targets in two places in the western Lviv region bordering Poland late on Wednesday, injuring five people and causing significant damage, its governor said on Thursday.
Russian forces hold most of Severodonetsk
Russian forces, backed by heavy artillery, control most of the eastern industrial city of Severodonetsk — now largely in ruins — after days of fierce fighting in which they have taken losses, Britain’s Defence Ministry said in its daily intelligence report.
A regional governor on Thursday said an estimated 800 people are holed up in bomb shelters at a chemical factory under attack in the city. Luhansk Gov. Serhiy Haidai told CNN children are among those taking shelter at the Azot factory, the largest chemical plant in Severodonetsk.
Russian forces attacked the factory again Thursday, damaging an administrative building and warehouse storing methanol. Only a small quantity of chemicals remains at the factory, according to Haidai.
In a late-night video address Thursday, Zelensky said Ukrainian forces have had some success in the battles in Severodonetsk, but it was too early to give details. He said the overall military situation in the Donbas region “has not changed significantly over the last 24 hours.”
Ukraine’s armed forces general staff said that besides the assault on the city, Russian troops were also attacking other parts of the east and northeast.
The capture of Severodonetsk and its smaller twin Lysychansk — where the mayor said some 60 per cent of the infrastructure and residential buildings have been destroyed by nonstop shelling — would give Russian forces control of all of Luhansk, one of two provinces in the Donbas claimed by Moscow on behalf of separatists.
Seizing Luhansk would fulfil one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated aims and further shift battlefield momentum in Russia’s favour after its forces were pushed back from the capital, Kyiv, and from northern Ukraine.
WATCH | Putin’s ultimate target is still Kyiv, says Wladimir Klitschko:
Moscow’s forces were also attempting to advance south toward the Ukraine-held cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, in Donetsk province, provincial governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.
Outside of the Donbas, Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday its military had downed a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet in the Mykolaiv region in south Ukraine.
It also said in a briefing that it had struck command points of Ukrainian forces near Kharkiv in the northeast.
It was not possible to independently confirm the information.
Britain joins U.S. in sending rocket systems
Meanwhile, Britain said Thursday it will send sophisticated medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine, in a move co-ordinated with the United States.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace says the U.K. will send an unspecified number of M270 launchers, which can send precision-guided rockets up to 80 kilometres.
Britain says the decision has been co-ordinated closely with a U.S. decision to send Ukraine high mobility artillery rocket systems, or HIMARS. The two missile systems are similar, though the American one has wheels while the British one — also U.S.-built — runs on tracks.
Britain said Ukrainian troops will be trained in the U.K. to use the equipment.
Ukraine has implored its Western allies to send longer-range missiles to help it counter Russian artillery assaults in the eastern Donbas region, the focus of Moscow’s offensive.
Germany on Wednesday announced it would provide modern anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems to Ukraine.
Wider impact of war outside Ukraine
The war and Western sanctions imposed in response to the Feb. 24 invasion are having a massive impact on the world economy. With its control of some of Ukraine’s biggest seaports and critical Black Sea shipping routes, Russia has been blocking Ukrainian farm exports and deepening a global food crisis.
Russia and Ukraine together account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies while Russia is also a key fertilizer exporter and Ukraine a major supplier of corn and sunflower oil.
Signalling a possible breakthrough, Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s Defence Ministry as saying on Thursday that vessels carrying grain will be allowed to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea ports via “humanitarian corridors” with Moscow ready to guarantee their safety.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Oleg Nikolenko, said Kyiv was working with international partners to create a United Nations-backed solution.