WASHINGTON/KYIV — U.S. supplies of advanced Patriot missile systems to Ukraine, announced during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s visit to Washington, will not help settle the conflict or prevent Russia from achieving its goals, Moscow said on Thursday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that there had been no signs of readiness for peace talks during Zelenskiy’s visit, proving that the United States was fighting a proxy war with Russia “to the last Ukrainian.”
“This is not conducive to a speedy settlement, quite the contrary,” Peskov said of the Patriot system. “And this cannot prevent the Russian Federation from achieving its goals during the special military operation,” using Russia’s term for a war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed.
President Vladimir Putin
dismissed the Patriot system as “quite old,” telling reporters Russia would find a way to counter it.
Zelenskiy told Congress on Wednesday that U.S. aid to his country was an investment in democracy as he invoked battles against the Nazis in World War Two to press for more assistance against Russia’s 10-month-old invasion.
He said the Patriot system was an important step in creating an air shield.
“This is the only way that we can deprive the terrorist state of its main instrument of terror – the possibility to hit our cities, our energy,” Zelenskiy told a White House news conference, standing next to President Joe Biden.
Zelenskiy’s comments in Washington came with Republicans – some of whom have voiced increasing skepticism about sending so much aid to Ukraine – set to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives from Democrats on Jan. 3.
Congress moved closer on Thursday to approving an additional $44.9 billion in emergency military and economic assistance, part of wider U.S. government spending bill. That is on top of some $50 billion already sent to Ukraine this year.
The Biden administration announced another $1.85 billion in military aid for Ukraine, including the Patriot system, on Wednesday as Zelenskiy began his first foreign trip since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.
Zelenskiy met Polish President Andrzej Duda for talks on Thursday on his way home. Poland – which shares a roughly 500-kilometer (310-mile) border with Ukraine – has registered more than 1.5 million refugees from its eastern neighbor since the war began, the most of any European Union nation.
A senior U.S. administration official said on Thursday that the private Russian military company, the Wagner Group, took delivery of an arms shipment from North Korea to help bolster Russian forces in Ukraine. The official said Putin has increasingly turned to the Wagner Group for help in Ukraine.
U.S. officials believe North Korea’s arms delivery is a direct violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and they plan to raise this with the U.N. Security Council.
Russia says it launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine to rid it of dangerous nationalists and protect Russian-speaking communities. Ukraine and the West describe Russia’s actions as an unprovoked, imperialist land grab.
Putin said on Thursday Russia wanted to end the war and that all armed conflicts end with diplomatic negotiations.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said earlier Washington was seeing no sign that Putin was willing to engage in peacemaking.
Zelenskiy’s aide, Mykhailo Podolyak, said the United States had “finally pinpointed the baseline” in the conflict.
“1. Russia must lose. 2. No ‘territory in exchange for pseudo/world’ compromises. 3. Ukraine will receive all necessary military aid. As much as possible. 4. No one cares about Russia’s ‘talk to us’ hysteria…,” he wrote on Twitter.
Ukraine has come under repeated Russian aerial strikes targeting its energy infrastructure in recent weeks, leaving millions without power or running water in the dead of winter.
Zelenskiy congratulated electrical workers for working round the clock, trying to keep the lights on as they marked Power Engineers’ Day on Thursday, a day after the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.
“Even if the enemy can temporarily leave us without light, it will still never succeed in leaving us without the desire to make things right, to mend and restore to normal,” he said on Telegram.
FIGHT FOR BAKHMUT
Moscow proclaimed it had annexed four provinces of Ukraine – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson – after holding so-called referendums in September that were rejected as bogus and illegal by Kyiv and the West.
Russian forces hold almost all of Luhansk but only around 60% of Donetsk, both in the east. Since August, they have been bogged down in a costly, extended fight for Bakhmut, a Donetsk region industrial town with a pre-war population of some 70,000.
Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov said on Thursday the frontline in Ukraine was stable, and that Moscow’s forces had concentrated on “completing the liberation of the territory of the Donetsk People’s Republic.”
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu visited army units fighting in Ukraine, state-owned news agency RIA reported on Thursday, citing the ministry. It did not say where.
One person was killed and two wounded on Thursday during Russian shelling of the town of Chasiv Yar, in the Bakhmut area, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential office.
In a part of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region controlled by Russian forces, a local official was killed in a car bomb attack, the Russian-installed local administration said, blaming the death on “Ukrainian terrorists.”
There was no immediate comment on the incident from Ukrainian authorities.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus Writing by Himani Sarkar, Nick Macfie and Frances Kerry Editing by Robert Birsel, Tomasz Janowski and Mark Heinrich)