Russian airstrike near Polish border stokes NATO fear of wider war

LVIV, Ukraine — Russia launched a barrage of airstrikes on Sunday against a military base in western Ukraine where U.S. troops had train...


LVIV, Ukraine — Russia launched a barrage of airstrikes on Sunday against a military base in western Ukraine where U.S. troops had trained Ukrainian forces weeks earlier, bringing the war 11 miles from the border with Poland, where NATO forces are stationed on high alert.

Western officials said the attack on NATO’s doorstep was not simply a geographic expansion of the Russian invasion but a change in tactics in a war that many already worry about could metastasize into a larger European conflict.

“He’s increasing the number of targets,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, adding that “he’s trying to cause damage in all parts of the country.” .

In recent days, Russian forces have expanded their air war to the border with Poland, Pentagon spokesman John F. Kirby said. Ahead of Sunday’s attack, Russian missiles also hit airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankovsk, towns in western Ukraine close to the Polish border. Ivano-Frankovsk airport was hit again on Sunday, according to the city’s mayor.

Pentagon and NATO officials reiterated on Sunday that they have no intention of directly confronting Russian forces in Ukraine. But they are sending military supplies, and Russia has warned that it considers these convoys legitimate targets.

The military base that was hit, called the International Peacekeeping and Security Center, has since 2015 been a hub for Western military troops training Ukrainian forces. Troops from the United States, Britain, Canada, Poland, Sweden and Denmark, among others, trained 35,000 Ukrainians there in a project called “Operation Unifier”.

But Western nations withdrew their forces before Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, the base has been used by Ukraine to train and organize the thousands of foreigners who have arrived in the country and volunteered to help defend it.

Russian missiles hit the base before dawn on Sunday.

“They beat us while we were sleeping,” said one of the volunteer fighters, Jesper Söder, a Swede who had arrived at the base three days earlier. “We woke up bombing them from a building.”

At least 35 people were killed and 134 injured in the strikes, including military and civilians, according to Ukrainian officials. The Russian Defense Ministry said it killed 180 foreign fighters in the strikes. Neither figure could be independently confirmed.

Two senior Pentagon officials said the US military believed sites in western Ukraine had been hit by cruise missiles fired by Russian warplanes. It was not known where the Russian bombers were when they fired the missiles. Ukrainian officials said the planes took off from Saratov in southwestern Russia.

Until Sunday, the invasion of Ukraine, now in its 18th day, was mostly marked by Moscow’s indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas, and even as it shelled the military base to the west , Russia continued to punish ordinary Ukrainians.

In the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolaiv, a Russian airstrike on a residential area killed nine people.

And in eastern Ukraine, Russian forces fired on a train carrying Ukrainian civilians, including more than 100 children, who were trying to flee the violence. The train driver was killed and Ukrainian National Railways rushed to send a new train to evacuate the surviving crew and passengers.

In the suburbs of Kyiv, Brent Renaud, an award-winning American filmmaker and journalist working to document the war’s toll on refugees, was killed. Mr. Renaud, 50 years old, had contributed to The New York Times in previous years, most recently in 2015.

The United Nations said on Sunday that at least 596 civilians had died in the war, including 43 children, while another 1,067 civilians had been injured. The UN said these figures most likely underestimate the true death toll. Ukrainian officials said 85 children were killed and more than 100 injured.

In the beleaguered coastal city of Mariupol, Ukrainian officials said on Sunday that at least 2,187 people have died since the war began. The figure could not be independently verified, but the situation has clearly become dire since Russian forces surrounded the town nearly two weeks ago and began trying to subjugate it. Eyewitnesses who managed to communicate with the outside world describe a hellish landscape, with dead bodies in the streets, little food or clean water, and no medicine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly called on NATO members to establish a no-fly zone over his country to deter Russian airstrikes, but even after Sunday’s attack on the military base , Western officials rejected his claims.

Mr Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said the US military remained concerned about NATO’s eastern flank on the Polish-Ukrainian border and was looking for ways to strengthen the protection of this airspace. But he said the United States remained opposed to the idea of ​​a no-fly zone.

A no-fly zone, he told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, “is the fight – you have to be ready to shoot and be shot.”

“President Biden has made it clear that American troops are not going to fight in Ukraine,” Mr. Kirby said, “and there’s a good reason for that, because the United States is getting involved in fighting in Ukraine at this time or above the skies of Ukraine is currently waging war with Russia.

Yet in the coming weeks, NATO plans to gather 30,000 troops from 25 countries in Norway for biannual military exercises, including live-fire exercises. The drills were announced more than eight months ago, but the training has taken on greater importance as the fighting in Ukraine nears the Polish border and raises alarm bells across the alliance.

About 10,000 American soldiers – half of whom have been deployed since the start of the invasion – are now stationed in Poland. Late last week, the United States moved two surface-to-air missile batteries there from Germany. And on Saturday, President Biden approved sending an additional $200 million worth of weapons and equipment to Ukraine.

U.S. officials are also looking for ways to resupply and bolster Ukraine’s air defense capabilities, which are largely made up of Soviet- or Russian-made systems.

Among the options being discussed are transfers of similar equipment from NATO members in Eastern Europe, although there are fears that those countries themselves could then be left vulnerable, US officials said. . Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III is due to meet NATO defense ministers in Brussels this week, then travel to NATO member Slovakia, located south of Poland on the western border from Ukraine.

US military officials say they believe that after weeks of hitting other parts of the country, Russia has begun targeting western Ukraine in a bid to shut it down as a base of operations for the Ukrainian Air Force and source of weapons and equipment. Arms and aid poured into western Ukraine from Poland and Romania.

But U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, say they also believe the Russians want to terrorize refugees who have fled violence in other parts of the country for what had been relative tranquility. Where is.

As injured foreigners and Ukrainians flooded hospitals after the attack on the military base, Ukrainian officials said their air defense systems intercepted 22 of the 30 Russian missiles. “The air defense system worked,” Maksym Kozytskyi, head of the Lviv regional military administration, told a news conference. But that was not enough, he said, reiterating calls for a no-fly zone.

Even in the absence of a no-fly zone, US officials said, Russian planes tried to avoid Ukrainian airspace when they could, striking Ukrainian targets from Russian-controlled skies to escape. surprisingly effective Ukrainian surface-to-air missiles. Ukrainian forces shot down at least 15 planes and at least 20 helicopters, according to a US official.

When Russian bombers enter Ukrainian airspace, they mainly perform rapid entry and exit missions, officials said. In an ideal military strategy, one country would destroy another country’s air defense systems and then be able to fly freely in the airspace. Russia was unable to do this in Ukraine.

As of Friday, Ukraine still had 80% of its air force intact – 56 fighter jets – operating from three bases in the west of the country. Pentagon officials believed the recent strikes were aimed at rendering these airfields inoperative, but their effectiveness was unclear.

A senior Pentagon official said as of Friday the Russians had still not targeted arms shipments entering western Ukraine. There has been speculation that Russia may have been distracted by fighting in other parts of the country, but intensifying attacks in the west suggest that may no longer be the case.

There were also signs that Russia, staggered by sanctions, may struggle to sustain its war, and has asked China for military equipment and support, according to US officials.

“We are communicating directly, privately to Beijing that there will absolutely be consequences for large-scale sanctions-busting efforts or support for Russia to fulfill them,” Sullivan, the security adviser, said on Sunday. national, on CNN.

Ukrainian and Russian officials have said peace talks could resume on Monday.

“Russia is starting to talk constructively,” said Mykhailo Podolyak, Ukrainian presidential adviser and member of the Kyiv delegation. “I think we will achieve concrete results, literally, in a few days.”

The Kremlin said it would not rule out the possibility of a meeting between President Putin and President Zelensky. “We would need to understand what the outcome of such a meeting would be and what would be discussed there,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov told the Interfax news agency on Sunday.

Reporting was provided by Andriana Zmysla in Lviv, Yousur Al-Hlou in Kyiv and Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Steven Erlanger in Brussels.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Russian airstrike near Polish border stokes NATO fear of wider war
Russian airstrike near Polish border stokes NATO fear of wider war
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