Ukraine’s cities stood under relentless Russian fire as Nato leaders huddled in Brussels on Thursday and President Volodymyr Zelensky urged them to provide “effective and unrestricted’’ support to his country.
Four weeks into the deadly Russian onslaught, its forces appear to have stalled in many places in the face of fiercer-than-expected Ukrainian resistance. That’s provided the West’s Nato allies time to meet in Brussels on how to make Russia’s offensive as painful as possible for President Vladimir Putin — without triggering a nuclear war.
On that, Russia issued an unsubtle warning, answered on Thursday by France. Senior Russian official Dmitry Rogozin said in televised remarks that “within minutes at any distance,” the country’s nuclear arsenal would help deter the West from intervening in Ukraine. He then named several types of nuclear weapons Moscow is considering using in the conflict.
WHAT’S HAPPENING AS THE WAR GRINDS INTO A SECOND MONTH?
When Russia unleashed its attacks — Europe’s biggest offensive since World War II — on February 24, it seemed likely to swiftly topple Ukraine’s government. But a month into the fighting, the massive country that sprawls across 11 time zones is bogged down in a grinding military campaign of attrition.
Despite evidence to the contrary, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted the military operation is going “strictly in accordance’’ with plans.
In its last update, Russia said on March 2 that nearly 500 soldiers had been killed and almost 1,600 wounded. Nato estimates, however, that between 7,000 to 15,000 Russian troops have been killed - the latter figure about what Russia lost in a decade of fighting in Afghanistan.
A senior Nato military official said the alliance’s estimate was based on information from Ukrainian authorities, what Russia has released — intentionally or not — and intelligence gathered from open sources. The official spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by NATO.
Ukraine, which has released little information about its military losses, also claims to have killed six Russian generals. Russia acknowledges just one dead general.
Wednesday’s shelling of Kyiv claimed the life of another journalist. Oksana Baulina, a Russian reporter for the independent Russian news outlet The Insider, was killed in a Kyiv neighbourhood.
On Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling, France answered on Thursday that it had successfully tested the modernised version of its nuclear missile, the ASMPA.
WHAT HAS THE AP DIRECTLY WITNESSED OR CONFIRMED?
Russian troops who occupy the southern city of Kherson seized one of the most prominent theatre directors in Ukraine “in a fascist manner’’ and took him to an unknown location, Ukraine’s Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said.
Witnesses said nine Russian military vehicles pulled up to the home of Oleksandr Kniga early Wednesday and led him out. The Russians warned neighbours that if they came out of their homes they would be killed, the witnesses said.
“The whole world should know about this!” Tkachenko said on Facebook.
Kniga, 62, director of the Kherson Regional Academic Theatre, is one of the most important and respected theatre directors in Ukraine.
Kyiv was shaken by a constant barrage of shelling on Wednesday and plumes of black smoke rose from the western outskirts of the city. Mayor Vitali Klitschko said the Russian bombardment has killed 264 civilians in the capital, including four children. As he spoke to reporters in Kyiv park, explosions and loud gunfire echoed in the background. At dusk, air raid sirens wailed over the capital as attacks continued.
In the seaside city of Odesa, fondly known as the Pearl of the Black Sea, street musicians played under cloudless skies as people fled.
WHAT’S HAPPENING AT THE NATO SUMMIT?
Biden and Western allies opened a trio of meetings in Brussels to chart a path to more pressure on Putin while tending to the economic and security fallout that’s spreading across Europe and the world.
Over the course of a half-day on Thursday, the European diplomatic capital is hosting an emergency NATO summit as well as a gathering of the Group of Seven industrialised nations and a meeting of the 27 members of the European Union. Biden is attending all three gatherings.
The American president and other Western leaders opened the summit on Thursday with the hopes of nudging allies to enact new sanctions on Russia, which has already seen its economy crippled by a steady stream of bans, boycotts and penalties over the last four weeks.
The West has been largely unified in confronting Russia, but there’s wide acknowledgement that unity will be tested as the costs of war chip at the global economy.
WHAT ARE UKRAINIAN REFUGEES SAYING?
Some of the more than 3.5 million people who have fled Ukraine have shared nightmarish stories of death, destruction and the painful separation from loved ones.
Natalia Savchenko, 37, arrived in Medyka, Poland, on Wednesday and said the situation in the eastern city of Kharkiv is “terrible.” She said there is no electricity or water, and children are not being given medicine or food.