Ukraine-Russia: Vladimir Putin insists war is ‘a noble decision’

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the war was a “noble decision”.

Speaking at an event to mark the 61st anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space, alongside Belarusian president Alexsander Lukaschenko, Mr Putin said that the conflict with Ukraine was “inevitable”.

The event, a rare public appearance for Mr Putin, comes as Ukrainian and western authorities are investigating claims that chemical weapons could have been used against troops defending Mariupol.

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Members of the Azov Battalion, a group with far-right leanings based around the city, which has seen tens of thousands of residents trapped under siege by Russian troops, said three soldiers were injured by “a poisonous substance”.

Ukrainian deputy defense minister, Anna Malyar, said that the information is still being verified, but said the preliminary data suggests white phosphorus munition was used in Mariupol. “But you need to understand that the risk of chemical weapons being used does exist, and it is quite high,” she said.

Phosphorus is not classed as a chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Convention, however, it does cause serious burns.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Monday night that Russian forces could use chemical weapons in the city, echoing similar, repeated warnings by Western officials.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Putin reiterated claims that Russian forces are helping oppressed people. He has repeatedly insisted that he wants to “deNazify” Ukraine.

“On the one hand, we are helping and saving people, and on the other, we are simply taking measures to ensure the security of Russia itself,” Mr Putin said, from the event at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, 3,450 miles east of Moscow.

“It’s clear that we didn’t have a choice. It was the right decision,” he said, adding “the goals are perfectly clear, they are noble.”

Mr Putin compared Gagarin’s achievement during the Cold War to Russia’s current international isolation due to heavy international sanctions.

“The sanctions were total, the isolation was complete, but the Soviet Union was still first in space,” he said.

He said that Russia could not be isolated. Mr Lukaschenko, an ally of the president, also dismissed the sanctions.

He asked him “why an earth are we getting so worried about these sanctions?”

In the face of stiff resistance by Ukrainian forces bolstered by Western weapons, Russian forces have increasingly relied on bombarding cities, flattening many urban areas and leaving thousands of people dead. In other areas, they have pulled back to regroup.

Their retreat from cities and towns around the capital, Kyiv, led to the discovery of large numbers of apparently massacred civilians, prompting widespread condemnation and accusations that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine.

The war has also driven more than 10 million Ukrainians from their homes – including nearly two-thirds of all children. Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service said yesterday, however that more than 870,000 Ukrainians have returned to Ukraine since 24 February, many of them to join the war effort.

There are fears of even wider carnage to come, amid signs the Russian military is gearing up for a major offensive in the Donbas.

On Monday, a senior US defense official described a long Russian convoy rolling toward the eastern city of Izyum with artillery, aviation and infantry support.

Mr Putin insisted during a visit to Russia’s Far East that the military operation would prevail, and that foreign powers would not succeed in isolating Russia.

He said that Russia’s economy and financial system had withstood the blow from what he called the Western “blitz” sanctions, and claimed they would backfire by driving up prices for essentials such as fertiliser, leading to food shortages and increased migration flows to the West.

The Donbas has been torn by fighting between Russian-allied separatists and Ukrainian forces since 2014, and Russia has recognized the separatists’ claims of independence.

Military strategists say Russian leaders appear to hope for local support, logistics and terrain in the region favor Russia’s larger and better-armed military, potentially allowing its troops to finally turn the tide decisively in their favour.

Describing a battle happening around a steel mill in Mariupol, a Russia-allied separatist official appeared to urge the use of chemical weapons on Monday, telling Russian state TV that separatist forces should seize the plant from Ukrainian forces by first blocking all the exits.

“And then we’ll use chemical troops to smoke them out of there,” he said.

But Eduard Basurin was quoted by the Interfax news agency on Tuesday as saying that the separatist forces “haven’t used any chemical weapons in Mariupol”.

The Ukrainian regiment defending the plant claimed a drone had dropped a poisonous substance on the city. It indicated there were no serious injuries.

The city’s mayor, Vadym Boychenko, accused Russian forces of having blocked weeks of attempted humanitarian convoys into the city in part to conceal the carnage.

Mr Boychenko said the death toll in Mariupol alone could surpass 20,000.

He added that about 120,000 civilians in the city are in dire need of food, water, warmth and communications.

The major also gave new details of allegations by Ukrainian officials that Russian forces have brought mobile cremation equipment to Mariupol to dispose of the corpses of victims of the siege.

Speaking from Ukrainian-controlled territory outside Mariupol, he said he had several sources for his description of the alleged methodical burning of bodies by Russian forces in the city.

While building up forces in the east, Russia continued to strike targets across Ukraine in a bid to wear down the country’s defenses.

Russia’s defense ministry said it had used used air- and sea-launched missiles to destroy an ammunition depot and airplane hangar at Starokostiantyniv in the western Khmelnytskyi region and an ammunition depot near Kyiv.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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