As his invasion of Ukraine makes slow and costly progress, Vladimir Putin has demonstrated his contempt for global opinion by blitzing an airport serving a city now overflowing with refugees
Russian missiles pounded the airport near Lviv, far from Ukraine’s main battlefields in the east, as Moscow tries to regain the initiative in its stalled campaign to conquer Ukraine.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden is set to talk with Chinese president Xi Jinping in an attempt to starve Russia’s war machine by isolating Moscow from the one big power that has yet to condemn its assault.
More than three weeks since President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion to subdue what he calls an “artificial state” undeserving of nationhood, Ukraine’s elected government is still standing and Russian forces have been humiliated by failing to capture a single major city.
Russian troops have taken heavy losses while blasting residential areas to rubble and sending more than 3 million refugees fleeing. Moscow denies it is targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to disarm its smaller neighbour.
“Russian forces have made minimal progress this week,” Britain’s defence ministry said in a daily military intelligence update.
“Ukrainian forces around Kyiv and Mykolaiv continue to frustrate Russian attempts to encircle the cities. The cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remain encircled and subject to heavy Russian shelling.”
At least three blasts were heard near Lviv’s airport on Friday morning, with videos on social media showing large explosions and mushroom-shaped plumes of smoke rising.
Lviv’s mayor, Andriy Sadovy, said several missiles struck an aircraft maintenance facility, destroying buildings but causing no casualties.
Kyiv has so far been spared a major assault, even as long columns of troops bore down from the northwest and east, halted at the gates in heavy fighting that destroyed suburbs.
Residents in the capital have endured deadly missile attacks. In the latest, one person was killed when parts of a Russian missile hit a residential building.
Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said 19 people were injured including four children.
In the southeast, where Russian forces have been trying to expand territory held by pro-Russian separatists, Ukraine’s Luhansk regional governor Serhiy Haidai said Russians were dug in around the city of Rubizhne and heavily shelling with casualties as yet unknown.
With financial sanctions and diplomatic ostracism cutting Russia off from advanced economies worldwide, China is Russia’s last big economic lifeline.
Putin and Xi signed a “no limits” friendship pact three weeks before the invasion in an ostentatious event held on the morning of last month’s Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing. The document repeated some of Russia’s grievances over Ukraine.
All eyes on China
China has so far been treading a careful line in public, abstaining in votes over UN resolutions condemning Russia while declining to refer to the assault as an invasion and repeating criticism of the West.
But Washington, which this week announced $US800 million in new military aid to Kyiv, now says Moscow wants more from Beijing than just diplomatic cover and has asked for money and weapons to keep the war going, which Moscow and Beijing deny.
The United States is concerned China is “considering directly assisting Russia with military equipment to use in Ukraine,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
Biden, who described Putin as a “murderous dictator”, will make clear to Xi in his call that China “will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression,” Blinken told reporters.
Hours before the Biden-Xi phone call, China sailed an aircraft carrier through the sensitive Taiwan Strait – shadowed by a US destroyer – a person with direct knowledge of the matter said.