Volodymyr Zelensky has pleaded with the international community to supply Ukraine with more weapons and impose tighter sanctions on Russia as the country’s military warned that Moscow was preparing an offensive in the eastern Donbas region.
Ukraine’s armed forces said Russian troops were regrouping to seize territory in the two administrative regions that separatists have partially occupied since a Moscow-backed uprising in 2014.
“The main efforts of the occupiers are focused on preparing for an aggressive operation in eastern Ukraine, which aims to establish complete control over the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” the general staff of the armed forces said on Thursday after Russian troops retreated from the suburbs of Kyiv and the north of the country in recent days.
Ukrainian military authorities on Wednesday called on residents living in Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as parts of the north-eastern Kharkiv region, to leave “while they still had the chance”.
Zelensky said failing to provide more weapons and toughen sanctions on Russia would equate to giving Moscow “permission” to intensify its offensive.
“If there won’t be a really useful packet of sanctions against Russia, if there won’t be the really necessary supply of weapons to us, the weapons for which we have asked many times . . . this will look to Russia like permission, like permission to go farther,” he said in a late-night address. “Like permission to begin a new bloody wave in the Donbas.”
Zelensky also pleaded with individual Russians to demand an end to the war as President Vladimir Putin’s invasion entered its seventh week.
“In demanding peace, it is better to lose something, to face down the Russian repressive machine, than to be equated with Nazis for the rest of your life,” he said.
Ukraine’s warning of an impending offensive came as the foreign policy chiefs of Nato countries were set to meet in Brussels for a second day. Members of the alliance have supplied Ukraine with anti-tank missiles, drones and other defensive weaponry, but have refused to supply some other classes of weapons or to impose a no-fly zone over the country, as its government has demanded, over concerns it would risk engaging Russia in a wider war.
The US this week approved $100mn in security assistance for Ukraine to buy Javelin anti-tank systems.
Washington also imposed its most severe sanctions on Sberbank, Russia’s biggest financial institution, and Alfa-Bank, its biggest private bank, on Wednesday, further tightening the economic pressure on Moscow.
Calls to bolster Ukraine’s defences and toughen sanctions on Russia have multiplied this week after evidence emerged of atrocities carried out by Russian troops before they pulled out of Kyiv’s outskirts.
Ukrainian troops, government officials and journalists found hundreds of decaying corpses of civilians, some indicating they had been tortured, and heard accounts of summary killings, rape and other human rights abuses from surviving residents.
Russia has denied the allegations and state media have accused Ukraine of faking the killings, including by employing actors.
US president Joe Biden, French president Emmanuel Macron and other leaders have called for an investigation of Russian officials responsible for what they called war crimes.
The UN General Assembly is due to vote on Thursday on whether to suspend Russia from its Human Rights Council.
Follow John Reed on Twitter: @JohnReedwrites
Are you personally affected by the War in Ukraine? We want to hear from you
Are you from Ukraine? Do you have friends and family in or from Ukraine whose lives have been upended? Or perhaps you’re doing something to help those individuals, such as fundraising or housing people in your own homes. We want to hear from you. Tell us via a short survey.