French president Emmanuel Macron has told Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin he is making a “major mistake” in Ukraine, as concerns mount over the movements of a huge column of Russian military vehicles outside Kyiv.
Mr Macron told the Russian president he was deluding himself about the government in Kyiv and that the war would cost Russia dearly over the long term, a French official said.
In the phone call initiated by Mr Putin, the Russian leader reiterated his determination to obtain the neutralisation and disarmament of Ukraine, whether diplomatically or by arms, the official said.
“There was nothing in what President Putin said that could reassure us,” the French presidential adviser said, adding that Putin had reiterated his “narrative” that he was seeking the “denazification of Ukraine”.
“You are lying to yourself,” Macron told Putin, the official said. “’It will cost your country dearly, your country will end up isolated, weakened and under sanctions for a very long time.”
Concern is growing over the movements of a huge convoy of Russian military vehicles outside Kyiv, amid a lack of fresh information about its position and the threat it poses.
While a US defence official suggested the Russian convoy appeared to have “stalled” there was also speculation that an estimated 15,000 troops attached to it may be regrouping, and potentially waiting for logistical supplies before an assault on Kyiv.
Efforts to ascertain the status of the convoy and the threat it poses have been set back by recent cloud cover over Ukraine that has prevented Maxar Technologies – which issued the first satellite images of the convoy – from releasing new pictures.
While information about Russian troop movements in other parts of Ukraine where there has been fighting has been well documented on social media, the convoy outside Kyiv has existed in what amounts to an information black hole, suggesting that Russia forces may closely control the territory around it.
The convoy, which at one stage was reportedly about 65km in length, with vehicles pictured three abreast on the P02 road to the immediate north of Kyiv, includes armoured vehicles, tanks, trucks, fuel tankers and artillery pieces. Its presence suggested Russian forces were massing for an attack on Kyiv.
Western defence assessments in the UK and US, however, put a more optimistic slant on the convoy’s apparent lack of progress, although it was not clear what evidence that was based on.
The UK’s ministry of defence tweeted: “The main body of the large Russian column advancing on Kyiv remains over 30km from the centre of the city, having been delayed by staunch Ukrainian resistance, mechanical breakdown and congestion. The column has made little discernible progress in over three days.”
The Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, in a press briefing on Wednesday, gave a more nuanced assessment, saying there had been limited movement from the military force and that it “remain[ed] stalled”. However, he cautioned that lack of movement could be due to Russia’s forces regrouping.
Main events on Day 8 of the invasion of Ukraine:
- Russia claims to have seized control of Kherson
- Russian is trying to create a blockade around Mariupol, says mayor
- A million people have fled Ukraine since invasion, UN says
- Delegations from Kyiv and Moscow meeting for further talks
- Macron tells Putin he is making a ‘major mistake’ in Ukraine
More than a million people are said to have fled Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, as Moscow said it was ready for more peace talks even as its forces bombard the country’s second-largest city and two strategic seaports.
The tally the UN refugee agency released was reached on Wednesday and amounts to more than 2 per cent of Ukraine’s population being forced out of the country in seven days.
The mass evacuation could be seen in Kharkiv, a city of about 1.5 million people where residents desperate to escape falling shells and bombs crowded the city’s train station and pressed on to trains, not always knowing where they were headed.
An Estonian-owned cargo ship sank on Thursday off Ukraine’s major Black Sea port of Odessa, hours after a Bangladeshi vessel was hit by a missile or bomb at another Olvia, underlining the growing peril to merchant shipping following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier on Thursday Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said, “We are ready to conduct talks but we will continue the operation because we won’t allow Ukraine to preserve a military infrastructure that threatens Russia,” adding Ukrainians will able to choose what government they should have.
Mr Lavrov said the West has continuously armed Ukraine, trained its troops and built up bases there to turn Ukraine into a bulwark against Russia – repeating Russian claims that it has used to justify its operation in Ukraine. The US and its allies have insisted that Nato is a defensive alliance that does not pose a threat to Russia. And the West fears Russia’s invasion is meant to overthrow Ukraine’s government and install a friendly government.
The mayor of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol has said Russian forces are trying to create a blockade around it, attacking rail links to prevent civilians evacuating.
Constant attacks over the past 24 hours have cut off water and power supply and the local authorities need a ceasefire to restore power, he said. “The invaders are systematically and methodically trying to blockade the city of Mariupol,” he said.
It comes as Russian forces have seized control of Kherson, a key port city in southern Ukraine, the mayor has said, after tanks entered on Wednesday.
Despite an initial battle plan that Western countries said was aimed at swiftly toppling the Kyiv government, Kherson is the only Ukrainian city captured by Russia so far.
The invasion entered its second week on Thursday in an apparent tactical failure, with Russia’s main assault force stalled for days on a highway north of Kyiv and other advances halted at the outskirts of cities it is bombing into wastelands.
‘Nothing to lose’
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has remained in Kyiv, releasing regular video updates to the nation. In his latest message, he said Ukrainian lines were holding. “We have nothing to lose but our own freedom,” he said.
The number of refugees who have fled Ukraine rose to more than 1 million, the United Nations said on Thursday. Hundreds of Russian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians have been killed, and Russia has been plunged into isolation never before experienced by an economy of such size.
The attack led to a barrage of international sanctions that threaten the global economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and stoked fears of wider conflict as Western countries send arms to help the Ukrainian military.
Russia denies targeting civilians although there have been widespread reports of civilian casualties and the shelling of residential areas.
Russians have shelled the city of Izyum, about 120km southeast of Kharkiv, killing six adults and two children, Ukraine’s parliament said.
An explosion also rocked the Kyiv railway station where thousands of women and children were being evacuated. The blast was caused by wreckage from a downed Russian cruise missile, a Ukrainian interior ministry adviser said, and there were no immediate reports of casualties.
Meanwhile, Russian and Belarusian athletes have been banned from the Beijing Winter Paralympics after the International Paralympic Committee reversed its original decision.
The IPC’s announcement on Wednesday that athletes from those countries would be allowed to compete under a neutra