Putin threatens west over Ukraine ‘interference’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has arrived in Kyiv ahead of talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.  Discussions could cover a possible evacuation of Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant.

Although Russia’s naval forces have suffered substantial setbacks, Moscow’s fleet in the Black Sea is still able to hit Ukrainian targets, the UK Defense Ministry said on Thursday.  In an intelligence update posted on Twitter, the ministry said around 20 Russian Navy vessels are currently deployed in the Black Sea — including submarines.  In recent weeks, Russia lost its flagship cruiser Moskva and the landing ship Saratov.  The Russian Navy cannot currently replace the ships, as the Bosporus continues to remain closed to all non-Turkish warships, the British Defense Ministry added.

The European Union condemned Russia’s halting of gas supplies to member states Bulgaria and Poland as “blackmail.”  The two countries were supplied with gas by their EU neighbors after Russia’s state energy giant Gazprom turned off the taps.  Gazprom had announced the halt of gas to the countries after not receiving payment in rubles — a stipulation made by Moscow in response to sanctions.  The EU Commission also proposed a one-year suspension on all imported goods from Ukraine that are not already subject to an existing free trade deal.  Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a warning, saying intervention by Western forces would be met with a “lightning-fast” military response.  The Russian leader referred to weapons that “no one else can boast of having,” apparently referring to Moscow’s ballistic missiles and nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, Moscow claims it carried out a missile strike in southern Ukraine to destroy a “large batch” of weapons it says were supplied by the West. Kyiv conceded that Russian forces had made gains in the east, as Moscow’s offensive saw it capture a number of villages in the Donbas region. Russian forces were said to still be attacking the Azolstal steel plant in Mariupol, where fighters and some civilians are holed up.  Russian authorities said there were blasts early on Wednesday in three Russian provinces bordering Ukraine.  An ammunition depot in the Belgorod province caught fire. Concern increased over the prospect of the conflict widening to Ukraine’s neighbor.  Pro-Russian separatists there have blamed Ukraine for reported attacks in the Trans-Dniester region, which Ukraine says are “false-flag” incidents intended to escalate the war.  German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock defended Berlin’s decision to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine.  The delivery of weapons — including heavy weapons such as tanks — is “the right step,” Baerbock said.