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Ukraine’s attacks expand, Putin lashes out at West

Ukraine has expanded its counteroffensive by attacking Russian forces near the northern city of Kharkiv. Both sides are suffering heavy losses as battles rage.

(CN) — Ukraine's army was on the offensive Wednesday not just in the south but also along the northern front lines near Kharkiv, the country's besieged second-largest city, a development that is making this one of the war's bloodiest phases.

The war is in its seventh month and intensifying ahead of the approach of colder and wetter months. Fighting is taking place at many points along the 800 miles of front lines.

While Ukraine goes on the offensive, Russian forces continue their attacks in Donetsk, an eastern region Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to seize and annex along with the neighboring region of Luhansk. Before the invasion, this area, known as the Donbas, was the theater of near-constant low-level fighting since 2014. The frozen conflict there laid the stage for Putin's invasion on Feb. 24.

At an Asian economic summit Wednesday in Vladivostok, a far-eastern city in Russia, Putin lashed out at the West and accused it of threatening the world with famine and disaster because of its anti-Russian sanctions, which have pushed up energy and food prices.

He also accused the West of hording Ukrainian grain shipments following a United Nations-brokered deal that opened Black Sea ports in a bid to stave off mass starvation in poorer countries. His claims about shipments were disputed by United Nations data tracking the shipments, according to a Reuters report.

“As they once were colonizers, so they remained inside,” Putin charged. “They think first of all about their skin, about their interests. They don't care.”

He declared that Russia has withstood the West's economic onslaught and vowed it will come out stronger.

“The pandemic has been replaced by new global challenges that pose a threat to the entire world,” Putin said, as reported by Tass, a Russian state news agency. “I'm referring to the Western sanctions frenzy, its aggressive attempts to impose a model of behavior on other countries, depriving them of sovereignty and subjugating them to their will.”

He then attacked the United States as “the catalyst for these processes” and claimed American dominance is ending due to “irreversible, one might say, tectonic changes” brought about by the rise of the Asia-Pacific region.

The war in Ukraine has pushed Russia closer to China and the two are forging a political and military alliance in opposition to the U.S. and its allies. Many political experts warn that a new Cold War era has begun. Russia has moved to funnel more of its oil and natural gas exports to China, India and other developing countries since the outbreak of war and the European Union's imposition of sanctions.

Even as the fighting has gotten worse in recent weeks, neither side has made significant gains in a war that's begun to look more and more like a stalemate. Intense fighting is expected to carry on until the region's harsh winter conditions set in.

According to claims by both sides, the brutal fighting is resulting in the deaths of hundreds of soldiers each day since Ukraine began a counteroffensive to recapture the southern city of Kherson at the end of August.

On Wednesday, Ukraine's defense ministry claimed it had killed about 460 Russian troops in the past day, bringing the total number of purported Russian losses to more than 50,000.

For its part, Russia claimed more than 210 Ukrainian soldiers were slain in the past day during fighting in the south, where Ukraine has struggled to make advances in wide-open terrain north of Kherson. In recent days, each side has boasted of shooting down warplanes, destroying tanks and hitting depots and command centers.

In tandem with the battlefield assaults, Ukraine is carrying out covert attacks behind enemy lines and striking targets along the Russian border and on Russian-held territory with rockets. Russia too continues to strike at targets behind the front lines.

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A firefighter works to extinguish a fire after a Russian attack that heavily damaged a residential building in Sloviansk, Ukraine, on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

On Tuesday, a Russian military colonel overseeing Berdiansk, a city on the Sea of Azov that fell into Russian hands early in the invasion, was reportedly seriously wounded or possibly killed in a car bomb. There have been a number of such attacks. Since 2014, the United States' Special Operations Forces has been training Ukraine to mount a partisan resistance.

Claims about losses cannot be independently verified and it remains unclear how many soldiers have been killed, though military experts believe both sides have lost tens of thousands of fighters, making this war the most bloody conflict in Europe since the wars in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Both sides continue to steer new soldiers and weapons to the front lines.

With the full support of the United States and its allies, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is pushing his army to retake territory lost to Russia and he continues to promise Ukrainians victory.

“Today is the 195th day of Russia's full-scale invasion of our country and today we are 195 times more confident in our independence than any time before this war,” Zelenskyy said in a video message Tuesday to the New York Stock Exchange. “And it may sound paradoxical, but it is a fact. Ukraine does not for a single moment doubt itself, its future, its victory.”

Zelenskyy has become confident as his government receives growing backing from the United States and its allies.

The Biden administration has provided Ukraine with about $13.5 billion in arms, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

More than 25 nations – mostly European ones and their close allies – have sent Ukraine tanks, armored vehicles, attack helicopters, anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems, large amounts of munitions, drones, rifles, machine guns and rocket launchers, according to the Forum on the Arms Trade, a civil society group that tracks the global arms market.

The huge volume of arms reflects the views of Zelenskyy and many in the West who characterize the war over Ukraine as a pivotal fight between democracy and autocracy.

“The resilience of Europe depends on our resilience, and we have it,” Zelenskyy said.

He said the war had united the EU, the U.S. and “the entire free world around the struggle for freedom, for our values, the values of freedom.”

Increasingly, Zelenskyy also is trying to convince Europeans and Americans that Ukraine will play a crucial economic role in the future too.

Even before the war, Ukraine was one of Europe's poorest countries with people earning less there than even Russia. It was, similar to Russia, also held back by extensive corruption with much of its economy and politics dominated by oligarchs who amassed enormous wealth by seizing state assets following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In his speech Tuesday, Zelenskyy said Ukraine can become an economic motor for the EU should it become a member.

“Any success story in Europe is now simply impossible without Ukraine – a story of both political and business success,” he said.

“Although our country is attributed to the group of developing countries, we already have all the foundations to become a developed country,” he said.

He cited Ukraine's educated workforce, central geographic position and plethora of natural resources. Ukraine is rich in farmland, waterways, natural gas, uranium, lithium, titanium, coal and quartzite. He said Ukraine can become a “green energy hub” for Europe too.

“One of the reasons why Russia started a war of aggression against Ukraine is their apprehension that we will become not just an industrial competitor for Russia, but a real substitute for it in many markets of many countries,” Zelenskyy said.

Kyiv and its Western allies are putting together rebuilding plans that, according to the latest Ukrainian estimate, will cost about $1 trillion.

“The general project of Ukrainian reconstruction will be the largest economic project in Europe of our time,” Zelenskyy said. “The largest for several generations.”

Russia, meanwhile, has begun rebuilding areas it now controls, most significantly in Mariupol, a large city on the Sea of Azov that was the scene of horrific street fighting at the beginning of the war. In recent weeks, Russia media has shown images of new housing blocks and other reconstruction projects in Mariupol.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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