U.S. President Joe Biden is due to visit Poland on Monday to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, which said it was inflicting heavy losses on Moscow’s forces in Europe’s biggest conflict since World War Two.
The war which began on Feb. 24 last year has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, driven millions from their homes and reduced cities to rubble across swathes of southern and eastern Ukraine.
There has been little change on the vast frontline in recent months as both sides prepare for offensives expected in the spring, Russia boosted by thousands of conscripts and Ukraine fortified with Western battle tanks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday that Russia had suffered “extraordinarily significant” losses near the town of Vuhledar in the eastern Donbas region, which Moscow claimed to have annexed in September.
“The situation is very complicated. And we are fighting. We are breaking down the invaders and inflicting extraordinarily significant losses on Russia,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly video address.
Zelenskiy referred to several towns where fighting has been focused for months, saying “the more losses Russia suffers there, in Donbas – in Bakhmut, Vuhledar, Marinka, Kreminna – the faster we will be able to end this war with Ukraine’s victory”.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Saturday that its forces had captured Hrianykivka, a village in the eastern Kharkiv region that is well to the north of the hottest part of the front, which is around Bakhmut.
Ukraine’s General Staff on Monday said its forces “repelled Russian attacks in the areas of the Hrianykivka village”, but that the Russians continued to heavily shell the area with artillery.
Ukrainian officials have urged U.S. Congress members to press Biden’s administration to send F-16 fighters to Kyiv, saying the aircraft would boost Ukraine’s ability to hit Russian missile units with U.S.-made rockets, U.S. lawmakers said.
The lobbying came over the weekend on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in talks between Ukrainian officials, including Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and Democrats and Republicans from the Senate and House of Representatives.
Biden last month said “no” when asked if he would approve Ukraine’s request for Lockheed-Martin-made F-16s.
But administration officials, speaking on Sunday, said the United States should focus on providing weapons that can be used immediately on the battlefield, rather than fighter jets that require extensive training.
Even so, they did not rule out providing F-16s.
“Discussions will continue over the course of the next few weeks and months,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on CNN.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Sunday that he and Biden would discuss possibly increasing U.S. troop presence in Poland and making it more permanent, during Biden’s Feb. 20-22 visit.
Biden said last June that the United States would set up a new permanent army headquarters in Poland in response to Russian threats.
Biden will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Eastern European allies and speak about Ukraine, but has no plans to cross into neighbouring Ukraine, according to the White House.
“We are in the process of discussion with President Biden’s administration about making their (troop) presence more permanent and increasing them,” Morawiecki said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
French President Emmanuel Macron suggested over the weekend that Russia should be “defeated but not crushed” and that the conflict in Ukraine would have to be settled by negotiations, although there is presently no prospect of peace talks.
Responding to the remarks, Zelenskiy said in an interview published on Sunday that Macron was wasting his time considering any sort of dialogue with Russia. The two presidents spoke by telephone on Sunday.
“It will be a useless dialogue. In fact Macron is wasting his time. I have come to the conclusion that we are not able to change the Russian attitude,” Zelenskiy told Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
“It is up to them to choose or not to cooperate with the community of nations on the basis of mutual respect.”
Russia says it was forced to launch what it calls a “special military operations” in Ukraine to rid the country of Nazis and protect Russian speakers. Kyiv and its allies say the invasion is an unprovoked war of aggression.
TASS news agency reported on Monday that Russia had charged 680 Ukrainian officials, including 118 members of the armed forces and defence ministry, with breaking laws governing the conduct of war.
The report came two days after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said at the Munich Security Conference there was “no doubt” Russian forces had committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine, an allegation Russia denies.